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Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.
The 1st Psalm, introductory
This Psalm seems to have been placed first in the collection because, from its general character and subject, it formed a suitable introduction to the rest. It treats of the blessedness of the righteous and the misery of the wicked, topics which constantly recur in the Psalms, but it treats of them as if all experience pointed only in one direction. The moral problem which, in other Psalms, troubles the ancient poets of Israel, when they see the evil prospering and the good oppressed, has here no place. The poet rests calmly in the truth that it is well with the righteous. He is not vexed with those passionate questionings of heart which meet us in such Psalms as the 37th and 73rd. Hence we may probably conclude that his lot was cast in happier and more peaceful times. The close of the Psalm is, however, as Ewald remarks, truly prophetical, perpetually in force, and consequently descriptive of what is to be expected at all times in the course of the world’s history. In style the Psalm is simple and clear. In form it is little more than the expansion of a proverb. (J. J. Stewart Perowne, B. D.)
The felicity of the godly man, and infelicity of the wicked
Verse 1. Teacheth a godly man.
1. To beware of the ungodly man’s persuasions;
2. Of their order of life; and,
3. Of their society and company keeping.
Verse 2. Teacheth him by the contrary what he must do.
1. Take delight and pleasure in God’s Word; because we do hardly profit by those things which we take no pleasure in;
2. Use all the means whereby we may be builded up in knowledge; for so generally do I take these words, “meditate day and night.”
Verse 3. A promise annexed for our better encouragement, which expresseth God’s wonderful goodness, and our dulness and heaviness, that have need of such spurs. By which also we may see the right use of God’s promises, namely, to provoke us to all well-doings (1 Corinthians 7:1).
Verse 4. Doth not only contain judgments against the wicked, but also teacheth, yea, spurreth forward the godly, by beholding their punishments, to more heedy walking; and whereas the Holy Ghost resembleth the wicked to chaff tossed before the wind, it teaches us, that though the wicked think themselves glorious, and of long continuance, yet they are neither the one nor the other.
Verse 5. Teacheth that God, with His fan, will make a separation between the good corn and the chaff (Matthew 3:12).
Verse 6. Teacheth this, that God is the only judge to allow and disallow; men must not therefore stand upon themselves, or other men’s judgments. For what are we that condemn another man’s servant? He standeth or faileth to his own master. (Thomas Wilcocks.)
The godly man happy
The Prophet will maintain a godly man, against all comers, to be the only Jason, for winning the golden fleece of blessedness the other, that he will make it good upon the heads of all the wicked; that howsoever they make a show in the world of being happy, yet they of all men are most miserable. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The blessed man
Happiness is our nature’s end and aim, and David tells us here who finds it. He describes his character--
I. Negatively. But all this is negative; and in a world such as this, and with a nature such as ours, no small part of religion consists in avoiding evil. Still, a negative religion is not sufficient. God’s Word is, Cease to do evil, learn to do well. A man may “not swear,” but does he “pray”? He may not rob, but does he relieve the poor? Therefore we have the blessed man described--
II. Positively. “His delight,” etc. It is so, whether the law be the moral law or the Word of God. Much more may we say this who have the complete Bible. Day and night, our thoughts ever follow our affections. (W. Jay.)
The true Christian
1. He is set forth as a “man.” Sin un-mans, reduces the volume and value of manhood, until it brings its victim to a revolting animalism. The Christian is restored by grace to true manhood.
2. As a “happy man.” Happiness is the flower and fruit of piety. Misery, the natural child of sin. None are so happy as those whom God makes happy.
3. As avoiding unholy society. As oil will not mix with water, light cannot co-exist with darkness, so piety cannot live in the poisonous atmosphere of evil-doers. Where there is no affinity of nature there can be no sympathy and fellowship of spirit. The tropical plant will quickly die at the roots in the Arctic region; and the saint cannot pass over to the frigid zone of the worldling’s society, but at the peril of his sainthood--his life.
4. As a student of Divine truth. Religion makes men thoughtful. He is a glad student. “His delight is in”; a diligent student. “Day and night.” It is not a nine days’ spell which novelty has thrown over him. He meditates ill it in the “day” of prosperity, and does not forget to do so in the “night” of adversity.
5. Under a beautiful and suggestive figure. “Like a tree.” He does not grow up a Christian, he is planted as such. Religion is not natural, but engendered:--He is well positioned. “By the rivers of water.” As a consequence he is “fruitful.” No fruit in the life is a proof of no grace in the heart. He is always in “season.” “There are special times for the manifestation of suitable graces. Liberality when riches increase. Humility when cheered by others. Patience in suffering. Resignation in bereavement. Faith in trial.” He is “evergreen.” “His leaf also shall not wither.” The beauty of the believer is holiness, the communicated “beauty of the Lord our God.” The sap of grace is always in circulation, hence his leaf does not wither.
6. Prosperous in all his undertakings. “There is no lack to them that walk uprightly. Godliness is great gain.”
7. As divinely known. “Knoweth the way of the righteous” (Psalms 1:6). His knowledge covers the minutiae of his life as well as the particulars of the road. This Divine knowledge is comforting, stimulating, faith-embolding, etc. Such is the inspired portrait of the “happy” or godly man. In contrast we have the “ungodly man.” He is like “chaff,” without worth, or use, or root; the sport of the wind of circumstances, passions, frivolities, worldliness, sensuality, etc., devoid of true manliness, decision of character, etc. Verse 5 sets him forth as morally incapacitated to stand in the Court of Justice; and also as morally disqualified to associate with the holy. Both he and his way shall perish. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
A certain prescription for happiness
There is a very beautiful story told of a king who, when he came to his throne a young man, had a silver bell made and placed in a high tower of his palace. Then the announcement was set forth that whenever the king was happy his subjects would know it by the ringing of this bell. It was never to be rung except when the king was perfectly happy, and then by no hand but his own, Days passed into weeks, and weeks into months, and the months into years; but no sound of the bell rang out either day or night to tell that the king was happy. At last the king, grown old and grey in his palace, lay on his death bed. His weeping subjects gathered around him, and he learned how through all the years his people had loved him; and then he was happy, and in his joy, with dying hands, he rang out the silver bell. How many years of wasted happiness because the king did not come to know and appreciate the love of his people! The little story may suggest to us a still greater loss in ourselves. Only the consciousness of God’s love can make us perfectly happy. Many people go through life from childhood to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to age, and the lines of care deepen in their faces, and the silver bell of happiness never rings out, because all the while they are getting further from God, and there is no consciousness of that Divine love which alone can give perfect happiness and peace to the human heart. We have in this Psalm the thought of a keen-brained and spiritually instructed man as to what is required to make a happy man. We have here the testimony of a man of broad experience. David sets forth, at the beginning, that there are three things which it is important that we shall not do if we are to lead happy lives. The first of these is walking in the counsel of the ungodly. I do not understand that he intended to teach that to come under this head it is necessary for a man to seek out ungodly people and ask their advice as to how he shall live. The danger is far more insidious than that. The trouble is that ungodly people are always ready to speak their counsels of evil and lead others astray by them. Eve did not send for the devil to come and advise her, but he came of his own accord and spit forth his lying sophistries about the Lord. Many young men and women come to the city from Christian homes, expecting to live a frank Christian life; but in the boarding house, or the store or shop where they work, they are thrown into touch with ungodly people, who are ready at every turn with sceptical and insinuating remarks about the Church and about Christianity. Their counsels are for laxity of faith and conduct. Rev. W.L. Watkinson, in a recent sermon, recalls the fact that while we are careful to do our utmost to protect great buildings from fire and tempest, yet all the while those buildings are liable to another peril, certainly not less severe--the subtle decay of the very framework of the structure itself. The tissue of the wood silently and mysteriously deteriorates, and a calamity dire as a conflagration is precipitated. Many people think they are all right because they are not committing outbreaking sins, while the counsels to which they are listening, and the associations to which they are lending themselves, are really undermining all their spiritual strength. The fibre of will and conscience and feeling is secretly eaten away, and some day they awake to find they no longer possess the faith, the sensibility, and the resolution of other days. No swift and violent assault of world or flesh or devil has torn or stained them, but it has been like a moth fretting a garment. In the physical world sunshine is the sure antidote to the dry rot. So the only antidote to the counsels of the ungodly is to turn from them to the beams which fall from the Sun of Righteousness. Prosperous looking trunk. It was strongly made, and, although not very heavy, the speculators who examined its exterior concluded that it contained articles of value. One of them finally secured it for fifty-five dollars, and promptly prised it open, when he found within it only a disjointed human skeleton, which had probably been the property of some medical student. It is easy to understand the chagrin of the purchaser who, instead of gold and jewels, found only those relics of death. Multitudes have experienced a similar disappointment, but one infinitely more sorrowful, when they have discovered the real nature of the prizes which they gained by sin. There is still another place that a man if he will be really happy must avoid, and that is, “the seat of the scornful.” God have mercy on the boy who has gone so far that he can make a joke of his mother’s religion, that he can make a sneer about his father’s God, that he can scorn the voice of God’s Word that calls him to repentance! The sarcasm and cynicism and scorn of a sharp wit is often very fascinating to young people, but I assure you that the man who exercises it is never happy. It is a blossom which grows on a tree that is bitter at the heart. I have seen many scornful men and women, but I have never yet seen one who was happy. Well, we have been looking at some of the things one must not do if he is to be happy; let us turn to the brighter side, and see what one may do to ensure happiness. The prescription is given here, and is very plain. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.” But, you say, “How can I delight in the law of the Lord, and how can I begin to think about Him, if I am taken up with other things?” It is all very simple. You have been breaking God’s law, and therefore you cannot delight in it. Stop breaking it. Turn right about and begin to obey the law of the Lord, and then you will have a chance to delight in it. God has made happiness and obedience to go together. As you obey the Lord, and as you feel the warmth of His smile on your face, you will take delight in Him. All this is perfectly natural. The man who has committed a crime, and has broken the law of the land, and is fleeing from justice like a hunted animal or has been caught and is being punished, takes no delight in that law. But the man who obeys the law and finds its strong arm of protection thrown around him, and rejoices in its security, delights in it, and in the consciousness of the presence of the law he finds rest and peace And what a glorious result is assured from such delight in the law of the Lord: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,” etc. What a beautiful picture that is! Ah, but, you say, “Does God live up to that? Do not many Christians have hard experiences, and trying difficulties like other people?” Certainly, the hot sun beats down on the tree planted by the river just the same as it does on the one that is planted on the gravelly, sandy upland. But the one by the river runs its roots down into the refreshing streams beneath, and when the upland tree withers and turns brown the tree by the river is as green as ever. Christians meet the troubles of life like other people, but if they give themselves up whole heartedly to do God’s will, and delight in the law of the Lord, they have peace and content in the midst of the sorest trouble. You want happiness. There is only one certain prescription for happiness, and that is to obey God. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
The happy man
The opening words of this Psalm furnish its title Ashrey ha-ish, “O the happiness of that man!” If ever a man pursued happiness under the most favourable conditions, it was King Solomon; yet this was his conclusion of the whole matter, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” John Trapp said quaintly, “The Psalmist hath said here more to the point respecting happiness than all the philosophers; for while they beat the bush, he hath put the bird into our hand.”
I. As to the character of this happy man. “He walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” We must needs be in the world--not dreamers among the shadows, but men among men. The world has need of us. The workshop and the office demand us. The secular cares of this world are, of necessity, upon us. But the secret of true happiness is moral nonconformity. Being in the world, we should not be of it. While our associations must needs be in some measure with the ungodly, their counsels, their ways, their seats are not for us. God’s people go to their offices and their workshops just like other men, but their affections are not set upon this world; they are ever mindful of their noble birth, their Divine inheritance, their glorious destiny.
II. His attitude towards the Divine law. The “Law of the Lord” was a Jewish phrase for the Scriptures. The happy man possesses a right estimate of the importance of the Word of God.
1. He is a reader of the Scriptures. Thomas a Kempis said, “I am never so happy as when in a nook with the Book.”
2. He reads “with delight.” We are much given in these times to a critical study of the Word. The way to appreciate the beauty of Murillo’s picture of the Immaculate Conception is not to approach it with spatula and ammonia for purposes of minute analysis, but to gaze upon it until we are filled with the mighty thoughts that went surging through the soul of the master genius who painted it.
3. He meditates in them. St. Augustine renders the word “chattereth.” So in these spring days we hear the sparrows chattering with their hearts full of the prophecy of bloom and fruitfulness. So glad and happy are the souls that meditate with delight in the Divine law.
III. The outcome of this happy life. Fruitfulness. “Like a tree.” This life is rooted well. Its leaf shall not wither. The leaf shows the character of the tree. The man whose soul is full of truth and righteousness need not be saying perpetually, “I am a Christian,” for his walk and conversation declare it. He bringeth forth fruit in his season. We shall be ever doing good as we have opportunity. There is an obverse to this picture. “The ungodly are not so.”
1. As to his life--it is chaff. There is no profit in it.
2. As to his death--it is like a furrow in the sea.
3. After death, he shall “not stand in judgment.” Most of us have been disappointed in our pursuit of happiness. There is, however, a right way and a sure way to pursue it. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The way of the righteous
I. A striking description of the character of the righteous. Among the evil, as well as the good, there are classes and gradations. Here we have forgetters of God, overt and habitual sinners, and settled scorners. How graphically is the progressive tendency of sin here exhibited! Observe the indication we here have of the tendency of sin to fixedness. Walking, standing, sitting; wrong principles, then sinful habits, and last settled scorn. But the righteous man is not simply one who keeps aloof from the ways described. His character has its positive side. It is needful to discriminate with respect to the kind of delight the righteous man takes in the law. How much there is in the Bible of valuable history! Its truths and precepts kindle the intellect, feed the imagination, and commend themselves to man’s natural sense of what is true and good. The delight of the Psalmist is, however, something deeper and other than this. It is delight in the law as God’s law, and because it is His. It is the delight of a mind in sympathetic accord with it and with its Author. Even in the Old Testament saint there was much of this spirit. Here is the difference between a truly righteous man and one who is only outwardly so. The latter obeys slavishly, and against his own will. The former serves joyfully, and in love. The interest the one takes in the Bible is intellectual; that of the other is also practical and spiritual.
II. A delightful picture of the condition of the righteous. “Like a tree.” The tree draws a portion of its nourishment from the surrounding atmosphere, but relatively this is small. Vastly the greater portion is taken up with the moisture at its root. Hence where there is little moisture the life of the tree is feeble, its growth is slow, its fruit is uncertain, its leaf withers. So it is doubtless true that the godly man derives material for growth, usefulness, enjoyment, and moral beauty from whatever surrounds him. He learns from nature, society, books; he derives profit and adornment from studies, companionship, and experience; but for that which is highest and best, whether of comfort, attainment, or serviceableness to his generation, he is indebted to revealed truth. It is this which sustains his true inner life. In Psalms 1:3 there is a change of figure. Of the righteous it is said, “and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” The meaning doubtless is that he shall prosper in all his godly doings; in the things to which the Divine will and word may prompt him; in ‘those righteous undertakings by which he is distinguished. In other ages, if not now, it shall appear that nought of such labour was lost. It would be a mistake to understand, by the fruit here spoken of, external works only, or chiefly. The fruit of the spirit is “in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” It is “love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” First of all, it is inward, then outward. It would be equally a mistake to suppose that the leaf, which does not wither, is the symbol only of the honour and beauty which crown the character of the godly. Doubtless it stands for this. But the leaf is also useful. And that, too, not only in the pleasure it ministers to the beholder’s eye, or the shade it affords to the passing traveller. Its benefits may reach very far. “The fresh air we quaff from the hills has been purified and made healthy for us by the foliage of the trees, not merely those of our own country, but even the pines of Norway and the palms of India.” And so the godly man is blessed in what he is and what he does.
III. A cheering intimation of the happy end which awaits the righteous. As is so often the case in the Bible, thought abruptly passes from time to eternity. Indeed, to the eye of faith, these are one: the latter is but the continuation of the former. Naturally, therefore, the characters contrasted in the Psalm are now made to appear for judgment. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The blessed man’s likeness
Notes on verses.
Verse 1. Ignorance is often bliss. All the characters mentioned here may have their excellence. The ungodly may be rich, the sinners convivial, the scornful brilliant, yet blessed is the man that has nothing to do with them. Blessed is the man who knows not the language or the masonry of the wicked.
Verse 2. The idea is that of the man who sees the law of the Lord in all nature, history, and life, and delights to trace it out. The “Law of the Lord” is Lot simply so much letter press, it is a life, a presence, a government.
Verse 3. Where God is there is no famine. The likeness to a tree is full of suggestion. A tree is permanent, fruitful, beautiful; its branches are for refreshment, its shadow is for rest. It responds to the sun and the rain. It waits for God, and puts forth life at His bidding. “Prosper.” In no mean or narrow sense, but really and ultimately If you say that, as a fact, the good man does not always prosper, remember that you may say the same thing about God Himself.
Verse 4. Some ungodly men seem to be well established; they have more than heart can wish. But these are appearances only. At a distance chaff might be mistaken for wheat. The distinction is a vital one. To know where the wicked are, you must know where the wind is--the wind of popularity, success, Divine visitation.
Verse 5. There is a judgment, a true and final test of character. Where are the ungodly of the last generation?
Verse 6. Mark the three characters. The godly, ungodly, the Lord. The question is not what is the relation of the godly and the ungodly to each other; but what is that of each to the Lord? Are you blessed? Are you merely transiently happy? What is your fruit? (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The blessed man
1. He is partly described by negatives. We begin with children by teaching them what they must not do. The man who “walketh in the counsel of the ungodly” is not a happy man. Nowhere in the devil’s territories can you find the happy man. Men who have run the whole round of so called enjoyment unite to say, “If you want to be happy, avoid our footprints.” And yet it seems as if every young man must go and try for himself. He will not take the experience of others; or follow the directions of the “caution board.”
2. He is partly described by what he should do. God does not destroy our powers, but turns them in a right direction. How can we be happy? Study. He who thinks grows. Meditate in the “Law of the Lord.” We are not a Bible reading people. The old-fashioned people in the Church were. Note the consequences of this “delight in the Law of the Lord.” Beauty. Righteous men should have beauty of character. “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” When we fail the fault is ours, or if it be not, then the failure is for the sake of the success it shall lead to. “The ungodly are not so.” The sinner has a brief day. It may not seem so now; but God says, he is “like the chaff.” But we should not seek happiness as an end. Seek goodness, and the happiness will come. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The character of the pious and profane
I. A certain course described. Here is a two-fold gradation implied, the one relating to the characters referred to, and the other to the intercourse maintained.
II. A sacred exercise described. “In His law doth he meditate.” The godly man delights in the Law of the Lord for many reasons.
1. Because it enriches his mind.
2. It cheers his heart.
3. It sanctifies his nature.
III. An encouraging assurance given. “He shall be like a tree.” Note the connection between loving the Scriptures and spiritual prosperity.
IV. A solemn contrast drawn. The ungodly are like the chaff. Chaff is a thing that is--
1. Unsightly. There is nothing to excite pleasurable emotions in the ungodly.
2. Worthless. Chaff cannot be turned, even in our inventive age, to any beneficial purpose.
3. Light and unsubstantial. There is no stability in the ungodly. They are tossed to and fro with every wind of temptation; and, being influenced by caprice rather than principle, no confidence can be placed in them. The Psalmist adds, “therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” To “stand” is a forensic term, and denotes “to stand acquitted,” and with those who live and die ungodly such cannot be the case.
V. A conclusive reason adduced. “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” (Expository Outlines.)
The refusals of godliness
But negatives in this case could not be denied; for if he had left out negatives, he had left out a great part of the worth and praise of godliness--for a godly man cannot always run in smooth ground--he shall sometimes meet with rubs; he cannot always breathe in sweet airs--he shall sometimes meet with ill savours; he cannot always sail in safe seas--he shall sometimes meet with rocks; and then it is his praise that he can pass over those rubs, can pass through those savours, can pass by those rocks, and yet keep himself upright and untainted, and untouched of them all. Besides, negative precepts are in some eases more absolute and peremptory than affirmatives: for to say, “That hath walked in the counsel of the ungodly,” might not be sufficient; for he might walk in the counsel of the godly, and yet walk in the counsel of the ungodly too; not both indeed at once, but both at several times; where now this negative clears him at all times. And may it not also be a cause of using negatives, because it seems an easier way of showing what a thing is, by showing what it is not, than by using only affirmative marks; especially where a perfect induction may be made. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Things marred by ungodliness
We must yet go further, and the next word we come to is ungodly, and now certainly we shall have a full negative, for ungodliness is the herb that marreth all the broth, it poisons all the company that it comes in,--not only walking, a thing in itself indifferent, but even counsel, a thing in its own nature most sovereign: they are both marred by this one ingredient of ungodliness. Walking in counsel had been a safe proceeding, if the ungodly had not given it; standing in the way had been a lawful calling, it’ sinners had not made it; sitting in a chair had been an easy posture, if scorners had not framed it; but if the ungodly, or sinners, or scorners have any hand at all in our actions, have anything to do in our doings, both safety, and lawfulness, and ease, and all are utterly overthrown. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The counsel of ungodly men
But have, then, ungodly men counsel? One would think it were want of counsel that makes them ungodly, for who would be ungodly if he had counsel to direct him? Certainly, counsel they have, and wise counsel too; that is, wise in the eye of the world, and wise for the works of the world: but wise in the sight of God, and wise for the works of godliness, they have not; and in that kind of wisdom ungodly men are your greatest counsellors--greatest in the ability of counsel, and greatest in the busying themselves with counselling. The poison of asps is under their lips. It serves not their turn to do wickedly in their own persons, but they must be drawing others into wickedness by poisoning and infecting them with wicked counsel. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Stages in sin
They which think it an ascent, conceive it thus, that he which walketh in the counsel of the ungodly is yet but wavering, as misled by opinion, and makes but an error; he that stands in the way of sinners, stands out with obstinacy, and makes a heresy; but he that sits in the chair of scorners is at defiance with God, and makes an apostasy. They who think it a descent do thus conceive it: he which walks in the counsel of the ungodly, delights and takes a pleasure in his sin; he which stands in the way of sinners, stands in doubt, and is unresolved in his sin; but he who sits in the seat of the scornful, sits down and sins but for his ease, as being unable to suffer persecution. They who think it an ascent, conceive that the ungodly are but beginners in ill; that sinners are proficients in ill; but the scorners are graduates and doctors of the chair in ill. They who think it a descent, conceive that the ungodly are opposite to the godly, and offend generally; that sinners offend, though actually, yet but in particulars; that scorners might be sound at heart, if they did not set themselves to sale, and sin for promotion. The ascent may be briefly thus: that walking expresseth less resolution than standing, and standing than sitting, but in sin, the more resolute, the more dissolute therefore sitting is the worst. The descent thus: that walking expresseth more strength than standing, and standing than sitting; for a child can sit when he cannot stand, and stand when he cannot walk; but the stronger in sin, the worse; therefore walking is the worst. Many such ways there are of conceiving diversity, either in ascending or descending; but it needs be no question which is the worse, because, without question, they are all stark nought: they are three rocks, whereof the least is enough to make a shipwreck; they are three pestilential airs, whereof the best is enough to poison the heart. This only may be observed, that howsoever the case alter with walkers and sitters, yet standers in the way of sinners keep their standing still; and whichsoever is first or last, yet they are sure to be the second. But is it not that we mistake the Prophet, and make his words a gradation, when, perhaps, he meant them for level ground? And for such, indeed, we may take them, and do as well, and then there will not be either ascent or descent in the sins themselves, but only a diversity in their causes; as that the first is a sin caused by ill counsel; the second, a sin caused by ill example; the third, a sin caused by the innate corruption of our own hearts. Or is it that the Prophet alludes here to the three principal ages of our life, which have every one of them their proper vices, as it were, retainers to them?--and therefore the vices of youth, which is the vigour of life, and delights most in motion and society, he expresseth by walking in the counsel of the ungodly; the vices of the middle age, which is the steadfast age, he expresseth by standing in the way of sinners; the vices of old age, which, being weak and feeble, is scarce able to go, he expresseth by sitting in the chair of scorners, and it is as if he had said, “Blessed is the man that hath passed through all the ages of his life, and hath kept himself untainted of the vices that are incident unto them.” (Sir Richard Baker.)
The way of sin dangerous
But a godly man is wiser than so; though he know that the way is large and broad, yet he knows also that the press is great; a man cannot stand here, but he shall be shouldered and thrust forward in spite of his teeth. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.--
We are all of us naturally of such a social tendency that the influence of companionship is necessarily great. And this is so especially in youth. Moralists, like Cicero, have made friendship the theme of some of their purest teaching and counsel. Scripture tells us of Jonathan and David, and this Psalm gives a hint of the insidious gradations by which companionship attains its mastery over habit and character. Like a skilful angler “playing” a fish, so does a congenial associate attach us to his company. He draws the glamour of his power about us, till we become wholly his. At first we meet him from time to time, “walking in his counsels”; then we protract the interview, and invite ascendency as we “stand in his way”; and at length we capitulate to his domination as we “sit down in his seat.” Now, if it be good to resist such influence in the case of the ungodly, it is equally good to yield to it in the ease of the upright. Nothing more important than the choice of associates. Avoid such as--
I. Desire you rather as their prey than their friend. They protest vehement friendship; there is nothing they will not do for you; all that they have is at your service. These are not safe men who overact their part in this way.
II. The fop and roué. The plucking of pigeons has been an art studied and perfected by knaves of fashion in every age, and has flung filth upon escutcheons which had known no shame, and blasted many a prospect of a noble future.
III. The extravagant. We find it easy to declare that poverty is no disgrace; yet it is rare to find amongst the young the moral hardihood which can say, “I can’t afford it.” In humbler life it is by tens of thousands, not by ones or twos, that you may count the well born and the well trained who have fallen, some into suicide, some into prisons, some to the gallows, all into disgrace by becoming companions of those who have tempted them into extravagance.
IV. Betting men. The slowly rising pittance of the clerk will not let him keep pace with the expensive pleasures of his rich associate, and fraud and forgery are led up to by the sure pathway of the betting ring.
V. The flatterer, the sponge, who desires only to exhaust your purse. The cynic too. He is a flatterer who has established his ascendency so completely that he can afford to be rude. You cannot make a friend of a bully.
VI. And let both young men and maidens be very careful of the companionships which they form, one with the other. A young man will do well who makes an honourable union the goal of his industry; and let her whose troth is challenged have nought to do with one whose life is stained with an unmanly taint. Choose Christian friendships, for companionship is the leaven of our lives and solitude their bane. But there is no solitude to him who has learned to cancel it with pure thought and spiritual communion. Healthy literature, taste, art, music, come with votive offerings to him who lingers by their chastened altars. But the best friendship is that of those whose Master is Christ. When the disciples were let go they went to their own company. Go you to yours, and let it be the company which gathers round the Lord. (Arthur Mursell.)
Avoiding evil doers
Like the Sermon on the Mount, this description of the way of the righteous begins with a “blessed.” Those who go down into the busy streets day by day are in constant contact with those who are without God in the world. Not necessarily bad men in the common phrase, but possibly high-minded, free-hearted, companionable men, who yet have left God out of their lives. They do nothing to please Him. A part of the testing of our characters comes out in the fact that we do not always know we are walking in the counsel of the ungodly when we are really doing so. It is a hard tiring not to adopt the way in which people around us look at things, and the way of looking at things accounts in large measure for what we do. An atmosphere, intangible and still real, is thrown around all characters, and the moment we come into this atmosphere it affects us. If it is the atmosphere of prayer, and faith, and high endeavour, we feel without realising it, even when nothing is said to show the trend of thought. “Nor standeth in the way of sinners.” We note the advance in wrong. “Sinners” is a stronger characterisation of bad associates than the phrase “ungodly,” and “standing” is a more thorough committal to them than “walking.” It implies more deliberation. Naturally, he who stands with sinners and gives his leisure to their friendship is fast reaching the day when he will sit with the scorners. What makes the scorner the worst case to reform? It is because a radical change has come over him, and evil has become his good. Embittered against the way which he has lost, he makes virtue a mockery. One who is in daily association with evil may not realise the loss he is meeting, may not see the bloom fade from the ripe peach, or from the hanging cluster of grapes, but the scorner is in a hell of his own. He has lost the childhood of the heart to which he must come back before he can see and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Coming to the positive marks of the way of the righteous, we find that he delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates upon it day and night. This marks a high and almost perfect stage of moral attainment, and creates a certain loveableness in its possessor which a mere determination to do right never can do. We love those who love to do right and sing in the ways of the Lord, whose moral movements are not the working of bands and pulleys, but the curves of the bird in the free air or the bending of the tender grasses under the breeze. Effort pains us, but ease charms us. What a rare and wonderful thing it is to find joy in a rule--the law of God. We must get the law into the heart and say it without thinking, and live it by a second nature. And never since the Bible was given to men has there been so much study upon its form and details. Is there a corresponding “meditation” upon it? Meditation is to thought and study what autumn is to summer--the ripe fruitage of past toil. (E. N. Packard.)
The triads of transgression
I. Three classes of transgressors. Shun them!
Generally those who are
(a) ignorant of God,
(b) deny, or
(c) defy God. Here means restless people.
2. Sinners.--The restless missing his way.
3. Scorners.--Mockers, pests, impostors (Psalms 26:4-9).
II. Three inducements to transgress. Resist them.
1. Counsel.--Flattering and deceptive. Satan in Eden and the wilderness.
2. Way.--Broad and attractive (Matthew 7:13-14).
3. Seat.--Boisterous and popular. “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”
III. Three degrees of transgression. Avoid them!
3. Sitting.--Grand Lodge degree in iniquity.
“The way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 4:14-18). “Wherefore come out from among them” (2 Corinthians 6:17). (Homiletic Review.)
Getting used to an ungodly atmosphere
To make my meaning clearer, suppose a person steps out of pure air into a rather close room: the air is at first disagreeable and oppressive, he does not breathe freely, but in a little while he gets more used to it, and after a while he hardly is aware that the room is close, and that he is breathing impure air. Suppose also that then he goes into another room, which is much closer, the air of it much more impure: it will not seem to him, coming as he does from the first room, to be worse than the first room seemed when he came from the pure air. This just describes the way in which the man who is beginning to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, allowing himself to be influenced by them, soon learns to breathe at ease in an ungodly atmosphere. Probably his conscience is uneasy as he steps from his place of safety, but he soon accustoms himself to his new position, and then he is ready for the next step, and there is every prospect of his taking it.
Nor standeth in the way of sinners.--
Counsels to the young
I. The infectious nature of sin, and the danger of walking in the counsel of the ungodly. These warnings have been so often repeated and are now commonplace, not because they are unimportant, but because the good and wise of all ages have felt the necessity of them.
1. We are all prone to sin.
2. And the young are ignorant and unsuspicious.
3. Vice is usually baited with pleasure.
4. The difficulty of bearing ridicule, which in corrupt society the young are exposed to.
II. The hardening nature of sin.
1. Its progress is gradual and insensible.
2. The strength and power of inveterate habit.
III. The finishing stage of wickedness. To be of the scornful. On which note--
1. The sin and danger of it to the scornful themselves. It is an audacious attack upon the majesty of the living God, and must strike every thinking person with horror. And this is not a sudden sin, but deliberate. Such contempt of sacred things shows an entire victory over conscience: all reluctance is gone. Also, over shame, and they design to destroy it in the minds of others.
2. Its sad influence. For it is public and intended to be so. It is an open advocacy of sin and an endeavour to break the restraints of conscience in others as well as themselves. Its malignant influence is seen in the fear that most persons have in opposing fashionable crimes. It lays hold on some human weakness that has been accidentally associated with religion, and ridicules religion as if it also were weak. Socrates was certainly the wisest and best of the men of Greece. His behaviour was such as demanded the esteem of all who knew him; yet was this worthy man successfully turned into ridicule by one whose writings are to the last degree contemptible. But yet this ridicule paved the way for the enmity which was raised against him, and which brought him to death. So ridicule often slays religion in the soul. Therefore let the young beware of evil company. Let parents strive to train their children in religion, and let all Christian men stand up boldly against profanity and vice and deal with these sins as they deserve. (J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
True and false friendship
False friendship is like the gaudy but scentless sunflower, that will bloom only in the sunshine of prosperity. True friendship, planted in mutual love and nourished by Christian principles, is like the sweet but modest violet that will flourish even in the dark shade of adversity, and will yield only fresh odours when trampled on by unkindly tread. (R. Venting.)
Association with sinners
The unhappy bids to associate with the profane arise from two causes.
1. That rigorousness and austerity which some gloomy-minded Christians attach to their religion. God and nature have established no connection between sanctity of character and severity of manners. To rejoice evermore is not only the privilege, it is also the duty of a Christian. The votaries of vice put on the mask of mirth, they counterfeit gladness amidst the horrors of guilt.
2. The opinion that wickedness, particularly some kinds of it, are manly and becoming; that dissoluteness, infidelity, and blasphemy are indications of a sprightly and a strong mind. Those who have shone in all ages as the lights of the world, with a few exceptions, have been uniformly on the side of goodness, and have been as distinguished in the temple of virtue as they were illustrious in the temple of fame. (J. Logan.)
Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.--
A happy retrospect
Sir Walter Scott near the end of his life said, “I have been the most voluminous author of the day. It is a comfort to me to think that I have tried to unsettle no man’s faith, to corrupt no man’s principles.” (Quiver.)
The fear of ridicule
As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool, and he is a poor invertebrate creature who allows himself to be laughed down when he attempts to stick to his principles and tries to do what he believes to be right. “Learn from the earliest days,” says Sydney Smith, “to insure your principles against the perils of ridicule; you can no more exercise your reason if you live in the constant dread of laughter, than you can enjoy your life if you are in constant terror of death. No coward is greater than he who dares not to be wise because fools will laugh at him.” (Quiver.)
But his delight is in the law of the Lord.
The law of the Lord
We should all like to be blessed, and here is the way--delight in the law of the Lord.
I. What is this law? Not the Mosaic, not the ceremonial law, for which God often cared nothing; but the law according to which the Lord hath ordered all things. This is the law which God says He will put into our hearts and write on our minds. This is that true and eternal law of which Solomon speaks in his Proverbs as the Wisdom by which God made the heavens: and he tells us that that Wisdom is a tree of life to all who lay hold on her. This is that law which the inspired philosopher--for philosopher he was indeed--who wrote that 119th Psalm, continually prayed and strove to learn. Christ perfectly fulfilled it. He said, with His whole heart, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God.” The will of God, for this law is nothing else. By keeping it we are blessed. What God has willed we should be and do. But if so, it is plain we must heed the warnings of the first verse. For no one will learn God’s will if he takes counsel from the ungodly; or if he stand in the way of profligate and dishonest men. If he do this, all he will learn of God’s law is the dreadful part of it told of in the 2nd Psalm. God will “rule him with a rod of iron, and break,” etc. But there is more hope for him--if he repent--than if he sits in the seat of the scorners--the sneering, the frivolous, the unbelieving, who laugh down religion as enthusiasm and worse. When the greatest poet of our days tried to picture his idea of a fiend tempting man to ruin, he gave him just such a character as this: a very clever, agreeable, courteous man of the world, and yet a being who could not love anyone, and believed not in anyone; who mocked at both man and God, and who tempted and mined men in mere sport as a cruel child may torment a fly. Such was Mephistopheles. Beware, therefore, of the scornful as well as of the openly sinful. And remember--
II. This law is the law of the Lord--our Lord Jesus Christ. Who can stand with Him? “Why do the heathen rage,” etc. Men will not believe in this law. But sooner or later they have to, and often in terrible ways they find out their mistake. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh.” For Christ is on the throne of the universe. And His might and power are continually being made known. Even now He bruises His enemies as with a rod of iron. It is of no use to talk about the goodness of God and of the gentleness of Christ. We flatter ourselves that if gentle, He may be also indulgent and weak. But there is an awful side to His character. Think of these things. You are kings--at least over yourselves; and judges--at least of your own conduct. Therefore let each and all of us, high and low, take the warning and love law--for that is the true meaning--before the Son of God, as subjects before an absolute monarch, because His will is only and always a good will. (Charles Kingsley.)
The good man’s delight
I. Such delight is necessary. By “the law of the Lord” we mean religion both experimental and practical. Now such delight in it is necessary for a Christian man, because--
1. Without it there is no heart in religion. But the very essence of religion lies in the heart.
2. Works and acts acceptable to God will not be produced. But it is for these that religion is designed.
3. A man cannot be a true Christian and understand the true gospel without feeling a delight in it. The true gospel, mark you, for there are gospels preached by some men that no man can delight in, But the true gospel must make the heart happy.
II. The manifestations of this delight.
1. He will continually think of the law of the Lord.
2. He will be sure to speak of it. There is too little conversation now about Christ. I suppose it is with some Christians as the sailor said it was with the parrot. He had a remarkable parrot which he sold to a good woman, telling her it could talk no end of things. After she had kept it a week and it had said nothing, she took it back to the sailor. “Well, ma’am,” said he, “I dare say it has not said much, but it has thought the more.” And there are people like that parrot. Like it, too, in that the parrot did not think, though the sailor said it did. Nor do they, or else if they had thought they would have spoken. What is in the well will come up in the bucket.
3. Endeavours to spread the knowledge of it.
4. And will not rest until he has brought others to delight in it also.
III. The happy effects of this delight.
1. It Will make a man bold.
2. Very calm and quiet in the day of affliction.
3. It will prepare him for heaven. To you who have no such delight, this law of the Lord, which was designed to be your delight, will become your scourge. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A meditative life
I. This Psalm is not a commendation of a meditative life only. We cannot in this world of imperative work live such a life. Those in cloisters and convents have tried and failed. As when we fix the eyes on one object only, they get weary, filmy, dull. But rightly understood, our life is to be fat more than meditation. It is to be like a tree planted and bringing forth fruit. The man is to be a doer, and what he does is to prosper. The law on which he meditates is specially related to men’s active life. It is not merely to be thought about, but practically obeyed. Merely to meditate on it would be as if a soldier, having received from the general’s hand the order book, were to take that book to his tent and were to sit down and spend all the hours of the day admiring his general’s skill and the grasp of his mind instead of proceeding to obey the orders and to prepare the army for the impending battle.
II. The meditation here commended is one thoroughly consistent with working, active life; indeed, is for this very thing. And the happy man is he who through meditation on God’s law comes to live the life of holy service. He is to be “like a tree” as contrasted with “the chaff ” Our lives must be as one or the other.
III. Note the force of the image employed. For a tree vividly sets forth the connection between thinking and working; between the roots and the fruit of conduct. Strong characters are produced only by strong thinking. Occasional, weak, fugitive thinking, even on good things, may exist--too often does--with evil lives. Thoughts must be deep, and go down to the roots of the soul and take possession of it. The ungodly man is he who does not take God into account. He acts upon expediency. Hence he is like the chaff. There are different sorts of trees, but any tree is better than the chaff. But seek to be like the tree told of here.
IV. How? You must be “planted,” that is, “transplanted.” The tree has been put where it is designedly. And this is what meditation means. It is the self-planting of the man by the rivers of waters God has caused to flow forth for us from His Word. The rivers told of are not natural rivers, but artificial streams made for the purpose of irrigation. Solomon made many such in his day. And Hezekiah also. The Turkish Government has let them fall into decay, and hence Palestine is now nearly desert. Lord Lawrence made such streams for Northwest India, to its vast advantage. Merv in Central Asia is an oasis in the desert, for the Turcomans have dammed up the streams that flow down form the Afghan mountains and led their waters along artificial canals, and so the country is watered and reclaimed. Day and night the dam is watched by Turcoman sentinels, for if it were once destroyed the country would again become desert. But the herbs and the trees will never lack for water while these streams are preserved, and as long as the snows abide on the hills which lift their white peaks against the distant sky. What a parable all this is! If we would toil so to bring the living waters of God’s Word into the moral desert of our souls, what a reclamation of waste places there would be, what lives like trees bearing fruit! Missions, churches, worship are all such endeavours. And what a channel for such streams is a godly, consistent life! Such lives are ever a blessing. As a tree is a thing both of beauty and of use, so are they. And every God-filled man and woman is such a tree. This is the secret of the happy life. (J. Vincent Tymms.)
The godly man’s pleasure
Note the Christian duty and holy practice of a godly man. He is much and often in serious and Christian meditation. He is conversant with Holy Scriptures; his meditation is concerning the “law,” that is, the heavenly doctrine which shows the will of God and His worship, what man must and ought to believe and do to gain eternal life. It is his daily study and continual exercise. Not that he doth nothing else; the meaning is, he setteth some time apart daily to serve God. The godly man, who is truly blessed and happy, doth wonderfully love, and is greatly affected with the Word of Almighty God, and hath exceeding delight and joy in the doctrine of God, because there is revealed the will of God, whereunto men must be careful to frame and conform all their desires, thoughts, words, and deeds, because herein is chalked out and declared the very highway of eternal life and salvation. It is a special note and property of a godly man to perform Christian duties to God willingly and cheerfully, and to make them his delight and joy. (Samuel Smith.)
Blessed Bible reading
I. Its characteristics. It is read--
II. The results of such reading.
1. Stability of Christian character.
3. Freshness and beauty.
4. Success in all his righteous undertakings. (J. Morgan.)
The good man in relation to the Word of God
I. His practice. “His delight is in,” etc. How does he use the Bible?
1. He studies it independently.
II. His pleasure. His delight is in,” etc.
1. He enjoys the pleasure of congeniality.
III. His prosperity.
1. He is stable.
2. Fair and fruitful.
3. Successful. (J. Spencer Hill.)
The believer’s delight
1. The feeling with which the believer views the Holy Scriptures.
2. Some of the grounds which give rise to this delight in the heart of the believer. Its own intrinsic worth and excellence. He knows by experience its quickening and converting power. It has given and still gives the believer light. In the Word of God he has found peace. The Word gives the believer freedom. It consoles and supports the true believer in distress and temptation.
3. What is the result of this delight? What effect, does this feeling produce upon the believer’s practice? He “meditates on the law of the Lord “day and night.” (C. R. Hay, M. A.)
The saints’ spiritual delight
I. The godly man is described by way of negation, in three particulars. “Sitting” implies a habit in sin, familiarity with sinners. Diamonds and stones may lie together, but they will not solder or cement.
II. By way of position. The not being scandalous will no more make a good Christian than a cipher will make a sum. It is not enough for the servant of the vineyard that he cloth no hurt there, he doth not break the trees or destroy the hedges; if he doth not work in the vineyard he loseth his pay.
1. You may not be outwardly bad, and yet not inwardly good. Though you do not hang out your bush, yet you may secretly vend your commodity; a tree may be full of vermin, yet the fair leaves may cover them that they are not seen.
2. If you are only negatively good, God makes no reckoning of you, you are as so many ciphers in God’s arithmetic, and He writes down no ciphers in the book of life.
3. A man may as well go to hell for not doing good as for doing evil. One may as well die with not eating food as with poison. A ground may as well be spoiled for want of good seed as with having tares sown in it. A two-fold description of a godly man.
III. He delights in God’s law. A man may work in his trade and not delight in it, but a godly man serves God with delight. What is meant by the Law? Take the word more strictly and it means the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. Take it more largely, it is the whole written Word of God; those truths deducted from the Word; the whole business of religion. The word is a setting forth, and religion a showing forth, of God and Law. What is meant by delight in the law? Hebrews and Sept. render, “his will is in the law of the Lord,” and that which is voluntary is delightful. A child of God, though he cannot serve the Lord perfectly, yet serves Him willingly. He is not a pressed soldier, but a volunteer. The saints’ delight in the law of the Lord proceeds from--
1. Soundness of judgment. The mind apprehends a beauty in God’s law, now the judgment draws the affections, like so many orbs, after it.
2. From the predominancy of grace. When grace comes with authority and majesty upon the heart it fills it with delight. Grace puts a new bias into the will, it works a spontaneity and cheerfulness in God’s service.
3. From the sweetness of the end. Well may we with cheerfulness let down the net of our endeavour when we have so excellent a draught. Heaven at the end of duty causeth delight in the way of duty.
Two cases to be put.
1. Whether a regenerate person may not serve God with weariness. Yes; but this lassitude may arise from the inbeing of corruption (Romans 7:24). It is not, however, habitual, and it is involuntary. He is troubled by it. He is weary of his weariness.
2. Whether a hypocrite may not serve God with delight? He may, but his delight is carnal. How may this spiritual delight be known? He that delights in God’s law is often thinking of it. If we delight in religion there is nothing can keep us from it, but we will be conversant in Word, prayer, sacraments. He that loves gold will trade for it. Those that delight in religion are often speaking of it. He that delights in God will give Him the best in every service. And he doth not much delight in anything else but God. True delight is constant. Hypocrites have their pangs of desire, and flashes of joy which are soon over. Delight in religion crowns all our services, evidenceth grace, will make the business of religion more facile to us. All the duties of religion are for our good. Delight in God’s service makes us resemble the angels in heaven. Delight in God’s law will not breed surfeit. Carnal objects do oft cause a loathing and nauseating. We soon grow weary of our delights. For the attaining of this delight set a high estimate upon the Word. Pray for a spiritual heart. Purge out the delight of sin. (T. Watson.)
Meditative Bible reading
“He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water.” Who shall? He whose delight is in the law of the Lord. His life shall be rooted in the richest of soils; he shall never lack resources; his soul shall delight itself in fatness. But what is “the law of the Lord”? The laws of the Lord are scattered over this book with almost bewildering plentitude and variety. They are almost as thick as autumn leaves. The Orientalist takes great masses of rose leaves, and from them distils that precious essence we call otto of roses. Can anyone take these scattered leaves of law, mass them together, and give us the essence of all law? Can anyone take these almost unmanageable quantities, and return them to us in a small phial, which can be carried in the hand of a little child? Yes, Jesus Christ has done it. “All the law is fulfilled in one word--thou shelf love.” Love is the essence of law. He who delights in love and loving shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water. Now we are permitted to look into “the mind of Christ,” into love’s great laboratory and see the great Lover at work. Love is the only element in which He works, but it is prepared in different ways. At one time love is very tender, to woo a tender blade; again it is very fierce, to burn a stubborn weed. It reveals itself in different ways to suit men’s different needs. If, then, I would know how love should work I must study the mind of Christ, and meditate thereon both night and day. To delight in the law of the Lord is to live as devoted students in the mind of Christ. That mind is opened out for us in the gospel. All the dispositions of Jesus are laid bare. It is revealed to us how His love disposed itself in very varied circumstances and to very different needs. If we would be planted in a rich soil, and have a fruitful and luxuriant life, we must be rooted in the mind of Christ, delight ourselves in the mind of Christ. Now the mind of Christ cannot be known at a glance. It demands earnest and persistent study. We shall have to meditate in it day and night. The word “meditation” has an antique, old-world flavour about it, as though it belongs to an age when men took slow, measured strides, and the wheels of time moved leisurely. How many of us meditate, hold the mind before a subject until it becomes steeped in it, saturated with it, through and through? We live in an age of mental haste and gallop. Impressions are abundant; convictions are scarce. Go to the academy in any of the summer months, and see how the crowds gallop round the galleries, hastily glancing at the hundreds of pictures which adorn the walls, with the result that the memory retains nothing in distinction, but only a recollection of masses of colour in endless confusion. How is it with the art student? He goes early in the morning. He selects his picture. He sits down before it. He studies it--its perspective, its grouping, its colouring, the artist’s mannerisms, every line, every light and shade. He meditates upon it. The picture becomes imprinted upon his mind and educates his taste. It steals into his own soul, and afterwards imperceptibly influences his own pencil and brush, and becomes part of the man forever. Well, in the four Gospels we have four picture galleries, and the different pictures are different phases of the mind of Christ. Christ is depicted in different attitudes and conditions: alone on a mountain at prayer; in the midst of a vast inquisitive multitude; in the severities of temptation in a wilderness; in a quiet home at Bethany; facing the Cross; the triumph of Calvary. The real student, the real disciple of the Master, wants to know the mind of his Master, and he sits down before one picture at a time, and lingers before it, and studies every line and feature of it, and beauty after beauty breaks upon his delighted vision. He meditates upon it, and the beauty of the picture steeps into his soul, refines his moral taste, influences his hand and heart, and becomes part of himself forever. I tell you, we know almost nothing of the moral and spiritual loveliness of our Jesus, almost nothing of the mind of Christ, because we do not hold ourselves before it in lingering meditation. Why don’t we? Why are we not devoted students of these pictures of the mind of Christ? Let us be frank with ourselves. Is not Bible studying wearying and wearisome? To how many of us is it a delight? It is because so many put the virtue in the reading itself. We think when we have read a chapter we have discharged a duty. People open their Bibles, and read a few verses, and close them, and think that by their reading they have pleased God. You may have displeased Him! Some people think that when they read the Bible the very act of reading is a kind of talisman to hedge about their lives with increased security. Oh no, it may be that you are falling into the very snare of the tempter! John Ruskin says there is nothing which so tends to destroy the accuracy of the artistic eye as a hurried gallop round an art gallery, even though it contains the works of the most eminent masters. May not that be equally true of this gospel gallery, where the mind of the great Master is exhibited in a hundred different ways; a hurried and half-indifferent gallop may only destroy the accuracy of the moral eye, and impair rather than strengthen your spiritual vision? Bible reading is virtuous when it leads to virtue. My text declares that those who thus live in continual meditation upon the ways of the Lord shall be in a rich rootage. They shall be like trees planted by rivers of water. They shall have vast resources. Are we all planted there? If we are rooted elsewhere our life will be stunted and unhealthy. “His leaf shall not wither.” The leaf is the thing of the spring time. It is the first thing that comes. Well, in the Christian life spring leaf shall ever remain. The spring greenness of life shall not wither as the years roll by. The beauties of the spring time shall continue through all the seventy years. The beauties of early life, of young life, the beauties of childhood shall never be destroyed. “His leaf shall not wither.” His childlikeness, the glory of the spring time of life, shall always be fresh and beautiful; it shall never wither away. There shall be other developments. Life shall grow. It shall increase in knowledge. It shall broaden in experience. It shall open out large capacities and powers. But, amid all the developments, the beatifies of childlikeness shall remain; his spring leaf shall not wither; the glory of the spring time shall never be lost. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Grace breeds delight in God, and delight breeds meditation. Meditation is like the watering of the seed, it makes the fruits of grace to flourish. If it be required to show what meditation is, I answer--
1. It is the soul’s retiring of itself. A Christian, when he goes to meditate, must lock himself up from the world. The world spoils meditation.
2. It is a serious and solemn thinking upon God (Hebrews), with intentness to recollect and gather together the thoughts. Meditation is not a cursory work. A carnal, flitting Christian is like the traveller, his thoughts ride post, he minds nothing of God. A wise Christian is like the artist, he views with seriousness and ponders the things of religion.
3. It is the raising of the heart to holy affections. Meditation is a duty imposed. The same God who hath bid us believe hath bid us meditate. It is a duty opposed. We may conclude it is a good duty, because it is against the stream of corrupt nature. As it is said, “You may know that religion is right which Nero persecutes.” The meditation of a thing hath more sweetness in it than the bare remembrance. The remembrance of a truth without the serious meditation of it will but create matter of sorrow another day. A sermon remembered, but not ruminated, will only serve to increase our condemnation. Meditation and study differ in three ways. In their nature--Study is the work of the brain, meditation of the heart. In their design--The design of study is notion, the design of meditation is piety. In their issue and result--Study leaves a man never a whit the better; it is like a winter sun that hath little warmth and influence. Meditation leaves one in a more holy frame. It melts the heart when it is frozen, and makes it drop into tears of love. There are things in the law of God which we should principally meditate upon. His attributes. His promises of remission, sanctification, remuneration. Meditate upon the love of Christ; upon sin; upon the vanity of the creature; upon the excellency of grace; upon the state of your souls; upon your experiences. The necessity of meditation will appear in three particulars.
1. The end why God has given us His Word, written and preached, is not only to know it, but that we should meditate in it. Without meditation we never can be good Christians. The truths of God will not stay with us. Meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind. Without meditation the truths which we know will never affect our hearts. And we make ourselves guilty of slighting God and His Word. If a man lets a thine, lie by and never minds it, it is a sign he slights it.
Answers to objections--
1. I have so much business in the world that I have no time to meditate. The business of a Christian is meditation, just as the business of the husbandman is ploughing and sowing.
2. This duty of meditation is hard. The price that God hath set heaven is labour. We do not argue so in other things. Entering into meditation may be hard, but once entered it is sweet and pleasant. As to rules about meditation--Be very serious about the work. Read before you meditate. Do not multiply the subjects of meditation. To meditation join examination Shut up meditation with prayer, and pray over your meditations. Reduce it to practice. Live over your meditation. (T. Watson.)
A man known by his delight
And he seems to frame his process in this manner: a man is known what he is by his delight; for such as a man’s delight is, such a man himself is; and therefore a godly man delights not to Walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor to stand in the way of sinners, nor to sit in the chair of scorners, for these are all lawless delights--at least, delights of that law of which St. Paul saith, “I find another law in my members”: they agree not with a godly man’s nature, and though a delight there must be, there is not living without it; yet a godly man will rather want it than take it up in such commodities. The godly man begins to appear in his likeness; for this delighting in the law of God is so essential to godliness that it even constitutes a godly man and gives him his being. For what is godliness but the love of God? and what is love without delight? that we may see what a sovereign thing godliness is, which not only brings us delight when we come to blessedness, but brings us to blessedness by a way of delighting. For the Prophet requires not a godliness that bars us of delight; he requires only a godliness that rectifies our delight; for as the wrong placing our delight is the cause of all our miseries, so the right placing it is the cause of all our happiness; and what righter placing it than to place it in the right? and what is the right but only the law? But is there delight, then, in the law of God? Is it not a thing rather that will make us melancholy? and doth it not mortify in us the life of all joy? It mortifies indeed the life of carnal delights, but it quickens in us another delight, as much better than those as heaven is above the earth. For there is no true delight which delights not as much to be remembered as to be felt; which pleaseth not as well the memory as the sense; and takes not as much joy to think of it being done as when it was a-doing. For is it not a miserable delight when it may be threatened with this? You will one day remember this with pain. Is it not a doleful delight, when grief besets the borders of gladness--when sorrow follows it at the heels? Is it not a fearful delight when, like a magician’s rod, it is instantly turned into a serpent? (Sir Richard Baker.)
Delight in the Divine law
And as in this study of the law of God there is no fear of melancholy, so in the delight that is taken in it there is no fear of satiety; all other delights must have change, or else they cloy us; must have cessation, or else they tire us; must have moderation, or else they waste us: this only delight is that of which we can never take enough--we can never be so full, but we shall leave with an appetite, or rather never leave, because ever in an appetite. It is but one, yet is still fresh; it is always enjoyed, yet always desired; or, rather, the more it is enjoyed, the more it is desired. All other delights may be barred from us, may be hindered to us; this only delight is free in prison, is at ease in torments, is alive in death; and indeed there is no delight that keeps us company in our death beds, but only this. All other delights are then ashamed of us, and we of them; this only sits by us in all extremities, and gives us a cordial when physic and friends forsake us. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Delight in the law of God
Many delight in the law, because it teacheth many hidden and secret mysteries; but these are vain men, and delight not in the law, but in superfluous knowledge. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The law of God the chief joy of the believer
And how, then, shall we come to know the delighting which is true and perfect from that which is counterfeit and defective? Shall we say, it must be a delighting only, or but only chiefly? Not only, for so we should delight in nothing else; and who doubts but there are many other delights which both Nature requires and God allows? therefore, not only, but chiefly; yet so chiefly as in a manner only; for chiefly is properly where there may be comparison; but this is so chiefly as admits of no comparison. In presence of this, all other delights do lose their light; in balance with this, all other delights are found to be light. (Sir Richard Baker.)
A Constant delight in the Divine law
For as it is but a dead faith that brings not forth the fruit of good works, so it is but a feigned delight that brings not forth the work of exercising; and as it is but an unsound faith that works but intermittingly and by fits, so it is but an aguish delighting that hath its heat but at turns and seasons; but where we see a constancy of good works, as we may be bold to say there is a lively and sound faith, so where we see a continual exercising, we may be confident to say there is a true delighting. The working shows a life of faith; the constancy of working, a true temper of that life. The exercising shows a delighting; the continuance of exercising, a sincerity of that delighting. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Doing the Divine law
Contemplation brings us but to, “I see and approve the better”; and if “I pursue the worse” do follow, then godliness is stopped in her race at the very goal: the building is left unperfect when it is come to the roof. We cannot make a demonstration of true godliness out of all the premises, unless that be added which follows, “And in His law he will exercise himself day and night”; but if this be added, then the roof of the house is set on, and then the goal of godliness is won. And though it may seem a wearisome thing, summer and winter, day and night, all a man’s life long, to do nothing else but always one thing, yet this is the godly man’s task; he must do so, or he cannot be the man we take him for. For to be godly but sometimes is to be ungodly always; and no man is so wicked but he may sometimes have good thoughts, and do good works. But this serves not our godly man’s turn; his sun must never set, for if he ever be in darkness he shall ever be in darkness; at least, he shall find it more work to kindle his fire anew than to have kept it still burning. Or if he should bestow the whole day in the exercise of godliness, and yet at night return to his vomit, that man would be but as a half-moon--bright on one side, and horrid blackness on the other. For godliness is a thing entire; it cannot be had in pieces. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Doing the law day and night
He will do it in the day, that men, seeing his good works, may glorify his Father which is in heaven; and he will do it in the night, that he may not be seen of men, and that his left hand may not know what his right hand doeth. He will do it in the day, to show he is none of those who shun the light; and he will do it in the night, to show that he is one of those who when in darkness shine. He will do it in the daytime, because, the day is the time of doing, as St. Peter [the Lord] saith, “Work whilst it is day; and he will do it in the night, lest his Master should come as a thief in the night and find him idle. (Sir Richard Baker.)
A fragment of spar at first seems lustreless and unattractive, but as you turn it in your hand and let the light strike it at a certain angle it reveals beautiful radiance and even prismatic colours. A fragment of Scripture which is comparatively lifeless to a superficial reader becomes to the real student a marvel of beauty. He turns it round, views it at every angle till he sees the light of God break through it, and it shines with the sevenfold beauty of the Divine attributes. The true beauty of Scripture does not lie on the surface, or reveal itself to the careless eye. As we reflect one truth is obvious. The principal lesson of the Bible is Christ. He is the light and lustre of each part. Faith cannot look but some new beauty of the Lord appears. (R. Venting.)
Impressions fixed by meditation
The photographer at the first has no security of the picture which he has taken. He cannot be said, in any true sense, to possess it. It is true, the impression is made upon the sensitive plate, but in its first condition, for all practical purposes, it is useless. The slightest exposure to the light would mar it hopelessly. It must be taken into the darkened room, and there, by being immersed in chemical solutions, it becomes fixed and assumes a permanent form. Just so is it with the thoughts which enter the mind. They are volatile and fugitive unless permanently fixed in the chambers of the mind by steadfast meditation. (Charles Deal.)
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of waters.
The tree similitude
A beautiful illustration of the perpetual verdure and fruitfulness of the piety deriving its origin and sustenance from the Word of God. It is compared to a tree whose roots are refreshed by never-failing streams of living water, and whose every part is instinct with the life flowing from its roots. It is the same with the piety nourished by the Word of God. As the sap of the tree imparts life not only to its roots, and trunk, and larger branches, but also to the remotest twig and leaf, and to the very down upon the leaf, so the truly godly man’s piety pervades his whole life, imparting its spirit and character and beauty to everything he does he is not a religious man in one or two departments of life, but he is a religious man everywhere. His religion is a mental habit--a habit of thought, of feeling, of purpose, of action, of which he never for a moment divests himself. He aims that not so much as a leaf on his tree of righteous living shall show signs of decay. The same spirit that actuates him in the largest, actuates him also in the least transaction of his life. His religion is not a thing that is put on,--it is the man himself--the man in the man. Consequently the storm that bows mock trees of righteousness to the earth, leaves him still standing; the drought that dries up their streams of life, leaves his still full, fresh, and flowing. Vigour, verdure, and fruitfulness are his evermore. His source of strength can never fail. It is the river of life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, reaching his soul through the law of the Lord, wherein is his delight and unceasing meditation. (David Caldwell, A. M.)
Amongst the trees of the wood
The blessed man is like a tree planted by the rivers of waters.
1. Its blessedness does not depend upon its kind. It is not the cedar of Lebanon of which David is thinking, but any tree. It is not the tree, but the planting and the place, that constitute the blessedness. We need not think that we are the wrong sort. Two kinds of religious people in the world. There are those who always want to be somebody else: and there are those who want everybody else to be exactly what they themselves are. Now the woods need all the kinds of trees that God has made; and the world wants all the kinds of people that God has sent into it. Some people are perhaps very different from what God made them, but He wants us to be everyone after his kind.
2. We can none of us afford to make much of ourselves, but we can all of us afford to be ourselves. I am not much at the best; but I am best when I am myself. Now, timid soul, the heavenly Father has room for you.
3. Notice that the tree is planted. It did not plant itself. It surrendered itself wholly and utterly to the husbandman. He took it in hand and dealt with it, and that was the beginning of its prosperity. This utter and whole-hearted surrender of ourselves to the Lord is the first sign of the blessed life. The husbandman must have possession before he can do any planting. Planted, the tree begins to put forth at the one end the roots that go out and clasp the rocks, and at the other end the branches spread and leaves unfold, and it drinks in the rain and sunshine of heaven. It is the fair emblem of the man of God, rooted in obedience, rising to communion. There is the man of God; the law of his God is an authority supreme, that knows no argument, no exception, no choice. I must and I will grip the law of God. Here is stability, You know where to have that man. Right is might with him. But a tree is not all root. Here, laughing in the sunshine, sporting in the breeze, dripping with the shower, is the branch that pushes out over earth and up into heaven. The emblem of freedom. But the branch is always in proportion to the root. The obedience and the communion keep pace.
4. It is a tree planted by the rivers of water. There is not only a rock to hold on to, but there is the river to refresh it. Rock and river, river and rock, this is what the law of God becomes. They who do not know think of the law of God as the hard stern voice of thunder, with its “Thou shalt.” But they who do know cry, “Great peace have they that keep Thy law.” It is rivers of waters, sweet, refreshing, quickening. So, rooted in obedience and stretching up into communion, the blessed man comes to be like a tree; there is stability, and steadfastness. He knows whom he has believed, and is persuaded that that will hold though winds may blow and rains may heat. He bringeth forth his fruit in his season. He hath the real spirit for the hour; the very occasion seems to bring the grace he needs. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
The supremely happy man
We are here introduced to one who is said to be very happy. “Oh, the happinesses of the man” would be a literal translation of the Psalmist’s words; and the expression is one indicating fulness of happiness--more than ordinary joy. It is also to be noted that the happiness of the man is the first thing to which the inspired writer refers, and that circumstance is indicative of the truth stated, that man’s happiness is so great and so excellent that it must have the first place. The springs of joy from which he drinks are sweeter far than the sweetest of those from which others drink. The flowers in his garden have a loveliness and fragrance the flowers in other gardens never have. The paths of other men may seem brighter and smoother, but this is only in appearance. Every difficulty overcome is a victory won, and adds to his happiness. In what does this man’s happiness consist? To know the various elements of his blessedness we must study the picture--carefully note its several distinctive points.
I. Our attention is directed to the fact that the tree is one carefully “planted.” The word used by the Psalmist is not the ordinary term meaning to sow or plant, but the poetical and much rarer word. The same is found in Psalms 92:13 --“Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” The trees planted within the temple enclosures would be planted with skill and care. This tree also is planted in a choice spot, and would therefore be planted well. It has sprung from no stray seed which the wind may have wafted hither, or some bird carried and dropped where grows the tree. And such is true of the man who is really happy and most happy. He is a tree “of the Lord’s right hand planting.” He is the offspring of wisdom that is perfect and care that is infinite. And this fact constitutes part of his joy.
II. The situation of the tree must have our attention. The tree grows not on some barren waste, but “upon the rivers of water.” By these rivers I understand the multitudinous and various overflowings of the Divine grace--the rivers of pardon, peace, comfort, teaching, sanctification, etc.
1. The plural term indicates also fulness as well as variety of blessing in constant circulation round about the roots of the Christian’s life.
2. There is also in it the promise of continuance. If one stream dries up there are other streams to draw from.
3. Another thought is expressed, namely, freshness. “The rivers” are running streams. Here there is another element of the good man’s happiness. He is felicitously situated.
III. The fruitfulness of the tree must next be considered. As might be expected, the tree bears fruit. By this we are to understand the man’s habit of doing good. The pronouns are to be noted.
1. It is not said he brings forth fruit, but “his fruit.” Christian activity takes many forms, and a man will do most good and do it best who is no servile imitator of another, but who works in his own groove, and in the way most natural to himself. And there is a beauty and gracefulness about work done after this manner that always adds to its value. The tree brings forth his own fruit, and the happy Christian does his own work. The Master gives to everyone his work.
2. Again, the tree brings forth his fruit in his season. Seasonableness is itself a virtue. Work done opportunely is the only work done rightly. Here we touch a leading difficulty in some earnest lives. The question as to when this should be done, and when that, is the perplexing point. He is therefore a man led of God’s Spirit, and this leading saves him from the painful perplexity of not knowing what he should first do and what next. By this means his work is simplified. His duties come to him in natural order--one at a time. God shows him not only what he must do, but how, and when. Here is another clement of happiness. A fruitful life is a happy one.
IV. From looking at the fruit of the tree we turn to its foliage. This is beautiful, and always so. “His leaf also shall not wither.” Now if by the fruit we understand a man’s works, by the “leaf” it will be natural to regard his words. What a man does and says constitutes his character. Works have a great importance, but so also have words. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” “His leaf shall not wither”--his words shall not die. “He being dead, yet speaketh.” Another element of happiness in the good man. The words of his mouth shall be established, and their influence shall be felt forever. The tongue is a little member, but how great is the happiness it may secure for the good man who uses it aright. And in making others happy one makes himself most happy. “And all that he does shall prosper.” Here the works and words are interwoven. It is when the two do interweave and harmonise that there is prosperity. Note, it is not all he attempts or carries forward so far and there stops that shall prosper, but “all that he doeth.” And this is happiness supreme--doing good--by work or word--crowned with prosperity. (Adam Scott.)
Aspects of a godly life
Three aspects of godly character.
I. Its variety. The figure leaves room for the development of varieties of goodness. True godliness does not reduce men to a dead level. The variety which God stamps upon nature He means to have reproduced in character. It is often supposed that, by becoming a servant of God, a man loses all his distinctiveness, sacrifices many of his peculiar modes of power, and shuts himself up to a comparatively narrow range of activity; whereas the truth is, that no man ever finds out the variety of uses to which the human talent and power can be put until he begins to work under God’s direction.
II. Its Divine culture. The godly man is not like a tree that grows wild. He is like a tree planted, and that in a place which will best promote its growth. Godly character is developed under God’s special supervision, and with God’s own appliances. Has God no other means of revealing His will but through a burning bush or a stunning shock? His modes of revelation are as many as the characters and circumstances of men, and as varied; and He does not mean that His lowliest servant shall work under the shadow of a doubt, whether he is in his place or not. He may make circumstances, or conscientious judgment, or special dispensations His messengers, but whatever be the messenger, the message shall be clear to the open eye and the obedient spirit--“I have planted you.” And if a man is working and growing where God sets him, he is always within reach of the means necessary for his growth and fruitfulness. He is always planted by rivers of water. Men find these channels in the most unlikely places, in the most unpromising parts of God’s garden. In their very work they find something to engage their energy, quicken their enthusiasm, and develop their power. This is a mystery to men of the world. They look at the places in which some of God’s servants are planted, and say it is Impossible they should bear fruit there. Circumstances are all against them. There are no capabilities in the place. And yet, amid sickness, bereavement, scant opportunities, hatred, scorn, they not only live, but grow, and have something to spare for other lives; yea, minister to them most richly and effectively. What is more, they themselves are cheerful and strong, and grow in sweetness no less than in power.
III. Its fruitfulness. God’s tree by God’s river must be a fruitful tree. Note
1. It is “His fruit,” not any other tree’s fruit. God gives the tree its nature, and plants it where it can best develop its nature, and looks for fruit according to its nature and place. You are not to waste time in admiring or envying other men’s modes of power, but to give your whole energy to the development of your own mode of power. And if your best is only a single fruit you can say, God planted me that I might do that one thing.
2. The words “in his season.” The seasons are different for different fruits. Some are early, some are late. Moral growths do not all fructify at the same time or rate. The latest fruit is usually the best. But, early or late, the fruit of godly character is seasonable. It will be found that God nourishes His men as He does the fruits of the earth, to meet the demands of special seasons; and that in each individual character Divine graces fructify as the occasion demands: courage for seasons of danger, patience for seasons of suffering, strength for seasons of trial, wisdom for seasons of difficulty; ill short, the beautiful fitness of godliness is no less remarkable than its fruitfulness. “Shall prosper.” This suggests the standard of prosperity. It must be measured by God’s rule, not man’s. I stood last summer in a magnificent hothouse, where the luscious clusters of grapes were all around and above, and the owner said, “When my new gardener came he said he would have nothing to do with these vines unless he could cut them clear down to the stock; and he did, and we had no grapes for two years: but this is the result.” It did not look much like fruit when the stock stood bare, and the floor was heaped with cuttings; but the gardener looked over the two years, and saw what we were seeing and tasting. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
A tree sermon to children
Six characteristics of trees.
1. Contentment. I never heard of a tree complaining. They are perfectly contented with their lot. Did you ever hear of a maple wishing it were an oak? They have not so much to make them contented as we have. The Christ-Spirit in us will make us happy and contented.
2. Health. How many of you have seen an unhealthy tree? The perfect boy or girl is the one who, like the tree, is healthy. We should attend to these bodies of ours. We should be careful to eat and drink those things which will give us sound bodies. We need to keep our minds, bodies, and souls healthy.
3. Roots. A great part of a tree is underground. Two reasons for this--to hold the tree in its place, and to nourish the tree. A perfect man, a perfect woman, boy, or girl is one who is well-rooted. Among the roots which hold us stable and keep us from falling are--
(1) Good habits formed early in life;
(2) good companions;
(3) good books.
4. Importance. Trees are used in building, furniture, ships, and as medicine. Their fruit is important. The perfect man is important to society, to home, to national life. What should we do without the ideal man and woman?
5. Symmetry. The word means “perfectly balanced in all its parts.” Some trees have perfect proportions. There are men who have only attended to physical development; others only to intellectual development. The symmetrical man is one who has attended to the development of the mind, body, and spirit.
6. Trial. A mighty oak is perfect, because it has been tried. Tempests have swept over it, but still it stands. The perfect man, woman, boy, or girl is the one who, when tempted and tried, comes off the victor. Tried, weighed, and not found wanting, Tried and found to be sound. (Frank S. Rowland.)
A sermon on trees
1. One of the most wonderful things about the trees is the way in which they breathe. Does it make you smile to think of a tree breathing? Do you say, “Well, I never thought of that before! I didn’t know a tree could breathe.” But they do, if it does surprise you, and they could no more live without breathing than could you or
I. If it was not for the trees and other plants breathing the air would soon become filled with poisonous gas which would make everyone sick, and soon cause us all to die. On the under side of every leaf of every tree, or shrub, or other plant there are thousands of little breathing holes or mouths. There are some also on the upper surface of the leaf. These are small openings through the outer skin of the leaf into the air chambers within, making a direct communication between the whole interior of the leaf and the air outside. You cannot see these little mouths with the naked eye. You have to use a microscope or magnifying glass, and then you can see them. The famous botanist, Professor Asa Gray, tells us that in the white lily, when they are unusually large, there are about sixty thousand of them to the square inch on the lower surface of the leaf, and about three thousand in the same space of the upper surface; and that in the apple tree, where they are under the average as to number, there are about twenty-four thousand to the square inch of the lower surface; so that each leaf has not far from one hundred thousand of these mouths. The trees are made by God to take out of the air a gas which would kill us all in a very little while if it u ere allowed to remain; and having taken it into their trunks they split it up into two parts, oxygen and carbon, and give us back the former that we may breathe it and live; while the latter they make into charcoal, which is used in a thousand ways for our comfort, convenience, and health. So kind is God in making all things work together for good unto us whom He so dearly loves.
2. Another great use of the trees is, as we all know, to furnish food for man. Just think of all the things we get from them, and from other plants! Not only delicious oranges, and apples, and pears, and peaches, and all other nice fruits; but also starch, sugar, spices, oil, tea., coffee, flour, and grain. All these things are prepared by the plants out of the elements which they take in from the earth and air. They have been so made by God that they have the power to produce subtle chemical changes in these unpalatable materials, which they thus transform into delicious food for man. Says the same botanist above quoted, “Animals depend absolutely upon vegetables for their being.” The great object for which the all-wise Creator established the vegetable kingdom evidently is, that the plant might stand on the surface of the earth, between the animal and mineral creations, and organise portions of the former for the sustenance of the latter. We must indeed see the goodness and the love of God in the goodly fruits of the trees.
3. Another very interesting branch of our subject is in regard to the habits or instincts of the trees. Wherever a tree may be growing, if there is a stream or pool of water anywhere near it, or a damp piece of ground, it will always push its roots eagerly toward that. It wants the hydrogen and oxygen which the water can furnish, and it will have them if it can possibly get them. In other words, it is thirsty, just as we are thirsty, and it eagerly seeks for water to drink. For example, I have read. (Horace Bushnell’s lecture on Life) of a man named Madison, who had an aqueduct--that is, a sort of trough made of logs--which in reaching his house passed by a tree which was especially fond of water, at a considerable distance from it. Opposite to where the tree stood there was an auger hole in the log that had been filled with a plug of soft wood. Exactly to that spot the tree sent off a long stretch of roots, which forced their way through this soft wood plug, choking up the passage; “and there,” says the account, “they were found drinking, like so many thirsty animals.” The same writer who tells this incident, says “that a strawberry planted in sand, with good earth a little way off, will turn its runners all toward that. But if the good earth is too far away to be reached, it will make no effort on that side more than on the others.” You can try this experiment if you want to, and see if it is not so.
4. Then it is wonderful to see a tree exerting its mighty strength. For in every tree in your garden at home, and in everyone that you can see from these windows, and in all the trees of the forests and on the hills, there is a life principle, the strength of which is as great as, or greater than, that of the largest steam engine you ever saw. Why, in the commonest garden vegetable there is a force capable of lifting an enormous weight. And if you go down here on the road a little way, some time, you can see a huge rock that has been broken right in two by the strength of a little tree not much larger round than my arm. Some time, years ago, a little cone lodged in the crevice of that rock, and pretty soon the rains and the warm sun caused one of the little seeds in the cone to germinate and grow. A little root ran out and down into the crevice, and began growing. Soon it had got as large as the crevice, and touched the hard rock on each side. And no doubt the grim old rock would have laughed, if rocks could laugh, and would have said to the tiny little pine tree, “You insignificant little sprout, you can’t grow here, for I won’t let you, so you may as well not try.” But the little tree kept growing, and pretty soon began to press hard on the sides of the crevice; harder” and harder it pushed, and twisted round to get a good hold, filling up the whole space with its insinuating roots. And the rock hung together, and braced itself, and tried its best not to give way. But at last one dark night crack it went, and broke in two right in the middle. And all because of the little tree, which it had thought so weak and small. A tree has in it this wonderful power of growth and enlargement. It is always growing, running up taller and taller, and getting larger and larger every year. And if it is broken by storms or felled to the ground it often reconstructs its building, and rears itself again with all its wonderful ducts, and tissues, and breathing pores, like to the pattern which it bore before. And all the trees, so many kinds of which we can see around us in the forests, though they have different forms and characteristics, and are put to different uses, still contribute, each its share, to fulfilling the plans and perfecting the work which God gave them to do upon the earth. There is no confusion. Each has its law within itself, and fills the sphere which God intended it to fill. (F. H. Palmer.)
The fruit tree and the chaff
The 1st Psalm strikes the keynote of those statutes of God which are the songs of His people in their pilgrimage. Like an illuminated initial letter, it presents a graphic picture of the contrast between the blessedness of the righteous and the misery of the wicked under the emblems of a fruit tree flourishing beside a river and of a handful of chaff winnowed by the wind. Let us look at the picture presented.
I. The fruit tree. This suggests--
1. Stability. It is firmly rooted in the soil. Thus it tells of the stability of the righteous.
2. Access to a perennial mine of nourishment and refreshment: “by the rivers of waters.” A river in the East is an artery of life. A tree, therefore, with its head in the torrid sunshine, and its feet laved by a perpetual stream flowing down from some far-up snowy mountain, is one of the most beautiful images of a righteous man.
3. It yields its fruit in its season. Fruit is that part of the tree which belongs not to the individual, but to the race. In the fruit the tree sacrifices its own life for the life that is to spring from it; converts branch and foliage that would have remained and ministered to its own beauty, into blossom and fruit that fall off and minister to the good of others. In no case does the fruit benefit the tree, but, on the contrary, burdens and exhausts it, as is clearly proved by the shorter lives of fruit than of other trees. So the distinguishing peculiarity of the righteous is self-sacrifice. They have truly learned that first lesson of the Cross of Christ. They, as He, come not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give their life for others.
4. Its leaf shall not wither. This is a remarkable feature. It is the old idea of the bush burning and not consumed. In nature it is only through the fading of the leaf that the fruit ripens. The yellowing autumnal foliage accompanies the development of the fruit. By the leaf the tree breathes and forms its wood from air and sunshine. It is its strength, yea is itself; for the whole tree is simply a modification and development of the leaf, as it is most certainly the creation of the leaf. The leaf, therefore, represents the righteous man’s life. Not only does he do good to others, but he gets good to himself. Godliness is to a man’s nature what sunlight is to a plant. It imparts living greenness and fadeless vigour.
II. The chaff. This is a complete contrast.
1. Chaff is a dead leaf that was once green and flourishing and full of sap and life. It once performed an important part in the growth of the plant. But now it is effete and has no vital connection with the plant. How worthless does a human being become who has lost his true life by sin.
2. It is driven away. It has fallen from the higher powers of the organic world and it comes under the power of the inorganic. And so with the ungodly man. That which separated him from the mass of creation--the Divine image--he has lost. But losing this he becomes a mere part of the creation, instead of having personal relations with the personal God. The ungodly have no individuality; they live, move, and act in the mass. The statistics of wrong-doing illustrate this. You can calculate the average of crimes; the number of paupers, suicides, and criminals there will be. The evil passions of men may be known as we know the coming of an eclipse. And thus the awful lesson is read to us that individuals when they have sold themselves to sin and so lose the spiritual life that bound them to God come to be controlled, notwithstanding all their waywardness, by laws which apply to mere things in which there is no power to resist. They pass beyond the sphere of the grace of God into the passive realms of matter.
3. All things become hostile to it. What ministers life to the living tree ministers more rapid decay to the chaff. Which are we? (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
A tree by the river
It is deeply interesting, in counting the circles of a section of some old tree, to note the variations, some circles being almost imperceptible for narrowness, and some so broad that you fear almost to have counted two as one. As you count the outer circles, your memory, reaching back to those years, can show a cause for this difference. The years of drought are the years of little growth. For the tree, as for our spirits, it holds true that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven. There are surely seasons when one can make little increase save under exceptional circumstances, such as those of a tree by the river side, which shows little variation. It drew supplies from an abiding source. Precisely this sweet secret it is that finds expression in the 1st Psalm, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.” They who live near the Lord, who delight themselves in His law and meditate on it day and night, are ever growing and fruitful. (Sarah Smiley.)
There is one tree, only to be found in the valley of the Jordan, but too beautiful to be entirely passed over; the oleander, with its bright blossoms and dark green leaves, giving the aspect of a rich garden to any spot where it grows. It is rarely, if ever, alluded to in the Scriptures. But it may be the tree planted by the streams of water which bringeth forth his fruit in due season, and “whose leaf shall not wither.” (A. P. Stanley, D. D.)
A believer like a tree
Dr. John Paton, speaking of Namakei, his first convert on the island of Aniwa, says, “He went in and out the meeting with intense joy. When he heard of the prosperity of the Lord’s work, and how island after island was learning to sing the praise of Jesus, his heart glowed, and he said, ‘Missi, I am lifting up my head like a tree; I am growing tall with joy.’”
Constancy in religion
I have read of a waterfall in a nobleman’s garden, beautiful in its construction, but the water was never turned on unless his lordship was there. That is like much of the religion existing in the present age. It is only turned on when there is someone to see and applaud. Our service must not be kept for mere effect and display. (R. Venting.)
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season.--
This reference to the tree as the image of the good man’s life, this garden which is thus summoned up before our minds, harmonises with almost all the early, and certainly with the closing, scenes in our Bibles. It is significant that the image which is chosen is not a tree of the forest, but a tree specifically planted by the water side. The image of the tree of nature--of the tree in its wild untended state--has been freely used by a school of thinkers as against any doctrine of human education whatever. But vegetable life may, under certain circumstances, gain very considerably by cultivation. Cultivation develops latent properties, latent powers. It prevents a waste of life, it economises time in growth. Man is not a tree, but he is like a tree. He has qualities and characteristics peculiar to himself. He has intelligence, and no doctrine of human improvement would be complete which did not provide for the development of his understanding. He is morally free, he is social; in these things there must be development. He is depraved, and if a man is left to himself he will grow in his depravity. Therefore man must be checked, reproved, chastised. There are points of similarity between human nature and vegetable growth.
I. Each is gradual The growth of the spiritual life is in the nature of the case slow, because it consists chiefly in the formation of habits of faith, hope, love, prayer, inward conformity of the soul to the will of Almighty God.
II. Each is mysterious. We cannot understand the mysterious processes which pass within the soul; we can only see the outer life, the words and the actions, which are the products of the feelings engendered by grace. As a tree requires soil, sunlight, moisture, and space for its proper growth, so the human soul requires certain ascertainable conditions, without which growth and development are impossible. I will mention three.
1. The life of the soul should be based upon principles. They are the soil of the soul. Sentiments, opinions, and views belong to quite a different strata of mental life from the possession of principles. Principles--what are they? They are the basis of truth on which the understanding must lean if man is to rise to the destined tether of his greatness. The understanding is the basis faculty of the character, but the understanding itself must rest on something. And what is it to rest on if not on sound principles? This is true in science, in art, in speculation, and in religion. Some principles are natural. Seeing the difference between right and wrong; recognising the eternal law of justice and righteousness, these are natural principles. Some belong to grace, they are revealed, such as that Jesus is God equal to the Father, and that Jesus is our Judge. Sooner or later a principle brings forth its fruit in due season. But you may have long to wait for it.
III. Christianity must expand. It must expand by love. The heart is the centre of life. The heart may be corrupted through being fixed on false objects, or it may be closeted up. Either of them is a misfortune so great that we can scarcely think less of it than that it is very ruining to character. Ascertain the object on which the heart is fixed and you have ascertained the direction in which moral and spiritual life is moving. One condition of the development of the soul is the discipline of the will. The will is the summit of the character, just as the heart is at its centre, just as the understanding is at its base. (Canon Liddon, D. D.)
Fruit in his season
Solomon uttered an axiom when he said, “To everything there is a season.” The truth is applicable to all God does. As in creation its mode and time were not anyhow but appointed. And what is true on the larger scale is also true on the smaller. And to every individual. Your birth and death are appointed by God. To you there is a season.
I. There is fruit appropriate to each season. This not only in the physical world but in the moral.
1. Childhood has its fruits. Like the holy child Jesus you are to bear fruit by loving, trusting, and imitating Him. In your baptism you have been given to Christ and are His. He expects you to bear fruit.
2. Youth has its fruit. St. John speaks of “little children, young men, fathers.” You occupy the middle position. “I have written to you,” says the apostle. Young men and maidens, be sober minded and strong minded too.
3. Old age has its fruits. When the spring is gone, the summer vanished, how varied and multiplied the fruit of autumn. And there are fruits not only of season, but
4. Of time. Our Sabbaths, for example, and working days and days of relaxation also should have their fruit. And there are--
5. Moral seasons. Conviction--how important this is. It is a solemn season when God comes near the soul. And the time of spiritual quickening when the soul longs for more of God. Seasons of sorrow, of joy, and of temptation, these all have their appropriate fruit.
II. It is most important that the fruit appropriate should be borne in its season. For then it is best.
1. Your lifetime--if it bear not its fruit it will never bear it at all. How are you spending it?
2. Religious impression--if that pass away, “a more convenient season” you will never have.
III. For this suitable means must be employed. It is the result of previously fulfilled conditions.
1. Separation from the ungodly is one of them.
2. Meditation on God’s Word.
3. Hidden supplies of God’s grace, like the water at the roots of the tree. They flow along the channels of Divine ordinances, prayers, worship, sacraments. So will you bear fruit. (Josiah Viney.)
The timeliness of fruitage
A very practical lesson arises from these words. We are not to look even in Christian life for what is ordinarily understood by “fruit” all the year round. Upon this point many Christians disquiet themselves unnecessarily. There is a time for rest, for recruital, and time spent in legitimate sleep is time made for larger and harder work. Let the tree be the symbol and image of our life. It has its season of fruitfulness, but not of fruitlessness in any blameworthy sense. The tree is part of the great course of things--a speck in an infinite system, and it keeps all the time and law of the stupendous universe. So it is with the Christian heart. There are times of abundant labour, of almost excessive joy, of hope above the brightness of the sun, and of realisations which transform the earth into heaven. There are times when our energy seems to be more than equal to all the exigencies of life; we can work without weariness, we can suffer without complaining; we are quite sure that the morning draweth nigh, and that in the end the victory will he with God. At other times there are seasons of depression, almost intolerable weariness, somewhat indeed of sickness of heart, as if a great pain had fixed itself within us; at other times we know that we are not bringing forth fruit to the glory of God or for the use of man, and in such times we call ourselves cumberers of the ground, and urge our idleness against ourselves with all the force of a criminal accusation. The Christian should deal with himself reasonably in all these things. The year is not one season, nor is human life one monotonous experience. We are not to be judged by this or that one day or season, but by the whole scope and circumference of life. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The influence of religion upon prosperity
1. Piety and gratitude to God contribute in a high degree to enliven prosperity. Gratitude is a pleasing emotion. The sense of being distinguished by the kindness of another gladdens the heart, warms it with reciprocal affection, and gives to any possession, which is agreeable in itself, a double relish, from its being the gift of a friend. Not only gratitude for the past, but a cheering sense of God’s favour at the present, enter into the pious emotion.
2. Religion affords to good men peculiar security in the enjoyment of their prosperity. By worldly assistance it is vain to think of providing any effectual defence, seeing the world’s mutability is the very cause of our terror.
3. Religion forms good men to the most proper ,temper for the enjoyment of prosperity. A little reflection may satisfy us that mere possession, even granting it to be secure, does not constitute enjoyment. We all know the effects which any indisposition of the body, even though slight, produces on external prosperity. The corrupted temper and the guilty passions of the bad frustrate the effect of every advantage which the world confers on them. None but the temperate, the regular, and the virtuous know how to enjoy prosperity. Prosperity is redoubled to a good man by his generous use of it. It is reflected back upon him from everyone whom he makes happy.
4. Religion heightens the prosperity of good men by the prospect which it affords them of greater happiness to come in another world. What is present is never sufficient to give us full satisfaction. To the present we must always join some agreeable anticipations of futurity in order to complete our pleasure. Let this be our conclusion, that, both in prosperity and in adversity, religion is the safest guide of human life. Conducted by its light, we real) the pleasures and, at the same time, escape the dangers of a prosperous state. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)
The song of the prosperous life
I. The prosperous life is a life made prosperous by refusal.
1. The man will refuse to think wrongly. Counsel--that is, the thought or creed of the ungodly. Non-use of thought in certain directions results in inability of thought toward those directions. Mr. Darwin confessed himself “atrophied” toward music, painting, poetry, etc., through the so constant using of himself in ways simply scientific this atrophy of thought is just as possible in religious directions. A man who “will not” take counsel toward God “cannot” at last. The man of the really prosperous life will not walk in such counsel of the ungodly; he will think toward God.
2. He will refuse to practise wrongly, “way of sinners.” At the battle of Ahna, in the Crimean War, one of the ensigns stood his ground when the regiment retreated. The captain shouted to him to bring back the colours; but the ensign replied, “Bring the men up to the colours.” So this man of the prosperous life will maintain high and brave practice of the right, whoever may retreat from it.
3. Will refuse to speak wrongly, “seat of the scornful.” Into their sort of speech he will not enter.
II. By reception.
1. He will receive all ennobling and uplifting objects of affection; but his delight is in the “law of the Lord.” The controlling thing in a man is his topmost love.
2. This man loves to think of what he loves. “Meditate day and night.” “Hang this upon the wall of your room,” said a wise picture dealer to an Oxford undergraduate, as he handed him the engraving of a Madonna of Raphael, “and then all the pictures of jockeys and ballet girls will disappear.”
III. Results. Noble growth. Propitious placing. Sustenance. Fruitfulness. Beauty of character. Real prosperity. (Wayland Hoyt, D. D.)
The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
The chaff driven away
Who are the ungodly? Are they open and wilful sinners? Certainly these are included, but not mainly intended. Are they the atheists, scoffers, and those who make a ribald jest of all sacred things? Yes, but not they alone. For the godly man is he who has a constant eye to God, recognises Him in all things, trusts Him, loves and serves Him. The ungodly man is he who lives in the world as if there were no God; he may be religious, but that is not enough. He attends to outward forms, but the heart of them he does not perceive. How many there are in all our congregations, therefore, who are ungodly. They do not love the Lord, or delight in communion with Him, or desire to be like Him. They are ungodly. Now concerning all such, the text utters--
I. A fearful negative. “The ungodly are not so.” For
1. They are not “like a tree planted.” The Christian is so. The tree planted is visited and in every way cared for by the husbandman. But the wild tree in the forest, the tree self-sown upon the plain, no one owns, no one watches over it.
2. Not like a tree planted by the rivers of waters. The believer is. He is planted not by banks which may soon dry up, far less in a desert; but by the rivers of waters. And is it not so? We know what it is to drink of the rivers of Christ’s fulness. But “not so the ungodly.” Days of drought will come for them.
3. Does not bring forth his fruit in his season. The righteous does so. If the ungodly have here and there a shrivelled grape it is brought forth in the wrong season. Many think that so long as they don’t do wrong it is as if they did right. But mere negative goodness will not suffice. The curse on Meroz was for not coming to the help of the Lord. They did not oppress, only did not help.
4. His leaf also shall not wither. Not so the ungodly. And
5. Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Yes, though the righteous may suffer much earthly loss. They have an inward prosperity even when the outward one is wanting. No so the ungodly. Is he really happy now? To him there is nothing good in this life. That which looketh fair is but as the paint upon the harlot’s face.
II. A terrible comparison. “Like the chaff”--so useless, so light and unstable, so worthless.
III. An awful prophecy. How near the chaff is to the grain. As yon godless parent of a Christian child. As yon helpers in various forms of Christian work; sitting side by side with the godly. Close to the grain, and yet only chaff. And to be driven away--Where, where? Jesus Christ has said, “He shall burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Who here is prepared to make his bed in hell? I beseech you by the living God, tremble and repent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gate to the threshing floor
“Not so!” The Psalmist does not dwell upon the details of their ungodliness. As in the case of the righteous, he confines himself to indicating the sources of their life. The great object of this Psalm is to show us the “fountain heads” of moral character. The character that is “not so” is set forth by a figure. We leave now the garden gate, and not far off behold a raised platform of earth beaten hard. It is the threshing floor. Here stand the workmen with their earthen vessels, and scooping up the threshed grain, mingled with chaff, throw it up into the air, or let it fall in a stream from the uplifted jar; and the wind, with its whirling gusts, which arise so suddenly on the plains, catches the chaff and drives it away before it. “The ungodly are like the chaff”--light, shifting, worthless Here three aspects of the ungodly character--its instability; its worthlessness; its insecurity. One of the happiest phases of goodness is its fixedness. A life rooted in God, based on settled conviction, has a single aim, a uniform tendency, and a permanent result. In these particulars the opposite character tails. Take a life away from God, and you take from it unity of impulse. Passion, pride, selfishness drive it hither and thither as the winds drive the dismantled ship. Nowhere but in God does man find a consistent law. The second phase of this character is its worthlessness. The wind drives it away, and the husbandman is glad to have it driven away. Here we find ourselves in the track of gospel thought. An ungodly life is not used under God’s direction and for God’s uses. The present age is very susceptible to this fallacy--the identification of activity with usefulness. But we ask, under whose direction? For what? For whom? We call that man useful who works on God’s lines, in God’s ways, and for God’s ends. It is the unchanging law of God, that the life which gives nothing has no place in His Divine order. The chaff, which only lives by the grain, which feeds no one, which has no power of reproduction, is driven away. The third phase of this character is its insecurity. The contrast is between the fixed tree and the shifting chaff: How safe is the man who abides in God, while he who puts himself outside of the restraints of Divine law forfeits likewise its protection. The weakness and instability of the character which is not founded in God’s law shall finally be made manifest. The whole current of the Psalms moves in the direction of a day of final tests which shall lay bare the foundations of character. It is only in romances that virtue always triumphs and vice always goes under. But our Psalm does not leave us here. It carries us over this time of the growing together of wheat and tares, to the time of separation. There is coming a day of judgment, whose searching tests shall resolve the confusion, and make clearly manifest to the world what is weak and what is strong; what is solid and what is superficial; what is wheat and what is chaff. (Marvin R. Vincent, D. D.)
The chaff in the wind
My heart aches when I begin a sermon on a theme like this. But what makes my heart ache is that a man or a woman born so high should sink so low. That one who had the possibility of being the good grain in God’s field, that might have been useful and happy, should have so resisted the gracious influence of God’s husbandry as at last to have become of no value, and only to be compared to the chaff which the wind driveth away. Importance hinges on the word “ungodly.” Who are the ungodly? I do not understand that it means, necessarily, that a man is outbreakingly and viciously wicked. The ungodly man or woman is simply a person who does not live in the way that God demands; one whose thoughts and purposes and conduct are not in harmony with God’s laws; who does not please God. What a graphic suggestion is here of the vanity of a sinful life! The man who loves and serves God is building up a character which is abiding like a great tree. He is gathering many treasures of character and personality that can never be taken from him. Truth, and integrity, and love and faith, and hope, and patience, and gentleness, these great spiritual qualities in which God develops the Christian, are qualities that cannot be taken away from us by any disaster that can come. Money, and honour, and friends, and health, and life itself may go, and all these qualities remain in their full measure; but a sinful life, a life that resists God’s grace, has nothing left that is substantial. If a man gives himself up to worldliness he may be ever so successful in his ambitions, but there is nothing about it that will last. A rich man goes out of the world as poor as when he came into it. His wealth fails, and is like the chaff which the wind driveth away Physical strength is fragile in the same way; often a man rejoices in his strength one week and the next he is in his grave. But if he lives to be an old man, with trembling hands and tottering footsteps, his physical strength fails him at last and is like the chaff in the wind. The same is true of physical beauty and all the attractiveness of physical life. Many people who do not obey God are nevertheless very ambitious to make themselves of some account in the world; but one’s work must be like the chaff if it is not in harmony with God. God could not be the good God that you dream of if He did not make a difference between chaff and wheat. It is not that God is not good, but that the ungodly man has failed to avail himself of God’s goodness, has sinned against God’s goodness and mercy, and has brought ruin upon himself. You say that the chaff cannot help being chaff; yes, but the man can. You will not be chaff unless you choose to be chaff. God did not make you to be chaff; He made you ill His own likeness and image, and when you had wandered from Him by wicked ways Jesus Christ wrought out your salvation on the Cross. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
The fruitless life
The second half of the Psalm gives the dark contrast of the fruitless, rootless life. The Hebrew flashes the whole dread antithesis on the view at once by its first word, “Not so,” a universal negative which reverses every part of the preceding picture. The remainder of the Psalm has three thoughts--the real nullity of such lives, their consequent disappearance in “the judgment,” and the ground of both the blessedness of the one type of character and the vanishing of the other in the diverse attitude of God to each. Nothing could more vividly suggest the essential nothingness of the “wicked” than the contrast of the leafy beauty of the fruit laden tree, and the chaff, rootless, fruitless, lifeless, light, and therefore the sport of every puff of wind that blows across the elevated and open threshing floor. Such is indeed a true picture of every life not rooted in God and drawing fertility from Him. It is rootless, for what holdfast is there but in Him? or where shall the heart twine its tendrils if not round God’s stable throne? or what basis do fleeting objects supply for him who builds elsewhere than on the enduring Rock? Chaff is fruitless because lifeless. Its disappearance in the winnowing wind is the consequence and manifestation of its essential nullity. Just as the winnower throws up his shovelful into the breeze, and the chaff goes fluttering out of the floor because it is light, while the wheat falls on the heap because it is solid, so the wind of judgment will one day blow, and deal with each man according to his own nature. It will separate them, whirling away the one and not the other. The ground of these diverse fates is the different attitude of God to each life. Each clause of the last verse really involves two ideas, but the pregnant brevity of style states only half of the antithesis in each, suppressing the second member in the first clause, and the first member in the second clause, and so making the contrast the more striking by emphasising the cause of an unspoken consequence in the former, and the opposite consequence of an unspoken cause in the latter. “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous” (therefore it shall last). The Lord knoweth not the way of the wicked (therefore it shall perish). The way or course of life which God does not know perishes. A path perishes when, like some dim forest track, it dies out, leaving the traveller bewildered amid impenetrable forests; or when, like some treacherous Alpine track among rotten rocks, it crumbles beneath the tread. Every course of life but that of the man who delights in and keeps the law of the Lord comes to a fatal end, and leads to the brink of a precipice over which the impetus of descent carries the reluctant foot. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The wicked compared to chaff
Natural chaff is light and unprofitable. It is light, containing in it no solid or weighty matter, but a very slight and frothy substance subject to many alterations; even so the wicked are not solid in their purposes and enterprises, and weighty in then carnage and courses, but as chaff, light, easily tossed and blown away. They are light in their words and light in their minds. They are unprofitable ill two ways. In matters temporal, concerning this life, wherein, though they have ability, they want the will to do good with the same. In matters spiritual, wherein, though they have a will, yet they want ability. In that the Spirit of God compares all wicked men to chaff, we learn that the estate and condition of wicked men is exceedingly inconstant, void, uncertain, mutable, and changeable. They have no certain stay, no sure and settled estate in this world. Whether we consider the matters of religion and God’s worship, or the things of the world, we shall see them like unto chaff--vain, vile, uncertain, mutable. (Samuel Smith.)
The ungodly described
Where, first, we may observe that the prophet observes here a different course in handling of this proposition from that he held ill handling the former; for there he only described a godly man, but named him not; here, he only names the wicked, but describes them not; and, indeed, it needed not, for Rectum est index sui et obliqui [Justice defines both the just and the unjust]; by telling what a godly man is he tells, by virtue of the law of contraries, what the wicked are, for it that be affirmed of a wicked man which was denied of a godly, and that denied which was affirmed, the description is made ready to your hand, and you have him deciphered in his fulness. And yet we may take notice of a further reason, for godliness is subject to many falsifications; it may suffer much alloy by mixture of base metals, and there is need of a touchstone to try whether it be right or no. Many colours may be laid upon wickedness, to make it seem godliness, as Satan can transform himself into all angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14); and then there is need of marks to know whether it be a good angel, whether it be true godliness or no; but in the case of wickedness it is not so; there is no need of any such marks, for there cannot a worse vizard be put upon wickedness than its own face, there is no baser metal to be mingled with it; and though a wicked man will be counterfeiting to be godly, yet it was never known that a godly man would counterfeit to be wicked; and therefore the prophet, who is no waster of words in vain, would not give marks where they needed none, but left wickedness to be known by its own ill face, which is seen plainly enough by the law of contraries. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The wicked as chaff
But may we not make a stand here, and question the prophet about his similitude? for look upon the wicked, do they look like chaff? One would think them rather, in all appearance, to be clean wheat, and the best wheat too, for they only are flourishing--they only carry the price in all markets. But the prophet speaks not how they look, but what they are; he saith not, They look like chaff, but, They are like chaff; and before he hath done, for all their appearance, he will make it appear they are like chaff, and chaff they are like to have for their similitude. Well, be it so: let the prophet have his will, and let them be like chaff; what hurt take they by this? for doth not the chaff grow up, and is it not brought up with the wheat? and when harvest comes, are they not both reaped together, and both together laid up in the barn? and what more misery in all this to the chaff than to the wheat itself? All this is true; the prophet sees it welt enough, and therefore stays not here neither; he ends not with saying, They are like to chaff, but, They are like to chaff which the wind scatters. For this is that which perfects the similitude; and now let any man except against it if he can. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The wicked as chaff
And such is the condition of the wicked; a gale of prosperity hoisted them up, that they neither know themselves, nor where they are; a blast of adversity blows them down, and makes them tear the heavens with murmuring, and themselves with impatience. No state, no time, no place contents them. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The wind within
The chaff hath the wind without it that disquiets it, but a wicked man hath the wind within him (his own passions) that disquiets him. (Sir Richard Baker.)
The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.
The day of judgment
1. None will deny that the law of God, which is holy, just, and good, explicitly condemns the sinner, and consigns him to the second death. By the law can no man be justified. It contains no provision for pardon.
2. He will not be able to stand in the last trial, because all the witnesses will be against him. His companions in sin will testify against him. The example of the righteous will testify against the impenitent. The sinner’s own awakened conscience and memory will testify against him. So will the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The eternal Judge will be inflexibly strict in interpreting and upholding the law. And
4. The impenitent sinner at God’s bar will have no advocate. (A. Dickinson,.)
The ungodly rising to judgment
They shall not rise in the judgment, this is more than St. Paul would have said himself if he had been in the prophet’s place, for who ever thought the ungodly should rise in the judgment, who are sure to fall in the judgment, seeing their judgment shall be to condemnation and not to deliverance? To rise to the judgment is to be brought to public trial, and this is the general resurrection that we believe; but to rise in the judgment is upon trial to come off with credit, and, by the sentence of the Judge, not only to be justified, but advanced. And who ever believed this rising to belong to the wicked? (Sir Richard Baker.)
A congregation in which sinners cannot stand
And as there shall be a general judgment, in which the ungodly shall not rise, so, after the judgment, there shall be a particular congregation of the righteous, in which sinners shall not stand. And, indeed, what society can there be between a tree and chaff? or who can think it fit that trees and chaff should be made companions? And as there is no reason that the ungodly, having made others by their counsel to fall here, should rise themselves in judgment hereafter, so there is no reason, seeing the righteous could not be suffered to stand here in the way of sinners, that sinners should be suffered to stand hereafter in the congregation of the righteous. And here now a multitude of reasons seem assembled, as it were, to make it good, that sinners neither can nor ought to stand in this assembly. It is a congregation which none can make but the righteous; for sinners are all rebels, and would make it a rout. It is a court where all must be neat and clean; and so are none but the righteous; for sinners are all lepers, and would make it a spital. It is a company that makes a communion, and that can none do but saints, for sinners seek everyone their own, and are all for themselves. They must be all God’s friends; at least, such as He knows; and such are only the righteous, for sinners are all mere strangers and aliens from God. (Sir Richard Baker.)
Failure in judgment
And now let the great men of the world please themselves, and think it a happiness that they can rise in honours, can rise in riches and estimation in the world; yet, alas! what is all this, if they fail of rising in the judgment to come? (Sir Richard Baker.)
The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous.
The way of the righteous
I. Contrasted pictures of life.
1. That of the happy man illustrated by the law of attraction and repulsion. See the sentiments, habits, and disposition
(i) of the evil he is led to repel (Psalms 1:1);
(ii) of the good to which he is attracted (Psalms 1:2). Delighting and meditating upon God’s Word.
2. By the law of vegetable life (Psalms 1:3). The happy life of the good, like a fruit tree, is
(i) one of ceaseless appropriation and transformation,
(ii) of seasonable fruit bearing,
(iii) of prosperity under all circumstances.
3. With all this the life of the ungodly is contrasted (Psalms 1:4-6):
(i) As shown in the reason of the contrast. The character of the ungodly is self-evolved from their own nature. That of the good, from God.
(ii) In the result of the contrast. The ungodly having no solidity, nothing substantial in themselves, are compared to “chaff,” which is light and empty and easily carried away. And having no foundation, they cannot “stand in the judgment.” And having nothing to support them, must perish while the good shall prosper evermore.
II. Lessons from these contrasted pictures.--
I. That true happiness is not the result of chance, but of law--fundamental, immutable, Divine. This law may be thus stated: Every effect must have an adequate cause. An uprooted tree cannot bear fruit; so a soul whose faith and love are torn away from God cannot be happy or prosperous. The specific law of spiritual good is this: Character determines destiny.
2. That God has so graciously arranged the conditions of happiness or misery that it is dependent upon each one’s personal choice. (D. C. Hughes, A. M.)
The Divine observation
The question is not whether the righteous is apparently stronger than the ungodly, but what is the relation of the Lord to them both. The final award is not with man but with God. The destiny of the righteous and the ungodly is as distinct as their character. There is no blending of one into the other--the one lives, the other perishes. Consistently throughout the Bible life is always associated with obedience or righteousness, and death with disobedience or unrighteousness. Great value attaches to a consistency of this kind. It has a bearing upon the character of God Himself. It is because He never changes in His own moral quality that He never changes, in relation to the actions of men. That “the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous” is the good man’s supreme comfort. Not that the good man challenges the Divine scrutiny in the matter of his actions, but that he is able to invite the Lord to look into the secret purpose of his heart and understand what is the supreme wish of his life. To know that the motive is right is to know that the end must be good. What we have to be supremely anxious about is the main purpose or desire of life; that being right, actions will adjust themselves accordingly, and, notwithstanding innumerable mistakes, the substance of the character shall be good, and a crown of glory shall be granted to the faithful servant. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The way of the righteous
Or is it that the prophet saith not, God knoweth the righteous, but the way of the righteous; perhaps lest men, for doing one or two good deeds in all their life, should claim to be righteous, and for such righteousness claim acquaintance with God; and so indeed God might have acquaintance enough, seeing no man is so wicked but he may sometimes have good thoughts and do good deeds; but this will not serve: it must be a way of righteousness before God will know it. (Sir Richard Parker.)
Resolute righteousness safe
And here the godly may take his comfort by the way, that it is not their slippings or treading awry, which may he by ignorance, or infirmity, that can make, with God, this shipwreck of perishing; it must be a way of ungodliness, which is not usually made without much walking and exercising, without resolute intentions and endeavours, without set purposes and persistings, that if a man be sure he is free from these, he may then be confident he is safe from perishing. (Sir Richard Parker.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent