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Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered: let them alone that hate Him flee before Him.
A good prayer
This was what was always said by Moses, when the ark set forward afresh in the wilderness. Enemies were in the path of its progress, and if the ark was to advance, God must scatter them Advance of all kinds is accompanied with the scattering of enemies. The reformer, the teacher, the pioneer emigrant have all to fight. The very sun, as he scatters the darkness, seems to rise in a sea of blood. And God’s cause in the world and the hearts of men must fight its way through enemies.
I. This prayer is to be urged in reference to the enemies of the progress of the Gospel in the world. Selfishness in all its forms, tyranny, hate, worldliness, and unbelief, must be scattered by God’s power.
II. This prayer is to be urged in reference to the enemies of the peace and sanctification of God’s people, and of the sinner’s salvation. The Old Testament speaks much about enemies; the New far more about enmity. God’s avenging sword of old cut off His enemies; the Sword of the Spirit slays enmity. The reason of the difference is found in the different stages of God’s work in the world. God in the old dispensation had to carve out a little space for His garden and vineyard on the earth; now the whole earth is His garden, and He must root out every plant that He has not planted. It is not human beings that are God’s enemies; it is sin in man that is the enemy against which God fights. God’s enemies and man’s real enemies are the same. We do not conquer our enemies, because we do not sufficiently feel that they are God’s too. (Homiletic Magazine.)
God’s interposition invoked, worship enforced, and character portrayed
I. The interposition of God invoked (Psalms 67:1-2).
1. An impression of God somewhat general. “Let God arise.” The suppliant seemed to regard the Almighty as quiescent, as either unconscious or indifferent to what was occurring in the affairs of mankind. This view of God is unphilosophic, pernicious. God is all consciousness and all motion. He sees all, and is never at rest.
2. A conception of sinners always true. “His enemies.” They “hate Him.” What is sin? Practical antagonism to what God is.
3. A feeling towards man that is wrong. “Let His enemies be scattered,” etc.
II. The worship of God enforced (verses 8, 4).
1. Worship is the prerogative of the righteous--i.e. those whose spirit is ruled in everything by the only righteous law, supreme love to God. Such only can worship. Their hearts alone overflow with those sentiments of gratitude, filial reverence, and adoration which enter into the essence of all worship.
2. It is the outflow of the highest happiness. “Let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice,” etc. Worship is not a task, it is a gratification; it is not an effort, it is an effluence; it is not a service, it is a spirit; and it is a spirit radiant and jubilant in the conscious presence of the all-loving One. It is the spirit pouring itself out to Him as freely and naturally as the healthy tree pours out its fruit and its blossoms to the sun, or as the overflowing fountain pours forth its waters to the ocean.
III. The character of God portrayed.
1. His majesty. “Him that rideth upon the heavens,” etc.
2. His mercy. “A father of the fatherless,” etc. (Homilist.)
Sing unto God.
The service of song
The spirit of holy song is not confined to any denomination. It is given as a precious boon to kings and shepherds, rich and poor, bond and free, men and women, Catholic and Protestant, Moravian, Quaker and Baptist. We are growing in the charity of Christ. There was a time when our hymnology was intensely sectarian. We put our creeds into song, and we would sing only our own poets. We actually argued on disputed doctrines in our sacred songs. Controversy made discord in the songs of Zion. But we see happier days. So then if we have the gift of song consecrate it to the service of God. And let all sing, and sing heartily, in the public assembly. Every heart for God, every life for God, every song for God! This is the sublime sight we long to see, and for which the watching angels wait. (G. W. McCree.)
Joyfulness a Christian duty
It is necessary for some people to remember that cheerfulness, good spirits, lightheartedness, merriment, are not unchristian or unsaintly. We do not please God more by eating bitter aloes than by eating honey. A cloudy, foggy, rainy day is not more heavenly than a day of sunshine. A funeral march is not so much like the music of angels as the songs of birds on a May morning. There is no more religion in the gaunt, naked forest in winter than in the laughing blossoms of the spring and the rich, ripe fruits of autumn. It was not the pleasant things in the world that came from the devil and the dreary things from God; it was “sin brought death into the world and all its woe”; as the sin vanishes the woe will vanish too. God Himself is the ever blessed God. He dwells in the light of joy as well as of purity, and instead of becoming more like Him as we become more miserable, and as all the brightness and glory of life are extinguished, we become more like God as our blessedness becomes more complete. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
God setteth the solitary in families.
The manifold mercies of God--the family
There is a strong disposition on the part of many now to deny the goodness of God as seen in Creation. A great philosopher, recently deceased, assures us, in his last deliverance about Nature, that on the whole this is a very clumsily conducted world. No doubt this pessimistic state of mind has been partly caused by the foolish and excessive optimism of the writers on Christian evidences. These quietly ignored the deeper difficulties and perplexities of the subject, and the philosophers have taken revenge by parading them and deepening their complexion. True, Dr. Watts, for reasons connected with man’s depravity, preferred to find this world of ours “not a proper habitation for an upright being: its form is rude, irregular, abrupt, and horrid.” It is curious to find Dr. Watts and Mr. Mill in such entire harmony about Nature. Dr. Watts sees a fallen and corrupted in what the other sees an originally ill-constructed and ill-compacted world. But the world has working in it the principle of progress, and this is continually refining, elevating, and developing both man and his world. Nature, like man, is saved by hope. The depreciation which has fallen upon the Order of Creation falls more heavily on the order of the human world. And, no doubt, the signs of strife, struggle, confusion, of waste and wreck manifest in Creation, are yet more so in the human sphere. The signs of dire disorder affront us everywhere. The skeleton stalks abroad; it saddens with its ghastly presence the sunlight of life. It is a great mystery. It is inevitable that these things should perplex us when we consider the large and far-reaching plan on which God has made the world. The key to it is the culture of a free being: his education for a free and noble eternity. No key but this will fit all the wards of Nature and of life. Much of the complaint that is heard is really against man’s freedom, and because he is not more of a machine. If men were machines, and all filings were the result of a mechanical arrangement; if what looks like freedom were only reflex action, then one would be driven to the conclusion that the machine is extremely clumsy and ill-arranged. We could, in that case, readily conceive that a much more simple one might have been constructed, which would work much more smoothly, and with far less fret and friction. But, judging by the lights of Reason and Revelation, God has chosen to construct the world upon quite another scheme, in which the education of free, moral beings for an immortal life is the deep thought that underlies it. Everything must be judged absolutely by its fitness for this purpose. And if this be the purpose, then it is worth while to study profoundly this great scheme, and to search out all its depths. Contemplate, then, the Divine goodness in the order of human society, which grows out of the social instincts and aptitudes which are the special endowments of man. And at the root of them all lies the institution of the family. Out of that human society grows. We may understand the text as telling both of God’s loving care for the solitary, or as indicating the loving provision for man’s happiness, solace and development, which the institution of the family secures. Now, the immediate purposes of this order seem to be--
1. The drawing forth and the culture of the several faculties of the individual, and--
2. The continual elevation and purification of the life of society: its constant progress towards an ideal, the vision of which God has set before mankind. In the family you have, in little, the picture of society. It is there in miniature. It is under your eye and hand; you can study it readily and see how it works. And the pessimist philosophers would tell you that they find in the family constitution just the mischievous blundering of which they complain elsewhere. As the world, so the family is, they say, “capriciously governed.” And some speak of it more harshly still. It hands over, they complain, the character and career of each successive generation to individual caprice and will, concerning which you can take and hold no security: it is all blind chance what the parents may he. Plato sought, and communistic ideals seek, to rectify this supposed flaw in the arrangement of society, which is the result of family life. It is said, “What sort of blundering is it which places young children in their formative years, on which everything depends, under the control of those who are tolerably certain to be capricious and foolish? Would it not be better to take possession of the children from the first and place them under the rule of those who will be certain to train them in wisdom and virtue?” And there does seem something to be said for this. For what awful consequences come from bad parental influences! How many myriads of children are ruined by it! Now, it is not a complete answer to say that man has gone aside from God’s intention, because it allows that God made man capable of thus falling. But we must remember that all this is for our ,education, and is a mighty instrument in it, and we must take eternity into view. Then and there, if not here and now, we shall see God’s ways justified. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
The Divine origin and unity of the family
The family has been best defined as “the institute of the affections.” In its ideal state it is the home of love. It is the place of all others in which the affectionate side of human nature receives its strongest impulse, its freest, fullest development. While the family is first in order of time, having in embryo all the after fruits of civilization, being at the beginning of things, it held also within its limits both Church and State in their primitive condition. “The home is the first Church, and the home is the first State.” Historically and germinally there has sprung from the family all that is best in human history, all that we most admire in human life.
1. Every one who takes the Bible as his guide must believe that the family is Divine in its origin. It was instituted in Eden by God Himself for the preservation of the race, for the welfare and happiness of His creatures. It has stood the test of time. Sin has corrupted, but could not destroy it. Christ came to a sinning world to redeem and regenerate it. Sin had polluted all the relations of man and those institutions which God had established for man’s happiness and glory, so pure in their first inception. The family had not been exempt from this downward drag of sin. Christ would touch this centre of influence and bring the family back to its original place. He re-emphasized its sacredness. He put Himself in direct opposition to the theories of His age. Nowhere in the literature that preceded Him can you find such exalted views of marriage and the home as were presented by Him. That which by the perversion of sin had become such a power for evil He aimed to transform into a ministry of light and love. Through it He sought to propagate His faith and to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.
2. Consider next the unity of the family--its oneness of life. The family is treated as a unit in the Bible. The members of it are not so many isolated beings, each one independent and thoughtless of the other. They have a common interest and a common life; what affects one affects the other. This is true not only of every living generation, but of all subsequent generations. Every family has a history distinct from all others. It is a link binding the past and the future. Receiving from its fathers the heritage of their virtues, it is expected to transmit them to those who follow. Just as surely as every Church and nation has its unmistakable tone and spirit, so, surely, is there a common family life. Every household has its marked characteristics, natural aptitudes, its distinctive views, tastes, and ideas: Too much has been made of heredity in certain quarters, but the basis of truth in connection with it we must all recognize.
(1) It is interesting to note, even from a physiological point of view, the physical traits which reappear in the same family in successive generations. You take the child of to-day and trace a very close resemblance between him and the pictures of ancestors who lived one hundred or two hundred years ago. You detect the same features, the same colour of the hair and expression of the eye.
(2) Mental traits also descend from parents to children. The prominent and remarkable men of the world have, as a rule, had a remarkable mother. Distinguished women have borne the impress of a distinguished father. Say what we will, blood has much to do in deciding what we are to be and do in this short life.
(3) If it be generally admitted that physical and mental traits are transmitted, it will not be difficult to show that the spiritual nature of the child takes its direction very largely from the spiritual nature of the parent. Given parents who are gluttonous, intemperate, licentious, who are the slaves of their sensual appetites, what may we expect of the children who partake of their natures, who breathe the air and imbibe the teachings of their home. Who can measure the power of this family spirit? How often it is the very opposite to what it should be! Here it is money, money written on every face; here it is good living; here it is show; here scandal and detraction. Sometimes the sense of religion and of spiritual things will seem to be nearly lost or obliterated. Not that God permits this evil spirit of the household to have full and undisputed sway. He has established remedies and counter forces to resist it. Wicked homes are often broken up. Children whose natural parents will not care for them are gathered into public institutions or private homes by Christian workers. Families, too, are constantly intermingling. Better influences from without may overcome the wicked spirit at home. But that does not disprove the unity of the family, that oneness of spirit and character which manifests itself in successive generations. It is something more than influence, direct or indirect. “Every child is born into the peculiar life of its own family, partakes of its nature, and feels its power. (S. W. Dana, D. D.)
I. The family is a Divine institution. In the case of other relationships, such, for example, as those of neighbourhood and partnership, each man has been left, always, of course, under the presiding providence of God, to follow his own inclinations. It is a matter of choice with any one as to whether he shall live in town or country, but unless where God’s law has been contravened, every man belongs of necessity to some family. God has instituted the home on earth. What says our Lord on this matter? (Matthew 19:4). The fitness of the family constitution as God established it at first for securing the end which I have stated will be most convincingly seen by contrasting it with other systems which men have attempted to put in its place. Take, for example, that of polygamy, as seen either in the harem of an Eastern Mussulman or in that of a Western Mormon, and you will at once perceive that the very unity of which I have spoken is destroyed, and that there are few facilities for the training of children into highest nobleness of character.
II. The family is intimately connected with our earthly happiness. It is not in the magnificence of your dwelling, or the gorgeousness of your furniture, or the luxuries of your table, or the costliness of your attire that your home happiness depends, for you may have all these and be miserable still. Neither is it the absence of these things that causes discord and division in a house, for you may meet the highest felicity in the humblest abode. The question is, Do you honour God or not?
III. The family intercourse has the most powerful influence on human character. The law of the physical world is that action and reaction are equal, and there is something like that in the moral. We are assimilated to those with whom we come into most frequent and intimate contact. There is a family likeness, in spiritual character, as well as in outward form and feature, between the members of the same household. The husband moulds the wife and the wife the husband, until, as it has been often remarked, they come to resemble each other even in the expression of the countenance, and the one will often anticipate the very expressions which the other was about to utter. John Randolph said to an intimate friend, “I should have been a French atheist if it had not been for one recollection, and that was the memory of the time when my departed mother used to take my little hand in hers and cause me on my knees to say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ “The mother of John Newton died when he was but six years old, but during these six years she had stored his mind with Divine truth, and those early lessons, as he himself records, he never could get rid of, even during the wildest part of his career. Oh, mothers, what a power is yours[ See to it that you remember your trust, and seek by faith, and prayer, and perseverance to be faithful to it.
IV. The earthly family is not a permanent and abiding thing. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
God’s love of companionship
You will observe that in the margins these words are rendered, “God setteth the solitary in a house.” The Hebrew word means literally a house, or a dwelling-place, and figuratively, a family or a race. Now, we find in all parts of Scripture, but especially in the Psalms, short but emphatic descriptions of what God does, which open to us with no common clearness what God is. From brief notices of the conduct, we derive some of the best apprehensions of the character of our Maker. Thus, the sentence which we have brought before you as our subject of discourse discloses what we may cull a love of companionship in God. When the garden of Eden had been enamelled with beauty, and Adam placed there as its tenant, the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helpmeet for him.” It was thus at the very outset of the creature dispensation that God showed His purpose of associating beings, or bringing them into companionship, in place of allowing the solitary to continue the solitary. And whatever the period at which this spirit of companionship began to be developed, it is unquestionably one which may be traced in the whole course of God’s dealings with mankind. We are not at liberty to doubt that it is by Divine appointment that men have been clustered into those various groups which constitute what we designate human society. This human society is nothing more than a system of mutual dependencies, which will net tolerate, for the most part, anything of solitariness. You see that the whole machinery of a kingdom would quickly come to a stand; yea, that an arrest would be put on all the business of life, and therefore very speedily on life itself, if there were a determination on the part of each individual to keep himself to himself, and to have nothing whatever to do with the surrounding mass of his fellows. There must be the interchange of benefits between man and man. Paul says to the Romans--“As we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” And if once you admit this doctrine of the “communion of saints,” you are ready for the full understanding of “God setting the solitary in families.” It proves that the very instant a man becomes converted and renewed, there is a bond of the very mightiest union established between himself and countless individuals in different sections of the earth. He is not shut out from the sweetness of domestic worship by the mountain and the forest which surround him, but, participating still in the relationships of brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, what shall be said of him, but that, in his loneliness and desertion, he vindicates the truth that “God setteth the solitary in families”? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
O God, when Thou wentest forth before Thy people, when Thou didst march through the wilderness.
The progress of humanity
I. It commences with the Divinely terrible (Psalms 68:7-8). As a rule, if not always, the very first step of the soul on its moral march is preceded by visions of God that startle and alarm. God seems to enwrap the soul in “blackness” and “darkness” and “tempests,” to roll thunders and flash lightnings on the conscience, as on Sinai of old; so that the soul cries out, “Lord, what shall I do to be saved?” (Isaiah; St. Paul; people on day of Pentecost.)
II. It proceeds under the leadership of God Himself.
1. He supplied Israel’s needs (Psalms 68:9).
2. He conquered their enemies (Psalms 68:11-12). And this is what God is always doing for His people. No moral progress can we make unless He leads us on, supplying our needs and striking down our foes.
III. Every stage conducts to higher privileges. Three stages in the march of the Hebrews are indicated here. From Egypt they advanced to the wilderness, and the wilderness, with all its trials and inconveniences, was better than the land of despotism. From the wilderness they entered Canaan. Every stage that a man reaches in moral progress is better than the preceding. He moves on “from strength to strength,” from “glory to glory.” The glories reached are nothing to be compared to the glories yet to be enjoyed. (Homilist.)
Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby Thou didst confirm Thine inheritance when it was weary.
The language is figurative. There is no mention of any rain in Israel’s history. It was a rain of gifts. “He rained down manna upon them,” etc. “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods,” etc. Now, the resemblance to the rain holds good--
I. In their abundance. It is a plentiful rain. So is it with God’s grace
II. In their refreshing, reviving nature. See it in the fields; so is it in human hearts.
III. In their seasonableness--when God’s inheritance “was weary.” They have been weary times which have preceded the outpouring of the grace of God. See this in history; in homes and Churches; in individual hearts. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)
Blessing for a weary heritage
I. God has a possession in this world which may be pre-eminently called His own. “Thine inheritance.” The Church is His--
1. By special choice.
2. By right of conquest.
3. By voluntary self-surrender of His believing people.
II. This heritage upon earth is often exposed to the exhausting influence of trial and discouragement.
1. The length of the way.
2. Open enemies.
3. False friends.
4. Delay of harvest, and fear of final loss.
III. God is at no loss for means and instruments to refresh and replenish His church in critical seasons.
1. These promised influences are timely and seasonable.
2. They are copious and abundant
3. They are fertilizing and vitally influential. (Homiletic Magazine.)
A gracious rain refreshes God’s inheritance when weary
I. The people of God are His inheritance. This implies that He peculiarly loves, delights in, and cultivates His inheritance; and receives from them, in return, those fruits of righteousness, of worship, and of praise, in which the revenue of His glory consists.
II. This inheritance, from a variety of causes, is sometimes weary, By too much intercourse with the world; by too close an attention to business; by too free an indulgence in the enjoyments of life; the people of God become barren and unfruitful. And when they are brought to a sense of their condition, no land parched with drought ever thirsted more for the refreshing rain of heaven than they long for the renewing grace of God.
III. When it is weary, God, in great compassion, sends a gracious rain upon his inheritance, and refreshes it. There is not a more perceptible effect produced upon the face of nature, by the rain which descends from heaven, than in the soul of man, by the rain of heavenly grace. What a verdure; what a freshness, in the one case; and in the other, what a serenity of soul; what a kindness of temper; what a humbleness of mind; what a sanctity of heart; what a blessed hope; what an unspeakable peace; what a reviving like the corn; what a growing like the lily; what a casting forth of roots as Lebanon; what a spreading of the branches of the tree of life; what an olive-like beauty--are the fruits of this gracious rain, this heavenly refreshing! The refreshing of which we speak does not produce feelings and affections merely grateful. The beauty which is imparted is the beauty of holiness. It is a beautifying of the meek with salvation. Ask yourselves, then, this question: Am I refreshed by the Word of God? Does it come to me not in word only, but in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance? (M. Jackson.)
Trace the analogy between the effects of rain on the earth and the influence of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
I. Cleansing. No rain in March, no rain in April, and no rain till the middle of May; the grass, the flower, the shrub, the bush, and the tree were covered with malarial excrescences, parasites, blight and dust. How long would it take the women of England, with brush and duster in hand, to dust the hedges, the gardens, the forests and the fields? They sadly needed it--months without a wash, their beauty was gone. But the rain came, washed away the dust, drowned the parasites, and removed all hindrances to growth. This is the present need of the Church of God: “showers of blessings”; the washing of regeneration. Conformity to the habits of society, worldliness, talebearing, scandalizing, pride, selfishness, envy, strife, hypocrisy, uncharitableness, assumption of holiness--these are the dust, the excrescences, the parasites, which mar the beauty and retard the growth of the Church of Christ in our day. We need a downpour of the Holy Ghost to wash all away.
II. Fertilizing (Psalms 72:6). The mown field suggests the condition of those who are exhausting themselves in the service of Christ, or, at least, those who are throwing off crop after crop of work and experience for the benefit of others. These Christians are the pillars of the truth; towards them our hearts go forth. They are so busy at work that they cannot find fault with others; and so sensible are they of their own unworthiness that they never sit in judgment upon their fellow-Christians. Their motto is, To spend and be spent for Christ. But human energy is inexhaustible, and it needs replenishing--“rain upon the mown grass.” The rain fills the fibres of the tree, and penetrates the ground to water the roots, so does the influence of prayer water the soul.
III. Ripening. You see the husbandman looking at the cornfield when about ripe. A good shower ripens and fills the grain. The ripeness of the soul is like a shock of corn. God is looking out, and pours His Spirit upon it. (T. Davies, D. D.)
Thou, O God, hast prepared of Thy goodness for the poor.
God’s provision for the poor
We hold it as altogether one of the most forcible sayings of Holy Writ, that “the poor shall never cease out of the land.” The words may be regarded in the nature of a prophecy; and we think their fulfilment has been every way most surprising. But our great business lies with the fact that poverty is the appointment of God. “The rich and the poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.” When we have fastened on the truth that God troth appointed poverty, we must set ourselves to show that God hath not overlooked the poor. The Gospel of Christ makes no distinction, whether preached in a palace or in a cottage--whether it addresses itself to ignorant men or to learned men. There is no variation in the message: it speaks to all as being born in sin and shapen in iniquity; and announces to all the same free and glorious tidings--namely, that “God hath made Him sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” But not only has God thus introduced a kind of natural counterpoise to the evil of poverty; in the appointment of the method of redemption He may be said to have especially provided for the meanest and the most destitute. There is nothing in the prescribed duties of religion which, in the smallest degree, requires that the man be a man of learning and leisure. The Gospel message is one of such exquisite simplicity--the sum and substance of truth may be gathered into such brief sentences--that all which is necessary to know may be told in a minute, and borne about by the labourer in the field, or the soldier on the battle-plain. Nay, we shall not overstep the boundaries of truth if we carry this statement further. We hold unreservedly that the Bible is even more the poor man’s book than the rich man’s. There is a vast deal of the Bible which seems to have been written for the very purpose of making good our text: “Thou, O God, preparest,” etc. But there is yet another point on which we think it well to turn your attention; for it is one which is not a little misunderstood. We know that what are termed the evidences o! Christianity are of a costly and intricate description, scarcely accessible except to the studious. It is hard to suppose that the unlettered man can be master of the arguments which go to the proof of the Divine origin of our faith. We think assuredly that, if you take the experience of the generality of Christians, you will find that they do not believe without proof, and that, therefore, they are not unfurnished with weapons with which to repel infidelity. They do not believe without proof; but the proof lies, as Horsley says, in the surprising manner in which the Bible commends itself to their souls--in the inexhaustible stores which they find in Jesus--in the agreement of the doctrines and precepts of religion--in that exemplar of good, and in that fear, which a devout heart carries about with itself. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” And we think there can he nothing far-fetched in the assertion that there is no evidence of the divinity of the Scripture half so strong as that which a man knocks out for himself with the simple apparatus of a Bible and a conscience. So that we think that God hath so ordered His Word that it carries its own witness to the poor man’s intellect and to his heart. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The reference is to God’s care of Israel in the wilderness. But God still cares for men.
I. The nature of His goodness. It is seen in the produce of the ground. The brute creation as wall as man share in this, but the corn is especially for man. Judea was famous for its corn. By a bold metaphor, Moses speaks of “the kidneys of the wheat.” And as there, so here “the barns shall be full of wheat.” We are hindered in seeing the goodness of God herein by its constant repetition and by the moans--second causes--which He employs. But if some things hinder our seeing, others may help. Think how easily he could have destroyed all our hopes; and how dreadful if He had; and yet how righteously, for our sins, He might have done this.
II. The subjects of His goodness--“the poor.” It is not for them exclusively, but they are spoken of as being the mass of mankind: they would be most affected by deficiency: God would encourage them to trust in Him; and He would have the rich care for the poor, for He does. (W. Jay.)
God’s provision, for the poor
What is God’s provision for the poor?
1. He has provided them with a very honourable name. That name has been tarnished and sullied in the course of years. But the name as originally found in the Hebrew contained no idea of shame, guilt, or disgrace. To the poor and weak, not to the rich and self-helping, God’s richest promises are made.
2. God has provided the poor with necessary succour. There is ample provision in the world for the entire human family. The provision is God’s part, the just distribution is the duty of man. If we could only properly distribute the things which we have at our command every one would be provided for. If any man does not get his share it is the fault of his fellow-man; not God’s omission. In one department of individual economics especially there is a special call for the work of the Christian Church. And that is in the region of those numberless casual changes which fall to the lot of man, and, for the time, make him poor. Here is the opportunity for the Christian to go to him and to give him the personal word of cheer. Then again, the Christian, in his dealings with his fellow-man, must adapt the Jewish law concerning not shaking the olive-tree twice, or too nicely gleaning the cornfield. He is ever in his business transactions to set an example of high-souled generosity. He should take a personal interest in those who are dependent upon him. When we turn to the New Testament we naturally expect to find evidence that God has made provision for the poor. Nor are we disappointed. From the time of the founding of the Church the greatest care of the poor was enjoined. An experiment of the Communist system was tried. It early passed, either because there was not sufficient religion to sustain it, or because it was not the method of God’s idea. Its place has been taken by the law of Fraternity. Every one is responsible for the welfare of his fellow-believer. (J. Lorimer.)
The Lord gave the Word: great was the company of those that published it.
The proclamation of the Gospel
The occasion of this psalm--the carrying up of the ark to Jerusalem: the joyful procession is described. But it has a prophetic import as well as a literal one. It points on to the Ascension of Christ and to the gifts He has bestowed upon His Church. Our text is a glorious promise concerning the proclamation of the Gospel.
I. It is and ever has been the will of God that by man the message of mercy should be proclaimed. This so ordained in mercy to man and for the glory of God.
II. This word will never be proclaimed, except the Lord send us. God has ever sent forth the men who preached His Word, and He is sending them forth now.
III. There shall be great success. See context.
IV. She that tarried at home divided the spoil. Allusion is to Numbers 31:25; and for illustration see 1 Samuel 30:22. Some must stay at home, though there are many who ought to go forth to labour. But they who rightly stay at home, they shall be blessed through the missionary enterprise. Conclusion: Have we ourselves believed the Word which the Lord hath given? Let us give Him all the glory. What motives are here for fresh exertion! (F. Close, M. A.)
The place of preaching, in the past and in the present
On the old Glasgow coat-of-arms were the words--“Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word and the praising of His name.” That has been shortened now into “Let Glasgow flourish”--but the original was as I have said. The fact that that could be taken as the motto of one of the prominent cities of Scotland is a sign of the deep and far-reaching influence which preaching exerted in past days.
I. What preaching has done in the past. Both in our own and in other lands some of the mightiest triumphs that have ever been achieved were brought about by the preaching of the Word. Since the days of Elijah downward, it has played an important part in moulding the destinies of the world. Jonah, an old preacher of righteousness, turned a mighty city unto God by means of his summons to repentance. In the Christian Church we can mark the influence of preaching making itself directly felt in the early ages. We have the preaching of Jesus, so original, so full of beauty, so touched with deep love and mercy that it thrilled the heart of multitudes, and paved the way for the future acceptance of His cause. We have the beaming enthusiasm of John; the direct home-thrusts of Peter; the logical grasp and gathering impetus of Paul--all of which have left an indelible mark, not only upon the Christian Church, but upon the whole history of the world. Almost all the great movements of the Middle Ages have been identified with great preaching. One of the greatest and most daring attempts on the part of a preacher to achieve great things is identified with the name of Savonarola. That simple monk threw out the most powerful factions that ever ruled in Florence. For a time he blossomed out as a great leader, and sought to establish a City of God upon earth. He failed ultimately, and partly by his own error, but the extraordinary success that he for a time achieved over prince and people is one of the red-letter days in the history of preaching. In our own country it has achieved great triumphs, and has been reckoned one of the distinctive features of Scottish life. Since the days of Knox the pulpit has been the foremost institution in the country--most powerful for good or evil. The preacher has been listened to as the veritable servant of God, and his message taken as if it came from highest Heaven.
II. The place that preaching holds amongst us to-day. There is no question that the pulpit to-day does not occupy the same place of undisturbed authority that it did during the first two centuries after the Reformation, or even that it has done within the last fifty years. It is no longer the social, religious, and intellectual leader of the people. Other influences have sprung up and taken their place amongst us and exercised their authority. A very different set of conditions exists amongst us to-day. Never did cheaper and better books exist. Another great obstacle to the unquestioned authority of the pulpit is the change that has taken place in the public temper. At the days of the Reformation the principle of the right of individual judgment was established. But in these days we have carried that principle to a length that was never dreamt of then. Now every man reckons himself just as good a judge of right and wrong as any other man.
III. What work has still to be done by the pulpit. There are many who seem to have so completely despaired of the power of preaching in the future, that they advise us to resort to all sorts of expedients in order to fill the churches. All this shows a genuine distrust of the power of preaching to impress the public. That is not preaching which does not come straight from the Word of God. Lastly, the pulpit has a great work to perform in helping to solve, in a Christian manner, the social and political problems of the age. (D. Woodside, B. D.)
Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove.
Among the pots
The text has been a sealed passage for ages. Bishop Lowth declared it “unintelligible.” Mr. Spurgeon calls it “a hard passage, a difficult nut to crack.” But new light is constantly breaking out of the Scriptures. Miss Whately, travelling in the East, observed a fact which gives us the lost key to this text, and unlocks its beautiful imagery. In her work entitled Ragged Life in Egypt, she thus speaks concerning the flat roofs of the houses: “They are usually in a state--of great litter; were it not that an occasional clearance is made, they would assuredly give way under the accumulation of rubbish. One thing seems never cleared away, however, and that is the heap of old broken pitchers, sherds and pots that are piled up in some corner. A little before sunset, numberless pigeons (or doves) suddenly emerge from behind the pitchers and pots and other rubbish where they have been sleeping in the heat of the day, or pecking about to find food. They dart upward and career through the air in large circles--their outspread wings catching the glow of the sun’s slanting rays, so that they really resemble ‘yellow gold’; then, as they wheel round and are seen against the light, they appear as if turned into molten silver, most of them being pure white or else very light-coloured. This may seem fanciful, but the effect of light in these regions can scarcely be described to those who have not seen it. Evening after evening we watched the circling flight of doves, and always observed the same appearance.” The doctrine unfolded is the promise of God, that a holy character may be maintained in this sinful world, despite unfavourable surroundings. The Christian may be--
I. Clean as a dove in business. Your character is not cheapened because your work is in the kitchen or at the forge, nor is it ennobled because you handle diamonds, write poems, thrill breathless auditors, or sit behind mahogany office desks. There are men in coal mines with souls like the wings of a dove; and there are men in decorated mansions with souls sooty and black with sin as the miner’s face with coal-dust. One has the soot on his face, the other on his soul. How beautiful a sight to see a man who has spent the day amid the pots of business, environed by the dust and grime of greed, of selfishness, of fraud and falsehood, fly home at sunset unsoiled and clean as the wings of a dove covered with silver!
II. Clean as a dove in social life. Man has needs which only social life can meet. In this there is a great good, and great evils lie close beside it. “ Society “ is not loyal to Christ, but is obedient to the spirit of “the world.” Its ethical code is not the morals of the New Testament. Here are the pots dusty and grimy. We may mingle in social life only on the plane of our Christian birthright: “Brethren, ye are called unto holiness.” To mingle in society and not touch its wines, not patronize its demoralizing amusements, not bow down to its false maxims, customs and conventionalities, not lose the zest and fervour of a holy life, is proof of the constraining love of Christ.
III. Clean as a dove in religious life. The things impossible with men are possible with God. The things impossible to the unregenerate are possible to the regenerate man. Born again by the Spirit of God, and filled with Divine grace, he can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth him. If the lines fall to him among the pots, still he may emerge “as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” This does not cover presumption and reckless precipitation of oneself into moral dangers. Had Daniel been recklessly roaming around that lions’ den, and fallen in, God would not have sent an angel to shut their mouths. We must use all prudence to avoid evil influences: then, if our path of duty lies through a fiery furnace, God will keep us from all harm. (J. O. Peck, D. D.)
A contrast between the spiritual state of the sinner and the saint
I. From a state of meanness to a state of dignity. The mention of wings, by means of which the feathered tribes soar aloft, so as to reach an elevation, and occupy a field of movement to which the other animals do not, and cannot, attain, naturally suggests the raising of the redeemed from the degradation which they were accustomed to share with their fellow-sinners, and their being placed on high, and in heaven; while the silver and gold represent the splendour and magnificence of their altered circumstances.
II. From a state of poverty to a state of affluence. Silver and gold are the emblems of wealth. “Ye shall be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver and with yellow gold.” Whatever else these words may mean, they certainly must mean a state with which poverty has nothing to do. Doubtless they are expressive of those spiritual graces and endowments with which believers are invested, and of that imputed righteousness in which they shine; and which together constitute the ornaments and the robes that they wear as kings and priests unto God. Much has been done to enrich the Church.
III. From a state of wretchedness to a state of felicity. Joy in the room of sorrow; gladness instead of sighing; shouts of rapture for shrieks of pain; life for death! No longer tossed on the sea of adversity and trouble, they shall find themselves safe in the haven of rest, and peace, and external happiness; and, delivered from every vexation and every fear, ages of never-ending sunshine and serenity shall glide over their heads!
IV. From a state of defilement to a state of purity. “Clean water” is sprinkled on them, and they are made clean; from all their filthiness, and from all their idols, does God cleanse them.
V. From a state of grovelling sensuality, to a state in which the flesh, with its affections and lusts, shall be crucified. Sinners, in their natural state, are governed by some one or other of the unhallowed impulses of a depraved heart. But the desires of sinners that are renewed flow not downwards to the earth,--they ascend upwards to heaven.
VI. From a state of servitude to a state of freedom. (Andrew Gray.)
Rescued Item the brick-kilns
Before our conversion Satan is our task-master, and he is worse than Pharaoh. It is drudge, drudge, drudge. But after a while Christ appears, and says, “Let my people go,” and then we come out into the largest blessing. We wash off the dust of sin’s brick-kilns, and God makes us fairer than doves’ wings covered with silver. Now, we maintain--
I. That the grandest adornment that any young man can have is the Christian religion. But many would say, when they heard of some young man being converted, “Oh, what a pity! he was the merriest of all of us and the most gladsome. What a pity!” And here is a young woman, the pride of her home circle. She becomes a Christian, and people talk of the pity of such a bright light being extinguished. But we maintain that the peace, the comfort, the adornment of such a young person just then begins. The religion of Jesus Christ beautifies the heart, and instead of depressing it lifts up to a higher platform of cheerfulness. Oh the joys and comforts of Christ’s religion! What a poor, shallow stream is worldly enjoyment compared with that! It is not the people who seem to be the merriest that really are so. See that roystering, drinking, scoffing young man; how loud he laughs. But is he really happy? Follow him home. See him when he is alone and conscience speaks. He is wretched, as the Christian young man never is and never can be. “I have been trying these three years to serve God,” said a man at a great meeting at which I was present, “and I am here to-night to tell you that in these three years I have had more delight than in all the years of my abomination.” And that is the universal experience.
II. Religion frequently adorns a man by placing him in spheres of usefulness. Look at the fashionable fop--how fine he thinks himself! he never thinks of anybody but himself. Here is another young man who has set himself to try and do good to others. He loves Christ and wants others to love Him. He will try to uplift the fallen, to cheer the sad, to do all the good he can. Which is the most beautiful to look upon? Compare Napoleon and Voltaire with Paul. It is a grand thing to be a Christian hero. And what will it be in heaven? If I have persuaded any of you to start on the road to heaven I would like to stand beside him there. Many there are waiting for such to join them. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.
The chariots of God
We read much in Scripture about the holy angels, how high and glorious their condition is. And we are told often how these holy angels do their work that we may learn how we should do ours. All God’s works teach some lesson concerning Him, and His greatest works are especially rich therein. But in the lives of men we do not always see lessons and examples of what we ought to do and be. Oftener far do we see what we ought not to do and be. Therefore ought we to be glad and to prize it highly and thankfully, when God sets before us the examples of holy beings, such as the angels, who do so unchangeably His will. Now, the angels do what they do, not blindly and helplessly as the earth rolls round and bears her fruits, but knowingly and willingly. In this they are like to mankind. But see how the angels serve God. Take the story of Hagar: what an example for all servants of God in the conduct of the angel told of there--calling back those who have strayed from the path of duty, and helping those who are in need. Then, in the story of the angel who appeared to Manoah: he would not tell his name and would allow no honour to be paid to him for what he had done. So will the Christian disclaim all merit of his own, all honour to himself. And as the angels’ messages, so are ours to men to be, the announcing of the coming of Christ. So did the angel who called to Abraham on Mount Moriah, and thus enabled him to see Christ’s day. At times, too, they bring tidings of earthly blessing, as to Abraham: and so we are to assure men that God will reward His servants who give up all for Him. But in order to bear the message of God’s glad tidings we must have it graven lovingly in our own hearts. We must have our hearts full of it; and then it will overflow from our lips. The angels are called the chariots of God: they bear His will about to every part of the universe; and then they return to the presence of God. Again, an example for us. And they are part of a great multitude, as we should seek to have part in the Church of God. And they are soldiers of God carrying on the holy war. Let us share with them herein. (J. G. Hare.)
Twenty thousand chariots
I have seen in this multitude of chariots an emblem of the Divine promises. Some may judge this a fanciful comparison, but it has greatly cheered my heart, and I, therefore, feel disposed to pass it on.
I. Let us, then, in the first place, see in these chariots an emblem of God’s promises. Some one who has taken the trouble to count the promises in God’s Word declares that there are about twenty thousand, and I suppose it was this fact that led my mind to connect the promises of God with the chariots of Jehovah. So suppose we paraphrase this sentence thus: “The promises of God are twenty thousand, even thousands upon thousands.” We will not limit the number, for almost every verse of Scripture is in a sense a promise. The histories are promises, for what God has done God can do, and even the precepts, from some points of view, bear promises within their bosoms, for God never gives an order without providing the power with which to obey it. The prophecies and the parables are but various forms of promises. All the promises of God bear brightly marked upon them the royal arms; the Divine mark is plainly stamped on every good word of God. Seine of them have attached to them, “Thus saith the Lord,” lest there should be any manner of doubt as to whom the equipage belongs. Oh, that we had the trust in them that Dr. Isaac Watts possessed when he said, “I believe them enough to venture an eternity upon them.” It is related of him that when one spoke of the promises as “plain” promises, he said, “I rejoice in their plainness, for now that I am old I can do little but turn to God’s Word, and look out and rest upon the plain promises of God.” The best of all is that “the Lord is among them.” The Commander-in-chief is in the midst of His host. We stand side by side with the Promiser, when we trust His promises. Dr. Hamilton has said that “one single promise of Christ Jesus accredited in the heart, unites the soul to God.”
II. Let me volunteer some advice concerning these chariot-promises. If the promises of God are so numerous, if they are so like to chariots, how is it that you sit waiting by the roadside, wondering that you make so little progress in the heavenward way? These chariots are for you; if Christ is yours, His Word is yours, and every syllable that He has spoken speeds forth on your behalf. God’s words are “words upon wheels.” Mount the chariot, and you also will have free course. (T. Spurgeon.)
Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive.
This is the “Carmen seculare” of the old Hebrew Church, answering to the “Te Deum” of the Christian Church, and far surpassing it. In martial fervour, and in impassioned intensity of expression, the Hebrew songs excel all other compositions. This song bursts upon us at once. Every note is a nerve, every sentence is sensitive, every verse is a picture full of life, and strength, and victory. The inspired bard watches with enraptured gaze the onward march of the Most High. Mighty kings are scattered by a storm of hail, and the hill of Salmon, in the tribe of Ephraim, is white with sheets of ice. The Lord brings His own again from Bashan; His people from the depths of the sea. There comes a pause in this grand hymn of triumph, as though the singers, still gazing on God’s glory in the clouds, were altogether test in admiration, and too happy to sing any more. And so the hymn dies away with an exclamation of astonished rapture--“O God, wonderful art Thou in Thy holy places, even the God of Israel, who giveth strength and power unto His people; blessed be God.” The counterpart of all this is related by St. Luke. The evening sun is shining on the marble palaces of Zion. The disciples are standing on the hill of Olivet. They gaze upon the clouds beyond which their Master has disappeared, until the spirit of the old Hebrew song comes upon them, “Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive.” Let us try to catch the spirit of this wondrous hymn. God, the God-Man, has gone up. We are His children. We must go up too. Wherever you are, ascension is your plain duty. Until you get thoroughly, and heartily, and altogether dissatisfied with the dead level of your life, there is no chance of your doing any good, here or hereafter. If you do not care about following Him, you are not His disciple. Nay, less than that, you are not a man at all, if you will not ascend. To get higher, to get more power, more honour, more authority, more wisdom,--to feel more, to enjoy more--all this is the legitimate instinct of your nature as a man. But there is a false ascension, a wrong way of going up. There may be an elevation of a certain part without any ascension whatever. A man may ascend in this world by meanness, selfishness, and fraud. Even in religion there is often a false ascension. The exaltation is purely imaginary. The man goes up too quickly, and with too much noise. The sham saint goes up, but the Saviour goes not with him. All this is very sad, and makes sad work altogether. The sham saint does so much harm. When you ascend, go carefully, and remember that before you can really go up you must go down. You will enjoy heaven when you get there, not before. You have to carry the cross to the crown. You cannot ascend unless you are humble, and the cross will make you humble. Are we so ascending? (Henry J. Swallow.)
The ascension of Christ
I. His glorious exaltation. The exaltation of our Redeemer is indeed a sufficient ground of thankfulness and praise; for it is an illustrious proof to the universe that God is reconciled; that there is forgiveness with Him and plenteous redemption for all sinners who will implore His mercy.
II. His triumphant victory. He has vanquished all our enemies--sin, Satan, death.
III. His mediatorial grace. He had purchased blessings for us; and He went to receive them at His Father’s hands, that He might impart them to us. But what are these blessings so dearly bought and so freely bestowed?
1. The privilege of prevailing intercession.
2. The gift of universal dominion.
3. The Holy Spirit.
1. Let our affections be where He is.
2. Let us cast away every desponding thought.
3. Let us inquire--Are the designs of His mediation, with respect to ourselves, likely to be answered? Are we maintaining continual regard to Him in all His offices, and so persevering in faith and holiness that we may say with humble confidence, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory.” (R. Davies, M. A.)
The exaltation of the Saviour
I. His ascension. It would seem, then, that the two radiant messengers who appeared to the disciples, as they were gazing after their Master with ardent eyes, formed only a small part of His celestial retinue. It would seem that in His train there were thousands and myriads of the chariots or cavalry of God. And may we not presume, further, that His reception in heaven, imperfect as our ideas of it unavoidably are, would yet be such as was befitting the Divine dignity of His person and the unparalleled glory of His achievements?
II. His victory and triumph. It often happens that the fruits of a victory are very imperfectly perceived at the moment; and that they are more fully manifested in the triumph which commemorates it. Now, what a triumph is to a victory, that the ascension of the Saviour was, to the victory which He achieved at His death over our spiritual foes. The one is the completion or commemoration of the other--the manifestation of its reality, and the proof of its unparalleled magnitude and importance. To the inhabitants of heaven the ascension of Jesus Christ proved conclusively His victory; for when He entered heaven He was seated at the right, hand of the Father, invested with unlimited dominion as Mediator and Saviour, “angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” Still further, when He entered into heaven, He entered it in a public capacity, as the forerunner and representative of His people, to take possession of it in their name, and to prepare it for their accommodation.
III. His reception of gifts, and the object for which He received them.
1. What are the gifts here referred to?
(1) Among those gifts may be mentioned first, the extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Spirit.
(2) At His ascension, the Saviour was empowered to dispense the Holy Spirit not only in His miraculous but in His sanctifying gifts and operations. These latter influences, though less splendid and striking in their nature and effects, are far more valuable than those miraculous gifts. The renewing and purifying influences of the Spirit are inseparably connected with a state of grace and acceptance, and they seal the soul to the day of redemption; for they produce that conformity to the moral image of God which prepares for heaven, and which is the sure presage of admission to it.
(3) At His ascension, the Lord Jesus was empowered to dispense not only the gifts and influences of the Spirit, but all the blessings of salvation. “Him hath God exalted with His right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour,” etc.
2. How did He obtain these gifts?
(1) As a donation from the Father.
(2) As a reward due to His previous labours and sufferings.
(3) While this arrangement is most wise and equitable in reference to Him, it is fraught with infinite kindness to us. To whom can we go for whatever we need with such freedom as to Him? And if there be any friend on whose kindness we may calculate with confidence, it must surely be that Friend who died for us on the accursed tree.
3. For whom He received those gifts. It is a custom which has prevailed among almost all nations, that princes when ascending their thrones, and conquerors when celebrating their victories, have sent presents to their friends, and distributed largesses among the multitude. But how poor and worthless are the presents and largesses bestowed by earthly princes and conquerors,--such as gold and silver, and costly apparel, and other spoils taken in war,--compared with the gifts conferred by the Captain of our salvation, when He celebrated His victory, and ascended to His resplendent throne at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
4. What the object is for which the Saviour received gifts for men. “That God the Lord might dwell among them.”
(1) What is implied in God’s dwelling among men? Dwelling among them as their God and father and friend, maintaining a gracious and hallowed intercourse with them, by imparting to them the influences of His Spirit, honouring them with the tokens of His love, and accepting of the worship and obedience which they render Him.
(2) How did the communication of the gifts committed to the Saviour contribute to the production of the intended result, that is, to God’s dwelling among men? The miraculous gifts conferred on the apostles not only enabled them to proclaim the tidings of reconciliation to heathen tribes and nations, but served farther to attest the Divine authority of their message, and to recommend it to the consideration and belief of those to whom it was proclaimed. The other influences of the Spirit, accompanying the Word, were still more effective: for they aroused the stupid and the ignorant as well as the learned and refined, dispelled their prejudices, opened their understandings, and prevailed on them to admit the truth into their hearts, and to submit their stubborn wills to its humbling proposals and its holy requirements. (R. Balmer, D. D.)
Our Lord’s triumphant ascension
I. Our Lord’s triumph was set forth by His ascension. Dwell on the fact that He, the Son of David, who for our sakes came down on earth and lay in the manger, and hung upon a woman’s breast, has gone up on high, into the glory infinite. He that trod the weary ways of Palestine now reigns as a King in His palace. He that sighed, and hungered, and wept, and bled, and died, is now above all heavens. He that was earth’s scorn is now heaven’s wonder.
II. Our Lord’s triumphal ascent demonstrated the defeat of all our foes. Easily may the sheep follow where the Shepherd breaks the way. We have but to follow those heavenly feet, which once were pierced, and none of our steps shall slide. Move on, O soldiers of Jesus, for your Captain cries, “Follow me!”
III. Our Lord’s triumphant ascension was celebrated by gifts.
1. What are these great ascension gifts? I answer that the sum of them is the Holy Spirit. I invite your adoring attention to the sacred Trinity herein manifested to us. “Thou hast ascended on high:” there is Christ Jesus. “Thou hast received gifts for men:” there is the Father, bestowing those gifts. The gift itself is the Holy Spirit. This is the great largess of Christ’s ascension, which He bestowed on His Church at Pentecost. Thus you have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit blessedly co-working for the benediction of men, the conquest of evil, the establishment of righteousness. O my soul, delight thyself in Father, Son, add Holy Spirit.
2. But observe, according to Paul, these gifts which our Lord gave are embodied in men; for the Holy Spirit comes upon men whom He has chosen, and works through them according to His good pleasure. Hence he gave some, apostles, some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers. No one may be judged to be given of God to the Church in any of these offices unless as the Spirit dwells upon him.
IV. Our Lord’s triumph has a very special bearing for the unconverted. “Thou hast received gifts for men,” not for angels, not for devils, but for men--poor fallen men. Does the text particularly mention “ saints,” or those that have not defiled their garments? No, I do not read of them here. What a strange sovereignty there is about the grace of God! Truly He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy; for in this instance He selects for special mention those that you and I would have passed over without a word. “Yea, for the rebellious also.”
V. Our Lord’s triumphant ascension secures the consummation of His whole work. “That the Lord God might dwell among them.” When our Lord Christ came here at the first He was willing enough to “dwell” among us; but it could not be. “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us,” like a Bedouin in his tent, but not as a dweller at he, me. He could not “dwell” here on that occasion. He was but a visitor, and badly treated at that. After He had risen again, He went home, that from this throne He might direct a work by which earth should become s place where God could abide. Again is the temple of God to be with men, and He shall dwell among them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou hast received gifts for men.
Gifts received and gifts ministered
If giving was the one work of the earthly life of Christ, so is it also of the heavenly. Reflect upon the vastness of the work which our Saviour is now carrying on in heaven. Well might He say, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” If we believe the word in the Bible, we must feel that what Christ does in any one believing soul would be enough to occupy all the care, as it would far indeed exceed the capacity, of the wisest and the best of men. The cleansing of one heart, the keeping of one life, the adaptation of a Providence, as minute as it is powerful, to the good of one soul, must be a work of thought, of exertion, of time, of patience, far beyond the reach of our very imagination to conceive. But multiply this work by a thousand times ten thousand, spread it through the length and breadth of the earth, protract it through a thousand generations, vary it by the infinite modifications of care and of circumstance, of disposition, race and age,--reflect on all this, and you will understand as never before how the ascended Christ gave gifts unto men. (Dean Vaughan.)
New Testament donations
I. The Holy Spirit.
1. Before Christ’s victory and exaltation the influences of the Spirit had been confined, for the most part, to the seed of Abraham; but now He is to he a “free Spirit” in relation to the whole world.
2. Before Christ’s ascension the influences of grace were given in mere drops; but now in New Testament times God “pours out His Spirit “ in streams and floods. Now that Jesus has really purchased the Spirit, His influences are given copiously and abundantly, as they never were before.
3. Before Christ’s ascension the truth which the Spirit found available as the basis of His operations was comparatively scanty, and only dimly apprehended, even by good men; but now the Spirit has all the testimony of the historical Christ to work with. Now, His definite work is to “glorify Christ,” and represent Him in the world and in the Church.
II. A finished redemption. The Gospel of salvation is a finished thing. Its Architect has seen it realized in the complete and glorious pile of the palace of saving truth. “Wisdom hath builded her house;” she hath also “furnished her table.” And the magnificent structure and the rich provision is a “gift for men.”
III. A completed Bible. That man surely wants the seeing eye who looks upon the Bible as a “thing of shreds and patches”--a mixture of fact and legend--an amalgam of truth and myth. He who is taught by the Spirit recognizes it on its Divine side and in its Divine plan to be the most strictly scientific of all books; and he knows that it is strong enough to bear the shock of criticism on its human side. The Lord Jesus has given us the Bible. His work on earth is the nucleus round which all the books of Scripture crystallize; and He had no sooner “ascended on high” than He caused the canon to be completed, and gave the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures to all the ends of the earth--a “gift for men.”
IV. The gospel ministry. The Apostolate was a “gift for men.” New Testament prophecy was a “gift for men.” The missionary commission is a “gift for men.” The pastorate is a “gift for men.” The ordinance of discipline is a “gift for men.”
V. All the Christian graces (Ephesians 4:7). In conclusion, let us ask ourselves, What do we think of these “gifts”? Do we admire them? Have we made up our minds that they are “the best gifts,” and do we “covet” them “earnestly”? Do we recognize that it is a nail-pierced hand from which they come? Are we holding out our empty hands to receive them? (C. Jordan, M. A.)
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.
God as the Deliverer of His people
I. A liberal dispenser of daily blessings (Psalms 68:19). “Daily beareth our burden” (R.V.). Amongst the many ways in which He helps men to bear their burdens is by kindling within them and keeping burning the lamp of hope. The soul-vessel that is most heavily freighted, and most severely tossed by the tempest is buoyed up by hope. “Day by day.” When the day comes that God ceases to impart His strength, the man falls under his weight, and is crushed.
II. As the exclusive possessor of means for escaping death (Psalms 68:20).
1. God alone has ways by which physical death can be escaped. Enoch; Elijah.
2. God alone has ways by which spiritual death can be escaped. Spiritual death is a thousand times the worst death, it is not the extinction of existence, but the extinction of all that makes existence worth having, and renders it an intolerable curse.
III. As the effectual subduer of persistent enemies (Psalms 68:21). He could annihilate His universe by a volition. But the destruction of their enmity is a far more glorious work--a work that requires more time, and that, through Christ, He is prosecuting every day amongst men. Here He literally strikes at “the head of His enemies,” the spirit of antagonism to Himself. The ruling spirit of a man is the head of his being. It is at this that God strikes in the Gospel. Of the seed of the woman--viz. Christ--it was said, “He shall bruise thy head.” Christianity aims at the head of the evil, which is the governing disposition.
IV. As the willing repeater of needed interpositions (Psalms 68:22; Psalms 68:28). Truly, it is an encouraging thought that the great things that God has done for His people He is willing to do again, should they require it. He will take them through seas of trial and sorrow that threaten to swallow them up, put to flight the armies of their enemies, and make the land red with their blood. (Homilist.)
The burden-bearing God
The great objection to the rendering which has become familiar to us all, “Who daily loadeth us with benefits,” is that these essential words are not in the original, and need to be supplied in order to make out the sense. Whereas, on the other hand, if we adopt the suggested emendation, “Who daily beareth our burdens,” we get a still more beautiful meaning, which requires no force or addition in order to bring it out.
I. The remarkable and eloquent blending of majesty and condescension. What a thought that is--a God that carries men’s loads! People talk much rubbish about the “stern Old Testament Deity”: is there anything sweeter, greater, more heart-compelling and heart-softening, than such a thought as this? How all the majesty bows itself and declares itself to be enlisted on our side when we think that “He that sitteth on the circle of the heavens, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers,” is the God that “daily beareth our burdens”!
II. The deep insight into the heart and ways of God here. “He daily beareth our burdens.” If there is any meaning in this word at all, it means that He so knits Himself with us as that all which touches us touches Him, that He takes a share in all our pressing duties, and feels the reflection from all our sorrows and pains. We have no impassive God in the heavens, careless of mankind, nor is His settled and changeless and unshaded blessedness of such a sort as that there cannot pass across it--if I may not say a shadow, I may at least say--a ripple from men’s pangs and troubles and cares. God, in all our afflictions, is afflicted; and, in simple though profound verity, has that which is most truly represented to men, by calling it a fellow feeling with our infirmities and our sorrows.
III. The remarkable anticipation of the very heart of the Gospel. Ah! it were of small avail to know a God that bore the burden of our sorrows and the load of our duties, if we did not know a God who bore the weight of our sins. For that is the real crushing weight that breaks men’s hearts and bows them to the earth. So the New Testament, with its message of a Christ on whom is laid the whole pressure of the world’s sin, is the deepest fulfilment of the great words of my text.
IV. What we should therefore do with our burdens. First, we should cast them on God, and let Him carry them. He cannot unless we do. One sometimes sees a petulant and self-confident little child staggering along with some heavy burden by the parent’s side, but pushing away the hand that is put out to help it to carry its load. And that is what too many of us do when God says to us, “Here, My child, let Me help you, I will take the heavy end of it, and do you take the light one.” And, last of all, let us see to it that we render Him praise. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The God of our salvation daily loadeth us with benefits
I. What God is: “The God of our salvation.” Man is a sinner, and sin exposes him to danger; for “the wages of sin is death,” and “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” But there is deliverance from this danger; this is attributed to God.
1. The scheme of salvation originated in God (John 3:17).
2. The means of salvation are afforded us by God. God sends us His Gospel, containing good news of salvation; His ministers to declare the way of salvation; He affords us Christian sabbaths, religious ordinances, and various means of grace, in order to promote our salvation.
3. The work of salvation is accomplished in the human soul by God’s immediate agency.
4. The sole glory of our final salvation will endlessly redound to God. In heaven we shall have clearer discoveries of the greatness, extent, and freeness of our salvation (Revelation 7:10).
II. What God does for us: He “daily loadeth us with benefits.”
1. The nature of God’s gift. “Benefits,” not deserts.
2. Their number. “Loadeth.”
3. The frequency of their communication. “Daily.” And these benefits flow to us freely, unsolicited, unimplored, unsought. Seasonably, exactly as we need them. Critics state that it should be read “who bears our burdens, or supports us, every day.” In the wilderness God bare Israel as a man doth bear his son (Deuteronomy 1:31). Or as an eagle bears her young on her wings (Deuteronomy 32:11). The promise is (Isaiah 46:4). We have our cares, and burdens, and anxieties, but God invites us to cast them upon Him (Psalms 55:22).
III. What we should do in return. “Blessed be the Lord.” To bless signifies to extol, exalt, or speak well of a person; and to bless the Lord is to speak good of His name.
1. We should bless the Lord sincerely. Hypocrisy is hateful to God.
2. We should bless the Lord affectionately. Our gratitude should be the effusion of love.
3. We should bless the Lord constantly. “I will bless the Lord at all times.”
4. We should bless the Lord practically. To say, “We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the’ Lord,” while we practically violate His laws, must be abominable in His sight. Let us “ praise Him not only with our lips but by our lives,” etc. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Unto God the Lord belong the issues from death.
The royal prerogative
Whatever may be said of the Old Testament dispensation, one thing is clear; in it the Lord God of Israel is ever most conspicuous. God is in all and over all. Here in our text, universal action and power over us are ascribed to the Lord--the mercies of life and the issues of death.
I. The sovereign prerogative of God. “Unto God . . . the issues of death.” Kings have been wont to keep the power of life and death in their own hands. The great King of kings does so. “He can create and He destroy.” This prerogative of life and death is His in a wide sense. It is true of our natural life, and of our spiritual. For we are under the condemnation of the law. But God determines whether the sentence shall be carried out. And in those “deaths oft” with which Christian experience is familiar, those dyings down of the heart and spirit which are the result of our old nature which still cleaveth to the dust, God’s Spirit can revive us again. And when we come actually to die, not to death but to God shall the issue belong. “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” saith the Lord: “He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” And the resurrection day will make His words good.
2. He has the right to exercise this prerogative.
3. And He has exercised this prerogative in abundant instances.
4. Then let Him have all the glory of it.
II. The character of the sovereign in whom it is vested. “He that is our God is the God of salvation.” This name means--
1. That salvation is the most glorious of all His designs.
2. That His most delightful works have been works of salvation.
3. That we live at this moment under the dispensation of mercy. The sword is sheathed, the scales of justice put by.
4. That to those who can call Him “our God” He is especially and emphatically the God of salvation. We owe it all to Him. ‘Twas He passed by and bid us “live.”
III. The solemn warning of the Sovereign Lord. A new God has lately been set up, all leniency, gentleness, mildness and indifference in the matter of sin. This God is made of honey or sugar of lead. Justice is not in him, nor the punishment of sin. But it is not so. Our text tells the awful truth to wicked men. God can smite, and ere long He will. The proud may vaunt themselves of their beauty and glory in their strength; their heavy scalp, like that of Absalom, may be their boast, but, as in his case, it may be their ruin. No man is out of the reach of God, and no nation either. Turn ye then, ye that know not God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But God shall wound the head of His enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses.
God’s threatenings against incorrigible sinners
I. The persons threatened.
1. In general, God’s enemies; in particular, those who go on still in their trespasses (Leviticus 26:18; Deuteronomy 29:19-20; Proverbs 29:1). In these and other passages of Scripture, God threatens the pertinacious sinner.
2. There is very good ground for it, which may appear in these following considerations.
(1) Because he multiplies sin.
(2) Because he aggravates it.
(3) Because he confirms it.
He makes his sins more numerous. He makes his sins more heinous. He makes his sins more settled, and hardened and difficult to be removed; therefore draws on the punishment of them.
II. The evil threatened. “Wound.”
1. A mollified expression. Not kill, but “wound.” Counts it enough for Him to lay His enemies flat. He does not so much care to insult, and to triumph over them, or to do the worst that He can against them.
2. As it is a mollified expression, so it is a peremptory. He shall or will do it, does it not yet it may be, but yet means to do it hereafter, if He be not the better prevented, that He would have understood.
III. The part wherein they are threatened. “The head.”
1. This is not exclusive but specificative; it is not the head so, as if nowhere else besides but the head as therein especially. As for obstinate sinners, they have many wounds inflicted upon them in other respects.
(1) In their good names they have a wound oftentimes in them (Proverbs 6:33).
(2) In estate.
(3) In conscience.
2. But it is especially in the head.
(1) In their intellectuals, takes away their brains from them.
(2) In their vitals, takes away their life from them.
(3) In their principalities, and eminencies, takes away their glory from them.
3. And we cannot wonder at it, if we do but consider how they use their heads oftentimes against Himself; which they do by a double practice.
(1) In the contriving of sin.
(2) In the defending of it. Wicked men use their heads against God to each of these purposes, and therefore does He wound them in them.
4. There are two principles which do engage Him, and move Him hereunto.
(1) His own glory.
(2) His Church’s good.
5. If we shall ask when He will do it, because He does it not always, nor presently--I answer in these two cases.
(1) When the sins of the enemies are thoroughly ripened.
(2) When the hearts of the Christians are thoroughly humbled. In these two conditions does God wound the head of His enemies, and not before.
6. But how shall we be kept and preserved from it? what helps are there against persistency in sin?
(1) Mortify the principle of corruption in us. The way to be kept from the acts of sin, is to have the habit of it subdued in us. There must be the killing of this viper in the egg, a slaying it in the root; till this be done there is no security at all for us.
(2) Stop the beginnings, as we desire not to go on in trespasses, let us not at first venture upon them, for it is like the letting out of waters, as Solomon speaks of strife, which a man knows not where it will end.
(3) Have daily, and continual, and fresh, and actual apprehensions in us of the filthiness and dangerousness of it. (T. Horton, D. D.)
They have seen Thy goings, O God; even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary.
The progress of Divine truth in the world
I. Some men merely witness the progress of Divine truth (Psalms 68:24). What a large class of men there is in Christendom who act thus in relation to the progress of Christianity! They see new churches erected and new adherents gained all around them. They read of the multiplication of copies of Holy Scripture, and the increase of the triumphs of missionaries in heathen lands. They see its literature extending. But in all this they feel no vital interest. Whilst many of these care for “none of these things,” some ridicule and others denounce. They laugh at what they consider fanaticism; they thunder at that which they believe is imposture. “They have seen Thy goings, O God,” etc. Yes, they have “seen,” and that is all.
II. Good men are always exultant in the progress of Divine truth (Psalms 68:25-26). Why should we rejoice in the progress of Divine truth?
1. Because, as Divine truth advances, all the evils that curse humanity will disappear.
2. Because, as Divine truth advances, all the virtues that bless humanity will multiply and grow. He is no true philanthropist who exults not in the progress of Christianity.
III. All men should be interested in the progress of Divine truth (Psalms 68:27). Here are different tribes brought together from opposite parts of the country, thus to express their common interest in the services of the day. All men should be interested in the cause of Divine truth. Why?
1. Because all men have a common relation to its Author. He is the Father of them all.
2. Because all men have a common need of its blessings. It offers liberty to the captive--and all are captives; knowledge to the ignorant--and all are ignorant; pardon to the guilty--and all are guilty; life to the dying--and all are dying; heaven to the lost--and all are lost. (Homilist.)
The royal procession
This verse may be read thus: “They have seen thy marches in procession, O God; even the marches of my God, my King, in the sanctuary.” We have brought before us the jubilant songs of praise arising from the royal procession of Jehovah before the assembled hosts of Israel. Now, there has been a royal procession in London this week, and it has suggested this subject. For to-day there is an assembled host of people crowding our sanctuaries: their main desire is to see their King.
I. The people viewing the procession. The vast majority came to see our Queen herself. And their motives were various.
1. Many of them had never seen her before. And in our sanctuaries there are many who as yet have never seen their King, and they greatly desire to.
2. Others long ago had seen the Queen, but wanted to see her again: so with us and our King.
3. Others went simply to see the pageant; as much to be seen as to see. And how many come to our sanctuaries out of mere curiosity!
4. And all grades of society were represented there.
5. Some obtained much better views than others. So is it with those in our sanctuaries. Care and distractions of all kinds hinder many souls.
II. The procession itself.
1. It passed along an appointed way. It is all marked out. Through the sanctuary a main part of its route lies. But in the abodes of sickness, sorrow, death, Christ often comes.
III. The purpose of the procession. It was to open a new thoroughfare. And so our King has come to open a new road to heaven. The old road by Innocency has been blocked ever since the fall of Adam. And the road of Jewish ceremonies, and the law, is no longer available. But Christ has opened a new and living way. (A. G. Brown.)
Bless ye God in the congregations, oven the Lord, from the fountain of Israel, etc.
I. Expound the passage.
1. Israel had ordinary congregations every Sabbath and national ones three times a year, and their business was to “bless God.”
2. All Israel was to unite in this.
3. All the tribes are supposed to be present.
4. Those tribes which are named had each some speciality belonging to it.
5. Princes and people were together, etc.
II. Apply the subject. Two things are here exemplified--diligence and brotherly union. Three things are recommended--united praise, acknowledgment of mercies, and prayer. (Andrew Fuller.)
Thy God hath commanded thy strength: strengthen, O God, that which Thou hast wrought for us.
The moral force of God
I. Subjugating men.
1. Commanding kings (Psalms 68:29).
2. Subjugating enemies (Psalms 68:30). What wonderful changes in man God’s moral force in Christ has wrought! Witness the changes in the Corinthians. “Such were some of you,” etc. What were our forefathers but beasts? The changes in the South Sea Islanders, etc. Those changes will become universal one day (Isaiah 11:6).
II. Attracting heathens (Psalms 68:31). God’s moral force is magnetic. It is in the transcendent excellence of His character. When men come to see Him as He is in Christ, they shall “stretch out” their “hands” to Him. Such a God they want, a God whose character more than realizes their highest ideal, in whom they can centre their love and repose their utmost confidence.
III. Commanding universal worship.
1. His moral majesty is to be recognized (Psalms 68:33). The real heart of humanity can bow to nothing else.
2. His moral strength is to be recognized (Psalms 68:34), Why is not God’s moral strength more universally felt? His physical might is felt everywhere; but not His moral, and why? Because it is moral. Because it has to do with mind, which is free, irresponsible, and which is endowed with the faculty to resist, if it wills, all outward appeals. Oh that minds everywhere would open themselves to the influence of God’s character as revealed in Christi This is its “power unto salvation.” (Homilist.)
The strength of a saint
I. What is the strength of a saint?
1. It is that of a regenerated man. Not that of the body, for that is far inferior to what is found in many brutes. But “there is a spirit in man,” etc. (Job 32:8).
2. It consists in his likeness to God, in his being first made and then renewed in the image of God.
II. God has commanded this strength.
1. By what He is and by what He reveals Himself to be.
2. By the relation which God has established between every man and Himself (Job 9:19). We are all His offspring.
3. By a law of loyalty which He has written in the heart.
4. By verbal law, given in the Scriptures.
5. By the claims of the new kingdom of His grace (2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
III. Let us consecrate it to Him. Say not that you have no strength. Christ gives that which is asked. It is treason to withhold it. A full blessing will attend the consecration. There is no valid excuse for refusing it. Then yield it in the worship you render and in all your service. (S. Martin, D. D.)
Some marks of God’s people
Many are seeking the Lord. We are glad, but let them make sure work of it. Now, our text describes the people of God, and thus we may discover whether we are of that number.
I. The Lord is their God. “Thy God”--so we read. They have got a God: they are not atheists. And they believe in God. Now, do we believe in Him and trust in Him? How does He become my God? I trust Him and receive pardon at His hands and He tells me of it, and then my love goes out to Him in return. The true child of God loves God. And we get to be as conscious of His presence as of the air we breathe: we hold converse with Him and we feel within our spirit that He is listening to us.
II. All their strength is at God’s disposal.
1. They heartily obey His commands,
2. They pray to Him fervently.
3. They praise Him energetically.
4. They labour for Him earnestly.
5. They live wholly to Him.
III. They ascribe to Him all that is good in them, and in their fellow-men. It is all of grace, from the first even to the last; and they are the true people of God who feel and know this.
IV. They pray to Him for their stability: “Strengthen, O God, that which Thou hast wrought for us.” Never trust in yourselves, even though your strength seems more than adequate for the occasion. When you are full of knowledge, and full of wisdom, and full of grace, yet still be nothing, and let the Lord your God be your All-in-all. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake.” Let us begin to learn that song now, and let us sing it in life, and in death, and for ever, for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The strength of life
God has His own wise and good purposes, which will never vary in themselves; but the fulfilment of these purposes in our behalf is conditional. That is to say, our own desire and will must meet God’s will, if we are to be truly blessed. For example, generally speaking, God wills our health; but only as we ourselves obey the laws of health shall we be healthy. Again, God would have us undertake successful work; but the success is conditional on our diligence. So, too, while God desires that we should conquer temptation, and that our nature should be regenerate and pure, on our part there must be the earnest resistance of sin, and an intense, a ceaseless craving for the righteousness of God.
I. Strength--this word has had very various meanings; indeed, we might almost say that the different ideals of strength that have been cherished among the nations have determined the complexion of the world’s history.
1. Sheer, naked force has been with some the familiar and favourite type of strength. The tremendous energy of tempest, earthquake, and fire has impressed men’s minds with awe.
2. Later in the world’s history, a higher type of strength was developed, and chiefly, at first, among the Greeks, who, with their handful of disciplined troops, could put to rout the myriads of the vast horde of Xerxes. For they had learned that it is net sheer force that of itself accomplishes the greatest things, but rather force adapted and adjusted, with nice exactitude, to the required result. Thus discipline and strategy, to say nothing of courage, counted for far more than numbers; and as in war, so in ether things, mere force was not of so much account as means and methods which made for the wise direction, and therefore for the economy, of force.
3. Meanwhile the very highest type of strength was preparing in the world (Proverbs 24:5; Ecclesiastes 9:16; Ecclesiastes 9:18; Psalms 37:31; Psalms 81:13-14). The strength is the strength of righteousness, and the righteousness is the righteousness of God. In the Gospel of Christ we have this Old Testament teaching fulfilled and perfected. To be holy is to be truly strong; and this strength is to be, not for our own sakes alone, but for others--we are to be strong to serve, and save, and bless. And a new inspiration is now in the world for the effectuation of the true strength of life (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
II. Our strength is commanded. This may be understood twofoldly.
1. It means, in part, that the invincible power of God’s will is on our side. In His ordainment of things, our victory is prepared. All the arrangements of His providence, and all the richer ministrations of His grace, are to be contributory to this results--that we shall conquer. If we remember this when the world is adverse, and when our own heart is weak; if we think of it when the forces of evil gather round our soul: that it is God’s irrefragable will that we shall conquer--oh, what mighty enthusiasm will be born of this very assurance, and how impotent will seem every opposition that sets itself against the purpose of the Most High! (1 John 5:4).
2. The words are also a stimulus to our endeavour and devotion. God commands that all things shall subserve our strength, and contribute to our victory, if we are faithful; but He likewise commands our fidelity itself, anti the putting forth of our utmost effort, without which, indeed, His purpose in our behalf cannot be fulfilled. Some fourteen years ago our colony of Natal was threatened with great disaster. The Zulus had surprised and cut to pieces one of our regiments at Isandula, and, flushed with their victory, were about to pour into Natal, to devastate and destroy; when a handful of English soldiers, hastily fortifying themselves in their position at Rorke’s Drift, set themselves to withstand the whole horde of savage, eager warriors. It was indeed a forlorn hope; but they felt that it was as though the eyes of all the world were upon them, watching whether they would do their duty, and be strong. If over men were “commanded” to be strong, by all the most sacred claims of country, kindred, and home, it was then; and right nobly did they respond to the call. And, while “all the world wondered,” these few dozens of men beat back at last the invading host. So it is with us, in our seasons of sore temptation; for-- Isaiah 59:19. And in like manner, when we are discouraged by the overwhelming difficulties of our work, asking in our dismay, “Who is sufficient for these things?” then it is that this same “command “ of God stirs the soul like the sound of a trumpet. (T. F. Lockyer, B. A.)
Scatter Thou the people that delight in war.
A prayer for peace
God sometimes does that in which He has no delight. “Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked, O God.” But God saith, “As I live, I have no pleasure in . . . wicked.” And yet He slays them. God can look at your state of ruin, and say, as the God of truth, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” Now, we may not delight in that in which God does not delight. God has sanctioned and ordained war. The Bible is full of proof of this. But that does not justify war on our part, unless He commands it, as at times He does. He does not delight in it. This is clear from the miseries which follow from it, and from the promise that in the Kingdom of God war shall be no more. Still, now and here He uses it; but that does not involve our right, whenever we think we have just cause, to declare war. God uses pestilence. Shall man therefore breed and propagate it? Some engage in war who do not delight in it, whilst some who delight in it take care to keep aloof from the field of battle. Men who think war to be right under special circumstances are far from delighting in it. David was one such, for he prays, “Scatter them . . . delight in war.” Who are the characters delighting in war?
1. Quarrelsome men, fond of the strife and conflict of war, and of the excitement which that strife and conflict brings.
2. Restless men, weary, strange to say, of the very quietness and repose of peace.
3. Officious men, delighting to meddle with strife belonging not to them, and ready to forward their opinions by war.
4. Ambitious men, who see a path to honour and to fame--a path to their own honour and fame, or to the honour and reputation of some of their kindred--by means of war.
5. Covetous men, who hope to get gain by war.
6. Mistaken patriots, who aim at the extension of empire and increase of national honour by war.
7. Cruel men, who, setting no value upon life, delight to shed blood in war.
8. Envious men, who aim to desolate every land fairer than their own by the ravages of war.
9. Proud and revengeful men, ever ready to take offence, and who see no means of settling differences except by war.
10. Thoughtless men, infected by sympathy with the delight of others in war.
11. All who do not look upon mankind as the children of one Father in heaven, and adopt the law of love as their rule. Intelligence and benevolence (religious intelligence and Christian benevolence--light from the God who is light, and love from the God who is love) will check delight in war; and godliness and Christianity, when perfected and consummated in the human heart, in our homes, and in the high places of authority in the country, most inevitably root up all pleasure in war. Nations cannot make war except by a combination of men. In a despotic govern-meat, if one ruler delight in war, this suffices to produce it; but where the power is distributed combination is necessary. And our text is a prayer against those who delight in war. It amounts to a petition against all war, that it may cease for ever. Many are the reasons why we should deprecate it. In order to produce a thorough soldier you must, to a considerable extent, blunt and destroy the ordinary susceptibilities of human nature. Now, just look for a moment at this--just think of taking away from a man that which makes the man nearest to God, and most like God. Then look at the actual struggle--how horrible! and reflect upon all that is involved in it. For those in whose land the war rages: what untold misery is theirs. Think of the arrest of all that is useful and benevolent and religious in a country, and remember that in every case of war bitter animosity remains, and is transmitted hereafter to future generations. Observe further, that the issues of war, if they decide the might, can never, taken alone, determine the right. So that there is no lawful ground upon which we can delight in war; but on every ground we are bound, as Christians, to pray, “Scatter Thou the people that have pleasure in war.” Of course we know that sceptics deride the so-called power of prayer--let none of us be of their number. Struggle against the contagion of contempt for what is religious: it is easily caught, and may lie dormant within you, to show itself only when you really need to pray. But why should we pray this prayer?
I. Because God alone can prevent war. Men used to say that civilization would bring peace. But it has not done so. It is one of our false gods which our true God casts down by showing us how powerless it is to prevent this great evil of war. Nor will international intercourse prevent it. Only the love of God and of one another. Now, God represents Himself as able to do this. “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprises.” “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.” And there are many more such words. Guided by these testimonies, oh, pray this prayer, day by day, without ceasing, until peace be restored, and peace reign over the wide earth. Cry to the Lord God of Hosts, “Scatter Thou the people that delight in war.” But is there nothing else to be done--to be done, I mean, with this object? Submit yourselves to the Prince of Peace, for the ejection of the war spirit from the heart. And seek to love all men for the sake of God and our Saviour. (Samuel Martin.)
War to be deprecated
1. Because it has a tendency to corrupt the dispositions and morals of a people.
2. Because it oppresses a people, and renders them more unable to bear the burdens which they are obliged to sustain.
3. Because it occasions great grief and lamentation to a people.
4. Because it spreads ruin and destruction wherever it is.
5. Because it disturbs and interrupts the worship of God.
6. Because it is diametrically opposed to the mild genius of our holy religion. (John Ralston, M. A.)
Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.
Ethiopia is a woman who, after the manner of the poets, represents the whole race of the Ethiopians, just as Britannia, in our songs, represents all the Britons. By Ethiopia the Jews usually meant the country next to Egypt, Ethiopia proper, the cradle of the African race. Even to this day the Africans bury their dead with their faces towards the north-east, their first home. Fix now your pitying eye upon Ethiopia. She is--
I. Helpless. Hands outstretched are signals of distress, which the weak always use. The other year hundreds were burnt or suffocated in a church at Santiago, and all the dead were found standing with hands outstretched. The veil has just been lifted from the Dark Continent, and lo! there stands before us a woman with the slave-stick around her neck. And like a child in fear, like a weakling imploring help, her hands are heavenwards. Let Livingstone and other African travellers tell the horrors of the slave trade. Africa is dark indeed, and as such is full of the habitations of cruelty. It has been for two thousand years the slave-hunting ground of the world. And white men have had a great share in it. Bleeding Ethiopia, helpless before the cruelty of man, feels equally helpless in presence of the unseen. Through fear they are all their lifetime subject to bondage. To their fear of wild beasts and wilder men is added their great fear of evil spirits. For the Africans are religious in their own poor way; but their whole religion is a weary effort to ward off the spirits of the departed, who, as they think, are full of vengeance, and able to haunt and destroy them. They believe the air to be filled with millions of spirits, all cruel and bent on mischief. Hence they give themselves up to devil-worship. Then their idols are fearful to look upon, and their religion is only a religion of fear. How touching to read of their longings, their lonely helplessness, “their dread of the strange land beyond the dark mountains.” The boldest hunter when dying will cry for his mother, though she has been dead for many years. He knows no one else who would be minded to help him in the dark valley. One who knew them well says, “There is nothing more heartrending than their death-wails. When they turn their eyes to the future world, they have a view cheerless enough of their own utter helplessness and hopelessness.” Their thoughts often wander through the future. “Do people die with you?” two young cannibals asked Livingstone. “Have you no charm against death?” He spoke to them of the Great Father who hears the cry of His children: and they thought this to be natural. But--
II. Ethiopia is seeking help. The salt mines in Austria lately illustrated this subject to me. The abundance of salt God has stored there is beyond belief. The miners dig a narrow drain into the rock and let in fresh water. The water sucks the salt out of the rock, which then falls in, and soon the whole rock is melted down. Commerce and exploration are digging their channels through the rocky barriers of heathendom, and letting in civilized ideas, which are quietly penetrating and melting down every heathen system, and creating a vacancy which we should fill with the blessed Gospel. We talk of an open door among the heathen; in many places it is all door together. Even heathens are advertising for a better religion than their own. Hardly one educated young Indian has now any heart-faith in Hinduism. Mrs. Brassey advises all who wish to see Japan to go at once, else they will never see it, ms European customs are spreading everywhere.
III. Ethiopia is hopeful. Our text prophesies that she shall soon stretch out her hands unto God, soon after the Gospel is brought to her, in the morning of the day of her opportunity. No spiritual sluggard, she shall early and eagerly make her hands run unto God, as the word means. Her hands, turned from idols, shall be opened to receive God’s gifts, or, as some believe, shall be filled with offerings of homage and service. “When he came here there were no Christians; when he went away there were no heathen”--these words describe the life-work of a missionary who was only twenty-four years on the island of Ancityum. Some say our text means that Ethiopia’s hands will be filled with splendid offerings of gratitude to God. We may expect this. Robert Moffat, famishing and wearied, was once ordered not to enter a heathen village. Under shadow of night a woman brought him a bundle of wood, a bowl of milk, and a leg of mutton, kindled a fire and cooked the meat in silence. As he pressed her to tell the reason of her kindness, the tears stole down her sable cheek as she said, “I love Him whose servant you are, and surely it is my duty to give you a cup of cold water in His name. My heart is full, and therefore I cannot speak the joy I feel to see you in this out-of-the-way place.” All was explained by a New Testament which she drew from her bosom, and showed to the delighted missionary. Let your heart go out to Ethiopia, and let your helping hands meet her outstretched hands. Cherish a generous grief over Ethiopia’s woes, and believe that God calls you to help the weak He has taught you to pity. Have a full faith in the promise, apparently never so near fulfilment as now, “ Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” (James Wells, M. A.)
The heathen brought to the saving knowledge of God
I. The present mournful condition of the heathen world without God.
1. Enveloped in gross darkness.
2. Groping in vain and painfully to find happiness.
3. In a state of rebellion against God.
4. Hopeless and helpless in their state of darkness.
II. The glorious prospect which these words hold out of their conversion to God.
1. The Word of God shall yet be sent, and the Gospel shall be preached unto them.
2. The power of the Holy Spirit accompanying the Word will render it effectual for their salvation.
3. The ultimate success of the Gospel among the heathen is most certain.
4. The present time affords great encouragement to earnest, energetic and prayerful efforts for the salvation of the heathen. (John Ritchie.)
The missionary call
1. We appeal to you to scorn any man who is fattening upon the vices of weaker nations. Scorn any man who is amassing wealth, by importing guns and ammunition, or fire-water, into these poor, degraded nations of the world.
2. We ask you to consecrate the great wealth of this great city--which comes from all quarters of the earth--we ask you to consecrate some of this wealth in giving back to these various quarters of the world the Gospel which we rejoice in here.
3. We ask you to give some of your sons and some of your daughters to carry this Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If there is a grand opening in a mercantile house at Zanzibar, you immediately find numbers taking advantage of it. If there is an opening for a young man on the river Niger, many are willing to go. We ask that there shall be the same readiness to take hold of opportunities in the mission field that there is now to take hold of openings in mercantile enterprise. And so we shall joy to see the kingdom of our blessed Lord and Master extended throughout the world. The last of the triumphs shall be this, when these heathen nations have bowed the knee to Jesus. (E. A. Stuart, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 68". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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