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I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.
I. The godly man’s need. “Help.” Can never outgrow this: dependence the characteristic of the creature: “help” must be had in the conflict or it will end in defeat, in the toil or it will issue in failure, in the pilgrim-march or we faint and fail by the way, etc.
II. The godly man’s attitude: Looking for help--“I will lift up my eyes,” etc. He waits--he expects--he obtains. The truest vision is soul-vision. Looking up in solicitation, contemplation, expectation. “Up,” from the mud and mire of earth, and the sins and sorrows of self. “The hills” expressive of strength, “the strength of the hills is His”: of majesty--of stability, “the everlasting hills”: of veneration, “the silence of the hills breathes veneration” (Mrs. Hemans); striking and suitable emblem of Him to whom all might, and majesty, and duration, and reverence belong.
III. The godly man’s confidence: “My help cometh from the Lord,” etc. He is assured that He who made the heavens and made the earth would rather let the sky fall and the earth perish from the want of His support, than that he should suffer injury from the withholding of His help. Help alone cometh from God: help does and ever will be vouchsafed, etc.
IV. The godly man’s safety: “He will not suffer,” etc.
1. Safety guaranteed from the highest source: “the Lord is thy Keeper” (verse 5). His wisdom, power, love, all His attributes a royal battalion--bodyguard around him, unceasingly around him (verses 3, 4).
2. Safety guaranteed to the whole man, under all circumstances, through all time, from all evil (verses 7, 8). (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
The good in time of need
I. His attitude.
1. God is the only true help of the soul. He alone can raise it from its fallen condition, break its fetters, heal its wounds, energize its faculties, and set it on a course safe and prosperous.
2. To Him the godly soul instinctively looks in trial. The worldly man in trial looks to earthly things for succour and support, to social sympathies, to human friendships, to Church officers, but the good man turns at once to God, feels that from Him alone the necessary help can come.
II. His protector.
1. The universal Creator.
2. A sleepless Guardian.
3. The all-sufficient.
III. His confidence (verse 7). (Homilist.)
Looking to the hills
We see the exile, wearied with the monotony of the long-stretching, flat plains of Babylonia, summoning up before his mind the distant hills where his home was. We see him wondering how he will be able ever to reach that place where his desires are set; and we see him settling down, in hopeful assurance that his effort is not in vain, since his help comes from the Lord. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills;” away out yonder westwards, across the sands, lies the lofty summits of my fatherland that draws me to itself. Then comes a turn of thought, most natural to a mind passionately yearning after a great hope, the very greatness of which makes it hard to keep constant. For the second clause must be taken as a question: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help?” How am I to get there? And then comes the final turn of thought: “My help cometh from the Lord,” etc.
I. The look of longing. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills”--a resolution, and a resolution born of intense longing. It comes to be a very sharp question with us professing Christians, whether the horizon of our inward being is limited by, and coterminous with, the horizon of our senses, or whether, far beyond the narrow limits to which these can reach, our spirits’ desire stretches boundless. Are, to us, the things unseen the solid things, and the things visible the shadows and the phantoms? We see with the bodily eyes the shadows on the wall, as it were, but we have to turn round and see with the eyes of our minds the light that flings the shadows. “I will lift up my eyes” from the mud-flats where I live to the hills that I cannot see, and, seeing them, I shall be blessed. Further, do we know anything of that longing that the psalmist had? He was perfectly comfortable in Babylon. There was abundance of everything that he wanted for his life. But for all that, fat, wealthy Babylon was not Palestine. So the psalmist longed for the mountains, though the mountains are often bare of green things, amidst the lush vegetation, the wealth of water and the fertile plains. Do we know anything of that longing which makes us “that are in this tabernacle to groan, being burdened”? Unless our Christianity throws us out of harmony and contentment with the present, it is worth very little. And unless we know something of that immortal longing to be nearer to God, and fuller of Christ, and emancipated from sense, and from the burdens and trivialities of life, we have yet to learn what the meaning of “walking not after the flesh but after the Spirit” really, is. Further, do we make any effort like that of this psalmist, who encourages and stimulates himself by that strong “I will lift up my eyes”? You will not do it unless you make a dead lift of effort.
II. The question of weakness. “From whence cometh my help?” The loftier our ideal, the more painful ought to be our conviction of incapacity to reach it. The Christian man’s one security is in feeling his peril, and the condition of his strength is his acknowledgment and vivid consciousness always of his weakness. “Blessed is the man that feareth always.” “Pride goeth before destruction.” Remember the Franco-German war, and how the French Prime Minister said that they were going into it “with a light heart,” and how some of the troops went out of Paris in railway carriages labelled “for Berlin”; and when they reached the frontier they were doubled up and crushed in a month. Unless we, when we set ourselves to this warfare, feel the formidableness of the enemy and recognize the weakness of our own arms, there is nothing but defeat for us.
III. The assurance of faith. The psalmist asks himself: “From whence cometh my help?” and then the better self answers the questioning, timid self: “My help cometh from the Lord,” etc. There will be no reception of the Divine help unless there is a sense of the need of the Divine help. God cannot help me before I am brought to despair of any other help. If we conceit ourselves to be strong we are weak; if we know ourselves to be impotent, Omnipotence pours itself into us. We read once that Jesus Christ healed “them that had need of healing.” Why does the evangelist not say, without that periphrasis, “healed the sick”? Because he would emphasize, I suppose, amongst other things, the thought that only the sense of need fits for the reception of healing and help. If, then, we desire that God should be “the strength of our hearts, and our portion for ever,” the coming of His help must be wooed and won by our sense of our own impotence, and only they who say: “We have no might against this great multitude that cometh against us,” will ever hear from Him the blessed assurance: “the Lord will fight for you.” “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The text would be better rendered, “Shall I lift up mine eyes unto the hills? Whence should my help come? It cometh from Jehovah, who is high up above the hills; even from the Maker of heaven and earth.” Palestine is a mountain-land; and such a country exercises a strange fascination over its inhabitants. What a holy power the great mountains have over us all! They seem to be so near to God, so full of God, that they bring us near to Him, and they fill us full of Him. They make us “look up.” And that is precisely what we all need to have done for us.
I. World-drawn, we look down, and so are weak. We are in the world; in a thousand subtle ways we are kin with the world, we are subject to its influences, caught by its whirl of excitement, absorbed by its pressing claims, and easily we may become of the world as well as in it. But everything the world presents to us is below us, beneath us; and it so keeps us looking down, that at last the habit of down-looking grows upon us. How powerfully we are all drawn by world-interests! The influence of the world begets a downward look, a sort of set of the eyes and heart downwards. What do we see when we thus fix our gaze? Nothing elevating, inspiring, ennobling, much of self, of man, and of things. Much of conflict, and struggle, and loss, and pain, and change, and dissatisfaction. Much of man, and his things, that perish with the using. Much of man, and the fashion of this world that passeth away. Human grandeur, which, seen from above, is all of tinsel. Human successes, that are touched by the chill hand of death, and fade sooner than the summer cloud. What do we see when we look down? The hurry and bustle of thousands who, along with us, are hasting to be rich. The physicians, driving to homes that are full of pain, and grief, and fear. The mourners going about the streets. And the shadow of God’s curse on sin resting darkly everywhere. It is this downward, earthward looking that makes us so weak: so weak as those who, being made in the image of God, ought to be strong in the strength of God.
II. God-drawn, we look up, and so grow strong. God is ever calling. If we would stop and hush awhile, we might hear the voice of God in our souls, ever saying, “Look up! Look up!” Observe the gracious mission God has entrusted to the mountains.
1. Looking up, we find nothing of man’s, it is all of God up above.
2. Looking up, we feel how pure God’s snow is.
3. Looking up, we find God’s clouds are glorified.
4. Looking up, we may hear the voices of the hills saying, “The mists and the storms are all outside us; they are not us. We abide firm through all the changes. The mists pass swiftly about us, and pass away. The storms wildly rage about us, but the winds die down, the rains stream off, the thunder-voice is quieted, and we come forth again, only cleansed and purified.” It is a message from God for us troubled, sorrow-stricken, storm-tossed men and women.
5. And the hills seem also to say, “Up above is more sunshine than storm. Down below, man’s smoke lies heavy over the towns, and God’s clouds seem dark; but it is almost always sunshine up here.” These are the messages that seem to come from the hills. “Look up! Look up morel” (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
I. Who is it that ascends?--The Christian ascends.
II. Whither? Heavenwards: to the everlasting hills.
III. From whence? From this vale of tears.
IV. By what steps? By faith and repentance. (C. A. Fowler, M. A.)
The mountaineer’s psalm
I imagine the psalmist had either dwelt under the mountains, or had climbed some of their steep sides. Palestine, it is true, was not a mountainous country, like Switzerland; but still, it had its mountains, notably Hermon, which is over 9,000 feet above sea-level, and usually covered with a cap of snow. In a small way the psalmist might have been, probably was, a mountaineer, and so knew the unique feelings which come to one in lofty places. The special point I want to enforce is this--that what the mountains are to the lower, that God is to the higher life of man.
I. Invigoration comes from the mountains. Every one is conscious of this. In the valleys there is beat and the languor it produces. On the mountains there may be heat from the sunlight, but there is the tonic which comes from glacier or snow-field. In the valley the air is heavy and depressing. On the mountains the air is light and exhilarating. And so exertion which is impossible down below, is possible and easy higher up. And what the mountains are to the body God is to the soul. He is the true invigorator. In Him is our help found. Like the body, the soul needs invigoration, and that invigoration is found only in God. Immunity from evil comes only from an invigorated spiritual nature--and such a nature comes only from the sense of God.
II. There come from the mountains wide outlooks. Down in the valleys the outlooks are narrow. You can see the valley sides, and it may be you can catch the sight of some solitary peak shining with snow, but all is limited. You cannot look into the valleys near, or see the peaks that lie beyond. But move upward to the hills which frame in the valley, or, better still, climb some lofty peak, and the whole land lies before you--peak after peak, valley after valley, till you are almost overpowered with the sight. And it is so when we lift our eyes to God. With Him in our heart we get wide outlooks. Look at the world from the standpoint of God. Lord Salisbury once advised people who were talking ignorantly about foreign affairs, and who knew little of the geography of the world, to turn to large maps. I venture to bid those depressed at heart to take wider outlooks--to come up out of the valley where the little drama of the present is being enacted, and remember that there is still One “who sitteth upon the circle of the earth,” and who will guide the world, in spite of its aberrations, into the way of righteousness and peace.
III. The mountains may remind us of the lowliness of man and the greatness of God. Down in the cities of the world man seems the great factor. He is in evidence everywhere. His works face us at every turn. But up among the mountains man and his work fade from view, and God and His work alone are in evidence. God is nearer to us in flower and tree, valley and mountain, than in any buildings made with hands. And the voices which have gone deepest into the hearts of this generation are not the voices of men who dwelt amid the crowded haunts of men, but of those who in the quietness of the country heard the voice of God. Wordsworth amid the dales of Cumberland; Tennyson amid the heather-clad slopes of Surrey, or by the sea at Farringford; and, before and beyond all these, the Christ Himself, who said to His disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.” (W. G. Horder.)
Looking up and lilting up
Hills have a fascination for those brought up among them. How Israel in Babylon sighed for their much-loved hills! How the Swiss away from their own country pine for the mountains of their native land! Jesus loved the hills. His chosen walks were among them. The hills were His sanctuary for prayer, His temple for worship; from the hills of Capernaum He preached; the crest of Tabor was the scene of His transfiguration; on the hill of Calvary He was crucified; from Olivet He ascended. There is an affinity between souls and hills. Especially for those who have become acquainted with their own solemn depths and sublime heights. The outward world tends to awaken the sympathy of the thoughtful for the true order which has been lost. It pictures to him both sides of his nature--his real and his ideal life, the life he lives, and the life of which he dreams, and for which he prays. The hills represent heights that he ought to attain--the deep places, depths of degradation into which he has fallen. Though imprisoned by a sinful darkness, and fettered by a chain of evil habits, the hills will not allow him wholly to forget his lost heights of freedom, peace, and blessedness, to which, now and again, he fain would, but feels he cannot return. The way of ascent is difficult. There is a broad and easy way, but it leads to deeper depths and heavier bonds. But ha the deepest depths, and under the heaviest burdens, he ever and again remembers the heights, though the corresponding life may, long since, have been transferred to his dreams. There are no heights like those to which the soul rises ha the exercise of faith--heights incredible to the senses. By faith, we finite creatures, with a sense-experience only of the finite, nevertheless apprehend the infinite; by faith, we creatures of “flesh and blood,” shut in by the material, discover our only true home to be in the spiritual; by faith, we mortals, in a world of mortality, anticipate immortality; by faith, we poor slaves of a manifold bondage look for perfect liberty; by faith, we, the offspring of earthly parentage, claim God for our Father, and Heaven for our home. These are some of the heights of which the hills are representative, and to which they point, hills of hope, and help for our original and eternal nature. From “the hill of the Lord” we receive help for the valley. If we look up we shall receive light for our way, and be led in a plain path. The hill of the Lord is to the pilgrim who looks up what the compass is to the mariner who finds his course by it through the troubled waters of the pathless sea. For those who look to Him, the Lord opens up “a way in the desert,” a path through the woods, and turns the sea into dry land. “In the presence of their enemies He prepares them a table” and causes them to “lie down in peace,” and goes before them in the way--a guardian, guiding Presence “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” In this short psalm the writer is so full of the protection and help of Jehovah that he cannot find terms enough in which to express the rich fulness of his icy and confidence, Fifteen times in eight verses he assures Israel of the “help, keeping,” and “preservation” of God--at all times; under all circumstances; for every one, with respect to his whole nature and history; for time and eternity. Oh, what hills of hope and help there are for the upward use of our eyes, altitudes of our own nature as seen in Jesus, which, like Alpine summits, far above every storm-swept height, look down in the mute eloquence and sublime repose of their eternal state invitingly on all below! The men who permanently bless the world are men who look up, and receive that which, travelling down “the starry road of the Infinite’s abode,” fills their eyes with reverence and a grand hope, and inspires their souls with a divine disdain of earthly goods and worldly honours, as being unworthy of man’s “chief end.” This habit of looking up will teach us to understand the use of trouble in the valley. Let us learn to regard all that troubles and disturbs us in our health, our home, our circumstances as the means by which God calls upon us to look up,--to disengage ourselves from earthly entanglements,--to prepare to ascend. By the trouble to which we are born, He seeks to wean us from the love of earth, that He may woo us to the love of heavenly things and the spiritual life of our eternal home. (W. Pulsford, D. D.)
Lift up the eyes of the soul
This verse would be a suitable inscription for a church entrance. It is a scripture to be repeated when walking to the temple. If ever the eyes are strained towards heaven, it is by rose who go to the sanctuary, or long to do so. Yet it is possible to join the assembly of God’s saints, and not lift up our eyes to the hills. Some who make excursions seem to see all the meaning of their journey in what they take with them, others go chiefly to refresh themselves in the contemplation of God’s flowers and trees, rocks and rivers, valleys and hills. Of travellers climbing together to a mountain summit, there are those who, on reaching it, as if they had done all, lie down till the moment for returning; while their wiser companions, as if there were something for which they had been at the trouble of ascending, stand on the top, and look forth earnestly. They admire the prospect, and mark the direction of a more lofty mountain which they intend to gain, and how the road lies by which they will have to travel thither. Our feet are to visit the hill of the earthly Zion, that our hearts may get a better view of the mountain of the Lord’s house in the heavenly country. The object in attending the services of the sanctuary is to “hear of heaven and learn the way.” (E. J. Robinson.)
Hills make us look up. It is well they do so, for all that is necessary for our life here comes from above. An artist whose eyes have been much accustomed to look up, has painted some very beautiful pictures of sunset skies, which astonish many people who visit the Kensington Museum in London. They have never seen such gorgeous sunsets, and for the good reason that they have not looked for them. We lose much by fixing our eyes upon the things beneath and seldom looking up. A king once asked a duke if he had seen an eclipse of the sun on the previous day. “No, sir,” replied the nobleman, “I have so much business on earth that I have no time to look up.” By looking up the wise men of the East were led to the Saviour, who then lay an infant in Bethlehem’s manger. By looking up many a downcast heart has rejoiced to see the morning’s sun rise, which seemed to speak to them of brighter days yet to come. But there is another kind of looking up that is necessary to give joy and true satisfaction to the soul. The high hills, the lovely skies, and the glowing sunsets should lead us to look higher up still--even to the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. This looking consists of real faith in God and in His promises. It is the soul looking beyond itself and all that is earthly to the Rock that is higher than we are. “Looking unto Jesus” is the secret of all true joy in the Christian life. It is as we look up with the eye of faith that the beauty of the Saviour is reflected upon us, and we are made like Him. But the hills have a few more lessons for us.
1. They give us a taste for what is beautiful. Some of the prettiest scenery in the world is amongst the hills. It is there we find “flowery glens and mossy dells, where happy birds in song agree.” It is there we behold the delightful waterfalls and other beauties of nature. We have read of a traveller who went to America to see the Falls of Niagara, and who, after a long, weary journey, was within a few miles of them, and inquired of a man if the rumbling noise he heard was that of the Falls. The man replied that perhaps it was, but he had never been there, although all his life he had lived so near them. But it is not always that people have the time and the means for travelling, and so they are to be excused. There is, however, no excuse for people being ignorant of the beauties of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of all who come to Christ to see spiritual sights which gladden the heart and prepare the soul for heaven. Travellers tell us of beauty in other lands far surpassing anything we have ever seen here. And there is also a heavenly land which is so fair that its glory can never be told us, as we have no language to express it or mind to conceive it.
2. The hills are very valuable to us. Their lofty summits cause the moisture of the air to descend rain or snow to refresh and make the earth fruitful. Then they give motion to the water, and thus keep it from growing stagnant or impure. Otherwise the water would have disease and death in it. Our souls, too, require heavenly rains to descend to refresh them, and to make them bear the fruits of the Spirit. We need the pure river of the water of life to flow through our souls to keep them in the love of God.
3. Hills praise God. They are commanded to do so in Scripture. One way by which they praise God is by producing holy desires in the hearts of men. They often cause people to think of the greatness and the glory of God. And they daily witness to His power and wisdom. We also are commanded to praise God, and we can do it consciously, which the hills are unable to do. We ought to praise God by the adoration of our hearts, the fruit of our lips, and the devotion of our lives.
4. The hills and the love of God are contrasted (Isaiah 54:10). How blessed it is to know that when the hills shall have passed away there is something that shall abide! Yes; the love of Jesus shall remain, and we shall dwell in the enjoyment of His glorious presence. His love was manifested upon a hill, which of all hills should never be forgotten--the hill at Calvary. This hill speaks of the amazing love of God in giving up His only Son to die for us, and of the matchless love of Christ in bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. (John Mitchell.)
The far-away look
In one of Dr. Miller’s helpful anecdotes we are told of a Christian woman, a busy editorial worker, whose eyes began to trouble her, until she was obliged to go to an oculist to see what was the matter with them. She told him she thought she needed a new pair of glasses. The oculist told her that what she needed was not new glasses, but rest for the eyes. That, she told him, was impossible. Her work compelled her to sit all day bending over a desk, reading and writing. The wise oculist asked her where she lived, and found it was in full sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Alleghanies. “Go home,” he said, “and do your work as usual, but every hour or so leave your desk, and go and stand on your porch and look at the mountains. The far-away look will rest your eyes after the long strain of reading manuscripts and proof-sheets.” That is what Sabbaths are for--the far-away looks. We all need them--an hour or two on Sunday, if no more. Then--and here is the lesson for many a busy housemother who must prepare meals even on Sunday for her hungry children, who must often nurse the sick ones or stay at home with the little ones--if anything calls one away from the rest of soul and body, remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said that God wants mercy (kindness, goodness, helpfulness) even more than sacrifice.
From whence cometh my help.--
The help of the hills
Let me speak of the helpfulness of the mountains as a sign, not a measure, but an imperfect sign of the helpfulness of God. The most sheltered spots of earth are mountain guarded. When we rejoice in the valley, let us remember only the mountain made it possible. Is it protected from devastating storms such as involve the plains in their fury? It is because the mountain has guarded it. It has broken the hurricane’s wing and the cyclone’s wheel. Is it alive with meadow streams that sing their gladsome song to the green grasses that bend over to listen? It is because the mountains sent the streamlets flashing down, pure as crystal and full of tonic for every living thing in the valley. Has there been an abundance of rain? The mountain nurtured the storm full of menace, but so full of blessing that when it saw the fields suffering for its baptism, it opened its veins of life with the lightning’s lance, and became balm and benison to the blighted fields. Not only so, but the mountains give their fresh wealth to supply new soil to the valley. The storms that scar their old sides are ploughing up fresh soil for the cornfields and the valley. And the streams are the carriers that, plunging gaily from steep to steep, carry it down. The Alleghanies help to make the Ohio Valley. The Rockies enrich the Missouri, the mountains of Central Africa make the exhaustless granary of the Nile delta. Oh! the help there is in the stern hills Oh! the blessing God is to this low world! How He comes to shield from storms. How He sends upon us the living streams of His truth. Yes, how He bends Himself to be the nourishment and strength of His people! Consider the influence of the hills on the civilization of the world. They have been the nurseries of heroism, of physical and moral strength. The early Turanians, who displaced the stagnant barbarism of Asia with a rude vigour, descended for their work from the mountain ranges of Siberia. The Modes and Persians, who came down like messengers of Divine judgment on the effeminate luxury and showy splendour of Babylon, came from the hill country. The Spartans who filled the Thermopylae Pass were mountain men. The Waldenses, who held their own for liberty, held it in poverty and pain among the pinnacles of Piedmont--held it against all the cultured and disciplined power of the cities on the plains. Their natures were as rugged as the grey Alps around them. It is a grand preparation for heroism to be obliged to fight life’s battle under the stern conditions of the mountains. They do not smile on easy living. They are severe masters, but they enforce the lesson. He who has overcome the mountains has overcome many other things at the same time. But I do not believe that the chief value of mountains as promoters of heroism is of a physical sort. At last heroism has a moral base. Mountains make tough animals. They are the habitation of daring wild beasts, but they also work on those moral qualities which make great patriots. They affect men’s thoughts. They appeal to a man’s reverence. They overawe him with power. They work on his conscience. To face Mont Blanc is itself a sort of judgment day. It says “God.” There is absolutely no support for tired human spirits but in the idea of God, and that which that idea implies. To the mountain of Sinai you must look for the quickening of conscience; to the mountain of Calvary for salvation from sin. As the mountains lift themselves above the world in a “stillness of perpetual benediction,” so God rises to our faith and hope above these storm-driven plains of time. His Fatherhood overhangs us like a perpetual benediction. He helps us with a help that is quite sufficient, and that sustains us amid all circumstances; yea, with a help that makes us indifferent to circumstance. To men accustomed only to the light of reason and calculation it is difficult to present the spiritual help of the Lord. It cannot be explained. But it is the one profound fact that makes the difference between the submissive and meek-brewed; yea, the rejoicing saint and the complaining and rebellious sinner. I have often asked friends, “What is the source of the contented lives the Swiss peasants live amid their secluding mountains?” Contented and peaceful they undeniably are, and that, too, in poverty and toil from beginning to end. It seems as if the genii of the mountains from unseen sources beyond the storms brought unfailing peace and comfort as the streams that spring from the snows water their flocks and their pastures. The reservoir never fails. Now, God’s sustaining grace is like those streams of Alpine blessing. You cannot quite trace; you certainly cannot explain it. The child of God who perhaps has nothing but poverty and pain, misery and misfortune, as the world reckons, somehow holds a boundless peace, and the martyr who smiles in his agonies is not a more conspicuous example of this strange unseen help of God than is the quiet patient soul who, in ordinary ways of uneventful living, holds a steadfast faith and a happy hope in God. (C. L. Thompson, D. D.)
Help needed and provided
It, was “help” and only “help,” which he looked for from his God; and help is not that which dispenses with exertion on our part, but rather that which supposes such exertion. Helping a man is not the doing everything for him, and leaving him nothing to do for himself; but rather the assisting him in his efforts,--making those efforts effectual, when perhaps without aid they would be insufficient and frustrated. It is help, and nothing more than help, which is promised throughout the Scriptures. “Help us, O God of our salvation,” is the burden of the supplications of David; and St. Paul, when he would found an argument for boldness in approaching the mercy-seat, on the fact of our having “an High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” does not apply it to the expecting more than mercy and help--“That we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” There cannot be a more dangerous delusion than the supposing that the operations of Divine grace are such as to supersede the necessity for exertion, or such (so to speak) as will make us religious in spite of ourselves. The Spirit will not force us to pray; but if we yield to His impulse, and endeavour to pray, He will “Help our infirmities,” and enable us to pray effectually. He will not make it impossible for us to be overcome of temptation; but if we strive against it, He will so come to our assistance as to ensure us the victory. He will not bring to maturity the virtues implanted by Himself without requiring from us any of the processes of moral husbandry; whilst the showers and the sunshine are altogether His, the labour and the tillage must be ours. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
Turning creation to account
This, indeed, is turning creation to account. It is thought a great thing to have a patron who is distinguished by his rank or his deeds. The man is envied who can look up for help to kings, or princes, or nobles; but the meanest believer may say of the Lord who ‘made heaven and earth that He is engaged for his succour and protection. This, we say, is turning creation to account. This is pressing the forests, the mountains and stars into our service; and making them minister to our comfort and assurance. There is not an impress of power on the visible universe but is a message to the Christian, telling him not to be afraid. Every glorious demonstration of Almightiness which is set forth in the processes of nature, or in the revolutions of systems, does but announce to him what a guardian and upholder he has. Yea, and it is not only when God is revealed as a God of providence--a God who is “about our path and about our bed”--that it is comforting and elevating to think of Him as the Lord who “made heaven and earth.” I like to remember that it is said of the Redeemer, even of our Lord Jesus Christ--“By Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible.” If He was crucified in weakness, he was nevertheless the Being at whose word arose all the magnificence of the material universe, and the “thrones, dominions, principalities and powers “of the spiritual creation. And, therefore, when it is even the hill of Calvary to which I look up, where there seems presented no spectacle but one of ignominy and death, I can gain confidence from the fact with which the psalmist was encouraged. Yes, blessed Saviour, our help is indeed from Thee! We must lift up our eyes to Thee--to Thee extended on the cross--if we would be enabled to escape Divine wrath, and obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. But we recognize in Thee more than the persecuted man, borne down by the malice and fury of the powers of darkness; we behold in Thee, even when we see Thee on Calvary, “the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person.” And the proud and the unbelieving may wonder at, or even ridicule, our expecting assistance from one who died the death of a malefactor; but we bow before Thee on the cross; we look towards Thee on the cross; and owning the ever-living God in the suffering man, we exclaim in holy confidence, our “help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved.
“He will not suffer thy foot to be moved”
Any of you who have tried to climb the hills know that that is just the great danger of it. One slip, and you may go sheer down hundreds of feet, and be dashed to pieces. Do we not use this expression to cover the idea of safety? We talk about the “sure-footed” guide, and the “sure-footed” mountaineer, the man of keen eye and cool nerve, and of muscles like iron all over his body; a man who can be depended on. If he gets a foothold for his foot, he will put his foot there, and keep it there, until he gets another as good. So is the Christian. Why, in one sense, we are engaged in a perilous journey. We are going up. We are climbing. To brace yourself to climb the Matterhorn is a small thing compared with this girding of your mind to be sober and climbing right up from hell to heaven. And that is the climb for every one of us. (John McNeill)
The Christian’s stability
The North Pole is perpetually roving within the limits of a circle sixty feet in diameter. What is the North Pole to-day is not the North Pole to-morrow. The true North Pole has been known to travel more than four feet in a week, while sometimes it has required more than a month to cover a yard. Suppose that you and I were to sail from opposite points to discover this turning-point. We will say that you, with your astronomical instruments, planted your flag upon the exact North Pole six months ago, and then went away. I, arriving to-day, make equally accurate calculations and plant my flag also upon the true North Pole. My flag is probably forty feet from yours, yet neither of us is in error. To-morrow the elusive little tip-top of the earth will have slipped away from both of us. And if I were to claim a building site the corner-stone of which was marked by this North Pole, a strange predicament would follow. I should have to place my fences upon castors, and keep them continually moving in order to mark strictly my own reservation. So it is with too many Christian lives. Want of stability in the Christian faith and life is one of the great--one might say the greatest--hindrances to the true development of Christianity among us. We are constantly veering round in our faith and life, following the latest “new belief,” accepting every modern “faith,” or doubting some established Christian doctrine. Let us be more stable in our religion. (Signal.)
Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
God, the Keeper of Israel
Why was this added? Was it not enough to say, “He that keepeth thee will not slumber”? Nay, this is not mere repetition. In the one sentence God is spoken of as the Keeper generally of His Church, or people; in the other sentence as the keeper of the believer individually. And the transition from the believer to the Church is exquisitely beautiful and comforting. For the individual, on being told of the wakefulness of his heavenly Keeper, might say--“Can I dare to hope that one so insignificant as myself is to be the object of so unwearied attention?” And why not, “O thou of little faith”? Thou art a member of that body which God hath purchased to Himself at inestimable cost. Dost thou not know, that to touch this body is to touch “the apple of His eye”? and is not the body touched, if touched in the very least of its members? If thou canst believe that “He that keepeth Israel never slumbers,” is not the wakeful eye upon thyself? What is “Israel” but the aggregate of such units as thyself? and how can “Israel” be incessantly watched if a single unit be overlooked? Or there is another way, in which the third and fourth verses may be connected. There is nothing of selfishness in religion. It does not content the believer that great privileges are his; he longs to share them with others; they seem but half enjoyed, unless enjoyed in fellowship and communion with multitudes possessing “like precious faith.” Does his heart, then, bound at being told--“He that keepeth thee will not slumber”? Yes, but his joy is not full till the celestial voice adds--“He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Then he feels--“There is a blessed company who share with me this unwearied protection. I am not alone, and I would not be alone, in the favour of that glorious Being, who made heaven and earth.” Friends, kinsmen, children, all may be included. There is room for an innumerable multitude:--oh! that an innumerable multitude may suffer themselves to be gathered under the shadow of His wings. (H Melvill, B. D.)
The wakeful eyes of God
I. The Lord keeps Israel--
1. As a shepherd keeps his sheep--by feeding them, by supplying all their needs, and also by guarding them from all their adversaries. He keeps the flock with vigilance so that it is not diminished either by the ravaging of the wolf or by the straying of the sheep.
2. As a king keeps his jewels. God hides His people in the casket of His power, and protects them with all His wisdom and strength.
3. As a governor keeps the city committed to his charge.
II. He shall neither slumber nor sleep.
1. Think of God’s eyes as never wearying of His people. Infinite patience!
2. God is never forgetful of His people for a single moment.
3. God is always ready to show Himself strong on behalf of those who trust Him.
4. God is never asleep in the sense that He ceases to consider us. You and I, in thinking of one thing, often forget another; but it is not so with God. He is so great that His centre is everywhere, and His circumference is nowhere; and you, dear brother or sister, may be the very centre of God’s thoughts, and so may I; and all His redeemed may at the same moment have His thoughts fixed upon each one of them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
There is no sleep with God
His eye is ever upon His people for good. That great eye never closes. That great eye is as bright and piercing as ever, and not for a single instant is the vigilance relaxed. A poor woman, as the Eastern story has it, came to the Sultan one day, and asked compensation for the loss of some property. “How did you lose it?” said the monarch. “I fell asleep,” was the reply, “and a robber entered my dwelling.” “Why did you fall asleep?” “I fell asleep because I believed that you were awake.” The Sultan was so much delighted with the answer of the woman that he ordered her loss to be made up. But what is true, only by a legal fiction, of human governments, that they never sleep, is true in the most absolute sense with reference to the Divine government. We can sleep in safety, because our God is ever awake. We are safe, because He never slumbers. (N. McMichael.)
All preserved for Israel’s sake
As He preserved the ark for Noah’s sake, and Goshen for the ancient Israelites’ sake, and all that were in the ship for St. Paul’s sake, and all that were in the bath for St. John’s sake, and all that fled to the tombs of the martyrs in Rome, when the Goths sacked the city, for the Christians’ sake: so at this day He supporteth all kingdoms and states for the Churches’ sake. The world is as a hop-yard, the Church as the hops, kingdoms, states, and commonwealths as the poles; and as the owner of the hop-yard preserveth the poles and stakes carefully, not for themselves, but that the hops may grow upon them: so God preserveth all states and societies of men, that they may be a support to His Church. We may take this note higher, and truly affirm that He keepeth heaven and earth for her sake; the earth to be as a nursery for her children, to grow awhile; and the heaven for His garden and celestial Paradise, whither He will transplant them all in the end. Wherefore, although the world never so much scorn, and contemn, and malign, and persecute God’s chosen, yet it is indebted to them for its being and continuance; for God keepeth the heavens for the earth, the earth for living creatures, other living creatures for men, men for Israel, and Israel for the elect’s sake. For their sake it is that the heavens move, the sun, moon and stars shine, the winds blow, the springs flow, the rivers run, the plants grow, the earth fructifieth, the beasts, fowls, and fishes multiply; for as soon as grace hath finished her work, and the whole number of the elect is accomplished, nature shall utterly cease, and this world shall give place to a better in which righteousness shall dwell. Yet when heaven and earth shall pass, this word of God shall not pass; for He that now keepeth militant Israel in the bosom of the earth shall then keep triumphant Israel in Abraham’s bosom. (D. Featly, D. D.)
The Lord is thy keeper.
A celebrated traveller--after an absence of three years, during which he had walked across the continent of Africa from east to west, through vast regions never before trodden by the foot of the white man--recently received an enthusiastic welcome home. As he approached the quiet Kentish village where he had spent his boyish days, his first act, before entering his much-loved home, was to pass through the portals of the church where his aged father ministered, and, humbly kneeling, offer his devout thanksgiving to that God who had watched over and preserved him in all his wanderings. Among other appropriate Scriptures this psalm was read. It was a touching scene! Many hearts heaved with emotion, and many tears were shed, as the reader,, in trembling accents, uttered the words, “The Lord is thy keeper,” etc. It was a fitting acknowledgment of that Divine goodness which had safely conducted the weary, sun-burnt traveller through all the perils of his great and adventurous journey.
I. The Divine protection is ample and efficient.
1. It is ample. “The Lord is thy shade.” He surrounds His people, and guards them at every point of attack. The foe must be able to pierce the invulnerable, and conquer the invincible, before he can touch the feeblest saint who is sheltered by the wings of God.
2. It is efficient. “Upon thy right hand.” As the enemies of God’s people are ever standing at their right hand to frustrate all their efforts in well-doing, so Jehovah is at their right hand to encourage and sustain those efforts, and restrain their enemies.
II. The Divine protection shields from the most open assaults. “The sun shall not smite thee by day.” The worker in the dismal mine, the traveller by road, or rail, or sea, the toiler surrounded by the most destructive materials, is alike under the shadow of the Divine protection.
III. The Divine protection guards from the effects of the most secret treachery. “Nor the moon by night.” The Divine Sentinel never slumbers. He can never be outwitted by the cunning of the most malicious.
IV. The Divine protection is a defence against every evil. “The Lord shall preserve thee from evil: He shall preserve thy soul.” He protects from the evil of sin and of suffering. He turns away the evil that is feared, and alleviates and sanctifies the evil He permit.
V. The Divine protection is realized amid the active duties of life. “The Lord shall preserve thy going out.” The good man is directed in the beginning of his undertakings, and shielded by the Divine presence during their active prosecution (Deuteronomy 28:3-6). He is safe wherever his duties carry him--in the workshop, the street, the busy mart, on the restless sea, or in strange and distant countries.
VI. The Divine protection overshadows the rest and quietness of home. “And thy coming in.” Evening brings all home; and the weary one, after the toils and dangers of the day, enjoys the peace and rest of his home all the more because he knows he is encircled by the Divine guardianship. And when the shadows of life’s eventide gather round him, he fears not. The Lord will preserve his coming in--his tranquil entrance into the heavenly home!
VII. The Divine protection is unremitting. “From this time forth and even for evermore.” Lessons--
1. Offer grateful praise for the protection of the past.
2. Fear not the most furious assaults of the enemy.
3. Put all your confidence in the Divine Protector. (G. Barlow.)
The Lord our Keeper
I. The keeper.
1. Those who are redeemed need to be kept (Exodus 23:20).
2. He who is our Redeemer is also our Keeper (Psalms 121:5; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 42:6; John 17:11).
(1) He keeps us in His power (1 Peter 1:5).
(2) He keeps us by His peace (Philippians 4:7).
II. The keeping.
1. As in a tower (Proverbs 18:20; Psalms 18:2).
2. As in a bank (2 Timothy 1:12).
3. As in a sheepfold (Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1).
4. As behind a shield (Psalms 84:11).
(1) Safe (Psalms 31:20; Psalms 121:5-8; Jude 1:24).
(2) Holy (John 17:11; John 17:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
(3) Happy (Isaiah 26:3; Psalms 32:7).
(4) Ceaseless (Isaiah 27:3; Psalms 121:3).
III. The kept.
1. They renounce their own keeping (Proverbs 3:26; Psalms 127:1).
2. They commit themselves to be kept (1 Peter 4:19; Psalms 31:5).
3. They trust Him to meet them (2 Timothy 1:12; Psalms 31:23). (E. H. Hopkins.)
Kept by God
1. The Lord is my Watchman! I remember that in the days of my boy-hood when my father was away from home, it was sometimes my duty to lock up the house. I used to try every door and every window, but never went to bed with a feeling of peace. I never gained an assurance that everything was safe. I feared that some door remained unlocked, or, if I were sure about the doors, some window would haunt me through the night and disturb my rest. But when my father was the “watchman,” and had gone round the house and seen to the doors and windows, I “laid me down in peace and slept.” I could trust his vigilance and his care, and the trust was the parent of restful contentment. “The Lord is thy Watchman.” Our Father does not leave us to our own self-discovery; He tries the doors and windows of my being. He knows the state of the locks. He knows every room in my personality, and just what are the chances of each room being burglariously entered and despoiled. Our Father especially watches over our safety in the seasons of the night. When sorrow is in the home, when death is at the gate, when calamity blackens the sky, the heavenly Watchman is always near. “He keepeth watch over His flock by night.”
2. He is not only my Watchman, He is my Defence.
(1) Now let us remember that our Father is sometimes compelled to provide defences for us in ways that are not agreeable or welcome. Defences may sometimes seem the agents of cruelty. The cruelty, however, is only apparent. There is no cruelty in the act of a father who places barbed wire fencing round the edge of the precipice. There is no unkindliness when we put the barbed wire round the mouth of a perilous well. The thorny hedge may keep us from the more dangerous ditch. Have we not sometimes heard people speak in this wise: “Ah, well, his present illness is no doubt saving him from a greater one.” Only the other day I heard a doctor say, speaking of a certain patient: “His fever was his salvation.” In the feverish fire something was consumed that might have been productive of a more perilous disease. And our Father sometimes sends the fire into our life in order that He might keep us from something infinitely worse. The fire in the forest wards off the wild beasts; and in the fire which God sometimes permits to dwell in our life many things are seared away, and many things are destroyed. In the fire of tribulation superciliousness is destroyed, and so is callousness and every form of pride. The Lord is our Keeper, and in apparent cruelty He pours out the treasures of His heart.
(2) Now let us mark the thoroughness of our Father’s “keeping.” “He shall keep thee as the apple of the eye.” How wonderful is the figure I The delicate, sensitive organ, the eye, is protected by the bony framework like an encircling cave. The exquisite instrument is enthroned, as it were, in walls of rock. And just as the eye is protected with these strong encircling ramparts, so my Father will protect me. “He is able to keep you from falling.” It is an exquisite figure; the mother is training her little one to walk, and while in great timidity and uncertainty it moves from step to step, the mother’s arms almost encircle it, and most surely prevent it from falling. And I, too, am learning to walk, am learning to walk as a child of light; and my feet are so uncertain, and my resolution is so Wavering, that I need the encircling care of the everlasting arms. “The Lord is thy keeper,” and “He is able to keep you from falling.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
God our Keeper
This verse refers to God during the day. For, oh, when we get out during the day, end go down to the town there, and go about our daily business, we are apt to think: Now, we do not need all that our minister has been preaching to us about--God’s care, and God’s keeping, and God being our nursing Father. During the day we will kind of “forge ahead” without Him. Nay; do not make that mistake, for you will not. Let God be your Keeper down in business there. I speak to you business men. Suffer the word of exhortation. On some grounds I have no right to speak to you. I stand here and speak for God, and say, when you go back to the office, before you take that budget of letters and open them, look up to God, and say, “Now, Thou art to help me here--here among these papers, and manuscripts, and these clerks, and this business of per cents., and I do not know what all.” Aye, they are dangerous things--“per cents.” Oh, Heaven help you! You need God among the per cents. You will lose your soul among the per cents, and the ledgers. Remember the overshadowing Presence, and, while it keeps you, may it also sanctify you. “The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.” Travellers in tropical countries know the great danger from a stroke of the sun, or a stroke of the moon, or from lying out at night in the mists and the damps. All the dangers of the way are met and forestalled by this great and mighty Keeper of His people. (John McNeill.)
Safety in God’s keeping
The Lord is “thy Keeper,” but not thy jailor. His keeping is not confinement, but protection. When you commit your ways to Him, He does not abridge your liberty; He only defends you against evil.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil
Preserved Item all evil
Lawyers, when they are drawing up important documents, frequently con-elude with some general terms to meet any emergency which may possibly occur.
They do this on the principle that what is not in may be supposed to be intentionally left out. In order to guard against this inference, they are not content with inserting a number of particular cases; they conclude with a general statement, which includes everything, whether expressed or not. A similar formula is inserted here. It is of great importance that the feet of travellers be kept front sliding as they pursue their journey. It is of great importance that they be preserved from heat by day and from cold by night. But other dangers await them, from which they require protection; and lest the suspicion be entertained that no provision is made for these being surmounted, they are all introduced in the saving and comprehensive clause. No matter what may be their character, no matter from what quarter they may appear, no matter when they may come, and no matter how long they may continue, the declaration covers them all. Divine grace changes the nature of everything it handles, and transforms everything it touches into gold. Afflictions are overruled for good; and the virtues of the Christian life are developed with unusual lustre. “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil.” (N. McMichael.)
Preservation in unguarded moments
“Guard me when I am off my guard,” prayed one the other day. It was a wise prayer, for it is not the danger against which we have fortified ourselves, the temptations which we know and are watching, which are so likely to compass a fall as some unthought-of point where no peril was suspected. Look back over the days, and you will find that their failures have nearly always been in unexpected places. The task which seemed so easy that you scarcely thought of seeking help for it, the good temper which is yours naturally, the endurance manifested so many times that you were quite confident of finding it ready for any stress--just in these things came surprise and defeat, the weakness that wounded your self-respect and left you heart-sore. You gather your forces for the struggle you foresee, you arm against the enemies whose power you know, but, when human watchfulness has done its utmost, there is still a wide margin for that urgent petition: “Guard me when I am off guard.” (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
He shall preserve thy soul.--
I. This soul preservation is divine. “The Lord shall preserve,” etc. No one else can preserve it--
1. In the right train of thought. Wrong thoughts are dangerous.
2. In the right objects of sympathy. Wrong affections are dangerous.
3. In the right course of action. One step out of the proper path is dangerous.
II. This soul preservation is complete.
1. It is a preservation guarding from all evil.
2. It is a preservation extending over all activities. In solitude and in society; in business and in recreation; in all engagements and in all scenes; the shield of His protection is over it. He is with it in all its “ins” and “outs” of life.
III. This soul preservation is everlasting. From henceforth “even for evermore.” Who shall tell the events, the ages, the requirements of the soul in that “evermore “?
1. The soul is to live a life of dependence for “evermore.”
2. The Lord will be its support for “evermore.” (Homilist.)
Thy going out and thy coming in.--
The God of the threshold
The title of this psalm, “A song of ascents,” is one which it holds in common with a small group of the Psalms. Its reference is to the ritual usage of the psalm by the pilgrims, as they made their way up to Mount Zion. And yet it is not inappropriate to its spirit. The author’s thoughts are lifted up, and our hearts and eyes rise with them. The whole atmosphere of the poem is homely and domestic. It sees the world framed in a cottage doorway. The mountains are not peaks of vision; they are the boundaries and the horizons of his prospects. The threshold of homo fills the foreground of the picture. “Going out and coming in” are its simple lines of motion. The hearth and the field are thus suggested to us. We see the labourer go out into the light of morning with an uplifting of the heart to the dawn-clad hills. We watch him returning to the homestead in the evening, and pausing with his hand upon the door for a last glance at the mountains, as they gather their grey cloaks upon them, the sentinels of his security. And as the psalm closes, one almost expects to see the light in the cottage window, shutting out that wizard world which is just suggested in the superstitious fear of the rising moon. This psalm might have been the work of some Hebrew Burns, following his plough, in glory and in pride, upon the mountain side. Its religion is very simple, and yet all his creed. “The Lord Himself is thy keeper;” that is the summary of his creed. “He that keepeth Israel shall not slumber nor sleep.” The foot kept from stumbling, the head shielded from the heat of the noonday sun, the blessing and the preservation of the threshold, these are the simple promises of the psalm. And wrought into them there is the recognition of the spiritual dignity of man. The souls of His children are precious in His sight. And my mind dwells with satisfaction upon these elementary and yet large outlines of life, as it is here presented to us. I am fascinated by the thought of the God of the threshold. As I said just now, the home is the centre of the picture. It is the beginning and the end of the daily journey. The motions of it are reckoned not by the points of the compass; its wanderings are not eastward and westward, but homeward, or away from home. “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in.” For we, whose life moves in a somewhat narrow and restricted sphere from day to day, very easily form the habit of prosaic and dull outlooks, regarding our life as an ordinary, common affair. We go out without wonder; we return without surprise. We lose that fine fancy of our childhood, which made a journey into the next street an expedition, and brought us back from the woodlands as travellers from a far country. It is quite true that such a diminished sensitiveness saves Us from many terrors that might otherwise play upon us. But it is equally true that that crippled imagination robs us of half the zest and joy that life might otherwise possess. How much is covered for us by these simple phrases, as we take them in their widest meaning--birth and death, sowing and reaping, expenditure and income, giving and receiving, earning and spending, adventure and peace--all of them may be summed up and expressed for us in those phrases, “our going out,” and “our coming in.” And if we were to take these symbolic suggestions of them, we might find the promise of the text applicable to them all. But let us dwell, at any Fate to begin with, upon the simple and most natural sense of the text. Day by day we do actually and literally go out and come in. The phrase marks the ordered sequence of our ordinary existence--that daily life of the trivial round, and the common task of which we sometimes complain that nothing ever happens; that it is wholly commonplace. And yet the commonplaceness of it is surely in ourselves. The ordinary daily life that most of us live is, if we be spiritually alert, far less certain and far more adventurous than we conceive. It is only while we take a very superficial glance upon our life, that we can speak of ourselves as knowing the daily conditions under which we have to live. To the spiritually alert the street is as hazardous as the wilderness; and the office and the shop are to us as foreign lands. We may not meet a lion in the path, it is true; but we meet, every day, men and women who surprise us with the revelation of unexpected possibilities, and of unhinted thoughts, and whose action is a thousand times more difficult to forecast. We do not all pick up sovereigns in the gutter as we wander forth; but spiritual gold may wait for us at the corner of any street, and the words that alter the destiny of a life be spoken in the clamour and rumble of a railway platform. For the upbuilding and moulding of character the common events of ordinary life have a significance of quite unplumbed possibility. We may meet the spiritual adventure of our existence within a few yards of our own door. And God may come to meet us, supreme, in the street that our feet have trodden every morning. The path where we have enjoyed such quiet communions, may be changed in a moment into the scene of temptation and disaster. Any morning and any hour may bring to us the opportunity of either denying or entering into, and sharing the larger and fuller communion of our Lord. And it is just that which sets an expectation upon the threshold of the morning, and sends a man forth with a thrill that is partly of hope and partly of fear. Everything, anything, the supremest things may happen to-day. His going forth is always momentous. He knows that there is not the remotest likelihood that he will return again in the evening exactly the same man as he went forth. Changes will have come and impressed themselves upon his being; temptations will have been met and battles have been fought. And so he goes forth with trembling, with the awe of his hesitant and uncertain destiny upon him. The question prompts itself in one’s thought whether all of us whom our Christian faith ought to have awakened to the intense possibilities of daily life in spiritual things--whether all of us do live that daily life with a sufficient seriousness, and the sense of its value in the moulding of Our destinies. Do we go out, too, each day as to a spiritual adventure? To go out--as I fear some of us do--to go out day by day without a sense, a zest of hazard in life, to stumble through our daily temptation without the sense of what we are meeting, or what perchance we are avoiding, speaks, as I said just now, a dulled and crippled imagination. On the other hand, to be finely sensitive and responsive to the menaces and suggestions of life, if that were all, might be just as crippling to us. Hope and fear might simply neutralize one another, and the uncertainty of our destiny keep us hesitant and unwilling to adventure ourselves in such a hazardous quest at all. And if I would have you pause upon the threshold, it is not simply that we may correct the thought which has been too carelessly and flippantly going forth to its daily life, but that we may take counsel of the God of the threshold and find our strength and assurance in Him. This word of the psalmist: “The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in”--how rich and heartfelt it is in its quality! It was surely worth our while to pause to gather the richness of such a promise. This promise of the preservation of God over our going forth and our coming in, can only be realized by those whose purposes are in accordance with the will of God. The confidence of God’s presence is not something that we can conjure up at will. It is hot something which by constant reiteration we can impress upon our memory and get into our hearts, except it be confirmed by the testimony of our own conscience and by the assurance that the purposes and plans we have before us are holy in the sight of God. There is no promise of preservation for a Jonah fleeing from the purposes of God; for a Saul who is found to transgress and to fight against God. If we are to reap the rich promise that a text like this holds for us, then we must meet the challenge that it presents to our souls. And only as our purposes are clean and pure in the sight of God can its protection accompany us wherever we go. “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in.” The returns of life are not less momentous than its going forth. There may be something of an over-sensitive morbidness in it, but I confess for one that whenever I have been away a few days from home, it is hardly possible to approach it again through the familiar streets without a vague sense of apprehensiveness. What may have happened in the hours of absence? And it is quite true that in the commonest day of our ordinary life, just as we ourselves do not return the same men that we went forth, so there have been changes in the home in our absence, which mean that the same presences will not wait for us there. The home also has its temptations, its spiritual disciplines, as well as the office and the shop. And it may be that our development during that time has not been upon the same lines, has not been even upon parallel lines; and so when we meet again there is a new point of contact to find. We may be coming home joyous and satisfied from a day in which everything has gone well to a home where the pressure of small tasks has weighed too heavily and has produced irritation and griefs. We have to readjust our relations. And how often is it true that we miss the point of contact. That instead of falling at once into a new harmony our moods strike a discord. So this second half of our text, while it means first of all to me that God, through the absences of our daily life, protects our home for us, and watches over those who dwell there, I think means more subtly that God has to protect our home from us sometimes. As we pass the God of the threshold to get into the street in the morning, we have, as it were, to pass through God on our return at eventide. Some of the things that have irritated, and bruised, and chafed during the day, and that ought not to be carried back into the home with us, have got to be slowed off, that so we may meet in peace, and our peace not return to us as a guest that finds no place. “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil. He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth and even for evermore.” (W. C. Piggott.)
Preserved in life and in death
It is a promise which should be kept in mind in all our business, in all our movements; amid all the changes and chances of this mortal life. We shall ever more be defended by that ready help, which supposes an eye that cannot close--an arm that cannot fail. But I know of a “going out” and of a “coming in,” where we shall especially need the preserving care of our God; and to these, as to every other, may the promise be extended. There is a “going out” from this world,--there is a “coming in” to the next world: the departure through death from the present scene, and the entering on the unknown futurity. But “the Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in.” Christ Jesus, according to His own declaration, has the keys of death and the invisible world; He, therefore, it must be, who dismisses the spirit from the flesh, and opens to it the separate state. And why should the believer shrink from the act of dissolution, as though it would be something tremendously awful, when he is thus assured that the Redeemer Him-self will officiate (as it were) at the taking down of “the earthly house of this tabernacle”--be with Him at the “going out” and the “coming in,” which he is so ready to invest with terror and dismay? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 121". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent