"THE psalmist, in a time of severe trouble, arising from the power of the heathen, seeks consolation in reflecting on the greatness of God in nature," So Hengstenberg, correctly. The main topic of the psalm (Psalms 104:2-32) is thus the greatness of God as seen in his works. A direct ascription of praise precedes (Psalms 104:1) and follows (Psalms 104:33-35) the description of God's wonders in nature.
Bless the Lord, O my soul (see the comment on Psalms 103:1). O Lord my God, thou art very great. The keynote is struck at once. All the rest will be nothing but a development of this vast theme—God's greatness. Thou art clothed with honour and majesty; or "thou hast robed thyself in glory and grandeur" (Cheyne).
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment. Light was the first thing created (Genesis 1:3), before either the heaven (Genesis 1:6-8) or the earth (Genesis 1:9, Genesis 1:10). In light God, the invisible, as it were, enshrouds himself, making it the image of his hidden glory. Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain; or, "a canopy" (comp. Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:25). The metaphor is taken from the stretching out or "spreading out" of a tent (see Isaiah 40:22).
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters. God forms himself an upper chamber, as a dwelling place, in "the waters that are above the firmament" (Genesis 1:7), as a man builds himself an upper chamber with beams and rafters. Who maketh the clouds his chariot (comp. Isaiah 19:1, "Behold, the Lord rideth upon a thick cloud"). Who walketh upon the wings of the wind (comp. Psalms 18:10). The anthropomorphism will be pardoned for the sake of the beauty of the imagery.
Who maketh his angels spirits. Professor Cheyne renders, "Who maketh his messengers of winds;" and so (in substance) Jarchi, Aben. Ezra, Rosenmuller, Professor Alexander, and even Hengstenberg. The difficulty in adopting this rendering is that furnished by the application of the passage in Hebrews 1:7; but the arguments of Hengstenberg go far to meet that difficulty. It is to be noted that our Revisers, while admitting either rendering, have preferred that of Professor Cheyne. And his ministers a flaming fire; or, "his ministers of flame and fire."
Who laid the foundations of the earth; rather, as in the margin, who founded the earth upon her bases; i.e. fixed the earth in its place, on bases—not necessarily material bases—which keep it steadily where it is (comp. Job 26:7). That it should not be removed forever (comp. Psalms 93:1).
Thou coveredst it with the deep, as with a garment (see Genesis 1:9). A watery covering was spread at first over the whole earth, and enveloped it like a garment. The waters stood above the mountains. The highest inequalities of the land were concealed under the watery integument.
At thy rebuke they fled. It required only a few words from God (Genesis 1:9) for the whole surface of the earth to be changed. The waters "fled"—they shifted their place—removed from some portions of the earth's surface, and "gathered themselves together" into others, allowing the dry land to appear. Elevations and depressions of the land must have at the same time occurred. At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away (comp. Job 40:9, "Hast thou an arm like God, or canst thou thunder with a voice like his?"). The voice of God, especially when he speaks in "rebuke," is as thunder,
They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys; rather, they went up mountains; they went down valleys. In the general commotion of the waters, as they "hasted away," sometimes vast waves swept over mountain tops, sometimes huge floods washed down the courses of valleys—a graphic description of the scene which no eye saw, but which the poet figures to himself—a turmoil and confusion beyond that even of the great Deluge itself (see Genesis 7:17-19; Genesis 8:1-3). Unto the place which thou hast (rather, hadst) founded for them. The ocean bed, which had, in intention, been already prepared to receive them.
Thou hast set (or, didst set) a bound that they may not (rather, might not) pass over (comp. Job 38:10, Job 38:11; Jeremiah 5:22). The Deluge is for the time beyond the ken of the poet, who is singing God's greatness in nature, and in the general laws under which he has placed it. Neither turn again to cover the earth. This law, once Broken by the miracle of the Deluge, was thenceforth made absolute and inviolable (Genesis 9:15).
He sendeth the springs into the valleys; rather, into the water courses, or torrent beds—dry for the greater part of the year, but deriving life and beauty from the springs which, after rain has fallen, flow into them. Which run among the hills; literally, between the hills (i.e. the hill slopes on either side) they wend their way.
They give drink to every beast of the field. God's mercy is "over all his works" (Psalms 145:9). He careth for the whole animal creation (see Exodus 20:10; Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 25:4; Psalms 104:27; Psalms 145:15, Psalms 145:16; Jonah 4:11, etc.). The wild asses quench their thirst. Herodotus (4.192) says that wild asses are ἄποτοι—i.e. "do not drink" but modern travellers declare the contrary. They drink infrequently, and are so shy, that at such times they rarely fall under human observation.
By them; i.e. "by the springs" (see Psalms 104:10). Shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation. Birds need water as much as any other animals, and in dry tracts frequently congregate at the springs. Which sing (or, utter a voice) among the branches of the trees which in the East spring up wherever there is moisture.
He (i.e. God) watereth the hills from his chambers (comp. Psalms 104:3). The mountains themselves, even their highest tops, are not left dry. Where springs cannot reach, rain falls from God's "chambers" in the sky, and spreads equal refreshment. The earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. The whole earth—mountains, hills, plains, valleys—is thus "satisfied," i.e. sufficiently supplied with water, by the means which God has elaborated.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle. The results of God's careful arrangements are now spoken of. In the first place, grass—fodder of every kind—is provided for the beasts on which man's life so greatly depends—a boon both to man and beast, of inestimable value. Next, there is brought forth herb for the service of man—i.e. for his direct service—vegetables and fruits for his food; spicy shrubs for his delectation; flax, papyrus, saffron, aloes, etc; for his use. That he may bring forth food out of the earth. That man himself may by his labour, by the cultivation of the natural products, obtain from the earth the food suitable to him.
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man. The food suitable to man consists, first, of wine, which gladdens his heart (comp. 9:13); secondly, of oil to make his face to shine, or give him a cheerful countenance; and thirdly, of bread, which strengtheneth man's heart, which is "the staff of life," and the main sustenance of the entire body. It was the glory of the promised land to produce in abundance these three essentials (Deuteronomy 8:8; Deuteronomy 11:14; 2 Kings 18:32).
The trees of the Lord are full of sap; rather, are satisfied, or have their fill; i.e. drink in sufficiently God's rain, so that they grow up and flourish amazingly. Even the cedars of Lebanon (see Psalms 29:5, Psalms 29:6; Psalms 92:11). These are particularized as the grandest of God's vegetable productions known to the psalmist (comp. 9:15; 1 Kings 4:33; 2 Kings 14:19; Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 31:3). Which he hath planted (comp. Numbers 24:6).
Wherein the birds make their nests (comp. above, Psalms 104:10). As for the stork, the fir trees are her house. Again, God's care for the animal creation is in the psalmist's mind. As the grass is "caused to grow for the cattle" (Psalms 104:14), so trees—even the grandest—are partly intended for the birds.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats. Even the desolate ranges of the higher mountains are designed by God for the good of his creatures. They furnish a refuge for the ibex, or wild goat, when the hunter presses ca him; and, if they cannot give him food, give him safety. And the rocks for the conies; rather, for the marmots. Marmots still inhabit Palestine, though they are rarely seen; "conies," i.e. rabbits do not. The marmots are "a feeble folk, that make their houses in the rocks" (Proverbs 30:26).
He appointed the moon for seasons (comp. Genesis 1:14). The Jewish festivals depended greatly on the moon, the Passover being celebrated at the time of the full moon of the first month (Exodus 12:6), and the other festivals depending mostly on the Passover. And the sun knoweth his going down. Observes the laws, that is to say, appointed for him.
