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AN antiphonal hymn, composed for a joyful occasion, when there was to be a procession to the temple, a welcoming of the procession by those inside, and the solemn offering of a sacrifice upon the altar there. Dr. Kay's conjecture, that the occasion was the joyful Passover which followed the dedication of the second temple in B.C. 516 (Ezra 6:19-22), is not improbable, though it cannot be regarded as more than a reasonable hypo thesis.
The first eighteen verses are the song of the procession as it winds its way slowly up the hill to the great gate of the temple, sung alternately, as it would seem, by the two halves of the procession. Psalms 118:19 is the utterance of the leader, in the name of the whole hand, on their arrival before the gates. Psalms 118:20 is the reply made to them by those inside. The procession, as it enters, sings Psalms 118:21-24 antiphonally as before, all joining in Psalms 118:25. Those already inside sing Psalms 118:26 in welcome of their friends. Psalms 118:27 belongs to the leader of the pro cession, and initiates the actual sacrifice. Psalms 118:28, Psalms 118:29 are then sung, either by the whole congregation or by the two parts of the procession.
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good because his mercy endureth for ever (comp. Psalms 106:1, and the comment ad loc.).
Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth forever. (For the triple division of the people made in this and the next two verses—
(2) house of Aaron,
(3) those who fear the Lord—see Psalms 115:9-11, and Psalms 115:12, Psalms 115:13.)
The nature of the division is considered in the comment on Psalms 115:11.
Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth forever. Let the priests endorse what the people generally have declared, that God's mercy is ever lasting.
Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth forever. Let the real Israel, the true worshippers of Jehovah, those who worship him in spirit and in truth, set their seal also to the great confession, and solemnly sanction what the people and the priests have done.
I called upon the Lord in distress; literally, from the strait place; i.e. from the straits in which I was. It is generally agreed that the Babylonian captivity is intended. The nation had called to God in its distress by the mouth of Daniel (Daniel 9:4-19) and of other holy men. The Lord answered me, and set me in a large place; literally, the Lord answered me on the open plain. The idea is, "The Lord gave me enlargement"—took me out of my straits—"set my feet in a large room" (Psalms 31:8).
The Lord is on my side. "At this point the speaker transfers his point of view into the past; he is once more fear less in the midst of foes" (Cheyne). I will not fear (comp. Psalms 23:4; Psalms 27:1; Psalms 56:4, etc.). What can man do unto me? Man is powerless against God. "If God be for us [i.e. on our side], who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).
The Lord taketh my part with them that help me; literally, the Lord is on my side among my helpers (comp. Psalms 54:4). Therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me (comp. Psalms 54:7; Psalms 59:10).
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man (comp. Psalms 62:8, Psalms 62:9). Israel, on its return from the Captivity, had begun by putting a good deal of trust in its human helpers, as Cyrus and the other friendly heathen mentioned in Ezra 1:4-6; Ezra 3:7. But this help, after a little time, had failed them (Ezra 4:1-24), and they had found themselves in great difficulties.
It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. The "princes" after Cyrus had proved "broken reeds," and, instead of favoring Israel, had favored Israel's enemies (Ezra 4:6-24). At last Darius had done them justice, but it was felt that no sure dependence could be placed either on him or on his successors. Jehovah alone was Israel's safe ground of confidence, He "would not fail them, nor forsake them" (Joshua 1:5).
All nations compassed me about. This is, of course, hyperbole. But it was a fact that all, or almost all, the nations among whom the Israelites dwelt were at all times hostile to them, and sought their destruction. But in the Name of the Lord will I destroy them; or, "I will mow them down" (comp. Job 24:24).
They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about (comp. Psalms 88:17). The special compassing about alluded to is probably that in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, when not only the Babylonians but the Syrians, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Edomites took part in hostilities against Israel (2 Kings 24:2; Psalms 137:7). But in the Name of the Lord I will destroy them. The threefold repetition of this trenchant phrase (Psalms 118:10, Psalms 118:11, Psalms 118:12) lends it vast additional force. It is no casual utterance, no mere wish, or thought begotten of a wish, but a deep and firm conviction.
They compassed me about like bees; i.e. in vast numbers, and with intense energy, and a furious desire to injure (comp. Deuteronomy 1:44; and the powerful description of Virgil, 'Georg.,' 4:236-238). They are quenched as the fire of thorns. Their fury dies away and goes out suddenly, like a fire kindled among thorns, which blazes up with vast heat and noise, but in a short time dies down and disappears. For in the Name of the Lord I will destroy them (see the comment on Psalms 118:11).
Thou hast thrust lore at me that I might fall; rather, thou didst thrust (Revised Version). The psalmist recalls the past, and throws himself, as it were, once more into the midst of the struggle. Thou—mine enemy, Babylon—didst make s desperate onset upon me, fully intending my destruction. But the Lord helped me. Frustrated thy purpose—preserved the life, the national life, which thou aimedst at destroying, and so did most effectually "help me."
The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation. The deliverance was such that no words but those of the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:2) could fitly celebrate it.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous (comp. Ezra 6:16, Ezra 6:22). "Tabernacles," or "tents," is continually used by the sacred writers as a synonym for "dwellings." The use of the expression here by no means implies that the Israelites of the time were actually living in tents. The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly (scrap. Exodus 15:6, Exodus 15:12). God's right hand was at the time stretched out to protect and preserve Israel.
The right hand of the Lord is exalted (compare the parallel expression in Exodus 15:6, "Thy right hand, O God, is become glorious in power"). When God's right hand effects a deliverance, it gets, as it were, additional glory to itself. The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. So, already, in Psalms 118:16. Repetition is a special characteristic of this psalm (see Psalms 118:1, Psalms 118:2, Psalms 118:3, Psalms 118:4; Psalms 118:8, Psalms 118:9; Psalms 118:10-12, etc.).
I shall not die, but live. The psalmist speaks, not in his own person, but in the name of his nation. They had been brought very near to extinction; but now the danger was past. God had given them "a reviving" (Ezra 9:8, Ezra 9:9); and they felt that henceforth they would "live." And declare the works of the Lord. They would employ the new life granted them in "declaring God's works" (see Psalms 40:5, Psalms 40:10; Psalms 96:3; Psalms 145:4-6); i.e. they would witness to all men of "the might of his marvelous acts," and "abundantly utter the memory of his great goodness."
The Lord hath chastened me sore. By the long sufferings of the Captivity. But he hath not given me over unto death (see the comment on Psalms 118:17).
Open to me the gates of righteousness. The great gate of the temple being now reached, admission to the interior is requested. The gates are called "the gates of righteousness,"
(1) as gates which none but the righteous ought to enter (see the next verse); and
(2) as gates through which access is gained to the sanctuary of him who alone is truly righteous, and the source of all righteousness in others. I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord. Praise could be given to God any where; but it was most appropriately offered "in the courts of the Lord's house, even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem" (Psalms 116:19).
This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter; rather, this is the gate of the Lord: the righteous [and they alone] shall enter by it. "This verse seems to stand apart—a solo, chanted by a voice out of the temple gate" (Kay). Though sinners doubtless sometimes entered (2 Kings 11:13; 2 Chronicles 26:16-20; John 2:14), none but the righteous had any right to enter.
I will praise thee; for thou hast heard me. The chant of the procession as it enters—a prolongation of the strain begun in Psalms 118:19. And art become my salvation (comp. Psalms 118:14).
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. The primary and literal meaning seems to be—" Israel, which the great of the world, those who think to arrange the world ac cording to their own ideas, have rejected and would fain have cast aside, has, nevertheless, despite their rejection, attained to eminence, and been advanced, by the course of events, into such a position, that it may be regarded as the head corner-stone—the most important of all the nations of the world." Any Messianic reference is secondary and subordinate.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This fresh elevation of Israel to importance—especially to such great importance—can only be attributed to the work of Divine providence. It is "the Lord's doing"—literally, "from the Lord"—and is one of the most marvelous events of history.
This is the day which the Lord hath made. The thanksgiving day is one which has been fore-ordained of God, and brought into existence by him for a special purpose. We will therefore carry out God's purpose, and rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord; or, "we beseech thee." The interjectional אנא is as suitable to the several speakers as to one. O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity; i.e. continue to save, continue to send prosperity. Israel feels its constant dependence upon God, and that if the Divine care were remitted for a day, or for an hour, all would be lost. Tears, as Professor Cheyne observes, continually mingle with Israel's laughter.
Blessed be he that cometh in the Name of the Lord. Once more a voice issues from the interior of the temple (comp. Psalms 118:20). The priestly choir there stationed to receive the procession, blesses it as coming "in the Name of the Lord;" i.e. for a religious purpose, and with pious intentions. We have blessed you, they say (or, rather perhaps, we bless you) out of the house of the Lord. "The house of the Lord is the fountain and the treasury of all blessing" (Hengstenberg).
God is the Lord, which hath showed us light. Having received the priestly benediction, the processionists resume their strain. They have entered within the courts; they are approaching the altar of sacrifice; they have brought their offering. "Jehovah," they say, "is God, and hath given us light" (see the Revised Version). That is, he has enlightened our spirits to see and acknowledge his mercies; or, perhaps, he has led us, as he did the people, by a pillar of fire in the wilderness; and now we stand before the altar with our offering—receive it at our hands, ye priests-and bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. So shalt the act of thanksgiving be complete, and the solemn service ended. The fanciful exposition of Luther, lately revived by Professor Cheyne, will scarcely approve itself to critics generally.
Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. This is the acknowledgment made by each and all, and probably repeated many times, while the sacrifice is being consumed upon the altar.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever. The psalm ends, as it began, with the usual thanksgiving refrain.
Opposition, deliverance, thanksgiving.
The psalmist (or the nation) is passing, or has just passed, through great distress. He (it) has been the object of malignant and determined attack; he has been surrounded by enemies, and been in peril of his life; he has then, as always, sought help from above; and he has been so graciously relieved that he has the sense of deliverance in his soul, and the song of triumph on his lips.
I. HUMAN OPPOSITION. This begins in:
1. Hatred; or a hostile feeling (Psalms 118:7). It is bad enough that men should cherish a spirit of enmity toward us, that they should wish us evil. But this passes into:
2. A hostile attitude. Those who are opposed to us "compass us about" (Psalms 118:10-12). They quietly surround us with the network of their intrigue. They go beyond this; they bring to bear on us:
3. Active opposition. They "thrust sore at us" (Psalms 118:13); their voice is raised in accusation, in detraction, in opposition; they take active measures to defeat, to distress, even to ruin us. It may be that their efforts conduct to;
4. The most grave results. Positive disaster may impend (Psalms 118:17, Psalms 118:18). It may be war "unto death."
II. THE HOPE OF THE AFFLICTED. When thus engirt with enemies, our health, or our peace, or our position being seriously threatened, we have a refuge in God.
1. This trouble is so far of him that he has permitted it, and he has it under his control. Our appeal is therefore rightly directed to him.
2. His power against our adversaries is unquestioned and unbounded; let him lift his hand, and they are discomfited (Psalms 118:16). With God at our side, animating and inspiring us, we ourselves shall prove wiser and stronger than they (Psalms 118:10-12).
3. Conscious of our own integrity, with clean hands and a pure heart, assured that we are not seeking our own interests but those of the kingdom of Christ, we count confidently on his sympathy and succor (Psalms 118:6, Psalms 118:7).
III. DIVINE RELIEF. We call on God, and he answers us, and sets us "in a large place" (Psalms 118:5). He takes us out of the straits in which we were hemmed in, and places us where we can breathe freely and can act happily and fearlessly. He has become "our salvation" (Psalms 118:14). Our liabilities are met, our enemies disarmed, our reputation cleared, our position secured, our friends reconciled and restored, our path is made plain; we "return unto our rest." Then comes the blessedness of—
1. In the heart. (Psalms 118:1-4.) Let every one that has been thus delivered, to whatever tribe he may belong, say that the pity of the Lord "endureth forever," that it never fails.
2. In the home. (Psalms 118:15.) The voice of praise should be heard beneath every roof where God is known and his goodness has been felt.
3. In the sanctuary. (Psalms 118:19, Psalms 118:20, Psalms 118:21.) In the psalmody which is heard in the Church there is many a note, detected by the ear of God, which is the outpouring of a rescued and relieved human spirit.
The great reversal.
To whomsoever these words (Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23) primarily referred, we have the highest authority for applying them to our Lord himself. In his case we have—
I. THE GREAT REVERSAL. (Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23.) No reversal of fortune in human affairs can be comparable to his experience. Consider:
1. His course on earth—the circumstances of his birth, of his youth, and of his manhood; his claims disowned, his truth rejected, himself insulted, ill-treated, condemned, smitten, crucified!
2. The nature of his position now as the Divine Head of the Church. He may be said to be both the Foundation-stone and also the Corner or Top-stone (the "epistyle"); for his Church is built upon his truth and, still more truly, upon himself; and, at the same time, it looks up to him as the most conspicuous One on whom its eyes rest with reverence and love.
3. The exaltation he enjoys in the heavenly world (see Philippians 2:9-12; Revelation 5:13).
II. THE LONG BRIGHT DAY OF GRACE AND GLADNESS. (Psalms 118:24.) The position of Jesus Christ as "Prince and Savior, giving redemption and remission of sins," is a long, bright day, succeeding the darkness of heathendom or the twilight of "the Law;" it is a day which "the Lord has made" for the nations of the earth. We may well "rejoice and be glad in it;" not thinking and speaking and singing of it as if it were a dispensation of dreariness and gloom, but realizing that it is one of close fellowship with God, of holy and happy service, of ever-brightening, hope (see Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4; Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 3:19; Revelation 1:6). "The joy of the Lord" is that which becomes us; it is our duty and it is "our strength." Yet is there—
III. THE NEED FOR EARNEST PRAYER. (Psalms 118:25.)
1. That the individual soul may be "saved," strengthened, comforted, sanctified.
2. That the Church, the society, the institution, may be "prospered;" that its officers may be inspired and directed; that its action may be pure in motive and high in aim; that its efforts may be crowned with true and lasting success.
IV. THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE. (Psalms 118:27.) Jehovah, through his prophets, so enlightened his people that they brought to his altar the acceptable sacrifice. The great Teacher has so enlightened us by his Divine truth, that we have reached the place of purest and most well-pleasing sacrifice—the dedication of the entire nature, the mind, the affections, the will, and of the whole life, at home, in business, in society, to the service of the Lord.
V. THE SOUL'S DELIGHT IN GOD. The contemplation of God's goodness, and especially of his grace to us, may well lead us into an atmosphere of exultation, and call forth from us the language of fervent praise.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The valiant right hand of the Lord.
The history of Israel was full of illustrations and evidences of this. The occasion of this psalm was one of them. But apply the thrice-repeated declaration of the text—
I. TO OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. For:
1. See how he overcomes Satan. He was tempted in all points like as we are, and again and again, and yet Satan found nothing in him.
2. Sin. He was holy, harmless, and undefiled; he did no sin.
3. The Law's condemnation. "He was just, and yet the Justifier of him who," etc. "He magnified the Law, and made it honorable."
4. Death. By his resurrection and ascension.
5. All the works of the devil. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24.)
II. TO THE TRIUMPHS OF THE GOSPEL. Read the history of the Church, trace its growth and increase, see its onward march still.
III. TO THE INDIVIDUAL BELIEVING SOUL. What hindrances we put, and still put, in our Lord's way! what pride, unbelief, love of sin, and all the rest! and yet one after another he beats them all down.—S.C.
I shall not die, but live.
I. THIS PSALM HAS BEEN WELL CALLED THE "HYMN Or DELIVERANCE FROM EXILE," as the song of Moses was the "Hymn of Deliverance from Egypt." It is such a Te Deum as was possible when as yet the gospel had not been revealed. The enemies of Israel had done their worst. They had compassed Israel "about like bees" (Psalms 118:10-12); they had "thrust sore at him," that he might fall (Psalms 118:13). But with this recollection, and with the consciousness of bitter enmity still existing, there is mingled the glad confidence, the buoyant hope, that their enemies shall be "quenched as the fire of thorns." "I shall not die, but live" (Psalms 118:14-17). The psalm pictures Israel keeping high festival, probably at the dedication of the new temple. The day itself was solemnly set apart (Psalms 118:24), and a joyous procession is seen advancing towards the sacred edifice. As it nears the entrance, the warders of the gates are summoned to open them (Psalms 118:19), that the people may go in to praise the Lord. "And then, as the throng passes within, the psalmist notes a circumstance which forms a leading feature in his poem. In building the new temple, some block of stone had been, at first, laid aside as useless, and then, on fuller consideration, it had been lifted up to fill one of the most important positions in the structure." The sacred poet fastens on this incident, and sees in it the striking suggestion of Israel's own history—a suggestion which our Lord himself takes up and applies to himself as being the most complete fulfillment of its prophecy. Israel had seemed useless, impossible of recovery, unfit altogether for the high purposes for which God had at first designed her. Carried off and apparently lost in the sweltering mob of nationalities in which she had been swallowed up, what good was she capable of? what useful part in the upbuilding of the kingdom of God could she serve? So all men thought, and with apparent abundant reason. But the festival which the psalm celebrates contradicted all that, and the stone, once rejected, but now filling so important a place in the new temple, was the type and prophecy of the high service which yet, and in spite of all past and present obstacles, Israel was called to render in the accomplishment of the good will of God to man. So that she could say, as here she does, "I shall not die, but," etc.
II. IT WAS ADOPTED BY OUR LORD FOR HIMSELF. Not alone the special part of the psalm (Psalms 118:22), which tells of the rejected but exalted stone (cf. Matthew 21:42), but the whole tone and spirit of the psalm. It looked, as the day of his death drew near, as if he were forever the "Rejected of men." But the words of our text were his conviction (cf. Luke 18:31-33). He, though humbled even to death, and that the death of the cross, yet should he conquer death and live for evermore (Romans 6:10; Revelation 1:18). The exile of Israel and their glad return were but shadows of the dark ness of the cross, and the glory of Easter Day.
III. IT HAS BEEN EVER TRUE OF THE CHURCH OF GOD. She has been plunged into deepest woe, and brought down to death.
1. By fierce persecution. Let the martyr ages tell.
2. By the growth and spread of false doctrine. The faith once delivered to the saints has been tampered with, perverted, so that its true character has been lost.
3. And worse still, moral corruption has once and again seized on her, and made her a thing of horror to all holy souls. But in each case it has been possible for the faithful remnant to lift up the exultant chant, "I snail not die," etc.
IV. IT IS THE WELL-WARRANTED HOPE AND CONFIDENCE OF EVERY CHRISTIAN SOUL.
1. Sometimes the text comes literally true. Life has all but gone; the powers of the body seemed incapable of recovery; but restoration has been given. Let such restored life be given up to the declaration of the works of the Lord.
2. In the hour of terrible temptation. How many a soul has been all but lost, but, grasping the hand of the Lord, has yet been saved!
3. At the hour of death. The body dies, but not we.—S.C.
The gates of righteousness.
We can have little doubt that this psalm was composed for the dedication of the new temple built by the exiles after their return from Babylon (see Ezra 3:1-13.). The events alluded to in the psalm correspond with the history. They had been compassed about by enemies (see Psalms 118:10, etc.). They were dwelling in tents (Psalms 118:15). Nationally they had been near unto death (Psalms 118:15), and had been chastened sore (Psalms 118:18). There were those that helped them (Psalms 118:7). They were beginning a new work (Psalms 118:25). For all these reasons the psalm has been assigned to the events told of in Ezra 3:1-13. They had been in bitter exile, exposed to fierce persecution (see histories in Daniel). But at length the Persian power under Cyrus advances, Babylon is overthrown. It is probable that the Jews sympathized with the Persians because of the similarity between the religions they each professed; and the Persians also with them. At any rate, Cyrus favors them. Under Zerubbabel, Joshua, and Zechariah, a vast throng of them—near fifty thousand—return to their desolate land. They are exposed to the attacks of their old enemies, Moabites, Ammonites, Amalekites; but the power of Persia helps them. At length they reach Jerusalem. Their first step is to build the altar (Ezra 3:3), thus declaring their allegiance and confidence towards God. Afterwards the building of the temple is proceeded with, and in connection with that this glorious psalm was written. The priests with a vast multitude approach the temple, and, standing before the gates, they cry, "Open to me the gates of," etc. Now wherefore are these gates and all such gates so called? It is because—
I. THE TRUE WORSHIPPERS RECOGNIZE WHAT GOD REQUIRES IN THOSE WHO WORSHIP HIM. (Cf. Psalms 15:1-5; Psalms 24:1-10.) Israel, through what they had suffered, had come to see that righteousness was the one demand of God. Hence now they declare that it is only a righteous nation that can enter them. And so it is in the Church today. We may call ourselves members of the Church; but that we are not, save as we are righteous. And so it will be in the temple of the Lord on high.
"Those holy gates for ever bar
Pollution, sin, and shame;
None can obtain an entrance there
But followers of the Lamb."
II. WHAT GOD IN HIMSELF IS—THE RIGHTEOUS ONE. The temple is his, and therefore the gates; and therefore, because God is righteous, the gates are gates of righteous ness. Zechariah says, "He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." The distinction of Israel was that they worshipped a holy God. "The Lord our God is holy." Other gods connived at sin, and set the example of it. But Israel was taught by all the institutions of their Law that God was righteous, and of too pure eyes to behold iniquity. How, then, can any one think that he will tolerate and condone it, that, in fact, he does not mind it? or how can any one pervert the gospel of Christ—as thousands do—and make his righteousness not the pattern, pledge, and form of their own, as it is, but a substitute for it?
III. WHAT GOD WILL GIVE TO HIS PEOPLE—RIGHTEOUSNESS. Those gates lead the true worshipper straight to this gift. It is by the way of the altar, telling of the blood which cleanseth from all sin. All the motive forces of holiness—repentance, faith, love, hope—an gather round the cross of Christ, the place of sacrifice. There we find life, and that life more abundantly.
IV. THE TRUE WORSHIPPER PURPOSES THAT THIS IS WHAT HE WILL RENDER TO GOD—A LIFE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. He has heard the call, "Be ye holy," and he has seen whence and how this holiness can be his, and now it is his fixed resolve to lead that righteous life which God desires, deserves, and demands. Hence he says, "Open to me the gates of righteousness. I will go in to them, and I will praise the Lord."—S.C.
The day the Lord hath made.
The words primarily point to that joyful dedication day of the new temple. Perhaps Israel had been directed specially to observe the day; or, more likely still, the psalmist meant the day of joy and gladness of revived national and religious life. "This is the day the Lord," etc.
I. WE MAY APPLY IT TO OUR LORD'S RESURRECTION-DAY. That has been called the day of days, as indeed it was and is to the Church of Christ. That first Easter Day was "the day in his life which he made his own beyond all others. Not his birthday; for that meant his entrance on a life of sorrows. Not his ascension day; for that was the closing scene of a triumph already achieved. Not his transfiguration-day; for that was a momentary flash of glory in a career of pain. Not the day of his crucifixion; that was a great day for a ruined world, but for him it marked the lowest stage of humiliation and woe. The day of days in the life of Christ was the day of his resurrection." And to the first disciples especially, and to the believing Church still:
1. This day has the joy of deliverance from a great dread. They thought they had but their Lord, and that the redemption of Israel was now but an unfulfilled and impossible dream. But that dread departed, driven forth by the joy of the day of resurrection.
2. And the day brings also the joy of full conviction as to the gospel we believe. Our Lord and his apostles base all belief of that gospel on the Resurrection; they held it, as do we, as an infallible proof.
3. The joy of renewed and radiant hope. "Christ ever liveth:" what now is not possible? For all such reasons the words of the text may be fitly applied to the Easter joy.
II. TO THE LORD'S DAY—THE SABBATH. Who can over-estimate to man's body, mind, heart, and soul what the blessed Sunday brings? Fools and blind are they who, for any reason or by any means, would rob weary-hearted men of this priceless boon.
III. TO THE DAY OF OUR CONVERSION. It is not all that can, nor is it indispensable for any to remember the exact day when that great spiritual change passed upon them. But some have vivid recollection of it; they can tell the time, place, circum stances, and all connected with the day on which they were born again and passed from death unto life. And it may be they are to be envied who can do this, which assuredly many cannot. But they will not hesitate to take such words as these in our text, and apply them to this by them never-to-be-forgotten day.
IV. TO THE DAY OF REVIVAL AND RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY, How blessed such seasons are! God gives them to his Church from time to time. Spring-tide seasons, when there is an energy and quickening and force in the general life of the Church, such as has long been unknown. It was so for Israel when this psalm was first sung, and it has been so many times since. And let no one wait for the whole Church to be thus revived; the blessed time may come—will come, if really longed for—to the individual soul. And that will be a time of joy.—S.C.
I. WHAT IS IT?
1. Not mere numbers. Crowd-winning is not soul-winning.
2. Still less mere rank, wealth, and talent in the Church. He is a fool who despises these things; but he is a still greater one who claims them to be identical with true prosperity, or a substitute for it.
3. But it consists in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God. This will be seen in the conversion of sinners; in the holiness and zeal of believers; in their increase of unity and love.
II. WHENCE IS IT? It is from God. We are to look to him. We are terribly apt to look elsewhere.
III. HOW IS IT OBTAINED? By waiting upon God with earnest, importunate prayer. "O Lord, I beseech thee," etc. And one such earnest seeker can do much to gain this. It is the prayer of one man—"I beseech thee"—that we have here.
IV. WHEN MAY IT BE HAD? NOW! The earnest longing for it is an omen of its approach. The prayer of faith works marvels.
V. WHY SHOULD WE SEEK IT? For our own sake; for the Church's sake; for the world's sake; for Christ's sake.—S.C.
Psalms 118:27, Psalms 118:28
The song of the saved soul.
Thus also may this psalm be regarded. It is falsehood when sung by the godless and unsaved; but if we are Christ's by willing consent, then this song is ours.
I. GOD SHOWS US LIGHT. As at the Creation the Holy Spirit's first work was the giving of the light, so is it in the new creation of the soul.
1. Light as to its real condition—lost, helpless, guilty, condemned.
2. Revealing the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the lost.
3. And as our Keeper and Upholder when saved, by the power of his Holy Spirit.
4. Light as to his will-forces, and our capacity for and obligation to serve him. Has God thus showed us light?
II. THE SOUL PRESENTS ITSELF IN SACRIFICE. This is ever so. Christ is not our sacrifice, unless we are his. If his is for us, ours is unto him. The instinctive utterance of the soul is, "What shall I render unto the Lord?"
III. BUT THIS SACRIFICE. WHICH WE BRING NEEDS TO BE BOUND TO THE ALTAR. It used to be said by the Jews that no animals were so restive as those which were brought for sacrifice to the altar. Certainly our sacrifice needs to be bound with cords to the altar. Do we not find how our hearts would go off to the world again? What tendency to turn from Christ there is! The down-drag of the world, the flesh and the devil are terrible indeed. Do we not find this in our prayers? How our minds wander! how difficult to fix our attention! Satan is ever busy with suggestions and temptations to make us take back our sacrifice.
IV. BUT THERE ARE CORDS, TRUSTY AND STRONG, WITH WHICH WE MAY BIND THE SACRIFICE TO THE ALTAR. AS it was with our Lord—to whom this whole psalm is for ever pointing us—there were cords which bound him, and the same will bind us.
1. The cord of love. This was his motive, and must be ours. Not fear, not the goadings of conscience, not mere sense of duty, but love. "The love of Christ constraineth me," said St. Paul. This is one chief cord.
2. Faith. Not mere creed, but trust, reliance. This was one of Christ's cords. His enemies mocked him on the cross, "He trusted in God, that he would deliver him!" They were right; he did ever trust in God. He was sure that his Father's will was right, and that the path ordained for him was the right one. And so must it be with us. We have to walk by faith, not by sight. If we let go our trust, we shall certainly take back the sacrifice we have brought. But trust keeps it on the altar of consecration.
3. Obedience. This was the habit of our Lord's life. He did always that which pleased God. And so with us. Let us form the habit of obedience, and we shall find that the very idea of a contrary course becomes alien to the mind. To do God's will becomes almost instinctive with us.
4. Delight, not mere duty. (Cf. our Lord's words, Psalms 40:8.) It is good to do God's will, even when we feel no delight; but how much happier and more effectual is our service when we do! And if we persistently serve the Lord, we shall find delight in his service. These are the cords which held our Lord to his sacrifice, and will hold us to ours.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Family experience of Divine mercies.
This is evidently a liturgical psalm, and on the whole it seems best to associate it either with the dedication of the second temple by the returned exiles, or with their keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles. The personal expressions in it need not be misunderstood. The speaker is a typical individual representing the nation. (For the probable occasion, see Nehemiah 8:13-18.) "The psalm is vividly dramatic, representing the leader of Israel with his train coming to the temple, calling for the gates to be opened to his triumphal entrance, and going in to worship the Lord. The psalm is dramatically distributed to different actors. In Psalms 118:1-4 we have
(a) the opening chorus of thanksgiving from the train of the king or leader without and the priests within; then
(b) in Psalms 118:5-9 the king thankfully records his deliverance and confidence in the Lord, and his thanksgiving is taken up by a response of like trust; next
(c) in Psalms 118:10-16 he again exults in his sure victory over all nations in the Lord's Name, in spite of fierce opposition and danger, and is answered similarly by utterance of triumph from the people; on this,
(d) in Psalms 118:16-20, follows his summons to open the gates, answered by consent from within; then
(e) in Psalms 118:21-24, entering the temple, he pours out his thanksgiving, and all alike, priests and people, glorify the Lord on ' the day that he has made;' finally,
(f) in Psalms 118:25-29, he prays, 'Save, I beseech thee' (Hosanna), and is 'blessed as coming in the Name of the Lord; ' and the whole psalm ends with a chorus of universal praise to God" (Barry). "One or two writers have thought this psalm to be too legal in its constant dwelling upon the idea of duty. But duty is the fly-wheel of the spiritual machinery. It does not inspire the noble life, it regulates it, and the psalm is for the use of those who have already received inspiration from the sight of the city of God. We fix attention on the first sphere of the enduring Divine mercy. For his goodness in family life our thanks are continually due. The house of Aaron was the type and representative of the houses (families) of Israel. And God's dealings with it suggest his dealings with them.
I. GOD'S FAMILY MERCIES APPEAR AS DIVINE SELECTIONS. We are familiar with the idea that God, in his wisdom and mercy, selects individuals for particular ministries, and honors them with the trust of such ministries; and it is but an enlargement of the truth to see, that in a similar way he selects families and communities and nations. The selection of the house, or family, of Aaron for priestly services, and of Heman for musical services, and of David for kingly services, are illustrations. And it is well when families can realize that the mercies of God to them are not merely comfortable provisions, or business successes, but their selection for high and holy trusts and responsible services.
II. GOD'S FAMILY MERCIES APPEAR AS DIVINE CORRECTIONS. This is very strikingly illustrated in the record of the "house of Aaron." We may even say that the visitations of Divine love in judgment were frequent and severe, as may be illustrated in the deaths of Nadab and Abihu; the limitation of Aaron's own life; the shifting of the priestly order in later years, etc. They who read their life-stories aright—their family life stories—never hesitate to praise God most of all for the mercy in discipline that was hard to bear.
III. GOD'S FAMILY MERCIES APPEAR AS DIVINE DELIVERANCES. Family life has its perils, its disasters, its wilfulnesses, and its mistakes. These variously affect the heads of the family as well as the members. Every family story is made up of sick nesses, sorrows, follies, and sins, and God's mercies come into the family life at every point of need as redemption, as deliverance. This the psalmists constantly recognize. This we too recognize who fully believe that God is in our family life. He is ever delivering the family from its bad self, from untoward circumstances, and from active foes.
IV. GOD'S FAMILY MERCIES APPEAR AS STRENGTHENING FOR SERVICE. In the case of the "house of Aaron" we have unusually solemn service; but that is only typical of the service which every family has to render, and which it never can render well save as it realizes the strengthening and sustaining mercy of God. Under priestly burdens a man may say, "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake thou for me." But that is precisely what every man should say in the bearing of his own burden.
V. GOD'S FAMILY MERCIES APPEAR AS HELPINGS OF ONE ANOTHER. The clinging together and mutual helpfulness of family life are usually traced as due to family dispositions, paternal or maternal characteristics. It is altogether a higher and more inspiring view to see in family brotherliness the signs of the Divine mercy.—R.T.
Personal experience of Divine mercies.
"Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth for ever." The term "fear the Lord" suggests personal apprehensions of God, personal dealings with God, and personal relations with him. It is inconceivable that there can have been these close personal associations with God without their having left a deep impression of the abundance, adaptation, and continuance of the Divine mercy. No man can look over his life, and trace God's manner of dealing with him, without being disposed to say, "To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses;" "Also unto thee belongeth mercy, for thou renderest to every man according to his works." What impressions of the Divine mercies come to us out of our personal experience?
I. THE MERCY OF GOD HAS TAKEN SHAPE AS A DIVINE PATIENCE. That may well be put first, for, when the heart is tender, it is that comes to us most affectingly. When anything like a fitting sense of our own willfulness and waywardness comes upon our hearts, it is the marvel, over which we never tire of brooding, that God has been so patient with us. Never offended with us, as our fellow-men have easily been; never "dealing with us after our sins, nor rewarding us according to our iniquities." It is not only that he has quietly waited, it is that he has so gently borne with us. Divine patience is never to be thought of as a mere sitting down and waiting. It is best suggested by a mother's ways with a sickly babe; or the doctor's ways with an irritable, fractious patient. There be many to whom God's mercy always appears as his patience and long-suffering, and they praise him for that.
II. THE MERCY OF GOD HAS TAKEN SHAPE AS A DIVINE DISCIPLINE. This is the thought that comes to us as life advances, and the events of the past gain their true perspective. At the time things seemed to be afflictions, calamity, needless strain, and we fretted ourselves weary in trying to find why such hard things were put into our lot. Distance from them increases, and we find they look quite differently. Things are related which we thought had nothing to do with each other. We see how our cultured power came out of our stern experiences; and then we see that God's mercy is the way in which he has made the hard things of life train and discipline characters meet for the heavenly spheres.—R.T.
Psalms 118:5, Psalms 118:6
God's power in a human life.
The figure in Psalms 118:5 is very striking and suggestive. The Hebrew is, "I called upon the Lord from the straitness;" or, "From the narrow gorge I called upon Jab, and Jab answered me in the open plain." It is not necessary to fix any historical associations to the psalm in order to see the point of such a figure. It does but poetically represent a common experience. Continually in human life we come upon times of straitness; our way is hedged up; it is as if we were in a narrow gorge, full of fears lest the overhanging rocks should fall on us, and seeing no way out. Who has not thus felt hemmed in? "All these things are against us." Human wisdom, energy, and persistency alike are baffled and beaten back. "We cannot do the things that we would." Every one and everything seems to be against us. And at such times we easily think hard things of our fellow-men, and think that they are actively against us, when they are only indifferent. What can the psalmist say of such times?
I. FROM THE NARROW GORGE HE CALLED UPON GOD. That at least we can always do. No circumstances of human life need ever prevent the soul's uplook, or silence the soul's cry. Bunyan pictures his pilgrim in sore straitness, picking his perilous way through the Valley of the Shadow. Weapons are of no use there. Human care and skill and watching are of small avail there. But there is one thing the pilgrim can do, and that one thing is everything—he can pray; he can "call upon the Lord." It is well to fix that truth of fact, and to illustrate it fully. There is no perplexity, worry, disaster, or depression can ever come to any man, and destroy his power to pray. Oppress and alarm a man how you may, in any narrow gorge of life, he can always pray. Nothing can overwhelm a man while he can call upon God.
II. IN THE OPEN PLAIN BE HAD THE RESPONSE OF GOD. The figure is kept up. The pilgrim-soul, with the uplifted eyes, presses forward through the darkness or the mist, which permits him to see but one step at a time; and then suddenly the dawn breaks or the mist lifts, and he is filled with a joyous surprise. He is in the gorge no longer; behold, it is the "open plain;" there is plenty of space all around, and the restful blue sky up above, and a clear way before his feet; God has heard his call; he is on his side. Neither man nor things can hurt him now. And such is the experience of all the saints.—R.T.
Psalms 118:8, Psalms 118:9
The really better may not be the apparently better.
It may truly be said that the object of the discipline and experience of life is to deliver us from the fascination of what seems, and to get our conduct and relationships swayed and charactered and toned by what is. This, indeed, is presented in Eastern religions in extravagant forms. But we never need refuse to accept a truth, because somebody, somewhere, has exaggerated it into a mischievous untruth. Creatures conditioned by senses, and placed in sense-relations, as we are, must live in a world of appearances; we can only know what our senses present to us, and they can only present the accidents of things. Reflection, working on the things which the senses offer to us, gradually helps us to the apprehension of that which is—the substance and reality of things. The psalmist here is expressing this fact of life in one of its forms and relations. Man is always disposed to trust in his fellow man, and especially in those of his fellow men who may occupy positions of authority and power. We all incline to trust in man, especially in princes; we can see them. We have sense-estimates of them. We can sensibly apprehend what they can do for us. We fly to, and lean upon, human helpers in every emergency of life.
I. LEANING UPON MAN MAY BE GOOD. It is not necessary to think or speak as if men were always untrustworthy. True, there is always an element of uncertainty in man, and an absolute reliance is not possible. But it would be wholly untrue to say that men always fail us. We have all proved, over and over again, how loyal, constant, and faithful the friends of our life have been. Some of the purest and most satisfying joys we have ever had in life have come out of our human fellowships. The psalmist is therefore true to fact when he speaks of something better, and implies that this confidence in man may be good.
II. LEANING UPON GOD MUST BE BETTER. Just what advancing life and experience bring home to us is that the unseen is the real and permanent. And the very heart and essence of the unseen is God. All reality is unseen; it takes on appearance for the sake of the senses. We are passing on into the unseen; and we reach rest and satisfaction in the measure of our apprehending the unseen as we move towards the consummation. It is better to keep in the sphere of the "real." It is better to "trust in God."—R.T.
Acting in the Divine Name.
"In the Name of the Lord I will cut them off." The idea in the mind of the psalmist may be illustrated by the old custom of going into battle in the inspiration of some motto. Thus Gideon gave his heroes this battle cry, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!" Down to quite modern times it was the custom for generals to give their armies a motto, a word, or a name, under the inspiration of which they were to fight; and it does not take much observation of human nature to enable us to recognize the value of such mottoes or names in kindling enthusiasm, and inciting to heroic endeavor or endurance. The psalmist is using martial figures; he is thinking of enemies, and cheering his soul for the conflict with them by looking again and again at his banner, and seeing the Jehovah-name inscribed thereon.
I. ACTING IN THE DIVINE NAME IS THE RIGHT OF JEHOVAH'S SERVANTS. The good man—from the Christian point of view we say the renewed man—is a self-consecrated man to God's service, and a graciously accepted man as God's servant. Then he becomes everywhere an ambassador for God, a messenger from God, and has the absolute right of acting everywhere in his Master's Name. So the apostles persistently call themselves the "servants," bond-slaves, of Jesus Christ, and claim the right of speaking and acting in his Name. This opens up the question—What is the nature of the authority which can be claimed for the Christian teacher. He has authority so far only as he speaks and acts, genuinely and wholly, in the Name of his Master. Illustration may be taken from the pope's assumed infallibility in his ex cathedral utterances.
II. ACTING IN THE DIVINE NAME IS THE STRENGTH OF JEHOVAH'S SERVANTS. This may be opened in two ways.
1. The Name acts upon a true-hearted man as a reviving, inspiring, strengthening force, much as the queen's name does on a field of battle.
2. God actually gives strength for warfare and service to all who loyally act in his Name. Illustrate by 1 Samuel 17:45.
III. ACTING IN THE DIVINE NAME IS THE VICTORY OF JEHOVAH'S SERVANTS. Because God is jealous of the honor of his Divine Name, and cannot permit it to be associated with failure. Let our enemies encompass us as bees do their combs (see LXX.), they can do no harm. They flare up, as does the fire of thorns; but they die down at once. The Divine Name has never been dishonored by any permanent defeat; nor has lie ever been who loyally acted in the Divine Name.—R.T.
What God seems to be and what God is.
We are constantly oppressed with the mystery of God's permissions. He permits afflictions to visit us, and often times to take very trying forms. We can say, "He hath chastened me sore." But it is a great relief to find that our experience is but the experience of the saints of all ages. It is the old and age-long trouble of all who will live godly in this sinful world. God must put them into discipline, and the forms it takes must, of necessity, sometimes seem strange. Divine dealings would not always do their appointed work if we thoroughly understood them. There is no call to trust when we have perfect sight. "What I do thou knowest not now." In the olden days, and still, there appear, to the godly man, most oppressive differences between what God seems, and what God is. We are distressed while we do but look at what God seems, and we gain rest when we look at what God is.
I. WHAT GOD SEEMS. Illustrate from the mists of mountain-lands. "Clouds and darkness are round about him" (Psalms 97:2).
1. See what God seems in nature. Take single things, and we may easily get wrong impressions. Look at nature as a whole, and it becomes clear that all things are working together towards issues that are right and good.
2. See what God seems in human lives. Take single incidents—an untimely death; a sweeping pestilence; a crushed enterprise: a wasting sickness; and it seems as if there were nothing but "cloud and darkness," the mystery of a strange and unreasoning sovereignty round God and his ways. But look at life as a whole, and it soon comes into view that this thing is working in with that, and all are working together for good, through the controlling of him who is love and who loves. Only, if we would see things clearly, and apprehend them aright, we must keep two things in mind.
(1) That God's good is not circumstance; it is character, which finds expression in varying circumstance.
(2) For some of us God's idea may be our vicarious suffering for the sake of others. And of this the Lord Jesus affords the sublime example. Affliction is often an insoluble mystery (as was Job's affliction), until it is seen to be Divine agency for working good to others. And God graciously honors some to suffer as his agents.
3. See what God seems in Divine revelations. Here again single things are often most perplexing, because their form and shaping are, in the first instance, precisely fitted to times and seasons, and we find it so difficult to separate the form from the thing, the kernel from the husk. Single things can only be "parts of God's ways." But to us, in these latter days, the revelations of all the ages have been given, duly set m order and relation. We ought to be able to fit so many things of Divine revelation together, as to fully convince ourselves that all do fit.
II. WHAT GOD IS. This we find out through personal experiences. "He hath not given me over unto death," though he seems to be a "sore chastener." Experiences correct appearances. "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee." "We walk by faith"—soul-vision, which reveals what is—"not by sight"—bodily vision, which only reveals what seems. To some the clouds about Sinai were God; just as to some travelers the mists hanging about the mountain are the mountain. We want to know what God is. "This is eternal life, to know thee, the only true God." And it is infinite satisfaction to discover that he is righteousness. And righteousness involves and includes love, as certainly as it does holiness and wisdom. When we find for ourselves what God is, we can describe him thus: "The Being who is always right;" or, as a psalmist expresses it, "Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne." He is right in himself, "just;" and right in his doings, ever doing justice—and justice is not justice unless mercy is at the heart of it. When this is well fixed into our very mind and soul, then we get above and beyond all the evil influence of the things that seem; we begin to get vision of the things that are. Right may still seem stern; but we know it must be kind. Right may still seem strange; but we know it must be wise. We cannot stop with this—"He hath chastened me sore." We must go on; we must say what else—what is the full fact, what is! And then we have to say, "But he hath not given me over unto death."—R.T.
Public praise for personal deliverance.
The psalm may be taken as expressing individual experiences or sentiments, or the psalmist may be regarded as representing the nation, and expressing national feeling. There is distinct recognition of past trouble and suffering, as God's well-deserved chastening. The returned exiles looked on their humiliating captivity in Babylon as such a time of chastening. Then our text will associate with the dedication of the new (Ezra) temple; and we may picture the nation in procession, with the governor at the head, advancing to the gates of the temple, and then, in formal Eastern style, making loud public demand for admittance. But it is even more directly practical for us to think of the psalmist as using these public events to help his own private meditations. Certainly we may use the psalm in this way, when we have recovered from some Divine chastisement, which imperiled life, and feel that we want to go into the house of the Lord, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.
I. OUR DELIVERANCES FROM DANGER SHOULD HAVE PRIVATE RECOGNITION. On this it would be too familiar to insist. He who receives is honorably bound to thank the giver, and feels a natural impulse so to do. But a man may fairly urge that his duty is done when he has thanked the donor personally and privately; and that he is under no obligation to talk about it to everybody, or to send a notice of his thankful ness to the newspapers. On this line men plead when more than the private recognition of God's goodness to them is demanded. They have thanked God, and that is enough.
II. OUR DELIVERANCE FROM DANGER SHOULD HAVE PUBLIC RECOGNITION. Because he from whom we have received the blessing is a public Being, who sustains relations to others as well as ourselves; and whose direct acts in relation to one are designed to inspire confidence in the ethers, and therefore must be made known. If our donor is the sovereign of the land, it is a right feeling that impels us to make known her good ness to us. When the prince was brought back from the gates of death, the right feeling of the nation demanded a national service of thanksgiving, and this psalm may be efficiently illustrated by the great service at St. Paul's. In this matter Christian sentiment needs to be directed. In communities where the element of worship is not prominent, public acts of praise and thanksgiving are sadly neglected. True feeling says, "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord."—R.T.
The stone in the corner.
"The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner." This may be the rejoicing of the leader of the procession, when it is admitted within the gates of the new temple, and advances towards the great altar. We must remember that we have here poetical figure, and we must not endeavor to force the language, as if it were descriptive fact. The figure is a very familiar one. God constantly makes the "weak things of this world confound the things that are mighty" Israel, as a nation, was like a despised stone in Babylon; now that it had again its sacred temple, it might easily be thought of as having become the corner-stone of the temple of religion for humanity. "This saying was true of David, the despised one among the sons of Jesse, but raised to be the ruler of Israel and the progenitor of Christ. It was true of his descendant Zerubbabel, the head of the returning Israelites after the Captivity, whose person and work were despised (Zechariah 4:10), but who began and finished the building, and who ' brought forth the head-stone with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it!' (Zechariah 4:7). But it was to be fulfilled in the largest sense by Messiah, as the Jews themselves acknowledge." "Israel is this stone, rejected as of no account in the political plans of those who were trying to shape the destinies of the Eastern nations at their own pleasure, but in the purpose of God destined to a chief place in the building up of history." "The emblem applies with the fullest meaning to our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though rejected by the Jewish authorities, was nevertheless destined to unite both Jews and Gentiles in one vast and glorious spiritual building."
I. THE ELEVATIONS AND BENEDICTIONS OF GOD ARE ALWAYS A SURPRISE TO THE MODEST AND HUMBLE SOUL. Their natural feeling leads them to wonder why God has dealt so graciously with them. They contrast their insignificancy in themselves with the dignities to which God lifts them; and feel the surprise of Divine grace.
II. MODEST AND HUMBLE SOULS ARE THE ONES BEST FITTED TO RECEIVE DIVINE ELEVATIONS AND BENEDICTIONS. The man who glories in what he attains, as if he had obtained it himself, is proved unworthy of the elevation, and is not likely to make the best of it. The David-mood is always more hopeful than the Solomonic. In what mood do we regard the triumphs of Divine grace in our lives?—R.T.
The God-made day.
Jesus, rejected by the whole Hebrew nation, and put to death, but raised from the grave, may be taken as the subject of these verses. In our variable climate we often have a cold and dark day followed by one full of sunshine and warmth. Such was the last sabbath of the old dispensation, when Jesus was in his grave. Suddenly the clouds disappeared, and God made another day—the first day of the week—a holy and joyful sabbath to all Christians. The first sabbath was desecrated by the Crucifixion; the Lord's day was hallowed by the Resurrection.
I. THE LORD'S DAY IS COMMEMORATIVE OF THE GREAT VICTORY OF JESUS OVER HIS ENEMIES. Apparently everything had succeeded that aimed at ending the life and career of Jesus. The Cornerstone was rejected by the chief builders of the day. Jesus was in his grave; the disciples were disheartened; and Jerusalem was exulting over the temporary triumph of Friday. The contest, however, was not decided; on the morning of the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead; his disciples sprang to their feet, and the Resurrection sealed every word that he had uttered, and every deed that he had accomplished. It was the confirmation of his life.
1. It was a victory over calumny and misrepresentation. He came forth the Son of God.
2. It was a victory over the weakness and faithlessness of his disciples. The Crucifixion made them cowards; the Resurrection made them heroes.
3. It was a victory over death and the grave. He who rose has "the keys of Hades and of death."
II. IN THE LORD'S DAY WE HAVE THE CONSUMMATION OF ALL GREAT DAYS. The day of creation here finds its consummation. Had not the Lord made this day, we might think that God had made all things in vain. The sabbath at the end of creation was only a symbol of the Lord's day. God then rested from all his works; but that rest was disturbed by the entrance of sin. The day Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage; the day the tabernacle of Moses was consecrated; the day the promised land was reached; the day Solomon's temple was dedicated; the Day of Atonement; the birthday of Jesus; and even the day of final judgment, point to, and derive their significance from, the Lord's day.
1. Here we realize the end of created things.
2. Here we find the bond of union between time and eternity.
3. The significance of all religious festivals is found in this day.
III. THE LORD'S DAY IS THE CHRISTIAN FESTIVAL. Not only is it a sabbath of rest from manual labor; it is also the token of spiritual peace and blessing.
1. A day of communion with God.
2. A day of association with the saints.
3. A day of fellowship in the home circle.
IV. THE LORD'S DAY IS THE PORCH OF IMMORTALITY. The light shines from the tomb.
1. The day that promises the absence of all mental darkness. The Sunday disperses the gloom and doubt of the week. A little while ago we had snow and sleet for several days; but one bright warm day came, and swept away the snow.
2. The day whose light dies into the light of immortality. The sabbath of time dissolves into the peace of heaven.
3. The day that will bring everlasting praise to the Name of Jesus. (From Weekly Pulpit.)—R.T.
Sacrifice as a sign of devotion.
"Bind the sacrifice with cords, yea, even up to the horns of the altar." The various interpretations of this difficult passage arc given elsewhere in this work. There is a various rendering, "up to the altar," instead of "unto;" and a various reading, "with willows," instead of "with cords," which arc very suggestive. From Leviticus 23:40 we learn that tree branches and willows were used as decorations for the Feast of Tabernacles, and therefore "willows" may stand for decorations as expressions of rejoicing. We have then to picture the procession, representing the nation, advancing to dedicate the new temple, and join in the first public service of thanksgiving. It is certain that they would have with them, in the procession, the representative national sacrifice, the bullock which was to be the burnt offering for the nation, and, in the most solemn way, carry the full consecration of the nation to God. When the procession has reached the court near the great altar, and the leader has spoken his words of humble and reverent rejoicing and thanksgiving, what is more natural than that he should call out to bring forward the burnt offering? "Deck it gaily; cover it with boughs; bring it on; lead it right through the crowd; bring it right up to the altar; fasten it to the very horns." In this light the difficult passage becomes simple and natural, and suggests the following:—
I. GENUINE DEVOTION WANTS TO GIVE SOMETHING. Pious and devout minds never can content themselves with words of trust, thankfulness, or worship. There is a kind of inward suspicion that words are not enough, and may cost little, and be insincere. Let a man be really thankful, and he will want to make some outward and visible sign of his feeling.
II. GENUINE DEVOTION SEEKS A GIFT THAT CAN FITTINGLY REPRESENT ITSELF. And so it always takes form as sacrifice, a gift that costs something, some self-denial. If devotion is at its fullest, it is a whole consecration of ourselves to God; and just this is the thing represented by the "burnt offering" of Mosaism. But when full devotion seeks to represent itself in its gift, it counts it essential to the worthiness of the gift that it should be offered willingly and cheerfully. It always wants to give its burnt offering gaily decked with flowers and willows—as beautiful as it is complete.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
A sermon on religious revival.
What is a revival of religion? In general terms it is synonymous with the prosperity here prayed for; or the wider salvation implied in the "Save now, I beseech thee!" If this was a psalm composed for the opening of the second temple, as is likely, after the return from exile, we can see plainly what the "saving" and "prosperity" mean—a renewal of more than the faith and heroic words of the patriarchs, warriors, psalmists, and prophets of former days—a renewal that should embrace the whole of the people.
I. A REVIVAL, WHETHER INDIVIDUAL OR NATIONAL, SUPPOSES AN ANTECEDENT RELIGION, THE POWER OF WHICH HAS DECLINED OR BEEN LOST. The spirit of our relation to Christ has evaporated, and left little but the forms of Christianity. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love; Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead;" "Thy works are not perfect before God;" "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm." And all this may be conjoined with a complacent satisfaction with ourselves. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," etc.
II. A REVIVAL DOES NOT MEAN SIMPLY A RECOVERY OF WHAT HAS BEEN LOST, BUT OF HIGHER AND STRONGER QUALITIES IN ADVANCE OF THE PREVIOUS STAGE. Such as will preserve us from future declensions. Much of the power of our early religion is immature, and needs recasting in a higher mould. Our first love decays because it is not pure enough to live—has so much selfishness mingled with it; our early faith encountered few doubts and difficulties, and, till it has been tried in many a fiery ordeal, it is only superficial impression, and not the power that overcometh the world, the flesh, and the devil. The first works are only partial and imperfect obedience; the sacrifice of the whole being to Christ comes later, if it comes at all.
III. TRUE REVIVAL DOES NOT MEAN, THEREFORE, SPASMODIC EXCITEMENT, BUT STEADY CONTINUOUS GROWTH OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. True manhood is not the recovery of our youth, but a development into a greater, nobler life; an increase of acquired power for thinking and doing greater things than the youth could ever conceive or do. It is the symmetrical, harmonious development of the spiritual faculties of our nature—the reason, the heart, the conscience, and the imagination. And all such growth means the culture of the whole man; religious discipline—discipline by means of faith that realizes the invisible, of prayer that realizes our relations with the power of God, and of the will and the affections teaching us where the true secrets of our power lie.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 118". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent