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I will sing of mercy and judgment.
One man in two characters
This psalm depicts one man in two characters, one comparatively good, the other comparatively evil. Such a man is a fair type of the race.
I. The character of a saint. He is full of good resolutions--
1. In relation to his conduct towards God (verse 1). A lofty theme for song--kindness and justice.
2. In relation to his conduct towards self (verse 2). He determined to exercise over himself a wise control, to act not from passion or impulse, but from principles, and from principles that were rational and just.
3. In relation to his conduct towards his household (Psalms 101:4-7).
4. In relation to his conduct towards his country (verse 6).
II. The character of a despot (verse 8). Here the man assumes the prerogative that belongs to God and God only. Were all kings to act upon this resolution the world would soon be depopulated, for how few there are amongst the millions of the race who are not wicked! (Homilist.)
A song of mercy and judgment
This resolution indicates a hopeful and happy state of mind. A song is the natural channel for the outflow of gladness (James 5:18).
I. To whom he sings. Conscious nearness to God, and exuberant joyfulness of spirit, come together here. These two do not always go together: very often when they are brought near, they mutually destroy each other, like fire and water. Apart from regeneration and reconciling, you may have one of these two in human experience, but not both. In the multitude of his thoughts within him, an unconverted man may be brought, and for a time kept, consciously near the Holy One; but then there are great sadness and grief in his heart: or an unconverted man may experience great joy; but then he has turned away from God. You may bring such a man to the Lord; but as long as he is there, he has no song: or you may give him a song; but while he is singing, he has put God out of all his thoughts. To turn to the Lords and in that attitude to sing for joy, belongs to the children--to those who have been made nigh by the blood of Christ, and are accepted in the Beloved.
II. The psalm that he sung. “Mercy and judgment” are the two sides of the Divine character, as revealed by God, and apprehended by men. They are the two attributes which lie over against each other, for conflict or in harmony, according to the conditions in which they are exercised, or the point from which they are viewed. A song cannot be constructed out of justice or mercy separately. Neither can they become the subjects of praise, if they meet in mere conflict to neutralize or destroy each other. It is not that God is less just because He is also merciful, and less merciful because He has undertaken to be just. When these two meet in the eternal covenant, they kiss each other. Justice is greater because mercy meets it: mercy is greater because justice is satisfied and assents. Justice is made more just because mercy keeps it company: mercy becomes more merciful in presence of a righteousness that never bends. They so meet as to support each other. This union takes places in Christ crucified. In Him the promises of God are yea and amen. We are saved, because Christ our passover was sacrificed for us. It is a song that is needed now, this song to the Lord--a song about mercy and judgment, from the ranks of the redeemed. For their own comfort this is needed; for the honour of God, and as a witness to the world. (W. Arnot.)
The twofold song
I. what is there in mercy to demand a song?
II. What is there in judgment to allow of a song?
1. You are not required, properly speaking, to bless God for your afflictions themselves. No; afflictions are in themselves evils; the effects of sin. But, through the overruling providence of God, they may be made the means to take away sin; and Christians are required, not only to be submissive under their sufferings, but to acquiesce in the will of God concerning them.
2. There are views to be taken of your afflictions which will allow, yea, require even, your thanksgiving and praise.
(1) The nature of them. They are not the inflictions of the judge, but the chastisements of the Father.
(2) Their brevity. What is time to eternity, and what is our life to time itself? But frequently your trials are much shorter than life.
(3) Their judiciousness. There is nothing casual in them.
(4) Their alleviation. If you would “sing of mercy and judgment,” you must dwell upon the blessings you still enjoy, as well as upon those of which you have been deprived; you must look upon the bright side, and not be always gazing on the dark.
(5) Their usefulness. If the vine had reason it would thank the vinedresser for the use of the knife by which it was pruned, and made to bring forth more fruit; and if the ground had reason it would bless God for the ploughshare which breaks up the fallow. I never knew a man converted to God by gaining a fortune, but I have known more than one converted to God by losing one. (W. Jay.)
The psalm of grave, sweet melody
I. The mingled character of the Divine dispensations.
1. In the work of redemption.
2. In the general course of providential dispensation towards the world.
3. In the Divine action towards the Church.
4. In the lines of our household and individual history.
II. The reasons for praise under all the variety of providence.
1. The discovery made by the variety in question of the Divine character is of itself enough to make us sing to the Lord with delighted heartiness.
2. The disciplinary development of our own moral and religious character thereby promoted.
(1) There is the way in which such dispensations operate in subduing our corruptions.
(2) The same thing operates in exercising our graces.
(3) The dispensation of mercy and judgment operates in the way of leading us to exercise a more abiding dependence upon the Lord Himself.
(4) This vicissitude of dispensation still further operates in the way of preparing us for a condition of unmingled enjoyment in a better world. (E. A. Thomson.)
The twofold song of the believer
1. What is it? Goodness and kindness to the undeserving.
2. What is there in mercy, of which we ought to sing?
(1) The marvellousness of its origin.
(2) The expensiveness of its sacrifices.
(3) The abundance of its blessings.
(4) Its universality and freeness.
(5) As to other special distinctions of mercy.
Its length--from eternity to eternity. Its height,--higher than the heavens, and above the clouds. Its perpetuity--it endureth for ever. Besides, it is said to be strong, rich, tender, faithful; and above all, God Himself delighteth in it. What a theme then for holy contemplation and joyous song.
II. Judgment. This may mean--
1. God’s righteousness.
2. God’s law.
3. God’s wrath.
4. God’s chastening dispensations.
(1) Their wise administration.
(2) The tenderness of their application.
(3) The supports He gives with them.
(4) The great ends His judgments are to accomplish.
1. Have we not a keynote which ought to suit every heart and voice?
2. The advantages of this joyous course will be many. It will lighten the load of sorrow. It will sweeten the bitter potion. It will while away the dreary hour. It will exhilarate the oppressed and fainting heart. It will, by a kind of divine chemistry, bring new elements of health and comfort out of nauseous medicines. It will cheer the soul, honour religion, glorify your Father, and aid greatly in your spiritual and upward flight to the land of eternal joy and everlasting glory.
3. May some now learn to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
4. Sing on the way to heaven, in the expectation of singing there, for ever and ever. (J. Burns, D.D.)
Mercy and judgment
I. The mercy which every believer ought to acknowledge.
1. Mercy designed from everlasting.
2. Mercy revealed.
3. Mercy applied.
4. Mercy secured in the covenant of grace.
II. The judgments of which he may have reason to sing. Christian, have you not reason to sing of the judgments which attended your conversion? Did not your terrors and alarms divest you of self-righteousness, and deepen your feeling of the detestable nature of sin? Did they not endear the Saviour to you, when He stilled the tempest and spake peace? And judgments of one kind or other will mark our progress through this wilderness. We cannot bear the continual sunshine of prosperity. It is only in heaven that our sun will never go down; but it is only in the perfection of heaven that we can endure its perpetual brightness. (Carus Wilson, M.A.)
Mercy and judgment
The mercies of God are new every morning, and are renewed every evening. Think of His redeeming mercies, who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. Think of His sparing mercies when thousands have gone from this great metropolis in that last influenza epidemic. Think of His patience, with you, that while He spared your soul your behaviour has been so far short of what it should have been, if you had done your best. Think of your spiritual privileges, think of these precious Sabbaths, this open Book, this welcome home, with its fellow-disciples and warm hearts, and the Father’s smile to greet His children when they come. Think of God’s providential mercies from the cradle to this hour; how He has kept you still in life, rescuing you from more perils than you ever dreamt of. How He has replenished your basket; how He has filled your cupboard. Mercies! let your mind dwell on them. Surely, like David, we should say this morning, “I will sing, I will sing of mercy.” Then let us gel on a little further. “I will sing of mercy and judgment.” Ah! that is a different thing. How can I sing with a choking in my throat? I can sing with the lark in the times of sunrise, but to sing in the night when the wind moans, when the owl hoots, and the bat flits through the shadows of the evening; to sing when the lights are gone, the fruit has fallen, when the icy wind nips me to the marrow, and the snow is falling heavy on a winter’s day, to sing then, when God’s hand is heavy upon me! Like Hezekiah I can roar; or I can hold my peace, because God did it. But to sing, to sing a night song, a winter’s song, a sorrow psalm, surely that can never be! And yet here it is, “I will sing of mercy and of judgment.” I find that David is not by any means alone in it. I turn me to the grand old patriarch Job, and in the day of his affliction I hear from his lips that snatch of heavenly music which we have heard so often at the graveside: “The Lord gave,” etc. I turn to the Apostle Paul, and as he is manacled and chained in the dungeon with lacerated feet, I hear them singing praise to God, and that with such gusto that their songs betray them, and the whole of the prison wonders how such a song can be sung there. And so this man David sings of judgment, “It was good for me to be afflicted.” “Who giveth me songs in the night.” “I will praise the Lord in the fire, and in the night-time His song shall be with me.” These are patterns, so you see it can be done. Not only so, but you will find that the Church’s richest, sweetest, and most excellent songs of all are those which have been sung in the fire of suffering, wrung out from their lives. I call to mind the beautiful story of the days when martyrs burned. When one poor old man was tied to the stake, as soon as the flames began to rise, he bared his white head and sang the “To Deum,” that matchless song of praise. Hark! “The noble army of martyrs praise Thee.” And hark again, “When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” “I will sing of mercy and of judgment.” Another martyr, a woman, when the fire began to crack round her, sang the “Magnificat.” Surely never was sweeter song sung by woman’s lips as she sang “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. He that is mighty hath done great things for me.” For her, poor creature, in the flames, He hath done great things for me. He has exalted her of low degree. And then the royal robes were put on, sad a still more glorious Magnificat sounds from her lips on high. I ask you to look at the conjunction of mercy and judgment as a reason why you should sing. This blending of sorrow and joy, this admixture of sorrow and peace. See if you cannot find ground for singing, for singing loud. Not that you sing enough, even on the mercy side. But see if you cannot find how we do need judgment to keep us humble, and watchful, and pure. How greatly we need mercy in its turn to make us hopeful, to nerve our efforts, assure our hearts, and sustain our patience. We need both the rod and the staff. “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Why the rod? That tells of expectation of correction, does it not? The staff! why, that means support, help, and strength, as you walk along. You don’t like the rod, but God knows things better than we do. Do not forget that the judgments are not the applications of a judge. We get above all that. They are not the carrying out of a sentence. No strokes of vengeance. They are the medicines of the soul. They are tonic if the believer’s heart is right with his God. The cross is love; on the cross is love. I need not tell you that grace is the key that opens all the treasure that God has for you. Another thing to think about is the duration of these judgments. That we are to sing of these judgments, to think of their profit even if they last a lifetime. This is but the school time. Do you know how Paul puts it? “These light afflictions which are but for a moment.” Still they bowed his head for him. Sorrow endures for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (J. J. Wray.)
Mercy and judgment in nature
Never shall I forget the terrible sublimity of the scene around me, when in the heart of the icy solitudes of the Alps, in the innermost shrine of one of nature’s most stupendous temples, amid stupendous precipices, lofty spires of rock, towering domes of everlasting snow. But the scene that struck me most in the landscape was the glaciers, which filled with their rigid, ghastly masses every gorge around. Amid these was a bright little garden of Alpine flowers, blooming on the very borders of the ice, which eloquently spoke to me of the greatness and goodness of the Creator, the life and death, the joy and sorrow, the blight that destroys, and the blessing that renews, are so mysteriously blent on this earth of ours. On the one hand the glaciers were grinding down the mountains, and the Alpine flowers were healing scars which she inflicted. The terrible majesty and love of God, His mercy and judgment were there, as they ever are, if we could only see it, side by side. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
Mercy and judgment a subject for praise
Some people seem never to have any serious thought of life. They think only of amusement, and never get beyond the airy surface of things. But to one who thinks deeply life is not all a round of empty pleasure. A traveller who tarried at Antwerp describes the effect which the bells in the great tower had upon him. Every quarter-hour they rang out on the air their sweet notes, in soft melody, which fell like a delicious rain of music dropping from the heavens. Then at the full hour, amid their shower of liquid notes of silver, there rang out the solemn strokes of the great bell, with iron tongue, deep and heavy; and these heavy tones filled him with a feeling of awe. As he listened, hour after hour, go the chimes, the tender melody of the smaller, sweeter bells reminded him of the mercy and love of God, and the solemn undertones that broke on his ear at the end of each full hour spoke of the awful themes of justice, judgment, eternity. So it is that every thoughtful person is impressed in reading the Scriptures. Their usual tone is mercy. Love rings everywhere, like the notes of angels’ songs. But here and there, amid the words of Divine tenderness, comes some deep note telling of justice, of wrath against sin, of the awful Judgment Day. It is the same in life. The flow of the common day is gladness. There is music everywhere. Flowers bloom. Love lights its lamp in our path. Then suddenly there breaks in, amid the merry laughter, a tone, deep and solemn, which fills us with awe. Life is not all gaiety. Even now its undertone is serious. We should be thoughtful. Eternity lies close to time. The momentous things of judgment are hidden only by a thin veil of mist.
I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way.
A holy and homely resolve
I. What a comprehensive resolution this is! “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way.”
1. With a full knowledge of all the care and circumspection it entailed on himself, add with as clear an apprehension of all the risks of popularity it involved among his subjects, this was David’s deliberate choice. Influenced by the grace of God he, like his son Solomon after him, chose wisdom as the principal thing, and accounted the fear of the Lord as the choicest safeguard.
2. This deliberate choice of David was no doubt suggested by a sense of necessity. He felt that he needed to behave himself wisely. He was to be a king, and a foolish king is no ordinary fool. Oh, parents and heads of households, masters of factories, managers of business houses, and you, too, ye working men and servants, ye all need wisdom, and you must have it, or you will make shipwreck. If the fisherman’s little boat be wrecked through mismanagement, it is as bad for him, especially if he be drowned in it, as if he had lost the greatest steamship that ever ploughed the waters, and perished with the vessel. It is his all; and your all is embarked in the momentous voyage of life. You need to behave yourselves wisely whatever your vocation in the world may be.
3. Moreover, David recognized that to behave oneself wisely one must be holy; for he says, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way.” He felt he could not be wise if he were unacquainted with the true ideal of absolute unblemished perfection; wisdom lay there. The wise man will keep along the king’s highway, cost what it may. But you do not need to be a philosopher, and consult huge books, to discover how you ought to act under any circumstances. The way to act in every case is to fear God and keep His commandments.
II. But now the text is interrupted. There is a break; there is a piece inlaid, as it were, of a different metal. It is an ejaculation. “Oh, when wilt Thou come unto me?” Many inspired writers, without diverging from their train of thought, interline their purpose with a prayer. There is an old proverb that “kneeling never spoils silk stockings.” Prayer to the preacher is like provender to the horse. It strengthens and cheers him to go forward. As the scribe halts to mend his pen, or the mower to whet his scythe, without loss of time, but rather with more facility to do his work; so you expedite instead of hindering your business by stopping in the middle of it to offer a word of prayer. So here it is written, “Oh, when wilt Thou come unto me?” It is a crying of his soul after Divine teaching, Divine direction, Divine assistance; nor less, I believe, is it a yearning after Divine fellowship. You know we never walk aright unless we walk with God. As I have said that holiness is wisdom, so let me say that communion is the mother of holiness. We must see God if we are to be like God. “Oh, when wilt Thou come unto me?” seems to me a question full of solicitude. Lord, it may be Thou wilt come on a sudden with a surprise, for Thou hast told me that in such an hour as I think not Thou wilt appear. Am I ready? Am I able to give in a satisfactory account as to what I have done as Thy servant, in my general walk and conversation? Come, let me press these thoughts upon myself, and then upon you. “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way;” and well I may, since Thine eye is on me, O my God, and Thy day is coming when I must be put into the balances, and if I am found wanting, terrible must be my doom, for other eyes than mine shall search my heart, and other scales than I am able to use shall give the final test, and settle once for all my endless state. God grant you to order your lives by His grace. You cannot do so without the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh that whenever the Lord shall come you may meet Him with joy.
III. After a parenthesis of devotion, he returns with more intense earnestness to his resolution. In a most practical manner he concentrates his aim--“I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” With his house or household in view, for which he felt a deep responsibility and a yearning anxiety, he applies himself with a delicate consideration to the state of his own heart. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” A very wise thing. If any man were to say to you, “I mean to be a good husband, a good father,”--if any woman shall say, “I mean to be a good mistress,” or “a good servant,” that will not do, unless you understand that the heart must first of all be altered. If the heart be right, other things will surely follow in their place. Now, the heart, if we are to walk rightly, must show itself in the house. “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” The heart must be perfect, and then we must show our heart in our actions. Oh, a house is all the better for having a heart inside it, and a man is a man, and he is more like God when there is a heart inside his ribs. When he gets home the children feel that father has got a heart, and as they climb his knees and smother him with kisses, and when he greets his dear relatives, especially those that are part and parcel of himself, he has got s soul that goes beyond his own little self, and is enlarged and inspires the whole of the family. Oh, give me heart, and that is what David meant when he said he would behave himself wisely. But when he was in his own house he would walk with a perfect heart. He would be hearty in everything he did and said. Well, now, the next thing is that the conduct at home must be well regulated. “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” The Christian man at home should be scrupulous in all departments within his house. We may have different rooms there, but in whatever room we are we should seek to walk before God with a perfect heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
On wisdom in religious conduct
Of the wisdom or prudence which is necessary to guide and support virtue, I purpose to treat in this discourse. I shall adventure to propose some practical rules for that purpose; which may be of service to persons who, with good dispositions and intentions, are beginning the career of life; and which may, perhaps, deserve attention from persons in every period of age.
I begin by observing--
I. That it is most necessary to lay down principles on which we are to form our general conduct. If we set out without principles of any kind, there can be no regular plan of life, nor any firmness in conduct. No person can know where they are to find us; nor on what behaviour of ours they are to depend. If the principles which we pitch upon for determining our course be of a variable nature; such, for instance, as popular opinion, reputation, or worldly interest; as these are often shifting and changing, they can impart no steadiness or consistency to conduct. The only sure principles we can lay down for regulating our conduct, must be founded on the Christian religion, taken in its whole compass; not confined to the exercises of devotion, nor to the mere morality of social behaviour; bus extending to the whole direction of our conduct towards God and towards man. I proceed to advise--
II. That we begin with reforming whatever has been wrong in our former behaviour. This counsel is the more important, because too many, in their endeavours towards reformation, begin with attempting some of the highest virtues, or aspiring to the most sublime performances of devotion, while they suffer their former accustomed evil habits to remain just as they were. This, I apprehend, is beginning at the wrong end. We must first, as the prophet has exhorted, put away the evil of our doings from before God’s eyes; we must cease to do evil, before we learn to do well.
III. We must shut up, as much as possible, the avenues which lead to the return of former evil habits. Here is required that exercise of vigilance, self-distrust and self-denial which is so often recommended to us in Scripture. This wisdom requires farther--
IV. That consistency and uniformity be preserved in character; that not by pieces and corners only we study goodness, but that we carry one line of regular virtue through our whole conduct. Without this extensive regulation of behaviour, we can never hold on successfully in a perfect way. True virtue must form one complete and entire system. All its parts are connected; piety with morality, charity with justice, benevolence with temperance and fortitude. If any of these parts be wanting, the fabric becomes disjointed; the adverse parts of character correspond not to each other, nor form into one whole. It is only when we have respect unto all God’s commandments, as the psalmist speaks, that we have reason not to be ashamed. At the same time, when I thus advise you to study entire and consistent virtue, and to guard strictly against small transgressions, let me warn you--
V. Against unnecessary austerity, as forming any part of religious wisdom. Too strict and scrupulous, indeed, we cannot be in our adherence to what is matter of clear duty. Every dictate of conscience is to be held sacred, and to be obeyed without reserve. But wisdom requires that we study to have conscience properly enlightened. We must distinguish with care the everlasting commandments of God, from the superstitious fancies and dictates of men. A manly steadiness of conduct is the object which we are always to keep in view; studying to unite gentleness of manners with firmness of principle, affable behaviour with untainted integrity.
VI. In order to walk wisely in a perfect way, it is of importance that we study propriety in our actions and general behaviour. In a great number of the duties of life, the manner of discharging them must vary, according to the different ages, characters, and fortunes of men. To suit our behaviour to each of these; to judge of the conduct which is most decent and becoming in our situation, is a material part of wisdom. In the scales by which we measure the propriety of our conduct, the opinion of the world must never be the preponderating weight. Let me recommend--
VII. The observance of order and regularity in the whole of conduct. Hurry and tumult, disorder and confusion, are both the characteristics of vice and the parents of it. Let your time be regularly distributed, and all your affairs be arranged with propriety, in method and train.
VIII. We should give attention to all the auxiliary means which religion offers for assisting and guiding us to walk wisely in a perfect way. These open a large field to the care of every good man. We must always remember, that virtue is not a plant which will spontaneously grow up and flourish in the human heart. The soil is far from being so favourable to it; many shoots of an adverse nature are ever springing up, and much preparation and culture are required for cherishing the good seed, and raising it to full maturity. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
The art of good behaviour
The Bible is the one great authority on good manners. There are others, of course; but they are absolutely unnecessary, for all we need is here. In fact, this book is mostly about behaviour--how men have behaved and how they ought to behave under the varying conditions of human life. It is such a mistake to think that these things are externals, additions to a man--they are fundamentals. Good behaviour is a vital thing, it is from the heart. “I will behave myself.” We have often been told to do it--perhaps that is one of the first things most of us remember being told. But necessary as the parent, the guardian, and the schoolmaster are to enforce obedience, to moral, and national, and religious law, it is best to take the matter into our own hands, assert our own responsibility, and say, “I will behave myself.” Oneself is the person we ought to be most concerned with. And yet there are very many people who are so anxious about the behaviour of others--such careful guardians of other people’s morals. How many wise and gratuitous critics there are! How many to point out the mote in their brother’s eye l Reformation begins at home--“I will behave myself”--and to do that properly will take me all my time. The psalmist now tells us in what good behaviour consists. “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” The first thing, then, to be seen to is home-conduct. “Is he a Christian?” said one to a friend the other day; and the answer was, “I don’t know, I haven’t seen him at home.” It was a wise reply; home is the best place to judge--there we have the evidence unmistakable. Home graces are best; and if a woman would have her name kept in sweet and everlasting remembrance, let her always be at her best at home; and if a man will win fame that will outlast the renown of all the world’s battlefields, let him be a hero at home, a knight of the little round table in his own parlour, where those who love the best will clown him with a wreath that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. The psalm continues, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” That undoubtedly is an essential part of fine conduct. Even to look on sin is harmful; it blurs, while it dazzles the vision; it casts a film over the eyes. “I will not know a wicked person.” Literally that seems a resolve too difficult to carry out. In business, shop, and office we often have to meet wicked persons, to do business with them, to work at their side. We have to know them--we cannot help ourselves. But we must not know more of them than we can help--we must not be friends with them. Acquaintances they may be, but never friends. “Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land that they may dwell with me.” Whoever we cast our eyes upon does well with us in a very real sense. “I am a part of all that I have met.” We cannot help being imitative, we reproduce what we see over and over again. So must we fix our eyes upon those who do good and are good, upon those whose atmosphere is purest and most reverent. But mark now that the psalmist has no sooner made this great resolve, than he realizes that the task is beyond him. It requires more wisdom and strength than he possesses. So in the midst of his resolution the prayer breaks from his heart, “O when wilt Thou come unto me?” For such behaviour as this the etiquette of high society is useless--it is the grace of God that we want; not more education, but more love--that love which “doth not behave itself unseemly.” “O when wilt Thou come unto me?” That question is soon answered. When will a father run to his child in need? “When wilt Thou come?” Why, He is “not far from any one of us”--“closer than breathing and nearer than hands or feet.” Our very feebleness and frailty make irresistible appeal to Him. (W. A. L. Taylor, B.A.)
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.--
The sanctity of the family
That which strikes us first in this psalm is that the qualifications for continuing in the household of David are to he moral qualifications. He does not say that he will make choice of the clever, or of the strong, or of the brave to he companions of his life. He, for his part, will live with the good, the faithful in the land, the perfect in the way. That which shall disqualify men from living with him is not want of ability or want of distinction, but want of loyalty to goodness and to God: “A froward heart shall depart from me; I will not know a wicked person.” David needed all the help he could get from courage and from talent in his difficult position; but he made up his mind to reserve his highest favours for goodness. And next we observe that the qualifications for membership in David’s household are chiefly negative. He is more careful to say who shall not than who shall enjoy the privilege. The sins of unfaithfulness, the froward heart, the privy slanderer of his neighbour, the man of proud look and high stomach, the worker of deceit, the teller of lies--these were to have no access in the house of David in Jerusalem. It seems to be a low because it is a negative standard; but people would not say so who have at all tried to act upon a like principle. Let us be sure that we could do as much before we criticize him. What, then, is David’s hope? He hopes that with the coming of the sacred ark of Jerusalem--in other words, that with a nearer contact with the presence of God--he will be able to effect a great change. The restored sense of a sacred presence among them, the active works of the ministers and the sanctuary, the pervading atmosphere of worship and of praise, where everything suggested what God expected of His people and what was due to God from each and from all--these things would, in time, make the reformation which David had at heart easy and natural. In Christendom the family is a different and it is a more beautiful thing than it was in David’s time. It is a return to nature, to the order of life clearly traced in nature, and at the bidding of the Restorer of our race. He reminds us that “at the beginning God made man, male and female,” and that “for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh.” More than one French writer has expressed the admiration felt by his countrymen--felt, at least, in their more judicial moments--for the family life of the middle classes in England, and of the English poor throughout the country districts. It is, indeed, one of the choicest blessings which God has bestowed upon our country. But we must admit that family life in England is threatened not only by the standing enemies of its happiness and well-being, such as a preference of club society to that of wife and children on the part of men, of a husband’s personal extravagance or inconsiderateness, or cruelty, or worse. In conclusion, two lessons would seem to be suggested by this psalm of King David. Observe the order and methods of David’s proceeding. He began by improving himself. “Oh, let me have understanding in the way of godliness. I will walk within my house with the perfect heart.” No man can hope to influence others for good who is not taking pains with himself. No man to whom eternity, sin, prayer, are not real, can hope to get others to think seriously about them. No man who is not endeavouring to rule his own temper, his own tongue, his own life by the law of Jesus Christ can hope to make that law a rule of the life of others, however much younger, however much less instructed they may be than himself. And next the improvement of the family can only be procured by religious as distinct from moral--merely moral influences. David does not expect to do much with the sinister elements of his motley household until the return of the sacred Ark to Jerusalem. There is one mark of the household in which God is known and loved, which is too often wanting in our day, I mean the practice of family prayer. Depend upon it, the worth of every practice of the kind can only be measured by its effect during a long period of time. Family prayers, though occupying only a few minutes, do make a great difference to any household at the end of a year. (Canon Liddon.)
A house without a roof would be scarcely less a home, according to Bushnell, than “a family unsheltered by God’s friendship.” A pious wife with a prayerless husband is compared by Payson to a dove with a broken wing, trying to beat her upward way through storm and wind. (E. P. Thwing.)
Piety at home
Some people in public act the philanthropist, but at home act the Nero with respect to their slippers and their gown. Audubon, the great ornithologist, with gun and pencil went through the forests of America to bring down and to sketch the beautiful birds, and after years of toil and exposure completed his manuscript and put it in a trunk in Philadelphia, and went off for a few days of recreation and rest, and came back and found that the rats had utterly destroyed the manuscript; but without any discomposure, and without any fret or bad temper, he again picked up his gun and pencil, and visited again all the great forests of America and reproduced his immortal work. And yet there are people with the ten thousandth part of that loss who are utterly irreconcilable; who, at the loss of a pencil or an article of raiment, will blow as long and loud and sharp as a north-east storm. Let us learn to show piety at home. If we have it not there, we have it not anywhere. If we have not genuine grace in the family circle, all our outward and public plausibility merely springs from the fear of the world, or from the slimy, putrid pool of our own selfishness. Home is a mighty test of character. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour.
Sins of the tongue
Mr. Spurgeon used to say that if all men’s sins were divided into two bundles, halt of them would be sins of the tongue. And if any one thinks that is a preacher’s exaggeration, let him read what is written in the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms on the matter, and he will find that the preacher has good authority for his strong words. The sins of the tongue, who can number them? The mischief of the tale-bearer, who can measure it? When St. Paul commands aged women that they be not slanderers,” the word he uses means, literally, “ devils”; it is the word which has given us our adjective “diabolical”; and verily there is no temper that is so wholly un-Christian and anti-Christian, that so well deserves the ugly name of “devilish,” as the temper of the slanderer and the back-biter. The Apostle James is, if possible, more emphatic still: “If any man thinketh himself to be religious,” he says, “while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man’s religion is vain.” But on the other hand, “If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” It is said that St. Augustine had engraved upon his table these words: “There is no place at this table for any one who loves scandal.” Shall not we make a like resolve, speak no slander--no, nor listen to it? For, if for every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account in the day of judgment, where shall the slanderer and the back-biter appear? (George Jackson, M.A.)
Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me.
The King and His court
I. Who are these faithful men to whom Jesus, our King, will have respect at all times?
1. They are true in their dealings with God. How many a man has become a bankrupt by a lavish expenditure which exceeded his income! He said that he “must keep up appearances,” and he did keep up appearances till they became his ruin. God grant that you and I may never try to keep up appearances before Him! Be what you would seem to be; and in the presence of God never seem to be or dream of seeming to be what you are not. Thus I think we, first of all, know the faithful by their upright dealing with God.
2. This will lead them to be true in their dealings with men. That man is not faithful in God’s esteem who is not upright, honest, true to a hair’s breadth, in his dealings with his fellow-men. We must stand to our bond even though we lose by it. We must be true to the word we speak though it be to our own hurt.
3. Such people will, in the next place, always be true in their dealings with men on God’s behalf. I think this passage bears very pertinently upon the minister, and upon the Sunday-school teacher, and upon the Christian worker.
4. These faithful men are thorough in all that they do. The psalmist says, “He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.” May I be permitted to say, especially to you who are commencing the Christian life, that if you wish to live near to God, and to be greatly used of Him, it is important that you should begin as you mean to go on, by endeavouring to walk in a perfect way? Be you determined that, if others do as they please, you are not accountable for their action; but you will do what you believe to be right. If you are a Christian, go through with it; be a follower of Christ in every respect as far as the Word of God and your own conscience lead you.
II. What will the King do with them?
1. His eye of search will seek them out. There is a working-man who, the other day, in the midst of a swearing company, rebuked the blasphemer, and spoke up for Christ. That noble action is not recorded in the newspaper, and never will be; but God’s eye is upon the faithful of the land.
2. His eye of favour will cheer them. God greatly favours and blesses those whom by His grace He makes to be faithful.
3. They shall dwell with God. Oh, this is a choice privilege! When grace makes a man faithful, God rewards his faithfulness by permitting him to dwell in close communion with his Lord. It is a wonderful thing to me that, if we have any good works, God always works them in us, and then he rewards us for them as if they were our own. He gives us grace, and then smiles on us because of the grace that He Himself gives.
4. They shall be Christ’s servants. I do not know which is the greater privilege, “He shall dwell with me,” or, “He shall serve me.” Perhaps the second is the higher. Have you ever thought what an honour it is to be permitted to do anything for God? For God to bless us, is great condescension on His part; but for Him to permit us to be of any use to Him, this is a wonderful honour from His right hand.
III. How may we get among these faithful ones?
1. Perhaps we can truly say, God helping us, we hope that we are among them. If so, “it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” If there be any faithfulness, if there be any uprightness, unto God be the glory of it all. Pray that you may never lose your faithfulness, but that you may be kept even unto the end.
2. But now I speak to others who are not as yet faithful. You say, “How are we to get among the faithful?”
(1) Well, I should say, first, so far as you may be, and so far as your light goes, be faithful to-night, be honest in confessing sin. Before you sleep, put yourself before God just as you are.
(2) Then, next, be anxious to have a new heart and a right spirit.
(3) Be sincere in all your dealings with the living God.
(4) Depend continually on the Lord Jesus and His Word to make and keep you faithful. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house.
Wise choice of companions
“A man is known by the company he keeps;” yes, and by his company you may know what he is coming to be. We unconsciously fall into the habits of thought and feeling of those with whom we are associated. Our ideas are moulded by our ideals; our conduct by our examples. To choose refining, purifying society is the grandest step up and on, to keep the company of the vicious and the vile is as sure a step toward ruin. The Church is mainly given us to meet this demand of our social nature. (A. T. Pierson, D.D.)
I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.
In the mind’s eye
On one occasion Sir Thomas Lawrence, the great painter, then President of the Royal Academy, visited the studio of a struggling young artist. He had noticed the young man’s work, and thought it had some promise; but when he saw the sketches tacked up on the walls of the bare little room, he shook his head. They were rough, clever examples of the Flemish school, striking but coarse. “If I were you,” said the great painter to the beginner, “I would not allow my eye to be familiarized with any but the highest forms of art. If you cannot afford to buy oil paintings, buy good engravings of great pictures. If you allow your eye to become familiar with what is vulgar in conception, however free and dashing the handling, and however excellent the feeling for colour, your taste will insensibly become depraved; whereas, if you habituate your eye to look only upon what is pure and grand, or refined and lovely, your taste will insensibly be elevated.” It was sound artistic advice, and the young painter profited by it. It remains, also, sound moral advice for all young people. Our mind’s eye needs training as much as our physical vision. If we hang pictures in the halls of our brain that are not elevating, our moral perceptions will become lowered. The best thoughts are within our reach. Why should we choose, instead, thoughts that are flippant, vulgar, or worse? Every time we put an undesirable picture in our mind’s eye, where it will be often in view, we deprave our own understanding. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” If we wish to elevate and strengthen our souls, we must be careful in our choice of habitual thoughts. “Whatsoever things are true,” etc. It is well-known advice--but can it be bettered? (Free Church Record.)
I hate the work of them that turn aside.
I. Describe their character. The phrase, “turn aside,” denotes three things--
1. That there exists a way, path, or road in which we have to go.
2. That we have been in that way.
3. That there has been an awful departure from it.
(1) Some turn aside cowardly (Numbers 21:4).
(2) Some turn aside incautiously (1 Samuel 12:23). Bunyan’s Pilgrim, with his companion Hopeful, wandered into the grounds of Giant Despair, and ultimately found themselves in the dungeons of Doubting Castle. He discovered a stile which led into a meadow, where was a footpath that seemed to run parallel with the high-road; into this path he went, thinking that it would prove easier for his feet. Let this illustrate what is meant to be conveyed by the term turning aside incautiously.
(3) Others turn aside courteously and complaisantly.
(4) Some turn aside through unwatchfulness (Matthew 26:41).
II. Illustrate their work.
1. An evil work (Jeremiah 2:19).
2. A disgraceful and dishonourable work (Proverbs 14:34). What a disgraceful reflection it is upon the wisdom and economy of a man who begins to build, and is not able to finish! (Luke 14:28-30). How scandalous to forsake God, and associate with the devil; to exchange Christ for Belial, light for darkness, truth for error, liberty for bondage, heaven for hell!
3. It is a diabolical work; because it displays more of the devil than any other engagement pertaining to earth. It is following the example which apostate fiends have set. What was their original transgression but turning aside?
4. It is a ruinous work (Hebrews 10:28-29).
III. Exhibit the abhorrence of the psalmist.
1. Our hatred of this work should be sincere.
2. It should be publicly professed. Though the Christian ought to avoid the very appearance of ostentation, there are times when silence or neutrality would be highly criminal.
3. It should be constantly and cordially cherished. Pray that you may increase in the love of God; for in proportion as you love God, you will hate evil. Meditate also on the tremendous consequences which will not fail to follow.
4. It should be practically exemplified. Do not forget how possible it is for those who now profess to detest the evil, by slow, and almost, imperceptible, degrees to become familiarized with it, and ultimately being led to practise that which now they hate. David fell into this snare. Also Peter. How frail is human nature! Exemplify your detestation of the evil in question, by attending to the injunction of the apostle (Philippians 3:16). Persevere in the good way. (R. Treffry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 101". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent