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Bless the Lord, O my soul.
A song of praise
Like stately pillars supporting a solemn temple, three noble psalms, placed side by side, exalt the glory of Jehovah: 103 glorifies the God of grace; 104 the God of nature; 105 the God of history. Each springs from a strong pedestal of adoration, and is crowned with a rich capital of praise.
I. This is a psalm of humanity. It is a true psalm of life; the experience of a throbbing human heart; born of the Holy Ghost, in travail of soul, amid the exigencies of weakness and sin, into the rapture of Divine compassions. All the darkness and evil of the world it knows, but suffers these only to enhance the richness of the life with God into which we move. This great achievement is won by finding out God.
II. This is humanity’s psalm of adoration to God. We see His throne exalted, His kingdom stretched abroad; His angelic hosts above, His inanimate works, below, called upon to praise Him. His eternal power and Godhead, His everlasting years, are set before us in great majesty. Think rightly on God, and all that is within you will bless Him; and this will bless you. If our life had more praise, it would feel less drudgery. “Forget not,” unworthy source of so much ingratitude, despondency, distrust. “Count your mercies.”
III. A great truth and a great duty.
1. God offers the penitent a full redemption.
2. Accept this full redemption. (C. A. South-gate.)
A song of praise
I. The object of praise. The living, not the imagined, the present, not the remote God, by His own inbreathings, called forth this tribute to Himself from a heart in which He dwelt. Sublime in His being, He is oftenest called Preserver, Judge, Father, King. In these several relations He is brought before us in this psalm.
II. The persons and things which are summoned to praise. The grossest confounding of body and spirit then prevailed; yet the soul was a term which all understood, though few could explain. This, the direct inspiration of the Almighty, would naturally be the first to perceive and respond to Divine favours. It is bidden, therefore, to express itself. The emotional, intellectual, and even animal nature may and must each offer Him its peculiar sacrifice of thanksgiving.
III. The reasons for praise. The shower of good things had been so constant, that merely to mention some of them seemed to the enthusiastic singer to ensure within himself the response he sought. He accordingly rallies his own too sluggish soul to pour forth its meed of praise, mindful of the general blessings he had received. He was prone to forget them. All are. Ingratitude is fostered by abundance. Thanklessness is more than meanness. Themistocles sadly said of the Athenians, that when a storm arose, they sheltered themselves under him as under a plane tree, which when the weather was fair again, they would rob of its leaves and branches. So do the needy multitudes cry unto God, and helped, return not to give Him glory, save here and there a stranger. Nay, more; they selfishly use their benefits to deprive Him of that honour which is His due. It was just this sin against which Jehovah had cautioned Israel (Deuteronomy 32:15). And so, as if writing down the long list of gifts that he may count them, the psalmist would beget a fit return. This psalm has been called “a little Bible within the greater.” It is a striking revelation of the being, character, and purpose of God. It is also a clear portrayal of the origin, doings, needs, blessings, and destiny of man. (Monday Club Sermons.)
A song of praise
I. Thanksgiving for personal benefits.
1. Thanks for forgiveness and inward healing.
2. Thanks for redemption and glory.
3. Thanks for intermediate blessings.
There is a long journey from the mouth of the pit of destruction, whence God has rescued us, to the gate of glory by which God will bring us in to receive our everlasting inheritance. On that way we are not left to our own resources. He gives us the supplies needful for the journey, and ministers the strength with which we may reach the end.
II. Praise to the character of God.
1. The righteousness and judgment of the Lord (Exodus 33:13).
2. The mercy and grace of God (Exodus 34:6-7).
III. The measure of God’s mercy.
1. Heavenly greatness (verse 11; Romans 5:20).
2. Infinite forgiveness (verse 12).
3. Fatherly pity (verse 13).
4. The shortness of man’s day and the eternity of God’s mercy (Psalms 103:15-17).
5. A solemn reminder (verse 18).
IV. A universal call to praise (Psalms 103:19-22). Let us who have been forgiven, renewed in the inner man, redeemed from destruction, whose lives have been crowned with lovingkindness and tender mercy, take up the song of thanksgiving, and so, perchance, extend His mercies to those who are yet strangers to it, by setting forth His benefits as we have come to know them in our own experience. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
A soul’s song to God
The singer of this melody, whoever he may have been, has left behind him the valley and has climbed to magnificent heights; yea, on the suburbs of heaven, he sings with impassioned ardour of the goodness of his God, and, finding his voice inadequate to give vent to his gratitude, he summons a goodly choir--the works of God, the ministers of God, the angels of God--to accentuate the joyful strains and to make His praise glorious.
I. A blessed exercise. Some one has said that the Christian ought to be like a horse that has bells on his head: so that he cannot go anywhere without ringing them and making music. His whole life should be in harmony; every thought should constitute a note; every word he utters should be a component part of the joyful strain.
1. The psalmist is solicitous that his praise should be spiritual. It is his soul and not his lips he addresses. He wants nothing formal, mechanical, lifeless, spiritless.
2. The psalmist also arouses himself to unreserved adoration. “And all that is within me,” etc. Our nature is a many-stringed instrument, and every string is to contribute its quota to the symphony. If the soul is to be the leading singer, then every faculty of our mental, moral, and spiritual being, like a united choir, are to render the chorus.
3. The psalmist also urges himself to personal adoration. “O my soul.” He begins with himself, and, albeit he goes out from himself and seeks to engage others in singing unto God, he comes back and concludes his exhortation with himself as the subject. Let the trees clap their hands, let the ocean lift up its voice, etc. “ Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
II. A reasonable exercise. In praising God, we perform one of the highest and purest acts of religion. In praise, we largely eliminate the element of self, and are like the angels in performing the unpolluted service of the skies.
1. There are national benefits.
2. There are social benefits. “God setteth the solitary in families.” He has placed us together so that the cup of our life might be full. What a benediction is Home!
3. But better than all others, there are spiritual benefits of which we must take strict account. These are God’s greatest gifts to us.
(1) Forgiveness. Mercy comes to thee full-handed. Love abundantly pardons.
(2) Healing. Eyes at one time blinded by the God of this world can now see the things eternal, ears afflicted with deafness can now hear the welcome sound of God’s voice, hands once sadly paralyzed can now perform the glorious business of the King, feet which dragged from sheer impotency can now run on God’s errands with joyous alacrity, and faces once wearing the ugly scowl of sin now shine with the beauteous smile of God.
(6) Rejuvenescence. (J. Pearce.)
Sell-exhortation to worship
I. With the whole soul. There are at least three immeasurable faculties within--intellect, imagination, conscience. All these should praise Jehovah, who is the True, for the intellect; the Beautiful, for the imagination; and the Righteous, for the conscience. Let all come out in praise, as all the powers of the harp come out under the touch of the master musician; as all the powers of the seed come out under the genial influence of the sunbeam.
II. For urgent reasons. “All His benefits.”
1. Sin is an offence; and here is forgiveness.
2. Sin is a disease; and here is healing.
3. Sin is ruinous; and here is restoration.
4. Sin is a degradation; and here is exaltation.
5. Sin is discontent; and here is satisfaction.
6. Sin is weakness; and here is invigoration. (Homilist.)
The saints blessing the Lord
You see here a man talking to himself, a soul with all his soul talking to his soul. His own soul is the first audience a good man ought to think of preaching to. Indeed, if any man desires to excite the hearts of others in any given direction, he must first stir up himself upon the same matter.
I. This exhortation is remarkably comprehensive.
1. The unity of our nature is hero bidden, in its concentration, to yield its whole self to the praise of God. No white-washed sepulchres will please the Lord,--“Bless the Lord, O my soul,”--Let the true Ego praise Him, the essential I, the vital personality, the soul of my soul, the life of my life! Let me be true to the core to my God; let that which is most truly my own vitality spend itself in blessing the Lord. My immortal soul, what hast thou to do with spending thine energies upon mortal things? Wilt thou hunt for fleeting shadows, whilst thou art thyself most real and abiding? Raise thyself on all thy wings, and like the six-winged cherubim adore thy God. But the words suggest yet another meaning,--the soul is our active self, our vigour, our intensity. When we speak of a man’s throwing his soul into a thing, we mean that he does it with all his might. My intensest nature shall bless the Lord. Not with bated breath and a straitened energy will I lisp forth His praises, but I will pour them forth ardently in volumes of impassioned song.
2. But, then, David speaks of the diverse faculties of our nature, and writes, “All that is within me bless His holy name.” The affections are to lead the way in the concert of praise. But the psalmist intended next to bestir the memory, for he goes on to say “forget not all His benefits.” Recollect what God has done for you. Thread the jewels of His grace upon the thread of memory, and hang them about the neck of praise. For mercies beyond count, praise Him without stint. Then let your conscience praise Him, for the psalm proceeds to say, “who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” Conscience once weighed thy sins and condemned thee; now let it weigh the Lord’s pardon and magnify His grace to thee. Let thy emotions join the sacred choir, for thou hast many feelings of delight; bless Him “who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies,” etc. Is all within you peaceful? Sing some sweet pastoral, like the twenty-third psalm. Let the calm of your spirit sound forth the praises of the Lord upon the pleasant harp and the psaltery. Do your days flow smoothly? Then consecrate the dulcimer to the Lord. Do you feel the exhilaration of delight? Then praise ye the Lord with the timbrel and dance. On the other hand, is there a contention within; does conflict disturb your mind? Then praise Him with the sound of the trumpet, for He will go forth with you to the battle. When you return from the battle and divide the spoil, then “praise Him upon the loud cymbals: praise Him upon the high-sounding cymbals.” What-ever emotional state thy soul be found in, let it lead thee to bless thy Maker’s holy name.
II. This suggestion is most reasonable. The Lord has given innumerable blessings to every part of our nature; all our faculties are the recipients of blessing; therefore should they all bless God in return. Every pipe of the organ should yield its quota of sound. As all the rivers run into the sea, so all our powers should flow towards the Lord’s praise. To prove that this is reasonable, let me ask one single question:--if we do not devote all that is within us to the glory of God, which part is that we should leave unconsecrated; and being less unconsecrated to God what should we do with it?
III. It is necessary. It is necessary that the whole nature bless God, for at its best, when all engaged in the service, it fails to compass the work, and fails short of Jehovah’s praise. All the man, with all his might, always occupied in all ways in blessing God, would still be no more than a whisper in comparison with the thunder of praise which the Lord deserves. Do not, therefore, let us insult the Lord with half when the whole is not enough. Jesus Christ will have of us all or nothing; and He will have us sincere, earnest, and intense, or He will not have us at all.
IV. It is beneficial.
1. It is beneficial to ourselves. To be whole-hearted in the praise of God is to elevate our faculties. Consecration is culture. To praise is to learn. To bless God is also of preventive usefulness to us; we cannot bless God and at the same time idolize ourselves. Praise preserves us from being envious of others, for by blessing God for all we have, we learn to bless God for what other people have.
2. It is also useful to others. You cannot do good more effectually than by a happy consecrated life, spent in blessing God. If there be anything that is cheerful, joyous, dewy, bright, full of heaven, it is the life of a man who blesses God all his days. This is the way to win souls. We shall not catch these flies with vinegar,--we must use honey.
V. All this is prepatratory. If we can attain to constant praise now, it will prepare us for all that awaits us. We are harps which will be tuned in all their strings for the concerts of the blessed. The tuner is putting us in order. He sweeps his hands along the strings; there is a jar from every note; so He begins first with one string, and then goes to another. He continues at each string till He hears the exact note. The last time you were ill, one of your strings was tuned; the last time you had a had debt, or trembled at declining business, another string was tuned. And so, between now and heaven, you will have every string set in order; and you will not enter heaven till all are in tune. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The keynote of the year
David sounds the tuningfork with this clear note--“Bless the Lord, O nay soul.”
I. The blessed occupation. How, then, can we bless God?
1. God blesses us by thinking well of us, and we bless God by thinking well of Him. Think deeply of what the Lord has done. Do not pass His mercies over superficially, but look into them. Do not cease to think of the covenant of electing love, of everlasting faithfulness, of redeeming blood, of pardoning grace, and all the ways in which eternal love has shown itself.
2. We also bless God when we wish Him well. Sit down and wish that all men knew God, that all men worshipped Him; and let your wishes blaze up into prayers. Wish that all idols were abolished, and that Jehovah’s name would be sung through every land by every tongue. Wish well to His Church, His cause, His people, and all that concerns His glory.
3. You can bless God by speaking well of Him. Have you said anything to praise God to-day?
4. Bless His name by acts and deeds of holy service and consecration Do it with hand, and purse, and substance, and sacrifice.
II. The commendable manner mentioned. Half the virtue of a thing lies in the way in which it is done. Now, in the service of God, it is net only what you bring, but in what spirit you bring it.
1. That mode of blessing God to which we are called is very spiritual--a matter of soul and spirit. The music of the soul is that which pleases the ear of God: the great spirit is delighted with that which comes from our spirit. A heart that praises Him has within itself all the harmonies that He delights in. The sigh of love is to Him a lyric, the sob of repentance is melody, the inward cries of His own children are an oratorio, and their heart-songs are true hallelujahs.
2. When we bless God, the sacred exercise should be intense. Let every part of your manhood be aroused, and so aroused as to be in fine form. Give me a man on fire when God is to be praised. Let “all that is within me bless His holy name.” A whole God, and a holy God, should have the whole of our powers engaged in blessing His holy name.”
3. The text seems to remind me that we ought to do this repeatedly, because in my text the word “bless” occurs twice. “Bless the Lord, O my soul: bless His holy name.” And in the next verse there is “bless the Lord” again. He is a triune God: render Him triune praise.
III. The sacred object of this blessing--Jehovah. I adore the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God that made the heavens and the earth. I worship the God that cut Rahab, and wounded the crocodile at the Red Sea, the God that led His people through the wilderness, the God that gave them the land of Canaan for a heritage. “This God is our God for ever and ever. He shall be our guide, even unto death.” “Bless Jehovah, O my soul.” Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, we worship Thee; we bless Thee! Do you love a holy God? While you bless Him for His mercy, do you equally bless Him for His holiness? You bless Him for His bounty, but do you feel that you could not thus bless Him if you were not fully aware that He is perfectly righteous? “Bless His holy name.” Aye, when that holiness burns like fire, and threatens to devour the guilty, let us still bless His holy name! When we see His holiness consuming the great Sacrifice, we bow before the Lord in deep dread of soul, but we still bless His holy name. An unholy God! It were absurd to think of such a thing; but a thrice-holy God--let us bless and praise Him.
IV. The suitable monitor. Who is it that says to David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul”? Why, it is David talking to David. The man speaks to himself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A song of praise
This psalm is a type of intelligent thanksgiving--an expression of sanctified emotion based upon sanctified thought. We see at once how this true emotion is distinguished from mere formal thanksgiving by the words, “all that is within me”--words which appeal to the very deepest feelings of the heart. But we also notice how, as so often in Scripture, a caution is associated with the highest devotional feeling at the point where one in the ardour of holy rapture forgets for the moment that he is a sinful man in a sinful world: “Bless the Lord, O my soul! yet, my soul, thou art weak and fallible, and prone to forget these very mercies which are calling forth thy praise. Forget not all His benefits.” It is with blessings much as with troubles: few people, comparatively, have great catastrophes in their life, and few have great, colossal joys. There is only the daily succession of little, commonplace pleasures, and we foolishly get into the way of attaching little importance to anything which is not of the nature of a crisis. Go back over your life and pick up the happy times--the day your little child began to walk; the day your boy graduated with honour; the many evenings you have come home tired and have found rest, and light, and warmth, and pleasant words at home; how many happy hours over a book or in conversation with a friend. These, after all, are the benefits which make up the staple of our life. They seem to be little blessings, perhaps because they are so common, yet if we number all God’s benefits we shall find the sum of them very great. The psalmist specifies certain causes for thanksgiving; and the first of these is very significant--the forgiveness of his sins. And rightly, because this is essentially the first fact in all thanksgiving, and is therefore the key not only to this psalm, but to the whole great lesson of Christian thankfulness. Having thus laid this spiritual foundation for a true thanksgiving, the psalmist now passes to mention temporal mercies, yet, possibly, all along with an undertone of spiritual meaning. God healeth all diseases, redeemeth the life from death, ministers to the healthful appetite with good things, makes His child strong and vigorous as the eagle. The association of these benefits directly with God imparts to them a spiritual suggestiveness such as they may well have in this psalm. They are not only pleasant facts, but types of spiritual good. He healeth all thy diseases, but the most deadly disease of all is sin. Thy mouth is satisfied with the kindly fruits of the earth, yet man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Thy youth and vigour are renewed like the eagle’s, but thou knowest too what it is to be strengthened with might by God’s Spirit in the inner man. And now, through all these things--forgiveness, redeeming, renewing--God is working toward an ulterior purpose. “He crowneth thee.” God’s work is not finished in the forgiveness of sins. If a prince were to take a beggar out of the street in order to make him the heir to his throne, would his work be done when he had washed and decently clothed him? No. He must be trained for his position. All that kingly power and fatherly love can command must combine to fit him to be a king. The redeemed sing to Him who not only washed them from their sins, but also made them kings and priests. And as we reach the close of the psalm we find its keynote struck again. It is a psalm of thanksgiving, but it tells us that true thanksgiving can be only within the sphere of God’s accepted sovereignty, from the standpoint of voluntary allegiance to Him. The foundation of all thanksgiving is that God reigns--the foundation of our individual thanksgiving is that God is our King. (M. R. Vincent, D.D.)
Divine goodness celebrated
I. The mercies enumerated.
1. Benefits bestowed.
(1) Personal. Life, health, food, etc.
(2) Spiritual. The great gift of His Son, Gospel ordinances, Word, Spirit, etc.
2. Iniquities forgiven.
(1) We are all chargeable with iniquities.
(2) They are many.
(3) God forgives all.
(4) This forgiveness is communicated through repentance and faith in Christ.
3. Diseases healed.
4. Redemption from destruction.
5. A crown of lovingkindnesses and tender mercies.
II. The thanks presented.
1. He blesses God.
2. He does this with all his soul.
3. He calls upon all within him to join in the work of praise.
4. He purposes a lively remembrance of God’s goodness. “And forget not all His benefits.” He would keep it before his eyes; he would be constantly meditating upon it; morning and evening, and in the night watches, etc.
1. The amazing extent and profusion of the Divine goodness.
2. The immense obligations we are under to serve and bless God. (J. Burns, D.D.)
Worship means recognition of worth, doing homage to goodness. Even when the worth is limited, as in the case of a good man, the recognition should be cordial. When the homage is offered to Infinite Goodness all the gifts of mind and heart should be brought into play, so as to yield the maximum of worship and recognition. The Lord our God ought to be loved and served with all the heart, and soul, and strength, and mind. Unhappily, in no department of human conduct do the ideal and the reality lie further apart than in religious worship and in religious life. What then are the conditions under which it is possible to render such a service as is illustrated in this exquisite psalm?
1. Faith, or a right conception of God, a right idea of God. We must believe in a God whose character is fitted to inspire devout thought and excite religious affections of reverence, trust, gratitude, and admiration; such a God, that is to say, as is presented to our view in this psalm. He must bless God in a feeble, cold, hesitating fashion, who is all the time not sure whether his Divinity be worthy of worship. The lips say: “God is good”; the mind thinks only of the chosen objects of an arbitrary favouritism. The tongue declares: “God loveth the right”; the reason asks: “Why then do bad men prosper and good men pine?” If we are to worship and serve God aright, this antagonism between word and thought must be overcome. We must believe in a God whose name is a veritable gospel of gladness to our souls
2. Sincerity. Everywhere in Scripture we find great stress laid upon this condition of efficient service. The perfect man in the Bible is not the man without fault, but the man of single-hearted devotion who loves and serves God. Faults in conduct, errors of judgment, infirmities of temper there may be in abundance. The one quality that redeems, ennobles character is self-devotion without reserve to the Divine kingdom of the Gospel, to the cause that is worth living for.
3. Liberty. No one can say with emphasis, “O Lord, truly I am Thy servant,” unless he also is able to say, “Thou hast loosed my bonds.” There are bonds which keep men from being religious, or from being devoted in religion, and there are bonds springing out of religion itself by which many saintly souls are bound. Everything pertaining to religion--worship, creed, practice, tends to become an affair of routine, ceremonial, formula, mechanical habit. Fetters are forged for soul and body, for every faculty of our composite nature--for hand, tongue, mind, heart, conscience. And by such as are in bondage it is regarded as a mark of piety and sanctity to wear with scrupulous care all these grievous fetters. There are times, however, when the bondage becomes unbearable, and the human spirit rises in rebellion and asserts its liberty. Such an epoch is a veritable year of jubilee, when minds are emancipated from worn-out commonplaces, and hearts are enlarged into original and heroic love, like rivers in flood overflowing their banks, and “consciences are purged from dead works to serve the living God.” It is “the acceptable year of the Lord,” “acceptable” to redeemed men, though regarded with pious horror by the slaves of tradition, and “acceptable” to God also. For, be it understood, God takes no pleasure in spiritual bondage. God gets no glory from that sort of thing. His glory is bound up with liberty, for with liberty came opening of closed lips, unsealing all the fountains of religious emotion, locked up by the frosts of a dreary winter, awakening all dormant powers of thought, whereupon once more men bless God with “all that is within them.” (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
The Christian’s gladness deeply rooted
How vigorous was the plant of joy in the writer’s heart. And why? Because its roots were spread far and wide in a nourishing soil. In the experience of God’s forgiving love and ever bountiful kindness to himself, in the recognition of God’s sure friendliness towards all that are oppressed, in the remembrance of the vast past of His lovingkindness to His people, in a large, real, partnership of joy with “all them that fear Him,” and in an exultant realization that God and gladness ruled the universe, did this cheery saint and singer root his joy. What a poor feeble plant is the happiness of many professed Christians! And no wonder--for it lacks strong and ample roots. No sufficient time or pains are given that thought and affection may spread abroad in the rich nourishing ground of God’s vast goodness and lovingkindness. Take time to be happy--to be exultingly and persistently happy in God and His salvation! (C. G. M.)
The harp of the heart
A more wonderful instrument than any which Israel’s psalmist ever struck is carried in the human breast. Upon its “ten strings” the hand of God often strikes, and evokes most sublime melody. The one hundred and third psalm was originally played upon this harp of the heart. Its keynote is, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! let all that is within me bless His holy name.” At another time the strains of that harp were inexpressibly plaintive and mournful. They were like the wail of a sick child. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness. Against Thee have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” Happy is the man who can begin to rehearse for heaven by attuning his heart to the will of God. He is like the old psalmist’s psaltery, every wind that Providence sends only makes music in him. Even boisterous gales of adversity call forth grand and sublime strains of resignation. When he is in trouble, he “giveth songs in the night.” The kind acts he performs for others touch sweet chords in his memory. And amid all the harsh and jangled discords of this world, such a Christ-loving soul is a harp of gold making constant melody in the ear of God. (T. L. Cuyler, D.D.)
Praising with the soul
When the photographer fits that iron rest at the back of your head and keeps you waiting ten minutes, while he gets his plates ready, why, your soul goes out of town, and nothing remains but that heavy look! When the work of art is finished, it is you, and yet it is not you. You were driven out by the touch of that iron. Another time, perhaps, your photograph is taken instantaneously, while you are in an animated attitude, while your whole soul is there; and your friends say, “Aye, that is your very self.” I want you to bless the Lord with your soul at home as in that last portrait. I saw a book wherein the writer says in the preface, “We have given a portrait of our mother, but there was a kind of sacred twinkle about her eyes which no photograph could produce.” Now, it is my heart’s desire that you do praise God with that sacred twinkle, with that feature or faculty which is most characteristic of you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Forget not all His benefits.
Remembrance of God’s benefits
I. Some of those things we have to remember.
1. The pardon of sin.
2. The various providential mercies we have received during our lives.
3. The hope of a renewed life beyond the grave.
II. Some of the advantages attending this recollection of the Divine goodness.
1. It will convince us of the fact of God’s providential care of us.
2. It will preserve us from undue despondency under the adverse providences of God.
3. It will help us to connect the thoughts of God with every detail of our common life.
III. A few directions for the discharge of this duty.
1. Take no step in life without a previous reference to the law of God.
2. Remember those seasons of life in which Divine providence appeared for you in a remarkable manner. All have such seasons: your first settlement in life--your going out into a situation--the choice of a trade or profession--the first definite step.
3. Remember that it will be utterly inexcusable hereafter if we pass through life without the recognition of God. (W. G. Barrett.)
Motives to gratitude
I. Some of the mercies which we are called on to acknowledge.
1. The possession of life.
2. The continuance of bodily health and enjoyment.
3. Protection from numerous dangers, and the supply of constantly returning wants.
II. The manner in which this acknowledgment should be made.
1. Grateful emotions should be felt in the heart.
2. The devout and grateful aspiration of the heart to God.
3. The offering of praise and thanksgiving in public, that others may be encouraged, and may unite with you in the delightful exercise.
4. Corresponding devotedness of life to God must accompany these feelings of the heart, and these public expressions of thanksgiving. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Why we should bless God for His mercies
I. For the sake of the mercies themselves. Are they not worth it? Is there a year, a day, an hour, which is not crowded with them?
II. For the sake of the giver. If they came from a dear earthly friend, should we not prize them for friendship’s sake? If they flowed from royal bounty, would we not be profuse in our praise and feel burdened with a sense of our obligation? But all our mercies are the gifts of God our Heavenly Father; they are the purchase of infinite love; they flow to us through Christ. We can render no returns for them save gratitude, praise and service.
III. For the sake of our example--our influence on others. The tone and tint of our religion go very far in impressing ethers. One happy, bright, ever rejoicing and praising Christian will impart cheer and life to a whole circle, while one gloomy, despondent, ever-mourning disciple will chill a prayer-meeting, and often a whole church.
IV. For their own sake. It is their birthright. It is honouring to God their Saviour. It is in harmony with the spirit and purpose of the Cross. It is the spirit of the heavenly world. It is the first notes of the song everlasting that will resound through all the mansions of glory and give expression to the gratitude and harmony of the redeemed. (Homiletic Review.)
The believer gratefully recounting his mercies
I. The exhortation given. Show that you do not slight the benefits which God has bestowed upon you, but hold them up, and evidence your gratitude before God and the Church.
2. In private.
3. By your actions.
II. The benefit declared. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities,” Not a part of them; not the greatest sins which we may have committed, to the exclusion of the less.
III. The communication made. “Who healeth all thy diseases.” And truly our diseases are many. Look at the disease of the understanding. Although it may be brought by tuition to the comprehension of much that relates to our redemption, it is nevertheless totally incapable of comprehending Divine things, unless God heals it; for the understanding is so corrupted by sin, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them.” And how is this done? The operation of the Spirit of God consisteth in letting light into the understanding--the light of life--Jesus Christ our Lord. So there is the rectification of the will. Though our wills are naturally stubborn, and we are inclined to turn to that which is opposed to God, and to turn from God, yet let but the Holy Spirit enter into our understandings and our wills, and then we find rectitude. Thus He “healeth” our will. He further gives a direction to our affections. For the affections of the heart are all alienated. But God the Holy Spirit communicates an impulse to the soul, whereby the poisonous influences of this terrestrial atmosphere are so far counteracted that they shall not be fatal to our souls.
IV. A deliverance accomplished. “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction”--i.e. from the consequences of sin, from the love of sin, from the fear of death; and from eternal torment.
V. The reception of a promised blessing. “Crowning” the soul here denotes the application of these wonderful mercies, which God has communicated to us in Christ. It signifies the enjoyment of them all. It further signifies power over sin and Satan.
VI. The gratification of the spiritual appetite. “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things.”
VII. “thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” This expression is used to signify, that saints, through the grace of God, even in old age become “fat and flourishing, steadfast and unmovable,” “fruitful in every good word and work.” They “run and are not weary, they walk and do not faint”; and they rejoice in the approach of their end. (T. B. Baker, M.A.)
By “memory” two things are designated, which are really very distinct; the one is the power of bringing past experience into consciousness; and the other is the power of retaining past experience in the mind out of consciousness. Suppose I meet a friend. He says to me as we meet, “What is the Latin for door?” I answer at once, “Janua.” The question has brought this Latin word at the moment into my consciousness, and we say that I remembered it. But if I am a Latin scholar there are thousands of Latin words in my mind; not in the sense of being at present in my consciousness--because all the Latin I am conscious of at the moment is “janua”--but in the sense that I am capable of bringing them into consciousness when required. Perhaps it would be a good thing if in English these two powers were designated by two words instead of one. They are in other languages. This is the difference in German between “erinnerung” and “gedachtniss”; and in French between the word “souvenir” and “memoire.” Perhaps in English the power of bringing past experience into present consciousness might be called “recollection,” while the word “memory” might be reserved for the other power of keeping past experience in the mind out of consciousness. This latter power of keeping past experience in the mind out of consciousness is in some respects the most extraordinary feature in the whole realm of psychology. You might put it in this way, that at the back of our present consciousness--I mean the consciousness of the moment--there stretches within us a vast treasury or magazine in which past impressions are stored. In some people it is larger, in others smaller; in some minds it may be slight, in others well arranged. You can hardly help thinking of it, in some people, as comparable to one of the huge warehouses of this city, where the passages are like streets for length, and there are ever so many departments, but everything is in its own place. Things that are like one another are found near one another, and the master has complete hold over all his possessions. But where is this storehouse? Has it a local habitation? Is it in the head, or where is it? Perhaps there is nothing which is so antagonistic to a materialistic view of the human mind. You know materialism holds that thought is simply a movement of matter; but if so, in what form do these modifications of matter continue so as to be remembered? If they were additions to the matter of the brain, however slight, they would very soon expand far beyond the holding power of the skull. If they were marks, like tracks or other marks, they would soon be covered up, so as to be wholly irrecoverable. The spiritual view looks on mind, as a whole, as a mystery; and it refers, especially this aspect of memory, to the region of mystery, and that is obviously where it belongs; and though in the act of remembering, as perhaps in every mental act, the mind uses the brain as its organ, the brain is no more to be identified with the mind than the musical instrument is to be identified with the person who is playing. “Great,” says St. Augustine in his confessions, “great is the force of memory, O my God; a large and boundless chamber! Who ever sounded the bottom thereof? And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, and pass themselves by.” The second power to which the name of memory is applied is the power of bringing past experience into present consciousness. Now, in comparison with the great magazine which I have described, this power of memory takes place on a very limited stage. It is as if in front of this silent magazine there were erected a platform, to which the images of the magazine could at any time be summoned. The summons occasionally is very slight. All that is necessary often is that a passing thought should appear on the platform, when immediately a thought like it comes from within. Perhaps a whole bevy of them may come. For instance, one will go home at the holiday time to his native place, and will take a walk in some scene of beauty which he used to frequent in his boyhood; and as you go along at every step the images of the past will throng out on you, the faces of your companions and their merry talk. “On this seat,” you will say to yourself, “I used to sit with so-and-so by my side; at that turn of the road I once thought on such a subject; across the ravine some one’s voice once called to me.” Images will pour out of the past on you in a perfect tumult, and you will be astonished at the vividness and minuteness of the reproduction. At other times, however, the summons has to be louder and more urgent. Sometimes, when you call for the images of the past, they will not come. Perhaps the wrong ones come, and you have to order them back to their places again. However loud you call they will not come, and you may have to go into the magazine, and search about in odd corners, and tumble things over, and at last you say, “Ah, there it is; I remember.” Or perhaps after all your searching you are baffled, and you say, “No, I am beaten; I cannot remember.” If we remembered everything we should be embarrassed with our riches. As a rule, older impressions push out newer ones, though in old age this law is reversed, although in every mind there are some memories that never become dim:
“Time but the impression deeper makes,
As streams their channels deeper wear.”
But the rate at which memories become dim and sink out of sight is extremely different in different minds; and one of the excellences of what is called a good memory is to have a large domain of reminiscence permanently within one’s grasp. Every man of great ability thus holds sway over a wide domain of acquisition and experience. Another excellence of memory is the power of committing things rapidly to heart., as we call it. This also varies exceedingly in different persons. In some it has been almost miraculous. It is said, for instance, that the scholar Scaliger committed the Iliad to heart in three weeks, and even more astonishing feats of memory have been accomplished by men who were not in the least distinguished in other directions. And a still more curious thing is that such persons have sometimes been able to retain the things they thus rapidly committed to memory. But, as a rule, what comes quickly goes quickly. An advocate, for instance, may get up quickly details of a complicated case, and perhaps along with that the outlines of a whole science, for a particular occasion, but as soon as the occasion is past, the whole thing goes out of his memory. Perhaps the most enviable excellence of memory is the copious and ready delivery of its contents as occasion requires. It is this that makes the happy historian, because, as he writes, he can recall parallel incidents from other histories. It is this that makes the good speaker, because, as he speaks, his memory calls principles and illustrations unto his mind from which he can select what is most suitable. It is this that makes the fortune of the conversationalist; whereas the speaker who has not this quality of memory makes all his best remarks to himself on the way home after the occasion is past. The conditions of a good memory are very simple and are worth remembering. The first is, that we must attend to things as they are entering the mind. The more we attend to them at the time they are entering the mind, the more easily will we remember. Then, secondly, we remember what we have repeatedly attended to. The oftener we think of things, the more likely are we to remember them. But most important of all is emotion--to mix things as they enter the mind with emotion. Now, this will easily guide us to the religious use of memory, and I cannot help regarding it as a fortunate circumstance that we are discussing this subject to-day, because there is no day so consecrated to memory as the last Sabbath of the year. “Forget not all His benefits.” That is the first religious use of memory. I am sure none of us can look back over the past year, however carelessly, without observing how good God has been to us, to our families, to our Church; but we shall remember these benefits the better the more we attended to them at the time when they happened. Even, however, if we did not attend to them then, we can compel the memory to give them up. We can go into the magazine which I described, and search for what we have lost or forgotten. We can go back to the beginning of the year, and trace downwards till to-day the footsteps of our Almighty Guide. Then the other great religious use of memory, especially on a day like this, is to remember our sins. Some of them, like God’s mercies, can he seen the moment we turn our eyes in that direction, because all of us during the year have committed some sins that burn in the memory. Others may need to be called up out of the place where they are loitering because at the time they were not much Observed, our consciences not being keen. It is only as we look back on a day like this, over an important stretch of life, that we see how little use we have made of golden opportunities; how little we have grown; how little we have done; how seldom we have prayed. It is no pleasing task thus to recall our sins of the past, but it may be a very salutary one. Better to recall them now than to recall them in a place of woe. Do you remember the first word spoken to one in that place? What did Abraham say to the rich man? It was, “Son, remember.” Memory is the worm that dieth not. (J. Stalker, D.D.)
Count up your mercies
I. The philosophy, which underlies all true praise of God, is exceedingly slender in its analysis; there is no ponderous weight or tedious intricacy in its development.
1. Grateful thanksgiving is the most reasonable of all human duties, for the earliest instincts of our redeemed nature turn us towards the immediate acknowledgment of our vast spiritual favours received. The common courtesies and interchanges of civilities in life require the outward expression of gratitude.
2. This decent duty is easily performed. Peace is very uncertain and hard to attain, for the devil is continually coining out accusations against each believer. Repentance in ourselves has sometimes to be sought carefully, and with as many tears; for the heart of man remains stony, and is frequently in exposure by reason of regnant corruption. Gratitude is so spontaneous and natural, that a generous and manly soul has often to cheek its profuse outflow by some external force of reserve. It is actually harder to repress it than to exercise it; one is compelled to be sullen, morose, or malicious, in keeping it back.
3. Praise is the oldest duty in performance on the records of the race. Before faith was required in the human heart, before there was the least reason for repentance, when our first parents dwelt in primal purity within the undefiled precincts of Paradise, even then they cherished the spirit of thankfulness, and sang their songs of simple adoration. Hence the privilege of “blessing” the Lord is older than justification, older than sanctification, older than prayer, older than sacrifice.
4. Grateful praise is the longest-lived of all human obligations. It is a duty and a privilege which will never end. As the supreme truths of celestial knowledge, and the supreme felicities of glorified enjoyment, which God means to give to the redeemed, are disclosed, our souls will assuredly swell with a fresh enthusiasm, our voices will grow tremulous in the expression of a new exultation. Thanksgiving is to enter into the serene perpetuity of eternal communion with each other and with God.
II. What are the advantages which accrue from the habit of grateful praise?
1. We need not go far to find vivid illustrations of the effects produced upon one’s temper and heart by a songful spirit of grateful acknowledgment. We will admit that there is much to test human patience all around us; but the question is, What are we going to do about it? We can treat the world in one of two ways. We can carp at it, and grow morose in our feeling; or we can rise cheerfully above it, and diligently seek for those kind mitigations which Divine wisdom has made to accompany all our vexatious experiences. We can wear our lives out discontentedly, finding fault with everything that is an annoyance to us; or we can labour trustfully on, recognizing the good, and ingeniously endeavouring to counteract and balance the evil. What we think, settles what we shall become.
2. But now add to this, that a determinate cheerfulness of praise really seems to modify work. Gratitude transmutes our disciplines into evidences of love. It is related of one of the most distinguished clergymen in England, that he always read at the family: altar, on Saturday evening, this one hundred and third psalm. But his wife died. For a moment he waited; and then he said quietly, “I see no reason why we should not choose our usual song to-night.” There is in the writings of old Thomas Fuller one curiously quaint paragraph, which I have often wanted to quote: “Lord, my voice by nature is harsh and untunable, and it is vain to lavish any art to better it. Can my singing of psalms be pleasing to Thy ears which is unpleasant to my own? Yet, though I cannot chant with the nightingale, or chirp with the blackbird, I had rather chatter with the swallow, yea, rather croak with the raven, than be altogether silent. Hadst Thou given me a better voice, I would have praised Thee with a better voice; now what my music wants in sweetness, let it have in sense--singing praises with my understanding. Yea, Lord, create in me a new heart, therein to make melody, and I will be contented with my old voice, until, in Thy due time, being admitted unto the choir of heaven, I have another, more harmonious, bestowed on me.” He does the best work, in this moping, croaking age, whose cheerful face gives the benediction of a happy heart wherever a heavy step is treading along just behind him. Think of the martyr Ignatius exclaiming, “Oh, would that I could do what would make all the earth adore Thee, and psalm to Thee.” (C. S. Robinson, D.D.)
Yesterday’s mercies forgotten
What recollections have we of the sunsets that delighted us last year? The energy of an impression fades from the memory and becomes more and more indistinct every day. We constantly affirm that the thunderstorm of last week was the most terrible one we ever saw in our lives, because we compare it, not with the thunderstorm of last year, but only with our faded and feeble recollection of it. (John Ruskin.)
It is no less certain, however, that we are not so wide awake to the wrongfulness of insufficient gratitude. We are all prone to let ourselves off too easily in this respect. We let slip the memory of benefits conferred, or we fail to see our obligation for acts of unselfish service rendered to us by our best friends. We take things too much as a matter of course, not only in human relationships, but in the sphere of religion. Dante has a place in the Inferno for those who were sullen and gloomy in God’s sweet air; failing to perceive or acknowledge the Divine benefits on earth, they were condemned to continue sullen in the under-world. We are not ungrateful, but our gratitude costs us little. (R. J. Campbell.)
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.
Forgiveness and healing
I. Forgiveness and healing are men’s greatest needs.
1. Because without them there can be no upward spiritual progress. Man’s course is downward until he is divinely forgiven and healed. The accumulating power of sin.
2. Because without them there can be no truly happy service for God.
3. Because without them, existence itself must ultimately become intolerable.
II. Forgiveness and healing are received from God.
1. He only has the right to forgive and heal.
2. He only has the power.
3. With God is the disposition to put forth His power and assert His right to forgive and heal.
III. Forgiveness and healing are, in the kingdom of grace, inseparably connected. Whom God forgives He heals (1 John 1:9).
IV. Forgiveness and healing, when possessed, inspire deepest gratitude to their author. (W. Smith.)
The pardon of sin
First, we are blessed with the pardon of sin, and then we bless God for the pardon of sin.
I. Forgiveness is A primary blessing.
1. We never enjoy a mercy as a mercy from God till we receive the forgiveness of sins.
2. There are many mercies which are not given at all, and cannot be given, until first of all the pardon of sin has been bestowed. The application of the blood of sprinkling must be felt, the cleansing power of the atonement must be known, or the rest of the blessings of the covenant will never reach us.
3. And well may the Lord place this mercy first, because when it comes it ensures all the rest. The day-dawn is always followed by the clearer light.
4. The pardon of sin comes first, that it may be seen to be an act of pure grace. If any other blessing had preceded it, our legal spirits would have dreamed of merit and fitness: if any attainment had been reached by us before the forgiveness of sins was given, we might have been tempted to glory in self; but now we perceive that God forgives our sins before He heals our moral diseases, and therefore there is no room for pride to set her foot upon.
II. Forgiveness is a present blessing.
1. This privilege the believer has actually obtained. As many as have looked to Christ upon the cross are now justified by faith, and have peace with God. This is a matter of present fact, and not of mere hope.
2. This present mercy is perpetually bestowed--He still forgiveth our iniquity; there is perpetuity in it. At this very moment I may be mourning my sin, but God is forgiving it. Even in the holiest deeds we do there is still sin, but even then God is still forgiving.
3. This mercy of pardon is knowingly received. Nobody ever sings over uncertain blessings.
4. This present blessing is immediately efficient, for it secures us a present right to all that is involved in being pardoned. Then seek it at once.
III. Forgiveness is a personal blessing. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” Our Lord is a blessed God to forgive anybody, but that He should forgive me is the greatest feat of His mercy. A good brother wrote me the other day, “Mercy had reached its zenith when it saved me.” He thought so of himself, and we may each one think the same of his own case. “But may we know this personally?” saith one. I answer, “Yes.”
1. Some of us know that God has forgiven us, because we have the character which He describes as being forgiven. In repentance, in confession of sin, in forsaking sin, and in faith in our Lord Jesus, we have the marks of pardoned sinners, and these marks are apparent in our souls.
2. Moreover, if you have any doubt about whether the Lord forgives you now, it will be well for you to make sure that you accept His way of salvation. It is by faith in His dear Son.
3. We know that we are at this moment forgiven, because we at this moment give to the Lord Jesus Christ that look which brings forgiveness.
IV. Forgiveness is a perfect blessing. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” He does not remove the great ones, and leave the little ones to rankle; not the little ones, and leave one great black one to devour us, but “all of them He covers and annihilates with the effectual atonement made by His dear Son. Now, I want you to obtain this pardon as a complete thing. Do not rest till you have it: you will never know true peace of mind until it is yours.
V. Forgiveness is a priceless blessing. Though it could not be purchased by a life of holiness or by an eternity of woe, forgiveness has been procured. This pardon which is freely preached to-day to all who believe in Jesus hath been purchased, and there is He that procured it, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, a man like unto ourselves, but yet equal with the ever-blessed One. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The disease of sin, and its remedy
I. Why sin is called a disease.
1. As it destroys the moral beauty of the creature (Genesis 1:31; Genesis 6:5; Psalms 38:7; Lamentations 4:1).
2. As it excites pain (Psalms 51:8; Acts 2:37; 1 Corinthians 15:56).
3. As it disables from duty (Isaiah 1:5; Romans 7:19).
4. As it deprives men of sound reason (Isaiah 5:20).
5. As it leads to death (Romans 6:1).
II. The variety of sinful diseases to which we are subject (Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:29; Galatians 5:19).
III. The remedy by which God heals these diseases.
1. His pardoning mercy through the redemption of Christ (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 3:23).
2. The sanctifying influences of grace (Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 10:16).
3. The means of grace (Ephesians 4:11-13).
4. The resurrection of the body (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
5. The ease of an ignorant, insensible sinner is very deplorable.
6. The case of a real Christian is very hopeful.
(1) His sinful disease is radically healed.
(2) The completion of his cure is certain.
7. The glory of Christ, as the Physician of souls, is great indeed. (The Study.)
I. Forgiveness is the crown of God’s benefits (verses 2, 3). Think of all God’s common daily mercies, and all God’s special care and blessing, and then show why, in view of this life and the next, His forgiving seems to be the best blessing of all.
II. Forgiveness is the first of many new benefits (verses 4, 5). When God forgives, He follows on to give temporal blessings. His providences wait on His mercies. Illustrate in Job, and in David.
III. Forgiveness takes even the remembrance of sin away. See figures in (verses 11, 12, 13). They help us to realize how complete God’s forgiveness is. He remembers our sins no more against us for ever. Show how true this is of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Then we may well be happy in our forgiving, merciful God, and sing psalms of praise to Him. Only let us always remember that God’s forgiving us is made to depend on our forgiving others. (Robert Tuck, B.A.)
The great Physician
I. Disease itself affords us one of our richest luxuries. It is impossible to describe, to one who has not known the joy of a timely release from the fierceness of disease, the exquisite enjoyments of such an hour. And in this we see the goodness of God. “Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” There may remain still great weakness, and much, that in other circumstances, would be called distress; but this is all forgotten amid the luxury of a temporary release, and a hope still better.
II. We see Divine goodness in the efforts that nature makes to effect her own cure. By “nature” I mean the unseen operation of His hand who healeth all our diseases; I mean God Himself, operating by certain laws which He has indented upon every part of our frame. The cure is effected without a miracle, but not without the finger of God. David, when diseased, was cured like other men, by the laws of matter, and by human means; still he takes occasion to bless and praise Jehovah as Him who healeth all our diseases.
III. The great variety of specifics found in every part of the creation, for the various diseases of men, speak the Divine goodness. Probably there is not a plant or shrub that grows but yields us either food or medicine. The severest poisons are, at length, in many instances, considered the safest and speediest remedies. The mineral and vegetable kingdoms are constantly pouring their treasures into the chamber of distress. And there seems an almost inexhaustible variety. Hence they furnish a specific for every disease. Now in all this how good is God! He could have sent the plague without the remedy, the poison without the antidote. It would be our shame if we could withhold our praise, and yet live in a world so full of the glory of God, where every plant, and shrub, and mineral speaks His praise, and every disease yields to the specific He prescribes.
IV. It still is true that it is God who healeth all our diseases. But for that wisdom which He has given to man, physicians could never have known the nature or the virtue of those plants and minerals which are their appointed remedy. And His blessing makes the means effectual. Remarks.
1. A period of recovery from sickness should be a season of praise.
2. The life that God has made His care should be devoted to Him.
3. We see why many have praised the Lord upon the sick bed. It is not a place so destitute of comforts as many have supposed.
4. The subject will lead us to reflect with the psalmist on the wondrous mechanism of our natures. (D. A. Clark.)
The Almighty is over and over again presented as the source of strength, and as the supreme cause of health. Not without reason is He termed “Jehovah that healeth”; and various are the references to His healing mercies (Exodus 15:26; Jeremiah 17:14; Jeremiah 30:17; Psalms 147:3; Isaiah 30:26). Also, when Jesus appeared as the Messiah fulfilling the hopes of the Hebrews, He healed the broken-hearted, bound up wounds and gave sight to the blind. The direct agency of the highest of all beings is brought out in the case of the woman who for twelve years had suffered and had spent her living on physicians, and only found relief when she touched the border of Christ’s garment (Luke 8:41). In this example we have only another version of Abraham’s prayer (Genesis 20:17). Now, however men may argue, the scientific mind is at one with the Bible. Life in all its phases is a mystery. While conditions and aspects of its beginnings and development have been fixed and determined, birth and death defy explorers, and that which fluctuates between the two--disease--is hardly less obscure. God the ultimate healer will be more fully recognized as science attains to its maturity. To Him, then, should the honour be attributed when we are restored from the bed of languishing and pain. That is His due. The tribute was paid Him by the ancients in adorning the altars with votive offerings, and a similar practice obtained in the Middle Ages, and in some countries has been continued to this day. I have seen altars in Europe burdened with models of the limbs and organs that have been healed by Divine mercy. It would be well for Christians in their prayer-meetings to tell how God has helped their bodies as well as their souls. Were we to speak more in His praise we would encourage more to look to Him for restoration. But His being the healer does not preclude the use of means in overcoming disease. These means may be infinitely varied and may border on the inscrutable, but they are real just the same. When it is said a virtue went out of Christ to cure the woman, that influence was the means employed, and though inexplicable, may at least suggest to thought the transmission of something from God when the sick are made whole. That certain states of feeling are remedial agencies, that they who rouse such feelings are useful, that cherished beliefs will operate on the body, and that moral improvement has in itself a curative value, is becoming more and more apparent. Xavier, who found Simon Rodriguez sick at Lisbon, chronicles the feel that the joy excited in the patient broke up the fever; and Melanchthon was operated on in a similar way by the appearance of Luther. Mr. Herbert Spencer illustrates the great power of mind over body, when he shows how intense feeling brings out great muscular force. Dr. Berdoe has shown us a gouty man throwing away his crutches and running to escape an infuriated animal. I have never doubted that the mind can affect in a wonderful way the sick. The story of the Prince of Orange at the siege of Buda, 1625, sending for mock medicine for his troops dying of scurvy is well known. He brought into camp a decoction of camomile, wormwood and camphor, which he gave out as so precious a medicine that a drop or two in a gallon of water would suffice. The restoration of the men to health was due to imagination, not physic. And the same may be said of cures wrought at the hands of monks or pious souls in the past, and at the shrines of Lourdes and Old Orchard in the present. It will not do to ascribe a desire to deceive to all the so-called miracle workers. While impositions are discernible, still many were sincere, and God evidently used their sincerity to His own glory. The cures wrought by the Jansenists at St. Midard, by the UItramontanes at La Galette and Lourdes, and by Father Ivan at St. Petersburg, have been neither few nor slight. A curious instance of the power of mind we have in what was known as the cure of the King’s evil by royal touch. Charles II touched nearly 100,000 persons, and many were healed. And coming nearer to our own time we find William III, while practising the same act, offering a different prayer: “God give you better health and more sense.” Among curative agencies a very high rank must be assigned to the moral and the spiritual. When a man abstains from demoralizing habits, excessive feeding and drinking, the effect will be discernible in his appearance. While the cure is like that wrought by sanitation, back of it is the ideal of a pure manhood. When the spiritual is supreme, and Christians have little time to think of themselves or of their cares, and when they are fully occupied with celestial visions, they usually keep well and hearty. At such times we understand the text: “Thou art the health of my countenance and my God.” But among the means owned of God are we to class what is known as material remedies? St. Ambrose insisted that “the precepts of medicine are contrary to celestial science, watching or prayer”; only it must be remembered that this was maintained as necessary to the efficacy of relics as remedial agencies. Calstadt for different reasons sympathized with Ambrose. He declared that “whoso shall fall sick shall use no medicine or physic, but commit his case to God, praying that His will may be done.” To which Luther made answer: “Do you eat when you are hungry?” And as only an affirmative reply could be given, he continues: “Even so you may use physic, which is God’s gift just as meat and drink is, or whatever else we use for the preservation of life.” When Jesus says that “they who are whole need not a physician, but they who are sick,” He lends His countenance to the medical science. We find medicine distinctly recognized in the following places: (Proverbs 17:22; Jeremiah 30:13; Jeremiah 46:11; Ezekiel 47:12). Paul commends to Timothy a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his infirmities. He does not regard it as an invalidation of faith in God to use a remedy. Neither did Isaiah (2 Kings 20:7). When Ezekiel beholds the vision of “Holy Waters,” he says the leaf of the tree which grows on either side of the river shall be for medicine. Here is a distinct recognition of medicinal virtues in nature. Why should the “balm of Gilead” be praised, why should the mollifying quality in ointment be referred to by Isaiah, if all such means reflected on and were inimical to Divine healing? The case of Asa, “who sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12) is sometimes adduced against this supposition. But his error did not lie in employing doctors, but in trusting to them. Had he shown in his sickness the same discrimination he evinced in his attack on Ethiopia, when he cried out (2 Chronicles 19:11), he might have overborne disease as he did his foe in the field. If God is the supreme healer what line of conduct should we, especially Christians, pursue? Surely we ought to do all in our power to provide for the comfort and recovery of the afflicted. It is written (Psalms 41:8) that “God will make all his bed”--the sick man’s--“in his sickness.” But that surely does not mean that we are not to make it too. The hand of God is precious to smooth our pillow; and a wife or daughter’s or mother’s is not an unnecessary second. We want to carry the spirit of Christ into our contact with disease. With that came more humanitarianism in the past. Establishments for the cure of the sick appeared at an early day in the east; the Infirmary of Monte Cassino and the Hotel-Dieu were opened at Lyons in the sixth century, and in the seventh the Hostel-Dieu in Paris; and it is to the credit of Napoleon III that while he was building the Opera House in Paris, he was rebuilding, on a magnificent scale, the hospital of that sacred name. In this department wonderful has been the progress. We have everything apparently new from such institutions to the Ambulance Corps and the Genevan Cross. But more and more should these arrangements be permeated with the Christ spirit. This faith in God as the Divine Healer should lead to prayer for the sick. Many answers have come to us. I can testify to as many notable instances of recovery from disease as perhaps any other minister. And yet we must never forget that Jesus, overcome by agony, trembling on the verge of death, while praying for deliverance, exclaimed, “Thy will be done.” Complete reconciliation and harmony with God is worth more than a few years, more or less, of existence in the world. The devout soul will realize that He is healing all its diseases, and that the final health of the body can only come through the collapse of death leading to the glorious resurrection. But until then, I expect, in proportion as God is exalted, by faith and science the approach of that time when sickness shall largely disappear, and when (Isaiah 65:20). And when that season comes health and holiness, both, under God, the product of human agencies, shall preserve the race, and the burden of earth’s anthem be: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.” (G. C. Lorimer, D.D.)
What follows forgiveness
At one of his mission meetings Gipsy Smith recently told a story about his own little ones who had played truant, and in trying to be stern he sent them to bed without any supper. He passed the rest of the evening tiptoeing about, listening, and wondering what the effect of the punishment would be. Finally, not hearing any sound, he made his way to the bedchamber. As he leaned over the bed, one of the little fellows said: “Is that you, father?” and sobbed out, “Father, will you forgive me?” “Yes, my son, yes--yes, I will forgive you, for I love you.” “Then, father, take me down to supper.” This was used by Gipsy Smith to point the lesson that once we are forgiven by our Heavenly Father, we have the blessedness of sharing intimate communion with Him. After the kiss of reconciliation the erstwhile prodigal breaks again the “bread enough and to spare” of his Father’s house. (Sunday Circle.)
No debt need be carried forward to another page of the book of our lives, for Christ has given Himself for us, and He speaks to us all--“Thy sins be forgiven thee.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christ forgiving sin
There is much need of asserting the great truth that God can forgive sin. Science is a teacher much honoured now, and science says that it is as impossible morally as physically to put things back where they were before; as impossible to restore a sinful heart as to make whole a broken shell. Under such teaching has grown up a modern religion whose god is fate, whose hope is dust for the body and nothingness for the soul, whose heaven is but to be an influence in others’ lives. The sect is not large, but skilful of speech in philosophy, poetry, fiction. One of them speaks through the hero of a tale: “I hate that talk of people as if there was a way of making amends for everything. They’d more need to see that the wrong they do can never be altered. It’s well we should feel that life’s a reckoning we can’t make twice over; there’s no real making amends in this world, any more than you can mend a wrong subtraction by doing your addition right.” And the age may need this lesson. We have been guilty of making sin too slight and punishment too soft. “It is good,” sing the old Eumenides in AEschylus, “that fear should sit as the guardian of the soul, forcing it into wisdom--good that men should carry a threatening shadow in their hearts under the full sunshine; else how should they learn to revere the right?” True, but God has thought it also good to give His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Far diviner is the message of Hawthorne in “The Scarlet Letter,” where the badge of sin and shame becomes the charmed symbol of a pure and helpful life. Nature knows nothing of forgiveness; science and conscience as well assure us it is impossible. They speak for their own realms, and truly. But, “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” How God takes care of the disaster wrought by our sin is one of the hidden things. That He will blot out our transgression as a thick cloud vanishes in the sun is His radiant promise. It is a forgiveness which not only enables us to enter heaven; it is heaven, or else, for our race, there were no heaven. God can forgive sins, and God alone; and Jesus is “God with us” forgiving sins and sending penitents away praising with a song that angels could not sing. (Christian Age.)
The greatness of Divine mercy
“Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” God’s mercy is so great, that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God. As John Bunyan well says, “It must be great mercy, or no mercy; for little mercy will never serve my turn.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Pardon precedes crowning
We cannot expect God to crown a man with lovingkindness and tender mercies while still he is dead in sin, and lives in daily dread of a second death--a death eternal. A coronation for a condemned criminal would be a superfluity of inconsistency. To crown a hardened convict who lies in the cell at Newgate awaiting his execution, would be a cruel mockery. How could it be that God should wreathe a chaplet of favours for a man who has refused His mercy and wilfully abides under His wrath on account of unconfessed and unpardoned sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The need of a healer
“Who healeth all thy diseases.” “Do you think that was necessary? If my Lord came to me and wiped out the guilt, annulled the debt, would not redemption be perfect?” If you take sin into your life, all the powers are affected. Conscience is seared, the fineness of the judgment is lost, the river of the affections becomes foul, the will loses its erectness. I saw the Metropolitan Tabernacle a few days after the great fire there, and noticed that every one of the pillars in the building had received a wrench, a twist. “When the fire of sin breaks out in my body every pillar of my life gets a wrench.” (J. H. Jowett.)
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.
Redeemed from destruction
By destruction here he meaneth, not only the danger of being killed by his enemies, but also and especially the state of condemnation and perishing in God’s wrath, from which the man justified is redeemed by the Mediator.
1. The benefit of preservation from eternal death is given unto the man, to whom all iniquity is forgiven; for here these benefits are joined the one with the other.
2. The deliverances which are given to believers, as well bodily as spiritual, temporal as well as everlasting, do come to us in the way of redemption, made by our kind and faithful kinsman, Jesus Christ.
3. A man must be sensible of the merit of sin, and see himself in the state of perdition for sin, before he can put a right estimation upon his delivery; he must count himself a lost man till the Lord’s Redeemer deliver him.
4. The favour which God bestoweth upon a believer is not in giving unto him one or two, or some few evidences of His love and mercy, but in a constant compassing of him on every hand, in everything; so that He shall turn him about to what act He will, he is circled round about with love and mercy, supplying wants, preventing, or mitigating and seasoning, his troubles, reclaiming him from sin, and directing him in God’s way.
5. The evidences of God’s kindness and mercy to a man is not only a means to glorify God, but also a means to our respect and honour; yea, and a crown of glory on the head of the believer, in the sight of all who look upon him. (D. Dickson.)
Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.--
A present crown
One Sunday morning we visited a poor old man of 97 years. He told us two gentlemen had each promised him a sovereign, if he lived to be 100. “I wish they’d give ‘em to me now,” he said. God promises us crowns in the future; but we are also crowned with lovingkindness in the present. (W. Luff.)
He who hath said to us, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” has given us a grant of all needful good in that one sentence of His love. Like the comet’s nucleus, which bears a streaming train of light behind it, so doth forgiveness draw along with it a far-reaching glory of boundless favour. Well may this blessing be set first, since it carries all the rest in its loins.
“When dreadful guilt is done away
No other fear’s we know;
That hand, which scatters pardons down,
Shall crowns of life bestow.”
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
“Like the eagle.” I think it is helpful to contrast this figure with the figures used in the previous psalm. There we have a psalmist upon whom the renewing ministry has not yet been wrought, and he lies prone in the grip of a deep depression. “I am like a pelican of the wilderness”; this is the very figure of gloom and desolation. “I am like an owl of the desert”; he finds a fitting symbol in the bird which dwells among the ruins, and which finds no comfort in the light of day.
“The moping owl doth to the moon complain.”
And yet a third figure is used by this melancholy singer: “I am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.” In his loneliness he finds a suitable emblem in the bird which has lost its mate or its young, and which abides on the house-top silent, lonely, and desolate. Now turn away from these dark and dismal figures to the one of my text. Now my text makes the inspiring declaration that the eagle type of life is the divinely-purposed possession of every man. Men and women who are in covenant with the Almighty will not appear to the world to be kinsmen of the owl and the pelican. They will rather be significant of the eagle. The eagle is, perhaps, our most majestic bird; even to see it in captivity is to behold a creature of splendid and royal build. This is the bird which is to typify the life that is in communion with God. First of all, the life will be eagle-winged. There is nothing more striking about the eagle than its mighty power of wing. The bird can soar away into uplifted mountain vastnesses, and far beyond the highest summit it can mount into the glorious blue. “They shall mount up with wings as eagles!” And our life is never completed, and we have never really come to our own, until we are in possession of these wings. It is that wing power which marks the maturity of our life, and by which we enter into our splendid destiny. Now, this wing power is just the ability to rise above our circumstances, and to soar into the “heavenly places” in Christ. We are all familiar with men and women who never get above their immediate surroundings. Such experiences have been the lot of all of us. Our immediate surroundings become our prisons, and we sit down and mope in the midst of our captivity. Life with God is life with the eagle wing; in the strength of that wing we can rise above our prison house into the purer, larger air of the Spirit. I can rise above my temptations. When snares are crowding round me, and when the enemy comes quite near, it is purposed that I should just “take wings” and find myself far above them. “Flee as a bird to your mountain!” We make a great mistake when we confront every temptation in the attitude of fight. Most of our temptations could be conquered by quietly rising into a higher sphere. And we can rise above our sorrows. And so it is with our worries and cares. Too many of us just creep and crawl, or we sit among them in cold complaint. Our destined inheritance is the heights. It is the eagle’s wings we want. “Give me the wings of faith to rise!” And life in God will not only be eagle-winged but eagle-eyed. What a piercing, wide-casting eye is the dowry of the eagle! When we want a suitable figure to express our conception of a Gladstone’s eye, or a Kingsley’s eye, or an Emerson’s eye, we go to the eagle for it. And this eagle vision is to be the gift of every soul which is in sacred covenant with God. But how this book bemoans our feeble eye. “Your eyes are dim.” “Ye cannot discern.” “Eyes have ye, but ye see not.” “Ye are blind.” But the book not only indicts us for our short and imperfect sight; it offers us the gift of splendid vision. If we had the eagle eye two things would happen. First of all, we should discern the significance of the immediate. But, secondly, we should have a sensitive discernment of the remote. We should be the first to see the little cloud on the horizon which betokens the coming rain. We should be the first to catch the faint dawning which is the herald of the coming day. No one would be before us. With the eagle eye we should get the first glimpses of the coming of the Kingdom. Now, how are these gifts of the eagle wing and the eagle eye to be obtained? They are to become ours by the ministry of renewal. God will so re-fashion us that in our recovered strength we shall be like the eagle. The words which immediately precede my text describe to us two of the ways by which this renewal is to be effected. We are to be made young by the repair of diseased tissue.” He healeth all thy diseases.” The gracious Lord will lay hold of powers upon which decay has fastened, and He will renew the dead matter, and make it sound again. “God by His mercies recovers His people from their decays.” Decay so easily sets in! Our highest powers so speedily become destroyed. As we grow older our sympathies are apt to shrivel, and love is apt to wither, and hope loses its youthful strength. And, secondly, He will feed the sound tissue. “He satisfieth thy mouth with good things.” He will remove the disease, and He will provide suitable nutriment to sustain the powers He hath renewed. And the nutriment will satisfy, and we shall have no restless and tiring cravings. “Our inner man is renewed day by day.” And so in our spirits our youth can be recalled, and in strength of wing and power of eye we can be like the eagle. In old age we can have daily surprises, as we make daily discoveries of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The whole secret of the renewal so far as we are concerned is just here; we must “wait upon the Lord.” “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)
The secret of perpetual youth
These words suggest three points from which to view the great problem of human life, namely, those of the “Good,” the “perfection of life,” and “Satisfaction.” Each of these represents an aspiration of human life, and corresponds to a conviction of what should be, and must be, in a world with an infinite wisdom, power and love on the throne of it.
I. Thy “good” for man must be found in living trust in, and union with, God. As in the ease of the words, “Open Thy mouth wide, and I will fill it,” we have here an allusion to the relation of birds in the nest to the parent-bird. Man does not find the “good” for his life until he enters into a living spiritual relationship with God.
II. Through the attainment of the “good” man obtains “perpetual youth.” There can be no old age or decay for those into whom the life of God is flowing, for those that drink out of the fountain of good. The inner life is ever young, and grows more beautiful with the advance of time.
III. In this divinely-sustained and ever new life man finds full satisfaction. Who satisfieth thy mouth, etc. “Fulness of life” only can bring “fulness of joy,” and “fulness of life” can be found only “in the presence of God.” Satisfaction cannot be full unless it is permanent. “Fulness of joy” cannot be asserted unless we are able to add “Pleasures for evermore.” Eternal youth is the fount of eternal joy. In finding God man finds himself, finds life, finds joy. A “real satisfaction” even in this world of change; by and by “in God’s presence” fulness of joy. (John Thomas, M.A.)
The renewal of youth
I. A striking figure. The eagle is an emblem of the prosperous Christian--
1. In the penetration of its eye.
2. In the elevation of its flight.
3. In the swiftness of its motion. If the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, we cannot be dull and inactive.
4. In the dignity of its appearance. The grace of God elevates the mind and ennobles the soul. Christians are dignified in character, principles, pursuits, duties, ends and aims, and destinies.
II. A pleasing fact. There are times when God graciously appears on behalf of His people, in such a way, that He may be said to “renew their youth like the eagle’s.”
1. In the recovery of health after severe sickness.
2. In the renewal of vigour after religious decay.
3. In the restoration of joy after spiritual depression.
4. In the perpetual bloom of immortality. (E. Temple.)
Past spiritual experience need not be a memory only, nor need the claims of the future alarm us, in Christ we have never had or been our best, from age to age through the satisfaction of our mouth with good our youth may be renewed like the eagle’s.
I. Spiritual life, then, may be marked by constant youth.
1. Because youth’s best features are of the very essence of the spiritual nature.
(1) Conscious possibility.
(2) Enjoyment of life.
(3) Untiring strength.
Christianity is constant youth, it brings youth’s best features with it, as it increases the more spiritually youth-like we are, according to our Lord’s principle that to grow in greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to grow towards the child.
2. Because spiritual life has never reached its maturity. The Christian can never say, The best is gone. With him, better experiences, and attainments, and service are to come.
3. Because its source is untouched by the deteriorating influences of earth. “Our life is hid with Christ in God.” Thus it cannot die, Christ maintains it from Himself. For the same reason it never need decline.
II. We sometimes fail of the youthfulness of spirituality. We need not. It is a grave dishonour to Christ to suppose that He cannot keep us from failing, and a great injury to ourselves to suppose that anything in the nature of the ease forbids unbroken Christian progress. Therefore, though what we speak of now is a fact, let us remember that it need not be, and is only due to sin.
1. It is so when we feel our chance is gone: “Time is the great enemy,” said a statesman. And so we say of our religious possibilities, “Time is the great enemy”--it destroys what we might have been. In early life we form ideals, we determine then to conquer circumstances, and rise; time passes, and the ideal fades, we think then we can only be what circumstances let us.
2. It is so, too, when we miss the sacred powers and experience of other days. For “the days that are past,” with some, “were better than these.”
3. And it is so, when there is nothing youth-like in our piety.
III. This failure is remedied by partaking of Divine nourishment.
1. We have as much strength as we receive in nourishment, and no more. Every life has its proper food--vegetable life, animal life, human life, and so on; and if it be deprived of it, it fails till at last it dies. Our natural strength is the result of the food we have taken, and its maintenance, and increase, and revival depend on our feeding it. Now it is so with spiritual life, Christ is its food, “I,” said He, “am the Bread of life,” our life is in Him, the measure of our piety therefore is the measure of our reception of Him, we can have no more Divine life than we receive through partaking of Christ.
2. That, then, indicates the source of spiritual decline. Have we lost our youth? Have our powers, and possibilities, and joys vanished? It is due to this, and if we trace it back we shall find it so: we have neglected Christ.
3. That reveals the means of renewal. Christian young in years, and Christian young by the long retention of spiritual youthfulness, you will never grow old (faded and worn, I mean) in the Divine life, you will keep and increase your blessedness, if you but constantly feed upon Christ. (C. New.)
The renewal of youth
Every fresh inspiration is a new beginning of life. Over the years as they slip by there will always be inscribed the apostolic saying, “Not as though I had already attained.” But though perfection is ever in front, we may thank God for every experience that opens out new roads, and helps us to move forward to that which is holy and good.
1. Renewal is essential in all things. When the body ceases to form new ceils the hour of its dissolution quickly arrives. Does the imperial mind cease to delight itself in, and eagerly search after, new and brilliant aspects of truth? You know the result, how soon that mind becomes either as sweet bells jangling out of tune, or is enervated, crusted, stale, and unprofitable. Carried out into nature, the same law ordains that the capacity of the earth to sustain mankind shall depend on bursting seeds, prolific roots, opening buds, and the renewal of generous fruits. Repeated in form, they are new every year. But while renewal is at once a law, and a most marvellous manifestation of the Divine Providence, it never assumes such a profound significance as it does in the world of thought and feeling. Your ideals are opportunities for renewal; from the splendid aims and hopes they reveal you may go on to the greatness and beauty of the deeds that make them real.
2. The redemptive and saving purposes of Divine love work by and through the same law. Renovation is the guarantee of spiritual health; recreation is the secret of sustained energy, and of triumphant faith. In “Jesus our Immanuel” the words of the psalm before us find their verification. He came that He might say to the weary and storm-tossed, to the evil who repented, to the bowed-down and forsaken, to those in the guilt and slavery of iniquity, “Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” He is still saying it; He is still offering to satisfy our mouths with good, that our youth, too, may be renewed.
3. Consider the powerful contrast hero set forth. Age, even though veiled with poetic grace, and having many compensations, is a time of waning powers. There is less generous enthusiasm and more of caution and prudence. On the other hand, youth is marked by splendid impulse and ardour; radiant in energy, care sits lightly on its shoulders. It is “like a morning gladness before the heat and burden of the day.” In this world these conditions, so strangely distinct in features and qualities, are equally essential. We must have beginnings, the sweeter and purer the better; and we must have endings, and always is it cause for rejoicing when they are full and honourable, and the garments of time and the tools of nature are laid aside after long and faithful use. But there is no such thing as age in heaven. “Growing old in heaven is growing young.” “Those that are in heaven are continually advancing to the spring of life, with a greater advance towards a more joyful and happy spring the more thousands of years they live,” because “it is goodness and charity that forms and presents in them its own likeness.” (J. T. Freeth.)
I. The youth of the soul of God’s child was renewed gloriously, and he entered on a new and imperishable life in his new birth,--in the hour of that entire change of state and of character, of which Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again,” etc. Most blessed renewing this of youth, wherein a sinner, throwing off the iniquities of a lifetime, returns back to somewhat of the very gladness, and innocence, and guilelessness, of childhood!
II. There is often a further, most blessed renewing of the soul’s youth of God’s child--some call it a second conversion, though the expression requires to be used cautiously--when, after a period of darkness, and distance, and spiritual decay, with, it may be, the commission of positive sin, God revisits His child with His pardoning and sanctifying mercy, brings him to deep repentance, and restores to him the purity and the joy of His salvation.
III. But there is what I might call a more normal and progressive rejuvenescence,--renewal of the soul’s youth of the child of God,--which Paul exemplifies for us (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Oh, this is God’s filling His child with all peace and joy in believing, that he may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.
IV. The youth of the soul of God’s child comes to be renewed, strange to say! in the highest of all ways, in his death,--in that which, to the eye of sense, might seem to be the end and wreck of all. Oftentimes there are marvellous foretastes and anticipations of this in the closing hours. (C. J. Brown, D.D.)
The renewal of youth
This thought of the renewal of youth appears again and again in the traditions and legends of mankind. As if shrinking from decay, and having somehow a conviction that man was not intended to be lost, outworn and exhausted in his earthly pilgrimage, he has had his dreams of the renewal of youth. Sometimes the dream took the shape of the legend of the phoenix, living for centuries, and when consumed rising from its ashes; or the eagle mounting up into heaven till he comes near to the seat of central fire in the sun, when scorched by the sun he casts himself into the sea; thence he emerges again with new vigour and fresh plumage, till at his hundredth year he perishes in the sea. In the text there may be an allusion to the yearly moulting of the feathers of the eagle and other birds, the eagle being selected as the liveliest image of strength and activity. And the old alchemists were searching for the elixir that would not only transmute inferior metals into gold, but would restore to man his youth, and so prolong his life, enabling him to resist disease, and set the destructive influences of nature at defiance. It was a beautiful dream. It contains a hint of man’s great capacity of life, and his wondrous destiny.
I. God is the fountain of youth. He is “from everlasting”--the underived, uncreated, unbeginning Existence; the Ancient of Days. But He is eternally young. His mercies are “new every morning.” The resources of Omnipotence have not begun to fail; the energies of the Holy Spirit are not spent. The measurements of time are only a convenience to us, our dates and chronologies are nothing to God. He is clothed with the eternal beauty of youth; and new benefits, too numerous to be counted, are ever bearing witness to the freshness and constancy of His love.
II. We, then, may receive from Him the gift of perpetual youth. The psalmist, with the boldness of faith, speaks of the Eternal as standing in close relation to himself. Jehovah and the soul are represented as in touch with each other. “Who forgiveth all,” etc. It is difficult to satisfy a human soul. Myriads are making the attempt, and failing. But here is satisfaction. The soul at rest, its longings met; no longer wandering in the market-places of the world in search of goodly pearls, it has now found the pearl of great price, it has found the “good.” What is this good? Why, it is God Himself, and that is the reason why it is satisfying. “The Lord is my portion.”
III. What are the characteristics of youth? Think of two or three. There is energy. A young man without energy is out of his place; he is “born out of due time.” If he is not energetic in youth, he had better apply for a position among the lotos-eaters, and “steep his brows in slumber’s holy balm.” Action is identified with life. Energy, activity is the mark of the renewed nature. The rest to which it attains is not indolence, but the harmony of the powers in the service they render, the absence of all disturbing or thwarting elements, the repose of the soul in God, who is not idle, but ever working out the counsels of His own will. Youth is a time of hopefulness. It is led On and sustained by the visions of hope. Many of them may be, and probably are, only illusions; but even then they are useful. It is God’s kind provision that the morning should be bright. And this trait of youth is in the renewed nature. It is begotten again to a “living hope.” Many hopes are dead; they grew very weary as the years advanced, and gave up the ghost. The paths of all who forget God are strewn with the withered hopes that were once green and beautiful. But this is a living hope--living because Jesus is living, the hope of life, fulness of life, complete victory over the powers of darkness and death. And we speak of the enthusiasm, fervour, dash, daring of youth. And so there is brightness and fervour in the renewed nature. We say that the heart grows cold with age; no new friendships are formed; the interest in the outside world is lessened; the blood is more sluggish; the pulse more slow; the heart more cold. But the man who is living in the company of Jesus Christ has not a cold heart; it is burning with love to Him, and with zeal for the triumph of His cause.
IV. This new life is beyond the power of the visible and temporal. Suffering cannot harm it. Indeed, it has manifested its greatest beauty and shone with heavenly splendour in seasons of affliction and trouble. Death cannot harm this life. While the outward man is decaying, the inward man is renewed day by day, moment by moment. The true life can no more die than God can die; and the change will only be a renewal of youth. Heaven is a land where the people “grow younger,” and their glory never fades. (J. Owen.)
Ever since our first parents were banished from the Tree of Life, by whose blessed medicine they were kept in undecayed vigour, mankind have sought a substitute for it in ways of their own. In Greek mythology we read the story of Medea, who, by the magic of her incantations, restored the aged to the bloom of youthful beauty. In Eastern fables we are charmed with descriptions of the Vijara Nadi, the ageless river, which makes the old young again by only seeing it; and of the spring of immortality flowing in caverns below the earth, and guarded by the pundit Kabib, where the bodies of those who bathe in it shine as if anointed with oil, and are fragrant as with the scent of violets. The South Sea islander, seeing the sun sinking, dim and weary, in the western waves, and rising again from the eastern main fresh and bright, conceived the beautiful myth of “the water of enduring life,” which removes all deformity and decrepitude from those who plunge beneath its silvery surface. Among the Aleutian islanders the legend is current that in the early ages of the world men were immortal, and when they grew old had but to spring from a high mountain into a lake, whence they came forth in renewed youth. In the Mediaeval romances we are familiar with the “Fountain of Youth,” and with the wanderings of pilgrims in search of its miraculously-healing waters--wonderful and adventurous as those in quest of the Sangreal, or the treasure hid at the foot of the rainbow. Rejuvenescence is the one great poetic idea of the universe. All the phenomena of the spiritual and material worlds are illustrations of it. The dream of humanity is the fact of creation; the longings that in the human world have been expressed in myths and romances have been symbolized in the objects of nature, in the epic poem of the seasons and the ages. Geology is the history of rejuvenescence on our earth. It reveals to us continual disintegration counterbalanced by continual construction; decay everywhere followed by renewal; so that all things have continued as they were from the beginning, and the earth looks as young to-day as it did on the first morning of creation. Every spring there is a rejuvenescence of the vegetable kingdom. But although most apparent at this season,--showing itself in the tender verdure of green grass, and fresh beauty of bright leaves and blossoms,--it is not the work altogether of spring. The labour of renovation begins at an earlier period; and the breath of spring only unfolds that which was preparing in silence and secrecy during the dark chill season of winter. The illustrations of rejuvenescence which zoology affords are still more interesting, because connected with a more complex organization and a higher function of life. Animal growth differs very widely from vegetable growth. The vegetable grows by means of additional cells; the animal by means of substituted cells. The cells of the plant die as soon as they are produced and have served their purpose, but they are retained in the structure and help to build it up; there being no provision made in the economy of the plant for the expulsion of dead cells. The cells of the animal on the other hand also die, but they are expelled from the body, and new ones take their place. Many animals have periodical and most curious replacements of entire organs and parts of their structure. Every one is familiar with the process of moulting in birds, in which the old feathers drop off every year and new ones are formed; this change in the plumage being accompanied by corresponding constitutional changes. Lizards, serpents, and spiders statedly cast their entire skin, and are furnished with a new one. The crab even replaces its stomach, forming a new one every year and casting away the old one. Just as plants rejuvenize by the annual renewal of their leaves and flowers, so animals rejuvenize by the annual renewal of some of their parts or organs. Passing on to man, who sums up in himself all animal and vegetable types of structure and function, and connects them with the spiritual world, whose existence is the aim to which the infinite rejuvenescences throughout all nature strive, we find that his body is subject to the same laws of growth which rule in the bodies of other animals. He, too, grows by the substitution of new particles for the old. But besides this particular and general molecular renovation, there are also periodical renewals of some organ or conspicuous portion of the body itself. The body renews its youth through fever, producing new hair and new skin, and becoming stronger and healthier afterwards. Sleep is one of the most wonderful phenomena of rejuvenescence. The mind in sleep relaxes its hold of the outward world, and becomes a mere passive mirror to reflect its images and sensations in dreams; but in this state of passivity it gathers itself into new force--into a renewed recollection of its specific purpose--and rearranges in an orderly manner all the confusions and perplexities of its waking state. It is also through the soft soothing sleep which occurs at the crisis of severe diseases that the rejuveneseence of the body occurs. Humanity rejuvenizes itself in the birth of every child; and grows young again in the youth of its children. Our own character fixed, our opinions become prejudices--this young generation with plastic minds comes forward to carry on the work of the world a few steps, and to become stereotyped in turn. In the rise and fall of nations, in the birth and death of individuals, humanity rejuvenizes itself. But the greatest of all rejuvenescences was the origin of Christianity. In the person of the child Jesus, humanity became young again. By His works the world became a new creation. Every rejuvenescence which man experiences is an additional assurance to him that, as he has borne the image of the earthy, so he will bear the image of the heavenly. This is the glorious hope set before us in the Gospel; this is the climax and consummation of all rejuvenescences here--the renewal of nature--of man’s body--of his mind--his heart--his soul. All these renewals are leading to and preparing for the great renewal of heaven. The kingdom of heaven in its highest sense is the “restitution of all things.” It is the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness--not another physical world specially created for the dwelling-place of glorified humanity; but this earth itself which in all its various phases has been so closely united and bound up with the nature of man, and hallowed by the footsteps, yea, oven by the tears and blood of the Son of God Himself, and which in the end shall share in the new and wondrous birth of redemption,--“put on its glorious resurrection robes and minister delight to the ennobled senses of the redeemed.” (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
A famous Roman once penned a delightful treatise intended to reconcile himself and the friend to whom it was dedicated, to the approach of old age. Much in his cheerful philosophy is worthy of the study of Christian people, though some things are superfluous; for the Bible shows to us a more excellent way. The humiliations and bitter distresses of old age need never come to us if an inward process of spiritual repair is affected to compensate the disabilities of outward decay. True religion is always fresh and glowing as the day-dawn, and if it has lost its youthfulness, decay and oblivion are inevitably before it. The Apostle Paul is pre-eminent for his unfailing youthfulness of character; no tribulation could quench the fire of his enthusiasm or destroy the buoyancy of his spirit. He speaks of himself as “Paul the aged,” but neither in his mental nor spiritual life is there the slightest sign of abating vigour or failing vitality. A tree of tenacious hardihood called the tree of life grows in the Central American forests. If the leaf be cut, new buds will at once form themselves on the shorn, bleeding edge thereof, and its tenacious vitality and productiveness will be asserted in face of the fiercest injury. As we read the catalogue of the ills that failed to daunt the spirit of the apostle, we feel he must surely have eaten of the fruit of that tree. And the Giver of life repeats His wonder to those who wait in His presence. If our youth is renewed, the sorrow that has cut us to the heart will not prove itself a death-wound nor hinder our after-fruitfulness. True religion must be young, for it is an expanded childhood. Recovered youthfulness is in itself meetness for immortality. Our doctrine of an endless being would be repulsive apart from that rejuvenation of the powers which makes ready for the enjoyment of it. The sense of jadedness may weigh upon our anticipations of heaven. For the appreciation of this world as well as that which is beyond it, we need a replenished inward life. In nine cases out of ten when Alexander weeps it is not that he has no more worlds to conquer, but because he has so worn himself out that he cannot possess the world which lies at his feet. We have come to speak of the activities of heaven as various, including widely differentiated ministries as well as worship; and rightly so, for a monotonous immortality would be a curse grievous to bear. But the cure for monotony often lies within. The ever-lengthening duration of life apart from its replenishment with new faculties and new enthusiasms would be intolerable. There must be that constant renewal of the youth of which devout worshippers of God in every period of the world’s history have had experience. And the writer of the Apocalypse, in describing his visions, is mindful of this need. Life blooms with a vernal freshness that never stales. The river that flows through the celestial city and the fountains to which the Shepherd King leads His redeemed flock are symbols of vitality and perpetual renewal. It is always springtide, for the trees yield their fruit every month. Let us live in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, and be baptized with His Spirit, and we shall then be ever renewing our life. “Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” The dreams of old men who receive the Spirit are as rich, as far-ranging, as many-hued as the visions of the young men. Cherishing this Spirit, however deep our wounds and fierce and wasting our conflicts, we shall not fail in warmth and hope and fresh springing force. (T. G. Selby.)
All occupations and professions have afforded illustrations of rejuvenescence. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, lived one hundred and nine years, and among those eminent in the medical profession who became septuagenarians, and octogenarians, and nonagenarians, were Darwin, Gall, Boerhaave, Jenner and Ruyseh, observing themselves the laws of health that they taught their patients. In art, and literature, and science, among those who lived into the eighties were Plato, and Franklin, and Carlyle, and Goethe, and Buffon, and Halley. Sophocles reached the nineties. You cannot tell how old a man is from the number of years he has lived. I have known people actually boyish in their disposition at eighty years of age, while Louis II, King of Hungary, died of old age at twenty. Haydn’s oratorio, “The Creation,” was composed at seventy years of age. Humboldt wrote his immortal work, “The Cosmos,” at seventy-five. William Cullen Bryant, at eighty-two years of age, in my house, read without spectacles “Thanatopsis,” which he had composed when eighteen years of age. Isocrates did illustrious work at ninety-four. Leontinus Gorgias was busy when death came to him at one hundred and seven years of age. Herschel, at eighty years of age, was hard at work in stellar exploration. Masinissa, King of Numidia, at ninety years of age, led a victorious cavalry charge against the Carthaginians. Titian was engaged on his greatest painting when he died, in his one hundredth year. How often they must have renewed their youth! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The oldest become the youngest
Commenting upon the words, “Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s,” Mr. Jowett paid a beautiful tribute to “The youngest deacon of my church,” the old man who is always the child of the morning, the revolutionary, and the Radical in his party. “I have never heard him speak about sunsets. He is a child of God, his youth is renewed every day, he will die with his face to the east, looking for the morning.”
The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.
God’s conduct towards mankind
In the preceding verses the hymnist exhorts himself to praise the Great God on account of the benefits conferred on himself. Here he strikes off into general reasons why he and all men should bless His holy name.
I. God’s conduct in relation to the socially oppressed. He “executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed” (Job 36:5-6; Isaiah 10:1-2; Proverbs 22:22-23; Psa 111:12; Amos 8:4-6; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Matthew 19:27; James 5:1-5).
1. To some extent in this life this is seen in the strength that is given the oppressed to bear up under all their trials, and in the unhappiness and the ruin that God brings upon their oppressors. Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Napoleon.
2. He does so fully in the life to come.
II. God’s conduct in relation to the methods of revealing Himself to mankind (verse 7). There is a great difference between the “ways” and the acts of any intelligent agent; as different as cause and effect. All men have their particular ways of doing a thing. God has His way, His method of action.
1. It is more difficult to know the “ways” of God than to know the “acts” of God. A child may understand many of the actions of a philosophic father, but not his ways or methods of action. Israel understood many of the acts of God; but Moses only rose to a knowledge of His ways, His principles, and manner of actions.
2. It is more important to know the ways of God than the acts of God.
(1) As a man knows His ways, he may forecast the future. Such and such events will occur in the future because it is in the order of the Divine procedure.
(2) As a man knows His ways he may acquiesce in His dispensations.
(3) As a man knows His ways he becomes exalted in thought and sympathy.
III. God’s conduct in relation to sinners in general (Psalms 103:8-10).
1. His mercy is longsuffering. “Slow to anger.”
2. His mercy is abundant. “Plenteous in mercy.”
3. His mercy overcomes His resentment.
4. His mercy restrains punishment (verse 10).
IV. God’s conduct in relation to the genuinely pious (verses 11-14).
1. Immeasurable grace (verse 11).
2. Sin-removing grace (verse 12).
3. Fatherly considerateness (verses 13, 14). Our physical, intellectual, and moral constitutions are thoroughly understood by Him. If He thus knows us, we may infer two things--
(1) That He will not lay on us more trials than we are capable of enduring.
(2) That He will not demand of us more service than we are capable of rendering. (Homilist.)
Christianity and the penal code
A young exile in Siberia told me that during the first part of his imprisonment the only literature given him were the Bible and the Penal Code. The intention, doubtless, was to incite to virtue on the one hand, and to warn against crime on the other. But the effect produced was to lead only to a comparison between the laws of Russia and the laws of Christ, and not to the benefit of the former. (George Kenman.)
He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel.
A twofold revelation, and a twofold attainment
I. A twofold Divine revelation. There is an obvious distinction between ways and acts. Acts are deeds; ways are methods. A man’s acts are the results and representatives of his ways. A man’s ways indicate the leading principle, spirit, and style of his life. His acts are not always consistent with his ways.
1. God reveals His ways. The universal, immutable, and eternal principles that guide Him in all His operations in the spiritual world are clearly laid down in the Book. The laws He gave to Moses reveal His ways, and so does the biography of His blessed Son in a still sublimer measure.
2. God reveals His acts. His acts are recorded in the Bible: creative acts--governing acts--redeeming acts--acts of justice and of mercy. His acts should be studied in order to reach the higher knowledge of His ways.
II. A twofold theological intelligence. Moses, on Sinai, received the eternal principles that regulate the Infinite in all His operations with man. The children of Israel down in the desert only saw His acts. They understood not the laws of His providence, and the grand purposes of His heart. There is a great distinction between these two kinds of knowledge.
1. One is far more profound than the other. The outward acts of God, as recorded in this Book, may be easily ascertained and detailed in fluent and accurate speech. But to understand His ways, to penetrate the region of principles, and to have an insight into the method of Divine operations, is a difficult work. This requires not only an inductive study of the Holy Book, but exalted feelings of devotion. “The secrets of the Lord are with them that fear Him.”
2. One is far more valuable than the other. It is more valuable to the possessor. The man who is only conversant with the mere acts of God will often be filled with confusion by providential events. One act will apparently contradict another, but he who understands the ways, the grand purposes and principles of God, will not be easily confused. It is more valuable, too, in qualifying us for usefulness. The man who is acquainted with mere details may repeat Bible anecdotes, and be popular. The man who has some knowledge of eternal principles can alone instruct souls.
3. One is far more uncommon than the other.
(1) In nature the millions observe the acts of God. They hear His thunder; they witness His lightning. They see His operations in heaving oceans and revolving worlds. But only one here and there understands His ways, and these are our men of science.
(2) In human history, numbers are conversant with the leading facts of human history. They know the acts of this statesman and that, this warrior and that, this nation and that; but the ways of God, the great principles with which He governs man are known only by a few--the philosophic historians.
(3) In redemption, the leading facts of Christ’s life are familiar to most in Christendom; but His ways, His grand principles, and sublime purposes, how few know anything about! (Homilist.)
Revelation by action
God has revealed Himself to man. Nothing can be more reasonable. Can it be that a supreme intelligence would create intelligent subjects of His government and children of His family, and have no further communication with them? Intelligence creating intelligence, revelation is inevitable. But how did God reveal Himself to man? When I was a very little child, I supposed that He had revealed Himself in a book, and that the self-revelation was limited to the book. I wish to insist that God, in revealing Himself to humanity, does not limit Himself to a book; but that God “made known His ways” unto individuals, “His doings” unto nations, and that His revelation was a revelation chiefly by action, a revelation on the plane of human activity, in vast historic unfoldings, through long centuries, on a colossal scale and with deep incisions. He did not write, He wrought. And man wrote. God wrought deeds to make words possible, to give significance to words; but His revelation was primarily a revelation in action. “He made known His ways unto Moses.” Glance for a moment at that wonderful scene recorded in the Book of Exodus, where Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh. Pharaoh demanded a sign, and Aaron, in obedience to Moses’ command, cast his rod upon the ground and it became a living serpent. At Pharaoh’s command his magicians cast their rods to the ground, and they became living serpents. But “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” And then began a series of marvellous deeds which made the people of Israel and the people of Egypt acknowledge that the finger of God was there. The outcome was that the children of Israel were delivered from bondage and taken into the wilderness, where through many years they were guided by the God who had delivered them. Thus “God made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel.” From the Old Testament let us go to the New. Jesus Himself never wrote a book, a sermon, an essay. “He went about doing good.” His words were the explanation of the things He did, and the things that God did in nature and in providence. When John sent his disciples to Jesus, they asked the question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” His first answer was--silence. Then He touched the eyes of the blind man, and he saw; He touched a lame man, and he walked; a leper, and he was cleansed; a deaf man, and he heard; and, pointing to the son of the widow of Nain, who the day before had been rescued from his bier and restored to his mother, He said, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up; the poor have good tidings preached to them.” Thus He made known His ways, His doings to the children of men. As in the time of Moses and in the time of Jesus, so in all history has God manifested Himself as Lord of nature, who works His will on the material and with the forces He has created. And is He bound to any one mode or order of action because of the nature He has created? See the fountain breaking loose upon the top of the mountain, pouring forth its water! Following the laws of nature, these waters work their way through the yielding soil to the edge of the mountain, and then fall over in a succession of fine cascades to the plain below, where, winding their way through the sand, they join the river and pass to the sea. We say that this movement is a work of nature. Is there any other way of doing with the water that springs from the mountain than that which we have observed? Certainly. Even a man can do something other and better with this stream on the mountain. As proprietor of the land he proceeds to dig, regulate, guide, and carry for a mile along the brow of the hill the waters that break from the fountain. He then causes the stream to descend in waterfalls down the mountain-side, and then in artificial channels, crossed by rustic bridges, here and there, expanding into little lakelets, and now confined in narrow limits, he brings the stream to the river and to the Sea. Thus there are at least two ways of using the same elements in nature. Nature does one thing if left to herself. Man’s ingenuity and power can make nature do another thing without violating a law of nature. Can God do with His own resources what man can do with God’s resources? And why should there not be action in the realm of human history that is not simply a product either of nature or of man? And why may we not encounter in the records of human history marvels of which we are compelled to say, “Lo! God hath wrought this.” I once listened to a rendition of a concerto by Rubinstein where Rubinstein himself took part. Before the artist himself appeared, Thomas’s orchestra delighted the great audience with Rubinstein’s music. Although I did not see him I heard his music. After a little while he came in and took his place at the piano while his own music was going on. After a while he touched the keys himself; and, accompanying his own music rendered by other performers, he swept from the instrument strains of exquisite harmony that held the multitude spellbound. The same artist produced indirectly the music he had composed through the orchestra that rendered it, and directly through the instrument under his fingers. Can God do such things with His universe? Through all the ages His purposes have gone rolling on in harmony with His wisdom, in display of His power, in manifestation of His goodness; but there came a time when on the plains of Palestine One walked the earth, the incarnation of wisdom and love and power, and went about doing good to the children of men. In the light of this law of revelation by action, let us look at the life of Jesus. He came to reveal God to man that He might reveal man to himself. He did not come to startle our race by the wonders that He wrought. He did not come to depreciate nature as a revelation of God by simply showing that there were possibilities beyond nature. He did not come to stifle human research or to put a ban on human science and discourage human culture. He came to set forth before all the ages God’s holiness and love, the worth of man and his destiny and possibilities. See Him yonder hanging on that cross between heaven and earth, revealing by action God’s loathing of sin, His love of righteousness, and His boundless mercy. By His victory over death, as He emerged from the sepulchre, He demonstrated by action the power of the immortal life. By His ascent from the summit of Olivet into the visible heavens He revealed, as no literary or artistic production could ever have revealed, the fact of a realm of being beyond this. Reappearing in tongues of fire at Pentecost, He made known to men the fact of His presence and power on the earth for the ages to come. Thus “He made known His ways” and “doings” to humanity. In the light of this law of revelation by action let us look at the Scriptures. It is easy for us to fancy what a Divine book ought to be--how perfect and flawless, with no syllable in it that is not exact and Divine; a book completed in heaven and handed down to humanity. But this is not the Bible which we do have. We can easily see what would happen if the law of revelation by action through gradual processes be the Divine way of revelation. First, the Bible would be largely biographical; then, of course, historical; and gradually developed. It must be characterized by an all-pervading unity; there would be progressiveness in the unfolding of truth, and we should expect to get a fuller, larger, and worthier idea of God through Paul than through Moses, and through Paul’s last writings than through Paul’s earliest writings. If it was to be a revelation by action, it would take ages to produce it and ages to complete it. Its perpetuity would be guaranteed. It would be a trustworthy book if rightly interpreted. The human element would be present in it; for, if God revealed Himself through men, He would recognize the limitations of the man through whom He reveals Himself, and do the best He could with the material in hand, without violating the laws of nature or of man. In the light of this law of revelation by action let us look at the Christian life. When an individual soul receives the Divine truth and lives it out, he makes known to men by action the Divine truth he has received. Horace Bushnell has a great sermon entitled “Every Man’s Life a Plan of God.” Chrysostom says, “The true Shechinah is man.” Give me a living man in whom God dwells, whose character is moulded by the Divine truth, whose spirit is possessed by the Divine Spirit, and whose life is under the Divine direction, and I will show you a version of the Scriptures that will be of immense value to the community in which that man dwells. You have read an essay about the sun. You have seen pictures of the sun, although artists are usually ingenious enough to give a landscape just before the sun rises or just after sunset. You have seen the sun reflected in a dewdrop as it trembles on the little twig. You have seen the sun embodied in the beauty of the flower. But there is still another embodiment of sunlight. It is when on a cold day I come to your house, and a man puts a huge piece of bituminous coal on the fire. Millions upon millions of years ago the sunlight was stored in that lump of coal, but now in your home it comes out again; and the flashing light, with its brightness and its warmth, is the old sunlight millions of years ago hidden, and now giving blessing to your household. So God by action has put into this book of Divine truth the energies of His grace. These in turn have been transferred by faith to the souls of earnest and obedient students, and they in their turn make known again by action the ways of God to men. The Christian is thus a “living epistle,” read and known of all men. Often in walking through the Palace of Versailles, where those fine historic paintings fill the wall, I have imagined the trembling of the canvas, and then the coming down to the floor of those pictured men and women, no longer dead, but living and walking as they did one hundred years ago and more. It is a great thing for people to get the ideas that are in the Book inwrought into personal character, so that ideas, growing into ideals, will become realities, and people whom you meet will seem more and more like the prophets and apostles of old. Thus may we walk among men, incarnations of the Divine truth, and work over again the works of God. Therefore, let Him have His way with you that He may make known to others through you His ways of grace, and power, and victory, and blessing. (J. H. Vincent.)
The Lord is merciful and gracious.
The mercy of God
I. Define the idea of mercy. It is the exercise of a Divine benevolence in respect to a guilty being, and such an exercise, that if it had been wholly wanting, no just judgment could ever have impeached the benevolence of God. Mercy is the intervention of gratuitous goodness. It is benevolence, bending in pity and compassion over the very creature, whose guiltiness has deserved the everlasting abandonment of Heaven.
II. Guard against an error in relation to it. The error we wish you to avoid consists precisely in the difference there is between the notions of Divine Mercy entertained by an intelligent and humble Christian, and those entertained by unconverted sinners at ease in their sins. When we speak of the pre-eminence of Divine Mercy, we are speaking of that thing which we, as Christians, feel to be of all things most calculated to make us fear and hate sin. We see it does not render the Deity indifferent to His laws; it does not infringe upon His justice, or make Him less terrible, but more terrible, to all who will indulge themselves in sin. But still the Divine Mercy is pre-eminent. By this attribute God peculiarly shows Himself. If you did not pervert the Divine Mercy, you would feel it as an infinite attraction; you would find its solace reaching the deepest woes that ever trouble your agonized spirit.
III. Explain how it comes to pass that the mercy of God, which ought to affect our hearts so much, really does affect them, while unconverted, so little. The believer walks with God and lives in Christ. He sees God in all things, and all things in God. The influence, and a sweet and sensible influence of the perfections of God, all His perfections, comes over the renewed heart. An unregenerated heart fails in this. And it fails in a very remarkable manner to be affected by the Divine mercy. There are several things which conspire together to cause this.
1. The first is found in the nature of mercy itself. Sin in the human heart tends always and uniformly (when the heart is unaffected by the Divine Spirit) to put God out of mind.
2. The second cause is found in the fact that sin, in the human heart, has made its most perfect triumph over those very sensibilities which mercy aims to affect.
3. A third reason is found in the sufferings that fill the world; i.e. the ideas of irreligious people about these miseries give them a wrong idea of the Mercy of God. Let us not be materialists, to weigh nothing but dust and ashes, and the earthly felicity that springs out of them. Let us think as immortals--feel, hope, and fear, as immortals. Let us go out in our contemplations, and plant our feet on the borders of that unbounded field, as wide as eternity, and, by the mercy of God, as blissful as heaven; and then we shall not be tempted to think God’s mercy little and unworthy to be trusted, though He should give us but few joys here. He intends to give us but few. He means to show us that He cares very little about the dying bliss of this dying world. And if we understand His Word rightly, we shall understand that He mentions His earthly mercies to us, not on account of any value He puts upon them, but only as tokens and attractions to that infinite mercy which would save, eternally save, our sinful and immortal souls.
IV. Endeavour to gain some just ideas of the mercy of God.
1. Mercy is that attribute in which the Deity peculiarly delights. God loves to forgive sinners, to adopt them into His family, and to cheer them with His promises.
2. The great purpose of the Divine revelation is to disclose to us the mercy of God, and lead us to accept it. God has trusted His world to demonstrate His other attributes, but not to demonstrate His mercy. His mountains and His seas--His winds, His lightnings, and His thunders--His worlds wheeling in infinite space around His throne--suns, stars, and comets in their order--the existence and nature of this material universe, God has trusted to unfold to us His wisdom, His omnipotence, His justice. But the mercy of God has such a pre-eminence that He Himself must speak it out to us from His hiding-place in eternity!
3. Divine mercy is of such pre-eminence, that its method of operation is entirely singular, and unlike anything else which God Almighty does. It operates by the incarnation, life, and death of the eternal Son of God.
4. The promises of mercy in the Gospel are absolutely unlimited by human guilt. There is no crime so odious, no circumstances of sinning amidst light and warnings, and the strivings of the resisted Spirit, so aggravating as not to be pardonable, when the sinner sincerely turns to Jesus Christ. This is wonderful! Human reason could never have conjectured this. Human sentiments, without grace, never have anything like it.
5. The extent of the sinner’s guilt makes no difference about the readiness of His forgiveness--that the mercy of God will forgive him if he repents at any stage of his sin on this side of hell, with precisely the same facility and readiness! This is pre-eminence in mercy. It surpasses all the extent of human reason, human expectations, human sentiments and hopes. It not only reaches the greatest offences, but the greatest as readily as the least. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
The term mercy is derived from misericordia; a compound of miserans--pitying, and cor--the heart; or miseria cordis--pain of heart. The mercy of God, then, is the pity, the pain of His heart, inclining Him to pardon the guilty and succour the helpless. Grace is the twin-sister of mercy--gratuitous favour, unmerited bounty, benefit bestowed where there is no claim, blessing communicated without worthiness in the recipient.
I. Its beneficence. It is not an inert compassion, but communicative and bounteous. It flows forth a spontaneous stream from an infinite fountain. The air is not more free, nor the light more diffusive and impartial.
II. Its forbearance. “The Lord is slow to anger.” His “charity suffereth long and is kind”; and, though its patience is often abused by impenitence, it “is not easily provoked.” He delays punishment that He may lead to repentance; men pervert the delay into an occasion and encouragement of crime; and when He can justly delay no longer, He hurls His thunder with an averted face and a backward aim. He always warns before He smites; generally suspends the judgment long after the warning; then executes it gradually and by slow degrees, with frequent intervals of kindest indulgence, and arguments of unwearying love.
III. Its abundance. “The Lord is plenteous in mercy.” Wonderful words! “Mercy”--what music in those two syllables! There is no term of richer import in any language. It is sweeter than sympathy, more tender than charity, and lies deeper than the fountain of tears. The inspired writers adopt a variety of expedients to heighten its signification. Sometimes they connect an epithet with it, and we read of His “great mercy,” “tender mercy,” “loving mercy,” “abundant mercy,” “everlasting mercy.” Sometimes they couple another term with it, and we have “mercy and grace,” “mercy and truth,” “mercy and goodness,” “mercy and judgment,” “mercy and compassion.” Sometimes they employ the plural form “mercies”--to indicate the frequency, the variety, the endless modifications and adaptations, of this most engaging trait of the Divine character. Then the plural is intensified in the phrase “manifold mercies,” giving the idea of mercies wrapped up in mercies, a thousand contained in one. At last enumeration is outdone in “the multitude of His mercies” mercies numberless, thronging upon mercies unnumbered--a host to which the stars of heaven multiplied by all their beams of light could scarcely furnish a competent arithmetic. The apostle calls Jehovah “the God and Father of all mercies,” because He rejoiceth in His mercies as a father in his children; and tells us that “He is rich in mercy to all that call upon Him,” because no monarch ever dispensed his bounty so freely; and, though infinite in capacity, “full of mercy”--full as the ocean is of water, as the atmosphere of light. (J. Cross, D.D.)
He will not always chide: neither will He keep his anger for ever.
The Lord chiding His people
Text refers only, as does the whole psalm, to the children of God. They only can sing it. But though we are forgiven as rebels, He, when needful, chides and chastens us as children.
I. He will chide. He will be angry, though not for ever.
1. Why will He chide His dear children?
(1) Because if He did not do so, it would seem like winking at sin. See Eli and his sons.
(2) Others of the family would follow their evil example. If I knew a man living in sin and yet enjoying the light of God’s countenance, should I not conclude that I may do as he does, and fare well as he does?
(3) And what would the world say if God did not chide His sinful children? Shall it be said that the great Father of spirits does not enforce discipline in His own house?
(4) If He did not, the evil would lie festering in us, breeding I know not what of deadly mischief. And we should never humble ourselves at the Cross of Christ, as His rebukes lead us to do.
2. How does He chide?
(1) Often by means of the sin itself. They who sow it have to reap its harvest. See Lot’s history.
(2) Often by His providence. See Rebekah by loving Jacob.
(3) By the withdrawal of privileges. Assurance departs. The means of grace have no blessing in them. There is no joy in private prayer, no communion with God. Your prayers have lost their prevailing power. Influence over others. See David, and Shimei cursing him. Success in service all gone; no conversions, no edification. His Holy Spirit chides us, through the ministry of the Word. By the discipline of the Church; not the formal discipline so much as that which God Himself exercises. See Church at Corinth. Many cases which I shall never relate are written down in the tablet of memory with this verdict, “Removed by the discipline of God.” I have seen others blighted in fortune, chastened in body, and especially depressed in spirit as the result of grieving the Spirit of God in the Church. Church sins are surely visited with strifes.
3. When does God chide? Not for every sin. His Word does, but He does not actually chasten in the sense here intended. That is reserved for sins of which we will not repent. Anything like deliberate sin is sure to bring down the Father’s anger. See Nathan’s parable about David. Thus we have gazed at the black cloud, now see the silver lining.
II. He will not always chide.
1. This means that tie will not chide for every fault; nor will He chide long; He does not hold any grudge. Many men say, “I forgive you,” but it is only because they have not now the opportunity to pay you out. They will do so as soon as they can. Not so God. And there is no eternal wrath for a child of God. The Lord will soon leave off chiding, He will when we begin repenting: when we come to tears, then He will cease rebukes. When we put an end to sin, there shall be an end to chastening. But often not till the results of the sin as well as the sin itself shall have been removed. So was it with David.
2. Why does He thus leave off chiding? He would not have His children treated as slaves. Our spirits would fail altogether if He always chided. He will not crush our spirits. To chide too much might lead to other sins. Some parents, in driving out one devil, drive ten in. Not so our God.
3. Though God chide, He loves us as much as when He caresses them. He never loves to chide. Be comforted, therefore.
III. Inferences from the whole subject.
1. Consolation for Israel.
2. Ministers in their preaching must not always chide.
3. Nor parents with their children.
4. Nor masters with their servants.
5. Go, tell God’s love to His troubled ones. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He hath not dealt with us after our sins.
God’s mercy to sinners
I. The views which this declaration presents to us of the Divine conduct.
1. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve.
2. He has not dealt with us as He has dealt with others. This especially will be a reflection greatly beneficial to our minds, when we enumerate our mercies of a personal and relative kind--our mercies of a civil and religious kind--our mercies temporal and spiritual, the unexpected concurrence of events overruled by Divine Providence in our favour, the staying of the rough wind, in the day of His east wind.
3. His dealings towards us have always been mingled with mercy even in the severest dispensations.
II. The practical uses we should make of this declaration,
1. It should lead us faithfully to inquire what has been the effect of chastening and trial on us. Are we brought to humility, self-abasement, penitential sorrow?
2. The subject ought to excite adoring gratitude for the love, the patience, the wisdom, and the faithfulness of your Father in heaven.
3. Let the subject teach you to cherish humble confidence. Whatever be the issue of His conduct towards you, remember it must be for the best.
4. Let there be practical imitation of the Divine conduct in your judgment towards others--in your temper towards others--in your patience, forbearance, in your longsuffering, in your forgiveness. (J. Fletcher, D.D.)
The mercy of God
I. What have we deserved during the past year? We are painfully conscious that we have been guilty of “sins” and “iniquities,” heinous and aggravated because committed against light and knowledge. We have not deserved the least of God’s mercies. Let us be humble, penitent.
II. What have we received during the past year? The gifts of God to us are as innumerable as they are inestimable.
1. Think of temporal mercies--health, food, clothing, home, friends.
2. Think of spiritual mercies--Bible, Sabbath, sanctuary, means of grace, hope of glory.
III. What have we returned during the past year? The earth has received the showers and sunshine, and in return has given foliage, flowers, and fruits. Have our hearts and lives yielded fruit to the glory of God for all His goodness to us? Or have our hearts been like the barren rock or desert sands, giving no response or return for heavenly influences received? (F. W. Brown.)
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.
The doctrine of forgiving love is one of those necessaries of daily life, of which we may say that however frequently it be set before you, you would not tire of it. Therefore, in the simplest manner, we would speak of the great Gospel truth of the forgiveness of sins. Now, in our text which tells of it, notice--
I. The word of peculiarity. It is not all men who can say, “As far as . . . from us.” They are a specific people who can say this: they have felt the chidings of God in their conscience,--hence they say, “He will not always chide.” And they have been humbled into contrition, repentance and confession; hence they say, “Neither will He keep His anger for ever.” But they have tasted of God’s surprising mercy which baffles all human thought, and excites the adoring wonder of all who receive it, and hence come the words of our text. Can we all say them?
II. The word of positiveness. The psalmist does not indulge in vague hopes or fond wishes, but he declares that God “hath removed” our transgressions from us. He is quite sure about it. It is an actual fact. Now, there are many who think that we never can know in this world that we are forgiven. They are taught to go on asking for pardon as if they had never received it. But we are forgiven. Pardon is a fact, and there is nothing more sure to believers than this. It is far more presumptuous to pay respect to our own misgivings than to believe what God has so plainly said. How wretched it must be not to know: how can a man do anything whilst he is in doubt about whether he is forgiven? And we can be sure, for we have the plain word of God. Not the evidence of sense, for that may often deceive: and still more may feeling. But we have the evidence of God’s word. If I have trusted my soul with Jesus, then I am forgiven, and our text is true of me. And over and above the written word, God gives to believers the inward witness in the deep peace they feel in their souls. They may not be able to fix the date when they were forgiven, but whenever they look to the Cross and see the incarnate God bleeding thereon, they get a renewed assurance of complete absolution. Some love always to gaze upon their crucified Lord, as if they had never before looked upon Him. They stand and kiss those bleeding feet and look up to that dear face bedewed with drops of grief and that dear brow crowned with thorns, and say, “Thou art my Saviour! Dear lover of my soul, I rest in Thee.” Happy are they who can thus stand at the Cross.
III. Note the comprehensiveness of our text. I do not find any list of sins here. Only these two words, “our transgressions.” I am not skilful in matters of common law, but I remember hearing a lawyer make this remark about a man’s will, that if he were about to leave all his property to some one person, it would be better not to make a recapitulation of all that he had, but merely to state that he bequeathed all to his legatee, without giving a list of the goods and chattels, because in so doing he would be sure to leave some of them out. In one instance, a farmer who desired his wife to have all, recounted, as he thought, all his property; but he actually omitted to mention his largest farm and the very house in which they lived. Thus his attempt to be very particular failed, and his wife lost a large part of the property. Let us be thankful, then, that in our text God speaks in this broad way which takes in the whole compass of enumeration. “Our transgressions”--that sweeps them away all at once. Like as the Israelites saw with joy all their enemies dead upon the sea-shore. Not one of them left. Well might Miriam dance and sing.
IV. The perfection, the absolute perfection of the pardon. “As far as the east is from the west.” Who can tell how far that is? Not any distance measurable on this earth, or in our solar system. It is just infinite distance. That is how far God hath removed from us our sins. Some think that after men are pardoned they may yet go to hell. It does not seem to me worthy of a God or even a man. Poor is that pardon which may be followed by eternal torment. I have heard of the Duke of Alva pardoning a man, and then hanging him; but to think that God should do this! And God means by our text that He has forgotten our sins, so far has He put them away. “Your sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Note--
V. The ray of divinity, full of hope for us, in our text. It is God that thus forgives. God is the great remover of sin. No priest can do this, God alone.
VI. Its touch of personality. Our sins are removed not only from Himself, but “from us.” I sometimes see believers troubling themselves as if all their sins were laid up in an iron safe in some part of the Lord’s house. It is not so. They are all gone. See Zechariah’s vision of Joshua the priest. We moan and fret ourselves about what does not exist. I saw two men yesterday handcuffed to be taken off to prison. But suppose I had walked behind them, with my wrists close together, and had never opened my hands, nor stirred them, and said, “Alas! I committed, years ago, some wrong, and had handcuffs put upon me.” You would naturally says, “Well, but are they not taken off?” And I reply, “Yes, I have heard they are, but somehow, through habit, I go about as if I had them on.” Would not every one say, “The man’s insane”? But this is what we too often do as to our sins. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The believer separated from his sins
I. In what respects? He is separated from his sins as regards--
1. The sentence they procured--the sentence of death. What this sentence implies. How was it removed?
2. The power they wielded--that is, their reigning power. “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”
3. The alienation they caused. From God, hence from His favour, family, fellowship, kingdom.
4. The prospect they commanded. Of wrath to come, of exclusion from heaven, of endless destruction.
II. To what distance? “As far as the east is from the west”--one side of infinite space from the other--infinity intervenes.
1. An infinity of merit intervenes--the atoning merit of Christ’s sacrifice intervenes. What? How?
2. An infinity of rectitude intervenes--the rectitude of the Divine nature.
3. An infinity of faithfulness intervenes--God’s faithfulness to His word, covenant, purpose.
4. An infinity of love intervenes--God’s love, which is infinite, eternal, unchangeable, sovereign. All these infinities must be exhausted and cease to exist before his sins can be reunited to the believer. Learn--
(1) That separation from sin is necessary to admission into heaven. “There shall in nowise,” etc.
(2) That the separation here described is the work of God--of His grace, righteousness, word, spirit.
(3) That separation from sin requires active exertion on our part. “Work out,” etc.
(4) That the separation we have been considering is the privilege of only true believers. (N. Macdonald.)
No Eastern or Western poles
The distance from north to south is measurable. In every sphere there are north and south poles--both fixed points; and on the earth the distance between them is about twelve thousand miles. So that had the psalmist said, “As far as the north is from the south,” our conceptions would have been thus limited. It is otherwise with the east and the west. There are no eastern and western poles. From every point alike in the circuit of the world, the east extends in one direction, the west in the other. Thus, the traveller westward, for example, might be said to be for ever chasing the west without coming nearer to it. The psalmist himself might not have known this astronomical fact; yet, regarding his words as dictated by the Spirit of God, we are surely permitted to read them in the light of modern science, and so to discern in them the most forcible illustration that can be imagined of the illimitable distance to which God has removed the iniquities of His people. (Cyclop. of Nature Teachings.)
Forgiveness a delightful remembrance
Like some black rock that heaves itself above the surface of a sun-lit sea, and the wave runs dashing over it; and the spray, as it falls down its sides, is all rainbowed and lightened; and there comes beauty into the mighty grimness of the black thing; so a man’s transgressions rear themselves up, and God’s great love, coming sweeping itself against them and over them, makes out of the sin an occasion for the flashing more brightly of the beauty of His mercy, and turns the life of the pardoned penitent into a life of which even the sin is not pain to remember. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.
The tender pity of the Lord
With a text from the Old Testament, I purpose to take you straight away to the New, and the tenderness and pitifulness of the Father shall be illustrated by the meekness and lowliness of the Son towards His immediate disciples, the apostles. While the Holy Spirit shows you thus the pity of Jesus Christ towards His own personal attendants, you will see as in a glass His pity towards you.
I. The Divine patience of our Lord Jesus towards the apostles. He kept no register of their faults, He never rehearsed the list of their shortcomings, but, on the contrary, His main rebuke was His own perfect example, and He ever treated them as His friends and brethren. Think of this, and you will see in Christ Jesus that “like as a father pitieth his children,” etc. Much forbearance He had with their lack of understanding. The apostles, before Pentecost, were very gross and unspiritual in judgment. Their eyes were holden in more senses than one. Many a master would have grown weary of such pupils, but infinite love brought to its succour infinite patience, and He continued still to teach them though they were so slow to learn. “Like as a father pitieth,” etc. He taught them humility by His humility; He taught them gentleness by His gentleness; He did not point out their defects in words, He did not dwell upon their errors, but He rather let them see their own spots by His purity, their own defects by His perfection. Oh, the marvellous tenderness of Christ, who so paternally pitied them that feared Him!
II. The reasons of this Divine patience in the case of our Lord. Doubtless we must find the first reason in what He is. Our Lord was so greatly good that He could bear with poor frail humanity. When you and I cannot bear with other people it is because we are so weak ourselves. I would to God we could copy His love and borrow His “meekness so divine.” He bore with them and pitied them because of His relationship to them. He had loved them as He has loved many of us, “from before the foundation of the world.” He was their Shepherd, and He pitied the diseases of His flock; He was their “brother born for adversity,” and He stooped to be familiar with their frailties. Another reason for His patience was His intention to become perfect as the Captain of our salvation, through suffering. In order that He might be a complete High Priest, and know all the temptations of all His servants, He bears with the infirmities and sins of His disciples whom He could have perfected at once if He had willed, but whom He did not choose to perfect because He desired to reveal His tender pity towards them, and to obtain by experience complete likeness to His brethren. Did He not also do this that He might honour the Holy Spirit? If Jesus had perfected the apostles, they would not have seen so manifestly the glory of the Holy Ghost. Until the Holy Ghost was come, what poor creatures the eleven were! but when the Holy Ghost was given, what brave men, what heroes, how deeply instructed, how powerful in speech, how eminent in every virtue they became! It is the object of Jesus Christ to glorify the Spirit, even as it is the design of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ in our hearts.
III. The teaching to de derived from this patience.
1. If the Lord had thus had pity upon you as He had on His apostles, do ye even so to others. Look at the bright side of your brother, and the black side of yourself, instead of reversing the order as many do. Remember there are points about every Christian from which you may learn a lesson. Look to their excellences, and initiate them. Think, too, that small as the faith of some of your brethren is, it will grow, and you do not know what it will grow to. Though they be now so sadly imperfect, yet if they are the Lord’s people, think of what they will be one day.
2. In your own case, have firm faith in the gentleness and forbearance of Christ. Think of how gentle He was with the apostles, and remember He is the same still. Change of place has not changed His character. The exaltations of heaven have not removed from Him the tenderness of His heart; He will accept you still. (C H. Spurgeon.)
The Divine pity
No word better brings home the truth of Divine lovingkindness than pity--the pity of the Lord. There is love and mercy shown in passing by our sin, and forgiving us; but it is the love shown in the pity of the Lord that touches us most directly, and at once reaches the quick of our nature. And the reasons for this are not difficult to understand.
I. The pity of God is condescending love. It is the love of one who is infinitely our superior. Abject penitence on the one hand, and reliance upon the Divine compassion on the other--that is the truest and best relation in which the sinner and God can stand.
II. The pity of God is understandable. The pity of God is most welcome to us, because it is that which best corresponds to our own thoughts concerning ourselves. It is true, we are unworthy; and so unworthy, the very thought of it often repels us from God and makes us ashamed to seek His forgiveness and help; but we can say very sincerely that, however great our sins may be, there is need so great, weakness and helplessness so great, that, apart from our deserts, we ought to be the objects of the pity of a compassionate and loving God.
III. God’s interest in humanity. The wounds of the patriot who has bled for his country become eloquent appeals to his countrymen if he come to be in want; the distresses of the poor become appeals to our hearts, even when they are brought about by their own sin. In the hour of distress we fail to be judges. There is only one feeling of compassion to a fellow-creature in distress. Shall not God be as much moved by the sight of human need as we are? (James Ross.)
Our heavenly Father’s pity
I. The displays of this pity.
1. God pities His children, in all their ignorance; He is not angry with them, nor doth He speak sharply to them; but He leadeth them on by His Spirit, until they understand His truth, and receive His Word.
2. What pity has the Lord had upon you and me, in all our wanderings.
3. In actual transgressions and downright sin.
4. In sickness.
5. In all our manifold trials, of whatever kind they are, and from whatever quarter they proceed
6. Sometimes God’s people have wrongs; and a father pities his children, if they have wrongs that are unrevenged. There never was a wrong done to one of God’s people that God did not avenge; there has never been an ill deed done towards them yet but He hath punished the doer of it.
II. The spirit of God’s pity.
1. There is no contempt in it.
2. It is not the pity of inaction.
3. It is not the pity of mere sensitiveness. Go to Him now if you are poor; tell Him all your care, and see if He will not help you. Go and try Him, for His pity is a heavenly pity; it is the very nard of Paradise, that healeth sores effectually.
III. The people whom God pities. “The Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” Oh, that ye would tremble at His presence; and, then, oh, that ye could know yourselves to be His children, and fear Him as children do their parents! Oh, that ye did reverence His name, and keep His Sabbaths! Oh, that ye did obey His commandments, and have His fear ever before your eyes! Then should your peace be like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. It is like that of a tender and merciful father. 1 He forbears summary punishment.
2. He encourages us when we try to serve Him.
3. He ceases to chastise when chastisement has accomplished the purpose for which it was sent.
II. Why God shows such pity to His children.
1. It is His character to be pitiful.
2. He feels to us as a Father. (W. Handcock.)
The best need the pity of God
It is like tolling the death-knell of all our pride to talk about God pitying us. Why, we shed our pity profusely upon the ungodly; we are often pitying the wicked, the profane, the blasphemer, the Sabbath-breaker; but here we find a God pitying us. Even David, the mighty psalmist, is pitied; a prophet, a priest, a king, each of these shall have pity from God, for “He pitieth them that fear Him,” and finds good reasons for pitying them, however high their station, however holy their character, or however happy their position. We are pitiable beings. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A father’s great love
How much a father loves his son is shown in the story of the nobleman who went all the way from Capernaum to Cana for the sake of his boy. The other day an American father gave the great Austrian, Dr. Lorenz, £6,000 to make his crippled daughter able to walk. Many other fathers and mothers brought their children to this great doctor, and he treated as many of them as he had time to do. We never know how much our parents love us until we are sick or in danger. Then it is mother who sits by our bed and never goes to sleep until the danger is over. Then it is father who thinks no toil or sacrifice too great for his darling boy or girl. (Freeman.)
For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.
God’s perfect knowledge and merciful consideration of our frame
I. The nature of the human frame.
1. The body.
(1) Its wants and necessities.
(2) Its weakness.
(3) Its pains and sicknesses.
(4) Its mortality.
2. The soul, as in union with the body.
(1) The disadvantage arising from hence to that faculty of the soul which we call the understanding; the foundation of all the excellency and glory of man, but liable to be sadly confined, clouded and even distracted by the alterations that happen in the temperature of the body.
(2) Being united to a fleshly body, the soul is beset and agitated by a variety of passions, that are not natural to it, and yet could not more vex and influence it if they were.
(3) The consequence of all the rest is, that the embodied soul has a great many difficulties to struggle with and surmount, in the steady exercise of virtue and piety, in the regular exercises of devotion, and in maintaining its integrity and faithfulness to the end of this mortal life.
II. God’s knowledge of the human frame.
1. Immediate and direct.
2. Perfect. He sees us through and through, without and within. This perfect knowledge of God extends not to some actions only, but to all; not only to our external actions, but even those which pass no further than the mind itself; its thoughts, and purposes, and affections; its least tendencies to good or evil; and the degree of good or evil in each.
III. God’s compassionate regard to the nature and weakness of our frame in all His dealings with those that fear Him.
1. He does not expect that they should new-model and alter their frame. This is absolutely out of their power, and therefore no part of their duty.
2. God, who knoweth our frame, requires no other measures of virtue, obedience, and devotion, than are proportioned to the nature He hath given us, and the state and circumstances of being in which we are placed.
3. He knoweth our frame, and therefore does not willingly afflict and grieve us, not for His pleasure but for our profit, and that we may be made partakers of His holiness. And when He sees it necessary to correct us, it is in measure, and for no longer time than is expedient.
4. Out of a merciful regard to our frame, and remembrance that we are but dust, our gracious God grants us all that assistance and support and consolation of which we stand in need.
5. Remembering that we are dust (as liable to be swept out of the world as dust is to be scattered and blown away by the wind), He watches over us with a most tender care, and preserves us in life, as long as His own glory and our interest requires it.
IV. The ground or reason of that mercy which God exercises towards them that fear Him. He has the relation of a father to us, and the affection of a father for us; the affection or love without any of the imperfections attending it in earthly parents. Application.
1. Since the words of the text are designed not only for the consolation of those that fear God, they that do not fear Him have nothing to do with the comfort they administer, as long as they continue in their sins.
2. This should make us more favourable in our censures of the characters and actions of others, than we too commonly are.
3. Let such as truly fear God often revolve the subject of this discourse in their thoughts: it would be of great use to them, by affording them ground of caution on the one hand, and of comfort and encouragement on the other.
(1) Let me consider that I am dust, and from hence learn not to boast of anything I call mine, or to presume upon it: for, alas! what is anything merely human as such? human life, or reason, or virtue, or any other accomplishment? how weak the foundation! how uncertain the tenure!
(2) The comfort which the same consideration yields to persons of integrity is very great, and very apparent. Does not my heart condemn me, as wanting sincerity? I may, then, have confidence towards God, that He will not condemn me for the want of perfection: all my desire is before Him, and my groaning is not hid from Him. As He knoweth my most secret sins, so my sorrow for them, and my conflicts with them. As He knoweth all my weaknesses, so He knoweth how to pity them, and is both willing and able to help them. He will proportion my burdens to my strength, or my strength to my burdens. (H. Grove.)
God remembers man’s weakness
1. God is absolutely faithful in all His dealings with us. He treats us as just such creatures as we really are. He remembers that we are dust. But He remembers, too, what is in this dust: our insignificance in connection with our immortality, our powers and capacities of spirit. He therefore does not despise, but pities us. “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” And this knowledge of our frailty is given as the occasion of His compassion, “For He knoweth our frame,” etc. It is thus contrast in us which stirs the Divine heart. I never had my sympathy more excited than once when I found a man, of superb education and talent, doing the most menial tasks, in order to get food and raiment. Had he been a boor, of spirit in keeping with his condition, he would have hardly awakened a passing thought. And if man’s soul were as limited as his bodily condition, as the materialist says, only “animated dust,” God would have evinced no such concern, for there would have been no occasion for it. It is the reflection of God’s own image in human nature, spirituality, that might glow at His throne, confined in clay, an incorruptible chrysalized in corruption, that brings the Divine to bow in solicitude over us.
2. But the Divine compassion is not of the nature of comfort in our perishing condition, to sustain us until all is over. He does not let us perish. Note the contrast in a succeeding verse, “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him.” How many once familiar faces I miss! Others are getting ready to fold up the tent of the flesh and disappear over the horizon of time. I shall soon miss others, or you will miss me; but not much. Lord Macaulay, speaking of the death of Wilberforce, says, “I was truly fond of him. And how is that? How very little the world misses anybody! If I were to die to-morrow, not one of the fine people with whom I dine every week will take the less on Saturday at the table to which I was invited to meet them . . . And I am quite even with them . . . There are not ten people in the world whose deaths would spoil my dinner; but there are one or two whose deaths would break my heart.” Macaulay was not hard-hearted, only plain-spoken, to say that, for it is true of all of us. God alone follows us with His solicitous care when we leave the world. If we have accepted His companionship, and walked with Him on earth, He will conduct us for ever in the land of His rest.
3. The expression, “God remembereth that we are dust,” suggests that the plan of salvation which He has devised for us may be easily understood. If we were fallen angels, with powerful intellects, accustomed to solve eternal mysteries, glowing, like stars in this, our nether firmament, and with vast moral energies, and ages in which to perform, I can imagine that God would have given us a very different and immensely fuller scheme of doctrine and duties than He has given. But remembering that so brief is life that we can know but little, He has flashed the saving truth before our souls, so that he may run that reads. Behold the consideration of God in telling us, so simply and vet so clearly, all we need to know; and telling it in such a way that it falls into the heart as easily as light through a window into your dwelling, if you will only make your heart walls transparent with sincerity.
4. God, “remembering that we are dust,” has given a religion which may be readily accepted. We have no time to transform our natures by any process of development in virtue, by the evolution of any slight germ of spirituality we may have within us, for have we the strength any more than the leaves now dropping from the trees in the winter winds have strength of growth to grow into a forest? Some of you have tried it; ten, twenty, thirty years have been spent in the honest attempt to make over your lives, refine your dispositions, spiritualize your natures. But you will confess that you have made hardly perceptible progress; perhaps have only felt more strangely the downward current in your attempt to buffet it.
5. Behold the loving consideration of God, in making, not the complete renovation of heart and life the condition of salvation, but simple faith and repentance, and the acceptance of the peace of the Spirit, which transforms the nature. I cannot revive myself, lying as a poor, drooping, dying plant; but I can give myself up to the showers of heaven which quicken me. I can accept of immortality with the gasp of my mortality. (J. M. Ludlow, D.D.)
The pity of the Lord
The pity of the Lord is here said to spring out of His knowledge and His memory; but if He were not pitifully inclined towards the frail children of the dust, no amount of knowledge and memory could in themselves originate in Him the sweet qualities of tenderness and mercy. A hard man may fully know and well remember the sorrows and afflictions of his neighbours, and yet feel no pity, and exercise no benevolence. Even the fact that such an one is a father is no absolute security here; for there are fathers without natural affection, who harden their hearts against their children, and close their doors against their own flesh and blood. As to the limitation that is here, “them that fear Him,” there need be no thought for a moment of narrowness or exclusiveness; for if the Lord pitied only those who fear Him, what would have become of us when we feared Him not? “He knoweth our frame,” for He hath made it. He, and He alone, understands the mystery of life, and the invisible link that binds together the body and the spirit, the silver cord which, being loosened, ends the feast of life so far as this present world is concerned. He “knoweth our frame,” too, for He has taken part with us in our very flesh in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself took part in the same.” “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” He knows the weakness of our flesh, for He Himself was weak; when shrinking from the Cup He said, “ If it be possible, let it pass,” while yet, in the impossibility of love’s failure, it passed not. “Could ye not watch with Me one hour?” not one brief hour? “Verily, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We are but dust. He knows it, and by the experience of His humanity remembers it. He knows, too, the strength of our temptation, matched, and, alas! sometimes overmatched, against this weakness, and He will not burden us above our strength; or if even for wise ends this should be, and we should faint and fall, we shall be sure still of His pity, for He “knoweth our frame.” (J. W. Lance.)
God’s individual care
The historian tells us that the great Duke of Wellington, who was known as the Iron Duke, before one of his earliest campaigns had a soldier with his full marching equipment accurately weighed. Knowing what one soldier of average strength had to carry, he could judge how far his army might be called to march without breaking down. Our Heavenly Father does not deal in averages. With infinite wisdom and love He cares individually for us. (L. A. Banks, D.D.)
As for man, his days are as grass.
We have here presented man’s existence in relation to--
I. The material and the moral.
1. His relation to the material. Like the flower--
(1) He springs out of the earth.
(2) He is sustained by the earth.
(3) He returns to the earth.
2. His relation to the moral. Inside this flame of organized dust there is a spirit that can reverence the Infinite, that can keep His covenant and attend to His precepts. Herein is the glory of man’s nature. The power to do this is His distinction; the willingness to do this is his glory.
II. The temporary and the eternal.
1. The connection of all men with the earth is temporary (verses 15, 16). The wind of mortality is ever breathing through the human world, and men like flowers wither every hour, aye, every minute.
2. The connection of good men with mercy is eternal (verses 17, 18; Isaiah 54:10). (Homilist.)
The lessons o/autumn
There is a pensiveness in this season, which surely all must feel, and which must dispose all, except the most thoughtless, to some degree of reflection. It would be strange if we could stand amidst the decay, which is now so rapidly advancing, without being led by it into some train of meditation, favourable to religious feeling; and without receiving impressions calculated to make us wiser and better.
I. The frail and fleeting nature of man (verses 15, 16; Psalms 90:5-6; Isaiah 64:6; Isaiah 40:6-7; Job 14:2; James 1:10). The place which we now occupy was once occupied by others, but it knows them no more; and soon it will know nothing of us. Our occupation will be gone--our daily doings will have ceased--our history will have come to its close. To fix our wishes on earth, would be to doom them to certain disappointment; it would be like putting our goods into a dwelling which we knew the next hour would be burned unto the ground--trusting our treasure to a vessel which we knew would go to pieces in the coming storm.
II. The enduring nature of the mercy of God (verses 17, 18; 1 John 2:17; John 6:27; Matthew 24:35). Why, then, need we be depressed at the thought, that our days on earth are but as grass, and our joys but as the fading flowers of the field, since we may revive again, and become partakers of an “enduring substance” in a better world.
III. The character of those to whom this mercy will be shown. Although it is free in its offers, it is not indiscriminate in its gifts: although it is given gratuitously, it is not given unconditionally: although it is offered to all, it is not granted to all. (G. Bellett.)
If we consider ourselves as offenders in many things, which we all are, death is a just consequence of our transgressions; for it is fit and reasonable that disobedient creatures should be deprived of the powers which they pervert and abuse.
I. Our present state of mortality is upon many accounts convenient and useful.
1. It is convenient that we should die, because this world is a state of trial.
2. As the consideration of death hath a tendency to deter us from vice, it consequently prevents some disorders, and makes us live together in society better than we else should pass our days.
3. It is also convenient that we should die, because the future recompenses of obedience are of a spiritual nature.
4. Another reason why it is convenient that we should die, is, that our obedience at best being defective, death prepares us for the next state, and excites in the soul thoughts and inclinations which ought to accompany it at its entrance into the world of spirits, and into the presence of its Maker.
5. It is not only convenient, but desirable and profitable, that we should die, if death conducts us to life eternal.
6. If by obedience and perseverance we secure to ourselves an inheritance in the Kingdom of God, when that promised time shall come, and this corruptible shall have put on incorrutption, the remembrance of our former earthly state, and of all its inconveniences, may probably add to our happiness; and then it will be good for us that we once were mortal creatures.
II. The methods which we must use, to allay and restrain those immoderate fears of death, which are blameable, and which also render life itself, with all its conveniences, dull and comfortless.
1. Frequent thoughts of our latter end will assist to produce this good effect.
2. Another way of reconciling ourselves to death is to consider it as unavoidable.
3. Another consideration tending to make us more willing to die, is, that it is common to all.
4. The troubles of life, rightly considered, may help to remove a great dislike of death. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
As a flower of the field.--
What the flowers say
(Flower Service):--Let us listen to the preaching of the flowers today. What do they say to us? One thing they all say is--“trust God.” God takes care of the flowers, and sends them dew, and rain, and sunshine, and fresh air, and they tell us that the same God who cares for them cares also for us. And next, I think, all the flowers say to us, “thank God.” See how the daisies in the meadow seem to look up thankfully to God. Some one says that God smiles on the earth, and that the earth smiles back again with its flowers. Next, the flowers say to us, “be contented.” They are quite satisfied to grow, and smell sweet, and look pretty, in the place where God puts them. Now, just as God plants the flowers in a certain place, some up high on the hills, others down low in the valley; some in the Queen’s greenhouse, others in the cottager’s garden, so He puts you children in your right place. Another thing which all the flowers tell us is this, “remember that you must die.” When the autumn and winter come we say the flowers are dead because we cannot see them. But the flowers are not really dead. They are sleeping in the earth till the spring comes again. God has put them to bed in the warm ground, and when the proper time comes they will waken up. Just what God does to the flowers He does to us. What else do the flowers say to us? I think they say, “keep in the sunshine, be happy.” You always find that flowers are on the sunny side of things. So ought we to be. There is another thing which the flowers say to us--“Be sweet.” There is nothing so delicious as to go into a flower garden after a warm shower, and to smell the sweet scents. Well, God has sent you into the garden of this world to be sweet like the flowers. Some children are regular stinging nettles in a home, or a school. They always make people uncomfortable. They sting with their tongues, and they sting with their looks and their tempers. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M.A.)
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
The autumn wind: an emblem of death
I. The autumn wind works gradually. Blade by blade, the herbs wither under its influence; and leaf by leaf, the tree is stripped of its foliage. Thus on gradually until all is dust. So death works gradually. “We die daily.”
II. The autumn wind works universally. It is on all herbage, in all forests, it withers all, sows death everywhere. All are dying, individuals, families, nations, the whole generation.
III. The autumn wind works insidiously. Only occasionally does it come with the rush of violence, and scatter the leaves. Quietly, invisibly, insidiously it works. So does death. It is working in their systems when men are utterly unconscious of it. “The wind passeth over it and it is gone.” And when the wind of death passeth over us, we are gone, gone for ever. (Homilist.)
We shall sleep none the less sweetly, though none be talking about us over our heads. The world has a short memory, and, as the years go on the list that it has to remember grows so crowded that it is harder and harder to find room to write a new name on it, or to read the old. The letters on the tombstones are soon erased by the feet that tramp across the churchyard. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him.
Man and mercy
Verses 15-19 form a beautiful contrast between man’s life and God’s mercy.
I. There is a contrast in their strength.
1. Man’s life is weak. All men in all places and at all times are like grass, and will soon pass away. But the mercy of the Lord is not weak, feeble, and easily consumed; it is almighty. The almightiness of mercy is proved by its wonderful achievements.
2. Man’s life is a disappointment. “As for man, his days are like grass.” Grass soon withers away. Such is human life. It is frail, and full of disappointments. But God’s mercy is everlastingly green.
II. A contrast in their beauty. (Isaiah 40:6). This figure refers to human beauty. The apostle calls the beauty of man his glory (1 Peter 1:24). Man’s glory is his health, energy, beauty, talent, wisdom. His vigour is soon gone; his beauty fades, his wisdom ceases. But “the beauty of the Lord”--the beauty of holiness--the beauty of mercy never fades away.
III. A contrast in their duration.
1. Man cannot carry out his designs after death, but mercy executes her plans independent of his presence.
2. Mercy distributes her invaluable blessings among families throughout all generations. (Homilist.)
The character and privileges of God’s people
I. Their character.
1. They fear Him. By this we are to understand obedience to all the duties of religion.
2. They keep His covenant. This implies that they walk agreeably to their baptismal and Lord’s Supper engagements; that they resist the devil, the world, and the flesh.
3. They remember His commandments to do them.
II. The privileges of God’s people are innumerable, and are almost all summed up in this one word mercy. They are all summed up in Christ.
1. Original mercy. This, in God, is like a fountain that runs night and day--that is never diminished or dried up.
2. Communicative mercy. It is over all God’s works. Since the earth was created, it has been full of temporal and spiritual mercies.
3. Tender mercy coming from the heart. It is exercised towards miserable objects, immediately and in the very time of need.
4. Free in its exercise towards us, without any deserving on our part.
5. Great mercy. God is “plenteous in mercy; rich in mercy”; abundant in mercy; He has manifold mercies; He keeps mercies for thousands (Exodus 34:7).
6. Infinite mercy. Far above the heavens (Isaiah 55:7; Isaiah 55:9). Deeper than the sea (Micah 7:19).
7. Eternal mercy. His compassion fails not; “His mercy endureth for ever.”
1. Those who have experienced this mercy are happy. Finding the end of this mercy is like finding the end of a ring--impossible.
2. Those who have never experienced this mercy are truly miserable. (James Kidd, D.D.)
The mercy of the Lord to the children of those who fear Him
The word “righteousness” here, as in many other places, is equivalent to mercy or beneficence; and the ever-enduring lovingkindness of our God, described in the first clause as from everlasting to everlasting, is in the second more precisely defined, as continued to the children’s children of those who fear Him. The Almighty hath done nothing in vain. Every power, every affection of the human soul, is implanted in it by Him for some valuable end, and is operated on by the means which His wisdom hath appointed for carrying forward our improvement here, and accomplishing our preparation for happiness hereafter. Of those principles, there is no one more universal, more powerful, or more obviously beneficial, than parental affection. In the inferior animals, with whom it is merely instinctive, it exercises a power to which every other habit and propensity seems to be subordinate. Under its dominion the most ferocious become mild and gentle, the most fearful, fierce and daring in the defence of their offspring, the feeblest and most indolent, indefatigable in providing for their subsistence. By its operation, the living tribes of earth are, in almost each individual instance, trained up to maturity, and prevented from perishing from off the surface of the globe. In man, especially when he is enlightened and civilized, it assumes a loftier bearing, and holds a more important place. When it is guarded by religious principle and sound judgment from the abuses to which all the feelings of mortality are liable, when it is purified and refined by the sacred and endearing habits of domestic life, and hallowed by the hope of immortality, it triumphs over every selfish inclination, and connects the successive generations of men by ties equally blessed to the present and the future inhabitants of earth. It is obvious, that under the diversified government of God, this, like every other principle, is made to produce the most valuable fruits. His providence employs it to control selfishness, to restrain turbulent passion, to draw forth useful exertion from the individual, to supply a most powerful motive for acting uprightly and honourably. Yet it is not only by its direct operation that parental love influences the human mind for good. The Almighty appeals to it in His Word as a motive to cherish godly fear and holy obedience. To mankind He holds out a blessing on their posterity, as a most powerful incentive to compliance with the requisitions of His law (Exodus 20:5-6; Genesis 22:17-18; Psalms 112:1-2). Though the Christian revelation, in directing our views to another and a better world, renders the vicissitudes of this life less marked and less momentous, still an attentive observer may discern the fulfilment of this gracious declaration in the ordinary and general course of human affairs. You see the unsullied fame of the parent descend on the son and recommend him to notice, confidence, and employment. Were it given you to enter more deeply into the counsels of the Almighty, and to trace more accurately than you now do the ways of His providence, you might behold proofs still more decisive of His righteousness to the children of His servants, in soothing their afflictions, in supplying their wants. Such views of the Divine procedure must fill our minds with admiration of the wisdom of Him by whom our souls and bodies were formed, and who governs and conducts us by laws and motives adapted to every branch of that nature in which He hath created us. In filling the hearts of parents with an indelible attachment to their children, He not only prompts them to those exertions which contribute so largely to the happiness and improvement of mankind, but renders them capable of appreciating, and disposed to comply with those inducements to obedience which are suggested by His promise of a blessing on their posterity. What parent who reflects can resist their influence? who, with a heart to feel, would not endeavour to keep His covenant and remember His commandments to do them, when assured that His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children? If there be one branch of Christian conduct in which, more than in another, it becomes you to be followers of God as dear children, it is in doing good to the children of those who have loved and served Him. In so doing you imitate those dispensations of His providence in which His unerring wisdom is most conspicuously displayed. You copy the most amiable and affecting manifestation of His fatherly benevolence. (D. Macfarlan, D.D.)
To such as keep His covenant.
Keeping the covenant
Saints are to look upon themselves as wholly the Lord’s, in opposition to all competitors. The Lord will not divide with rivals; if ye take Him these must go. The soul till it comes Within the covenant is in a restless case, like a bee going from flower to flower, or a bird from bush to bush; but when it is married to Christ it is settled with Him, and breaks its league with all others. Remember, the covenant ye have entered into is an offensive and defensive league. You are to have common friends and common foes with the Lord. His people must be your people, and His enemies your enemies. (Thomas Boston.)
The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens.
I. It recognizes God as the supreme governor of the universe (verse 19).
1. His government is absolute. His authority is not delegated, it is absolute.
2. His government is universal. “It is in the heavens,” over all. As the heavens encompass the earth, His government embraces the universe, over all matter and over all mind, over all loyal citizens and all rebels, all heavens and all hells.
II. It is enthusiastically interested in the universe and its God.
1. It is enthusiastically interested in the universe. “Bless the Lord, ye His angels,” etc. “All His hosts,” etc. “His ministers,” etc. “All His works,” etc. “ In all places.”
2. It is enthusiastically interested in the universe because of its God. Piety is supreme love to God; and hence its supreme desire is that all should love and praise Him. If I love an artist, I am interested in his painting. If I love a father, I am interested in his children. If I love God, I have a deep interest in His universe.
III. Although it gives an enthusiastic interest in the universe, it does not deaden the sense of individual responsibility. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Though I may wish the whole creation to praise Him, let me not forget that I am bound to do so for myself. (Homilist.)
The dominion of God
Jehovah’s dominion is here proclaimed as universal.
I. Some general propositions for the clearing and confirming this glorious fact.
1. We must know the difference between the power of God and His authority. As God is Lord, He hath a right to enact: as He is Almighty, He hath a power to execute. His strength is the executive power belonging to His dominion.
2. All the other attributes of God refer to this perfection of dominion. His goodness fits Him for it, because He can never use His authority but for the good of the creatures. His wisdom can never be mistaken in the exercise of it; His power can accomplish the decrees that flow from His absolute authority.
3. This of dominion, as well as that of power, hath been acknowledged by all. It is stamped upon the conscience of man, and flashes in his face in every act of self-judgment.
4. This notion of sovereignty is inseparable from the notion of God (Hebrews 11:6).
II. Wherein the dominion of God is founded.
1. On the excellency of His nature. God being an incomprehensible ocean of all perfection, and possessing infinitely all those virtues that may lay a claim to dominion, hath the first foundation of it in His own nature. On this account God claims our obedience (Isaiah 46:9; Jeremiah 10:6-7).
2. In His act of creation. He is the sovereign Lord, as He is the almighty Creator.
3. As God is the final cause, or end of all, He is Lord of all (Proverbs 16:4; Revelation 4:11).
4. The dominion of God is founded upon His preservation of things (Psalms 95:8; Psalms 95:4).
5. The dominion of God is strengthened by the innumerable benefits He bestows upon His creatures (Isaiah 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
III. The nature of this dominion.
(1) In regard of freedom and liberty. Thus creation is a work of mere sovereignty; He created, because it was His pleasure to create. Preservation is the fruit of His sovereignty. Redemption is the fruit of His sovereignty.
(2) In regard of unlimitedness by any law without Him. He is an absolute monarch, that makes laws for His subjects, but receives no rules nor laws from His subjects for the management of His government.
(3) In regard of supremacy and uncontrollableness. None can implead Him, and cause Him to render a reason for His actions (Ecclesiastes 8:4). It is an absurd thing for any to dispute with God (Romans 9:20). In all the desolations He works, He asserts His own supremacy to silence men (Psalms 46:10.
(4) In regard of irresistibleness. His word is a law; He commands things to stand out of nothing (2 Corinthians 4:6).
3. Yet this dominion, though it be absolute, is not tyrannical. If His throne be in the heavens, it is pure and good. This dominion is managed by the rule of wisdom, righteousness, goodness. His throne is a throne of holiness and of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
4. This sovereignty is extensive. God is King of all the earth, and rules to the ends of it.
IV. Wherein this dominion and sovereignty consists, and how it is manifested.
1. The first act of sovereignty is the making laws. This is essential to God; no creature’s will can be the first to rule the creature. Hence the law is called the royal law (James 2:8; Isaiah 33:22). The Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king.
2. His sovereignty appears in a power of dispensing with His own laws. Positive laws He hath reversed; as the ceremonial law given to the Jews; the very nature of that law required a repeal, and fell of course (Ephesians 2:14).
3. His sovereignty appears in punishing the transgression of the law.
4. His dominion is manifested as a governor as well as a lawgiver.and proprietor.
(1) In disposing of states and kingdoms (Psalms 75:7).
(2) In raising up and ordering the spirits of men according to His pleasure (Exodus 2:3-6; Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:5).
(3) In restraining the furious passions of men, and putting a block in their way.
(4) In defeating the purposes and devices of men (Job 5:12; Job 5:14).
(5) In the means and occasions of men’s conversion.
(6) In disposing of the lives of men.
1. How great is the contempt of this sovereignty of God.
2. How dreadful is the consideration of this doctrine to all rebels against God.
3. What matter of comfort and strong encouragement for prayer. (S. Charnock.)
The dominion of God
I. The proper characteristics by which the Divine dominion is distinguished.
1. It is founded upon unimpeachable right.
2. It occupies a vast extent.
3. It is regulated by infinite moral perfection.
4. It is destined to accomplish the noblest purposes.
(1) The glory of the Governor.
(2) The well-being and happiness of the governed.
5. It is established for perpetual duration.
II. The various obligations which the character of the divine government impresses universally on mankind.
1. Men are under obligation to render praise to God, by whom this dominion is exercised.
2. Men are under obligation to render obedience to the laws by which the Divine government is sustained.
3. We are under obligation to exercise confidence that all the events which transpire within the sphere of the Divine dominion must be managed wisely and for the best.
4. We are under obligation habitually and daily to anticipate those great purposes in connection with the government of our own world which yet remain to be fulfilled. (James Parsons.)
The Lord rules over all
The Lord rules over all. All things belong to His kingdom, and are under His dominion. Nothing is more plain and express in Scripture than both His reign and the extent of it. For the first, Psalms 93:1-2; Psalms 97:1-2, where we have His royalty, and His throne, and the basis of it; and Psalms 99:1. For the extent of it, see 1 Chronicles 29:11-12.
I. The act. To rule includes--
1. Authority (Romans 13:1; Revelation 1:5).
2. Power (Psalms 66:7; Revelation 19:6; Revelation 11:17).
3. The actual ordering and disposing of what is under Him, for the ends of government--the actual exercise of power and authority for this purpose. God is not like an artificer, who, when he has made a clock, and set it in order, and hanged weights upon it, leaves it to go of itself; but more like a musician, who, knowing his instrument will make no music of itself, does not only tune it, but actually touch the strings, for the making of that harmony which pleases him.
II. The object of subject of His government.
1. He rules both heaven and earth (Isaiah 66:1). The glory of His kingdom appears most in heaven, but the power of it reaches the earth, yea, and hell too. That is the proper place of rebels indeed; but He has them in chains, and shows that He is their ruler by executing justice upon them. They would not obey the laws of His government, and therefore the penalty is inflicted on them; and this is an act of government, as well as enacting laws and propounding or giving rewards.
2. He rules not only heaven and earth, but all the parts thereof; the whole world, and every part of it (Psalms 113:5; Col 1:16; 2 Chronicles 20:6; Daniel 5:20-21; Daniel 4:32; Daniel 4:34-35).
3. He rules not only great things, but small (Genesis 31:11-12). Things so mean and inconsiderable as we mind them not, judge them not worthy of our thoughts, care, or regard, they are all under the government of God, and He actually orders and disposes of them.
4. He rules not only all beings, but all motions (Acts 17:28).
5. He rules not only actions, but events, so that acts and undertakings have not such an issue as they promise or threaten, but such as the Lord pleases to order (1 Kings 20:11; Ecclesiastes 9:11).
6. He rules and orders not only the substance, but the circumstances of things and actions (1Sa 25:32; 1 Samuel 25:34; Matthew 2:5; Ezekiel 21:20-21).
7. He rules and disposes both end and means (Hosea 2:21-22; Isaiah 10:12; 1 Kings 17:1-24; 2 Kings 2:24).
3. He rules and disposes not only things orderly, but such as seem most confused (Genesis 45:4-8; Gen 1:50). The Lord once, out of chaos, brought a well-ordered world. He rules still; and can, when He pleases, out of mere confusion and darkness, bring forth a new heaven and a new earth, wherein righteousness may dwell.
9. He rules and orders things, both necessary and contingent or casual. Things necessary, such as proceed from necessary causes, which act in one certain uniform way, and cannot of themselves vary nor proceed otherwise; such are the course of the heavens, the eclipses of the luminaries, the seasons of the year, the ebbings and flowings of the sea. The Lord gave law to all these, and keeps them to the observance of it, yet overrules them, and gives them other orders when He pleases. The Red Sea and Jordan are evidences that He who rules all can overrule anything. So things contingent and casual, which fall out uncertainly or accidentally, which those who know not God ascribe to chance and fortune, the Lord orders them, they fall out as He pleases.
10. He rules and orders not only that which is good, but that which is evil and sinful (Psalms 118:12; Acts 14:19).
(1) He limits and bounds it, so that it proceeds not so far as Satan and the depraved will of man would have if.
(2) He overrules it to good ends, and disposes it to excellent purposes (Acts 4:27-28; Acts 2:23).
11. He rules things natural and voluntary.
(1) Natural, such as have their next causes in nature, the hand of God rules them, as in thunder and lightning (Job 37:2-3); wind and rain (Jeremiah 10:13; Psalms 148:7).
(2) But more particularly He rules things voluntary; such are intelligent and rational beings. Man in special is the subject of His government. He takes order about His conception, formation, and birth (Job 10:9-11; Psalms 139:14-16). He fixeth the period of his life, and determines how many his days shall be upon earth (Job 14:5). He orders what his state and condition shall be while he lives (Psa 75:6-7; 1 Samuel 2:7-8; Psalms 113:7-8). He rules the mind and heart (Proverbs 21:2; Psalms 119:36; Psalms 105:25). No heart so obstinate but He can bend it; none so fast closed but He can open it (Acts 16:4).
III. The mode of God’s government.
1. It is a supreme sovereignty. He that rules over all has none above Him, none co-ordinate with Him, none but such as are below Him, indefinitely below Him, none but what are subjected to Him, and under Him at an infinite distance.
2. He rules absolutely; His government is unlimited, for who can bound Him who rules over all?
3. He rules irresistibly. None can give check to His orders, nor hinder Him from accomplishing His pleasure (Isaiah 46:10-11; Daniel 4:35; Job 9:12-13).
4. He rules perfectly. There is not the least weakness or imperfection in His government, as there is in that of other rulers; nothing of error or mistake; nothing that the most excellent prudence would order otherwise; nothing defective for want of judgment as to things present, or want of experience as to things past, or want of foresight as to things to come; for He has all things, past, present, and to come, clearly before His eyes, in every act of government, and in His ordering of every particular (Psalms 147:5).
5. He rules all at once. The multiplicity of them is no more distraction to Him then if He had but one thing in hand.
6. He rules easily. He takes care of all without any solicitousness; He orders all, without any toil; He acts all, without any labour; he does it continually, without any weariness.
7. He rules continually. If He were but to withdraw His governing hand a moment, all the wheels of the great fabric of the world would stand still or fall to pieces. (D. Clarkson.)
The providence of God in the natural world
By the natural world, we understand the whole mass of matter, which is variously disposed into a multitude of shapes and forms, and different sorts of creatures, as sun, moon, and stars, air, earth, and sea; with all the vast variety with which they are stored, and by which they are inhabited. God’s providential kingdom is absolutely universal, and over all. But at present, consider the providence of God, as the preserver and sovereign disposer of all things, in the natural world only.
I. That there is a Providence, which presides over the whole course of nature, and all the world of creatures, may be argued--
1. From the perfections of God: and of those we need only single out His knowledge and His wisdom, His goodness and His power; for if we believe that God is infinitely possessed of such perfections as these, it will hardly be possible for us to stop short of believing His providence. For will not His wisdom and goodness incline Him to take care of His creatures, and govern them in the best manner?
2. Express testimonies of Scripture, for the proof of a Providence. It is said that God upholdeth all things; and that they continue according to His ordinance. “He appointeth the moon for seasons” (Psalms 104:19). He bringeth the winds out of His treasure (Psalms 104:24-25; Psalms 104:27). God is the supreme governor among the nations. This providence of God presides not only over great and important affairs, but it reaches to the minutest creatures (Matthew 10:29-30). I will only further hint to you one article of the doctrine of Providence, which we learn from Scripture, viz. that the kingdom of Providence is administered by Christ our Saviour. It is by Him that all things consist (Colossians 1:17). And to Him is all power given (Matthew 28:18). The whole administration of Providence, over all creatures, and all worlds, is committed into the hands of the Mediator, Jesus Christ; which speaks both the dignity of His person, and the safety and happiness of His friends and people.
3. Appeal to the appearance of things: to the frame of nature, and the continued order and harmony of the whole creation; where we have as good testimonies to a Providence, as to the very being of a God. Can it be only by chance, that day and night, and summer and winter so regularly succeed to one another? (Genesis 8:22).
II. Explain and illustrate the providence of God in the natural world, by some of the principal acts of it.
1. The providence of God is exercised in preserving His creatures.
(1) In the preservation of the several species or kinds of animal creatures; so that though all the individuals die, one after another, yet no species is lost out of the creation. And this is truly wonderful, if we consider what a natural enmity there is betwixt some animals and others, and with what diligence men have endeavoured, in all ages, to destroy some whole kinds of them. The due proportion of the various inhabitants of the world to one another, and especially of the males to the females, which is so constantly preserved throughout the animal creation, is a very sensible instance of providential care.
(2) God preserves them by His providence in their individual beings, until the end has been answered for which He made them. It is God that holdeth our soul in life. In Him we live. We are the living instances of Divine preservation: hitherto God has helped us. Nor is God’s providential care confined to man. “He heareth the young raven cry. Not a sparrow falls to the ground,” etc.
2. As God preserves, so He also disposes of, and governs His creatures and their actions by His providence.
(1) The inanimate creatures. He who fixed the laws of nature in the first creation, does still by His providence continue their force and power. Thus does God keep the springs of universal nature in His own hand, and turns them which way soever He pleaseth.
2. The whole animal creation. “The beasts of the forest are His, and the cattle upon a thousand hills;” they are all His creatures, and the subjects of His providence. What but a Providence could direct every beast, bird and insect where to seek its food and its habitation? Or teach every parent-animal how to take the properest care of its young? Or, what is it that conducts those birds, who shift their country and climate at certain seasons of the year, in their passage to some distant land, where multitudes of them never were before?
III. Some of the most remarkable properties of God’s providence, as it appears in the natural world.
1. The wisdom of Providence. A property so remarkable, that one may apply those words of the apostle to the mysteries of Providence, as well as those of grace: “O the depth of the riches!” How is the wisdom of God displayed in His preserving and governing the whole frame of nature! It is by this the “sparrow is directed to find a house, and the swallow a nest for herself.” How admirably is the wisdom of Providence displayed in the different instinct of the various tribes of animals! Or, if we hearken to the voice even of storms and tempests, they will further declare to us the admirable wisdom of that God whose word they obey, and whose designs they execute.
2. The goodness and kindness of it (Psalms 33:5). “These all wait upon God, and He giveth them their meat in due season” (Psalms 104:27-28). God extends His kind regard to many thousands of creatures, who have no capacity of knowing and praising their Benefactor (John 4:11). “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle” (Psalms 104:14-15). And as God has plentifully stored the earth with the blessings of His goodness, so His providence kindly directs us to find out the various uses, whether for food or physic, for necessary support, or for convenience and delight.
3. It is very powerful. God upholdeth all things by the word of His power. The continued harmony of nature, and the constant and regular revolutions of seasons, are sensible demonstrations of the power of God (Psalms 119:90-91).
1. To raise our admiring thoughts to the great God. What a great and mighty Being must He be, who is able thus to wield and manage the whole frame of nature!
2. We may infer, how terrible the wrath of this great and mighty God must be, and of what importance it is to secure His favour. So Pharaoh and the Egyptians found it.
3. Let the reconciled friends and people of God learn from hence to trust and acquiesce in Providence (Romans 8:32).
4. Let us learn to observe and adore the providence of God in all that befalls us, and to bless Him for all our enjoyments and comforts. (S. Jennings.)
God’s universal rule
David said, “His kingdom ruleth over all.” Our Saviour, as Creator, is also the God of providence. His kingdom has no limits. In Detroit, in the State of Michigan, the last place where I was before coming home, wife and child and self frequently crossed the river into Canada, just to see the old Union Jack for a bit of change from the Stars and Stripes. There is the boundary; the black, solemn deep Detroit, on which Indians paddled their canoes not so long ago. The States ended at the one shore, and when you got to the other there was another flag, another kingdom, another ruler. But no man ever yet found the limits of God’s kingdom; no angel on mighty wing ever passed the boundary of God’s providential kingdom. Why, the very Devil as he tumbled to the pit never got beyond the kingdom of the God against whom he had rebelled. In hell God reigns. (John Robertson.)
Bless the Lord, ye His angels.
On ministering spirits
I. The lowest occupation of tutelary beings upon the earth consists in the preservation or deliverance of the servants of God from situations of danger. To be conscious, that whithersoever we may bend our steps;--in the midst of the throng, or in the solitary path,--these celestial protectors are at all times beside us,--to encompass as with a shield, and to cover as with a canopy,--must doubtless be an animating and soothing reflection. Yet this is no fanciful supposition (Psalms 91:11-12; Psalms 34:7; Psalms 68:17; Psalms 139:3).
II. Another office, in which guardian spirits are engaged, is that of bearing consolation to the afflicted. To diffuse a holy calm throughout the troubled mind;--to pour forth into the wounded bosom their pitcher of refreshment, drawn from the rivers of Paradise;--to suggest considerations which recommend submission or fortitude;--are employments not unsuitable to that heavenly host, concerning whom we know, that one of them stirred the pool of Bethesda, in preparation for the cure of the maimed (Acts 1:11).
III. These ethereal spirits are greatly occupied, as messengers of grace in time of temptation;--as servants sent forth by the Holy Ghost into the breast, suggesting good, or banishing unholy thoughts;--as turning away the eye from the seductive spectacle, or sealing the ear to accents of delusion. We speak of sermons, of sicknesses, of afflictions, of a place of graves, as means of grace;--wherefore, then, should not we, in like manner, speak of angels as its dispensers? It is in the highest degree reasonable to believe, that the office of transmitting the suggestions of grace may be imposed on them, on their own account, as intelligences, whom it becomes to praise the Father of the Universe, and to purify and approximate towards perfection their own natures, by active services as well as by hymns of adoration. It is natural to suppose, likewise, that pure and benevolent beings, permitted to witness the affairs of this lower world, should feel deeply interested for the favourable issue of the spiritual conflict sustained by those who may become their future and eternal associates:--and, if by any means possible, that they should exert themselves in promoting that issue.
IV. If to bear from above the emanations of grace be an office in which pure and kind intelligences may be supposed to take high delight, with still greater satisfaction, may it further be presumed, do they wing their way back to the courts of happiness, carrying tidings of the successful result of their embassy (Tob 12:13; Revelation 8:2-3).
V. This welcome report of the pure and upright behaviour of faithful sojourners upon earth, being circulated throughout the mansions of bliss, we cannot doubt that the glorified host of the happy will listen to it with complacency and delight;--that they will congratulate each other on the triumph of good;--on the prospect of an increase to their band;--on a new advancement of the glory of the Most High (1 Peter 1:12; Luke 15:10).
VI. When the awful hour which awaits every child of Adam, the hour of dissolution, approaches;--when the eye is about to close on those objects of fond affection, of whom it cannot take leave with indifference, another interesting office of guardian spirits will consist in whispering words of peace to the departing followers of Jesus;--in removing the film and dimness from the sight of faith;--in rolling back to its view the curtain of the skies, and permitting it to descry those seats of boundless felicity where it will speedily be, and where it will be as the angels. (J. Grant, M.A.)
Some of the eminent doctors, in Rowland Hill’s day, said that there were no such beings as angels; that they were only Oriental metaphors. “Very well,” said Rowland Hill, “then it was a company of Oriental metaphors that sang at the birth of Christ, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ “Angels are Oriental metaphors; then it was an Oriental metaphor that slew 185,000 of Sennacherib’s army in a single night. Angels are Oriental metaphors; then it was an Oriental metaphor that appeared to Peter in prison, that knocked off his chains, and led him through the streets. “Truly,” said he, “these Oriental metaphors are wonderful things!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His dominion.
The illimitable vastness of the universe
How does our conception of the universe differ from that of David? It differs, among other things, mainly because we know, and he did not know, of infinite time, peopled with innumerable existences, on infinite space, crowded with unnumbered worlds. To David the earth probably seemed comparatively a thing of yesterday. We know of ages when the earth may have been a nebulous mass; of ages more when it was certainly one tangled growth of gigantic vegetation; of ages more when it was trodden by huge and fearful lizards--dragons of the prime, tearing each other with lethal armour of incomparable deadliness. We look at a piece of chalk, and we know that to form it took the spoils of millions of living organisms; and the man sinks powerless before the effort to conceive the years which it must have taken, by ordinary processes, to build up the white ramparts of our coasts. Yes, the knowledge of the deeps which geology reveals, so far from rendering too dim for us, tends only to brighten for us the image of a Father’s love. We know that that Father is caring for us now, and geology has simply proved to us that He was caring for our race, it may be, a billion of years before it appeared upon our globe. But if science has thus widened for us the horizons of time, still more illimitably has it widened for us the horizons of space; still more completely has it annihilated man’s self-importance about his race, and about the globe on which he lives. To the ancients, for instance, the world was a very centre of all things, and a very image of immovable stability. To us it is an insignificant speck in the heavens of no material importance, and with no centrality about it; and, so far from being fixed, we know that it is rolling, with incessant revolution, on its own axis, whirling, at immense velocity, round the sun, “spinning,” as one has said, “like an angry midge, in the abyss of its own small system, of which it is but one out of one hundred planets and asteroids, and of which the farthest of these planets rolls three hundred thousand millions of miles round the sun upon its sullen and solitary round.” Again, to the ancients, and to David, the moon was but an ornament of the night, a silver cresset hung by God’s hand in heaven, to illumine the darkened earth. To us it is, indeed, this, and we thank God for it, and also for its services, unknown to our forefathers, of attracting the waters, and so causing to roll, from hemisphere to hemisphere, that great tidal wave which purifies the world. But we have also learnt with amazement what the moon is. We know that it is a small world, in structure like our own; but without atmosphere, without clouds, without seas, without rivers, rent with enormous fissures, scathed and scorched with eruptive violences, a burnt-up cinder, a volcanic waste, the wreck, for all we know, of some past home of existence, a corpse in night’s highway, naked, fire-scathed, accursed; and if, in the complications of her silent revolutions,
“She nightly, to the listening earth,
Repeats the story of her birth,”
yet that story presents us with so blank a mystery, that it forces our acknowledgment that it may seem as if its one blank hemisphere was only turned to this earth and its science in mocking irony, as though to convince us, against our will, that what we know is little--what we are ignorant of immense. Then, once more, turn to the sun. The ancients saw its splendour; they felt its warmth; they thanked God for its glory. To David it was, as you know, “as a bridegroom cometh forth out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.” It was thought a monstrous extravagance when one of the Greek philosophers said that it was a fiery mass, and another that it was about the size of Attica. But what is it to us? Look at the bas-relief of the tomb of Newton in Westminster Abbey, and there you will see the little genius weighing the sun, and the earth, and the planets on a steelyard. Yes, we know its weight; we know its distance; we know its revolution. We know even, of late years, by spectrum analysis, of what metals and gases it is composed. No human language can express its awfulness. That great orb, as we have discovered, bursts and boils with a horrible impetuosity, such as no human imagination can conceive; and yet this vast, portentous globe of fire is made to subserve the humblest purposes of man. Once more, for a moment, turn to the stars. Turn to the millions of stars in the Milky Way. Our sun is neither more nor less than just one, and one unimportant, star in that Milky Way. To David, when he said that the heavens declared the glory of God, only were known two or three thousand stars visible to the naked eye. To us are known somewhere about fifty millions. And, yet, I say again that the Christian is not in the least appalled by all this vastness. Space is nothing to that God who extends through all extent, and in the hollow of whose hand all those worlds lie as though they were but a single water-drop. But, by the telescope, better without it--
“Man may see
Stretched awful in the hushed midnight,
The ghost of his eternity.”
But yet, happily, perhaps, for us, simultaneously with this abyss of non-existence beyond man, God has revealed to us an infinitude of life below Him. Take an animalcula, and Pascal will tell you that, however small its body, it is yet smaller in its limbs, and there are joints in those limbs, veins in those joints, blood in those veins, drops in that blood, humour in those drops, vapour in that humour, and an abyss even below this--an immensity of invisible life; so that man, we say, is suspended between two infinities--an abyss of infinity below, and of nothingness above, him. He is a mean between the nothing and the all--nothing compared to the infinite, infinite compared to the nothing. Is not this, at least, a lesson of humility? Should it not compel man rather to contemplate in silence than to inquire with presumption? “Such knowledge is too deep and wonderful for me; I cannot attain to it.” “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou so regardest him?” Here, for the Christian, at any rate, lies the solution of the dark enigma, the removal of the painful perplexity, the removal of the intolerable weight. Man is nothing in himself. He is as small, as mean, as abject as you please. He is but a fragment of the dust to which he shall soon return. Yes, but in himself nothing, in God man is every-thing--sacred, holy, sublime, immortal, a child of God, a joint-heir with Christ. What is vastness, then, to the Christian that it should appal him? It is nothing; it is less than nothing. It does not oppress or crush him. He is greater than those worlds. He is more immortal than all those clustered suns. They are, after all, but gas and flame; but he lives, and he is immortal, and he is created in the image of God. (Dean Farrar.)
Bless the Lord, O my soul--
The perils of the spiritual guide
In the two preceding verses the psalmist had similarly demanded that the Lord’s works should praise Him--“Bless the Lord, ye His angels,” etc. In our text, as though he would no longer invoke separately any order of being, or any department of creation, he summons the whole universe to join in the glorious work--“Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His dominion”; and after this most comprehensive demand, is there anything else from which he can ask praise? Yes, he subjoins, “bless the Lord, O my soul.” It seems as if a sudden fear had seized the psalmist, the fear of by any possibility omitting himself; or, if not a fear, yet a consciousness that his very activity in summoning others to praise, might make him forgetful that he was bound to praise God himself. Alas! how possible, how easy, to take pains for others, and to be neglectful of oneself: nay, to make the pains we take for others the reason by which we persuade ourselves that we cannot be neglecting ourselves. Religion of all matters is that which will least bear to be handled professionally: in the mere way of business or occupation. If we once come to handle spiritual things as though they were objects of merchandise or topics for essays, if we come to speak of them with the language of barren speculation, so that the description of the tongue outruns the experience of the heart; alas for the condition of the minister! But it may be well that we consider a little more in detail how that danger may be guarded against, which it has been our endeavour to expose. How shall the guide who feels his mind deadening to the influence of the natural landscape, through the frequency of inspection and the routine of describing it to strangers,--how shall he prevail in keeping his mind alive to the beauties of the scene, the wonders and splendours which crowd the panorama? Let him not be satisfied with showing that panorama to others; let him not look upon it merely in his professional capacity, but let him take frequent opportunities of going by himself to various points of view that he may study it under all possible aspects, now when the shadows of evening rest darkly on the water, now when the sunshine sleeps lovingly on the valley, now when the storm is abroad in its strength, now when the spring mantles hill and plain with its loveliness, and now when winter reigns in coldness and desolateness. Let him not be content with expounding the Bible, or with studying it with a view to his professional duties; let him be careful that he have his season of private meditation, when, like the guide, he may stand on Pisgah by himself, and for himself, not considering the scene with the eye of one who has to delineate the magnificent landscape, but rather with that of one who has to find in it a spot which he may call his own, and where he may fix his everlasting habitation. The more we engage in teaching others, in setting before others the blessings procured by the interference of Christ, the more tenacious should we be of seasons of private meditation and self-examination. For such seasons become then increasingly needful, lest we fancy our acquaintance with truth perfect, or our appreciation of it adequate, and thus shall we not only keep our own lamp well trimmed, but be more than ever fitted, by the blessing of God, to shed light on those who may be walking in darkness and the shadow of death. It is he who is daily schooling himself who is most likely to be instrumental in guiding others to God; the note struck within will produce the greatest vibration around; if I would waken an anthem of praise, I must first attune to thanks the chords of my own soul. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 103". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20