Psalms 104:20, Psalms 104:21
Thou makest darkness, and it is night. The mention of the moon and sun introduces a picture of night (Psalms 104:20, Psalms 104:21) and a picture of the day (Psalms 104:22, Psalms 104:23). The day draws in—darkness descends—night is come. At once there is a stir in the animal world. Man has gone to his rest; but the time is arrived wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The primeval jungle is alive with motion and sound. All the animals are on the alert. seeking their prey. The young lions are heard above all; they roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. The awful sound of their hungry roar drowns almost all other sounds, and shakes with terror the hearts of those that hear. Suddenly, however, night turns into day—
Psalms 104:22, Psalms 104:23
The sun ariseth. Bright beams of light flame up the eastern sky; and earth basks in the sun's smile. But it is a signal to the lions and the other wild beasts to withdraw. They gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. Hiding themselves from the eye of day, and retreating into places where they are safe. Then it is the turn of humanity to reappear. Humanity wakes up; and man goeth forth auto his work and to his labour uutil the evening; i.e. man proceeds to his appointed task, which is "work"—once a curse (Genesis 3:17-19), now a blessing (Ephesians 4:28).
O Lord, how manifold are thy works! This is a parenthetic ejaculation, from which the psalmist cannot refrain, as he contemplates creation so far. It breaks the continuity of his description (Psalms 104:2-32), but not unpleasingly. In wisdom hast thou made them all (comp. Proverbs 3:19, "The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens"). (On the "wisdom" of God, as shown in creation, see the whole series of 'Bridgewater Treatises.') The earth is full of thy riches; or possessions (comp. Psalms 105:21). "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof" (Psalms 24:1). Creation gives the right of ownership.
So is this great and wide sea; rather, yonder sea too (is thy work), so great and wide stretching. Wherein are things creeping (rather, moving things) innumerable. The abundant life of the sea, even in its depths, is the admiration of all naturalists. Tens of thousands of microscopic shells have been brought to light by the dredger's labours almost everywhere. Both small and great beasts. Microscopic shellfish on the one hand; seals, walruses, sharks, whales, on the other.
There go the ships. These may seem out of place among the works of God. But are they not his, in a certain sense? Did he not contemplate them when he made the sea, and make it to some extent for them? And did he not give men wisdom to invent and perfect them? There is that leviathan. "Leviathan" is here probably the whale, which may in early times have frequented the Mediterranean. Which thou hast made to play therein; or, to play with him. So the LXX. ( ἐμπαίζειν αὐτῷ); and, among moderns, Ewald, Hitzig, Olshausen, Kay, Cheyne, and our Revisers. The anthropomorphism is not beyond that of other passages.
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season (see Psalms 104:14, Psalms 104:23). As cattle have "grass," and lions "meat," from God, so every kind of animal receives from the same source its proper food.
That thou givest them they gather; literally, thou givest to them; they gather. Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good; or, "are satisfied with good" (Kay, Revised Version).
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled. If God withdraws the light of his countenance from any living thing, instantly it feels the loss. It is "troubled," cast down, confounded (comp. Psalms 30:7). Thou takest away their breath, they die. As the living things have life from God, so they have death from him. Not one of them perishes but he knows it, and causes it or allows it (see Matthew 10:29). And return to their dust. Return, i.e; to the dead matter out of which they were created.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit; or, thy breath. As God "breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7), so it is an effluence from him that gives life to every living thing. They are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. As after the Deluge (see Genesis 7:4; Genesis 8:17).
The glory of the Lord shall endure forever; rather, let the glory of the Lord, etc. The psalmist prays that there may be no further interruption of the glorious course of nature besides the Deluge, which has come into his thoughts in connection with the destruction of animal life (Psalms 104:29). Henceforward he trusts and prays that the Lord shall rejoice in his works, and not again repent him that he has made them (Genesis 6:7).
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth (comp. Psalms 18:7; Psalms 114:7). The earth "trembles," as knowing that it can be destroyed at any moment. He toucheth the hills, and they smoke; or, the mountains—the strongest portions of the earth (Psalms 36:6; Psalms 65:6)—"smoke" when he touches them (see Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11; Psalms 144:5).
The peroration (like the opening) is simple praise of God himself, considered in himself. All his life the psalmist will praise God (Psalms 104:33)—his soul shall praise him (Psalms 104:35), he will be glad in him (Psalms 104:34); finally, he calls upon all men to join in his praise (Psalms 104:35, last clause).
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live (comp. Psalms 63:4; Psalms 146:2): I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. An echo of the preceding hemistich.
My meditation of him shall be sweet; rather, may my meditation be pleasing to him! (Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version). I be glad in the Lord (comp. Psalms 32:11; Psalms 33:1, etc.). Rejoicing in the Lord is a form of praising him.
Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth; i.e. "Let the great blot upon creation—sin and sinners—exist no more. Let the harmony upon the earth be complete, by the elimination of this "one jarring string." And let the wicked be no more. Repetition for the sake of emphasis. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Then, when this blot is removed, when the trials of the godly, from the persecutions and vexations of sinners, are over, it will be the part of my soul, with greater heartiness than ever, to "bless the Lord." Praise ye the Lord. Then, too, all mankind may well be called upon to join in a chorus of praise and blessing, and to sing, as saints and angels sing in the courts of heaven, "Hallelujah!" (Revelation 19:1, Revelation 19:3, Revelation 19:4, Revelation 19:6).
The greatness of God.
This psalm, charged with the truest poetry, sings of the greatness of God (Psalms 104:1) and of the heritage of man. The subjects are inseparably mingled. Of the former we have suggested to us -
I. HIS GLORY. (Psalms 104:1, Psalms 104:2, Psalms 104:31.)
II. HIS POWER. (Psalms 104:3-9.) The winds are his messengers; the fire is his servant; the clouds are his chariot; the waters flee at his command; the ocean stays at the bound he has drawn.
III. HIS WISDOM. (Psalms 104:5, Psalms 104:10.) Nowhere is his wisdom more apparent than in:
1. Providing for the security of the earth. The diurnal and annual rotation (with which we are familiar), giving us our change of night and day, and also of our seasons, in no way interferes with the sense of our security, while it brings into view the wonderful wisdom of God (see Psalms 104:24).
2. In the provision of water for his thirsting creatures. The beautiful circulatory system, by which the vapour is drawn up from the seas and the lakes, carried as clouds by the winds, drawn down by the hills and the trees, purified by the earth through which it passes, comes forth as the springs which flow down in the streams and rivers through the land, and end their course by replenishing the sea,—this is another striking instance of those "manifold works" "made in Divine wisdom."
IV. HIS PROVIDENTIAL GOODNESS.
1. In supplying water for man and beast (Psalms 104:10-13).
2. In providing nourishment (Psalms 104:14-16).
3. In giving shelter and protection to the weak—to the bird, to the goat, to the cony (Psalms 104:17, Psalms 104:18).
4. In dividing time into seasons (Psalms 104:19; see Genesis 1:14); so that we can calculate with perfect accuracy the incoming and outgoing of the tides, as well as the return of summer and winter.
5. In the amplitude of the gift of life. Not only are the air and the earth full of happy life, but so is the "great and wide sea" (Psalms 104:25). All these innumerable hosts of living things—insects, birds, beasts, fishes—are spending a happy life in their own element, and after their own instincts. Who can form any conception of the sum of sentient life and enjoyment at any moment upon this earth?
6. In providing the materials for locomotion. Those ships of Psalms 104:26 are suggestive of all the forces at our command, every year becoming greater, for moving rapidly over land and sea, indefinitely promoting the circulation of produce and intercourse between man and man. All these instances of Divine beneficence are suggestive of—
V. HIS GRACE to his human children. For:
1. If God cares so much for bird and beast, he will care very much more for us, his children by faith in Jesus Christ.
2. if he provides so bountifully with the necessaries of mortal life, we can well believe that he has made ample provision for our spiritual and eternal good.
The heritage of man.
The psalmist sings of the greatness of God (supra), and also of the fair heritage bestowed upon us. This includes—
I. SUFFICIENCY AND VARIETY OF FOOD. "These [all the living creatures, including man, that have been specified] wait on thee, that thou mayest give them their food," etc. (Psalms 104:27); and the "herb" (Psalms 104:14), for the service of man, stands for all the variety of fruits and vegetables with which our need is met and our taste is gratified. The constant supply of necessary and of palatable food is no small part of our heritage.
II. STRENGTH AND HEALTH. The gift of bread which "strengtheneth man's heart" is suggestive of all the bountiful provision God has made for building up our bodily frame, raising it from infantile helplessness to manly vigour, and frequently restoring from the weakness of disease to the wholeness and capacity of health. Strength is the normal condition, and if we conformed to the laws of nature, i.e. to the will of God, it would be the general and the lasting condition.
III. HAPPINESS. The "wine that makes glad the heart of man" may well stand for all those gifts of God which stimulate and gladden the soul, which give sparkle and joyousness to human life; e.g. the good wine of human fellowship, and that of honourable enterprise, and that of generous helpfulness.
IV. LABOUR. For while oppressive toil is an evil and a part of the penalty of sin, wholesome and regular activity, developing muscle and nerve, ministering to health, conducing to moral soundness, resulting in many kinds of wealth, is a true blessing to our race.
V. REST. God makes the darkness, in which the wild beasts come forth for their prey (Psalms 104:20, Psalms 104:21), but in which also man lies down to rest; and the sleep which comes with the night is as welcome as the labour which comes with the day (Psalms 104:23). The invigoration which comes between the evening and the morning, fitting the body and the mind for new life, is one of God's kindest gifts to man.
VI. JOY IN GOD AND IN HIS SERVICE. (Psalms 104:33, Psalms 104:34.) The act of contemplation when God (with his loving kindness) is the Object of our thought, and the service of praise, are specified; but these are suggestive of all the blessedness which springs from piety and devotion. All reverent thought, all worship, all sacred study and sacred song, all Christian service rendered "as unto God," all really religious offerings,—all this is a large part of the human heritage. And it all demands of us the frequent utterance (Psalms 104:1, Psalms 104:35) as well as the deeply cherished spirit, of gratitude and praise.
God gives-we gather: harvest thanksgiving.
I. GOD'S GIFT IN THE HARVEST. God gives:
1. The soil.
2. The seed.
3. The forces which make the seed extract the virtues of the soil.
4. The sunshine, the rain, and the wind, which minister to the growth of the blade, and which ripen the grain.
5. The intelligence which enables us to cultivate the ground, to acquire the art of agriculture (Isaiah 28:26).
II. OUR HUMAN SHARE IN IT. We "gather." There are places where the gathering is all that man has to do; e.g. the bread fruit in the tropics. But usually "gathering" includes more than that—it includes the preparation of the soil, sowing, weeding, watering, etc. To the production of the harvest there goes not a little human thought, skill, labour. Where, then, is—
III. GOD'S GOODNESS IN IT?
1. Our share is very much the smaller.
2. God's gifts are bestowed on us with such ceaseless constancy, never failing through all the ages of human existence, and in spite of the ingratitude, the atheism, or even the idolatry, of the husbandmen.
3. God's requirement of our labour is an instance of Divine goodness, to be added to, not subtracted from, his other loving kindnesses (see supra).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
God's love for living creatures.
This psalm celebrates and proves it. For, see—
I. HE HAS PLACED THEM EVERYWHERE. The sea, the air, the land, all teem with it, as this psalm tells. And the lower life points to the higher, and proclaims that when God's will is done, that, too, shall fill earth and heaven.
II. HE HAS ABUNDANTLY PROVIDED FOR THEM. Food, habitation, refuge (Psalms 104:16-18). And Christ came, that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. "He is able to save to the uttermost." Full provision for fulness of life is made.
III. AND SUITABLY LIKEWISE. The trees for the birds' nests, the hills and rocks for those creatures that dwell there. And so his grace is according to our need. He has a niche for each of us to fill, which will suit none else so well, and he prepares us for the place in which he would have us be.
IV. AND ALL HIS CREATURES BUT OURSELVES GLADLY ACCEPT HIS PROVISION. They never refuse his bounty, but depend on it always. Each makes its way to its own home. Christ is the soul's home: shall we turn away from that?—S.C.
Psalms 104:1, Psalms 104:2
The psalm of creation: the first day.
This psalm should he read in connection with the story of God's creating the heaven and the earth.
I. IT BEGINS BY THE PSALMIST SEEKING TO ATTUNE HIS SOUL FOR HIS STUDY OF THE WORKS OF GOD.
1. He would that the Lord should be praised, and by himself especially. "O my soul" (cf. Psalms 103:1-22.). If the study of nature were entered on with this desire, how far more fruitful it would be! None of the good that has resulted from that study would be lost, but much of the incidental ill that too often accompanies it would be avoided. Science would be transfigured into worship, with all the moral and spiritual advantages that worship brings.
2. Then there is the spirit of awe. "Thou art very great."
3. Of adoration. "Clothed with honour and majesty." It is not the mere power, skill, and ingenuity of the Creator that strike the psalmist's soul, but the moral characteristics of God, which bring to him honour and majesty as they ought to do. A study so begun cannot but be fruitful of good.
II. THEN HE SPEAKS OF THE WORK OF THE FIRST DAY—THE CREATION OF THE LIGHT. He does not tell, as Genesis does, of what preceded that, but comes at once to the blessed and final result.
1. There had been a previous creation. "In the beginning God created," etc. Without doubt it had all been fair and beautiful, as in the moral creation; for there, too, man was made in the image of God, perfect, upright, without sin.
2. But ere the light was formed, a sad change had come. We find that "the earth was without form," etc. Chaos reigned. Moreover, the waters seem to have rushed in, and darkness brooded over all. What a true picture of the moral condition ere the spiritual light came! Disorder, subjection to sin, impenetrable ignorance, the darkness of the soul.
3. There must have been, ere this, some terrible shock which turned God's far off original creation into the hideous deformity of which Genesis 1:2 tells. Certainly it is so with man's moral nature. God made him in his own image. He is, until regenerated, the victim of a moral chaos. There must have been some "fall," some terrible catastrophe, which changed man, made in God's image, into what we know unregenerate human nature to be.
4. But, as with the earth and heavens, so with redeemed man, there has come a blessed change. God shed abroad the light, covered himself with it "as with a garment" (Genesis 1:2). This is how God began the creation work. "Let there be light." There had been, indeed, the Spirit brooding over the face of the deep, but the first manifestation of the creating work was in the creation of the light. And is it not ever so? Does not God always begin thus his regenerating work? The man comes to see himself as he really is—how wretched, miserable, apart from God; how hopeless, helpless, and every day getting worse; and then cometh the further light of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). And then, as the forlorn earth yielded itself to the plastic hand of the Creator, to be formed and fashioned as he willed, so, under the power of the light of the soul, it yields itself in like manner. And the Spirit of God is the Author of all this. We know not how long he may have been brooding over the darkness in the one case or the other, only that the light was through him. This impartation of light is ever his work. When he comes he convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment: that is the first and preparatory work. God says, "Let there be light," and there is light. The result is that when God comes into the soul he seems to be clothed with light, so widespread, so intense, is the illumination of the soul. The peril is lest any should quench that light, or, having seen it, should cease to walk in it. What wonder, when the light is seen and welcomed, there should be a quickened conscientiousness, a scrupulosity and carefulness, which hitherto the soul had never known!
III. LET US PRAY THAT THAT FIRST DAY'S WORK MAY BE DONE IN US. So only can we truly know ourselves in God; so only can we enter on that career which all along shall have the favour of God and end in the eternal rest.—S.C.
The psalm of creation: the second day.
In Genesis we have simply the declaration of how God created the firmament, or the expanse, and what was effected by it. Here we have nothing said of the creation of the firmament, but only of its glory as the habitation of God. That firmament—the glorious new-lit cloud-caprisoned and star-bespangled heavens, whose beauty and splendour far surpass all human power to set forth, and which is here spoken of as the palace of God—was the creation of the second day. The close of the first day saw the creation of the light, but there was as yet no life possible. For that there was needed the gift of God which we call the atmosphere, the air we breathe, that without which no life of plant or animal could be. That wide expanse which surrounds our earth, and in which we live, and move, and have our being, "softer than the softest down, more impalpable than the finest gossamer, it leaves the cobweb undisturbed, and scarcely stirs the lightest flower that feeds on the dew it supplies; yet it bears the fleets of nations on its wings, and crushes the most refractory substances with its weight." But that which is named in Genesis is its power to separate the waters that lie on the surface of the earth from those that float above it. And this it does, first drawing them up in vapour from the sea, and then suspending them in cisterns of clouds, but casting them down again in snow, rain, or dew, when they are required. But all this is full of sacred suggestion in regard to the things of the soul. And this—
I. IN ITS UPLIFTING.
1. That which the atmosphere does for the cold dark waters which enshrouded the earth, those waters, fit type of the sin-laden soul of man,—that does the blessed breath of God accomplish for the human soul. That desolate round earth was taught as it were the law of sacrifice, and yielded up itself to the encompassing breath of God. At once the vapours uprose along the unseen channels of the air, and are no longer desolate and deadly waters, but are transformed and transfigured into the glorious heavens.
2. And this is what is taught also by the ancient law of sacrifice. The worshipper brought his sacrifice, telling of his own will and desire to be surrendered to God—the blood, symbol of the will, was poured out; the body that had thus yielded its very life was placed on the altar, and the fire fastened upon it and transformed that cold, material, dead body into a spiritual thing, so that it seemed on the wings of the fire to mount up to God.
3. And this is all true of the human soul. Let that yield itself to the breath of God, and give itself up to the will of God, rising up to him in that blessed self-surrender, and it will be indeed "born again."
II. IN ITS GLORIFICATION.
1. See the glorious heavens.
2. See God dwelling in the place of sacrifice.
3. See the present indwelling of God in the surrendered soul, and the soul dwelling with God in the eternal glory hereafter.—S.C.
The psalm of creation: the third day.
On all this the preacher will compare Milton's magnificent lines ('Paradise Lost'). The opening verse of this section was laid hold of by those who opposed Galileo, as with equal reasonableness or unreasonableness like verses are laid hold of in like controversies now—as utterly contradicting the conclusions to which his investigations had led him. Ever since there has been a clearer perception that the poetry of the Bible is poetry, and is to be judged by its appropriate laws. In the former homily we traced suggestions of the law of self-surrender to God; in this there are yet others on the same theme. The verses of this section tell of the separation of the land, the other part of the created earth, from the waters, and the fruitfulness that then followed. The deep mountains were still beneath the waters: "Above the mountains did the waters stand." There has been already an uplifting of the waters by means of the creation of the atmosphere, and their glorification in consequence. How we are to see another aspect of the law of self-surrender in the blessed service of the waters, in the ministry they fulfil. In this section, therefore, as in the corresponding one in Genesis, which tells of the creation work of the third day, we have the twofold command.
I. TO THE WATERS.
1. They were to "be gathered together into one place." Here, in the psalm, this is poetically described as the result of the Divine rebuke. The terrible volcanic action by which the mountains were uplifted and the deep valleys hollowed out, and the consequent downrush of the waters, is told of as if it were the thunder voice of God bidding them haste away.
"Immediately the mountains huge appear
Emergent, and their broad, bare backs upheave
Into the clouds, their tops ascend the sky;
So high as heav'd the tumid hills, so low
Down sunk a hollow bottom, broad and deep,
Capacious bed of waters," etc.
So Milton renders verse 7. "The mountains rose, the valleys sank down into," etc. Thus by this emergence of the dry land the waters of the wild seas, hitherto flowing everywhere, are appointed their bounds, over which they may not pass. Straitened, shut in, subdued, and beaten back are they, as they never were before, for such is their Creator's will. The life of the ocean wave seems a poor affair compared with what it was. But is it so?
2. See, now, the ministry of the waters. It is told of in verse 10 onwards. On the wings of the air the waters send up of their strength, and they thus mount on high, and in the form of snow, and dew, and rain they fall on mountain, valley, hill, and plain; and then, by means of moss and glacier and tree (see Hugh Macmillan's beautiful sermon on 'Mountain Springs'), God sendeth forth the springs along the valleys. Thus he "watereth the earth from his chambers: and the earth is satisfied with the fruit of his work" (verse 13). Thither come the beasts of the field, and from the branches of the trees, which love to dwell where the springs are, the birds fly down, and alike quench their thirst. And grass and herb, corn, vine, and olive, and the noblest trees, are sustained, and myriad creatures of God are blessed; and even the barren rocks, the steep precipices, and the high mountains, are for the good of some—the wild goats and the conies make these their home. Is it not all a parable? The waters, at the command of God, give up their strength, and they become the glorious heavens, the visible palace of God. And this is not all. They now render unspeakable service; life, and beauty, and strength, and joy spring into existence as the result of their ministry, and this psalm is the song thereof.
3. And so also is it with the surrendered soul. Yield it up to God in loving self-sacrifice, and he will glorify that soul and use it for the blessings of others far and wide.
II. TO THE LAND. Take it, as so often has been done, as a type of, or rather as suggestive of, man regenerate. See God's will for him as pictured here.
1. He is to live a separate life. Hitherto earth and sea had been mingled together, as man in the world, but now God's will is this—separation.
2. And this separation is to be evident. "Let the dry land appear." There must be no hiding away, but open confession of God.
3. And fruitful of good. The earth was to yield "grass," the common excellences of the renewed nature, and not these only, but those more precious, and yet more precious still (see verses 14-16). But all this:
4. Is the work of God. What God commands he is able to secure. Be but passive to his will, and all will be brought to pass.
5. The old life will seek to regain its power. (Verse 9.) But will not be able; for:
6. The new life will be sustained and kept satisfied in God. (Verse 13.)—S.C.
The psalm of creation: the fourth day.
The order of Genesis is departed from, the moon being named first; nor does the psalm tell of the purpose for which the sun, moon, and stars were formed, as does Genesis; nor does it speak at all of the stars. Now, the relation which the "two great lights"—the sun and moon—bear to this earth sets forth the relation which Christ and his Church bear to the human soul. For—
I. THE SUN IS A TRUE TYPE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
1. He is called "the Sun of Righteousness," "the Light of the world," and by other titles which are drawn from the sun and its relationship to the world. And when we think what that is, how all creature life and knowledge and joy seem to depend upon it, we cannot wonder that amongst the noblest of the heathen the sun was worshipped as a living deity. If it were not God, then it was "the brightness of his glory and the express image of his Person." The heathen mind, ignorant of the revelation of Christ, could find no nearer embodiment of its thought of God.
2. See the avowed purpose wherefore the sun was made. It was to rule the day. How emphatically it does this we all know.
3. And in that condition of the enlightened soul, when it has passed out of the darkness and the day is come, the Divine idea is that Christ is to rule—that every thought and faculty are to be subject to him. As the psalm declares that there is nothing hid from the heat thereof, so there is nothing in our whole life and being that is not to come under Christ's control.
4. The day is also the season of activity. We are to work while it is called today. Men do this in common life; and where Christ, the true Sun of the soul, has risen, that soul will arise and toil in him and for him. He prompts, he enables the activities of the spiritual life.
5. The day, with its light, stands also for joy and brightness. How the natural world rejoices in the light! And the gladness of the soul is in him who is the true Light. There can be no real gladness till he comes. "Thou hast put joy and gladness into my heart, more than," etc. (Psalms 4:7).
II. THE MOON.
1. The world is yet in darkness. That tells more truly of its spiritual condition than the day. We speak of this enlightened age, but the words are mockery when we remember man's present alienation from God.
2. But as the moon was to give light by night, so in this darkness of man's spiritual condition the Church of Christ is to give light. She is commissioned for this very end.
3. But as the moon gives light only when reflecting the light of the sun, so the Church can be the world's light only as she reflects the light of Christ. She has none of her own. But when she does, how fair and beautiful she is! and how great the service she renders (So Genesis 6:10)!
4. And the purpose of these great lights is to divide the light from the darkness. How almost instantaneously Christ and those who are truly his act in the world as such dividers! It was said of Christ that through him "the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed" (Luke 2:35). Then—
III. THE STARS. These represent the individual Christians, giving their light, as does the moon, by reflection. And all these are for signs to men.—S.C.
