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It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.
Good to be thankful
1. Had we no other motive but our own personal happiness, we should find it “a good thing to be thankful.” When we have reviewed the mercies of past years, traced the hand of Providence in all our course from infancy onwards, and seen goodness following us all the way, and then have fallen down before our God, with melting hearts and tender eyes, or have poured forth our feelings in some sacred hymn of praise, have we not at such times known the highest luxury this earth can afford? A friend of mine in travelling, happened to lodge in one of the hotels of a neighbourhood city, and in the middle of the night he heard some one in an adjoining room singing in a low but earnest tone of voice, Addison’s hymn, “When all Thy mercies, O my God,” etc., the whole of which he went through, evidently supposing that none heard him but his God. He proved to be a governor of one of our Western States, suffering under an incurable disease, of which he soon after died. But what a frame of mind must that have been which poured forth the gushings of a full heart at the midnight hour, and with a consciousness of approaching death, in such a hymn as that. And as there is no grace which so immediately fills the heart with pleasure, so again it would seem as if none might be more easily cherished than thankfulness. We have so much to make us thankful, that it would appear as if none could resist the impulse. And then, in addition to this, the natural heart is apparently more susceptible of this Christian grace than of any other, so that they who show right feeling in nothing else have seemed moved at times to gratitude to God. And though earth has many trials, yet God has given to us, as well as to everything else in nature, a wonderful restoring power, which makes it easy for us to recover a cheerful and thankful spirit.
3. Again, it is a good thing to be thankful, because such a spirit exhibits religion in a beautiful form to others. We have read of instances of great thankfulness in the midst of great privations, and we may have seen them. We may have gone to some wretched abode of poverty, where it seems, that had it been our lot to dwell there, we could discover nothing but occasion to murmur at our hard fate, and we may have heard there expressions of gratitude and acknowledgments of God’s goodness that have perfectly amazed us. Have we not gone away in love with such a spirit, and ashamed that we possessed no more of it?
4. “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,” because it is pleasing to Him. It is true that our returns of praise can add nothing to God’s glory or happiness, and yet He has declared that “whoso offereth Him thanks and praise, he glorifieth Him.” When we confer a favour on a fellow-man we say that we want no thanks for it, meaning thereby that we did not do it for the sake of the thanks; we want not the thanks for our own sake, but as evidence of a right state of heart in him. And for the same reason God loves the returns of gratitude. (W. H. Lewis, D.D.)
After the return of the Jews from captivity the liturgy of the temple service was rearranged, and this psalm was selected as the Sabbath psalm, and appointed to be sung in the morning service when, on the offering of the first lamb, the wine was poured out as a drink-offering unto the Lord. We must all feel the appropriateness of the selection. What more proper and profitable Sabbath employment than to sing praises unto the name of the Most High? This Sabbath, then, let us raise this Sabbath psalm. By our thanksgiving we shall worship God; through our thanksgiving God will bless us, and we shall prove, in our own experience, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.”
I. Thankfulness is the best antidote to the evils of life and lightens life’s burdens. The burdens of life are not equally distributed; but no life is without them. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” The chief difference between us lies here--while one man gets him to his burden and carries it, another frets and murmurs and magnifies it. Now, thankfulness, perhaps more than anything else, helps us to keep our eye fixed upon the brighter side of life. If every night as we retired to rest we added up and recorded the mercies of the day, and started each following morning with the record in our hands, what a transfiguration of our life there soon would be! The gloom around us would be scattered, the trees would seem to clap their hands, the mountains and the hills to rejoice together, and the meadows to break out into song.
II. Thankfulness quickens spiritual perception and enlarges spiritual capacity. Take a son who accepts every attention and provision of his mother as a matter of course, regards all that she has done for him as her duty and his due, looks upon all her service as simply fulfilling her obligation to him--what will that son know of his mother’s heart? She may make some great sacrifice for him, and he will greedily accept the gift without appreciating the cost at which it is given. But take a child whose tender heart is touched with every token of the mother’s thoughtfulness and love, that child will understand something of the mother’s heart; as it leaves the gift to fly into its mother’s arms, it will feel something of the joy the mother feels in giving, and the mother’s love will be more to it than the gift itself. It is precisely so with us in our relation to God--the thankful heart discerns and realizes God. The more we are thankful the more we know God as our Friend and our Father. Our thoughts will be nearer the truth and our hearts will be nearer to God because we accept His blessings with gratitude. And thankfulness enlarges spiritual capacity. There are some attitudes of mind and heart in which God cannot bless us. The thirsty man might as well lower a sealed bottle into the well as a man seek blessing from God with a sealed heart. Let us remember this when we think of unanswered prayers. Now, thankfulness opens the heart to God, and God’s blessing fills the open heart as the fresh air rushes through the open window, and the light of heaven fills the unshuttered room. When the heart is thankful for past mercies, new mercies are not far away.
III. Thankfulness fosters confidence and love. The heart that registers mercy received knows there is mercy to follow. The milestones we reach on the King’s highway become guide posts to the Royal City. The ungrateful heart keeps no record of the past, its memory furnishes no evidence of the eternal faithfulness, and every step in life is an untrodden path; but the thankful heart treasures up the record of the past, and travels along as though it had been that way before. That record becomes a guide. With that in our hand we feel no fear, shrink before no difficulty, cringe before no spectre, bow beneath no burden, but trudge along in the confident possession of a strength greater than our own. Soldiers march best to music. They go to face the fatal fire of the musketry, and encounter the keen edge of the sword, but the cheerful and triumphant strain of music quickens their spirit, strengthens their resolve, whets their energy, dissipates their fear, and inspires their courage. Christians live best to praise. It lifts their thoughts from the possibilities of the “awful unknown” and centres them in the faithfulness of their Father. (F. Wells.)
Thanksgiving--a good thing
I. The spirit of thankfulness, and the audible acknowledgment of mercies received, are good on the part of the individual recipient thereof.
II. It is a good thing for the Church of God to give thanks unto the Lord, in open and special acts of acknowledgment.
III. It is a good thing for a nation to give thanks unto the Lord, and especially when distinguished national mercies are vouchsafed. (T. W. Aveling.)
To sing praises unto Thy name, O Most High.--
I. The reasonableness of praising God. It is His due; and we defraud Him of that which He has a just claim to, at our hand, if we hold it back. To have minds furnished with scientific acquirements, or stored with historical information, or replenished with theological doctrine, and yet to fail to confess with adoring praise that God, with whose wonders, whether of science or of providence or of redemption, we are daily conversant--this is to be as like Satan as we well can be. While, on the other hand, devoutly to acknowledge God in His great works, to laud and magnify His holy name more and more, in proportion as our knowledge is enlarged--this is to be like the holy angels, who live in the continual contemplation of His excellencies, and in the adoring acknowledgment of them.
II. The advantages which accompany the right discharge of this duty.
1. It is a most cheering and enlivening occupation. It is impossible for any one to enter into it with all his heart, without having his spirit refreshed and invigorated by the exercise. One cannot imagine a person to be habitually dejected who spends much of his time in it.
2. It is an antidote to our natural selfishness. In many of our duties we have an eye to ourselves, even while our thoughts are directed to God or to our neighbour. In prayer, for instance, this is the case, and even in thanksgiving. But praise, as distinct from thanksgiving, is eminently unselfish: it draws away our thoughts from ourselves, and fixes them exclusively upon God. We adore and praise Him not merely for those of His perfections, of the advantage of which to ourselves we are directly conscious, but for others also--such as His majesty and greatness, His justice, His wisdom, His power, the advantage of which to ourselves is less immediate and less obvious. (C. A. Heurtley, D.D.)
To show forth Thy lovingkindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night.
Morning and evening songs
The Jews have for a long while used this psalm in their Sabbath worship; and this, not because there is much if any allusion to Sabbatic rest in it, but because it is fitting that on that day above all others our thoughts should be lifted up from all earthly things to God Himself. It is a psalm of praise, and this should be the Christian’s continual exercise. And we should avoid all slovenliness and formalism in our praise; and as before prayer it is well to pause and consider what we are going to ask for, so in praise we should not rush upon it helter-skelter, but engage in it with prepared hearts. Thus the psalmist would have us offer praise; not mere praise, but varied praise, praise with distinct subjects at appointed seasons. Note, then--
I. Morning worship. “To show forth thy lovingkindness in the morning.” There cannot be more suitable time for praise than this. Every morning is a sort of resurrection. We are full of vigour then. Let us give the Lord the bud of the day, its virgin beauty, its unsullied purity. The morning is the choice time. And so is it with the morning of our life. Nothing can happen to you who are young so blessed as to be converted now, while you are young. And the bright morning-like periods of our life--these, too, should be seasons for showing forth God’s lovingkindness. We have our darker hours, our more sombre seasons, but when the joy days come, let us always consecrate them by praise to the giver of them. Do not, as some do, who, if they are prospering, make a point of not owning to it. We often whine as if our lives were martyrdoms, and every breath a woe, thus slandering the good Lord. There are bright days like the morning, and in them we ought to render praise. And see what is to be the subject of our praise--God’s lovingkindness. Was there ever such a word in any language as this word lovingkindness? It is a duplicate deliciousness. There are within it linked sweetnesses long drawn out. It is a kind of word with which to cast spells which should charm away all fears. And this lovingkindness we are to show forth; we are not to keep it to ourselves. I do not mean by talking of it to every one he meets, casting pearls before swine, as it would be to some men, but by the very way in which he speaks, acts, and looks. A Christian ought to be the most cheerful of men. Let the joy of the Lord be our strength.
II. Evening worship,--“to show forth Thy faithfulness every night.” The evening is the Sabbath of the day, and should be the Lord’s. And our subject should be God’s faithfulness, for we have had more experience of it. Notice that the text says “every night,” the dark, drear, cold nights as well as others. Let the old who are nearing the night of life show forth the Lord’s faithfulness. And let us all publish it abroad. If there be any one topic on which Christians should speak, it is this, and they should speak of it bravely, continuously, thankfully and positively. Satan makes a dead set upon it in the minds of many tempted ones, and therefore all the more should you bring the strength of your testimony that God doth not forsake His people. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Morning and night set to music
I. A general statement (Psalms 92:1). “To give thanks unto the Lord”--
1. Is in harmony with the original design of creation (Job 38:7). Sin has brought discord with it into the world; but it is supremely a good thing to add to the world’s harmonies, and not to its discords.
2. Is the highest expression of human service.
(1) It is good for a man when he learns to give, to feel that he has so much of blessing as that he can afford to give out of the fulness that is in him: good for him to forget himself, and to think of some one whom he feels a yearning desire to bless.
(2) It is good “to give thanks.” A grand thing when man has that delicacy of feeling that enables him to appreciate a blessing, to recognize its source, its value, and in return acknowledge his own indebtedness.
(3) Further, it is good “to give thanks unto the Lord.” Anything that brings man into contact with God, everything that reciprocates the relationship between man and God, is ennobling. God gives. In thanks I give something back.
3. Imparts joy to the heart of the Lord Himself. All that we know of the heart of God teaches us that He yearns for this response.
1. The morning song. To show forth God’s “lovingkindness in the morning” is a grand exercise, when the energies of life are refreshed once more; when the morning dew rests upon mind and heart; when everything is vigorous; and when the day’s toils have not taken the spring and vivacity out of your spirit.
2. The evening song. “To show forth . . . Thy faithfulness every night.” The faithfulness represents the strong side, the robust aspect, of Divine goodness. It expresses the fidelity of God; His strong adherence to His promise. This represents the more fatherly aspect of His goodness: the power that sustained you in the struggle of the day. (D. Davies.)
For Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy work: I will triumph in the works of Thy hands.
Delight in God’s works
The Hebrew prophets and psalmists, when their minds were in the most exalted and inspired state, saw God in everything; in the mightiest and in the meanest movements of the universe, in all the events of history and in all the incidents of the individual experience. They were all and everywhere the works of God. To them the universe was no self-propelling machine, but a living organism of which God was the ever present soul.
1. Religious people are often afraid of science, and denounce it as an enemy to faith and piety. But what is science, and what is its aim? Its aim is to know and understand God’s work in nature. Why should such an aim be construed as antagonistic to religion or detrimental to piety? God has not sent us into the world blindfolded to the wonder and glory of His works, as if He did not mean us to unriddle the secrets of His workmanship.
2. Then there are rich poetic reasons for a closer communion with the Divine works of nature. God has endowed the meanest nature among us with the susceptibility of being pleased and delighted with the scenes of beauty and grandeur with which the world is filled. We were made for very sweet and pure enjoyments, and not only to grind in the mill of our daily work. This must have been partly what the psalmist meant (Psalms 92:4).
3. Then there is the religious motive to a more intimate acquaintance with the works of God. “How great are Thy works, and Thy thoughts are very deep!” The Divine thoughts are embodied and expressed in the Divine works. And if we wish to know God more perfectly, what ideas the Divine Being has been expressing in His creative acts--ideas of beauty, goodness, and power; to know something of the range of the infinite wisdom, and something of the sweep and compass of Almighty power, we must give ourselves with greater energy to the contemplation and study of His works. (C. Short, M.A.)
I. The work of the Lord.
3. Grace. The renovation of the heart of man, the removal of idolatry, the creation of the beauties of holiness, that is the work of God. And it is His chief work, His sublimest achievement.
II. Some reasons or grounds on which a contemplation of this work of grace is so eminently fitted to inspire the breasts of good men with sentiments of peculiar gladness.
1. Because it is a work of such beneficial character and tendency. Wherever you see a sinner converted from the error of his ways, you see the firstfruits of a most glorious state, the scene of a mighty harvest.
2. Because it contains the richest impress of the hand of its Author.
3. Because it is a work so surprising and unexpected. “Eye hath not seen,” etc.
4. On account of its permanency. This work shall advance and triumph, till there shall be unbelief nowhere, faith everywhere; hatred nowhere, love everywhere; confusion nowhere, order everywhere; darkness nowhere, light everywhere; Satan nowhere on earth, Christ everywhere.
5. Because of its necessary connection with still higher operations. The work is too much for one world to hold. When it has filled one world it will rush over into another, and fill the recesses of eternity when earth is a cinder and time a story. (W. Beaumont, D.D.)
The Christian made glad
I. An interesting subject. It is the work of God--
1. To redeem the soul (John 3:16; Psalms 89:19; Romans 8:3; Romans 5:6-8).
2. To regenerate the soul (Eph 2:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; John 1:13; 1 Peter 1:23).
3. To receive the soul to favours and privileges lost by sin (Ephesians 2:11-13).
4. To comfort the soul (Isaiah 40:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Psalms 119:50; Romans 15:4; Acts 9:31).
5. To protect and save His people to the end (Romans 8:31).
6. To glorify the soul (John 14:2-3; John 17:24).
II. An interesting statement: “Thou hast made me glad through Thy works.” This gladness is--
1. Divine (Psalms 40:1-3).
2. The gladness of experience (Psalms 4:7).
3. Social joy (Malachi 3:16).
4. The gladness of faith and hope (Romans 15:4; Hebrews 6:16-19; Titus 1:2; Titus 2:13).
III. A judicious resolution: “I will triumph in the work of Thy hands.” This implies--
1. Grateful acknowledgment of Divine obligation (1 Peter 1:3).
2. Intimate acquaintance and rapturous satisfaction with the works of God’s hands (1 Corinthians 2:2; Galatians 6:14).
3. Expectation of an ultimate and complete triumph.
4. A determination to proclaim the works of God’s hands to others. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
O Lord, how great are Thy works!
Man’s admiration and marvel at God’s great works
A near connection of Sir David Brewster, but not a relative, who in former years often lived in his house, and formed one of the loving watchers by his death-bed, gives this characteristic and striking anecdote: “When we were living in his house at St.
Andrew’s, he was much occupied with the microscope, and, as was his custom, he used to sit up studying it after the rest of the household had gone to bed. I often crept back into the room on pretence of having letters to write or something to finish, just to watch him. After a little he would forget that I was there, and I have often seen him suddenly throw himself back in his chair, lift up his hands, and exclaim, ‘Good God, good God! how marvellous are Thy works.’ One Sunday morning I said to him that it had been given to him to show forth much of God’s great and marvellous works, and he answered, ‘Yes, and I have found them to be great and marvellous; and I have felt them to be His.’”
Thy thoughts are very deep.
The depth of God’s thoughts
I. Out of those thoughts have come all that ever have been, and that are gone. Who can tell the number of worlds, with all their productions, populations, institutions, that have been and that are no more? They were all once in the thoughts of God.
II. Out of those thoughts have come all that are and will be. How vast is this universe! Who can tell the number of worlds and systems, and the myriad creatures of varied species, sentient and insentient, rational and irrational, that belong to them? They all came out of the depths of God’s thoughts; the archetypes and germs were all there as in immeasurable seas. Who shall tell what worlds and beings are yet to come? Generations of creatures in all planets may succeed each other as waves that break upon the shore. But all the worlds, systems, and existences that are ever to come, are in the thoughts of God. How “deep,” then, are God’s thoughts! (Homilist.)
A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.
The degradation of man
In this psalm we have a contrast between the animal and the spiritual life, the latter exulting in God, uttering His praise, receiving His thoughts, studying His works; the former cleaving to the earth, wallowing in the dust, with no ambition that soars higher than the husks which it eats, or the roof of the sty which it occupies. “A brutish man.” It is originally a compound expression--“a brute-man.” It is a degrading epithet, and it is employed in common daily life.
I. Man’s nature is very closely allied to that of the animal. It is difficult to define the boundary between instinct and reason. The mental faculties of man and of the animals run in parallel lines to a point high up on the scale, Where the difference begins. Animals serve man, and should be treated justly, considerately, kindly.
II. The degradation of man to the level of the animal.
1. When he is ruled by appetite, not by conscience. A man will sometimes attempt to justify his avarice, his pride, his vindictiveness, his sensuality by saying that he is only following the lead of passions which God has implanted in him; that the light which “leads astray is light from heaven,” that God has created the appetite in his nature. Yes; but God never intended it to rule or lead; He intended it to serve, to be under the control of reason and conscience and religious principle.
2. When he eats and drinks, and does not worship. Training may produce a great change in animals; education may turn the stolid rustic into an intelligent, cultured scholar; but there is something greater than any advantage which education may confer--that is, the capacity of union and communion with God of lifting up the soul to the Most High. And yet there are some who ignore this, who cast this pearl before the swine of evil passions, darken the window that looks heavenwards, nail the shutters over it, so that not a ray of light can reach the spirit; go down, down to the animal, as if there were no God, no worship, no adoration, no gratitude. The altar is in ruins; and the man has become as the brute.
3. Because he is working blindly. Take a man who is bent on acquiring wealth, who sacrifices everything on the altar of Mammon; he is shrewd, quick to take advantage of the favourable breeze, successful, makes his “pile,” as they say. Is he working blindly? Yes, blindly; he has never discerned the meaning of what he is doing, he has never appraised the course at its right value, never estimated its bearing, its consequences to his moral nature; he is like a mole, scratching and burrowing in the dust, with no eye for the broad universe, and the light of God that floods it. And there is no thought of the future. He degrades himself to an equality with the brute, forgetting that while the beast “goes downwards to the earth,” the spirit of man “goeth upward,” and that man shall receive in another state “according to that he hath done in the body, whether it be good or bad.”
III. The consequences of this degradation.
1. He has no eye for the greatest and noblest in life. Just as the eyes and the light, the air and the lungs correspond to each other, so it is with beauty and taste, science and intellect, friends and affection. And there is a spiritual faculty by which we discern spiritual things. The brutish man represses, restrains, stifles this faculty; resists the Spirit of God, who would quicken, direct, enlarge it.
2. He does not, then, value his nature, as God values it. He has degraded himself to a level with the swine; he has no sense of sonship, no feeling of spiritual dignity, he has gone down and down to the mire. Happy is he if he comes to himself, if in a sane moment the animal is cowed, and the angel asserts itself, and the ragged swineherd says, “I will arise and go to my Father.”
3. He has no resources in time of suffering and trouble. God is a stranger--he dreads the thought of God--would fain hope that God does riot exist. He is like the brute; he has nothing to fall back upon. Very different is the experience of the spiritual man. Trouble comes; but he sees God in it. The tempest gathers; but “His way is in the whirlwind,” etc. The deep, full, bitter cup is presented--but it has been mingled by a Father’s love. The bear deprived of her whelps can only rage and moan; the brutish man bereaved of his children can only curse and rebel; the godly man, missing his loved ones in the gloom of the gorge of death, can say (Job 1:21). (J. Owen.)
But Thou, Lord, art most high for evermore.
The utmost [or the Highest
Mr. G. F. Watts, the spiritual seer amongst our modern masters of art, was asked by an enterprising editor to quote the motto which had been most influential in his artistic life. He replied, “I have invented a motto for myself, ‘The Utmost for the Highest.’” There is a matchless inspiration for life, as for art, in Mr. Watts’ characteristic message. The Divine election of youth is vision, and its grace is the passion for the highest. Longfellow recognizes it when he makes the typical climber a youth:
“ A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner, with the strange device, Excelsior!”
And one of the latest additions to the roll of climbers of the Matterhorn, the Alpine peak last to be conquered because most inaccessible, is a young French girl of seventeen, who, by a happy coincidence, rejoices in the name Felicite it is the youngest of the modern nations to enter the concert of great world powers whose citizens urge their growing race to “hitch their wagon to a star.” Economists have discussed of late the interesting phenomenon in business life that the most successful men are mostly young. The spectacle of millionaires under forty has perplexed them. The secret probably comes nearest to revealing itself in the suggestion that it is the ambition of youth for the highest, and the willingness, unfettered by maxims of prudence, to venture everything in its attainment that explains their success. Emerson penetrates the arcana of the same mystery with his saying, “The hero is one who takes risks.” The excelsior spirit is by nature a prerogative of the young. They are in a peculiar sense “children of the highest.” But the earliest of the grave perils that await the young is the danger and discouragement of disillusionment; the peril of seeing the highest and becoming content with less than the highest--of settling into inglorious ease with the best undone and the utmost untried. Less than the utmost is sacrilege in the sanctuary of the highest. “She hath done what she could” is the test of the service of duty as well as of the sacrifice of love. To do our best is the proof of talent in the ethical sphere, for the pursuit of the highest, and not its attainment alone, is the hallowing of work. This is the pursuit that Michael Angelo reverently expounds: “Nothing makes the soul so pure, so religious, as the endeavour to create something perfect; for God is perfection, and whosoever strives for it strives for something that is godlike.” It is the strife for the best that matures and enriches character, whether the joy of triumph is added or withheld. It is not the song alone, but the spirit of the singer, that perfects the utmost for the highest. It is said of Jenny Lind that in conversation one day with Mr. John Addington Symonds, she said of her life-work, “I sing to God.” There is a memorial brass in the chapel of Balliol College, Oxford, to the late Mr. Lewis Nettleship, who a few years ago was lost in an ascent of Mont Blanc, with an inscription that has been to many an abiding inspiration: “He loved great things and thought little of himself; desiring neither fame nor influence, he won the devotion of men, and was a power in their lives; and, seeking no disciples, he taught to many the greatness of the world and of man’s mind.” Life’s greatness of privilege and of responsibility meets and mingles in the inscrutable sense that our “utmost” lives and moves in others. And lest we should imagine that the utmost for the highest is merely an artistic euphemism for the eager strife for fame and prestige, we need day by day to guard any noble ambition within us from depreciating into the pursuit of the paltry boons of self-seeking by holding it back from
“The longing for ignoble things,
The strife for triumph more than truth.”
To do this successfully we must watch also lest
“We wind ourselves too high
For mortal man below the sky.”
To remember the sanctity of common life, and that obedience to simple dues simply fulfilled are ladders on which we climb to our highest things, will be to most of us the way of enduring conquest over meaner modes of the soul. We cannot serve the lower within us and reach the higher beyond us. Weighted with self, the wings of the strongest weary. There is no gain except by loss. Perhaps a beautiful converse of Mr. Watts’ motto might be found in Michael Angelo’s suggestive saying, “As the marble wastes, the image grows.” Waste and growth, how they correlate themselves in all progress towards the highest; their very correspondence, indeed, is life’s law of progress. (F. Platt, B.D.)
But my horn shalt Thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
Character: an ordination charge
The image of lifting up the horn denotes strength, courage, victory over enemies--the power and glory which rays out from the Christly life in the soul. In the legends of early Christianity we read that night and day a cloud of light shone round about Jesus; and the old masters used to paint a nimbus round His sacred head, by which they sought to express, or at least to suggest, the Divinity of our Lord. We do not blame them. The halo was there, though it rarely assumed the form of a visible Shechinah. It was the beauty of holiness--something to be felt and not seen. John said, “We beheld His glory”--the Shechinah occasionally shining forth, as in the Transfiguration. But that was at rare intervals, whereas the power of the holy life was always present. And here also is the hiding of His ministers’ power, in the bright, subtle aura, the throbbing, living light that streams from them, the Christlike character that rays out from the life of Jesus in the soul and makes the atmosphere bright and healing around about them. The true minister is not simply a speaker, not at all an actor--he is more; he is an influence, a spiritual force, a fragrance--subtle, pervading. All unconsciously we exert an influence for good or evil. Was there not a power of healing in the very shadow of Peter as it fell? There is that in every man, call it what you will, which adds to or detracts from all he may say or do. Character, the Greeks called it. You miss it in biography; it refuses to be put into words--but it is there; we all know it, we have all felt it. It is as inseparable from man as his own shadow. The psalmist’s horn was not the loose tantur which formed part of the Eastern headdress. What he meant was that as the horn grows out of the animal, even so the glory of the Divine life rays out in a luminous character. It is the life of Christ in the soul that will make our life beautiful to behold and powerful for good. Raphael, in sketching his figures, gave his first attention to the drawing and modelling of the limbs, adding the draperies only after he had satisfied himself as to these. He thus succeeded in imparting to them an air of inimitable ease and truthfulness; whereas Carlo Maratti, as Reynolds informs us, was of opinion that the disposition of drapery was a more difficult art than even that of drawing the human figure. The natural result was, that “in Maratti the disposition of the drapery appears so artificial that he is inferior to Raphael even in that which gave him his best claim to reputation.” Have a far greater care for the cultivation of sound principles than of the winning manners of the “society man” or the accomplishments of the drawing-room--all very well in their way. It has been not altogether inaptly remarked that good breeding is surface Christianity. A graceful address and the “manners that maketh man” may form a suitable finish to a noble character. But be you careful not to deal in varnish or veneer. Cultivate the Spirit of Christ--it will shed a lustre over any society. And how may this be attained? By God’s grace. Let not the simplicity of the reply blind you to the wealth of its meaning. “For Thou art the glory of their strength.” “In Thy favour shall our horn be exalted.” “I am anointed with fresh oil.” As guests were anointed at feasts with perfumes, so are believers cheered and delighted by fresh outpourings of Divine grace. The consciousness of God’s favour is the oil that maketh the face to shine; it transfigures life. “As He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered.” It was the secret of the Lord’s Transfiguration. And the same truth applies to all Christians. Have we not seen men and women possessed with great ideas, their countenance all aglow with a sweet saintliness, in their eyes a deep, living light? You might well say that in their case the resurrection was already past, or that they had begun to put on the resurrection body. Dignity of mind will impress itself on the most homely countenance, and through determined spiritual preference we may obtain a spiritual body. But it means constant and unbroken communion with God. (M. O. Evans.)
I shall be anointed with fresh oil.--
The holy oil
The world, like the Athenians (Acts 17:2), is ever craving for some new thing. And they will take immense trouble to gratify this craving. It is a proof in itself, were there none other, that the world has nothing really satisfying to offer. Its happiness is always “in the next room.” Real freshness, newness of heart and life, the secret of perpetual youth is to be found alone in Him in whom “all things are become new.” Now, of this freshness the psalmist speaks in our text. Let us inquire--
I. His meaning. What is this oil? It is undoubtedly the type of the Holy Spirit. Now, this oil was--
1. Sacred (Psalms 89:20; Exodus 30:33). The tabernacle and all its furniture were sanctified by it. And it tells of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38)
2. Ennobling. Prophets, priests and kings were consecrated by it to their great offices. And those whom the Holy Spirit anoints are, now, made kings and priests unto God.
3. Invigorating, enabling. The Greek runners and wrestlers were anointed with oil, as it was supposed to give them strength and help in their contests. Undoubtedly it is so in the Christian race; this oil gives power for all we have to do or bear. The Church’s crying need is power from on high. All human strength will fail to win a single soul if the power of the Holy Ghost is wanting. For instance of counterfeited power (Acts 19:13-17). Lay to heart Christ’s words (Luke 24:49).
4. Uniting (Psalms 133:1-2). Strife, anger, wrath--all depart under the influence of this anointing.
5. Gladdening. A joyous face is often a sermon in itself. Gladness of heart which shines out of us, whether we will or no, is no mean testimony to the presence of the Christ within. God wants us to be glad (Hebrews 1:9). If we are not, press the inquiry (Job 15:11).
6. Illumining and guiding (1 John 2:27). And--
7. Perfuming, fragrant. See the fragrance of Mary’s alabaster box of ointment. And we are to be a sweet savour of Christ.
II. The condition of this anointing.
1. Union with the anointed one--Christ.
2. Abiding in Christ. If we walk after the flesh, this anointing cannot rest on us. “Upon man’s flesh it shall not be poured.” Are we in communion with Him now? (E. W. Moore, M.A.)
Fresh grace confidently expected
David is very positive. He does not say, I hope, but, I shall be. And this is not wonderful, for the subject of this psalm is the ever living God. Now, on this confidence of David, note--
I. It was a confidence full of meaning. For it meant--
1. That his strength would be renewed. It was a common belief amongst Orientals that anointing with oil added to a man’s vigour. So David felt and knew that whenever it was required God would renew his strength.
2. That he should be afresh assured of the Divine favour. To anoint a man with oil was a token of his welcome to your house. His feet were washed that he might be refreshed, and then the guest worthy of especial honour was anointed with perfumed nard. David had the favour of God as a shepherd boy, he found it anew as a warrior, and he had yet other tokens when he became King of Israel. Every favour received is a pledge of more to follow. Dawn is the earnest of noon.
3. That he should be confirmed in his estate. It is noteworthy that David was anointed three times. First of all by Samuel, in prospect of his ultimately becoming king; a second time by the men of Judah, when he reigned over a part of the nation; and a third time at Hebron, when the whole Israelitish nation came together, and he was solemnly elected to be their king, Perhaps he recollected this, and looking upon these various anointings as confirmations of his kingly state, he felt that God would yet further confirm him therein. There were many rebellions against him, but they were all futile. Now, we are kings and priests unto God, and Satan, if he could, would soon bring our kingdom and priesthood to an end; but it is written, “Thou maintainest my lot.”
4. That he should be qualified for his office by the bestowal of fresh grace. This was the meaning of the anointing whether of king or priest. This is a very sweet confidence for us. If you are a minister of the Gospel, you will have a thousand reasons for feeling yourself to be incompetent, and you might well throw down the staff of your pastorate, and leave work, if you were not sure that your sufficiency is of God.
5. That he should have more cause of delight. Anointing was intended to give pleasure. There are some now-a-days who would like to strike out everything from mortal life which gives pleasure. We have societies now which are anti to every mortal thing that is pleasant and agreeable, and if there remains one solitary enjoyment in this vale of tears which has not some society opposed to it, I have no doubt that some genius will commence a crusade against it to-morrow. The theory is that all wholesome things are nasty, and that all gratifications are deadly. Now, I do not believe in this theory for ordinary life, much less for spiritual life. Men used of old to anoint the heads of their guests to give them pleasure, and they were never blamed for it; and the Lord intends that His people should have the richest pleasure in their souls. He is the happy God, and would have those around Him happy. He never intended this world to be a great workhouse, a great drill shed, or a convict settlement, so arranged that labour should banish joy. He has made this world to be a happy lodging for His dear children till He shall call them home. I believe the Lord intended His people to be the happiest people under the sun. When I see certain of them repining, complaining, fretting, worrying, and calling that state of mind “experience,” I pray, “The Lord save me from that experience.” Our Lord Jesus was sorrowful not as our example but as our substitute; He was put to grief that we might be joyous; He bore our load that we might have no load to carry. We which have believed do enter into rest, and in that rest we discover new joys each day. The banks of the river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, are not dark with weeping willows, or dreary with a jungle of thorns and thistles, but they are lovely with the rose of Sharon and the lilies of the valley, and among its shady groves the righteous lie down at peace. Yes, we did rejoice, we have rejoiced, and we mean to rejoice again.
II. The confidence of our text is well guarded. When we rest in God we may boast as we will. I stood the other day by a spring, pleased to see it bubble up constantly with cool, refreshing water. One who came thither to fetch water for her house said to me, “It is always the same, sir, always the same; I never knew the sharpest frost to freeze it, or the most burning summer to dry it; the stream is equally full at all times of the year.” This was very different from a fountain which I often pass, which more than half the year bears the notice, “This drinking fountain is closed during the winter”; and very different from those brooks in our own and other lands which live upon the rains, and therefore do not contain a drop of water in the time of drought. Why does the spring always remain the same? Because it has tapped the great fountains. There is a deep that croucheth beneath, there are vast secret reservoirs in the bowels of the earth, and if you can set them abroad, you are sure of a perpetual supply. Now, if you live upon God, you can say, “All my fresh springs are in Thee.” And all this is so because of our union with Christ. Every Christian is a part of Christ. And because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. It was a good day for the poor widow of Zarephath in which Elijah came to live with her. If I had been in her case I should have felt that I was safe enough, for if God did not think of me He would think of Elijah. O, child of God, know ye not that ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost? Look, too, at the promises of God’s Word. They are to me a gradual revelation. I cannot realize, grasp and understand them except by degrees. I have one for to-day, but I shall find another open for me to-morrow. The train which starts from London to go to the North continues to traverse the distance day by day--how is it supplied with water? Why, there are trenches between the rails in several different places, and from them the engine drinks as it rushes along; it is supplied as it runs. This is just what our Heavenly Father has done for you. You are on the road to heaven, but between here and there there are many stores of grace waiting for you. Our experience has proved that we shall be afresh anointed. We have been so many a time already. Changes are appointed for us as long as we are here. David said, “My mountain standeth firm; I shall never be moved,” but in a very little time he sang another hymn. When I hear brethren so very confident I am reminded of a story I have heard of the olden times, when a young gentleman who had never travelled before went over Hounslow Heath, and was accosted by another gentleman who rode by his side and joined in an interesting conversation. Our friend said at last, “I have always been told by my father that this is a very dangerous heath, but the old gentleman, I think, was exceedingly nervous, for we have come all this way without being molested by highwaymen.” “Yes,” said the other, “but now is the time for you to stop and deliver;” and he clapped his pistol to his ear. It often happens when we say that we shall have no more temptations that our confidence is in itself a temptation. But when times of sore trial come the Lord has appeared for us.
III. This confidence calms all our fears. Sometimes we are filled with fear on account of our soul poverty. Our text is the answer to it. I am poor, but I shall receive my daily pension. Imagine two Israelites talking together one day, and one of them says to the other, “Your cupboard seems to be very empty, I fear you are improvident.” “But,” says the other, “do you know, we gathered this morning an omer full of manna, and it exactly supplied my family. I have a wife and a troop of boys with mighty appetites, and very soon the omer which had been full was empty, but we look for more to-morrow.” “Nothing in the house!” said the other, “do you not feel distressed? No, not at all.” “Why not? Because I believe the manna will fall to-morrow morning, and that there will be just as much as I shall want, so that I have no need to lay by any in store.” “Very imprudent,” said the other. “I believe we ought to make hay while the sun shines. If you will come to my house, I will show you the good stock of manna which I have carefully laid by.” “No,” said the other, “I do not care to see it just now, but I will tell you what I will do; I will come down to-morrow at dinner-time and see it.” So the man gathered in the morning his own manna fresh, and his family have been satisfied with it and delighted, and after they have eaten he says, “I will go down and see my rich friend’s manna; he was much better off last night than I was.” He goes to his friend’s door, but his friend does not seem pleased to see him. “I have come to see your manna that you stored up so carefully.” But the other blushes, and owns that he has none to show. “ Why not?” his friend inquires. “Well, the fact is, I do not want you to come into my tent at all. I must come forth from it myself. There is a most detestable smell all through the tent. I had to take away the manna and bury it, for it bred worms, and stank.” “Ah,” said the other, “then, after all, I. did well to live upon daily manna, and to have no stock in hand; and you did foolishly to lay by a store.” Beloved, it calms our fears about our poverty when we remember that the granary of heaven is not exhausted, and that as each morning breaks we shall find the dew of grace lying about our tent.
IV. And this assurance tends to raise our hopes. As to our holding on to the end, as to our useful service, as to full fellowship with Christ.
V. This makes us feel great pity for those who cannot hope to be anointed with fresh oil. Such are all those who are destitute of faith. The present may please you for the present, but there are evil times coming. It is a blessed thing to be so rich that there is no end to your wealth, and nobody can say that but a Christian. It is a blessed thing to have a stream at your foot, which will never fail; and nobody has such a river but a Christian. O the utter, utter poverty of the man who lives and dies without Christ. God grant it may not be so for us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Anointed with fresh oil
I. Christian illumination is the anointing of the sacred Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27).
1. The conversion of man is effected through the influence of God’s truth applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. It is in the very essence of this process that the verities of Scripture impress themselves with such resistless energy over the whole man that he is compelled to yield to their influence. It is, however, the influence of Truth--reasonable, genial, and gratifying to its subject.
2. The subsequent growth in grace of the man who has become a believer is effected by the same Almighty and gracious influence. The Word of God is the nutriment of faith.
3. Nothing short of close personal dealing with the Spirit of God in prayer will maintain the proper influence of Divine truths over our understanding, our conscience, and our affections.
II. Christian consecration is the anointing of the Spirit. Great is the change made in the individual who is the subject of such consecration. The disciple who declares to the servant-maid, “I know not the man,” is hard to identify with him who, on the temple steps, exclaims, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” The result of such an anointing upon our Churches would be incalculable good; the growth of holy enjoyment, and the increase of holy usefulness, would elicit from all quarters of the land the joyful shouts proclaiming a present God, and wonders wrought by His power.
III. Christian gladness is the anointing of the Spirit (Psalms 45:7; Hebrews 1:9). Gladness is the inheritance of the saints, and, in regard to it, we often need to be “anointed with fresh oil.” Exhortations to joy are frequent in both the Old and New Testament. Joy is one of the foundations of the kingdom of grace in the heart, which is righteousness, joy, and peace. This holy gladness rests on the twofold basis of a firm, constant belief in the all-pervading providence of God, and a confident assurance of participation in His forgiving mercy, manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. Christian graces are the anointing of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). There is a legend which represents St. Francis as having looked so long and so eagerly on the body of the suffering Saviour, that the prints of the nails were reproduced in his hands, and the mark of the spear in his side. There is another legend, which affirms that Veronica possessed a napkin with which the Lord Jesus wiped His brow on the way to Calvary; which cloth was said to bear upon it a perfect representation of the Saviour’s countenance. These fables have lying behind them an important fact--the assimilating power of communion with Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). (W. G. Lewis.)
I. Its excellency.
1. In our devotions.
2. In our feelings. Whether it be exultation or depression, let it be true, not superficial or simulated.
3. In utterance Nature, pure and unsophisticated, is the best instrument for grace.
4. In labour. We ought to serve the Lord to-day with just as much novelty in it as there was ten years ago. I may even venture to say thirty years ago. Talk of Jesus as if you were telling news. Is it not always glad tidings, fresh from heaven?
II. The fear of its departure.
1. Christian people can lose the freshness of their own selves by imitating one another. By adopting as our model some one form of the Christian life, other than that which is embodied in the person of our Lord, we shall soon manufacture a set of paste gems, but the diamond flash and glory will be unknown.
2. Another way of spoiling your freshness is by repression. The feebler sort of Christians dare not say, feel, or do, until they have asked their leader’s leave.
3. If we want to keep up our freshness, however, the main thing is never to fall into neglect about our souls. Do you know what state the man is generally in when you are charmed by his freshness? Is he not in fine health?
III. Hope of its renewal. Let us not think that we must grow stale and heavenly things grow old with us.
1. For, first, our God in whom we trust renews the face of the year. He is beginning His work again in the fair processes of nature. The dreary winter has passed away. The time of the singing of birds is coming on, and the sweet flowers are peeping out from their graves, enjoying a resurrection of glory and beauty. Now, this is the God whom we serve; and if we have been passing through our winter-time, let us look out for our spring, if any of you have been growing cold of late--if any of you have grown stale and mechanical, and have fallen into ruts, come, took up: look up, and pray the great Renewer to visit you.
2. Moreover, there is an excellent reason why you may expect to have all your freshness coming back again: it is because Christ dwells in you. Do you not know it? Christ is formed in you the hope of glory; and, if so, your glory will be fresh about you, for He never grows stale. It is God that said of Him, “Thou hast the dew of Thy youth.”
3. Then there is the other grand doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. If your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, shall He not be always to you a fountain of new life--a spring of fresh delights? Why, it must be so. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
The prosperity of the righteous
I. Who shall flourish? “The righteous.” There are none who are righteous by a righteousness of their own--that is, a righteousness derived from themselves; but there are those who are righteous by a righteousness derived from God. Of this the apostle speaks; “ That I may be found in Him, not having mine own,” etc. There is a twofold righteousness spoken of in the Scriptures: the righteousness of justification, and the righteousness of sanctification. These are very distinguishable from each other; and unless it is clearly discriminated, a confusion will pervade the whole of the religious system. The one is the change of our state; the other of our nature. The one is a relative change; the other personal. The one entitles us to glory; the other is a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light. The one is an instantaneous operation, and applies at once; the other is gradual and progressive. Yet they are always inseparable, though distinguishable.
II. How shall they flourish? “Like the palm-tree;. . . like a cedar.” There is a real and active progressiveness in religion; though Christian principles and passions at present are all imperfect, yet they are growing, and shall advance to maturity. This progressiveness is to be considered as a Christian’s duty, his desire, and his privilege. His duty; and therefore it is so often enjoined upon him. “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge,” etc. “Giving all diligence add to your faith,” etc. His desire; therefore he “forgets the things that are behind,” etc.; and therefore his prayer is, “Perfect that which concerneth me.” “Forsake not the work of Thy own hands,” etc. His privilege, and therefore it is provided for him; “therefore it hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;” and from this fulness he is to receive “ grace for grace.”
III. Where shall they flourish? “In the courts of our God.” There it is that you have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. There His ordinances are dispensed--the ordinances of life. There God hath commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. In order to enjoy these advantages, you must be planted there, as a tree must be, in order to be fruitful; that is, you must be fixed there. How is this? In two ways. One by choice--for, “where the treasure is, there will the heart be also”; and where the heart is, there you are, wherever the body may be. The other is by the frequency of your attendance, availing yourselves of every opportunity the providence of God allows you to be found there.
IV. When shall they flourish? “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.” Not that they escape all the effects of old age, far from it; but as the apostle says, “When the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day.” When the outward ear grows deaf, then the inward man hears the voice of God. When the eye grows dim, the mind is irradiated and enlightened. When the fleshly parts grow weak, we are “strengthened with might in the inner man.” It is one of the consequences of old age in Christians to look towards heaven. There he reckons upon his relations and friends. “There my best friends, my kindred dwell--there God my Saviour reigns.” He seems to have more connection with that world than with this. We look for meekness in the aged. The young are giddy, fierce, fiery, and determined--the older are willing to give up everything for the sake of peace, unless it is a good conscience and truth. There we look for maturity and judgment in divine things--that he should be able to distinguish things that differ, that his heart may be established in righteousness. He has not only had faith, but experience: the one is help to the other.
V. Why are they to flourish? “To show that the Lord is upright.” There seems something remarkable in this. Their fearing God, attending His ordinances, and “bringing forth fruit even to old age,” shows that they are upright; but how does it show that God is upright? It does this in two ways. First, as it evidences His faithfulness to His engagements. All the ways of the Lord are mercy; not only mercy, but truth; because they are in fulfilment of His promises. Then, next, because it shows their adhering to Him with purpose of heart; and not turning back from Him, shows that they found Him what they took Him to be. Had they been deceived in Him they would have given Him up. Under the law, the servant that had his ear bored gave proof that he loved his master; and he would not have loved him if he had not behaved well to him. The attachment and the adherence of the servants of God proclaim his faithfulness; and show they have not been disappointed in their expectations of Him. Just like the venerable Polycarp, who, when asked to deny his Saviour or perish, saith, “He has been a good master to me these eighty years, and can I now forsake Him?” This shows the perseverance of the Christian; not what he is, but what God is. “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
VI. Who can bear his testimony to this truth? “ I,” says David; “He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Every one can say this, and will say this, who has, like David, made God his rock for building upon--his rock of danger--his rock of refreshment, whose streams follow him all the wilderness through. (W. Jay.)
The plants of grace
I. The threefold righteousness which all the godly possess.
1. Imputed. This is sometimes called the righteousness of God, because God provided it; it is called the righteousness of Christ, inasmuch as He performed it; it is also called the righteousness of faith, as that is the appointed means whereby we receive it.
2. Implanted. He is the subject of new principles, motives, feelings.
3. Exhibited. A changed heart will be seen in a changed life.
II. The comparison employed.
1. For the righteous to be compared to the palm-tree, reminds us of the important truth that the most useful is the most flourishing believer.
2. The righteous will also grow as the cedar in Lebanon. A flourishing Christian is a growing Christian; he grows in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; he advances in the divine life, and abounds more and more both in the active and passive fruits of the Spirit.
III. The place specified. “The house of the Lord,” etc, “Christians,” says an able writer, “are like soldiers; it is easier to fight in the regiment, where the men stand shoulder to shoulder, than standing alone to maintain some solitary outpost. They are like live coals; when separated they go out, but when gathered into heaps they burn and brighten, so as even to purify gold and silver. They are like trees; they grow the tallest where they stand together, running no small chance, like a solitary tree, of becoming dwarfed, stunted, gnarled, and bark-bound, if they grow alone. You never yet saw a tall and tapering mast which, catching the winds of heaven in its outspread wings, impelled the gallant ship on through the sea, and over the rolling billows, but its home had been the forest; there, with its foot planted upon the Norwegian rock, it grew amid neighbours that drew up each other to the skies.”
IV. The period indicated. “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age,” etc. This, of course, does not imply that all the godly live to be old. It is true that the fear of the Lord prolongeth days; but still it often happens that the fairest specimens of sanctified humanity are called away in their early prime and promise. What the words signify is, evidently, that if they lived to be old their souls would continue to prosper, and that the peaceable fruits of righteousness would still be produced.
V. The reason adduced. “To show that the Lord is upright,” etc. A most conclusive proof have we in every “old disciple” of the faithfulness of God. When the hoary-headed saint reads the promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” he can stand up and say to all the world, It is true, for so have I found it during the whole course of my pilgrimage. (Expository Outlines.)
The provision made in the Gospel for the progressive advancement in holiness, and the way in which we may avail ourselves of that provision
I. The blessed security furnished in the Gospel for our making daily progress in the way of holiness, even to the end of life. This security we may consider as resting on these two grounds.
1. God hath declared this to be His unchangeable purpose with regard to all His people.
2. He hath also revealed to us the means by which that purpose is to be carried into effect, and which we see to be admirably adapted for answering the purpose for which they were intended.
(1) The mediation of Christ.
(2) The dispensation of the Spirit.
II. How we should avail ourselves of this ample provision made in the Gospel for the establishment of our faith, and for our making daily progress in the way of life.
1. Let us often fix our thoughts on that abundant provision, believing the declarations of God’s Word, and that they shall be fulfilled in the experience of all who receive them in faith, and act upon that faith.
2. Let us attend regularly and conscientiously upon the means of grace which are intended for promoting our spiritual improvement.
3. Let us set ourselves without delay to engage entirely in the duties of the Christian life, and to do so heartily, as to the Lord, and to do so in the exercise of faith, believing that in the inexhaustible fulness of Christ there is enough and to spare for all--grace suited to our state and circumstances, whatever they may be. (J. Muirhead, D.D.)
Tongues in trees
I. The palm-tree and the cedar grow in apparently uncongenial soil. In the East the palm does not grow in the fertile loam, but in the arid sand, where there appears to be no moisture to sustain it, and where the scorching sun seems almost certain to destroy it; and the cedar of Lebanon grows, not in the fertile, sheltered valley, where the streamlets play and the silvery rivers glide, but on the rocky heights, where all seems cold and sterile. And the righteous in this world grow and flourish in apparently uncongenial soil.
II. The palm-tree and cedar grow because they are wed by hidden resources. The palm in the desert is fed by hidden springs that flow beneath the surface of the dry sand; its roots drink deep and are sustained, and they send up the moisture into the leaves and branches, and they are refreshed and invigorated. The roots of the cedar are fed by the streams that come trickling down from the snow-crowned tops of Lebanon; they go far and wide into the fissures of the rocks, securing stability by their sturdy grasp, and continuing strong by drinking of the perpetual supply that comes down from the melting snows. So the righteous in this world grow and flourish. Like the palm, they are fed by hidden resources: with joy they draw water out of the wells of salvation. Like the cedar, the righteous grow, for they are fed by hidden resources which come from above; the water of life flows down from the river of life that flows by the throne of God.
III. The palm-tree and cedar, fed by hidden resources, grow into things of beauty and utility. In many particulars the righteous are as the palm-tree, for they yield the fruit of the lip and of the life to the praise and the glory of God; and their lives are not only happy and holy, but exceedingly useful to their fellow-men. They live, not for themselves, but for others, and endeavour to leave the world better than they found it. They also afford grateful shelter and shade to the weary and heavy-laden ones. “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” They are as palm-trees, the emblems of victory; they have been victorious over the difficulties that beset their pathway and opposed them in their coming to Christ--they have overcome Satan, and they are overcoming the world, and they are to conquer even death itself. Much that we have said about the palm will apply with equal force and aptness to the cedar, for it is towering and widespreading and evergreen, exceedingly noble, and very useful; and there is this additional about the cedar--its wood was exceedingly useful for sacred purposes, being used in the building of places dedicated to the worship of the Most High. So the righteous--they grow stately like cedars, and when cut down by the hand of death, they are removed to the new Jerusalem, and form part of the Church triumphant in the skies. (F. W. Brown.)
The righteous flourishing like the palm-tree
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree.” We must, of course, consider this comparison as chiefly applicable to our adorable Redeemer, the King of Righteousness, and the Tree of Life. It must also have some relation and likeness to the character of every faithful servant of God.
I. Their usefulness. “The extensive importance of this tree (says an Eastern traveller) is one of the most curious subjects to which a person can direct his attention. A considerable part of the inhabitants of Egypt, Arabia, and Persia, subsist almost entirely upon its fruit. They boast of its medicinal virtues. Their camels feed upon the date stone. From the leaves, they make a variety of articles for domestic use. From the fibres of the boughs, thread, ropes, and rigging are manufactured; from the sap is prepared a spirituous liquor; and the body of the tree furnishes fuel.” However remiss individual Christians may be in the discharge of their duty, the natural tendency of religion is to make them “fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10). Where are the homes for orphans? Where the hospitals for the sick? Where the asylums for the lunatic and the blind? These are the monuments of righteousness. These are founded by the Gospel of Christ. Who are the patient and painstaking teachers? Who are the first and foremost in carrying light and cultivation among savage tribes? Who are the peacemakers? Who are most ready to discharge their duties as citizens, and neighbours, and friends? Whose promises are the most solemnly and strictly kept? Whose principles are the source of the greatest benefit to mankind? The righteous--the children of God.
II. Their resistance to external calamities. It is a remarkable fact, that the more you attempt to hinder the growth of this tree, by pressing it down with weights, by heaping stones and rubbish upon its roots, and by injuries to the bark, the stronger powers of resistance does it manifest: shooting up its straight and upright trunk a hundred feet and more. And even when the old stock has withered and decayed with age, and fallen prostrate to the ground, fresh sprouts spring vigorously from the roots; thus giving rise (as some have thought) to the fable of the Phoenix dying, and another rising from its ashes. When does the spiritual life of the righteous flourish best? Not when all hindrances and temptations are removed. Not when the skies are always bright, and the breezes soft and refreshing. Not when prosperity gathers about the Christian everything which heart can wish for. The soul is much more likely to rise upward, or assert its higher claims, when misfortunes, and ill-usage, and wrongs, are pressing heavily upon it. As the bodily strength is best developed and preserved by those inured to toil, and who boldly face the tempest and the cold, so is our inner life invigorated and prolonged by the roughnesses and afflictions which beset the good man’s way.
III. Their duration. According to the report of naturalists, this tree is most productive from the thirtieth until the eightieth year, and continues to flourish for more than two centuries. At first thought, it might seem almost absurd to say, that the children of God live longer than those who serve the world, the flesh, and the devil. But the Bible certainly encourages this idea (Psa 55:24; Proverbs 3:16; Psalms 91:14-16). Habits of regularity, and moderation, and self-restraint, which the rules of the Gospel require, do greatly contribute to the health and happiness of such as observe them. And who does not know that peace of conscience, the sense of sins forgiven, and of God’s favourable regard, are more efficacious remedies for healing our infirmities than any which can possibly be devised? (J. N. Norton.)
The righteous flourishing
I. In their usefulness.
1. While other trees are distinguished by their devious trunks, the palm shoots perpendicularly upward to a considerable height, and thus resembles the pious mind, whose inclinations and pursuits ever tend toward heaven. Even Mahomet could say of the generous man: “he stands erect before his Lord: in every action he follows the impulse received from above, and his whole life is devoted to the welfare of his fellow-creatures.”
2. The palm-tree is noted for the abundance of its fruit. The powerful action of the sap is developed not only in thick umbrageous foliage, but in multitudes of flowers and dates. Are not thus the righteous pictured forth by this tree? They who “have put on Christ” abound in every good thought, word, and work, and remembering that they are the branches of the living vine, they yield much fruit of righteousness to the glory and praise of God. Are they not eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and feet to the lame?
II. In their resistance to external calamity. Neither weight nor violence can make this tree grow downwards or crooked; but the more it is oppressed, the more it flourishes, the higher it towers, and the stronger and broader it becomes at the top. From this singular quality it became the emblem of constancy, patience, and victory by the Eastern nations; and hence Christ was honoured at Jerusalem by the waving of the palm branches; and the redeemed in heaven are described as carrying palms in their hands, in token of the triumphs they had achieved. No situation so thoroughly proves the Christian as the afflictions of mortality. The feeblest infant may endure the sunshine, but it requires the man to face the storm.
III. In their duration. It has been the prayer of the great and good, that they might never outlive their usefulness: and when we behold the aged, hoary, not with wisdom, but with hairs, we tremble lest they have lived in vain. But when we contemplate the pious patriarch spared for threescore years and ten, who has been both parent and priest of his domestic flock, he resembles, indeed, a fruitful palm-tree, which, still yielding fruit in its old age, is only awaiting for the transplantation of the master of the vineyard. Many are they which have flourished thus around us; but their time of vigour and usefulness has expired, and now they beautify, and enrich the paradise of God. (John Grigg.)
What is there about the palm-tree which would suggest its employment as a figure to describe a righteous man? Let the reader remember where it grows, and he will see. As often as not it grows in the desert. In its own home it is the noblest product of the vegetable world. It lives to a great age, and the older it grows the better its fruit becomes. It often marks the one spot in the desert where water can be found. Other vegetation can spring up under its shadow; it provides food and shelter for the weary and travel-worn. Now let us apply the analogy to our Christian life. In the first place, we may regard the palm-tree as a type of strength. Christian character ought to be stronger than native self-sufficiency, wherever found. Growth in holiness means breaking away little by little from dependence upon the good things of this life. Though rooted in earth we rise higher and higher to breathe the free air of heaven. Health, riches, success, power, fame, should all be held loosely. They are God’s gifts, to be used for His glory, but Christian character should be independent of their presence or absence. They may add to the brightness or interest of life, but if they take to themselves wings and fly away, faith should remain uninjured. Our love for and confidence in Christ should be independent of the external trappings of the soul. How often we find well-meaning, but weak, Christians thrown off their balance by a stroke of adversity, and ready to curse God and die. Further, the palm-tree affords guidance to the thirsty traveller. It is frequently the indication of the presence of water. That which nourishes its own roots can, of course, quench the thirst of man and beast. Christian character has a function of a similar kind, and should never rest till it has fulfilled it. It is our business to live so that men may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. How often the weary and heavy-laden will turn to the meek and quiet, helpful spirit of one who is wise in the things of God! One now and again hears the remark that So-and-So is evidently in possession of a secret, a secret of goodness which ordinary people have not. As a concluding remark, it may be well to mention over again the fact that the palm-tree affords food and shelter to those who need it. Some Christian Endeavourers, at any rate, must have read with special interest Mr. Jowett’s recent sermon on the death of Dr. Berry. It was a happy thought of the preacher to speak of the departed Nonconformist leader as one who had been “a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” It is said of Dr. Berry that many persons have lived, as it were, by his strength. He has given fresh heart and new hope to many a one who was overborne in the battle of life. There is many a man to-day who would have made shipwreck of himself and his career except he had found a friend, under the shade of whose sympathy he was able to abide until he was strong enough to go forward by himself. To be such a shelter is a great thing in this world. (R. J. Campbell, M.A.)
The righteous like the palm-tree
The palm grows not in the depths of the forest or in a fertile loam, but in the desert. Its verdure often springs apparently from the scorching dust. “It is a friendly lighthouse, guiding the traveller to the spot where water is to be found.” The tree is remarkable for its beauty, its erect aspiring growth, its leafy canopy, its waving plumes, the emblem of praise in all ages. Its very foliage is the symbol of joy and exultation. It never fades, and the dust never settles upon it. It was, therefore, twisted into the booths of the Feast of Tabernacles, was borne aloft by the multitude that accompanied the Messiah to Jerusalem, and it is represented as in the hands of the redeemed in heaven. For usefulness, the tree is unrivalled. Gibbon says that the natives of Syria speak of 360 uses to which the palm is applied. Its shade refreshes the traveller. Its fruit restores his strength. When his soul fails for thirst, it announces water. Its stones are ground for his camels. Its leaves are made into couches, its boughs into fences and walls, and its fibres into ropes or rigging. Its best fruit, moreover, is borne in old age; the finest dates being often gathered when the tree has reached a hundred years. It sends, too, from the same root a large number of suckers, which in time form a forest by their growth. What an emblem of the righteous in the desert of a guilty world! It is not uninstructive to add that this tree, once the symbol of Palestine, is now rarely seen in that country. (Joseph Angus.)
Like a cedar in Lebanon.--
The righteous like a cedar
1. Downwardly, as to humility.
2. Upwardly, as to heavenly-mindedness.
3. Inwardly, as to heart holiness.
4. Outwardly, as to usefulness.
5. Grow even in the midst of storms.
6. Grow imperceptibly.
7. Grow till it ceases to grow.
The strongest cedar in Lebanon shall cease to grow; so shall every righteous man, as to this world; but the very thought of the termination of his growth here should remind him of the issue of this termination. (T. Adam.)
The good man like a cedar
How does the cedar grow?
I. By the unfolding of its inner life. The cedar of a thousand years once slept in a little germ. Thus holy souls grow by putting forth the germinant powers within them.
II. By the appropriation of the outward. The cedar assimilates to its own substance things that are unlike itself. The dews of heaven, the salts of the earth, the gases of the air, it turns all into its own essence. Thus the godly soul turns everything into its own character.
III. By the influences of the trying. Whence comes the strength of the cedar? Not merely from the dew that sprinkles its branches nor the sunbeam that warms its heart, nor the soil that feeds its roots; but from the tempests also. Even so trials help the growth of the true soul: it makes hostile elements do it service.
IV. By its own constant activity. The sap may be regarded as the very spirit of the tree, and that is ever active; it runs up the roots through all the pores of the trunk into every branch and leaf. From the leaves it runs back again, feeding and strengthening every part as it goes down to the very roots. Thus circulation goes on; it is incessant. The cedar grows so long as it lives; when it ceases to grow it ceases to live. So is it with the soul. There is no end to its growth. It passes from strength to strength, from glory to glory, through all ages. (Homilist.)
Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.
The trees in God’s courts
I. The planting. It sounds odd to hear of planting a tree in a house, and of its flourishing in courts; but remember an oriental house is a sort of quadrangle. It is a four-square building, with the middle open to the sky, and generally there is a small garden, in which a palm-tree, or an olive, or some other evergreen tree will be found planted: so that what seems strange to us--a tree planted in a house--was not at all strange to David or to anybody else who lived in the city of Jerusalem. And it is a very beautiful figure--this being planted within the four courts of God’s house, that we might grow right in the middle of the place where God with His family deigns to dwell. Well, we are planted in God’s house in two respects. First, in regeneration, when we are born into the house; and secondly, at our profession of faith, which should be by baptism, when we are publicly brought into the house and planted in the likeness of Christ’s death by being buried, after His commandment, in the water.
1. Planting implies, first, that there has been something done for us that we could not do for ourselves. A tree cannot plant itself. And you know, there is a necessity that there should be a work of grace upon our souls, which shall come, not from ourselves, but distinctly from God.
2. It implies, too, that there must be a great change in our position, for a tree that is planted has been growing somewhere else. Do we know ourselves to be “new creatures in Christ Jesus”?
3. It implies also that there is life in us. God does not intend to have dead stumps standing in His court. If we do not know the life of God, we know not God at all.
4. And it implies that we ourselves have taken hold of the soil wherein we have been planted. Are you seeking for vital truth to sustain your soul’s vitality? Do you in the ordinances send out the rootlets of your desire, to seek after what God has prepared for you? Is there in you a living sap flowing, which sap is being fed by what you draw in from the soil in which God has placed you?
II. The promise. “Those that be planted shall flourish.”
1. Because God has said that they shall. His promises are sure to be fulfilled. If He plants a tree He will cause it to flourish. Therefore, be very hopeful. As your needs arise, they shall be supplied.
2. Because of the goodness of the soil. They are planted where the means of grace abound, and where the Holy Spirit has promised to abide.
3. Because they are planted in a sheltered position are you not like a vineyard on a very fruitful hill, which He has hedged about and walled, and in which He has put a wine-press, and which He has watered every morning, and, lest any should hurt it, has kept night and day?
4. Because they are so near the husbandman (John 15:1). Now, if any of you are not flourishing, though you are planted in the house of the Lord, I am sure it is not through any faultiness on God’s part. Let such ask Him, and ask themselves, the reason why, and go to Him in prayer, and say--“Good Lord, I am planted in Thy house; make me to flourish according to Thy word.”
III. The continuance of this flourishing. “They shall bring forth fruit,” etc. There are some that begin with a spurt, and it is soon over; and there are some trees that promise exceedingly well for fruit, but the blossoms did not knit, hence they fail to yield fruit in due season. But those whom God plants, and whom He makes to flourish, bring forth fruit, and continue to bring it forth till old age.
1. What fruit, then, you will ask, do they bring forth?
(1) There is the fruit of testimony. I distinctly recollect hearing a blind old minister talk of the lovingkindness of the Lord when I was sixteen or seventeen, and the encouragement that he gave me has never departed from me. A young man could not have done that, because he had not attained so much experience; but the weight of years, and even of infirmities, made that venerable blind man’s testimony very, very weighty to my soul.
(2) Saints bring forth fruit in the way of savour when they grow old. Many young ministers can rattle out some of the truths of the Gospel very readily; but if you want to taste the sweetness, to feel the unction, to enjoy the savour, you must hear one that has had long and deep experience. It must be so. There is an inimitable mellowness about the Christian who has grown old in his Master’s service.
(3) The aged Christian ought to have the fruit of patience. You remember Dr. Hamilton’s story of poor old Betty, who could not do anything but lie in bed and cough, but she said, “Well, bless the Lord, whatever the Lord has told me to do I have tried to do it; and when He said, ‘Betty, bring up your family,’ I tried to bring them up in the fear of God. When He said, ‘Betty, go to the house of God and sing My praises,’ I was delighted to do it. And when He said, ‘Betty, go upstairs and lie in bed and cough;’ well, I will do it,” she said, “and bless the name of the Lord for letting me do it, so long as there is anything to be done for Him.”
(4) One of the most delicious fruits that Christians produce in their old age is calm, quiet confidence in God.
2. The text does not speak of old age merely bringing forth fruit, but it says--“They shall be fat and flourishing,” which means that Christians, in their advanced years, shall have a fulness of savour and life in them.
IV. The manifestation that affords conclusive proof of the Divine faithfulness. “To show that the Lord is upright.” These good folks are to bring forth fruit, and to be fat and flourishing, on purpose to manifest before the eyes of all men.” That the Lord is upright: He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” “That the Lord is upright.” Well, how does the fruit-bearing of an aged Christian show that? Why, it shows that God has kept His promise. He has promised that He will never leave them nor forsake them. There you see it. He has promised that when they are weak they shall be strong. There you see it. He has promised that if they seek Him they shall not lack any good thing. There you see it. He has promised them, “Thy bread shall be given thee; thy water shall be sure.” Hear what they have to say, and you will see it. He has said, “Even to hoar hairs I am He. I have made and I will bear, and I will carry you as in the days of old.” There you have it. Ask them. There you see it. We put “Q. E. D.” at the end of a proposition when it is proved. So you may put that down at the end of the problem of life. God is good to His people. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fruitfulness of piety
I. The fruitfulness of piety. Its abundance. It is like the palm-tree. The righteous surpass the wicked, as the palm-tree the grass that is cast into the fire. “Much fruit” glorifies God. The palm, the noblest tree of the plain, and the cedar, the noblest tree of the mountain, both stand as symbols of the righteous. Both are superior to the caprices of seasons. The palm looks from a lofty eminence down on the desert, and the cedar defies the storm. Both are enduring. Fruits are better than seeds. Deeds than profession.
II. The immediate and ultimate source of this piety. They are planted in the courts of the Lord. Piety must find its nutrition in holy exercises. Worship, meditation with the lights of Christian truth should lead on to far higher spirituality than the broken lights of the Old Temple services. There is never a doctrine in the Word or nature that is not intended for enrichment and elevation of the true and temper of life.
III. The fruitfulness of piety gives direct and honourable testimony to God. “The Lord is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Dependence on God essential to fruitfulness. (G. B. Johnson.)
Plants that grow in the Church
I. The place where these righteous people shall develop is said to be the house of Jehovah. This is the temple of God’s ancient people.
1. The psalmist uses this figure to describe the character of the righteous. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree.” This is the kind of plant that grow in the house of Jehovah, quite in contrast with the wicked described as springing as the grass. The grass springs up quickly and withers as quickly. The palm-tree grows tall and straight. So with the righteous. The palm-tree also is strong. The righteous, those who have been made righteous with God’s own righteousness, can stand against the fiercest tempests of sin and temptation.
2. The palm-tree is the most graceful and beautiful of trees. In the Song of Solomon, the most beautiful of women is likened to it. We learn to esteem a most beautiful one whose features were at first repulsive, because of the character of righteousness that has enveloped his person.
3. The palm-tree, too, is endogenous. While many trees grow by additions of rings to the outsider this tree grows by adding cell within cell, thus developing from within outward. The man you have known as a boy, now developed into a truly righteous character, has done it by no change that you can detect without. You recognize his features distinctly enough as those of the boy. Character makes the difference. It is an expansion that has come from within.
4. The palm-tree is useful for its food products.
II. God is in His house. God dwells in His church to-day, in the assemblages of His people, as nowhere else, to make central power-stations for the production of righteous lives. The area for the growth of the date palm is limited. There is no fruit at an altitude of more than one thousand feet above the sea-level. So God has given us a place where He can successfully grow the righteous. It is His Church.
III. They shall flourish. No one cares to start a business that is going to fail, or to live a life that is not going to be life indeed. A sixteenth-century man who owned a lot in London instructed his architect that the lot was small, but he would have him remember that he owned all the way up. That is the advantage the righteous man has. The possibilities of his development are limited only by infinite space upward. The immeasurable altitudes belong to him. (D. T. Wyman.)
I. The soil which it requires. “The house of the Lord.” “The courts of our God.” This means the redemptive religion of God; or, in other words, the Gospel. Nothing but the Gospel has the power to quicken, nurture, and fully develop the human soul as it is found in its corrupt state. Science, philosophy, poetry, social ethics, and all the arts and influences of civilization have tried and failed. You may as well expect that an acorn would grow to a perfect oak planted in the sand, as to expect that the soul will grow to its proper proportions if planted in any soil but the Gospel.
II. The prosperity which it will realize. “Shall flourish.”
1. Flourish in size, multiplying their branches of power, and towering higher and higher.
2. Flourish in strength. Ever receiving more vitality and vigour.
3. Flourish in beauty. More majestic in figure, more exquisite in hue, more charming in flower.
4. Flourish in fruitfulness. Clusters increasing with every age. “They shall flourish.” How glorious the soul may become! (Homilist.)
They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.
The fruitfulness of aged Christians considered and urged
I. The duty of the righteous.
1. The fruits which may be expected of them. Knowledge, holiness, patience, meekness, quietness of spirit, renunciation of the world, preparedness for death, a heavenly conversation, also a deep concern for the honour of God, the support of religion, and the good of mankind.
2. How reasonable it is, that such fruits should be found in them.
(1) From the nature of religion, as a vital principle, or the Divine life in the soul. True grace is growing. “A well of water springing up unto everlasting life.”
(2) Through the natural force of habit and custom. Having been so long in Christ’s school, we reasonably expect that they should have made a great progress in knowledge and religious skill: that they will be expert in the exercises of devotion; have a greater command of their passions and tongues, than younger persons; and not be, like them, tossed about with every wind of doctrine, or the sport of vanity and temptation.
(3) They have more advantages and fewer temptations than others.
(4) They may expect peculiar assistances from the Spirit of God, in proportion to their many prayers and improvements.
II. The privilege and happiness of the righteous. “They shall flourish,” etc. Time, which impairs their strength and everything else in the natural world, shall improve their graces, meliorate or refine their fruit. And this they are to expect from Divine influences attending the means of grace. The faithfulness of God is engaged to do this. Therefore the psalmist adds, “to show that the Lord is upright,” or faithful to His promises. He then subjoins his own testimony to the truth of this: “He is my rock;” I have found Him kind, powerful and faithful in supporting the religious life in my soul, under all my difficulties and trials; and you will also find that “there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
1. Let aged Christians labour after greater fruitfulness.
(1) For your own peace and comfort.
(2) For the honour of God and your profession.
(3) For an example and encouragement to others.
2. They who would bring forth fruit in old age must begin betimes to do so.
3. Learn the great usefulness of public ordinances. (Job Orton, D.D.)
I. Let us look at some of these inevitable experiences of advancing years, which evince the need of some principle of greenness and vitality beyond the power of time or of earthly change. In the first place, if we live long, we must outlive the keen enjoyment of mere pleasure,--of the lighter and gayer portions of life. The feeling rapidly grows upon one, that the game of life is too doubtful, and its stakes too desperate, for trifling; and many of the voices, much of the laughter, which used to make him glad, and on which in early life his free soul could float forth in entire sympathy, have become as vapid as the crackling of thorns. With regard to the more serious pursuits of life, a man very early ascertains and exhausts the capacities of his condition, knows all that he is likely to be and do, and sees but little unattained for which he can reasonably hope. Golden visions have grown dim, wide and far-reaching prospects have been narrowed, and the horizon is fast shutting in on every side. The foremost places in society, the commanding posts in public life, are constantly usurped by younger and still younger claimants, so that instead of the fathers are the children and the children’s children. Then, again, though the domestic life of the aged is often serene and happy, it is made so only by the hallowing power of a higher world; for, in an early point of view, it is but little that we can promise ourselves in declining years as to our social and domestic relations.
II. Let us look at some of those things which we shall need for our happiness, under the full consciousness of declining years. In the first place, we must feel that we have lived for some worthy purpose, accomplished some satisfying and permanent results, laid up some treasure that cannot be taken from us. Let us walk with God now,--and then, should the days come when we can no longer walk with men, we shall still retain our hidden life with Him; and in hoary winter, when the harvest of our earthly life has passed, and its sheaves are all gathered in, the fruits of piety shall still be ripening for a better harvest in heaven. Again, would we enjoy a happy old age, let us make kindness and love the law of our lips and our lives. Let us bind ourselves by ties of mutual benefit with as many of our fellow-beings as we may. Again, would we pass a happy old age, let us not forsake the communion of our departed friends. Let us learn of the spirit of Jesus to regard those who have gone as still near and with us, as separated from us but by a thin veil, which faith may make transparent, and as forming a goodly company to welcome us to our final rest, and to shed over the majestic courts of heaven a familiar, homelike aspect. (A. P. Peabody.)
The Bible is always telling Christian people to go forwards--to grow--to become wiser and stronger, better and better day by day; that they ought to become better and better, because they can, if they choose, improve. This text tells us so; it says that we shall bring forth more fruit in our old age. Now, what does all this mean? It means that the life of our souls is in some respects like the life of a plant; and therefore, that as plants grow, so our souls are to grow. Why do you plant anything, but in order that it may grow, and become larger, strong, bear flower and fruit? Be sure God has planted us in His garden, Christ’s Church, for no other reason. Why has God given us senses, eyes, and ears, and understanding? That by them we may feed our souls with things which we see and hear--things which are going on in the world round us. But is this enough? Consider, again, God’s example which He has given us--a tree. If you keep stripping all the leaves off a tree as fast as they grow, what becomes of it? It dies, because without leaves it cannot get nourishment from the air, and the rain, and the sunlight. Again, if you shut up a tree, where it can get neither rain, air, not light, what happens? The tree certainly dies, though it may be planted in the very richest soil, and have the very strongest roots: and why?--because it can get no food from the sky above. So with our souls. We must be fed, and strengthened, and satisfied, with the grace of God from above--with the Spirit of God. Consider how the Bible speaks of God’s Spirit as the breath of God; showing us that as without the airs of heaven the tree would become stunted and cankered, so our souls will without the fresh purifying breath of God’s Spirit. Again, God’s Spirit is often spoken of in Scripture as dew and rain. His grace, or favour, we read, is as dew on the grass; and again, that God shall come unto us as the rain, as the former and latter rain upon the earth; and again, speaking of the outpourings of God’s Spirit on His Church, the psalmist says (Psalms 72:6); and to show us that as the tree puts forth buds and leaves, and tender wood, when it drinks in the dew and rains, so our hearts will become tender, and bud out into good thoughts and wise resolves, when God’s Spirit fills them with His grace. (C. Kingsley, M.A.)
Fruit in old age
A cynical statesman said, with more, perhaps, than a grain of truth, “youth is an illusion; manhood a blunder; old age a regret.” So it may be; so it is--in a life of godlessness. But in such a life only. “The righteous shall flourish,” etc.
I. The fruits of testimony to God--the witness which a matured Christian bears to Him as the God of our salvation.
1. There is testimony to His faithfulness, to the sure foundation of His Word, especially the Word of His Promise. We are the children of promise, and have to live by it. Is the promise true? Can it be trusted? Will God never fail? The aged among us know that He and His word abide for ever.
2. Testimony to the righteousness of God’s government. He is equitable and just, without respect of persons, showing displeasure to the wicked and favour to the righteous.
3. Testimony to the joy of the Christian life, to the blessedness of fellowship with Christ. Like other men they have been tried and tempted; but how readily will they testify that these experiences could not separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord.
II. Fruitfulness is also seen in the inwrought graces of the soul, in the virtues and excellences to which the righteous attain. The life of a Christian man is a growth. He gradually leaves behind him the weaknesses and imperfections of youth.
1. You will generally see in old age a nobler and more perfect patience, not a dull acquiescence in a fate that cannot be averted, but an intelligent, glad submission to the will of a Father who is loved.
2. We often see a generous, unselfish interest in those who shall come after them, interest in work which cannot benefit themselves; the promotion of Christian aims and industries the fruit of which they cannot live to see.
3. The power of Christian hope.
4. The grace of spiritual preparedness, of meetness for the heavenly inheritance, readiness to depart and be with Christ. This God gives before the summons is delivered, so that His people shall not be taken unawares. (J. Stuart.)
Triumphs of old men
Lord Palmerston the famous statesman, when he was sixty-eight, began to feel that he was old, and said: “I am getting old; I will be laid aside. There will be no further use for me.” But Lord Palmerston went to a library in order to find some particular subject, and while looking for it, he took down the life of Wesley, and found that Wesley preached and taught with unabated strength when he was eighty-six years old. Palmerston’s hopes began to rise, and then he happened to hit on the life of Care, and found that Care influenced the world more after he was eighty years of age than during all his previous life. Then Lord Palmerston found in the same library on the same day the life of Julius Caesar, and he read that Julius Caesar had never been a soldier and had never visited a military camp until forty-nine years of age. According to Lord Palmerston, he learned that there had been wrought out in human life the greatest things man has ever done between fifty and sixty years of age. Then he declared: “I did not get what I went to the library to secure, but I secured what was far better--hope.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 92". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29