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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 96

 

 

Verses 1-13

Psalms 96:1-13

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.

A supreme existence and a supreme service

I. A supreme existence.

1. Great in His nature--in power, intellect, heart.

2. Great in His work. “Made the heavens.”

3. Great in His character.

4. Great in His government.

II. A supreme service.

1. Joyous.

2. Fresh. “A new song.” The song of yesterday will not do for to-day, for there are fresh motives, fresh mercies, fresh needs.

3. Constant. Worship as an occasional service is worthless, it is only worship as it becomes an all-pervading spirit, a permeating, dominating inspiration. “From day to day.”

4. Universal. “All the earth.” “Ye kindreds of the people.” This service is confined to no tribe or class of men, all sustain the same relation to the Supreme Existence, and out of the same relationship the same common obligations spring.

5. Practical.

The new song and the old story

There are mighty passions of the human soul which seek vent, and can get no relief until they find it in expression. Grief, acute, but silent, has often destroyed the mind, because it has not been able to weep itself away in tears. The glow of passion, fond of enterprise and full of enthusiasm, has often seemed to rend the very fabric of manhood when unable either to attain its end or to utter its strong desires. So it is in true religion. It not only lays hold upon our intellectual nature with appeals to our judgment and our understanding, but at the same time it engages our affections, brings our passions into play, and fires them with a holy zeal, producing a mighty furore; so that when this spell is on a man, and the Spirit of God thoroughly possesses him, he must express his vehement emotions. Our purpose is to suggest two modes of expressing your consecration to God and your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. These two methods are to sing about and to talk about the good things the Lord has done for you, and the great things He has made known to you. Let song take the lead--“O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless His name.” Then let discourse engage you; be it in public sermons or in private conversations--“Show forth His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people.” We begin with the voice of melody. All ye that love the Lord, give vent to your heart’s emotion by song, and take care that it be sung to the Lord alone. As ye stand up to sing, there should be a fixed intent of the soul, a positive volition of the mind, an absolute determination of the heart, that all the flame which kindles in thy breast, and all the melody that breaks from thy tongue, and all the sacred swell of grateful song shall be unto the Lord, and unto the Lord alone. And if you would sing unto the Lord, let me recommend you to flavour your mouth with the Gospel doctrines which savour most of grace unmerited and free. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, who provides for us, educates us, instructs us, leads and guides us, and will bring us by and by to the many mansions in His own house. Sing ye also unto the Son. Adore the Lamb slain. Kneel at the Cross foot, and praise each wound, and magnify the immortal who became mortal for our sakes. And, then, sing ye to the Holy Spirit. Oh, how our hearts are bound reverently to worship the Divine Indweller who, according to His abundant mercy, hath made our bodies to be His temples wherein He deigns to dwell. “Sing unto the Lord a new song.” Let the freshness of your joy and the fulness of your thanks be perennial as the days of heaven. This song, according to our text, is designed to be universal. “Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.” Let sires and sons mingle in its strains. There is not one of us but has cause for song, and certainly not one saint but ought especially to praise Him. In three ways, methinks, it becomes us to sing God’s praises. We ought to sing with the voice. Angel harp and human voice! If the angel harp be more skilful, surely the human voice is more grateful. We are like a bird that has only one wing. There is much prayer, but there is little praise. “Sing unto the Lord.” To sing with the heart is the very essence of song. Though the tongue may not be able to express the language of the soul, the heart is glad. Oh, to have a cheerful spirit--not the levity of the thoughtless, nor the gaiety of the foolish, nor even the mirth of the healthy--there is a cheerful spirit which is the gift of grace, that can and does rejoice evermore. Then when troubles come we bear them cheerfully; let fortune smile, we receive it with equanimity; or let losses befall us, we endure them with resignation, being willing, so long as God is glorified, to accept anything at His hands. These are the people to recommend Christianity. Their cheerful conversation attracts others to Christ. In the second place, then, let me stir you up to such daily conversation and such habitual discourse as shall be fitted to spread the Gospel which you love. Our text admonishes you to “show forth His salvation.” You believe in the salvation of God--a salvation of grace from first to last. You have seen it; you have received it; you have experienced it. Well, now, show it forth. “Declare His glory among the heathen.” Show them the justice of the great substitution, and the mercy of it. Show them the wisdom which devised the plan whereby, without a violation of the law, God could yet pardon rebellious sinners. Impress upon those that you talk with that the Gospel you have to tell them of is no commonplace system of expediency, but really it is a glorious revelation of divinity. A third expression is used here. “Declare His wonders among all people.” Our Gospel is a Gospel of wonders. It deals with wonderful sin in a wonderful way. It presents to us a wonderful Saviour, and tells us of His wonderful complex person. It points us to His wonderful atonement, and it takes the blackest sinner and makes him wonderfully clean. The wonders of grace far exceed the wonders of nature; there are no miracles so matchless in wonder as the miracles of grace in the heart of man. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 1-13

Psalms 96:1-13

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.

A supreme existence and a supreme service

I. A supreme existence.

1. Great in His nature--in power, intellect, heart.

2. Great in His work. “Made the heavens.”

3. Great in His character.

4. Great in His government.

II. A supreme service.

1. Joyous.

2. Fresh. “A new song.” The song of yesterday will not do for to-day, for there are fresh motives, fresh mercies, fresh needs.

3. Constant. Worship as an occasional service is worthless, it is only worship as it becomes an all-pervading spirit, a permeating, dominating inspiration. “From day to day.”

4. Universal. “All the earth.” “Ye kindreds of the people.” This service is confined to no tribe or class of men, all sustain the same relation to the Supreme Existence, and out of the same relationship the same common obligations spring.

5. Practical.

The new song and the old story

There are mighty passions of the human soul which seek vent, and can get no relief until they find it in expression. Grief, acute, but silent, has often destroyed the mind, because it has not been able to weep itself away in tears. The glow of passion, fond of enterprise and full of enthusiasm, has often seemed to rend the very fabric of manhood when unable either to attain its end or to utter its strong desires. So it is in true religion. It not only lays hold upon our intellectual nature with appeals to our judgment and our understanding, but at the same time it engages our affections, brings our passions into play, and fires them with a holy zeal, producing a mighty furore; so that when this spell is on a man, and the Spirit of God thoroughly possesses him, he must express his vehement emotions. Our purpose is to suggest two modes of expressing your consecration to God and your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. These two methods are to sing about and to talk about the good things the Lord has done for you, and the great things He has made known to you. Let song take the lead--“O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless His name.” Then let discourse engage you; be it in public sermons or in private conversations--“Show forth His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people.” We begin with the voice of melody. All ye that love the Lord, give vent to your heart’s emotion by song, and take care that it be sung to the Lord alone. As ye stand up to sing, there should be a fixed intent of the soul, a positive volition of the mind, an absolute determination of the heart, that all the flame which kindles in thy breast, and all the melody that breaks from thy tongue, and all the sacred swell of grateful song shall be unto the Lord, and unto the Lord alone. And if you would sing unto the Lord, let me recommend you to flavour your mouth with the Gospel doctrines which savour most of grace unmerited and free. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, who provides for us, educates us, instructs us, leads and guides us, and will bring us by and by to the many mansions in His own house. Sing ye also unto the Son. Adore the Lamb slain. Kneel at the Cross foot, and praise each wound, and magnify the immortal who became mortal for our sakes. And, then, sing ye to the Holy Spirit. Oh, how our hearts are bound reverently to worship the Divine Indweller who, according to His abundant mercy, hath made our bodies to be His temples wherein He deigns to dwell. “Sing unto the Lord a new song.” Let the freshness of your joy and the fulness of your thanks be perennial as the days of heaven. This song, according to our text, is designed to be universal. “Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.” Let sires and sons mingle in its strains. There is not one of us but has cause for song, and certainly not one saint but ought especially to praise Him. In three ways, methinks, it becomes us to sing God’s praises. We ought to sing with the voice. Angel harp and human voice! If the angel harp be more skilful, surely the human voice is more grateful. We are like a bird that has only one wing. There is much prayer, but there is little praise. “Sing unto the Lord.” To sing with the heart is the very essence of song. Though the tongue may not be able to express the language of the soul, the heart is glad. Oh, to have a cheerful spirit--not the levity of the thoughtless, nor the gaiety of the foolish, nor even the mirth of the healthy--there is a cheerful spirit which is the gift of grace, that can and does rejoice evermore. Then when troubles come we bear them cheerfully; let fortune smile, we receive it with equanimity; or let losses befall us, we endure them with resignation, being willing, so long as God is glorified, to accept anything at His hands. These are the people to recommend Christianity. Their cheerful conversation attracts others to Christ. In the second place, then, let me stir you up to such daily conversation and such habitual discourse as shall be fitted to spread the Gospel which you love. Our text admonishes you to “show forth His salvation.” You believe in the salvation of God--a salvation of grace from first to last. You have seen it; you have received it; you have experienced it. Well, now, show it forth. “Declare His glory among the heathen.” Show them the justice of the great substitution, and the mercy of it. Show them the wisdom which devised the plan whereby, without a violation of the law, God could yet pardon rebellious sinners. Impress upon those that you talk with that the Gospel you have to tell them of is no commonplace system of expediency, but really it is a glorious revelation of divinity. A third expression is used here. “Declare His wonders among all people.” Our Gospel is a Gospel of wonders. It deals with wonderful sin in a wonderful way. It presents to us a wonderful Saviour, and tells us of His wonderful complex person. It points us to His wonderful atonement, and it takes the blackest sinner and makes him wonderfully clean. The wonders of grace far exceed the wonders of nature; there are no miracles so matchless in wonder as the miracles of grace in the heart of man. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 4

Psalms 96:4

For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised.

God’s praise

The greatness or majesty of God is the prominent thing dwelt on in this psalm; but it may be dealt with in a larger and more comprehensive way.

I. The duty of praise. The psalmist calls upon us to sing. It honours God not only that we should speak to others about Him, and preach to others His truth, but that we should sing His praise, finding thus expression for our joyous and loving thoughts of Him who is worthy to receive glory and honour for ever and ever. Impress that joining in the songs and praises of the great congregation is still our way of honouring God. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Him.”

II. Where should we praise? (Psalms 96:6). “In His sanctuary.” The place of worship, the consecrated place, rich with the associations of years of worship. Show how strongly urged is the duty of joining in public services; and how important the duty of forming, in this respect, good early habits.

III. What should we praise? We may praise God for what He has done; in creation, providence, and grace; and for what He has done directly for us. The psalmist rises to a nobler height, and sets us the example of praising God for what He is, for the greatness, and majesty, and strength, and honour that belong to Him.

IV. Before whom should we praise.? Before those who do not know God, or who sadly neglect Him. Our praise is to be a witness to them; an example for them; and a persuasion of them. Our acts of worship and our godly habits are to say to them, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”

V. Who should join us in praise? Note the poetic sentiment of verses11-13; all nature joins man in praise. But man should be the leader of the choir. (Robert Tuck, B.A.)


Verse 6

Psalms 96:6

Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Strength and beauty

Christianity alone has combined the two ideals of the world. Strength and beauty are diverse, but not contradictory. Yet we seldom find them united in the national ideals of ancient or modern times. “Thy sons, O Zion!” cried one of the Hebrew prophets, “against thy sons, O Greece”--the nation which stood for moral strength inexorably opposed to the nation whose ruling passion was beauty. To the Hebrew beauty was a secondary and an inconsiderable ideal compared with the strength of moral restraint and attainment. Strength was for men, and beauty perhaps was good enough for women. But the point of our text is that it combines strength and beauty into one harmony of character, which both men and women should seek to acquire.

“Not like to like, but like in difference--

Yet in the long years liker must they grow;

The man be more of woman, she of man;

He gain in sweetness and in moral height,

Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;

The mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,

Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind.”

Aaron’s rod was the symbol of authority, the strength of the High Priest’s office, but Aaron’s rod it was that budded, and there you have the beauty. Our text, then, points out that there is no character complete which does not possess both strength and beauty. But, more than that, it shows that true strength and beauty are found only in God’s sanctuary--that is, in genuine relationship with God. A very little thought will suffice to satisfy us how closely this corresponds with the facts. For if there is anything which our experience makes clear, it is this: that sin’s tendency is to weaken, to soften the moral fibre of our natures, and to throw us open to the germs of all spiritual diseases. You all know how sins of sensuality bring their terrible revenge upon the body, and how nature exacts the uttermost farthing. In precisely similar fashion the soul is weakened by the transgression of the laws of moral and spiritual health. To commit any sin is to make oneself less able to resist it in the future. One falsehood leads almost necessarily to more. Where is the boasted strength and liberty of the sinner? Liberty to destroy oneself? Strength enough to take away by an act of moral suicide one’s spiritual life? Yes, but no strength to live purely and nobly, no power to aspire, no courage to battle with the incursions of evil; is it not a mockery to say that there is strength in the pursuit of sin? Strength is in God’s sanctuary, for He alone enables men to trample under foot the weakening influences of sin through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. What, then, are the nature and value of that strength which is to be found in Christ? What end does it serve and to what attainment does it lead? For one thing, it enables a man to cleave fast to the highest that he knows though all the world deride. No one can doubt how tremendous is the pressure of public opinion in these days, and how strong (one might almost say obstinate) a man must be who is to set himself to resist it. We talk of the pressure of the atmosphere upon the human body, and no doubt it is vast; buy we do not feel it because our frame has been made equal to the strain. For our moral frame, however, we must win the protecting armour of God’s grace, and until we are safely clad in it, the pressure is grievous to be borne. In every line of life there are practices which have grown common and are sanctioned by custom, yet your conscience tells you they are wrong. “I do not think,” said President Garfield, “what others may think or say concerning me, but there is one man’s opinion concerning me which I very much value, that is the opinion of James Garfield; others I need not think about. I can get away from them, but I have to be with him all the time . . . It makes a great difference whether he thinks well of me or not.” These are noble words, and they show us the sort of strength we need--strength to be faithful to what we know as the best and highest that a man can set up within his soul. From that tribunal we may not escape judgment, and if we are acquitted there our hearts are at peace. The same thing is true of all manner of temptation. We do not escape the snares of the tempter by running away. To these we must offer a constant and pitiless antagonism. There is an old tower on the Continent where in one of the dungeons the walls have graven upon them again and again the word “Resist.” It is said a Protestant woman was kept in those dark recesses for forty years, and all the time she spent in graving with a piece of iron for all who might come after her that solemn and courageous word. Oh! we need it graven upon our hearts. Strength is in God’s sanctuary--strength for bestowal--and you may have it if you will reach forth your hand. It is useless to say, “Be strong,” but it is wisdom to say, “Be strong in the Lord.” And then we should seek strength for the sake of others, so as to impart to them help and encouragement. “Briefly,” says Ruskin, “the constant duty of every man to his fellows is to ascertain his own powers and special gifts, and to strengthen them for the help of others.” Our moral strength also is not for ourselves alone. It is intended that by example of words and deeds, by patient endurance and active courage, we should inspire our fellows and make them also strong. The greater your spiritual strength in face of temptation, the braver your courage against all foes of the soul, the more you will help your fellow men to subdue their enemies and to go on from strength to strength. But a character which has strength alone without beauty lacks the perfect round of the Christian ideal. If we would see an instance of such defective character, let us think of the Puritans, who three centuries ago in England stood for righteousness and integrity and the fear of God. But there was little in their lives which could be termed the “beauty of holiness.” They were upright and they were true; but they had trained themselves to a stern, hard, rugged strength, without polish, without beauty, and without the adornment (though doubtless not without the reality) of love. We see in them the need of those softer and more attractive virtues which fill in the stature of the perfect man. Not only strength, but beauty, is to be found in God’s sanctuary. Nor can true beauty be won save in Him. Just as sin is weakness, so sin is ugliness. It does not always seem so. The siren voices are sweet and their song is fairest music. The form of sin is often beautiful to the eye, and men long to embrace it. But when the sinner clutches it, the lovely form changes to a hideous skeleton that grins and chatters in his face. As George Eliot says of one among her gallery of human characters: “He had no idea of a moral repulsion, and could not have believed, if he had been told it, that there may be a resentment and disgust which will gradually make beauty more detestable than ugliness, through exasperation at that outward virtue in which hateful things can flaunt themselves or find a supercilious advantage.” Yes, brethren, beauty in its essence is the form of the true and the good, and there is no beauty without goodness. It is a false antagonism to say that one seeks the beautiful rather than the good. There is nothing really beautiful except what is good. “The true beautiful,” says a modern prophet, “differs from the false as heaven does from Vauxhall.” Let us, then, get rid of the notion that beauty is not to be sought. Every fresh soul that enters the world instinctively claims a share of the light and joy which this world’s beauty brings; and God forbid that Christians should shut the door upon the beautiful. “The instinct,” says some one, with truth, “even in its lowest forms, is divine. It is the commentary on the text that man shall not live by bread alone.” And so far is Christianity from excluding the beautiful from its scheme that it actually recommends the softer and more attractive virtues as no other religion has done. The highest type of Christian character is the most truly beautiful this world has seen. We cannot hear of self-renunciation, or forgiveness, or kindness, or gracious love without exclaiming, How beautiful! And these are the graces which Christ bestows. Strength and beauty, then, make up the perfect character. But where do we find them perfectly combined? Nowhere, save in Jesus Christ. In what wonderful harmony they are blended there! How constantly in His life do we see strength and beauty, in perfect balance and poise, shining forth from His acts and words! In the garden of agony, faced by cruel and murderous men, He stands erect, calmly repeating to His enemies, “I have told you that I am He”--there is strength; but mark the tender beauty of what follows: “If ye seek Me, let these go their way”--solicitude for His faint-hearted followers mingling with His fortitude. As one has truly said: “The eyes that wept beside the grave of Lazarus were eyes that were like a flame of fire.” And so Christian character holds the field, combining the two necessary elements of strength and beauty. That is why Christ appeals to men as well as women. And that is why we cannot but deplore the folly which keeps so many men aloof from active profession of the faith of Christ, because, forsooth, they count it an unmanly thing. Oh! brethren, there is strength as well as beauty in the service of Christ, and nowhere else can you find strength worthy of the name. There is beauty as well as strength, and nowhere else can you find beauty that will last and increase as the years go by. Strength and beauty are in God’s sanctuary; and the sanctuary is the holy place--the place where God and man come nigh, where God’s cleansing and strengthening flow down to men, and where man’s service is rendered up to God. (J. Waddell, B.A.)

The sacred union of strength and beauty

I. True of nature as a temple. In nature as a whole,--as one vast cathedral,--and in different scenes, it is as so many aisles and courts and chapels, in it there is strength and beauty. For example, in the forest there is the strength of the gnarled tree, with sinewy and majestic trunk, and the beauty of exquisite foliage and delicate moss and wild flower.

II. True of the Hebrew sanctuaries. In the tabernacle were stout poles and coverings of skin for strength, and finely spun, delicately woven embroidery for beauty. In the temple, what massive and majestic stone for strength! what gleaming of precious and wondrous tapestry for beauty! There were in those sacred structures not only richest harmonies for the ear, but beauties for the eye as well, that so all nature should be toned and tuned to good impressions.

III. True of Christian worship. There may well be Puritan earnestness of spirit, distinctiveness of doctrine, directness of rebuke, fixedness of faith, and at the same time aesthetic refinement of demeanour and tone and thought. Does not “ worship in the beauty of holiness “ involve obedience to the precept, “Let all things be done decently and in order”?

IV. True of Christian character. That is the most perfect sphere of Divine worship; for to Christly men it is infallibly said, “Ye are the temple of the Holy Ghost.” There must be in such character “virtue,” the strength of manliness. By which is surely meant honesty, truth, courage, fidelity. But what does St. Peter teach us is to be added to virtue? Clearly, all moral beauty. Our character is to be a sanctuary with solid foundations, but adorned with finely wrought gold; our work is to be a war, but with chivalry. (U. R. Thomas.)

Strength and beauty

Strength and beauty are not always found in company, either in the works of God or of man. The lily is beautiful, but a child’s foot may crush it; the gale is mighty, but it is the opposite of loveliness. In the works of man beauty is often allied to the fragile, and strength to the coarse and ungainly. But in the sanctuary of God they meet in undivided perfection.

I. The strength and beauty of attraction. Here is found an attraction mightier than the magnet: it is not a law which acts upon matter, but a life which acts upon mind; a life which enlightens our darkness, quickens the conscience, sways the will, gives hope to the heart, bounding pleasure to the affections.

II. The strength and beauty of an unflinching purpose--to reign, to save, to judge (Psalms 96:2; Psalms 96:10). This golden chain has never been broken, never been damaged, never been seen, by the enemy. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” etc.

III. The strength and beauty of a perfect organization. It does not grow old; it is a stranger to decay; there is no friction, no loss of power. It is sublimely perfect, and immortal as the years of the Most High.

IV. The strength and beauty of imparted character. The true worshipper comes not only to admire, but to imbibe, be assimilated to the Father; justification is imputed, sanctification is imparted; under the robe of righteousness there must be the holy body, and beneath the manners and bearing of the outward man there must be enshrined, enthroned, the Lord and Saviour of the soul (Psalms 100:4). (H. T. Miller.)

Strength and beauty

Had the psalmist set himself to give an “inventory,” if I may so say, of the things to he found in God’s sanctuary, he would have involved himself in the construction of a very long catalogue. Had he attempted even a somewhat general description, it would have been much the same. For moral impression he does better than either. He passes his eye quickly but reverently round the whole, and feeling that amid all the multiplicity of objects there were two qualities or elements always to be found, sometimes apart, though never far apart, and generally passing into each other and blending together, he seizes upon these as in reality constituting all that was there, and, consequently, all of good that could be anywhere, and thus, with that graphic brevity which is to be found only in Scripture, gives us the whole nature and meaning of religion at a stroke--“Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” The union of strength and beauty in nature is obvious. Some things, indeed, are distinctively strong, and some are distinctively beautiful, but the strongest things are not without beauty, and the most beautiful things are not without strength. Thus “order” is the all-pervading principle of nature, and as implying security against confusion, collision, and all such things as might lead to these, manifests itself as the very strength of the universe--the invisible cord on which God hangs His material creation. But out of this order comes all the beauty of adaptation, mutual dependence, mutual helpfulness, the succession of seasons--weaving a many-coloured robe for the year--and that felt though hidden harmony which led heathen philosophers to speak of the music of the spheres. So is it also in the sanctuary of home. God “setteth us in families,” and in these He has a sanctuary, which is as plainly as any other inscribed with the characteristics of strength and beauty. There is the strong arm to work and the loving heart to feel. But the sanctuary here referred to is different from that of nature and of home. It is God’s sanctuary proper--in its first sense, the scene of His worship, of which He has said, “I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory”--Zion, so strong that it cannot be moved--the “mountain of the Lord’s house”; and yet Zion, so fair that out of it, as “the perfection of beauty,” God hath shined. In the further sense, all that belongs to God’s redemption-work is included in it. Take the character and teaching of Him who is its “Author and Finisher,” Jesus, the Son of God, on whom the execution of the work was laid, and who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity. In Him was the strength of holiness, as a necessity; for He was God, “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” But He was God in human nature and in human relations, and this brought Him within the sphere of human observation, and made His life on the earth the visible image of man in his ideal perfection. The trying and every-varying circumstances in which He was placed served to bring out the strength and beauty alike which were enshrined in this “sanctuary” of God; for the strength of His purity never passed into hardness, and the beauty of His compassion never sank into weakness. He was both a merciful and a faithful High Priest. This example His people must follow. The spirit of Christ must be their spirit too. The strength of holiness must be conspicuous in them; the strength of obedience even unto death; the strength of a firm and resolute will in the direction of all that is true and just. But this must not be without beauty in their case, any more than it was in His: the beauty of tenderness mingling with their fidelity; the beauty of meekness, gentleness, pity,--knowing, like Him, to have compassion on the ignorant and them that are out of the way. And so also with the services of the sanctuary. In these there must be first, and mainly, the strength of truth, in the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the pure and simple Gospel of grace and love. Without this, services are a delusion, “clouds without water, carried about of winds, trees whose fruit withereth.” And yet they are not to consist entirely in the enunciation of doctrine, but must rise out of that into the beauty of emotional feeling, and find expression in the broken accents of prayer and the uplifted melody of psalms and hymns and songs of praise. In conclusion: this brief sentence might be expanded indefinitely. It passes round and appropriates all that belongs to a religious character and life, and it holds in it many words of counsel and caution. It forbids us to be harsh for the sake of faithfulness, or to be weakly compliant for the sake of tenderness. It takes the two staves of the prophet--Beauty and Bands--and binds them together in the laws and principles of God’s house and service, and in the whole character and life of His people, even as they are bound together in the nature of God Himself, and were so wondrously exemplified at every step by Him who achieved our redemption in all the strength of His immaculate holiness, and in all the beauty of His immeasurable love. (A. L. Simpson, D.D.)

Strength and beauty

It is a common observation that the finest and most impressive effects are often produced by the combination of things that are unlike each other. The painter recognizes this principle when he brings his darkest shadows to heighten the effect of his clearest lights, or contrasts the peaceful life of some humble cottage home with the stately magnificence of the stern mountains that surround it. The architect appeals to the same principle when he crowns his columns with beautiful capitals, and relieves the massive masonry of his walls with delicate tracery and forms of sculptured beauty. In such cases two ideas entirely different from each other are brought together. The massive wall and the marble column suggest the thought of strength; while the delicate carvings and the sculptured friezes appeal to the sense of beauty. The thought which lies deep in the artist’s mind, and to which he strives to give expression in his work, is that there is a natural alliance between strength and beauty. We see illustrations of this truth in--

I. The works of God. All the strong things in nature are beautiful: all the beautiful things are exhibitions of strength. The dewdrop that glitters on the rose-leaf--we all know the perfection of its beauty; but how little do we understand the mystery of the strength by which that beauty is secured! That little drop of water is composed of elements which are held together by electric forces sufficient to form a flash of lightning that would rend the rocks of the mountain or blast the stoutest oak of the forest. All that mighty thunder of power lies sleeping in the crystal sphere of a tiny dewdrop. Each day is enlarging the sphere of our knowledge of the natural world; and every fresh discovery brings a new gleam of light to kindle up afresh the brilliancy of the illuminated scroll, “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”

II. The revealed character of God. Strength and beauty are before Him--the strength of an infinite majesty, the thunder of an almighty power, the calm serenity of an eternal righteousness. And these, when seen alone, apart from those other attributes of His nature which are their gracious complement, can bring no peace to the troubled conscience or rest to wearied hearts. They can bring us trembling and awe-stricken into that majestic presence; but they know not the secret of transforming the shrinking terror of the criminal and the slave into the holy reverence and the joyous freedom of the son. Strength and beauty--the beauty of tenderness, the graciousness of Divine condescension, the winning aspects of a love that “beareth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things, hopeth all things.”

III. The person of Christ.

IV. The various revelations of Divine truth to the world, and the order of their succession. The law precedes the Gospel: and law is to the Gospel as strength to beauty. We speak and think of the severe aspects of the law, its “shalt” and “shalt not,” its stern repressions and its calm, passionate sentences. But it had its softer side, its gracious and tender aspects for those who had the heart and the eye to see them. To men like David it was given to rejoice in the thought that the law has its seat in the bosom of the God of Love. The Ritual of Judaism had deeper meanings for the spiritual worshipper, and its law brought him to Christ. The man who had the clearest vision of the strength and majesty of the law was the man who rejoiced most deeply in the everlasting mercy of the Lord. The law had its prefigurement of the Gospel, just as the Gospel had its undying reminiscence of the law.

V. Human character. There is danger in opposite directions. Some Christians are content with the strength, and care little for the beauty, of the Christian life. They are stern in their adhesion to principle, careless of the lesser charities of life, apt to be harsh in their condemnation of error and sin. Every one knows their worth, believes in their honesty, would trust implicitly to their integrity. But they do not win love by their gracious bearing, their kind words, their charitable construction of men and things. They have the strength, but they lack something of the beauty of the Christian character. Others are in danger from the opposite tendency. They would sacrifice something of the severity of perfect uprightness to the graces of life. They must have peace at any price. It is the emotional side of religion that has the chief attraction for them. They are in love with the beauty of religion, but they are not good specimens of its strength and steadfastness. The text has a message for each. Strength and beauty. This is the ideal of a complete Christian character. The one is the framework, the other is the covering, of the man of full spiritual stature. In matters of principle, in the sphere of actions that touch the conscience, remember the call for strength. “Be strong in the Lord.” But remember the other element, and cultivate the spirit and the practice of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Give wide interpretation to the prayer of the psalmist,” Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” (W. Cameron, D.D.)

Strength and beauty

A subject of never-waning interest to the student of comparative religions is she influence upon the character of a nation in its conception of God. It is sometimes asserted, in somewhat too sweeping a fashion, that a people will be as is its idea of God. In qualification of that proposition it has to be said that not all people hold themselves pledged to the imitation of God. Many, indeed, would argue that such a thought is little short of presumptuous folly. Moreover, even when the imitation of God is regarded as man’s chief and proper endeavour, the fact remains that a nation’s character is determined not by certain merely traditional and abstract ideas of Deity, but by the quality of its faith in the reality of God. With these qualifications, it may be generally admitted that the character of every people tends to be influenced by the character of its God or gods. It is impossible to maintain that the old popular mythologies of Greece and Rome had no influence upon the common lives of men. The weaknesses, follies, passions, and vices of the immortals became in the nature of a justification for similar failings and excesses among mortals; and it can never have been easy of belief that what is right in God is wrong in man. No doubt it was a favourable maxim of the Stuart dynasty, “Do you not know that I am above the law?”; and apologists were wont to maintain in very old times that gods and goddesses could no more than earthly autocrats be subjected to the laws of ordinary human morality. But example tells when the subtlest casuistry fails; and, save where unbelief has relaxed or destroyed the sanctions of religion, the character of the God it worships tends to impress itself upon the character of the worshipping people; and insensibly, if not of settled aspiration, the nation does tend to an imitation of God. We are on surer ground, however, when we turn from that heterogeneous multitude of people we call a nation to a consideration of the individual life. The stronger a man’s faith in God, the more will he realize in his own character those qualities which occupy the largest place in his conception of God. The degree of his imitation of God will be proportionate to the intensity of his belief in God. Now, the psalmist, in this lyrical outburst of adoration, professes to have discovered two qualities which are revealed in combination in the character of God, and which, such is the suggestion, He will Himself communicate to devout, worshipful, and aspiring souls. These two qualities are strength and beauty. Neither quality is of itself uncommon; it is their combination that is so rare. Somehow in this world the strong is not usually the beautiful, and the beautiful is not the strong. We think of the beautiful in Nature as the fragile, the delicate, the evanescent. We think of the strong, and with its massive solidity it is difficult to associate any thought of grace and loveliness. But this psalm was a hymn for the Temple; and if it be true, as we suppose, that there are yet remaining many of the glorious pillars which adorned that magnificent structure, it is conceivable that they suggested to the psalmist’s mind this rare combination of qualities. For these pillars of the Temple were of radiant marble, stately and splendid in themselves, and with the added decoration of capitals nobly carved in all manners of exquisite device. And not the pillars alone, but the whole majestic pile itself, was it not the standing witness to the truth that the God whom it represented to men was at once strong and beautiful? For its durability and solidity was only equalled by its magnificence; the strength of its stone by the beauty of its colouring and the glory of its decoration. The architects of that ancient cathedral seem to have derived their ideas from Nature and to have seen that He who laid the enduring foundations of the earth, decorated the world, He made with the gold of the crocus, the crimson of the field-lily, or the blue of the gentian and the harebell; and they built for Him a lane which, like the world He built for them, was strong and beautiful, massive, but full of delicate colour. As was this temple of their God, so was the God of the Temple--in His Divine Being they felt there must be this glorious combination of strength and beauty. If, then, the religious life be the imitation of God, the man of God will manifest to the world a character in which strength and beauty are found in combination. (C. S. Horne, M.A.)

Strength and beauty

It does not admit of question that not only the Hebrew ideal embraced them both, but the creed of ancient art in its noblest era associated the perfection of beauty with the perfection of strength. The sculptor honoured magnificence and majesty in the human frame; he revealed the beauty that lay in limbs that denoted a sense of power. It is only later on that we begin to see ideals contrasting themselves. One painter worships soft loveliness, and his imagination riots in luxuriance of colouring; but another still upholds the ideal of the majestic, and about his work there is a restraint and even austerity. That is how the ideals of Raphael and Michael Angelo perpetually contrast themselves. And the pre-eminence of the latter is just this: that he never wearies of insisting that strength is inseparable from the highest beauty. (C. S. Horne, M. A.)

The highest beauty is strong, noble magnificent

You remember how Mr. Ruskin enforced the truth in his teaching about architecture. In the rudest forms of building, a strong arch was constructed by laying a huge square stone slab across two huge square upright pillars. When it was complete it had certainly the aspect of durability. Plain it was, and ugly, but surely, said the builder, it could not at any rate be stronger. On the contrary, arches did not become strong until they became beautiful. It was only when the curved line of beauty was discovered that the secret of strength was discovered too . . . Or, again, you will remember how the old pillars of the ancient temples were made thick and square, and squat and ugly. But then came the discovery that you did not detract from strength if you built a more tapering pillar and adorned it with carved capitals, or fluted it from base to summit. There is no antagonism between strength and beauty. This psalmist is in agreement with the thought of the apostle who wrote, “I will make thee a pillar in the temple of my God.” (C. S. Horne, M. A.)

The supremacy of love in strength and beauty

Without reverence there is no beauty of manhood; nay, and without love, none, none. I know that to-day men praise the strength of will, of energy, and I have no dispraise for that, until it becomes one of the “idols” of the market-place. Mere strength of will is not by any means always beautiful: it is not seldom hard and brutal. Love is the stronger force when all is said, and love is beautiful. Matthew Arnold’s lines contain a haunting truth.

“I, too, have longed for trenchant force

And will, like a dividing spear;

Have praised the keen, unscrupulous course

Which knows no doubt, which feels no fear.

But in the world I learnt what there

Thou, too, wilt surely one day prove:

That will, that energy, though rare,

Are yet far, far less rare than love.”

(C. S. Horne, M. A.)


Verse 8-9

Psalms 96:8-9

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name: bring an offering, and come into His courts.

Public worship

I. Prayer. As we all have religious feelings to express, sins to acknowledge, mercies temporal and spiritual for which to give thanks, evils to feel or fear, with regard to ourselves and others, it highly becomes us to join together, and to lift up our hearts with one accord, in a public and social manner, to the hearer of prayer, and thus to offer unto Him our united homage and supplication with thanksgiving. Prayer is not only a duty, it is a high privilege and honour; the nearest approach to God, and the highest enjoyment of Him which we are capable of in this world.

II. Praise. The saints on high, and the angels around the throne, praise God in the highest, and well does it become men upon earth to join their humble notes of praise to the anthem of the heavenly choirs, in exalting together His great and glorious name. All the works of God praise Him, from the heights of heaven to the depths of the earth; the angels around the throne praise Him; the sun, and moon, and stars of light praise Him in their courses; the mountains, and valleys, and woods, and fields, and seas, and streams of water praise Him; the elements of nature praise Him and obey His Word.

III. The preaching and hearing of the word. Both the ministers and the hearers of the Word should watch over themselves, that they may have singleness of eye and heart to the glory of God, more desirous of the Divine approbation than of human applause, avoiding all vain and vexatious questions, which profit not, but engender strife and ungodliness, and which violate that heavenly charity without which all our services are hateful in the sight of God.

IV. The giving and receiving of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We should consider the “nature and design of the Lord’s Supper,” the dispositions which are required for an acceptable participation, and the graces which it is calculated to cherish. The Lord’s Supper thus observed would be attended with the happiest and most beneficial effects on our hearts and lives, in confirming our faith, enlivening our hope and charity, and in promoting our progress in holiness, and in meetness for the pure and perfect service of heaven. (J. Wightman, D. D.)

Worship

Worship may be called the flower of the religious life. It will be absent where there is no religion at all; it will be scanty or poor when one’s religion is feeble; it blossoms into beauty and perfection only when godliness is assiduously cultivated in daily practice and the soul is accustomed to dwell habitually under the shadow of the Almighty. Here, then, you have a very useful test by which to judge of your real religious condition. Is worship irksome? Do you find your affections generally cold, your desires languid, or your thoughts wandering when you come to church? Search within for the cause; see if there be not a negligent state of the soul behind this undevout frame of yours; inquire into your daily habits of obedience, your vigilance against known sin, your study of God’s will and mind, your practice of repentance, and of faith in the Saviour. As a Christian lives well or ill so will he worship. Again, his worship, if it be hearty and constant, must feed and purify his spiritual life. And here let me speak a little on the utterances which the devout mind finds for its feelings towards God; because it should be recollected that although worship begins in a state of the heart it does not stop there--to feel penitence, or gratitude, or adoration is not just the same thing as to worship; worship or homage begins when the hidden emotions of a devout mind, stirred up at the thought of God, run out into some form of utterance. The utterance may, no doubt, be secret and silent--no voice--hardly even the lips moving, like pious Hannah’s, the soul talking only to its God. This is how people commonly worship when they are alone. No matter; there is none the less real outflow and utterance of the man. An outflow of the heart towards the Most High there must be, perfectly well understood by Him whether discernible to men or not--then the soul worships. Now, of what nature is this outflow from the religious heart? Briefly, it is of the nature of an offering of a sacrifice. Foremost of all, that of which it is expressly said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,” etc. Next comes the offering of our grateful and joyous praise for Him who hath been sent among us to heal the broken-hearted; I mean the words of our lips giving thanks to His name in song and audible confession of His mercy, for “with such sacrifices,” likewise, “God is well pleased.” One other offering alone I shall name which we ought to bring within His courts--it is that which the apostle has described as a service reasonable on our part and acceptable to God--I mean the dedication to His service of ourselves. Christian homage to the Redeemer finds its supreme utterance here in the recognition of the fact that we are no longer our own, at our own bidding and disposal, but are His who bought us with a price, willingly devoted, separated of our own choice, to the service and honour of our Redeemer, living and dying body and soul the Lord’s. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

The duty of prayer

1. The primary foundation of this duty is the soul’s relation to God. Every consideration by which we commend filial piety towards earthly parents holds still more forcibly in reference to our heavenly Father. How unnatural the child that never asked his father for anything, that never made his mother the confidante of his troubles and difficulties, that could drink the cup of enjoyment and success, and never ask his parents to share it, or that never poured into their hungering ears the expressions of affection and honour. What opportunities the wants, troubles, and enjoyments of childhood afford for intercourse between parent and child, for the moulding influence of the parent to exert itself upon the child’s character, for the play of mutual affection and delight. Judging from human analogy, it would seem quite sufficient reason for God’s making the bestowment of His best blessings to depend upon their being sought in prayer, that “communications concerning giving and receiving” send themselves so directly to the expression and strengthening of love.

2. Prayer is a duty we owe to God’s name, an offering which we ought to make to His blessedness. “God is love,” and love has its expectations, its satisfactions, its dues, its delights. “Will a man rob God?” the prophet asks. Ah, we have robbed Him of dearer treasure than tithes and offerings. Where is the husband or wife, the father or daughter, who would not account the withholding of the affection that was their just expectation a more grievous wrong than any passing injury or lapse of material gifts? Our obligation as Christians to live in communion with God is all the stronger that in these last days He hath spoken unto us by His Son.

3. Public worship is a duty we owe to God as witnesses to His existence, authority, and grace. The maintenance of this testimony is a most efficient means of advancing His kingdom in the world. When we render it, we are doing in a humble way the work of such men as Elijah and Daniel. This is one important use of public worship. Such worship, by uniting many suppliants in one request, calls forth more abundant praise when it is granted: it provides, also, a fuller expression of adoration than the individual soul can compass, and therefore intensifies and exalts its feeling; further, it exhibits the sympathy and concord of human beings in the loftiest employment of their powers; but beyond all this, it lifts up a clear and striking testimony to the reality of God’s authority and grace, and bids men everywhere bow down before their Maker.

4. The neglect of prayer indicates a general indifference to duty. Since we are really dependent upon the inspiration and guidance of God for the power to serve Him acceptably, to neglect the means of obtaining these is to be careless where we ought to be most careful. If out of the heart are the issues of life, and prayer is the chief instrument of heart culture, how blamable our want of diligence in it. To neglect prayer is to leave our loyalty open to every hostile temptation, to burn our lamp and make no provision to replace the exhausted oil. (E. W. Shalders, B.A.)

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The Church’s worship in the beauty of holiness

Slightly changing the order of the psalmist’s biddings, I will invite you to lend to him your attentive ears, first, as he says to you and to all, “Worship the Lord,” and that “in the beauty of holiness”; and then, as he summons you to one duty, or rather one privilege, more, “Bring presents, and come into His courts.” And first, as he says to you, “Worship the Lord,” this house being first and chiefly a house of prayer, according to that word of the prophet, afterwards made His own by Christ the Lord, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” “Seek ye My face,” He says to each that enters its gates. They only enter those gates with profit, they only carry away a blessing, who make answer from the heart, “Thy face, Lord, will we seek.” But this worship, how shall it be offered, and with what accompaniments? “In the beauty of holiness.” Other beauty is good in its place and its degree; has its worth, although that altogether a subordinate worth. The outward apparel of the king’s daughter may be of wrought gold (and who would grudge her this, where it may be fitly had?) but she must be “all glorious within,” glorious with the inward graces of faith and love, humility and holiness, if that Lord for whom she adorns herself is indeed to delight Himself in her or to behold any beauty in her, that He should desire it. But how worship Him “in the beauty of holiness”? We unholy, we defiled, our souls not beautiful, but ugly with sin, how shall we fulfil the condition which the psalmist requires? First, then, I reply, or rather the Word of God replies, he only who has his conscience purged from dead works through the blood of sprinkling can do this. And the second condition is like to it, that we, as the true Israel, worship God in the spirit, praying in the Holy Ghost. But what else does the psalmist say? “Bring presents, and come into His courts.” And first, lest there should be any mistake here, let me remind you of that without which every other present will be worthless in the sight of Him who does not weigh what we give, but with what spirit we give it. See, then, that you offer first and chiefly yourselves, your souls and bodies, acceptable through Christ, washed with His blood, sanctified by His Spirit. Give, and that without keeping anything back, yourselves to God. But, this done, bring other presents, other gifts; they will all, indeed, have been included in this all-embracing one, to Him. If you have leisure, leave not your clergy to cope single-handed with the ignorance, the vice, and the misery around them; range yourselves among their helpers; give them some of that lay assistance which is so invaluable to them. If you have means, suffer not the Church’s charities at home, her missions abroad, to be starved and stunted through contributions by you withholden altogether, or doled out with a niggard hand. If you have any special talent, see if it cannot be enlisted in the service of God, and find its highest consecration there. (Abp. Trench.)

Worship

I. Its nature. It consists in devout exercises of the soul, whether in meditation, adoration, admiration, or supplication. It is the spirit disentangled from the sensuous and engaged in fellowship with the Invisible and Divine.

1. Worship is a necessity of man’s nature. He is no mere machine, or thinker, or theorist; he is pre-eminently a worshipper, distinctively moral in his make, religious in his proclivities, akin in the great spiritual invisibilities of his nature to the all-glorious Creator.

2. Worship is an evidence of man’s greatness. The existence of moral intuitions amid the sad wreck of the soul by sin proclaims a fallen nobility, a crownless royalty: yea, tells it even now to be--“Sublime in ruins and grand in woe.”

3. In worship man finds his native element. Like the bird which has been encaged for weary months, that breaks through the wires of its prison and escapes on swift wing, pealing forth its song of freedom as it finds its native element, so the believer, escaping from the din and turmoil of the world, or of business, and entering into the hallowed retreat of the closet, or “the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High,” hears amid its hush and stillness angelic voices whispering, “The Lord is in His holy Temple,” and finds in His presence the society for which he was made, and the fellowship for which he pants. There is a kinship of soul, an affinity of sympathy, a unity of will, a oneness of spirit, a reciprocity of affection.

II. Its object. “Worship the Lord.”

1. He should be worshipped in His sovereign and paternal relationship to us.

2. He should be worshipped in the Tri-unity of His nature. Though it be impossible to give a “positive definition of the distinction between Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, yet this is no sufficient reason for denying the distinction itself, of which the Bible assures us; for reason, when left to herself, sets before us objects concerning which we, indeed, know that they exist, but concerning whose nature we have no positive knowledge. We can only distinguish between them and some false representations, or determine what they are net; but of their intrinsic nature, how they are we have not the slightest knowledge.”

3. Man becomes assimilated to the object of his worship. How vastly important, then, that our knowledge of God should be intelligent, correct, scriptural, and true.

III. Its spirit. “In the beauty of holiness.”

1. Reality.

2. Simplicity. (J. O. Keen, D.D.)

Beauty o/ soul

Why do we think that nature is beautiful? Because it is the external world formed by the same hand that made us. We, partakers of the likeness of God, naturally admire our Father’s works. We see beauty and divinity in them, and if He hath made the external world beautiful He hath made the human soul also, and devised that it shall be beautiful, like a great and beautiful temple, full of costly and beautiful things, a soul in harmony with itself, a soul in harmony with other souls that seek with it to do God’s will, a soul filled with purity, light, gladness, charity, a soul overflowing with the love of God, with love of our fellow men, with the earnest desire to do always the things that are pure and virtuous. Look into such a soul and see how beautiful it is, the marvellous symmetry in the human soul, the marvellous colours, divinely gifted, in the human soul, the marvellous possibilities in the human soul. It is God’s wonderful picture, His wonderful dream. God made the human soul, and the beauty of God, the beauty of the Divine conception that was in God’s mind is expressed there. What a wonder is a beautiful soul! The soul that has been recognized in this world as transcendently beautiful is the soul of Jesus Christ. It has drawn other souls that had been contaminated with sin, drawn them to itself and transformed them to the glorious image; it has influenced more than anything else that we know the whole mind, the whole movement of the human family. The beauty of the soul of Christ--transcendent, heavenly, bewitching--we gaze upon it, and we say, “whatever divinity may be we cannot tell, but this is divine enough, it is the summation of divinest ideals for us.” And gazing thus on the beautiful soul of the Christ, we are drawn up and beautified, filled with His love, transformed to His likeness, made more and more divine in the excellence of that grace which He gives to those souls that seek, for His sweet sake, that love to forsake evil, to put away the deformity, the debasement and the ugliness of vice, and to lay a herd of the Divine ideal, the beauty of Christ, and to worship God through Him and in His likeness, laying our noblest and our best, our best thoughts and our best feelings, and our noblest actions on the high altar of dedication to Him who has invited us in the old words of the psalm to worship Him “in the beauty of holiness.” (A. Bennie, B.D.)

Holiness

What is this “holiness” which is so beautiful? It is not justice--though it must include justice and have its root in strong integrity. It is not charity--though it must make man charitable with that finer love which not so much denies itself as simply forgets itself. It is not purity, but it is only in the pure soul that holiness can live; and purity which may be as cold as marble, touched by holiness takes on a glow as warm and radiant as the light of heaven. And it is no fancy of mine to make holiness include these things. Do you remember that “holiness” in its original derivation is simply “wholeness,” though the words have grown so curiously out of likeness in the spelling? Wholeness--the wholeness and completeness of character! Do you note the great, far-reaching meaning of this? I might figure the complete whole of human character as a pyramid: broad based in bodily power and aptitudes of strength or skill for life’s basal work; then, above this the various grades of intellectual faculty; above these, again, the moral with the lofty sense of conscience and right, and, still in these higher reaches of character, those human affections which give a tenderer grace to mere rigid morality; and, then, rising highest of all, capping and crowning all, the apex to the pyramid--religion. As a fact, holiness has come to mean, not all this wholeness, but especially that crowning and completing religious element which makes life “whole” at the higher end of it. And I do not want it taken away from that meaning, but it does want recognizing that the other is included, that for real holiness there must be wholeness; that holiness is not just a little religious element up in the heights of soul, and which may have nothing underneath it, but that it must have strong, full manliness or womanliness underneath it. The holiness that is not based on manly wholeness is not what the world wants. Man’s being, in this common work-a-day world, has to be based on capable manhood; man has to have his feet firm on the solid earth. But now the other side of all this wants recognizing also. For that strong manly wholeness to come to any fine worth, there has to be this crowning element of holiness. The manhood that stops at strength, ability, or even intel-lect; the manhood that is not adding to these some crowning grace of earnest religiousness, is a poor truncated manhood. That is the most common trouble to-day. Men--men especially--are too content in life’s lower levels. They are strong, busy, capable there, but there they are content to stop. Life never was stronger at its base, but there is too little effort to build it up towards that finest manhood which is “made whole” by genuine, unashamed religion. And life loses immeasurably by this. It loses its highest outlook, its loftiest hopes, and all its noblest spring and power. Life wants to be made whole at the top. (B. Herford, D.D.)


Verse 10

Psalms 96:10

Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth.

The message to the heathen world

I. Its meaning.

1. As the utterance of Jewish faith and joy.

In the procedure of the Divine government there might be much dark to men, but on the principles regulating it they might calmly rely. Its reasons were often concealed; its designs appeared different to what its subjects would have chosen. Confusion and disorder not infrequently seemed to prevail, but the Lord on high was King. He sat on the throne, doing right. Over all lands, through all ages, by all agencies, in all things, He ruled absolutely, as not under the power of Fate, righteously as ever doing well.

2. In the announcement of this text by the Christian teacher there is all this and much more. God’s revelation of Himself and of His government has been gradual. The fullest is that made to us in Christ. To us who bow before Christ as Lord of all, the assertion that He reigns means “grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life”--it means that sin shall not reign in those who submit to Him--it means that He has received power to forgive sin, having suffered the just for the unjust to bring us to God--it means that He can impart a Spirit that shall root out the love of sin, and infuse strength to subdue the power of it, and gain more than victory over that death which was entailed as its curse.

II. Its proclamation. Tell it out among the heathen, the people outside the Church, all the nations beyond the covenanted people--“The Lord reigneth.” Why so?

1. The kingdom of heaven upon earth, into which men are received to be blessed, has never been proclaimed, much less established amongst them; and the people are perishing from lack of knowledge. They must know it to become partakers of its blessings. Many blessings the whole family of man partake of through the bounty of God and the mediation of Christ, though they know nothing of either of them; but the great blessings of redemption from sin, deliverance from the kingdom of darkness, life eternal, are given to those who believe (Romans 10:14).

2. We have the command, and it is important to us that we obey it. Objections--

Proclaiming Christ’s reign to the heathen

The Rev. E. P. Scott, while labouring as a missionary in India, saw in the street one of the strangest-looking heathens his eyes had ever lit upon. Upon inquiry, he found that he was a representative of the inland tribes that lived in the mountain districts, and which came down once a year to trade. Upon further investigation he found that the Gospel had never been preached to them, and that it was hazardous to venture among them because of their murderous propensities. He went to his lodging-place and pleaded for Divine direction. Arising from his knees, he packed his handbag, took his violin, with which he was accustomed to sing, and started in the direction of the tribe. As he bade his fellow-missionaries farewell, they said, “We shall never see you again; it is madness for you to go.” But he said, “I must preach Jesus to them.” For two days he travelled without scarcely meeting a human being, until at last he found himself in the mountains and suddenly surrounded by a crowd of savages. Every spear was instantly pointed at his heart. He expected that every moment would be his last. Not knowing of any other resource he tried the power of singing the name of Jesus to them. Drawing forth his violin, he began with closed eyes to sing and pray,

“All hail the power of Jesus’ name!

Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem,

And crown Him Lord of all.”

On commencing the third verse he opened his eyes to see what they were going to do, when lo! the spears had dropped from their hands, and the big tears were falling from their eyes. They afterwards invited him to their homes. He spent two and a half years among them. His labours were so richly rewarded that when he was compelled to leave them because of impaired health to return home, they followed him for thirty miles. “Oh, missionary,” they said, “come back to us again!” After visiting America, he went back again to continue his labours till he sank into the grave among them.


Verse 13

Psalms 96:13

Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord.

A summer homily on the trees

I. The lessons from the characteristics common to all trees.

1. This is the first thing we learn from the trees of the wood: life, growth, effort after perfection, suggesting to us what we are here for.

2. Productiveness, fruitfulness, manifestation and justification of the profession of life by fruit; that great characteristic of all trees whereby they produce the bud, the blossom, the fruit, without which they have not accomplished the end for which they exist; without which, at the right time, all professions of life are vain.

3. Beauty, gracefulness, symmetry of parts, proportion. There are Christian men and women not a few whose lives can only best be characterized when we call them lovely; so full of harmony they are, so free in obedience to highest law. We are drawn to them by an instinct we cannot resist; in them and upon them we see the beauty of the Lord. These are the trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord by which He is glorified.

II. The lessons from the characteristics peculiar to some trees.

1. This one to begin with, for example, that every tree has its own peculiar quality, in virtue of which it differs from every other: that every individual Christian, every man, has his own peculiar quality in virtue of which he differs, is meant to differ, from every other. If we have been endowed with special gifts and graces it is that these may come out in special work; if we have what nobody else has, it is that we may do what nobody else can. Generally true as it is that trees in the mass are of great use in the economy of nature; in the modification of climate, for example, or in their effect upon animal existence: it is also specially true that individual trees have their own peculiar ways of producing these results. A very special quality of the pine tree is to send its roots not downwards as others that require depth of earth, but obliquely, where if it but get a hold it will live. But in this special quality there is the special work: to be a covert, a protection to the rich harvests that are to be reaped behind their friendly shade. And so in the forest of God there is special work for special gifts. Some are more fitted for the maintenance and defence of moral purity and sound doctrine, others for the more private comforting and building up of weak or wavering seekers after God, and others still for the promotion of true piety among the young. Each has his gift; each his work.

3. The lesson of true worship,--the homage of the creature to the great Creator of all. To the Hebrew the stars rayed forth the glory of the Lord, and the everlasting hills bowed themselves down before the God of the whole earth; the voice of the Lord was upon the waters, His way in the deep, and His path in the mighty waters; the trees of the field rejoiced before Him! And why all this, and for what spiritual end in the upward progress of man? Surely to attune his heart and mind to that spirit of worship, that reverential homage, that glad rejoicing before the Lord for which he, of all the creatures He has made, is most fitted. (Peter Rutherford.)

For He cometh to judge the earth.--

The advent of the Lord

No insinuation is more unfair than this--which is not seldom thrown against the Jews of old--that their conception of Jehovah was that of a local God, who concerned Himself with the affairs of Palestine, but was indifferent to those of the world at large. On the contrary, the marvel is that a people dwelling like the Jews in an obscure corner of the globe, and planted in a district about as large as three or four English counties, should have had such magnificent conceptions of their destiny, and so deep-rooted a conviction of the destined universality of their faith. Not only, however, was it given to Israel of old to see in the truest spirit of prophecy that the earth should be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, the God of Israel, as the waters cover the sea, but with a foresight no less marvellous, and a wisdom very far in advance of the age, it was given to that nation, and to that alone, to perceive that there was an aspect of the Divine judgment in which it would become the object of exulting and triumphant joy. Minos and Rhadamanthus and their attendant horrors were the dream of heathen Greece. The glory of the Divine light which fell upon the hills of Palestine had revealed a more joyous prospect: it was that of all nature singing aloud and clapping her hands for joy at the advent of the Lord of hosts as the recognized judge of all the earth. What a glorious thought it is! Whose heart does not leap up within him when he sees the fields rejoicing in their waving crops as they sway to and fro in the summer breeze? What prospect is more glorious than that of the distant wood, gay with the delicate foliage of returning spring, and glimmering in the sunlight, or dashed with a thousand hues that may vie in brilliancy with those of the garden in her splendour, and which have no counterpart in the autumn tints of England, golden and glorious as they are? These are all sights and sounds more or less familiar to all of us, and the associations they awaken are in the highest degree pleasurable; but whoever associates these images, as the Hebrew poet did, with the thought of the Lord of the whole earth coming to judge the world which He made so fair? And yet why not? Are these sights and sounds of nature out of harmony with God or produced in obedience to His will? If we are strictly in harmony with nature, shall we be in harmony with God, or the reverse? We want the triumph of justice, and truth, and right: nothing less will give free scope to the repressed and stifled voices of praise which this sin-burdened, but otherwise beautiful and glorious earth, longs to raise. We want the abolition of crime and poverty, oppression and ignorance. We want the extinction of selfishness, and of selfish, thoughtless, sinful, God-forgetting luxury. This, and much more than this, is what we want, but we cannot gain or recover it for ourselves. It is not in the power of society at large to give to itself what every separate member of society in his degree feels the want of. There is something wrong here, and that which is wrong here cannot be rectified by the combined efforts of others, not one of whom is free from the same radical defect. What is wanted is for the Lord to come to judgment. When the truth of Christ has free course and is glorified in the heart of man, it is the advent of Christ to judgment. He casts down the proud and lofty, He lifts up the low and humble, He makes the crooked straight, and the rough places plain; He casts out what is base and trivial, and brings in what is pure, and true, and noble. There can be no joy like that which arises in the heart, when for the first time and in truth every thought has been brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, when He, and He alone, is recognized as the Judge and Lord of all. That is, indeed, the foretaste and the earnest of a greater advent to come, an advent which cannot be delayed, and which can alone be hastened by each individual heart being subdued to Christ. But whatever may be the apparent prospects of this future advent--of the coming of this mighty One, whose advent shall be the signal for the bursting forth of the manifold chorus of universal nature--there can be no question as to its ultimate destiny (Isaiah 40:5). Be it ours, then, to set forward and promote the advent of this great and glorious time, each in his sphere, vocation, and duty. That is the mission of the Christian, to exhibit in himself the operation of a law which is destined to universal recognition, which is even now recognized in a greater or less degree wherever truth, justice, and equity are accepted as the guiding principles of life, and the recognition of which, when it is commensurate with human society and the limits of the human race, will be the mark of the accomplishment of the Divine purposes in the regeneration of the world. (Stanley Leathes, D.D.)
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Psalms 97:1-12

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 96:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-96.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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