Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, May 18th, 2024
Eve of Pentacost
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Psalms 89

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-52

Psalms 89:1-52

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever.

A majestic song

This psalm is one of the very choicest songs in the night. Midst a stream of troubled thoughts there stands a fair island of rescue and redemption, which supplies standing-room for wonder and worship; while the music of the words, like the murmuring of a river, sounds sweetly in our ears. The writer was bearing bitter reproach, and was almost broken-hearted by the grievous calamities of his nation. Yet his faith was strong in the faithfulness of God, and so he sang of the stability of the Divine covenant when the outlook of circumstances was dark and cheerless. Nor did he ever sing more sweetly than he sang in that night of his sorrow.

The eternal builder, and His wonderful work (Psalms 89:2). I can see a vast mass of ruins. Heaps upon heaps they lie around me. A stately edifice has tottered to the ground. Some terrible disaster has occurred. There it lies--cornice, pillar, pinnacle, everything of ornament and of utility, broken, scattered, dislocated. The world is strewn with the debris. Journey where you will the desolation is before your eyes. Who has done this? Who has cast down this temple? What hand has ruined this magnificent structure? Manhood, manhood it is which has been destroyed, and sin was the agent that effected the fall. Alas for manhood that it should be thus fallen and destroyed! But what else do I see? I behold the great original Builder coming forth from the ivory palaces to undo this mischief; and He cometh not with implements of destruction, that He may cast down and destroy every vestige, but I see Him advancing with plummet and line, that He may rear, set up, and establish on a sure foundation a noble pile that shall not crumble with time, but endure throughout all ages. He cometh forth with mercy. So “I said” as I saw the vision, “Mercy shall be built up for ever.” The psalmist has the idea of God’s mercy being manifest in building, because a great breach has to be repaired, and the ruins of mankind are to be restored. As for building, it is a very substantial operation. A building is something which is palpable and tangible to our senses. We may have plans and schemes which are only visionary, but when it comes to building there is something real being done, something more than surveying the ground and drawing the model. And oh, what real work God has done for men! What real work in the gift of His dear Son! The product of His infinite purpose now becomes evident. He is working out His great designs after the counsel of His own will. A building is an orderly thing as well as a fixed thing. There is a scheme and design about it. Mercy shall be built. I see that it shall. This is no load of bricks shot out. It is polished stones builded one upon another. God’s grace and goodness toward me have not come to me by chance, or as the blind distribution of a God who cared for all alike, and for none with any special purpose. No, but there has been as much a specialty of purpose to me as if I were the only one He loved, though, praised be His name, He has blessed and is blessing multitudes of others beside me. Now, think upon these words--“built up.” It is not merely a long, low wall of mercy that is formed, to make an inclosure or to define a boundary, but it is a magnificent pile of mercy, whose lofty heights shall draw admiring gaze, that is being built up. God puts mercy on the top of mercy, and He gives us one favour that we may be ready to receive another. Once again would I read this verse with very great emphasis, and ask you to notice how it rebukes the proud and the haughty, and how it encourages the meek and lowly in spirit. “I have said mercy shall be built up for ever.” In the edification of the saints there is nothing else but mercy. I wish I had an imagination bold and clear, uncramped by all ideas of the masonry of men, free to expand, and still to cry, “Excelsior.” Palaces, methinks, are paltry, and castles and cathedrals are only grand in comparison with the little cots that nestle on the plain. Even mountains, high as the Himalaya range or broad as the Andes, though their peaks be so lofty to our reckoning, are mere specks on the surface of the great globe itself, and our earth is small among the celestial orbs, a little sister of the larger planets. Figures fail me quite: my description must take another turn. I try, and try again, to realize the gradual rising of this temple of mercy which shall be built up for ever. Within the bounds of my feeble vision I can discern that it has risen above death, above sin, above fear, above all danger; it has risen above the terrors of the judgment day; it has outsoared the “wreck of matter and the crash of worlds”; it towers above all our thoughts. Our bliss ascends above an angel’s enjoyments, and he has pleasures that were never checked by a pang; but he does not know the ineffable delight of free grace and dying love. The building-up will go on throughout eternity.

An everlasting singer (Psalms 89:1). Here is a good and godly resolution: “I will sing.” The singing of the heart is intended, and the singing of the voice is expressed, for he mentions his mouth; and equally true is it that the singing of his pen is implied, since the psalms that he wrote were for others to sing in generations that should follow. “I will sing.” We cannot impart anything to the great temple which He is building; yet we can sit down and sing. This singing praise to God is a spiritual passion. The saved soul delights itself in the Lord, and sings on, and on, and on unwearily. “I will sing for ever,” saith he. Not, “I will get others to perform, and then I will retire from the service”; but rather, “I will myself sing: my own tongue shall take the solo, whoever may refuse to join in the chorus. I will sing, and with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness.” Now, note his subject. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord.” What, not of anything else? Are the mercies of the Lord his exclusive theme? “Arma virumque cano”--“Arms and the man, I sing,” says the Latin poet. “Mercies and my God, I sing,” says the Hebrew seer. “I will sing of mercies,” says the devout Christian. This is the fount of mercy, whereof if a man doth drink he shall sing far better than he that drinketh of the Castalian fount, and on Parnassus begins to tune his harp. This singing of Ethan was intended to be instructive. How large a class did he want to teach? He intended to make known God’s mercy to all generations. Modern thought does not adventure beyond the tithe of a century, and it gets tame and tasteless before half that tiny span of sensationalism has given it time to evaporate. But the echoes of truth are not so transient; they endure, and by means of the printing press we can teach generation after generation, leaving books behind us as this good man has bequeathed this psalm, which is teaching us to-night, perhaps more largely than it taught any generation nearer to him. Will you transmit blessed testimonies to your children’s children? It should be your desire to do something in the present life that will live after you are gone. We instinctively long for a sort of immortality here. Let us strive to get it, not by carving our names on some stone, or writing our epitaphs upon a pillar, as Absalom did when he had nothing else by which to commemorate himself; but get to work to do something which shall be a testimony to the mercy of God, that others shall see when you are gone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The uncovenanted mercies of God

Ethan was the author of this psalm. It belongs to the early reign of Rehoboam, and to the invasion of Shishak. As Ethan recalled and weighed the clauses of the covenant, and compared them with the political facts of this distressful year, his mind was tossed into an agitation and distress from which he could find no relief, save in the large adventure and conclusion of faith, that the calamities which had fallen on David’s kingdom and seed were, after all, only the loving corrections by which God was chastening them for their transgressions; and that, therefore, so far from breaking, God was fulfilling His covenant with them. Even God’s covenants with men are but particular instances of His general ways, of His dealings with humanity at large; so that, in the very fullest sense which the words can be made to bear, it is true that His mercy endures for ever, that His faithfulness extends to all generations. There is a general impression abroad that a radical and vast difference obtains between what are called the covenanted and the un-covenanted mercies of God; that but for certain promises which He has made, and certain engagements into which He has entered, we should have little to hope for from Him. The doctrine of covenants plays, and must play, a large part in every system of theology. But every Divine promise is but a limited expression of a general principle. Every Divine covenant, even if it be made with a few, is nevertheless made for the benefit of the many, and can only be an instance of His ways, an illustration of a mercy as wide as the heavens, and of a faithfulness which extends to all generations of mankind. God can make no promise inconsistent with His character. Any momentary glimpse we can catch of God’s attitude towards men reveals His constant and unchanging attitude. To every man who loves and trusts and serves Him He will be all that He was to David . . . Who can deny the mercy of that high Will which made the law of retribution the law--or rather, one of the laws--of human life? As for the inexorable severity with which this law of retribution is administered, how can we but acknowledge that it needs to be administered with an invariable and constant severity? Take all the facts of human experience, then, and you will feel that there is mercy even in that law of retribution which seems most opposed to the rule of an Infinite Compassion and Love. If you believe in a work of redemption as well as in a law of retribution, there is absolutely no reason why you should not sing, with Ethan, of a mercy which is being built up for ever, and of a faithfulness which is establishing itself in the all-embracing heavens. (Samuel Cox, D.D.)

Verse 2

Psalms 89:2

For I have said, Mercy shall be built up far ever.

The building up of a good government for the world

A good government for the world is a desirable thing. Human society would scarcely be possible without a government.

A good government for the world is destined to be established (Psalms 89:3). The Supreme here pledges in the most solemn way the establishing of a government in the world of which David’s is a most imperfect type, viz. the moral reign of Christ. This reign will be the reign of truth and love, and will one day be commensurate with the race.

A good government for the world will be reared by mercy and faithfulness. “Mercy” and “faithfulness” are to be the elements of which it is to be composed. As all the great mountains in nature are built up of certain elements, all grand and beneficent institutions in the world are built of mercy and faithfulness. (Homilist.)

The house of mercy

(to children):--Mercy is here compared to a building.

The builder. Strangers when they visit this great metropolis, and see some of its remarkable buildings, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, for instance, very naturally ask, “Who was the builder of this beautiful edifice?” The answer would be, “Sir Christopher Wren.”

1. A wise builder.

2. A mighty builder.

The name of the building. The house of mercy.

1. A very beautiful name.

2. A most just and proper name. Every little child who goes to the door of this House of Mercy, and asks admittance, is instantly received; and, when admitted, that child receives from Him who raised the building the choicest mercies--the mercy of pardon, the mercy of acceptance, the mercy of adoption, the mercy of holiness, and of a title to heaven.

The foundation of the building. Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).

The apartments of the building.

1. The storeroom, containing precious food. The bread of life, etc. Also medicine for the sick and diseased. The balm of Gilead, etc.

2. The wardrobe, containing the robe of righteousness, the garments of salvation, etc.

3. The armoury (Ephesians 6:13-17).

4. The library, containing books of history; books of doctrine; books of promises; books of threatening (these are all bound in black, and are very dreadful-looking books, though of great importance); books of precepts; books of songs, and oh, what beautiful songs! the songs of David, and other sweet singers of Israel; books of prophecy; and books of experience, such as the Psalms, Lamentations, and Job.

The excellencies of the building. It is--

1. Ancient.

2. Large.

3. Commodious.

4. Beautiful.

5. High.

6. Durable.

If you look at a building in this city which is ten years old you will see that it shows the effects of the elements upon it; it hears traces of the frost and smoke and rain. But there is no change in this beautiful building. It is very commodious. There is every comfort within these walls for every one without exception. It is filled with light. It is warm. There is no cold winter within that noble edifice.

The inhabitants of the building.

1. All forgiven.

2. All sons and daughters of the living God.

3. All beautiful--no deformity there.

4. All happy.

The road to the building. Every one who enters is convinced of three things:--

1. That he is a sinner.

2. That he is in danger of hell.

3. That he will never be saved till he enters this Building of Mercy.

The door of the building. The righteousness of Christ--what He did, became, and suffered.

The servants employed to invite sinners to enter the building. (A. Fletcher, D.D.)

Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens.

The establishment of God’s faithfulness

God draws us into the conscious knowledge and enjoyment of His faithfulness--

By keeping the promises of His grace to us.

By engaging us in special work. Though we have omnipotence on our side, God will employ the last ounce of our strength. He will not spare us thought, anxiety, trouble, endurance, labour, no, nor even some measure of disappointment--nothing that can conduce to make us workmen that need not be ashamed, and soldiers who can endure hardness. (J. P. Gledstone.)

God’s faithfulness

That is a Christmas psalm chosen for the day, and it is the psalm of dauntless courage, for it is a song that sings always the lovingkindness of the Lord; it goes up out of the darkness of desolation, it sees no cause for cheerfulness ringing it round as it sings. The singer stands, he tells us, in the heart of a great dismay. The cause of God is in ruin and contempt and impotence and misery. And yet, and yet he has but one song, and he must sing it out in defiance of his generation. No dishonour shall defeat it, no darkness shall choke it, no doubt or hesitation, no soreness or anger shall cloud his upward look or hold down the outpouring of his soul. The old words shall sing out from his lips which have never yet failed down all the long years. We would turn to this singer of long ago to ask him how it was that he retained his heroic confidence. What was his secret, in the thick of those old-world troubles, by force of which he still sang on this unswerving chant of victory? Can he pass the secret on to us who need it so sorely?

1. First, he relies absolutely on a word that God has once uttered, on a pledge that God has given to him (Psalms 89:3-4). God has said it, God has sworn it. That is what he relies on! This looks so simple, but to estimate it aright let us recall that we touch here on that elementary conception of God which differentiated the Jew’s religion from all others. The Jew laid hold of God by this primary title, that He was a God who kept His word. A righteous God, so he called Him, and by righteousness he meant a God whose word can be trusted, and a God who never failed His pledge. This is the vital significance of the Jew that he was the first who took God seriously, the first to believe that God meant what He said, that what He spoke He spoke with a real and fixed purpose, and having spoken He held Himself bound by His own pronouncement.

2. Secondly, to justify his own confident assurance, he corroborates his belief in the verbal consistency of God by looking to that other handiwork of His, the vast fabric of ordered Nature. There it moves in its superb persistence, the immovable witness to the unchanging loyalty of God. Everywhere among the sequence of infinite changes God’s original creative word holds on changeless and true (Psalms 89:8-11). Surely if a Jew had been allowed to know what we know of all that science tells us of the uniformities of Nature, of the persistence and conservation of force, he would have seen in these disclosures, not as we so stupidly do, the terms of a godless mechanism, but exactly the phrase that would best report his assurance of an imminent God. Everything that told him of the immutable permanence of a natural law beneath and through all change spoke to him directly of God Himself. Uniformity, persistence, conservation, yes, that is what he desires to find with all his soul in the world that God has made. That is the evidence he clings to of a God who keepeth His promise, whose word never faileth, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

3. Thirdly, he finds the like witness yielded by the solid securities of history. “Thou hast subdued Egypt”--God has done it, and if He has done it, surely not in vain, surely not without a fixed and final purpose! A historic act like that is a pledge put down by God: “Hath He begun and shall He not finish?” Here again it is the faithfulness of God to which the appeal is made. “He keepeth His promise for ever,” the promise sealed by His deeds; He will prove Himself consistent; if He take one step He will follow it by another; if He gives a decision He will hold to it. That is the significance of the actual deeds done in history. They are stakes laid versesown which cannot be withdrawn. They lay the honour and the power under obligation, and He cannot afford to retract. And God is honourable; He has a reputation which lie will keep clear at all hazards. And God has made His choice; He has laid down His stakes, He has taken His side, He has ventured His honour, He did it when He brought up Israel out of Egypt. He has done it since throughout the long story of His people whom He had fathered and shepherded, on whom He set His name; He has consummated this by the further steps taken when He went to give Israel a king and chose David for the kingdom. “Thou spakest,” our psalm goes on, “Thou spakest sometimes in visions and said, I have found David,” etc. All this has been done--it is down in the pages recorded in history which cannot be blotted out. What is done cannot be undone, and what God has done binds God as it binds a man. His will has gone out of it, He will never gainsay. That is the Divine freedom, that He binds Himself by His own deeds and His own words. His truth once more is His troth, His righteousness is the assurance that He will never fail to justify Himself. No, even if the witness of Nature were to fail, yet the witness of God’s own acts in history would abide. God is true, God keeps His word. We want nothing further wherewith to meet the year before us. There may be anxieties and the sense of social trouble and a cloudy outlook, but nothing shall rob us of our song. (Canon Scott Holland.)

Divine faithfulness

A learned minister, attending an aged Christian in humble life, when in his last illness, remarked that the passage in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” was much more emphatic in the original language than in our translation, inasmuch as it contained no fewer than five negatives in proof of the validity of the Divine promise, and not merely two, as it appears in the English version; intending by this remark to convey to him that, in consequence of the number of negatives, the promise was expressed with much greater force in the original language than in the English. The man’s reply was very simple and striking: “I have no doubt, sir, that you are quite right, but I can assure you that if God had only spoken once I should have believed Him just the same.”

Verse 5

Psalms 89:5

And, the heavens shall praise Thy wonders, O Lord.

The wondrousness of God

His wonderfulness is the inspiration of universal worship. Awe, reverence, amazement, enter into the highest worship, but these could not exist if the object were fully comprehended.

His wonderfulness is seen in his faithfulness. How wonderful that He has remained unaltered and unalterable amidst all the changes of nature, all the revolutions of millenniums! Faithful ever, to Himself and His word, no swerving from His promises, no deviations from His plans.

His wonderfulness is manifest in his absolute incomparableness. (Isaiah 40:18; Deuteronomy 33:29; Psa 53:10; Psalms 71:19.) (Homilist.)

Verse 6

Psalms 89:6

For who In the heaven can be compared unto the Lord?

The greatness of God

The true God, Sovereign of heaven and earth, is incomparably great--

In His being and existence.

1. Eternal.

2. Perfect.

3. Independent.

4. Unchangeable. There are no tenses with God--past, present, and to come; but one eternal Now.

In His attributes and perfections.

1. Holiness.

2. Wisdom and knowledge.

3. Power.

4. Justice.

5. Patience.

6. Love and goodness.

In his works.

1. Creation.

2. Providence.

3. Redemption and human salvation.

Concluding inferences.

1. Is God so great?--what a horrid nature sin is of, and rebellion against such a God I--yes, horrid the sin and folly that attempts to oppose God!

2. If God be so great, what love, reverence, worship, and obedience we owe to Him!

3. Is God so great?--what must be His condescension to notice such creatures as we are!

4. If God be so great, what must it be to be under His wrath for ever!

5. If God he so great, what will it be to enjoy His love, favour, and presence for ever. (T. Jones.)

Verse 7

Psalms 89:7

God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints.

A model social gathering

Men meet in vast multitudes for pleasure, for counsel, and for worship. The text indicates a social gathering of the highest type.

The characters united in this gathering. The word “saint” means a sanctified or godly person.

The Divine presence in this gathering. God is in this “assembly.” All the members “are about Him.”

1. There is more of God seen in these assemblies than can be seen elsewhere on earth. There is more of God seen in the thoughts, emotions, and aspirations of the holy soul than the brilliant firmament can reveal.

2. There is more of God felt in these assemblies than can be felt elsewhere on earth.

The heavenly spirit pervading this gathering. God is great--great in kindness there, and they have reverent gratitude; He is great in glory there, and they have reverent adoration. (Homilist.)

On the fear of God

The reasons which render a great fear of God, in religious services, necessary and becoming.

1. The mysteriousness and un-searchableness of God, and of all those things which employ our mind in worship.

2. The infinite fulness of peculiar glory, which resides in the Divine Being.

3. His Majesty, as the Creator, Law-giver, and Judge of mankind.

4. The sublime majesty which appears in the character and procedure of God in the work of redemption.

(1) Its first projection in the sovereign counsels of God.

(2) The terrible events that have come to pass in subserviency to this work, and, as it were, to make room for its glory.

(3) How shall we think or speak of that unspeakable majesty, which beams forth from the Son of God, when we contemplate Him as descending into our low nature, and accomplishing the mysterious purchase of salvation!

(4) The awful majesty which attends the Spirit’s work in applying redemption to the souls of the elect.

The quality of this holy fear.

1. Our fear of God, in solemn approaches to Him, is not worthy to be called “great” fear until it begins almost to overwhelm the strength both of soul and body.

2. Those who fear God greatly are brought to a pressing sense of their need of shelter and support by a fresh and powerful application of Christ to their souls.

3. This great fear makes the soul exceedingly deliberate, cautious, and diligent in preparation for the more solemn seasons of communion with God.

4. This fear gives such an impulse to the soul as makes it break through all reluctance in the exercises of self-denial and the mortification of sin.

5. Where God is greatly feared there will be much regard to His sacred institutions, even in their minutest circumstances.

6. There will also be much coolness and indifference as to those outward circumstances in religious duties which engage the chief attention of carnal minds.

7. This great fear of God raises the soul above the cowardly fear of man, or of outward sufferings in the cause of Christ.

8. The greatness of this fear of God is manifested by an undaunted adherence to the people of God in the most hazardous times.

9. This great fear keeps a man at an awful distance from the pollutions of the world. Unhallowed pleasure, unjust gains, profane witticisms, are no better, in such a man’s eyes, than a cup of sweetened poison.

10. The great degree of this holy fear is manifested by the vehement transports of joy, gratitude, and triumph which accompany a refreshing sense of the love of Christ.


1. To those who are concerned and troubled in spirit, for their being destitute of the true fear of God.

(1) Beware of stifling your convictions, or suffering them to be blown out by others.

(2) Beware of resting in convictions, or of thinking yourselves safe, merely because you see the misery of your state.

(3) Use your utmost endeavour to put yourselves in the hands of Christ, unreservedly, that He may powerfully draw you to Himself, and bring you to the true fear of God.

(4) Do not conclude that your state is good till you find in yourselves a holy light, and a holy propensity of soul, leading you out to desire and to delight in the fear of God for its own sake (Nehemiah 1:11).

2. To those who know experimentally what it is to fear God and to fear Him greatly.

(1) Glorify the distinguishing mercy of God. You might have been hardened, as others are.

(2) Beware of resting in your attainments and frames. These are precious effects of grace; but they are not your righteousness before God.

(3) Beware of losing what you have attained. “Hold fast that which thou hast,” etc.

(4) Press forward, after a higher perfection in the service of God. They who think themselves perfect are not, yet sincere.

(5) Strive for the conversion of others. Seek earnestly that the power and majesty of God may be more gloriously visible in His sanctuary and in the lives of professed Christians. (John Love, D.D.)


Reverence is defined as that spiritual susceptibility of our nature by which we touch and realize the sacred in life. Comparing reverence with awe, there is the element of fear in both. Fear enters into reverence, and fear enters into awe. But there is this important difference: the fear in reverence is born of love. The child that reveres its father fears because it loves. But reverence has in it, respect as well as fear. A lad respects his mother, but you cannot respect a mountain or the sun. You can admire these. So that in awe there is admiration, while in reverence there is respect; and respect can only be moral in its nature and personal in its object. Now, what are those objects which alone can inspire true reverence, objects in which the age has too truly lost faith, and in the going of faith there has been the going of reverence?

1. There is the highest of all objects--God. But what has been the teaching of the age? The answer is “Material Science.” The age has produced vivisection (in the interests, of course, of science), and not, only physical but literary vivisection, and this has made for irreverence. The most sacred things in life are cut up on the dissecting-tables of our literature, such as marriage, chastity, woman, truth, the Sabbath. The result of all this is that the age has lost real faith in God--I mean such a faith as Oliver Cromwell had. Much of the faith which remains is half-hearted, unreal, and semi-atheistic or semi-agnostic.

2. From the Divine Being--the highest possible object--we come to the revelation of this Infinite Being contained in the Holy Scriptures. The only fitting reverence, according to the notion of too many people, is to put the Holy Book on a shelf by itself, and never to commit the sacrilege of opening its pages with unholy hands; and when the dust gathers thick on its covers, not to commit the sacrilege of removing the dust with so secular a thing as a duster. That is the way too many people show their reverence for this holy Book. Besides, in this generation there has grown up a great Biblical literature--i. e., a literature on the Bible, books of exposition and commentary and theology on the different books of the Bible, and the result is that even the student of the Bible is face to face with a great temptation--a temptation peculiar to our times--viz, of reading those books on the Bible, and neglecting to read the Bible itself. Furthermore, we no longer believe--to put, the matter extremely--that this Book dropped from the sky, as the Koran is said to have done. The spirit of the age has convinced us that it is the production of earth. Man, under Divine inspiration, was the penman; man as prophet, priest, psalmist, apostle; man in many places, at many times; man with his powers lifted to the highest--but, still man, exhibiting everywhere the human hand; man, real man, and not a mere machine. We have the treasure in an earthen vessel. Our day has brought out into bold relief the sarthenness or the earthiness of the vessel, that there is danger in us forgetting the treasure, or in making the treasure to be earthen too.

3. After the object of the Bible we come to the object of man. Man ought to inspire reverence in man. But our age is essentially democratic, and while we heartily believe in democracy, this spirit, nevertheless, has been making for irreverence. Democracy preaches the doctrine of the rights of man on the broad basis of manhood, irrespective of his place in society. And in transferring the emphasis from mere place, birth, station, belongings, rank to character, sterling worth, brains, service, wisdom, it has tended to destroy reverence based on the former things, and to create a reverence based on the latter things. But while the democratic spirit has been tending thus, teaching us that brain and heart, life and character, spirit and service, hitherto underrated perhaps, or even entirely neglected when not linked to social status, ought to be, wherever found, the object of our respect and homage, and that no man with a spark of self-respect should bemean himself to act the snob, and bow down to wealth and position for their sole sake, at the same time this democratic spirit has had an unhealthy tendency in many, unable to discriminate between man and man. You hear the phrase, “Jack is as good as his master,” and “One man is as good as another.” All this tends to the destruction of faith in man, and therefore of reverence to man. When faith in man disappears, reverence to him cannot continue. How can I reverence man if every man is on my own level? To reverence man I must be able to look up to him, and neither down upon him nor at him on my own level.

4. The fourth object is human nature, and this comes after that of man; and I ask, Is not the temper of the times cynical? What faith is there in disinterestedness? The question of Satan is constantly repeated, “Does Job fear God for nought?” The pure and disinterested motivity of Christian service is questioned. The cynical spirit is fatal to any faith in human nature. We cannot reverence that in which we have no faith. But we ought to reverence human nature, and therefore we ought to have faith in it. Degraded human nature may become--as it often has become--redeemed, sanctified human nature. No man is so low in the pit that he cannot be dug out. The worst we need not despair of. Disinterested goodness is a grand possibility to every man, as it is a blessed actuality to some. When we think of the great souls of the earth like Francis or Elizabeth Fry or John Howard, who readily renounced ease and comfort and refinement and civilized life, and even life itself, because they had a passionate love for Christ and for men, we are filled with a new “respect for our nature, and a new hope for the world.”

5. The last object I will mention as a legitimate source of reverence is the past. The mighty past ought to call forth in me the feeling of respect; not all the past, for much there was in the life of yesterday which we can only renounce and denounce in our life to-day. Still the roots of our life to-day are in the soil of yesterday. The present always has its roots in the past. Let us remember--

(1) That our day is not perfect. There is very much to deplore all round; there are dangerous tendencies in the air.

(2) What good there is in our life to-day has its roots in the life of yesterday. The knowledge that the life of our day is better than the life of yesterday ought not to rob us of respect for the day of our beginnings. But our real beginning is God. God is our source as well as our goal. Religion goes backward as well as forward. Behind us are the reformers, the fathers, the apostles, the prophets, the patriarchs, God. (P. McPhail.)

Verse 8

Psalms 89:8

I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant.

The covenant of redemption

The psalmist is anticipating the time when the families of mankind should be raised from a condition of spiritual ruin, when the covenant should be given back to them, whereby they should be brought back to a state of reconciliation and friendship with God. This rising fabric which the psalmist here contemplated, therefore, instead of being an edifice of temporal prosperity, appears before us as a great spiritual temple, of which the plan is laid in the eternal ages, and of which the building up and the completion is to be effected by the eternal Son of God.

The origin of the covenant of grace. It was devised and set on foot by God Himself. It was not to propitiate the Father that Christ came into the world. It was that God so loved the world that He sent His Son into the world. Here, therefore, is our security. It is the Judge Himself signing the prisoner’s release. It is the infinite Creditor Himself forgiving us all our debt. It is the King whose laws we had broken, against whose throne we had conspired, and whose sceptre we had cast aside; He it is who out of love and mercy to us, and in the councils of infinite wisdom, originated that convenant whereby we may be restored to His friendship and reconciliation.

With whom this covenant was made. “My chosen,”--the eternal Son of God. Both actively and passively Christ manages the whole business of our salvation. It is therefore--

1. Everlasting.

2. Perfect.

3. Sure.

For whose benefit this covenant was intended, (1 Timothy 2:4; John 3:16; 1 John 2:2.) (D. Moore, M.A.)

Verse 9

Psalms 89:9

Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, Thou stillest them.

The Divine government of the tumultuous

He rules the material sea. How furious does the old ocean sometimes become, how its billows often rise like mountains, roar like lions, and battle like demons! But God rules them. He has set a boundary to them. “He holds the waters in the hollow of His hand.”

He rules the mental sea. The material ocean is but a faint emblem of the mental seas, which are a thousand times deeper, larger and more awful.

1. There is the sea of thought. In every individual mind, thoughts rise and break like billows on the shore, and frequently they are most tumultuous. On this globe there are no less than twelve hundred million such seas, and what is the population of this globe compared to the mental population of the universe? He rules all these seas, rules them all even in their most raging condition.

2. There is the sea of passion. How the passions of men often rage in individuals, communities, nations! How rage, too, the passions of hell. But God rules them all. (Homilist.)

God ruling the storm

None who saw the sea, and the destruction it caused, could fail to realize the helplessness of men in presence of those forces by which we are surrounded. The spectators could only wonder. Life was in jeopardy: it was saved at the risk of life. All honour to the men who applied their knowledge of the ways of the sea; that, with their own lives in their hands, they sought to save--and succeeded, too, in rescuing--their fellows from a watery grave.

The goodness of God in restraining those forces against which we are so helpless. There is a point beyond which they cannot go. True, there are controlling laws. If the sea, rising under the influence of the sun and moon, reaches a very high point, it is stayed by other forces from going farther. But whence do these forces derive their existence? Not in the material itself. It is the working of His power. “He rules the raging of the sea,” etc. Thus we discover order and design in the whole range of God’s works; if one force presses downwards, others press upward; if one force imperils the existence of men, another force controls it; if in one direction there is danger, in another direction the means of safety are found.

The uncertain tenure on which material good is secured to us. In every combination there are seeds of destruction in the material itself.

God is ever present in the varying conditions of our life. Can He be present in that storm? Did He see the danger of those who stood in peril of their life? No, He could not be there, is the hasty conclusion of most of us. When His waves overwhelm us can He be there? Did not the sea break loose from His hand? No; He rules the raging of the sea. There is a certain extent in which it can remove from its ordinary course, but then it is as much under control as when, with its smooth and glassy surface, it lies basking in the summer sun. And why? Because by His laws He is there. The force is His force, whether it be a storm or calm. Does He, then, destroy? No; the destruction is only to that which trespasses on the sea. His object is health, and the storm is the action of opposing forces restoring their equilibrium, working out purposes of sovereign skill. But God is there. What a consolation and strength! (H. W. Butcher.)

Verse 11

Psalms 89:11

The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine.

The affluence of God

God owns the whole universe.

He holds His vast property by absolute right. He produced all.

He holds His vast property in perpetuity. All that men fictitiously call their property must pass from their hands. But God holds on His property untransferred and untransferable.

He holds His vast properly for benevolent ends. Men hold what they call their property generally for selfish ends, for their own aggrandizement and gratification. But God for the good of all His creatures

1. A lesson to human legislators. Their grand object should be to secure to the people, to the utmost of their power, the full use of the blessings of nature.

2. A lesson to all. Whatever we have is not ours but His. We hold it but in trust. (Homilist.)

Verse 13

Psalms 89:13

Thou hast a mighty arm; strong is Thy hand, and high is Thy right hand.

The mighty arm

When the soul is perfectly reconciled to God, and comes to delight in Him, it rejoices in all His attributes. At the first, perhaps, it dwells almost exclusively upon His love and His mercy, but it afterwards proceeds to find joy in the sterner attributes, and especially delights itself in His holiness and in His power. How clearly is His power beheld in creation; there, indeed, O Lord, “Thou hast a mighty arm.” We injure ourselves and dishonour our Creator when we pass over His works as if they were beneath the notice of spiritual minds. The world is not left to itself, or to tyrants; the might is with the right after all, for power belongeth unto God. But our theme just now is power in alliance with grace.

First, the mighty arm of God displayed in the way of grace, as manifested in our experience.

1. First, remember the Divine longsuffering. What a mighty arm of grace it must have been which held back the anger of God while we were in a state of rebellion and impenitence. Glory be unto Thy lovingkindness and Thy longsuffering, O God, for in them we see Thy mighty self-restraining power.

2. But, next, we saw the power of God so as to recognize it when the Lord subdued us by His mighty grace. What omnipotence is displayed in the conquest of every rebellious sinner! He makes the lion to lie down with the lamb, so that a little child shall lead it. Thus the power of God is seen in the conquest of sinners. That power is equally seen in their transformation; for is it not a marvel that God should be able to make old and corrupt rebels into new creatures in Christ Jesus? Every conversion is a display of omnipotence. To turn the wilderness into springs of water and the desert into a flowing stream is nothing compared with turning the dead, cold, dry heart of man into a mighty wellspring of love springing up unto eternal life. Glory be to Thy power, O Thou infinitely mighty Jehovah, Thou hast a mighty arm.

3. That same power is seen in the various deliverances which the Lord gives to His people at the outset, when their enemies come against them so fiercely. And, since then, in the continual upholding of the saints, in their final perseverance which is guaranteed, how much of the power of God is seen. Is it not a marvel that though your faith has been as a bruised reed it has not been broken, and though your piety has been like smoking flax it has never been quenched? Kept alive with death so near, preserved when enemies have been so fierce, will you not say indeed, “Thou hast a mighty arm, strong is Thy right hand”?

The mighty arm of God as specially displayed in the person of christ jesus.

1. In the choice of Him (Psalms 89:19). Christ is the incarnation of the power of Divine grace, in Him dwells the power of God to save the sons of men; and yet in what weakness it dwelt. Strong is Thy right hand, O Saviour, for by weakness and suffering and death thou hast overthrown all Thy people’s foes.

2. In our Lord’s anointing (Psalms 89:20). In His preaching there went out of His mouth a sharp two-edged sword with which He smote sin, because the Spirit of God was upon Him. On the day of Pentecost the Spirit bore witness in the entire body of Christ, making all His servants speak with tongues of fire. The Spirit of God is with Christ on earth still in His Church, so that, feeble though the speech of His ministers may be, a secret power attends it, irresistibly subduing the forces of evil.

3. Because of the continuance of the empire of Christ in the world (Psalms 89:21-23).

4. In His mighty intercession (Psalms 89:26).

How is this power to re practically recognized?

1. Yield to it. Shall wax fight with the fire, or tow contend with the flame?

2. Trust Him to save you. All power lies with Him, He can forgive all sin, and He can also subdue all iniquity, change the most depraved heart, and implant every grace in the soul (Isaiah 26:4).

3. Trust Him in everything. Bring your burdens, your troubles, your wants, your griefs, pour them out like water before Him, let them flow forth at the foot of the Almighty, and they shall pass away and you shall sing (Exodus 15:2).

4. Shake off all fear of man. Trust in God and fear not, for the mighty God of Jacob is with us, and greater is He that is for us than all they that can be against us.

5. As to thy service, to which thou art called by the Lord. If He be so strong, do not think of thine own weakness any longer, except as being a platform for His strength. Art thou weak as water? Then rejoice this day, and glory in infirmity, because the power of God shall rest upon thee. Think not of what thou canst do--that is a very small affair, but consider what He can do by thee. He can strengthen the feeble against the strong.

6. With regard to all the future which lies before you--is God so strong? Then commit it to His hands. You have a great trouble to face to-morrow, you are expecting a greater trouble still at the end of the week. Now, be not afraid, for the Lord liveth to deliver thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The mighty arm

First, some few words about the power of God itself, having as my drift the stirring up of believers’ minds to ask and to expect a great display of it.

1. God’s power is like Himself, self-existent and self-sustained. Power in the creature is like water in the cistern; power in the Creator is like water in the fountain. The creature is the moon, which shines with reflected light; the Creator is the Sun whose light is underived, springing from Himself within. Naturally and spiritually this statement holds good.

2. God’s power is comprehensive, including within itself all the power which resides in all the creatures in the universe.

3. The power of God is immutable. Whatever He did of old, He is able to repeat now. We talk of changing ages, but we must not dream of a changing God.

4. God’s power is in the fulness of it irresistible. When He puts forth His omnipotence proud hearts are humbled, hard hearts are broken, iron melts, and rock dissolves.

5. God’s power is entirely independent-of place, time, instruments.

6. God’s power is infinite. Ask of Him that He would give the heathen unto Christ for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession; for the sceptre of Jehovah shall go forth, and the monarchy of Christ shall be extended from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same.

7. This Divine power is all our own, for we are told that this God is our God for ever and ever.

The manifestations of this power are very varied in character and altogether innumerable in multitude.

1. In destruction (Psalms 89:10). Here is a very strong argument for the people of God to stir them up to pray. The fearful nature of the sinner’s doom should arouse us to earnestness, vehement and abiding. Must we not plead with God when we think of our fellow-creatures who are liable to prove the terror of the Almighty’s arm?

2. In creation (Psalms 89:11-12). His word fashioned the creation of old, and His word can work marvels still. Spoken by whomsoever He pleases to send, His word shall be as potent now as in primeval days. There may be darkness and confusion in the sinner’s soul; a word shall remove all, and swift and quick, requiring not even six days.

3. In sustentation (Psalms 89:12). The mighty arm of God has been conspicuous in supporting His Church in years gone by. No voyage more dangerous than hers! She has tracked a narrow channel between threatening rocks and hidden quicksands. As for her crew, they have been a feeble folk, but little able to cope with boisterous elements and furious tempests. Oftentimes the good vessel of the Church has mounted up to heaven upon the crown of an outrageous billow, and anon has gone down again into the depths of a yawning sea, while her sailors have reeled like drunken men, staggering to and fro, being at their wits’ end; but they have cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He who was strong to stir up the deep from its very bottom and make it boil like a pot, has been equally strong to speak the word and still the raving of its waves. Let us be then of good comfort. Why should not God bless and succour His well-beloved Church now?

4. In redemption. That was no light labour which Jesus undertook. Hercules cleansed the Augean stable, saith the fable, but what an Augean stable was this world! Yet Christ will purge it; He is purging it, did purge it by His death. This Aceldama shall yet become an Elysium; the field of blood shall be transformed into a garden of delights.

The lessons from the whole. There have been vouchsafed in the past very wonderful manifestations of Divine favour. Churches have grown very lukewarm, ministers very dull, doctrines have become unsound, the hearts of God’s people have failed, the faithful have almost died out; on a sudden God has raised up some one man, perhaps some half-dozen; and the face of the Church was changed from languor to energy. These men did but strike the spark, and the flame flew over all lands. The Reformation was a marvellous type of genuine revivals, God-given revivals, which have been frequent in all times. In England we have had them, in America they have been abundant. Ireland has not been without them. In the darkest day when every one said the cause of religion was growing hopeless, then the great lover of the Church has appeared. Have you never read the story of Livingstone preaching in a heavy shower of rain, outside the kirk of Shotts, to the multitude of people standing there, who would not stir from the hearing of the Word? Or have you not heard the story of Whitefield’s mighty preaching, when the people moved to and fro, as the corn is moved by the wind in summer, and at last fell down beneath the Word as the sheaves fall before the reaper’s scythe? Why may we not see all this again? Why not? And why not greater things than these? What hinders but our unbelief? O God, Thou hast a mighty arm.

1. God has proved the power of His arm in the persons whom He has saved. Saul of Tarsus. Lo, here is a great and hard rock; now wield Thy great hammer, and the sparks shall fly, and the flintstone shall be broken into pieces. Quarry Thine own stones, O God, and make them fit for Thy temple, for “Thou hast a mighty arm.”

2. This is seen sometimes in the number converted. Three thousand, in one day, under Peter’s sermon; why not three thousand again? Why not thirty thousand? Why not three hundred thousand in a day? There is nothing too great for us to ask for, or for God to grant. He could, if He willed, turn the hearts of men, as He turns the rivers by His foot.

3. This might has been manifested in the instruments which the Lord has employed, He has taken the base things and the despised, to make them the medium of His power, and we have then said, “Thou hast a mighty arm” to do such wonders by such puny things. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 14

Psalms 89:14

Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne.

The throne of grace

A view of the throne.

1. What it is, and why so called. It is God manifesting Himself in our own nature, and dealing with sinners through Christ according to the grace of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). Now, God’s administration of grace toward guilty sinners through Christ may be called a throne, either--

(1) With allusion unto the mercy-seat in the typical temple of Jerusalem; or--

(2) Because of the glorious greatness and royal majesty of God flint shines in this administration of grace through Christ.

2. What comfortable views of God are to be had by a guilty trembling sinner from this throne of grace. In general, every view of God here is inviting and encouraging. More particularly--

(1) God upon a throne of grace is to be seen as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

(2) From a throne of grace, God is to be seen as a God of love--yea, as love itself (1 John 4:16).

(3) From a throne of grace, a guilty sinner may view Him as a God of peace (Hebrews 13:20).

The foundation of this throne is justice and judgment.

1. It is an ancient foundation; for Christ was “set up from everlasting, or ever the earth was”; He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

2. It is a foundation of God’s own laying, and He had pleasure in laying it (Isaiah 28:16).

3. It is a firm foundation (Matthew 16:18).

4. It is a tried foundation. Justice tried it, and found it firm and stable. The powers of hell tried to overturn this foundation; but their kingdom and power was broken in pieces in the enterprise. The saints have all tried this foundation, and proclaim it sufficient to bear their weight; yea, it is sufficient to bear the weight of all mankind--yea, of millions of worlds, if they existed, and would venture upon it (Hebrews 7:25).

5. It is a precious foundation (1 Peter 1:19).

6. It is a most beautiful foundation. What God says of His Church (Isaiah 54:11) is much more true of the throne of grace.

Notice some pillars wherewith the throne is surrounded and supported. The foundation of this throne being laid in the satisfaction of justice, all the other perfections, or attributes, of the Divine nature, fall in for the support of the reign and administration of grace.

Inquire why God will have justice and judgment for the foundation of His throne of grace. The answer is, “That grace might reign through righteousness”; that the glory of grace might be displayed in a consistency with the honour of Divine justice. Here a question offers, How does grace reign, or how is the glory of grace displayed in and by the righteousness of a surety?

1. Grace reigns and is displayed in the contrivance of this righteousness; for it is the device of infinite wisdom, animated and inspired by free grace.

2. Grace reigns and is displayed in the acceptation of this righteousness. What but infinite love and grace could prevail with inexorable justice, so far to dispense with the rigour of the law, as to admit of a surety’s righteousness in the room of the sinner!

3. Grace reigns in the impetration of this righteousness; for “ God (in His amazing grace) sent forth His Son made of a woman,” etc.

4. Grace reigns in the revelation of this righteousness. Grace was not content to contrive and bring about this righteousness, but the news of it must be proclaimed to a lost world, as it were by sound of trumpet.

5. Grace reigns through righteousness, inasmuch as that it is by the revelation of this justice-satisfying righteousness that grace conquers and powerfully subdues sinners, brings them under its own government and dominion.


1. Is it so that justice satisfied, and judgment executed upon the ever-blessed Surety, is the foundation of a throne of grace, then, hence we may see what an expensive piece of work a throne of grace is. Why, the foundation of it is laid in the death and blood of the Son of God.

2. See from this doctrine the glory of a Gospel-dispensation.

3. If it be so that justice satisfied, and judgment executed upon Christ, is the foundation of throne of grace, then see hence, that the salvation of a lost sinner by grace is very consistent with the honour of Divine justice.

4. Has God erected a throne of grace at the expense of the death and satisfaction of His eternal Son? Then I would have you to try, whether you be courtiers about this throne. (E. Erskine.)

The necessity and foundations of a throne of grace for the behoof of poor sinners

The necessity there was of a throne of grace for the behoof of poor sinners.

1. Sin having entered, they could have no more benefit by the throne of law-goodness, which runs in that channel, “Do this and live” (Genesis 3:22; Genesis 3:24).

2. They were bound over to answer at the throne of strict justice; for so was the law-treaty related and determined (Genesis 2:17).

(1) They could have no claim to law-goodness and bounty, but upon perfect obedience (Galatians 3:12).

(2) They were utterly unable to stand before the tribunal of justice (Psalms 130:3; Psalms 143:2).

(3) The criminal once falling under the weight of the sentence a sacrifice to justice, there is no rising again (Psalms 94:23).

(4) Justice had determined the execution-day to be the same with the sinning-day (Genesis 2:17).

The necessity of these foundations and stays of justice and judgment against sin for the throne of grace to stand on.

1. The justice of God could not suffer it to be erected but on these bases (Genesis 18:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:6).

2. The holiness of God and His hatred of sin would not suffer it (Psalms 5:5; Habakkuk 1:13).

3. The truth of God was a bar in the way of emanations of mercy and grace without satisfaction to justice (Genesis 2:17).

4. The honour of the holy law, the eternal rule of righteousness, stood in the way of erecting a throne of grace but on these foundations; it behoved to be “magnified and made honourable” (Isaiah 42:21).

5. If there had not been an absolute necessity of these foundations for a throne of grace to stand on, they had never been laid at the cost of the blood of the Son of God (Romans 3:25).

The laying of these foundations and the erecting of the throne of grace upon them.

1. The general ends of this new erection.

(1) The saving of sinners from the wrath of God due to them for their sins.

(2) The making of sinners positively happy in the favour of God for evermore.

2. The necessary foundations of this throne.

(1) Justice, as distinguished from judgment, whereby God gives good unto any, agreeably to the laws of righteousness, which the justice of His nature requires to be observed in His government of the world (Genesis 18:25).

(2) Judgment, whereby vindictive justice is satisfied for sin, for the breaking of the holy law; vengeance is taken upon it in proportion to the offence, which in a sort is an infinite offence.

3. How these foundations were laid. There being no help among the creatures, God laid help on His own Son (Psalms 89:19).

Thus He made provision--

1. For the first foundation of the throne of grace, namely, justice, by His obeying the law completely in the sinner’s room, observing exactly and giving obedience to its commands.

2. He made provision for the other foundation, namely, judgment, by suffering in the sinner’s stead (Galatians 3:13). (T. Boston, D.D.)

Divine justice

Consider the justice of God--

As an element of His government.

As the rule of His conduct. (W. H. H. Murray.)

Verses 15-18

Psalms 89:15-18

Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound.

The blessedness of knowing the Gospel

The Gospel is a happy message. “The joyful sound.” It is good news.

1. Liberty to the captive.

2. Pardon to the condemned.

3. Salvation to the lost.

4. Immortality to the dying. It is a trumpet of jubilee.

The Gospel accepted secures happy results. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound.” Know it experimentally.

1. It secures the highest happiness in life. “Shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.”

2. It secures a personal joy in life. “In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day.” The joy of a grateful heart, an approving conscience, of a glowing hope, of an adoring soul.

3. It secures a righteous exaltation in life. “In Thy righteousness shall they be exalted.” There is no true exaltation in life that is not according to the righteousness of God.

4. It secures complete protection in life. “The Lord is our defence, and the Holy One of Israel is our King.” Truly, then, “Blessed is the people” that experimentally “know the joyful sound” of the Gospel. (Homilist.)

The blessedness of God’s real and devoted servants

They know the joyful sound. This is not a mere common or ordinary knowledge; it is not earthly knowledge; for man, by his own powers, could never have discovered a way of reconciliation with God. It is not mere superficial knowledge; but the desires and the affections and the heart are interested in it. It is not more intellectual knowledge; for although these subjects are the grandest upon which the mind of man may exercise itself, yet those who possess the knowledge here spoken of possess it not merely in their heads, but in their hearts; they are influenced by it; it is to them spiritual knowledge, experimental knowledge, practical knowledge, having an influence on their lives and conduct and conversation, their hopes, their desires, and their endeavours.

They walk in the light of God’s countenance.

1. They live under the constant recollection that God sees them, that they are under His constant and diligent inspection.

2. They enjoy the favour of God.

They rejoice in His name all the day long. What, then, is the character of this joy? It is pure; there is no admixture of unholy principle, or unholy desire, or unholy gratification: it is solid and steady, resting upon a sure and substantial foundation: it is animating; it inspires them amid the difficulties of life: it is satisfying; ah! and it is abiding.

In His righteousness they shall be exalted. (E. Tottenham, M.A.)

Four stages of Christian experience

Recognizing the Divine voice. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound”--that is, blessed are they who know its meaning, who, hearing it break upon the morning air, know that the hour of their deliverance draweth nigh.

Living in the Divine light. “They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.” The walking of which the Bible has so much to say is a sustained progression from sin to holiness. To hear and obey the joyful sound is to live in the Divine light, and to live in the Divine light is to live in the Divine favour. But we can only live thus as we set Him before us; regarding His honour as having the first claim, seeking first the kingdom of God.

Rejoicing in the Divine name. “In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day.” Our joy need not depend upon our mood of the moment: for knowing that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, we may rejoice ever in the saving name of our God.

Being exalted in the Divine righteousness. “In Thy righteousness shall they be exalted,” or, “they are exalted.” The people that know the joyful sound are lifted up, not by any power of their own, but by God’s adherence to His own gracious covenant. In Adam we were abased, but in Christ we are exalted. What a paradox that the believer, lowly and poor, taking ofttimes a humble place among men, often cast down by the burdens of life, yet should be sitting with Christ in the heavenly places. (F. Burnett.)

The Christian walking in the blessedness of the Gospel

The joyful sound is the gospel.

1. It comes from a world of joy, the happiest world in the universe.

2. It calls to a world of joy.

The knowledge of this joyful sound. It is not so easy as we suppose to get the light of Divine truth into a sinner’s darkened mind. It may shine down upon him from heaven so clear and bright that we may think it must penetrate his understanding at least; but let God leave him alone, it will be found perhaps in the great majority of cases that it has scarcely entered even that; that the man’s understanding has been almost as completely closed against God’s truth as the man’s heart.

The blessedness of those who possess this knowledge.

1. An habitual enjoyment of the Divine favour. “They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance;” that is, as long as their knowledge of the Gospel is clear and their faith in it undisturbed, they shall go on their way with a consciousness within them that He is at peace with them, full of love to them.

2. A rejoicing in the Divine perfections. “In Thy name,” etc. If we have learnt the Gospel aright, we have learnt that there is something in God which can meet our case under all circumstances; that let the day change as it will, there is always a refuge for us in Him. He is like a port ever near the soul when the storm comes; and such a port, that let the soul be in it, all the storms that can blow will do the soul no harm. It will be as safe and may be as happy as though all around it were a calm.

3. A conscious elevation in the Lord’s righteousness. They are invested, as it were, with it. And this exalts the soul; exalts it in fact--lifts it up above the law’s curses and penalties; gives it in Christ a right and title to the law’s promises; places it on a level in Christ with those of God’s creatures who have never sinned. And it exalts the soul within, in its own apprehensions and feelings. With a righteousness upon me wrought out by God’s holy, everlasting Son, where are my fears, my shame, and my native vileness? And feeling thus, the believer’s soul becomes morally exalted, exalted in character. With his Saviour’s righteousness upon him, he longs increasingly to be righteous within, like that Saviour. He feels impelled to rise, to live above sin and self and the world, above the ordinary level of his fellow-men; and so through grace in some measure he does rise and does live. (C. Bradley, M.A.)

The privilege of knowing thy joyful sound

The duty to which the joyful sound, known and believed, effectually excites men. “They shall walk.”

1. They shall not sit still, doing nothing to purpose for God and their immortal souls, like the rest of the world, dead in trespasses and sins.

2. They shall not go back to their former lusts in their ignorance.

3. They shall hold forward in their way in spite of all opposition.

4. They shall walk on in the sight of the Lord, as he who walketh in the light walks in the sight of the sun.

The privileges which they that know and believe the joyful sound shall thereby have in their walk heavenwards. “They shell walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.”

1. They shall be ever in a state of favour, peace and reconciliation with God,

2. No cloud of revenging wrath shall ever gather above their heads any more, no curse of the law, no guilt of eternal wrath.

3. Whatever cloud may gather above their head in their way heavenward, it shall never be so thick but the light of the Lord’s countenance shall shine through it (Psalms 89:31-34).

4. They shall be directed in their way (Psalms 32:8).

5. They shall be strengthened in their way, for this light is the light of life.

6. They shall be cheered and comforted in their way. Hence we may learn--

(1) Whence it is that many communicants are nothing bettered by Gospel ordinances, but even go away as they come, a prey to their lusts and an evil world. They sit down to the feast, but they rise not up to the journey. Why? Alas! they never get into the saving knowledge of the joyful sound. They hear it, but they do not believe it. They believe it not with application to themselves. Hence it hath no quickening, nor sanctifying influence on them.

(2) Whence it is that many of the saints are so weak and comfortless in their way heavenward, walking so much in the dark. It is all owing to the small measure of their faith of the joyful sound.

(3) That the faith of the Gospel is the sovereign remedy in all darkness and distresses in which a person can be. Believing is a duty that can never be out of season. This is the way to bring one out of darkness into the light. If then thou art in desertion, temptation, or affliction, go to the promise and embrace it by faith. Believers, bless God for what your ears do hear and for what your eyes do see. Seek for more of this blessedness. As ever ye would walk on your way heavenward, safely and comfortably, labour more and more to know the joyful sound; and to know it so as to believe it; and to believe it so as to apply it to your own souls, according to your several exigencies. (T. Boston, D.D.)

The joyful sound

The gospel is a joyful sound.

1. Because it is a proclamation of mercy and forgiveness to the guilty and rebellious.

2. Because it proclaims liberty to the enslaved.

3. Because it produces peace to them that are in trouble.

What is meant by knowing the joyful sound.

The blessedness of the people that know the joyful sound.

1. They are blessed in their life. O what invaluable privileges are contained in this blessedness!

2. They are blessed in their death. (J. Hay, D.D.)

Knowledge of the joyful sound

The blessedness of knowing the Gospel.

1. The Gospel is intended to make us blessed, because He, in whose will it has originated, is full of compassion, and announces that here His compassion has had its richest and most determinate exercise.

2. It is fitted to make us blessed; for the same God, whose compassion prompted it, has also contrived all its arrangements and operations, and the infinite wisdom which belongs to Him must have so adapted the means to the end as effectually to secure whatsoever it designs.

3. It is sure to make us blessed; its machinery being moved, and its effects being produced, by the power to which all opposition is feeble, and before which all difficulties vanish away.

4. It is known to make us blessed; for we have only to appeal to the experience of the Church in every successive age, and in every variety of its features, in proof of the fact that the Gospel has done for its disciples what nothing else has been able to accomplish--has put a joy into their hearts, and shed a brightness over their prospects, beyond all that worldly minds have experienced or conceived.

What is implied in knowing the sound of the gospel.

1. That the Gospel is communicated to us. And why is this annunciation requisite? Because the plan of saving mercy which it unfolds clearly embraces the character as well as the condition of the sinner; and this connection is so close, and of such a nature, that the condition of the sinner cannot become what his safety requires it to be, unless the character of the sinner is made to undergo a corresponding change. And this change cannot take place without the concurrence of his will, and that movement among all the affections and principles of his moral frame which presupposes him to be acquainted with what the Gospel demands of him, as well as with what the Gospel has effected for him.

2. That we attend to the Gospel and understand it. The blessedness flowing from the Gospel is to be received and enjoyed, not by chance or according to human fancy and caprice, but in a certain instituted way. There is a plan by which this blessedness is secured for the sinner, so far as to be brought within his reach: and there is a plan by which it is made over to him as an actual and personal attainment. If this plan be not studied and comprehended, how can any individual so betake himself to it, and so make use of its provisions, and so submit to its direction and influence, as that he may reasonably expect to derive the benefits by which it will contribute effectually to his safety and his happiness?

3. That we welcome, believe and obey the Gospel. (A. Thomson, D. D.)

The Gospel a joyful sound

The character of those who are the people of God. They “know the joyful sound”--the Gospel.

1. The trumpet in the year of Jubilee announced that all captives and slaves were to be set at liberty: and is not the Gospel’s “joyful sound” a universal proclamation of “liberty to the captives”? But to what description of captives? To all sinners--to all mankind.

2. The debtors also heard with joy the cheering sound of the jubilee trumpet, for they, too, were set at liberty when it was heard. And who are the debtors to whom the “joyful sound” of the Gospel proclaims a like release? Which of us have not broken God’s holy law, and failed to render to Him the debt of gratitude and obedience that is our rightful due and reasonable service?

3. The jubilee trumpet also announced that all who had forfeited or mortgaged their possessions were to be restored to their full right to them. Similar was our state; and similar also is the “joyful sound” of the Gospel.

The blessedness of those who know this joyful sound, and wherein it consists. (J. L. F. Russell, M.A.)

They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countanence.--

Walking in light

The psalmist has been dwelling in magnificent language upon some of the attributes of God. The pillars of His throne are justice and judgment; “mercy and truth go before His face.” He cannot say anything about that surpassing brightness that fell on the two heralds. The sunshine can only be spoken of as “the people’s blessedness” that hear the “joyful sound,” the sound of the great name; “they shall walk in the light.”

“walking,” a simple metaphor of practical life. Our knowledge of our Father’s character should make common life radiant. We should have continual consciousness of that sunny presence in all occupations. God has done His part, we must do ours, and determine whether that knowledge shall lead us into habitual, happy fellowship with Him. Life with God, for God, in God, is “walking in the light of His face.” We may choose the sunny or the shady side of the road. Does that name steal into our hearts like sweet, beguiling melody? Hard it is, but possible, to “set the Lord always before us.” They who walk in the light are surely blessed.

Such a walk is a walk in gladness. Light is the emblem of joy. Two landscapes:--Winter, black fortress, grey rocks, dreary moor, dismal black tarns among the heather. Summer changes it into a dream of beauty. Our lives may be either; in the dark, cloudy days the light will break through many a chink in the cloud; men may not see it, but the eye, purged by faith, can behold it. Tropical sky not half as beautiful as ours. Nobody knows what brightness is until they have seen the gilded thunder-cloud; nobody knows God’s presence until in the hour of darkness.

“walking in the light” is guidance. No promise of infallible illumination, but those near God catch the wisdom that removes all clouds from our vision. If we dwelt nearer Him we should less often be in perplexity. “I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness.”

Light purifies--we should learn our faults (Psalms 90:8). That flashing brightness may be a terror or a joy (Psalms 139:23). An advantage, that every sin He sees shall be manifested also to us. Secret faults do most harm. A little defect may be the leak through which all our gladness ebbs away. Be thankful if you find it; refer all actions and habits to Him, and the light will reveal the evil. Nothing foul can live in that presence.

Light bleaches; “walk in the light,” and the blood will “cleanse from all sin.” (A. Maclaren, D.D.)

Walking in the light

The out-and-out Christian is a joyful Christian. The half-and-half Christian is the kind of Christian that a great many of you are--little acquainted with the joy of the Lord. Why should we live half-way up the hill, and swathed in mists, when we might have an unclouded sky and a visible sun over our heads? If we would only climb higher, we should walk in the light of His face. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Joyfulness aids character

An English manufacturer of colours could not produce the beautiful carmine tint for which a French competitor was famous, so he went to Lyons, in France, and agreed to pay the Frenchman a thousand pounds for his secret, he was shown through the factory, and everything was explained to him. But the Englishman saw nothing different from his own way of making colours, and thought he had been deceived, and that the secret had been kept from him. “Stay,” said the Frenchman, “don’t deceive yourself--what kind of weather is this? A bright, sunny day,” replied the Englishman. “And such are the days,” said the Frenchman, “on which I make my colours. Were I to attempt to manufacture it on a dark or cloudy day, my results would be the same as yours. Let me advise you to make carmine on bright, sunny days.” And is it not thus with your own life and character? You cannot get the best results without the sunshine of God’s smile and blessing. One of the principal things the Bible tells us to do is “to walk in the light.” (A. H. Lee.)

Verse 16

Psalms 89:16

In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted.


The believer exalted in imputed righteousness

A few propositions anent this righteousness for clearing its nature and necessity.

A few properties of this righteousness in which believers are exalted, from whence its excellency will appear.

1. It is in every way perfect and spotless righteousness: and how can it be otherwise, seeing it is the righteousness of God?

2. It is a meritorious righteousness.

3. It is an incomparable righteousness (Philippians 3:8). Compare it with Adam’s righteousness in a state of innocence, or yet with the righteousness of the spotless angels, they are but like glowworms when compared with this sun: the one is but the righteousness of a creature, but here is the righteousness of God.

4. It is an everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24).

5. It is a soul-dignifying and exalting righteousness.

The believer’s exaltation by virtue of this righteousness.

1. What evils it exalts him above.

(1) It exalts him above the law as a covenant of works; yea, above both the commanding and the condemning power of that covenant.

(2) It exalts him above the world.

(3) It exalts him above the power and malice of Satan.

(4) It exalts him above death.

(5) It exalts him above all accusations, from whatever airt they may come (Romans 8:33).

2. What happiness or dignity the believer is exalted to by virtue of this righteousness.

(1) A state of peace and reconciliation with God (Romans 5:1).

(2) A state of sonship (Galatians 4:4-5).

(3) A state of fellowship and familiarity with God, and access to Him with holy confidence and boldness (Hebrews 10:19-22).

(4) A state of endless glory. (E. Erskine.)

Verse 19

Psalms 89:19

I have laid help upon One that is mighty.

Our helper

We need help. Christianity does three things for us, which Deism does not.

1. It tells us that this was not our original state; that God made man upright, but he sought out many inventions.

2. It checks much of the evil now: by its direct influence in many cases, and by its indirect influence in many more; in humanizing war, in abolishing slavery, in taming the human passions; it has been the harbinger of peace, and has done more for man than all human institutions in the aggregate beside.

3. It tells us of a remedy for all this, and this is placed within our reach, if we would avail ourselves of it; and therefore if we perish in this state, the blame will be our own.

God has provided help for us.

1. This help includes redemption. “With the Lord there is plenteous redemption.” “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” Thus the burden too heavy to be borne is rolled off the conscience, and we now “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have received the Atonement.”

2. It includes justification. We must have a title to heaven before we can obtain it; and from whence is this to be derived but from the righteousness of Christ by faith, “which is unto all and upon all them that believe”?

3. It takes in renovation. Man is not only guilty but depraved. Therefore he cannot be happy while in his natural state and under the dominion and love of sin.

4. It takes in strength. His duties are arduous; they are numerous and various; and he is inadequate to any one; but says the Saviour, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “As thy day so shall thy strength be.” Here is the blessed spirit of promise also enjoyed, and now the man lives in the Spirit, and walks in the Spirit, and prays in the Holy Ghost, and the Spirit helpeth his infirmities.

5. It takes in persevering grace, for “he only that endureth to the end shall be saved.”

God lays this help upon another. We may observe two principles upon which this dispensation is founded, and by which it is justified.

1. It is an honour to Christ, it being a part of the reward for His doings and sufferings.

2. It is for our encouragement and comfort. The grandeur of the Supreme Being so terrified the Jews that they desired Moses to be their mediator, and said, “Speak thou with us; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” So we are encouraged to go to God through Christ, and “we have boldness and access with confidence through the faith of Him.”

He on whom help is laid is equal to the engagement. He is not only human, but Divine--“able to save to the uttermost.” He can by His influences, so mighty is He, penetrate and enlighten the darkest understanding; He can subdue the most rebellious will; He can take away the stony heart and give you a heart of flesh. Conclusion:--

1. See the importance of knowing your spiritual state. Without this knowledge it would be impossible for you ever to see the beauty of the Gospel, ever to appreciate the evil of sin, or the excellence of purity, or to relish the privileges of the righteous.

2. See the folly of every other dependence but upon that rock which God has laid in Zion. Christ is the only ark in which you can be preserved; if you enter into this, you may be safe. (W. Jay.)

The mighty man

This refers to David, whom God had raised as a stripling out of the people, raised to be the leader and the ruler of the Jewish nation.

The sovereignty of God amongst men. Why was David selected--a shepherd youth--from the millions of Israel to this high position? Because it was according to the counsel of the Eternal will. The positions of all mankind are determined by His will. Some high and some low, etc.

The Divine method of helping man. The Jewish people wanted help, and David is raised up to help them. God helps man by man. Thus--

1. He honours human nature.

2. He links men together by the bonds of interdependence.

The superiority of one man over many. David was made the greatest man of his age, greater, perhaps, than any thousand ordinary men. Whilst all men have the same common nature and responsibilities, all men are not alike valuable. There is often one man in a generation, a Plato, a Luther, a Bacon, a Cromwell, of more worth than ten millions of others--one whom God has made “mighty to help,” mighty in intellect, in genius, in power, in philanthropy, in force of character, in consecration to truth. (Homilist.)

I have exalted one chosen out of the people.

The people’s Christ

Our Saviour’s extraction.

1. Christ, by His very birth, was one of the people. True, he was born of a royal ancestry. Mary and Joseph were both of them descendants of a kingly race, but the glory had departed; a stranger sat on the throne of Judah; while the lawful heir grasped the hammer and the adze.

2. His education, too, demands our attention. He was not taken, as Moses was, from his mother’s breast, to be educated in the halls of a monarch. He was not brought up as the lordling, to look with disdain on every one; but His father being a carpenter, doubtless He toiled in His father’s workshop.

3. When our Lord entered into public life, still He was the same. What was His rank? He was a poor man--“one of the people.”

His election. God chooses sovereignty, but He always chooses wisely.

1. First, we see that justice is thereby fully, satisfied by the choice of one out of the people.

2. Thereby the whole race receives honour. He made us, originally, a little lower than the angels, and now, despite our fall in Adam, He hath crowned us with glory and honour.

3. But let us take a sweeter view than that. Why was He chosen out of the people? Here, Christian: what dost thou think is the sweet reason for the election of thy Lord, He being one of the people? Was it not this--that He might be able to be thy brother, in the blest tie of kindred blood?

4. Christ was chosen out of the people that He might know our wants and sympathize with us.

His exaltation.

1. It was exaltation for the body of Christ to be exalted into union with the Divinity. That was honour which none of us can ever receive. Of no other man shall it be said that the Deity tabernacled in him, and that God was manifest in His flesh, seen of angels, justified of the spirit, and carried up to glory.

2. Christ was exalted by His resurrection. Out He came, and the watchmen fled away. Startling with glory, radiant with light, effulgent with divinity, He stood before them. Christ was then exalted in His resurrection.

3. But how exalted was He in His ascension! Up He climbs to that high throne, side by side with the Paternal Deity. “I have exalted one chosen out of the people.”

4. The last exaltation of Christ which I shall mention is that which is to come, when He shall sit upon the throne of His Father David, and shall judge all nations. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 25

Psalms 89:25

I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.

The mediatorial glory and dominion of Jesus Christ under the Gospel-dispensation

The means and the agency by which the kingdom, authority, and grace of the Mediator are extended among the nations of the world, and this promise of Jehovah is fulfilled to His Son.

1. In general, let it be observed, that the whole Word of God, as displayed and applied in the ministry of the Gospel, is the great comprehensive instrument whereby the spiritual dominion of Jesus Christ is established and spread abroad in the earth.

2. The powerful energy of the Divine Spirit is an indispensable requisite to give them force and impression on the souls of men.

A few of the most eminent periods when the Redeemer’s hand is set in the sea and His right hand in the rivers; together with some of the concurring circumstances which, under the direction of Providence, contribute to the establishment and enlargement of the kingdom of grace.

1. The first period commenced at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and includes the ministry of the apostles and of the first preachers of Christianity, when the glorious Gospel was attended with the most wonderful success, and, in a short time, spread its triumphs far and wide.

2. The Reformation.

3. The millennium. The former periods were glorious, but this will far exceed them in glory. They presented the first fruits, this will bring forward the full harvest.


1. The subject suggests to our consideration one great cause of the increase of irreligion and infidelity in the present age, viz. a mournful deviation from the system of Divine truth.

2. The missionary scheme, if prosecuted with prudence, zeal, perseverance, and a humble dependence on God for success, promises fair to be a blessing to the world, to this nation, and to the Church of God in it.

3. The promises of God afford the greatest encouragement to strenuous and persevering endeavours to propagate the knowledge of salvation among the heathen.

4. As the success of all our endeavours to promote the cause of religion must depend on the Spirits and providence of God, let us be frequent and fervent in prayer. (P. Hutchinson.)

Verses 30-33

Psalms 89:30-33

If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments.

God’s displeasure at His people’s sins

The conduct described.

1. Far from uncommon.

2. Exceedingly heinous.

3. Very ungrateful.

4. Highly inconsistent. How unlike Him whose name they bear!

5. Truly lamentable.

(1) In itself.

(2) In its influence upon others.

The punishment threatened.

1. Most righteous.

2. Absolutely certain.

(1) His character requires it. He is a holy God.

(2) His Word declares it (2 Chronicles 7:19-22).

(3) The whole of His conduct confirms it. The history of the Jews is full of instances, written for our admonition.

3. The ways in which He corrects His children are characterized by great diversity

(1) As to the means He employs.

(2) As to the measure in which they are inflicted.

(3) The period to which they extend.

The mercy proclaimed. “Nevertheless, My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him,” etc. Two reasons are assigned.

1. His regard for the Son of His love. There is a change of person in this verse; it is not said “them,” but “him.” The claims of His Son, on the one hand, and the pleadings of His Son on the other, are the grounds why we are not altogether consumed.

2. His regard for the word of His truth. “Nor suffer My faithfulness to fail.” Everything else may fail--the labour of the olive, the fruit of the vines, the herd in the stalls; but for His faithfulness to fail is impossible. (Expository Outlines.)

The Lord’s jealousy against backsliders consistent with His unchanging love

It is taken for granted that the seed of Messiah shall go astray; but their sins, it is added, do not break the covenant, which stands fast for evermore; for it was not made with us, but with the Son for us.

The seed of the Messiah stand in His relation to the Father, sons by grace because He is the Son by nature.

1. They are more precious in God’s sight than all the universe, and He loves them with a real father’s love. It is not different love the Father bears to Christ’s people from what He bears to Him (John 17:23). Our capacity, indeed, is limited, but if we are Christ’s we are loved with the very same love in kind--yea, taken within the bond of that very love that from eternal ages has knit the Father to His only Son.

2. As they have borne the image of the earthy, they shall also bear the image of the heavenly; and at last they shall be like Him, when they see Him as He is. Yet a little while and the reviled sons of God shall shine brighter than the sun in a glory that will make kings and great men wonder.

The Lord narrowly observes the new obedience of His children, and whether they will go astray. Allusion is made to that declension as proceeding step by step. We have begun this departure if our thoughts turn not naturally and habitually unto God as the needle to the pole. Let us labour that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him, and count it all joy to meet the trials which strengthen faith.

God, jealous of His honour, cannot pass over the transgressions of His children without chastisement (Psalms 89:32). What He can bear with for the present in the children of the wicked one, He cannot bear in those who are a people near Him. Judgment begins at the house of God on those who bear His image; for more heinous in God’s account, and more ruinous to souls around them, is sin in God’s people than in others.

Our declensions do not utterly remove God’s loving-kindness, because it is not founded on ourselves, but on another. The Father’s love to the Son is the very foundation of the Gospel. The great triumph of the Cross is that He who hung there was more pleasing in the Father’s sight than even sin was hateful--that the sin could be consumed, and yet the love remain entire. These words, “My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him,” show us the proper motive to be brought to bear on backsliders and the Lord’s way of restoring them. If any presume on such words of tenderness--halt! they are not spoken unto you, but to the downcast child of God, at a loss to know how God can love him with so little that is pure and lovely--ready to doubt how a worm, a rebel, an enemy, can be endeared to God. (G. Smeaton.)

Verse 36

Psalms 89:36

As the sun

The sun as an emblem of God

The sun has always been an object so full of mystery and amazing quality that in a large part of history it was worshipped as a deity, and it is destined in all the remainder of history to be the greatest emblem of God.

It leaves behind it the seven wonders of the old earth and any seven wonders of the new, and makes of itself alone the one matchless object of all physical things and forms. It deals only in the great. Vast in all particulars, it easily became the early god of mankind, and very slowly and with difficulty became disengaged from the Hebrew and classic religions. At last the Christianized multitude has reached the ability to distinguish between the universe and the Maker of the universe; and, stupendous as the bounds of space may be, and sublime as their occupants may be, the modern mind says they are not God. Our sun could not be God, for there are millions of such suns. But, though as a deity our sun is dethroned, it is wonderful in its dethronement. In the spring months, when winter is being daily conquered by the arrows of heat, the mind will not easily escape the feeling that the sun is a vast expression of Divine love. Our sun has called into being a group of worlds. To him must earth, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Saturn, and their companions, give the credit of their very being as well as of their rich decoration, for the central orb is master of the whole scene. He holds all the planets in an orbit, and thus makes years and seasons possible; and thus detaining them as a mother leads her children by the hand, he makes their surfaces into gardens, and compels each globe to be a marvel of beauty. God as a pure spirit being invisible, we are constrained to feel that the universe is only God passing outward from thought into material, and that all these millions of suns with their planets around them are so many incarnations of the Love Infinite. As man came as an image of God, and as Christ came as an image, still closer, of the Father, so the countless suns are shining forth all glorious images of Him whose soul alone is invisible. Should the sun decline in warmth, all the life on our globe would cease. Should the sun increase his warmth all life of animal and plant would be burned up. What love is that which regulates this gigantic fire and makes it flame for ever as the fireside of our Father’s house? If there is such a tremendous scheme for lighting and warming worlds through uncounted ages, may there not be also vast designs of human existence and progress equal, indeed, to all those outlined in religion? If all these physical wonders are for the final happiness of souls, if planets are thus made into the blessed homes of mind, what is to be the destiny of that mind for which such sublime preparations have been made? (D. Swing.)

Verse 37

Psalms 89:37

It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.

The character of the Church of Christ upon earth as symbolized by the moon in our solar system

In the history of the creation it is written (Genesis 1:14). How the sun and the moon in our solar system come to be “for seasons and for days and years,” the astronomer is able to inform us; but why, and of what they were intended to be the signs, revelation alone can explain. Accordingly, if we look into the Word of God, we find that the heavenly bodies are held forth as emblems of certain things, and of certain principles bearing upon the Church and people of God. Thus Jesus Christ is represented by the sun (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78), and we are permitted to trace certain points in their analogy (John 14:6; John 11:25; John 5:24; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 5:11). The ministers of Christ are symbolized by the stars of heaven (Revelation 1:20). In like manner, the moon in our solar system is more than once introduced as representing the Church of God in the world. In the Book of the Revelation (Revelation 12:1), this luminary represents the Church of God under the law elected for the especial guardianship of the original revelation, which declared the one true God. In the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 6:10) the same symbol is applied to the Church of God under the Gospel elected for the especial guardianship of the second revelation which declares the one true Mediator. It is in this latter sense--as representing the Church of God under the Gospel--that the words of the text are to be understood.

It will be my endeavour to sketch the character of the Church of God under the Gospel, by cautiously tracing certain points of analogy between her and the moon in our solar system.

1. The moon was ordained to “rule the night”--to furnish us with light in the absence of the sun. Visible she may be at times after the morning dawn, but if visible she gives no light--she wanes beneath the light of the superior orb. Were the sun always to shine upon our shores, there would be no night here: the moon would have no place in our firmament; or, if she appeared at all, she would shed no light.. And so it is with the Church of Christ in this lower world: the absence of her Divine Head in the heavens, whither He has gone to perform an essential part of that work of redemption which He covenanted with God the Father to perfect for the salvation of mankind--renders necessary the existence of a Church in the world, which is ordained to exist and to be visible until His coming again. He is the Sun, she is the moon.

2. The moon has no light of her own. The purpose for which the moon was at first, and still is, set in the heavens is to reflect upon us and for our benefit the light of the sun during his absence from the part of the world we inhabits--or, to speak more correctly, during our absence from him. In this peculiarity the moon is cited in Scripture to symbolize the Church of Christ upon earth. The latter was ordained to reflect upon the world the light of the “Sun of righteousness” during his absence in the heavens. In herself she has no light at all; without her Sun she has virtually no existence; severed from Him she is nothing worth. The Church has nothing whatever in herself whence can radiate those beams of light and life and love, without which all is darkness within--yea, a darkness that may be felt. No doctrine will fully enlighten the mind but the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6:1; John 2:9). No truth will dissipate the error of fallen nature’s teaching but the truth as it is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21).

3. As the moon has no light, so neither has she any heat of her own. Did not the sun arise upon the land, and daily cheer us with his rays, as well as benefit us by his light, in vain should we seek a substitute in the transparent brightness of the moon. She is set in the heavens simply and solely to reflect his light. In this respect also does the moon symbolize the Church of God upon earth. It is not from the Church herself, separated from her Divine Head, that we are to look for that quickening power, that holy enthusiasm, that heavenly glow of joy and peace in believing which cheers the heart of every child of God. The ordained purpose of God is that the Church upon earth should not dispense the heat of her absent Sun, but continually and extensively reflect His light. For this, and this alone, was the Church ordained to exist in the world.

I close with a remark of a practical character. From what has now been said, we infer the necessity of an outward witness for Christ to satisfy the candid inquirer, and to silence a gainsaying world. Let me add, there must also be an inward witness for Christ (1 John 5:10), for the satisfaction and the comfort and the security of the believer himself. If grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, by the Lord’s own ordinance of baptism “rightly received,” we are doubtless to be numbered with those symbolized by the moon. But beyond this, for the comfort of the believer, and to discriminate between a dead profession and a living faith (Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15; Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16; Acts if. 38; James 2:17-26), there is another and an inward witness to be superadded to the visible testimony. When the soul becomes quickened (John 5:25; Ephesians 2:1) into spiritual action; when the mind (Ephesians 1:17-18) becomes enlightened, the heart cheered, the affections warmed, the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, affected and moved by the constraining love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14), the blessed experience of that peace of God which passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7); this is the inward witness, not seen by those that are without, but more convincing far to the individual soul, because he inherits thereby a well-grounded hope of an entrance into the everlasting kingdom of Christ (2 Peter 1:11)--if he do but retain and exhibit the evidences of his renewed life (John 15:8). (W. J. Kidd.)

Verses 47-48

Psalms 89:47-48

Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain?

The sense of life’s brevity

That it is a right feeling, because it accords with fact. Human life is short, if you consider--

1. That an end must come to it here.

2. Its re-beginning after its earthly close. It is short in view of the new life. What is it to eternity? Nothing.

That it argues the underlying sentiment of immortality. A man could have no feeling of the length or brevity of time, with all its changes, unless he had within him a settled sentiment of permanence.

That it implies a deep interest in some purpose in life. He is anxious to see the work done; and he is so impressed with the brevity of life, that he works and labours with all diligence.

That it involves an underlying belief that life on the whole is a blessing. Of all the million sufferers in the world, there are but few of the number who would have their life shortened even by one day.

That it serves to stimulate us to make the best use of it. One who feels that he is in the world only for a little time, will strike out for the best things. (Homilist.)

A homily for the closing year

God makes no man “in vain,” but he may choose to live in vain. He may turn his existence in this world to utter vanity and waste.

1. The true value of our life lies in its spiritual significance; and we save it from being vain and worthless only as we connect it with the spiritual and the eternal. We are accustomed to say that life is long or short, according as it is crowded with incidents and experiences, or is deficient in them. An eventful life is a long life. Some men live more in one year than others do in many. But then, what is the quality of the experience? Your life outwardly may be eventful enough, but inwardly it may be strangely destitute of all that is fitted to give it a distinctive and a noble character.

2. The value of our life lies in the nature of the work that has been given us to do in it; and we save it from being “vain” only by earnest and diligent attention to that work. It demands the cultivation in ourselves of the affections and energies of the life of God, and the diffusion of such an influence and the doing of such deeds as shall be for the enduring benefit and blessing of the world in which He has placed us. (Joseph Waite, M.A.)

Unfulfilled lives

That men’s lives are vain is the universal complaint. Men are perplexed and overwhelmed by the mystery of life and the world’s misery. The Bible is full of it. Isaiah tells how “we all do fade as a leaf,” and that plaintive thought was the same felt so keenly by Homer, too--“like leaves on trees the race of man is found.” It is the solemn teaching and experience of the human heart, and of the sages and poets of all ages. “Sadness,” said Savonarola, “besieges me day and night. Whatever I see, or hear, bears the standard of sadness. The memory of my friends saddens me, the meditation of my studies afflicts me, the thought of my sins sinks me down, and, as in a fever, the sweetest things taste as sadness in my mouth.” It has been ever so; and apostles and prophets, however inspired, weep out the same sad notes. Christ alone, though he was “the man of sorrows,” indulges no morbid note on man, for he saw too clearly the destiny of man to utter any words that could sound like a dirge over his being.

Yet, I think, I may first attempt to collect and press upon you the evidence upon this common thought--the temptation to believe that man is made in vain. Everything rebukes vanity in man, since he himself, as well as the world, is vain. The idea often thrills through us that man is made in vain. Experiences are different, but the feeling is universal. All men feel it of all men. Job speaks of his being like a “hidden, untimely birth.” Yes, and what a mockery there is, apparently, in the birth and death of little children. But I do not think that these are the most startling views of the vanity of life. I would rather fix the argument upon the utter disproportion between the powers and the position of man. It is then, I say and see, that man is made in vain. Nothing has more perplexed me than the sight in life of angels--I must call them so--who have lost their way; their lives seem to have been altogether in vain; a gifted sensibility, perhaps, in a hard, coarse family; a soul sensitive to every impression of gentleness and beauty, with a body unable to second the designs and desires of the soul--the soul soaring, the body limping. Our thoughts crush us--man was made to mourn, and man was made in vain. Unsatisfactory and miserable world, may we well exclaim, where nothing is real, and nothing is realized; when I consider how our lives are passed in the struggle for existence; when I consider the worry of life; when I consider how the millions pass their time in a mere toil for sensual objects; when I consider the millions of distorted existences; and the many millions!--the greater number of the world by far--who wander Christless, loveless, hopeless, over the broad highway of it; when I consider life in many of the awakened as a restless dream; when I consider this, and much else, I can almost exclaim with our unhappy poet--

“ Count all the joys thine hours have seen,

Count all thy days from anguish free,

And know, whatever thou hast been,

’Twere something better not to be.”

I can conceive many a soul, and not an irreverent one, saying, “O God! what is my life? What am I? What have I done? I am a failure. Why have I had given me unoccupied affections; they have never met their response, their realization, their fulfilment. How I could have loved, how I could have wrought; I feel these things in me.” Now, it is the fashion of infidelity to believe that God has no details, no specialities, and this thought sometimes drives in with a panic on the spirit; for we are caught up by the huge engine of the machine-god, and torn amidst the wheels of what does not care more for hearts than it does for oaks. Our lives seem spent in vain. I know the reply to all this with many is a cold and icy sneer of contempt at the egotism and conceit of it all. “The universe has done very well for you hitherto; trust the universe, let these inquisitive questions alone.” To which I reply, Alas! they will not let me alone; moreover, if my fault is egotism and individuality, what is yours? Indifference, inhumanity, coldness, in a word--brutality. I do not desire to sink to the unconsciousness of “beasts that perish.”

Notice the structure of the question, Is it possible to reconcile the vanity of man with the greatness of God? This vanity of man, is it consistent with thee, and with what thou art?

1. I believe that thou hast not a chief regard to thine own power. God is not a mere power. What should we think of him who, able to stamp upon the canvas the forms of Murillo, the colours of Tintoretto, able to hew his marbles to the shape of Flaxman, or to mould his pottery to Etruscan loveliness, yet treated all as a freak, and destroyed remorselessly as readily as he created? But what is the artist of the canvas to the artist of flowers, to the artist of the human eye, the artist of the bird’s wing? The artist says, I made them, but I cannot preserve them; but the author of eternal beauty Thou art, and why hast Thou made not only things, but man himself in vain? The mother, indeed, goes to her little cot where the lamb of her bosom lies stretched out in its little shroud. She says, “Yes, my darling, I bare thee, and nursed thee; but I could not keep thee;” but God, “Why hast Thou made men in vain?”

2. God is not mere law. “I believe Thou art not heedless of Thy creatures’ desire, though they seem to be mocked.” We are not like children at play, blowing bubbles which break in non-existence even while they soar. This cannot be enjoyment to Thee.

3. Thou art pure being, Thou canst not, therefore, be pleased only to contemplate evanescence and decay. It is not consistent with Thy glory that “the whole creation should groan and travail in pain together.” Dost Thou not “rejoice in Thy works”? and canst Thou rejoice in these? Is not Thy world one huge stone coffin, where every piece of limestone is but the record of death, and the fairest things float loathsomely out of existence into corruption and decay. And now these are, as you well know, the soliloquies and cries of our nature; and the appropriate answer to all is, Man is not made in vain. Unless I have mistaken myself, I believe that some of the topics I have suggested will convey a reply to this question, and show that the absolute vanity of man is incompatible with the glory and with the promise of God. There is something in him which God does not regard as vanity. “The sure mercies of David” are not vanity; “the covenant ordered in all things and sure” is not vanity; “the exceeding great and precious promises, by which we become partakers of the Divine nature,” are not vanity. Mutation and change, indeed, surround us everywhere. But there are “two immutable,” unchangeable “things”--the will of God, and the Word of God, as the expression of His will. There is an image, over which change never passes. It can suffer no defacement; nothing can mar it. And as we are conformed to this, a growing joy steals over us, and steeps us in its blessedness as we become “new creatures in Christ, Jesus”; as the “old things pass away,” as “the Word” which “gives light” enters and sows itself in the heart, we gradually learn what it is for man not to be made in vain.

Hence I have conjoined with this poor human word; this elegy over unfulfilled lives; this other word; this word of repose on Divine intention and completed being--“My times are in Thy hand.” Nothing is more certain, nothing are men more indisposed to perceive than this--we have to

“Wait for some transcendent life,

Reserved by God to follow this.”

To this end God’s real way is made up of all the ways of our life. His hand holds all our times. “My times are in Thy hand”--the hand of my Saviour. He regulates our life clock. Christ for and Christ in us. My times are in His hand. My life can be no more in vain, than was my Saviour’s life in vain.

And this truth rightly grasped and held, we shall never think it possible that any life can be unfulfilled which does not, by its own voluntary perversity, fling itself away. No doubt, men may be suicides to their own souls. Did not our Lord say, “Better were it for that man that he had never been born”? and there are beings for whom that would be the only appropriate epitaph. All in vain! O my soul, anything to escape that. Let life here seem increasingly vain; only save me from the vanity of eternity, and the horrors of that fearful looking for where nothing is realized but woe. Oh to reach “the fulness of joy,” so that I and mine may say as we gaze upon our Redeemer in light, “No, through Thee and Thy merits, we have not been made in vain.” But you solitary, suffering, disappointed hearts, take some comfort. “The best is yet to be.” (E. Paxton Hood.)

Suggestions of life’s vanity

There are many circumstances in life that tend to impress us with the vanity of our mortal existence on the assumption that there is no future.

The disproportion between the length of our existence and our longings.

The disproportion between our faculties and our achievements. All feel they can do vastly more than they can accomplish here.

The disproportion between our aspirations and our attainment. How much knowledge, power, influence we aspire to, but how little do we gain!(Homilist.)

Vanity of man, if not immortal

Some direct proofs of the vanity of human life.

1. The brevity of our mortal existence.

2. The positive evils that are in the world.

(1) Sickness and pain.

(2) Wars and fightings.

(3) Famine.

(4) Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, etc.

The real value of those things which seem to render our existence of most worth.

1. After all the failure, and fiction, and insincerity, and envy, that attend worldly possessions, we cannot surely suppose them of much real value. If we had only what they afford, we should be compelled to confess we were made in vain.

2. Knowledge is not necessarily happiness. We are not going to say, that increase of knowledge is always increase of sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:18); but we believe most of the happiness that we find in knowledge, in exercising intellect, in discovering truth, springs from the hope we entertain of making our knowledge subserve our happiness in other respects. If our only felicity consisted in knowing, we believe it would be extremely small. And how little even men called learned succeed in making their acquisitions advance human felicity, the whole history of cultured intellect too sadly tells.

3. Some one might say to us, the joys of friendly attachment are neither few nor small; they are pure; they are peaceful; they are noble. But let us remember there are regions where the husband and the father is the tyrant; where the mother murders her offspring; where the wife is the slave; and where the widow burns on the funeral pile of her husband! Let us remember, too, how often friendships give place to enmity. When half the world is dressed in mourning, its friendships can scarcely convince us that, apart from another world, all men have not been made in vain.

4. Religion is vain, if the world is all. Its votaries are miserably deluded. They have renounced the world, but gained nothing.


1. The amazing difficulties of that species of infidelity which denies a future state.

2. That the doctrine of immortality, and the truths of religion, are very needful to us, in order to make us happy even here. Remove immortality--and what is man? a distressful dream! a throb--a wish--a sigh--then, nothing! But, blessed be God, life and immortality are brought to light. Yes--

3. That the true Christian is the happiest man. He is not perplexed with a thousand doubts and difficulties that trouble the unbeliever. (I. S. Spencer, D.D.)

The vanity and value of human life

If we consider life as it is is itself, and form our estimate of its value only by the degree of temporal enjoyment it is capable of affording, it will appear to be very vain indeed; and man will almost seem to be made for nothing.

1. Consider how short life is!

2. Consider its uncertainty. Who can say of any project that he has formed, that he shall accomplish it?

3. Survey also the sufferings to which life is exposed in this short existence.

Take notice of the natural calamities which belong to man. Look at the history of man, and see what he suffers from his own species.

4. Look also at the business of life, the very end for which most men live, and the same reflection will forcibly recur. What is the end for which so much toil is endured, so many cares and anxieties suffered? Simply this; to go on suffering the same anxieties and cares, and enduring the same toil.

Let us look at life in another point of view, and we shall see that God has not made man in vain.

1. We live not to eat, and drink, and labour; but we eat, drink, and labour, in order to live; that is, to fulfil the will of our great Creator and to glorify His name. Now, this is done when His will is made the chief rule of our lives, and His glory the end of our actions; when we exercise dispositions proper to our stations in life and agreeable to the duties we owe to Him. In this light the events of life are comparatively of little consequence, the duties they call forth are what are of importance. In this view, life is not to be regarded as given in vain.

2. When we carry our view forward to that eternal state of which this life is but the beginning, and in comparison of which it is but a moment; when we consider that this eternal life will be either miserable or happy according to the manner in which we spend our short existence here; surely this life is not in vain: it becomes of infinite importance--an importance proportioned to that infinite happiness or woe with which it is necessarily connected.

3. What a value is stamped upon life; what dignity upon the world, when we behold the only Son of God taking upon Him that life, and coming into that world! Are men made in vain, when the only begotten of the Father gave His life as a ransom for theirs?

4. Is life of such unspeakable moment, and yet is it so short in its duration? What an additional value does it derive even from this circumstance, which may seem, at first sight, to detract from its worth! If life be so uncertain; if almost the only thing certain in life is that we shall die, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness! (John Penn, M.A)

Verse 48

Psalms 89:48

What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?

shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?

The certainty of death

Death is the beaten road of all mankind: it is the way of all flesh.

Illustrate the point.

1. Both good and bad are promiscuously taken away by death. The reason is plain, because both the righteous and wicked are by death to pass into another state, the one into the everlasting life of glory, the other into eternal misery. Thence it is that they are equally liable to the laws and decrees of mortality. The corn and the tares standing and growing on the same ground are mowed down together at the harvest.

2. Death spares no rank, no condition of men. Kings as well as subjects are liable to this fatal stroke. The lofty cedars and low shrubs, palaces and cottages are alike here.

3. Death spares no calling or profession. The mathematic brain, amidst all its contrivances, hath found none to exempt the students of that art from the force of that which by Horace is called “ultima linea rerum.” Yea, Archimedes, whilst he was drawing of lines and circles, lost his life. His brains were dashed out whilst he was beating them about demonstrations. The philosophers talk of immortality, but acknowledge death to be the way to it. The warriors, who are brisk in despatching others, fall a victim themselves to the common foe of mankind.

4. Death is favourable to no age. Sometimes the infant is no sooner set free from his dark prison, but presently he is sent to a darker confinement, the grave. Thus both old and young submit to the edict of mortality. The former may be said to go to death, but death comes to the latter, and comes as frequently as to the other. For the lamp of life is as often blown out as it goes out of itself, being spent and exhausted.

5. Death makes no difference between sexes. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Elkanah and Hannah equally submit to the laws of fate.

6. There is no place where death does not and cannot enter. Some have been seized at the plough, some in the streets, others in their shops, some in the market, others in retirements. It appears, then, that there is no privileged place where this officer cannot arrest us, and consequently we are everywhere at his disposal There is no time, or any other circumstance of our life which is not obnoxious to death, winter and summer, spring and autumn; seed-time and harvest, the cold seasons and the hot ones, and those which are more moderate, are made use of by this destroyer. In the day and in the night, in the morning and in the evening, in times set for devotion, or for worldly business; in time of work or recreation, in times of calamity and prosperity this enemy invade us.


1. Death is universal, because the Divine decrees have so ordained it (Job 30:23).

2. Sin brought death into the world, and thence it is that all mankind are subject to it. “The wages of sin is death”--it is become as due to a sinner as wages to a workman.

3. By sin’s entering into the world, a curse came along with it on man’s body, and thence frailty and weakness ensued, and thereby a constant liableness to mortality.

(1) Strange accidents and unexpected events attend the life of man, and it is not in his power to prevent or avoid them. The fanciful poets tell us that Achilles was dipped in the Stygian Lake, that he might thereby be kept for the future from receiving any wounds in the wars: but it seems his heel was untouched by the water, whence it was, they say, that he was wounded in that place. So we see men have thought themselves to be as it were invulnerable in all parts; they have escaped the dangers that others fell under, nothing hath been able to hurt them: but at last they find their error, some sudden calamity attacks them, some mischief befalls them which never came within the verge of their thoughts. Julius Caesar, who had been victorious in fifty set battles, and never received a dangerous stroke; after all perils so happily escaped abroad, at home in the Senate-house received twenty-three wounds, all of them deadly.

(2) A further account may be given of death’s universal sway, from the consideration of the variety of infirmities and maladies which infest human nature, the multiplicity of diseases and sicknesses which our bodies are subject to. Many bring these into the world with them, for they are either entailed upon them by their parents, and so are hereditary: or else, without any infection or depravation from them, the parts are so prepared and framed by nature that they may be said to contain in them the seeds of such and such diseases.


1. Meditate constantly on death. Philip King of Macedon had a remembrancer on purpose to come daily to him, and to sound these words in his ears, “Remember, sir, that you are a mortal man.” And we read that the very same words used to be cried aloud to the victors at their triumphs. The religious Jews (such as Joseph of Arimathea, of whom we particularly read in the Gospel) had their tombs and sepulchres in their gardens, that they might often see them, and walk to them, and converse with them in the midst of their delights and entertainments which those places afforded. St. Jerome, that religious and pious father of the primitive Church, that he might continually have the remembrance of death and judgment in his mind, used to fix this impression on his thoughts and imaginations, that he heard always the sound of the last trumpet. This is, as Seneca saith, to go to death: and judge you (saith he) which is best, that death should come to us, or that we should go to that. If we go to it in our forethoughts and meditations, then we shall not be surprised, then we shall not be seized on by death of a sudden, but we shall be provided for it, which is an unspeakable advantage

2. This doctrine of mortality teaches us humility. Some of the favourites of Alexander the Great had flattered him with the notion of being a kind of god, and nearly related to Jupiter; which begot in him high thoughts of himself. But it happened that he was wounded with a dart in the wars, and seeing his blood issue from the orifice, he was heard to say to the bystanders, “They tell me I am the son of Jupiter, but this wound proclaims with open mouth that I am but a man.” The sense of which corrected in some measure the false opinion he had before, and made him entertain not so high thoughts of himself.

3. As this doctrine teaches humility, so it dictates peace and love. This was the design of the Egyptians placing a skeleton before their guests at their feasts; it was to stir up one another to mutual love and friendship, and spend the short time (of which that spectacle reminded them) in so good an employment. You must die, you must leave this world, you must take your lodging in the dust: this consideration should be effectual to cool your heats and animosities, to stop you in your furious encounters with one another. If you seriously think of dying, you will not dare to pass into the other world with your dissensions and antipathies.

4. You must all die, therefore make thence this rational inference, that you ought not to set your hearts on the things of this transitory life. What understanding traveller will load himself when he is on his journey? That rich miser showed his folly in building his barns up so high, when he was to lie low in so short a time. The thoughts of death should damp our covetousness and ambition.

5. Seeing death is the allotment of all mankind, and it is impossible to avoid it, let us stock ourselves with consolatory principles against that time, that when it arrives we may receive it joyfully. Men have alleviated their grief, and overcome their fear, by urging this upon their minds, that death is the common lot of all, and therefore it is unreasonable to repine and murmur at it. We must travel the highway, say they, which all before us have passed. They that are dead do but lead the way, and we must all follow them. Again, some of the great moralists endeavoured to antidote themselves against the fearful apprehensions of death by suggesting that, as it is an end of our lives, so it is of all our miseries, and therefore ought to be embraced with patience and contentment. But, alas! these are poor and sorry consolations against death, and such as cannot be satisfactory to rational and deliberate minds. For what comfort can it be to a passenger to travel in the road, though it be common, when he knows he shall be knocked on the head, or have his throat cut in it? And as for death’s putting a period to all misery, if we speak of bad men, it rather begins then, for the evils of this life are nothing in comparison of those which they shall feel in another world. Death, which is so terrible in itself, is rendered pleasant and welcome by the death of Jesus, who shed His blood on the Cross to take away our sins. And thus death, which was a curse, is turned into the greatest and most desirable blessing. Live as those who know and profess this common truth, that all must die. The epicure’s argument was, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But the wise man’s argument and holy logic is quite different, “Whatsoever thou findest to do, do it with all thy might, for there is no wisdom nor operation in the place whither thou goest.” (J. Edwards, D.D.)

Concerning death

It is reported to have been the practice of the nobles of Greece, in the clay whereon their emperor was crowned, that they presented a marble stone unto him; and he was asked, after what fashion he would have his tomb-stone made?--which practice speaks forth this unto us, that although these were most destitute of the light of the Scripture, they were very mindful of death. Death will surprise some, as it did Abel in the open field (Genesis 4:8); some, as Eglon in his parlour (Judges 3:21); some, as Saul and Jonathan in the fight (1 Samuel 31:1-13.).

Advantages which attend those that live within continual sight of death.

1. The faith of approaching death will make a soul exceedingly diligent in duty (John 9:4).

2. The faith of approaching death will make a Christian exceedingly serious, and zealous in the exercise of his duty (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

3. The faith of this truth, that we must all die, will help s Christian to be exceedingly mortified to the things of a present world (2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2; 1 Corinthians 7:31-32; Philippians 4:5).

4. When a Christian believeth this truth, that he must die, it will be an exceeding great restraint to keep him from sinning (Job 31:13-14).

5. When a Christian liveth within the sight of this truth, that he shall once see death, it will make him exceedingly patient under every cross wherewith he meeteth. Such a Christian will hardly meet with a cross, but he will quiet himself with this:--death will put me beyond this cross--this is but a cloud that will quickly pass away (Psalms 39:4).

6. The faith of approaching death will teach the person that hath it to study saving wisdom (Psalms 90:12).

7. The faith of approaching death will make a Christian very careful in preparing for death.

8. Death will not be so terrible to him as it is unto many when it cometh. I know not a more dreadful dispensation than death and a guilty conscience meeting together.

Some considerations for pressing you to prepare for death.

1. To die well and in the Lord is a most difficult work; therefore I intreat you to prepare for death. It is a difficult work to communicate aright; it is a difficult work to pray aright; but, I must tell you, it is a still more difficult work to die aright than any of these.

2. You are to die but once; and if you die not aright, there is no mending of it.

3. They are pronounced blessed who die in the Lord (Revelation 14:13).

4. That though thou put all thy works by thy hand before death, yet shalt thou find that death shall have work enough for itself--yea, as much as thou shalt get done. It will then be much for thee to win to patience; it will be much for thee to win to the sight of thy justification; and then it will be much more for thee to win to assurance. O! then is it not needful for thee to put all thy work by hand before thy latter end come?

5. Your labours shall end, but your works shall not be forgotten; and is not that a glorious advantage?

6. Death may come upon you ere ye be aware; ye know not but death may surprise you this night before ye go home to your houses; and therefore let that press you to study a constant preparation for death.

7. As death leaveth you, so will judgment find you. If death shall leave you strangers to Christ, ye shall appear before Him strangers to Him: therefore I entreat you all to prepare for it.

Some directions for helping you to prepare for death.

1. Be much in preparation for death every day, for it is even a preparation for heaven, to be taking a sight of your grave and latter end every day.

2. Be much in these duties--

(1) Self-examination.

(2) Repentance.

(3) Faith.

(4) Mortification.

3. Be much in minding the excellent things of heaven.

4. Labour always to keep a good conscience, void of offence towards God and man.

5. Slight not any known duty; do not crucify any conviction, neither break any resolution. (A. Gray.)

Verse 49

Psalms 89:49

Lord, where are Thy former lovingkindnesses, which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?

Ethan’s psalm

Of Ethan the Ezrahite we may form a much more complete conception than of Heman, his colleague and friend. Like Heman, he was born in the age of David, but moulded chiefly by the influences, literary and religious, which characterized the time of Solomon. Like Heman, he was one of the four pages who were deemed so wise that it was held a compliment to pay of Solomon himself that he was even wiser than they (1 Kings 4:31). Like Heman, too, he was one of the three singers set over the service of song in the house of the Lord (1 Chronicles 6:44), one of the leaders, or conductors, of the Temple orchestra, who marked time for the singers and players on instruments, not with a baton, but, as the fashion then was, by the clash of his brazen cymbals (1 Chronicles 15:19). He must have been, therefore, a man of high culture, of large and varied experience, of trained and practised wisdom, as well as a poet, and a musician of the most approved skill. In his psalm he gives us the last results of a long life of observation and experience. This psalm could not have been written until the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign. The occasion which prompted it was, probably, that memorable invasion of Palestine by Shishak, the reigning Pharaoh of Egypt, which is recorded in 2 Chronicles 12:1-16, and to the result of which allusion has been found in the sculptures of Karnac. If you read the psalm with the facts of this invasion, and its effect on Rehoboam, full in mind, it will become wholly new to you. The King of Judah, the Lord’s anointed, the psalmist wails (verses 38-45), has been dishonoured, his crown has been hurled to the ground and defiled in the dust; his frontier-fortresses have been broken down; all his strongholds reduced; his glory has passed away; a haggard old age has come upon him in early manhood; he is covered with shame. Ethan meditates on these facts; he sets himself to understand them, to get at their inmost meaning, their Divine intention, and to learn the lesson with which they are fraught. He raises this problem--the apparent opposition between faith and fact, between the events of human life and the declarations of Divine will. He remembers the assurance given to David, “Thy seed will I establish for ever,” and yet David’s grandson lost ten of the tribes--lost, indeed, his own kingdom, and became a vassal of Egypt. What ground was left for faith and hope? He asks himself, Is not God able, is He not strong enough to keep His word, and to carry out the purposes of His love and compassion? And then he asks, Is He not good enough, is He not true and faithful to the word He has spoken, to the purpose He has framed and announced? His answer is untinged by doubt or hesitation (verse 8). Obviously Ethan is a man of more robust temperament than Heman. As meditative, as experienced, as wise, but not fretted into pessimistic misgivings by doubt, he can face the facts of life unalarmed, and the contradictions of thought which those facts are apt to breed in those who reflect on them. On what ground did he take his stand? One refuge, in which many take shelter, was closed against him. He could not admit, with Mill, that God was limited in goodness or in power. Nor could he admit that men have no claim on the God who made them. Ethan found ground for trust and hope by cherishing the conviction that God had sent these calamities in mercy, for correction, for discipline, and not in anger, for destruction. He cherished the belief and hope that God was keeping His covenant with the seed of David, not breaking it. Hence he could plead with God: “How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou hide Thyself for ever?” It is this indomitable trust in the power and goodness of God; it is this resolute and unyielding conviction that all the apparent contradictions between the facts of experience and the declared will of God are only discords which will make the ultimate harmony more profound and sweet. This conviction we, too, need. We have to face the problem which pressed on the mind of the Hebrew sage. God has declared His will to us; He has entered into covenant with us. And yet is the world saved? The wise and much-experienced Ethan steps in to our help. Without in any manner seeking to abate our sense of sin, or our shame for sin, he teaches us that all our sorrow and shame, so far from proving that God has forgotten to be gracious to us, is a proof that He is correcting us for our transgressions and purging us from our iniquity. He affirms that by this discipline God is once more drawing us to Himself. (Samuel Cox, D.D.)

The lovingkindnesses of God

“Where are Thy old lovingkindnesses?” As he sings Ethan looks around him, and his eye rests on a scene of degradation and ruin. He suffers as a patriot; he suffers as a religious man; he suffers as the descendants of the old Roman families suffered where they beheld Alaric and his hosts sacking the eternal city; as the countrymen of Frederick the Great suffered when the French entered Berlin after Jena; as in their turn the conquerors of Jena and Austerlitz suffered when the Allies entered Paris. These are the tragical incidents of history, and the house of David and its adherents were, it might have seemed, experiencing one of those great reverses by which the compensating justice that rules the world so often balances an overwhelming pre-eminence. But, then, in the case of the house of David, much more was at stake than the civil fortunes of the country. Bound up with, and behind the patriotic feeling was the religious and the theocratic one. Ethan’s pain is in its kind, though not in its degree, that of Jeremiah in the greater catastrophe in a later century; it is that of the sorrowing Christians, who, as an Arab chronicler describes, saw their religion sink into ruins before the hosts of Islam; it is that of the Romanized Britons, who beheld in our own Saxon forefathers, yet pagan, the implacable enemies, not merely of their civilization, but of their faith. The throne of David was in the dust; David’s grandson was a subject of the Egyptian king; the military defences of the country had been stormed by Egyptian forces; unprotected populations were pillaged by hordes of Suakims and Ethiopians who wandered at will over the sacred soil, carrying wherever they went desolation and ruin. The edge of the king’s sword was turned; no resistance to the foes attempted in the open field; the unhappy monarch himself had been subjected to treatment which degraded him, and the psalmist apprehends that the days of his youth would be shortened by the ruin and dishonour which had thus overtaken the man who five short years before had ascended the mightiest throne in Western Asia, and who in his day impersonated the best hopes not merely of the children of Abraham but of the human race. Here, then, was the psalmist’s difficulty. What had become of the lovingkindness of God? what of His faithfulness? what of His power? Ethan, in his report of the promise, has, in fact, answered his own difficulty. The covenant with David was not an absolute covenant. It depended upon conditions--conditions which were summed up in fidelity to Him who had done so much for it. Ethan himself states this supreme condition in the words of the Divine Author of the covenant (verses 30-32). The promise, however, continued thus (verses 33-35). The lovingkindness of God, overclouded for the moment, was not withdrawn, the punishment of the race of David was not its final extinction. Among Rehoboam’s descendants were good and powerful kings not unworthy of their high and sacred ancestry, and when at last continued disobedience to the terms of the covenant led to the destruction of the monarchy in Zedekiah and to the ruin of the sacred city, the covenant still remained. Of the race of David one at last was born who should reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of whose kingdom there should be no end. Ethan’s cry has often been raised by pious men in bad days of Christendom. Over and over again Rehoboam has appeared in Christendom. The foolish lover of spiritual absolutism, the divisions which its pretensions render well nigh inevitable, and then the triumphs of the world over a weakened and divided Church--all these have been repeated once and again, and then goes up the cry, “Lord, where are Thy old lovingkindnesses?” and the answer is, “They are where they were.” “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Now, as always, the promises of God to His people are largely conditioned. If the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church, much short of this may happen as a consequence of the unfaithfulness of her members or her ministers. God makes His work dependent for its complete success on the loyal co-operation of human wills. He accepts the semblance of defeat and failure rather than suspend the terms on which His gifts are given. But His promise all the while is sure; it is we who forget the conditions on which it is made, and Ethan’s question is often answered in another connection. Every child, as you know, is taught in the Catechism to say that “In my baptism I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” Now, this statement appeals to a mass of Scriptural testimony which is summarized by the statement of St. Paul that as many that have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The covenant which God makes at its baptism with every Christian soul, is, indeed, a bountiful and magnificent gift, too great to be believed in if it were not the consequence and application of a gift which is still greater; for “God so loved the world,” etc. But here comes in the sad contrast between this account of baptism and the actual lives of thousands, nay of millions, of the baptized. “Look,” men exclaim, “at baptized Christendom. Look at the millions whom you have taught to say that they are made members of Christ in their baptism.” Certainly Christendom is at first sight a libel on and an apparent contradiction to the highest gifts and promises of Christ, and yet in saying that do we not forget that those gifts and promises like the covenant with David are always conditioned? The grace of God whether given in baptism or at any other time, though it is promised for ever to the collective Church, is not a gift which is bestowed on any one of us irrespective of our method of receiving and treasuring it. The promises that none shall pluck those whom the Father has given to His Christ out of His hand, and that the predestined are called, and the called justified, and the justified glorified, are all of them accompanied by tacit conditions expressed elsewhere that these receivers of grace must correspond to the grace which they received. “God,” says St. Augustine, “will not save us through ourselves, but He will not save us without ourselves.” The grace of regeneration is not a talisman which wins heaven, be the baptized what they may; it is a conditioned gift which, like the crown of David, will be retained or forfeited by the monarch that wears it as men are careful or not to recognize its obligations. Of this let us be most sure, that if God’s promises seem to any to have failed, the fault lies not with Him but with ourselves; it is we who have changed, not He. All we have to do if our lot is cast amid discouraging circumstances, or if we seem to be coming short of what He has promised us, is to lift up our hearts to Him in repentance and faith, and all will be well. (Canon Liddon.)

Former mercies

It is probable that the psalmist here refers to some special manifestation of God’s mercy vouchsafed him in a season of past dangers and troubles, which being brought to his recollection in this his present calamity, he is encouraged to pray for a like deliverance. The recollection of former deliverances is a great help in praying for a rescue from present evils. Or, it may be that he was inquiring for those mercies which God had promised him, and this was a still greater source of confidence: “Which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth.”

The contents of the inquiry.

1. The fact of an inquiry being made argues an acquaintance, either personal or by report, between the inquirer and the one sought for.

2. It implies an imagined temporary cessation of intercourse.

3. It exhibits an ardent desire for a renewal of the intercourse.

4. It breathes a spirit of sincerity.

The cheering replies to the inquiry.

1. Mercy still exists. Many of her former gifts are now no more; many of the instruments by whose means, in former days, she performed mighty deeds have been laid aside; many of her former messengers to you have become silent in death (Zechariah 1:5). No; a race that some of you still remember have passed away. But Mercy is still alive.

2. She is with the Lord, and is always to be found at home.

3. She is still in possession of all her faculties. She has sufficient strength of arm for the hardest undertaking, while she retains a firmness of hand and delicacy of touch for the most intricate work.

4. She is still equally well disposed toward you.

The probable results of such inquiry made in a proper spirit.

1. It will gain the Divine approbation

2. Every probability of a renewal of the intercourse. (D. Roberts.)


Psalms 90:1-17

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 89". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-89.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Ads FreeProfile