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the Fifth Week of Lent
the Fifth Week of Lent
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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 92". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ psalms-92.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 92". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Superscription.—“A Psalm or Song for the Sabbath-day.” It so far combines the properties of both a psalm and a song that either name may be applied to it. This psalm was appointed for use in the temple service on the Sabbath-day. By reason of its contents it is well adapted for use in the public worship of God. “It celebrates,” says Perowne, “in joyful strain the greatness of God’s works, and especially His righteous government of the world, as manifested in the overthrow of the wicked, and the prosperity and final triumph of the righteous. The apparent success of the ungodly for a time is admitted, but this is a mystery which worldly men, whose understanding has become darkened, cannot penetrate (Psalms 92:6).
The Psalm, therefore, touches upon the same great principles of the Divine government which are laid down in such Psalms as the first, the thirty-seventh, the forty-ninth, and the seventy-third. But here there is no struggle with doubt and perplexity, as in the seventy-third; the Poet is, beyond all doubt, above all perplexity; he has not fallen down to the low level of the brutish man (comp. Psalms 73:22 with Psalms 92:6 of this Psalm); he is rejoicing in the full and perfect conviction of the righteousness of God.”
Both the author of the Psalm and the occasion of its composition are unknown.
For our Homiletical purpose we shall divide the psalm thus:—The good man’s celebration of the praise of God, Psalms 92:1-7; and, The rejoicing of the good man in the government of God, Psalms 92:8-15.
THE GOOD MAN’S CELEBRATION OF THE PRAISE OF GOD
In these verses the Poet brings before us the celebration of the praise of God, and presents for our consideration several of the principal features of this celebration. We have—
I. The ground of this exercise. “For Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy works: I will triumph in the works of Thy hands. O Lord, how great are Thy works! and Thy thoughts are very deep.” The works of which the Psalmist is speaking are not God’s works in creation, but His moral government of the world; those doings by which He brought salvation to His people, and destroyed His and their foes. God’s works in creation are great, and His thoughts which are embodied therein are very deep; but these are not the works of which the Psalmist here speaks. “What kind of works and thoughts the Psalmist means,” says Hengstenberg, “is particularly intimated in Psalms 92:7, which should be distinguished from Psalms 92:5-6 as by inverted commas. It is the works and counsels of God for the deliverance of His people, a deliverance which is secured by the destruction of the wicked, their enemies.” Now concerning these works the Psalmist says that they are—
1. Great in themselves. “O Lord, how great are Thy works!” The Psalmist, as he contemplated God’s doings in the moral government of the world, was overwhelmed with a sense of their vastness, and greatness, and depth of significance. The greatness of the works of God in providence appears from considerations such as these:
(1) The extent of the sphere in which He works. His operations are not limited to any country or countries, or to any particular race or class of men. His moral government of our world extends over the whole world and the entire human race.
(2) The duration of the time through which He works. He began this work with the beginning of time, He has continued it through all the ages and through all the vicissitudes of human history, and He will continue it for ever. To us, who “are but of yesterday and know nothing, because our days upon earth are as a shadow,” how incomprehensibly great are works which are wrought in so extensive a sphere and through so vast a period!
(3) The grandeur of the objects for which He works. His aim is the eradication of evil, the extinction of sin and suffering, the universal reign of truth, righteousness, and love. Glorious object!
(4) The wonderful methods He employs in His works. Out of evil he educes good. He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him. He overrules the evil designs and doings of rebellious angels and men for the accomplishment of His own gracious and sublime purposes. By means of suffering and sacrifice He enriches the race with divine and inestimably precious blessings. He saves mankind by means of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we consider God’s moral government of the world in the way we have so very briefly indicated, we speedily receive overwhelming impressions of its greatness; we grow lost in wonder; we can but exclaim: How vast and wonderful and Divine are Thy works! The Psalmist represents these works as—
2. Embodiments of profound thoughts. “Thy thoughts are very deep.” God governs the world by a wise and benevolent design. All His works existed first as thoughts in His own infinite mind. Creation, with its innumerable wonders, and its glory and grandeur, is an embodiment of ideas of the Divine mind. And the moral government of the world is an expression of the thoughts of His mind and the determinations of His will. “God’s counsels as much exceed the contrivances of our wisdom as His works do the efforts of our power.” “There is no sea so deep as these thoughts of God.” He “is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” &c. Our puny minds are speedily baffled in the attempt to comprehend the thoughts of God. God’s works are regarded by the Psalmist as—
3. An expression of His loving-kindness and faithfulness. “To show forth Thy loving-kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night.” These attributes of the Divine Being are conspicuously displayed in His moral government of the world. He manifests His loving-kindness in delivering His people from oppression and danger, in leading them during their earthly pilgrimage, in making all things work together for their good, and in crowning their life with His love. His mercy is manifest also in His treatment of the wicked, in His expostulations with them, in His great patience with them, in His provision for their salvation, and in His desire to save them. He manifests His truth or faithfulness in fulfilling His engagements, in keeping His promises. This He does in the government of the world. There have been times when, to the limited view of man, His promises seemed to fail, but in His own wise time He has made good His word. We cannot take a comprehensive survey of His work without discovering abundant illustrations of both His mercy and His truth. And it is fitting that we should make mention of them in our praises. The Poet represents God’s works as—
4. Not understood by the wicked. “A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.” The term “brutish man” (literally, a man-brute) indicates a terrible degradation of human nature. A man, as having been created in God’s image; a brutish man, because he has debased himself to brutehood. Man must either soar or sink. Possibilities of unutterable degradation and possibilities of unspeakable glory are within each one of us. As man degrades himself into brutality, his power of recognising the Divine becomes ever less and less, until he is utterly incapable of understanding the ways and works of God. The wicked man is spoken of here as “a fool.” Sin is folly. Neither the “brutish man” nor the “fool” can understand the moral government of God. “Were God’s thoughts less deep and glorious, did He repay the wicked at every particular transgression immediately with His punishment, and did He bestow salvation immediately upon the righteous according to the canon which Job’s friends with their limited views lay down, the government of the world would become plain even to the dark eye of ungodliness. But its depth makes it a secret, the understanding of which very often in times of conflict is withheld even from the pious, as is manifest from the example of Job and the author of the seventy-third Psalm, and in which there is always much that may be learned.” The Psalmist speaks of God’s works as—
5. A source of gladness to the good. “Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy work; I will triumph in the works of Thy hands.” The godly man rejoices in the moral government of God. It appears to him in aspects of righteousness and benevolence and wisdom, which the brutish man and the fool are totally unable to perceive. Many a glorious chapter in the history of God’s providential dealings with our race fills the heart of His people with gladness; and they exult in his sovereignty, and in His mighty and gracious deeds.
II. The manner of this exercise. “To give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O Most High … upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound.” The Most High was praised in holy song with accompaniment of instrumental music. There are persons who are so prejudiced (as it appears to us) that they would exclude all instrumental music from the public worship of God. They allege that it is mechanical, not spiritual; and, therefore, is not to be used in the worship of Him who is a Spirit, and who requires spiritual worship. But may not the mechanical assist the spiritual? To us it seems that instrumental music, when it does not supersede, but supplements vocal music; when it is not a substitute for spiritual worship, but a minister to it, is of great service. It is certain that in the temple-service of the Jews, the details of which were of Divine appointment, instrumental music was used. And in the prophetic and symbolic descriptions of the worship of heaven contained in the Apocalypse, instrumental music is introduced. Instrumental music unquestionably aids us in our attempts to give vocal musical utterance to our praise; and there is no reason whatever, in the nature of things, why it should in the smallest degree diminish the spirituality of our praise.
III. The seasons for this exercise.
1. The Lord’s Day. This Psalm is entitled “a Psalm or Song for the Sabbath-day.” The day of rest is a season eminently suited to meditation upon the great and glorious works of God in providence, and to praise Him because of them. In its quiet, in our freedom from the demands and duties of business, in its high and holy associations and enjoyments, in these and other characteristics of the day, we see how eminently suited it is for the celebration of the praise of God.
2. The morning. “To show forth Thy loving-kindness in the morning.” There is no season more favourable to worship than the morning. The air is fresh and invigorating, and the spirit is refreshed by the repose and sleep of the night. Praise should be the natural expression of the heart every morning, because of God’s loving-kindness. We read of our Lord that “in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”
3. The evening. “To show forth Thy faithfulness in the evening.” As we praise Him in the morning for the mercies of the night, so in the evening we should praise Him for His faithfulness during the day. When the work of the day is done, and we have retired from life’s strain and toil, it is fitting that we should recollect the mercy and truth of God to us, and praise Him for them. Evening, with its quiet and repose, is well suited for meditation, and meditation should lead to grateful praise.
IV. The excellence of this exercise. “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,” &c.
1. Because it is right. Our praise is due to God. He has a right to our worship. He is supremely great, and therefore we should reverence Him; supremely gracious, and therefore we should be grateful to Him; supremely excellent, therefore we should love Him; supremely glorious, therefore we should adore Him. Not to praise Him indicates the basest ingratitude on our part, and defrauds Him of His right.
2. Because it tends to lessen life’s cares and sorrows. The man who is mindful of the mercies he receives in life, and notes thankfully the truth of God to him, will ever find matter for praise. In every life, not excepting the most tried and sorrowful, there are many things to be thankful for. This will be obvious in the case of the healthful and prosperous. But look at the case of the afflicted and sorrowful, and even here there are matters for thankfulness,—in the recollection of seasons of health and joy, in the hope of that state in which pain and grief are unknown, in the presence of friends and the support of God in affliction, and in the blessings of salvation. To remember these things with gratitude and praise, will lighten life’s burdens and soothe life’s sorrows.
3. Because it elevates the spirit of the worshipper. Gratitude is strengthened by expressing it. If our praise of the mercy and truth of God be sincere, by the expression of it we ourselves shall in a measure become like Him in these respects. Worship is transforming. We become like the object or being whom we truly worship. Thus by the worship of God we are being changed into His image. “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,” for it purifies, enriches, and exalts our being.
4. Because it is acceptable unto God. When our praise is sincere and spiritual, the Lord takes pleasure in it. He loves to be worshipped by His intelligent creatures; not from any delight in self-aggrandisement, nor for any other selfish reason, but because such worship calls into exercise the noblest faculties of His creatures, and exalts and blesses them. In this way our worship gratifies the Divine Being. The Most High is pleased to accept the praise of thankful hearts.
CONCLUSION.—Is God’s moral government of the world to us a ground of praise? There are many who, in their short-sightedness and unbelief, perceive little but inequalities and anomalies in it, and criticise and complain of its administration. They forget the vastness of the sphere in which it operates, and the long ages through which it operates, and their own incompetence to comprehend the work of the great God; and so when “the workers of iniquity do flourish” they are offended, or at least sorely tried and perplexed. But to the devout believer this government presents a very different aspect. The flourishing of the wicked he perceives to be only brief, very brief, and to be followed by destruction. God’s works are so great, and His thoughts so profound, as to fill him with humble and reverent wonder; and His mercy and truth are so conspicuous as to enkindle his gratitude and praise. Is this the case with us? He doeth all things well. Let us trust Him, praise Him.
ENCOURAGEMENTS TO HOLY SONG
“It is a good thing to sing praises unto Thy name, O Most High.”
I. Singing is the music of nature. Isaiah 44:23; Psalms 65:13; 1 Chronicles 16:33. The air is the bird’s music-room, where they chant their musical notes.
II. Singing is the music of ordinances. The Rabbis tell us that the Jews, after the feast of the passover was celebrated, sang Psalms 140:0 and the five following Psalms; and our Saviour and His apostles “sang an hymn” immediately after the blessed Supper (Matthew 26:30).
III. Singing is the music of saints.
1. They have performed this duty in their greatest numbers (Psalms 149:1).
2. In their greatest straits (Isaiah 26:19).
3. In their greatest flight (Isaiah 42:10-11).
4. In their greatest deliverances (Isaiah 65:14).
5. In their greatest plenties. In all these changes singing hath been their stated duty and delight.
IV. Singing is the music of angels. (Job 38:7; Luke 2:13; Revelation 5:11-12).
V. Singing is the music of heaven. (Revelation 15:3). Here the saints laboured with drowsy hearts and faltering tongues; but in glory these impediments are removed, and nothing is left to jar their joyous celebration.—JOHN WELLS, abridged from The Treasury of David.
THE SUBJECTS AND SEASONS OF PRAISE
The Poet here sets before us,—
I. The subjects of praise.
1. The “loving-kindness” of God. The loving-kindness or mercy of God to man is manifest in His forbearance with sinners, in His forgiveness of sinners, in His compassion towards the sorrowful, and in the rich provision He has made for us in nature, providence, and redemption.
2. The “faithfulness” of God. The faithfulness or truth of God is seen in His performing the promises which He has made, in keeping His covenant with His people. We may observe its manifestations in the operations of nature, in the administration of His moral government, and in the salvation of souls.
These subjects of praise are inexhaustible. The loving-kindness and truth of God are infinite. We are ever receiving additional illustrations and expressions of them. These subjects of praise are elevating in their influence upon us. We cannot sincerely praise God for His loving-kindness and truth without growing ourselves in truthfulness and love.
II. The seasons of praise.
1. “In the morning.” Because
(1) The state of the mind is favourable. By the mercy of God we have been preserved through the night, and should therefore be grateful to Him. The mind has been refreshed by the sleep of the night, and is therefore fitted to praise God with freshness and spirit.
(2) The time of the day is suitable. There is a freshness in the morning air which stimulates us to worship. In the morning, before we are immersed in the business of the day, we can praise God with freedom from interruption.
(3) It is needful as a preparation for the engagements of the day. We may have difficulties to encounter, temptations to battle with, disappointments to endure, and we need the calmness and strength which accrue from worship to enable us to meet these things.
2. In the evening. “Every night.” Because
(1) It is helpful to the mind and heart after the toils and trials of the day.
(2) Because the time is favourable. Evening, with its shade, and stillness, and rest, is a favourable season for reflection.
(3) The blessings of the day and the needs of the night incite to it. There is much in every day which ought to be recollected at night with gratitude; and such recollection will help us to rest calmly in the protection of God. And this we should do “every night.” New illustrations of faithfulness should be followed by new songs of praise. “As thou wouldst have God prosper thy labour in the day and sweeten thy rest in the night, clasp them both together with thy morning and evening devotions. He that takes no care to set forth God’s portion of time in the morning, doth not only rob God of His due, but is a thief to himself all the day after, by losing the blessing which a faithful prayer might bring from heaven on his undertakings. And he that closeth his eyes at night without prayer, lies down before his bed is made.”
There are some who interpret the “morning” as signifying prosperity and joy, and the “night,” adversity and grief. And we shall do well in the brightness of prosperity gratefully to recognise and praise the loving-kindness of God; and in the night of adversity the thankful recollection of the faithfulness of God will encourage and strengthen us.
“Praise ye the Lord; for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.”
I. Gladness as the gift of God. “Thou, Lord, hast made me glad.” All true joy proceeds from the ever blessed God. The gladness which comes not from Him is illusory, short-lived, and often leaves dissatisfaction and pain.
II. Gladness as arising from the contemplation of God’s works. “Through Thy work.” God’s work is eminently calculated to inspire gladness by reason of the power, wisdom, goodness, and delight in beauty which it reveals. This is true of creation, providence, redemption.
III. Gladness finding expression in devout song. “I will triumph in the works of Thy hands.” “I will sing for joy, because,” &c. Perowne: “I will rejoice in giving praise, for,” &c. If God has given us joy, it is meet that we should give Him praise.
THE TEMPORAL PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED
I. Temporal prosperity is not a criterion of character. Rich man and Lazarus the beggar. The prosperous “fool.”
II. Temporal prosperity is not an evidence of the Divine favour.
III. Temporal prosperity is of uncertain duration. “Spring as the grass,” which speedily perishes.
IV. The temporal prosperity of the wicked is followed by eternal ruin. “That they shall be destroyed for ever.” “The prosperity of fools shall destroy them.”
THE REJOICING OF THE GOOD MAN IN THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD
The Poet, having celebrated the praise of God because of His doings in the moral government of the world, proceeds to show what these doings are in relation to the righteous and the wicked. In His just rule God destroys the wicked and blesses the righteous, and this to the Psalmist affords matter for rejoicing. There are two leading ideas here:
I. God is the Supreme Ruler. “But Thou, Lord, art Most High for evermore.” Perowne: “And Thou, O Jehovah, art (throned) on high for evermore.” “This verse, consisting of but one line, expresses the great central fact on which all the doctrine of the Psalm rests. This is the great pillar of the universe and of our faith.” God is supreme, because—
1. He is the greatest Being. How unspeakably great is God! We have no words or symbols adequate to set forth His greatness and glory. The prophet Isaiah, in language of wondrous sublimity, endeavours to set it forth (Isaiah 40:12-31).
2. He is the best Being. He is not only supremely great, but supremely good. In every moral attribute He is perfect. “God is good.” “God is light.” “God is love.”
3. He is the Creator and Sustainer. “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” And He who created still sustains His creations. “By Him were all things created; and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” Here, then, we have the reason of His supremacy. It is real, a thing of being and character and doing. He is the Supreme Ruler because He is supremely great and good, and because as Creator and Sustainer He has the most absolute right over His creatures. “His kingdom ruleth over all.”
II. God’s supreme rule is unchangeably righteous. To the Psalmist this was a deep conviction. “The Lord is upright; my Rock in whom there is no unrighteousness.” His rule is righteous. Though for a while the wicked may flourish and the righteous be in adversity, yet God’s great plan of government and its administration are true and righteous altogether. “A God of truth, without iniquity, just and right is He.” His rule is unchangeably righteous. The Psalmist says, He is “my rock.” As a rock He is firm, abiding, immutable. “God can no more be moved or removed from doing righteously than a rock can be removed out of its place.” This unchanging righteousness of God’s moral government the Psalmist exhibits as manifest in—
1. The destruction of the wicked. “For, lo, Thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, Thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. Mine eye also shall see my desire on mine enemies, and mine ears shall hear my desire of the wicked that rise up against me.” Matthew Henry very properly points out concerning the eleventh verse that “in the Hebrew it is no more than this, My eye shall look on my enemies, and my ears shall hear of the wicked. He does not say what he shall see, or what he shall hear, but he shall see and hear that in which God will be glorified, and in which he will therefore be satisfied.” Concerning the wicked and their destruction let us note—
(1) The enormity of their character. They are “enemies” of God and “workers of iniquity.” To be an enemy of God is to be hostile to truth, righteousness, love; to oppose our highest Benefactor. It implies extreme moral depravity. The term “workers of iniquity” implies terrible activity in evil.
(2) The unity of their efforts. It is implied that the wicked have banded themselves together in their hostility to the Lord. So Milton represents fallen angels—
“Devil with devil damned firm concord holds.”
And the Psalmist says, “The rulers take counsel together against the Lord,” &c.
(3) The utter dissolution of their unity. “All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.” The cohesion of the wicked in the pursuit of any object is not of long continuance. When God arises against them they shall be scattered like chaff before the tempest, or like a demoralised and rabble army before a mighty and disciplined host.
(4) Their certain destruction. “For, lo, Thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, Thine enemies shall perish.” The repetition of the word “lo” is emphatic, and indicates the certainty of their destruction. Men must either loyally submit themselves to God or be crushed by Him.
2. The salvation of the righteous. The Poet evidently dwells with delight and triumph upon this part of his theme, and gives to us several particulars of the salvation and blessedness of the righteous.
(1) Their strength and honour. “My horn shalt Thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn.” The horn is the symbol of power. The righteous are blessed with true strength. They “walk in the strength of the Lord God.” He upholds them and honours them.
(2) Their refreshment and comfort. “I shall be anointed with fresh oil.” “Fresh oil,” or green oil, is the best oil. God by His grace will refresh His people when they are weary, and comfort and cheer them when they are depressed and sorrowful. Our Lord gives “the oil of joy for mourning.” The godly may be sorely tried for a time, but in due season they shall be visited by choicest refreshment and joy.
(3) Their Divine planting. They are “planted in the house of the Lord.” “To be planted in the house of the Lord is to be fixed and rooted in the grace communicated by the ordinances of Divine worship. Unless we are planted in the house of the Lord we cannot flourish in His courts.” Hengstenberg’s note is excellent: “By the house of the Lord we can only understand the external sanctuary; in it, however, the servants of God dwell spiritually with him, and are cared for by Him with paternal love. There lies at the bottom an abbreviated comparison: these spiritual trees flourish in the house of God as the natural trees when they are planted in a rich soil (Isaiah 5:1), or by rivers of water (Psalms 1:3).” They draw their supplies from God. They live by Him and in Him.
(4) Their flourishing growth. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree,” &c. (Psalms 92:12-14). “The date-palm and the cedar are selected as the loveliest images of verdure, fruitfulness, undecaying vigour and perpetuity.” They flourish perennially. “Throughout the year, in the winter’s cold as in the summer’s heat, the palm continues green.” The growth of the godly soul is a continuous thing. “He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” They flourish notwithstanding oppression. “It has been said of the palm tree, Sub pondere crescit—The more it is pressed down the more it grows: so the righteous flourish under their burdens,—the more they are afflicted the more they multiply.” “We glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience,” &c. They grow eternally. The growth of the cedar must be counted not by years, but by centuries. The godly soul will continue to grow for ever. God will ever have more of Himself to reveal unto us. And we shall ever continue to grow in likeness to Him. The soul has unlimited capacities for growth.
(5) Their continued fruitfulness. “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.” The palm-tree yields about three hundred pounds’ weight of dates annually. It has been known to produce even six hundred pounds’ weight. Age makes other things decay, but the godly soul flourishes and is fruitful in age. “They have their fruit unto holiness.” Their last days are rich in the results of a long experience, and their efforts to do good are wise, and are sustained by a deep faith in God. Both in their life and in their work they are fruitful.
1. Let us not waver in our faith in the wise and righteous and beneficent moral government of God. Under it evil men may flourish for a time in temporal prosperity, but God will destroy all workers of iniquity. Good men for a time may be sorely afflicted, but God will sustain them in their afflictions, make their afflictions the occasion of blessing, and crown them with everlasting joy.
2. What is our relation to this government? Are we enemies or loyal subjects? Let those who are enemies submit to Jehovah at once, and let His subjects rejoice in His gracious rule.
THE PALM TREE AN ANALOGUE OF THE RIGHTEOUS
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”
The palm is an analogue of the righteous—
I. In its resolute upward growth. It is tall, slender, and erect. Dr. Thomson says that “neither heavy weights which men place upon its head, nor the importunate urgency of the wind, can sway it aside from perfect uprightness.” It seeks to rise as far as possible from earth and as near as possible to heaven. The good man’s affections are set “on things above;” his “citizenship is in heaven.” While He was yet in this world our Lord spake of Himself as “the Son of Man which is in heaven.” And His followers are not of this world even as He was not of the world.
“A man on earth devoted to the skies,
Like ships on seas, while in, above, the world.”
II. In its growth despite of hindrances. It flourishes where other trees would wither and die. “On the northern borders of the Great Desert, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, the groves of date palms form the great feature of that parched region, and few trees besides can maintain an existence. The excessive dryness of this arid tract, where rain seldom falls, is such that wheat refuses to grow, and even barley, maize, and Caffre corn afford the husbandman only a scanty and uncertain crop. The hot blasts from the south are scarcely supportable even by the native himself, and yet here forests of date palms flourish.” The palm “does not rejoice overmuch in winter’s copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and the burning sun of summer.” It will grow, and grow upwards, even if heavy weights are placed upon its head. A picture this of the godly soul. The influences that try him and threaten to crush him are powerless to do so. By the grace of God they even promote his growth. He grows rich by loss, strong by trial, patient by tribulation, joyous by suffering.
III. In its perennial verdure. It is an evergreen. The godly soul shall grow and flourish without intermission. Progress is the rule of its life. The goal attained to-day will be the starting-point of to-morrow (Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8).
IV. In its fruitfulness. On an average the palm yields from three to four hundred pounds’ weight of dates annually, and has been known to produce six hundred pounds’ weight. The godly soul produces the fruits of obedience, purity, charity, and helpfulness to others. “Fruit unto holiness.” “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.”
“But how to secure the realisation of this promise?
1. Who is the righteous? (1 John 3:7). Righteousness does not consist in profession (Matthew 7:21); nor is righteousness a state of opinion; nor is it a state of feeling. It is a state of character. The righteous man is marked by this, that his settled principles, his customary desire, is to do, not what is pleasant, not what is advantageous to self, but what is right.
2. “But how are we to attain this habit of mind and life? Not inherent righteousness, but the possession of the Holy Ghost indwelling; this puts us into a condition to receive the blessing (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16).
3. “But how to obtain the possession of this Divine indwelling power of becoming righteous? Is there not an obstacle at the very threshold? What are we to say to our past sin? How can that be removed? It may have been committed long ago; but the guilt of sin remains after the sin has been committed. That guilt can only be removed by free pardon. It is only as ‘freely justified by grace’ that we can enter upon the path of spiritual blessing. So we are brought to the foot of the cross.”
THE CEDAR AN ANALOGUE OF SOUL GROWTH
“He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”
Trees are a precious gift of God to us. How useful! They yield food, shade, fuel, material for furniture, building, &c. How beautiful! What symmetry, sublimity, variety, we see in them! They also present many spiritual analogies. Here the cedar is used as an emblem of the progress of the soul.
I. The cedar grows not by repression, but by development. By developing its forces the cedar grows from the little germ. Everything that aids that development aids its growth. So with the soul. We cannot grow by attempting to crush our nature, our desires, affections, &c, but by their right development. Not by self-mortification and fighting against the evil, but by the cultivation of the good. In ourselves we are to “overcome evil with good.” Wisely and harmoniously developing our powers, we grow.
II. The cedar grows by the appropriation and subordination of the outward elements. Rain, dew sunlight, gases, minerals, all are appropriated by the cedar, and used to promote its growth: it assimilates them to its own substance. It subordinates the outward elements. Stormy wind and hail and rain and frost all help its growth. The storm that threatened to sweep it away leaves it more firmly rooted and more majestically spread than it found it. The hurricane that tests it promotes its stability and strength. So with the godly soul,—to its own character it assimilates thoughts, impressions, beauties, &c. It makes all things help its progress. Gentle influences help its growth. The ministry of prosperity,—success, friendship, health, joy—promotes its progress. Trying influences also help its growth and strength. The ministry of adversity,—failure, desertion, sickness, grief—promotes its firmness, strength, and heroism. “Tribulation worketh patience,” &c. We may make the most adverse circumstances, by the grace of God, aid us in the true development of our souls.
III. The cedar grows slowly. We may form some idea of the slowness of its growth from the fact that it continues to grow for centuries. Many generations come and go, but it grows on. The processes of the Divine economy seem slow to us. The preparation of the world for man; of the race of men for the Saviour; and now of the race for glory, all seem so slow. The greatest and best of things mature very gradually. So with the soul. Proneness to impatience is a mark of imperfection. How impatiently the child awaits the promised pleasure! Much less is the impatience of the man. The wise and good man is truly patient. Patience with thyself, my brother; thy growth is not like that of the gourd, but that of the cedar,—very gradual.
“We have not wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb,
By slow degrees, by more and more,
The cloudy summits of our time.
“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”
IV. The cedar grows by ceaseless activities. The sap, which is the life of the tree, is ever active: from the roots it passes through the trunk and through every branch, leaf, and fibre; then from the leaves it returns through branches and trunk to the roots, bearing nourishment, strength, &c. So with the soul. By earnest thought, devout feeling, divine worship, holy activity, &c., we grow.
V. The cedar grows to immense size and magnificence. Very great and grand they are. The soul is destined to grow into great strength and beauty. What great and glorious beings John and Peter and Paul must have grown into! How great and glorious are Isaiah and David and Abraham and Enoch by this time! And yet they have not reached the goal. “It doth not yet appear what they shall be.” “Perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect,”—that is the end of our progress. We shall grow into spiritual might, nobility, beauty, and glory. Cedars are most royal trees: under the smile of God we shall grow into royal beings.
VI. The cedar grows during long ages. There are cedars growing now that have been growing while scores of generations of men have come and gone from the earth. While they live they grow. So with the soul. Long as it lives it grows. But the cedars are not everlasting; their life and growth must end. But there is no end to the growth of the soul! We shall live and grow for ever. To advance from grace to grace, from strength to strength, from glory to glory for evermore,—that is our destiny.
THE OLD AGE OF PIETY
“They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.”
The subject to which the text invites us is, the old age of piety, as distinguished from the old age of the worldling.
I. The old age of the Christian is the old age of a life of faith and communion with God. Amid the infirmities of decaying nature the good man’s judgment may begin to fail, his active energy for one work and another may fail, but his faith fails not, and the charity—the holy love—which is communion with God, “never faileth.”
II. The old age of the Christian, as distinguished from the old age of the ungodly, is characterised by hope. To him, indeed, as to others, old age is the evening of life, its dim light still fading into darkness. But to him faith opens a vista through which the soul looks forth in hope beyond the deepening shadows around him.
III. The old age of the Christian is one of cheerfulness. How beautiful is an unrepining, bright, cheerful old age! How doubly beautiful when that calm, bright cheerfulness, lighting up the evening of life, is caught from heaven, and is none other than the cheerfulness of a mind at peace with God, and in communion with His boundless blessedness!
IV. The old age of the Christian, as distinguished from that of the ungodly, is characterised by affection. The old man’s sympathies with those around him are less easily awakened than they once were; and, as he grows older, he feels less and less interest in any of his friends, save those who happen to be essential to his comfort. The Christian in his old age is not exempted from this tendency. But in his case there is a counteracting power. His faith and hope, the habitual cheerfulness of his spirit, and the communion of his soul with the infinite love of God, are like a constant cordial to his nature, that keeps his mind elastic and quickens his better sympathies.
V. The old age of the Christian is characterised to the last by usefulness. How many ways does God find to make His children, amid the infirmities of declining age, useful to others! They shall bring forth fruit in old age, to show that God is faithful to them that trust in Him. How persuasive is the testimony which they give for God and for godliness out of their long experience! How winning are their words of counsel and invitation!
1. The consideration of the beauty and happiness of piety in old age is an argument to the young to remember their Creator in the days of their youth.
2. Our subject addresses itself powerfully to those who are old, or are growing old, without piety. What a night is that which is gathering around you!
3. The subject should lead us all to a grateful acknowledgment of the grace of God in the examples which we are permitted to see of aged and venerable piety.—L. Bacon, D.D., Abridged.