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Except the Lord build the house.
Authorship of this psalm
Various considerations taken together require the opinion that this middle Song of Degrees was composed by Solomon. It suits the time of peaceful house-building and civil settlement and progress during which he reigned. It uses a word answering to his name, Jedidiah, meaning beloved of the Lord, and seems in connection with it to refer to the promise of “a wise and an understanding heart,” unasked “riches and honour,” and, if he should prove faithful, length of days, made to him “in a dream by night.” So “He giveth His beloved sleep,” or “to His beloved in sleep” (2 Samuel 12:25; 1 Kings 3:5-15). It appears to suggest that the claims of the temple to the efforts of builders are superior to those of any other intended erection. And it agrees with Solomon’s sententious style in his Proverbs, one of which exactly expresses its substance and teaching: “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it,” or, “and labour adds nothing thereto” (Proverbs 10:22). (E. J. Robinson.)
Blessedness in labour, in rest, and in fatherhood
I. Human labour without God.
1. Its possibility.
2. Its fruitlessness.
(1) It does not secure the approbation of the great Master.
(2) It does not yield moral satisfaction.
II. Human repose (verse 2).
1. A generally recognized blessing.
(1) Bodily. The labouring world hails the hour when its exhausted frame can lie down to sleep.
(2) Mental. To have the mind free from the harassing cares and painful annoyances of life. All desire this.
2. The repose of a true worker is a special blessing. The bodily repose He gives to His “beloved” in the stillness of the night has a special value--the pillow so soft, and the bed so guarded. The mental repose He gives is also of a far higher kind. It is the repose of conscience, the repose of a soul centring all its loves and hopes in Him.
III. Human offspring (Psalms 127:3-5). The tutor of Alexander the Great once proposed the question, whether a large family be a good or an evil? And he answered his own question thus, “Everything depends on the character of the children. If of an excellent disposition, blessed is the father that hath many of them, if of a bad disposition, the fewer the better, and, still better, none!” (Homilist.)
The true source of success
I. No house stands that God does not build, whether the house signify the home, the business, the character, or the church; for human sufficiency is a foundation of sand (Proverbs 14:11).
II. No city is safe that God does not keep, whether interpreted politically as belonging to the State, or religiously as being that of the heart: for the arm of flesh is a bulwark of mud (Proverbs 11:11; Proverbs 29:8).
III. NO labour is profitable that He does not bless, whether it be manual or mental: for without grace it increases sorrow or multiplies wickedness (Proverbs 10:16).
IV. No sleep is peaceful that He does not give, being broken by searing dreams or prevented by devising schemes (Proverbs 4:16).
V. No family is blessed that is not a heritage of Him (Proverbs 3:33). (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
All things are of God
1. Nothing is here said against labour. The Bible has no sympathy with indolence. We are commanded to be diligent in business as well as fervent in spirit; to work with our own hands, that we may have lack of nothing ourselves, and have something to give to him that needeth.
(1) Labour is a necessity.
(2) Labour is honourable.
(3) Labour is pleasant.
It promotes cheerfulness, preserves our faculties in healthy exercise, and gives elasticity to both mind and body.
2. Nor is there any censure of watching. A city contains property that is valuable and lives that are dear; and, should there be external enemies, it is surely an act of common prudence to station sentinels on the walls, lest an unexpected attack be made.
3. What, then, is the evil hero condemned? It is placing an undue confidence in our working and in our watching. The spirit rebuked is the presumption which ascribes success to our own exertions, and which carefully excludes Jehovah from all consideration. A house is built; but the Lord is never thought of. Watchmen are appointed to protect the city; but no reference is made to the Keeper of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps. An enterprise is entered upon, involving important issues; but in all the calculations there is no more place left for God than if He were asleep in the depths of the heavens, and took no cognizance of human affairs. What is this but atheism? (N. McMichael.)
The Divine Builder
The Lord builds the house. This is our first great consideration: we are very apt to forget it; we think it is our work, but “He that built all things is God.” The Lord builds the State. Civil society is a house not made with hands: its component parts show the finger of God; language, sympathy, law, are of God. But how true is it that the Church is a house built by God! Men may persecute or aid it, but “except the Lord build,” etc. The Church of God is like a house for security and strength. As you have never heard of men living anywhere without houses of some kind, so we have never heard or read of Christians living anywhere without forming communities, families, or churches. Dissolve the family, and society would perish; dissolve the Church, and Christianity would perish! Then let us consider how the Lord builds the house. “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” etc. “Other foundation can no man lay,” etc. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (B. Kent, M. A.)
The Lord, the Builder
The old Latin maxim “Ex nihilo nihil fit,” “From nothing, nothing comes,” is the starting-point in all our reasonings concerning God’s work on earth. It cannot have sprung from nothing, it must therefore be due to some positive force acting first upon, and then through it. That force must have intelligence in order to impart intelligence to the work of its hand; and all the wise, and curious, and intricate phenomena of the universe testify that nothing short of an infinite intelligence could have poured such streams of power and wisdom along the channels of creation. That infinite intelligence we call God. The methods by which God brings about the accomplishment of His purposes on earth--since those purposes include and shape matter and mind--are simply the methods by which He shapes matter and mind, so as to elaborate from them separately, and from their interworking, whatever result it is His pleasure to secure.
1. When God wishes to accomplish any purpose, lie shapes toward the result which He desires, all those blind forces of nature which have in them any co-operation with it. When He wishes to give the peace of plenty to any land, He sendeth forth His commandment into the air, and up to the sun, and forth to the winds, and out upon the seas, and along the furrows of the soil; and His word runneth very swiftly to nil genial and fertilizing influences, and they obey His behest with their marrow and fatness, and so He fills its borders with the finest of the wheat. And when the rigours of winter are a needful preliminary to any work of His, He giveth snow like wool, and scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes, and casteth forth His ice like morsels, until no man can stand before His cold. And when that work is done, and milder airs are more salubrious for His designs, then He sendeth out His word and melteth them; He causeth His wind to blow, and the waters flow. And so fire, and hail, and snow, and vapour, and stormy wind fulfil His word; and mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl praise the Lord by performing His decree which they cannot pass.
2. When God wishes to accomplish any purpose on earth, He sways that intelligence which needs to be brought into co-operation with His design by motives. This influence is exerted in innumerable forms. Sometimes it is by direct pressure, and by the presence of the immediate and most obvious motive of which the subject will admit; as when He secures, the choice, by the sinner, of “that good part which cannot be taken away,” by urging upon his soul the guilt of disobedience, the beauty of holiness, the joy of forgiveness, the danger of delay, or the awfulness of death in sin. Sometimes it is by a circuitous and indirect approach that the work is accomplished. Some meteor, in the eventide, flashes its sudden and vanishing brilliance across the arch of heaven; or some white-winged cloud trails its evanescent shade along some sunlit slope, and the mind--so often dull to all teachings--is opened to snatch the moral of the scene, and goes away, sadly reflecting on the dangers that accompany a life that is fitly emblemed by the falling star, and the fleeing shadow. Or the sight of a coffin, or a hearse, or a cemetery--it may be, in some moods, of a church, or even a Bible--will start the mind upon a train of meditation which the gentle and gracious Spirit may cherish into a motive strong enough to overturn and overturn within the soul until He is enthroned there whose right it is to reign.
3. This being so--the empire of matter and the empire of mind being alike in subjection to His pleasure--it follows, since lie who can absolutely and entirely control all matter and all mind must be invincible--that God can do anything which He pleases to do, whatever it may be. He can make a Word, or make an unwilling man willing, just as easily as a carpenter can drive a nail--because He knows how to do it, and has the means with which to do it, and the power by which to do it. So it follows, also--since God’s control covers all things, and His volitions are the cause of all things--that nothing can be done in this world which God is not pleased to aid, or, at least, to permit. (H. M. Dexter.)
“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
1. That is true even about a house of stone and lime. To build a house is the most interesting thing almost that any mortal man undertakes to do for himself. When a man does set about building a house, he is usually settled in life as far as it falls to him to make a settlement. The house he builds is very likely the house in which he means to live and to die. If he does not literally rise up early and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows, nevertheless he is sure to have an extraordinary amount of interest in his house, and most men who do build a house for themselves worry the architect and obstruct the workmen with their anxiety to have everything in it just according to their mind. But, for that very reason, because building a house is such an interesting and serious thing in any man’s life, surely he ought to feel then, most of all, that his life is in God’s hand, and that it depends on God whether this great undertaking in which he is engaged is going to turn out well for him.
2. It is true, also, if we take the house in the sense in which it is so often used in the Bible, of a family. To build a house, in the Bible, often means to found or bring up a family; and further down in the psalm we have a reference to that sense (verse 3). “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it,” and the most anxious fatherly and motherly care can come to nothing, indeed, is likely to come to nothing, just in proportion as it forgets God, and in forgetting God becomes nervous, and fretful, and repellent, where it ought to be able to attract.
3. Then, again, this text is true if we take the house in the sense that it is often used in the Bible, of a nation. “Except the Lord build that house, they labour in vain that build it.” There is a place, and there are duties for statesmen and for town councillors, for all persons who take the responsibilities of the public upon them; but it is not the anxiety of statesmen, it is not their own wisdom and their own intelligence, it is not their own plans for enlarging territory, or opening up new markets, or anything of that kind on which the security and strength of the people are built. There is just one thing on which a nation can be built up, and that is the goodwill of God which is given to the righteous. Righteousness exalts a nation.
4. But this text is true especially when we think of the house of the Church. We often speak of the Church as the house of God. In the New Testament we read of Christ as its foundation, of the Church being built upon Him. One of the great picture-words of the New Testament is the word “edification,” and “edification” means the act of building, or of being built. It is truer of the Church than of anything else in the world, that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”
(1) For instance, we want to build the Church up in numbers. We want to see the Church grow. We want to see those who are outside coming in. Now, we might wish that in quite a selfish sense. We might be members of a very small congregation where half the pews were not let; or we might be members of an ecclesiastical party that was in a very small minority in the country, and might want new recruits. If these were our objects, then, of course, we would have to achieve them out of our own resources. It would not be a thing in which God had any interest. But if we want to build up the Church in numbers in a real sense; if we want to bring those who are far away from Christ near; if we want the love of Christ made known to those who do not know it; if we want those who are lonely and solitary, and, perhaps, selfish, to be brought into the home and family of love, and to give and receive all kinds of loving services and to find a home for their lonely souls in the house of God and the family of God--if that is what we are striving for, surely we feel at once that we cannot do that ourselves, that the only power that can reach people for that end and bring them into the Church is the power that God Himself bestows.
(2) We want to build the Church up not only in numbers, but in security. We want the Church to be a safe place. The Church ought to be a house so secure, so defended, so vigilantly guarded that it would be impossible for any assault to prevail against it and impossible for any of its members to be lost. Now the only way in which we can get the right spirit of watchfulness, the spirit that will enable us so to watch that we will not lose any, is to get it from the Lord Jesus Himself. “He that keepeth Israel slumbereth not, nor sleepeth.” It is only when we come to God, and get the Spirit of God put into us by God Himself, it is only then He uses us to build up His house into a safe, secure dwelling for the children, out of which they cannot be lost, that the house will be built up as it needs to be.
(3) We want to build up the Church, not only in numbers and in security, but, above all things, in character, in holiness, and in love. I have no doubt that in every Church there are many people deeply dissatisfied with their own characters, knowing very well that judged by any standard of holiness and love they are very far from what they should be. I have no doubt there are plenty here who are striving against their sins, sometimes rude, gross sins, evil lusts and passions, falsehood, slothfulness, selfishness, greed, envy, pride, self-will, and sins like that, and not only striving against them but failing, and being disappointed and defeated in their struggle. And even people who have not got any harsh, rude offences like that to strive against at the beginning, may be striving for finer and more beautiful parts of the Christian character, and just with the same sense of being defeated and disappointed. And the reason of it in almost every case is this, they are doing it alone, and it cannot be done alone. “Except the Lord build that house, they labour in vain that build it.” “Work out your own salvation,” not because God leaves that for you to do, but because it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, in furtherance of His good pleasure. (J. Denney, D. D.)
Co-workers with God
I. What we may not expect, namely, that God will build the house without our labouring, that God will keep the city without the watchman’s waking, or that He will give us bread without our toiling for it. This principle may be applied to--
1. Our ordinary life. One of the things which Christianity cannot bear is laziness. If in business I am not diligent I cannot expect to prosper. If I wish to be a man of learning, I cannot get it simply by praying for it; I must study, even to the weariness of the flesh. If a man be sick, he may trust in God as much as he wills; that should be his first thing, but let him also use such remedies as God has given if he can find them out, or learn of them from others.
2. The great matter of our salvation.
3. Our spiritual growth. If a man will not feed himself upon the bread of heaven, can he expect that he shall grow strong?
4. Our Christian work, in trying to bring souls to Christ. We cannot expect to see men converted if we are not earnest in telling them that truth which will save the soul. It is the work of the Spirit to convert sinners; to regenerate must be ever the sole work of God; yet the Lord uses us as His instruments.
II. What we may expect; We may expect failure if we attempt the work without God. We may expect it, and we shall not be disappointed.
III. What we should not do.
1. In our ordinary affairs we should not fret, and worry, and grieve.
2. In the matter of the soul’s salvation a man should be anxious, yet his salvation wilt never come by his working, and running from this one to that and the other. “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows,” for to those who are in Christ, to those who simply believe on Him, “He giveth His beloved sleep.”
3. Now, with regard to growing in grace, I believe that it is much the same. It is foolish to be always fretting and worrying, and saying, “I am not humble enough, I am not believing enough, I am not this or that”; go to Christ, and rest yourself on Him, and believe that what He has begun to do for you and in you He will certainly perform and perfect.
4. Here comes in again our working for the Lord. It is a sweet way of working for Christ “to do the next thing,” the next that needs to be done to-day,--not always forecasting all that we are going to do to-morrow and the next day, but calmly and quietly believing that there are so many days in which a man shall be able to walk and to work, and while we have them we will both walk and work in the strength of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The building of the house of life
Man’s history upon earth is mainly, alas! the history of a struggle to establish lives, homes, and States on a basis which is not God’s foundation, and by a rule which is not God’s law. This is the enterprise of man’s self-will, his perverted and prostituted freedom, through all the ages; and God from on high has never ceased to confound it, to write on it Babel, and to lay it by the shattering shocks of His providence in the dust. The concord of man’s thought and activity with God’s is the secret upon earth of all true, real and abiding work. The human builder and workman may be masters of their art and zealous in their craft, but the fundamental question is, are they building by the rule that God has made known to them, and on the lines which He has laid down? And it is equally the test of all lofty and noble art. The poet is a maker, it is the exact meaning of the word; it matters not whether he works in word, in colour, in clay, the principle is the same. Is it a dream of his own vain fancy, or is it a vision of God; is it what the Lord hath said or shown to him that he is interpreting to his fellow-men? Man, of all beings, is made for this lofty fellowship, this high co-operation of thought and will with his Maker. Man, made in God’s image, can understand God’s plans, meanings, and ends. A Newton can think out after Him the thought by which He made the creation; a Paul can grasp and expound the plan by which tie redeemed and will renew the world. Man is so constituted that God can work in him without marring his freedom; nay, thought, word, and work in the human only rise to their full completeness when they are the fruit of inspiration; that is the effectual in-working of that living Spirit who quickens all that lives in all the worlds. First, let us look at the bearing of this principle on the building of the house of life. By this I mean those principles and habits of moral judgment and action which are the true house of the soul, wherein it dwells, and from which it comes forth to work benignly or malignly for itself and mankind. Of that house man is the architect, not God; that house he is daily building, and that building will abide and be the home or the prison of the soul through eternity. Nature and the world furnish the materials; the form and the substance of the structure you create for yourselves, it is yours, your own, your work, the product of your being, your shame or your crown while that being endures. A nature with certain temperaments and tendencies comes to you, how you know not, whence you know not, save that it is God’s gift to you, your endowment, your talent, your capital in life, by wise trading with which your wealth will grow. I speak of this as God’s gift; by His various endowment of men, the rich diversity of original gift and faculty, He maintains that splendid variety, that action and reaction of widely diverse agencies and influences which it is His aim to secure both in the physical and human worlds. And thus He keeps the constant pressure of His hand on both. From God, too, comes the will and the power to work upon the original endowment, and to give it the shape and the form in which the inner heart delights. Character grows like a picture or a statue by innumerable light touches on the rough substance of the nature. Moral habits of action are beaten out like a path by the multitude of light footsteps which pass to and fro. There must be the will and the moral judgment to determine the direction, and then it is the daily footsteps which form the habit of the life. And it is a terrible power, this power of framing fixed judgments and habits of action, vast and awful are the issues to which it tends. You may make holy, beautiful, blessed activity as easy and natural as the outflow of light from the sun; you may make them as hard, as impossible as courtesy in a churl, or a generous impulse to a base miser’s heart. Daily the house is being built, daily the soul is becoming clothed or cased in its habit, and is settling the form and possibility of its future. And first, if you would build wisely, look to the foundations. And build daily in conscious, blessed dependence on the co-operation of a higher hand. Remember that in this matter you are the fellow-worker, the fellow-helper with God, whose interest in your building transcends your own. Daily, hourly, let there be a guiding of your choice, a strengthening of your hand, a blessing of your work from on high. Let the Divine Spirit dwell in your spirit as in His temple; let Him fill your life with the light of His wisdom, let Him touch your heart with the glow of His love. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Except the Lord keep the city.--
God keeping the city
I. “Except.”--God may not keep the city. Can anything be more false than to attribute human wretchedness in our towns and cities to causes outside men themselves? Without self-restraint, without the high virtues of temperance, purity, and providence, gold, if it could be picked up in the streets, would only feed disease instead of bettering life! That man is a mere charlatan who hides the great truth that the drinking saloons, the music halls, and the gay Alhambras of our great towns are ruining the moral excellencies and energies of our people!
II. “Except the Lord.”--Moral life is the strength of a city. Can anything so demand our sympathy in this age as the movements which have to do with moral life? And we must remember all elevating movements have to do with moral life. Christianity works in detail, and Christian life is itself preserved by care for detail. Given impression at the house of God, given conviction of sin and coming to Christ, then come the after years, the idle hours, the temptations, the innumerable besetments, and if you can thus provide for the healthy development of character, you are doing much to save the England of the future, to bless your country, and to hold up the pillars of the State. And where all our aesthetic and intellectual pursuits have the shield of Christianity east over them, when the genius of the Gospel pervades our institutions and inspires our efforts, we may look for that keeping of which our text speaks.
III. “except the Lord keep.”--All cities need keeping. Can anything be more secure than a city kept by God? Whether it is applied to a kingdom, or to a people, or to the wonderful heart of man, the word is suggestive. A city, a place where wealth is, where treasure is, where active, energetic power is. We seem to see the watchmen on Jerusalem’s gates! Men able to sweep the horizon and to note the advancing cavalcades. We are taught in the text that all watching is vain without God.
IV. “except the Lord keep the city--the watchman.” Can anything be so mistaken as to suppose that God’s keeping excludes human care? We must watch, although God keeps. This truth is familiar to us all. We act upon it in the world, though we are mystified by it in the Church. God keeps the rain in the great reservoir of the clouds, and the winds in the hollow of His hand, and regulates them with a view to the preservation and productiveness of the land. He keeps the seasonal He keeps watch over all the processes of nature, and He says to us, break up the fallow ground, plough, harrow, and sow. So God would not have us watchless because He is watchful. No! this fact is to be an incentive to us to activity, not an excuse for negligence. We are reminded by our Saviour to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation! and when we have done all, we are to rest on Christ as our only sure protection.
V. “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman--waketh but in vain.” We can never do without God! We may be what the world calls awake, wide-awake, but our own skill, or cunning, or craft will not save us. I was wise, says the man; I secured the best, the ablest physicians for my children. I was wise, says the voyager in the Cunard line, they never had a shipwreck yet. Stay, stay, “Except the Lord,” oh! do we think enough of that; we have been kept in going out and in coming in, but who has kept us? (W. M. Statham.)
To eat the bread of sorrows.
The bread of toil and the fruit of righteousness
Labour is the law of life, and to this law nothing in God’s Word is opposed. “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening” is a description good for all time. “Active in business,” if we may believe St. Paul, is a truly Christian habit. But the question is, What form ought this activity to take? Work may be done in two moods or tempers, as is hinted in the text: it may be done in spite of God, or it may be done through Him; it may be done in a spirit that regards Him not, or it may be done in a spirit which leans upon Him. In the first case, the bread of toil is not secured at all, or when secured is verily “the bread of carefulness,” anxiety, disappointment. In the other ease the bread of toil is not “the bread of carefulness” or anxiety, but the bread of peace. God gives it to His beloved in their rest.
I. The best results of any thought or any effort of ours are reached unconsciously. Sir Isaac Newton, lying on his back in an orchard, and gaining a perception of the great law of gravitation from the sight of a falling apple, is a familiar type of the principle I am describing. Yet it offers no premium to idleness! The watchful calculations have been made; the inevitable reasonings have been faithfully traversed, but at last the result, the reward, the “bread” of all has dropped, as it were, upon the faithful worker out of heaven. You have heard, perhaps, of the great musical composer who always slept with a pencil and paper within reach, that at the very moment of waking be might register the inspirations of harmony that had visited him in his slumbers? And many of us, who are neither musicians nor philosophers, have had experience of the very same thing. We have gone to bed perplexed with tangled reasonings, embarrassed with ill-marshalled cogitations; we have looked away from them all, and committed ourselves and our thoughts to God; and lo! we have risen in the morning to a clear perception or an unquestioning resolution. It was in vain that we delayed taking rest to eat the bread of carefulness. God has given it to His beloved in their sleep!
II. In, through, and yet beyond their labours, God gives to His own people the assurance of peace--a peace which, while it may be manifested in the success of their plans, is not overthrown by the failure of them. To those who know of a surety that the “never-failing providence” of a Father “ordereth all things both in heaven and earth,” the desire becomes an assurance that things “profitable” shall be all given, and things “hurtful” put away.
III. Of all God’s gifts the highest and best is peace. If we take the text according to the common reading, we do no violence to the word “sleep” by interpreting it as spiritual restfulness. If we read it as declaring the condition under which God’s people have their bread given them, we are near the same truth. If God feeds His own as they sleep or rest in Him, then that sleep or rest, whether as given or as used, may be regarded as hallowed of God, as even appropriated by Him to be the channel or vehicle of His benedictions to the soul. “The fruit of righteousness is peace,” and in the fruit have we, as wrought up and comprehended, the gifts of earth and heaven, the fatness of the soil and the warmth of the sunlight, the soft showers of the morning and the dews of the eneningtide. So does this Divine peace, which “passeth all understanding,” alike in its source, channels, and influences, carry to the spiritual life of the Christian the highest evidence of the near presence of God. (A. S. Thompson, B. D.)
So He giveth His beloved sleep.--
During sleep the brain becomes inactive, consciousness and volition are in abeyance; in the body the expenditure of energy is curtailed, the constructive forces dominate the destructive. It is a time of building up the system after the tear and wear of a day. God is the great giver of sleep.
I. The sound sleeper. Exercise of body and mind in the day promote sleep at night.
II. The bad sleeper.
1. There is the ambitious man who sits up late at night planning for to-morrow; by and by he goes to bed, his mind still full of business. You can see this man rolling from side to side of the bed. What is he doing? Is he formulating some great scheme for the benefit of his fellow-men? No, not likely; he is planning how he can make money. He has the “gold fever,” and when people have fever of any kind their body is diseased and they cannot sleep. Such an experience is the first step to a lunatic asylum.
2. The man with the evil conscience. Sin, like a terrible worm, is gnawing his inner life; the fire of sin is raging within, and the hot flames drive sleep away.
III. The good sleeper. Our text should read--“He giveth His beloved in sleep,” as if He imparted a gift to them in the quiet hours of the night. Sleep itself is a precious gift; it helps us to forget the cares and worries of daily life. We could not live amid life’s great anxieties unless God came to us night by night, breathed upon us the spirit of peace and rocked us to sleep; as the mother rocks the tired child to rest, so does God stand by the bedside of His beloved and give them sleep. The beloved of the Lord can lie down at night without fear; the day may have been hard and trying, enemies plotting and slandering, but in the arms of God His beloved find peace. (W. K. Bryce.)
Here there is a beauteous blending of two opposite yet not wholly dissimilar elements. The love of earth rises towards, and is crowned by, the love of heaven. The absent husband and father in his affection and gratitude sees not only the fond wife, or dutiful child fulfilling his wish in the work of the house, or the tillage of the field, or the care of the vineyard. He has another, a fairer, holier vision. When every voice in that distant home is hushed in the stillness of the night, when each busy hand or foot is at rest beneath the potent spell of sleep, he sees “the angel of God’s presence” as constant in his guardianship of that sacred dwelling and of those loved ones as amid the busy hours or varied needs of the day. He sees how those sleeping ones are nestled beneath God’s protecting wing more gently and faithfully in their defenceless, unconscious moments, than when they were astir in the house or diligent in the field. He learns how the God of all grace loves his wife and children more and better than he; that the Perfect Father sheltereth and blesseth His beloved even while they sleep, even when they cannot be actively doing His will, or returning His goodness, or chanting His praise.
I. Let us try to realize a little more fully the beautiful significance of the fact that those whom we love and live for are, in deed and truth, very much more “God’s beloved.” One of the deepest roots and sublimest fruits of the Christian religion is this: the conviction that all earthly things at their truest and best are but shadows, types, symbols of the heavenly; that the love of earth is hut the reflection or parable of the fairer, diviner love of heaven. Hence to a pure-minded, noble-hearted man, the love of wife or child is next to the influence of God’s unspeakable gift--the Christ, the deepest baptism or sacrament in holy things which Heaven bestows. Statistics furnish many suggestive hints in this direction, telling how wedded life tends to lessen coarseness and crime in the homes of the people. Keen observers of life note these sacred facts, as did she who penned those almost idyllic words: “In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.” I say we trace these helpful conditions of the better life, but only the Searcher of hearts, only the Father of our spirits can fully know what founts of blessing, what angels of mercy, what sacraments of heaven are found amid marital, parental, filial ties, winning men from ways which are selfish, and hard, and low, and uplifting them towards whatsoever things are pure, and just, and true. And what follows, when men are thus sensible to these higher claims, alive to these holier voices? Do men interpret these messengers of good only in the light of their own welfare or gratification? Are they not rather prepared thereby to believe and understand how all these earthly affections are but the disclosure and the promise of those that are heavenly and eternal?
II. Let us call to mind two of the chief indications that we are “God’s beloved.”
1. There is one which by its very nature stands foremost in all reasoning on this subject. I mean God’s estimate of children. Jesus--the only adequate explanation of whose wondrous person seems to me to be this, that He was the very love of the. Father “manifest in the flesh”--Jesus in nothing gave so much God’s estimate of our being, our nature, our destiny as in His tribute to the greatness and sacredness of each child. Now, what Jesus thought of the infancy or the childhood, that, by parity of reason, and the very nature of the deep underlying relationships, He thought equally of the youth, the manhood, the womanhood, the old age.
2. Again, we find the strongest assurance that we are “God’s beloved” in the general scope and spirit of the Gospel of His Son. Every age that Gospel becomes more literally and explicitly “glad tidings” to the world. They are glad tidings which tell of endless ages upon ages, to which centuries are but as days or moments, in which God has means and room to satisfy the cravings of His good nature in the good of His children. Oh what founts of goodness, of care, of sympathy do these purposes reveal in the Divine nature! What confirmations they afford of the eternal love which shone so brightly in the face and cross of Jesus Christi What assurances they should inspire within our hearts that none among us, however unknown, however forlorn, however despised, will ever be able to reproach his Father with neglect or unkindness, or to charge God With having made him an outcast or an orphan!
III. Let us seek to comfort one another with some of the practical hopes in the present which this fact of our being “God’s beloved” allows and demands. It tells of tokens, of alleviations, of compensations from the heart of the Perfect Father to the hearts of His needy, suffering children, far beyond the measure of our sympathies or the spirit of our prayers. The poor brain may be beclouded, and reason have lost its reign, yet what calm moments, what lucid intervals have been known to come at the hour of prayer, or at the mention of the name of God. The poor sufferer in his prostration may have become unconscious, and seem to be deaf to all around, or have passed beyond our power to comfort or to aid, and yet what endless communications there may be within the Soul, what soothing glances from “the angel of God’s presence,” what gentle foldings of the protecting wing, what sweet foreshadowings of the meaning and the end! (J. T. Stannard.)
God’s gifts in sleep
I. Protection (Psalms 121:3-4; Psalms 91:1; Psalms 91:5; Psalms 91:9-10).
II. Refreshment (Ecclesiastes 5:12; Jeremiah 31:26).
III. Enlightenment (Genesis 46:2; Daniel 7:1; Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9). No one is foolish enough to think that there is a Providence--a voice from God--in all our dreams. Perhaps most of them are self-originated. But unquestionably there are gifts of God--revelations of God to His tried, and sorrowing, and faithful ones in sleep. There are, perhaps, few of His children who have not heard His voice in the night. He not only protects and refreshes us, but enlightens us. Let us not despise those good and perfect gifts which come from above in the hours of gloom and loneliness. Let us thank and bless God for all those precious things which He giveth to His beloved while they sleep. (A. G. Maitland.)
The peculiar sleep of the beloved
The sleep of the body is the gift of God. So said Homer of old, when he described it as descending from the clouds, and resting on the tents of the warriors around old Troy. And so sang Virgil, when he spoke of Palinurus falling asleep upon the prow of the ship. Sleep is the gift of God; and not a man would close his eyes, did not God put His fingers on his eyelids; did not the Almighty send a soft and balmy influence over his frame which lulled his thoughts into quiescence, making him enter into that blissful state of rest which we call sleep. True, there be some drugs and narcotics whereby men can poison themselves well nigh to death, and then call it sleep; but the sleep of the healthy body is the gift of God. He bestows it; He rocks the cradle for us every night; He draws the curtain of darkness; He bids the sun shut up his burning eyes; and then He comes and says, “Sleep, sleep, my child; I give thee sleep.”
I. There is a miraculous sleep which God has sometimes given to His beloved--which He does not Now vouchsafe. Into that kind of miraculous sleep, or rather trance, fell Adam, when he slept sorrowfully and alone; but when he awoke he was no more so, for God had given him that best gift which He had then bestowed on man. The same sleep Abram had, when it is Said that a deep sleep came on him, and he laid him down, and saw a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, while a voice said to him, “Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Such a hallowed sleep also was that of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15); Joseph (Genesis 37:5-9); Daniel.
II. He gives His beloved the sleep of a quiet conscience. I think most of you saw that splendid picture, in the Exhibition of the Royal Academy--the Sleep of Argyle--where he lay slumbering on the very morning before his execution. You saw some noblemen standing there, looking at him almost with compunction; the jailor is there, with his keys rattling: but positively the man sleeps, though to-morrow morning his head shall be severed from his body, and a man shall hold it up, and say, “This was the head of a traitor.” He slept because he had a quiet conscience: for he had done no wrong. Then look at Peter. Did you ever notice that remarkable passage where it is said that Herod intended to bring out Peter on the morrow; but, behold, as Peter was sleeping between two guards, the angel smote him? Sleeping between two guards, when on the morrow he was to be crucified or slain! He cared not, for his heart was clear; he had committed no ill. He could say, “If it be right to serve God or man, judge ye”; and, therefore, he laid him down and slept.
III. There is the sleep of contentment which the Christian enjoys. How few people in this world are satisfied. No man ever need fear offering a reward of a thousand pounds to a contented man; for if any one came to claim the reward, he would, of course, prove his discontent. We are all in a measure, I suspect, dissatisfied with our lot; the great majority of mankind are always on the wing; they never settle; they never light on any tree to build their nest; but they are always fluttering from one to the other. This tree is not green enough, that is not high enough, this is not beautiful enough, that is not picturesque enough; so they are ever on the wing, and never build a peaceful nest at all. How few there are who have that blessed contentment--who can say, “I want nothing else; I want but little here below--yea, I long for nothing more--I am satisfied--I am content.”
IV. God giveth His beloved the sleep of quietness of soul as to the future. O that dark future! The present may be well; but ah! the next wind may wither all the flowers, and where shall I be? The future! All persons have need to dread the future, except the Christian. God giveth to His beloved a happy sleep with regard to the events of coming time.
V. There is the sleep of security. Solomon slept with armed men round his bed, and thus slumbered securely; but Solomon’s father slept one night on the bare ground--not in a palace--with no moat round his castle wall,--but he slept quite as safely as his son, for he said, “I laid me down and slept, and I awaked, for the Lord sustained me.”
VI. The last sleep God giveth His beloved is the sleep of a happy dismission. Dear servants of Jesus! There I see them! What can I say of them, but that “so He giveth His beloved sleep”? Oh! happy sleep! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Gifts in sleep
(to children):--The beginning of the psalm is plain enough. Many a house has been built beautiful and strong; and perhaps the very night before the family were to go into it a fire burned it all down. The same with a city; the guards kept watch, but the enemy got in and the town was burned and destroyed. When people see things like that they say, “We can’t prevent accidents happening; it is God that does it; it is all in God’s hands.” Then the poet goes on to say something more. “You toil as hard as you can; you rise early and sit up late; and you are doing all that in order that you may get bread to eat; and do you know that in all that work of yours you cannot do without God’s help? It, would never get you your food if God didn’t give it you. God is not asleep when you are sleeping.,’ It is not only our food and our houses God gives us when we are asleep, but the better things He gives us too. When I was not thinking of it many of the sweetest friendships that have made life better and brighter have come to me--they were not sought for. Where men give themselves to be guided by God the best things come to them. I didn’t plan them; they were dropped into my life somehow. When people are converted it is constantly most unexpectedly. (W. G. Elmslie, D. D.)
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord.
Children come not into the world by chance or fate. God sends them as His gifts.
I. They are gifts of great value.
1. They are of great value in themselves.
(1) The intellectual possibilities of a child. In the babe which the mother for the first time presses to her bosom, there may be powers that will work out into the greatest of poets, sages, apostles, reformers, even angels.
(2) The emotional possibilities of a child. What capabilities of love and hate, wrath and tenderness, rapture and misery.
2. They are of great value to the parents.
(1) Look at the influence of a child on the mind of a parent. It unseals a new fountain of love. It creates a new world of interest, it supplies new motives for diligence, sobriety, and virtue.
(2) Look at the power of a child to bless the parent. It comes with the filial instinct deeply planted in its nature, an instinct which, as it rightly develops itself, makes the parent the object of its strongest and purest affection, its most loyal and devoted service. When God gives to parents a loving and loyal child, He gives that which is of more worth to them than lordly estates, or even mighty kingdoms.
II. They are gifts involving great trusts.
III. They are gifts that may become great curses. Man has a faculty of perversion. In nature he can turn food to poison, make the quickening sunbeam his own destroyer, and transform the blessings of Providence into curses. Thus he can deal with his own child, his choicest gift from God. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. Children are a Divine treasure. God prizes children because they are--
1. His images.
2. His instruments. From a holy child the Most High can let His glory shine forth as truly as from an aged saint. In the goodness which He can form in the young, there is an attractive beauty by which all hearts are melted, and which is fitted to convince the proudest gainsayer. It is not the largest flowers which the gardener cherishes most tenderly, or to which he points his visitors as the best proof of his skill and taste.
II. Children are a Divine gift.
1. One of inestimable value. They are to take our places when we go away--to repair the losses caused by the removal of others--to labour in that with which we are now busy--to carry on and to carry further whatever of noble and useful effort we have begun--not merely to replace but to surpass us.
2. One of happy influence. They diffuse a Divine harmony over the hearts of those who take them as from God, and train them as for Him. They keep alive our noblest feelings. To them we owe much of that tenderness of heart, which is so imperilled by the business, and cares, and wickedness of the world. They are a witness from God which we cannot suppress.
III. Children are a Divine trust.
1. We must strive to show them a right example.
2. We must give them a careful training.
3. We must show a kindly interest in them.
4. We must give them our fervent prayers. (A. MacEwen, D. D.)
What we want is for every father and mother to be moved be say when a little one is put into their arms, “This child is a heritage from the Lord, a sign of the Divine favour towards us, a precious charge of love to be brought up in His nurture and admonition.”
I. Try to estimate their worth. As God’s gifts they possess an inestimable value. Nothing He sends can be worthless. The humblest flower which “He pencils into beauty by a ray of sunlight is not to be overlooked. Of every work that bears the mark of His creative touch, however insignificant, the exhortation may be uttered, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.” How much more shall it be said--and said by the Master of men Himself--of those little flowers of humanity that spring up and bud and blossom in our homes. The hopes of two worlds, of time and eternity, meet in every child born into our homes. Have we ever realized as completely as we might do what they are and may become? If we have attempted this, then all relationships in which they may stand to us are as nothing compared with this, that they may become heirs of immortality and eternal life.
II. Try to understand their individual characters. A family is a little world. Each member of it has a personality of his and her own. But what that is who can tell? There is no magic method of discovering it. God has hot intended to save us the trouble of constant watchfulness by sending with each child a tabulated description of its character. Everything is unformed, yet there is a distinct individuality lying and working underneath, and that manifests itself as education and circumstances develop the mind and heart. What we have to do is to wait, and watch, and guide; acknowledging the existence of variety, yet training it in wholesome ways.
III. Try to appreciate the power of your influence. Do they learn from us to honour and to attain the highest principles? Do they see that we as Christian men and women esteem godliness and truth above all other things? Let our influence be such as to nurture in them a fervent love of what is right because it is right, and a profound abhorrence to all that is mean, selfish, double-minded, impure, un-Christlike, and then will their minds respond with quick sensitiveness to all forms of goodness, and turn with spontaneous hatred from that which is contrary to uprightness and truth. (W. Braden.)
The pleasure given by children
There is a pathetic passage in the autobiography of Herbert Spencer, which was published some time ago. At the age of seventy-three he wrote, “When at Brighton in 1887, suffering the ennui of an invalid life, passed chiefly in bed and on the sofa, I one day, while thinking over modes of killing time, bethought me that the society of children might be a desirable distraction.” And so he wrote to a friend, “Will you lend me some children?” The children were sent to him, and of them he wrote, “instead of simply affording me a little distraction . . . afforded me a great deal of positive gratification.” And the great scientist who had no children to love longed for the gifts that had not been bestowed upon him.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of the youth.
Children likened to arrows
1. An arrow is small, but powerful. One slew Ahab. Latent capacities of a child.
2. An arrow must be sharpened. A child must-be educated, its faculties developed. Note its natural sharpness.
3. An arrow travels far. Who can measure the influence of a child?
4. Its power depends upon the strength and judgment with which it is sent. A lesson to parents.
5. It is firmly imbedded, is the twig is bent, so it will grow.
6. Let us not send into the world poisoned arrows. (Homiletic Review.)
Children as arrows
Children, you may perceive here what is the duty which you owe your parents. You are to protect them in their old age, and be to them as arrows in the hands of the warrior. Protect them from the assaults of poverty, should they require your assistance in this respect. Poverty and old age are unsuitable companions: let it be your pleasure to alleviate this distressing yoke as far as you can. They did not leave you to the cold charity of strangers when you were more feeble than they now are. Why should you act differently towards them, and pay back your debt with an immense ingratitude? You are to protect them under all the infirmities of declining years. If you cannot bear with the fretfulness of disease, and with the deepening shadows of those to whom under God you owe your existence, and who toiled for you and watched over you when you could do neither for yourselves, what sympathy can be expected from others? (N. McMichael.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 127". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19