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Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in His commandments.
I. Its characteristics. A truly good man--
1. Feareth the Lord.
2. Delights greatly in His commandments.
3. Is upright.
4. Is merciful. What a noble character! Heaven multiply such.
II. Its advantages. He is blessed--
1. In his posterity.
2. In his possessions.
3. In his influence.
4. In his calamities.
5. In his steadfastness.
6. In his memory.
7. With fearlessness of soul.
8. With exaltation.
9. To the confusion of the wicked. (Homilist.)
Wealth and riches shall be in his house.
Prosperity and its qualifications
I. What is prosperity? To be prosperous is to have that which will promote the well-being of man’s whole nature and which has that end secured. Material, moral, and intellectual wealth and its results.
II. What is calculated to produce it? The psalmist, our Lord, and St. Paul are at one as to the qualification. “Righteousness”--the harmony of a man’s whole nature with the will of God.
1. When that is the case, a man is moderate, temperate, observant of natural laws, and (supposing of course no constitutional ailment) therefore healthy.
2. He holds in check the feverish desire to succeed, and thus godliness with contentment becomes great gain.
3. He holds those passions in check which cloud the understanding and impair the vision.
4. He respects the rights of others. Hence, those whose rights you respect, will respect yours.
5. He will be frugal of his time, his money, etc., in recognition of God’s claims upon both, and, as God’s steward, will put them out to usury, and strive to be prosperous, that he may advance God’s interests in the world.
III. What objections can be urged against all this?
1. That the righteous are not better off than others. But
(1) Do those who are called righteous answer to the law of righteousness in its entirety?
(2) Without controversy it is all true respecting communities. All history proves that they prosper in proportion to their righteousness.
(3) It is so by the common consent of the world. How often do we hear the expression that such an one is “worth his weight in gold.”
2. That men prosper who violate the laws of righteousness. But
(1) Are these men prosperous?
(2) Supposing them to have all that heart could wish, “what shall it profit a man?” etc.
(3) Supposing it true of an individual, when was it ever true of a nation? (J. W. Burn.)
Treasure in the house
The treasures in the house of the righteous--i.e, in the Christian home--though very great, are not duly appreciated, even by those who possess them. I heard a good man say once, as we passed the home of a millionaire, “It, doesn’t seem right that such a man as he is should be rolling in wealth, while I have to work hard for my daily bread.” I made no reply. But when we reached the home of the grumbler, and a troop of rosy children ran out to meet us, I caught one in my arms, and, holding him up, said, “John, how much will you take for this boy?” And he answered, while the moisture gathered in his eyes, “That boy, my namesake! I wouldn’t sell him for his weight in gold.” “Why, John, he weighs forty pounds at least, and forty pounds of gold would make you many times a millionaire. And you would probably ask as much for each of the others. So, according to your own admission, you are immensely rich. Yes, a great deal richer than that cold, selfish, childless millionaire whom you were envying as we came along. Nothing would tempt you to change places with him. Then you ought to be grateful instead of grumbling. You are the favourite of fortune, or, rather, of Providence, and not he.” (H. W. Beecher.)
Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness.
The influence of religion in affliction
I. Describe the nature of real religion.
II. Trace its general influence in affliction.
1. It informs the sufferer of the source whence affliction springs--from a Father and a Friend--a God who has engaged every attribute of His nature to promote the highest interests and everlasting happiness of the creature He afflicts. Can it, fail of its design?--His power controls it.
2. It acquaints him with the design of affliction, if this momentary pain produce everlasting ease; if this night of sorrow be followed by an endless day of joy; who but must welcome the fleeting anguish, the temporary gloom?
3. It apprises him of the limited duration of affliction.
4. It affords him communion with God in his affliction.
III. Illustrate the influence of religion in affliction, by an appeal to some specific cases.
1. Disease. Here is no fretfulness, no complaining, no petulance. Affliction has so refined the sufferer, that he seems already half immortal, and his pinions are plumed for glory, ere he receives the commission to take his flight.
2. Bereavement. Religion gives a partner to that widowed mother, more tender and kind than he could ever prove, over whose grave she weeps in all the agony of woe. It gives a father to those orphan children, full of sympathy and love.
3. Poverty. Religion has dignity with which to invest the poor man, which wealth can never purchase, nor rank confer.
4. Death. “I have,” said the dying Romaine, “the peace of God in my conscience, and the love of God in my heart. Jesus is more precious than rubies, and all that can be desired on earth is not to be compared with Him.” (T. Raffles, D.D.)
Light in darkness
1. “Light “and “darkness,” figuratively, denote life and death, knowledge and ignorance, virtue and vice, joy and sorrow.
2. There are four things in the text.
(1) Certain characters--“the upright.”
(2) Their seasons of darkness--“the darkness.”
(3) Light in those seasons--“there ariseth light.”
(4) The time when the light comes--“in the darkness.”
3. Who are “the upright”? (Psalms 97:11; Psalms 43:3).
4. The “upright” have their seasons of darkness. Sickness, poverty, debt, family trials, etc. To some, the whole of life is, in a measure, a season of “darkness” (Proverbs 14:10).
5. To “the upright,” “light” comes in such seasons of “darkness.” There is the cloud, but there is also “the bright light on the cloud.” Innocence can shed “light” in the seasons of slander and mis-judgment. A desire to know the truth, and to follow it, with a quiet consciousness of the necessary limits of our knowledge, is so much “light” in seasons of doubt and mystery. Repentance, faith, confession, and reparation, bring “light,” when our own sins bring “darkness.”
6. Notice particularly that the “light” is said to arise “in the darkness.” It was so with Christ in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43); and with St. Paul when the “thorn in the flesh” troubled him (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). In neither case was the “darkness” entirely removed. There was “darkness,” but there was also “light in the darkness.”
7. All persons, whether “upright” or otherwise, have their seasons of “darkness,” of one kind or another. All, too, have “light” from some source or other, for man as naturally seeks relief from what is painful, as he seeks for food when he is hungry. But from whence come the “darkness,” and the “light” too? (Isaiah 1:10-11).
8. “Darkness” there must be: no being can escape it. And when the “darkness” comes, and while the “darkness” continues, there may be “light.” Where, from, and to whom? (Psalms 4:6). (F. Young.)
Light in darkness
The Christian often has to walk in the night. Clouds and gloom are round about him. Physical weakness, mental infirmity, relative anxiety, and spiritual distress,--these are part of his earthly lot.
I. Upright men should bravely walk on in darkness. That is heroic: but it is difficult. The heart seeks for recognition of its rectitude. Flowers love sunshine, and so do the spirits of men. Job seems to have missed the greetings in the market-place as much as anything. There is a tone of peculiar poignancy in his grief about that. I do not wonder at it. We all like to be loved: we all like to be thought right. It is much easier to walk on against sleet, hail, wind, right in your teeth, than it is to move forward against the prejudice, the peevishness, or the misconception of others. When the sluggish waters of the Ouse rolled at the feet of Bunyan’s prison, with the blind child clasping his feet, and a dim light falling on the Bible on his rude table,--he bravely bore on through the persecutor’s night. When the dark fortress of Wartburg shut its gates on Luther, he bore worse ills than bodily sickness,--he fought in fancy with darkest forms of evil.
II. Upright men are living for all the coming ages when they are waiting for the light. The worthies of the old world live now: being dead they speak to us: and, in a special sense, they affect us in two ways.
1. They lead us to recognize the law of right. We are often endangered by the sophisms of expediency. “Wait,”--says Policy, it will be time to-morrow to leave Egypt, and make an enemy of the powerful Pharaoh; do not smite the idols now,--the idolatries left alone will die out! “Trust in God, and do the right,”--says Conscience. Obey and suffer. Never mind the darkness,--the day-star will soon arise. You are not living for yourselves alone,--the beacon-light of your conduct will guide the after-ages of the world.
2. They lead us to recognize the fidelity of God to His promises. They claimed no strength of their own, apart from the inspiration of God. In the calm heights, where God dwells, they had full communion with Him, and there the fevered heart was comforted and cooled.
III. Upright men are not wholly dependent on outward light. This is refreshing to them as well as to others. I mean, of course, by outward light, that which arises from visible associations. We might as well try to pluck a star from the heavens, or imagine that the storms can waft out the light of the sun, as to suppose that the God-light within us can be dimmed or quenched. No! “The path of the just is as the shining light,” etc.
IV. Upright men bring forth beautiful graces in the darkness. Naturalists will tell you that there are few night-blowing flowers; they are very rare, for as a rule night opens no petals, but shuts up the bloom. It is otherwise in grace. Many of the sweetest and most fragrant graces of the spiritual nature blossom in the night season of affliction and trial. And why is this? Because God is able to make all grace abound to us in seasons when nature has withdrawn from us her most cheering beams.
V. Upright men may have their minds clouded with doubt. Probably they will. The more upright they are the more anxious will they be to have the foundation of God which standeth sure. Some of the devoutest minds have had seasons of mental trial merging almost into agony. We can see the outward forms that men’s opinions at last have shaped themselves into, but any acquaintance with the thought-struggles of Augustine, of Anselm, of the great thinkers of the Middle Ages,--whether they were Nominalists or Realists in their philosophy,--shows us that in the search for truth there are forests to be traversed that sometimes hide the light. But where there is simplicity of mind, sincerity of heart, spirituality of soul, God leads the mind that trusts in Him out into the perfect day. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
Light in the darkness
There is, of course, some specific reference and application intended here, such as will harmonize with the general drift of the psalm. But we cannot fail to notice that this is a general proposition--a broad assertion which covers the whole of life for the persons of whom it is said. And I want now to show how true the text is; and how, being true, it practically works, and holds good, in the different spheres of human existence.
I. Matters of faith--those revealed truths which are to be apprehended by us, and accepted, and turned to perpetual use for guidance, health, salvation. Concerning those truths we may be said to begin in the darkness. And we get into the “light”--not in an easy, natural, irresistible manner, but--by hints and suggestions at first, by help of broken gleams, and through falling shadows; through doubts and uncertainties, and frequent misconception; by gropings, and hesitations, and discoveries: held often in the restriction of our own narrowness, circumscribed always by necessary limits, liable always to mistakes, and at no time holding the complete and perfect truth. The doubts that may arise, in particular minds, and at particular stages of the development of some human souls, are not to be numbered, can hardly indeed be described, they are so delicate and changeful. Yet to a sensitive mind, to a mind full of spiritual anxiety, they are very distressing. How are you to make light arise in the darkness? And how are you to have the assurance that it is light, and not some fatal splendour as transient as it is misleading? Now, here the principle of this text is of direct application, and of priceless force and value: “Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness.” Sincerity: an honest desire to know the truth: readiness to make any sacrifice in order to the knowledge: obedience to the truth so far as it is known already--these will bring the light when nothing else will bring it. “Light is sown for the righteous;” and the harvest from God’s sowing never fails. First conceptions and lower knowledge is the seed of the higher; and that again of higher still. Mistakes and misconceptions fall off and die if only there be the fruitful ground of “an honest and good heart.”
II. Matters of experience. Say then that the chief intellectual difficulties are now solved; or say that they have never existed, and that “the Gospel,” in much of its Divine simplicity, stands clearly before the apprehension, and, as far as the intellect is concerned in the operation, is received in the faith--what will then be the inward condition? Why, a true faith ought to produce a true feeling. And the feeling ought to be a happy one. Faith in “glad tidings” ought to make glad hearts. But at this point be sure you do not mistake. Be sure you seek heart-light “lawfully.” It is fruit, and not root. It is consequence, not cause. Seek first the righteousness of the inward kingdom, and the light will come out of that.
III. Matters of practice. Religion in its organized forms in this world, and in its practical operations, is not exempted from the ordinary laws and vicissitudes of human life. Societies and Christian Churches have their times of darkness, their trials, their disappointments. They fall upon the best methods they can think of to extend the cause--the very truth of God--among men. And you would think that God is almost bound by the terms of His own covenant to lift an endeavour like that quite above the ordinary plane of things, and into a realm of visible clearness and certainty. But no. God has time enough, and He takes it. He takes it, and teaches His people to take it; to take--not “their time,” which is indolent unfaithfulness, but His time. He educates by trial, by delay, by defeat. “Light is sown for the righteous,” but, like all living seed, it takes a while to spring. The days of sowing are sometimes chill and dark. The bright harvest days will make amends for all. (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
Light in the darkness to the upright
I. The character of the person to whom this promise is made, The “upright man” is the honest man, the man of integrity.
1. He hath a serious and hearty sense of God and religion upon his spirit, and is above all things careful to preserve and increase that sense.
2. In his civil conversation--
(1) As a private person, the general rule by which he frames his whole conversation, is such a prudent and diligent care of himself, and his own good, as is not only consistent with, but doth effectually tend to promote the good and happiness of all others that he deals with.
(2) As a magistrate. The great thing he proposes to himself, in taking any office upon him, is the glory of God and the public good.
II. The advantages and privileges that such a man enjoys in evil and dangerous times. “Light in the darkness.”
1. By “light,” we may understand light for his guidance and direction; and then the sense is, That in critical and perilous times, the upright man, of all others, will be best enabled to order and manage his affairs.
2. By “light,” we may understand safety and defence, as the word is sometimes taken in Scripture; and then the sense is, That in evil times the upright man walks most free from danger; he of all others may expect security and protection in a common calamity.
3. By “light,” we may understand peace and joy (as that likewise is another usual sense of the word), and then the meaning is, That in evil times, let things happen as they will, though it should be the fortune of the upright mail to be oppressed in the crowd; yet this happiness he will always have, that his mind will be at perfect ease and peace. Nothing shall ever discompose him, but in the midst of his sufferings his heart shall be replenished with perpetual Comfort. (Abp. Sharp.)
The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.
The reputation of good men after death
I. Whence it comes to pass, that good men are very often defrauded of their just praise and reputation whilst they are alive.
1. From what cause it proceeds.
(1) Good men themselves are many times the cause of it. For the best men are imperfect; and present and visible imperfections do very much lessen and abate the reputation of a man’s goodness.
(2) The principal cause is from others. From the hatred and opposition of bad men to holiness and virtue. From the envy of those who perhaps have some degree of goodness themselves.
(3) There is something in the very presence and nearness of goodness and virtue, which is apt to lessen it. Perhaps familiarity and conversation does insensibly beget something of contempt; but whatever the reason of it be, we find the thing most certainly true in experience.
2. For what reasons the providence of God permits it thus to be.
(1) To keep good men humble, and, as the expression is in Job, “to hide pride from men.”
(2) This life is not the proper season of reward, but of work and service.
II. What security good men have of a good name after death.
1. From the providence of God.
(1) In respect of the equity of it. God, who will not be behindhand with any man, concerns Himself to secure to good men the proper reward of their piety and virtue.
(2) In regard of the example of it. It is a great argument to virtue, and encouragement to men to act their part well, to see good men applauded, when they go off the stage.
2. The other part of the account of this truth is to be given from the nature of the thing: because death removes and takes away the chief obstacle of a good man’s reputation. For then his defects are out of sight, and men are contented that his imperfections should be buried in his grave with him.
III. Inferences by way of application.
1. To vindicate the honour which the Christian Church hath for many ages done to the first teachers and martyrs of our religion; I mean more especially to the holy apostles of our Lord and Saviour; to whose honour the Christian Church hath thought fit to set apart solemn times, for the commemoration of their piety and suffering, and to stir up others to the imitation of them.
2. Let this consideration, that “the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance,” be an encouragement to us to piety and goodness. This, to a generous nature, that is sensible of honour and reputation, is no small reward and encouragement.
3. Whenever we pretend to do honour to the memory of good men, let us charge ourselves with a strict imitation of their holiness and virtue. (J. Tillotson.)
Everlasting remembrance of the good
I. It is seen in the favours which Heaven confers upon remote posterity for their sake. God blesses children’s children, unborn generations, for the sake of a holy ancestor. David may be selected as an example of this (1 Kings 11:11-13; 1 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19).
II. In the good which the Almighty accomplishes by their instrumentality through distant times.
1. By their biography.
2. By their literary productions.
III. In the connection of their labours with the indestructible consciousness of men. The saved and the lost will remember their counsel, their reproofs, their exhortations, their sermons, their prayers, for ever and ever.
IV. In the blessings which the almighty will impart to them through all eternity. The subject teaches--
(1) The immense value of a righteous man in society. His usefulness is as permanent as the stars.
(2) The best method of achieving lasting fame. Usefulness alone can give it. (Homilist.)
The religious aspect of history
It is now more than six hundred years ago since one of the earliest fathers of English history, an inmate of the venerable Abbey of St. Albans, which nurtured the first school of English historical learning, recounted, at the commencement of his work, how he was vexed by questions, some put by envious detractors, some arising from serious perplexity, whether the record of times that were dead and gone was worthy of the labour and study of Christian men. He replied, with a lofty consciousness of the greatness of his task, first by an appeal to the highest instincts of man, and then added, as a further and complete sanction of these instincts, the words of the psalmist, “The just shall be had in everlasting remembrance.” These are simple and familiar words; but the old chronicler of St. Albans was right in saying that they contain the principle which vindicates and sanctifies all historical research. “If thou,” he said to his readers, “if thou forgettest and despisest the departed of past generations, who will remember thee?” “It was to keep alive,” so he added, “the memory of the good, and teach us to abhor the bad, that all the sacred historians have striven from Moses down to the ‘deep-souled’ chroniclers of the years in which we ourselves are living.”
1. “Everlasting remembrance”--“eternal memory”--“a memorial that shall endure from generation to generation.” This is what history aims to accomplish for the ages of the past. As we are reminded both by Scripture and by experience of the noble, the inextinguishable desire implanted within us to understand and to bring near to us the wonders of the firmament, so in like manner we may be assured that there lies deep in the human heart a desire not less noble, not less insatiable, to understand and to bring near to us the wonders of the ages that are dead and buried (Psalms 77:5; Psalms 77:10-11; Psalms 78:2-4). As the celestial spheres are mapped out by the natural student to guide the mariner, and “for times, and for seasons, and for days, and for years,” so the spheres of earthly events are mapped out by the historical student, and the monuments of glory and the beacons of danger are set along the shores of the past, to direct us through the trackless ocean of the future. Happy, thrice happy he who has the ears to hear those voices of the dead which others cannot hear--who has the eyes to see those visions of the ancient times which to others are dim and dark. History may be fallible and uncertain, but it is our only guide to the great things that God has wrought for the race of man in former ages; it is the only means through which “we can hear, and” through which “our fathers can declare to us the noble works which He has done in their days, and in the old time before them.”
2. And not only the religion of the natural man, but the whole structure of the Bible is a testimony to the sacredness and the value of historical learning. Unlike all other sacred books, the sacred books both of the Old and New Testament are, at least half in each, not poetical, or dogmatical, but historical. Doctrine, precept, warning, exhortation, all are invested with double charms when clothed in the flesh and blood of historical facts. If there has been an “everlasting remembrance “ of One supremely Just, in whom the Divine Mind was made known to man in a special and transcendent degree, it is because that Just One, the Holy and the True, “became flesh and dwelt amongst us,” and became (so let us speak with all reverence and all truth) the subject of historical description, of historical research, of historical analysis, of historical comparison. The sacred historians of the Jewish Commonwealth--still more the simple, homely, but profound historians of the New Testament whom we call the Evangelist,--are the most impressive of all preachers.
3. And this power is not confined to the history of the Jewish people, or of the Christian Church. It extends to the history of “the nations”--of “the Gentiles,” as they are called in the Bible. “The just,” without reserve, in whatever nation, and of whatever creed, “is to be had in everlasting remembrance.” “Whatsoever things are true,” etc., in whatsoever race, or under whatsoever form,--these things are the legitimate, the sacred, subjects which the Father of all good gifts has charged the historians of the world to read and to record wheresoever they can be discerned. (Dean Stanley.)
The reputation of the righteous
The desire of reputation is part of the social constitution which God has given us; and, when properly directed, has a powerful tendency to promote our moral perfection. But we desire not the esteem of our contemporaries alone. Extending our prospects through a wider sphere, we seek to be approved by the spirits of the just who adorned the ages that are past; and look forward, with fond expectation, to the reverence that awaits us, after this mortal frame shall have mouldered into dust. But though the desire of reputation be natural to man, and though it operates with peculiar force in the noblest minds; yet it is not to be followed as the guide of our conduct. It is valuable only when it acts in subordination to the principles of virtue, and gives additional force to their impression. Separated from these principles, it becomes a source of corruption and depravity. Instead of animating the soul to generous deeds, it descends to foster the swellings of vain glory, and to beget the meanness of ostentation, or the vileness of hypocrisy. When the love of praise is perverted to such unworthy purposes, it seldom accomplishes its end. For though the artifices of deceit may succeed for a while, and obtain for the undeserving a temporary applause, yet the constitution of things has placed an insuperable bar between the practice of iniquity and a durable reputation. To the virtuous alone belongs the reward of lasting glory; and the Almighty will not suffer a stranger to intermeddle with their joy. For them Providence has prepared the approbation of the age in which they live, and their memorial descends to warm the admiration of succeeding times. Light is sown for the upright; the memory of the just is blessed; and the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. Death removes the chief causes of uncharitable judgment, and enables us to estimate the value of departed worth, free from the influence of prejudice and passion. The little jealousies which darken the reputation of the living seldom pursue them beyond the limits of the grave. Envy ceases when their merit has ceased to be an obstacle to our ambition. Their imperfections are buried with their bodies in the tomb, and soon forgotten; while their better qualities, recalled often to our thoughts, and heightened by the inconveniences which their departure occasions, live in the remembrance of their neighbours, and receive the tribute of just approbation. We are even willing to repay them by an excess of praise for the injury we did them while alive. (J. Finlayson, D.D.)
The immortality of influence
We think that when a man dies he has done with the world, and that the world has done with him. That view, how, ever, needs revision. There is much about a man that cannot be put into a coffin. Keats left for his epitaph, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” The names of men are generally so writ, but the life and character are impressed on society deeply, indelibly. We cannot properly speak of the immortality of bad influence; yet that influence spreads and persists to a distressing extent. But we can speak confidently about the immortality of the influence of the good. Abel being dead yet speaketh; we are not told that Cain does. It is a reassuring thing to know that the good which men do is not buried with their bones. Not only do remarkable saints influence posterity beneficially; all saints do so, although it may be in a less degree. We find it easy to believe that the men influence posterity whose deeds are emblazoned in history, whose books are in the libraries, whoso monuments are in the minster, but we are slow to believe in the posthumous life of the obscure and unknown. Yet the immortality of influence is just as true in regard to the humble as to the illustrious. Nature perpetuates the memory of the frailest and most fugitive life, of the simplest and most insignificant action and event. The rolling pebble, the falling leaf, and the rippling water of millions of years ago left their sign in the rocks. The minute creatures of the primeval world built up the strata on which we live, and affecting traces of their being and action are palpable everywhere. All this is going on still; every flash of lightning is photographed, every whisper vibrates for ever, every movement in the physical world leaves an imperishable record. Let us not, then, be anxious lest we should be forgotten. A secret law renders the lowliest life immortal. This gives a new view of the duration of life. We plaintively speak of human life as a dream, a flower, a shade. But the doctrine of the immortality of influence puts the subject in another light. We gain a new view of the seriousness of life. Confined to threescore years life appears insignificant; yet in the light of immortality of influence it appears unspeakably solemn. There is no circle to our influence but the horizon; we are alive to the coming of the Son of Man. We must wait for the last day before we are finally judged. Why? Because men do not close their account with the world at their death; our influence reaches to the last day, and therefore only then can the full and final verdict be given. (W. L. Watkinson.)
He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.
Those who have laid hold on Christ Jesus, and are resting in the Father’s love and power, have no reason to be disquieted: should all hell be unmuzzled, and all earth be unhinged, they may rejoice with a joy undamped by carnal fear or earthly sorrow.
I. Evil tidings may come to the best of men--to those whoso hearts are fixed and are trusting in the Lord.
1. Let us remember the frail tenure upon which we hold our temporal mercies: how soon may evil tidings come concerning them. We rightly class our families first in our possessions. Our dear relations are but loaned to us, and the hour when we must return them to the lender’s hand may be even at the door. The like is certainly true of our worldly goods. Do not riches take to themselves wings and fly away? And though we have heard some almost profanely say that they have clipped the wings of their riches, so that they cannot fly, yet may the bird of prey rend them where they are, and the rotting carcase of the wealth which the owners cannot enjoy, may be a perpetual curse to them. Full often gold and silver canker in the coffer, and fret the soul of their claimant. This world at best is but a sandy foundation, and the wisest builder may well look for an end to the most substantial of its erections. Evil tidings may also come to us in another respect: we may suddenly find our health decay. That strength which now enables us to perform our daily business with delight, may so fail us that the slightest exertion may cause us pain. Certain expositors refer this passage to slander and reproach, and they translate it, “ He shall not be afraid of evil hearing.” It is one of the sharpest trials of the Christian’s life to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and belied. The more prominent you are in Christ’s service, the more certain are you to be the butt of calumny. In all these things, however, we ought to expect evil tidings.
2. Evil tidings will also come to us concerning spiritual matters, and babes in grace will be greatly alarmed. Every now and then there cometh a messenger with breathless haste, who tells us that the sages have discovered that the Bible is a fiction. But the religion of Jesus is so full of life, that her deadliest foes cannot make an end of her. We hear also at times that professors have fallen. Moreover, Satan will tell us that we are hypocrites, and conscience will remind us of sundry things which raise the suspicion that we are not soundly regenerated.
3. Moreover, the evil tidings of death will soon be brought to you by the appointed messenger The message will be given to us, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.”
II A Christian at no time ought to fear either in expectation of evil tidings, or when the tidings actually arrive. And why?
1. Because, if you be troubled, and distracted, what do you more than other men? Where is the dignity of that new nature which you claim to possess?
2. Again, if you should be filled with alarm, as others are, you would, doubtless, be led into the sins so common to others under trying circumstances. The ungodly, when they are overtaken by evil tidings, rebel against God; they murmur, and think that God deals hardly with them. Will you fall into that same sin? Will you provoke the Lord, as they do?
3. Further, you must not give way to these doubts and alarms and fears, for, if you do, you will be unfit to meet the trouble.
4. If you give way to fright and fear when you hear of evil tidings, how can you glorify God?
III. Fixedness of heart is the true cure for being alarmed at evil tidings.
1. The Christian’s heart is fixed as to duty. He says within himself, “It is my business so to walk as Christ also walked: it can never be right for me to do contrary to God’s will. I have set the Lord always before me, and in integrity of heart will I walk all my way, wherever that way may lead.” Such a man is prepared for anything.
2. But, more comfortable than this, the Christian’s heart is fixed as to knowledge and so prepared, he knows, for instance, that God sits in the stern-sheets of the vessel when it rocks most. He knows, too, that God is always wise, and, knowing this, he is prepared for all events. They cannot come amiss, saith he, there can be no accidents, no mistakes, nothing can occur which ought not to occur.
3. Further, there is the fixedness of resignation. When we gave ourselves to Christ, we gave Him our person, our estate, our friends, and everything. It is a good thing every morning to give all up to God, and then to live through the day, and thank Him for renewing the daily lease.
4. Better still, let me remind you of one form of fixedness which will make you outride every storm, namely, fixedness as to eternal things. “I cannot lose”--the Christian may say--“I cannot lose my best things.”
5. I believe that holy gratitude is one blessed way of fixing the soul on God and preparing it for trouble.
IV. The great instrument of fixedness of heart is faith in God. “His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” You see that we have come hither by progressive steps. Evil tidings may come to an heir of heaven; he ought not to be afraid of them; the way to be prepared for them is to have the heart fixed and prepared, and the method of having the heart fixed is confident trustfulness in the Lord. God is never away from any of His children, but He is nearest to those who are the most sad, and sick, and troubled. If there be one sheep in the fold that is more watched over than the rest, it is the weakest sheep. “He carrieth the lambs in His bosom, and gently leadeth those that are with young.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Trust in God the best antidote against fear
1. The truster in the Lord shall not be afraid of tidings of wrath and condemnation from the law of God.
2. The truster in God shall not be afraid of sin’s recovering its dominion over him.
3. The truster in the Lord of hosts shall not be afraid of tidings of calamity to the Church of God.
4. The truster in God shall not be afraid to hear of public national disasters.
5. The truster in the Lord shall not be afraid of tidings of persecution for the sake of Christ.
6. The truster in the Lord shall not be afraid of the tidings of arduous duties, to which he finds himself altogether unequal.
7. The truster in the Lord shall not be afraid of tidings of personal worldly losses and afflictions.
8. The fixed truster in the Lord shall not be afraid of the evil tidings of his own death.
9. The fixed truster in God shall not be afraid of tidings of judgment.
1. That fearful doubts and apprehensions are no part of the character of a Christian.
2. The true principle of a steady and upright practice, namely, trust in God.
3. The reason why God often makes His people to hear evil tidings; and that is, to try their trust in Him.
4. What unhappy persons are believers! If the truster in God is afraid of no evil tidings, they have reason to be afraid of everything; for the wrath of God abideth on them, and His wrath is comprehensive of all evil, both in this world and that which is to come. (A. Swanston.)
The unreasonableness of fear in the Christian
1. The anxiety of the Christian partakes of the unreasoning terror of childhood. The nervousness of little children is often extreme. What agonies of suspense! what excruciating listening! what cold sweats the little ones suffer when alone in the darkness! But, growing older, we discover how groundless and foolish this childish terror was, and that all the suffering which arose out of it was absolutely needless. In the dark night, when we were almost paralyzed by fear, how a father’s or mother’s reassuring voice scattered the ghosts, and once more restored to us sweet sleep! Shall it not be thus again as we listen to the voice of the Heavenly Father? Carlyle considers “that the extent to which we have put fear under our feet is a good measure of manhood”; and it is certainly a sign of the reality and growth of the spiritual life that we walk with increasing confidence.
2. The fear of the Christian partakes of the unreasonableness of the terror of the savage. Ignorant of the laws which govern the system of nature, the savage is the victim of the wildest and most distressing fancies. The storm, the eclipse, the lightning and thunder inspire him with boundless terror, because he interprets them by an arbitrary and gloomy imagination. But it is entirely different with the educated European. He has come to understand the great and beautiful laws which regulate the movements of earth and sky and sea; and with perfect confidence and satisfaction, with entire admiration and delight the astronomer and meteorologist look upon the very phenomena which occasion the savage the ghastliest terror--the vast horror of the untutored mind gives place in the breast of the philosopher to a rational confidence. The anxiety of the Christian has its origin in a defective faith in the Divine government of the world, and is so far kindred with the fear of the superstitious heathen. When we once believe in our very heart that God rules, that He rules well, and that He rules perfectly for the individual as for the universe at large, we regard disturbing events with serene confidence and hopefulness; but how slowly we come to understand and rest in this wise and loving sovereignty!
3. The fear of the Christian partakes of the unreasoning alarm and anxiety that we sometimes perceive in the brute. A bit of vapour from a passing engine will create a panic in a flock of sheep or herd of cattle; they fly panting before the empty whiff of steam as if it were a wolf or leopard. Are not we equally absurd? We are haunted by imaginary fears, we are alarmed beyond expression by baseless imaginations, we see dark omens in things and events which do not and which cannot harm us. Most of us have sniffed ruin in bits of vapour, and suffered martyrdoms in frantic efforts to escape them. How much wiser it would have been to repose and feed in the green pastures into which the faithful Shepherd leads us! And we habitually give way to a causeless and useless anxiety about the things of life which is entirely irrational. The beavers at the London Zoological Gardens are fed every day and have nothing to fear from the weather, but their old instincts are strong, and they make a fussy show of storage against the winter; and the few branches which are given them only in make believe they engineer with the greatest industry and ingenuity; everything is really done by their keepers for their protection and provision, but they are unconscious of it all, and in a feeble way they store and build as if they were in the wilds and everything depended upon their forethought and toil. How much is this like our gratuitous and abortive anxiety in relation to the government of God! (Anon.)
Not afraid of evil tidings
An eminent divine, eccentric but honest, said pleasantly and religiously that he was never afraid to open his letter bag. He was in full possession, we may conclude, of the “mens conscia recti,” the upright consciousness. He lived, as he himself expressed it, with all his windows constantly wide open, that is, the world was ever welcome to fasten the prying inquisitive corner of its evil eye upon him and all his doings. Living thus honestly, as in the day, he had nought to fear from messenger or letter bag. He opened his daily letters fearlessly. That expression of Sydney Smith’s was a familiar version of our text. It expresses the enviable calm of an honest and good heart. The first who feared was Adam. Guilt caused his fear. “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid!” “Why?” “I was naked. My soul in its disobedience was exposed to the all-seeing Eye. I was uncovered of the robe of duty and obedience, and I dreaded punishment. I feared my physician’s face.” All along the pages of history runs a stream of like fear. Poor old Jacob, waiting his sons’ second return from Egypt. The trembling mother, watching and awaiting the fate of her bulrush ark. David, lying upon the earth and listening with strained ear, to every faint whisper of the servants, as they spoke of his guilt-born child. Felix, wondering as he listened to each round period, how near and nearer judgment was coming. All these are examples of human nature afraid of evil tidings. But trusting in the Lord God, we need fear no evil, and no tidings of evil. The black seal will then only mean, “here is another messenger to tell me my own time draws near.” The consumption, and the growing weakness, and all the other heralds of death will find us prepared with the utterance, “O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is fixed, I will even sing and give praise.” The little harmless speculation, the haps of the regiment, the delay of the ship, the story about the son or daughter, the witness to our misdeed, the enemy, the slanderer, the possible danger, the probable affliction--all, everything, whatever betide, whatever befall, whatever may threaten--can then only bring out the calm declaration, “My heart is fixed--O God, Thou knowest my heart is fixed, trusting in Thee.” There have been men, and women too, who have read with brave solemnity their own warrant of death; over whom the glittering axe has had no terrors, the fire and fagot no unworthy influence. Their heart has been fixed. Of all which this is the point. See that we have our hearts fixed upon God, our feet upon the Rock of Ages, our house built firmly, our sin’s penalty transferred surely. Then we need fear no evil tidings. (S. B. James, M.A.)
Established on God
Here is a most remarkable type of man--quite out of the line of our every-day experience. One is impelled to look back at the earlier verses of the psalm to see who “he” may be! Not afraid of evil tidings! quite a unique person, then--calm as he scans the startling telegram, serene and composed while he reads the black-edged sheet! There is a moral dignity in a character which is not easily shaken and swayed to and fro by every wind of circumstance; we would all like to be possessed of a character firmly rooted, established; therefore the text ought to have an interest for us all. In writing “evil tidings” the psalmist was thinking of what we commonly call bad news, and to enter into his meaning it is necessary to realize the world’s bad news. How much there is! The world seems full of it; so full, indeed, that the glad news of God--the good news of the kingdom of heaven--is often unheeded for this cause alone. The world’s bad news reaches us in many ways. We read it on placards and newspaper headlines. A “Stella” goes down, an express train is wrecked, a mine is flooded, or the first shot is fired and a bloody war begins! These are the common “evil tidings” of the world. We can all most fervently join in that petition of the Litany--“From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death, good Lord, deliver us!” Now, I want rather to direct your thoughts to the man who is not afraid of the world’s bad news even at its worst. “He shall not be afraid of any evil tidings.” Who is he? In the Biblical examples and teachings about the righteous man, there is a moral grandeur and dignity unsurpassed in the literatures of the world. Where else in the realm of literature should we go--even if we were not Christians--to find a more exalted and dignified description of man at his best? In the far Eastern literatures of China and India we can easily find sages, dreamers, and adepts of occult philosophy. In Greek literature we meet with heroes, poets, and philosophers in abundance. In Roman literature there is no lack of soldiers, statesmen, and lawgivers; and there are stories among them all of men who knew how to endure the extremity of suffering without making any sign of despair. But the Hebrew literature of the Old Testament flowers in the portraiture of the righteous man. For the moment we may omit any reference to the New Testament as outside the region of mere literary comparison. In reviewing these facts the question naturally arises, Why is the righteous man the flower of Hebrew literature? And the answer is inevitable: Because the Hebrew Bible is the product of men who had a sense of God, the holy and just One, the eternally righteous One! The righteous man is rooted on the rock; that is, the roots of his faith are closely entwined round the central rock of the universe--“the Rock of Ages.” “His heart is fixed, standeth fast, trusting in the Lord.” The most modern of the world’s mystics, Maurice Maeterlinck, seems to have entered deeply into the meaning of our text. In his latest book he asks the question, “Is the sage never to suffer?” And when Maeterlinck writes “sage” he means the good, the truly wise man. “Is the sago never to suffer?” he asks. “Shall no storm ever break on the roof of his dwelling, no traps be laid to ensnare him? Shall wife and friends never fail him? Must his father not die, and his mother, his brothers, his sons--must all these not die like the rest?” And to his own questions Maeterlinck answers, “ Needs must the sage (or good man) like his neighbour be startled from sleep by blows at the door that cause the whole house to tremble. He, too, must go down and parley. But yet, as he listens, his eyes are not fixed on the bringer of evil tidings; his glance will at times be lifted over the messenger’s shoulder, will scan the dust on the horizon in search of the mighty Idea that perhaps may be near at hand.” Could we find a better commentary on our text? In this spirit--old as Abraham, yet new-born to-day--we can face all the events of the coming time, and
“Greet the Unseen with a cheer!”
No doubt the Messenger of Sorrow will knock at all our doors, for it is not his custom to pass any by; but while we listen to his message we can lift our glance over his shoulder, and seeing Jesus, who has overcome the world, we call “be of good cheer” and say, “Whatever thy news may be, there shall no evil befall us, for our heart standeth fast and trusteth in the Lord.” (A. E. Hooper.)
The fixed compass
The pattern saint of this psalm is happy as well as holy. Evil tidings, when they come, will pierce a good man’s heart; but in two things he has an advantage over those who know not God: first, he is not kept in terror before the time by the anticipation of possible calamity; and next, even when calamity overtakes him, he does not look upon it in blank despair. He knows that it is the chastening of a Father, and is sure that love is wielding the rod. “His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” This man has a solidity and an independence which others never know. His heart is fixed. It is something to have one’s mind made up and settled. No man can be happy as long as he does not know his own mind--does not know what he would be at. On the contrary, “if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” To have an object in view, and to go straight at it, constitutes in a great measure the difference between a useful and a wasted life. We obtain here an interesting glimpse of the true relation in which the children stand to our Father in heaven. It is a matter of the heart, more than even of the intellect. True religion is not a matter into which a man is driven against his will; it is a matter that he seeks with desire, as the hart panteth for the water-brooks. The heart goes to God; the desires of the new nature flow out in that direction: “Nearer to Thee, my God; nearer to Thee.” And then, when you come nigh in the covenant, God is not a terror, but a trust. The magnet of the ship’s compass is in this aspect very like a godly man in the course of his earthly pilgrimage. The magnet on the sea and the believing soul in this life are firmly fixed on one side, and hang loose on the other. Both alike are fastened mysteriously to the distant and unseen, but are slack and easily moved in all their material settings. Precisely because they are unattached beneath, they are free to keep by their hold on high; and precisely because of their hold on high, they do not turn round with every movement of their material supports. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
He hath given to the poor.
The excellency and reward of charity
Among the various methods of giving glory to God, it is none of the least considerable to celebrate the acts and the reward of His saints. Whilst He is acknowledged for the author of their virtue and their happiness, there will be no danger of declining by this means to superstition and idolatry; the Creator’s power and goodness will be observed resplendent in His creatures, but not the creature worshipped instead of the Creator. So thought the holy penman of this psalm, who undertakes to set forth the praises of the Lord, by declaring the blessings of the man that delights in His commandments.
I. The amiable nature of a beneficent and bounteous disposition.
1. The general notion and exercise of this virtue. “He hath given to the poor.” It appears to he a principle of nature, that all who have ability, whether of purse, of body, or of mind, are bound to consider the necessities of other people, and spare some decent proportion of their own superfluities, to supply them in such manner as their respective exigencies call for help. The voice of nature, in this as well as other matters, is confirmed by the unerring precepts of revealed religion (1 Timothy 6:17-18; Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28).
2. Its great extent and diffusive quality. “He hath dispersed,” says the psalmist, or (in the old translation) “He hath dispersed abroad,” not confined himself to one or two such acts of charity, but repeated them with frequency, and spread them with discretion. As the husbandman takes care that his ground be first duly prepared for the improvement of his seed, and throws it not away on rocks or uncultivated deserts; so the liberal man should he careful to bestow his bounty where it may turn to use and benefit, and spread abroad with greatest profit and advantage to mankind.
3. Its duration and influence on future times. “His righteousness endureth for ever,” i.e. it shall always be had in remembrance before God (as is intimated of the alms of Cornelius), and receive such a reward from Him, as will demonstrate that his substance has not been wasted or thrown away, but discreetly improved to his own greatest advantage. This will be often seen in the increase of temporal blessings to him and his posterity (verses 2, 3; 2 Corinthians 9:8). And if this temporal increase do not always follow, yet the psalmist adds that “unto the righteous there ariseth light in the darkness,” such inward peace and tranquillity of mind as must more than counterbalance all the outward evil of adversity.
II. The happiness or reward annexed to such beneficence. “His horn shall be exalted with honour.” It is said of godliness, or the practice of religion in general, that it has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. But more particularly is that part of godliness, namely bounty to the poor, encouraged to trust in the care and goodness of Providence, even for temporal prosperity (Proverbs 11:24). Our Saviour represents it as the test of that reckoning He shall make with us at the last day, whether we have duly ministered to the various wants of His afflicted members, which He will esteem as done unto Himself. And therefore St. Paul has pertinently urged it as the ground why rich men should be ready to distribute, and willing to communicate, that so they may lay up in store for themselves a good foundation (or charter) against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. Then shall their horn truly be exalted with the highest honour. Not that the bare act of giving alms can ever entitle us to such a reward! But when it is given, as it is here considered, from a religious principle, it will then be accompanied with other Christian virtues, all springing from the same root of faith and obedience, which is the very condition of our laying hold on the Gospel promises, and entering into endless felicity. This is to receive honour from God, that durable, substantial honour which should chiefly be regarded. (W. Berriman, D.D.)
Thy duty and reward of bounty to the poor
Our text hath two parts, one affording us good information concerning our duty, the other yielding great encouragement to the performance thereof; for we are obliged to follow the pious man’s practice, and so doing we shall assuredly partake of his condition. The main drift is, to represent the liberal exercising of bounty and mercy to be the necessary duty, the ordinary practice, and the proper character of a truly pious man; so that performing such acts is a good sign of true piety; and omitting them is a certain argument of ungodliness.
I. I will show with what advantage the Holy Scripture represents it to us, or presses it on us.
1. We may consider that there is no sort of duties which God hath more expressly commanded, or more earnestly inculcated, than these of bounty and mercy toward our brethren: whence evidently the great moment of them, and their high value in God’s esteem may be inferred.
2. It is indeed observable that as in every kind that which is most excellent doth commonly assume to itself the name of the whole kind; so among the parts of righteousness (which word is used to comprehend all virtue and goodness) this of exercising bounty and mercy is peculiarly called righteousness: so that righteousness and mercifulness (or alms-deeds), the righteous and bountiful person, are in Scripture expression ordinarily confounded, as it were, or undistinguishably put one for the other.
3. We may also consequently mark that in those places of Scripture where the Divine law is abridged, and religion summed up into a few particulars of main importance, these duties constantly make a part.
4. It is in like manner considerable that in the general descriptions of piety and goodness, the practice of these duties is specified as a grand ingredient of them. In this psalm, where such a description is intended, it is almost the only particular instance; and it is not only mentioned, but reiterated in divers forms of expression. In the 37th psalm it is affirmed and repeated, that “the righteous showeth mercy; he showeth mercy, and giveth; he showeth mercy, and lendeth.”
5. Also in the particular histories of good men this sort of practice is specially taken notice of, and expressed in their characters. In the story of Abraham, his benignity to strangers, and hospitableness, is remarkable among all his deeds of goodness, being propounded to us as a pattern and encouragement to the like practice. In this the conscience of Job did solace itself, as in a solid assurance of his integrity: “I delivered the poor that cried,” etc.
6. So near to the heart of piety doth Scripture lay the practice of these duties: and no wonder; for it often expressly declares charity to be the fulfilling of God’s law, as the best expression of all our duty toward God, of faith in Him, love and reverence of Him, and as either formally containing, or naturally producing all our duty toward our neighbour. And of charity, works of bounty and mercy are both the chief instances, and the plainest signs.
7. To enforce which observations, and that we may be farther certified about the weight and worth of these duties, we may consider that to the observance of them most ample and excellent rewards are assigned; that, in return for what we bestow on our poor brethren, God hath promised all sorts of the best mercies and blessings to us.
8. And correspondently grievous punishments are designed and denounced to the transgressors of these duties; they, for being such, do forfeit God’s love and favour; they can have no sure possession, nor any comfortable enjoyment of their estate; for “he,” saith St. James, “shall have judgment without mercy, who showeth no mercy.”
9. It is indeed most considerable that at the final reckoning, when all men’s actions shall be strictly scanned, and justly sentenced according to their true desert, a special regard will be had to the discharge or neglect of these duties.
II. In regard to God--
1. We may consider that, by exercising of bounty and mercy, we are kind and courteous to God Himself; by neglecting those duties, we are unkind and rude to Him: for that what of good or evil is by us done to the poor, God interprets and accepts as done to Himself.
2. We by practising those duties are just, by omitting them are very unjust toward God. For our goods, our wealth, and our estate are indeed none of them simply or properly our own; God necessarily is the true and absolute proprietary of them.
3. Showing bounty and mercy are the most proper and the principal expressions of our gratitude unto God; so that in omitting them we are not only very unjust, but highly ungrateful. We may seem abundantly to thank Him in words; but a sparing hand gives the lie to the fullest mouth: we may spare our breath, if we keep back our substance.
4. Yea, all our devotion, severed from a disposition of practising these duties, cannot have any true worth in it, shall not yield any good effect from it. Our prayers, if we are uncharitably disposed, what are they other than demonstrations of egregious impudence and folly?
5. The conscionable practice of these duties doth plainly spring from those good dispositions of mind regarding God, which are the original grounds and fountains of all true piety; and the neglect of them issueth from those vicious dispositions which have a peculiar inconsistency with piety, being destructive thereof in the very foundation and root. Faith in God is the fundamental grace on which piety is grounded; love and fear of God are the radical principles from which it grows: all which as the charitable man discovers in his practice, so they are apparently banished from the heart of the illiberal and unmerciful person.
6. Let us consider that nothing is more conformable to God’s nature, or renders us more like to Him, than beneficence and mercy; and that consequently nothing can be more grateful to Him: that nothing is more disagreeable and contrary to the essential disposition of God, than illiberality and unmercifulness; and therefore that nothing can be more distasteful to Him.
III. In regard to our neighbour.
1. He whose need craves our bounty, whose misery demands our mercy, what is he? He within himself containeth a nature very excellent; an immortal soul, and an intelligent mind, by which he nearly resembleth God Himself, and is comparable to angels: he invisibly is owner of endowments, rendering him capable of the greatest and best things.
2. That distinction which thou standest on, and which seemeth so vast between thy poor neighbour and thee, what is it? whence did it come? whither tends it? What the philosopher said of himself, “What I have is so mine, that it is every man’s,” is according to the practice of each man, who is truly and in due measure charitable; whereby that seemingly enormous discrimination among men is well moderated, and the equity of Divine providence is vindicated. But he that ravenously grasps for more than he can well use, and gripes it fast into his clutches, so that the needy in their distress cannot come by it, doth pervert that equity which God hath established in things, defeats His good intentions (so far as he can), and brings a scandal on His providence: and so doing is highly both injurious and impious.
3. It was also one main end of this difference among us, permitted by God’s providence, that as some men’s industry and patience might be exercised by their poverty, so other men by their wealth should have ability of practising justice and charity; that so both rich and poor might thence become capable of recompenses, suitable to the worth of such virtuous performances. “Why art thou rich,” saith St. Basil, “and he poor? Surely for this; that thou mayest attain the reward of benignity, and faithful dispensation; and that he may be honoured with the great prize of patience.”
4. We should also do well to consider that a poor man, even as such, is not to be disregarded, and that poverty is no such contemptible thing as we may be prone to imagine. Shall we presume, in the person of any poor man, to abhor or contemn the very poor, but most holy and most happy Jesus, our Lord and Redeemer? No; if we will do poverty right, we must rather for His dear sake and memory defer an especial respect and veneration thereto.
5. Thus a due reflection on the poor man himself, his nature and state, will induce us to succour. But let us also consider him as related unto ourselves: every such person is our near kinsman, is our brother, is by indissoluble bands of cognation in blood, and agreement in nature, knit and united to us.
6. Farther, as the poor man is so nearly allied to us by society of common nature, so is he more strictly joined to us by the bands of spiritual consanguinity.
IV. If we reflect on ourselves, and consider either our nature, or our state here, we cannot but observe many strong engagements to the same practice.
1. The very constitution, frame, and temper of our nature directeth and inclineth us thereto; whence, by observing those duties, we observe our own nature, we improve it, we advance it to the best perfection it is capable of; by neglecting them, we thwart, we impair, we debase the same.
2. And if the sensitive part within us doth suggest so much, the rational dictates more unto us: that heavenly faculty, having capacities so wide, and so mighty energies, was surely not created to serve mean or narrow designs; it was not given us to scrape eternally in earth, or to amass heaps of clay for private enjoyment.
3. Farther, examining ourselves, we may also observe that we are in reality, what our poor neighbour appears to be, in many respects no less indigent and impotent than he: we no less, yea far more, for our subsistence depend on the arbitrary power of another, than he seemeth to rely on ours.
4. The great uncertainty and instability of our condition doth also require our consideration. We, that now flourish in a fair and full estate, may soon be in the case of that poor creature, who now sues for our relief; we, that this day enjoy the wealth of Job, may the morrow need his patience.
5. And equity doth exact no less: for were any of us in the needy man’s plight, we should believe our case deserved commiseration; we should importunately demand relief; we should be grievously displeased at a repulse; we should apprehend ourselves very hardly dealt with, and sadly we should complain of inhumanity and cruelty, if succour were refused to us.
6. We should also remember concerning ourselves, that we are mortal and frail.
V. If we contemplate our wealth itself, we may therein descry great motives to bounty.
1. Thus to employ our riches is really the best use they are capable of: not only the most innocent, most worthy, most plausible, but the most safe, most pleasant, most advantageous, and consequently in all respects most prudent way of disposing them.
2. Excluding this use of wealth, or abstracting a capacity of doing good therewith, nothing is more pitiful and despicable than it; it is but like the load or the trappings of an ass: a wise man on that condition would not choose it, or endure to be pestered with it; but would serve it as those philosophers did, who flung it away, that it might not disturb their contemplations: it is the power it affords of benefiting men, which only can season and ingratiate if to the relish of such a person: otherwise it is evidently true, which the wise man affirms (Proverbs 15:16).
3. Again, we may consider that to dispense our wealth liberally is the best way to preserve it, and to continue masters thereof; what we give is not thrown away, but saved from danger: while we detain it at home (as it seems to us) it really is abroad and at adventures; it is out at sea, sailing perilously in storms, near rocks and shelves, amongst pirates; nor can it ever be safe, till it is brought into this port, or insured this way: when we have bestowed it on the poor, then we have lodged it in unquestionable safety; in a place where no rapine, no deceit, no mishap, no corruption can ever by any means come at it.
4. Nay, farther, we may consider that exercising bounty is the most advantageous method of improving and increasing an estate; but that being tenacious and illiberal, doth tend to the diminution and decay thereof.
5. Farther, the contributing part of our goods to the poor will qualify us to enjoy the rest with satisfaction and comfort. The oblation of these first-fruits, as it will sanctify the whole lump of our estate, so it will sweeten it.
6. The peculiar nature of our religion specially requires it, and the honour thereof exacts it from us; nothing better suits Christianity, nothing more graces it, than liberality; nothing is more inconsistent therewith, or more disparageth it, than being miserable and sordid.
VI. Some rewards peculiar to the exercising the duties of bounty and mercy.
1. “His righteousness endureth for ever.” These words may import that the fame and remembrance of his bounty is very durable, or that the effects thereof do lastingly continue, or that eternal rewards are designed thereto; they may respect the bountiful man himself, or his posterity here; they may simply relate to an endurance in God’s regard and care; or they may with that also comprehend a continuance in the good memory and honourable mention of men. Now, in truth, according to all these interpretations, the bountiful man’s righteousness doth endure for ever.
2. “His horn shall be exalted with honour.” This may be supposed to import that an abundance of high and holy, of firm and solid honour shall attend on the bountiful person. And that so it truly shall, may from many considerations appear.
(1) Honour is inseparably annexed thereto, as its natural companion and shadow. God hath impressed on all virtue a majesty and a beauty which do command respect, and with a kindly violence extort veneration from men.
(2) An accession of honour, according to gracious promise (grounded on somewhat of special reason, of equity and decency in the thing itself), is due from God unto the bountiful person, and is by special providence surely conferred on him.
(3) God will thus exalt the bountiful man’s horn even here in this world, and to an infinitely higher pitch He will advance it in the future state: he shall there be set at the right hand, in a most honourable place and rank, among the chief friends and favourites of the Heavenly King, in happy consortship with the holy angels and blessed saints; where, in recompense of his pious bounty, he shall, from the bountiful hands of his most gracious Lord, receive “an incorruptible crown of righteousness,” and an “unfading crown of glory.” (Isaac Barrow, D.D.)
The commendation and reward of the benevolent man
I. His conduct is commended.
1. Its disinterestedness.
2. Its judicious distinction of their recipients and their circumstances.
3. Its modesty, and the benignity of manner in which it is performed.
4. Its evangelical motive and single aim. He looks to Calvary, and sees there the grand incentive to all virtue. The influence under which he acts is not the temporary excitement of sympathetic feeling, nor the sentimental emotion of a poetic generosity, nor the feverish thirst for distinction and applause, nor the mere mechanical habit of doing as others have done; but it is a Divine influence--a motive which comes fresh into his bosom from the fount of all purity and grace, and which instigates not to a fitful, but to a persevering--not to an indolent, but to an indefatigable--not to a self-complacent, but to a self-denying exercise of that “pure religion which is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” He who from such a principle engages in offices of brotherly kindness and charity never arrogates to himself the glory, but ascribes it all to God.
II. His reward.
1. The exercise of benevolence naturally conciliates esteem. All virtuous conduct is deemed honourable; but men ever reserve their best eulogiums for the disinterested benefactors of their kind.
2. The inspired writers in repeated instances speak of it as part at least of a good man’s singular felicity that his name shall be followed with blessings, and the remembrance of his piety be cherished when he has entered upon his everlasting rest.
3. The chief part of that reward which it pleases God to bestow upon Christian beneficence is reserved for another world. Little as we know of that future state of being upon which we enter at death, we are left in no doubt of the fact, that it will be to every man a state of misery or of happiness, according to the manner in which he shall have spent this present probationary season on earth. They, consequently, who, “by patient continuance in well-doing, are seeking for glory, honour, and immortality,” shall not find themselves disappointed at last. (E. Steane.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 112". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20