Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 91". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ psalms-91.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 91". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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There is no title prefixed to this Psalm. We know not who is the author of it. The conjecture, which has been made by some, that it was written by Moses, is very inadequately sustained. Neither do we know the time or occasion of its composition. The Psalm is general in its character, and applies to the whole Church.
A remarkable feature of the Psalm is the frequent change of persons, from which some have inferred that it was composed for singing by alternate choirs. The explanation of Hengstenberg seems to us more reasonable: “That the Psalmist speaks at one time from his own person to the soul of the righteous one who is in danger, and revives its courage, while at another time he expresses confidence from the soul of the righteous man; and thus in that pleasant alternation which forms the characteristic peculiarity of the Psalm, he employs at one time the thou in the character of teacher, and at another time the I in the character of scholar.… The call of instruction in Scripture (this is the meaning of the alternation), ought always to be responded to by the acknowledgment of the hearer.”
For our homiletical purpose we shall divide the Psalm thus:—The safe hiding-place of the godly (Psalms 91:1-2), The inviolable security of the godly (Psalms 91:3-10), The angelic ministers of the godly (Psalms 91:11-13), The glorious privileges of the godly (Psalms 91:14-16).
THE SAFE HIDING-PLACE OF THE GODLY
Into these two verses is condensed the contents of the whole Psalm. The statement of the first verse expresses in brief what is afterwards set forth with some particularity,—the safety of him who places his trust in God. And in the second verse the Poet expresses his own firm assurance of his safety in Jehovah his God. We have in the text—
I. An implication of danger. That the Psalmist was sensible of danger is clear from the fact that he regarded God as a “refuge” and a “fortress.” The godly are in peril by reason of—
1. The trials of life. Bodily pains, mental perplexities, spiritual sorrows and struggles, involve danger to those who pass through them. The very nature of trial, i.e., testing, involves the idea of possible failure. Bodily pain may result in petulance or bitterness of spirit, mental perplexities may lead to a paralysing unbelief, spiritual conflicts may issue in loss, and even in defeat. The godly soul is in danger and needs a “refuge.”
2. Spiritual adversaries. The good man has to contend with foes. His “adversary the devil as a roaring lion goeth about, seeking whom he may devour.” He is hated by the world. Its spirit and principles, many of its practices, many of its amusements, and much of its literature, are opposed to the interests and even the life of the godly soul. Temptation to evil is a great and sad fact in this world. Moreover, the good man finds that in himself there are “fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” His life is a great moral battle. Numerous and powerful forces are arrayed against him. Seductive influences also are brought to bear upon him to lead him astray. His life is one of peril. He needs a “fortress” from which he may hurl defiance at his foes.
II. An assurance of safety. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Notice here:
1. The condition. To realise this safety the godly man must “dwell in the secret place of the Most High.” סֵתָר, which is here translated “the secret place,” signifies primarily a veil, a covering, then, what is secret, then, a hiding-place, protection. The latter we take to be the meaning in this place. The godly soul dwells in the hiding-place, i.e., in the protection of the Most High. His trust he reposes in God. He looks to Him for protection from the fiery darts of the wicked, and for support and shelter in the storms of life. To assure his safety the good man must “dwell” in the hiding-place of the Most High. The literal rendering is, “He that sitteth in the,” &c. He dwells in quietude, he finds rest there, he is settled there. “God’s children should not come to God’s secret place as guests to an inn, but as inhabitants to their own dwellings.” Speaking without any figure, the condition of spiritual safety is constant trust in God as our Protector. “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.”
2. The promise. “Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The rendering in the margin is “shall lodge”. Hengstenberg translates: “spends the night.” The idea is, that that is his home, the place where he passes his nights. Under the shadow is explained by some by the bird who hides her young ones under her wings for their protection. Others explain it as indicating the great nearness of God to His people, and their consequent safety. We must be and continue very close to a person for his shadow to fall constantly upon us. Thus to abide under His shadow is to realise His constant presence, and to be always secure in His protection. The names of God which are here used set forth the ground upon which this assurance of the godly man is based: “the Most High,” “the Almighty.” What power can harm the man who is protected by the constant presence of the Supreme and Omnipotent Being? In the time of temptation, affliction, and darkness, we shall pass the night under His shadow. And in the toil and battle of the day, with its heat and burden, we shall rest secure beneath the Almighty’s shade. In His nearness to us our safety lies. While we are under His shadow no evil can befall us. Distance from Him means danger. Closeness to Him means entire security.
III. An expression of confidence. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in Him will I trust.” Consider here—
1. The aspects in which God is regarded. He is spoken of as a “Refuge.” God is the refuge of His people from the storms of life. In times of suffering and trial they find safety and comfort in Him. He is also a “fortress.” The idea of this word is different from that of a refuge. The refuge was a quiet and secure hiding-place; the fortress is a place of defence against foes, which is strong to resist the attacks of opposing forces. In life’s warfare God is the stronghold of His people; He is their shield. “O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.” Having His protection we are invulnerable. In life’s storms He is the safe and quiet shelter of His people. “My soul trusteth in Thee: yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” The Psalmist also speaks of the Lord as his “God” the object of His worship; One who is worthy of all obedience and affection, all reverence and confidence, all praise and glory. Jehovah was to the Psalmist all that a man expects in his God.
2. The confidence which is expressed in Him. The Psalmist’s confidence in God is manifest
(1) In his resolve to trust Him. “In Him will I trust.” The Psalmist confidently leaves His interests in the hands of God. Believing in His power, goodness, and faithfulness, he trusts Him—confides in Him.
(2) In the appropriating nature of his faith. He says, “My refuge, my fortress, my God.” There is little or no strength or encouragement to be drawn from believing in the Lord as a refuge and a fortress unless we realise our interest in Him. But when faith is in vigorous exercise and we claim God as our own, then are we inspirited and strengthened. Can we look to God and say, “My refuge, my fortress, my God”?
(3) In the declaration of his confidence. “I will say of the Lord,” &c. He was determined to proclaim his confidence in God. He believes, and, therefore, he speaks. Men are ready enough now-a-days to speak of their doubts. But he is the noble man and the useful man who can intelligently and reverently speak of his faith; who says, “I know whom I have believed,” &c.; and who is “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh him a reason for the hope that is in him with meekness and fear.” Great was the confidence of the Psalmist in God, and his great confidence he declares unto others.
CONCLUSION.—We also are exposed to trials and dangers, and need a refuge and a defence. Our safety is in God alone. Having Him for our God we are beyond the reach of any real harm. We secure His protection by trusting in Him. By faith we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and are ever secure under His shadow. Do not fear or hesitate to trust God fully and for ever. Commit yourself with confidence into His hands, and you shall dwell safely by Him for ever.
THE INVIOLABLE SECURITY OF THE GODLY
In these verses the Poet sets forth with a measure of particularity what he has already expressed briefly and generally. He expresses in joyous song his strong confidence that he is safe from dangers of every kind, because he is protected by God. The inviolable security of the godly is here represented—
I. As effected by God. “Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” The Psalmist felt that he had for protector no less a being than God Himself. Two features of the Divine protection are here brought into view.
1. Its tenderness. “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.” The young birds under the wing of their mother are tenderly guarded. (See our notes on Psalms 57:1; Psalms 63:7.) Gotthold tells how that during a fire at Delft, in Holland, certain storks, finding it impossible to preserve their brood, placed themselves upon the nest, spread over them their wings, and so perished with them in the flames. “Under these wings,” says Bernard, “four blessings are conferred upon us. For under these wings we are concealed: under these we are protected from the attacks of the hawks and kites, which are the powers of the air: under these a salubrious shade refreshes us, and wards off the overpowering heat of the sun: under these also we are nourished and cherished.”
2. Its effectiveness. Wings and feathers indicate the tender and loving character of the Divine protection. Yet wings and feathers are weak and may be easily broken. But the Divine protection is as strong as it is tender, as efficient as it is gracious. “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” God’s word, and His faithfulness to His word, are as armour to His people, preserving them from the onslaughts of their enemies. In such a protector we do well to trust and rejoice. He is wise to baffle the crafty designs of the cunning fowler; tender to shelter us from the storm and tempest; and strong to defend us in the day of battle.
II. As gloriously complete. The Psalmist labours to set forth the completeness of the safety of the godly man. He represents him as being—
1. Safe from all perils. It is perhaps impossible to assert with certainty what the Psalmist meant by each of the phrases and figures he employed. “The snare of the fowler” indicates danger arising from the craft and cunning of enemies. The great enemy of God and man is especially signified. The Lord delivers His people from “the wiles of the devil.” “The noisome pestilence.” There is a difference in both the translations and the interpretations of this clause. Perowne translates—“The devouring pestilence.” Barnes—“The fatal pestilence; the pestilence that spreads death in its march.” Hengstenberg—“The pestilence of wickedness.” And Matthew Henry says—“The contagion of sin is the noisome pestilence.” We think the latter view the correct one. The first clause of the verse (Psalms 91:3) we regard as representing the subtle temptations of Satan, and the second the ruinous contagion of sin. God delivers from both all who trust in Him. Hengstenberg, as we think with great probability, interprets Psalms 91:5 as setting forth the safety of the godly from the attacks of men, and Psalms 91:6 as setting forth their safety from sickness. Perowne, on Psalms 91:5, says—“Terror by night (comp. Song of Solomon 3:8; Proverbs 3:23-26), in allusion, probably, to night attacks like those of Gideon (Judges 7:0), a favourite artifice of Oriental warfare; or perhaps to a destruction like that of Sennacherib.” And it has been pointed out on Psalms 91:6, that “the diseases of all hot climates, and especially where vegetation is highly luxuriant, and marshes and miry swamps are abundant, proceed from the accumulating vapours of the night, or from the violence of the sun’s rays at mid-day. The beriberi of Ceylon, the spasmodic cholera and jungle-fever of India, and the greater part of the fevers of intertropical climates, especially that called the yellow-fever, chiefly originate from the first of these—‘the pestilence that walketh in darkness;’ while sunstrokes, apoplexies, inflammations of the brain, and liver complaints of most kinds, proceed from the second, ‘the destruction that wasteth at noonday.’ And it is in allusion to this double source of mischief that the Psalmist exclaims most beautifully on another occasion (Psalms 121:6), ‘The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.’ ” The seventh verse seems to refer to warlike relations, and to express the security of the godly in battle. And in Psalms 91:10, where the plague is mentioned as not coming nigh the dwelling of the righteous, there is, perhaps, an allusion to the exemption of the Israelites from the plagues of Egypt. But, leaving the examination of details, let us take hold of the main idea of the Poet, that the godly are safe from perils of all kinds and from all perils. “The variety of figures employed shows that the Psalmist is thinking of peril of every kind, coming from whatever source, and that he paints all dangers and fears vividly to the eye of his mind, in order to express the more joyfully his confidence that none of these things can move him, that over all he is more than conqueror. It is St. Paul’s fervid exclamation, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ expressed in rich poetry.” From all the assaults of Satan, from the fatal contagion of moral evil, from the attacks of enemies both by night and by day, from hurtful diseases, from every plague, from all evil, the godly man is preserved.
2. Safe at all times. “By night, by day; in darkness,” and “at noonday” the Divine protection is alike exercised. “He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.… The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” The guardianship of God is unremitting, constant, and unchangeable. They who trust in Him are at all times safe in His keeping.
3. Raised above the fear of danger. “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 stout heart may well be excused if it were afraid of perils such as these, and especially when they approach us in darkness and at night. In the darkness of night evil is apt to assume an exaggerated character. Imagination increases its terrors. If we could clearly see the perils which threaten us they would lose much of their terror-inspiring power. But the godly man, trusting in the Lord, shall not be afraid of the terrors of the night or the perils of the day. In the midst of dangers he shall walk calmly because of his trust in the all-sufficient protection of God.
But is all this true? Is it not a fact that pestilence seizes the saint as well as the sinner? Does not the plague enter the dwelling of the good man as well as that of the evil? It is unquestionable that the godly are not exempt from “the ills that flesh is heir to.” Loss, sickness, suffering, death, fall to their lot even as to others. What, then, does the Psalmist mean in these verses? How are we to understand them?
We must bear in mind that we are interpreting poetry, not prose. The sacred poets of the Hebrews, like all other poets, used figurative and rhetorical language. And to interpret their poems in the same way as we interpret an historical document, or a logical treatise, or an apostolic letter, would be utterly misleading. The plain truth expressed in these verses is, that God is the Protector of His people, and that they are secure who put their trust in Him. Nor is it difficult to show that in times of pestilence and peril the position of the godly man is far superior to that of the ungodly. We may mention at least three things in which this is clearly manifest.
(1) Faith in God is a great safeguard against disease and danger. Stier states that some years ago a distinguished physician in St. Petersburg recommended this Psalm as the best defence against the cholera. And Tholuck admirably says—“As the general who carries within him the conviction that he is called to a great work, whilst the bullets fall thick as hail about him, stands with calm eye and firm foot, and says: I know that the bullet is not yet cast which can strike me, so stands the man of prophetic faith in the hour of danger, with the conviction that the thunderbolt will turn aside from his head, and the torrent dry up at his feet, and the arrows fall blunted from his breast, because the Lord wills it.” Faith in God is the great condition of calmness and courage in time of danger.
(2) The godly man observes the laws of health. Pestilence and disease find their victims chiefly amongst the intemperate and licentious, who by their sinful habits are predisposed to their attacks, and unable to resist their power. But the godly man, by reason of his life of virtue, temperance, and cleanliness, often escapes the most deadly diseases without any attack, or if attacked frequently recovers.
(3) Suffering and death wear a different aspect to the godly man from that which they present to the wicked. He knows that suffering is educational; “that tribulation worketh patience;” that out of affliction and conflict the saints often bring great spoil of spiritual treasures; that “these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, are working for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” He has gracious support in all his trials and afflictions; and, being sanctified by God, great blessings accrue to him by means of them. And to the godly men of this Christian age death is not an evil; it signifies not loss, but gain; it is the gate of life; it is birth into a higher and diviner form of life. It is true, then, that no real evil can befall the godly soul who is trusting in the Lord. And if suffering and sorrow and loss should be his portion, God will educe from them blessings of transcendent and perpetual value. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
III. As conditionated by trust in God. The godly man is thus secure because he has made the Lord his refuge, and the Most High his habitation. (See notes on the condition of safety in the preceding homily.) This verse (the 9th) is in substance a repetition of the first verse. If we would secure the protection of God we must trust Him fully and constantly.
1. Let the godly ever trust and rejoice in their Protector.
2. Sinner, seek and secure this protection while you may. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” &c.
THE REWARD OF THE WICKED
These words suggest—
I. That there is a difference between the sufferings of the righteous and the wicked. The same external afflictions and trials may befall them; but to the righteous they are educational, to the wicked they are punitive—“the reward,” &c.
II. That the Divine rule in this world is righteous. Under it the godly are protected by God, while the wicked are punished.
III. That the righteousness of the Divine rule is not always manifest in this world. If the present were our only state of being, there are many things which we could not reconcile with the fact that God reigns in righteousness.
IV. That the righteousness of the Divine rule will ultimately be clearly manifest to all. The godly with their eyes “shall see the reward of the wicked.” There is a state where all the apparent inequalities of the moral government of our world will be clearly rectified. “Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him.”
V. The weak and fearful believer, notwithstanding his fears, shall not perish with the wicked. “Only with his eyes shall he see the reward of the wicked,” while he himself shall enjoy the glorious inheritance of the good.
THE ANGELIC MINISTERS OF THE GODLY
In pursuance of the main topic the Poet here speaks of angels as charged by God to help and defend His people. Literally the word angel signifies a messenger, and may be used personally or impersonally. It is used in the Scriptures to designate ordinary messengers, prophets, Christian ministers, &c. In this place it denotes superhuman spirits—angels, as the word is commonly understood at present. From the representations of the holy Word it is clear that the angels rank high in the scale of being. They are said to possess great power. “Angels that excel in strength.” “Mighty angels.” And most astonishing achievements of power are attributed to them. They also possess great intelligence. This is plainly implied in the words of the Lord—“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” It is also implied in the statement that they are “full of eyes before and behind,” and “full of eyes within.” The amazing power that they wield is chiefly the power of intelligence and wisdom. They also possess complete moral purity. They are spoken of in the Bible as “saints,” “holy ones,” and “holy angels.” Dwelling in that world where not even the shadow of moral defilement can enter, and standing in the immediate presence of God, they must be entirely free from even the smallest moral stain or imperfection. Their power, intelligence, purity, differ from ours in this, that they are perfect in kind. They differ from those of God in this, that they are imperfect in degree. There is before the angels a career of constant progress, both moral and intellectual, through all eternity. Moreover, they are represented as interested in the affairs of this world, and as actively employed by God in connection with those affairs. “They are represented as being, in the widest sense, agents of God’s providence, natural and supernatural, to the body and to the soul. Thus the operations of nature are spoken of as under angelic guidance fulfilling the will of God.… More particularly, however, angels are spoken of as ministers of what is commonly called the ‘supernatural,’ or perhaps more correctly the ‘spiritual’ Providence of God; as agents in the great scheme of the spiritual redemption and sanctification of man.” “The angel of the Lord” is said to “encamp round about them that fear Him, and to deliver them.” They are represented as watching over Christ’s little ones; as rejoicing over a penitent sinner; as bearing the spirits of the redeemed into Paradise; and as “ministering spirits” for the spiritual guidance and help of the heirs of salvation. And in the text they are said to be charged by God to uphold and aid His people. That they should thus minister to the godly is in the highest degree reasonable.
(1) From the interest which they take in man (Luke 15:10; 1 Peter 1:12).
(2) Inasmuch as a fallen angel led man to his ruin, and still by malign influences seeks our destruction, does it not seem appropriate and reasonable that holy angels should aid us in every virtuous and worthy effort?
(3) It is the law of God’s universe that His creatures should minister to each other. All things and all beings are made for service. The higher order of beings are made to minister to the lower—the strong to help the weak, the enlightened to instruct the ignorant, &c. Our Lord “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” “I am among you,” He said, “as He that serveth.” God is the Great Minister of all His creatures. How reasonable then that angels should minister to men! If we are asked in what way angels minister to men? or, how they serve us? we may with strict fairness decline to reply. We may accept a fact without being able to explain its mode. All men, indeed, do so in many things. So we accept as true the statement that angelic beings aid men, though we are unable to explain by what method they do so. But may it not be that they aid us by suggesting to our mind thoughts, reasons, and motives to action, and by awakening emotions in our souls? &c. Any way, we thankfully accept and rejoice in their ministry as a precious reality.
“Oh! th’ exceeding grace
Of highest God that loves His creatures so,
And all His works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked men, to serve His wicked foe.
“How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skies, like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch and duly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward.
Oh! why should heavenly God to men have such regard!”—Spenser.
In the text the angelic ministers of the good are said to be—
I. Commissioned by God. “He shall give His angels charge over thee.”
1. They are “His angels.” He called them into being. He sustains them. The most mighty and glorious of their number is dependent upon Him. He is sovereign over them all. Loyally and reverently they acknowledge His sovereign right over them.
2. They are commissioned by Him. He allots to them their respective duties. They “do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.” They are “His hosts, ministers of His that do His pleasure.” The “charge “which in the text they are said to receive is more than a mere direction or order; it is a solemn command. All the angelic ministers of the godly obey His behests; they serve under Him,—they are carrying out His purposes.
This angelic ministry is—
II. Exercised for the godly as individuals. “He shall give His angels charge over thee.” God is profoundly solicitous for the well-being of each one of His people. He does not overlook the individual in the multitude. He cares for every godly soul with a care as complete and constant as though He had no other soul to care for. So in the ministry of His angels unto men He gives them charge not simply of His Church or of the communities which compose it, but of every individual member who trusts in Him. So that every true believer may say, “In my lonely labour, and sorrow, and conflict, when far removed from human help and fellowship, my angelic helpers still have me in their charge, and are still near to help me.” Thus an angel ministered to Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-8); to Daniel (Daniel 6:22); to Peter (Acts 12:7-10).
This angelic ministry is—
III. Exercised for the godly only when they are in their true path. “To keep thee in all thy ways.” It is significant that when Satan quoted this verse in the temptation of our Lord, he omitted this clause. Had he quoted the whole verse, his temptation would have refuted itself. “The ‘ways’ spoken of in the Psalm are the ‘ways’ of obedience and duty, not the ‘ways ‘of presumption or self-seeking.” In the ways which God has prescribed for us to walk in we shall find safety and support even when the way is roughest and we are feeblest. But if we step out of the way, we forfeit the help of the angel ministers. If we are out of the way, their business is not to help us but to oppose us, if haply their opposition may lead us to retrace our steps and re-enter our true path. So long as we are in our way we are sure of the Divine help and protection, for His angels will not fail in their charge; but if we are out of our way, we are exposed to dangers from every quarter. The path of duty is the path of safety.
The angelic ministry is—
IV. Exercised for the godly always when they are in their true path. “To keep thee in all thy ways.” God calls men to tread different ways. He also calls the same person to tread different ways at different times. There are the ways of arduous duty, and of severe trial, and of peaceful progress, &c. God’s way for one man is the way of patient endurance, He calls him to suffer; His way for another man is the way of constant and perhaps difficult service, He calls him to work; His way for vast numbers is that of quietly and faithfully discharging “the daily round and common tasks” of life, He calls them to diligence and faithfulness. In all the paths of life which He calls us to tread our angelic ministers are near for our help. When our path lies by the rippling waters of gentle streams, beneath azure skies, amid beauteous scenes and with genial breezes, they keep us in our way. And when we travel the steep and rugged way, beneath heavy clouds and amid furious storms, they bear us up on their hands lest we dash our foot against a stone. In the thronged and dusty way of life’s busy scenes, and in the retired and peaceful paths of quiet service, they keep us. “To keep thee in all thy ways.”
V. By means of the exercise of this angelic ministry the godly are enabled to surmount all the hindrances and conquer all the foes that beset their way. “They shall bear thee up on their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under foot.” “By the ‘lion and adder,’ ” says Perowne, “there is no need to understand exclusively, or chiefly, the powers of darkness, the evil spirits. As by ‘a stone’ all hindrances, so by ‘the lion and dragon’ all hostile powers are denoted.” By means of this angelic ministry the godly are—
1. Preserved from falling. “They shall bear thee up on their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” One great object of the ministry of angels is to guard the good lest they stumble and fall into sin. They aid us to overcome the hindrances of life. “If we cannot have the way smoothed, it answers every purpose if we have angels to bear us up on their hands.”
2. Enabled to conquer the most powerful foes. “The lion” and “the young lion” represent enemies of great strength and violence. Satan is said to go about “as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” The most powerful enemies of the good cannot cope with one of the angels of God. One angel of the Lord in one night smote one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians. The man who trusts in the Lord, looking upon the most numerous and most powerful enemies, in full assurance of victory may say, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Our helpers are more numerous and more powerful than our enemies.
3. Enabled to conquer the most cunning foes. “The adder” and “the dragon” represent enemies of great secrecy and cunning. Satan is designated a serpent and a dragon. “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” St. Paul speaks of the “wiles of the devil.” Many of the foes against which the godly have to contend in society to-day seek to gain their victory not by strength but by subtlety, not by force but by fraud. But our angelic helpers aid us in this respect also. We have assurance of complete victory over both “the roaring lion” and the “old serpent.” Triumphantly we shall tread our foes under our feet. Over both the might of opposition and the cunning of temptation we shall be more than conquerors.
1. Our subject affords encouragement to trust in God. How numerous and efficient are the agencies He employs to save us!
2. Our subject reveals the dignity of the godly man. Angels, the highest beings in creation, the holy, the glorious, the powerful, are employed by God to serve him. Child of God, realise thy dignity, walk worthily of it.
3. Our subject calls us to the service of others. Angels serve us, Christ serves us now in heaven, the Holy Ghost serves, the Heavenly Father serves, God is the great servant of all. To serve God by ministering to our fellow-creatures is our duty and privilege. Let us secure the blessedness of unselfish and hearty service.
THE FOES AND VICTORY OF THE GOOD
I. The foes of the good. These are—
1. Numerous. “The lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon.”
“Angels your march oppose,
Who still in strength excel,
Your secret, sworn, eternal foes,
The enemies of the good in human society, in commerce, in amusements, in literature, are very many. And to these and the countless evil spirits must be added the “fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”
2. Various. “The lion,” whose strength, courage, and ferocity are proverbial. The word which is translated “adder” signifies “a poisonous snake.” “The young lion” is mentioned as particularly fierce and violent. And the word which is translated “the dragon,” signifies here a “land serpent of a powerful and deadly kind.” Thus varied are the foes of the godly man. The world, the flesh, and the devil are all arrayed against him. He has to battle with the syren enticements of temptation and the fierce attacks of persecution, &c.
3. Terrible. “The lion, adder, young lion, and dragon” are very terrible foes to the traveller. If once they have him in their power, they will destroy him. The foes of the godly soul are to be dreaded for their malignity, subtlety, and power. He is a fool who thinks lightly of the forces of evil which are working and fighting in this world.
II. The victory of the good. This is—
(1) Over all foes. “The lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon” shall all be vanquished. The world, the flesh, and the devil, persecutions and seductions, inward foes and outward, shall all be overcome by the man who trusts in God.
(2) Over all foes completely. “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” “His meaning is, thou shalt intentionally tread upon them like a conqueror, thou shalt tread upon them to testify thy dominion over them. You shall have power to overcome whatsoever may annoy you.” “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” The Christian will come out of life’s conflicts “more than a conqueror” through Christ.
(1) Because angels aid us against our foes. They are intelligent, powerful, swift, glorious allies.
(2) Because God guarantees it. “Thou shalt tread,” &c. Here is no perhaps, but a certain promise from Him who is the truth. Take courage then, brother, in life’s battles. Trust and fight, and a glorious victory will be yours.
THE GLORIOUS PRIVILEGES OF THE GODLY
(Psalms 91:14; Psalms 91:16)
The inspired poet in these verses represents God Himself as declaring the high privileges of His servants. We have here—
I. Some features in the character of the godly.
1. Love to God. “Because he hath set his love upon me.” The good man loves God with the love of gratitude—loves Him because of what He has done and is still doing for him. “We love Him because He first loved us.” When we reflect upon the evils from which He delivers us, and the blessings He bestows upon us, and the glory which awaits us in the future, our heart glows with gratitude and affection to Him. The good man loves God with the love of esteem also,—loves Him because of what He is in Himself. The love which springs from gratitude is first in order of time in the spiritual history of most men; but the love which springs from esteem is first in order of excellence. To love Him because of the divine beauty of His character and life, is a far higher thing than to love Him because of the benefits which we have received from Him, or which He has promised to bestow upon us.
“My God, I love Thee, not because
I hope for heaven thereby;
Nor because they who love Thee not
Are lost eternally.
“Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Nor seeking a reward,
But, as Thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord.
“So would I love Thee, blessed Lord,
And in Thy praise will sing,
Because Thou art my loving God,
And my redeeming King.”
The expression, “Set His love upon me,” indicates fixedness of affection. God requires from us an intense single-hearted love. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” Our supreme love must be fixed upon God. There is encouragement for us in this verse. “It is not because of perfect love that God will deliver. It is to the will to love and serve—it is to the setting the heart that the promise is made—to the full purpose of heart, that is set to cleave unto the Lord.” Do we love God supremely?
2. Knowledge of God. “He hath known my name.” Knowledge of God and love to God are closely connected. We must have some knowledge of God before we can love Him. A true knowledge of God leads to trust in Him. “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.” To know God’s name is to know Himself. Proficiency in this knowledge is attainable only to the man who loves God. As we must have some knowledge of God before we can love Him, so we must love Him before we can know much of Him. “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” We can know the heart of God only as we love Him. Where the keen intellect fails to discover any trace of God, He is clearly and preciously manifest to the pure and loving heart.
3. Prayer to God. “He shall call upon Me.” The godly soul cannot live without prayer. In times of need he calls upon God for grace to help him. In the enjoyment of blessing He calls upon God in grateful praise. At all times he acknowledges his dependence upon God. And there are seasons when prayer grows into holy and blessed communion, in which there are no petitions, but an intense and blessed realisation of the presence of God, and adoration of Him, which humbles and purifies and strengthens the spirit.
II. Some of the glorious privileges of the godly.
1. Deliverance from danger. The assurance is twice given, “I will deliver him.” The good man has enemies to contend with, but God will deliver him out of their hands, and give him the victory over them. The good man is exposed to dangers, but God delivers him safely out of them all.
2. Exaltation and consequent safety. “I will set him on high.” I will place him out of the reach of danger. God raises those who trust Him above the stormy sea of this life, places them on an immovable rock, where the threatening and thundering waves cannot reach them. “He shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks.” God thus exalts His people above the perils of life, because they know His name and confide in Him.
3. Answers to prayer. “I will answer him.” The answer to prayer is not necessarily the granting of our requests. “It may be a refusal, an explanation, a promise, a conditional grant.” Excellently says Matthew Henry, “I will answer by promises (Psalms 85:8), answer by providences, bringing in seasonable relief, and answer by graces, strengthening them with strength in their souls; thus He answered Paul with grace sufficient.” True prayer is always answered by God, and answered in infinite wisdom and love.
4. The presence of God in trouble. “I will be with him in trouble.” The good man is not exempted from trouble, but supported in the midst of trouble. The celebrated William Dawson says, “At other times God will leave them in the hands of angels: ‘He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee,’ &c. But when they are in trouble, I will say to the angels, ‘Stand aside, I will take care of them Myself. I will be with them in trouble.” So He speaks to His people: ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,’ &c. When languishing in sickness, He will make His bed and his pillow; when travelling through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord will be with him, and enable him to sing, ‘I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me,’ &c. Thus He is with them as their physician and nurse, in pain and sickness; as their strength in weakness; as their guide in difficulty; their ease in pain; and their life in death.”
5. The conference of distinguished honour. “I will honour him.” God honours His people in this life by delivering them from danger and trial, by sustaining them in suffering and sorrow, and by raising them into the most exalted relationships. “Now are we the sons of God.” In the life that is to come God will honour them by raising them to the highest dignities, the most delightful fellowships, the most glorious service, and to His own immediate presence. “To him that overcometh I will give to sit with Me in My throne,” &c. “We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him,” &c.
6. Satisfaction with the duration of their life upon earth. “With long life will I satisfy him.” “The special promise of long life at the close,” says Perowne, “as a temporal blessing, is in accordance with the general character of the Old Testament. Still it is possible that men like the Psalmist, full of faith in God, attached a deeper and more spiritual meaning to promises and hopes like these, than was attached to them by the majority of their countrymen.” Matthew Henry’s exposition seems to us admirable. “
(1) They shall live long enough; they shall be continued in this world till they have done the work they were sent into this world for, and are ready for heaven, and that is long enough. Who would wish to live a day longer than God has some work to do, either by him or upon him?
(2) They shall think it long enough; for God by His grace shall wean them from the world and make them willing to leave it. A man may die young, and yet die full of days, satur dierum—satisfied with living. A wicked worldly man is not satisfied, no, not with long life; he still cries, Give, give. But he that has his treasure and heart in another world has soon enough of this; he would not live always.” The good man’s life upon earth is a completed thing, whether he die young or live to become a centenarian. He knows that his life is ordered by infinite Wisdom, and whenever it ends he is satisfied.
7. Full salvation. “And show him My salvation.” When the good man’s life upon earth is ended, God will admit him to the enjoyment of His complete, glorious, and everlasting salvation in heaven. Here we catch glimpses of His salvation; there we shall see it fully and clearly revealed. Here we know its power and blessedness in part; hereafter we shall know them in their completeness. Here we conquer and have to battle again; there the warfare is all over, and the victory is glorious and endless. Here we partake of His salvation in the kingdom of grace; there in the kingdom of glory.
1. Have we these distinguishing characteristics of the godly? Do we love, know, and pray to God?
2. Do you who have them, value and rejoice in your exalted privileges?
3. And you who do not bear the marks of the godly man, what is your hope? Through Jesus Christ every man may attain to this supreme love to God, this blessed knowledge of Him, and this hallowed communion with Him.
“With long life will I satisfy him.” The present life is not a vain thing, but a thing of solemn reality; not a trifling thing, but a thing of stupendous importance; it ought not to be a mean thing, but a thing of sublimity and honour.
I. Long life is desirable.
1. Because of the obedience which, we may render to God. In this world we obey God in the face of many difficulties and much temptation. In heaven all influences combine to aid its inhabitants in their joyous obedience and service. But here, alas! it is very different. Yet obedience in a state like the present develops some of the noblest elements of character, and is specially well-pleasing to God.
2. Because of the service we may render to our race. In heaven holiness is universal and supreme. In hell evil holds undisputed sway. Upon earth good and evil are present, and in conflict. Here we may labour for the cause of righteousness and truth as we cannot in any other state of being.
“Awake, my zeal; awake, my love,
To serve my Saviour here below,
In works which perfect saints above,
And holy angels cannot do.
Awake, my charity, to feed
The hungry soul, and clothe the poor;
In heaven are found no sons of need;
There all these duties are no more.”
3. Because of the reward which we may obtain. Obedience and service rendered in this life will be appropriately and proportionately rewarded in the life to come. Therefore it is natural and right to desire to live long that we may obey long, and serve long, and reap a rich reward.
II. The tendency of true religion is to promote long life. “Keep My commandments; for length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add to thee. Length of days is in her (Wisdom’s) right hand.” The truly religious man lives virtuously, temperately, cultivates cleanliness, and avoids all violent passions, and such a life contributes incalculably to the prolongation of life.
III. A true estimate of the length of life is not formed by simply numbering its months and years. “They only,” said Sheridan, “have lived long who have lived virtuously.” “He lives long,” said Fuller, “that lives well; and time misspent is not lived, but lost.”
“We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”—Bailey.
“He liveth long who liveth well!
All other life is short and vain;
He liveth longest who can tell
Of living most for heavenly gain.
“He liveth long who liveth well!
All else is being flung away;
He liveth longest who can tell
Of true things truly done each day.”
IV. A truly godly man at the close of life will be satisfied with its length as determined by God, whatever that length may be. “My times are in Thy hand.” Our days are determined, the number of our months is with Him; and He orders all things well. “In short measures life may perfect be.”
Conclusion.—Let us see to it that, by the help of God, we live well and earnestly; and thankfully leave the length of our life with Him.