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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Psalms 73

 

 

Verses 1-28

INTRODUCTION

Superscription.—"A Psalm of Asaph," or, as in the margin, "for Asaph." See introduction to Psalms 50.

Subject.—The mental difficulties arising from the contemplation of the temporal prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous under the government of God. "The Psalm is very nearly related to the 37 and 49, as far as its contents are concerned. Amyraldus took quite a correct view as to what distinguishes it from these Psalms, and forms its individual physiognomy. ‘In Psalms 37 the prophet merely shows how believers ought to conduct themselves when they perceive the prosperity of the ungodly: he himself did not stumble at it. But here Asaph, though a great and pious man, acknowledges that the providence of God in this respect did sometimes appear to him mysterious, and that he felt great difficulty in justifying it. Yea, from the beginning of this Psalm we see how he merged out of the deep thoughts into which his spirit, agitated and vexed by doubts, had sunk, until, in the end, better views obtained the ascendancy.… He has adopted this method in order that believers might contemplate, as in a picture, the conflict to which at times they are exposed, and might see what weapons they have to seise against the assaults of the flesh.'"—Hengstenberg.

THE GOOD MAN'S CONFIDENCE OF GOD'S GOODNESS TO HIS PEOPLE

(Psa .)

I. He indicates the character of God's people.

"Israel, … such as are of a clean heart." The Psalmist held that "they were not all Israel which were of Israel; neither because they were the seed of Abraham were they all children." He speaks not of those who were Israelites merely according to the flesh, but of those who in spirit and principle and conduct were "Israelites indeed." The true Israelite was clean not only ceremonially, but also spiritually. So now the people of God are not those who merely claim to be "the elect" of God, or those who merely "profess and call themselves Christians," or those who merely say unto Jesus Christ, "Lord, Lord;" but those who "do the will of the Father which is in heaven." God requires of His people "truth in the inward parts."

1. Man's heart by nature it impure.

2. God has provided means for the purification of man's heart. (Isa ; Zec 13:1; 1Jn 1:7-9.)

3. God requires man to avail himself of these means. (Isa ; 1Th 4:7; Heb 12:14.)

4. The true people of God are complying with this requirement.

II. He asserts God's special goodness to His people.

"God is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works;" but He is especially good to His own people. This may be seen in that,—

1. He over-rules all circumstances and events for their well-being. "Mercies and afflictions shall turn to their good; the most poisonous drugs shall be medicinal; the most cross providence shall carry on the design of their salvation." "All things work together for good to them that love God."

2. He guides and sustains them in this life (Psa ). "In the cloudy and dark day" He leads them wisely and safely, and when life's "burden seems greater than their strength can bear," He makes His grace to abound unto them.

3. He Himself is their everlasting portion and joy (Psa ). His presence breathes peace within them even amidst outward agitation and conflict, fills their heart with supernal music even amidst the most hoarse and tumultuous voices of the world, and so enriches their being that they feel that they have all things in Him.

4. He will receive them into ever-increasing glory (Psa ). The fulness of life and treasure, of joy and blessedness, which is reserved in heaven for them, is unspeakably great. "Truly God is good to Israel." This Asaph had once doubted, sadly and painfully doubted. Now he doubts it no longer, but asserts it with the clear accent of deep conviction. He is confident that God is thus good to Israel,—

1. Notwithstanding all appearances tending to an opposite conclusion (Psa .)

2. Notwithstanding his own dark doubts (Psa ; Psa 73:11; Psa 73:13).

3. As may be proved satisfactorily to men of sincere heart by many considerations, e.g., ( α) Our ignorance (Psa ). We see only a small part of His ways. ( β) The brevity of the prosperity of the wicked (Psa 73:18-19). ( γ) The vast superiority of the portion of the good man (Psa 73:23-26). It is superior in its nature, duration, &c.

THE TEMPORAL PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED

(Psa .)

I. The temporal prosperity of the wicked is sometimes clearly manifest.

1. In their exemption from trouble. "They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men." It is not unfrequently the case that men who are living selfish and sinful lives appear enjoy to complete immunity from the sufferings and trials to which the great majority of men are subjected. It almost seems as though there had been some special interposition of Providence in their favour, warding away from them "the ills that flesh is heir to." They are the most ill-deserving, yet they have the best portion. To unaided human reason this is an inexplicable anomaly; but to the meek believer "there ariseth light in the darkness." There are stones which are so common that no lapidary will attempt to cut or polish them into brilliance and beauty. There are others which they manipulate with fond care and patient enthusiasm. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," &c.

2. In the gratification of their desires. "Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish." Their luxury and self-indulgence are so great that they are manifest in their countenance, and especially in their eyes. The face, that index of the soul, proclaims to all observers the nature of their portion and its plenteousness. They "fare sumptuously every day." The crumbs which fall from their table would be a feast in the eyes of many a poor saint. "Their wishes are gratified, and more; their very greediness is exceeded; they call for water, and the world gives them milk; they ask for hundreds, and thousands are lavished at their feet."

3. In the increase of their possessions. They "prosper in the world; they increase in riches." They are like the rich man whose grounds brought forth so plentifully that he had not where to bestow his fruits and goods. Their harvests are not injured by blight or mildew or storm; their vessels are not wrecked at sea; their business is not ruined by losses or the failures of other men. Swiftly and surely "they increase in riches." Such was the temporal prosperity of the wicked which met the eye, and arrested the attention, and troubled the soul of the Psalmist. It was unmistakably great and manifest.

II. The temporal prosperity of the wicked is sometimes continued even to the very end of life.

It might have been thought that as they drew near to the end of life their peace and pleasure would have been exchanged for anxiety and pain; and that their death would be marked by remorse and dread. But "there are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm," Their prosperity apparently endures to the very last moment of their life in this world. They have lived in pleasure, and they die in peace. Their spiritual sensibilities are so blunted that death and eternity make no impression upon them. Or their hearts have become "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Or they delude themselves with false hopes, and "believe a lie."

III. The temporal prosperity of the wicked has an injurious effect upon their character.

1. It generates pride. "Pride compasseth them about as a chain; … they speak loftily." Their temporal prosperity awoke in them no feeling of gratitude, no humble sense of want of desert; but a conceited notion and feeling that they were incomparably superior to other men. When prosperity humbles us with the feeling of our unworthiness it is truly a blessing; when it leads us to ask, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits to me?" it is enriching our souls. But when by reason of it we are inflated with presumption and pride it becomes to us a great curse. How vain and mistaken is pride of wealth even in the man of greatest possessions!

2. It generates tyranny and violence. "Violence covereth them as a garment; … they speak wickedly concerning oppression." Their own prosperity, which should have made them generous and kind to the unfortunate, made them violent and tyrannical. Violence was their habit; they wore it as a garment. They oppressed the poor, and, so far from feeling ashamed of themselves for so doing, or having any misgivings as to their conduct, they boasted of it, they gloried in it. They were tyrannical, and paraded their tyranny. They were cruel, and exulted in their cruelty. Such conduct reveals the meanness and cowardice of their nature, and stamps them as belonging to the basest and blackest of the race of evil-doers.

3. It generates blasphemy. "They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth." So far are they from acknowledging God as the Author of their prosperity that they speak against Him. They are so puffed up that they imagine themselves independent of God and masters of the world; and they blaspheme His name. Surely such sinners—proud, oppressive, violent, blasphemous sinners—are ripening for destruction. Sure as there is justice in the universe, sooner or later it must smite them, unless they turn from their evil way. They are "treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath." The temporal prosperity of these men is not to blame for their wickedness. In the nature of prosperity itself there is nothing fitted to deprave human character. On the other hand, it has often been the means of great spiritual blessing. Nor in granting such prosperity does God design the corruption or hardening of human hearts. All His designs aim at human blessedness. It is the depraved heart of man that perverts the blessing of temporal prosperity and educes so much evil from it. Sinful man can pervert the bread of life into rankest poison, and even "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness."

IV. The temporal prosperity of the wicked is a great trial to the people of God.

1. It generates painful doubts concerning Him. As they reflect upon the prosperity of these wicked men they say, "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" Can it be that God sees all this prosperity and all this wickedness, and yet allows it? If He knew these apparently great anomalies which perplex and distress His people, would He not prevent them? It is difficult at times for a thoughtful mind to believe in the omniscience of an Almighty and righteous and good God. And the contemplation of good men suffering, and outrageously wicked men triumphing, frequently occasions such doubt.

2. It generates doubts as to the value of religion. Asaph felt that he had "cleansed his heart" in vain, and "washed his hands in innocency" in vain. It seemed to him that it was of no use that he had striven after purity in his inner and outer life.

3. Occasions great sorrow to them. "His people return hither, and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them." They returned again and again to the contemplation of this subject, and as often as they returned they would drink deep draughts of sorrow. The mysteries of Providence are sometimes painful to believers; and when faith is sorely tried in any matter that pertains to God, great is the grief of His people. Asaph was frequently and greatly afflicted. "All the day long he was plagued, and chastened every morning;" while the proud rebels were exulting in their prosperity.

4. Imperils their spiritual safety. The Psalmist felt that his "feet were almost gone, his steps had well-nigh slipped." His faith almost failed him in his great trial; unbelief was almost victorious.

CONCLUSION.—

1. Let those who are prospering temporally learn to grasp their blessings with a grateful hand, and to dispense them with a generous hand, lest they become a curse to them.

2. Let the proud sinner humble himself penitently before God and sue for mercy ere it is too late.

3. Let the perplexed saint learn with patience to wait till God explains the mysteries of His government. "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter."

CRISES IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

(Psa .)

Considering these crises as illustrated by this of Asaph's, we remark—

I. That they are sometimes occasioned by the providence of God. It was so in the case before us. Nearly every thoughtful person has felt the difficulty which perplexed the Psalmist. So also when useful and valued lives are cut off in the midst of their days, while hoary-headed sinners are left cumbering the ground, or afflicted saints who long for release are left to linger here in pain;—or when generous and diligently prosecuted plans of usefulness end in apparent failure, while selfish and evil projects succeed, our faith in the government of God is sorely shaken. Ah! there are times when the working out of the arrangements of Providence leads us to cry out, "How doth God know?" &c. At such times nothing seems real, everything eludes our grasp, we can obtain no sure footing, &c.

These crises of the inner life are sometimes occasioned by temptations in business, or in society, or in solitude; the temptation is real, has great influence over us, we are on the point of yielding, our "feet are almost gone," &c.

II. That they are painful to the soul. Asaph tried to overcome his doubts and fears, but his speculations were all baffled, his reason was overmatched, and his heart was pained. His greatest suffering was in this, that he was "perplexed in reference to his God." To a true man doubt as to God's character and government is ever a distressing thing. Only fools glory in doubting, criticising, and denying the great truths which are the stay of human hearts. He who parades his doubts has never experienced true faith, and his doubts are unreal or he could not parade them. Such sham doubts never cause any spiritual crises. The doubts of a living soul are faith in conflict with difficulties, faith fighting against such aspects and interpretations of life, and against such arguments that threaten her life. Such struggles of faith are always painful. To the sincere soul to doubt God's wisdom, righteousness, and love, is unspeakable anguish.

III. That they are surmounted in communion with God. In drawing near to God the Psalmist received such revelations as strengthened his faith and hope, and such inspirations as gave calmness and joy to his heart (Psa ). In fellowship with God mental difficulties vanish, temptations lose their power, spiritual perils cease. "The meek will He guide in judgment," &c. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him," &c. "Such as are of a clean heart" will surely pass victoriously from the darkness and pain of doubt into the light and joy of assured confidence.

"Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,

At last he beats his music out."

Take your doubts to God, tell Him of your temptations, hide yourself in Him in the time of danger, and you will come out of every trial and crisis of your inner life more than conqueror.

Our subject urges the importance of—

1. Watchfulness, lest we fall.

2. Maintaining purity of heart and righteousness of life. Integrity, truthfulness, love, are ever right and beautiful. In the densest mental darkness cleave to these things. "If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine," &c.

3. Seeking fellowship with the best and highest, especially with God Himself. If trouble, and doubt, and pain send us "into the sanctuary of God" to seek help, they will prove blessings in disguise. If the great trials of our spiritual life are the means of bringing us nearer to the heart of God, they will turn out to be our greatest blessings.

THE VALUE OF DYING EXPERIENCES

(Psa .)

The calm deaths of the wicked perplexed the Psalmist. They not only lived in pleasure; they also died with ease. Let us consider The Value of Dying Experiences—

I. The calm death of the wicked is no proof of Divine support. Such calmness may arise from—

1. Unconcern. Their spiritual susceptibilities may be so blunted, and their spiritual faculties so enervated, that they have no lively apprehensions of the spiritual and eternal state though they are so near to it. "Conscience may be cold and dead, so that when the man comes to die he is utterly callous to the unseen things of God's other world, and his friends say that he died like a lamb." "Like brutes they live, like brutes they die." Such a death may be quiet, but it is unspeakably terrible. Such unconcern is more deplorable than wild alarm. Think of the man when the unconcern is broken!

2. Hardihood. "Careless persons become case-hardened, and continue presumptuously secure even to the last." There have been persons so hardened in profanity and crime that they have determined, to quote their own words, "to die game." Lord Byron asked, "‘Shall I sue for mercy?' After a long pause he added, ‘Come, come, no weakness, let's be a man to the last'"

3. False and presumptuous hopes in Divine mercy. We have known persons who have neglected God and His service all their life, and who, when remonstrated with have said, "God is merciful; if when we come to die we ask Him to save us, He will do so." And in such a state they have died. But theirs was not Christian faith or hope, but sinful presumption. And they encouraged the presumption until they accepted the delusion as reality, and believed the lie to be true (Pro ).

II. Shrinking and fear on the part of the righteous as they approach death are no proof that the divine support is withdrawn.

In the last hours, pain and a sense of the solemnity of the great change may be a sore trial to the child of God. Our Lord Himself as He drew near to death cried out in mysterious and awful anguish of spirit. We need not then be surprised if His humble followers cry out as they draw near to the awful bourn.—This point is admirably illustrated in Christian and Hopeful passing through the river of death, in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

III. The most precious religious testimonies of the dying are poor compared with the testimony of a useful and godly life.

I would not in the least undervalue the testimonies of dying men to the truth of Christianity, or to the faithfulness of God, or to the preciousness of Christ. To loving friends and relatives such testimonies are unspeakably precious. Some of these testimonies are held as a sacred possession by the Christian Church at large. (See an excellent collection of them in The Dict. of Illus. Prose, Dickinson.) But we hold that they are not to be compared with the testimony of the life. What are a few dying words, however beautiful and precious, to years of holy living and useful working? Moreover, the mental state of the dying is often affected by the nature of the disease, or by the medicines administered.

1. Learn to estimate truly the worth of death-bed scenes and testimonies. A quiet death is no more a proof of God's favour than a life of temporal prosperity.

2. Learn to live devoutly and righteously, because so to live is the will of God.

A GREAT NECESSITY OF ALL MEN AND A GREAT MISTAKE OF SOME MEN

(Psa .)

I. A great necessity of all men. Purity of heart and life. "My heart," my inner life "my hands", my outer life. Heart and hands represent spirit and conduct. Asaph had sincerely striven after purity in both. His words imply—

1. Consciousness of impurity in heart and life.

2. Knowledge of a cleansing element or influence (Isa ; Zec 13:1; Heb 9:13-14; 1Jn 1:7; 1Jn 1:9).

3. Personal application of this element or influence. (Isa ; Rev 7:14.)

II. A great mistake of some men. "In vain." In this Asaph was mistaken; for,

1. In itself purity is better than impurity.

2. The desire and effort to attain purity enrich and strengthen the soul.

3. The reward of purity is spiritual, not material, and is largely realised in the present.

4. The reward of purity is to a great extent in the future.

THE TRANSITION OF A TROUBLED SOUL FROM CONFLICT TO VICTORY

(Psa .)

The passage of the Poet from doubt to confidence as here set before us was marked by—

I. Thoughtful consideration of others.

Asaph felt that, if he published his inward doubts, and made known the dark suggestions which occurred to him, and the painful experiences through which he passed, he would be acting wrongly towards God's people. All his trouble he kept to himself, lest by making it known he should injure the children of God. Doubtless there are times when we may and even ought to speak of our mental perplexities. We may speak of them with a view of obtaining help to overcome them. To those who, by reason of large spiritual experience, or patient and devout study, or eminent piety, are able to assist us in solving the enigmas which perplex us, we may advantageously speak of our difficulties and doubts. We may speak of them with the view of affording help to others who may be engaged in the conflict. If we have overcome our difficulties and have entered into rest, the story of our battle and victory may nerve the heart of some brother who is fighting a similar battle. If we know such an one let us tell him of the trial of our faith, and how we overcame, and "what God hath done for our soul." But we may not speak of them to those who are strangers to such questionings. Untold mischief may be the result if we do. We have no right to infect others with the doubts which distress us. And without this kindly consideration of others, which the Psalmist exercised, we shall not be likely to attain the victory over our own doubts. Let us be ever ready to speak wise and helpful words, which may tend to increase men's faith and hope; but let us bear our own pain in silence rather than obtain relief by communicating our doubts to those who are strangers to such experiences, and thereby injuring them perhaps irremediably.

"O thou that after toil and storm

Mayst seem to have reach'd a purer air,

Whose faith has centre everywhere,

Nor cares to fix itself to form;

"Leave thou thy sister when she prays,

Her early Heaven, her happy views;

Nor thou with shadow'd hint confuse

A life that leads melodious days."

—Tennyson.

II. Personal effort for himself.

According to Psa , the Psalmist made earnest efforts to overcome his mental difficulties, but without success. He looked at the subject in many aspects, he approached it from various directions, he considered carefully the respective portions of it, he reasoned with himself concerning it; but he could not overcome his doubts. His perplexities remained in full force. The enigma still confronted him, sphinx-like and distressing. Human reason is unable to fully understand the workings of Divine Providence. Its mysteries and seeming anomalies arouse many inquiries to which we are utterly unable to give any satisfactory response. We think to know this, but it is too painful for us. Nor is this surprising, when we consider—

1. Our proneness to error. We are liable to err in judgment Our moral imperfections prevent us from obtaining clear views of spiritual truth. At times bodily suffering and mental distress lead us to meditate almost exclusively upon the pain and travail of life; we close our eyes to its brightness and beauty and joy. In all ages mankind has exhibited an extraordinary willingness to "follow cunningly-devised fables;" and even sincere truth-seekers have often wandered into strange districts of error and untruth.

2. The vast disparity between the student and the subject of investigation. We strive to comprehend "eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to man;" and "we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon the earth are as a shadow." The great plan of God's government is so vast and complicated, it has already been in operation so long, it is destined to continue to operate so long, and the span of its operations is so wide that we can only see a very small portion of its working. In our endeavour to interpret His way and work we are speedily baffled and bewildered, while He calmly carries forward the development of His great plans and purposes, leaving us to work and wait with patience the unfolding of their significance. We see "parts of His ways; but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?" "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare if thou hast understanding." "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!"

3. The Divine reserve. Many things are intentionally hidden from us by God. "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God." "Clouds and darkness are round about Him." "His way is in the sea, and His path in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known." Mystery is educational. It excites to inquiry and investigation. It promotes humility and reverence. Mystery is merciful. If the secret things were revealed to us the knowledge may be overwhelming. "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."

III. Approach unto God.

"The Psalmist goes here with the feet of his heart into the sanctuary, draws near to God, and gets from this clear fountain the insight which natural reason could not give him." He sought fellowship with God, and in that fellowship he obtained the help which he needed. He entered the holy place of Divine communion, and there received such intelligence and inspiration as brought confidence and peace to his soul.

1. Light was imparted to him. The sinner's portion and the saint's heritage appeared to him in new and different aspects. He saw the perils which surround the wicked, and the fearful end which awaits them. He saw also the strong "right hand" that upholds, the infallible "counsel" that guides, and the exceeding "glory" that awaits the good; and he felt the vast superiority of the saint's portion. God's revelation in providence should be studied in the light which proceeds from His revelation in His Word.

2. His faith was increased. In communion with God Asaph saw clearly his own insufficiency and God's all-sufficiency, and his faith grew strong. As he contemplated the revelations of the future which he received in the sanctuary of God his confidence waxed strong and triumphant. Communion with God imparts assurance and peace to the soul. In His presence doubt expires.

3. His heart was strengthened. He felt no longer pained and powerless, but strong and joyful. His troubled and almost-despairing wail has given place to a hymn of rest and gladness; for "God is the Rock of his heart, and his portion for ever."

CONCLUSION.—

1. Let those who boast themselves in the strength of their reason learn how insufficient it is to comprehend the ways of God.

2. Let the perplexed and troubled child of God learn to seek help in communion with his Father—God.

3. Let us all cultivate a large and loyal trust in the providence of God. He doeth all things well.

"I'm apt to think, the man

That could surround the sum of things, and spy

The heart of God and secrets of His empire,

Would speak but love; with him the bright result

Would change the hue of intermediate scenes,

And make one thing of all theology."

—Gambold.

THE PRESENT POSITION AND FUTURE PROSPECTS OF THE WICKED AS SEEN BY THE SPIRITUALLY ENLIGHTENED MAN

(Psa .)

I. Their present position is perilous.

"Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places." The prosperity of the wicked is not a stable, abiding thing. Riches frequently "make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven." All temporal prosperity and wealth must be laid down at death. When the rich man "dieth he shall carry nothing away." In the grave all are equal. The poor wretch who died homeless and penniless is no poorer there than "kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves, or princes that had gold and filled their houses with silver." And even while their wealth and pleasure continue, wicked men stand in slippery places; no solid rock supports them; they have no firm footing; their very wealth may prove the occasion of their overthrow; their self-indulgence and luxury may lead to their utter and painful ruin. Surely their position is not an enviable one. Better far is it to travel our life-journey upon a rugged and thorny road so that it be safe and lead to a blessed destiny, than to walk as on velvet lawns amid the odours of sweetest flowers, in constant peril, and with certain and fearful destruction awaiting us in the end.

II. Their future prospects are terrible.

Destruction lies before them as their portion in the next world. In this life prosperity, in the next perdition. In this life purple and fine linen and sumptuous fare; in the next the robe of flame, and not even a drop of water to allay their burning thirst.

1. Their destruction will be complete. "Thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors." Notwithstanding their wealth, and pomp, and power, justice smites them sternly and ruinously. They are "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power."

2. Their destruction will be sudden. "In a moment." "When they shall say, peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape." In the midst of their prosperity, when their cup of pleasure is fullest, and their power greatest, and their sense of security most confirmed, they are smitten down into destruction and cast into hell.

"They fall as falls the oak—

At once, and blasted by the thunder stroke."

3. Their destruction is effected by God. "Thou castedst them down into destruction." Not by chance does their ruin come upon them, but "as a destruction from the Almighty." God comes forth in judgment against them to punish them for their corruption and pride, their oppression and violence, their presumption and blasphemy. There is justice in the universe; under God's government evildoers are punished. Though the execution of the sentence may be long delayed, it will take place in due time. Sinners must either be saved by God in His mercy, or be destroyed by Him in His justice.

4. Their destruction will make manifest the unreality of their former prosperity. Ungodly men who have their portion in this life are asleep and dreaming as regards the realities of the great spiritual world. To them truth, righteousness, love, their own souls, and the great God, are very unreal and shadowy. Their temporal possessions, pleasures, and powers, they regard as realities grand and precious. But their dreams will come to an end. A great awakening is at hand for them. When awakened by God their estimate of things will be completely reversed. What were once their realities will have passed away from them as shadows; while the grand verities which once they set aside as myths and fables will be clear to them in all their reality and importance. They will "awake to shame and everlasting contempt." "As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, in the awaking, Thou shalt despise their image." Who can fathom the abyss of sin and degradation which he has sounded whom God despises? To be despised by God—how unutterably dreadful!

CONCLUSION.—

1. Let the wicked take warning and turn from their evil way. The "Lord is good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all them that call upon" Him.

2. Let the child of God never more envy the wicked their temporal prosperity.

THE LIFE OF UNGODLY MEN A DREAM

(Psa .)

Human life on the earth has been compared to a Pilgrimage (Gen ).—To a Race (1Co 9:24).—To a Battle (1Ti 6:12).—To a Stewardship (Mat 25:14-30)—and to a Dream, as in our text.

There is much in the present life of every good man that is very dreamlike.

"We are such stuff as dreams are made of,

And our little life is rounded by a sleep."

In relation to spiritual and eternal verities the impressions of earnest godly men are but dim and dreamy as compared with the verities themselves. But our text represents the life of ungodly men as a dream. Let us notice some points of analogy between the two—

I. Unreality. In dreams the mind is in a world of illusions, a world of fiction. Such is the life of the wicked, who have their portion in this world. See this in their ideas of pleasure, wealth, and usefulness. How false! See it especially in the things upon which their heart was set, as mentioned by Asaph, viz., temporal prosperity and worldly possessions.

1. They are evanescent. Wealth, rank, power, are often lost. They must all be laid down at death.

2. By their very nature they are not permanent things. Worldly power is essentially a shifting thing; worldly rank an adventitious thing; material wealth an unstable transitory thing.

3. The only permanent realities to spiritual beings must be spiritual. Truth, righteousness, love, the human soul, God, are real and abiding. But men call the shadows realities, &c.

II. Brevity. Dreams are very short. In our dreams we seem to live for hours, days, weeks, even in a few minutes. And, at the longest, how brief is this life of ours here!

1. When viewed with respect to the work to be done by us in it. Think of the work to be done by us in ourselves and for ourselves, and of the work we have to do for others. Unspeakably momentous issues depend upon our life in this world.

2. When contrasted with eternity. This present life is a mere "twinkling of an eye" when placed by the side of eternity. Yet men live as though it would last for ever. Surely they are dreaming; their life is a dream.

III. Termination. Dreaming is not a permanent state. Every dream has its ending. So is it with the dream of an ungodly life. There are two awakenings, one or other of which must arouse every sinful dreamer to realities.

1. Some awake in response to the call of Divine love. God says to them, "Awake thou that sleepest," &c. They hear and obey, and are as it were in a new world. "Old things have passed away; all things have become new." To them now "life is real, life is earnest." They are converted. They have awoke to reality and blessedness.

2. Some awake only when aroused by the thunder peals of judgment. There is no refusing to listen to that call. They awake to—

( α.) Disappointment. Their realities have vanished; their hope expires; their trust becomes their confusion.

( β.) Destitution. The things in which they rested all fail them now. Their fancied wealth is all gone. Now they know themselves to be "wretched, and miserable, and poor," &c.

( γ.) Shame and Distress. "Thou shalt despise their image." Think of "their end.… Thou castedst them down into," &c.

Are you awake? Or are you asleep and dreaming? God calls to you, "Awake thou that sleepest," &c. "Awake to righteousness," &c. Listen and obey. AWAKE NOW.

THE ATTITUDE OF A VICTORIOUS SOUL

(Psa .)

Having considered the severe spiritual conflict of the Psalmist, and the transition from conflict to victory, and his estimate of the portion of the wicked after he had been spiritually enlightened, we now proceed to notice the attitude of his soul in victory. This was marked by two main features.

I. Deep self-abasement.

Having completely mastered his difficulties and come out of the battle more than conqueror, we listen to his voice, and hear no tone of self-applause, no sound of boasting, but rather a humble confession of his folly and ignorance. "So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast for thee." He felt deeply his own ignorance and folly, especially in this that he had considered human life in relation to the Providence of God as a beast might have done, and that in the presence of God. He looked only at the things which are seen and temporal, at the things of sense, like the beasts that perish. The things which are unseen and eternal, the spiritual things, the things which relate to a future state, he took no account of. In the light which he has received he sees how grievous was his mistake, and humbles himself before God on account thereof. Pride and spiritual enlightenment are incompatible. They cannot co-exist. When we are at a distance from God, and walking in darkness, we may conceitedly criticise His ways, and rashly pronounce judgment upon His doings. But let a man enter into the sanctuary of God and there commune with Him, and his soul will be humbled, his pride and presumption perish, and in self-abasement he will bow before God. Criticism now gives place to worship. Presumption is changed into adoration.

"The more Thy glories strike mine eyes

The humbler I shall lie."

The victorious soul is profoundly humble, and cries, "Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory." It is the revelation of the abounding grace of God that produces the deepest humility in us, and the manifestation of His glory that prostrates us in lowliest self-abasement.

II. Sublime Confidence in God.

The Psalmist had a glorious assurance of—

1. The constant presence of God. "I am continually with Thee." He says this not as an assertion of His faithfulness to God, but of God's faithfulness to him, notwithstanding his ignorance, and folly, and unbelief. Evermore God besets us behind and before, and lays His hand upon us for good. We may wander from Him, but He does not abandon us. In our sorrow and blinded by our tears we may see in Him nothing more than an unsympathetic "gardener," but it is He Himself continually with us, and waiting to bless us. Our unworthiness does not drive Him away from us. Through all the dark wanderings of our doubting and perplexed souls He accompanies us. And when we seek for Him, lo! He is at hand to help us, and to "compass us about with songs of deliverance."

2. The unfailing support of God. "Thou hast holden me by my right hand." As for the Psalmist, his "feet were almost gone, his steps had well-nigh slipped," and he would have fallen had not God upheld him. In the trying journey when the little, weak hand of the child can no longer retain its hold upon the father, the father feels the relaxing grasp, and with his strong hand holds the little, weak one, and so leads and supports the dear child in safety. And so the heavenly Father supports us, His weak and erring children. Blessed be His name! "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with," &c. "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee," &c. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." The promises of His Holy Word, and the experience of His people, and especially His own character, give to us most encouraging assurance of His unfailing support. He will never forsake even the most imperfect of His people.

3. The infallible guidance of God. Asaph had tried his own counsel, and found it folly. He had made experiment of his own knowledge, and discovered it to be ignorance as of a beast. Now, with unfaltering confidence, He turns to the Divine counsel for guidance. He is willing that God should determine His destiny, that He should choose the path by which that destiny shall be reached, and he is confident that the destiny will be a glorious one. He who is guided through life by God—

(1) Will never go astray. He cannot err. "His understanding is infinite." He is perfectly acquainted with the traveller, and knows well every step of the road.

(2) Will enjoy the highest companionship. "He Himself shall be with them, walking in the way, and the foolish shall not err therein." Our hearts burn within us while He walks with us by the way, and opens to us the Scriptures. This companionship is—( α) Enlightening. ( β) Strengthening. ( γ) Transforming. "We are changed into the same image."

(3) Will be conducted to Divine honours. "Afterward receive me to glory." Oh, that "afterwards"! What surprises of joy and blessedness God has for us in the endless "afterwards"!

4. The all-sufficiency of God. Asaph cannot sufficiently exalt the Lord his God. He regards Him as—

(1) Superior to every other good that he possessed or desired. "Whom have I in heaven, but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee." In heaven, with all its high and holy, its wise and strong intelligences, he had no helper and saviour but God. And upon earth he had found no one who could satisfy the necessities and longings of the soul like God. Deep within each one of us there is the consciousness of guilt, we long for pardon. He alone has authority to say unto us, "Thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace." There are times when we are oppressed with the consciousness of moral weakness, we feel unable to live holily and labour usefully, we long for help. He alone can say, "My grace is sufficient for thee." We feel our mortality, yet shrink from death, we long deeply and intensely for immortal and blessed lift. He alone can say, "He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." Our hearts are made to love and to be loved, we long for the love of some perfect being who will accept our affection and reciprocate it, in whom we realise the fulfilment of our highest ideal of excellence, and who will abide with us for ever. He, and He alone, can satisfy this longing. He loves us with an infinite love, He craves our love. He is the supremely Beautiful, the All-perfect One, and He is eternal. "Whom have I in heaven but Thee?" &c.

(2) Adequate to the soul's needs when all other resources fail. "My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength," &c. He looks onward to the time of his dissolution, feels by anticipation the exhaustion of his physical powers, and his heart, the seat of vitality, failing him, and all human aids of no avail, and he is confident that even then he would find in his God all that he needed. "When other helpers fail and comforts flee," and our heart faints and fails, He will be "the Rock of our heart and our portion for ever." His resources are adequate to all our needs. In all the unknown possibilities of our future no want can occur to us which He will not be able to supply. And His love is as great as His resources. Both are infinite.

5. The righteousness of the government of God (Psa ). Of this he has not now the shadow of a doubt. Those who depart from God depart from life, and light, and blessedness. They "shall perish." God will "destroy them." Those who draw near to God shall find it good so to do. In His presence and fellowship there are life and "fulness of joy." Of all this he is confident. He speaks with the clear accent of strong conviction. He is so assured that all God's ways and works are just and right that he will declare them to others. Draw near to God, my brother, and His smile will banish all your darkness, and brighten and beautify your life. Heartily trust Him, and you will have occasion joyously to praise Him.

CONCLUSION.—

1. How gloriously victorious are they whose confidence in God is strong.

2. How blessed are they who have God for their portion.

THE GOOD MAN'S PRESENT, PAST, AND FUTURE

(Psa .)

What the Psalmist says of himself in these words merits much consideration. Observe—

I. His present experience. "I am continually with Thee." Every good man is with his God—in a way of communion, in a way of affection, in a way of delight, in a way of desire, and in a way of service.

II. His retrospective testimony. "Thou hast holden me by my right hand." His experience has been realised by God's people in every age; from them, therefore, his acknowledgment is due, and by them it will be readily made.

III. His prospective consolation. This is twofold, and respects what God secures to him in this life. How necessary is guidance considering our various difficulties and dangers. And it is proper always, from a consciousness that God alone can guide us, to ask of Him the guidance of His Word, of His Spirit, and of His Providence.

What God secures to him in the life to come. Glory is that to which we may look forward, as the consummation of our bliss; and in the expectation of this, we may rejoice, even as if we were already in possession of it

Let us, then, be stirred up to humble inquiry, and to devout adoration.—W. Sleigh.

DEPARTING FROM GOD

(Psa .)

Distance from God.

I. What it is. "Go a whoring from Thee." Alienation from Him—

1. Of fidelity.

2. Of affection.

3. Of worship.

II. What it leads to. Ruin, destruction.

1. Certain. "Thou hast destroyed."

2. Complete. "Perish, … destroyed."

DRAWING NIGH TO GOD

(Psa .)

"It is good for me to draw near to God."

God is not far from any one of us. He is everywhere present. But to draw near to Him is to endeavour to realise His presence with us, to feel Him near, to commune with Him.

I. How may we draw near to God.

1. By devoutly reading His Word.

2. By meditation on Him.

3. By prayer to Him.

4. By praise of Him.

5. By imitating Him in life and work.

II. When should we draw near to God. We should at all times live near to Him. But there are times when we should specially seek His helpful Presence.

1. In time of painful doubt.

2. In time of suffering.

3. In time of gladness we should draw near to Him with our gratitude.

4. When entering upon and toiling in difficult enterprises.

III. The advantages of drawing near to God. By so doing,

1. Faith is increased.

2. Suffering is removed, or more grace is given to the sufferer, and the suffering is sanctified.

3. Gladness is hallowed and increased.

4. Wisdom and strength are imparted for difficult duties.

THE GOOD MAN'S ACCESS, TRUST, AND TESTIMONY

(Psa .)

I. The blessedness of the good man's access to God.

II. The strength of the good man's trust in God.

III. The clearness of the good man's testimony for God.

All doubt is gone. With confident, glad, and grateful heart, he longs to "declare all His works."

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 73:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/psalms-73.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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