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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Psalms 131

Verses 1-3

Psalms 131:0

We know not at what period of David's life this Psalm was written. We know not what matters they were which were too high for him to meddle with, matters about which he had to refrain his soul, to quiet his feelings, to suspend his judgment, to check his curiosity, and say about them simply, Trust in the Lord. Human life, human fortune, human history, human agony, nay the whole universe, the more we know of it, is full of such mysteries. Only the shallow and conceited are unaware of their presence. Only the shallow and the conceited pretend to explain them, and have a "why" ready for every "how."

I. The sight of so much human woe, without a purpose and without a cause, is too much for many, as without faith in God it ought to be too much for us. The mystery of human vanity and vexation of spirit, the mystery which weighed down the soul of David, and of Solomon, and of him who sang the song of Job, and of St. Paul, and of St. Augustine, and all the great theologians of old times, is to them nought but utter darkness. For they see not yet, as our great modern poet says, "hands athwart the darkness, shaping men."

II. "I became dumb, and opened not my mouth, because it was Thy doing." So says the Burial Psalm. So let us say likewise. So let us be dumb, but dumb not from despair, but from faith; dumb not like a wretch weary with calling for help that does not come, but dumb like a child sitting at its mother's feet, and looking up into her face, and watching her doings, understanding none of them as yet, but certain that they all are done in love.

C. Kingsley, Westminster Sermons, p. 280.

Humility is the root of hope. Hope is the blossom of meekness. The sorrows of a broken heart, the self-restraint of a meek and quiet spirit, the posture and temper of a little child these are the forerunners and the sources of a lively hope.

I. A large portion of experimental religion and of the Divine life within a man may be considered under the form of hope. Religious experience is a strong and well-grounded expectation that the promise which God has made to us will not be broken.

II. There are certain characteristics of hope expressed in this Psalm, which we can at once transfer to our own experience. (1) It is a Divine hope: "Hope in the Lord;" "Hope thou in God;" "Truly my soul waiteth upon God." (2) It is a diffusive hope. The hope of the old Psalmist was strong enough to quicken the hope of all around him; he sang, "Let Israel hope in the Lord." A true hope has the power of infusing itself into the heart of others. (3) It is a practical hope. This characteristic is to be gathered out of the words "from henceforth." It is a hope that should take its start from the actual circumstances in which we are placed. (4) It is an eternal hope. "From henceforth, even for ever," is the watchword of our Psalm. Our hope should and must take the long "forever" in. It has to do with unchanging realities, with an everlasting salvation; it looks forward to unseen things; it anticipates the ultimate fulfilment and accomplishment of all things that have been spoken by holy prophets since the world began.

H. R. Reynolds, Notes of the Christian Life, p. 87.

References: Psalms 131:0 F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 135; H. Thompson, Concionalia: Outlines for Parochial Use, p. 274; S. Cox, The Pilgrim Psalms, p. 241.Psalms 132:8 . S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i., p. 310.

Verse 2

Psalms 131:2

Self-denial of some kind or other is involved, as is evident, in the very notion of renewal and holy obedience. To change our hearts is to learn to love things which we do not naturally love, to unlearn the love of the world; but this involves, of course, a thwarting of our natural wishes and tastes. To be righteous and obedient implies self-command; but to possess power we must have gained it: nor can we gain it without a vigorous struggle, a persevering warfare against ourselves. The very notion of being religious implies self-denial, because by nature we do not love religion.

I. Fasting is clearly a Christian duty, as our Saviour implies in His sermon on the mount. Christian self-denial is not merely a mortification of what is sinful, but an abstinence even from God's blessings.

II. Christ says, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." Here He shows us from His own example what Christian self-denial is. It is a taking on us a cross after His pattern, not a mere refraining from sin for He had no sin but a giving up what we might lawfully use. This was the peculiar character in which Christ came on earth. It was this spontaneous and exuberant self-denial which brought Him down. The Son of God so loved us, that, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor. Here is our Saviour's self-denial. He "pleased not Himself."

III. Self-denial is incumbent upon us for many reasons. The Christian denies himself in things lawful because he is aware of his own weakness and liability to sin; he dares not walk on the edge of a precipice; instead of going to the extreme of what is allowable, he keeps at a distance from evil, that he may be safe. Christ bids those who would be highest live as the lowest; therefore turn from ambitious thoughts, and, as far as you religiously may, make resolves against taking on you authority and rule. Avoid the dangerous air which relaxes you, and brace yourself upon the heights. So shall self-denial become natural to you, and a change come over you gently and imperceptibly; and, like Jacob, you will lie down in the waste and will soon see angels and a way opened for you into heaven.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. v., p. 57.

References: Psalms 131:2 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1210; Plain Sermons by Contributors to " Tracts for the Times, " vol. viii., p. 200; J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vii., p. 86; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part II., p. 163.

Verses 2-3

Psalms 131:2-3

I. The text carries us into the region of thought. It recognises the responsibility of thinking. It presupposes the possibility of choosing and refusing in the entertainment of subjects. Most men know perfectly well that they can control thought; that they can "make the porter watch" the comings in as well as the goings out, the entrances of thought as well as the exits of action. But the remarkable thing in the text is the enlargement of the responsibility of the self-control from the nature and quality to what we may call the scale and size of the thoughts. He speaks not of low, but of high, thoughts, not of grovelling, but of soaring, imaginations, as the disallowed and discountenanced inmates.

II. And there can be no doubt that there is a danger in this direction. There are not only evil desires, sinful lustings, to make frightful havoc of the life and of the soul: there are also speculations and rovings of thought, which give no other warning of their nature than this, that they belong to districts and regions beyond and above us; that they are fatal to the quietness and the silence of the spirit; that they cannot be entertained without reawakening those restless and dissatisfied yearnings which were just beginning to still themselves on the bosom of infinite love. This is true: (1) in the ambitions of this life; (2) in religion.

III. The counsel of the text is the counsel of wisdom when it makes reverence, when it makes humility, the condition of all knowledge that is worth the name. It is quite possible, by a little mismanagement, by a little spoiling of the soul, to make the spiritual life intolerable. We may so educate and so discipline our own soul as that health shall be our reward. We may do the contrary. We may make ourselves fools, idiots, sceptics, atheists, if we will to do. so, and if we take the way.

IV. The refraining and quieting spoken of is not inconsistent with the utmost stretch of inquiry into the mysteries of nature, of humanity, of God. This, too, is fostered and strengthened by it. The difference is here: that while the man who exercises himself in great matters is apt first to isolate and then to idolize intellect, to imagine that mental processes alone can carry him into the deep things of God Himself, and that whatsoever cannot be logically demonstrated cannot be certainly true, the other not because he is afraid to seek, not because he dreads the breakdown of faith under the strain of reason, but because he remembers that the being which he possesses is a complex thing and must not be disjointed and taken to pieces in the very use of it for the highest of all conceivable purposes: the study of truth and of God summons all and each part of himself to accompany the march, and refuses to regard that as proved or that as disproved which at most is so by one piece or one bit of him. Reason and conscience, and heart and soul too, shall all enter into the search; and that which satisfies not each and all of these shall not be for him either truth, or religion, or heaven, or God.

C. J. Vaughan, My Son, Give Me Thine Heart, p. 231.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 131". "Sermon Bible Commentary".