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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 60

 

 

Verses 1-12

Psalms 60:1-12

O God, Thou hast cast us off; Thou hast scattered us.

A psalm of defeat

In our own language we possess many fine songs of patriotism. It would be impossible to overestimate the value of such a song as “Scots wha hae” as a means of keeping alive patriotic sentiments in the breasts of the people. What a treasure it would be if we had a dozen other incidents from the great epochs of our history embalmed in equally immortal verse and sung at every fireside. The Hebrews had their history thus set to music; and the poetical commentary on their national fortunes reaches down to the very bottom of their meaning, for it reads them in the light of eternal truth.

I. A patriot’s depression (Psalms 60:1-5). The enemy had invaded the country, and there was sufficient force to withstand them. So great was the panic that the inhabitants were like drunken men, unable to comprehend the extent of their calamity and unable to stand up against it (Psalms 60:3). But the worst was that it was a triumph of the heathen over the people of the true God, to whom a banner had been given to display because of the truth (Psalms 60:4). The humblest Christian has received a banner to display because of the truth. We are working for a cause which is old as eternity and lofty as heaven. Our personal success or defeat is nothing; but the victory of the truth is everything. This great verse was given out by Ebenezer Erskine beneath the castle walls of Stirling when he and his congregation were turned out of the Church of Scotland; and it has been connected with other great historical scenes in the history of the Church.

II. The promise recalled (Psalms 60:6-8). At this point a change comes over the spirit of the writer. Prayer has brought him to himself. We are either to suppose that, in reply to an inquiry addressed to God, perhaps through the Urim and Thummim, he receives an oracle on the situation, or that, his memory being quickened by a sudden inspiration, he recalls an ancient oracle, given in some similar crisis, in which God promises to His anointed king the complete possession of the Holy Land and also the subjection of the neighbouring peoples. The oracle is quoted after the psalmist has expressed his joy at recalling it. God promises to divide Shechem, as at the Conquest under Joshua He divided the different parts of the land to the various tribes, and to mete out the valley of Succoth. Why these two places are specially mentioned, it is impossible now to say. They may have been strongholds of the enemy. Then (verse 7) Gilead and Manasseh, which stand for the part of the country beyond the Jordan, are claimed by God as His. And of Ephraim and Judah, which represent the division west of the Jordan, it is said that the one shall be His helmet (“the strength of mine head”) and the other His sceptre (not “lawgiver”). As the Holy Land is represented by these well-known parts, the hostile nations, which are to be subjugated, are represented by Israel’s three well-known foes--Moab, Edom, and Philistia. And, as the positions which Ephraim and Judah were to occupy are depicted by saying that they are to fulfil the honourable offices of helmet and sceptre to God, the fate of the hostile nations is similarly depicted by representing them as fulfilling to Him the basest offices (verse 8). Moab is to be the vessel in which He washes His feet when coming home from a journey, and Edom the slave to whom, in so doing, He flings the dusty sandals which He has taken off; while Philistia is to grace his triumph. In this way the psalmist rallied his spirit in an hour of disaster. And, in fighting the Lord’s battles, we can similarly fall back on the promise recorded in the second psalm, that the heathen shall be given to Christ and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. The humblest Christian can fall back on the promise that none shall pluck him out of Christ’s hand, and that the good work which God has begun shall be perfected.

III. The return of hope (verses 9-12). At verse 9 he turns to face the crisis which in the first part of the psalm he had bewailed. He sees the difficulty of the situation. Edom is a strong enemy, and its capital, Petra, a “strong city.” “The entrance to it,” says a traveller, “is by a narrow gorge lined by lofty precipices, nearly two miles in length. At some places the overhanging rocks approach so near to each other that only two horsemen can proceed abreast.” Who, asks the psalmist, is to bring me thither? And the answer is, None but God. For a time He had deserted them, perhaps because they had been trusting to themselves or to their past victories. They needed to be humbled and to learn the lesson that “vain is the help of man” (verse 11). But defeat had taught them this lesson; and now they are trusting only in their God. When God’s servants have reached this state of mind, nothing can stand before them. And so this psalm, which began in panic and tears, ends with the trumpet note of hope (verse 12). (J. Stalker.)


Verses 1-12

Psalms 60:1-12

O God, Thou hast cast us off; Thou hast scattered us.

A psalm of defeat

In our own language we possess many fine songs of patriotism. It would be impossible to overestimate the value of such a song as “Scots wha hae” as a means of keeping alive patriotic sentiments in the breasts of the people. What a treasure it would be if we had a dozen other incidents from the great epochs of our history embalmed in equally immortal verse and sung at every fireside. The Hebrews had their history thus set to music; and the poetical commentary on their national fortunes reaches down to the very bottom of their meaning, for it reads them in the light of eternal truth.

I. A patriot’s depression (Psalms 60:1-5). The enemy had invaded the country, and there was sufficient force to withstand them. So great was the panic that the inhabitants were like drunken men, unable to comprehend the extent of their calamity and unable to stand up against it (Psalms 60:3). But the worst was that it was a triumph of the heathen over the people of the true God, to whom a banner had been given to display because of the truth (Psalms 60:4). The humblest Christian has received a banner to display because of the truth. We are working for a cause which is old as eternity and lofty as heaven. Our personal success or defeat is nothing; but the victory of the truth is everything. This great verse was given out by Ebenezer Erskine beneath the castle walls of Stirling when he and his congregation were turned out of the Church of Scotland; and it has been connected with other great historical scenes in the history of the Church.

II. The promise recalled (Psalms 60:6-8). At this point a change comes over the spirit of the writer. Prayer has brought him to himself. We are either to suppose that, in reply to an inquiry addressed to God, perhaps through the Urim and Thummim, he receives an oracle on the situation, or that, his memory being quickened by a sudden inspiration, he recalls an ancient oracle, given in some similar crisis, in which God promises to His anointed king the complete possession of the Holy Land and also the subjection of the neighbouring peoples. The oracle is quoted after the psalmist has expressed his joy at recalling it. God promises to divide Shechem, as at the Conquest under Joshua He divided the different parts of the land to the various tribes, and to mete out the valley of Succoth. Why these two places are specially mentioned, it is impossible now to say. They may have been strongholds of the enemy. Then (verse 7) Gilead and Manasseh, which stand for the part of the country beyond the Jordan, are claimed by God as His. And of Ephraim and Judah, which represent the division west of the Jordan, it is said that the one shall be His helmet (“the strength of mine head”) and the other His sceptre (not “lawgiver”). As the Holy Land is represented by these well-known parts, the hostile nations, which are to be subjugated, are represented by Israel’s three well-known foes--Moab, Edom, and Philistia. And, as the positions which Ephraim and Judah were to occupy are depicted by saying that they are to fulfil the honourable offices of helmet and sceptre to God, the fate of the hostile nations is similarly depicted by representing them as fulfilling to Him the basest offices (verse 8). Moab is to be the vessel in which He washes His feet when coming home from a journey, and Edom the slave to whom, in so doing, He flings the dusty sandals which He has taken off; while Philistia is to grace his triumph. In this way the psalmist rallied his spirit in an hour of disaster. And, in fighting the Lord’s battles, we can similarly fall back on the promise recorded in the second psalm, that the heathen shall be given to Christ and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. The humblest Christian can fall back on the promise that none shall pluck him out of Christ’s hand, and that the good work which God has begun shall be perfected.

III. The return of hope (verses 9-12). At verse 9 he turns to face the crisis which in the first part of the psalm he had bewailed. He sees the difficulty of the situation. Edom is a strong enemy, and its capital, Petra, a “strong city.” “The entrance to it,” says a traveller, “is by a narrow gorge lined by lofty precipices, nearly two miles in length. At some places the overhanging rocks approach so near to each other that only two horsemen can proceed abreast.” Who, asks the psalmist, is to bring me thither? And the answer is, None but God. For a time He had deserted them, perhaps because they had been trusting to themselves or to their past victories. They needed to be humbled and to learn the lesson that “vain is the help of man” (verse 11). But defeat had taught them this lesson; and now they are trusting only in their God. When God’s servants have reached this state of mind, nothing can stand before them. And so this psalm, which began in panic and tears, ends with the trumpet note of hope (verse 12). (J. Stalker.)


Verse 4

Psalms 60:4

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.

Our banner

In the Lord Jesus we find the clue to the history and the solution of the prophecy. He is the banner--He is the ensign that is lifted up before the people. He is the Jehovah Nissi, “the Lord my banner,” whom it is our joy to follow, and around whom it is our delight to rally.

I. Wherefore He is so called.

1. As the point of union. In stress of war all gathered round the standard. And so all Christians around Christ. All followed its guidance.

2. And the banner, let it be remembered, is always the object of chief attack. The moment the adversary sees it, his object is to strike there. Did they not of old aim their shots at the flagstaff to cut down the banner? So has the Lord Jesus Christ been ever assailed.

3. And why should the banner be the object of attack but for this very reason, that it is the symbol of defiance As soon as ever the banner IS lifted up, it is, as it were, flapped in the face of the foe. It seems to say to him, “Do your worst--come on! We are not afraid of you--we defy you!” Every time a sermon is preached in the power of the Spirit, it is as though the shrill clarion woke up the fiends of hell, for every sermon seems to say to them, “Christ is come forth again to deliver His lawful captives out of your power; the King of kings has come to take away His subjects.” We have not quite exhausted the metaphor yet.

4. The banner was ever a source of consolation to the wounded. He sees the banner still waving, and with his last breath he cries, “On! on! on!” and falls asleep content, because the banner is safe. It has not been cast down. Though he has fallen, yet the banner is secure. Even so every true soldier of the Cross rejoices in its triumph.

5. The banner is the emblem of victory. When the fight is done, and the soldier cometh home, what bringeth he? His blood-stained flag. And what is borne highest in the procession as it winds through the streets? It is the flag. They hang it in the minster; high up there in the roof, and where the incense smoketh, and where the song of praise ascendeth, there hangs the banner, honoured and esteemed, borne in conflict and in danger. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ shall be our banner in the last day, when all our foes shall be under our feet.

II. Who gave us the banner? Soldiers often esteem the colours for the sake of the person who first bestowed them. You and I ought to esteem the Gospel of our precious Christ for the sake of God who gave Him to us. “Thou hast given a banner.” God gave us the banner in old eternity.

III. To whom is this banner given? Shall the banner be put in the drunkard’s hands? Shall the great truth of Christ be left to those who live in sin? Now, inasmuch as this banner is given to those that fear God, if you fear God it is given to you. I do not know in what capacity you are to bear it, but I do know there is somewhere or other where you have to carry it. Mother, let the banner wave in your household. Merchant, let your banner be fixed upon your house of business. Let it be unfurled and fly at your masthead, O sailor. Bear your banner, O soldier, in your regiment.

IV. Why was this banner given to us? To be “displayed because of the truth.” There let it be displayed. Preach Christ Lift Him up with a clear voice as one that has something to say that He would have men hear. Speak of Him boldly as one who is not ashamed of his message. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The missionary banner

We may regard the banner as telling of the Divine presence and power of our Lord Jesus Christ. And thus understood, notice--

I. The charge that is given to us. We are to carry this banner in the front of the advancing force, and we are never to neglect or lose it. This banner was so carried by the apostles and the believers of the Pentecostal Church.

II. The obligation that is implied by its possession. God has given this banner to us, and it involves great responsibility. What the Gospel has done for us should urge us to make it known, should make us eager in the work, counting it our high privilege. And it comes associated with Divine promises.

III. The motive by which the responsibility is urged--“because of the truth.” For it is the only truth that can meet the wants of guilty souls and bring light and blessing to men. And this banner has been borne and with results full of blessing, for the results of mission work within the last ninety years are greater than those of the first century of apostolic labour with Pentecostal power. (J. P. Chown.)

The Cross, the banner of the Church

I. In what respects the Gospel is compared to a banner.

1. For the mustering of the troops to battle.

2. To guide the soldier to conflict.

3. To animate the sinking hopes and courage of the soldier. Now, the Gospel does all this in the spiritual warfare.

II. To whom the Lord gives this banner--“to them that feared Thee.”

III. TO whom the Lord gives this banner--“to them that displayed.”

IV. Wherefore it is to be thus displayed. Different motives may animate us herein: party spirit, and the like. But the right motive is “because of the truth,” that it may be more known and welcomed. (J. W. Cunningham, M. A.)

Christ a banner to His Church

I. As a point of union. When Christ is preached, when the banner is raised, His people gather around it and follow it. All true Christians are an army gathered under the same banner, to fight against common enemies--the world, the flesh, and the devil.

II. As a source of encouragement. We know the dismay and discouragement which often follow when a standard-bearer fainteth. Whereas the sight of their colours floating in the air gladdens and inspirits the troops. Hence we learn that the believer, in his Christian warfare, is to gather strength and courage, by continually “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” etc. In all his difficulties and trials, the believer is to “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself,” etc.

III. As a terror to the enemies of the Lord’s people. This follows, by necessary consequence. For if He ensures victory to His people, He must overthrow their enemies. If He is to cover His people with the garments of salvation, He must also clothe their enemies with shame. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)

The standard-bearer

Here we have the believer presented as a standard-bearer.

I. A banner. The republic of God has its flag.

II. The bearer. Every one who “fears” God. In an army every man is a soldier; in God’s army every soldier is also a standard-bearer. He bears both weapons wherewith to fight, and the flag wherewith to witness; and the flag is as important as the sword or shield. God’s army is made “terrible” to the enemy by its banners.

III. The duty. The banner is to “be displayed.” God’s believing people are to confess Him before men; display the flag, openly declare that He is their God and they are His disciples.

IV. The object. “Truth” here stands for everything in doctrine and duty which is Godlike and profitable. In two ways the display of the army’s colours furthers the cause.

1. In the impression made on the foe.

2. In the incentive furnished to heroic endeavour and endurance on the part of fellow-soldiers. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)

Keep the flag flying

At the relief of Kimberley the garrison could say that through all the siege, “Her Majesty’s flag had been kept flying.” And when Sir George White was relieved at Ladysmith, he exclaimed, “Thank God, our flag has been upheld.” Paul, after the siege of a long life, felt the same triumphant boast about the banner entrusted to him.

The royal flag supreme

Let our party flags be seen by all means, but grouped around Jehovah Nissi, not planted in its place. It is narrated that during the times of the Crusade, when the Lion-hearted Richard

I. of England, the Emperor of Austria, and the King of France were jointly waging war against the heroic heathen Saladin, a jealousy sprang up in the camp between England and Austria, and one morning the British banner was found lying in the dust on St. George’s Mount, and the standard of Austria occupying its place. No sooner did impetuous Richard hear of the insult offered to the Royal ensign than he strode forth alone, and before the assembled hosts hurled Austria’s ensign to the ground, and caused the British lion once more to take pre-eminence, remarking, “Your banners may be planted around mine, but never take its place.” So let it he with us, beloved. Upon the St. George’s Mount of our heart and life let the Lion of Judah, Jehovah Nissi, alone have the place of honour. (A. G. Brown.)


Verses 6-9

Psalms 60:6-9

God hath spoken in His Holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.

A war-song of Israel

In this war-song we are given the key to the whole story of Jewish development as the interpretation of life--that interpretation which has, through Christ, received its verification as the universal method by which religion becomes a practical force in the world. Leek at it. First, how real, how practical, how concrete it all is. It is not selfish, personal trouble about which he is vehement. He is one with his people, and it is their distress which is his. And then, secondly, these disasters cannot be for him blind accidents. They are not the cruelties of some ruthless fate, or the mere victories of force, accident, fate. God’s will is the sole, paramount interpretation of every incident, and there can be no other. “Thou also hast been displeased.” That is the only reasonable account of the matter. And then, after that, in that thought lies his hope. If God has done it, and done it for correction, then God can also undo it, and undo it He surely will, He, by His own right hand. Who but He? The people--broken, shattered, bruised, and drunken--they cannot heal themselves. They cannot restore themselves to their old soundness and strength. Their sin has wrecked their power to be as they were. They can but recognize the hand of God that broke and scattered them. God can do the rest. Their renewal, their recovery, must be all His act, and He will be sure to do it, because He has smitten that He may heal. What other motive could He have? And then out of that thought the psalmist passes on to the martial outburst which is so charged with the spirit of Ascensiontide. Israel, if she is to recover, we say, must throw herself altogether on the prevenient help of God, “God has spoken in His holiness.” That is what precedes. He and no other has taken the great step on which all depends. God has planned for Himself already an organized kingdom, and each spot, and each district, and each centre is selected and named. And this highland chief, this king, this servant of His, has been shown it all. He has been told exactly what is in God’s mind. Now, surely we can feel the very touch of an Ascension flame in the old words. This poise of the soul--this spiritual situation in which the believing soul for ever finds itself wherever it would act in God’s name--this mode and method of all religious faith wherever it be found--these have been caught for us here: these have been fixed. They are wholly and utterly the same to-day for us as they were for that border-chief in his warfare with Edom. Just to rehearse the succession of his thoughts and of his prayers with our mind. First, Ascensiontide summons us to look out, as he did, beyond the circuit of our own private affairs, and to take our place amid the rank of the people of God, and to identify ourselves with His historical kingdom. Look at Christ’s Church as it fares in the world. That Church is the creation of His royalty. There He has set His name, and with her lies our lot. Her interest, her fortune, her fears, her distress, all are ours. We are committed to her, so that our very faiths are interwoven one with another. If she is in strength we are strong, and if she is burdened we are weak with her weakness. Look out on her. How goes it? Alas, far us as for him, the same spectacle. God has cast us out. God has scattered us abroad. God’s hand is in it. And, if God’s hand is in it, then God’s mind is behind it. God acts for a purpose, and that means for a purpose unrelinquished and invincible, towards which He is ever pressing on; if it cannot be by victory, then by penalty, by discipline. What is that purpose? Ascensiontide is our answer. Then it was that God spoke out in His holiness. He revealed His whole intention. He clothed Himself in His righteousness. What was it to be? Oh, with the psalmist let us exult, for God in His exultation, lifting His Son to His throne on high, pronounced that in Him, the Beloved, He would claim the entire world for Himself. Every nation was to be a province of His kingdom, who was to be King of kings and Lord of lords. “I will rejoice,” he cried, as he saw it himself. So our King, aware of all the purposes of God, cried aloud to His great apostle in the vision, saying, “I am He who was alive and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. And I hold in My hand the keys of death and hell. I will rejoice, for I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth. Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine, and Ephraim is the strength of my head, and Judah is my law-giver.” So the cry of the ascended Lord rings out over the whole, asseverating its perpetual claim. “Mine,” for instance, “is the intellect in its exquisite skill, in its courage, in its profundity; mine is science in its patience and its truth; mine is art; mine is the whole world of feeling, emotion, passion; mine is marriage in all its inexhaustible magic; mine is the home in the honour of motherhood, the crown of children; mine is the heart with its sorrows and its joys; mine is the will with the force of its unresting efforts; mine is man. To everything in him I allot function and duty and service and liberty and gladness. Ephraim is the strength of my head, and Judah is my lawgiver.” Nor can He, the Victor, stop at the borders of His kingdom of grace. Still that kingdom must grow, must expel wrong, injustice, lust, misery, cruelty. These yet hold their own in the high rocks and fastnesses of the hills of Edom--in their castles and cities in the rich coasts of the Philistines. And these must yield; these must break. God has promised it. He has set the name of Jesus over everything that is named, and He must reign until He subdue all things unto Himself. (Canon Scott Holland.)


Verses 8-10

Psalms 60:8-10

Moab is my washpot.

Moab is my washpot

“Moab is my wash-pot,” nothing more--a thing contemptible and despicable as compared with the eternal realities of covenant blessings; yet, for all that, there was a use for Moab, a use to be rightly understood. My object will be to show that, contrary to the ordinary course of nature, but not contrary to faith, even this ungodly world may be made to assist our advance in holiness. Moab may become our washpot. The defiling world may be made helpful to us in the following ways.

I. First of all, ungodly men, if we are in a gracious spirit, may be of solemn service to us, because we see in them what sin is. They are beacons upon the rocks to keep us from danger. They are our washpot in that respect, that they warn us of pollution, and so help to prevent our falling into it. We were “heirs of wrath even as others.” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Our sins are different, but we were all without exception shapen in iniquity, and as in water, face answereth unto face, so the heart of man to man. When you see the wickedness of an ungodly man, make him your washpot, by remembering that you also, though you are regenerate, are encompassed with “the body of this death.” By remembering what we are, and what we were, we may, by taking warning from the evil courses of others, avoid the like condemnation. There are certain sins which we readily detect in others, which should serve as loud calls to us to correct the same things in ourselves. For instance, as to the matter of bodily indulgence. The sinner is a man who puts his body before his soul, and his head where his feet should be; he is a monster in nature. When, therefore, you see a drunkard, or an unchaste person, say to yourself, “I must mortify my members, and give my spiritual nature the predominance. For this I must cry mightily to God, the Eternal Spirit, lest the body of this death prevail over me. I must keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest I, too, become a prey to the same animal passions, which lead sinners captives.” Warnings are neglected by the foolish. The young sluggard sees the huge thorns and thistles in the older sluggard’s garden, and yet he follows the same lazy habits. One sheep follows another into the shambles. The Lord make us wise and prudent, and from the errors of others may we learn to steer our own course aright.

II. We see in the ungodly the present evil results of sin.

1. First, are you not very certain, those of you who watch unconverted and ungodly people, that they are not solidly happy? What roaring-boys they are sometimes I How hilarious their laughter! Their joy comes and goes with the hour. See them when the feast is over--“Who hath woe? Who hath redness of the eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; the men of strength to mingle strong drink.” Mark them when alone: they are ready to die with dulness. Ungodly men at bottom are unhappy men. “The way of transgressors is hard.” “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Their Marah is never dry, but flows with perennial waters of bitterness.

2. It is not merely that ungodly men are not happy; there are times when they are positively wretched through their sin. Sometimes fear cometh upon them as a whirlwind, and they have no refuge or way of escape. When we think of the despair of men, of blasted hopes, Moab may become our washpot, and may keep us from setting our affection upon their fleeting joys. If young men knew the price of sin, even in this life, they would not be so hot to purchase pleasurable moments at the price of painful years. Who would coin his life into iniquity to have it returned to him in this life, red-hot from the mint of torment!

III. Men of this world are made useful to us since they discover in us our weak places. Their opposition, slander, and persecution, are a rough pumice-stone, to remove some of our spots. If we cannot bear a little shake from men, how shall we bear the shaking of heaven and earth at the last day? The world often tries us as with fire, and the things which we reckoned to be gold and silver perish in the ordeal if they are but counterfeit, but we are gainers by such a loss. In the world our temper is tried, and too often we become irritated. What then? Why, just this. If sanctification has regulated our emotions, patience will have her perfect work, and charity will suffer long; but if we are soon angry and find it hard to forgive, let us not so much find fault with those who try us as with ourselves, because we cannot bear the ordeal. Our pride must go down, we must become slow to wrath, we must be content to be as our Lord, the meek and lowly Saviour.

IV. In reference to the world to come, the terrible doom of the ungodly is a most solemn warning to us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Moab is my wash-pot

Implying that Moab should be reduced to slavery, it being the business of a slave to present the wash-hand basin to his master. With the Greeks, πλύνειν τινά, to wash down any one, was a slang term, signifying to ridicule, abuse, or beat; hence we have the word washpot applied to the subject of such treatment. “You don’t appear to be in your right sense, who make a washpot of me in the presence of many men.”--Aristophanes. (Thomas S. Millington.)

Over Edom will I cast out my shoe.--

Edom vanquished

The person who is about to wash his feet casts his shoe to a slave. “To Edom will I cast my shoe,” (Hengstenberg). Or else the idea of casting the shoe in contempt upon Edom expresses at once the taking possession victoriously of the Edomite land and the treading upon the pride of Edom, wherewith he had trodden the Israelite land as an invader. The casting of the shoe was also a symbol of transference of possession (Ruth 4:7). (A. R. Fausset.)


Verse 9

Psalms 60:9

Who will bring me into the strong city?

The Christian warfare

We are all familiar with the idea that the life of the Christian and the progressive advance of the kingdom of heaven involves a conflict, a never-ceasing warfare. We are, however, I think, sometimes unmindful that that warfare must assume very various phases according to the varying conditions and circumstances; and that much watchfulness, skill, determination and patience is needed for the frequent re-organization of forces, the re-adaptation of resources, and the revision of methods. Thus, with the individual, there are often constitutional tendencies which can only be counteracted by, it may be, a lifelong watchfulness and sustained assault; there are often strongholds of confirmed habit which have been allowed to entrench themselves within us, and which nothing short of a tedious system of siege operations can reduce. How true it is, we must all know, that spiritual growth and development of the Christian character are retarded because we have left such-like strongholds unreduced. Our forgetfulness of this aspect of our militant position may arise from a yielding to the temptation that these tedious siege operations can be dispensed with. We hope that if left alone these strongholds of evil tendency and habit will surrender while we make the easier conquests; or we hope that we may enter into possession of our promised land and leave these fortresses standing, content with a resolution to watch them; or we decide that, as we cannot hope to reduce them absolutely, we will make, as we think, safe terms with them, so that they shall not molest us or disturb our peace. Or it may be that we fail to gain permanent possession of them because we are tempted to evade the truth that no stronghold carried by assault is secured unless we are ready at once to occupy the position and to hold it. Evil habits are not eradicated until they are permanently replaced by good habits; it is only the gradual intrusion and establishment of good habits that ousts the evil and at last permanently excludes them. And this securing a permanent footing for habits of acting aright is an exceeding slow process. In order to form a habit, a series of individual actions must be persistently repeated for a considerable time, and before the habit has become irrevocably established we must expect to meet many reverses and engage in many desperate rallies. We live in impatient days; there is a tendency to resort to methods of spiritual warfare which seem to produce speedy results; adventurous raids are made here and there, while the strongholds stand unassailed, and ground gained is not held for want of those less showy operations which are needful if we would make each step secure. To my younger hearers especially I would say, Be not deceived; steady, persevering effort is needed if you would become real masters of yourselves. Depend upon it, as with Israel of old, you cannot advance far towards getting possession of your promised land, possession and control of your passions, your will, without finding a fortress to be subdued. What is true of the individual growth in grace, is true also with the extension of Christ’s kingdom upon earth. There are occasions where the Church finds herself confronted by towering strongholds of formidable strength which have long held captive the minds and hearts of her fellow-men, strongholds which cannot be carried by simple assault, but which must be reduced by the slow and persistent advance of regular approaches. At such times there is a demand made upon the Church’s faith, and the same temptation to shirk the trying duty presents itself. It is also true that in regard to the Church’s advances, much unpretending monotonous labour has to be expended in securing the ground gained. We have need not only of men who will carry on the message, but also of men who will unobtrusively sacrifice themselves to the often unexciting and sometimes very trying, but most important work of slowly building up the new life in the new believers; helping them by slow degrees to assimilate the life, the character, the habits, personal, domestic, and social, of the new man which they have newly put on. “Who will lead us into these strong cities?” We answer, “Christ”; and then, when we further ask, “How can we best bring the power of Christ to bear upon them?” we reply, “First endeavour to secure that the fountain shall be pure, that the stream of life going forth from your English shores shall be living, and strong, and clear; then let us have men devoted, who can explain the nature of the living stream, and direct inquiries to the source of its virtue as a healing power; thirdly, let the consecrated intellect of England help us to express Divine truth more truly and exhaustively; and then such a threefold cord may well be expected to be a mighty instrument for the pulling down of the strongholds.” (Bishop E. R. Johnson.)

The inspiration of a great leader

The inspiration of a leader’s presence and courage has turned many a defeat into a victory. Marlborough, Henry of Navarre, and Napoleon are instances, with Garibaldi and our own Gordon. But the memory of a great leader is inspiring also. The last words of Hedley Vicars were, “This way, 97th!” and although the captain fell, his men rushed forward and repulsed a force ten times their number. We are to arm ourselves with that panoply of perfect trust and perfect obedience which our Divine Leader put on, and in which He endured and conquered. Many a child has borne pain and contumely with fortitude and patience, upheld by the thought of the Saviour’s sufferings.

Christ the invincible warrior

It has been said of Edward, the Black Prince, that he never fought a battle which he did not win, and of the great Duke of Marlborough, that he never besieged a city that he did not take. Shall that be said of men which we deny concerning the Most High God? Is He less successful than some human generals? Shall these invincibly prevail, and grade be liable to defeat? Impossible.


Verse 11

Psalms 60:11

Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.

Help in God in all times of trouble

If a man had a long and perilous journey to take, in which he would be exposed to many difficulties and great dangers, would he not most thankfully receive from any one the kind offer of direction and assistance, that he might perform it with success and security? The life of man is such a journey, during which he is exposed to many difficulties and dangers.

I. In the world we must expect tribulation. As fallen creatures, we are constantly liable to infirmities, affliction, and disappointment.

II. Vain is the help of man. Man may not have the ability nor the inclination to help us in our worldly troubles. Man may not feel for our misery, nor be disposed to aid us in our distress. He may promise us his assistance, and yes desert us “in the very time of need.” “Vain is the help of man.” Man may endeavour to help; but it is so feeble, as to be of no real service. God, and God alone, can remove the burden, or support us under it.

III. How is this help to be obtained? By humble, fervent, and believing prayer. “Give us help in trouble, for vain is the help of man.” It is freely bestowed in Christ Jesus to all that need it and seek it of God in humble and fervent prayer. (C. Davy.)

The common in human life

I. A common human condition. “Trouble.” He has, almost from birth to death, to “walk in the midst of trouble”--troubles personal and social, material and spiritual--troubles of body, troubles of intellect, troubles of conscience.

1. Those that are spiritually pernicious--tending only to intensify the rebellion of the soul, harden the conscience, etc.

2. Those that are spiritually beneficent. To all regenerate and Christly men troubles are morally disciplinary (Hebrews 12:11).

II. A common human instinct. “Give us help from trouble.” Man in great trouble instinctively cries to the Supreme for help. Even irrational creatures seem to shriek for help in trouble. Tyndall says of the hare, when the greyhound is almost upon her, that she abandons hope through her own efforts, and screams convulsively into space for help. Man’s instinct is of a higher kind. The space into which he cries in trial is not empty. He sees a God in it. This instinct is as deep as the soul and as wide as humanity. It is developed by saint, by savage, and by sage.

1. This instinct implies a constitutional, an ineradicable belief in the existence, personality, accessibleness and entreatability of a God.

2. This instinct shows that prayer is not against the laws of nature, but one with it. As sure as the sun will rise, men will pray.

III. A common human experience. “Vain is the help of man.”

1. He cannot give an effective deliverance from trouble. That which makes anguish is the state of the soul--disordered affections, guilt of conscience, moral regrets, and dark forebodings. Unless these are removed the troubles remain.

2. He cannot give a permanent deliverance from trouble. Whatever alleviation he may afford to the sufferer, it can be only temporary. Let our prayer therefore be, “Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man.” (Homilist.)
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Psalms 61:1-8

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 60:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-60.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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