A PSALM of joy and thanksgiving for God's manifold mercies, especially for his loving kindness in forgiving sin and transgression (Psalms 103:3, Psalms 103:8-12, Psalms 103:17) passing into adoration of him upon his heavenly throne (Psalms 103:19), and a call on all creation to praise him (Psalms 103:20-22). The "title" assigns the psalm to David, and this view of its authorship is taken by Hengstenberg and Professor Alexander. But other critics see in "certain Aramaic terminations" indications of a later date. Whoever the author, we must regard the composition as less "the outbreathing of gratitude from one individual spirit" than "intended to be used as a national thanksgiving" (Kay).
The psalm divides itself into four portions:
the first (Psalms 103:1-5) an outburst of praise for blessings granted by God to each man severally;
the second (Psalms 103:6-14) an enumeration of his loving kindnesses towards his Church as a whole;
the third (Psalms 103:15-18) a representation of man's weakness and dependence on God; and
the fourth (Psalms 103:19-22) a glance at God's unchanging glory, and a call upon all his creation to bless and worship him.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. Repeated in Psalms 103:2; also at the end of the psalm; and again in Psalms 104:1, Psalms 104:35. To "bless" is more than to praise; it is to praise with affection and gratitude. The psalmist calls upon his own soul, and so on each individual soul, to begin the song of praise, which is to terminate in a general chorus of blessing from all creation (Psalms 104:20-22). And all that is within me. "All my whole nature—intellect, emotion, feeling, sentiment—brain, heart, lungs, tongue," etc. Bless his holy Name; i.e. his manifested Personality, which is almost the same thing as himself.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. Repetition, in Holy Scripture, is almost always for the sake of emphasis. It is not "vain repetition." Our Lord often uses it: "Verily, verily, I say unto you;" "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? …. Feed my sheep … Feed my sheep." And forget not all his benefits (comp. Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 8:11, Deuteronomy 8:14, etc.). Man is so apt to "forget," that he requires continual exhortation not to do so.
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities. This is the first and greatest of "benefits," and is therefore placed first, as that for which we ought, above all else, to bless God. God's forgiveness of sin is a frequent topic with the psalmists (see Psalms 25:11, Psalms 25:18; Psalms 32:1; Psalms 51:9; Psalms 85:2; Psalms 86:5, etc.). Who healeth all thy diseases. This is best understood literally—not as mere "parallelism." Among the greatest blessings which we receive of God is recovery from sickness.
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction. When sickness seems about to be mortal, or when danger threatens from foes, God often steps in and "redeems" men—i.e, saves them, rescues them (see Psalms 56:13; Psalms 116:8; Isaiah 38:16, Isaiah 38:20). Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies (comp. Psalms 8:5; Psalms 18:50; Psalms 23:6, etc.).
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things. So Dean Johnson and our Revisers. But the rendering of עדי by "mouth" is very doubtful. The original meaning of the word seems to have been "gay ornament," whence it passed to "gaiety," "desire of enjoyment," "desire" generally ( τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν σου, LXX.). Dr. Kay translates, "thy gay heart;" Professor Cheyne, "thy desire." God satisfies the reasonable desires of his servants, giving them "all things richly to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17), and "satisfying the desire of every living thing" (Psalms 145:16). So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's; rather, like an eagle (comp. Isaiah 40:31). The meaning is, not "thy youth is renewed as an eagle's youth is," for an eagle's youth is not renewed; but "thy youth is renewed, and is become in its strength like an eagle."
The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment; literally, righteousnesses and judgments; i.e. "acts of righteousness and acts of judgment." For all that are oppressed. The care of God for the "oppressed" is a marked feature of Holy Scripture (see Exodus 2:23-25; Exodus 3:9; 2:18; 6:9; Job 35:9-14; Psalms 9:9; Psalms 10:18; Psalms 79:1-13 :21; Psalms 146:7; Isaiah 1:17, etc.).
He made known his ways unto Moses. God's ways are "past finding out" by man (Romans 11:33); they must be "made known" to him. God made them known to Moses by the revelations which he gave him, especially those of Sinai. His acts unto the children of Israel. The rest of the Israelites were taught mainly by God's "acts"—not that his words were concealed from them, but because
"Segnius irritant animum demissa per aures,
Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus."
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. This was a part of the revelation made to Moses (Exodus 34:6), whose words the psalmist closely echoes, both here and in Psalms 86:15 (comp. also Psalms 111:4; Psalms 112:4; Psalms 145:8).
He will not always chide; or, contend (see Isaiah 57:16; and comp. Jeremiah 3:5, Jeremiah 3:12). God will relent from his anger and forgive men, after a while. He will not be "extreme to mark what is done amiss." Neither will he keep his anger forever. He is not implacable. He will accept repentance and amendment (Ezekiel 18:27) He will accept atonement (1 John 2:2).
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us (rather, requited us) according to our iniquities. God never punishes men so much as they deserve to be punished; "in his wrath he" always "thinketh upon mercy."
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him (comp. Psalms 36:5, "Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds"). The metaphor is bold, yet inadequate; for God's mercy is infinite.
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. God's mercy is the cause, the removal of sin the result. The two are commensurate, and are "described by the largest measures which the earth can afford."
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him (comp. Deuteronomy 32:6; Job 10:8; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8, etc.). (For the nature of the "fear" spoken of, both here and in Psalms 103:11, see the description in Psalms 103:17, Psalms 103:18.) It must be a fear that produces obedience, or, in New Testament phrase, that is a "godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
For he knoweth our frame; or, our formation (Kay)—the manner in which we were formed (see Genesis 2:7). He remembereth that we are dust (comp. Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Genesis 19:27; Job 34:15, etc.).
As for man, his days are as grass. Here is a new departure. From the loving kindness and mercy of God the psalmist passes to the weakness and helplessness of man. Man is like grass (Psalms 37:2; Psalms 90:5, Psalms 90:6; Psalms 102:11; Isaiah 40:6-8, etc.). His days fleet and fade. He never "continueth in one stay." As a flower of the field (comp. Job 14:2; Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 40:6; James 1:10; 1 Peter 1:24, etc.). He flourisheth; i.e. he cometh up in full vigour, glorious to look upon, rejoicing in his youth and strength, but within a little time he fadeth, falleth away, or is "cut down, dried up, and withered." There is no strength or stability in him.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; literally, it is not. The burning sirocco, the wind of the desert, variously named in various places, blows upon the flower, and almost immediately scorches it up. So man, when he flourishes most, is for the most part brought low by the wind of suffering, trouble, sickness, calamity, and sinks out of sight. And the place thereof shall know it no more; rather, knows it no more. Seeing it not, forgets it, as if it had never been. So with the greatest men—they pass away and are forgotten (comp. Job 7:10).
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him (comp. Psalms 103:11, Psalms 103:13). Through this "everlasting mercy" of God, man, though so feeble and fragile, does not wholly pass away, but continues to be the recipient of God's bounty. And his righteousness unto children's children. God's "righteousness" is his everlasting justice, by which he gives to men according to their deserts.
To such as keep his covenant; i.e. "to the faithful"—to those who, notwithstanding many lapses and many shortcomings, are yet sincere in heart, and seek to do his will. Such persons remember his commandments to do them.
The Lord hath prepared (or, established) his throne in the heavens. In conclusion, the incomparable majesty of God is set before us, in contrast with the feebleness of man, and he is put forward as the one and only fit Object of worship, alike to the spiritual (Psalms 103:20, Psalms 103:21) and the material creation (Psalms 103:22), as well as to the psalmist himself (Psalms 103:22). Seated on his everlasting throne, he challenges the adoration of the whole universe. And his kingdom ruleth over all (comp. Psalms 47:2; Daniel 4:34, Daniel 4:35).
Bless the Lord, ye his angels (comp. Psalms 148:2). That excel in strength. The angels that "excel in strength"—literally, are mighty in strength—may best be understood as those called in the New Testament "archangels" (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jud 1 Thessalonians 1:9), the highest of the glorious beings that stand around the throne of God (Revelation 8:2, Revelation 8:6; Revelation 10:1) and execute his behests. These are they that, in an especial sense, do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.
Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts. Here the inferior angels seem to be meant—that "multitude of the host of heaven" which appeared to the shepherds on Christ's natal day (Luke 2:13), and which is elsewhere often referred to in Holy Scripture. Ye ministers of his (comp. Psalms 104:4) that do his pleasure. The inferior, no less than the superior, ranks of angels continually carry out the will of God, being "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).
Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion (comp. Psalms 19:1-4; Psalms 145:10; Psalms 148:7-13). The "works of God"—i.e. his material universe—cannot, of course, he said to "bless" God in the same sense that men and angels do; but, in a language of their own, they set forth his glory, and to the poetic mind seem truly to sing his praise. The "Song of the Three Children" is a natural outburst from devout hearts. Bless the Lord, O my soul (comp. Psalms 103:1, and the comment ad loc.).
God's goodness to ourselves.
The psalmist begins by addressing himself; he has before him his own personal experience during a long (or lengthening) life; and he finds ample reason for full, heartfelt gratitude. Of the "benefits" he has received, he gives—
I. A RECITAL OF THEM. They include:
1. The Divine mercy when he has sinned (Psalms 103:3). These sins have been
2. Divine restoration. (Psalms 103:3, latter part, and 4.) And this is inclusive of
3. All the loving kindnesses which make life beautiful and glad (Psalms 103:4). The excellency of human love, the comforts of home life, the sacred joy of worship.
4. The continuance of Divine protection and replenishment to later life (Psalms 103:5). God had satisfied his prime (marginal reading, Revised Version) with good things—had so visited and renewed him in his manhood, that now, instead of a growing feebleness, he felt the vigour and hopefulness of youth; perhaps he was far enough on the way to be said to be "still bringing forth fruit in old age." He calls on himself to cherish—
II. A REMEMBRANCE OF THEM. "Forget not," etc. (Psalms 103:2). Antecedently that seems impossible; certainly in the case of any one claiming to be devout. Yet it is quite possible for us to be
III. FULL-VOICED AND FULL-HEARTED UTTERANCE OF PRAISE. (Psalms 103:1, Psalms 103:2.) God's praise is not to be rendered by an occasional and formal "returning of thanks" either at the table or in the church. It is to be a daily offering, and one that comes from the heart as well as from the lips. "All that is within us," the whole range of our faculties, is to combine to speak and to sing his praise. Gratitude to God for his abiding and abounding goodness to us, both as citizens of this world and as his children, should be a very leading and powerful factor in our soul, making our character beautiful with spiritual worth, and our life resonant with holy song.
The confidence of God's children.
These strong, sustaining words call us to consider—
I. TO WHOM THE DIVINE ASSURANCES ARE GIVEN. It is clear that they are given to the servants of God. The thought runs through the whole passage (see Psalms 103:11, Psalms 103:13, Psalms 103:18). Where this is not explicitly stated, it is to be understood (see particularly Psalms 103:12). Those may not claim the fulfilment of promises to whom they were not made. First enter the service of Christ, and then look up for all the blessings assured to those who believe in him.
II. THESE DIVINE ASSURANCES THEMSELVES.
1. The overthrow of evil, and the consequent deliverance of the good (Psalms 103:6). God "executes righteousness and judgment" in two ways—sometimes by a Divine intervention, when he overturns the designs of the wicked, and at the same time redeems his people (e.g. the Jews from Pharaoh and from Haman and from Sanballat); more often by the constant outworking of those righteous laws which are always acting on behalf of rectitude against iniquity (see Psalms 34:15, Psalms 34:16).
2. Divine patience. (Psalms 103:2.) God is "slow to anger." It was said of a noble modern ruler that, under great provocation, he was "slow to smite, and swift to spare." Of how many might the opposite be said? Our God is "slow to anger." His displeasure is awakened, his condemnation uttered, only when it would be unrighteousness to remain unmoved and silent.
3. Divine mercy. (Psalms 103:10-12.) Instead of inflicting pain, poverty, misery, death—the wages of sin—God has
4. Divine pity. (Psalms 103:13.) Nothing can exceed the pity of the parent for his or her child when in pain or trouble. Then the very tenderest and strongest as well as the purest emotions of the human heart are stirred. "As one whom his mother comforteth"—with such perfect sympathy, such exquisite tenderness—does God comfort us (Isaiah 66:13). God's pity for his children is felt
5. Divine considerateness. (Psalms 103:14.) Christian service is imperfect; our character is blemished, and our work is faulty; but it is sincere; it is rooted in faith; it is animated by love; it is purified by prayer. And he who accepted the service of his apostles in the garden, "knowing their frame" and the weakness of the flesh (Matthew 26:41); he who has owned and blessed the spiritual endeavour and the earnest labours of his people in every age and in every Church since then;—will accept our service and crown our labours now, though in the one and in the other we fall far short even of our own ideal. Well, indeed, would it be if we made as generous allowance for one another as our Master makes for us all.
6. Divine continuance. (Psalms 103:15-17.) With the brevity of all human things we contrast the continuance of the Divine. We ourselves pass away and are forgotten, but God's mercy and his righteousness remain forever. We can always count on them. Men may be very true and very kind, but they pass to where they cannot reach and help us. Let us commit ourselves to the goodness and the faithfulness of God, for on that we may build with absolute security. This is the true confidence of the children of God. But we are reminded in one verse (7) of—
III. THE ONLY HOPE OF THE DISLOYAL. God revealed himself, "his ways, and his acts," to Moses, but grace and truth have come by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). In the gospel God has revealed himself as the Divine Father, who waits to receive his wayward but penitent children. Those that are obdurate and impenitent may not plead his promises, may not appropriate to themselves the sustaining assurance which apply to other persons. But they may—they must—return in humility and in faith to the Father whom they have forsaken; and, once at home with him, they may rest in his loving favour and rejoice in his upholding Word.
The range of God's rule and claim.
We have here -
I. THE WIDE RANGE OF GOD'S RULE. (Psalms 103:19.) If his throne were "prepared" anywhere on earth, while within sight of a few, it would be out of sight of and, in that sense, far away from many cities and provinces; but being "prepared in the heavens," it is (in thought and feeling) in view of all, and is thus near to all, and "his kingdom ruleth over all." "The Lord looketh from heaven, he beholdeth all the sons of men; from the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth" (Psalms 33:13, Psalms 33:14). To our imagination, and therefore practically to ourselves, the heavens are much nearer to us, much more "central," than any Jerusalem could be. Every kingdom, every city, every human home, is in the regard, under the control, subject to the rightful sway, of the Divine Sovereign.
II. THE FULNESS OF THE DIVINE CLAIM. God's claim:
1. Ascends to the highest intelligences; the "angels that excel in strength" owe to him their homage; they do, indeed, hearken and obey.
2. Descends to inanimate nature. All his works praise him; unconsciously they "declare his glory."
"There's not a plant nor flower below
But makes his glory known."
3. Includes all that come between. Whatever or whoever are intended by the "hosts" and "ministers" of Psalms 103:21, it is certain that the psalmist included the children of men. It may, indeed, be said that it is impossible to conceive of any of God's creatures or children who owe him so much as we do. For our creation, our endowment, our temporal mercies, our redemption at an infinite cost, and for all the Divine love, patience, considerateness (see above), we have been receiving from him, we owe him "perpetual songs of praise."
III. THE THOROUGHNESS OF OUR SERVICE.
1. Our praise is to be the devout expression of our deep feeling; much more than a reverent attitude or an appropriate deliverance: "all that is within us" (Psalms 103:1) is to come forth in grateful utterance; our song is to express our soul; it is to be the natural, unbidden voice of our homage, our attention, our love, our submission, our consecration.
2. We may he concerned about the piety of our neighbour; but the first thing to do is to address ourselves: "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
A pattern of praise.
This psalm is all praise; there is no supplication in it. It has helped myriads to praise God, and the secret of such help is that the psalmist was himself filled with the spirit of praise, and it is the blessed contagion of that spirit that helps us today as in the days of old. And it is a pattern of all true praise. It is so in these ways.
I. IN ITS OBJECT.
1. It is praise of the Lord. All is addressed to him, and is for him.
2. And in his holiness. "Bless his holy Name." What a happy fact this reveals as to the psalmist and all who sincerely adopt his words! We can bless God for his beneficence and mercy and goodness, but only a holy soul can bless him for his holiness. Such soul delights not merely in the kind acts of God, but in the pure and perfect character of God.
II. ITS METHODS. It shows us how we should praise the Lord.
1. Personally. "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" It is not a work to be handed over to any choir or any people whatsoever. It is to be our own personal work.
2. Spiritual. It is to be the soul's work. Poetic speech, eloquent phrase, beautiful music, skilled song,—all count for nothing if the soul be not in the work.
3. Whole hearted. "All that is within me." Intellect, memory, imagination, affection, will, all the energies of our spiritual nature, should be engaged.
4. With set purpose. See how he calls on himself, stirs himself up to this holy work, repeats his exhortation and protests against that one chief cause—forgetfulness—of our failure to render praise. "Forget not any of his benefits." This is how we should praise the Lord.
III. ITS REASON. He tells wherefore we should bless the Lord.
1. For forgiveness. This our first necessity; all else avails not without that.
2. For the healing of the soul. It would be but a poor salvation if soul healing did not follow forgiveness, for without the latter we should soon be back to our sins again (2 Peter 2:22). Therefore we need this healing of the soul. And it is promised (see Ezekiel 36:25).
3. For penalty in this life averted. He "redeemeth thy life from destruction." God does not redeem our life from all the consequences of our sin (Psalms 99:8), but from the worst he does. The forgiven man may have to suffer much in consequence of his past sins, but it is as nothing compared with what he would have had to suffer had he not been forgiven. The comfort of God's Spirit, power to witness for Christ, victory over sin, hope bright hope of life eternal,—all these are his; his life is redeemed from destruction.
4. For, next, God crowneth with loving kindness. See all this illustrated in the story of the prodigal son—forgiven, healed, redeemed, crowned, the ring, the robe, the shoes, the feast, were for him; and what answers to them yet is the crowning told of here.
5. For satisfaction with good. This also awaits us: would we but trust God more, we should know it for ourselves. They who walk with God, abide in Christ, know what it is. Let us not rest until we know it for ourselves.
6. For youth of soul renewed. (See homily on this subject.) The outward man may, will, decay, but the inward man shall be renewed day by day.
IV. ITS RESULTS. What a history it would be if we could only trace out what this psalm has done for God's saints in all ages! What spiritual victories it has won! what strength it has imparted! what holy joy! Christian, sing this psalm more heartily, so that many poor lost ones, hearing its sweet evangel, may turn and with you bless the Lord.—S.C.
How can that be? We must grow old. Every day brings us nearer to old age, and there is no escaping it except by premature departure. We pass on by stages which succeed each other in regular and well marked order from infancy to the last scene of all, the second childhood, which finds us "sans teeth, eyes, taste—everything." With all of us age creeps on apace, but almost unnoticed. Now, our ideal of age shifts. Children think all grown up people old, and some very old. But when men come to the verge of three score years and ten, they will often flatter themselves that even yet they are not old. But there are certain unmistakable signs which no observant man can fail to notice, and which remind him that the day of life is on the wane. Physical fatigue; less of elasticity and power; he gives in sooner than he did when strain is put on his strength. The way the young treat us. In Thackeray's beautiful story, 'The Newcomes,' he pictures the colonel sitting in his cheerless room, and hearing his boy and his friends singing and making merry overhead. He longed to join them and share in it; but the party would be hushed if he went in, and he would come away sad at heart to think that his presence should be the signal for silence among them, and that his son could not be merry in his company. "We go into the company of young men like Chris Newcome and his friends; they cease their laughter and subdue their talk to the gravity which is supposed to be fit for the ears of the seniors. Then we know, too plainly to be mistaken, what has befallen us; we are growing older; the stamp of middle age is upon us." But if the juniors do not bring home the fact to us, the conduct of the seniors does. Old men have confidence in our judgment, grow civil as they see we are approaching to their side, and have arrived at an age when it should be no longer true that "knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." They think they can trust no man, and they consult us as they never would have done had not the dew of our youth long ago disappeared. Yes; we must grow old. And why should we regret it? It is an honour and reward which are given of God. "Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, as a shock of corn," etc. The Bible never speaks of "the dreary gift of years;" and if, in melancholy mood, Moses asserts that which, thank God, is so often untrue, that in the years of old age "their strength is but labour and sorrow," the general tone of the Bible tells that days "long in the land" are God's own reward to his people. But whether we be content or no at the inevitable advance of age, there is the fact, and hence the question comes again—How can a renewed youth be? "Can a man enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" Now—
I. THE TEXT DECLARES THE FACT OF RENEWED YOUTH. And this in no mere poetic sense, but literally and truly. It says, "like the eagle," which year by year renews its plumage, and so seems to renew its vigour and activity along with its new garment.
1. But the renewal of our youth is not physical. Though the bodily life be sustained and nourished by appropriate food and rest, yet, in spite of this, the physical energies succumb to the decay of nature. The outward man not only does, but must, perish. The reservoir gets lower, the constant drain is but inadequately repaired, and by and by our life has all run out. No elixir vitae can prevent this. It is inevitable.
2. But the renewal told of in the text is spiritual. As in Job 33:23-26, where not physical, but spiritual, rejuvenescence is the theme. "They go from strength to strength;" "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;" "Whoso liveth and believeth on me," said our Lord," shall never die." Of Moses it is said that his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. What an illustration have we in the life of St. Paul of this ever-renewed youth!
3. The characteristics of youth belong to such. Capacity for progress, growth, development. It is never too late for them. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Hopefulness. The path of their life is lit up by the sunshine of the love of God, and it grows brighter and brighter. Enjoyment. The keen relish for all that is delightful is one of the blessed appanages of youth, and that which is like to it is part of the blessedness of that rejuvenescence of which we are speaking. Fulness of joy in his presence is theirs. Innocence, also. "The wicked one toucheth them not." Strength and vigour. They are as athletes in the contests which they have to wage: in the spiritual conflicts they fight, "not uncertainly, as one that beateth the air," but theirs is "the good fight," not only for the object for which it is waged, but for its manner and issue also. Such is this renewed youth.
II. EXPLAINS ITS SECRET. "He satisfieth thy mouth with good things." Christ is the Bread of their life, and they live by him. His are the "good things" by which they are sustained. This is the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which accounts for their renewed youth. They eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood; he is their living Bread. They follow his footsteps, they drink into his Spirit; the mind which was in Christ is formed in them, and they grow up into him in all things.
III. ENCOURAGES US TO MAKE IT OUR OWN. Is youth yet ours? Then by yielding our young hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ, let us receive from him that eternal life, that life of the Spirit, whose youth is ever renewed. But if youth has passed away for us, let us in like manner renew it, and gain again all those blessed characteristics, only in far higher degree and manner, which are God's gift to them that are young.—S.C.
He will not always chide.
This psalm is full of the recital of things to be thankful for, and of expectation that we be thankful. Amongst these things, this fact declared in our text is one. And—
I. WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL THAT IT IS ONLY CHIDING, not something worse. God is speaking to his own children, not to the world of the ungodly. These latter he is angry with every day, and sternly punishes, and if they repent not he will destroy them. But though God chide his children, there is not the severity, nor the lack of alleviation, nor the endlessness and hopelessness, which characterize his dealings with hardened and ungodly men.
II. THAT THERE IS SUCH CHIDING. "For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" (Hebrews 12:7). If God did not make sin full of smart and pain, we should be sure to go back to it again. But when the world sees that there is no partiality with God, that his own children have to suffer even as, and often far more than, others when they do wrong, this tends to beget a holy fear. Yes; blessed be God for our chiding!
III. THAT EVEN THIS WILL HAVE AN END. When we repent of our sin, when God's purpose is fulfilled, when we enter heaven. "Therefore humble yourselves," etc.—S.C.
Wherefore another gospel when we have this?
It should seem as if no gospel could be more full, precious, clear, and heart uplifting than this. It is paralleled but not surpassed by St. John's word, "God is love." Why, then, was it needful for Christ to come in order to reveal to us another gospel? Have we not everything here, in this utterance of the Old Testament, and in those others in the same Old Testament, which are like unto it? What more, then, could be needed? We reply—
I. THE MISSION OF CHRIST WAS NEEDED IN ORDER TO REVIVE AND QUICKEN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH OF THE LOVE OF GOD. It had been, when our Lord came, so limited, petrified, and practically lost, that it was almost as if it had not been. Pharisaism and Sadduceeism had so overlaid or lessened it, that only a few elect souls knew of it or believed it. God's Fatherhood was not much more in our Lord's day than a dead letter.
II. TO MAKE IT REAL TO MEN. True, our text stood there in the psalm, but the life of the Lord here on earth could alone make it stand out as a real, living truth. Then there was held up—placarded, as St. Paul says (Galatians 3:1)—before the eyes of all men, what the pity and love of God could do and endure for the sake of sinful men. And so, as our Lord said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all," etc.
III. TO ENSURE ITS BEING SPREAD ABROAD. The Jews, we well know, would never have allowed this. Their inveterate exclusiveness and scorn of all other nations would have kept it to themselves alone. It was necessary that Christ should come and command his disciples to "go into all the world, and preach," etc.
IV. TO REVEAL ITS ENLARGED SCOPE AND AIM. Life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel. Death, till Christ came, kept its sting, and the grave its victory, but he took both away. Such were some of the reasons wherefore God became man, and lived and suffered and died in the Person of Christ. Doubtless there are others, but amongst them all that horrible one, so sadly dear to theologians of a bygone age, is not to be found—that it was to turn the heart of God from anger to love, for God was and eternally is Love—S.C.
The pity of God.
I. THE FULL, CLEAR DECLARATION OF THIS IS FOUND ONLY IN THE BALE.
1. It is not in ancient mythology. The gods of the heathen were strong and much else, but not pitiful.
2. Nor in Nature. How heartless, how cruel, how utterly unsympathizing, she is! The dearly loved, the precious, the innocent, suffer, die in thousands, and Nature has not a solitary tear for them.
3. Nor in society. Law, the bond of society, cannot pity, it can only enforce its commands.
II. NEVERTHELESS, SUGGESTIONS OF IT ARE TO BE FOUND. The lower animals seem to have no affection for their offspring; but:
1. Such suggestions are traceable amongst the higher orders of animal life. See the affection of the mother bird or beast. See the affection of the dog for his master. And of the horse. A blackbird has been known to care for and feed a young robin that had fallen from its nest.
2. And amongst men. Not much amongst savages; but pity advances as we observe the higher races and the more civilized.
III. BUT FAR MORE IS HUMAN PITY SEEN IN THE HUMAN FAMILY AND HOME.
1. There we get the idea most of all realized. "Like as a father," etc. God has made use of our happy familiarity with parental love and pity to teach us what he himself is.
2. And there we learn what pity is and will do. It will inflict pain. Every father and mother do, but not, if they be wise, in anger, in revenge, or in passion, or carelessly, but ever out of love, for the sake of the child.
IV. THUS WE LEARN THE PITY OF GOD.
1. It will inflict pain if for our good.
2. But such infliction does not argue that the sufferer is shut out from the love of God. Man's punishments too often are utterly loveless. See how we treat our criminals, both in prison and when they come out. What a contrast to the Lord's way I See how the father of the prodigal forgave, but the elder brother did not. See the parable of the two debtors.
3. It bids us trust it utterly and forever.—S.C.
The kingdom of God.
The psalm does not go about to prove—Scripture never does—the existence of God, nor the fact that he exercises dominion over us; it takes both for granted, and proceeds to speak of the nature and obligations of the Divine rule. That rule is here asserted. Note—
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Its basis and foundation. These are immutably right. His is not the mere right of might, but a far higher thing, the might of right. Not δυνάμις alone, but ἐξουσί.
2. Its extent. This is so vast, that not alone is our eyesight aided with all conceivable telescopic power far outstripped, but even our thought fails to grasp in its comprehension, or even in its imagination, the wide range either of the material or moral universe over which God reigns.
3. Its regulating law. That law is holy, just, and good, and clothed with power to enforce its sacred sanctions. Its moral perfection is seen supremely in the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Its purpose and aim. These are the highest possible. The glory of God is to be secured, that glory on which the well being of the whole universe depends. Let God be banished from his throne, and straightway chaos comes again. And the highest well being of his creatures. The two are never antagonistic, but joined in inseparable union. Where one is, there is the other.
5. Its duration. Forever and ever. Such are the characteristics of this blessed and glorious kingdom, whose subjects consist only of regenerated souls—souls that can say, "Oh how I love thy Law! it is my meditation all the day."
II. THE EFFECT WHICH OUR FAITH IN THIS DIVINE KINGDOM SHOULD HAVE UPON US.
1. Obedience. To know God's will should be to obey. "Blessed are they that keep his commandments."
2. Praise. What truer gospel can there be that such a rule is that under which we live?
3. Trust. We cannot always understand the ways of God; they are high above our thought; but we can ever trust, and that is ever good.
4. Confident hope. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies," etc. And he will do this. S.C.
The peril of the spiritual guide.
Such is the title which a great preacher has given to a sermon on this text. The subject is suggested by its closing words. The psalmist had been summoning angels and all the works of the Lord to bless the Lord, and, as if he remembered that he might be—
I. CALLING OTHERS TO PRAISE THE LORD, AND YET NEGLECTING IT HIMSELF, he adds,
"Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
1. And this is a real possibility and a terrible peril. Like as a guide to the loveliest scenes of nature may lead a traveller to different points of view, which will show the glorious landscape at its best, and may expatiate on the beauties that are to be seen, yet may himself be not in the slightest degree stirred or moved by what he calls on the traveller to admire. He has come to be so familiar with it all; he has said the same thing so many times, it is part of his professional talk; he has seen all these glorious things so often, that they have lost their power to affect him. At first it was otherwise; he had become a guide to these scenes because he so delighted in them. But that was a long time ago. He had thought that he could not spend his life more happily than in conducting others to these same beautiful places, and showing them their glories. But all that enthusiasm has long passed, and he is now a mere professional guide.
2. And so, the great preacher to whom I have referred points out, it may be with the spiritual guide—the minister of Christ, the teacher of others in holy things. He may have begun with enthusiasm for the blessed truths and the bright prospects to which he was to lead others; he had such joy in them himself, that to show to others these things seemed an employment to which he might, as in fact he did, give his whole life and soul. But alas! he has got so familiar with it all; the work has become such a routine, that all the old zest and glow and enthusiasm are gone, and he too has become a mere professional guide. God help him and all such! This is the peril.
II. THE SAFEGUARD is, by continual meditation, prayer, and obedience to the Lord, to maintain the freshness, the force, and the "first love." And this safeguard is sure.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
God the Healer of disease.
Though this psalm is one of the most familiar, both its authorship and its particular occasion are quite unknown. Early in the psalm this text comes. It is part of a review of God's personal mercies to the psalmist, but it is doubtful whether the psalmist referred to times of bodily disease and bodily healing, or to the soul diseases which answer to "iniquities." In view of the way in which Eastern poets loved to repeat their thought with slightly altered phraseology, it is quite possible that the text may read, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, and healeth all thy soul diseases—those soul conditions of frailty and infirmity, out of which iniquities come." But, however that may be, it is certainly true that God is the Healer of all men's diseases. The work of the physician must always be traced back to the Divine Physician, who alone has proved to be the recuperative force in human vitality. God has healed us again and again through the agency of the doctor and the medicine.
I. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT MEN'S SICKNESSES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT? Abraham and Isaac died of sheer old age. So indeed did Jacob, but there is a fuller reference to his ending. For all that appears in the record, neither the patriarchs nor their families suffered any sicknesses during their lives. Evidently, these experiences of sickness were not then seen in their relation to character, and so there was no need to leave any narratives concerning them. Sickness is reckoned with under the Mosaic system, but in a very peculiar way. It was treated as an outward sign and consequence of sin; both the sick person and those who tended him being treated as "unclean." To limit this rule because, in its working, it occasioned very serious family and social disturbance, one particular form of disease—that most typical form of disease, leprosy—was taken as the representative of all forms, and the law of the "unclean" was strictly enforced in relation to it. Judaism never suggests the idea that character is cultured by the experience of sickness; and so even its priests and Levites offer no example of tending the sick poor. Sickness, in the old economy, served its purpose simply as the outward sign of God's judgment on sin. When Job's friends came to comfort him, they could think of no other view of sickness than this, though Job felt sure that there must be a higher meaning, if only he could reach it. In the historical books the references to sickness—other than great pestilences—are very brief. One king suffered from internal disease, and one had the gout, but there is only one instance in which any details of a sickness are given, and in that case the relation of it to character first clearly appears. Hezekiah, in the middle of his reign, but before any son and heir was born to him, was smitten down with a bad kind of boil or carbuncle, which put his life in peril. He turned to God in his distress, and gained from God recovery. Evidently he prayed the prayer of faith. As evidently the Prophet Isaiah prayed for him the prayer of faith. And yet it is significantly told us that means were used to ensure his recovery, "Now Isaiah had said, Let them take a cake of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover." The Book of Job is not a discussion of the question—What ought a godly man to do who is smitten with sickness? Its subject is rather this—What moral end can explain the Divine permission of sickness? One king was seriously reproved because, when he was ill, he "sought unto the physicians, and not unto God." But the wrong was not in his seeking the help of the physicians, but in his failing to seek God first, and to let him send him to the physicians: All we can say about this matter, in connection with the Old Testament, is that when moral considerations began to prevail over ceremonial ones, a truer and worthier view of sickness began to gain power. Then sickness was seen to be one of the great moral agencies by means of which God wrought his higher work in characters and in souls.
II. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT SICKNESS IN THE GOSPELS? Our Lord, as a moral and spiritual Teacher, our Lord as a Saviour, found in men's sicknesses, infirmities, and. disabilities his best agencies for reaching their souls with saving influences. To him suffering was the issue and consequence of sin. And so it was to everybody in his day. Sickness illustrated sin. Suffering produced moods of mind in men which laid them open to his higher influence. So he worked very largely for and among sick people, always trying to get their sicknesses sanctified to them, even in the very act of healing or removing them. He revealed fully to the world the moral relations of sickness, the moral possibilities that lie in sickness. Our Lord's dealing with it is unique, not so much because it was supernatural, as because it was moral. He dealt with it only as a means of securing soul healing. Since Christ's time, sickness, disease, and disability have taken rank among God's remedial agencies, God's character culturing agencies, God's sanctifying agencies.
III. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT SICKNESS IS THE EPISTLES? The apostles never claimed to exert any independent powers. They always healed "in the Name of Christ." They conceived of themselves as holding that special ability in trust for particular ends in the propagation of the gospel. They did not heal everybody. They only healed when the healing could make a way for the gospel, draw attention to it, or prove its Divine origin. And the historical fact is that the power of healing passed away with the first generation of disciples. It is found, in later ages, only in separate and highly endowed individuals, to whom has been entrusted a genius for healing. The case of the Apostle Paul is a remarkable one. He had the gift of healing. He did heal the father of Publius. But he was not carried away by the gift he possessed. He held all his gifts under the most careful restraints. His friend and fellow labourer, Epaphroditus, was "sick, nigh unto death," but St. Paul put forth no power to heal him. God had mercy on him, and restored him in the ordinary way. Trophimus was left at Miletum sick, but it did not enter the apostle's mind that he, or the eiders, could have cured him if they had tried. St. Paul himself had some bodily infirmity which he calls a "thorn in the flesh," but he simply prayed about it, as we pray about such things now. The reference made to this matter by the Apostle James has been gravely misunderstood. It must be read in the light of the chief point he deals with in his Epistle, viz. that faith which cannot get expression in action is not acceptable faith, it is mere sentiment. Anointing sick people with oil was no religious ceremony in the days of the apostle. Using oil in the toilet was simply the sign of health. Those who prayed in faith for the healing of the sick should show their faith by acting as if their prayer was answered. Get the sick man up, dress him, anoint him, in the full confidence that God answers prayer. So Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, "Stretch forth thine hand!" If he believed, he would do what Christ told him, and find power come in so doing. In every age God has healed diseases through his own appointed healing agencies; and those we must use in faith.—R.T.
The Divine crown on man.
"Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies." What various answers could be given to the question—What is the true crown of a man's life?" No doubt the term "crown" may be used in a variety of senses. The psalmist seems here to think of the crown as that which bedecks and beautifies; and he makes us think of the crown of flowers on the May queen, rather than of the jewelled crowns on wealthy kings. So the question comes to be—What is the true adornment, or enrichment, the true decoration, of a human life? Then the answer comes—It is what God gives a man beyond his mere necessities, in the rich outpouring of Divine loving kindness and mercy. It may be put in this way—The Divine provisions are crowned with Divine bestowments.
I. DIVINE PROVISIONS. We cannot be surprised that God, as Creator, should supply all the reasonable needs of his creatures; or that God, as Father, should supply all the wants of his children. There is a certain obligation resting on God that arises out of his relationships. There is a fairly good sense in which the creature and the child may be said to have claims on God, to which, if he be God, he must respond. "The eyes of all wait upon thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season." But the limit of the claim to necessities should be clearly shown. And real necessities are very few, and can be easily defined. Try to conceive the change, in life and relations, if God were now to draw back from us everything but our actual necessities. St. Paul could say, "I have all, and abound."
II. DIVINE BESTOWMENTS. Illustrate by the luxuries and delicacies that the housewife provides beyond the necessaries of the table and the house. She enriches, or crowns, her provisions. So with our Father-God. He meets need, but goes beyond need to give us all things "richly to enjoy." All the extra things, all the pleasant things, all the pretty things, of life, are bestowments of the Divine loving kindness and tender mercies. If we may think of God's duty in what he provides, we may think of his personal love to us in what he bestows.
Then show that personal love can never rest satisfied with its objects being merely provided for; it never can rest until they are happy—happy up to the very limit of their power to be happy. What must God the Father's idea of happiness for his earth children be? With that he would crown them.—R.T.
The Lord of the oppressed.
The point set forth prominently is that God is actively engaged in securing the interests of the oppressed. That goes into the word used, "executeth." We might think of justice and judgment as the pillars of God's throne, and yet conceive of him as only announcing his just decisions; leaving to others the work of carrying them out. To put it in a formal way, the legislative rights of God may be recognized, but the executive rights of God may be denied. We may fully hold both truths of fact. God does pronounce his own judgments; God does execute his own sentences. The figure for God is especially effective in Eastern countries, where justice is so often perverted, and the oppressed have no chance if they happen to be poor. Illustrate by our Lord's parable of the unjust judge and the importunate widow. All the oppressed and poor may be absolutely sure that Jehovah will considerately hear their cases, deal with perfect uprightness in relation to their trouble, and carry out his decisions, whatever they may involve.
I. THE LORD OF THE OPPRESSED HEEDS THE OPPRESSED. The poor often find it nearly impossible to get their cases brought before the magistrates, judges, or kings of earth. It is the righteousness of God that he is right towards every one; all may seek, and none ever seeks in vain. There is absolute freedom given to every man and woman under the sun to tell out the trouble to the Lord. And we may have absolute faith that no tale of human need was ever poured out before God, and disregarded by him. It is a beginning of hope, that the Lord surely heeds us.
II. THE LORD OF THE OPPRESSED ACTS FOR THE OPPRESSED. God's decisions never merely lie on a statute book, like many acts of earthly courts and parliaments. If God decides a thing, it has to be carried out; nay, he himself presides over the carrying it out. We are to have confidence in the Divine energy and activity. "Commit thy way unto the Lord, and he will bring it to pass." How, when, where, he will execute his judgments, we may not anticipate; it is enough for an oppressed soul to know that God is acting for him. "He will bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noon day."
III. THE LORD OF THE OPPRESSED ACTS UPON THE OPPRESSORS. It is not merely that the oppressed are delivered or defended; it is that those who have injured them feel the weight of Divine indignation. Judgment is in one sense for the oppressed, and in another sense for the oppressors.—R.T.
Chiding, but not keeping on chiding.
"He will not always chide." A prophet prays, "O Lord, correct me, but in measure." The supreme danger of all who are in positions of authority over others—parents, teachers, masters—is that they may chastise beyond the requirements of the particular case; they may continue the chiding under the impulse of feeling, when judgment requires its strict limitation. They who chide when in a passion always over chide; they try to satisfy their feeling—and it is unrestrained feeling—rather than the actual demands of the case. Now, the psalmist has the utmost satisfaction in God, because he is quite sure that God never over chides. There never yet was one unnecessary stroke given by the Lord's rod. That complaint no man ever yet fairly made.
I. GOD NEED NOT OVER CHIDE. Either by making the chiding over severe or by keeping it on too long. He need not:
1. Because he is never carried away by feeling. God is the infinitely self-restrained One; and so he is always himself, and perfectly competent to deal with every case.
2. Because he has the infinite power to estimate influences and results. This is often the explanation of man's over chiding. He cannot follow influences, and so see quickly when his object is attained. And it may he added that God has power to stop chidings. Man has not. He may be compelled to keep on awhile a training work he has begun, because, even if he could stop it, he would do serious mischief by stopping it. The omniscience and omnipotence of God prevent him from ever needing to over chide.
II. GOD DOES NOT OVER CHIDE. For the assurance of this, appeal may be made to the experience of God's people in all ages. Their marvel always has been, and always will be, that God should put such strict limitations on his chidinge, and accomplish such an "exceeding and eternal weight of glory" by such "light afflictions." This complaint no child of God, who was in his right mind, ever made; certainly no child of God ever had a right to make.
That God will surely chide us is our ground of assurance. Our self-willedness will never be left alone, to ruin us. That God will never over chide is our abounding consolation.—R.T.
The measure of the Divine dealings.
The point made by the psalmist is that God's dealings with men are not measured with the same measure as man's dealings with his fellow men. If we think precisely we shall admit that God does deal exactly with us "after our sins;" but it is as our sins are divinely estimated. When man proceeds to recognize and punish sins, he deals with sins, rather than with sinners; and metes out his punishments according to standard, with no consideration for the individual. Man, when he authoritatively punishes, is not supposed to make allowances. Judges administer law irrespective of persons. Clemency, with us, is left to the supreme authority behind the judge; and only comes in after the judge has given his judgment according to standard. Man's law concerns acts, not motives. God's judgments are after another standard. God judges sinners, not merely sins. God unites the clemency of the king with the justice of the magistrate. God makes all reasonable allowances. God considers the force of human frailty. God estimates circumstances and motives. Then God's is the higher standard, but it is one which only the God of infinite wisdom and perfect righteousness can use. This may be worked out along two lines.
I. THE MEASURE OF DIVINE DEALING IS WHAT IS POSSIBLE FOR THE RACE. God never measures humanity by the standard he provides for the angels. He never measures humanity fallen by the standard he provides for humanity intact. He does not measure the race in its savage condition with the standard for the race civilized. He does not make one absolute standard to apply equally to every branch of the race. He is mindful of, and considerate towards, all forms of racial peculiarity and disability. Carefully show the distinction between an absolute standard of morals, and an absolute setting, or application, of that standard. If God deals with a morally fallen and frail race, he lets mercy help justice to fix the standard.
II. THE MEASURE OF DIVINE DEALINGS IS WHAT IS POSSIBLE TO THE INDIVIDUAL. This is fully treated under verse 14. One point only need be mentioned. In every sin committed by the individual the element of heredity has to be taken into account. The sin is not absolutely and entirely the man's own. Yet man can never measure this heredity; so his measures will never suffice for deciding the Divine judgments and dealings.—R.T.
What figures will best suggest the entireness of the removal of man's sin, when God, in his infinite goodness and mercy, deals with it and removes it? That question is specially interesting because, when man is forgiven his sin, he finds it so hard to get rid of the memory of it. In a sense it may be said that a man "never forgives himself." There is always, therefore, the danger that a man will transfer his own feeling to God, and persuade himself that, though God may forgive, he never really forgets. The psalmist, speaking after the manner of men, and using terms for God which can only in strictness apply to men, declares that God can, and does, and will, utterly forget; "remember our sins no more." The voluntary Divine forgetfulness is a sublime conception. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:20) has this declaration, "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found." Three figures set before us the limitlessness of God's forgiveness.
I. THE DISTANCE OF EAST FROM WEST. (See text.) "Fly as far as the wing of imagination can bear you, and if you journey through space eastward, you are further from the west at every beat of your wing." The distance from north to south can be measured. There are north and south poles—fixed points. There are no eastern or western poles. From every point alike in the circuit of the world the east extends in one direction, the west in the other. Thus the traveller westward may be said to be ever chasing the west without coming nearer to it.
II. REMOVAL BEHIND THE BACK. (Isaiah 38:17, "For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.") Two ideas are suggested:
1. "Behind the back" is a strong figure for "out of sight" and "out of mind."
2. "Casting" behind the back implies resolute purpose. It is as if God had thoroughly made up his mind that he would never look upon them again; he had done with them forever.
III. THROWING INTO THE SEA. (Micah 7:19, "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.") Nothing brings to us the sense of hopeless, irretrievable loss, like dropping a thing into the fathomless depths of mid-ocean. If our sins are cast into the sea, we shall never see them more.
God's gracious dealings with our sins depend on our right dealings with them. Only sins that we have put away from ourselves by repentance can God put away from us by his full and free forgiveness.—R.T.
This body of our humiliation.
There is a truth revealed in God's Word which seems to have a painful side. God is to us as we are to him. "Thou renderest to every man according to his work;" "With the froward thou wilt show thyself froward." It is a truth which needs careful qualifications. We have one such in this text. God's ways with us are taken upon due consideration of our bodily frailty. There may be a right or a wrong excuse drawn from the weakness of human nature. We certainly are under limited conditions, and these must be duly considered.
I. GOD'S WAYS WITH US ARE TAKEN WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE OF OUR BODIES. Observe that "frame" is more than "body." This vehicle of the human spirit is wholly the plan of God.
1. Its actual parts, powers, relations, are known to him. "Fearfully and wonderfully made." Illustrate hand, eye, brain.
2. The special tone and habit of each individual are known to him. We may think of him studying each one as a parent does the disposition of each child.
3. The conditions due to hereditary taint and to civilization. Some have a great fight with bodily and mental taint or bias. And there are special influences of disease, and mischievous results often follow it.
4. The general frailty, the passing away, the gradual decaying of the vital powers, God knows and estimates.
II. GOD'S WAYS WITH US ARE TAKEN WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONNECTION BETWEEN OUR BODIES AND OUR MINDS. Minds are spiritual things, but they work through a material frame. The brain is the central machine, to which are attached the separate machines of the senses. The force of the machine is the blood. The spiritual operations of the mind are helped or hindered by the condition of the body. Illustrate a speck in the brain, or weakness in the heart. Sometimes we cannot think—we must just be still. Sometimes we feel depressed, and a sombre tone is put on our thinking. We fret over such things, until we remember that our God knows all. He expects no more work from us than he knows we can do; and he never counts the times of repairing and refreshing our bodily machine to be idle or wasted times.
III. GOD'S WAYS WITH US ARE TAKEN WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONNECTION BETWEEN OUR BODIES AND OUR RELIGION. What he asks from each of us is just this—the noblest religious life we can reach under our existing body conditions. We fret to be free from the body, as St. Paul apparently did: "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" But precisely the test under which each one of us is placed is this—Can you live a godly life in that body of yours, and under those precise body conditions of yours? Only when you can will God find it fitting to entrust you with the immortal and incorruptible body. Oar religious life is a thing of varying moods. Sometimes our "title is clear;" sometimes "our feet are firm;" sometimes our "head is lifted up;" sometimes we "walk in darkness, and have no light;" sometimes we say, "All these things are against me;" "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul." The very variety unduly troubles us, and we fear lest God should regard us as unstable. But he "knows our frame." Christian joy is very closely linked with bodily health, and Christian gloom with bodily disease. Some diseases spoil the vision. And the body is the great spoiler of the soul's vision. The glorious attainment of the religious life is to get above bodyhinderings; to become master of our bodies in Christ; to "know how to possess the vessels of our bodies in sanctification and honour." Feeling this to be the great aim in life leads to the excesses and extravagances of hermits and devotees. Remember, then, two things:
1. God sees souls.
2. God duly reckons for the body.
It may be that we shall be surprised to find what soul progress we have really made, when the body-clog drops off. This tender and considerate representation of God is full of comfort to us. But then God has not left this sentence to lie in his Word as a general statement. He has taken our frame on himself, so that he might gain experimental knowledge of it. Jesus is the Brother-Man of sorrows. We may think of God's ways with us as based on the experience of Jesus. And if God's omniscience is a reason for trust, how much more is Christ's human experience!—R.T.
The blessedness of covenant keepers.
Prayer book Version, "Even upon such as keep his covenant." A distinctly Israelite point of view. If this be regarded as a psalm of the returned Exiles, the reference is a striking one. Judgment had fallen upon the nation because it had forsaken the national covenant. The restoration was a resuming of the old covenant relations. And therefore the supreme anxiety of the Exiles would concern "keeping this new, this restored covenant." It may be observed that the Lord's gracious dealings are always to be thought of as strictly conditional. "The blessings of the covenant are no inalienable right. Children's children can only inherit its blessings by cleaving to it."
I. COVENANT KEEPERS REMEMBER THEIR PLEDGE. It may have been taken by themselves. It may have been taken in their names by their fathers. It may be freshly taken after a time of lapse. It is a ground of obligation. It is a source of inspiration. It should be kept ever in mind. Illustrate by the oath of loyalty taken by the servants of a king; or by the pledge taken in marriage; or by covenants entered into by those who unite in a common undertaking. See the value of special seasons—sacramental seasons—when covenant pledges are forcibly brought to mind. There is a new covenant in Christ Jesus. It is to that covenant we are pledged; and that covenant we do well to keep in mind.
II. COVENANT KEEPERS AIM AT OBEDIENCE. Sentiment, however good, cannot suffice them. Feelings, as mere feelings, cannot honour God. True covenant keepers try to "remember God's commandments," his requirements under the covenant, with the distinct and full intention to do them, and not merely know what they are, or feel that they are wise and good. The Lord Jesus searchingly said, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them!"
1. Set forth what the Lord's covenant was for Israel, and is for us.
2. Point out how the responsibilities of the covenant may be kept ever before our minds and hearts.
3. Impress that the only acceptable keeping of the covenant is the constant, loving, hearty obedience of all its requirements.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Gratitude for unbounded mercies.
I. THE SOUL URGENTLY SUMMONED TO PRAISE GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS. Inward praise, not the praise of the lips, is here called for—spiritual, not bodily worship.
II. THE WHOLE INWARD MAN IS TO RECOUNT TO ITSELF THE MERCIES OF GOD.
1. Every power he has—memory, heart, and reason—is to assist in recognizing the Divine benefits he has received.
2. Our temptation and danger are to forget. And we are to resist and conquer forgetfulness and ingratitude.
Especially apt to forget the mercies:
1. That we receive in common with others.
2. The mercies that are uninterrupted by constraint.
3. Mercies of a spiritual nature.
III. A THANKFUL SURVEY OF THE FATHERLY MERCIES OF GOD. "The poet calls upon his soul to arise to praiseful gratitude for God's justifying, redeeming, and renewing grace."
1. The forgiveness of all his sins.
2. Recovery from bodily sickness and infirmity. Sin, the sickness of the soul; disease, the sickness of the body; and God is the Physician of both.
3. Deliverance from threatened death. The pit—a name of Hades—the abode of the departed.
4. Loving kindness and tender mercies make him rich and royal. Like a king, they crown him.
5. No real want of the soul is left unsatisfied. "Shall not want any good thing;" "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."
6. His strength is thus constantly renewed. (Isaiah 40:31.) "They that wait upon the Lord," etc.—S.
The pity of the Lord.
"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." In the Old Testament revelation of God there are bursts and flashes of light in startling contrast to the ordinary conceptions of him under that dispensation. There are grand conceptions of his power, omniscience, wisdom, and providence prevailing; but sometimes there are the tenderer conceptions of his goodness and mercy, as in the Psalms and prophets.
I. THE REASONS OF GOD'S PITY. Pity is sympathy for persons on account of weakness, suffering, or calamity. God feels pity for us:
1. On account of our weakness. "He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust." We are poor and insignificant compared with the spiritual and mighty angels. We are allied to the dust in one important part of our nature. And we are but children in the germ and infancy of our being. How weak we are in the body to contend against the mighty forces of nature, to encounter accident, to endure suffering! How weak in mind! how ignorant! how feeble in the power of our convictions! how poor in the power of our will!
2. He pities us for our sins and mistakes. In how many ways do we go wrong, not of set purpose, but unwittingly; or from the force of education and outward circumstances! We sin through ignorance. And we sin with knowledge. And God pities the sinner while he punishes. If he did not pity, he would not punish. Punishment is love seeking to recover the sinful child. God's anger is nothing but love chastising.
3. He pities us in our sufferings. He would not be a Father if he did not. Some of our sufferings are sent by him—such as we could not avoid. "But he doth not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men." Many of our sufferings are self-incurred—such as we might have avoided. But he, nevertheless, pities us then.
II. THE NATURE OF GOD'S PITY. That of a father.
1. A father's pity is helpful. A neighbour's pity or a friend's is not always helpful; they are either unwilling or unable to relieve and help us. But a father will do all in his power to help his child. And has not God helped us in our low estate by coming to us in the Person of his Son? He has not sat and looked on and done nothing.
2. It is bountiful. Infinite in disposition to help, and in resources for our relief. "Exceeding abundantly." God said to the Jews, "What more could I have done for my vineyard?" And surely, in view of the gospel, he might say the same to us. Only one thing to limit his help—his help is to enable us to help ourselves. What we can do for ourselves that he leaves to us. His aim is to make us strong and great.
3. His pity is enduring. Human pity is soon exhausted. "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting." It has borne with each of us very long, and will continue to the end.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 103". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany