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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 77

 

 

Verses 1-20

Psalms 77:1-20

I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and He gave ear unto me.

The faculty of human thought

The whole psalm may be used to illustrate the faculty of human thought. Throughout the whole the author speaks of “remembering, considering, musing,” making “diligent search,” meditating, etc, etc.

I. It is a power that can inflame the soul with longings for God (Psalms 77:1-2). By thought this man brought the Eternal into his soul, even in the stillness and darkness of night. It presented Him as an Object to whom he appealed in his distress, and from whom he received relief.

II. It has power to fill the soul with mingled emotions.

1. Here is sadness (Psalms 77:2-10). The writer says, “his soul refused to be comforted,” “he was troubled,” “overwhelmed,” so “troubled that he could neither sleep nor speak,” so troubled that he cries out, “Will God cast off for ever? and will He be favourable no more?” What sinful man can think upon God without being troubled with remorse and troubled with forebodings? Thought can lash the soul into a tempest, can kindle it into a hell.

2. Here is joy (Psalms 77:10-20). “And I said, this is my infirmity;” or rather, my hope.

III. It is a power over which man has a personal control. The psalmist speaks of himself as directing his own thoughts. “I sought, I remembered, I considered.” This power over thought is the dignity of our nature, and is that which invests us with responsibility. Man has no direct power over any faculty but this. He has no immediate control over his feelings or faiths. He could no more awaken love or produce repentance by a direct effort, than he could create a world. He can think or not think--think upon this subject or that, in this aspect or another, consecutively or desultorily, profoundly or superficially. This he can do; and herein is his freedom. (Homilist.)

God’s ear open to the cry of the needy

A cheque without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. The stroke of a pen confers on it all its value. The prayer of a poor child of Adam is a feeble thing in itself, but once endorsed by the hand of the Lord Jesus, it availeth much. There was an officer in the city of Rome who was appointed to have his doors always open, in order to receive any Roman citizen who applied to him for help. Just so the ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace. It is His office to help them. (J. C. Ryle.)


Verses 1-20

Psalms 77:1-20

I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and He gave ear unto me.

The faculty of human thought

The whole psalm may be used to illustrate the faculty of human thought. Throughout the whole the author speaks of “remembering, considering, musing,” making “diligent search,” meditating, etc, etc.

I. It is a power that can inflame the soul with longings for God (Psalms 77:1-2). By thought this man brought the Eternal into his soul, even in the stillness and darkness of night. It presented Him as an Object to whom he appealed in his distress, and from whom he received relief.

II. It has power to fill the soul with mingled emotions.

1. Here is sadness (Psalms 77:2-10). The writer says, “his soul refused to be comforted,” “he was troubled,” “overwhelmed,” so “troubled that he could neither sleep nor speak,” so troubled that he cries out, “Will God cast off for ever? and will He be favourable no more?” What sinful man can think upon God without being troubled with remorse and troubled with forebodings? Thought can lash the soul into a tempest, can kindle it into a hell.

2. Here is joy (Psalms 77:10-20). “And I said, this is my infirmity;” or rather, my hope.

III. It is a power over which man has a personal control. The psalmist speaks of himself as directing his own thoughts. “I sought, I remembered, I considered.” This power over thought is the dignity of our nature, and is that which invests us with responsibility. Man has no direct power over any faculty but this. He has no immediate control over his feelings or faiths. He could no more awaken love or produce repentance by a direct effort, than he could create a world. He can think or not think--think upon this subject or that, in this aspect or another, consecutively or desultorily, profoundly or superficially. This he can do; and herein is his freedom. (Homilist.)

God’s ear open to the cry of the needy

A cheque without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. The stroke of a pen confers on it all its value. The prayer of a poor child of Adam is a feeble thing in itself, but once endorsed by the hand of the Lord Jesus, it availeth much. There was an officer in the city of Rome who was appointed to have his doors always open, in order to receive any Roman citizen who applied to him for help. Just so the ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace. It is His office to help them. (J. C. Ryle.)


Verse 2

Psalms 77:2

My soul refused to be comforted.

Refusing to be comforted

I. When a man’s soul refuses to be comforted, possibly he may be right. He may have a great spiritual sorrow, and some one, who does not at all understand his grief, may proffer to him a consolation which is far too slight. Not knowing how deep the wound is, this foolish physician may think that it can be healed with any common ointments. So, too, it is equally right to refuse to be comforted, when the comfort is untrue. When a man is under a sense of sin, I have known his friends say to him, “You should not fret; you have not been so very bad. You have been, indeed, a very good sort of fellow. You have not committed any very terrible sin; God help the world if you are a great sinner! I do not know what will become of the rest Of us.” Another says, “You have only to pray, and go to a place of worship; perhaps be a little more regular in your attention to religion, and it will all come right again; you are not so bad as you think you are.” Such talk as that is a lie, and the man whom God has really awakened to feel his state by nature will refuse to be comforted by such falsehoods as those. We have known others who have tried to comfort poor, mourning, repentant sinners in an unhallowed way. They have said, “You want to raise your spirits, I can recommend you some fine old wine; it will do you a world of good.” Another will say, “You should really mix a little more in society, and shake yourself up; you should get with some gay, lively people, they would soon take this melancholy out of you.” I am sure that a person who is really troubled in spirit will increase his sorrow if he attempts to cure it in that way. It is only putting more fuel on the flame. “In danger every moment of death, and certain that, if death came, I should be lost, can I enjoy mirth? It cannot be!” Refuse every comfort short of being born again, and made a new creature in Jesus.

II. But now, I want to show when this refusal is wrong. Probably he is wrong who says, “My soul refused to be comforted.” It is quite wrong if it be a temporal matter that causes your sorrow. Refuse not to be comforted, I pray you; you are only driving the dagger deeper into your wounds. Instead of doing that, think of the mercies that you still have, think of how God can bless your troubles. But now I will suppose that yours is a spiritual trouble. Do not refuse to be comforted, for if you do, you will be spiritually a suicide. The man who will not eat, and so dies of starvation, is as much a suicide as he that puts the pistol to his head, and blows out his brains.

III. But now, haply you will have to repent of refusing to be comforted. Possibly you will have to repent it in a very terrible way. Suppose, now, that you should refuse to be comforted, and so should wilfully go into a yet darker and deeper dungeon of despair. Suppose that your Christian friends should grow weary of you. Where would you be then? And suppose that, because you shut your eyes to the light, God should take it away? I do hope that many here present, who have refused to be comforted, will yet regret it when they shall be enjoying the fulness of comfort. “What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty I I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” So he pulled it out of his bosom, put it in the lock, opened the door of the dungeon, and they soon passed out. Now, finally, when you and I get to heaven, we shall regret that we ever refused to be comforted. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A sermon for the most miserable of men

My main bent, this morning, is to deal with mourners who are seeking Christ, but up till now have sought Him in vain.

I. Concerning so deplorable a state of heart, alas I still so common, we will remark in the first place that it is very wonderful. It is a most surprising thing that there should be in this world persons who have the richest consolation near to hand, and persistently refuse to partake of it. Doth the ox refuse its fodder? Will the lion turn from his meat? Or the eagle loathe its nest? The refusal of consolation is the more singular because the most admirable comfort is within reach. Sin can be forgiven; sin has been forgiven; Christ has made an atonement for it. It is said that some years ago, a vessel sailing on the northern coast of the South American continent, was observed to make signals of distress. When hailed by another vessel, they reported themselves as “Dying for water!” “Dip it up, then,” was the response, “you are in the mouth of the Amazon river.” There was fresh water all around them, they had nothing to do but to dip it up, and yet they were dying of thirst, because they thought themselves to be surrounded by the salt sea. How often are men ignorant of their mercies! How sad that they should perish for lack of knowledge! But suppose after the sailors had received the joyful information, they had still refused to draw up the water which was in boundless plenty all around them, would it not have been a marvel?

II. Secondly, this wonderful madness has a method in it, and may be variously accounted for. In many, their refusal to be comforted arises from bodily and mental disease. It is in vain to ply with scriptural arguments those who are in more urgent need of healing medicine, or generous diet, or a change of air. In some the monstrous refusal is suggested by a proud dislike to the plan of salvation. They would be comforted, aye, that they would, but may they not do something to earn eternal life? May they not at least contribute a feeling or emotion? May they not prepare themselves for Christ? In others it is not pride, but an unholy resolve to retain some favourite sin. In some cases we have found out that the sorrowing person indulged still in a secret vice, or kept the society of the ungodly. I fear, in a great many, there is another reason for this refusing to be comforted, namely, a dishonouring unbelief in the love, and goodness, and truthfulness of God. They do not believe God to be gracious; they think Him so stern that a sinner had need plead full many a day before the stern heart of God will be touched. Oh, but you do not know my God! What is He? He is love. Some, however, have refused comfort so long, that they have grown into the habit of despair. Beware of nursing despondency. Does it creep upon you to-day through unbelief? Oh, shake it off if possible!

III. This remarkable piece of folly assumes divers forms. One is a persistent misrepresentation of the Gospel, as though it claimed some hard thing of us. Another shape of this malady is this: many continually and persistently underestimate the power of the precious blood of Jesus. There are some who will then say, “But I have sinned such and such a sin.” What, and cannot the blood of Jesus wash that away? “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.”

IV. This refusal to be comforted involves much of wrong. When you hear the Gospel and refuse to be comforted by it, there is a wrong done to the minister of God. He sympathizes with you, he desires to comfort you, and it troubles him when he puts before you the cup of salvation, and you refuse to take it. But worse than that, you wrong God’s Gospel. You put it away as though it were a thing of nought. You wrong this precious Bible. It is full of consoling promises, and you read it, and you seem to say, “It is all chaff.” Oh, but the Bible does not deserve to have such a slur cast upon it. You do wrong to the dear friends who try to comfort you. Above all, you do wrong to your God, to Jesus, and to His Holy Spirit. The crucifixion of Christ is repeated by your rejection of Christ.

V. Such a refusal should not be persisted in. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 3

Psalms 77:3

I remembered God, and was troubled.

Remembering God

This was a very sad condition. Asaph must have felt that it was unnatural to entertain such gloomy thoughts of God.

I. A test of our condition. Do we remember Him and become troubled? Then our state is wrong. If troubled now at the remembrance of His holiness, how much greater will the trouble be when we meet Him face to face in all His terrible glory. But if we remember Him with joy, happy indeed is our condition.

II. An intimation of duty--“I remembered God.” Alas, how few do remember God I And yet this is the first of all duties. We get a glimpse of Asaph’s character. He was not a bad man. But he felt that it was better to probe the wound and open the sore, rather than that it should fester to the death. He would remember God; he would take his sin to God, so as to have it mortified, and then forgiven. (Homilist.)

The memory of God a trouble

I. An important mental exercise. “I remembered God.”

II. A sad spiritual experience. “I remembered God, and was troubled.” What a deplorable fact is this: a soul “troubled” at the memory of God.

1. This is unnatural. It can never be that the great Father of our spirits formed us to think on Him in order to be miserable.

2. It is unnecessary. The memory of God with some is blessedness; it is so with the hosts of heaven, it is so with the saints on earth, it might be so with all. Thank God there is no need to be troubled at the idea of Him.

3. It is ungodly. It argues a morally corrupt state of soul. It is a sense of guilt that makes the idea of God so troubling. The idea of God to a depraved soul is hell. Here--

Troubled thoughts of God and the remedy for them

To the unconverted, thoughts of God come laden with trouble.

I. Because coupled with the consciousness of guilt. Adam: “I heard Thy voice . . . and was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

II. Coupled with thoughts of God’s presence. “i am.” “Thou, God, seest me.” Your own personality face to face with God’s personality!

III. Coupled with thoughts of God’s emotional nature. God loves good, hates evil, with all His infinite nature. Sinner must forsake sin or go down, along with it, under His wrath.

IV. Coupled with thoughts of His attributes. Holiness brings out the awful bleakness of sin. Justice and Truth--“I will by no means clear the guilty.” Omniscience (Psalms 89:2-6; Psalms 89:11-12). Omnipresence (Psalms 139:7-10). Omnipotence (Daniel 4:35; Luke 12:5). Immutability--He will never alter His decrees against sin. Eternity--He will always live to execute them. Goodness and Love--leave the sinner without excuse.

V. Coupled with thoughts of the judgment. “For God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing” (Revelation 20:11-15).

VI. The remedy. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God,” etc. (Homiletic Monthly.)

Recollections of God painful to the wicked

I. What we mean by remembering God. I mean, as the psalmist undoubtedly meant, recollecting those ideas which the term God is used by the inspired writers to signify. When they use the word, they use it to denote an eternal, self-existent, infinitely wise, just, and good Being, who is the Creator and Upholder of all things, who is our Sovereign Lawgiver, and who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will; who is always present with us, who searches our hearts, who approves or disapproves our conduct, who loves holiness.

II. Why the recollection of such a being should ever be painful. If our hearts condemn us not, says the apostle, then have we confidence towards God; and the man who has confidence towards God, cannot be troubled at the remembrance of Him. But on the other hand, if our hearts or consciences condemn us, it is impossible to remember Him without being troubled. It will then be painful to remember that He is our Creator and Benefactor; for the remembrance will be attended with a consciousness of base ingratitude. It will be painful to think of Him as Lawgiver; for such thoughts will remind us that we have broken the law. It will be painful to think of His holiness; for if He is holy, He must hate our sins. It will be painful to think of Him as Judge; for we shall feel, that as sinners, we have no reason to expect a favourable sentence from His lips.

III. Application.

1. This subject affords a rule, by which we may try ourselves, and which will assist us much in discovering our real characters; for the moral character of every intelligent creature, corresponds with his habitual views and feelings respecting God.

2. From this subject we may learn how wretched is the situation of impenitent sinners; of those who cannot remember God without being troubled.

3. How great are our obligations to God for the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of reconciliation! Were it not for this, the remembrance, and still more, the presence of God, would have occasioned nothing but pure unmingled wretchedness to any human being.

4. Is sin alone the cause which renders the remembrance of God painful? Then let all who have embraced the terms of reconciliation offered by the Gospel, all who desire to remember God without being troubled, beware, above all things, beware of sin. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Trouble at the thought of God

I. The strangeness of such an experience--that a man should remember God and yet be troubled.

1. Such an experience is against all that is made known to us of the nature of God. Many think the Bible hard because it speaks so of sin and the sinner’s doom. But let it be borne in mind that the Gospel finds the disease in our world; it does not make it. “I am come not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Is it not, then, strange that there should be men who, with this Word before them, can remember God and be troubled?

2. It becomes strange when we reflect on His promises. They are so universal, so free, so full, that they seem fitted to meet every want and satisfy every yearning of the human soul.

3. Trouble at the thought of God is declared to be against the experience of all sincere seekers. God’s own declaration is, “I never said to any of the seed of Jacob”--to any of those who wrestled as he did ill the dark with God--“Seek ye My face in vain.”

4. Such an experience is against all that we can reasonably believe of the nature of the soul of man. Out of God no full satisfying end can be found for it.

II. Some of the reasons that may be given for such an experience.

1. Many men do not make God the object of sufficient thought, and so they hang in wretched suspense, remembering God only to be troubled.

2. Another reason why many are troubled at the thought of God is that they are seeking Him with a wrong view of the way of access. The most frequent mistake of all is that men think they cannot look God in the face without trouble, unless they have some good works or good thoughts, some outward reformation or inward repentance. They do not perceive, or at least they do not feel, the all-sufficiency of Christ as a Saviour.

3. A third reason why some are troubled at the thought of God is, that they are seeking Him with some reserved thought of sin.

4. Some have a mistaken view of God’s manner of dealing with us in this world. There are so many things in the world most dark which He permits--so much of difficulty in the Bible which they feel He could have made more clear--such troubles in our life, in what we may call our true life, our spiritual life, which we long to have ended, and which still go on. These questions of God’s ways are still for our study, for nothing that belongs to Him can be indifferent to us, and earnest souls will thirst for light on all that concerns Him. But we shall not wait for the answer before we embrace Him; we embrace Him first that we may find rest, and from that centre pursue our search, or calmly wait till God disclose it. (John Ker, D. D.)

The remembrance of God

I. The remembrance of God.

1. There is a necessity for constantly urging this duty, inasmuch as the cares and occupations and temptations of this present life are constantly more or less shutting out from our memory the truths of the Divine existence and presence.

2. Apart from all judgments as to the consequence of forgetfulness of God, consider the naturalness of the duty. He should be remembered as our Father, as the best and the most faithful of friends, as the Redeemer of our souls by the blood of His Son, and as the everlasting portion of all His believing and enduring people.

3. Consider, too, that the duty of remembering God is imperative. It is a law which is enforced by the most positive commands and illustrated by examples of the most illustrious character. We can not only point to these in the Scripture testimony of patriarchs, kings, prophets, and apostles, but also to the usages of enlightened governments, to the kings, nobles, warriors, and statesmen.

II. The effects which the remembrance of God produces.

1. The effects are various, and depend in a great measure upon the character of the individual, and the particular circumstances and seasons in which the memory of God operates. Their memory is uninfluential, cold, inactive for good, and dead as regards any practical and lasting result, except when some sudden calamity visits them, or when some visitation of disease sweeps their immediate neighbourhood, or when death itself knocks at the door of their own hearts. In such seasons the memory of God wakes up from its long slumber, and the image of wrath breaks upon it with an untold terror. But again, there are persons to whose hearts the Almighty is no stranger, and consequently when any trouble overtakes them and they are brought low like Jonah, they can say with him--“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord.” To such persons, in the darkest hour of their trials, the memory of God is attended with much comfort.

2. Another result of this remembrance may be traced in its expediency. It becomes the means of leading us to the consummation of our highest purposes and ends: Perhaps there is no stronger faculty than that of memory, nothing more adapted to call into exercise the affections, and to wind its way into our deepest sympathies. How wonderfully it acts in the hour of danger, in the time of estrangement, from home and kindred, and in the closing scene of all. Thus as a means to an end, what better calculated to bring back the wanderer, to overthrow the intrigues of an enemy, and to restore the soul to its proper place in its relations to the Father of all our mercies! It is the memory of God in His relations to our past days of childhood, and to the-years through which we have passed, which induces a feeling of gratitude, and which supplies a motive-power for the future obedience and dedication of our lives.

3. The remembrance of God disturbs the rest of a false security. It produces the effect of breaking up the illusion of a peace founded upon a mistaken notion of the Divine character. In other words, it leads the mind of a thoughtful and honest professor of religion to the conclusion that it is impossible to serve God and mammon, to make a compromise with principle and inclination, and to unite the Church with the world.

4. To the humble and penitent; to the man who honestly rejects all false subterfuges, and with a trustful heart seeks for mercy through the sacrifice and intercession of Christ, there is much comfort in the remembrance of God. (W. D. Horwood.)

On the advantages of affliction

(P.B.V.: “When I am in heaviness, I will think upon God”):--

I. The happiness and reasonableness of turning our thoughts to God in general.

II. Adversity has its peculiar advantages, to bring us to a just sense of God, and our duty to Him.

1. Adversity will make us, however unwilling, reflect and descend into ourselves.

2. Adversity puts our virtue to the test, and proves the sincerity of it.

3. Adversity is of service to disengage our minds from earthly pursuits, and to fix our thoughts where true joys are to be found. Convinced by melancholy proof of the insufficiency of worldly things, we take sanctuary in the fulness of the Divine sufficiency. (J. Seed, M. A.)

The thought of God, the stay of the soul

(P.B.V.):--

I. The thought of God as the remedy against despondency. “When I am in heaviness;” whenever that may be, or whatever may be the character of my woe, I have one and only one method of meeting it, and that is, by the thought of God.

II. Consider, then, how this thought will act. When we first look at it, we deem it almost impossible that it should be the remedy which it is here declared to be. For what is the thought of God naturally? lt is the thought of One infinitely above us, transcendently great and good, fearful, indeed, from His very holiness, as well as from His power. Yet the very greatness of God in the majesty of His outward creation is a comfort to a thoughtful soul. True, I am insignificant, and as a shadow before Him; but I feel that He is the author and the fountain of my being. If I die, therefore, must I not be before Him, just as I am now? Wide, therefore, and great, and awful, as the universe may seem, there is no terrible void in it, for He who made it fills it; and everything that it contains, the smallest particle of dust, yea, even such a worm as I am, is ever under His immediate eye, and must be the object of His special protection.

III. Revelation confirms this thought. From first to last, God manifests Himself as our Father, yea, and our Friend. Friends may be false, and earthly streams grow dry; but the Lord God is my sun and my shield: I cannot be sad while He Smiles on me; I will dread no danger while He defends. Only remember this. While He is ever ready to help even those who have marred their own happiness; yet it is they who walk with Him, to whom He is a special source of peace. An allowed sin will drive Him away. He cannot dwell in the same heart with a cherished lust. (C. E. Kennaway, M. A.)


Verse 5

Psalms 77:5

I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.

Lessons drawn from Scripture history

From the history of the Bible we may learn much concerning--

I. The character of God.

1. His wisdom.

2. His power.

3. His holiness and justice.

4. His goodness.

5. His faithfulness to His promises.

6. His unchangeableness.

II. The value of the blessings of redemption.

1. The greatness of the preparations made to obtain it.

2. The greatness of the sacrifice made to purchase it.

3. The greatness of the means used to proclaim it.

III. The condition, character, and fate of man.

1. In his natural state.

2. As redeemed.


Verse 6

Psalms 77:6

I call to remembrance my song in the night.

The song in the night

Among all those pains and pleasures which make up so large a part of every human lot, none are more real and more vivid than the pains and the pleasures of memory. Much that is sad, and tragic, and lamentable in the past would die but that it is kept alive in the memory, and much that is joyful and inspiring would perish out of life altogether but that it has become a property of the memory. There is not a little courage implied in this testimony of the psalmist: “I call to remembrance my song in the night”--for you cannot recall the song without recalling the night. And the song seems so slight a thing--some poor, thin, quavering notes that perhaps aimed to be melody and were not. But the night--that was vast and awful. Its gloom was absolute; its darkness a darkness that could be felt. It wrapped the spirit round until heaven and earth alike were lost, beauty a dream, and light a legend. That was the night upon which that trembling song broke; and into the depths of which it wandered. And to recall the song is to remember the night. It needs some courage deliberately to do that. There is something in this well worthy of our thought. There should be nothing in life we are afraid to recall. Even our sins should be so associated with memories of penitence and God’s pardoning mercy that there is room for the note of praise even out of so desolate a night as that. We are not really “more than conquerors” until we can dare to look steadily at the darkest dispensations of earth. The suggestion with some people is that they can only continue to believe by hiding some of their trials out of sight, and resolutely refusing to think of them. If this be so, the victory is surely against, them. Will you now take yet another point in our meditation? It was the night that made the song. Not entirely, of course, for have we not already seen that the song had been impossible but for a communication of the reality of the Divine love. But the fact remains that but for the night the song had not been what it was. He whose love-song is the eternal inspiration and solace of our race was the Man of Sorrows, and His life was a song in the night. (C. S. Horne, M. A.)

The song remembered in the night

He looked out of the bars of his window of darkness, and thought of the old light of bygone times. For there are times when the soul cannot sing, the heart cannot be glad. Yet even then the old days may be thought of. A man may get lap out of the darkness unto the light of another man’s window, and take comfort from that. So this is what this wise soul did. He goes to the window, he knows where it is, and looking out through the great darkness, he says--“I call to remembrance the days of old, the years of ancient times.” For, thank God, to-day’s darkness blots not out yesterday’s light, and in the depth of winter it is oftentimes pleasant to remember the summer glory: so the uses of darkness are sometimes to make men value the light. Now, this is the remedy. He called to mind olden days, and so by degrees the light came. He speaks most pathetic words. It is so dark, I cannot sing, I have nothing to say to Thee, O God, but I will call to remembrance the song I did sing once. And so the memory does what the heart could not do at the time; and even from this little beginning victory commences: “I call to remembrance my song in the night.” And the tongue, toe dumb to sing, still perhaps whispers to itself the old song; and there mark amongst many other things the uses of learning, and singing when you are glad, teaching songs; they get into the memory, and lie there till they are wanted. Now, in calling to remembrance the old song, he called to mind that he had once sung it. What had been may be; yesterday is as to-morrow; old summers foretell future summers; and therefore he says, “No light now; but there was light once, I will call that to remembrance.” But some of you may say that the very fact that you have known better days and know them not now, is a source of deeper trouble. Not at all. A thing that hath been may be. It is the very fact of the fickleness of the weather that gives us hope. It is now night, I call to remembrance the song I have sung in summer days I have seen sweet times of peace; they are gone now, they will come again. Ask me about next year’s swallows, I call to remembrance the swallows of the past. They have been, they are not now, but they will come again. Their being gone is the, warrant of their coming again. A man sometimes is disappointed, disheartened; somebody who has been a friend has deceived him, and he says, “There is no such thing as honesty,” and the man turns cynical, scornful, and denounces his fellows as being false. Think of the utter gloom that comes when a man has been thoroughly deceived. How hard it is to believe in the eleven, when the twelfth is a rogue. That is a terrible night for a man. But call to remembrance the song of the souls we have known that have loved us truly, purely, honestly, even to the end. Open the great book as the king did who could not sleep. Read of those who were true, think of all those you have known (now gone to rest), who were staunch, honest, and faithful; and though there is no song possible just now, yet “I call to remembrance my song in the night,” and the men that were a comfort are amongst the men that are. So, far away from the!and of his birth, a man, perhaps in exile, sits down in a foreign land, it may be Babylon, but he cannot sing there, his heart is sad, and his harp hangs on the willows; though it is all night, he can call to remembrance the song he used to sing at home. Though unable to sing (for it needs a glad heart to make a very merry tongue), he can do as those Jews did, who opened their windows and looked towards Jerusalem, that even if they could not see the wreath of the smoking sacrifice ascending upward, they could remember the time that had been, and so take comfort from that. It is good to sing, but the next best thing is to think of the time when you have sung; for through the words which the heart utters it will become quiet and calm. (G. Dawson, M. A.)

I commune with mine own heart; and my spirit made diligent search.

Man, “know thyself”!

Communion with ourselves! that is surely something very wonderful; and evidence enough of a sublime nature. “I commune with my own heart: and my spirit diligently explores her own hidden world.” Why, nothing in the whole compass of nature can do that. A wise man will surely say, “I am not going to analyze creatures who are lower than myself to know myself; but I must commune with myself, and make inquiry of the measureless capacities involved in my personal spirit.” Now, whoever thus searches into himself is constrained to search after the living God. Unless a man is under the influence and control of his inner and diviner nature he inevitably leads a life and acts a part which degrades and ruins him. God, the Father of his spirit, is infinitely averse to this, which He has most affectingly shown and proved by that great mystery of Love, God manifest in man’s flesh. Bethlehem, Calvary, and Mount Olivet simply mean God’s infinite concern for man’s redemption. If Christ’s Ascension does not signify the possibility of man’s ascension to God and the angel world, it signifies nothing. To be destitute of self-knowledge is, strictly speaking, to be destitute of all true and right knowledge. If we know not ourselves, nor the end of our being, we shall fall into many foolish and hurtful snares, and mistake the value of everything. We shall take appearances and sophistries for truth, and regard God’s truth as dreams. And worse than all, we shall misuse ourselves; thinking that we are wise when we are foolish, and that we are doing well when we are perishing. For we may take every possible care of the corruptible body of our flesh, while we are destroying the health and happiness of the precious inner man. Self-knowledge will inspire more than dignity and self-respect; it will inspire awe and a sublime hope. There will be no self-adulation in this knowledge; on the contrary, self-knowledge is always associated with sweet, restful, childlike humility. For right self-knowledge recognizes the Infinite Father-Spirit to be alone great and worshipful. We all share in Divinity; that is the one great human inheritance. To claim direct relationship to the Infinite Spirit is not presumptuous: “Our Father, which art in heaven.” And the one tremendous thought is that our Divine birthright is for eternity. The Everlasting Christ, as the ideal of our own humanity, is not only revealed to us; but the breath of His power is within us all. (John Pulsford, D. D.)

Self-companionship

Often reflect upon thyself, and observe what company is with thy heart. We may know by the noise in the school that the master is not there; much of the misrule in our bosom arises from the neglect of visiting our hearts. (W. Gurnall.)


Verses 7-12

Psalms 77:7-12

Will the Lord cast off for ever?
and will He be favourable no more?

Against excessive grief

I. The grief which nature dictates, and which, in moderation, the God of nature does not prohibit, becomes, in its excess, a practical accusation of the conduct of providence. The psalmist admits, that in uttering his complaints, he was showing his infirmity; and it must appear an act of the greatest weakness to bewail events, which, in the common course of things, must happen, and against the occurrence of which we cannot promise ourselves the security, not even of a single hour. But our merciful Father makes allowance for that depression of spirits, which sometimes breaks out in all the bitterness of lamentation; and instead of stifling complaint by arguments from necessity, he answers them in accents of tenderness and love; soothing the heart amidst its deepest sorrows, and binding up its wounds with all a parent’s tenderness (Isaiah 49:15). This is speaking to nature the language of nature--not with a view to stifle sorrow in those moments, when feeling is too strong for reason; but to lull the bosom to peace, till reason is enabled to regain her ascendency. But if this sentiment is willingly encouraged, after the mind becomes capable of meditating calmly upon the Divine goodness; nay, more, if it is not firmly combated and gradually subdued, we shall be chargeable with fostering a spirit, hostile to all the means, which a gracious Father is employing for our present improvement and future happiness. How do we judge of that child, who, after needful correction for his own good, mingled with salutary admonition against the offence that occasioned it, instead of kissing the rod and submitting to him who applied it, becomes furious in resentment; or yet worse, retires from a father’s presence to cherish that sullenness of spirit which refuses to yield. Is not such a child guilty of despising paternal wisdom, of resisting paternal authority, of abusing paternal kindness, and of finally unfitting himself for paternal protection and forbearance?

II. In order to justify Providence, and to perceive the unreasonableness of protracted grief, we have only to follow the example of the psalmist; to resolve, as he does, that he will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High; those years during which we have seen that hand guiding us in the way of safety and peace; delivering us from impending danger; relieving us amidst pressing embarrassments; and, instead of the evil which we feared, conferring an extent of good, which we could not have ventured even to anticipate. He who thus looks back upon the multitude of God’s mercies, and compares his past pleasures with his present trouble, will be in a proper frame to commit himself in humble resignation to the care of that Providence, which has never failed him, even in his utmost need. (John Lindsay, D. D.)


Verse 9

Psalms 77:9

Hath God forgotten to be gracious?

A question for a questioner

The question before us is what the logician would call a reductio ad absurdum; it reduces doubt to an absurdity; it puts into plain words the thought of an unbelieving mind, and at once it is seen to be a horrible notion. “Hath God forgotten?” We stumble at the first word. How can God forget? “Hath God forgotten to be?” We snap the question at that point, and it is blasphemous. It is no better when we give it as a whole--“Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” The bare idea is bold, ridiculous and blasphemous.

I. To the man of God in distress this question is commended, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” What kind of distress is that which suggests such a question? Where had Asaph been? In what darkness had he wandered? I answer, first, this good man had been troubled by unanswered prayers. “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord”; and he seems to say that though he sought the Lord his griefs were not removed. He was in darkness, and he craved for light, but not a star shone forth. Nothing is more grievous to the sincere pleader than to feel that his petitions are not heeded by his God. Besides that, he was enduring continual suffering. “My sore ran in the night.” When Asaph had prayed for relief, and the relief did not come, the temptation came to him to ask, “Am I always to suffer? Will the Lord never relieve me? It is written, ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds’; has He ceased from that sacred surgery? ‘Hath God forgotten to be gracious?’” In addition to this, the man of God was in a state of mind in which his depression had become inveterate. He says, “My soul refused to be comforted.” Many plasters were at hand, but he could not lay them upon the wound. More than that, there seemed to be a failure of the means of grace for him. “I remembered God, and was troubled.” Some of God’s people go up to the house of the Lord where they were accustomed to unite in worship with delight, but they have no delight now; they even go to the communion-table, and eat the bread and drink the wine, but they do not receive the body and blood of Christ to the joy of their faith. At the back of all this there was another trouble for Asaph, namely, that he could not sleep. He says, “Thou holdest mine eyes waking.” It seemed as if the Lord Himself held up his eyelids, and would not let them close in sleep. Moreover, there was one thing more: he lost the faculty of telling out his grief: “I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” To be compelled to silence is a terrible increase to anguish: the torrent is swollen when its free course is prevented. A dumb sorrow is sorrow indeed. Now, let us attend to the amendment of the question. Shall I tell thee what the true question is which thou oughtest to ask thyself? It is not, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” but “Hast thou forgotten to be grateful?” Why, thou enjoyest many mercies even now. Grace is all around thee, if thou wilt but open thine eyes, or thine ears. Thou hadst not been spared after so much sin if God had forgotten to be gracious.

II. The seeking sinner in despondency. He makes you nothing that He may be all in all to you. He grinds you to the dust that He may lift you out of it for ever. Meanwhile, I do not wonder that the question crosses your mind, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” Let me show how wrong the question is. “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” If He has, He has forgotten what He used to know right well. “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” Then, why are all the old arrangements for grace still standing? There is the mercy-seat; surely that would have been taken away if God had forgotten to be gracious. The Gospel is preached to you, and this is its assurance, “Whosoever believeth in Him is not condemned.”

III. The disappointed worker. You say, “I do not feel as if I could preach; the matter does not flow. I do not feel as if I could teach; I search for instruction, and the more I pull the more I cannot get it.” “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” Can He not fill thine empty vessel again? Can He not give thee stores of thought, emotion, and language? Oh, perhaps you say, “I work in a back street, and everybody is moving out into the suburbs.” You have lost your friends, and they have forgotten you; but, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” You can succeed so long as the Lord is with you. Be of good courage; your best friend is left. He who made a speech in the Academy found that all his hearers had gone except Plato; but as Plato remained, the orator finished his address. They asked him how he could continue under the circumstances, and he replied that Plato was enough for an audience. So, if God be pleased with you, go on; the Divine pleasure is more than sufficient. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Did not Wesley say when he was dying, “The best of all is, God is with us”? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Hath God forgotten to be gracious?

I. All complaints against providence proceed from weakness and the infirmity of human reason.

1. The first of this sort, which naturally presents itself to the mind, when we consider God and ourselves, is this, That God is too great and too excellent a Being to humble Himself to behold the things that are on earth Epicurus and his followers, who denied God’s government of the world, denied also that He made it. So far, at least, they were consistent; for, if they thought it too much trouble for God to govern the world, they could not consistently put Him to the trouble of making it. But if we turn the argument, and begin with considering the works of the creation and “call to remembrance those years of the right hand of the Most High,” we shall from these works of God be led to just conclusions with respect to the methods of Divine Providence, less obvious to our observation, in the government of the world.

2. Another reason which some have for suspecting that the affairs of the world are not under the conduct of Providence, is, that they cannot discern any certain marks of God.’s interposing. On the contrary, they think it evident that, all the inanimate and irrational parts of the world follow a certain course of nature invariably; and that men act with all the signs of being given up to follow their own devices, without being either directed or restrained by a superior power. But in this way of reasoning there are two great mistakes--

II. A settled peace of mind, with respect to God, must arise from a due contemplation of the great works of providence, which God has laid open to our view for our consideration and instruction. Happy are they who listen to this still voice! they will act not only the safest, but the most rational part; whilst others, full of themselves and their own wisdom, are daily condemning what they do not understand. And if ever they recover their right reason, the first, step must be to see their weakness, and to join wit.h the psalmist, in his humble confession, “It is my own infirmity.” (Bp. Sherlock.)

Adversity comes not always from Divine displeasure

Let us rest assured of this, that the roughest of God’s proceedings do not always issue from an angry intention: it is very possible, because very usual, that they may proceed from the clean contrary. The same clouds which God made use of heretofore to drown the earth, He employs now to refresh it. He may use the same means to correct and to better some that He does to plague and punish others. The same hand and hatchet that cuts some trees for the fire may cut others into growth, verdure, and fertility. (R. South, D. D.)


Verse 10

Psalms 77:10

I said, This is my infirmity.

Religious depression

I. The symptoms of religious depression. A settled depression of mind, in a perplexing debility and agitation of spirit, an apprehension of God’s indignation, a prevailing doubt of our pardon and acceptance before Him, a dark view of the events which occur in the course of God’s providential dealings with us, a succession of gloomy forebodings as to our future circumstances and destination, and a sinking of the heart, especially when we turn to subjects connected with our personal interest in the blessings of redemption.

II. The causes of it.

1. Bodily distemper.

2. An overscrupulous conscience.

3. A misapprehension of the doctrine of the remission of sins.

4. Some wilful sin, secretly cherished in the heart, or practised in the life.

5. Long-continued affliction.

6. The temptations of Satan.

7. Desertion, or the hiding of God’s countenance.

III. The cure. If the distressed Christian seems to labour under bodily maladies, or the effects of superstition, the minister will recommend in the first instance, A due attention to the health, and a more correct knowledge of the will of God. In cases of distress which seem to spring from a misapprehension of the plan of the Gospel, the minister will delight to expatiate on the love of God in Christ Jesus. This he will display to the fainting heart of the penitent. But, in the case of dejection of mind arising from some course of sin, which has been secretly or openly committed, the minister of God’s Word must adopt another method. “Repent, and do your first works.” Thus will the privileges and mercies of the Gospel be once more yours, and God will “restore to you the joys of His salvation.” Should, however, long-continued afflictions be the principal cause of depression of mind, the Christian minister will, with the psalmist, endeavour to take off the sufferer’s view from his own particular calamities, and direct it to God’s general dealings with His servants. Lastly, in the case of desertion, and, indeed, in all the preceding cases, the important suggestion is to be made that resignation to God’s holy will must be added to the humble use of all the means of grace. (Daniel Wilson.)

The best saints imperfect

I. The fact that the people of God, in the present world, are the subjects of manifold infirmities.

II. The reasons for which these infirmities are permitted.

1. To promote a spirit of humility and self-abasement.

2. To excite in us a spirit of watchfulness.

3. To increase our sympathy and compassion for others.

4. To induce us to make frequent application to the Great Physician.

5. To render heaven more attractive and endearing. (Expository Outlines.)

Spiritual infirmities

I. The nature of the psalmist’s infirmity.

1. A proneness to live too much on frames and feelings.

2. Forgetfulness of past mercies.

3. Distrust with respect to future appearances.

4. Refusing to be comforted in times of distress is another of the infirmities of good people.

5. Giving vent to distrustful thought in unbecoming language too frequently accompanies despondency.

II. The reasons why God suffers such infirmities to attend His people in this life. Iii. Conclusion.

1. We see that the best of saints have their infirmities. The most fragrant rose has its thorns, and the most shining Christian his shades.

2. There is some particular infirmity which every good man may call his own.

3. It becomes us well to know our particular infirmity, that we may guard against it; for to be without defence is the way to be overcome without resistance.

4. Having discovered what is our easily-besetting sin, let us bewail it before God, and seek for help against it. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Technical training in the spiritual life

Whilst through the changing years we discover in ourselves many failings, most of us are humbled and distressed by special faults which tenaciously cling to us. These characteristic defects arise from personal temperament, or they are occasioned by circumstances, or perhaps they are the consequences of both.

1. We can sometimes effectually restrain personal faults by wisely determining our circumstances. Sick people are careful to choose for themselves a special climate when they are at liberty to do so. Ought not spiritual men to study “climatology,” escaping as far as possible the circumstances that would naturally develop their constitutional failing, surrounding themselves with the influences which heal and help? It is something more than folly, for the sake of taste, pride, or gain, to remain voluntarily in positions which are spiritually unfavourable.

2. We may observe this technical culture by abstaining from certain courses, legitimate in themselves, but which are dangerous to us. John Wesley relinquished the study of mathematics on this ground. Angelico would not paint a secular subject. Miss Havergal would not sing a secular song. Many Christians deny themselves in matters of appetite, being conscious that the indulgences which prove perfectly harmless to many are inexpedient to them.

3. We may discipline ourselves by persisting to do right things which are difficult and uncongenial to us, even when we do them with the least willingness and freedom. A German physician says: “Precipitate men should accustom themselves to write and walk slowly. The irresolute should endeavour to perform their acts with rapidity. The gloomy, romantic dreamer should be trained to walk with head erect, to look others straight in the face, to speak in a loud, distinct tone of voice. Such habits exercise a great influence on both mind and body.” The reasoning of this physician is, that right action has a tendency to induce right feeling. And there is a real place for such training in the spiritual life. “Do good, even when your heart is not free to it.” With a painful lack of sympathy, still do the right act, speak the proper thing, form the correct habit, follow the true course; and this method will exercise a most salutary influence, awakening and strengthening the soul, and at last filling the just form and action with the reality and force of life.

4. We ought to take special precautions against our characteristic failing. The man who sins with the tongue ought to set an express watch over the door of his lips. He whose peril is temper must keep his mouth as with a bridle. The man given to appetite must put a knife to his throat. He who suspects a snare in the cup is bound to fortify himself with vows and pledges. The slothful must set themselves large tasks, and rest not until they are discharged. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Temperamental limitations

We usually think of the world about us as being the chief arena in which we fight the battle of life, but really our greatest difficulty is with ourselves. Our constitutional temper and bias are the chief matters, and they very largely determine what our trouble shall be both as to its nature and degree.

1. Feebleness of constitution is a limitation of which many are painfully conscious: a frailty of physique which prevents them doing much that they would desire to do, and which betrays itself in nearly all that they manage to do. When Henry Ward Beecher was exhorted to take care of his health and strength, he replied, “I have already more than I know what to do with.” Many noble people are far from this enviable state. They take their place in the ranks and attempt their daily work, but with a lack of force that makes life much of a burden, and duty rarely a delight. They do not fulfil their promise, they start well and finish poorly, the outline they strike is beyond the picture, they are spasmodic, uncertain, ineffective. This is not exactly an intellectual defect. And it is just as little to the point to say that these people lack conscience or will; they want neither conscience nor will, they are simply destitute of that constitutional robustness and force of which Beecher had more than he knew what to do with. It is not a mental or moral defect, but purely a bodily infirmity which mars life and work that otherwise would give entire satisfaction. Resolute spirits surprise us with the wonders that can be wrought by frail mechanism, but many know by painful experience that a deficiency of native force has marred their whole life, spoiling thoughts, faculties, opportunities, and purposes which a flush of animal spirits would have converted into splendid achievement.

2. An intensity of constitution is the real infirmity of others. They are alarmingly vehement in speech and action. They flash in ordinary talk, and discharge the common business of life with explosive energy. Science has recently discovered that our hive-bees exhaust themselves prematurely by abnormal industry; they are not native to this country, and not having yet adapted themselves completely to a new environment, expend an excessive amount of force which involves their destruction. It is much the same with human beings of impassioned temperament. They do not so much burn out, as blaze out. No doubt they ought to restrain themselves, to check their rage, and act with becoming moderation; but of what use is advice of this sort? The Pacific Ocean may counsel the tempestuous Atlantic to cultivate stillness, and the Atlantic retort on the stagnation of the Pacific; but each remains true to its character. We can no more change our special constitutional qualities than we can change the colour of our eyes. The ardent temper, of which we are speaking, is attended by sorrows of its own. It is impossible to live an impulsive life without serious mistakes and bitter regrets. That temper also involves painful reactions and dejections. And it has its own subtle temptations and perils.

3. The hyper-sensitive constitution is another organ of martyrdom. Like Cowper, many noble souls are morbidly sensitive and shy. They seem born with a skin short, and feel with grievous acuteness a thousand things of which the ordinary man is positively unconscious, or to which he is practically indifferent. God alone understands what these neurotic, nervous, shrinking souls suffer in a rude world like this.

4. Only One knows all the mysteries of our personality, and we cannot live with Him too much. Let us go to Him for sympathy. Let us seek in His grace the strength to deal with the special need and peril of our nature. He can impart to the will of the delicate a force independent of bodily conditions; He can chasten the self-confident; endow with a saving instinct the impulsive; and the easily-wounded, weeping in secret places, He can sweetly soothe. He can so discipline us that our very defects and excesses may be made to yield the riches and beauty of moral and immortal perfection. (W. L. Watkinson.)

I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.

The years of the right hand of God

Here the eternity of God is contrasted with the hand-breadth measure of man. The Right Hand of the Most High; its work through the years that are past; what suggestions are here, to silence weak complaint, to lift the soul far up above the trouble of this world! Think of the right hand, and of what it can do; that most wonderful member of this body. Its offices are numberless; it is like the executive function in the political system. Whatever the mind think, whatever the will decree, whatever the heart desire: heart, will, mind, must wait till the hand can act. To tell the uses of the hand, and the purposes it serves, would be to give a catalogue of great part of the intelligent and conscious actions of men, wherein, to some extent or other, that member is employed. Even so wide is the scope of those acts of the Almighty, which are included in the symbolic speech about His Right Hand. It is, indeed, a glorious study, that of the years of the Right Hand of the Most High. They are long, very long; from them unroll, panorama-like, the events which make history; stamped on them everywhere is the impress of mind, design, force; knowing what may be, ordering what shall be, compelling every other power to yield at last, vanquished in its death. And against them appears what? The bubbles which men blow of the froth of their conceits; the vapour which our life is; the rise and fall of upstart opposers of God; the wiping out of kingdoms, philosophies, systems, as a man turneth a dish upside down. Fast do the adversaries fade away; they do but little harm; the cord is broken, the thread soon cut; the world forgets them, or remembers but to chide their folly. The eternal years of God drink up these little lives of ours, and all in them that is not made secure by faith and religion, even as the sun drinks up the mist, or the ocean takes in the drops from the passing clouds which break above it and vanish for ever. This is the way to confidence and rest. Retire within yourself, and meditate of the infinite power, the sure providence, the unchangeableness of the Most High. Consider the days of old, the years of His Right Hand. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

The true focus

The psalmist really said, “This is my infirmity--the years of the right hand of the Most High!” He does not announce his intention to dwell upon them, but he announces the character of the years themselves. It is the suddenness of a quick appreciation of the true view of things. Do you not know what it is to suddenly adjust a picture, by the slightest touch of the hand, so that the whole thing is seen in its true focus? Yes, you have gained the real point of view. So it is here. From the midst of a God-questioning disposition, in which hope is lost, he suddenly says, “This is my infirmity--the years of the right hand of the Most High!” Now, what do you find? The second half of the psalm is the same picture in focus. The right hand is a symbol peculiar to Hebrew thought and literature, and is used perpetually to mark some great fact in the character and person of God. Law and righteousness, salvation and strength, action and love, and the deep, full satisfaction of every necessity of human life, in pleasures for evermore,--all these things, to the mind of the Hebrew, were wrapped up in that magnificent figure of the right hand of the Most High. “The years of my life,” now says the psalmist, “are years conditioned in law and righteousness--years in which there is the perpetual outworking of salvation and the unceasing manifestation of strength; they are years in which God is active for me, years in which I am perpetually caressed by the love and tenderness of the Divine heart, years which, because they come from the hand of God, are years of the making of eternal and undying pleasure.” It was a new light upon his own life, a new point of vision, a new outlook. The things which had issued in his dirge of wailing and sorrow were suddenly seen, from this new point of vision, to be working together for his good, thus giving a forecast of the New Testament statement. “The years of the right hand of the Most High.” There is a point of vision from which we may look upon the selfsame things, and may catch on them already the light and gleam of morning; a point from which, even to-day, I can look upon great grief and overwhelming sorrow, saying, “Yes, that happened, not upon such a day of such a month, in such a year, but in one of the years of the right hand of the Most High. It was a part of the fiery law, a method of the Divine righteousness, a ministry of salvation, a manifestation of strength, a Divine action, a touch of the Divine love, it had within it the creation of joy for evermore.” We can only say those things by faith to-day; not yet by sight, not yet by personal realization, but by faith. There is no agony of heart that we endure, if we know how to false it, that has not in it the element that shall make heaven. “The years of the right hand of the Most High.” I do not see the hand, I have only the years; but I know the hand is there. I know that somewhere beyond this, when the mists have rolled aside, and the life I am conscious of to-day shall have passed into fuller realization, then out of the darkness will the light come, and out of the agony of the moment will heaven’s pleasure have been evolved. (G. Campbell Morgan, M. A.)

Holy remembrance a means to recover out of distrust

I. The simple proposition. “This is mine infirmity.”

1. The saints and servants of God themselves have their infirmities.

2. Commonly they have some one more especially which they are addicted and inclined unto.

3. From the context we see what to judge of staggering at God’s promises and providences. It is a very great weakness and infirmity.

II. The personal reflection. “I said.”

1. The quickness of his apprehension, in that he spies and discerns this weakness and infirmity in himself, while he says it, it is evident he spies it and finds it out.

2. The tenderness of his conscience, not only in that he discerned this distemper and infirmity in himself, but likewise that he checked himself for it, for so we must here take it.

3. The ingenuity of his spirit. I said it not only to myself, and in mine own heart, but as there was occasion for it, I said it to others also, and acknowledged it likewise to them.

4. The ground hereof in the servants of God is--

III. The pitching or fastening upon the remedy. “I will remember,” etc.

1. Take it according to the former translation, as it does exhibit to us the power of God. “The right hand of the Lord can change all this.” This was that whereby David did support himself in his present affliction, that the Lord was able to change and alter this his condition to him, and that for the better. Though God Himself be unchangeable considered in His own essence, yet His works and providences and dispensations have a variety in them, and all such as do perfect and accomplish His most unchangeable purpose and decree which He has set down with Himself. God does never less change His mind than when He does most change His carriage and practice and outward administrations, as being able from contrary means to bring about the same gracious ends and effects which He hath appointed to accomplish, so that this expression hath no repugnancy or inconsistency with it at all, but is freely admitted by us, and to be improved as it is here by the psalmist.

2. For this last here before us, that is this, “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High,” where the word remember is borrowed from the next-following verse to supply the sense of this, as otherwise being not in the text. Now, here David fetches a ground of comfort from God’s practice, as before he did from His power; there, from what God could do; here, from what He had done already in former times, and ages, and generations; he was resolved to reflect upon this, as a relief to him in his present infirmity. Now, there were two things especially which David here did reflect upon to this purpose, for the quieting of his spirit. The one was God’s dealings with His people formerly, as to point of seeming desertion and outward discouragement; and the other was God’s dealings with His people formerly, as to seasonable recovery and final acknowledgment. To each of these purposes would he remember the years of the right hand of the Most High, and each of them were a relief unto them. And there is very good ground to do so, because God is still the same; yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. He has the same love to His people still as ever, the same wisdom to advise them, and the same power to be active for them, and He will, therefore, change their conditions, because He does not change Himself. (T. Horton, D. D.)


Verse 11

Psalms 77:11

I will remember the works of the Lord.

Time past, present and to come

(with Psalms 39:4). We are so made that we live between an unalterable past and an uncertain future, with no time in our possession except that changing line which we call the present. Every present, as we live on, becomes a past; and so we are drawing continually on the future; we are carrying it over to the past in the great account-book of our existence, until the future of this world all becomes a past; and we enter the future of eternity. In this respect though made in God’s image we are unlike Him. For to Him all is one eternal Now. He “inhabiteth eternity.” But to us time in its three stages clings to our very nature and colours all our conceptions. We cannot conceive of God as eternally Now, it is too much for us. Time seems to us to be a power, a something that has life and force in it, though it is nothing apart from the events that make up our lives; nothing but a condition of our thought. It is nothing to the forgetful animal, or to the vacant mind, which looks not forward nor backward. But to a finite soul, born yesterday to die to-morrow, time is everything; and you may say that in proportion to the nobleness of a soul will be the value it sets on time. Compare time with space. Space is nothing but a receptacle to hold material objects, and a room for their activity. It is wholly outside of souls. A man shut up in a chamber ten feet square may fill the world with good thoughts and great plans. But a bird flies across a continent and no trace is left. What has space to do with character? What has time not to do with character?

I. Memory extends our existence backwards. This is the closest analogy in man’s nature to God’s. He can go back far into the past--his own, and that of the world. He can listen, as it were, to the tumultuous waves of chaos. Memory has far more materials to work upon than belong to anticipation or foresight of the future. It is the treasure-house of our experience, and of the experience of mankind. Prediction, indeed, is possible by the help of what the past has afforded us, although the time that the present order of things shall last cannot be predicted. How many great events have happened which a few years before we had no apprehension of. If we had lived ages of agony we should remember them, but we cannot foretaste a distant joy. Memory causes the entire past to bear on our present lives and future destiny, for--

1. It can carry forward the knowledge of past misdeeds through the boundless future. Good deeds, also, it can remember, but the most pressing thought for us as sinners is, that it surely takes with it all our misdeeds. It drops nothing like a careless messenger, but saves all as a trustful steward of God. It can compress our past lives into a moment like the photograph of an immense landscape brought within the compass of an inch. The fact is, we have in us the materials for the judgment day. They lie now piled up in dark chambers; they will be brought from their chests, and their forgotten testimony will shine like fire. The day of judgment is no appointed, instituted thing; it is the necessary sequel of a life of the thinking man under the righteous reign of God. You, then, who sin and forget it, who appear to yourselves far from danger, because you have hid your sin from your own eyes as men hide live coals under the ashes, what will you do when you find these coals to be still alive ages hence, and when they are freed from the rubbish that covered them? Can you make God forget? That would be something to the purpose, were it possible. Can you expect that feelings, such as the sense of ill-desert, which are immutable records of your own against yourself, will be blotted out by time? Even sin, then, has, in a sense, an eternal life. It can never grow old and vanish away.

II. I remark again, however, that there is a wise provision by which, according to the ordinary laws of this life, the events of the past do not stay with us, generally, in all their first vividness, In other words, the actual weaknesses of memory are in part calculated for our moral as well as mental benefit. If we remembered everything as it was when it occurred, such vividness might render impossible a better life. All common sights, sounds, and actions--all such things as make up the mass of events, it is a blessing to have forgotten. This is of vast importance in reference to our spiritual and moral nature. A sincere penitent cannot well forget the great sins he may have fallen into. Yet such a penitent, by keeping in mind past sins with their aggravation, may be prevented from using his active powers. Remorse might reign in our souls to the exclusion of the purpose of amendment. Now, there must be hope and vigour in every mind that successfully strives to amend. Ever brooding on the past brings nothing but despair. The difficulty of a new life is almost hopeless if we remember nothing but past ill success, broken resolutions, and resisted motives to good. It is manifest also that this weakening of the hold of the past on us--owing to the defects of memory, within certain limits--helps on all improvement. Minds of finite capacities, if every past thing was continually fresh, would be full of details without the power of making principles prominent. But when we remember principles, and general strains, and life-currents of action, we can, without the burden of too great details, purpose in view of our past and live for our future. To this it should be added that there is a compromise effected in our nature--so to speak--between the present and the past by the power of recollection. We hunt up stray thoughts by using the laws which associate them with one another. And they also come back without our search. Thus sin becomes its own punishment. We try, but fail, to drown such thoughts.

III. We ought to live for the present as well as for the future. Moralists talk of the present as a point in an endless path, and they represent the future of that path as being alone of importance. But this is not altogether true. To live merely for the present is doubtless ruinous, but to live only for the future is no virtue. What is the future but a run of moments which are to be present, and what worth can there be in any of these, if they are worth nothing while they are with us? It would be as if a man passing through grand scenery should not look on the beauties before his eyes because finer points of view were coming, and he should so act until the journey’s end. If the future always remained future, it would be valueless. But let us test these remarks by scriptural truth. What can trust do--that is worth anything to us--if it cannot lay our interests for the future in the hand of God, and thus prevent the crowd of cares from coming to lodge with us before their time? And does not Christ say, “Take no thought for the morrow, for,” etc.? How unlike is this peace of souls to our feverish haste, our inability to enjoy life until it settles on its dregs; our insurances and provisions against evil; as if each of us were a castle besieged by enemies. Of course our Lord’s meaning is, “be not solicitous for the morrow.” It is anxiety that He condemns, which is the foe of a quiet trust in God. He would have us plan great plans, embracing all the future, as He did Himself; but He wants us also to possess profound peace within our Souls. A life of faith will furnish the only true reconciliation. All progress depends on acting at the right time. You may have known persons who put off work until to-morrow, for the sake of amusement, and when the weight of the past, besides that of the present, came on their backs, it crushed them. Or you may have known those who were too provident, who sought to rob the future of its office, that it might furnish them rest, or better opportunities. But this overtasked them, and wore them out. Neither of these courses is wise; every moment has its rights. This is true in things spiritual as in things temporal.

IV. And thus we discover the significance of future time. Who would desire a never-ending existence such as is one’s now? Who could endure it, except by an act of religious resignation like that of a monk in his cell? And if this be so, why is it so? It is so because it is an essential part of the plan of our earthly condition that it should end. It is not too bold to say that superior being, who knew nothing of our destiny as it respects life and death, would conclude that death ought to be man’s lot, and that he was made to finish his existence in some other sphere. This he would find out as soon as he perceived what man could do, and what his earthly limitations prevented him from doing. Death seems to be the most suitable event for an immortal placed on earth, more suitable for him than for the beast which may have no hereafter. This, then, is the true significance of future time, that, as it unrolls, a great change is to come over us--a change unlike anything in the past. For this futurity, life and death are preparations; it is this that makes life a great something, full of praise or full of shame. It is this that makes the world a theatre for an immortal. For every living man, then, the future has one thing in it wholly unlike in kind all the events of the past. Birth, or man’s entrance into a world of time, was strange; that is the unique event of time gone by. Death, which is called for and made suitable by the whole meaning of life, is the unique event of time to come. And this unique event ought to throw a new power and energy into all our passing moments. I ought to feel that, because I am going to die, I am a privileged person. To what may I not rise? But for this I must be trained in time, and the future, by its one great event, ought to sober me, and train me as much as I could be trained by all the experience of the past. But do I ask, how can the unknown act in me except through my fears? The hope of that future will, and does, influence men. To souls who take in the whole of existence, the great contrast is that of this present time and the eternal life on high. And so habits, characters, choices of action, estimates of pleasure, as well as hopes, are all chastened, ennobled, beautified; they are clothing themselves for the presence of the King eternal, immortal, invisible. And when they hear the death trump calling them to come away, its clang, fearful to so many, turns for them into the voice of celestial music. (T. D. Woolsey.)

Recollection, reflection, and declaration

I. Recollection. “I will remember,” etc. Memory may be regarded in several aspects--

1. As a source of pain. Tennyson has beautifully and truthfully said:--

“A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”

And Goldsmith:--

“Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,

Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain.”

2. As a source of pleasure. “A memory without blot or contamination,” said Charlotte Bronte, “must be an exquisite treasure,--an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment.”

3. As an aid to faith. So the psalmist uses it on this occasion.

II. Reflection. “I will meditate,” etc. By means of reflection we are enabled to realize the facts recalled by memory, to perceive their significance and applications. And the emotions which naturally spring from the facts remembered are excited by reflection. Recollection is of little worth comparatively, unless accompanied and followed by meditation. It was by the exercise of both these faculties that the troubled heart of the poet grew calm and victorious.

III. Declaration. “I will talk of Thy doings.” A good man, having passed through experiences similar to those of the psalmist, should talk of God’s doings. After his trouble, recollection, and meditation, his talk would be--

1. Intelligent. He would not utter crude or rash statements concerning God and His providence.

2. Trust-inspiring. His own faith would grow stronger as he recounted to others, etc. The faith of those who heard him would also grow as they thought of his conflict, and how he won the victory. (W. Jones.)

I will remember Thy wonders of old.

Wonders remembered

When the Christian takes a retrospect of his spiritual life, there is much that he remembers with gladness, and much that he remembers with sorrow. The lovingkindness of the Lord which has been manifested towards him--upon this memory can dwell with unalloyed delight. But the coldness of his own love, the frequency of his backslidings, the tardiness of his progress--when memory presents these, he is no true believer in Christ if he do not mourn at the recollection.

I. In the first place, we shall speak of the things to be remembered. Now, it would appear, upon an attentive examination of this passage, that the psalmist does not mean to draw a distinction between the works and the wonders of God; but, rather, to state that all God’s works are wonders. “I will remember the works; surely I will remember the wonders.” The latter clause is only an emphatic repetition of the former. The works of the Lord are all wonders. Such is the assertion--an assertion which is to hold good, not merely when the spectacle is presented of some unusual setting forth of the energies of Omnipotence; but when the attention is turned towards those displays of glory and wisdom, which are furnished by the ordinary routine of God’s providence. What we call natural and what we call supernatural--there is full as much of the miraculous in the one as in the other. If we moved on a wider sphere of being and were not shut up within the material framework, we should probably discern that the finger of God is equally active in every occurrence, and that the very name of miracle would hardly find place in our vocabulary. But we wish to speak on spiritual rather than on natural miracle, more especially as the expression, “Thy wonders of old,” seems to point to those purposes of mercy which God from everlasting entertained toward His Church. We need not tie ourselves down to a survey of works which caused the wonder of the psalmist. We enter best into the spirit of the passage by supposing the writer to occupy the same position as is occupied by ourselves, and then reviewing those works which on this supposition would have crowded his retrospect. If we take the individual experience of the Christian, of what is that experience made up: Of wonders. The work of his conversion, wonderful!--arrested in a course of thoughtlessness and impiety; graciously sought, and gently compelled to be at peace with God, whose wrath he had provoked. The communication of knowledge, wonderful!--Deity and eternity gradually piled up; the Bible taken page by page, and each page made a volume which no searching can exhaust. The assistance in warfare, wonderful!--himself a child of corruption, yet enabled to grapple with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and often to trample them under foot. The solaces in affliction, wonderful!--sorrow sanctified so as to minister to joy. The foretastes of heaven, wonderful!--Angels bringing down the clusters of the Lamb, and the spirit walking with lightsome tread the crystal river and the streets of gold. Wonderful that the Spirit should strive with man; wonderful that God should bear with his backslidings; wonderful that God should love him notwithstanding his pollution; wonderful that God should persist in saving him, in spite, as it were, of himself.

II. The advantage which may be gathered from remembering the works of the Lord. Such advantage is obvious. It is by musing on God’s works that we learn God’s character and attributes; it is by remembering what God has already done that we are encouraged to hope for future interferences in our behalf; it is by calling to mind that “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” that we are sustained by the animating belief that “He will with Him also freely give us all things.” It is by bringing forth the catalogue of wonders which the Lord hath wrought, the deliverance which His right hand hath achieved for His people, and the desolation which He has dealt out to their foes, that we are made confident that there are more with us than there are against us--that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. And it is, moreover, by strenuous and deliberate acts of memory that the importance of Gospel truth is kept vividly before us, and the mind prevented from dwelling on one part to the exclusion of any other. (H. Melvill, B. D.)


Verse 12

Psalms 77:12

I will meditate also of all Thy work.

Meditation

I. Motives to meditation.

1. It is the proper occupation of the mind.

2. Our character in the sight of God depends on the character of our thoughts.

3. Meditation is essential to the success of God’s Word.

II. Subjects for meditation.

1. God’s existence and attributes.

2. His works.

3. His claims. Their comprehensiveness, their spirituality, their perpetual obligation. Our guilt in neglecting them.

4. Your future. (Evangelical Preacher.)

The need of meditation

In mere apprehension, whether through reading or hearing, there is little or no profit. The profit begins when that which is apprehended is so pondered as to become part and parcel of the man’s inner nature. A man may run through a picture gallery so as to see every painting it contains, and to derive from the sight a certain amount of pleasure; but he alone profits by such an exhibition who pauses and studies each worthy work of art, and gathers ideas from it which enrich his mind, or learn lessons from it which refine his taste. “It is the settling of milk,” says an old writer, “that makes it turn to cream,” and it is the settling of truth in the mind that makes it turn to spiritual nutriment. (W. L. Alexander.)


Verse 13

Psalms 77:13

Thy, way, O God, is in the sanctuary.

God’s way revealed in the sanctuary

I. God’s way of creation.

II. His way of providence.

III. The way of grace.

IV. The way of human well-being. The light that is run up at the masthead does not require the vessel to stop sailing in order that it may shine. And so a living religion will show the light in the shop, in the street, in the business, in town to-morrow as well as in the sanctuary on the Sabbath day. And so the Church must stand closely related to all that is dear to the interest of humanity. The sanctuary, then, is the way of highest happiness; it is the way of joy and peace. It is the way of consolation, for evil and distress haunt every pathway of life, but God’s house is the house of comfort. Again, it is the way of communion with God. Jehovah says, “There I will meet with thee,” etc. (H. Johnstone, M. A.)

God’s way in the sanctuary

I. Secrecy.

1. In nature.

2. In providence. Pain and misery abounding; virtue suffering; vice triumphant.

3. In grace. God is behind the veil. Your best knowledge is the consciousness of ignorance, and your privilege it is to be sure that he who believes honours more than he who understands.

II. Beauty. The loveliness of nature we all have seen; the bloom of infancy, the fresh flower of the early spring, or the wavings of the yellow corn. And some of us have felt the greater loveliness of grace; the unfoldings of the Christian character; the budding of a soft and tender gentleness; the humility; the chastened love; the hope that soars away to brighter worlds;--but has it ever occurred to you to think, if that is the porch, and this the holy place, what must be the sanctuary of God? What shall be that world which is as far better than grace, as grace is better than nature?

III. Holiness. There never went a prayer from earth fit to be presented before God in the sanctuary--there never passed a thought through your soul to which there was not clinging a sin; for nothing is pleasing before God, not the sanctuary itself, except as He sees it in Christ; and all this is true of our holiest action, were it ten thousand times holier than ever it was.

IV. Refuge. The self-condemning soul flies from the holiness to the love of God, and seeks a shelter from His wrath by throwing himself on His mercy. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

God’s way in the sanctuary

God designed, in the fulness of time, to gather all things into His Son, and to set Him forth as the alone source or channel of blessing; therefore did He make the temple, which typified that Son, the home of all His operations, the focus into which were condensed, and from which diverged, the various rays of His attributes and dealings. And this suggests to us a point of great importance, the consistency of the several parts of revelation. There is never the point at which we are brought to a pause by the manifest contradiction of one part to another. But we would now observe that, by the sanctuary, we may probably understand the holy of holies; for it was in that veiled and mysterious recess that the Shekinah shone, the visible token of the Almighty’s presence. He who thought on the holy of holies thought on a solitude which was inaccessible to him, though close at hand; inaccessible, even as the remotest depth of infinite space, though a single step might have taken him into its midst; but, at the same time, a solitude where, as he well knew, everything breathed holiness, everything glowed with the lustre of that Being who is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. And to say of God that His way was in this sanctuary, what was it but to say that God works in an impenetrable secrecy, but that, nevertheless, in that secrecy He orders everything in righteousness? Certainly it is not the obscurity which there may be round the ways of the Lord which should induce a suspicion that those ways are not righteous. If God work in a place of secrecy, we know that it is equally a place of sanctity; we can be sure, therefore, of whatsoever comes forth from that place, that, if involved in clouds, it is invested with equity. We may not be able to discover God’s reasons: but we can be certain from His attributes, attributes which shine through the veil, though that veil be impenetrable, that we should approve them if discovered. And if it be an evidence of the greatness of God, that His way is hidden, we scarcely need say that it is a further evidence of this greatness, that His way is holy. He contracts no impurity, but keeps travelling, as it were, “in the sanctuary,” even whilst moving to and fro amid those who have defiled themselves and their dwelling-place--what is this but proof that He is immeasurably separated by difference of nature, from all finite being? The veil, whilst it hides, reveals Deity: nay, it reveals by hiding; it teaches the sublimity of God, inapproachable; His independence, none with Him in His workings; and yet His righteousness, for it is the awful purity of the place which warns back all intruders. Then there is enough to make us both discover, and rejoice in, the supremacy of our God. With a tongue of fear, for we are almost staggered by the mysteriousness of His workings, we will confess, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary”; but with a tongue of triumph, for His very concealments are tokens of His Almightiness, we will give utterance to the challenge, “Who is so great a God as our God?” But there can be no reason why we should confine the illustrations of our text to the Jewish temple and dispensation. We may bring down the verse to our own day, understand by the sanctuary our own churches, and still found on the confession in the first clause the challenge which is uttered in the second. His “way is in the sanctuary.” It is in buildings devoted to the purposes of His worship, and through the ministrations of His ordained servants, that He commonly carries on His work of turning sinners from the error of their ways, and building up His people in their faith. We are always much struck with the expression of St. Paul to Timothy, “in doing this, thou shelf both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” If God worked by mighty instruments such as angels; if the engines employed were, to all appearance, adequate to the ends to be effected; the honour of success would at least be divided, and the ambassador might be thought to have helped forward, by his own power, the designs of Him by whom he had been sent. But, as the case now stands, the services of the sanctuary all go to the demonstrating the supremacy of God, because, while undoubtedly instrumental to the effecting vast results, they are manifestly insufficient in themselves for any such achievement. And not only does God employ men in preference to angels, but He commonly acts through what is weak in men, and not through what is strong. It is, perhaps, a single sentence in a sermon, a text which is quoted, which makes its way into the soul of an unconverted hearer. God will oftentimes pass by, as it were, and set aside an array of argument which has been constructed with great care, and, seizing on the sentence which the speaker thinks the weakest, or the paragraph, will throw it into the soul as the germ of a genuine and permanent piety. And all this goes to the making good what we are anxious to prove, that the challenge in the second clause of our text is altogether borne out by the assertion in the first. There is no finer proof of the power of an author, than that he can compass great designs by inconsiderable means. Now, we think that in the successive illustrations of our text, which have thus been advanced, there has been much to suggest practical reflections of no common worth. Was God’s way in the Jewish temple of old? Was He passing, in all the sacrifices and ceremonies of the temple, to the completion of the work of our redemption? Then let us not fail to study with all diligence the law: in the law was the germ, or bud of the Gospel; and it will aid us much in understanding the system, when fully laid open, to examine it attentively whilst being gradually unfolded. Is it again true that God’s way was “in the sanctuary,” in the holy of holies, that place of dread secrecy and sanctity? Then let us be satisfied that God’s dealings are righteous, however incomprehensible. And lastly, is God’s way still “in the sanctuary” Is it in the sanctuary, the house devoted to His service, that He specially reveals Himself, and communicates supplies of His grace? Shall we not then learn to set a high worth on the public services of religion? (H. Melvill, B. D.)


Verse 19-20

Psalms 77:19-20

Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known.

The perplexing force in human life

I. There are evils in our way, unseen by us, from which it will be God’s care to deliver us.

1. An evil may be in our way, but too far off for us to see. It does not need to be very far off, to be beyond the range of our vision. If it lies only just outside the boundary of the day through which we are passing, it is as completely beyond our vision as if it were in another world. God sees the threatening danger, and in love, perhaps, turns our feet for a day or two out of the path we were treading, by bringing about some change in our course that we did not anticipate, and cannot understand. As we saw not the danger, we cannot understand God’s way with us, in leading us safely past. To us, “His way is in the sea.”

2. An evil may he also springing up at our side, unknown to us. Evils do spring up--in habits--acquaintanceships--local surroundings, etc. Being blind to the danger, the event that takes us out of its way is a mystery.

3. Moreover, according to the teaching of the Scriptures, there are plots and designs formed against us by the powers of darkness. Of these we are necessarily ignorant. Lord Raglan suddenly ordered the English lines to divide, when they were marching,--as far as the English soldiers knew,--right upon the Russian forces. But they soon perceived that the Commander-in-Chief had divided them only because he saw more than they could see, viz., that a company of the enemy was marching round the side of the hill, to take the English unawares on the flank. May not God do something like this with us, that we may escape snares laid for our feet; His movements being mysterious and perplexing to us, simply because we see not the snare out of which He is seeking to keep us?

II. There is also good, unperceived by us, unknown to us, with which God is seeking to enrich us. Standing in the light of the Cross, we are driven to conclude that God’s first purpose with us must be to bring us into a state of reconciliation with Himself; and having accomplished that, by winning us to a personal acceptance of the Saviour, His next purpose with us must be our sanctification: the filling of us “with all the fulness of God.” But how shall this be done? The Spirit of God is the efficient cause of all spiritual growth, but the gracious Spirit may, and will, work along the lines of that wonderful providence which we are apt to speak of as a sphere lying outside the operations of Divine grace.

III. There are bearings and connections in our life and lot, of which we know very little. In the wise adjustment of these, God’s way, to us, must often be “in the sea.” A gardener sometimes removes a plant, not because it needs removing for its own sake, but because it is keeping the air or sunlight from some other plant near. So possibly the Great Husbandman treats us, bringing about some change in our life and lot that is to shield another from harm or to further their good. Our one great need is faith in God. He “guides his hands wittingly.” “He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” “As for God, His way is perfect.” (Henry Starmer.)

The way, path, and footsteps of God

I. God’s way is in the sea. The affairs of life are in many cases manifestly beyond our own control; it is true, that much of the evil that befalls us is owing to our own improvidence; and to all appearance, our own energy and foresight have much to do with success in our career; still, are there not abundant fluctuations and changes, all of which tell us that we are not the masters even of our own affairs? Ask any one who has had much experience of life, and he will tell you that, like the ocean, it is full of changes and of storms. Nor are God’s children exempt from these; their experience of life is the same as that of others: they are carried by these storms where they would not be; and where they would be, thither they cannot go. Now, for us it should ever be sufficient, that we know “His way is in the sea.”

II. God’s path is in the great waters. He not only acts, but does so according to a fixed and definite plan, His course of action being spoken of as a “path.” Now, we know well that when men navigate the sea, they must do so by a compass and a chart; that they cannot expect to find a path upon the waters within the bounds of which they are to sail; but God has His own path marked out, and He sees it as plainly amid all fluctuations, and despite all enemies, as we do the track of an ordinary road.

III. God’s footsteps and not known. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter,” is said to us, even as it was to the disciples of old. There are times when it must be enough for us simply to know that He is acting, and that on our behalf, and for our good. At such seasons we must pre-eminently “walk by faith, and not by sight.” He chooses that the method of His dealings should be hidden, and we have no right to urge Him to withdraw the veil. And how often has there been a footstep of God where we have not discerned it! We had an illness, or a bereavement, or a disappointment, or a loss; the world said, “How unfortunate!” but God passed our way; the world could not see His foot-print--blessed were we if we could. (P. B. Power, M. A.)

The mysteries of Providence

I. God exercises a constant providential superintendence over the affairs of His people. This is evident from--

1. Scripture.

2. Experience of men in all ages.

II. The superintendence of God over the affairs of His people is attended by many dispensations of inscrutable mystery. This ought not to appear surprising, and ought not to produce any emotion of repining or of discontent, if two facts be considered and duly weighed. The first is, that our faculties are naturally imperfect and beclouded, physically and morally incompetent to understand much of the dispensations of a Being like the Almighty; and the second is, that the Almighty has reasons, doubtless sufficient and important, for designedly concealing from ourselves a large proportion of the course of His providence, both for designs associated with His own glory, and our future and eternal welfare.

III. The mysterious dispensations attending the providential superintendence of God are regulated by wisdom and by grace. Consider this in the cases of Jacob, Joseph, and Job. And the time is not far distant when we, in the enjoyment of the good land and the large “which God has prepared for them that love Him,” shall be called to “remember the way” by which He has been pleased to lead us, “to humble us and to prove us, to know what was in our hearts, whether we would keep His commandments or no,” and to recollect that “as a father chasteneth his son, so the Lord our God hath chastened us” and then it will be proved, if we believe it not now, that the “light afflictions, which were but for a moment,” have wrought out for us that “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

IV. The character thus assigned to the mysterious dispensations associated with the Divine superintendence ought to produce powerful results upon all Christian and pious minds.

1. We should exercise a spirit of entire contentment under the most severe dispensations, which Divine Providence may impose.

2. We should carefully apply all the dispensations of Divine Providence to the practical improvement of our own characters. (J. Parsons.)

God’s way unsearchable

I. The doings of God embrace a wide range. Science has established the fact, that you cannot disturb the smallest part of the watery or atmospheric world without disturbing the whole of it. So in the moral world; all events, however small, have a bearing on events great and distant. God governs the life of one man in connection with all men. What happens to-day is only one link in the chain, which stretches through ages, and is connected with events, it may be, of distant lands.

II. The traces of God’s doings are not consecutively seen. Earthly soil which receives an impress retains it, but what impress can water retain? You may make the impression, but you cannot fix it. So may you interpret a sorrow; but its connection with your future history you may not see. The mark of God’s finger you may see to-day, but to-morrow the impress is gone. Providence, like a vast and complicated machine, can only be comprehended, in all its complex arrangements, by Him who framed it.

III. The reason of God’s doings is often beyond all human comprehension. “His paths are in deep waters.” The origin of moral evil--the access of fallen spirits to, and their mode of operation on, man’s spiritual nature--human responsibility, and God’s eternal decrees, involve questions which by man may never be answered; but enough for us should it be that His footsteps are in deep waters. The mysteries of heaven, however, we must believe to conduce to universal good. Some we know to be positive blessings. Great, indeed, is the mystery of godliness; and yet what fact is more glorious in its character, and more blessed in its practical bearings? (W. Bealby.)

Divine providence incomprehensible

I. God does exercise a universal providence over the world. No material object can move, and no living creature can act, without the constant and controlling agency of Him who made and preserves the world. They must all necessarily live and move, as well as have their being in Him.

II. God is incomprehensible in the exercise of His universal providence. This appears from--

1. Scripture.

2. Reason. As all the motions in a watch originate from the mainspring, so all the reasons of God’s conduct, in preserving and governing the world, originate from His ultimate design in creation, which is too great, too wise, and too good, for any created being to grasp, and therefore must necessarily and for ever remain incomprehensible.

3. Fact. The ways of Providence have always been found to be unsearchable by all intelligent creatures. Scarcely a day passes but every person sees something in respect to himself, or in respect to others, which excites his admiration, and surpasses his comprehension.

III. Improvement.

1. If God be incomprehensible in the government of the world, then this is a complete answer to all the objections that have ever been made against His universal providence.

2. If God be incomprehensible in His providence, then it is as difficult for mankind to know why He bestows favours upon them as why He takes them away.

3. If God be incomprehensible in all the ways of His providence, then all the dispensations of His providence towards mankind are proper trials.

4. If God be incomprehensible in His ways of providence, then there is the same ground of submission under heavy, as under light afflictions.

5. If the ways of providence are incomprehensible, then all things in this world are suited to make all men religious. God carries them all in His holy and sovereign hand, and is practically speaking to them every day and every moment.

6. If God is incomprehensible in His providence, then it is easy to see that He can order things, so as to bring light out of darkness, good out of evil, and joy out of sorrow. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

The teaching of the tides

I. The tidal wave. Just as there are high and low tides of the ocean, so we have periods when everything is apparently in our favour, wind and wave working conjointly to bring us to our desired haven. It is also true that in the spiritual life we have our neap tides and spring tides. Seasons of enervation, when scarcely a ripple can be recognized on our monotonous life, energy is almost spent, faith is weak, God seems afar off, and we find it hard to pray, and life with its care and sin presents almost a dead calm. However, we have not always this experience of creeping slowly along; we have also our spring tides when we are carried forward as by a mighty flood. With a renewed energy, life is made worth living, irksome tasks become easy, a gracious influence fills our soul, and in an ecstasy of joy we are borne onward and upward.

II. High tides. Have we not had our exceptional experiences when God came preciously near, and gave us visions and revelations of Himself? These are seasons of purity of life, devotion of service, implicit confidence in God. We discover at such times that we possess faculties of which we were ignorant. The whole of our spiritual being is made receptive.

III. The obstacles. There are several obstacles which vary the regulating tides; e.g. the stars, contour of the land, seasons, conflicting currents, etc., affect the tidal wave more or less, varying its progress and force. Let us guard against placing, or allowing to remain, any obstacles in the entrance of our souls, but with a lull surrender to the will of God, allow Him to have entire control of our lives. Let us open our hearts to receive the highest floodtide which He may send, even the very presence of God Himself--the Spirit of God dwelling in us.

IV. Tideless rivers and inland seas. Such rivers as the Nile, Rhone, and Po feel no effect of the tidal wave, beyond their month, whilst in the case of the Thames its force is felt as far as Teddington, about eighty miles from the sea. Persons living on the banks of the Severn may sometimes see a head of water forty feet high rushing up the river with great violence. The effect of the tide is to prevent the accumulation of mud and formation of ice at the mouths of the river; it also makes the river more useful, being navigable. In a similar manner as the high tides of spiritual influences flow into our lives, they rid us of collected debris--hindrances which choke our lives and mar our usefulness--evil habits, questionable amusements, shady practices, of which we could not ordinarily strip ourselves, are all swept away under such gracious influences.

V. Tide-tables. In almanacks and elsewhere we find tables which give with fair accuracy time and place of these exceptionally high tides, as well as the ordinary spring and neap tides, but no means of thus calculating times and seasons of spiritual visitation. We can doubtless aid the tide of power and usefulness by obeying the Divine laws which have been made known; and certainly guard against any obstacles and hindrances to its flow. It is “they that wait upon the Lord that “shall renew their strength.” (J. B. Evans.)

The mysterious dealings of God

Our daily papers are full of sad histories. One day it is “an accident in a coal-pit: one hundred lives lost.” Another day it is some frightful disaster on a railway, or a shipwreck, or an outbreak of disease in some place. And when we look at “the daily history of the world,” we read of earthquakes, wars, pestilence, and massacres. And as we read, the question arises in our minds--why does the compassionate All-Father permit these horrors to take place? And if we, mere spectators of these afflictions from afar off, are ready to ask this question, with what agonized earnestness must it rise up in the breasts of the sufferers themselves! And looking closer and inquiring into the lives of our fellow-men, does not the same startling problem constantly appear? How often we see the desolate widow with her crowd of helpless children! How often we notice good and useful lives taken away whilst the worthless are still permitted to live! Now, all these cases bring us to this point--do calamities and afflictions happen by chance or are they appointed by a great Ruler of the world? And as Christians we answer, that “affliction cometh not forth of the dust,” but conies from the hand of God; but when we are further pressed to explain God’s dealings, we can only reply, “His path is in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known.” And next, we may remark that this apparent contradiction between the character of God and His dealings with individuals, leads us to feel the need and value of a revelation. God has not left us to the stammering voice of “natural religion,” but He has drawn aside the veil and revealed Himself. He has sent us a letter, in which He tells us of His love, and bids us trust in Him, through the gloom and darkness, and He will bring us into the perfect light; that though His footsteps are not known, yet He leads Israel by the hand. And as we reflect on these mysterious points of God’s dealings with men, we see how they bring into light and accentuate the great doctrine of the faith; the truth that there is a future existence, when the sorrows of this life shall be balanced by the joys which cannot yet be conceived. It is the last great Day of Judgment which will declare the justice and righteousness of God. Thus, when we hear of terrible accidents and wholesale suffering we can take comfort in two ways--firstly, that God may overrule evil for good, by arranging that the accident or the misfortune may lead to good results. Thus the terrible disasters from fire-damp led Sir Humphrey Davy to invent the pitman’s lamp, which has saved so many lives. The dangers of high-pressure engines, and the fearful explosions of the American steamboats, made the safety-valve popular and universal at last. The cruel ravages of disease and infection have taught men, by the very motives of selfish dread, to take up sanitary cares for others. And looking beyond these advantages which result in this world, we secondly can see how, in the longer sphere of a better world, God can compensate those who have suffered here. This fills us with confidence and hope, though as yet we cannot trace “His footsteps,” for the dark waters roll over them. (J. W. Hardman, LL. D.)

The trackless ocean and its master pilot

I have taken a great interest in pilots, in their office, and in their work. After a long and monotonous voyage it is quite at event, as you may judge, to find a fresh face on board. Every eye is strained to look at the pilot as his little boat comes dancing over the waters; and when he springs on board we feel almost inclined to caress him, and we wish to know what is the latest news. I like to see him standing on the bridge, or on the quarter-deck, in command for the time being. Even the captain must take second place now. I like to feel the sense of perfect security which comes when the pilot is on board. He knows the place so well. It is his business to steer the ship through the narrows and up the tortuous channel.. He has been at it for years. He can, as they say, almost feel his way up that channel in the dark; and as we draw near the shore, the passengers feel that the time of anxiety is over. A sense of relief goes all over the ship. We had every confidence in the captain when there was plenty of sea-room, but on our coming near the harbour, it was some comfort to find on board a man who knew its every turn and twist. Since God’s way is in the sea, I want to ask you whether He is your pilot, or whether you are trying to steer yourself. (Thomas Spurgeon.)

God’s way incomprehensible to man

Take a little lad of ten years, and put him into an assembly of statesmen discussing the gravest questions of diplomacy and international law, to carry documents and messages from one desk to another. In that assembly the lad has a definite place and a definite duty which he can understand and do. But suppose he should refuse to carry a paper of which he did not understand the meaning and bearing. Suppose he should throw up his position as page, on the ground that he was not made acquainted with the whole course of complicated negotiation carried on in that chamber. Would any sane man regard the boy aa an injured being? Would any one think of reproaching those statesmen with unkindness or injustice? Would not the lad be simply laughed at? Even supposing that every man in the chamber were disposed to grant his ridiculous demand and to explain the business to him--could they do it? Could the child’s mind grasp the destinies of nations? And yet, if this is absurd, what shall be said of a finite being, with his scanty knowledge, with his limited capacity, with his little range of experience, refusing allegiance to a God whose purposes comprehend eternity, and move in orbits vaster than his utmost reach of thought can even begin to conceive; in whose plan the countless details of all being in the eternity, past and future, are grouped and unified--what, I repeat, shall be said of the stupendous folly of a poor little man, the difference between whom and God is barely shadowed by the difference between a statesman and a babe, yet who refuses allegiance to God because he cannot, by searching, find out the Almighty to perfection? (Marvin R. Vincent, D. D.)

Thou leddest Thy people.

The true philosophy of life

“Thou leddest Thy people.” The whole philosophy of life is here, here for us no less than for Israel. If we think we need some other theory of living because the Israelites were only poor slaves, and we intelligent nineteenth-century Christians, we are greatly mistaken. After all these centuries, God has nothing to add to this, that men let Him lead them, in His own way, through the sea if so He will it. The true philosophy of life is summed up here, in simply following God. Over the Apennines there is a wonderful railroad, on which, in a space of less than seventy miles, one passes through forty-three tunnels, some of them of very great length. The road is full of magnificent outlooks, but every few moments you go plunging into a tunnel. And certainly the traveller over this road would show his good sense by sitting still and being carried along the line of the rail; and not by getting out at the first station, and striking into the mountains to find another path, because he did not like the tunnels. He would be almost sure to be lost and to starve to death. The road has been built to carry him to his destination by the shortest way, and he will get there more quickly and safely through the tunnels than in any other way. Oh, if we could only believe the same thing of God’s way! We want to build our own road, all out in the light; and the consequence is, it is much less direct than God’s, and much more dangerous, and we cannot bring it out where we wish. And remember, it is not all tunnels either: in the regions of the high rocks, where the tunnels are needed, are the most glorious prospects. If God’s way is partly in darkness, the light places are full of beauty, commanding such outlooks of mercy and love as ought to reconcile us to the intervals of darkness, I remember once, in Italy, climbing a mountain up which a broad, fine carriage road led almost to the summit; but there the road suddenly ceased, and nothing appeared but a narrow footpath leading round the shoulder of the mountain, and that soon dwindled into a sheep-track; and the sun beat down with terrible power, and the way was rough, and more than once I was tempted to go back; but never shall I forget the vision which burst upon me as at last I reached the end of the narrow way: it repaid all the toil. So, I say, do not be afraid of the narrow way if God turns you into it. The great thing is that He lead you; and if He lead, even though His footsteps are not known, you know that His way is in holiness, and ends at last in eternal good. (Marvin R. Vincent, D. D.)
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Psalms 78:1-72

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 77:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-77.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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