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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 117

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 1

THE CRY OF FAITH AND JOY

‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’

Psalms 117:1

We shall never, I suppose, know from whose lips and hearts this cry of faith and joy first sprang. One thing is clear—there has been a great danger threatening the very life of a man or a nation. There has been more than danger—there has been the very presence of death; but the hour of suspense has now passed, and the man or the nation survives. Doubt has gone, certainty takes its place, and that certainty gives the thought of service, of newness of life, of joyful self-consecration. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.

Let us, then, take these ancient words of the Psalmist, and see whether they may not lead us up to some holy mountain spot of which we may say with reverent truth, ‘It is good for us to be here.’

I. It is not men and women alone that are threatened with death.—It is the same with causes, and books, and faiths, and churches. These, too, have their hours of seeming sickness and joyous revival. It is the better men and women in each generation who give the life-blood of their hearts to some great causes which are restored to mankind, freedom, or justice, or peace, or temperance, or purity, and for a time they seem to make way. They are almost more than conquerors; their zeal, their enthusiasm, perhaps their eloquence, win for a time. The reformers are not only reverenced, but popular; all men go after them. And then comes the change. Applause is coldly silent; its place is taken first by apathy and then by abuse. How many of the choicest spirits of the past and present have known these times of decline and depression and almost seeming death! How many whose names are now household words for noble service to God and man, how many, I say, of these have felt in dark hours that their labour was in vain! And yet in such cases the day of seeming death has been the day of real recovery, and the fainting, feeble cause might have said, through the lips of its faithful champions, ‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’ This voice of the Psalmist comes to any here who are struggling might and main for some righteous cause, and seem to themselves, it may be, to be watching by its bed of sickness. Public opinion, they say, is less in earnest than it once was. The tide is ebbing, not flowing. Men care less for righteousness, and justice, and virtue. In the smoke and dust of the battle we lose sight both of flag and leader. We see not our signs. There is no more any prophet, neither is there among us any that knoweth how long. If there are any tempted to say this in their haste and in the bitterness or sadness of their heart, I bid them be of good cheer and take this verse of ours to their comfort, and make it the very anchor of their soul.

II. The life of the Bible.—If I mistake not, there are just now many good men and good women who have anxious fears for a life yet more precious and august than any of which we have just been thinking. I mean the life of the Bible. They say to themselves that if its power over men’s hearts and lives is on the wane, and is still to be on the wane, the loss is simply fatal. The Bible, they complain, is no longer what it was in British homes and schools. It is circulated and translated, and carried by brave and loving hands to the ends of the earth, but it is less loved at home; it is less appealed to as the supreme court of conscience; it is less authoritative in moulding people’s ways of thinking, and feeling, and acting. It is not easy to speak clearly and wisely on this great and many-sided subject. It is still less easy to speak words of soberness neither too rash nor too vague, but I think we may venture to say two things. First, the free criticism of both the Old and the New Testaments will in the next half-century wear a different face to devout minds from that which it wears to-day. They will start with less suspicion, they will end with less disquietude, they will count their gains as well as their losses. They will see that this dreaded criticism, while it has taken away something, has left behind infinitely more. Then, secondly, I believe that the value, the unspeakable and wholly unrivalled value, of the Bible can never fade from the minds and consciences of men. For all time they will go to the Bible; they will persist in going to it for their ideas of God Himself, of His mind towards us, and His dealings with us, with our failures and infirmities, our sorrows and our sins.

III. The future.—I take for granted that all the more thoughtful among us try at times to think what will be the England of the future. We ask ourselves, Is He indeed come, or do we look for another? Will the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, lifted up on the Cross, still our best and dearest, our tenderest and saintliest—will that Name still be, by common consent, more and more above every name? Will it, far more than now, far more than ever, yet purify our private and ennoble our public life? Will it make us at least ashamed of our wretched feuds and factions, our belittling of each other’s good, our trampling on each other’s falls, as though we wished before we died to add one more text to the Bible? For such questions as these there is no accepted oracle, either when we put them to ourselves or when others put them to us. The future will belie both our hopes and our fears. We, in our dim, blind way, are the servants, often it might seem the slaves, of the present; but, thank God! one form of freedom is even now ours. Our old men may dream dreams, and our young men may see visions, and among these dreams and these visions a place may be found for the majestic image of the Holy Bible, the Book which Jesus the Messiah loved, and interpreted, and quoted—quoted even on the Cross, and claimed it as His own witness—the image, I say, of this Master’s Bible, supposed by men of little faith to be lying on a bed of sickness, outlived, outvoiced, outargued, and yet rising, as it were, from its couch and pointing as of old to the Cross and to Him that hangs upon the Cross, with a new and a most sure word of prophecy—‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’

Rev. Dr. H. M. Butler.

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 117". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/psalms-117.html. 1876.
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