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Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands.
The real theme of this psalm is in the last section: it is a psalm of thanksgiving for a special mercy experienced by an individual. But the account of this special providence is prefaced by two sections descriptive of the providence of God in general. This is in accordance with a law of the spiritual life. Those who enter into real experience of their own are thereby united with the entire religious experience of the race. There is no influence so broadening and refining as that of a living Christianity.
I. The providence of power (Psalms 66:1-7). God is in the midst of His people like a watchman on the watch-tower, not only observing all that is taking place within the city of God, but keeping a keen outlook upon the enemies by whom the city is surrounded, lest the rebellious should exalt themselves (Psalms 66:7). Of this protecting care an instance never to be forgotten was the scene at the Red Sea, when the flood was turned into dry land, and His people, who had been in mortal terror, had their apprehensions turned into rejoicings. Another was the passage of the Jordan, when they entered Canaan. These may be called the stock examples of Hebrew poetry. We have better instances supplied by subsequent history; but the great lesson is that all history belongs to us, and we are selling our birthright if we do not know how to travel through the tracts of the past and discern in them the footsteps of our God.
II. The providence of discipline (Psalms 66:8-12). When God is celebrated merely as the Champion of His people, who discomfits their enemies, there is danger of boasting. But the psalmist is well aware that God sustains a more delicate relation to His people. He does not always prosper them; He does not always spare them disappointments and defeat. On the contrary, adversity is one of the gifts of the covenant. And in this psalm the sufferings of God’s people are described in a series of touching images (Psalms 66:10-12). They have been tried like silver; they have been brought into the net like a bird which is in the grasp of its captor and cannot escape; they have been yoked to oppression like the ass to its load, and the oppressor has lorded it over them like the driver riding above the head of the camel; they have been brought through fire and through water. Yet for these experiences the psalm calls for praise. The old poets used to say that the nightingale sang with its breast resting against a thorn; and it is certain that the mellowest notes of the religious voice are never heard till suffering has been experienced. The distinction of God’s people is not that they have less to bear than others, but that they get the good of their affliction, and, when they trust God, He always at last brings them out, as is said here, into a wealthy place.
III. The providence of grace (Psalms 66:13-20). There are those who have never had anything done for their souls. They can speak about their bodies, their properties and their fortunes, but their soul has no history. If a man’s soul has a history in which God is concerned, and of which he himself is glad, we know a good deal about him. It is a great thing to be able to say, “Come and hear” (Psalms 66:16), “Come and see” (Psalms 66:5). Have you seen any sight and heard any message which you feel to be worth the attention of all the world? I should not like to live and die without having seen and heard the greatest and best that the world contains. Perhaps a further biographical feature is indicated in the saying that if he had regarded iniquity in his heart God would not have heard him. At all events, we have here one of the profoundest remarks on prayer to be found in the whole Bible. God will not hear the prayers of a man who is cherishing known sin. But the psalmist does not ascribe the glory of his answered prayer to his innocence. He finishes with a humble ascription to the God of Grace. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
I. It is exultingly delightful (Psalms 66:1-2). It is a cheery, jubilant exercise of the mind; the whole atmosphere of the soul breaking into sunshine, all its vocal powers going out in rapturous music. Worship is the soul losing itself in the infinitely kind, the supremely beautiful and good. Self-obliviousness is the highest happiness.
II. It is binding on all. “All ye lands.” It is more rational, more right, for men to neglect everything else than to neglect this--neglect their physical health, their social advancement, even their intellectual culture, than to neglect worship. It is the “one thing needful.” It is that one thing which, if lacking in any character, damns the man.
III. It has a direct relation to God. “Say unto God, How terrible art Thou,” etc. It speaks not about Him, but to Him. It may be said that genuine worship has to do with everything--it mingles in all the services of the man, makes the whole life one unbroken psalm. True, but it only does so by the conscious contact of the soul with God. As the fields that are sown with grain must turn themselves to the sun before there will come germination, growth, maturation, so the soul must put itself into conscious contact with God, its Sun, before its spiritual powers can be brought out into true worship.
IV. It will one day be universal. “All the earth shall worship Thee.” (Homilist.)
All the earth shall worship Thee, and shall sing unto Thee.
The world’s conversion
I. The glorious and auspicious prospect which is here opened to our view. All the earth shall worship Jehovah, and shall sing unto His name.
II. All objections to the fulfilment of this declaration are triumphantly repelled. The politicians of this world tell you plainly that your object can never be accomplished. The world is against you. “The carnal mind, which is enmity against God,” is against you. The glorious Gospel of the grace of God must come in contact with much that is contrary to its own nature. I am fully aware, too, that Satan, the god of this world, has long kept the minds of men in subjection to his vassalage, and held his captives in an almost universal submission. But with all these appalling circumstances put in array, and leaving you room to put in a thousand more, I see something in my text which excites you to go forward, in sure and certain hope of complete and glorious victory. “Come,” and instead of looking on the works of men, till your hearts grow feeble, and your hands hang down, “come and see the works of God.” Here are two grounds of encouragement--
1. The consideration of what God has done for His ancient Church, in fulfilling His promises, and in overcoming her foes; and--
2. What He will yet do for His Church, in fulfilling all for which He has encouraged you to hope. Consider these things; and declare if God has spoken anything which He has not fulfilled. (J. Stewart, D. D.)
It is a man’s duty to worship God; therefore--
I. Man can attain a true knowledge of God. Not, indeed, if left unaided. The instinct which prompts the heart to bow down before an invisible Power is one of the last to disappear in the ruin of our nature. In the absence of everything else which gives dignity to human life it still survives. The first idea of God is awakened by the words and acts of our fellow-men, but when the idea is once ours, we can verify and ennoble it for ourselves. It has been maintained that man cannot have any real knowledge of what God is; that there are impregnable barriers to every attempt of the human soul to attain the real truth about the Divine attributes. But if “I am informed that the world is ruled by a Being whose attributes are infinite, but what they are we cannot learn, nor what are the principles of His government, except that ‘the highest human morality we are capable of conceiving ‘ does not sanction them; convince me of it, and I will bear my fate as I may. But when I am told that I must believe this, and at the same time call the Being by the names which express and affirm the highest human morality, I say in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power such a Being may have over me, He shall not compel me to worship Him.” As a Christian, as a Christian minister, I take my stand with those strong words of the philosopher against the theologian. Language has no meaning save the ordinary ones for the words, just, merciful, good; and if they do not mean this when applied to God, why do we use the words? Worship becomes impossible on such a theory. If the soul is to worship God, it must know what God is.
II. God finds satisfaction and delight in human worship. If I speak to Him, it is because I believe He listens. His heart is moved in response to ours. As I sat a Sunday or two ago on the sea-shore, and thought of the thirty millions of people around whom the waters on which I looked were softly and gently rolling, I had present to my mind the twenty or thirty thousand assemblies which were met that morning in the depths of manufacturing towns, to which the Sunday had brought a brighter, clearer sky, and a welcome interruption of toil; in ancient cities, which have been famous through all the stormy years of our country’s history; in scattered villages, where the life becomes more animated rather than more still on the weekly day of rest. I thought of venerable cathedrals, where vast and solemn spaces were filled with the music of ancient chants and exulting anthems, and the mighty harmonies of majestic organs, and of rude, unshapely buildings on the edge of lovely commons, and amongst the poorest and most wretched courts and streets of our populous districts, where, with loud cries and noisy hymns, poor labouring men whose hearts God had touched, were violently and passionately imploring His pardon, or thanking Him for deliverance from sin. I felt that at that moment the gates of heaven were thrown wide open as for some high festival, that before the day was over thousands of my countrymen would be regenerated by the Spirit of God, and receive from God’s own lips absolution from all sin; and that tens of thousands would be baptized afresh with the Holy Ghost and with fire, and be gentler in their words, kinder in their deeds, purer in their thoughts all the week through as the result of that day’s worship. I thought of all these, and I was thankful and glad. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
Come and see the works of God.
The Eternal Ruler of the universe
I. As an object for human study. “Come and see the works of God.”
1. The highest study of man is God. All other studies, unless they lead up to Him, are worse than useless.
(1) The study of God is the most quickening. It stirs the profoundest fountains of sympathy, and sets all the wheels of the mental machine to work.
(2) It is the most humbling study. As the mind directs its attention to God, all egotism vanishes--the particular is lost in the universal, the temporary in the eternal.
(3) It is the most elevating study. That on which a man centres his mind has a mystic power to draw him to it, either up or down, according to its nature. The study of God alone has the power to draw man up into the higher grades of being.
2. The writer here directs attention to two things in relation to God.
(1) His special interpositions (Psalms 66:5).
(2) His transcendent rulership (Psalms 66:7).
II. As an object for human praise (Psalms 66:8-12). He suggests three reasons for praising God.
1. Preservation (Psalms 66:9).
2. Chastisement (Psalms 66:10-12). “Afflictions,” says Lord Bacon, “plough the heart and make it fit for Wisdom to sow her seed in, and for Grace to bring forth her increase.” Could we see things as they really are, we should often see greater reason for praising God in our afflictions rather than for our health and prosperity.
3. Success. “Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.” A place of refreshment. This was compensation for all the trials. What if our scorching and exhausting journey lead us to a delicious resting-place? What if our frail bark is beaten by the tempest to a golden shore? What if the loathsome medicine work off the disease, and establish health? In all such cases there should be praise for all the trials. (Homilist.)
He ruleth by His power for ever: His eyes behold the nations.
The nature and design of moral government
Everything around points us to a law or rule, by which creation is governed, and this implies a mind that cannot work in vain. But against this, “the rebellious exalt themselves.” And they do this because they are rebellious; atheism is of the heart more than of the reason.
I. Of the nature and design of moral government. And this government is--
1. Sovereign. This essential to the prevention of confusion.
2. Of irresistible power.
3. Universal in its extent.
4. Is, and must be, essentially benevolent.
Many object to this, and deny it. But let them remember the vast scale of God’s works, and how little we know. The next thing to be borne in mind is the tendency and purpose to bring all to a happy issue. This is an essential point in considering the moral government of God. All will end in the rectification of present disorders and in the bliss of creation.
II. Inferences from the foregoing.
1. Sin is the source of all misery.
2. The greatest benevolence consists in making God known.
3. We are unspeakably indebted to God for the revelation of His will, that in Christ all can have life eternal. (F. A. Cox, D. D. , LL. D.)
The government of God
I. The government of God is sustained by omnipotence. When revolutions rise, and changes take place in the empires of the world which affect the condition of millions now living, and which shape the destiny of coming generations, it is sheer folly to ascribe them solely or chiefly to the restlessness of the peoples, to the despotism of monarchs, or to the policy of statesmen. They are signs that the Divine power rules over, and that the Divine hand works out the destinies of men. He can curb the impetuous passions of men, or turn them into a channel in which they shall work out His great designs in complete, though unconscious, subservience to His will; He can put a hook in leviathan’s jaw, and cast down Antichrist from his seat; He can control the whirlwind in its stormy path, and check the mad fury of a long-oppressed people; He can arrest the lightning in its rapid flight and hush to silence the deep-voiced thunder; and He can stop the deadlier bolts of war and bid the angry nations be at peace.
II. The government of God is one of universal oversight. There is nothing, however great or trivial, which can transpire in His wide domain unobserved by Him. All events pass under His eye. All objects, the vast and the minute alike, are present to His view. “He telleth the number of the stars.” “The very hairs of our head are all numbered.” God is everywhere, omnipresence as well as omnipotence “belongs” to Him.
III. There are rebels against the divine government,
1. The exaltation of the creature may be through pride, through ambition, through vain desire, through unholy presumption, but whatever may be the secret feeling that prompts it, or whatever the form which it takes, the eye of God sees it, and His power can crush it when He will. It is vain for any of us, even in our most secret soul, to set ourselves against Him, for He track- the rebellious thought to its remotest hiding-place within us, nay, He knows it in its first formation in the chambers of the heart.
2. Man’s opposition to His Maker is as unreasonable as it is futile and hopeless. Why should we set ourselves against His law? Is He not our best Friend, our constant Benefactor, our loving Father? Is not His rule the rule of righteous love? Is not His throne the throne of grace? Is not His law a law of liberty, and in keeping of it is there not great reward? (F. Stephens.)
God and the nations
The God of individuals is the God also of nations; the law of righteousness which applies to individuals applies also to nations; and nations are accountable to God, and must be judged by Him just as surely as individuals. Men are slow to believe this truth. They seem to think that there is one law for the individual and another law for the nation, and that it is vain to expect that a nation should be ruled by the teaching of the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount. Great statesmen are not ashamed, even in Christian England, to go in direct opposition to that teaching, to appeal to the lowest, the most brutal, the fighting instincts of the people; to urge them to cherish and practise the spirit of retaliation, and to encourage them to hurl defiance against all the nations of the world. But surely the teaching of our Lord should rule nations as well as individual men; and nations should seek to be guided not by the old law, which says, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but by the new and diviner law, which says that men should do unto others whatsoever they would that others should do to them. God sits on the throne of the universe. The sceptre of universal dominion is in the hands of righteousness. The eyes of the Lord keep watch on the nations, and nations must be judged by the righteous judgment of God. (G. Hunsworth, M. A.)
Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.
The safety of the saints
Now, in these words we notice--
I. The life. “He holdeth our soul in life.” This is--
1. A life of purity in opposition to sin.
2. Of plenty in opposition to a life of poverty.
3. Of godly exercise, or exercise unto godliness.
4. Of pleasing discovery.
II. The preservation. “He holdeth,” etc. This applies to all the four ideas adverted to.
III. The fixation. “He suffereth not our feet to be moved.” Now, how is it our feet cannot be moved finally? Why, because we have, in salvation matters, “a covenant ordered in all things and sure.” (James Wells.)
For Thou, O God, hast proved us; Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.
The soul’s purification by suffering
A most natural question--one asked by tried hearts in every age since the world began--is, Why, if there be a God, a merciful God, does He permit all these repeated and accumulated sufferings to afflict us? What are the Divine uses and purposes of sorrow? For we are compelled to admit that, if there be no ultimate design in and issue from sorrow, there is a fearful waste of tears and agony in the world. Some men have asked the question and received no satisfactory reply, and consequently have hastily and foolishly concluded, “There is no God; there can be no God, or this could not have been.” Even those who do believe in the existence of a merciful God, who do believe that He has the ordering and governance of all our lives, are yet confronted by the great mystery of suffering. They want an explanation; they want to know how it can all be reconciled with the existence and oversight of a merciful God. Thoughts like these are very old to most of us. How are they to be met? Well, I candidly confess that as yet the reason why God permits so much suffering in the world is wrapt in the same darkness as still surrounds that other mysterious question--Why has God permitted sin to enter into the world? There is no light; no effort of thought or imagination, no wide-reaching speculations have been able to solve the problem. But our text suggests several important thoughts.
I. The place of God in our trials--they may be sent by God. I say, may be sent, and thereby I mean to imply that all trials are not the effect of the immediate interposition of God. There are evils and sorrows which befall men which none would dare to say are of God’s sending, because it is evident that they are the fruit of wrong-doing. For instance, if a man has been extravagant and reckless, and has thus reduced himself to poverty, it would be a libel upon God if he were to declare that God had made him poor, since he only reaps the harvest of his own folly. There can, however, be no doubt, if we are to accept the testimony of Scripture, and to believe in the Fatherly providence of God, we must believe that He permits and sends affliction. We cannot, we dare not, forget that God has to do with us every day, and we cannot take any comfort in the cold conception that we have stern, unbending laws to deal with, and not the tender, compassionate heart of a loving Father. The human heart craves a personal and present God Then, further, if we can see God’s hand in our troubles, does it not make our troubles easier to bear?
II. The testing character of life’s trials. Men in their ordinary connections are constantly applying tests to prove the character and the ability of those with whom they have to do; seeking to discover whether there is weakness or strength, falsehood or truth. Creditors test their debtors, masters test their servants, parents test their children, and friends often prove by ingenious stratagems the faithfulness of friends. So the world, by persecutions, and flatteries, and snares, is always testing the Christian Church; demonstrating to its own superficial satisfaction the honesty or hollowness of the profession its members make. Every man having the courage to avow himself on the side of Christ is immediately put on trial by Iris relations and his neigh-bouts, who will entangle him in positions of temptation, simply to ascertain what his Christianity is worth. Little is taken on trust in this world, and we are never entirely content with any object or any pretension until it has undergone some fierce heat of trouble. Adversity is the great test. A cobweb is as good as the mightiest chain cable when there is no strain upon it. It is trial that proves one thing weak and another strong. This is true of our spiritual life, our professed faith.
III. The purifying power of life’s trials. The words, “Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried,” would express the thought here intended more clearly if read, “Thou hast purified us, as silver is purified.” (W. Braden.)
Tested for hardships
When Scoresby was selecting his men to accompany him in Arctic explorations, he needed sailors that could stand the severest exposure, and had nerve to bear the worst trials. So every man who applied to accompany the expedition was made to stand barefooted on a great block of ice while the surgeon examined his body and Scoresby inquired into his past history. Scores were rejected at once, as they had not nerve to endure the test. The men who stood the trial made up a band of brave heroes. So sometimes God tries us when He has in store for us some great undertaking. Many faint and excuse themselves from the start; some endure, and make the heroes and leaders of the Church,
Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads.
The rage of oppression
God hath another intent than man hath, even in man’s work. The Chaldeans steal Job’s wealth to enrich themselves; the devil afflicts his body in his hatred to mankind; God suffers all this for the trial of his patience. Man for covetousness, the devil for malice, God for probation of the afflicted’s constancy, and advancing His own glory. Here are cruel Nimrods riding over innocent heads, as they would over fallow lands; and dangerous passages through fire and water; but the storm is soon ended, or rather the passengers are landed: “Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.” There is desolation and consolation in one verse: a deep dejection, as laid under the feet of beasts; a happy deliverance, “brought out into a wealthy place.” In both these strains God hath His stroke; He is a principal in this concert. He is brought in for an actor and for an author; an actor in the persecution, an author in the deliverance. “Thou causest,” etc.; “Thou broughtest,” etc. In the one He is a causing worker, in the other a soleworking cause. In the one He is joined with company, in the other He works alone. He hath a finger in the former, His whole hand in the latter. Hereupon some wicked libertine may offer to rub his filthiness upon God’s purity, and to plead an authentical derivation of all his villainy against the saints from the Lord’s warrant: “He caused it.” We answer, to the justification of truth itself, that God doth ordain and order every persecution that striketh His children, without any allowance to the instrument that gives the blow. God works in the same action with others, not after the same manner. And whom doth the world think to ride over but saints? (Psalms 44:22). Who should be appointed to the slaughter but sheep? The wolf will not prey on the fox, he is too crafty; nor on the elephant, he is too mighty; nor on a dog, he is too equal; but on the silly lamb, that can neither run to escape nor fight to conquer. Those whom nature or art, strength or sleight, have made inexposable to easy ruin, may pass unmolested. The wicked will not grapple upon equal terms; they must have either local or ceremonial advantage. But the godly are weak and poor, and it is not hard to prey upon prostrate fortunes. A low hedge is soon trodden down; and over a wretch dejected on the base earth an insulting enemy may easily stride. But what if they ride over our heads, and wound our flesh, let them not wound our patience (Hebrews 12:1). The agents are men: “Thou hast caused men to ride,” etc. Man is a sociable-living creature, and should converse with man in love and tranquillity. Man should be a supporter of man; is he become an overthrower? He should help and keep him up; doth he ride over him and tread him under foot? O apostasy, not only from religion, but even from humanity! Lions fight not with lions; serpents spend not their venom on serpents; but man is the main suborner of mischief to his own kind. Our comfort is, that though all these, whether persecutors of our faith or oppressors of our life, ride over our particular heads, yet we have all one Head, whom they cannot touch. Indeed, this Head doth not only take their blows as meant at Him, but He even suffers with us (Acts 9:4). Saul strikes on earth; Christ Jesus suffers in heaven. Let but the toe ache, and the head manifests by the countenance a sensible grief. The body of the Church cannot suffer without the sense of our blessed Head. Temptations, persecutions, oppressions, crosses, infamies, bondage, death, are but the way wherein our blessed Saviour went before us; and many saints followed Him. Behold them with the eyes of faith, now mounted above the clouds, trampling all the vanities of this world under their glorified feet; standing on the battlements of heaven, and wafting us to them with the hands of encouragement. They bid us fight, and we shall conquer; suffer, and we shall reign. (T. Adams.)
We went through fire and through water; but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.
The victory of patience
First, “We went.” They went, so conveniently as they might, and so conscionably as they durst, from the hands of their persecutors, Secondly, the hard exigents they were driven to, when to pass through fire and water was but a less evil compared with that they eschewed.
1. From the former, observe, That it may be lawful in time of persecution to fly. This was granted, yea, in some respects, enjoined by Christ. But must be warily understood; and the rule, in a word, may be this: When our suffering may stand the Church of God in better stead than our flying, we must then lose our lives, to save God’s honour and our own souls. So that suffering for Jesus is a thing to which He promised an ample reward.
2. Prayer. This was the apostles’ refuge in the time of affliction (Acts 2:24). Bernard, in a fiction, doth excellently express this necessity, enforce this duty. Whilst these two opposites, Fear and Hope, stand debating, the Christian soldier resolves to appeal to the direction of sacred Wisdom, who was chief councillor to the captain of the castle, Justice. Hear Wisdom speak: Dost thou know, saith she, that the God whom we serve is able to deliver us? Is he not the Lord of Hosts, even the Lord mighty in battle? We will despatch a messenger to Him with information of our necessity. Fear replies, What messenger? Darkness is on the face of the world; our walls are begirt with an armed troop, which are not only strong as lions, but also watchful as dragons. What messenger can either escape through such a host, or find the way into so remote a country? Wisdom calls for Hope, and chargeth her with all speed to despatch away her old messenger. Hope calls to Prayer, and says, Lo here a messenger speedy, ready, trusty, knowing the way. Ready, you cannot sooner call her than she comes; speedy, she flies faster than eagles, as fast as angels; trusty, what embassage soever you put in her tongue she delivers with faithful secrecy. She knows the way to the court of Mercy, and she will never faint till she come to the chamber of the royal presence. Prayer hath her message, away she flies, borne on the sure and swift wings of faith and zeal; Wisdom having given her a charge, and Hope a blessing. She knocks at the gate, Christ hears her knock, opens the gate, and promiseth her infallible comfort and redress. Back returns Prayer, laden with the news of consolation. She hath a promise, and she delivers it into the hand of Faith: that were our enemies more innumerable than the locusts in Egypt, and more strong than the giants, the sons of Anak, yet Power and Mercy shall fight for us, and we shall be delivered. Pass we, then, through fire and water, through all dangers and difficulties, yet we have a messenger, holy, happy, accessible, acceptable to God, that never comes back without comfort--Prayer. (T. Adams.)
I will go into Thy house with burnt offerings; I will pay Thee my vows.
Here is a deep conscious selfhood; the speaker is concerned with his own feelings and his own obligations to God. It is all “I.” Men can never feel too deeply their religious selfhood, feel that they stand alone in relation to God, detached from all, occupying a position which no other can take. Here is a personal resolution to worship and to worship publicly, faithfully, and heartily.
I. Publicly. “I will go into Thy house.” Public worship is no arbitrary institution; it is founded in the reason of things, it grows out of the religious nature of man. There are two instincts that urge to it.
1. That of self-satisfaction. We are so formed that strong emotions urge expression. The sublimest satisfaction of a man is to tell to his fellow-men what a glorious thing personal religion is. The other instinct that urges to public worship is--
2. That of social love. The principle of social sympathy is implanted in every man; in some by nature it is stronger than others, in some by sin it is transmuted even into antipathy. Still the principle is there. Religion quickens it, strengthens and develops it. As sunbeams go forth to bless the world, the happiest sentiments in man yearn to pour themselves into other souls.
II. Faithfully. “I will pay Thee my vows,” etc.
1. Great trouble has a tendency to excite men to make religious vows.
2. The godly man will ever be faithful to these vows.
III. Heartily. “I will offer unto Thee,” etc. Nothing is a better test of a person’s love for you than the sacrifices he is prepared to make on your behalf. The love that cannot give the best things it has to its object, is of little worth. (Homilist.)
Religious vows a help to godliness
I. David’s uttering with his lips religious vows. Where I observe that it is commendable in religion to make solemn vows unto God. By these I mean no other than this, a voluntary obliging ourselves, by promise made unto God, to do some good and holy thing for the future, as namely, to bid adieu to such and such vices, to enterprise such and such virtuous actions, to undertake and perform this or that pious work. This is the general account of a religious vow. And it is necessary that I superadd this, that it is a solemn promise made to God of such things as are in our power: for we must not promise that which we are not able, by the Divine assistance, to perform. Moreover, a religious vow is a more solemn thing than a bare purpose or promise, because there is a particular invoking of God. If you find in yourselves an averseness to your duty, bind yourselves to it by solemn vows. Make serious promises before God that you will not forget and slight His laws, as you have formerly done, but that for the future you will be very observant of them, and make conscience of walking in the ways of holiness and righteousness, and let the world see that you perform the vows you made.
II. David’s paying those vows which his lips had uttered. As vows are to be made, so they are no less religously to be performed. I doubt not but some of you have solemnly vowed and promised that if God would spare you from going down to the pit, when you laboured under such sickness as threatened death; if He would relieve your necessities, when you were in great straits and dangers; if He would dispel your fears as to this or that calamity which you were under; then you would for the time to come forsake your former sins, and devote yourselves to the service of God more entirely than ever. And in the discharging of these your promises, and paying your vows, observe these three plain rules.
1. Do it willingly and cheerfully. We are taught by reason and philosophy that no act is moral, and consequently cannot have the tincture of virtue, unless it be free and voluntary. The Christian institution also hath no regard to forced performances, to actions that proceed from violence and compulsion. These cannot be genuine, and then they cannot be acceptable.
2. See that you speedily perform your vows and promises. And truly, if you do it cheerfully, you cannot but do it speedily. The direction given for performing of vows under the law must be applied to our evangelical vows (Deuteronomy 23:21).
3. Pay your vows fully and completely. Remember that Heaven will not be served by halves, God will not accept of lame and imperfect sacrifices. If thou hast at any time made vows and promises, see thou fulfillest them to the utmost. Erasmus tells us of a passenger at sea, who, being in no small danger by the fury of a great tempest, and now expecting every minute to be a sacrifice to the incensed ocean, after the fashion of that religion which he had adopted, he solemnly vowed to the Virgin Mary, that if she would be pleased to rescue him from his present danger, and make the sea calm, and set him safe on shore, he would offer to her, and burn out at her altar a great taper as thick as the mast of the ship wherein he was then in danger. But when this man was got safe to shore, and had escaped all danger, he was neglectful of his promise, and instead of a great massy taper he put her off with a farthing candle, and thought that that would serve her turn. This in some measure represents to us our dealings with the God of heaven. We promise great things, but perform very little ones. We profusely make vows, but very niggardly keep them. But this ought not to be so. You must be careful above all things to call to mind the past circumstances you were in, and f: reflect on your behaviour at that time; you must remember the promises and engagements which you then made, and the mercies which you have since received; and you must offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay your vows unto the Most High, as He hath expressly commanded. (J. Edwards.)
Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.
I. In social talk. “Come and hear,” etc.
1. The subject of a good man’s talk. What is it? The kindness of God to him. “What He hath done for my soul.” He hath enlightened me, renovated my nature, removed my guilt, brightened my prospects, etc.
2. The desire of a good man to communicate. Why does he wish to inform others of the blessings which God has conferred upon him? That he may do them good, inspire them with the desire to seek similar blessings.
3. The audience that a good man seeks. “All ye that fear God.” All ye that are reverent and religious, and that are in sympathy with me. Godliness is not ascetic. It does not shun, but craves for society.
II. In earnest prayer. “I cried unto Him with my mouth.” The expression “cried” indicates earnestness. Prayer is not words, but burning desires, “uttered or unexpressed.”
1. This earnest prayer was unobstructed by iniquity. “If I regard (in purpose) iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Where the heart is full of worldly thoughts, corrupt desires, and iniquitous purposes, there can be no true prayer. True prayer can no more spring from such a heart than vegetation from marble just polished by the sculptor’s hand.
2. This earnest prayer was answered by God. “Verily God hath heard me,” etc. True prayer is always answered--answered in the increased buoyancy, vigour, and joyousness of the soul. Every pure desire of the heart brings with it satisfying good. Virtue is its own reward.
III. In devout thanksgiving. “Blessed be God,” etc. God has heard me, and therefore blessed be God. What we win by prayer we must wear with praise. Mercies in answer to prayer, do in a special manner oblige us to be thankful. (Homilist.)
The experience of a godly man
I. The godly man is anxious to impart his experience to others. “Come and hear.”
I. His confession is volunteered, not enforced.
2. Spiritual experiences should be told at suitable times. “Come and hear.” Many have brought religion into disrepute by preaching when they ought to have simply and unostentatiously practised its precepts.
3. Spiritual experience should be addressed to congenial hearers. “All ye that fear God.” Some preachers err greatly by discoursing of the deep things of experimental religion to those who need to be taught the first principles of the Gospel.
4. Spiritual experience should be strictly personal. “What He hath done for my soul.” Much that has obtained currency for “experience,” has been either fiction, or religious scandal.
II. The godly man’s experience includes both penitence and praise.
1. He has to tell of sin mourned over. “I cried unto Him.” This is just the language that would describe the outburst of a penitent soul.
2. He has to tell of trouble endured. The trouble has been greater than he could bear; it has been more than he could fight against; hence he has cried to One higher than he.
3. He has to tell of mercies received. “He was extolled with my tongue.” This He has done for my soul: I sinned, and He forgave me; I was in trouble, and He helped me. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard,” etc.
III. The godly man’s logic. “If I regard,” etc. The Christian’s argument is this: If I cherish sin in my heart, God will not hear my prayer. But God has heard me. Therefore it is clear that His grace has been effective in my heart in subduing the power of sin. The answered prayer is the proof that I have been enabled by grace to overcome sin.
IV. The godly man’s experience always culminates in a song of praise. Even when he has most plainly established his innocence, he ascribes the glory to God, whose mercy has not been withdrawn, and who still hears and answers prayer. This closing song implies three things--
1. That God’s mercy is continuous; else iniquity would prevail, and be cherished in the heart.
2. That God hears prayer unweariedly.
3. That the disposition to pray is also God’s gift. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The psalmist’s invitation
I. That God had done great things for his soul.
1. God had done great things for him, in a temporal point of view--making a king of a shepherd.
2. He here speaks, however, not as the King of Israel, but as a citizen of Zion. The soul, and not the body, the subject. Worldly riches and spiritual poverty are often combined.
3. What God did for the soul of David, He does for the soul of every believer.
(1) He decreed its salvation.
(2) He gave it to Christ.
(3) He sent it: His Spirit.
(4) He renews and sanctifies it by His grace.
(5) He has arranged in subserviency to it, the events of His providence.
(6) He has made present grace, the earnest of future glory, already prepared.
4. Has God done any of these things for you? If so, He has done them all.
II. That David noticed and recorded the things which God did for his soul.
1. Unless David had marked and treasured up God’s dealings with him, he could not have told them.
2. The whole of his psalms show that this was his practice.
3. David’s example is worthy of imitation--if we keep not a journal, let us at least recollect.
(1) Such is the only course, dictated by respect for God, in His procedure towards us.
(2) Such is the way in which we may be enabled intelligently to co-operate with God.
(3) Such is the only way in which the answer to prayer can be perceived.
(4) Such is the only way in which a song of thanksgiving can be learned.
4. Is the past a blank to you? Then you are not prepared to imitate David.
III. That he felt the obligation of declaring to others the dealings of God with his soul.
1. The general tendency and practice is to conceal God’s dealings--though silence on the subject of experience is often necessary from ignorance.
2. The motives which influenced David might be various.
(1) He would have others to learn what he had been taught.
(2) He would have others to unite with him in praising the Lord for His mercies.
(3) He would, in a practical way, acknowledge the unity of the Church.
(4) He yielded to present and strong feeling: out of the abundance of his heart his mouth spake.
IV. This invitation is addressed only to those who “fear God.”
1. Had he been preaching salvation to the lost, he would have addressed all.
2. But he is to speak of the experience of a living soul in its intercourse with God.
3. In such a case, believers only are addressed.
(1) Because they only will listen from actual interest in such a subject.
(2) Because they only can understand such a subject--these things must be felt to be known.
(3) Because they only will make a right use of such communications.
(4) Because David was seeking for Christian fellowship. (J. Stewart.)
The communization of Christian experience
I. Such as fear God take an interest is His doings to the souls of men, and are those, therefore, to whom such communications will be made. They cannot but be interested therein. But the godless, or the formal, will feel no such interest; that which the believer has to tell will be an unknown and unwelcome truth to them. But those who sincerely fear God will welcome the experience of others, knowing that whatever stage of the Christian life be told of, the communication cannot but be profitable and helpful.
II. Those to whose souls God has been gracious desire to tell of what God has done for them. Not for the sake of ostentation or pride, still less from hypocrisy, but from irrepressible gratitude to God. And with the view of honouring God, to whom they are so much indebted. Also that they may do good to those to whom they tell of what God has done. It does do them good, for practical and experimental statements are well suited to help others in the heavenward way. And the telling does good to his own soul likewise. He receives sympathy, awakens delight, so that he and they to whom he speaks are comforted, and rejoice together.
III. And those who thus communicate their religious experience have much to tell. Not merely of God’s general goodness to sinful men, but of what God has done specially for them--calling them, pleading with, converting, accepting, sustaining, helping them in every way. Let us then take this conduct of the psalmist as a model. Let no shyness or timidity hinder. But with seriousness, and sincerity, and simplicity do this. It is not essential to salvation, but it is greatly helpful thereto, for yourselves and for others. But what of those who have no such experience to tell? Should not this lead to serious thought? If you cannot talk of God’s saving mercy here, how can you hope to enjoy it hereafter? (A. Thompson, D. D.)
The good man grateful for deliverances
I. Every deliverance of our life ought to be attributed to God.
II. Every deliverance from temporal, still more from spiritual trouble and danger, will so affect the good man’s mind as to excite his grateful acknowledgment of it.
III. While the devout man was anxious to stir up the whole nation to acknowledge the deliverance God had given to it, he was most desirous to address himself to those who possessed the fear of God.
1. What has God done for our souls?-anything? Oh yes! he has given us a distinguished mode of being, and has often put us, as it were, into a new life, after dreadful sicknesses, dangers, etc. He has also given to some of us a better, even a divine, life, and has often renewed it to us. Surely gratitude should actuate us.
2. But in what manner have these expressions of God’s goodness affected us? Have we acknowledged them openly, ingenuously, and piously? or have we in an ungrateful and cowardly manner kept silent for fear of man?
3. So far as any of us have walked unworthy of the divine goodness of God, in not having published it to others; and so far as we have trampled on this goodness, in neither having sought nor suffered ourselves to be put in possession of the divine life: so far ought we to be ashamed and abased before God, to pray to Him, etc.
4. It is our mercy that a due improvement of the present opportunity may yet lead to the most glorious results, as Jehovah will not turn away the prayer of the penitent, nor yet hide His mercy from him. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
I. What has God done for the soul of every Christian? The Christian’s God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each of this Divine Three has done many things for his soul, and whatever is done by either of them is done by God.
II. Why does the Christian wish to declare what God has done for his soul?
1. If we have seen or met with anything wonderful, we naturally wish to speak of it. That God should do such things for a sinful soul is beyond measure wonderful. It is by far the most wonderful of all His works. He Himself represents it as such. Well, then, may every one for whom He has done such wonders of grace and mercy, wish to declare it.
2. Regard for God’s glory prompts the Christian to speak.
3. Further, he wishes to declare what God has done for his soul, in order that others may assist him in praising the bountiful Benefactor.
III. Why does he wish to make this declaration to those only who fear God?
1. Because they alone can understand such a declaration.
2. Because they alone will really believe him.
3. Because they only will listen with interest, or join with him in praising his Benefactor.
IV. Improvement. Permit me to ask you, in view of this subject--
1. Whether the returns which God requires of you in the Gospel are not most reasonable?
2. Learn from this subject how inexcusable is your ingratitude, how much reason you have for sorrow, shame, and self-abasement. (E. Payson, D. D.)
Gratitude and generosity
Let each one put to himself the question, “What hath God done for my soul?” and may God, as we proceed, enable us so to answer the question, that our gratitude to Him may be kindled to a greater warmth, and bear fruit abundantly in generosity to man.
1. First of all, then, we declare with thankfulness what God hath done for our souls in the act of redeeming us. God sent His Son to bless us in turning every one of us from his iniquities. But salvation is not a mere momentary act, ending in itself. God’s plan is so to lay hold of our mind and heart that there may be continual growth and improvement. His desire is that we should advance in all spiritual knowledge, “understanding what the will of the Lord is,” and comprehending more and more with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of His love.
2. To this end He has given us the Holy Scriptures for our perpetual possession. Let us consider how great a blessing it is to have revealed knowledge laid up in store for us in a book. This gift to our souls is not a mere transient message, the impression of which may gradually fade away anal in time be totally forgotten, or the tradition of which may be corrupted and distorted without any power of correction; but God has so made His communication to us that we can keep it always fresh, can have it always ready at hand, can refer to it, can consult it again and again, can commit large portions of Divine truth to memory, can renew our impressions as they fade, can compare the different parts of the record together with care and deliberation, can study it more and more closely, and make it more and more our own every day that we live. But it is not merely as separate persons one by one that God has furnished us with blessings made ready to our souls.
3. We are members of a great society. The Holy Catholic Church is a part of the system of our religion. Not only does Christianity contain doctrines but likewise institutions. We are abundantly supplied with what may be called social ordinances in the Church. We have sacraments, and common prayer, and public instruction, and mutual help.
4. If, now, we are to single out a fourth thing which God hath done for our souls, I think it ought to be the blessing of providential care. How our life has been sheltered at dangerous times! What good directions have been given us by the word and example of others--what invitations to make ourselves well acquainted with Christ and His service, and with the peace which His faithful servants are permitted to possess! Whatever the result may have been, surely no thoughtful mind can hesitate to regard with thankfulness such providential care as one of the highest benefits which God bath conferred upon the soul. And especially let the mind dwell upon this providential care as intended for the discipline and training of the character for some real usefulness in life--as something intended to make us more thoughtful, more watchful, less frivolous, less selfish--something to give us the rare blessing of a right and well-balanced mind, so that we may be helpful to our friends, and that they may learn from us the lesson which we ourselves have been taught. But now we must advance one step further, and here we enter the inner circle of all. At this point especially the words of the psalm are addressed to those who fear God, and it is only they who can thoroughly enter into their meaning. “O come hither and hearken, all ye that fear God; and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.” This desire to help others is a certain mark of a true conversion. If, indeed, there has been experience like that which I have just described, its practical result will take this form. Gratitude to God will find its natural development in generosity to man. (Dean Howson.)
What Christ has done for me
I. Let us try and tell the tale. “What He hath done for my soul.” What has He done?
1. He has done that which no one else could have done. From first to last the work is of His own right hand, and infinitely beyond the power of any other. No angel, nor any number of angels, could have done for me what He has done. They may, indeed, “excel in strength,” but the work required as far exceeded their strength as their might exceeds a gnat’s. Angels have done great things--see Egypt and Sennacherib--but they could not do this. He has done that which no minister, nor any number of them could do; and what I could never have done fox myself.
2. He has done that which requires many words to describe. Saved! Ah, that is a grand word worthy of being written in letters of gold. A saved soul includes many things. A saved soul is a God-pardoned soul; a God-reconciled soul; a sin-delivered soul; a heaven-entitled soul.
3. He has done that which can never be more completely done.
4. And which can never be undone.
5. He has done that for my soul which brings more glory to His name than all His other works. See Paul.
6. He hath done that for my soul which I am able to know is done. If a man does not know what God has done for his soul, there is some reason to believe that nothing has yet been done. Is conversion so minute a matter, so small a change that it can only be detected by the most delicate tests, and then never to a certainty? Nonsense. That is a poor kind of conversion that only remains a trembling hope and never develops into a conscious fact.
7. He has done for my soul that which will bear the test of eternity.
II. A few reasons that warrant telling the tale.
1. Saints in all ages have done the same. See Paul. Throughout all his epistles the same thing shines. He never forgets his own salvation. Glistening like little gems in a setting of gold are those personal allusions. “I obtained mercy.” “Of whom I am chief.” “By the grace of God I am what I am.” Too often we forget that we have been purged from our old sins; the day of our conversion grows dim in the distance, and our heart’s love loses its fervour and intensity. The fire becomes caked over and gives out but little heat. Tell the tale, and in telling it, old memories spring into fresh life. The fire is stirred, its hardening crust is broken, and the flames leap out as bright as ever. Oh, it is a grand thing for one’s own soul to live over again the day of conversion. Tell it, it is the best argument with sinners. The world can understand a fact far better than a theory. (Archibald O. Brown.)
I. Some of those things which the Lord has done for their souls, which call forth their feelings of gratitude and love to Him.
1. What He has done for their souls in the gift of Christ (John 3:16),
2. In enabling them to appropriate to themselves by faith the blessings of that salvation.
3. In the privilege which He gives to them, of drawing near to Him in prayer through Christ, and in the communications from Himself which are imparted to them frequently in the exercise of that privilege.
4. In their preservation from falling into open sin to the dishonour of His name and their own everlasting ruin (1 Peter 1:5).
II. It is God’s will concerning His people that they should live in the lively apprehension of these benefits which have been thus conferred upon them. There are many who think lightly of Christian experience--who are ready to treat as enthusiastic, everything connected with it, and exclaim against it either as hypocrisy or delusion; but the operations of God’s Spirit do not consist in mere notions, but in his lively actings within the soul; where there is no experience of what God has done for the soul, there can be no real work of God’s Holy Spirit. Let none of us then be satisfied with mere notional religion, but see that we be able to rejoice in what our God, in His mercy and grace, has done for our souls.
III. We have here represented to us one of those effects which will ever be produced by that true Christian experience which is the result of the operation of God’s Holy Spirit in the soul.
It is, that it will produce the humble acknowledgment of the mercies which have been received--and that from the simple and sincere desire to glorify God and to benefit the souls of others.
1. To win the unconverted people of the world to the consideration of those subjects from which their hearts are alienated and with which they only associate ideas of gloom and melancholy.
2. For the consolation and encouragement and edification of the people of God. (Denis Browne, M. A.)
Tell others of Jesus
Dr. Valpy, the author of a great many class-books, wrote the following simple lines as his confession of faith:--
“In peace let me resign my breath,
And Thy salvation see;
My sins deserve eternal death,
But Jesus died for me.”
Valpy is dead and gone; but he gave those lines to dear old Dr. Marsh, the Rector of Beckenham, who put them over his study mantel-shelf. The Earl of Roden came in and read them. “Will you give me a copy of those lines?” said the good earl. “I shall be glad,” said Dr. Marsh, and copied them. Lord Roden took them home and put them over his mantel-shelf. General Taylor, a Waterloo hero, came into the room and noticed them. He read them over and over again, while staying with Earl Roden, till his lordship remarked, “I say, friend Taylor, I should think you know those lines by heart.” He answered, “I do know them by heart; indeed, my very heart has grasped their meaning.” He was brought to Christ by the humble rhyme. General Taylor handed those lines to an officer in the army, who was going out to the Crimean War. He came home to die; and when Dr. Marsh went to see him, the poor soul, in his weakness, said: “Good sir, do you know this verse that General Taylor gave to me? It brought me to my Saviour, and I die in peace” To Dr. Marsh’s surprise, he repeated the lines:--
“In peace let me resign my breath,” etc.
Only think of the good which four simple lines may do! Oh, tell the good news! Never mind how simple the language. Tell it out.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.
The petitions of the insincere unavailing
I. Consider what is implied in regarding iniquity in the heart. The words do not point to open, profane and scandalous sinners. But there are many who maintain a fair character before men, who, before God, shall be found wanting indeed. They are deceiving themselves, and say they have peace when they have none really. But--
1. These regard iniquity in their hearts who secretly practise it, fearing the world, but not God. They forget Jeremiah 23:24.
2. Who indulge the desire of sin though they may be restrained from the actual commission of it. Many do this in regard to impurity, sensuality and malice. But see the words of our Lord (Matthew 5:27-28; Matthew 5:21-22). And--
3. They who reflect upon past sins with delight, or without sincere humiliation of mind. Perhaps our real disposition, both towards sin and duty, may be as certainly discovered by the state of our minds after, as in the trine of action. For sudden temptation may sweep a man away; but the question which determines what the man is, is what are his thoughts and feelings in regard to his sin afterwards (Job 13:26; Psalms 25:7).
4. Those who look upon the sins of others with approbation or without grief. Not as in Psalms 119:136; Psalms 119:158; Jeremiah 13:17; 2 Peter 2:7-8. Some there are who find mirth in other’s sins (Proverbs 14:9). And--
5. They are to be suspected who are loth to bring themselves to real searching of heart, or that God should try them (Psalms 19:12). Now, all such do more or less regard iniquity in their hearts. But--
II. God will not hear them. This means--
1. When they cry for deliverance from affliction. God does hear the cry of His children (Psalms 91:15; Psalms 50:15). There are three different objects of desire to a good man while in affliction--the Divine presence to support him under it; the sanctified use of it for the improvement of the spiritual life; and, in due time, complete deliverance from it. The two first, he that regards iniquity in his heart will hardly ask; and the last he shall not be able to obtain (Hosea 7:14).
2. He will not hear them when they intercede for others (John 9:31). It is the prayer of the believing righteous man that availeth (James 5:15-16). How terrible not to be able to intercede for others because we are of those whom God will not hear. How diligent we should be, who have to pray for others, to see to it that we walk with God.
3. When they draw near to Him in worship (Isaiah 1:14-15; Proverbs 15:8). Nor--
4. When they cry for mercy at the last (Galatians 6:7; Matthew 7:22-23; Proverbs 1:24; Proverbs 1:28).
1. Let the ungodly be alarmed: it only regarding iniquity in the heart cause men to be rejected of God, how shall you appear who are living in open and gross sin?
2. Let us each and all examine ourselves whether we be of those spoken of here. Do we mourn over secret sins, and grieve because of the sin of others? Ask God to search and try your ways. Guard against your besetting sins and live continually as in the presence of God. (J. Witherspoon.)
The evil of regarding iniquity in the heart
I. A supposition stated. When may it be said that iniquity is regarded in the heart?
1. When it is permitted to reign in the life.
2. When we offer apologies for its existence.
3. When we evince no solicitude for its destruction.
4. When we make provision for its desires.
II. A consequence deduced. “The Lord will not hear me” (Psalms 66:19-20). This supposes--
1. That prayer may be offered to God, even when iniquity is regarded in the heart.. Sinners pray when they are in trouble; Pharaoh confessed his sin (Exodus 9:27-28); the Pharisee stood and prayed in the temple, but his language evinced the pride and haughtiness of his heart.
2. That where iniquity is regarded in the heart, the prayer is unacceptable to God.
3. That the man whose prayer God will not hear is in a most pitiable state.
1. How utterly impossible it is to deceive God (2 Chronicles 16:9).
2. That there may be a fair show of religious profession, even where iniquity is regarded in the heart.
3. That the most effectual way to secure success in our prayers, is to hate iniquity and put away our sin, and beseech God to prove us, etc.
4. That if God has not answered our prayers, we should be solicitous to know the cause, and find out the hindrance. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
When God will be found
There is a great deal of praying that is merely a form, and of the lips only. And a great deal that is “abomination to the Lord,” because the heart is not right. God wile not hear prayer that does not fulfil the conditions of prayer. They are--
I. Obedience. So long as I knowingly refuse obedience, no amount or vehemence of prayer will avail. I must lift up “clean” hands, or He will turn away in righteous anger.
II. Wholeheartedness. They that seek Him with “the whole heart “ will find Him. None other. God is a jealous God. Therefore halfheartedness will find no favour with Him. How often does God find it necessary to try His people and keep them waiting, till their hearts wax warm and in dead earnest, and their whole being goes out to Him in prayer.
III. A cleansed heart. See the text. An evil heart--of unbelief, of cherished sin, of impure desire, of malice, envy, worldliness--may spoil all our prayers and make them a very snare and a cursing. Oh, it is a fearful thing to come before God in prayer By our very prayers we shall be judged, both now and at the day of judgment. What wonder, then, that so many prayers are unanswered? (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
Prayer answered only when offered in sincerity
I. What it is for a man to regard sin in his heart.
1. It is to have a constant and habitual love of it. This true of all the unregenerate. It is born with him and he loves it (Ephesians 5:29).
2. An unmortified habit or course of sin. Even a child of God may have this: David had (Psalms 38:5).
3. An actual retention of the mind upon sin.
II. What it is to have our prayers accepted with God. It is to prevail with God for the obtaining of what we desire.
III. How it is that such regard of sin hinders our prayers.
1. Because in such case we cannot pray by the Spirit, and no other prayers find answer.
2. We cannot pray in faith.
3. Nor with fervour
IV. Application. Let all seek when they pray to have sincere hearts, free from hypocrisy and the love of sin. For otherwise our prayers cannot prosper, and, moreover, we incur the danger of a heavy curse (Genesis 27:12). Therefore, before prayer, let us examine ourselves. This, if anything, will clear the coast. Sift yourselves by examining as Satan does by tempting. (R. South, D.D.)
The hindrances to acceptable prayer
I. The blessing designed--that the Lord will hear us. This supposes--
1. That our prayer be rightly endorsed and presented, which can only be through the atonement of Christ. True, when men, like Balaam, are set on their iniquity, God will at times let them have their way. But the text speaks of a right answer to a right prayer.
2. That our prayers are for permitted things.
II. The declared hindrance to prayer--“If I regard iniquity in my heart.” Now--
1. This is not sin in the life so much as in the heart which is contemplated. The blind man’s reasoning was right (John 9:31). And yet men will keep up the form of prayer though purposing to sin.
2. And it need not be some definite sin that is designed, but if the desires of the mind be turned to sin, then prayer is hindered.
III. The reason of this declared connection between sin and disregarded prayer. Because in such state of heart we cannot pray. We may recite words, but we cannot pray. Let us deal honestly with God in our prayers. (Daniel Moore, M. A.)
Prayer with iniquity in the heart
If iniquity is regarded in the heart--
I. Prayer must be insincere.
1. For the most part, when men engage in prayer, they ask those things for which they are taught to pray.
2. If they regard iniquity in their heart, they cannot be sincere.
3. For they cannot really desire such blessings.
II. Prayer must be faithless.
1. Without faith, there is no prayer.
2. Faith, if it exists, is one of many graces, and itself purifies.
3. If we regard iniquity in our hearts, we cannot have faith, and, therefore, God cannot hear us.
III. Prayer cannot be in accordance with the Divine will.
1. Supposing that the man who regards iniquity in his heart be sincere, his prayer must be for what, etc.
2. He must be rejected.
IV. God will show His displeasure by refusing to hear.
1. Supposing that the man, etc., is offering a prayer for promised blessings, and--
2. That he is sincere, yet--
3. God has a controversy with him.
V. The ends of which we seek the accomplishment, through the blessings asked, must be discountenanced by God.
1. The man asks what is right.
2. He asks sincerely. But--
3. He asks right things for an improper end. We plead the glory of God--the name of Christ. (J. Stewart.)
When may iniquity be said to be in the heart? -
I. There would be iniquity in the heart, in professing to be penitentially humbled on account of any course of action, with which we have had nothing to do, or that is right in itself.
II. There would be iniquity in the heart, if we committed ourselves to any enterprise, without consulting God’s will at the outset.
III. There would be iniquity in the heart, in imploring the Almighty to bless means essentially inadapted to the end.
IV. There would be iniquity in the heart, in supplicating the almighty to enable one class of his sinful creatures to inflict injuries upon another.
V. There would be iniquity in the heart, in entreating Him to bless any instrumentality which He has prohibited. If Christianity expresses the will of God, and if Christianity is embodied in the life of Christ, then war is prohibited. And to ask Him to bless it, is to ask Him to promote rebellion against Himself. (Homilist.)
Iniquity in the heart a hindrance to prayer
Is there any difficulty in seeing why the utterances of one that cherisheth sin can never be wafted thus on high? How comes it that we weak men can ever engage in a work so lofty, so hard, as prayer, a work requiring the putting forth of all the powers of mind and soul? Is it not because there is a Spirit who helpeth our infirmities? Shall His voice be heard from the chamber of a heart in which the love of sin reigns? Will He, the Spirit of purity, work with a heart which is the willing slave of corruption? Again. As the man who regards iniquity in his heart cannot pray in the strength of God the Holy Ghost, so he cannot pray in faith. It is only when our heart, honestly questioned, carefully examined by the rule of God’s commandment, does not condemn us, that we can have confidence towards God. As the Spirit will not inspire, nor faith give wings to the prayer of the lover of sin, so neither can the prayer of such have any glow of life. In such prayers there can be none of that “violence” to which-alone the kingdom of heaven will yield; none of that seeking, knocking, striving, without which we can never find, never have heaven open to us, never enter by the strait gate. A great teacher of the Early Church, one who by God’s grace was rescued from a sinful life, and was enabled when he was converted to strengthen his brethren, confessed that at one time he had been in the habit of praying against a foul sin, nursing all the while a secret hope that his prayer might not be granted. Let those whose first thought on hearing this is one of incredulous horror diligently ask themselves whether, were they as honest as he in the task of learning to know themselves, they would not have to fall under the same condemnation. “I dread to sacrifice to the gods with unwashed hands,” said a grand old heathen warrior, “nor is it comely to present my supplication besmeared with blood and strife.” Besmeared with blood and strife we surely are as often as we come into God’s presence by our bedside or in His House of Prayer with thoughts and deeds of cruelty, of pride, of selfishness, of meanness and unkindness unrepented of; unwashed our hands surely are when our spirits are defiled with the stains of sin which we do not loathe, and in which we acquiesce, instead of being unwilling to rest until they be blotted out. Forgiving, tranquil, pure must his breast be who would worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; he that would take upon him the name of Christ must see to it that his steps depart from iniquity; he that would pray aright must sift his heart ere he kneel, lest he offer the sacrifice of fools; he that would rise from addressing God and joyfully cry with the psalmist, “Blessed be God which hath not cast out my prayer, nor turned His mercy from me,” must first approach God’s awful presence with fear and trembling and a reverent heed that the hands which he lifts up be holy hands, that the heart whose desires his lips are to declare be one that regardeth not iniquity. (G. H. Whitaker, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 66". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany