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“This magnificent triumphal hymn was composed by David in celebration of his deliverance from his enemies. But the sublimity of the figures used in it, and the consent of ancient commentators, even Jewish as well as Christian, but, above all, the citations, made from it in the New Testament, evince that the kingdom of Messiah is here pointed at under that of David. It may thus be divided into five parts.
Part I. Consisting of the first three verses, is the proem of the song.
Part II. Celebrates miraculous deliverances from a state of affliction and distress.
Part III. Thanksgiving; five verses, from the twentieth to the twenty-fourth.
Part IV. Celebrates success in war; eighteen verses, from the twenty-fifth to the forty-second.
Part V. The establishment of Messiah’s kingdom; eight verses, from the forty-third to the fiftieth.”—Bishop Mant.
This verse gives a picture of the human heart in its sublimest mood. It is an eloquent expression of the loftiest affection. The love of the Psalmist was “true,” because,
I. The object of it was right. “I will love Thee.” Not, nature. Some expend the whole fund of their admiration and delight on the works of God. They admire creation, idealise it, idolise it. They give a fanciful life to sun and moon and stars, to the firmament, to the earth, and then worship them. This love inspires our naturalistic, pantheistic poetry—a poetry sadly popular. Not, humanity. We see many lavish their affection on their friends, and a certain philosophy tells us that the noblest object of love is the human race. We see J. S. Mill in England, and Comte in France, denying the love of God, and then adoring in the most extravagant fashion a couple of women. We may easily fall into the same mistake—loving the creature more than the Creator. There is, indeed, no sin in loving, in fervently loving, such of our fellows as may appear in our eyes to be beautiful or noble; but that our love should be confined to these is the fault of faults. Not, self. How common is self-idolatry! To be wholly occupied with our own interests—ever burning incense to our own greatness! How many are their own divinities, living to glorify, to serve, to worship themselves! Not, the world. The Apostle says that the love of the world is enmity with God. What is this love of the world which is opposed to the love of the Father? The setting of our affections on the gifts of God—wealth, rank, honours, learning. There are many such. They are lovers of pleasure, fortune, fame, more than lovers of God. They forget, or almost forget, the Giver in the gift. God is true object of love.
1. He should be the first object. The Psalmist begins with extolling God. The first verse of every chapter in our life should be: “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.”
2. He is the worthy object. To love creation, or its gifts, is to love what is dead. Love is only worthily placed on a living person. To love the creatures, is to love what is imperfect: when we love any person, we love not so much the actual person, but rather an ideal person. Their merits, their charms, exist to a large extent in our imagination. But God is the all-perfect One; all perfections exist actually and absolutely in Him.
3. He is the chief object. “Thee” only Thee; all other creatures or things in Thee. “Nothing must we love above God, or so much as God, much less against God.”—Trapp.
II. The measure of it was right.
1. It was a boundless love. The just measure of love to God is a measureless love. “I will love Thee.” “The word signifies to love with the greatest intensity.”—Phillips. “Affectionately do I love Thee.”—Moll. “Fervently do I love Thee, O Jehovah, my strength.”—Perowne. The Psalmist loved God from the depths of his heart; loved Him with a burning, boundless affection. As one has said: “Every river does the most good whilst it keeps within its banks, except the Nile, and that does the most good when it overflows its banks; so each human passion is best kept within bounds; except love to God, and that is best when it overflows, when it is shed abroad.”
2. It was an everlasting love. It overflowed both space and time. “The future form, I will love, represents it as a permanent affection, and expresses a fixed purpose. “I not only love Thee now, but am resolved to do so for ever.”—Alexander. “Nothing shall separate me from the love of God,” &c.
“What though my flesh and heart decay,
Thee shall I love in endless day!”
III. The inspiration of it was right.
“O Lord, my strength.” The Psalmist’s heart was touched by the love of God. “The simple form of the verb is here used to denote the reciprocal affection of the inferior party.”—Alexander. He had felt God’s love to himself, and in return He loved God. “We love Him because He first loved us.” A true love to God is something more than a mere intellectual admiration, something more than a moral appreciation; it is the offspring of a consciously, indebted, and deeply-moved heart. The idea of the mystics, that we must love God simply for His own sake, is not scriptural. We love much because much has been forgiven us; because great gifts have been imparted to us; because great deliverances have been wrought out for us.
Remember—the love of God is the secret of strength and victory. The love of God gives us the victory over all inward foes. Great is the purifying power of this sublime affection. “Faith which worketh by love, and purifies the heart.” “The love of God gives us the victory over all outward foes” (Romans 8:35-39). “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might” (Judges 5:31).
I. The Psalmist’s confession (Psalms 18:2).
1. That God was his deliverer. “Jehovah is my stronghold,” &c. “My God is my strength,” &c. The Psalmist does not impute his deliverance from Saul and his other enemies, to his own prowess, or to secondary causes; God was his help. There was a power of supernatural faith in David lifting him above the temptation to idealise and deify aspects of nature. The rocks and fortresses and strongholds of the country, where many of David’s exploits were performed, might have led a less devout mind to forget God, and ascribe its triumphs to its own prowess, combined with geographical advantages. Not so with David. His faith penetrated secondary causes, and visible helps and agencies only became the symbols of the invisible. “Jehovah is my stronghold,” &c. Let us give the glory of our deliverances to God—not to self, or nature, or chance. Let us give all the glory to God. Not a word here about geographical help, or human help, or self-help. If we thus honour God, God shall honour our faith, and save us in all natural and spiritual perils.
2. God was his perfect deliverer. Seven is the number of perfection; and here we have according to the reading of Perowne seven metaphors crowded together setting forth the perfection of God as the Saviour of His people. “Jehovah (is) my stronghold and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God is my rock wherein I find refuge, my shield and horn of my salvation, my high tower.” God is a perfect Saviour. “Rock;” “shield;” “horn;” indicate various forms of defence and shelter, of immunity and deliverance.
(1.) God preserves His people in the day of evil. He is a garrison to them in the time of trial and temptation. Talk of the seven wonders of the world! what are they but imperfect images of the magnificent bulwarks which God raises about His people?
“On every aide He stands,
And for His Israel cares;
And safe in His Almighty hands
Their souls for ever bears.”
(2.) God delivers His people from the power of evil. He is more than a defender, He is a deliverer. He causes our foes to raise the siege, and leave us unharassed and unharmed.
(3.) God causes His people to triumph over the enemies by whom they have been menaced. “The horn of my salvation.” As the “shield” stands for a weapon of defence, so the “horn” stands for a weapon of offence. “The horn is a symbol of strength in attack.”—Perowne. God not only shelters and delivers His people, but He enables them to carry the war into the enemies’, camp, and to reap glorious spoils in the battle. God not only saves His people, but “Satan is bruised under their feet; He not only delivers His Church from the wrath of men and devils, but strengthens it to overthrow the kingdom of darkness.
3. God was his personal deliverer. “My” rock, “my” fortress, “my” deliverer. The tried saint feels that he has a personal and peculiar interest in God. God’s manifestations of help and power are so rich and multiform in their character that they carry a separate secret for every separate heart. Just as there were rocks and strongholds about Bethlehem and Engedi that David’s eye had marked for many a year, and that his own foot only knew how to climb; so there are forms of Divine help and blessing, as many and as varied as God’s relations to individual souls, and the secret paths to the attainment of which lie within our individual faith. Let us not be afraid of tribulation, for it unites us all the more intensely with God. Peril deepens experience and individualises the relations in which we stand to God. But for the years of danger in which his youth had been spent, the Psalmist would never have been able to realise all that power of intense, believing, personal appropriation, signified by the use of the possessive pronoun, “My strength:” “My fortress:” “My God.”
II. The Psalmist’s resolution (Psalms 18:3). “I will call upon the Lord,” &c. Having shown that the Lord is worthy to be praised and trusted, how natural it is that this resolution should follow! And yet, how often is it the case that we acknowledge the glorious perfections of our God in our lips, and yet do not follow up the acknowledgment with a hearty practical confidence! Call upon the Lord for help, and you praise Him in so doing; call upon the Lord, so shall you be saved from your enemies. Some say that children, weak in every other respect, have such strong voices that they may be able to cry aloud, and thus secure help in times of danger; the children of God, weak and helpless amid foes and perils, have a cry to pierce the heavens and bring down help. Cry! cry aloud! and God shall save.
I. The Psalmist’s peril (Psalms 18:4-5).
“The sorrows of death” (Psalms 18:4). “According to the reading of 2 Samuel 22:5, ‘the breakers of death.’ The metaphor is taken from those dangerous waves which our mariners cull whitebreakers.”—Horsley. “The floods of ungodliness made me afraid.”—Perowne. “The reference is here to wicked men, whose number and violence are indicated by the figure of torrents and overflowing streams.”—Alexander. “The sorrows of hell,” &c. (Psalms 18:5). The bands of the grave, the snares of death. “By bands we are probably to understand the cordage of a net, such as fowlers spread for birds.”—Alexander. “Death is represented as a hunter with a cord and net.”—Delitzsch. Whichever way the Psalmist turns there is dreadful danger. Thus are we found in our sinful estate. We are in the power of evil. Sin as a torrent carries us away; the devil has entangled us in the meshes of his net; there seems no way of escape from the second death. When our eyes are opened to our true situation we are overwhelmed with horror. Thus do we sometimes find ourselves in days of trouble and persecution. We are compassed about with sorrow and darkness. There seems to be no way of escape.
II. The Psalmist’s prayer (Psalms 18:6).
1. Its fervency. “Called.” “Cried.”
2. Its singleness. “I called upon Jehovah; i.e., when I am in trouble I call on Jehovah only, and make my supplication to no other deliverer.”—Phillips.
3. Its efficacy. “He heard my voice out of His temple,” &c. “Not the temple, or tabernacle, on Mount Zion, but the temple in heaven, where in God especially manifests His glory, and where He is worshipped by the heavenly hosts—a place which is both temple and palace.”—Perowne. What wonderful tenderness and oversight are suggested by the answer that met the Psalmist’s cry! The temple full of music, but the cry of distress carries as far as the angelic symphonies, and reaches an all-sensitive ear; the temple full of radiance and glory and beauty, but away amidst the gloom of the under-world a Divine eye sees the prostrate and struggling form of a servant of God; God hears the cry out of His very temple, and leaves the very temple, as described in the subsequent verses, for the help and deliverance of His servant. The celestial world is a world full of glory, music, and joy; and yet, it is quick to sympathise with a world of want and sorrow. Do not restrain prayer because of heaven’s distance; not because of its magnificence; not because of its sanctity, for it is a “temple,” a place of mercy and reconciliation.
III. The Psalmist’s preservation (Psalms 18:7-19). “It is true we find no express record of any incident in David’s life of the kind recorded in 1 Samuel 7:10, but it must be some real experience, which David here idealises.”—Delitzsch.
1. The power of the Divine Helper (Psalms 18:7-9). “The earth shook and trembled,” &c. Whilst God was a rock and refuge to David, He was a power that rocked the very mountains, to say nothing of the frail fortresses of the Psalmist’s foes. God is a wall of fire to His people, but a consuming fire to His enemies.
2. The swiftness of the Divine Helper (Psalms 18:10). “He rode upon a cherub, and did fly,” &c. “He is a present help in the time of trouble.”
“Ere we can offer our complaints,
Behold him present with his aid.”
3. The mystery of the methods of the Divine aid (Psalms 18:11). “He made darkness His veil.”—Moll. “The word rendered secret place—means properly a hiding.”—Barnes. In strange ways God saves His people. Be patient and believing.
“God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform,” &c.
As the 12th verse intimates, it is not all obscurity. “At the brightness that was before Him the thick clouds were scattered.” There were out-gleams. So if we keep our eye on the Divine government we shall often get glimpses of the light and love by which it is pervaded.
4. The efficacy of the Divine aid (Psalms 18:13-18). God’s power utterly discomfited the foes of His people. In the 7th verse “the earth shook and trembled, the foundations also of the hills moved;” in the 13th verse the “heavens” shake, and pour down hailstones and fire. No wonder that the wicked were “scattered” in dire confusion. Let us not forget that this glorious power is pledged to the weakest saint. Our enemies may be too strong for us, but they are not too strong for Him.
5. The fulness of the Divine deliverance (Psalms 18:19). God’s help never stops at the mere point of deliverance. God’s power never comes down to help us out of our perils only; it comes to bring us to better things than we had known heretofore.
NATURE AND THE SUPERNATURAL
The Psalmist does something more here than “idealise” nature, we think that he suggests some important thoughts concerning the relation of nature to the supernatural. Dr. Farrar in his “Chapters on Language” observes: “What Mr. Ruskin has called ‘the pathetic fallacy,’ is the indomitable desire to see in nature, or at least to attribute to her, a sympathy in our joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. Hence, to the imagination of the Psalmist and prophet, ‘the hills clap their hands;’ ‘the valleys sing;’ ‘the morning stars shout for joy;’ ‘the fir-trees howl,’ &c., &c. In modern poets the same fancy recurs with constant intensity, so that there is hardly a single aspect of nature which has not been made to express or to interpret the thoughts and passions of mankind, and hardly a single modern poem which does not illustrate this imaginative power,” p. 214. But there is something far deeper than this in the relation of God’s people to nature; they not only see their experience mirrored in nature, but have the assurance that nature sympathises with them, and ministers to them in a far more profound sense. In that portion of the psalm which is now before us, we see:
I. Nature as obedient to supernatural power. We see God moving heaven and earth. All forces doing His bidding—the wind, the clouds, the lightning, the thunder, the mountains, the sea. The Psalmist in this song may have “idealised” some of his experiences, but his idealisation assumes the obedience of nature to the will of God. The Scriptures constantly teach this. The Old Testament is full of it, and the New. Reason sanctions it. It is so natural to think of the world being plastic to the will of God, that when men cease to believe in God being able to modify nature they soon cease to believe in Him at all. Experience confirms it. There are few good men but who are firmly persuaded that God has interfered with the natural order on their behalf. Science can prove nothing to the contrary. Science not only tells us of the invariability of law, but she tells us with equal emphasis of the modificability of law; and if the human will can modify natural law, who shall set the limits of the Divine interference with the natural order!
II. Nature as the executant of a supernatural will. We see in this psalm nature as an executant of the Divine anger. How all the forces of nature are here arrayed against the wicked! Nature is God’s minister to execute wrath upon them that do evil. It seems sometimes as if nature were against God, and for sin and sinners; but if we look further down we shall see that nature is on the side of God and righteousness. Let the wicked remember that the visible universe is God’s vast arsenal, and when once He is angry He can turn all the bright and beautiful things of nature into the swift ministers of death and ruin. We see nature also as an executant of the Divine grace. There is a dark side of nature for the enemies of God—there is a bright side for the friends of God. All this storm and earthquake was in mercy to David. Child of God, know nature to be thy friend! We are too apt to look upon nature as rigid and inexorable, and in no way sensitive to the generous will of Heaven. In our fear and suffering we look out upon nature and think how reckless she is of our sorrowful moods; we aggravate our sufferings by deeming nature unsympathetic, as we should aggravate them by encountering the face of a foe. Remember, if your purposes and life are only in perfect accord with God, God is always with you to aid, and the colossal and apparently immobile forces of nature are fluttering like threads of gossamer in delicate sympathy with all His manifestations of care and help and succour for you.
III. Nature ministering to supernatural purpose. Not to material, but to moral and spiritual ends. Remember the higher ministry of nature. Nature is really but a mass of means which God uses for the salvation and sanctification of His creatures. Heathen fables tell us of nature being affected by great military and political events, but God’s Word shows us nature ministering to great moral and religious ends, and this is well worthy of credence. The inferior universe serves the higher universe. We may well believe that the sun was darkened at man’s redemption; that natural law and phenomena are controlled with a view to man’s moral education; that ordinary laws and processes are disturbed to secure man’s immortal salvation.
THE BOW IN THE CLOUD
The Psalmist in the preceding verses has shown us the earth rent by earthquakes and the heavens blackened by thunder-clouds, here we see the rainbow span the horrible tempest—God’s pity and aid to His afflicted servant. The rainbow has various colours, and there are several aspects of God’s government towards His afflicted people shining out brightly in this paragraph.
I. The supremacy of God’s government. “He sent from above” (Psalms 18:16). All was shaken on the earth, all eclipsed in the sky, but above the firmament God sits in perfect repose. Above all the storms and revolutions of earth God reigns, and reigns with undisturbed sovereignty. It is a mighty comfort to the believer to be able to cry, amid wars and tumults and eclipses: “Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Oh! that the people of God would look in dark days in the right direction! “He sent from above.” We look to society, or to self; to history, to posterity; to earth beneath us, to the world around us; we look anywhere instead of looking up. Await salvation “from above.” In our dark days the door of hope is a door which opens into heaven; let us knock at that door, and wait the help which is never denied. “God being enthroned on high, and dwelling in the heavens, does not separate Him from His servants on earth; it merely exhibits Him in His exaltation above all the powers of the world and the abyss; it no more prevents Him from hearing the sighs and supplications of the oppressed, than from making known His presence, to help in gracious condescension to the needs of men.”—Moll.
II. The discriminativeness of God’s action. “He took me, He drew me out of many waters” (Psalms 18:16). The frightful storm which has just been pictured sweeping the world seems as if it would involve the guilty and the innocent in one common ruin, but we are reminded that it is not so. In the midst of these appalling displays the Psalmist was safe. The Hand that was hurling lightnings and hailstones and coals of fire, was outstretched in the gentle task of helping the imperilled good. When human authority seeks to punish, it is frequently undistinguishing, and strikes the innocent with the guilty. And it often seems as if the Divine authority were equally undistinguishing. The great laws which govern nature, society, and human life, seem blind and indiscriminating; but let us be sure that it is not so. “The Lord knoweth them that are His,” Fear God, and serve Him with all your heart, and you shall know that there is a law which discerns between the evil and the good. “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee” (Psalms 91:5-8).
III. The tenderness of God’s methods. “He drew me out of many waters.” “There is peculiar beauty in the word translated draw, which is the root of the name Moses, and occurs, besides the place before us, only in the explanation of that name recorded by Himself” (Exodus 2:10).—Alexander. In this psalm God is seen surrounded by awful terrors, but yet He deals with His servant in great gentleness. He has thunder, lightning, hailstones, for His foes—music, sunbeams, dewdrops, for His people. “He drew me.” Softly, tenderly, does God withdraw His servants from scenes of peril.
IV. The effectiveness of God’s aid (Psalms 18:17-18). The Psalmist was no match for his foes. They were strong, and they took advantage of his weakness. “They fell upon me in the day of my calamity.”—Moll. And in his various wars David repeatedly sustained partial defeats. But the Lord was his stay. “They prevented me in the day of my calamity; i.e., came on me suddenly, unawares, when I was unprovided and helpless, and must have destroyed me had not God upheld and supported me when I was in danger of perishing. God was to the Psalmist for a staff to support him. What the staff is to one that is ready to fall, the means of recovering and preserving him; that was God to David in the time of his extremity.”—Dr. Chandler quo. by Spurgeon. Our enemies may easily be too much for us, but they cannot prevail against God. Believer! rest in God. Extremity of help will come in extremity of need; and when you are the weakest, God shall glorify Himself the most by working out your uttermost salvation.
V. The bountifulness of God’s grace (Psalms 18:19). “He brought me forth to a wide place.”—Phillips. If we are faithful to God, our temptations and sorrows are ever working out for us a more perfect liberty, a higher being, a greater weight of glory.
THE GREAT SALVATION
There can be little doubt but that David in this place is idealising some of his own experiences; but that eye is very dim which cannot perceive in the Psalmist’s language something far beyond a description of his own immediate temporal danger and rescue. We have not exhausted the meaning of this magnificent hymn until we have seen in it a foreshadowing of the world’s redemption in Jesus Christ.
I. A great danger. What is that danger? A world of Sinners on the brink of hell. The Psalmist pictures himself surrounded by death and hell, and altogether helpless in their grasp. It is a picture of the world, considered apart from the truth and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. The race had fallen under the power of sin, and the whole earth was filled with wickedness and wretchedness. Man could not help himself, could not deliver himself from the tyranny of the devil. And each individual sinner feels that his sins have brought him to the brink of the pit. Floods of ungodliness are sweeping him onward to the ocean of wrath. We are perishing sinners.
II. A Divine deliverer. “He sent from above.” Down in a gulf of dark despair we wretched sinners lay, when God’s eye pitied us, and His right arm brought salvation. There was no help in us. Man has no resource within himself to cope with the great tide of sin and wrath. No help around us. Society cannot save us. No man can redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him. There was no human helper, no angelic helper, and so God Himself becomes our helper. Guilty man was like a broken ship in a storm, no haven in view, no friendly sail bearing down to his relief, no lighthouse star to cheer, no life-boat on the wave, when God marked his signals of distress, and out of the opened heaven sent him a Saviour, even Christ the Lord. “He tent from above.” He sent His Word. The oracles of God. He sent His Son. May we not say, “He came from above”! He sent His Spirit. God has come down to the scene of woe, and invites us to make Him our deliverer. Mark ,
1. the strength of this Saviour. “He took me.” This expresses the strength of His grasp. His right hand doeth valiantly. If our soul is in His hand, who shall tear us out of it? Mark ,
2. the tenderness of this Saviour. “He drew me.” As humane men bend over one who has been rescued from the river, and apply warmth to the chilly limbs, and chafe the livid hands, and pour cordials into the lips, and keep on hour after hour with their tender ministries, until the closed eyes open, and the pallid cheek is tinged with crimson, and the silent lips break into the music of speech; so Christ bends lovingly over sinners plucked from black depths, and by his longsuffering and tenderness arouses and perfects in them a Divine and immortal life.
III. A complete redemption. “He drew me out of many waters.” He gives us redemption from sin, sorrow, fear, death, hell. Christ is an ark to save the world, and to save us all from many sorrows. Noah’s ark floats on the waters, but its door was shut. A thousand eager eyes of drowning men might behold it, a thousand cries might be addressed to it, but it gave no response. For a while, men, women, children might cling to it, only, however, to be washed into the awful gulf. But Christ is an ark, the door of which is wide open, and every sinking despairing soul may enter in and be saved. And as the ark brought Noah in safety to the new earth; so Christ shall bring His people in safety “into a large place.” He shall land them in heaven.
“He delivered me, because He delighted in me.”
I. Why God delivers and honours men? “Because He delighted in me.” God’s regard to man does not spring,
1. From the fact that He could not do without us. He could do without us. We are not necessary to Him. “What shall a man profit God?”
2. Neither is this regard explained by any claim we might have on God, arising from the fact that He is our Creator. By a thousand wilful transgressions we have forfeited any such claim. One of our writers insists: “If a created being has no rights which his Creator is bound to respect, there is an end to all moral relations between them.” But who does not feel that through his sin and folly he has lost all “rights,” and must cast himself upon the mercy of God?
3. Neither does God esteem any man on the ground of any physical or intellectual quality that he may possess. The creature’s skill or force, the piercing wit, the active limb, these are all too mean delights for God. Apart from moral excellences they have no charms in His eyes.
4. Neither can this regard be explained on the ground of any arbitrary election. We are not to imagine that God, for some inscrutable reasons, delights in some and rejects others. On what grounds, then, does God delight in men?
(1.) On the ground of faith. This was the position of the Psalmist. “In Thee have I trusted.” If we honour God with our confidence, He will honour us with His protection. As we trust in God, we make ourselves dear to God; as we trust in Him, we have claims upon Him.
(2.) On the ground of moral character. In Psalms 18:20-27 the Psalmist shows why God delighted in him. According to our moral sincerity and circumspection will God delight in us and bless us. “God deals with men according as He sees their hearts to be towards Him. Those who walk before Him in simplicity and uprightness of heart may expect His succour.”—Perowne. There is nothing arbitrary or partial in God; He will delight in us all, and enrich us with the uttermost salvation, if we trust Him; and prove the sincerity of our faith by our obedience. We observe several
II. Practical lessons suggested by this truth.
1. Let us not perplex ourselves by imagining any favouritism in God. Acceptance with God is on broad grounds, equally open to us all.
2. Let us remember that we cannot recommend ourselves to God on any grounds of nature. We are defaulters, and have lost that moral beauty in which alone God can delight.
3. It is only by believing in God’s grace that we can enjoy that grace.
4. It is only by moral sincerity and earnestness that we can retain that grace
GOOD THINGS FOR GOOD PEOPLE
In these verses the Psalmist shows that the love of God for His people is not a blind and unrighteous predilection, but that the just and righteous God loves righteousness. Observe here two great canons of the Divine rule. First:
I. God deals with us as we deal with Him. (Psalms 18:20-25.) “The truth, which is here enunciated is, that God’s conduct to man is the reflection of the relation in which man has placed himself to God.”—Delitzsch. David does not mean in these protestations to lay claim to perfection and sinlessness, but he asserts the sincerity of his desire to please God, and the uprightness of his conduct before God. “David here, as in the last psalm, asserts not his freedom from sin, but the consciousness of his own integrity.”—Perowne. And because he thus sought to recognise God, and glorify Him—God watched over him, and blessed him. The destiny which God prepares for a man is a reflection of the man’s personal character. As shadows and echoes represent their originating substances and sounds; so in the discriminating character of God’s judgments there is a complete response to personal character. He who honours God, is honoured by God.
1. Let us remember that we cannot expect God’s help except so far as we are pure in purpose and life.
2. Let us observe the loftiness of the standard of conduct which we must observe if we are to claim Divine patronage. “All His judgments were before me” (Psalms 18:22). And they were constantly before Him. “And I did not put away His statutes from me” (Psalms 18:22). We must not pick and choose the statutes, but must observe them all, even those which try as the most; and observe them always, even unto the end. Learn:
II. God deals with us as we deal with one another. (Psalms 18:26.) “The Psalmist, in this and following verses, intimates that the plan of God’s providential conduct to men, is to act towards them as they act towards each other. This is an undoubted principle of His moral government, and ought to constitute a strong motive for the exercise of all Christian virtues in the social relations of life.”—Phillips. Throughout the Word of God this truth is insisted upon. It is recognised in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” If we are harsh to our brother, God shall exact from us; if we deceive our brother, God shall permit us to be blinded by strong delusions; if we defraud our brother, God shall spoil us; if we will not forgive our brother, neither shall our heavenly Father forgive us. God stands behind society, and marks our integrity or faithlessness in all the social relations of life, and deals with us accordingly. Whatsoever a man sows, and wheresoever he sows, that shall he reap. Let us, by the grace of God, keep clean hands, and sow golden seeds, and blessed shall the harvest be. Lessons:
1. There can be no salvation except through righteousness. On this ground alone will God bless us on earth; on this ground only admit us to heaven (Romans 2:6-9).
2. There can be no righteousness except through grace. David does not formally recognise here this fact, but elsewhere he recognises it fully, and here he assumes it. God’s grace originates the lofty righteousness here spoken of. It is a Divine righteousness. God’s grace preserves this righteousness. It keeps us “from our iniquity.” God’s grace crowns this righteousness. Giving to it vast rewards.
“I kept myself from mine iniquity.” David certainly means here some particular sin to which he was most prone.
I. We are all the subjects of special weaknesses and temptations.
1. Each nation has its besetting sin. Scientific observers tell us that different races of men have different kinds of weeds following in their wake, so that a careful observer can, in travelling, see at once, by merely noticing the prevailing weeds, whether Europeans or Asiatics, Negroes or Indians, have dwelt at certain places. So each nation has its peculiar sin.
2. Each age has its besetting sin. In the history of morals we find bow various vices have prevailed at various times. Now an age of cruelty; now of intemperance; now of superstition; now of scepticism. Has not our own age its besetting sin?
3. Each individual has his besetting sin. John Hunter held that two general diseases cannot co-exist in the same individual. It is somewhat thus with man morally. Usually a man will be under the influence of some one particular passion or temptation. All sins are in us seminally, potentially, sympathetically, but in some one direction we are specially in danger. This may arise from our constitution. “As in the natural man, though there be all the faculties, yet some faculties are in some more lively and vigorous than in others, some are more witty, some are more strong, some quick of sight, some have a ready ear, and others a nimble tongue, &c. So it is in the old man also; there is all the power of sin in an unregenerate man, but in some more dexterous one way than another.”—Strong quo. by Spurgeon. Or it may arise from our situation. “There are more temptations to some sins than others, from the different professions or courses of life men take upon themselves. If they follow the court, I need not tell you what temptations and snares there are to divers sins, and what danger there is of falling into them. If they be listed in the camp, that tempts them to rapine and violence, neglect of God’s worship, and profaneness. If they exercise trading and merchandise, they meet with greater enticements to lying and cozening, over-reaching and unjust dealing; and the mystery of some trades, as had men manage them, is a downright ‘mystery of iniquity.’ If husbandry, to anxiety about the things of the world, a distrust of God’s providence, or murmuring against it. Nay, I could wish in the most sacred profession of all there might be an exception made in this particular; but Paul tells us that even in his days ‘some preached Christ even of envy and strife,’ some for filthy lucre only, as well as some of good will.”—Dove quo. by Spurgeon.
II. To make several observations touching this particular class of sins.
1. These besetting sins are to be conquered. We are sometimes ready to apologise for these sins. We are ready to regard them as hereditary, incurable. The Scriptures do not regard any taint of blood as ineradicable, any passion as invincible, any temptation as insurmountable. The Old Testament says, “I kept myself from mine iniquity.” The New Testament says, “Lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets you.” To say that religion will not strengthen us to master the easily besetting sin, is to say that it fails where, and when, we need salvation most
2. In the subduing of our besetting sin lies the great struggle of life. Our love to God, our allegiance to Him, is tested, not by ten commandments, but rather by one or two of them. The question of our moral character is fought out on some one question. If we conquer here, we conquer along the whole line; if we fail here, guilty in one point we are guilty in all. The great battle with the Philistine host is decided by single combat. Smiting this single sin the day is ours, we put to flight the army of the aliens. This sin beneath our feet, and the crown is on our head.
3. We must estimate our character according to our relation to the besetting sin. We sometimes flatteringly estimate our character by reckoning up the sins to which we have no inclination. This is a fatal miscalculation. Is it not a maxim in mechanics, that a thing is no stronger than its weakest part? This is as true in morals as in mechanics. When we seek to estimate our character let us ask, how do we stand in regard to our weak points? Are we gaining, or losing ground there? Never mind the strong points. If we perpetually fail in one point let us remember that that is the true index to our character, and that a score of untried virtues will not atone for the one virtue which fails whenever it is put into the fire.
The discipline by which the easily besetting sin is to be subdued.
1. We must seek the grace of God. It is impossible for us to cast aside these sins in our own strength. We must “look unto Jesus.” We are to be made perfect by looking at Him, the perfection of beauty, and ever claiming His power and grace.
2. We must exert ourselves. “I kept myself from mine iniquity.” “God, indeed, in our first conversion works upon us as He did upon the earth, or Adam’s body in paradise, before He breathed a soul into it and made it a living creature; such a power as Christ put forth on Lazarus in his grave, for we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins;’ but yet being living he must walk and act of himself, the Lord will have us to co-operate together with Him, for we are built upon Christ, not as dead, but as ‘living stones.’ ”—Strong quo. by Spurgeon.
THE LIGHT OF LIFE
Here the Psalmist recognizes God as,
I. The source of his Light. “For Thou givest light to my lamp; Jehovah, my God, maketh my darkness to be bright.”—Perowne. In 2 Samuel 22:29, “Thou, O Jehovah, art my lamp.” In days of deep perplexity, in the presence of painful problems, God was his counsellor. Blessed are those who seek light in God! Take your candles to Him, and He shall light them with a shining lustre. Take your understanding to Him, and He shall make it to shed pure illuminations; take your heart to Him, and He shall make it burn with heavenly brightness. Light your candles at the radiant luminary of the Spirit, the Word, the Throne.
II. The source of his joy. “Light is often in Scripture expressive of joy or comfort,” for “truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7; Psalms 97:11; Psalms 92:4). By a natural opposition, as light is expressive of joy and comfort; so is darkness, of sorrow and misery. The Psalmist, however, speaks in this place of artificial light, a “candle” or “lamp;” which has been supposed to be illustrated by the custom prevailing in Egypt, of never suffering their houses to be without lights, but burning lamps even through the night, so that the poorest people would rather retrench part of their food than neglect it.”—Bishop Mant. “The lamps lighted in the house is the image at once of prosperity and continuance of life and happiness.”—Perowne. Amid the darkness which everywhere presses upon us, God is the lamp of His people, the source of their comfort and gladness.” A lamp or candle in the house is a common Hebrew figure for prosperity, and its extinction for distress. See Job 18:5-6; Job 21:17; Proverbs 24:20.”—Alexander. And when God deserts a man, all the light of life is gone.
III. The source of his glory. David himself was called the lamp of Israel (1 Kings 11:36, &c.) He was its light and its glory. And God was David’s light and glory. “David’s life and dominion, as the covenant king, is the lamp which God’s favour has lighted for the well-being of Israel, and His power will not allow this lamp (2 Samuel 21:17) to be quenched.”—Delitzsch. Blessed are all those who find in God their life and glory. They want nothing more. He fills them with joy; He crowns them with beauty and glory.
1. God is a full Light. All other lights are partial and dim. He is a Sun; He giveth grace and glory, &c. Fulness of light, felicity, honour, in fellowship with Him. He is everything. “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory” (Isaiah 60:19).
2. God is a true Light. Nothing but the pure white light. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” The light He imparts never leads astray; the joy He gives has no sorrow added to it; the honour and glory He gives to His children has no abatement or stain, they are altogether kings.
3. God is a safe Light. Nothing can extinguish the central orb. And if we put our trust in God, if we draw the supplies of life from Him, nothing can extinguish our joy and hope. We see how David’s life and joy and glory were often threatened with total extinction, but the hand of God preserved him, the very darkness of death was lit again into day.
4. God is an everlasting light. “Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60:20).
In these verses we have the Psalmist exulting as “more than a conqueror.”
I. The fulness of his victory (Psalms 18:29).
1. He has vanquished a host of enemies. A “troop.”
2. He has utterly vanquished them. “Through a troop.” Divided them, broken them up, scattered them.
3. He has done it easily. “I have run through a troop.” I “leaped over a wall.” He did not secretly undermine it, or painfully batter it, or just succeed in scaling it, he leaped over it. All enemies, all obstructions, have been triumphantly vanquished.
II. The source of his victory (Psalms 18:29-34). “By thee” (Psalms 18:29). “In thee, and in my God, i.e., in intimate union with Him and possession of Him, a much stronger sense than that of mere assistance (by thee), which, however, is included.”—Alexander.
1. The Psalmist trusted in God. He identified himself with God (Psalms 18:30). He entertained a lofty sense of God’s truth, and faithfulness, and power.
2. The Psalmist trusted in God alone (Psalms 18:31). God is a rock, a ground of confidence that cannot be shaken, and God alone is such a rock. And
3. God gave him the victory. God does all (Psalms 18:32). “Perfect, i.e., absolutely smooth, free from stumblings and errors, leading straight forward to a divine goal.”—Delitzsch. Strength in both its beginning and continuance is of God. He “girds” with strength at the outset and maketh the whole “way perfect” (Psalms 18:33). God establishes his feet. Enables him to stand where it seemed impossible to find footing; to scale heights which seemed utterly impracticable (Psalms 18:34). God gave him wisdom and prowess to defeat his foes. “It is not the bow of brass which has been David’s protection, but Jehovah’s shield covered him; Jehovah’s right hand held him up; Jehovah’s wonderful condescension made him great; Jehovah made room for him to stand, and subdue those that rose up against him.”—Perowne.
1. We shall gain the victory of life by allying ourselves with God. All life is a warfare to us, as it was to David; and we shall achieve the victory only in Divine strength. In the natural world we see how feeble men are whilst they use only their own strength, their own eyes, hands, feet. It is when they learn how to avail themselves of God’s power that they accomplish marvels. The human hand is feeble, but it uses God’s power, and the dynamite rends asunder the rocks, the steam drives the mighty ship or thundering wheels of mills, the electric spark tells our wishes on the other side of the world. We are slow, feeble, local, considered in ourselves; but when science has taught us to avail ourselves of God’s power, we dare winds and seas and mountains. So in the moral world. We are feeble indeed in ourselves, we cannot do the things that we would; but when we listen to revelation, and by thought, and faith, and prayer, lay hold of God’s strength, we can do all things.
2. If we ally ourselves with God’s strength, the victory of life shall be most complete and brilliant. We shall more than prevail. The “high places” of Christian experience shall be reached; the “high places” of the world, the most difficult undertakings of Christian zeal, shall be proudly compassed; the “high places” of Christian hope shall be climbed, and we shall shout the song of victory on those tablelands, of which God Himself is sun and moon.
“Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation.”
This “shield” indicates:
I. The availableness of God’s help. The fortress can only shelter within its precincts, but the shield is with the warrior wherever he may go. Whatever may be our lot, however singular and exposed, God is with us to uphold and save. You may have to leave the fortress of a sweet pure home, and go into the midst of gay and worldly society, the “shield” goes with you; you may have to leave the fortress of a moral neighbourhood, to dwell amid the tents of wickedness, the shield goes with you; you are compelled to leave the fortress of a Christian Church and dwell where you are cut off from Christian privileges and fellowship, the shield goes with you; you are compelled to leave the fortress of a Christian country to dwell in heathenish lauds, the shield goes with you. In all places you may realise God’s aid. Your shield is ever with you.
This shield indicates:
II. The many-sidedness of God’s protecting love. The great round shield preserves the warrior from top to toe. So the loving hand of God shelters our whole personality, and all our interests. Be sure that Satan would seek to wound us in the eye, to darken our understanding; in the heart, to make us faint; in the knee, to injure our devoutness; but God’s protecting love shelters us altogether. Our happiness, character, circumstances; in life, in death, in eternity.
The shield indicates:
III. The invincibility of God’s strength. It is the shield of “salvation.” Whoever places himself in the hands of God is safe. If we meet evil in our own strength we shall be overcome, but confide in this Divine armour, and you come out of life’s battle without a scratch. Does Satan tempt you to error? Confront him as the Saviour did, with God’s Word; let “His truth be thy shield and buckler.” Are you tempted to sin? Be strong in the truth, and love, and righteousness of God, inwrought by the Holy Spirit into your soul. This shield quenches every fiery dart.
1. Let the believer who has triumphed in life’s battles give glory to his Shield. David had escaped the insidious temptation to self-glory, and all his own strength and prowess he humbly ascribed to God. Let us remember that God helps us, not only outwardly by His providence, but inwardly also by a thousand untracked influences, therefore all the praise is His.
2. Let the believer ever hold fast that Shield. Never be without it. Ever living in close communion with God. Never have it to look for.
3. Let those who have been worsted in life’s conflicts learn to put their trust in God. Baffled, wounded, humbled, turn from your poor broken self to the immortal love and strength of a Divine Saviour.
“O send me not away! for I would drink,
E’en I, the weakest, at the fount of life;
Chide not my steps, that venture near the brink,
Weary and fainting from the deadly strife.
“Went I not forth undaunted and alone,
Strong in the majesty of human might?
Lo! I return, all wounded and forlorn,
My dream of glory lost in shades of night.
“Was I not guided for the battle-field?
Bore! not helm of pride and glittering sword!
Behold the fragments of my broken shield,
And lend to me thy heavenly armour, Lord!”
“Thy gentleness hath made me great.”
I. The greatness of the good. “Hath made me great.” David was great politically, intellectually, but this greatness must be understood as moral. The Psalmist humbly, but exultingly, recognises the fact that the grace of God had ennobled his nature, crowned him with spiritual glory and honour. The end of religion is to make men great. And moral greatness is true greatness. It alone excites true admiration; makes its possessor happy; it alone abides.
II. The gracious discipline through which this greatness is realised. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” We are discrowned kings, and through gentleness God seeks to put the diadem on our head again. Many believe only in force and terror as restorative factors, but if we look around we see on every side the triumphs of gentleness. It is so in nature. Power, amazing power is on every hand, yet acting most softly; and because it acts so softly filling the landscapes with beauty and fruitfulness. Thus it is in art. Gentleness is everything. And this it is in society. In the physician, the parent, the tutor, you see the grand results of gentleness. God, the most powerful Being in the universe, is also the most gentle, and through gentleness seeks to raise his fallen children to true and lasting greatness.
Mark this first:
1. In God’s dealing with us in our sinful state. The aspect of God to a guilty world is altogether kind and inviting. The aspect of the Divine Providence. “He maketh his sun,” &c. Of the Divine Truth. Great and gracious promises to sinners are on every page of God’s Word. Of the Divine Spirit. The spirit of God is ever acting in the dark heart of sinners—seeking to inspire, to soften, to save. Infinite love struggles with human perversity, and so we see our way back again to the skies.
2. God’s dealings with us in our penitential state. Our first approaches to God are usually full of imperfection, and the best penitent needs large indulgence. Our motives imperfect; our methods faulty; our faith feeble. Our tears are not pure; our sackcloth equivocal. God grants us this indulgence. We are often rough with penitents; but at a thousand imperfections God winks, and through this gentleness cheers on the penitent to greater things. “A bruised reed,” &c.
3. God’s dealings with us in our accepted state. We see this
(1.) In what He accepts from us. Every Christian man has the full and clear conviction that he is never all that he ought to be—his actual life is painfully below his ideal life. And yet we have the conviction equally full and clear, that although we, and our works, are far from perfection, yet God accepts us and them; and it is this truth which ever encourages us onwards to loftier attainments and experiences.
(2.) In what He does with us. There is gentleness in all the discipline of life. “He does not permit us to be tried above what we are able to bear.” Our afflictions may often seem severe, but they are the expression of the Divine pitifulness. Indeed many commentators translate the text: “Thy afflictions have made me great,” “Thy humbling, thy chastening, thy disciplining.”—Phillips. “Even Thine afflicting hand tendeth to make me great.”—French. “Thy loving correction.”—Prayer Book.
4. God’s dealing with us in our backsliding states. How the Redeemer brought back backsliding Peter to repentance and life! (Isaiah 54:7-8.) Sinner, do not despise this gentleness. You will not be driven to heaven—will you be drawn? Believer, economise all the fine influences of life. “I will guide thee with mine eye.” “I will be as the dew unto Israel.” Improve all the delicate impulses and attractions of the Divine world which lies about you, and ever acts upon you. Let us pray for greater sensitiveness to the love of God; and just as the silver moon, with its soft charm, draws the ocean waters round the globe, until they have glassed the stars of every sky, and sung their anthems on every shore; so shall the good Spirit of God master the wild elements of our nature, and lead us on, and lead us out, until we have seen all God’s glory, and shown forth all His praise.
THE MORALITY OF PRAYER
I. Prayer must be offered in a right cause.
Prayer offered in a wrong cause can never be availing. In the preceding verses we see Providence helping a righteous cause. The Psalmist’s relation to God was not a selfish contract for help, as between the heathen and his idol—the Psalmist sympathised with God’s rights and designs. God scatters many prayers in the air, because they are offered in a purely selfish cause. Many prayers also are rejected because offered in a wicked cause. “Prayer is so notable a weapon that even the wicked will take to it in their fits of desperation. Bad men have appealed to God against God’s own servants, but all in vain; the kingdom of heaven is not divided, and God never succours his foes at the expense of his friends. There are prayers to God which are no better than blasphemy, which bring no comfortable reply, but rather provoke the Lord to greater wrath.”—Spurgeon.
II. Prayer must be offered in a right spirit.
1. The spirit of penitence. Sorrow for past sins—but there was none of that in these heathen. The spirit of repentance is necessary to availing prayer, and if that spirit is wanting, our prayers are abomination. “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well.” (Isaiah 1:15-16.)
2. The spirit of righteousness. “The cry extorted in terror, and not coming from an upright heart (Psalms 18:24, &c.), is not heard. See opposite, Psalms 18:6.”—Perowne. We must live in the love and practice of goodness. “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” “Lifting up holy hands.” Remember the morality of prayer, and remember it in your daily doings. You are either building up, or cutting the sinews of your future prayers, by your present conduct. Righteousness is necessary to prayer—not as a channel of merit for our prayers up to God, but as a plane of moral possibility in our lives down which God’s answer can come back to us. Let us be severe in the purity of our thought and life, or we shall soon have to utter the lament of the poet:
“God sends me back my prayers, as a father
Returns unop’ed the letters of a son
Who hath dishonoured him.”
3. The spirit of confidence. The spirit of these heathen was that of terror and despair. “As nature prompteth men in an extremity to look up for help; but because it is but the prayer of the flesh for ease, and not of the spirit for grace, and a good use of calamities, and not but in extreme despair of help elsewhere, therefore God hears them not. In Samuel it is, ‘They looked, but there was none to save them;’ q.d. If they could have made any other shift, God should never have heard of them.”—Trapp. Prayer must be the language of confidence.
III. Prayer must be offered at a right time. They cried first to their own gods, and when there was none to answer, then they cried to Israel’s God. They prayed too late. Men often do. There is an accepted time in which God will hear prayer, and it is our duty not to let that time pass. (Proverbs 1:24-33; John 8:21; Luke 16:24; Revelation 6:16.)
VICTORY FOR CHRIST AND VICTORY IN CHRIST
We have here a picture,
I. Of Christ’s victory over His foes.
“This Psalm looks beyond David. David and David’s rule over the nations are but a type and image of Christ, and of that spiritual kingdom which He came to establish.”—Perowne. We have suggested here,
1. The completeness of Christ’s victory (Psalms 18:37-42). All Christ’s enemies are to be “put under His feet.” And all of them completely under His feet. Many teachers, systems, institutions, which are proud enough now in their opposition to Christ, will be very low before Christ has done with them. The victories of the Church are perpetually stopping at certain points, and complete and permanent triumph seems scarcely ever attained. But let us not be discouraged; Christ shall ride on till the last foe has fallen.
2. The rapidity of Christ’s march. Up to a certain point David had to fight with varying fortune, but a time came when fighting was no longer necessary; a panic seized the hearts of the foe, and they melted away. Subsequent victories were won by the moral influence of the first victories. May it not be thus with the progress of Messiah’s kingdom? Slowly has that kingdom seemed to prevail up to now; but, these preliminary struggles won, may not the triumphs of the Gospel be far more multiplied and swift? Satan shall “fall as lightning.”
3. The universality of Christ’s reign (Psalms 18:43; Psalms 18:49). David ruling over Israel and over the heathen tribes, was a foreshadowing of Christ exalted over all the lands. Blessed are all those who submit to Christ. His conquest means freedom and life and glory to all who accept it. Alas! for those who will not have this man to rule over them. Man or multitude, king or kingdom, whatever sets itself against the truth as it is in Jesus, must be broken.
II. The saint’s victory in Christ. We may well see in David’s triumph over his foes a picture of that spiritual triumph which Christ ensures to all his people.
1. Do not be content until all your sins are overcome.
2. Until all your sins are utterly vanquished. “Beat them small as the dust before the wind.”
3. Until you have destroyed them for ever. Fight, until God crown you king to all eternity.
(1.) Fight in Christ. Be sure of that. See that He girds you, leads you, saves you.
(2.) Put forth all personal effort. David did not leave invisible powers to fight for him, but threw himself also into the fight.
(3.) Give God the glory of every victory (Psalms 18:49-50).
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20