Click to donate today!
Superscription.—“A prayer of Moses the man of God.” “The Psalm is described in the title,” says Hengstenberg, “as a prayer. This description shows, as Amyraldus saw, that the kernel of the Psalm is the second part, and that the design of the first is to prepare the way for the second, and lay down a basis on which it may rest. For תְּפִלָּה denotes only prayer in the proper sense, supplicatory prayer.” On תְּפּלָּה as used hero Fuerst says: “תְפִלָּה is a peculiar kind of song in the Psalter.” Its primary meaning he gives as prayer. And on its use in Psalms 72:20, he says: “The first two books of the Psalter are termed in the subscription תְּפִלִּוֹת probably because they contain supplications for the most part.” Certainly the word prayer better represents the character of this Psalm than the word Psalm, or hymn.
“Of Moses.” “The correctness of the title which ascribes the Psalm to Moses,” says Professor Alexander, “is confirmed by its unique simplicity and grandeur; its appropriateness to his trials and circumstances; its resemblance to the law in urging the connection between sin and death; its similarity of diction to the poetical portions of the Pentateuch, without the slightest trace of imitation or quotation; its marked unlikeness to the Psalms of David, and still more to those of later date; and finally, the proved impossibility of plausibly assigning it to any other age or author.” And Amyraldus says: “But as this ode is most ancient. so it bears strong marks of the genius and character of antiquity. It is grave, full of majesty and authority, adorned with various comparisons, splendid with figures, but these rare and little used, and for the understanding of which there is needed extraordinary attention of mind.” The late Dr. James Hamilton points out that “it is one of the oldest poems in the world. Compared with it Homer and Pindar are, so to speak, modern, and even King David is of recent date. That is to say, compared with this ancient hymn the other Psalms are as much more modern as Tennyson and Longfellow are more modern than Chaucer. In either case there are nearly five centuries between.”
“The man of God.” Moses is thus described also in Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:6; and Ezra 3:2. The term is very appropriately applied to him because of his singularly noble character, his distinguished rank, and the great part which he played in carrying out the purposes of God concerning our race. “Moses was faithful in all his house, as a servant.” Luther points out that the words “the man of God” give additional weight to the Psalm. He says: “As one who has such a duty assigned to him by God, so that we should believe in him and in his instructions no less than in God Himself.”
Occasion. It is impossible to decide upon what occasion the Psalm was composed; but the probability is, that it was written towards the close of the forty years wandering in the wilderness. “It was written,” says F. W. Robertson, “evidently in the wilderness, after years of apparently fruitless wandering; its tone is that of deep sadness—retrospective; its images are borrowed from the circumstances of the pilgrimage—the mountain flood, the grass, the night watch of an army on the march.”
Divisions. The Psalm consists of a Meditation (Psalms 90:1-11), and a Prayer (Psalms 90:12-17).
HUMAN FRAILTY AND DIVINE GREATNESS
In these verses, the Psalmist brings before us—
I. The greatness of God. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even front everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.”
1. He existed before the world. The word “earth” is used by the Psalmist to denote our world as distinguished from the heavens; and the word “world” signifies an inhabited fruitful land, or a land fitted for habitation. The “mountains” are mentioned first, because of all created things they appear most ancient, stable, and enduring. Upon all the generations that have ever trod this planet, with all their anxieties and cares, all their strifes and commotions, the old hills have cast their calm and silent shadows. They seem as though they had ever been where they are and as they are, and that they would for ever continue so. They are most impressive symbols of the unchangeable and the eternal. In the poetic diction of the Bible they are spoken of as eternal. Jacob spake of “the everlasting hills.” And Moses, “of the ancient mountains, and of the lasting hills.” And Habakkuk, of “the everlasting mountains, and the perpetual hills.” Yet they had a beginning. There was a time when they were not. However ancient the earth may be, it has not been from everlasting. The world is not eternal. God existed before the mountains were brought forth, before the world was created.
2. He created the world. He is said by the Psalmist to have “formed the earth and the world.” As God’s existence before the world proclaims the fact that it is not eternal, so His creation of the world proclaims the fact that it is not the product of chance. The sublime mountains were not upreared, the smiling valleys were not laid by any “fortuitous concourse of atoms.” “God created the heaven and the earth.” “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.”
3. He is eternal. “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art, O God.” To understand eternity is difficult; to explain it is more difficult; to comprehend it is impossible to all except the Eternal. We are acquainted with creatures which have a beginning, live for a few hours, or days, or months, or years, and then cease to be. We are also acquainted with creatures who have been called into existence and will never pass out of existence. Such are we, and probably such are the angels. A little while ago, and we were not. Now we are called into being, and shall continue to be for ever. Our bodies shall change and pass away, our memory shall cease from amongst men upon the earth. But we shall never cease to be. To everlasting Thou art, O man! But God has never had a beginning, and will never have an end.
(1) He is without beginning. “From everlasting.” “Time,” says Charnock, “began with the foundation of the world; but God, being before time, could have no beginning in time. Before the beginning of the creation and the beginning of time there could be nothing but eternity; nothing but what was uncreated,—that is, nothing but what was without beginning. To be in time is to have a beginning; to be before all time is never to have a beginning, but always to be; for, as between the Creator and creatures there is no medium, so between time and eternity there is no medium. It is as easily deduced that He that was before all creatures is eternal, as He that made all creatures is God. If He had a beginning, He must have it from another, or from Himself; if from another, that from whom He received His being would be better than He,—so more a God than He. He cannot be God that is not supreme; he cannot be supreme that owes his being to the power of another. He would not be said only to have immortality as He is (1 Timothy 6:16), if He had it dependent upon another; nor could He have a beginning from Himself; if He had given beginning to Himself, then He was once nothing; there was a time when He was not. If He was not, how could He be the cause of Himself?” He is without beginning of days. He is “from everlasting.”
(2) He is without end. “To everlasting.” “The reason that anything decays is either its own native weakness, or a superior power of something contrary to it. There is no weakness in the nature of God that can introduce any corruption, because He is infinitely simple without any mixture, nor can He be overpowered by anything else. A weaker cannot hurt Him, and a stronger than He there cannot be; nor can He be outwitted or circumvented, because of His infinite wisdom. As He received His being from none, so He cannot be deprived of it by any: as He doth necessarily exist, so He doth necessarily always exist.” He is the SELF-EXISTENT—the “I AM.” “The Father,” said Christ, “hath life in Himself.” The idea of omnipotence is associated with His eternity in the mind of the Psalmist,—His omnipotence to guard His people. Luther says, “If we look at it” (His eternity) “in a right way, it includes all the properties of the Godhead. For, inasmuch as He is eternal, it follows that He is immortal, omnipotent, blessed, and wise.” And Schleiermacher: “The eternity of God is to be understood only as the omnipotent eternity, as that in God which conditionates time itself, as well as all that is temporal.” How incomprehensibly great is God! When imagination has done her utmost to picture His eternity, it has failed in the attempt. We may add ages to ages, and multiply them by the leaves of the forest in “the leafy month of June,” and multiply them again by the blades of grass upon the face of the earth, and again by the grains of sand upon the seashore, and again by the particles of dust on the earth, and we shall be as far as ever from the measurement of the ages of eternity. “Great God, how infinite art Thou!”
II. The frailty of man. In the verses in which the Psalmist sets this forth there are three things which call for notice—
1. The extreme brevity of man’s life upon earth. This is variously represented. How short is human life in the sight of God! “A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” A day when it is past and gone appears to us but a very short time. To God a thousand years are as brief as one past day is to us. Nay, to Him a thousand years are as brief as a watch in the night is to us. The Jews divided the night into watches, each watch representing the time during which a sentinel remained on duty. Among the ancient Hebrews there were three such watches; the first, or “the beginning of the watches” (Lamentations 2:19); the second, or “the middle watch” (Judges 7:19); and the third, or “the morning watch” (Exodus 14:24). These would last respectively from sunset to 10 p.m., from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and from 2 a.m. to sunrise. A thousand years appear to God as brief as a night watch to the Israelites. Man lives not a thousand years: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” How short, then, must man’s life upon earth appear to God! To man a life of seventy years, especially when it is in prospect, appears very long. To God, who sees all things clearly and truly, man’s life, even if it should stretch to a thousand years, would appear brief as a night watch does to us. The Psalmist also speaks of human life as “carried away as with a flood.” We have seen the river swollen with heavy rain rushing rapidly and irresistibly onward to the ocean. So the human family is carried away. Generation after generation is hurried from time into the vast ocean of eternity as by an impetuous and roaring torrent. “The man of God” goes on to say that human life is like “a sleep in the morning.” Barnes suggests that the words “in the morning” should be attached to the middle clause of the verse, and expounds the clause thus—“They are as sleep appears to us in the morning, when we wake from it—rapid, unreal, full of empty dreams.” Martin Luther says: “We know that sleep is such a thing that it ceases ere we can perceive it or mark it; for, before we are aware that we have slept, sleep is gone and ended. Wherefore truly our life is nothing else than a sleep and a dream, for before we are rightly conscious of being alive, we cease to live.” There is much of unreality in human life upon earth.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made of,
And our little life is rounded by a sleep.”
Moses also compares our life to the “grass.” The last clause in the fifth verse is rendered in the margin—“like grass which is changed.” Hengstenberg translates, “It vanishes like grass.” Barnes—“Like grass, it passeth away.” The sixth verse Hengstenberg renders—“In the morning he blooms and—perishes; in the evening he is cut down and withers.” The idea is clear: like the grass or flower which in the morning is green or blossoming in beauty, and in the evening is cut down and withered by the sun, is man’s life upon earth. “As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field so he flourisheth; for the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.” How frail is human life, and how uncertain! Every day many go forth in the morning in apparent health and vigour, and before night they are cut down by disease or accident. And even at its longest our life cannot be compared to the cedar or even to the oak, but to the frail grass of the field.
2. The mournful end of man’s life upon earth. “Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Perowne: “Thou turnest frail man to dust.” There is without doubt a reference here to the curse pronounced upon our race, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The human body must return to dust, however noble or beautiful it may be. Kings and the meanest of their subjects, millionaires and paupers, the learned and the ignorant, the beautiful and the deformed, the saint and the sinner, must all alike, as regards their bodies, return to the earth. Let the remembrance of the fact humble us. Let those who are proud of their stateliness or beauty remember that in a little time they will have no pre-eminence over the most deformed and repulsive-looking of their fellow-mortals. Let the rich, who look down with contempt and scorn upon the poor, remember that, though after death their bodies may be carried with pomp and laid in some splendid mausoleum, yet in this respect they have no advantage over those who are buried in a parish coffin and a pauper’s grave—the bodies of all alike must return to dust.
3. The great sovereign of man’s life upon earth. The Psalmist regards human life as entirely under the control of God. “THOU turnest man to destruction,” &c. “THOU carriest them away,” &c. It is not disease or chance that removes men from this world. Man returns to the dust not because of the decree of fate, or the operation of some inevitable or irresistible law, but because God wills it. He has the keys of death and hades. Man’s “days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” In the Lord’s “hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” “Thou changest man’s countenance and sendest him away.” The time, the place, and the circumstances of our death are all determined by God. He is the great sovereign of our life upon earth.
III. The relation between the great God and frail man. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.” When Moses penned this Psalm the Israelites were homeless wanderers. Indeed, up to this time they never could be said to have had any settled home. Their father Abraham after his call from his own country lived a wandering life, a stranger in a strange land. Isaac and Jacob also had no settled dwelling-place, but dwelt in tents, and confessed that they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Then the people “went down into Egypt to sojourn there,” and it was not long before their lives were made miserable by the oppressions of the Egyptians. And after their emancipation from Egypt there followed their long, tedious, homeless, and apparently fruitless wandering in the wilderness. It was probably this unsettled, homeless condition that led them to estimate highly the worth of a habitation, and which suggested the employment of the figure in the first verse. In their defenceless, homeless state God Himself had been their home and defence. By His providence He had preserved them in existence as a people, had supplied their wants, and protected them from harm. Homeless wanderers they were, yet they found their home in God. “Here we have no continuing city.” By many and earnest voices God is calling to us—“Arise ye and depart, for this is not your rest.” We crave a dwelling-place, a lasting home, a permanent rest for the soul; but we cannot find it here. Here fairest things soonest fade, brightest prospects soon are lost in darkness, the most exquisite pleasures are speedily succeeded by the most painful trials. The home of the soul is not here. The heart seeks rest and home in the love of dear relatives and friends; but these may fail us in our time of need, or may be summoned from us by death. The best and truest of relatives or friends cannot meet all the soul’s cravings for protection, and rest, and home. The home of the soul is not in the creature. The home of the soul is in God.
1. We are weak, and rest in His omnipotence. The difficulties and dangers which we encounter on our pilgrimage overmatch us, but by the strength of the Lord we are enabled to surmount them. The soul that finds its home in Him is inviolably secure.
2. We are short-lived and rest in His eternity. “We are but of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on the earth are as a shadow.”
“Like clouds that rake the mountain summits,
Or waves that own no curbing hand;”
so generation follows generation “into the land of the great departed.” We are hastening after the great multitude who have passed from earth for ever. Nothing rests here. Here nothing abides. Change, decay, death are stamped upon all earthly things. Yet we crave the permanent and the immutable. Oh, for some rock amid this surging sea! Oh, for some thing or being in which these restless, craving hearts may find satisfaction and repose! God is that Being. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,” &c. He lives through all generations. He is the Sovereign of all generations. He is the same through all generations. Here we find rest. Our permanent home is in Him. He is supremely, unchangeably, eternally great and good. In Him let us confide. The generations that have passed away have gone at His bidding. He is the God of our life. Our age, our time of residence here, our departure from here, are all regulated by Him. And when we pass hence He is still our home, our refuge, and our rest. Then we need not mourn the brevity of life or the changes of time. We rest in the eternal and unchangeable God.
THE HOME OF THE SOUL
I. The soul of man needs a home. I argue this from—
1. Our sense of weariness and longing for rest. The heart often aches in loneliness, droops by reason of exhaustion, and yearns unspeakably for repose. Like worn and weary pilgrims we long for rest.
2. Our sense of peril and longing for protection. Like Israel in the wilderness we are exposed to danger, and need some strong defence. We crave the shelter and the security of a home.
3. Our shrinking from death and longing for immortality. The soul recoils from the idea of going forth from this life unclothed and alone into the unknown. What is there beyond the mystery which we call death? Is there anything? If there is, what is it that is there? The mere thought of ceasing to be is painful. We long deeply for immortality. In the awful loneliness and dread mystery of death where shall we find a refuge and a home?
II. The soul of man may find a home in God. He has been the dwelling-place of His people in all generations.
1. In Him alone can the soul find the rest it craves. We want rest from the accusations of conscience and the burden of guilt. He alone can pardon. The rest of satisfied affections; the rest of harmony and progress of being; rest from the dread of death;—He alone can impart this full and blessed rest.
2. In Him alone can the soul find the security it craves. He is our only sure defence against spiritual perils; and in the sorrows and trials of life He is the only adequate support. Storms are sure to fall; He only can shelter us from their fury. He can even bring strength and joy to us out of our griefs and trials. His power, wisdom, and love are the pledge of our security.
3. In Him alone can the soul find the permanence it craves. “He only hath immortality.” The continuance in being and blessedness for which we long He, and He alone, can impart. “A perpetuity of bliss is bliss.” He gives “eternal life.” At His “right hand there are pleasures for ever more.” “So shall we ever be with the Lord.”
We enter this home through Christ. By Him we rise into fellowship and union with God. “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
GOD’S ABSOLUTE CONTROL OVER MAN’S LIFE
We pass away at the command of God. Not chance, not disease, not accident, not war, but “Thou turnest man to destruction!” “Thou carriest them away as with a flood!” We are a family whose members are separated and summoned away only by the word and hand of the great Lord of the house. We regard this great power of God over us as—
I. A reason for acknowledging Him. As His power over us is irresistible and righteous, we should bow to His will. It is madness to resist Him. “Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like Him?” “He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and prospered?” His rule is a fact. He is moving onward to the most complete and universal supremacy. Let us loyally acknowledge Him as our King and our God. Let us move in the line of His purposes.
II. A reason for seeking His favour. His power over us being so absolute it is surely our interest to seek friendship with Him. He is condescending and gracious, He is kind and merciful; we may obtain His favour. He calls us to friendship with Himself. Through Christ we may attain unto assured confidence in His favour and friendship,—may know Him not simply as the absolute Sovereign of our life, but also as our supreme Friend.
III. A consolation in bereavement. It is consolatory to know that our loved ones who have passed from us were not the victims of chance. Their departure was in all respects ordered by a God of infinite wisdom and kindness. They left us by the appointment of His will, which is ever good. He doeth all things well.
IV. An encouragement to labour. Do not fear to attempt great things in life. Let not the dread of death unnerve your spirit and paralyse your arm. You are immortal till your work is done. Until your education in these sublunary scenes is completed, your life is invulnerable against the shafts of death.
V. An antidote against the fear of death. If through Christ we are brought into friendship with God, when the body returns to dust, the spirit will pass into the immediate presence of God. To the good man death is the voice of the Father summoning His child home to Himself. Why should we fear such a voice or such a summons?
CONCLUSION. Let us be thankful that our times are in His hand. Let us tread the path of life with trustful and fearless hearts, for we are safe in the hands of the eternal God.
HUMAN FRAILTY THE RESULT OF HUMAN SIN
In this section of the Psalm Moses represents the brevity of the life of the Israelites in the wilderness as the result of the Divine anger with them by reason of their sin. Their apparently fruitless lives and their death in the wilderness were the punishment of their sin. By reason of some heinous or aggravated offence many were suddenly cut off by God. See Numbers 11:31-35; Numbers 16:41-50; Numbers 21:4-6. Moreover all those, from twenty years old and upward, who went forth from Egypt were cut down in the wilderness because of their unbelieving hearts and murmuring tongues, save Caleb and Joshua. There they were doomed to wander till the unbelieving generation had passed away. Little or nothing is recorded of them from the second year of their departure from Egypt until the fortieth year. The only end of their wanderings during those years seems to have been the consumption of the faithless generation. Well does Mr. Spurgeon say: “Moses saw men dying all around him; he lived among funerals, and was overwhelmed at the terrible results of the Divine displeasure.” The Psalm has “a solemn and affecting interest, as a penitential confession of the sins which had entailed such melancholy consequences on the Hebrew nation; and as a humble deprecation of God’s wrath; and as a funeral dirge upon those whose death had been pre-announced by the awful voice of God.” So far all is clear. Concerning those of whom Moses wrote it is literally true that their frailty was the result of their sin. They perished in the wilderness because of their unbelief and ingratitude and rebellion. But is it true of mankind as a whole that human frailty is the result of human sin? Is death the penalty of sin? Some passages of the Holy Word say, Yes. The evidence of geology and other sciences says, No. We firmly believe that both are correct. In what way, then, and to what extent, is death the penalty of sin? This is the subject suggested by this portion of the Psalm, and upon which we shall offer some suggestions.
“What is death?” “Death,” says one, “is simply another name for discontinuance.” “Death,” says another, “is the dissolution of the body.” But the word is used to express quite distinct and different things. In the Bible the word has at least three uses; indeed it has more, but let us look at these. It is used to denote physical dissolution. (See Genesis 21:16; Genesis 27:7; Genesis 27:10; Deuteronomy 33:1; and many others.) It is used to denote the moral condition of unrenewed men. (See John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1; 1 John 3:14; et al.) It is also used to denote the future punishment of the wicked. (See Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8.) No one will dispute that many of the passages which speak of death as the penalty of sin speak of spiritual death, not of physical dissolution. Thus: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” cannot fairly be applied to our first parents in regard to corporeal death; for, according to the record in Genesis, Adam lived for centuries after his disobedience, and “begat sons and daughters.” And if the words of St. Paul to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death,” be applied to physical dissolution, then saint and sinner pay the penalty alike, nay, in some cases, the physical dissolution of the saint may be more painful than that of thousands of most hardened and corrupt sinners. Still there are passages of scripture in which corporeal death seems to be represented as the result of sin. In the punishment pronounced upon Adam for his disobedience, it is said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” St. Paul, in writing to the Romans, says, “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” But here we may not limit the meaning of death to physical dissolution. It signifies, says Alford, “primarily, but not only, physical death: as ἁμαρτία, so θάνατος, is general, including the lesser in the greater, i.e., spiritual and eternal death.” (See also Stuart’s commentary in loco.) In no instance, we believe, where the word death is used to express the penalty of sin should its meaning be limited to the dissolution of the body. For the dissolution of the body is natural, and would have taken place even if man had not sinned. We conclude thus—
1. Because of the testimony of geology. “We are confronted,” says Mr. Froude, “with evidence that death has reigned through all creation from the earliest period, of which the stratified rocks preserve the record.” The world had been familiar with death for ages before the creation of man.
2. Because of the nature of the physical constitution of man. “Birth, growth, and arriving at maturity, as completely imply decay and death as the source of a river implies the termination of it, or as spring and summer imply corn-fields and reaping. Hence, whatever the vigour and the powers of repair that may pertain to any given structure, whatever resistance it may offer to the shocks of ages, Time, sooner or later, dissolves it; careful, however, to renew whatever it takes away, and to convert, invariably, every end into a new beginning. There is not a grave in the whole circuit of nature that is not at the same moment a cradle.”
3. Because of the limited accommodation which the world affords as a home for man. “The command given both to animals and man, to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ implies the removal of successive races by death; otherwise the world would long since have been overstocked; plants, for their part, are described as created ‘yielding seed,’ which carries with it the same inevitable consequence. The produce of so minute a creature as a fly would, if unchecked, soon darken the air, and render whole regions desolate; the number of seeds ripened by a single poppy, were they all to grow and be fruitful in their turn, would in a few years suffice to clothe a continent.”
4. Because the material body is a hindrance to man’s complete spiritual freedom and perfection. The human body as it is in this world seems to us to imprison and impede the soul’s action and growth. We have faculties which cannot be fully developed here and under our present conditions. “We that are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened,” &c. (See 2 Corinthians 5:1-4.)
For these and other reasons which may be adduced, we hold that in itself the dissolution of the body is not the result of sin. How, then, are we to regard death as the penalty of sin? In what way is human frailty the result of human sin? We reply: in the sufferings with which death is associated.
I. Death is associated with physical sufferings, and these are the result of sin. It is true that there are some who die without any physical suffering. But in the great majority of instances the death of man is a thing of strange and severe suffering. The diseases of which men die are most of them very painful, and death itself is a mysterious and probably a painful thing. But the sufferings are the result of sin. If man had not sinned, death would probably have resembled sinking into an easy and gentle slumber, and have been as sweet as sleep is to the weary; it would have been that euthanasia to all men which Augustus Cæsar used so passionately to desire, and which is predicated of the Christian in a well-known and beautiful hymn—
“How blest the righteous when he dies!
When sinks a weary soul to rest,
How mildly beam the closing eyes,
How gently heaves the expiring breast!
So fades a summer cloud away,
So sinks the gale when storms are o’er,
So gently shuts the eye of day,
So dies a wave along the shore!”
Had it not been for sin, the probability is that no one would have died from disease; dissolution would have been entirely freed from physical sufferings, and would have been as “a gentle wafting to immortal life.”
II. Death is associated with mental sufferings, and these are the result of sin. These sufferings arise from—
1. The dread of death. In the Epistle to the Hebrews Christ is represented as dying to “deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” We are travellers in “the valley of the shadow of death.” That shadow projects itself over life’s fairest scenes. And the dread of death seizes us sometimes even in our brightest hours.
(1) This dread arises partly from the mystery of death. Who knows what strange anguish of body there may be in death? What mental sufferings utterly unknown to us may await us in dying? In the separation of the soul from the body may there not be an awful sorrow? Millions have passed through this experience; but not one has returned to tell us of the mysteries through which they passed. And those that were raised from death by our Lord uttered no word as to its nature. They removed none of the mystery. Each man must solve the mystery for himself. This mystery is distressing. But had it not been for sin it would probably not have existed. Man would probably have had a clear knowledge of the nature and meaning of the transition. And even if the mystery had existed it would certainly not have been distressing, for man would have had such firm and large faith in God as would have enabled him to rise above anxiety and fear.
(2) This dread is partly the dread of non-existence. Man shrinks from extinction. The thought of passing into utter nothingness, of not being, is full of pain to him. But is there life after death? Is not death the end of man? What is there but darkness, oblivion, nothingness, beyond this present and manifest life? Who has not sympathised with the afflicted patriarch in his meditations and questionings? “There is hope of a tree if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,” &c. (Job 14:7-14). Is there anything after death but “a long, unconscious, never-ending sleep”?
“When shall spring visit the mouldering urn?
Oh, when shall it dawn on the night of the grave?”
But this dread of non-existence is one of the results of sin. Had man not sinned he would have known that death was but transition; nay, that it was the birth of his spirit into a higher state of being.
(3) This dread is partly the dread of a miserable existence. The consciousness of guilt leads man to dread a future of misery and endless woe. The guilty conscience arrays God in aspects of terror, and pictures a future of terrible suffering as the punishment of sin. But had man not sinned, the future would have been to him bright, beautiful, and inviting, rich in enjoyment and rich in promise.
2. The sorrows of bereavement. In the case of those who are called to die, the greatest anguish which they suffer frequently arises from having to leave those whom they love as their own soul. Inconceivable must be the anguish of the loving mother when summoned away from her tender, helpless babe. And who can conceive the deep and silent grief of the kind husband and father who is leaving his wife and children, widowed and orphaned, to fight life’s battle without the aid of his strong arm, or wise head, or loving heart? The sorrow of the bereaved is also very great. Tennyson has given utterance to the feeling of thousands of bereaved mourners:
“For this alone on Death I wreak
The wrath that garners in my heart;
He put our lives so far apart,
We cannot hear each other speak.”
Oh, the hearts that are almost breaking in loneliness and unutterable distress because of the bereavements of death! But all this distress is the result of sin. If man had not sinned the dying mother would confidently leave her cherished babe, and the dying husband and father his wife and children, to the wise and loving and all-sufficient care of the Heavenly Father. If man had not sinned we should not mourn the departure of our loved ones. With clear perceptions of the spiritual universe, we should see that the separation was more apparent than real, we should know that they are in the enjoyment of a higher, fuller life, a life of blessedness, and that we should soon join them in their high spheres and Divine services. Oh, it is sin that makes bereavement painful! “The sting of death is sin.” Take away sin, and though death remain, its repulsiveness and painfulness would be entirely gone. Sin has made dissolution physically painful; sin has shortened men’s lives by diseases and crimes; sin has robed death in mystery; sin has made man to shrink from death lest it should lead to non-existence or miserable existence; sin has caused all the anguish of bereavements, all and everything that is painful in death is the result of sin.
1. Brothers, let us hate sin. Let us have nothing to do with sin except to resist it, oppose it, save men from it.
2. Let us be thankful for the Gospel. Christ is the conqueror of death. He has taken away its sting. He is the Saviour from sin. Those who believe on Him shall become holy and heavenly. To them death is no longer a foe, but the kind messenger of the loving Father.
SIN ESTIMATED BY THE LIGHT OF HEAVEN
The appearance of objects, and the ideas which we form of them, are very much affected by the situation in which they are placed with respect to us, and by the light in which they are seen.… No two persons will form precisely the same idea of any object, unless they view it in the same light, or are placed with respect to it in the same situation.… God sees all objects just as they are; but we see them through a deceitful medium, which ignorance, prejudice, and self-love place between them and us. Apply these remarks to the case before us. “Thou hast set our iniquities,” &c. That is, our iniquities or open transgressions, and our secret sins, the sins of our hearts, are placed, as it were, full before God’s face; and He sees them in the pure, clear, all-disclosing light of His own holiness and glory. Now, if we would see our sins as they appear to Him, that is, as they really are; if we would see their number, blackness, and criminality, and the malignity and desert of every sin, we must place ourselves as nearly as possible in His situation, and look at sin as it were through His eyes. Recollect, that the God in whose presence you are, is the Being who forbids sin, the Being, of whose eternal law sin is the transgression, and against whom every sin is committed. Keeping this in mind, let us—
1. Bring forward what the Psalmist, in our text, calls our iniquities, that is, our more gross and open sins, and see how they appear in the light of God’s countenance. Have any of you been guilty of impious, profane, passionate, or indecent, corrupting language? How does such language sound in heaven? in the ears of angels, in the ears of that God, who gave us our tongues for noble purposes?… Is this fit language for God to hear? Let every one inquire whether he has ever violated the third commandment, by using the name of God in a profane or irreverent manner. If he has, let him bring forward his transgressions of this kind, and see how they appear in the light of God’s presence.… Have any of you been guilty of uttering what is untrue? If so, bring forward all the falsehoods, all the deceitful expressions, which you have ever uttered, and see how they appear in the presence of the God of truth; of that God, who has declared, that He abhors a lying tongue, and that all liars shall have their portion in the burning lake. Oh, what is it to stand convicted of falsehood before such a God as this! After the above manner treat the sins of perjury, Sabbath-breaking, adultery, fraud, injustice or dishonesty, and intemperance.
While attending to the preceding remarks, probably many of my hearers may have felt as if they were not personally concerned in them, as if they were guilty of none of those gross iniquities. I would indeed hope that of some of them, at least, none of you are guilty. But these are by no means the only iniquities of which God takes notice; for our text further informs us, that He has set our secret sins, the sins of our hearts, in the light of His countenance. Let us then—
II. Bring our hearts into heaven, and there, laying them open to view, see how they will appear in that world of unclouded light and unsullied purity.
What a disclosure is made, when, with the dissecting knife of a spiritual anatomist, we lay open the human heart, with all its dark recesses and intricate windings, and expose the lurking abominations, which it conceals, not to the light of day, but to the light of heaven! Even in this sinful world, the spectacle which such a disclosure would exhibit could not be borne. The man whose heart should thus be laid open to public view would be banished from society; nay, he would himself fly from it, overwhelmed with shame and confusion. Of this every man is sensible, and therefore conceals his heart from all eyes with jealous care.… And if the heart laid open to view would appear thus black in this dark, sinful world, who can describe, or conceive of the blackness which it must exhibit, when surrounded by the dazzling whiteness of heaven, and seen in the light of God’s presence, the light of His holiness and love? How do proud, self-exalting thoughts appear, when viewed in the presence of Him, before whom all the nations of the earth are less than nothing, and vanity? Speak of self-will, impatience, discontent; angry, envious, revengeful feelings; and wanton, impure thoughts. If all the evil thoughts and wrong feelings which have passed in countless numbers through either of our hearts were poured out in heaven, angels would stand aghast at the sight, &c. To the omniscient God alone would the sight not be surprising. He alone knows what is in the heart of man; and what He knows of it He has described in brief but terribly expressive terms. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” &c.
III. Let us take a similar view of our sins of omission. Our sins of omission are by far the most numerous, and by no means the least criminal offences of which we are guilty. Speak of God’s perfections, His glory, His goodness to us, and of our obligations to Him. Does He not deserve to be loved, and feared, and served with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength? Yet from Him we have all withheld our affections and services. Our whole lives present one unbroken series of duties neglected, of favours not acknowledged. And, oh, how do they appear when we review them in the light of God’s countenance!…
While God’s law requires us to love Him with all the heart, it also requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves. And this general command virtually includes a great number of subordinate precepts, precepts which prescribe the duties of the various relations that subsist between us and our fellow creatures. How far have we obeyed these precepts?… Oh, how much more might we have done, than we actually have done, to promote the temporal and eternal happiness of all with whom we are connected!
Nor do our sins of omission end here. There is another Being whom we are under infinite obligations to love, and praise, and serve with supreme affection. This Being is the Lord Jesus Christ, considered as our Redeemer and Saviour, who has bought us with His blood. We are required to feel that we are not our own, but His; to prefer Him to every earthly object, to rely upon Him with implicit confidence, to live, not to ourselves, but to Him, and to honour Him even as we honour the Father. Every moment, then, in which we neglected to obey these commands, we were guilty of a new sin of omission.… How grossly have we failed in performing this part of our duty! How must the manner in which we have treated the beloved Son appear in the sight of God!
A day is approaching in which you will be constrained to see your sins as they appear in the light of God’s countenance. When that day arrives, His eternal Son, the appointed Judge, will be seen coming in the clouds of heaven, &c.… Be persuaded now to come to the light, that your deeds may be reproved, and set in order before you; exercise such feelings respecting them, and so judge yourselves, that you may not be condemned of the Lord on that day.—E. Payson, D.D. Abridged.
LIFE AN EXCLAMATION
“We spend our years as a tale that is told.”
The word translated “tale” occurs twice: in Job 37:2, “Hear attentively the noise of His voice, and the sound that goeth out of His mouth;” and Ezekiel 2:10, “And there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” In the first passage the reference is to the thunder, which is the voice, the utterance, the grand soliloquy of God. In the second passage the word describes the broken accents of grief, the abrupt and incomplete exclamation of deep and overwhelming sorrow. So when life is described in the text, the meaning is that it is a brief and broken exclamation, a hurried voice, a short and startling sound which is soon lost in the silence of eternity.
I. The main idea of the text is the transientness of life: it has the brevity of a cry. And does not this accord with fact? The utterances may be of different lengths, but life is always short. Some lives have only one word, some several, yet is each an exclamation. Some have the completeness of finished sentences; some fail in the midst; some have only a beginning, rather intimate that there is something to be said than say it. Then is life short, indeed, when man dies, not because he has exhausted a force so much as because he has met with an obstruction. And yet how often is this the case! The days are “cut off:” “the sun goes down while it is yet day:” “the flower fadeth.” Why did they live at all? What was the reason of their being?
And then, also, is life short when, though its voice fails not at the commencement of its utterance, it is broken off in the midst, and gives no complete expression to the deep meaning with which it is charged. And yet how often is it as an unfinished cry! How often do men pass away before they have half revealed the significance of their being!
But the brevity assigned to life in the text belongs to all life, and not to any lives in particular. It is brevity which marks it as a whole, marks it in its longest term.…
Things are long and short in comparison. The sense of duration is not absolute. The insect that lives but a day has, or might have, the feelings with which we regard seventy years.… And what those transient creatures are to us, that should we be to others proportionably longer-lived than we. Suppose a being to live two millions of years, he would look down on our existence of seventy years with the same feelings as those with which we regard the creature of a day. It is only eternity that is really long—absolutely long. Compared with that, all time is short. Whatever can cease is as nothing to that which never ceases; it is simply impossible to compare them.… Life may seem long while it is going on, &c. But what is life when put against interminable years!
We may appropriate both terms, the transient and the endless. We may connect together the life that is but as a broken exclamation, and the life that is as an everlasting voice. I said we may connect them together, but the solemn truth is, that they are connected together independently of our act or thought. That besides which life is vanity will take its character from life. Eternity makes life nothing, and yet everything; sinks it to utter insignificance, and yet invests it with inconceivable importance. Consider the two as contrasted, and life vanishes in the presence of eternity. Consider the two as related, and life partakes of the augustness and awfulness of eternity.
II. If life is transient as a cry, it is a cry full of meaning. The importance of utterances does not depend on their length; it is not how long it takes to express a thing, but the nature of the thing expressed, which decides the greatness of the expression. A few words may reveal a world of meaning.… It is the fulness of the heart which seeks relief in cries, and that which makes them short makes them significant. Then do fewest words suffice when many words are felt to be too few. Life is a cry, but what does it not reveal? The broken speech of our earthly days is the voice of souls. It shows what we are as souls; our principles, habits, &c.… And, showing what we are, it shows also what we shall be, what we shall be for ever. And it does more than show what we shall be, it helps to make us it.
This is the view of life I wish you to take.… Regarded alone, we may despise it; we may be angry with it; we may say, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;” we may give way to despondency and depression; but, regarded along with what it indicates and prepares for, it will excite us to holy diligence, gird up our loins for hope and service. Thus regarded, its very vanity will only make it more precious, and we shall tremble to neglect the brief period which is the seedtime of eternity …
I ask you, whose life is so evanescent, yet so significant, what are you saying? what is the meaning of that living word which issues forth, consciously or unconsciously, from your hearts? Many different cries proceed from our common nature. Life in some is a cry of wonder, an expression of amazement at this mysterious universe, and their own mysterious being. Life in some is a cry of pain, … grief from physical suffering, grief from adversities of lot, grief from social pressure on the heart’s affections. Life in some is a cry of joy, the rapid, incoherent speech of ecstatic feeling. I do not ask which of these your life is, nor does it much signify in relation to the most important of all matters. Be it the expression of wonder, pain, or joy, it may be sad or glorious; it may be the wonder of a believing or a sceptical spirit; it may be the pain of a patient or angry spirit; it may be the joy of a spirit whose portion is the world, or whose portion is the Lord. But I do ask you, what is the temper and the form of your life? With many, it is but an oath; a revelation of enmity against God and godliness; a forgetfulness of all that should be remembered, a neglect of all that should be cared for, a dislike of all that should be loved, a disobedience of all that should be submitted to. But there are many with whom life is a prayer; its exclamations are like ejaculatory supplications; the pouring out of the heart in adoration, petition, praise; the expression of dependence, desire, devotion, &c.
Let me ask you, what are you and what are you likely to be in that eternity which is so speedily to succeed the days which are as a shadow?… Life must be sinful if your heart be not renewed by the Holy Ghost; must be wretched if you be not reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Time, which is so short, is the season for conversion, salvation; and without these, when it is passed, you will find yourselves in an eternity for which no preparation has been made. Everlasting life dates from regeneration, not from death; we cannot have the life immortal if we be not born again. Dying in sin, your destiny must be destruction; without God now, you will be without God for ever. Oh! if you have not yet yielded your soul to the Gospel, … let me entreat you to awaken to the transient nature of this probationary period. This evanescent life is big with the fortunes of eternity, and you are deciding what they shall be. Be wise, repent, accept the atonement, go in the way of life, &c.—A. J. Morris. Abridged.
HUMAN FRAILTY AN INCENTIVE TO SEEK THE DIVINE BLESSING
The Psalmist passes from meditation to supplication. Having meditated upon the eternity of God and the transientness and misery of man’s life upon earth, and traced man’s sufferings to his sins, he here proceeds to implore the blessings of the eternal and unchangeable God upon His frail creature—man. He asks from God—
I. Help in forming a correct estimate of life. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
It would have been reasonable to have concluded, that since man’s life is so short and sad he would form a true estimate of it. Yet this he does not. “All men count all men mortal but themselves.” Though life is so uncertain, yet every man acts as though he had a certain future guaranteed unto him. Though life is so brief, yet each man acts as though he had a long earthly future before him. A correct estimate of life must include two things—
1. That it is brief. “Behold, Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before Thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” (See remarks on “the extreme brevity of man’s life upon earth,” Psalms 90:1-6.)
2. That it is preparatory. This world is a great school, and our life in it is educational. We are here to prepare characters for eternity; primarily and pre-eminently, but not exclusively, our own; and to help others in the formation and development of noble characters. What a vast and important work of preparation for eternity has to be done in this brief life! How much have we to do in and for ourselves! In us there are angry passions to be quelled, evil habits whose power must be broken, besetting sins to be conquered. And we have so much to acquire: our deficiencies and imperfections are so numerous, our moral power is so feeble, our spiritual aspirations are so irregular and weak. Verily, our preparation for eternity is advanced only a little way. We have much to do before our spiritual education will be anything like complete. Then we have much to do for others. The parent has many plans which he wants to see carried out concerning his children. The Christian minister feels that in the exposition and application of Divine truth, and in the oversight of the souls committed to his charge, he has a vast and unspeakably important work yet to do. Every man who takes an interest in his fellow-man must feel that he has much to do in helping to remove the ignorance and sin and suffering of men, by helping them to acquire knowledge, and by leading them to the Saviour from sin and the Healer of suffering. When life is thus estimated men will “apply their hearts unto wisdom.”
“’Tis not for man to trifle! Life is brief,
And sin is here.
Our age is but the falling of a leaf,
A dropping tear.
We have no time to sport away the hours,
All must be earnest in a world like ours.
“Not many lives, but only one have we—
One, only one;
How sacred should that one life ever be—
That narrow span!
Day after day filled up with blessed toil,
Hour after hour still bringing in new spoil.”
The Psalmist supplicates—
II. The mercy of God in life. He prays that God would exercise His mercy towards them—
1. In the removal of His anger. “Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants.” The Israelites in the wilderness were visited with some severe expressions of the wrath of God by reason of their sin. Their long, and mournful, and apparently fruitless wanderings in the wilderness were a punishment from God because of sin. For a long time they had been bearing the heavy judgments of the Lord; so they cry unto Him, “How long?” How long shall Thy wrath lie heavily upon us? The petition of this verse is very similar to a petition in a former prayer of Moses: “Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people.” “According to the usual phraseology of Scripture,” says Calvin, “God is said to repent, when, after dissipating sadness, and giving again occasions for joy, He appears as if He had changed.” Yet really there is no change in God. Repentance is impossible to Him. But when man turns to Him in repentance, He turns to man in mercy. When He withdraws His anger it is not because a change has taken place in Him; but because man has changed, and taken a different position in relation to His law and government. So Moses prays that God would turn in mercy to them, and bring His judgments upon them to an end.
2. In the communication of satisfaction to them. “O satisfy us early with Thy mercy.” Literally, “Satisfy us in the morning with Thy mercy.” In the Scripture suffering and distress are frequently set forth by the emblem of night. Morning is an emblem of salvation and joy. (Comp. Job 11:17; Psalms 30:5.) If God in mercy appeared to the Israelites, that appearance would be to them as the dawn of a joyous morning. They pray for satisfaction in the mercy of God. Under the displeasure of God there can be no satisfaction. If any soul is satisfied out of God, that soul is dead. In His favour is life. Only in God can the human soul, with its unutterable yearnings, its quenchless aspirations, and its profound cravings, find satisfaction and repose.
3. In granting gladness to them. In the petitions for gladness three things demand our attention.
(1) They seek gladness as a result of mercy. “Satisfy us early with Thy mercy; That we may rejoice and be glad.” The night of their mourning would end, and the day of their joy would dawn, when God satisfied them with His mercy. From the conscious possession of God’s favour the deepest, highest, purest, divinest joy springs.
(2) They seek gladness as a life-long experience. “All our days.” Much of sin, gloom, and suffering had been in their past life; they desire that in all their future life there may be the Divine mercy and holy joy. It is the privilege of the child of God “to rejoice evermore.” “Your joy no man taketh from you.”
(3) They seek gladness in proportion to their afflictions. “Make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.” It is a principle of God’s providential dealings that light and darkness, happiness and distress, in human life shall bear some proportion to each other. “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other.” He balances the varying experiences of our lives. The Israelites in the wilderness had many days of His displeasure; they entreat as many days of His favour. They had passed through years of mournful wandering; they pray for a corresponding number of years of peace and joy. The Psalmist entreats—
III. The manifestation of God’s power and grace in life. “Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Here is a prayer—
1. That God would work manifestly on their behalf. “Show to Thy servants Thy doing,” is really a prayer for the interposition of God on their behalf; that He would display His great power in introducing them to prosperity. Moses knew how mighty in working Jehovah is, and so he prays that He would work for them and for their salvation.
2. That God would grant unto them of His grace. “Show Thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” God’s glory consists of His goodness. When Moses prayed, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory,” the Lord answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee.” He is “glorious in holiness,” glorious in grace. It is probable that they prayed that God’s glory may be manifested to their children, because God had promised to lead their children into the land into which by reason of sin they entered not. That the glory of Divine grace and strength may be displayed to their children, even though themselves may not see it, they earnestly desire. It has been well pointed out “that this prayer was answered. Though the first generation fell in the wilderness, yet the labours of Moses and his companions were blessed to the second. These were the most devoted to God of any generation that Israel ever saw. It was of them that the Lord said, ‘I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a laud that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first fruits of His increase.’ It was then that Balaam could not curse, but, though desirous of the wages of unrighteousness, was compelled to forego them, and his curse was turned into a blessing.” “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” is also a petition for the favour of God; that the beauty of the Divine character may be revealed in them, and be revealed by them to others. If the grace of God dwell richly in us, it will radiate from us in lives of spiritual beauty and power. The Psalmist prays for—
IV. The establishment of human work in life. “Establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.”
This petition, in its relation to Moses, has a very touching significance. He was to die without seeing the result of the great work of his life. The millions whom he led from Egyptian slavery remained slaves in spirit throughout life; and, because they were slaves and not men, they were not permitted to enter the promised land. Moses himself may see it, but must not enter therein. To a superficial observer his work must have appeared useless, and his life a failure of most magnificent faculties. But his life was no failure; his work was not in vain. That which he had commenced was carried forward to glorious completion. Dr. James Hamilton has truly remarked, that “for forty years it had been the business of Moses to bring Israel into a right state politically, morally, religiously; that had been his work. And yet, in so far as it was to have any success or enduringness, it must be God’s work. ‘The work of our hands’ do Thou establish; and this God does when, in answer to prayer, He adopts the work of His servants, and makes it His own ‘work,’ His own ‘glory,’ His own ‘beauty.’ ” Human efforts in a good cause, when they are made earnestly and in humble dependence upon the blessing of God for success, cannot be in vain. God will establish them.
CONCLUSION.—“If man be ephemeral, God is eternal.” And through Christ man may dwell in God, and be made a partaker of His character and blessedness. In ourselves we are insignificant, vain, worthless—bewildering and mournful enigmas; but in God we rise into harmony, holiness, power, usefulness; life grows deep in significance, brilliant in prospect, and divine in destiny. Through our Lord Jesus Christ let every man seek to become one with God.
AN ALL-IMPORTANT NUMERATION
I. The Teacher. The eternal Lord God.
1. He thoroughly understands the subject. “Our days,” their number, their importance, &c., He knoweth perfectly.
2. He is thoroughly acquainted with the pupils. Our circumstances, temperament, aptitude or inaptitude as learners, He knoweth right well.
3. He has great influence over the pupils. He can influence our understanding, direct our judgment, work conviction in us.
II. The pupils. Frail men. Strange that we should need teaching on this subject. The remarkable frailty and the unspeakable importance of human life is constantly proclaimed by—
1. The voice of history. All the generations of the past have gone “the way to dusty death.”
2. The scenes and circumstances of life. Crowded cemeteries, funeral processions, bereaved families.
3. Our own experience. Infirmities, pains, diseases, announce our frailty. Yet we need that God should teach us in this matter. This need indicates disorder in our moral judgment, disinclination to receive the fact of our frailty, &c.
III. The lesson. “To number our days.” “It is to take the measure of our days as compared with the work to be performed, with the provision to be laid up for eternity, with the preparation to be made for death, with the precaution to be taken against judgment. It is to estimate human life by the purposes to which it should be applied, by the eternity to which it must conduct, and in which it shall at last be absorbed.” He numbers his days well who—
1. Mourns the time past which hat been misspent.
2. Diligently uses time present.
3. Trusts the time future entirely to God.
IV. The end. “That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” This wisdom is not speculative, but practical; not intellectual, but moral.
1. True religion is wisdom.
2. True religion requires application of heart.
3. The remembrance of life’s transientness is calculated to promote this application.
“Therefore, “So teach us to number our days,” &c.
(See a fine sermon on this verse, by F. W. Robertson. Sermons, vol. iv.)
THE MERCY OF GOD SOLICITED
On these words the following observations may be founded:—
I. All men have sinned against God, and therefore need mercy.
II. The consideration that life is short and uncertain, has a remarkable tendency to impress this important truth upon the mind.
III. It is the duty of every one to implore the mercy of God by fervent prayer.
IV. The mercy of God is the only satisfying portion.
V. We ought not only to desire that this mercy may be granted, but should pray that it may be imparted “early.”
VI. The possessor of God’s mercy is qualified to rejoice and be glad all his days—“The Young Minister’s Companion.”
THE THREE PETITIONS
Here are three petitions. Let us look at them in their logical order of thought, rather than their poetic expression.
I. The first petition asks for some visible results from the work attempted. “Let Thy work appear.” Is not this a most natural and lawful petition? The worker longs to see some fruit of his work, some positive testimony that he has not toiled in vain. Do not most men ardently desire this, no matter what the nature of their work? The statesman wishes it, the merchant, the farmer, the teacher, and why not the Christian? But the Christian is sometimes tempted to carry his desire too far. God may, therefore, think fit to withhold from his sight no small portion of the actual result, lest the servant forget whose the work really is, and what is his true relation to it. He so deals with us that our patience may take root and grow. He disappoints our desire for visible results to draw us nearer to Himself, to deepen our trust, &c. He helps us to understand what we are so slow to learn, that, from the very character of our work, we never can see in this world more than a few conspicuous ears. Yet “the work of our hands”—all of it—will hereafter “appear,” not a grain of it lost, not a single product of that grain hidden or obscured. We may, therefore, still continue to offer the petition to the Lord of the harvest, for some visible results of our sowing; but do not let us be discouraged if, for reasons best known to Him, our prayer is not answered here and now.
II. The second petition asks for the stability of the work. And is not this as natural as the desire that the work should “appear”? No one wishes that the thing upon which he has bestowed his deepest thought, his severest and most conscientious labour, should be scattered and lost. It depends, humanly speaking, upon the character of the work, how long it will endure. It is so in material works.… Good honest work, even if it be not of the highest type, is the only durable work. But what work can compare in value with “turning men to righteousness?” Many Christian workers, however, tremble for the future of their work. Losing faith in the power of its living energy, they have, as they thought, “established” it, lest it should die out and be no more seen; with what results a hundred damaging facts patent to our eyes declare. The work, in its root of life, is not man’s but God’s; hence the appropriateness of the second petition, “Establish Thou the work of our hands,” &c. The repetition of the prayer is for the sake of emphasis. He began the good work; He alone can make it constant and firm. “Establish Thou it,” set it up, as a throne is set up, as a city is founded, as an altar is reared, &c.
III. The third petition asks for the succession and expansion of the work, for its widest possible influence. The beauty and glory have come upon us Thy servants. Let them also descend upon our children. This is the parent’s wish and continual prayer. We pray “that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth,” &c. The sons of Christians are the hope of the Church. The children of Christians are the best workers in the Church to-day; in the home, in the school, in the sanctuary, in the mission-field.
But the petition is for our descendants, near or remote; for all who shall follow us in that grand and never-broken procession through the ages of living men. Nothing less than this expresses the fulness of the prayer, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done as in heaven so in earth.”
Two cautions we shall all do well to heed—
1. Prayer without work is mockery.
2. Work without prayer is vain.—J. Jackson Goadby. Abridged from “The Evangelical Magazine.”
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 90". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany