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This Psalm, the Venite exultemus Domino, 'O come, let us sing unto the Lord,' was the chant of the Templars, the Knights of the Red Cross, when during the Crusades they entered into battle with the Saracens for the conquest of Jerusalem.
In a different spirit the great missionary, Christian Schwartz, took the 6th verse, and put it over the entrance of his new church in Tranquebar: 'O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker'. He called the church Bethlehem, as his predecessor, Ziegenbalg, had built one with the name Jerusalem, which was filled with native converts.
A Seaside Sermon
When we remember that the extent of the sea may be roughly estimated at 146,000,000 English square miles, or nearly three-fourths of the whole surface of the globe, and when we recall the fact that the Bible abounds in illustrations from nature, we might well be astonished if there were no reference to this sublime portion of creation. Until recently, little was known of the physical aspects of the sea, and therefore the allusions to the ocean in the Word of God are such as would occur to any thoughtful observer entirely ignorant of modern science. For example, the silent but mighty force of evaporation is one of the chief features of the sea system, and the wise man thus refers to it: 'Unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return'. Again, the Psalmist says, 'He layeth up the deep as in a treasure-house'. Consider the ocean as emblematic of three things: (1) of the unrest and instability of human life; (2) of national anarchy and revolution; (3) of mystery.
I. The sea, in the Bible, is a symbol of the unrest and instability of human life. This feature of the ocean has been the natural thought of men in all ages. It is true that there is no mention of the tides in the Bible, as is natural. The Mediterranean is not a tidal sea.
This unrest of the ocean surface caused by the tides, the winds, the influence of rivers, the mighty currents which are ever exchanging the heavier and colder waters of the polar seas for the lighter and warmer waters of the tropical ocean, and again reversing the action, cause the sea to be 'ever restless'. There need no words of mine to speak of the constant changes of 'our life's wild restless sea'. The experience is universal. As unconscious infants received 'into Christ's holy Church,' the prayer went up for us that 'being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity,' we might so 'pass the waves of this troublesome world that finally' we might 'come to the land of everlasting life'; and in that service which will be read over each one of us, unless the Lord come first, to which the heart of every mourner will respond, will be heard words that speak of the recurring changes of human life: 'Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.' This unrest of the sea is more than superficial. It is not only outward but inward. There is a constant oceanic circulation necessary to its salubrity. The silent action of the sun, ever absorbing and ever increasing the specific gravity of the surface waters, causes a vertical action. The heavier waters above are ever sinking below, and the lighter waters below are ever rising above. Again, many of the sea currents influence the lower waters the Gulf Stream, e.g., is more than 300 feet deep as it crosses the Atlantic. Besides this, every single mollusc or coralline secretes solid matter for its cell which the sea holds in solution; and that very act of secretion destroys the equilibrium of the ocean, because the specific gravity of that portion of the water from which the coralline abstracts the solid matter is altered. In the remembrance of such facts as these, how true and forcible are the words of Isaiah: 'The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest'. 'There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked.' If the surface disturbance of the ocean pictures the changing nature of our outward life, the hidden and unseen restlessness of the sea, even when its surface seems most calm, portrays the inquietude of hearts which have not found rest in Christ. 'The wicked are (1) outwardly restless, and (2) their souls are ever ejecting ungodly and unlovely thoughts.'
II. The unrest of the sea is used in the Bible as a striking emblem of national anarchy and revolution rising beyond the control of established governments.
III. The sea is the one object in nature which is most emblematic of mystery. I cannot recall a single instance of any well-known writer on the ocean who does not refer to this aspect of its being Schleiden has drawn a charming but imaginary picture of the ocean depths from a number of individual objects brought up, but this description is a 'fancy sketch of the unknown' 'fiction founded on fact'. Deeply interesting as are the records of deepsea soundings, each product which adheres to the tallow 'arming' of the sounding lead is, for the most part, to use the figure of Mr. Gosse, 'like the brick which the Greek fool carried about as a sample of the house he had to let'. The sea, like a thick curtain, hides the secrets of nature from the ken of man.
The sea is a striking emblem of the mysteries which must ever meet and surround the finite in contemplation of the infinite. The student of nature is brought face to face with mystery at every turn. The profoundest men of science have confessed that, in proportion to their acquisition of knowledge, they have discovered a never-ending area of mystery as in the night, the further a light extends, the wider the surrounding sphere of darkness appears.
The Divine Being retires within Himself. He 'holdeth back the face of His throne, and spreadeth His cloud upon it'. He 'leadeth the blind by a way that they know not'. The operations of an Infinite Being must of necessity be as a 'great deep' to our limited apprehensions.
And this very mysteriousness, this making darkness His secret place, this inscrutability of counsel, is calculated to call forth a degree of reverence, and to develop in His people a childlike trust and confidence, which could be evoked in no other way. The danger of the theology of the present day is the seeking to eliminate all mystery from God. An Egyptian who, carrying something in a napkin, being asked what it was, answered that it was covered that no man should see it. We may well pray with good Bishop Hall, 'O Lord, let me be blessed with the knowledge of what Thou hast revealed; let me content myself to adore Thy Divine wisdom in what Thou hast not revealed. So, let me enjoy Thy light that I may avoid Thy fire.' 'What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.' In heaven 'there shall be no more sea' no more dark and painful mysteries, no obscurity, no misconception. There difficulties will be solved and parables will be interpreted. 'Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.' If, with reference to the mysteries of Providence, we acknowledge with the Psalmist that 'clouds and darkness are round about Him,' the more we study Revelation the more we realize that God is a Being who covereth Himself 'with light as with a garment'.
J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 128.
References. XCV. 4. J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 216. XCV. 6. R. E. Hutton, The Grown of Christ, p. 319. H. R. Heywood, Sermons and Addresses, p. 105. J. Vaughan, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 417. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv. p. 369. XCV. 7, 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1551. XCV. 8. J. T. Bramston, Sermons to Boys, p. 80.
These words contain a spirit-stirring call to sing God's praise.
I. Who that has any true piety in his heart will not in his first moments of waking bethink him of the great Power who has watched over him, and kept him alive, and desire to make some acknowledgment of His goodness?
II. The contemplation of God's works seen in the creation is calculated to fill our souls with noble and worthy thoughts about God. It is calculated to make us humble in our estimate of ourselves, as forming a small part in the mighty whole.
III. And these two things high reverence for the Holy God, coupled with a sense of our own unworthiness, help to make accepted worship.
IV. When we come to present ourselves before God, let us remember the amazing difference and distance between ourselves and the object of our worship.
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 176.
Wrong in the Heart
We must get at the notion that people, including ourselves first and foremost, are in the sight of God wrong at the heart. It is there that revivals take place. A revival is not a reformation; a true spiritual revival is not a universal washing of face and hands. There are many who have doubts and hesitations about what theologians are disposed to call the Fall; I will not discuss that question; my business is not with the Fall, but with the fallen, the living fact, the putrid humanity that is about me and in me.
I. So many people would make the inner life a mere question, as it were, one among a thousand. It is in reality a fact by itself; it is without parallel, it is a solemn loneliness; it is the soul face to face with its own immortality. In the text we seem to have gotten down upon the very rock of this whole question. We must have done so, because the text is an utterance of the Divine lips. The text is, 'It is a people that do err in their hearts,' in their very soul, in their very blood.
II. Many persons look upon society as if it were merely cutaneously affected, something the matter with the skin, with the surface of things, but the Great Healer, who hails from Gilead and brings balm with Him, says, Stand aside: this is not a question of the skin, but of the heart, of the very source of the blood stream; this is a case of blood-poisoning, life-poisoning.
Whatever the application is, it must be fundamental, internal, spiritual, complete. Where do you find that remedy? Only in one place. 'The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.'
III. There again and again and evermore we are thrown back upon the Divine and the eternal. This is a great tribute to the majesty of man. He never is anywhere so eulogized, if the expression may be allowed, as in the Bible; never is he so humiliated, never is he so recognized and praised, as in the Bible. How great must he be who can be cured only by God! We start at our humiliations, and thence we proceed by the help of the Holy Ghost to see how besotted and befooled we are, and then we are led to the fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanliness.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 222.
Reference. XCV. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 292.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 95". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13