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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Psalms 12

 

 

Verses 1-8

The Ideal Christianity

Psalm 12

Help, Lord" ( Psalm 12:1). That may be a good prayer or a bad one. There is nothing in the words themselves to indicate the quality of the petition. Everything depends upon the spiritual condition of the petitioner. A man may cry to God for help with a very selfish heart, without any due recognition of God"s claim, God"s nature, God"s kingdom. The prayers of the wicked are an abomination unto the Lord. There is no meaner cry than "Help, Lord," unless it be inspired by a sense of personal unworthiness and a profound and loving consciousness of God"s interest in good men and in good causes. A prayer may be forced out of an atheist. It is not a prayer; it is only a variation of atheism. The reason given, however, explains in some degree the scope and purpose of the cry: "for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men."

We must not accept these words as true, simply because they happen to be written here, or anywhere. It is perfectly possible for us to take an unwise and incorrect view of social conditions. David did not keep a register of all the "godly" and all the "faithful." Another prophet said that he alone was left; the Lord corrected his estimate, and said, No, not alone; I have seven thousand who have never kissed the lips of Baal. It is unwise to take the opinion of dejectedness and forsakenness upon any topic. When we are in extreme positions, either of joy or of sadness, we are not qualified to pronounce broadly and correctly upon the whole scope of divine providence. In high joy, the glee that all but dances in the sanctuary for very ecstasy of heart, we may think all men good, all causes excellent, all the features of the times beautiful. In dejection, despondency, orphanhood of heart, we may think we alone are left, and that the gift of prayer will perish with our breath. All things wear a sombre aspect; the whole year is one long November; the very music of childhood is but an aggravation of our suffering That opinion must not be taken. Within the limits of the man"s own personality it is quite true, but no great generalisation must be built upon it. David did not know how many godly men there were in the world, or how many faithful; but his experience is valuable up to this point, namely, that he felt that everything of the nature of trust, confidence, progress, depended upon the presence of godly and faithful elements in the world. The world was nothing to him but rottenness—an empty and mocking wind—but for the godly and the faithful. That the population of the globe had increased was nothing to David, if the godliness and faithfulness of the community had gone down. We must inquire into moral statistics, into spiritual arithmetic; we must make our inquest into the social fabric an inquest of character, a scrutiny of motive and purpose; then we shall come to large and just conclusions. Woe betide us when, in looking abroad upon society, we judge only by its palaces and temples and towers, its banks and reservoirs of wealth, and do not look into spirit, disposition, character, and all moral elements. The good men of society are its rich men; the faithful are its bankers, treasurers, trustees, and securities. This is acknowledged even by persons who are not formally connected with the Church. Even the drunkard would like to entrust his business affairs to a sober man. Many an atheist, were he called upon at last to say into whose charge he would give his little children—whether to a disbeliever or to a humble and tried Christian—might, with his dying breath, vote for Christ. So men are not to be taken in their ecstatic moments, or in their moments of dejection; they are to be taken at the middle point, the average line, the thoughtful moment; and then it is seen that godliness, faithfulness, are accounted the pillars of society.

"They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak" ( Psalm 12:2).

Here, again, we must ask whether David is speaking really, or speaking, as it were, sensitively—allowing his own soreness of heart and conscious destitution to rule his judgment and obliterate features which he would otherwise be the first to discern and appreciate. But the declension is possible. Men may "speak vanity every one with his neighbour." Vanity is a shifting wind—empty words, compliments that come and go without carrying with them any moral impress or any spiritual value. Men may talk for talking"s sake. They may mislead one another, the words carrying with them no force of the heart or reasoned consent of the understanding and the will. The saddest of all things is described in this text in the words, "with a double heart do they speak." A very apt expression in English; it cannot be soundly amended. The best comment upon this expression is to repeat it until we become reverently familiar with it. What, is it possible to have a double heart? Did not one man ask in sceptical wonder, and in a tone which involved denial, "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" James put that possibility as an impossibility. He thought the very utterance of the inquiry was its own answer. He expected the question to be blown away with a contemptuous No. Yet this is the very thing we see every day, and feel to be true even in our own consciousness. Words are not straight lines; sentences are not clear as crystal; speeches are not as honey without wax, or porcelain without flaw. Charged with certain meanings, the speaker can easily betake himself to some hidden speech in his own sentence, some word that he had used in an unfamiliar sense; he can change the punctuation and set the thought in a new light; he can play many a knavish trick with language that ought to have only one clear meaning, the same value the world over, in dark days and bright hours. It is in this direction we must look for a great deal of Christian progress. What about our speech? Is every syllable like a dew-drop trembling on the eyes of the morning? Is every letter in every syllable an equivalent for the thought it was intended to assist in expression? Is the tongue the utterer of the soul, or is it bridled, partially gagged, somewhat distempered? Is it the servant of eloquence, or the bribed and hired slave of ambiguity and insincerity? It will avail us nothing that we speak religiously if we do not feel the religion that we speak. Christianity can have nothing to do with double-heartedness. The one object Christ has in view is to clean the heart, purify the spirit, drive out every devil from the sanctuary of the life, and make that sanctuary the temple of the living God. There are many ways of lying. We need not wonder that invention has found many symbols by which to express varieties of falsehood. Men exclaim, "Black lie!" Sometimes they say, not without a meaning smile, "That is a white lie." Then, again, we hear of "great lie," "flat lie," "wicked lie"—as if a lie could be other than a lie! Falsehood must not be allowed one rag with which to cover itself. Any covering of falsehood is an aggravation of the iniquity. The word "lie" must go without adjective or qualifying word of any kind. To palliate a lie is to repeat the lie, or give licence to the false speaker, to stimulate him to invent new forms of deception, and to give prizes for ambiguity.

David, then, traces somewhat of the cause of this vain speaking when he says there are people

"who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?" ( Psalm 12:4).

Now David betakes himself to a great principle; in the fifth verse he says:—

"For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him." ( Psalm 12:5)

There may be no more selfish words than these; they may in reality mean just the contrary of what they seem to say. When David makes himself the "poor" man and the "needy" Prayer of Manasseh , and then says God will arise for such, he may be degrading the very doctrine he seeks to magnify. Who does not think that when he goes out to war the Lord is sure to be upon his side in the battle? Who ever suspects that his poverty and need have been brought upon himself by himself, and that the Lord is no wise responsible for them? The doctrine is true, but the question arises, Who are the poor and who are the needy? That. God will arise for them, there can be no doubt; but we must not unduly make ourselves into the poor and needy that we may take occasion of religious rejoicing that God will make favourites of us. Only let us be true and sincere in the inquiry. If we are poor and needy in the right sense, then all heaven is upon our side; if we have made ourselves poor and needy, or have suspected society of some injustice to us, simply that we may magnify our importance, we have mistaken the doctrine and misapply it. Who dare now preach that the Lord is on the side of the poor and the needy? We should need many qualifying terms in order to come to a right understanding about poverty and need; but there is a sense, profoundly and awfully solemn, in which the Lord is against the rich and for the poor. Do not hastily interpret that sentence, or put narrow and unworthy meanings upon it; and let no man consider his poverty a religion or his necessity a proof of his orthodoxy. We must discriminate the terms, weigh them in the balances of the sanctuary, put them in their right places and relations, and then take all the comfort God offers us. Society is its own god in too many instances. Parliaments imagine they can construct society, whereas society cannot be constructed, using that term in its widest and most solemn sense, except by him whose glory is shown by the heavens and whose handiwork is displayed in the firmament. We cannot make ourselves individually, nor can we make ourselves socially. Society is God"s idea, God"s structure; he putteth every one in his place; the whole gradation is settled by Infinite Wisdom. What have we done? We have meddled with God; we have changed the relation and the colour of things; we have coined words for our own use; we have made investments of each other; we have thought that he was the acutest and altogether worthiest man who could rise before his fellow, run before him, outwit him, tell him one thing and mean another, send him in the wrong direction, and then laugh at him when he returns at eventide disappointed and sore at heart. We can have no peace, and we can have no progress, until we ask Almighty God to reconstruct society, to pity us and forgive us for attempting to make society, when it was no more the business of ours to do it than to call up the sun or settle the bounds of the horizon. Whatever we can do in this matter is but cooperative; we are fellow-workers with God. He must build the social house. When he builds it, what a wondrous difference shall we see on all the face of the globe!—no menial or undeserved poverty; no arbitrary and penal restrictions, no necessary ignorance of the very first principles of life and the very first duties of existence; no promotion on account of privileges and honours with which the individual man himself had nothing to do; but a grand recognition of the value of man as Prayer of Manasseh ,—a Christian rule, a sublime theocracy; only one throne, and on it the Son of man.

What wonder if David compares the words of the Lord with the words he has been condemning?

"The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" ( Psalm 12:6).

We never know what the Bible is until we have been reading the newspaper. We cannot tell what Holy Scripture is until we have heard the lies of society. Never is the sanctuary so precious as when we leave the halls in which we supposed to see gaiety and joy, and the last phase of wisdom. Oh, "tis rottenness! "tis painted falsehood! "tis vanity! We may dwell in the house of the Lord so long that it may become somewhat monotonous and wearisome to us, and the heart—always playing tricks with itself—may long to be elsewhere, to see the world, and watch its ways, and hear its music. Never is God"s Book so dear to a man as when he has been listening to other voices that appeal to him. We have never heard its music as we have heard it after voices of tempters and liars have been uttering their falsehoods in our ears. The house of God will stand when all things fail. God"s Book will be the last to go. We may neglect it, undervalue it, bring our own books into competition with it, and for a time the old Book may seem to be imperilled; but its day will come, and the great heart of man will say: After all, there is none like it; it touches every point; it is the same at night as at day; when it comes winter goes; when it speaks, the heart listens with all attentiveness; it is most when we need it most; what tragedy in its history! what sublimity in its poetry! what mastery of time in its prophecies! what tenderest pity, love, sympathy in its gospels! what eternity in its Cross! Oh, Word of the Lord, thy day is an eternal time!

Prayer

Almighty God, tender in mercy, thou hast kept back nothing from us that is good for us to know; the mysteries which thou hast hidden are better concealed than displayed. We have learned to trust thee. It is better as thou wilt, not as we will; we are impatient because we are weak, we are urgent because of our ignorance. A thousand years are in thy sight as yesterday, or as a watch in the night: to us how great is the period; how we are filled with wonder when we think of it, how we are overwhelmed when we attempt to seize the idea of time in all its vastness and sublimity! To thee there is nothing sublime but a broken heart, eyes filled with tears, and thy penitent ones crying for mercy at the foot of the Cross. This is thy sublimity. Thou lovest meekness, pureness, childlikeness, simplicity; thou lovest all the little flowers; thou takest up into thine heart all little helpless children. Rebuke our vanity, and turn our conceit to confusion, and show us that our strength is but a dying vapour, and that when we are weak we are truly strong, when we cling most to the Cross we are most beautiful in our Father"s sight. When the road is all uphill thou wilt not drive us quickly, thou wilt allow us to go at our own pace, according to our failing strength, yea thou hast provided on the road resting places, beautiful nooks, chambers in the rock; if we sit there and look behold the landscape is a landscape all summer, and the ascending brightening heaven is a glimpse of eternal glory. Help us to believe thee, to trust thee, to lean upon thee, yea to commit ourselves unto thee, to throw ourselves broadly and wholly without reluctance or reserve upon the omnipotence and the grace of God. Pity us wherein we have sinned; we are conscious of our guilt; against thee, thee only have we sinned; still thy mercy endureth for ever; may we forget the past and avoid all its evil, and be new and true and upright and noble souls in the future. To this end grant unto us the baptism, daily and continual, the baptism of the Holy Ghost; not of dew, not of water, but of purifying, testing fire; and at the end may it be found that the basket of summer fruit which our life presents is fruit acceptable unto God, because grown upon branches that live in the one Vine. Amen.


Verse 6

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"The words of the Lord are pure words."Psalm 12:6

Purity would seem to be impossible upon earth. Even where we have divine treasure we have it in earthen vessels, and the danger is that the vessels shall in some degree corrupt the treasures. All human words are tainted with alloy. Even when men make their best promises there is of necessity an element of selfishness in the pledge. If the heart is deceitful, the words must partake of the quality of the heart. There is an unconscious deceitfulness, there is an unconscious self-deception. We may mean every word we say, and yet our deceit may be more subtle in its action than our intellectual energy. The intellect goes out to do some work, and does it earnestly and well, but no intellect can keep pace with the subtlety and swiftness of moral action. The heart can outrun the head. It is characteristic of divine words that they are themselves divine. They are as silver melted seven times in a furnace of earth. God has spoken nothing in mere excess for the sake of emphasis. In the case of the divine promises, it is simply impossible that the emphasis can be equal to the meaning. We can test the purity of the divine word by submitting it to daily practice. The pureness of divine messages is not an intellectual question but is almost exclusively a moral inquiry. How do the words of God go down into the life? How do they stand the strain of temptation, and self-expenditure, and the daily conflict of life? The words of God are few, because they are pure. God does not need to multiply words in order to assure us of his earnestness. Eloquence is often a sign of insincerity. Mere fluency is always to be distrusted, because life itself does not flow out in so easy and unimpeded a strain. The speech of life should represent the tragedy of life,—its ups and downs, its swift fluctuations, its sudden surprises, its fears, and its hopes. The speech of a wise man is a skilfully painted texture. The continuance of the Bible as the highest and strongest factor in civilisation depends wholly on the pureness of the divine words. Because of their pureness they shall endure for ever.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 12:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/psalms-12.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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