Psalms 104:25, Psalms 104:26
The psalm of creation: the fifth day.
The corresponding verses to these are in Genesis 1:20-23, and they tell of the creation of the inhabitants of the sea and of the air—the fish who, by means of fins, navigate the sea; and the birds who, by means of wings, navigate the air. But as it is in this psalm, so it is in Genesis—the creation of the terrestrial forms of animal life follow on that of the other forms, all of which are to be crowned by God's highest work, the creation of man, which is the especial work of the sixth day. Let us, therefore, consider these different forms of animal life, all of which were to be made subject to man. They are in three groups.
I. THOSE OF THE SEA.
1. The sea, in the Scriptures, is continually taken as the symbol of that which is turbulent, tumultuous, restless, violent. (Psalms 65:7.) And so the sea answers in our nature to those passions in man which are so like the sea. Oh, what shipwrecks they have caused! what widespread ruin and devastation! But when God recreates our nature, then even these strong and seemingly ungovernable passions shall be made to further his glory. Men wonder now that God has formed them with such wild, unruly tendencies. But we forget that these are for our discipline and spiritual education. They are given us to subdue and conquer, not that they should subdue us. And when we do conquer them, great is our reward. The wild, turbulent sea has been subdued by man, for see, "there go the ships;" man has made it his obedient servant, and it perpetually fulfils his will. And so shall it be with that part of our nature which is like the sea for turbulence. Passion wisely controlled, whether it be love, or anger, or ambition, shall bless, and not curse, as now, for want of such control, they too often do.
2. Look at the fruitfulness of the sea. The infinitely abundant and varied life it sustains, from the great seamonsters who play therein, down to the minutest insect which makes there its home.
3. And the sea has been termed "the life blood of the land." What do we not owe to it? And so, when God regenerates our nature, our passions, transformed into holy energies and Christ-like zeal, shall be for the glory of God and the good of our fellow men.
II. THE AIR. The sky, the firmament of heaven, so lofty, glorious, beautiful, may stand as the symbol of the imagination, that high endowment of the human soul. How often that has been made the home of that which is evil, unclean, and hateful to God! But, as at the first, this also, when regenerated, shall glorify God. The thought that soars, the love that sings, the heart made pure, shall each avail itself of this fair firmament, and "on wings, as eagles," shall mount aloft to God.
III. THE EARTH. The new earth type of the renewed nature. We are told of the creatures that were formed. They tell, according to Scripture usage, of the dispositions and character of the regenerate nature: service, wisdom, strength. So we interpret the cattle, the serpent, the beast of the forest.—S.C.
The psalm of creation: the sixth day-the creation of man.
I. WHY DID GOD CREATE MAN? Many think that life is not worth living. Existence is so much pure misfortune. The denial of the Christian faith and hopeless pessimism seem ever to go together. But a preliminary question may be asked—
Why did God create anything?
II. WE REPLY:
1. God is love, and one necessity of such nature is that he should find objects on which to lavish that love. It cannot remain unexercised. Creation, therefore, seemed to be a necessity of love.
2. But another need is that such love should meet with response. Love yearns for response, to be met by an answering love. But this involved the necessity of the creation of beings who should not be moved by mere instinct, but should possess mind, intelligence, and the capacity of love. Hence was requisite something more than any of the already created inhabitants of the seas, the air, or the land, could supply. A different, a higher being had to be brought into existence; man was needed, since he only could render the response the heart of the Creator desired. All other creatures could obey the laws of their being; man could love the Law giver.
3. And yet another craving of the Divine love, as of all like pure love, is for worthy response. It cannot bear that the response it yearns for should be given to inferior objects; it desires to be chosen and preferred above all these. But such worthy response of deliberate choice can only be made when counter objects of attraction are present. Therefore, that such choice may be possible for us, we are placed in a world where all around us are myriad lures and baits appealing to all sides of our nature, and many of them with mighty power. Hence is it that the love of his people is so precious in his esteem, for it means that they have turned their backs upon all these rivals of God, and have given to him the love he asks for and deserves.
4. And even this low is capable of enhancement in his esteem. It is so when, as with Job, it clings to God in spite of sorest trial and distress; when the man is in the very depths, when to all outward appearance everything is lost and thrown away by such clinging to God; when it has to hang on by naked faith, as at some time or other it has had to do in all God's saints, and with some of them, as in the martyr ages, it has had to be always so. But love like that, oh how precious is it! how grateful to the heart of God! We can understand somewhat of this when some dear child of ours, rather than grieve or disappoint us, has readily endured persecution and pain. What do we not think of that child? What proof of our love will we withhold from him?
5. But such proof of our love, or of that of God, cannot be given unless there has been the previous trial. And that is why we are placed in a world of trial, often cruel, prolonged, and severe. We are thus given the opportunity of winning the highest prizes of the kingdom of God. Hence man has to go "forth to his work, and to his labour until the evening" Life is no child's play for him, no place of mere sensuous enjoyment. If he chooses to make it so, he shuts himself out of the kingdom of God. No cross, no crown. Only so can we win back the image of God in which we were first created. This is "the prize of our high calling."—S.C.
Voices of the sloping.
We are following a good Bible precedent, as welt as yielding to an almost irresistible suggestion, when we seek to listen awhile to some of these teachings of God which he addresses to us through the spring. The references to this season are frequent in the pages of Scripture. They tell of the sowing and the seed time, the springing of the corn, and the varied voices, scenes, and processes of the spring. He who wrote that sixty-fifth psalm had often noticed the earth upturned by the plough, and how the rain loosened the clods, and the hard ridges were made soft with showers, and settled down to the level of the furrows after the corn seed had been cast in, and so God blessed "the springing thereof." And he who wrote this psalm from which our text is taken, had often witnessed the wonderful bursting forth of life after the winter was over and gone, and he here celebrates God's mighty working: "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, and they are created: thou renewest the face of the earth." And the eye of our Lord, the great Teacher, once and again fell upon some sower in the springtime going forth to sow, and he tells, in the first of all his parables, of the varied fate of the scattered seed. And he tells, too, how the devil knows the fit season for sowing seed; for when the great husbandman had cast good seed into his field, then the enemy came and sowed tares, which, when the good seed sprang up, appeared along with it to its hurt and harm. From beginning to end, by our Lord and by his apostles, and by the holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, the allusions to the seed time and the spring are constant, and they constitute a positive direction to us to keep open eye and mind and heart for the lessons such seasons have to impart. Those lessons are very many. We can but note a few of them. And—
I. DOES NOT SPRING SPEAK TO US OF GOD AS THE LORD AND GIVER OF LIFE? For:
1. Life is starting from every pore of nature. The whole face of the earth heaves and throbs with an inexhaustible tide of life; every spot teems with the beginnings of new life. Who does not feel impressed with the unspeakable affluence of him who is its fountain? Every wood and grove, every hedgerow and field, every garden and pasture, bear witness to his bounty. Where but a few weeks before all was sombre and silent, bare, and seemingly lifeless, now, what a change has come over the scene! The grey clouds of winter have been replaced by the bright blue skies, the brown carpet of fallen leaves has yielded to the beautiful green with which the grass has covered the woodland ways. The till now hushed grove is resonant with song and the murmur of innumerable insects. The bare skeleton-like branches of the trees are laden with glorious foliage, and the stripped hedges are all clothed again with leaves and blossoms and flowers. Fulness of life everywhere; this is the common characteristic which meets the eye throughout the whole realm of nature at this beautiful season of the year.
2. And with what wondrous care all this is accomplished! As silently, as irresistibly as the tender blade pushes its way up through the heavy soil which, one would think, must forever hold it down. But slender as is that newly formed blade, yet to that which hath no might God increaseth strength, and so in due time it appears above ground, for God maketh it to grow.
3. And how quietly all this goes on! What a contrast to the noise and strain, the fret and toil, the loud din, and all the other accompaniments of man's strenuous labour! Here, as was said of Solomon's temple
"No hammer fell, no ponderous axes rung;
Like some tall palm the mystic fabric sprung."
4. But whilst all this is interesting to observe in the natural world, it is yet more delightful to look upon the Divine energy of life which each spring tide shows as a promise and pattern of the higher spiritual life, which, with equal generosity, God shall one day cause to spring forth before all the nations. Why should it not be? If all this fulness of life be for the lower creation, shall the higher, the moral and spiritual, be left unblessed? "If God so clothes," etc. True, the lower life has to do with material things, and the higher with spiritual. But can that be any bar to him who called us into being, even as each spring he calls into being the full life we see around us? If, in consistency with that lower nature, he gives the new life, can he not, in consistency with man's higher nature, cause that also to be born again and to enter into the new and better life? He has done so already with one and another of us, even as he did with all the children of God in all the ages all along. In perfect harmony with man's freedom, he yet found means to convert, regenerate, and fully sanctify such as Paul, John, and myriads more. And—all glory to his Name!—he is doing this every day. Therefore we accept, not deny or doubt, the blessed prophecy of the spring. And let us each one take it for ourselves.
II. AS LOVING ALL THAT IS BEAUTIFUL. See the wealth of beauty which everywhere spring presents, in colour; song; fragrance; beauty everywhere. Then, if God so loves beauty, let him have it. In our worship, our sanctuaries, most of all in our character. In this last God himself will help us. The beauty of the Lord our God shall be upon us even as, and yet more than, it is upon all the grace of nature in this blessed spring tide.
III. AS PREDICTING AND PROMISING THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-58.) If God gives new life and form to bare grain, shall he not to human souls? "And to every seed its own body." Spring is the perpetual resurrection parable.
IV. AS ADDRESSING TO US MOST EARNEST APPEAL. "Work while it is called today;" "Now is the accepted time," etc. If the husbandman waste the spring season, what hope of harvest can he have? Its days run along, and will soon be gone.—S.C.
The spiritual spring.
The natural is as the spiritual—
I. IS WHAT IT IS. An awakening from seeming death. In regard to the soul, St. Paul speaks of its condition ere its spring as actually "dead." Certainly to all appearances it was so. But when the grace of God comes to the soul, then it awakes, as doth the earth in spring. There had been long preparation for it. Christ uses all manner of means to accomplish this. It is all his work.
II. IN WHAT IT POSSESSES. New life. So in nature, so in grace. If the manifestations of the newlife in nature are beautiful, yet more are they in grace. See the fruits of the Spirit, "Love, joy, peace," etc. And we are to go on to this; not to be satisfied with conversion only; there must be the new life. And Christ, who began the work, will carry it on.
III. IN WHAT IT LEADS TO. Spring is the forerunner of summer with all its flowers, and autumn with all its harvests. And so is the spiritual spring the forerunner of all the glorious possibilities of the spiritual harvest. All its holiness and joy of service, etc.—S.C.
The Lord's joy in his works.
Then joy is an element in God's nature. He is "the happy and only Potentate." When we see what a large element it is in our nature, how we delight in it, how we seek after it, we might argue that in being in the Divine image, God must rejoice; and in the text we are distinctly told he does. And—
I. IN HIS WORKS IN THE NATURAL WORLD.
1. How beautiful they are! They clearly show the Divine love of beauty. The vision of beauty delights us; and the lavish bestowment of it shows that it delights God.
2. How innumerable! All powers of computation utterly break down when we try to enumerate the works of God. The psalm tells of many, but how far many more are left unnamed? God cannot turn his gaze in any direction but he will behold the works of his hand.
3. And how varied! "Lord, how manifold are thy works!" not many only.
4. And how successful! "In wisdom hast thou made them all." What joy a human inventor has, when, after long study and toil, he at length has discovered how to secure the successful working of that which he has made! The old story of the ancient philosopher rushing from his bath, and crying "Eureka!" because he had hit upon the solution of some knotty problem which had long perplexed him, is an illustration of the inventor's joy. And the observation of the smooth, successful working of his Divine plans cannot but be a further element of joy, even to him.
5. Yet more because so beneficent. His creatures are "filled with good" by what he has done. While they delight us they also delight him.
II. IN PROVIDENCE.
1. Here, perhaps, we pause. We think of the darker side of life—of the unspeakable suffering, of the bitter sorrows, of the dread problem of evil. And of not a little of this we are compelled to say, "It is the Lord's doing." The beautiful other side of life—happy homes, successful work, health, love, strength, and all the rest; we can see how fruitful of joy to both giver and receiver it must be; but this dark side, what of that? How can the Lord rejoice in that?
2. Well, remember, God sees the whole of life; we only a mere fragment of it. The shipbuilder enters his yard. Dust, din, clatter, intolerable noise, and dirt and disorder meet him on every hand. The gaunt ribs of some ship on the stocks are the occasion of all this. But the shipbuilder looks quite pleased. Why is this? Because he has in his mind the vision of the completed ship, when fair, graceful, strong, she spreads her sails, and, laden with rich cargo, she sails the ocean like a thing of life. He sees her in all her future glory, to which all that now is leads the way. The application is easy. We believe, with the poet—
"That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete."
"Known unto God are all his works from the beginning;" and we stay our souls on that sure truth, and we spurn the atheistic suggestions which have no proof, and only land us in deeper darkness than before.
III. IN HIS SPIRITUAL WORKS. Forgiveness, peace, purity, power, eternal life. Do we cooperate with him in these?—S.C.
The blessed meditation of God.
The text is true—
I. BECAUSE SUCH MEDITATION SO AIDS BOTH KNOWLEDGE AND MEMORY.
II. IT WARMS THE HEART. "Whilst I was musing the fire burned," etc. (Psalms 39:1-13.).
III. DELIVERS US FROM SINFUL THOUGHTS.
IV. ROUSES THE ENERGIES OF OUR WILL FOR DUTY.
V. PROMOTES GREATLY OUR ADVANCE IN THE LIFE OF GOD.
VI. PROFITABLY FILLS UP THE MARGINS AND ODD MOMENTS OF OUR TIME.
VII. PURGES OUR EYESIGHT, So that we see the silver lining of the clouds that distress us.
VIII. ENABLES US TO CONVERSE WITH GOD, and to enjoy him, as otherwise we could not.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Nature figures of the Divine glory.
These are of peculiar interest, because they appeal to man universally; the language of nature is the common, universal language. Only when men attempt to express their ideas and feelings by the languages of the tongue do they get into confusions and misunderstandings and separations. There is hope of reuniting humanity if it can be brought to heed the voice and witness of nature. Dr. Chalmers shows the connection of this psalm with the preceding one. "It begins, as does Psalms 103:1-22; with the view of God's goodness, but on a different subject; the former psalm being addressed to God, as sitting on a throne of grace; the present psalm to God, as sitting on a throne of nature and of creation; and never have the works of God, and his sovereignty over them, been so magnificently set forth. The glory of the Divine is made palpable, in this psalm, through the medium of the senses."
I. THE LORD'S VESTURE. Observe that no attempt is made in Scripture to describe God himself. He can only be known through revelations of himself that he is pleased to make. The immaterial can only be known through the material. God must take form, because man can only apprehend the formal. Moses could only see the "back parts," the afterglow, when the sun had passed down beyond the edge. Eiders only saw a "paved work of sapphire." Isaiah only saw an incense-veiled throne. We can see God's garments, and argue from them what he must be who is clothed with such a vesture. What a glorious thing is light, sun rays, sunshine! Mysteriously pure; transcendently fine; surpassingly beautiful! It is the robe of God. Royal robes are supposed to represent, with some fitness, royalty. It is true of God that no conceivable robe can be worthy to represent him; it can do no more than suggest him. A young woman gained her sight at the age of twenty-three, by the help of a surgical operation. Looking out upon a sunlit landscape, she exclaimed, "Oh, how beautiful! I never dreamt of anything so beautiful as this." What is he "whose robe is the light"?
II. THE LORD'S TENT. By "the heavens" the psalmist means the firmament, the vast blue dome that spans the earth. No doubt the firmament was then conceived as a solid sheet spread out as are the curtains of a tent. The earth was as a tent floor, and those long lines of light which we see between heaven and earth in times of moisture, which do indeed seem to rest in or spring out of the sea, are thought of, by the psalmist, as the poles or pillars of the tent. After unfolding this figure, show that estimates of the wealth and greatness and power of a king are formed from the splendour of his palace and its appointments. Then what must he be whose "canopy is space"?
III. THE LORD'S CHARIOT. It is not the terror of tempest clouds that is in the poet's mind. It is the ever-fascinating sailing of the clouds across the sky, at the impulse of the upper winds. The moving of the vast masses of billowy clouds, ever taking fresh and more fantastic shapes, and now silvered with the midday sun, or tinted with wondrous colouring in the evening light, is a perpetual wonder and joy to all sensitive souls. We judge the status and wealth of our fellow men by their equipages. What, then, must he be who "maketh the clouds his chariot," and, in place of mere horses, is borne away on "the wings of the wind"? So the nature figures bring home to our minds the sublimity of God. These things—the heavens, the light, the clouds, the winds—are the sublimest things that come into the field of human knowledge and observation. They are not God, they are only something God has made; only something God uses; only something that may suggest what cannot be altogether conceived. Impress that rightly reverent, adoring, wondering views of God ought to be encouraged. We all need to have his glory as well as his grace ever kept before us. Professor Agassiz even points out the importance of right impressions of God to the scientific man. "I tell you that my experience in prolonged scientific investigations, convinces me that a belief in God, a God who is behind and within the chaos of vanishing points of human knowledge, adds a wonderful stimulus to the man who attempts to penetrate into the regions of the unknown."—R.T.
Nature forces are Divine ministries.
The precise rendering of this verse is discussed in the Exposition. Now we treat it as a poetical suggestion, which fits into the general plan of the psalm. It is a hymn of admirations of the eternal King. The first part of the psalm sees the glory of the King through the splendour of his court or palace surroundings. The second part of the psalm sees the glory of the King in the provisions, the order, the arrangements, the happiness, of his kingdom. At the court, the psalmist is moved by the sublimity of the "light" as God's robe, the blue dome of the sky as God's tent curtain, and the wind-driven clouds as his chariot. And he further notices the grandeur of the royal attendants, the courtiers, who wait to do the royal bidding. All the forces of nature are at the Divine command, and the force that represents them all—the force that is most mysterious and sublime—is the force of lightning. Illustrate what a marvel of human power and skill it seems to be that man has, in some measure, chained the lightning, and compelled it to yield him light, and to carry his messages. What, then, must he be who has used the lightning force in his service through all the long generations? The figure is a sublime and suggestive one. All the august and awful nature forces are conceived as ministrants in the court of the eternal King. Illustrate by the vision of Isaiah; the six attendant seraphim.
I. THE ROYAL MINISTERS DECLARE THE GLORY OF THE GREAT KING. When an impression is to be made on us of the magnificence of Solomon, we are told the number and the dignity of his attendants and courtiers. Their nobility assures us that he must be yet more noble on whom they wait. Then show how grand are the forces of nature—physical, chemical; rain, sunshine, wind, fire, electricity, etc.; or take storms, famine, plague. What must he be who is daily served by such ministrants?
II. THE ROYAL MINISTERS ILLUSTRATE THE OPERATIONS OF THE KING. They execute his behests, carry out his plans; they execute his thoughts; and so we can read his mind in their doings.
1. The multitude of his ministers suggests that he is continuously working, ceaselessly active. Some of these nature forces are always at work for him.
2. The skill of his ministers suggests that he is ever efficiently working. These nature forces can do what he wills.
3. And the mystery of his ministers reminds us how we are made to feel the surprises of the Divine wisdom.—R.T.
The King is the Creator.
"Who laid the foundations of the earth." Having filled his soul with adoring thoughts of God, by considering his palace, his surroundings, and his attendants, the psalmist goes out into the kingdom of this eternal King, to see what he can learn of him from the provisions, and order, and adaptations, and rule of his dominions. And then an introductory thought comes to him. This eternal King not only founded this kingdom, he actually made everything in it. "The sea is his, and he made it, and his hands formed the dry land." High honour is given to the man who founds a kingdom. What honour is due to him who absolutely originates the great, mysterious, complex, nature kingdom? Bible writers see in the psalm a sketch of creation. Browne calls it "a bright and living picture of God's creative power, pouring life and gladness throughout the universe." But the reference to creation is only a brief, passing, introductory one; and what the psalmist fully dwells on is the marvel of the Divine order and rule in the earth sphere as created.
I. THE SHAPING OF THINGS IS THE ETERNAL KING'S IDEA. Take but the infinite varieties of form for material things—a crystal, a tree, a mountain, a weed; or for animated things—a bacillus, a mammoth, a dragonfly, an albatross, a worm, a man;—and our minds are overwhelmed by the effort to imagine the ideas of all forms fashioned in one intellect. There is no form of being that was not first of all a thought of God. He is the Foundation of all. If original forms modify and change, it is only according to God's ordered laws.
II. THE POWER OF THINGS IS THE ETERNAL KING'S ENDUEMENT. For there is nothing made that can really be called dead. Everything has a possibility of doing something. Even a stone can hold moisture on its under side. Metals have their chemical properties, and the very dust can at least combine. In higher ranges of being each creature has its power and its mission. And the power in things is ordered, not just developed. What must he be who is Source of power in everything?
III. THE RELATION OF THINGS IS THE ETERNAL KING'S ARRANGEMENT. Everything is connected with everything else. Nothing in the world is isolated. Everywhere there is flux and reflux. Everything is touching something, and influencing it by the touch. What must he be who devised all relations and all their consequences?—R.T.
Water witnesses to the glory of God.
The psalmist dwells most lovingly on the various wonders of God's ways with the water; and nothing more readily influences us than masses of waters, or falling waters, or gentle streams, or pouring rains. Poetically, man is very sensitive to the manifold forms in which God arranges this one simple thing—water. And nothing brings to man such a sense of irresistible power as loosened waters.
I. THE LEVELLING OF THE WATERS. (Psalms 104:5-8.) Evidently the poet is conceiving the original condition of the earth, when God dealt with it to make it the abode of man. Then it is conceived as a solid mass, surrounded by an envelope of watery mist, which rose higher than the tops of the mountains. The ancients did not apprehend the circular form of the earth, and so mists rising above the mountains presented to them no difficulty. The poet sees this mist dispelled by the command of God, and any one who has seen the mists roll away, in a mountain district, will fully appreciate his figures. They do seem to "go up by the mountains and down by the valleys." But in the Divine leading, the issue is that the waters gather into their various appointed places, and the dry land appears. What intangible, fickle things these mists seem to be! Then how glorious must he be at whose bidding they move!
II. THE CONTROLLING OF THE WATERS. (Psalms 104:9.) This impression is best associated with the sea. Sometimes, when it is driven high by wind and tide, its destructive possibilities seem overwhelming. Yet even then we calmly take our place on the tide line, and feel sure God's bound of silver sand will be an effective defence. When he is pleased to loosen his control, the world is flooded again, as in Noah's days. What must he be who holds in restraint the great wide sea?
III. THE EMPLOYING OF THE WATERS. Even more wonderful than the restraining of the sea in bounds is the storing of the waters in the thousandfold cisterns of the hills, whence they come forth in perennial springs to supply the creatures of God. More wonderful is the continuous uplifting of the great sea into the sky, where it may form the banks of clouds, which, at fit times and seasons, burst over the earth, and, falling in chemically enriched drops, fertilize the earth, and make it bring forth food for beast and man. What must be the glory of him who is the God of the springs, and the God of the rain, to whom the waters are but an ever-obedient ministry?—R.T.
The Divine mission of the darkness.
"Thou makest darkness, and it is night." What arrests the attention of the psalmist is the twofold mission of the darkness. It is a call to activity for some creatures; it is a call to rest for others. In a very striking article, Isaac Taylor showed that there were only one or two nights in each year that could be considered absolutely dark, and those few nights had a peculiar mission, which made them essentials in the economy of nature. Darkness is properly regarded as the resting time of the creatures. It is, indeed, a resting for the vegetable, as well as animal, creation; though the term "resting" can only be used in a limited sense, because there are activities maintained in the darkness. Too long continuance under one set of influences has a deteriorating effect on moral natures. The impressive illustration of this is the majesty of human transgression when men's lives were prolonged by centuries. Darkness is sent to break men's lives and relationships up into small pieces. God cannot trust frail man with mere than some twelve hours at a time.
I. DARKNESS PROVIDES REST FOR THE WEARY. Show the actual physical influence of darkness on men's bodies, on the muscular and nervous systems. Rest is essential for man when his labour is merely routine labour of the body; but how much more essential is it in these modern conditions, when the toil overwears also the brain and the heart! Recumbency may restore wearied limbs; darkness alone is chemically efficient to restore wearied brains. But it is a thought full of seriousness, that nearly one-half of a man's brief life is spent in unconsciousness. The wakeful hours in which rested faculties may find their spheres, ought to be jealously watched and wisely used. Man only "goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening."
II. DARKNESS PROVIDES THE CHANCE OF BEGINNING AGAIN. It comes and stops a man, gives him the opportunity of looking at his work; it shunts him aside awhile; and then, with returning light, the man can try again. He need not keep on the bad way of yesterday. There has been a gap of darkness. He can do better today. Hope for man lies in beginning afresh day by day.—R.T.
Poet thoughts concerning the Greater.
This psalm has been called a poetic version of Genesis 1:1-31, "a panorama of the universe viewed by the eye of devotion." It is connected with Psalms 103:1-22; which reviews God's dealings in the realm of grace. That psalm comes first, because only through our personal knowledge of God do we gain the true understanding of the God of nature. From nature alone man gains ideas of power, and even of malice; so he makes many gods, and they are chiefly gods to fear. The good man, through his faith in God, finds good in seemingly evil things, and fears nothing. But this psalm represents the poet's observation of nature, not that of the scientific man. Sentiment, not minutely described fact, is befitting to a Psalmist. Science must always be for the few among us; pious-toned observation is for all of us. In this verse we have the impression produced by religious meditation, which dwells not on the things, but on God's relation to the things.
I. THE WISDOM OF GOD SEEN IN HIS WORKS. Marvellous is the development of a few laws, and the harmonious interaction of these laws; they work into each other so that the order of the universe is never really broken. Then every individual thing is adjusted to its mission and its sphere. There is a strange and wonderful power of repair and recovery everywhere. Things do not really fail or die; they do but pass from one form of service to another.
II. THE RIGHTS OF GOD RECOGNIZED IN ALL HIS WORKS. "Thy possessions." Then our so called "rights" are only "trusts." We have nothing. Possession belongs only to God. We are the children born of a Father who owns a large estate. We enjoy, we use, we serve our Father in the use. But we can never enter into any sort of separate and individual "possession" while our Father lives. Are we, then, sensitive as a pious poet is in the midst of mighty and beautiful nature? Are we only interested, in a scientific sort of way, in things? or do we know how to enter into the very heart of things, and let them do their true work—make God precious to us?—R.T.
The manifoldness of God's works.
What profusion, what variety, there is in God's works! How inexhaustible must be the Divine ideas! "When trees blossom, there is not a single breast pin, but a whole bosom full of gems. The leaves have so many suits, that they can throw them away to the winds all summer long. What unnumbered cathedrals has he reared in the forest shades, vast and grand, full of curious carvings, and haunted evermore by tremulous music! and in the heavens above how do stars seem to have flown out of his hands faster than sparks out of a mighty forge!" (Beecher). "Mineral, vegetable, animal—what a range of works is suggested by these three names! No two, even of the same class, are exactly alike, and the classes are more numerous than science can number. Works in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth; works which abide the ages; works which come to perfection and pass away in a year; works which, with all their beauty, do not outlive a day; works within works, and works within these; who can number one of a thousand?"
I. MANIFOLD IMPLIES VARIETY. Here distinguish between the sameness of those creative and providential laws which regulate everything, and those multitudinous and ever-varied forms and shapes in which those ever-working laws can present things. God makes all things on principle, but no two things are precisely alike. The leaves of a tree and the faces of a flock are infinitely varied. What an impression we should have of God if a procession could pass before us of specimens only of every kind of insect form, or bird form, or beast form! What a mind to conceive these million shapes!
II. MANIFOLDNESS IMPLIES DESIGN. Once get the die stamped, and you make as many coins as you please to a pattern. But if every coin is different, there must have been a precise design in the making of each. Each coin would embody a thought. It must be true of the varying creatures of God. He must have planned each.
III. MANIFOLDNESS IMPLIES ADAPTATION. Everything has its place and relation. For nicety of fitting it is precisely shaped. God does not make mere things, but things to go into positions; and every variety of form and of force is the product of considerations and calculations of the Divine mind.—R.T.
Absolute dependence upon God.
"These wait all upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in due season." All vegetable and animal life depends on appropriate food; and though sometimes the food is at the creature's hand, it usually has to be sought. God has arranged the economy of nature so that each creature is skilled to find its own food. The dependence of creation on the Creator may be made effective to an audience by an illustrative instance such as the following: The fox has sly and skilful movements; but it is not always noticed how God helps the fox apart from his cunning. The red colour of his coat is found to have a strangely paralyzing effect on his prey, so that they are quite unable to flee from him. The psalmist, in trying to raise high and adoring thoughts of the eternal King by examination of his kingdom, is especially impressed with the signs of the King's presence, interest, care, and providing everywhere. It is not a creation set going, and left to go; it is sustained, provided for, continually.
I. FOR LIFE WE ARE DEPENDENT ON GOD. God. wakens us from nightly sleep, and sets new time upon our store.
II. FOR RENEWED POWERS WE ARE DEPENDENT ON GOD. Yet how seldom we thank God for our sound minds!
III. FOR HEALTH WE ARE DEPENDENT ON GOD. Modern discoveries concerning the germs of disease that float around us and thrive within us, make us wonder that health is retained so well and so long.
IV. FOR FOOD WE ARE DEPENDENT ON GOD. Since he gives us the means to get it, and provides it for us, year by year, as the harvest of his earth.
Visiting the Zoological Gardens, and noticing the variety of creatures, and the variety of food required to meet the needs and daily conditions of each one, we were set wondering over the Divine response to the dependence of all living things, he giveth "them," each one, "their meat"—that which is precisely suitable for each one—in due season, or whenever the need of each one really rises into a cry. "Our sufficiency is of God." Dependence on him meets with response from him, which claims our thankfulness and our service.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Renewed life: a spring sermon.
I. SPRING AWAKENS IN US THE SENSE OF LIFE. The life of nature is a symbol of the spiritual renewal of the Christian. The renewal of the heart, the conscience, and the will.
II. AWAKENS THE SENSE OF BEAUTIFUL LIFE. What a banquet for the eye! what fragrance, as if an angel swung a censor full of the odours of celestial flowers! how the ear is regaled! The life of the believer in Christ ought to be the most beautiful below the skies. The serene and tender loveliness of spiritual affections and actions is nobler than all the graces of outward beauty.
III. THE SENSE OF PROGRESSIVE LIFE. It is the season of growth. A parable of spiritual life.
1. When growth ceases, then decay begins.
2. Material growth is spontaneous; spiritual growth the result of self-effort. The flowers of the field neither toil nor spin; but we grow by the power of will and purpose.
3. Material and spiritual growth are often irregular. Does not proceed at a uniform rate.
IV. IT IS PROPHETIC LIFE. The gardens and the fields prophesy a harvest of fruit and grain.
1. The present life is only a prophecy of our immortal life. Our knowledge, our desires, our powers of spiritual action, are all in their infancy; the summer glory of our being is to be reached elsewhere.
2. The present experience of the Christian is only a prophecy of future experience. As the bud and blossom predict the fruit; or the first ear of corn predicts the whole harvest. Admonitory thought to us. Spring is full of promise; but some of its promises will never be fulfilled. How many of the young never fulfil the promise of their early days, but turn out miserable abortions!—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 104". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany