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Preserve me, O God: for in Thee do I put my trust.
Faith in the presence of God
This term suggests that the Psalm is one of strongly marked, incisive thought. It is a Psalm doubly notable--
1. Because it contains one of the brightest and most unhesitating expressions of faith in the presence of God, as extending through and beyond death, and preserving the life both of soul and body. It therefore stands in marked contrast with the desponding doubts of such passages as Psalms 88:1-18 --basing itself on the conviction, which our Lord declared to underlie the whole covenant, that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
2. Because it is quoted most explicitly in the New Testament as a Messianic prophecy, an inspired utterance, which was no doubt in some degree applied by the Psalmist to himself as having unity with God, and therefore defying death, but which could be in its full meaning spoken of the Messiah alone (Acts 2:25-31; Acts 13:35). For in Him alone was the, unity with God to be perfect--so that He should be at once “the son of David,” and yet “God with us”--therefore in Him alone was it impossible that humanity could be “holden of death,” either in the “prison” of Hades (1 Peter 3:19) or the “corruption” of the grave. (Alfred Barry, D. D.)
Jehovah, the believer’s chief good
This poem naturally falls into three strophes.
1. The writer’s utterances to God, and God’s people of his supreme delight in Jehovah (Psalms 16:1-4).
2. The direct statement of the blessedness of such a lot (Psalms 16:5-8).
3. The assurance that it would prevail over death and the grave (Psalms 16:9-11). Cheyne says, the Psalmist assumes successively the tone of profession, of description, and of prophecy.
I. The profession. In view of the fluctuations and uncertainties of the world, the writer invokes God’s preserving care, for the reason that this is his habitual resort. He neither has nor wishes any other. But this absolute dependence on the Most High is very far from being servile or constrained. It is spontaneous and joyous. He knows no fountain of true happiness save Jehovah. The love of saints and the abhorrence of idolatrous apostates go together.
II. The description (Psalms 16:5-8). Here is an emphatic statement of the fact that nothing earthly, visible, material is what satisfies the Psalmist, but only Jehovah Himself. It is the Giver, not His gifts, that meets his wants. The happiness of such a condition is insisted on. In David’s eyes God is no abstraction, but a person real, living, walking by his side. Hence his abiding confidence. The whole utterance is one of strong triumphant faith.
III. The prophecy (Psalms 16:9-11). Here the description of the present passes into a forecast of the future. Some of the terms are peculiar. “Glory” probably means “tongue.” “Sheol” is the place of departed spirits. “Corruption” may mean “the pit.” The poet is taking a calm outlook upon death and the grave as they lie before every man in the natural course of events. Shall this be the end of his career? Nay, heart and flesh alike are safe. David will not be abandoned to the dismal shades, nor will his bodily frame perish irrecoverably. The Psalm as a whole is a remarkable exhibition of Old Testament piety. (Talbot W. Chambers, D. D.)
A good hope
The heading of this Psalm, and of Psalms 56:1-13; Psalms 57:1-11; Psalms 58:1-11; Psalms 59:1-17; Psalms 60:1-12, Michtam, may mean “Golden Psalm,” or “Sculpture Psalm,” this latter term indicating a Psalm of strong incisive thought. The Psalm seems, “by its tone of fresh, joyous confidence, to belong to the early part of David’s career.” It may have been written when David was in the wilderness of Ziph (1 Samuel 26:19). The Psalm may be used to illustrate the following points:
1. Only out of an experience of God’s gracious dealings can a full trust in God be gained. David had known God from his early shepherd life.
2. The uncertainty of all things on which men rely; men change or fail; riches take wings; of many possessions we tire, but trust in God never disappoints. He is the one satisfying good.
3. Those who have God at all must have Him for all in all. No idols must draw us away. Self-seeking and world-seeking pleasures may be our idols.
4. Keeping close to God is security for this world, and for the world to come. Really right is right with God, and whoever is really right is right forever. The joy we have in God, neither time, nor change, nor death can end. The following subjects are treated: Soul joy in God. Soul joy in the godly. Soul fear of the ungodly. Soul confidence in the present. Soul purpose to maintain the godly life. Soul assurance that God will maintain loving relations with the godly forever. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
The good man’s plea
The Psalmist entreats Divine protection, rejoices in his religious privileges, and expresses unbounded confidence in God.
I. A good man’s cry for divine protection. Whether his peril arose from the idolatrous heathen or from domestic enemies, we cannot say; but it was sufficiently urgent to drive him to God for shelter. Is not this one of the chief uses of earthly trials?
II. A good man’s arguments for a divine response.
1. He pleads his faith in God.
2. He pleads his own moral value (Psalms 16:4-6). A holy exultation now thrills the Psalmist’s heart.
There are two sources of his joy.
1. The sight of the misery of idolaters.
2. The contemplation of his own blessedness. The figurative language of Psalms 16:6 is derived from the division of the land of Canaan amidst the tribes of Israel. Precious truths underlie it.
(1) The nature of his inheritance.
(2) The certainty of his inheritance.
(3) The pleasantness of his inheritance. (Robert Rollocks.)
The Divine preservation
The Psalmist will be “preserved”; he will not only be created. There is a cold deism which says, “Having been created, that is enough; the rest belongs to myself; I must attend to the details of life; creation may have been a Divine act, but all education, culture, “progress, preservation must fall under my own personal care.” The Psalmist begins in another tone. He opens his Psalm with the great word “preserve”--equal to, Attend to all my cares and wants; pity my feebleness; take hold of my right hand, and of my left hand, and be round about me, and never leave me for one moment to myself. That is true worship. Only a sense of the Divine nearness of that kind can adequately sustain a noble and growing religion. We need a daily prayer; we die for want of daily food; every morning must be a revelation in light, every night must be a revelation in rest. This is not a selfish preservation, a preservation from evil, or danger, or suffering only, but the kind of preservation that is necessary to growth. Who has not seen the guards round the trees, especially the little trees, the young growths, so that they may have a chance of taking hold of the earth, and lifting themselves up to the sun, and bringing out of themselves all the secret of the Divine purpose in their creation? A selfish preservation would be an impious desire, but the preservation being asked for as an opportunity of growth is a preservation for which the noblest souls may daily pray. It is, then, not enough to have been created; even that Divine act becomes deteriorated and spoiled, impoverished, utterly depleted of all ennobling purpose and inspiration, unless it be followed by continual husbandry or shepherdliness, nursing or culture--for the figure admits of every variety of change; the end being growth, strength, fruitfulness. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The portrait of a God-trusting soul
Such soul is represented in two aspects.
I. His experience under the influence of the present. He has--
1. A profound consciousness of his dependence for safety and for good. “My goodness extendeth not to Thee.” That is, my happiness is not independent of Thee.
2. A delight in the fellowship of the good. “The saints, the excellent, in whom is all my delight.”
3. An abhorrence of the practices of the wicked. “Their drink offering of blood will I not offer.”
4. An exultation in the Lord as his portion.
5. A high satisfaction with providential arrangements. “The lines have fallen to me,” etc.
II. In reference to the future. He is--
1. Thankful. “I will bless the Lord.”
2. Thoughtful. “My reins also,” etc.
3. Calm. “I shall not be moved.”
4. Happy. “My heart is glad.”
5. Trustful. “My flesh also shall rest in hope”--
(i) Of restoration to life. “Thou wilt not leave,” etc.
(ii) Of happiness. “The path of life.”
(iii) Of fulness of joy in God’s presence. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The plea of our trustfulness
The first thing David does is to commend himself to the protection of God, as the God in whom he had placed his confidence. This is what all of us will do who are living under the influence of vital and experimental religion. If we be among the number of His people, we may confide in Him with our whole heart, for every communication of His grace, and for every exercise of His power, which our varied circumstances may require. This trust we will constantly repose in God, because He is constantly deserving of it, and because it is constantly demanded for our personal comfort and stability. It will be especially active and vigorous when we are exposed to those peculiar difficulties and dangers by which every Christian is beset in the course of his pilgrimage. We may not rest satisfied with a mere consciousness of unlimited reliance on God; we may give it free expression in the language of devout and fervent supplication. We have found in God an all-sufficient refuge. This Psalm intimates that he had taken the Lord to be his Lord; and it is impossible for any of us, who are acquainted with our duty and our interest, to make a better or a different choice. He is entitled to the supremacy over us in every respect in which that supremacy can be either exercised by Him or acknowledged by us. It is not only our duty, it is also our interest, to take the Lord for our Lord. In this dedication of ourselves to God it is necessary that the heart be really and chiefly concerned. It is the soul that must say to Him, “Thou art my Lord” Aware of our aptness to forget what we have resolved and promised in reference to God, we must frequently remind our souls, as it were, of the ties by which they are voluntarily and solemnly bound to Him, and of the consequent obligations which they have to fulfil. We are not our own, but His. We cannot be too careful to prevent this impression from being impaired Another evil is to be guarded against the Pharisaical idea is apt to steal upon us, that we have something to boast of, that our labours may be beneficial to Him to whom they are rendered, and that on account of these we are entitled to His favour and protection. There cannot be a greater or more pernicious mistake. While our goodness extendeth not to God, so as that it can be useful to Him or meritorious in His sight, the Psalmist says, “It extendeth to the saints that are in the earth.” There are saints in the earth. But their holiness has much imperfection mixed with it, and comes far short of what the Divine law requires of them. It exists in their principles, in their desires, in their endeavours, and in their actual acquirements. Being thus “saints,” they are “excellent.” God is the standard of excellence, and they are like God. The Psalmist not only asserts the excellence of the saints, but declares that in them was “all his delight.” And such will be the case with us if our minds are actuated and governed by right sentiments. We shall delight in God as the centre of all perfection, and as the fountain of all good. We shall delight in such of His creatures as are entitled to our complacency from the resemblance which they bear to Him. It is to the saints, who are thus excellent, and in whom we take delight, that our goodness extends; we do them good according to our ability. Between them and us there is a spiritual and intimate relationship. And we are especially careful to let our goodness extend to them when they are suffering persecution on account of their marked separation from the world, and their faithful adherence to the cause of truth and duty. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord.
Dedication to God
The Host High is a God of truth and faithfulness. The text alludes to David’s dedication of himself to God, and implies that he had done so deliberately and sincerely.
1. Apply the words for admonition. Remember that it were better not to vow than, after having vowed, not to pay. A dedication is one of the best preservatives against temptation and sin.
2. Apply for instruction. They teach us what David thought of God. They teach that his dedication was deliberate and sincere.
3. Apply for comfort and encouragement. If you have thus dedicated yourself, then to you the promises and consolations of the Gospel belong. Reflections by way of improvement--
(1) Abide in Christ.
(2) Do much for Him to whom you owe so much.
(3) Be assured that God will do much for you. (John Ramsay, M. A.)
The advantages of a Christian reviewing his dedication to God
I wish I could have heard what you said to yourselves when I read these words. I could guess the language of some of you. You thought, “I never said anything to the Lord, except it was--Depart from me.” Others of you, perhaps, said, “I believe that I did once say so to the Lord, but it was so lung ago that I had forgotten it. It must have been when I was in trouble. But I cannot say it now.” Others said, “Yes, I have said that, and often, and I am glad to say it again.” Good men are excellent company for themselves, for they can converse with their souls. David is doing so here. He is telling of his dedication to God, and reviewing what he then said. Now this is a good thing to do.
I. It is useful in the hour of temptation. It will not prevent, necessarily, the assaults of sin, nor our being overcome by them. The eleven disciples forsook Christ, though they had solemnly engaged not to do so. But it is a help against such temptations to be often reviewing our vows to God. It arms us against sin.
II. As a bond of diligence and consistency in duty. Many also would stand back from wilful sins and grosser vices, yet grow remiss in their duty and become less circumspect, Now against this it is well to preserve a remembrance of our covenant engagements.
III. To afford great relief in distress. The believer may be subject to great spiritual distress. The light of God’s countenance may be withheld, and grace be very feeble. Then such communion with our own souls and with the Lord, as is indicated here, does help us much. Tell Him how we desire to stand to our engagements, and to be His forever. So our hearts will brighten even in the midst of flowing tears.
IV. As a support and encouragement in the immediate prospect of death. Nothing, then, but what is real and substantial will serve. Death is rapidly approaching. “So let it,” cries the devoted servant of God; “the sooner it comes the better. The God whom I have served is able to deliver me; and He will deliver me from thy sting, O death, and from all the power of the grave. Many years ago I said to the Lord, Thou art my Lord, and He honoured me with a place among His servants; and now I feel Thee, blessed Savour, to be the strength of my heart; and I depend upon Thee as my portion forever. Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” Well, then, do you not think that happy is the people whose God is the Lord? But I want more than your approval. I want to know if you have said to the Lord, “Thou art my Lord.” Let me ask--
1. Have you ever felt the misery of being without God?
2. Have you ever given time for serious thought on this question? How solemn is your condition who live all your days in a hurry of business or thoughtless dissipation! But you who have taken the Lord to be your God, I would say to you: Cleave to God with purpose of heart. This is the bond of the servants of the Lord. “I, such an one, whose name is hereunto subscribed, do hereby renounce all other masters which have had dominion over me, and bind myself to the Lord, to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life: So help me God.” And do much for Him. Also expect much from Him; you shall not be disappointed. And finally, you shall receive a crown of life. None ever served God for nought. (S. Lavington.)
A sacramental meditation
I. Before partaking. It was David’s wont, when in distress and ready to doubt whether he had really dedicated himself to God, to remind himself of the solemn transactions which had passed between him and God.
1. Let us consider the meaning and import of these words. He acknowledges God’s property in him, and claim upon him. And that he desires to be the Lord’s; that he prefers God to all else. He had chosen and acknowledged God as his God. And now, in distress, he repeats all this.
2. Let us remember what professions we have made. It is reasonable that we should; for we are in danger of forgetting. The world wears out the memory of them; and our afflictions tempt us to doubt that Jehovah is our Lord. Therefore it is good to renew our covenant. And it will help us to be more sensible of our duty, and will animate us under every suffering. And as we thus renew our vows we shall see such excellence in them as will engage us to fulfil them with diligence.
3. And there is no more fit time for this than at the Lord’s table. We commemorate the everlasting covenant. We profess our faith in Christ’s sacrifice. By His blood, which the wine represents, we are brought nigh to God and admitted into endearing relation to Him. Therefore let us, etc.
II. After partaking. Let us take review of what we have done, and each adopt the language of David, “O my soul,” etc. This means, “I entirely approve, and give thanks for being inclined to say this.” And acknowledge past unworthy behaviour. Failure in love to Him, and in faithfulness. But “I desire that I may not again neglect my duty, that I may not yield to temptation, nor follow the world too eagerly, nor say to it what I had said to the Lord.” Are we in affliction? That is a time to repeat the acknowledgment. “Thou hast said to the Lord, Thou art my Lord: in Thee I have all things. Thou canst and wilt support and comfort me; make up my earthly losses, and teach me to glory in tribulation.” Finally, do we feel the sentence of death in ourselves? There is no time more proper to repeat the acknowledgment, “Thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord; my God, whom I have sincerely loved and served; to whom I have often committed my soul through Christ; and I would do it again with gratitude, hope and joy, when flesh and heart are failing.” Let us thus, in every circumstance of life and death, remember our covenant transactions. If you have sincerely said, and are saying to the Lord, “Thou art my Lord,” let this be your comfort, that “He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (J. Orton.)
All my delight is upon the saints that are in the earth, and upon such as excel in virtue (P..V.).
Divine love for the saints of God
On All Saints’ Day our mind seems almost to sink beneath the great and holy thoughts which come crowding in upon it, when we think of that vast multitude which no man can number, of all ages, of all nations, of all ranks of life, of all mental and bodily endowments, who, having come out of great tribulation, now rejoice in the presence of Him whom on earth they loved. The Church today is proclaiming the truth of the words of our text. But it is not the Church alone, our Lord Himself shares in this delight. He beholds the beautiful things that He has made; but the King of the heavenly Jerusalem has fairer prospects than these. There is something on earth which He sees and values. The saints for the most part live a hidden life; the world despises their aims, perhaps laughs at their frailties. They pass away, and their names are forgotten, or live only in the memory of the Church, but the Lord makes them the sum and centre of His care and love. He greatly rejoices in the work of His grace, as it displays itself in His elect. Their shortest prayer, their slightest act of self-denial He notices. He gathers them, one by one, out of the ruined mass of humanity, to be jewels in His heavenly diadem. (S. W. Skeffington, M. A.)
The saint’s ministry to his brethren
God’s goodness should make us merciful to others. It were strange indeed a soul should come out of His tender bosom with a hard uncharitable heart. Some children do not, indeed, take after their earthly parents, as Cicero’s son, who had nothing of his father but his name; but God’s children all partake of their heavenly Father’s nature. Philosophy tells us that there is no reaction from the earth to the heavens; they, indeed, shed their influences upon the lower world, which quicken and fructify it, but the earth returns none back to make the sun shine the better. David knew that his goodness extended not unto God, but this made him reach it forth to his brethren. Indeed, God has left His poor saints to receive the rents we owe unto Him for His mercies. An ingenuous guest, though his friend will take nothing for his entertainment, yet, to show his thankfulness, will give something to his servants. (William Gurnall.)
Is this an arbitrary and invidious distinction? We read of the “saints,” and the “excellent.” Are there, then, some people who are not saints, and some saints who are not excellent? The Bible does not create distinctions. If there were no Bible the earth would still be distributed into qualities, orders, classes, and the like. The Bible proceeds to a finer discrimination. It analyses honesty, it puts wisdom to the test, it searches into the credentials of faithfulness. The Bible asks, What is the motive underlying character? By “saints” understand separated men. The word “saint” is simply a moral or spiritual distinction. It involves more than is commonly understood by an honest man, or a good man, or a well-living man. It indicates of necessity a connection with the ineffably holy, the perfect, the Divine. It means, at least, an inspiration eternal, rising towards the eternity inaccessible--that is, the supreme life--that is, the life Divine. The terms “saints,” “excellent” are of a universal quality. The reference is to character, not to opinion, nor to varied ways of looking at things which cannot be positively settled. The Psalmist dwells upon the eternal quantity--character, holiness, excellence, pureness; these speak all languages, assume the hues of all climes, and under manifold outward diversity conceal an agreement subtle and indefinable as life itself. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The saints of God
Since the seventh century the first day of November has always been dedicated to the memory of All Saints. Such a day suggests thoughts as solemn and as needful as any which could be presented to us. We watch the procession of mankind as it winds through the long centuries of history, and we note its most striking figures. The vast mass consists of a nameless throng. To our eyes mankind is mainly divided into the eminent and the obscure, the known and the unknown. But to the eye of God, to the eyes of all spirits, it may be, the aspect of that procession is very different. To them the inch-high differences of human rank have simply no existence; for them the thistles of human loftiness have no elevation, and the paltry mole hills cast no shadow. For they know but one distinction, that of the evil and the good. We can see, on the whole, that some men have dared to be eminently good, and that others have been conspicuously, infamously bad. With unspeakable relief we turn from them to the saints of God. “In them is the healing of the world.” Do not think of the mere title “saints”; it has been given to some, at least, who have no claim to it, and it has been denied to many more who have been consummately worthy of it. On All Souls’ Day we may think not only of those whom the Church has called saints, but also of the long line of heroes of the faith in olden times who are not called saints--of the patriarchs, of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many more; of brave judges, glorious prophets, patriot warriors, toiling apostles; of the many martyrs who would rather die than live; of hermits who fled from the guilt and turmoil of life; of the missionaries, Paul, Columba, Benedict, Xavier, Schwartz, and a long roll call of others. Of reformers, of wise rulers, of the writers of holy and who walk with Him in white, for they are worthy. If we would comfort our hearts, strengthen good resolutions, and retain that high estimate of human nature which it is such a misfortune to lose, and which so often threatens to succumb, let us in days like these make ourselves acquainted with Christian history and biography as the antidote to the degeneracy of these worldly and evil days. From earth’s mire and darkness lift up your eyes to this galaxy of great examples. We need something to keep alive our faith in the dignity of man. I, for one, find that something, most of all, in dwelling in the life and sufferings of Christ, and next, in considering the blessed example of those who have followed Him, each bearing his own cross. They will help us by furnishing gleaming instances of pure and possible human goodness; they show us how, by true faith in Christ, men just as weak as we are, tempted as we are, yet did gloriously and conspicuously triumph over sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil, and thereby proved to us that we can do the same. See how the universal idol, selfishness, has been gloriously overcome. Pride, too, has been subdued. St. Thomas, of Aquino, was by far the greatest man of his age. One day at Bologna, a stranger arriving at his monastery asked the prior for someone to help him to get provisions and carry his basket. “Tell the first brother you meet,” said the prior. St. Thomas was walking in meditation in the cloister, and, not knowing him by sight, the stranger said to him, “Your prior bids you to follow me.” Without a word the greatest teacher of his age, the “Doctor Angelicus”--the angel of the schools, as he was called by the affection of his admirers--bowed his head, took the basket, and followed. But he was suffering from lameness, and since he was unable to keep up with the pace, the stranger rebuked him soundly as a lazy, good-for-nothing fellow, who ought to show more zeal in religious obedience. The saint meekly bore the unjust reproaches, and answered never a word. “Do you know to whom you are speaking, who you are treating in this rude way?” said the indignant citizens of Bologna, who had witnessed the scene. “That is Brother Thomas, of Aquino.” “Brother Thomas, of Aquino?” said the stranger, and, immediately throwing., himself upon his knees, he begged to be forgiven. “Nay,” said St. Thomas, “it is I who should ask forgiveness, since I have not been so active as I should have been.” And this humility, so rare in little men, was the chief characteristic of this great man. From that disciplined and noble spirit of the first man of his age all pride had been expelled. “Give me, O Lord,”--this was his daily prayer,--“a noble heart which no earthly affection may drag down.” What more would we have if, even through so deep a valley of humiliation, there still lies the path to heaven? You see a life spent in brushing clothes, and washing crockery, and sweeping floors, a life which the proud of the earth would have regarded as the very dust beneath their feet, a life spent at a clerk’s desk, a life spent at a tradesman’s counter, a life spent in a labourer’s hut, may yet be so ennobled by God’s mercy that for the sake of it a king may gladly yield his crown. Thank God there have been and are tens of thousands of holy and faithful, and therefore happy, souls, full of inward peace. Will you be one of their number? (Dean Farrar.)
In whom is all my delight.
The moral force in the world of God’s elect
The history of mankind, whether secular or religious, resolves itself ultimately into the history of a few individuals. For though the masses live, yet it is these few who determine the direction and shape the spirit of the age. The rest die and are forgotten; one epitaph would do for them all, except for two or three out of the million. Another fact, and a sadder one, is that the human race seems to tend downwards. The old Greek proverb says, and truly, “the majority are evil.” The few only are saints, the few only are heroes. There is bitter truth in David’s saying, “All men are liars”; and in Carlyle’s, that “the world is peopled by a thousand millions, mostly fools” How dreadful then would the condition of the world be were it not for God’s elect few. The deliverance of man has never been wrought by the multitude, but by the individual. See this illustrated in poetry, in philosophy, in art, in science; the leaders are a few, all the rest follow. But art and the rest will not alone save a people. History shows how along with them nations have sunk into the abyss of degradation. So will England, so will every nation, if she refuse the message of God. Of what use would the spangles of art and science be upon the funeral pall of the dying race if death were the end of all? The hope of the world lies in the recognition of, and in obedience to, the Word of God as uttered by His special messengers; and by so listening as to reflect in myriads of gleams, and to reverberate in millions of echoes, the light and the voice of inspiration. In illustration of all this glance at the moral history of the world. What drear darkness in the main prevailed from Adam to Abraham, that great hero of the faith. After him darkness again until Moses. After him till Samuel and the prophetic order. After them till Christ and the apostles. After Him and them the world gradually grew worse; Christianity itself became corrupted till St. Anthony, forsaking all, made his home in the lonely desert, to convince his generation of the infinite value of every human soul. And from his day, now and again, great saints were inspired of God from time to time,--such as Benedict I, Gregory VII, Francis of Assisi, until in the midst of another dark period the lion-hearted Luther shook the world. It is by such men the world has been kept from moral death; such seems to be the method of God’s working. Now let us note some of the lessons of this Divine method.
I. What is the secret, the sole secret of moral power? Who that reads the signs of these times can fail to see how much this age needs that secret? What was it that again and again overcame the world? Was it not faith showing itself by self-sacrifice? See it in Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and all else.
II. That the work of these saints is never permanent. There is infinite pathos in the failures of men and of institutions. Their work has perpetually to be renewed. Abraham died, and ere a century had elapsed his children were slaves. And so with all the rest.
III. Apparent failures were never absolute failures. No good man ever lives in vain. Each saint has his own Calvary. St. Telemachus was butchered in the arena, but because of his death an end was put to gladiatorial games. What a candle did Latimer and Ridley light in England through their martyrdom, and its light glows still. Then let man think, however discouraged he may be at the moral aspect of men, that a holy Christian life can never be in vain. (Dean Farrar.)
Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another God.
The sorrows of idolaters
There is no other fact more incontrovertibly established than the fact that idolatry of every sort is a system of sorrows. Forsaking the one living and true God to serve other gods has written the scroll of human history, within and without, with mourning and lamentation and woe. The command, “Thou shalt have no other gods, but Me,” is a command grounded in the nature of things, and the necessities of the human soul. The human soul cannot have any other god without piercing itself through with many sorrows. The moment it adopts, as the object of its supreme love and adoration, any other being than the Lord God it begins to degenerate. The result is the same degeneracy where the attempt is made even to blend with the worship of the true God the worship of other beings. Saint worship has proved as disastrous to human progress as the worship of pagan gods and heroes. Italy has been as sadly degraded by papal as it ever was by pagan Rome. Jupiter, and Venus, and Bacchus, and Mars have only been displaced by saints as little entitled to our respect. It is only as the soul chooses for its worship an object of supreme excellence that it rises in the scale of moral and intellectual dignity. Such an object David’s soul had chosen as the God of its worship: “Their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.” Drink offerings of wine were offered by the Israelites; but all such offerings of blood were forbidden them (Leviticus 17:9-14). The heathen, however, in their worship, both drank and offered blood. It will be recollected by the reader of history that Catiline pledged his accomplices in a goblet of blood, binding them by fearful oaths to the performance of fearful deeds, previous to explaining to them his plan for the massacre of the Roman senate and people. Hannibal, too, is said to have made a blood-drinking vow. We have read also of a tyrant who, piercing his enemies with hot irons, and gathering the blood in a cup as it flowed, drank one half of it, and offered up the other half to his god. These illustrations go to prove that worshipping other gods than the true God degrades men more and more, until the words “brute” and “fiend” are the only words that accurately describe him. (David Caldwell, A. M.)
The misery of idolatry
The Psalmist here introduces the subject of idolatry, and forms respecting it a worthy and decided resolution. He speaks of the misery of such as attach themselves to the worship and service of false gods. Not only shall they be subjected to calamity, but their calamities shall be manifold. This arises from two causes. The gods in whom they have placed their confidence are mere imaginary beings. And by forsaking the true God they have forfeited all the advantages which trust in Him and obedience to Him would have certainly produced. On account of the sinfulness and misery of such conduct the Psalmist determined that he should not be chargeable with it. True, we are not in danger of becoming idolaters in the literal and original sense of the word. But the substance of the crime is contained in your feeling and showing a stronger attachment to some other being than to the Supreme Being. It is of no consequence what it is to which you thus pay the homage and give the glory which are due to God alone. Idolatry is to serve the creature more than the Creator. Beware of the guilt of idolatry, and of the vengeance which impends over those who indulge in it. The Psalmist goes on to say, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.” This refers both to the future life and to the present, “the life that now is.” In all that happens to us we will recognise the operation of His combined mercy and wisdom and faithfulness. Then our “lines will have fallen in pleasant places.” But our principal concern is with our spiritual circumstances. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup.
Man’s true treasure in God
I. All true religion consists in deliberately choosing God as my supreme good. Now, how do we possess God? We possess things in one fashion and persons in another. The lowest and most imperfect form of possession is that by which a man simply keeps other people off material good, and asserts the right of disposal of it as he thinks proper. A blind man may have the finest picture that ever was painted; he may call it his, that is to say, nobody else can sell it, but what good is it to him? A lunatic may own a library as big as a Bodleian, but what use is it to him? Does the man that draws the rents of a mountain side, or the poet or painter to whom its cliffs and heather speak far-reaching thoughts, most truly possess it? The highest form of possession, even of creatures, is when they minister to our thought, to our emotion, to our moral and intellectual growth. We possess even things, really, according as we know them and hold communion with them. And when we get up into the region of persons we possess people in the measure in which we understand them, and sympathise with them, and love them. A man that gets the thoughts of a great teacher into his mind, and has his whole being saturated by them, may be said to have made the teacher his own. A friend or a lover owns the heart that he or she loves, and which loves back again; and not otherwise do we possess God. And the ownership must be, from its very nature, reciprocal. And so we read in the Bible, with equal frequency: the Lord is the “inheritance of His people, and the people are the inheritance of the Lord.” He possesses me, and I possess Him, with reverence be it spoken, by the very same tenure, for whoso loves God has Him, and whom He loves He owns. We have God for ours in the measure in which our minds are actively occupied with thoughts of Him. We know Him. There is a real, adequate knowledge of Him in Jesus Christ; we know God, His character, His heart, His relations to us, His thoughts of good concerning us sufficiently for all intellectual and for all practical purposes. I wish to ask you a plain question. Do you ever think about Him? There is only one way of getting God for yours, and that is by the road of bringing Him into your life by frequent meditation upon His sweetness, and upon the truths that you know about Him. There is no other way by which a spirit can possess a spirit that is not cognisable by sense, except only by the way of thinking about Him to begin with. All else follows that. That is how you hold your dear ones when they go to the other side of the world.
II. This possession is made as sure as God can make it. “Thou maintainest my lot.” The land, the partition of which amongst the tribes lies at the bottom of the illusive metaphor of my text, was given to them under the sanction of a supernatural defence; and the law of their continuance in it was that they should trust and serve the unseen King. It Was He, according to the theocratic theory of the Old Testament, and not chariots and horses, their own arm and their own sword, that kept them safe, though the enemies on the north and the enemies on the south were big enough to swallow up the little kingdom at a mouthful. And so, says the Psalmist allusively, in a similar manner the Divine Power surrounds the man who takes God for his heritage, and nothing shall take that heritage from him. The lower forms of possession, by which men are called the owners of material possessions, are imperfect, because they are all precarious and temporary. Nothing really belongs to a man if it can be taken from him. What we may lose we can scarcely be said to have. They are mine, they were yours, they will be somebody’s else tomorrow. Whilst we have them we do not have them in any deep sense; we cannot retain them, they are not really ours at all. The only thing that is worth calling mine is something that so passes into and saturates the very substance of my soul, that, like a piece of cloth dyed in the grain, as long as two threads hold together the tint will be there. That is how God gives us Himself, and nothing can take that out of a man’s soul. He, in the sweetness of His grace, bestows Himself upon man, and guards His own gift, which is Himself, in the heart. He who dwells in God and God in him lives as in the inmost keep and citadel. The noise of battle may rage around the walls, but deep silence and peace are within. The storm may rage round the coasts, but he who has God for his portion dwells in a quiet inland valley where the tempests never come. No outer changes can touch our possession of God. They belong to another region altogether. Other goods may go, but this is held by different tenure. Root yourselves in God, making Him your truest treasure, and nothing can rob you of your wealth. We here in this commercial community see plenty of examples of great fortunes and great businesses melting away like yesterday’s snow. Then, too, there is the other thought. He will help us so that no temptations shall have power to make us rob ourselves of our treasure. None can take it from us but ourselves, but we are so weak and surrounded by temptations so strong that we need Him to aid us if we are not to be beguiled by our own treacherous hearts into parting with our treasure. A handful of feeble Jews were nothing against the gigantic might of Assyria, or against the compacted strength of civilised Egypt, but there they stood, on their rocky mountains, defended not by their own strength but by the might of a present God. And so, unfit to cope with the temptations that are round about us as we are, if we cast ourselves upon His power and make Him our supreme delight, nothing shall be able to rob us of that possession and that sweetness.
III. He who thus elects to find his treasure and delight in God is satisfied with his choice. “The lines”--the measuring cords by which the estate was parted off and determined--“the lines are fallen,” because they would be thrown, “in pleasant places; yea!” not as our Bible has it, merely, “I have a goodly heritage,” putting emphasis on the fact of possession, but “the heritage is goodly to me,” putting emphasis on the fact of subjective satisfaction with the inheritance that he is to receive. No man that makes the worse choice of earth instead of God ever, in the retrospect, said, “I have a goodly heritage.” One of the later Roman emperors, who was one of the best of them, said, when he was dying, “I have been everything, and it profits me nothing.” No creature can satisfy your whole nature. Portions of it may be fed with their appropriate satisfaction, but as long as we feed on the things of earth there will always be part of our nature, like an unfed tiger in a menagerie, growling and grumbling for its prey, whilst its fellows are satisfied for the moment. No man that takes the world for his portion ever said, “The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places.” For the make of your soul as plainly cries out “God!” as a fish’s fins declare that the sea is its element, or a bird’s wings mark it out as meant to soar. Man and God fit each other like the two halves of a tally. You will never get rest nor satisfaction, and you will never be able to look to the past with thankfulness, nor into the present with repose, nor into the future with hope, unless you can say, “God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” But oh! if you do, then you have a goodly heritage, a heritage of quiet repose, a heritage of still satisfaction, a heritage which suits, and gratifies, and expands all the powers of a man’s nature, and makes him ever capable of larger and larger possessions, of a God who ever gives more than we can receive, that the overplus may draw us to further desire, and the further desire may more fully be satisfied. The one true, pure, abiding joy is to hold fellowship with God and to live in His love. The secret of all our unrest is the going out of our desires after earthly things. They fly forth from our hearts like Noah’s dove, and nowhere amid all the weltering flood can find a resting place. The secret of satisfied repose is to set our affections thoroughly on God. Then our wearied hearts, like Noah’s dove, will fold their wings and build, and nestle fast by the throne of God. “All the happiness of this life,” said William Law, “is but trying to quench thirst out of golden empty cups.” But if we will take the Lord for the “portion of our cup” we shall never thirst. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Lord the portion of His people
There are two things intimately connected with each other, and bearing much upon ourselves, which can neither be expressed nor conceived--the extent of human misery, and the depth of human sin. But our text calls us not to measure the extent of human misery, so much as to look at the mercy of God to all them who fear Him; not to let down line and plummet into the abyss of human depravity, but to look upon an exhaustless spring of consolation-the river that maketh glad the city of God, and of which we may drink forever. We have not to listen to the self-upbraidings of those who have chosen wrong; but to describe the happy condition of those who have chosen right. We fearlessly assert that they only are happy who can say, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance,” etc.
I. The character here described.
1. To such a man God is recognised in His real character, sovereign and supreme, the Source of all that is enjoyed here or expected hereafter. Here is the difference between those who serve the Lord and those who serve Him not. There is nothing of good in this world which is not open to the believer as much as to anyone else; all instruments and appliances of happiness are bestowed on him as well as on them. But besides all this he can say, “The Lord is the portion,” etc. How wretched they who have only this world. 2, But is God your portion? that is the great question. Do you know of any sinking into the grave without God, who have turned away from opportunities which will never return? Think of them, and resolve never to be as they.
II. The distinctive feature of the blessing,--perpetuity. The “lot” of the believer is to be “maintained,” no matter how terrible and distressing his circumstances may be. And it is so, But this cannot be said of any worldly lot. Solomon had the world’s best, yet his heart took no rest. “Vanity and vexation of spirit” is his verdict upon it all. But the wisdom and the power of God uphold the “lot” in which the believer rejoices. And this is not all a matter of opinion and faith. For the life of the godless will not bear reflection. Hence they hate solitude. But the believer when alone can say, “I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” And death has lost its sting, and the future brings no fear, for he knows that God will ever maintain his “lot.” (T. Dale, M. A.)
How to use God
When the soul of man is born at the Cross foot it is born into the inheritance of God; but no soul of man in that first moment of rapture realises all its inheritance, or comprehends what is meant by that gift. But as the years go on, amid the varied teaching of the Holy Spirit and the strain of daily life, the soul begins to press its fence work out and more and more to see God, until in hoary hairs the aged saint, upon the very brink of the other world, is able to feel that though he had all of God in the first moment of his conversion, he never knew ]low much God could be as when the vision of the other world is breaking upon his sight. I want to speak upon how the whole of God is yours, and to teach you how to use God, how to raise harvests from God’s nature for your daily wants, how to find in God the harvests and the vintage and the ore, the jewels, the gold, and all the buried treasures of His nature, and how to take these things which are yours by right, and to make them living, permanent, and blessed realities in your daily experience and life.
1. God is the true portion of the soul. The inheritance is ours by gift. The sun gives itself to the flower to nourish it, and paint it, and feed it; and so the great God, in all the extent of His infinite nature, gives Himself to every soul of man, to become his portion, his inheritance. He gives Himself, but the gift is through birth. When you are regenerate, when you are born again, by the very fact of that supernatural act which has been wrought within your soul you become an heir of God and a joint heir with His Son. But it is not only yours by gift and by birth, it is yours through Christ. And it is by the Holy Ghost. Notice how goodly a heritage it is. Because it is so perfectly adapted to us. Have you ever thought of the perfect adaptation of this earth to man? The macrocosm tallies with the microcosm, the outward with the inward. As the whole nature of man is fitted to the world where God has put him, so is the spirit of man fitted for God, and God for it. Even if there were no revelation of God, by a study of the yearnings of the heart of man, as the heart cries for God, you might formulate the essential features of the being of God: there is such a perfect adaptation between nature and the external world, and there is such a perfect adaptation between the soul and God. It is a goodly portion, because it satisfies us. The unrest of life comes in because you let your desires wander hither and thither like bees over a flower garden. If you would only let God be your portion you would find that rest would hush your soul, and the peace that passeth understanding would settle down upon your life. And it is inexhaustible. There shall never come a time when you and I shall have reached the limit of the fulness of God. And it is secure. The soul that has made God its portion can look upon the unrest of the political world, the strife of man about money, the shattering of colossal fortunes, and the breaking up of great societies secure, because it has found its pasture land, its harvest, its vintage, its ore, in God’s nature, friendship, and presence.
2. How to use it--
(1) Choose it.
(2) Put away out of your life everything that interferes with your enjoyment of God.
(3) Meditate on God.
(4) Appropriate Him. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The Lord the believer’s portion
It was the speech of Paulinus, when his city was taken by the barbarians, “Domine ne excrucier ob anrum et argentum,”--Lord, let me not be troubled for my silver and gold which I have lost, for Thou art all things. As Noah, when the whole world was overwhelmed with water, had a fair epitome of it in the ark, having all sorts of beasts and fowls there; so he that in a deluge hath God to be his God hath the original of all mercies. He that enjoyeth the ocean may rejoice though some drops are taken from him. (George Swinnock.)
God the only happy portion.
Some years ago an eminent English noblewoman was studying at our Bible Institute in Chicago. I remember the day she left us. She told these two incidents. She said, “One day, over in the home country, I had a letter from a dear friend of mine, a lady, asking me to go at once and see her. I hurried to her home, and as I went up the elegant marble stairway, and saw the costly paintings which lined the walls, I said to myself, ‘I wonder whether all this splendour and wealth make my friend happy.’ I did not have to wait long to find out. The lady came rushing into the room, dropped into a seat by my side, and told me the misery of her heart. All the honours, all the dignity of her position did not give her joy. A time after this I went to visit a blind woman. She lived in a very poor cottage. It was a rainy day, and the water was dripping through the thatch over her head and gathering in a little pool at her feet. As I went in there, and saw the poverty and the blind eyes, I was driven to turn to the woman and say, ‘Maggie, are you not miserable?’ She turned those sightless eyes upon me, and said, ‘What, lady,--I miserable! I, the child of a King, inheritor of the mansion He has gone to prepare for me--I miserable? No, lady; I am happy.’” Wealth had not brought joy to the one; a living faith had brought joy to the other in the midst of her poverty and misfortune. (R. A. Torrey, D. D.)
The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.
We ought to be content with providence
You have so many accommodations on the road of life that nothing but ignorance and ingratitude can make you discontented. Consider the age of the world in which you live. What conveniences of life we have now. Consider the country which you inhabit. If you could see all other countries you would prefer this. Especially notice the civil liberty which we enjoy. Consider the religion of this country. You have the Scriptures in your own tongue. To people under affliction I would give four words of advice--
1. Observe the false principle on which you have founded your discontent. You have laid it down as a principle, that you ought to be free from all trouble in this present life. This is a bold step.
2. Observe the sufferings of others, and compare conditions.
3. Note the benefits you derive from afflictions.
4. Consider afflictions in the light of preparations for glory. Christians, of all men, should be least prone to discontent. (Anon.)
The inheritance of the people of God
The allusion in the text is to the measuring of land by lines, and appropriating each part to the proper owners. It may be understood of the great salvation and large inheritance which the people of God have in Christ.
I. The locality described.
1. Pleasant places are rich and wealthy places.
2. Places of security.
3. Places of rest.
4. Hiding places.
5. Places of provision.
6. High places. (Isaiah 58:14.)
II. The nature of the vouchsafement. “The lines.” The expression may remind us of the enclosures or spiritual blessings which we have in Christ.
1. By lines may be meant the truths of the Gospel.
2. The line of everlasting love.
3. The line of redeeming grace.
4. The line of justifying righteousness.
5. The line of renewing grace. (T. B. Baker.)
The heritage of the sailors
What call we wish for in an heritage that is not to be found in God? Would we have large possessions? He is immensity. Would we have a sure estate? He is immutability. Would we have a term of long continuance? He is eternity itself. (W. Arrowsmith.)
The happy lot of the godly
We may put this acknowledgment into the month of--
I. An indulged child of providence. There are many such; their cup runneth over. But let them remember their peril, which is that they should trust in uncertain riches, and make the creature a substitute for the Creator. The writer, some years ago, in a neighbouring city, received in the pulpit the following note, “The prayers of this congregation are earnestly desired for a man who is prospering in his worldly concerns.” If he did this sincerely he did well, for such men need prayer. Yet these things are good in themselves, and show the bounty of God. What must that soul be who never owns, “The lines are fallen,” etc. All cannot use this language, for all are not thus indulged. Yet more might and would did they but think how much brighter is their lot, though they murmur at it, than that of so many others. Let them look at this brighter side.
II. An inhabitant on this favoured country. It is natural for men to love their native country though it be but a poor one. But our lot--how favoured.
III. A Christian with regard to his spiritual condition. “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.” God has made over Himself to His people with all He is and all He has--to pardon, to sanctify, to support, and to receive them to eternal glory. (William Jay.)
Our goodly heritage
I. The goodly land. The dominant expression of the Psalms is joy in God: entire trust, perfect hope, therefore abounding joy. There is something of childlike gladness in the songs of the Hebrew people mingled with the deep moans of life’s sadness. Still, the joy is dominant; and it meant that deep down, under all man’s sense of strain and struggle, there is an abiding belief in his heart that, through Christ, the order of things in the universe is good; that the world is good; that life is good; that the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth everywhere and always. Now, I want that we should make the language of the text our own, and so I would dwell on some of the more prominent features of the “goodly heritage” which we all enjoy. And we shall speak of the goodly land. The goodly land in which God planted His people, the goodly land in which He has planted us.
I. Palestine is the England of the east. I think it is Miss Martineau who says that nothing which she had seen about the world so reminded her of the rolling Yorkshire moors as the approach to Palestine by Hebron. God planted His people in a country singularly fair, glad, fertile, and homelike; where men could pass from under the shadow of the turn of nature, could lie in her lap and bask in her smile. Think of its physical condition (Deuteronomy 8:7-10; Deuteronomy 11:10-12). It was in strong contrast to the monotonous regions around, a land of rich variety, of marked feature and animation. There is this sympathy between man and nature. Egypt and Mesopotamia are sympathetic with despotism; their rich, fat plains, vast and monotonous, have possessed little to occupy the imagination. They nurtured great herds of men, but there was little for men to cling to, to cherish, to fight and die for. Egypt was a long monotonous tract where life was lavish, especially in its baser and uglier forms, in the rich soft alluvial mud. Melons, onions, garlic, fish in abundance, in over-abundance. Cats and crocodiles were promoted to the temples; while the people, like the Egyptian fellahs to this day--the men who made the Suez Canal--were the helpless herds of weary workmen who built the Pyramids for the Pharaohs, and were content to drag on a dull, dreary, hopeless existence. And with Mesopotamia it was much the same. But pass into Palestine and you have at once a new world. Moses speaks with contempt of the agriculture of Egypt, where the land was watered with the foot, “as a garden of herbs.” The country, as it were, tilled itself. Not so Palestine. Like the Rhineland or Switzerland, it was a matter of constant care. To live in it, as compared with Egypt or Babylonia, was an education. “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” Palestine, not Egypt, was their goodly home.
II. And then, our own land, England, the Canaan to which in the early morning twilight of Christendom God led His sons. Yea, we have a goodly heritage. It is a land that demands but repays toil, is full of beauty, of fair skies, with sweet fruits and strong herbs, and where all the products of the world are accessible. No doubt there is a dark side as well as a bright one. But marred as it is by sin, still, “Behold, it is very good.” Seek by your prayers to draw it closer to Christ.
III. The goodly fellowship. A goodly land can help us but little without goodly human fellowships to inhabit it. Here in England the human element has always been in full force. The nature of the people is strong, somewhat coarse in the grain perhaps, but, like the rude granite, capable of exquisite polish, and with a grandeur all its own into whatever form it may be wrought. And it has had a strong development. Are there anywhere stronger and deeper affections than there are in England? Love is that which binds, that seeketh not her own. Nowhere on earth has the battle of life been fought more sternly, with a result in individual character and energy which places us amongst the strongest and most masterful races of the world. And the fellowship of such a race has borne very rich and noble fruit. The men whom we have produced hold their own in comparison with any others, whether in the intellectual, political, or military world. When I number up my mercies I count it among the chief that I am born an Englishman. And God designed the ministry of human fellowship for the development of our nature (Genesis 3:14-19). It is all there, in all its sadness and in all its gladness, its blessings and its pain. Our life was meant, from the first, to be one of close association. That of the Jews was. It was, like ours, a rich, stirring, closely knit social and political life. They were shut up with and to each other during their best years. And so was it with our own people. Men like King David came out of the one; men like King Alfred came out of the other. God’s idea of man’s life is not that of the ascetic who flies into the lonely desert from all human associations, but that by their associations and activities his higher life is to be saved. The Jewish state was distinctly built on the family. The woman had honour there such as she has in Christian England at this day--nay, a deeper honour. At the root of all human relations lie self-control and self-denial; not self-assertion. But the whole education of a man under the influence of society is an education in self-control and self-denial. It begins early with the mother. And yet how the mother loves her burden of children’s cares. And the father takes up the burden and denies himself for his children. The success of Scotch lads is largely owing to the lessons of self-denial which they have seen practised, and so have learnt in their own homes. They have seen how their parents sacrificed themselves for their children. And such spirit is the principle of order, growth, and true prosperity. “I desire not this power,” said King Alfred of his kingship; “but that I might leave behind me a memory of good works.”
IV. Our goodly tasks. For these are by no means the least precious part of the goodly heritage. The fundamental part of man’s being is not with things, but with beings; not with the creation, but with his fellow man and God. It is said that the totally blind are as a rule more serene and cheerful than the totally deaf. That means, that man belongs to his fellows by a closer and dearer bond than any which binds him to nature: he can better spare the vision of the whole universe than the voice of human sympathy and tenderness. So needful is human association and fellowship. But another ordinance of heaven for our good is our work. “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” It looks hard and stern, yet it is most benignant. Hard toil under a fatherly discipline is reforming, and so heaven established it as the condition of our sinful lives. The sentence from a father’s lips made the wilderness a goodly heritage for the exiles from Eden. Nature became a monitress rather than a mistress, urging him to toil, rather than wooing him to rest and play. But, we say, the tasks are goodly tasks, and you are bound to praise the Lord for them. The popular philosophy of the day denies this, though not in this country, where we seem to take more kindly to toil than do those under more sunny skies. “It is a hard world,” you say, “a hard lot, a hard God.” The Bible answers, “It is all ordained by a God who loves you and cares for you and who gave His Son to die for you. Of all the loving things which He has done for you, there is none more loving than this.” Consider--
1. The necessity of toil, hard and constant. It is connected, like death, with sin (Genesis 3:17); teaches that the conditions of life are harder for us than the Creator designed for the man whom He made in His own image. The life of a pure and happy being is symbolised in Eden. We need not trouble about its historic verity: of its spiritual verity there is no doubt at all. But for sin there would be only labour, not toil,--the bitter element is born of transgression.
2. Note the fundamental principle of this ordinance of toil. It is to restore man to right relations to the things around him. Transgression had put him in a false relation, though the tempter told him it would be far otherwise: he would win all he could desire at once (Genesis 3:1-6). “Ye shall be as gods.” The sentence of toil fell on man as a disenchantment. Sin had brought him into collision with the higher will, which orders the whole system of things, a collision which will bruise and crush him until he learns to obey. Hence toil is hard that we may learn this. And the ordinance has been effectual. They who have lived the life of toil have been ever those nearest the kingdom of heaven.
V. The goodly discipline. It is the supreme exercise of faith to believe in its goodness, to accept it as a part of the heritage of benediction. It is hard to praise when the fibres of the soul are throbbing with anguish, and the heart reels under a pressure which it can no longer endure. Are there not nights too dark for even heaven to expect a song? And God is compassionate and gentle. But yet there is no depth Of misery out of which praise may not come. Read 2 Timothy 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 4:16-17. The gladdest songs have gone up from the profoundest depths. True joy springs from communion with those whom you most love, and that, no calamity can rid you off Christ’s presence, and smile, and tender touch and tone, no glooms, no depths can obscure. Nay, the darkness but makes the presence more luminous, and charged with richer benediction. Much of the complaints of our spirits God interprets as compassionately as in the passionate outbursts of a child in pain. God looks at the heart, not at the maddened utterances which the torture of pain produces. There are passages of human experience which hardly come within the pale of that goodly heritage of discipline for which I bid you praise. You cannot sing in them. “I was dumb because Thou didst it,” is the most that we can say. But not of these depths, but of the ordinary discipline of life, do I speak,--the fact that life is a discipline, that we have not only to toil but to suffer. It is a school of culture, not a home, a rest. It would be very terrible for sinful man if he could command the stones to be made bread--that is, if he could make things obey him instead of God. What a hell he would make out of life. But the pain of life throws a man’s thought back on his sin, shows him that in all its forms it is armed with scourges to smite him, and that his flesh shall quiver and the thongs shall be stained with his blood, ere he shall live on in the dream that the way of transgressors is peace. So would God wean us from sin and vice and folly. And when we learn the lesson, and are led to self-control and self-denial, the pain ceases and peace descends. But another and yet higher end of discipline than even conversion is to elevate, purify, and conform us to the image of God.
VI. The goodly hope. This is the last feature which I dwell upon. It completes and crowns the whole. Without the hope man’s lot is a heritage which a brute might shrink from. For the broad fact of man’s history is, that “he is born to trouble.” It is written everywhere, it is the burden of life to us all. Nor is it the weakest and poorest in nature who are pressed most heavily, but the strongest, the bravest, the noblest, and the most faithful souls. Job was the righteous man of his era, and yet his life was an unspeakable curse till he remembered his hope, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” But if these things be so, you may ask--What is the use of talking about the goodly heritage? How can men praise for such a life as this? And it would be mockery thus to speak but for the hope, the “good hope through grace.” A few days ago I was talking with one of our ablest and most eminent writers in his department of literature, and he said, “I have absolutely no hope. God, Christ, immortality, I have no hold of; they are nought to me. All is darkness!” It was not said in bravado, not even in bitterness. But profound sadness was on him as he said it. No hope, because no Christ. All dark, because no hope. Now, the broad fundamental principle which lies at the root of this portion of our subject is, that man is here on earth not a settler but a pilgrim. The patriarchs of Israel are the true patriarchs of our race. As they dwelt in Canaan, man dwells in this world. But they were kept constantly moving; no place was suffered to be as home to them. Long ages of training had to be endured, as our long years of discipline, before they entered the goodly land into which the Lord had brought them, and could call it home. Now, behind this condition of pilgrimage lies the blessed fact that man is made on too large a scale, with too vast capacities, for this world to be enough for him. God has made us for eternity and for such a world as heaven. And so man is born to trouble precisely as a schoolboy is born to tasks and toils. “The heir differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all.” Were man only of this earth, how much would be his imagining and longing for beauty and goodness more than this world can ever give. But all goodliness that is here is suggestive to them of a higher kind yonder. Fellowship is blessed. Yet without the hope, how terrible the breaking up of our earthly associations by death would be. But with the hope they are blessed. And the tasks are good, but what drudgery they would be were there no hope to irradiate them. And so, too, of our disciplines. But to what end they, and the Cross, the symbol of them all, if hope is but a dancing marsh fire, and “glory, honour, and immortality” but a brilliant dream? If the highest outcome of life is that scene in Gethsemane and Calvary, and for Christ, and for those like Him, there was and is nothing beyond, what words can curse with sufficient emphasis the whole order of the universe? No, rather than believe that, may--
“Thy hand, great Anarch, let the curtain fall,
And universal darkness bury all.”
But how is this hope assured?--
(1) By the revelation which is afforded to us of the essential nature of God and His revelation to the world; and
(2) By the light which the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of the Lord Jesus casts upon life and its destinies. “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.” The Gospel story is one of solid historic truth, and our hope is the anchor of our soul. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
The quietude of true pleasure
Christian pleasure contrasts strongly with that of sin. For--
I. Christian pleasure is an inexhaustible force. The pleasures of sin are for a season. Permanency is the true need of life, but the pleasures of sin burn up the nature, they exhaust. Now, to some extent when you get intellect you get permanence; but in animalism, only impermanence. But those which are filled with the mind, the heart, the spirit are fresh, and they do not exhaust. And the pleasure of the spirit in God is the true joy of the soul. It is filled with all the fulness of God.
II. Christian pleasure is not a deteriorating power. It never debilitates our nobility and manhood, it never lets us drown. But how much pleasure there is of which this cannot be said.
III. Christian pleasure is not a noisy thing. If I were asked what we have too much of, I should say, “Noise.” We hear the blare of trumpets, and everything is loud. How quiet the old meeting houses were. The Quaker quiet--how pleasant it is.
IV. Christian pleasure is not a dangerous power. You cannot have too much of it. Some pleasures, even innocent ones, are dangerous; they tend to preoccupy the mind. You let them in as guests, and by and by you find they have taken up all the house.
V. Christian pleasure is not a selfish pleasure. We should prove this question on ourselves as to our pleasures, whether they are in the main unselfish. Pleasure will not come if you seek it, but if you pursue duty pleasure will be found. Religious ways, are ways of pleasantness. The quiet Christian life which many have led has had in it more of charm than any other. (W. M. Statham.)
The saint’s goodly heritage
This expression is the language of the highest contentment, of holy exultation, of the most superlative satisfaction.
I. A scriptural drawing of this goodly heritage. The saint’s heritage is comprehensive of all the blessings of grace and glory. It must be good if these be its contents. This goodly heritage knows no bounds or limits. Appeal to the saint’s charter. The saint is an heir of righteousness, of salvation, of the kingdom of heaven, of all things; an heir of God Himself. Have the saints such a goodly heritage, then see cause:--
II. To contemplate and adore the unbounded generosity of the most blessed God. The thought of this threw the Apostle John into an ecstasy. We are not to estimate the saint’s wealth or grandeur from what he possesses in this world. Poverty is often their lot on earth. (W. Taylor.)
The goodly heritage
How little does the infant, over whose cradle glistens the coronet first won by the stout arm of a soldier ancestor, understand of the inheritance to which he has been born. The ancestral home, the far-spread lands, the noble rank, the prestige of an ancient and lofty lineage--all these are his; but years will pass ere they can be fully realised or appreciated. It is impossible for the saint to estimate the value of the inheritance purchased by the precious blood of Christ, and which soon he will possess. (R. Venting.)
My reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
Man taking counsel of his reins
The ancients regarded the reins, or kidneys, located in a retired part of the body, as the seat of the moral and spiritual sentiments, especially of the intuitional convictions, in distinction from those which have been acquired from philosophy or the experience of others. To be instructed by one’s reins is therefore to give heed to the voice of the soul itself.
1. The soul articulates itself in conscience, which gives wiser counsel regarding duty than any “court of casuistry”; in the sense of God, which men cannot divest themselves of, as even Rousseau confesses, “Keep your life such as would lead you to desire that there should be a just God, and you will have no doubt of His existence;” in the vital instinct, which predicts immortality, etc. Infidelity would be impossible if men would take the counsel of their own “reins.” In the silent depths of the soul the echoes of God’s voice are always sounding.
2. We will hear these echoes best when all is quiet about us--the janglings of the busy day ceased. The soul expands towards the infinite when the narrow arena of earthly competitions disappears, as the stars show themselves when darkness has blotted out the scenes on earth.
3. The best interpreter of the counsel of the reins is the Word of God. It reveals us to ourselves. Of Jesus it was said that “He knew what was in man.” Francis Quarles (1644) represents God as saying--
I, that alone am Infinite, can try
How deep within itself thine heart doth lie;
Thy seaman’s plummet can but reach the ground--
I find that which thy heart itself ne’er found.”
I will bless the Lord who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
The night counsels of the Lord
Under whatever circumstances the Lord gives His people counsel, they will find reason to bless His holy name. Well does this Psalm bear the title of Michtam--that is, a golden Psalm. Note--
I. The kind of counsel given to the believer. It was, that by no arguments, however specious or however backed by circumstances, should he be diverted from faithful allegiance to God. There were many such arguments. Saul tried to draw him off from God. David tells how “they have driven me out this day from the inheritance of the Lord,” saying, ‘Go serve other gods.’” But the Lord’s counsel, was, “Wait on the Lord and be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart.” Now, the Lord gives similar counsel to all His people. David was a representative man. The transcript of his feelings forms a commonplace book for all God’s servants in which they may find a counterpart of their own. As David was, so are they, anointed of the Lord. As Saul persecuted David, so Satan persecutes them, and seeks to make them “do despite to the Spirit of grace.”
II. The times and circumstances under which this counsel is frequently sought and obtained. It is night counsel, “My reins (thoughts) also instruct me in,” etc. The night seems to be no uncommon time for communications to pass between God and His people. David seems to have had frequent experience of this. “I remembered Thee upon my bed,” etc. When the sense of responsibility comes upon a young man and the weight of care is felt, often, though fatigued with the toil of the day, will he at night think seriously and long over his position and its needs. Sometimes he can say, as in Psalms 77:1-20, “Thou boldest mine eyes waking; I am so troubled that I cannot sleep,” etc. And often his meditations are very gloomy--“Will the Lord cast off forever, and will He be favourable no more?” And after more of this there comes the telling of the Lord’s sympathy, “I said this is mine infirmity, but I will remember,” etc. He says again and again, “I will, I will remember, I will meditate.” It was difficult, but he was determined. And here he says, “I will thank the Lord, who hath given me counsel.” And our blessed Lord had His night conflicts--“He was in all points made like unto His brethren.” And “He was heard in that He feared.” Let us copy His example--do what He did, and you, too, shall find counsel. (T. E. Hankinson, M. A.)
I have set the Lord always before me.
Convictions are of two kinds. They are born of emergencies and experience. The former are instinctive, springing into life full grown. The latter mature slowly. A ship strikes a rock and begins to sink. The conviction of danger, and of possible destruction, takes shape at once in the minds of all on board. This is the conviction of emergency, But the conviction of a man’s worth must come by experience, and must wait long for its maturity. Belief is not conviction, but only its germ. Conviction is faith in fruition, which takes time. The text is the utterance of such conviction, and it is the keynote of the whole Psalm.
I. It is of the greatest importance what that is which is continually before us. That which is constantly in a man’s eye must help very largely to shape him. I have heard a very significant criticism on a certain picture, to the effect that, though it was a good piece of artistic work, it was not a good picture to live with. You would not wish to have hanging up in your sitting room, and constantly in sight of your children, a picture of Herodias with the head of John the Baptist, or of a crazed mother in the act of murdering her babe. You try to keep pictures of wholesome subjects as well as of beautiful forms before your children’s eyes; because you know that they are insensibly educated by familiarity with such things. In an age of few books, men and women learned mostly by the eye. It was not wholly nor mostly idolatry which filled the old churches up with pictures. The visitor to St. Mark’s, in Venice, may follow for himself the footsteps of the earlier catechumen; ]passing into the Christian temple through a vestibule of Old Testament history wrought in mosaic pictures, and then reading on the walls and domes within the truths of crucifixion, resurrection, the baptism of the Spirit, and the coming of the Lord to judgment,--all arranged in the order of Christian thought. The peasant who passed over the old wooden bridge over the torrent at Lucerne had daffy before him, in the painted compartments of the bridge, a reminder of that other stream which all must cross sooner or later. Nature sets her mark on character. If her surroundings are gloomy and savage they impart a sombre tone to the men who live among them:--Men tend to be narrowed or broadened by their daily task. The man who has columns of figures forever before him may easily degenerate into a mere calculating machine. If the thing which is constantly before us is larger and better than ourselves, its hourly presence rebukes our littleness and our badness, and works to assimilate us to itself. If it is worse than ourselves it draws downward. There was philosophy as well as enthusiasm in the apostle’s exhortation to run, looking unto Jesus, and in Paul keeping his eye on the prize of his high calling, and reaching forth to that which is before.
II. But it may be asked, is not God always before us? Can we help its being so? Assuredly we can. David does not say, “The Lord is always,” etc.,” but, “I have set Him always,” etc. His own will and act have had something to do with the matter. He has been at pains to bring God into the foreground, and to keep Him there. Because God is ever manifesting Himself, because every common bush is afire with Him, it does not follow that men recognise the fact. They do not. There is abundance of sweet music, but there are multitudes of people to whom it means no more than the rumble of the carts in the streets.
III. Thus, then, God will not be in any true sense before our face unless we set Him there. It needs special training, determination, and practice. There is a spiritual inertia to be overcome, and a perverse tendency. The bar of steel does not point naturally to the pole, but anywhere. It must be acted on from without, must have magnetic virtue imparted to it. And persistency is needed. I have set the Lord “always” before me. It was not enough that once or twice God was in the line of vision, He was to be kept there. A compass needle would be to a sailor of no more account than a knitting needle, if only by some shock it were made to point northwards. It is the fact of its always pointing there that gives it its value. And it is this fact of persistence which gives value to David’s saying. When a man has shut himself up to one thing as the source and strength of his happiness he will find out a great deal about that one thing. Thus did Robinson Crusoe, when he found out that he should have to live on his island. And so is it with men and God.
IV. Many are the discoveries which the man who sets the Lord always before him will make.
1. He finds Him self-revealed. In the Shinto temples in Japan the shrines contain no altars, pulpits, or pictures, but only a circular steel mirror. What it means is not known. But it would be an appropriate symbol for a Christian shrine. James draws a picture of a man beholding his natural face in a glass. The man who studies God studies self at the same time.
2. It carries with it a power of growth. For God is ever going before us and beckoning us on. A mountain is a constant temptation to climb, and when we find yet higher summits beyond we want to climb them also. And so is it in learning of God.
3. It engenders hope. Amid the darkness and vagueness of the Old Testament future, this Psalm is like a sweet flute note amid the crash and discord of a vast orchestra. I know of nothing more soothing than these verses. “I shall not be moved”; all is well, “because He is at my right hand.” (Marvin Vincent, D. D.)
The earthly and heavenly forms of companionship with God
Now, the two expressions, “before me” and “in Thy presence,” are substantially synonymous and convertible. Notice the other clause. “He is at my right hand.” “At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” God before my face, and I before God’s face; God at my right hand, and I glad at His.
I. If we turn our faces to God here His face will shine on us yonder. “I have set the Lord always before my eyes.” “Before Thy face is fulness of joy.” The one is the summing up of the devout man’s life on earth. What can the other be but the prophecy of the devout man’s life in heaven? Observe how for us, here and now, circumstanced and occupied and distracted as we are, that clear consciousness of God’s presence will inevitably fade and shatter unless we are careful to preserve it. “I have set the Lord,”--that implies a great deal of definite effort, of fixed will, of stem resistance to and rejection of hindrances and things that come between. God’s presence cannot be proved. The consciousness of it depends upon our whole nature. It is what people call a moral thing; and it rises and falls like a sensitive thermometer, if a cloud comes between the bulb and the sun. You can crowd Him out of your minds by plunging yourselves fiercely into your daily duties, however sacred and elevated these may be. No more than the sunshine can be flashed back from a tarnished steel mirror, can the consciousness of God’s presence live in an impure soul. And the heart must be kept still, flee from agitation, from the storms of passion and the tyranny of eager desires. A cats paw that ruffles the surface of the lake shatters the image; and unless our hearts are quieted from earth they will never mirror heaven. “Walk thou before Me, and be perfect,” is at once a commandment and a promise. And they only are wise who answer, “I will walk before the Lord in the land, and the light of the living.” As I have already said, this thrilling and continual consciousness of the Divine presence is the surest basis for the expectation of immortal life. It is too precious to die; it is too great and pure and noble to have anything to fear from the accident of corporal death. So we come to consider that higher form of the Divine presence which is suggested by the contrast in my second text. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.” But that presence is not secured by the individual’s efforts, but is poured upon him in its effulgence from the throne itself. If I try to keep God in sight here, yonder He reveals Himself in all His greatness. We are not to understand that that future vision which is all expressed in these words of my second text--“before Thee”--consists in any measure which is analogous to the sight of the body. Nor are we, I suppose, to understand that then, any more than now, we are able to comprehend the incomprehensible and infinite. “The face of God” is the Scriptural expression for that side of the Divine nature which is capable of being manifested by Him, and apprehended by us; and Jesus Christ is the face of God. Yonder it is that we shall see Him as He is; and yonder it is the Christ whom, having not seen we “love,” and whom seeing we shall see the Father. There will be, as I suppose, new and unimaginable modes of manifestation, about which the less that we say the wiser we are. For if our experience here on earth teaches us anything, it teaches us that the body shuts us off from as much as it brings us into contact with; and that our senses are but like little slits in some grim old fortress, only wide enough to let in the requisite light and air, and that beyond their limits in both directions there are notes of which the vibrations are too numerous, or too few, in a given time to be apprehended by our ears; and rays in the spectrum at either end, which the human eye cannot see. So that, with new modes of manifestation and new capacities of apprehension, we shall draw nearer and nearer to the sun that we beheld here shining through the mists and the clouds. If we, amidst the shows and gauds of time and the crowds of thronging men and the distractions of our daily occupations, steadfastly seek and see the Lord, and have beams coming from Him, as a light shining in a dark place, He will lift us yonder, and turn the whole benediction of the sunlight Of His face upon us, and, saturated with the brightness, we shall walk in the light of His countenance and be amongst the people of the blessed.
II. If we keep the Lord at our right hand He will set us at His right hand. The emblem of the “right hand” has a double meaning in Scripture, one part of which applies more to our present and the other to our future. When we speak of having at our right hand anyone, we mean as counsellor, companion, strengthener, ally; as fellow fighter, guide, and defender. And it is in that capacity that we have to set the Lord at our right hand. If we have Him by our sides we are never alone. I suppose that the saddest fate for a man is to live solitary. I suppose that we mortal millions live alone after all companionship; like islands in a waste of ocean, with no communications. Ah! How many of us have known what it is for the one that stood at our right hand to vanish, to change. If we live so companioned, counselled, championed, by a God made present, not by His omnipresence but by our consciousness of it, then be sure of this, that the time will come when He who came to earth, as it were, and stood at our right hand, will lift us to the heavens, and plant us at His. I at His right hand. What does that mean? Let me quote you two or three plain words. “The sheep at His right hand; the goats at His left.” It means that. It means favour, acceptance in that great day of account. “And he called his name Benjamin:--the son of his right hand.” It means that; paternal love, a yearning heart, a longing to pour all a Father’s blessing on the child. And it means that the man, thus acquired and taken to the Father’s heart, is distinguished and honoured--“grant that these, my two sons, may sit, the one at Thy right hand, the other at Thy left.” Nor must we forget that there is still a loftier conception attached to this emblem of “the right hand,” which was not within the horizon of the Psalmist, but is within ours. Jesus Christ our Brother has been exalted to that session at God’s right hand, which indicates in disturbance, completed work, royalty and power. And He, hath said, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am there ye may be also.” So if He is at my right hand, as champion, I shall be at His right hand and share in His dominion.
III. If we stay ourselves on God, amidst struggle and change here, He will gladden us yonder with perpetual joys. “Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” A very humble result to be accomplished by so great a thing as the actual presence of God at a man’s side. Only this, that I will be able to keep my place, and stand steadfast. And there is only one thing that will make us steadfast, and that is that we should be, if I might use such a figure, bolted and lashed on to, or rather incorporated into, the changeless steadfastness of the unmoved God. God comes to us here, and is sword and shield; yonder He will be palm and crown. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.” Every faculty and capacity will be satisfied, every yearning met, and nothing left to desire but the continuance which is guaranteed, and the increase as capacity increases, which is as certain. Here there is always something lacking; yonder there is fulness of joy and no satiety. “Pleasures for evermore”--both because there is an uninterrupted succession of such--like the ripples upon a sunlit sea, that all day long come rolling to the beach and break in music and sparkles of light; and because each pleasure is in itself perpetual, seeing that there is no possibility of these delights becoming stale and common. Thus begin with realising the Divine presence. We must begin all this on earth. The seed of heaven is sown in the furrows of this world. Philosophers talk to us about the law of continuity. That applies in regard to the life here and the life hereafter. If you ever are to come into the blessedness of the life yonder, you must begin with the life of faith in Jesus Christ here and now. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God as a dominant idea
Dissipation is the parent of mediocrity. Because there is neither government nor concentration nor dominant idea in men’s lives, they never do much, never grow any size. The subject before us is self-government by means of a dominant idea. A dominant idea is an idea which mixes itself with all other ideas, giving them its own colour and character; so that you cannot take out any thought from a mind in which a dominant idea exists and analyse it, but you shall find traces of this one idea. Constantly we meet with men who have one thought by which they explain everything, and they infect us with a dominant feeling that they are very tiresome. Restraining, ruling ideas spring up naturally. The emotions are the first parents of ideas. Primitive man hears a voice rebuking mere animal desire, which says, “Thou shalt not cat of it,” and the moment that voice is heard a moral nature has arisen and heaven becomes possible. The great majority of men allow their lives, as they do their beliefs, to go anyhow. They have never formed a distinct opinion as to the shape their life is to take. It is in our power to choose what idea we shall be ruled by, and, having chosen, it is in our power to make the idea a ruling one. We must determine to associate our idea with all our pleasures and labours; to bring it before our mind every day. And what shall be our dominant idea? The idea of God is our birthright. The idea of God stands upon exactly the same ground as all our other intuitions. Clifford says, “Belief in God and in a future life is a source of refined and elevated pleasure to those who can hold it.” Here is the idea ready to our hand. The idea is your birthright, but you have to make it dominant. (W. Page Roberts, M. A.)
The practice of the presence of God
God always sees us, whether we think of it or not. It makes no difference as to the fact whether we believe it or not. But it makes all the difference to ourselves. It makes just the difference between a godly man and an ungodly man. The truly religious man is he who has formed the habit of living under the influence of the thought of the presence of God. To set the Lord always before us is the secret of good living, is the true preparation for heaven. This is one reason why regular habits of prayer, of worship, of reading God’s Word, of Holy Communion are so helpful and cannot safely be neglected. They are means of drawing near to God, of coming into His presence. If we are doing anything, whether work or amusement, in which we could not bear to think of God, we may be sure that work or amusement is wrong. There is a beautiful custom in some countries. Sacred pictures are placed at intervals by the wayside, among the mountains and woods, in the streets of villages and towns. They are roughly made, badly painted and tinselly, but for all that they are reminders to people of holy thoughts; they are meant to call the mind of the passers-by in the midst of work or amusement to God. And how are we to set Him before us? How are we to think of Him? We may set Him before us in the completeness of His Divine Being--God the Father, the Son, the Spirit. Try to form the habit of setting the Lord always before you; for if He is at your right hand you shall never fall. Always in earnest prayer at the beginning of every day. Always when things go well with you, and in trouble, turning to Him as the one trusted help and refuge. (J. E. Vernon, M. A.)
The setting of the Lord before us
This and the following verses are quoted by Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost.
1. Those who set the Lord always before them have an habitual impression of His all-seeing eye and immediate presence. David, we know, had this habitual impression. He was aware how highly important to him was this near presence of the Almighty, and what a beneficial, influence it shed over all his prospects.
2. It implies an habitual regard to the Lord’s will as the rule of our actions. Faithful Christians must make it their constant study to ascertain what is the will of God respecting themselves, and then set this will before them as the rule of their life. It should not only be a consideration with them, but their chief consideration. Those who make the will of God their rule cannot err. They look at it as sailors to the pole star, in order that they may direct their course thereby.
3. It implies making the Lord’s glory the end of all our aims. The glory of the Lord is that one object of surpassing importance which absorbs all other considerations. To set the Lord always before us is to keep this end always in view.
4. It implies making Him the object of our trust and dependence in all circumstances.
1. The practice of setting the Lord always before us is a bright evidence of the sincerity of our faith. Faith is a living and abiding principle, constantly in operation. Faith is that principle within the man which realises and embodies everything which is spiritual.
2. A constant sense of the presence of God is a sure means of counteracting the influence of the fear of man, which bringeth a snare.
3. A sense of the Lord’s constant presence would be a spur to our diligence and activity in endeavouring to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. A persuasion that the eye of the Lord is in every place, beholding the evil and the good, would have a wonderful effect in exciting the runners of the Christian race to put forth their utmost powers to strain every nerve, that they may come in first to the goal. Now see a few lights in which you should make it your habit to set the Lord always before you--
(1)You are directed to set before yourselves the Lord as your chief good, the highest object of your aims.
(2) We are to look upon God, in Christ, as our owner. God possesses a right over us as our Maker and Preserver.
(3) We are to set the Lord Jesus before us as a Judge. We should not merely give a general assent to the truth of the judgment which will hereafter take place, and that Christ will occupy the throne then, but we are to consider Him as seated now upon the tribunal, and taking cognisance of all our transactions. (T. Chambers, M. A.)
Things that intercept the Divine presence
There are three things that, taken together, build up for us a very thick triple wall between us and God. There is sense, and all that it reveals to us; there are duties, necessary, possibly blessed, but actually often disturbing and limiting; and the thickest and most opaque of the three screens, there are the sins which dim our capacity, and check our inclination of realising the Divine presence. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Thought must concentrate itself upon God
That needs that we shall shut out a great deal besides, as a man that wants to see something on the horizon will hold his palm above his eyes to exclude nearer objects and the glare that dazzles. It needs that we shall resolutely concentrate our thoughts upon Him. We have to be ignorant of a great deal if we would know any of the sciences, or of the practical arts. And we have to shear off not less if we would know the best knowledge, and be experts in the highest art in life. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God near and yet afar
There may as well be no God, as far as a great many of us are concerned, in the most important matters of our lives, as a God that we never think about. He is not far from “every one of us”; but we may be very far from Him, and we are very far from Him unless by effort we set Him before us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The stability of the good man
The presumptuous man in one of the Psalms speaks thus: In my prosperity I said, I shall not be moved. But when prosperity fled self-confidence fled with it, and at length he learned to say, as he goes on to tell us, “by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong. Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.” Ah! think of the instability of our resolutions, think of the fluctuations of our thoughts, think of the surges of our emotions, think of the changes that by subtle degrees pass over us all, so as that the old man’s grey hair and bowed form is less unlike his childish buoyancy and clustering ringlets than are his senile thoughts and memories to his juvenile expectations. And think of the forces that are brought to bear upon us, the shucks of calamity and sorrow by which we are beaten and battered, the blasts of temptation by which we are sometimes all but overthrown, the floods that come and beat upon our house. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That steadfastness will come to us by the actual communication of strength, and it will come to us because in the consciousness of the Divine presence there lies a charm that takes the glamour out of temptation and the pain out of all wounds. He being with us, the dazzling, treacherous brilliancies of earth cease to dazzle and betray. He being with us, sorrow itself and pain and all the ills that flesh is heir to have little power to shake the soul. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Pleasure for evermore
That presence which amidst strife, warfare, weakness, and mutability manifested itself in its gift of steadfastness will then, amidst the tranquillity of heaven, manifest itself in a joy unlike all earthly joy, in that it is full; and yet more unlike, if I may say so, all earthly joy in that it is perpetual. Here there is ever something lacking in all our gladness, some guest at the table that sulks and will not partake and rejoice, some unlit window in the illumination, some limitation in the gladness; yonder it shall be full. “I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness.” Here, thank God! we have brooks by the way; there we shall stoop down and drink from the fountain, the ocean of joy. And the gladness is perpetual, in that, having nothing to do with physical causes or externals, there is no cause of change and no certainty of reaction. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The habitual recognition of God
If we observe the pursuits of men of the world we see how they set their object, be it what it may, always before them. Success cannot be had without this. The same necessity exists in religion. If we would desire any real help now, and promised blessings hereafter, God must be to us ever present. Such piety is attended with God’s constant protection and friendship.
I. What it is to set the Lord always before us. It is to maintain a supreme and habitual regard for God, according to the relations which He sustains towards us. In the world, if a man has fixed his supreme regard on wealth, though he may often think and talk on other subjects, yet he never forgets this one. Let anything occur that will affect it, and you will always find that his object is before him. Now, it is in the same way that we set the Lord always before us. We shall always regard Him as infinitely perfect--as our Lawgiver and Sovereign; as our Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor; as our Redeemer and Sanctifier; as a covenant God; as our Judge and Rewarder. Now, so to habitually regard God as to secure the practical influence of all these perfections and relations of God upon us is to set the Lord always before us.
II. The advantage of so doing.
1. In the daily business of our life--to keep us diligent, just in our dealings, and honest in all our transactions.
2. In the more unimportant and ordinary occurrences of life--to keep us faithful in life’s little things, contented, cheerful, patient, devout.
3. In temptation we shall not be moved. It guards the heart against the world and Satan.
4. In holy obedience we shall be steadfast therein.
5. Preparation for all the scenes of life, for death and heaven. In prosperity he will remember God; in adversity he will trust God; in death he will be without fear; in the judgment day he will have confidence. And we can thus set God always before us. Is it safe or wise ever to forget Him? Do we thus set God always before us? What will they do from whose thoughts God is habitually excluded, when He shall be revealed in the clear light of eternity? (M. W. Taylor, D. D.)
Our great Example
The terms of this portion of the Psalm show distinctly that it is prophetic of the Messiah.
I. The first prediction is that Christ, when He should come, would “set Jehovah continually before Him,” i.e. He would live on earth realising by faith the presence of an unseen God, to dwell continually in His sight. Our Lord did this. He said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”
II. Jehovah would be at His right hand. We find our Lord continually sustaining Himself by the consoling presence of His Father. And all who tread in His steps may share in His consolation.
III. His heart would be glad. How could He be otherwise, when He knew the resources of the Father? Our Lord walked with God on earth, rejoicing in hope of the glory that should be revealed. So also may we, and do we?
IV. His flesh should rest in hope. This implies--
1. His death. His death was predicted no less than His triumph. He looked forward to His death, and repeatedly foretold it. And He resolutely met it. Let us ask for grace to enter into His spirit.
2. The limitation of death’s dominion. “I have power,” said He, “to lay it (My life) down, and I have power to take it again.” “I lay it down of Myself.” He did as He had said. He took again that dishonoured body, to be dishonoured no more.
V. God would guide him to the path of life. “Thou wilt show Me,” etc. The way of the grave did not seem the gate of life, but in reality it was so. Conclusion: He will bring us there. Decide for Him now. Sympathise with Him in His glory. (Baptist W. Noel.)
The habitual thought of God
David could only do this mentally. “No man hath seen God at any time.” And when he says “always” he does not mean that he was always actually thinking of Him. We cannot do this. We are not to be slothful in business. Yet David means that he believed and felt God to be near him, and that he would frequently hold communion with God. This leads to a state of mind in which we can readily recur to God in our thoughts. Let us do this, setting the Lord always before us.
I. As our protector. Our religious course is a constant warfare. We need the courage which only the presence of the Lord can impart.
II. As our leader.
III. As our example.
IV. As cult observer. Nothing escapes His notice. A heathen philosopher admonished his disciples to imagine that the eye of some illustrious personage was always upon them. But what is the eye of Plato to that of God? What stimulus this to zeal. (William Jay.)
On habitual remembrance of God
Our text directs our thoughts to the greatest of all Beings, the source of all happiness.
I. What it is to set God always before us. Represent to yourself the proceedings of men, who have proposed to themselves as their main pursuit the possession of some worldly attainment. Observe in what manner they set their object, be it what it may, always before their eyes. Contemplate the votary of science. Behold him absorbed in laborious researches: in the investigation of causes and effects; in the construction of theories, and the explanation of the phenomena of nature. Behold him day after day bending all the powers of his mind to the invention and application of mechanism; to the arrangement and superintendence of experiments; to the development and illustration of philosophical truth. At home and abroad, in cities and in the fields, in solitude and in society, behold him steadily bearing in mind the object to which he has dedicated his life. Survey the votary of ambition. Behold every nerve, every faculty, upon the stretch to supplant, to undermine, or to surpass his rivals, and to attain the dizzy preeminence to which he aspires. Receive then a lesson from the children of this world (Luke 16:8). Then wilt thou discern what it is to set the Lord thy God always before thee.
II. The different characters under which it is our duty to do this.
1. Regard Him as Creator. If you deem life a blessing, remember Him--
2. As your Preserver.
3. As your Redeemer and Sanctifier.
4. As your Sovereign and your Judge. See then that you obey Him, lest you be destroyed forever.
III. Give examples of the duty of thus setting the Lord always before you.
1. In prosperity--by being grateful to Him.
2. In adversity, sickness, and death--by trusting Him, submitting to Him patiently, remembering how little your sufferings in comparison with your sins. Look up to Him and be comforted.
3. In youth--by not withholding from the planter the prime of the fruit. When wilt thou serve thy God if not now?
4. In age--by remembering that the night cometh; work, while it is called today; seek mercy while yet it may be found.
5. Under all circumstances, in common duties, as well as in specially religious acts. If you are cultivating your farm; if you are selling your articles in the market or in a shop; if you are serving a master in your daily labour; if you are managing the concerns of your friend or of your country: remember that God is contemplating all your motive, all your thoughts, all your words, all your actions; and that for all your motives and thoughts and words and actions you will have to render an account at the judgment seat of Christ (Revelation 20:12).
IV. The recompense. The Lord is at their right hand; they shall not be moved (1 Samuel 2:30; John 14:23). (T. Gisborne, M. A.)
The secret of a happy life
In the preceding verses we read, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yea, I have,” etc. The speaker, therefore, is a very contented and happy man. How is it that he is able to feel so happy? Let us seek out the way. Perhaps his road may fit our feet. But who is the person who is thus singularly content? It is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who by the Spirit here speaks. All this is so much the more encouraging to us because if He, the “Man of Sorrows,” was nevertheless able to possess so sweet content, it must be possible for us, whose lot is not so bitter. We are not sent to make atonement for sin, and hence our sorrows are few compared with our Lord’s. Our text clearly imparts to us the secret of this peace, It is--
I. Living in the Lord’s presence always. “I have set . . . always before me.” Now, this means--
1. That we should make the Lord’s presence the greatest of all facts to us. Jesus did so. He saw God everywhere. From morning to evening, until you fall asleep “as in the embraces of your God,” see Him everywhere. This is happy living.
2. The making of God’s glory the one object of our lives.
3. So to live that the presence of God shall be the rule and support of our obedience. So Jesus did. The Master’s eye is to many servants most important, to make them careful and diligent. For many are eye servers and men pleasers. But how should we live if God were seen looking on? He is looking on.
4. As the source from which we are to derive solace and comfort under every trial. This it was that made Him suffer and never complain.
5. That we are to hold perpetual communion with God. He was always in converse with the Father, and He could say, “I knew that Thou hearest Me always.”
6. We must follow this life, because of our delight and joy in it. Such a life cannot be lived in any other manner. If you find walking with God dull, then you have not the first essentials of such a life. You must be born again. If you are the Lord’s you will delight in living near to Him. You may lose your roll, like Christian in the arbour, and you may go back again and find it, lint it is very hard going back over the same ground. The hardest part of the road to heaven is that which has to be traversed three times: once when you go over it at first, a second time when you have to return with weeping to find your lost evidences, and then again when you have to make up for lost time. Abiding with God creates peace like a river.
II. Trusting always in the Lord’s presence, “Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”
1. With any regret or remorse as to the past. Christ had many sorrows but no regrets.
2. From our consistency in the way of true religion.
3. With terror.
4. By temptation, so as to be swept into surprising sin.
5. So as to fail at last. Conclusion:
1. You who are not Christians, you are not happy. Set the Lord before you.
2. You who are not Christians, but think yourselves happy. How flail the pillar on which your happiness rests.
3. You Christians who are not happy; here is counsel for you.
4. You happy Christians, you can be happier still by coming nearer to God, This is heaven below. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
The faithful heart and the present God
This Psalm touches the high-water mark of the religious life in two aspects--its ardent devotion, and its clear certainty of eternal blessedness beyond the grave. These two are connected as cause and effect.
I. The effort of faith. “I have set the Lord always before me.” It took a dead lift of conscious effort for the Psalmist to keep himself continually in touch with that unseen God. This is the very essence of true religion. Mark how the Psalmist came to this effort. It was because his whole soul clave to God, with the intelligent and reasonable conviction and apprehension that in God alone was all he needed. If a man does not think about God and His love it is all one as if he had not Him and it.
II. The ally of faith. The second portion of the text is to be interpreted as the consequence of the effort. “He is at my right hand.” The Psalmist means that by the turning of his thoughts to God and the effort he makes--the effort of faith, imagination, love, and desire--to bring himself as close as he can to the great heart of the Father, he realises that presence at his side in an altogether different manner from that in which it is given to stones and rocks and birds and beasts and godless men. That Divine Presence is the source of all strength and blessedness. “At my right hand”; then I stand at His left, and close under the arm that carries the shield; and close by my instrument of activity, to direct my work; my Protector, my Ally, my Director.
III. The courageous stability of faith. “Not be moved.” That is true all round, in regard of all the things which may move and shake a man. The secret of a quiet heart is to keep ever near God. We shall not be moved by circumstances. How quietly we may live above the storms if we only live in God. The Psalmist feels that the great change from life to death will not move him, in so far as his union with God is concerned. A realisation of true communion with God is the guarantee that the man who has it shall never die. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Therefore my heart is glad.
Christ joyful in suffering
The remainder of this Psalm we are to consider as spoken by David in reference to the Messiah, of whom he was both a prophet and a type.
I. This passage reminds us of the sufferings of Christ. Old Testament types, promises, and predictions describe Christ as a suffering Saviour. The view of Him thus given through the medium of prophecy is completely realised in His actual history. Well may such an emphasis be laid on the sufferings and death of Christ; for this was the instituted method of redemption.
II. This passage affirms the constancy and cheerfulness with which Christ was to bear His sorrows. “My heart is glad, and my glory,” that is, my tongue, “rejoiceth:” So said David, personating the Messiah; and all this was realised in Messiah’s actual deportment. Remarkable was the constancy and cheerfulness with which our blessed Saviour bore His sufferings. And we cannot but admire the character in which this excellence was so conspicuously displayed. To our admiration of His unequalled magnanimity we must add the more valuable tribute of our gratitude; for it was in love to our souls that His engagement to suffer and to die had its origin. If we ought to love Him, because He so loved us, oh how deep seated should our affection be!
III. What was it supported and cheered our Saviour in the midst of His sufferings?
1. He “set the Lord always before Him,” as the great object of His regard.
2. He was cheered by the assurance that “God was at His right band.” The arm of Jehovah was stretched out for His stay and deliverance.
3. He was supported by the hope of a resurrection of life and blessedness. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
My flesh also shall rest in hope.
Dying welt and comfortably
Doctrine: That it is a sweet, desirable, and Christlike way of dying, to be inwardly willing and joyful, and outwardly triumphing and praising God, from a confidence and hope of His promises.
I. Grounds of comfort.
1. Your God will be with you, and at your right hand, that you shall not be moved.
2. Death is your friend, to bring you to rest. Jesus has, by His death, removed everything from your death that is legally penal and a curse.
3. You shall be raised again to everlasting glory and happiness.
4. Your Lord after the judgment will present you faultless before the presence of His glory.
II. The foundations upon which these consolations against death are built.
1. The Psalmist looks to the acts of Christ’s mediation as the foundation of all His consolations against death.
2. These consolations are certain in themselves, and to you, from the promises of the covenant of grace, and are founded on them.
III. You must do your part, that you may be comforted, rejoice and triumph when you come to die.
1. You must have faith to believe these reasons of comfort.
2. You must have a lively hope in exercise. What must you do?--
(1) Come speedily out of a state of nature into a state of grace.
(2) Impartially and accurately examine your state, whether in Christ or not.
(3) Live a life of faith.
(4) Keep your consciences pure and void of offence, both towards God and man, and labour to be holy in your lives and conversations.
(5) Be much in the exercise of love.
(6) Live with your hearts weaned from a present world.
(7) Carry well towards the Spirit of joy and comfort, and keep communion with Him. He is the Comforter.
(8) Be frequent in actual preparation for death--promises ready, evidences ready, experiences ready. (James Robe, M. A.)
This is an idea which has been growing in the Old Testament. Now and again some word has been interjected into the story that did not seem to belong to it, or was of another quality--a word with a colour, a flush, as if light from an unknown source had struck upon it and lighted it up into new beauty. Job had said one or two words for the explanation of which we must wait; the Psalmist now speaks of his flesh resting in hope, of his soul not being left in an unseen place, and of the Holy One not seeing corruption To impair the doctrine of immortality is to strike at the goodness of God. In denying immortality we may be said to deny the Creator. We cannot treat immortality as a doctrine only; it is really part of the Divine nature. Given God, and immortality in some form is a necessity. Has He created us simply to let us die? Has He given us all these gifts merely to mock us at the last, by allowing us to drop into oblivion and nothingness? Does He permit us to climb to the very door of heaven, and to hear the songs that are sung inside, simply that He may thunder to us--You cannot have part or lot in this inheritance; your destiny is obliteration? Some argument must be founded upon instinct, impulse, yearning, longing, speechless unconsciousness. When we are all, body, soul, and spirit, lifting ourselves up to Him, is it like Him to deny the aspiration? Or like Him to give us that further movement which will connect us consciously with His own eternity? To this latter faith I incline. God has not created aspiration which He cannot satisfy. There is more in us than we can tell, and to these wordless impulses God sends this revelation of immortality. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The flesh and its three states
We would speak on the fortunes of the flesh in its three stages of existence.
I. On this side the grave. Note the word “also.” It carries our thought back to the higher joy of the soul. Neither the essence of sin nor of glory is in the flesh at all. We therefore do not exclude the soul, but rather make it the great centre of all, though we speak more of the flesh. The Redeemer shall satisfy our whole nature. There is no danger, ordinarily, of our forgetting the flesh. It makes its presence predominant enough. Nothing but the regenerated spirit can keep it under. How we admire the heroic deeds of those who in some holy struggle for liberty or for love assert the superiority of the spirit over the flesh. They can die, die in torture, and that gladly, by the power of the spirit within them. But yet the Gospel does not forget even the flesh. How all the natural feelings are deeply touched. This is an argument for the after life of the body. How close is the link between the soul and the body. How they act and react on one another. It, therefore, can never be a matter of indifference to the soul what becomes of the body. And our Lord became flesh, was incarnate, and He has taken it, now glorified, permanently into union with His Godhead. We have no hint that He will ever put it off. It is the same human body which was nursed at the heart of an earthly mother, and which hung upon the Cross in death. Therefore, how can we despise the body? And the hope of the flesh is bound up even with the glory of God Himself. For He did not, at first, mean those bodies to die. There was no death in His counsels. That came by sin. Thus the Divine will was contradicted by Satan. But redemption was to undo Satan’s work. Yes, each one may cry out in joy, “My flesh also shall rest in hope.”
II. In the grave. It is a state of rest. The word implies both labours past and repose present. Hence “sleep” is the condition in which faith loves to regard the body in the grave. And like as in sleep, the body in the grave is free from pain and toil, from sin and suffering, from want and weariness and all pining. And it is a state of unconsciousness, so far as the flesh is concerned, an unconsciousness of the very state in which it lies. The resurrection will appear to follow instantaneously upon death, as our awaking after deep sleep seems to follow close upon our falling asleep. And like sleep, it is but for a while; there will be an awakening. The principle of life is held in abeyance: in sleep, by a natural change; in death, by the immediate will of Him who has all life to give and withhold as He wills. What a holy and loving charm do these thoughts throw around even the decaying flesh: what a light upon the grave.
III. Beyond the grave. It is far more easy to realise with something like precision the future glory of the flesh than that of the spirit. And yet even the body’s glory is far more than we can conceive, because we have no experience of a body free from the penalties of sin. But we have known, at times, fulness of life, of buoyant vigour, and of such pleasure in movement and living that we have been filled with delight. Imagine that eternal. And add new capacities and powers. (Edward Garbitt, M. A.)
Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.
Christ’s descent into hell
The afflictions and calamities which fall upon many men in this present state are such that, were it not for the hope which they have in God, their only comfort would be that expectation of death which Job expresses (Job 3:17). But true religion affords virtuous and good men a very different prospect; and teaches them to expect, that if God does not think fit to deliver them out of their troubles here, yet even the grave puts not an end to His power of redeeming them. They may look upon death itself, not barely as a putting an end to their present afflictions, but as a passage to a glorious and immortal state. In its real and most proper sense the text is not applicable to the Psalmist himself, but to Him of whom David was both a prophet and a type. The word “hell” now signifies “the state of the damned,” but David was not condemned to that place of torment, nor did Jesus descend there. Hell frequently means “the state of the dead” (Psalms 89:1-52; Proverbs 27:20; Proverbs 30:15). In the New Testament it means the same, but at times, also, the place appointed for the punishment of the wicked. But this ambiguity is in our own language only, and not in the original. There the place of torment is always Gehenna. The Scriptures nowhere teach that Christ ever entered the place of the damned. Nor is there any reason why He should. The satisfaction of Christ does not depend on the sameness of His sufferings with ours, but on the good pleasure of God. If He had entered the place of the damned, Christ could not have known the sting of their punishment, the worm that never dies, the endless despair of the favour of God. Some say Christ went there to rescue those who were there. Others say He went in order to triumph over Satan in his own kingdom. But our Lord triumphs over him by converting men from their sins and debaucheries, from their unrighteousness and iniquities, which are the works of the devil; to the practice of virtue, justice, goodness, temperance, charity, and truth, which are the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Upon the whole, therefore, there is no sufficient foundation, either in the reason of the thing or in the declarations of Scripture, to suppose that our Lord ever descended at all into the place of torment, into the place appointed for the final punishment of the wicked. But the full meaning of the text is, that our Lord continued in the state of the dead, in the invisible state of departed souls, during the time appointed; but that, it not being possible for Him to be holden of death, He was raised again without seeing corruption. (Samuel Parker, D. D.)
He descended into hell
Our Lord had not only a human body, but likewise a human soul. His body was laid in the grave, but His soul departed from the body. What is meant by “descending into hell”? Some say “hell” signifies the place of spirits and eternal woe. Others think it does not signify a place of torment, but the place of departed souls; that unseen world into which the spirits of the dead are received when released from the body. Some suppose that there was a great object in the salvation of mankind, which our Lord wrought in going down to hell, or the place of the departed; that He there preached to the dead. And no doubt His soul’s departing into hell was for our sakes, to carry even there, also, an atonement for us; to carry with Him some inconceivable blessing and benefit for us into that place also. As everything that our Lord underwent for our sakes appears to have been set forth, and typified beforehand, in His law, so also was this descent into hell. Illustration: Scapegoat of the day of atonement. The departure of the soul from the body into the unknown land of spirits is, of itself, so awful a thought, even to the goodman, that this article of the creed may be a point of great consolation to him. For a Christian to die, even before the day of judgment, is to be with Christ, and to be released from life as from a burden, and to be in joy. It is the great day of judgment which the Bible is ever setting before us. Yet the little that is told us of the state of our souls before the day of judgment, and immediately when they depart from the body, is of itself very deeply affecting, awful, and concerning. It may be profitable to dwell upon these two, what are called intermediate, states: our condition between death and judgment; the states in which our friends are now, and we shall soon be. When work is done, then is the time for contemplation and reflection; and then, when our labours are all over and we are waiting for our judge to pronounce sentence upon them, we shall no doubt form a far more correct judgment of them than now we do. Even if we had been told nothing of the state of the departed, we might have supposed that to be waiting for the judgment, and to be removed from all things here in which the soul can take delight, must be awful beyond all description. We may see how much of mercy and goodness, and how much benefit to us, may be contained in this one article of the creed, that Christ descended into the place of the dead. By going there Himself, after tasting of the bitterness of death, He seems to say to His faithful followers, “Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers” (Isaiah 26:20-21). It is good for us that we should think often of the spirits of the dead, of “just men made perfect,” of them who are released from the burden of the flesh, and are waiting in awful and blissful silence for the revelation of the great day. By His descent into hell Jesus has sanctified and blessed the place of our souls. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times. ”)
Our Lord in the intermediate state
Stress is laid on the fact that our Lord’s blessed body saw no corruption. It lay not long enough in the grave for that change to have taken place in it which we know to be the lot of all human bodies when they have been any while dead. He had not been dead more than thirty-six hours. There seems a special propriety in its being ordered that the only body which was never stained by sin should also be the only one exempt, though not from the pains, yet from the loathsomeness of death. It was a way of giving the whole world, angels and men, clearly to understand that, although God had laid on Him the punishment due to sinful men, yet He never ceased for a moment to be the only beloved of His Father.
1. This text proves the truth of our Saviour’s human soul and body; proves that He took on Himself, really and truly, the substance of our nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, and lived and died in all respects a man, sin only and sinful infirmity excepted; so also, in the unseen state, He continued to be a man among men. Here is a token and earnest that our merciful God sympathises with our natural care and anxiety as to what shall become both of our friends and ourselves during that awful interval which is to come between death and resurrection. Souls departed and bodies in the grave are within the merciful care of Him who is both God and man.
2. Observe the difference between the language of the Old Testament, even the most evangelical portions of it, where they speak of the state of the dead, and the language of the blessed Gospel itself relating to the same subject.
3. How happy and comfortable soever the Paradise of the dead may be, it is not a place of final perfection, but a place of waiting for something better; a region not of full enjoyment, but of assured peace and hope. So much is hinted, in that God is thanked and glorified for not leaving our Saviour’s soul in that place. Here is something very apt to raise in us high and noble thoughts of that which, in one way or another, we are shamefully used to undervalue--the mortal body of man.
4. What does the prophet teach concerning our Saviour’s body? Our Saviour’s Person was holy because of His most high Godhead. And the same name, “Holy One,” is ascribed to His sacred body as it lay in the grave, three days and three nights, separate from His soul. It was still holy, still united in a mysterious but real manner to the Eternal Word.
5. Seeing that, even in the grave, the Godhead of the Lord Christ still abode with His blessed body, seeing that body was still God’s Holy One, it could not be suffered to see corruption. And to whomsoever He has given power to become adopted sons of God He gives something glorious and immortal, a seed of a heavenly life which can never decay. Living or dying, nothing shall separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, nothing but their own wilful unworthiness. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times. ”)
On the descent of our Lord Jesus Christ into hell
Doctrine: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed and Holy One of God, was deeply humbled by His entrance into, and continuing in, the state of the dead for a time.
I. Premise some things.
1. That our Lord Jesus Christ not only endured, in His last passion, most painful sufferings in His body, but also most grievous torments immediately in His soul. Many great divines understand by the words, “He descended into hell,” these soul sufferings of Jesus.
2. The Son of God willingly laid down His life; yielded to the power of death.
3. Though death made a separation of HIS soul from His body, yet His soul and body retained their union with the Divine nature, subsisting in the Person of the son of God.
II. How Jesus was humbled by being in the state of the dead for a time. Death exercised its dominion over Him, as far as it could in law.
1. Death continued its power and dominion over Him for a time.
2. While in the state of the dead He was cut off from the comforts of this life.
3. Men took occasion to give Him over for lost, and to judge Him as one totally vanquished by death, and without any help or hope.
4. He was further humbled by His soul entering into heaven as the soul of a dead man.
5. In regard that His blessed body was buried and laid in the grave.
6. In regard that His dead body was in the power of His enemies for a time.
III. How long did our Saviour continue in the state of the dead? Three incomplete days and nights in the territories of death, and land of darkness and forgetfulness.
IV. Why did the Lord Jesus continue in the state of the dead for a time? That He might conquer death and the grave in their own territories. Use for consolation. Against all challenges for guilt from the law and justice of God, from Satan, or your own consciences. Use for exhortation. Labour to have an interest in the death of Christ. (James Robe, M. A.)
Neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.
The devout heart defying death
I. The ground of this triumphant confidence. The text begins with a “therefore,” and that sends us back to what has preceded. The realisation by faith of the presence of God, and of the calm blessedness and stability of continual communion with Him. The religious experiences of the devout life are of such a nature as to bring with them the calm, sweet assurance of their own immortality. The capacity for communion with God surely bears witness that the man who has it is not born for death. Though we have the objective proof of a future life, in the fact of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and though that historical fact is the illuminating fact which brings life and immortality to light, there is needed for the conversion of intellectual belief into living confidence the witness of our own personal enjoyment of God and His sweetness, here and now, which will bring to us, as nothing else will, the calm assurance wherein our hearts may be glad, our spirits may rejoice, and our very flesh may rest safely. If you would be sure of a blessed future, make sure of a God-filled present.
II. The contents of the psalmist’s triumphant confidence. The expression “leave in” should be “leave to”; it does not express the notion of a permission to descend for a time into Sheol, then to be recalled thence, but it expresses the idea of not being delivered at all to the power of that dark world. The Psalmist is not thinking about any resurrection of the body, but is thinking that for him, by reason of his communion with God, death has really been abolished and become non-existent. The threatening shadow is swept clean out of his path. Could any man, knowing the facts of human life, ever cherish such an expectation as that? The answer is to be found in distinguishing between essence and form. The essence of the Psalmist’s conviction was, that his communion with God was unbroken and unbreakable, and in the light of that great hope the grim figure that stood before him thinned itself away to a film, through which the hope shone like a star through the cloud. Whatsoever may have been the obscurity that lay over his conceptions of his own future, this was clear to him,--and this was the all-sufficient thing,--that the content, the stability, the immobility which he enjoyed in his communion with God had nothing in them that death could touch, and would run on unbroken for evermore. The text does not contemplate resurrection as an article of belief, but resurrection is a logical result of the Psalmist’s way of thinking. For, says he, “My flesh also shall rest secure.” The over-strained spiritualism which pays no attention to the body, except as the clog and prison house of the soul, has no footing in Scripture representations. The perfection of humanity is to be found in the rising up of a perfected spirit, and the investing of it with a body of glory,--its fitting instrument, its joyous friend. Turn to the positive side of this triumphant confidence. “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” That means a road which is life all the way along, and leads to a more perfect and ultimate form thereof. The Psalmist is sure that when the path dips down into any valley of the shadow of death it is still a path to life. Mark the other portions of this triumphant positive confidence. Communion of earth, imperfect as it is, yields analogies, by the heightening and purifying of which we may construct for ourselves some dim, indeed, but reliable, visions of the blessedness of heaven. The enlargement and perfecting of this earthly experience is to be looked for in two directions. “The fulness of joy” is “in Thy presence.” And “at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
III. The fulfilment of this triumphant confidence. The Psalmist died. The essence of his hope was fulfilled; the form was not. The words point to an ideal which the Psalmist strained after, and did not realist. In Christ alone was realised, in its completeness, that life of communion which delivers from,, death. Though there still remains the physical fact, all that makes it “death” is gone for him who trusts in Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Joy in Christ’s resurrection
We are warranted in taking this Psalm to ourselves, inasmuch as the first verses of it plainly belong to David as well as to Christ. Every part of the Psalm may be applied to David in some sense, except that one clause m which our Lord only can be meant, “Thou wilt not suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” See what consolation devout persons had, even under the Old Testament: they did, as it were, keep a kind of Easter beforehand. Observe what use the man after God’s own heart made of his nightly pain and sickness. As he lay awake he practised himself in heavenly contemplations. In what he says he could not mean less than this: that he had a fair and reasonable hope of being somehow delivered from the power of death, and made partaker of heavenly joys in the more immediate presence of God. Yet even the greatest of the old fathers only saw through a glass darkly the things which Christians see face to face. Such as desire to offer to God thanksgivings worthy of His Gospel will find it no small help to know that their unworthy thanksgivings are very far from being single and alone. The saints before Christ partake of our devout joy and hope of immortality.
1. See what kind of persons may reasonably hope to persevere in well-doing and in God’s favour; namely, those who make it a rule to live always as in God’s especial presence. If you want to have a cheerful and rational dependence on your continuance in well-doing, this one thing you must do, you must set God always before you. You must never act as if you were alone in the world. This is the only “assurance” of salvation that can be reasonably depended on by any man in his own case; namely, the sober yet cheerful hope which arises from a pure conscience, from long-continued habits of real piety and goodness. All assurance besides this is more or less fanciful and dangerous. If a man is endeavouring to keep on this safe ground of assurance he may, without presumption, look for the other comforts mentioned in the Psalm. He may indulge in a calm and reverential joy of heart. The Psalmist notices, as another, the greatest of all fruits of holy trust in the Almighty, that it causes our very “flesh,” that is, our mortal body, to “rest in hope”; it makes sleep quiet and secure, and it takes out the sting of death. The chiefest of all privileges is to have hope in the grave; hope that through Him, to whom alone these sacred promises belong of right, our souls shall not be left in hell,--in that dark, unknown condition to which, before the coming of Christ, the name of Hell was usually given. There need not now to be anything forlorn or desolate in our meditations on our departed friends, or on the condition to which we are ourselves approaching. The unseen region where the soul is to lodge is the place where once the Spirit of our Saviour abode, and is therefore under His especial protection, even more than any church or place that is most sacred on earth. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
Christ contemplating His future blessedness
We must consider these words as our blessed Master’s own words, as much so as though they came from His own lips. They describe the feelings of His human soul while dwelling in a human body in our world. And this gives them a very high interest. We have here some of the outpourings of His soul before His Father.
I. The title He applies to Himself.
1. He calls Himself God’s “Holy One.” It tells how eminently, conspicuously holy He was.
2. His application of this title to Himself shows us that He deemed it an honourable title. He delights in it, more than in anything besides.
II. His prospect of His resurrection. We learn--
1. That our holy Lord was, as we are, made up of both body and soul. He speaks of both: “My soul,” and of His body in referring to the “corruption,” which it should not see.
2. At His crucifixion these two parts of Him were separated. A real dissolution took place. The flesh and the spirit were rent now comes something peculiar to Him.
3. His human frame was saved from corruption. The least taint never touched it. We are familiar with death, and therefore the corruption of death does not make us shudder. But if we saw it for the first time we should abhor it, we should look on it as a token of God’s disgust with us, a fixed purpose on His part to degrade and punish us to the utmost for our transgressions.
4. The resurrection of Christ consisted mainly in a reunion of His body and soul. It is implied in the words, “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” And here comes out that wonderful truth, the eternal manhood of the Divine Saviour. Death made no essential change in Him. He is not a stranger to us. “He is not ashamed to call us brethren.” Wonderful condescension!
III. The view He had of His heavenly blessedness. Heaven is meant, we cannot doubt, in the last verse of this Psalm. And we observe--
1. How our Lord tells of nothing in it peculiar to Himself. He places Himself on a level with His people.
2. See the nature of this blessedness. It is “joy,” and not one only, but “pleasures.”
3. And perfect, for it is “fulness of joy.”
4. And permanent, “for evermore.”
5. And the source of it--God. It is at God’s right hand. St. Peter, quotes the passage thus: “Thou shalt make me full of joy with Thy countenance.”
6. We and our blessed Lord shall be sharers together in the same happiness in His kingdom.
IV. The effects which His anticipation of this blessedness produced in Him.
1. Joy, gladness of heart. True, He was the Man of sorrows, but they were not unmingled. Many a gleam of light pierced through the darkness. And His joy burst forth in exultation and praise. Luke (chap. 10) tells us how “He rejoiced in spirit.” And He left the world with something like a conqueror’s shout.
2. Hope. It reconciled Him to death. It was but as a sleep to Him. (C. Bradley.)
Christ’s being the Holy One of God
Jesus Christ is that Holy One of God, as--
1. All the holiness of God is in Him.
2. In the special peculiar relation in which He stands to God.
3. He has more of the holiness of God communicated to Him than all other creatures.
4. The holiness of God is more manifested in and by Him than in any other way.
5. He is set apart in a peculiar manner for the bringing about God’s great design of glorifying Himself, in putting an end to sin, and malting an elect world of mankind sinners holy. (James Robe, M. A.)
Thou wilt show me the path of life.
The path of life
Not merely, that is, the life of the body. This is shown by the pleasure and joy spoken of afterwards, which are to be found in God’s presence, and in communion with Him. “Life,” in the only true sense, is union with God, and from that springs, of necessity, the idea of immortality. It seems impossible to suppose that David, who here expresses such a fulness of confidence in God, such a living personal relationship to Him, could have dreamed that such a relationship would end with death. In this Psalm, and in the next, there shines forth the bright home of everlasting life. Why should man question this? Even the heathen struggled to believe that they should abide after death. Would they to whom God had revealed Himself, and who were bound to Him in a personal covenant, be left in greater darkness? Impossible! The argument which our Lord used with the Sadducees applies here with special force--God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. They to whom God has made Himself known, they who are one with Him, cannot lose that Divine life of which they are made partakers. Immortality (and a resurrection, Psalms 17:15) follows from the life of the spirit. And though probably there would be many fluctuations of belief, though the spiritual eye would not always be clear, it seems impossible to doubt, when we read passages such as this, that there were times at least when the hope of life beyond the grave did become distinct and palpable. At the same time, in the utterance of this confident persuasion and hope David was carried beyond himself. (J. J. Stewart Perowne, B. D.)
The two ways
(Taken with Proverbs 14:12.) There is such a thing in this dying world as a “path of life.” This is represented as leading into fellowship with Him, in whose presence there is fulness of joy. “At Thy right hand,” and thither the path leads, “there are pleasures for evermore.” There are two distinct and contrasted ways or lines of life. The one is called “the way of life,” the other is “the way that seemeth right unto a man.” Set the two ways before you, and ask a deliberate choice. The first thing in journeying is to know where you are going. The one is the way of life, because it is a way which can only be traversed by those who live in the full sense of the word. The highest faculty of our nature is that spiritual capacity which enables us to hold communion with God. And also because it is the way in which alone life can be sustained. And further, because it leads to life. Look at the other way. It “seemeth right unto a man.” Only “seemeth.” But it is not what it seems. It is very popular. Everybody takes it. That does not make its character good, or its end desirable. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The desire for life
Beyond the fact that this Psalm was written by David, we know nothing of the circumstances of its authorship. It is evidently called forth by some signal display of the Divine goodness. The Psalmist felt round about him the strengthening sense of that protecting power and presence of God which filled his heart with confidence and made his cup to overflow with the wine of joy.
I. Every true religious sentiment meets with universal response. Like as the aesthetic sentiments of mankind, our best feelings of the beautiful in art and music, were given to the Greeks to preserve and develop; so the religious sentiments of mankind, our feelings of the Divine and spiritual, seem to have been the especial care and heritage of the Jewish race. And as our feelings of beauty are eternal, so that Greek art and poetry will never be unappreciated, so are our intuitions of righteousness, our yearnings for the Divine eternal, and hence the Bible will never die, its perennial fountain will never dry up.
II. Life is universally desired. Else why the frantic struggles to maintain it, even in its most wretched conditions. Only when reason has lost her sway does the suicide do his work.
III. But none can say what life is, any more than we can say what electricity is, what gravitation is. We see it, we feel it, we are conscious of it; but that is all. We know it only by its manifestations, and if we can see in what these agree, what they have in common, our text will have much meaning. The exotic cannot bear frost, the camellia from the hothouse perishes before it. The luxuriously reared child suddenly flung into poverty and want would probably die. Now, in all these cases there has been change in the surroundings; but if, with the changed outward conditions in each case, the inward conditions as well could have been changed, the mischief in each case would not have happened. But they were not so changed, and so there was either death or else a diminution of the powers of living. For life, then, there is needed the complete correspondence between the inward nature and the outward surroundings, harmony between them and our nature. Apply all this to the spiritual life. For this life also there must be harmony between itself and its surroundings. What are these, what its soil, atmosphere, elements of growth, its habitat or dwelling place? God--is the answer; there is none other. God revealed as our spiritual Father is the spirit’s fit outward surroundings, its external relations. Hence, would we live the true spiritual life we must be in harmony with God, our environment. The low, sensual, selfish life kills the spiritual life, as the frost killed the flower. But where, as in Christ supremely, there is harmony between God and the soul, there is the true life. Christ is the way, because He is the revelation of God. (H. Varley, B. A.)
The path of life
1. It is the path, because while all other paths end at death, this begins there.
2. Christ took the first step in this path. Someone must lead in it, and He did, and now says, “Follow Me.”
3. It is a customary road; a path is so. There never was another than this, and never will be.
4. Everyone who walks in it makes it plainer and easier. We help others to walk in it by walking in it ourselves.
5. Beware, as we go through life, of diverging paths that lead astray to death.
6. The Bible is the lamp in our path.
7. We are always walking in some path--either of life or death. We cannot stand still.
8. To walk in a path we must put forth energy and activity. We must not only know it but walk in it.
9. The path of life, to those who walk in it, grows brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
10. Divine guidance is necessary and promised. “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” “He will direct thy paths.”
11. Am I walking in it? (J. Stanford Holme, D. D.)
The path of life
The whole passage primarily refers to our Lord Jesus Christ, and the recalling is--My heart is glad, etc., for Thou wilt show me the path of life, or, Thou hast shown me. But we may apply the words to all who are Christ’s, who may be considered here--
I. As rejoicing in the life of grace. God quickened in them this life (Ephesians 2:1); for they were spiritually dead. Not Scripture alone teaches this, but observation and experience. Religious things make no more impression on the spiritually dead than sunbeams on a rock. But God’s mercy comes in conversion, which is the quickening spoken of. Then are we born again, and begin really to live.
II. They rejoice, also, in the assurance of being conducted safe to glory. How else should a dying saint have any comfort at all? How shall a poor stranger in such a dark abyss find the path of life? Then--
1. How thankful should we be for the Gospel. Reason may argue in favour of the immortality of the soul, but could never show that such sinful creatures as we are should be admitted into the presence of God.
2. How sharply to be reproved and greatly to be pitied are they who will not walk in the path of life. (Samuel Lavington.)
The path of life
I. Thoughts suggested by the metaphor. A path. The believer’s life is a journey--a walk (Genesis 17:1; Genesis 5:24; Isaiah 30:21; Ephesians 4:1). We need both a door and a path. An entrance into life, and a pathway in it.
II. The teaching contained in the passage. The Psalm is prophetic of Christ. To Him “the path of life” was first opened. Lost man had no way to God. The path to life was from the manger to the Cross. The path of life is from the Cross to glory. Adam through sin had forfeited his right of access into the presence of God. Through Christ the way to paradise is opened.
III. Lessons. Man cannot make his own way to God. It is a path already opened for us. We need God to reveal it to us. We must be brought to its true starting point. The path brings us into the presence and puts before us a prospect. The path brightens as we advance. (E. H. Hopkins.)
The path of life
I. An encouraging promise of divine direction. Consider the text in reference to God’s answer to prayer. Has not everyone the greatest need of Divine direction and heavenly illumination in his passage through life? What untiring diligence, unceasing watchfulness, and persevering prayer is every Christian constrained to use in his hourly converse with the world! How solicitous should every Christian be that, as every step of his life is leading to the path of death, he may be so guided by Divine counsel as to be directed to the path of life, to the path of glory, honour, and immortality, even eternal life.
II. The happy and blessed results arising from attention to this direction. An admission into His presence, where there is fulness of joy. It is the presence of God, our heavenly Father, which constitutes this fulness of joy. Fulness of joy can only be consummated in the other world, But what tongue can unfold the felicity of that state?
III. The eternal duration of the heavenly glory. This it is which invests the subject with the most momentous and overwhelming magnitude. (Nat. Meeres, B. D.)
The assurance of our personal immortality, and what it involves
Annihilation of man, or even of an atom, is unknown in God’s universe; while the grave is the place in which is covered what would otherwise be painful, offensive, and injurious to survivors. We know life is uncertain; but we practically regard it as certain, at least for a few years. There is in all of us faith in a future life, and hope and desire that in that life our merciful Creator will perfect our nature, and confer upon us a painless and unbroken happiness. The immortality of our race is deeply interesting, but our individual immortality, and what it involves, should be to us a matter of practical and daily concern. There is a sense in which men discover their value in the scale of being. They learn that they have not only a body but a soul, that not only must the wants of the body be supplied, but the mind must be trained, and the soul kept under God’s government, for its present health and future bliss. There are three states of man’s reasoning mind which no instinct of the lower animals that we are acquainted with has ever suggested--
1. We have no evidence that any creature except man expects death; or has any knowledge of it.
2. The idea of a future life cannot be entertained by the horse or the elephant, by the ant or the bee.
3. As little capacity have they for the desire of it. The instincts of brutes concern their present wants; but man, by his superior endowment, ranges over the present and the future, over what is near and far distant, and by the high faculty of reason can awake to a consciousness of God, and of his own personal immortality. Christianity has given to man a familiarity with pure religion for the soul, for moral and holy discipline, and for appreciating his destiny, which none of the old philosophies had the power to give or to enforce.
We are now assured by Jesus that we shall live forever, and, assuming this, it should involve hopes and duties in relation to ourselves and others of high and practical import.
1. It should involve sacred regard for our own life, and for that of others. The sacredness and value of our own life, and of that of others, should ever be a practical lesson inwrought daily with our very being, whether on the smallest or largest scale. Crime against the person cannot cease unless humanity is respected. There can be no respect for it where there are no just views of its dignity, worth, and moral and religious power; and the way to elevate it is not by depreciating and debasing it, nor by discouraging or damning it; but by loving efforts for its recovery, by purifying the sources of temptation to crime, etc. It also demands on our part sacred regard for the life of others. A hope of immortality also involves a sacred regard to our personal virtue, and to that of others. Whatever will purity our nature, control our passions, convince us of the evil and bitterness of sin, elevate our thoughts and affections, and help us onward in our Christian course, we should seek more perfectly to possess in the prospect of an immortal life.
2. If we had not the immortal life before us we should think of death as our end. In the prospect of our immortal life it must be wise, and every way worthy of us, to form the purest, most holy, and most just conceptions of the blessed God. But how can this personal immortality be assured? We have a soul; it implies immortality. The inequalities of the present state of man imply a sphere of readjustment. We desire immortality. The Bible declares it. These grounds of assurance with our individual consciousness, desire, and hope, are what men rest upon in relation to their immortality. It cannot be mathematically, philosophically, or logically demonstrated. (R. Ainslie.)
In Thy presence is fulness of joy.--
The bliss of the Divine presence
Heaven is often described by negatives, but here we have positive statement as to that in which it consists. Therefore consider its perfection.
I. In extent. The state contemplated will be after the resurrection, as it was for our Lord after His resurrection. Hence St. Paul says, “Our conversation is in heaven.” And he tells us also of the “glorious body,” the “spiritual body” which shall be ours then (1 Corinthians 15:44). And the mind also will partake in this glory, this fulness of joy. How much will result from memory. Also from survey of the present--the heavenly city, the glory of God, the Saviour, And the future, too, will minister to this joy. And the affections likewise, profound admiration, ardent gratitude, entire confidence, perfect love.
II. Its degree. This, too, will be perfect. There will be difference of capacity, and so of degree, which will be determined mainly by character. All that hinders full excellence here will be absent there.
III. In duration. It will be endless, and therefore perfect. “These are pleasures for evermore.” Without this we could not be satisfied. “A perpetuity of bliss is bliss.” Could we fear an end to it, it would wither. Many have denied eternal punishment, but none eternal bliss. Remember its spirituality and purity, and anticipate it with joy. (J. Kay.)
God’s presence manifested in heaven
The manifestation of God to man, which was begun in paradise, is to be continued through eternity. It has been maintained by some that the soul of man ceases to exist at the death of the body, and that there is an actual hiatus in man’s being from the moment of death to the period of the resurrection. Others, while admitting the continued existence of the soul, divest it of all consciousness, and suppose it to pass into a state of torpor, until awaked on the morning of the resurrection. In the dissolution of man we see these two distinct substances, body and soul, separated one from the other, and each consigned to a widely different destiny, the body to the earth from which it was taken, and the soul to a continued existence in the spiritual world (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 10:28). Here it is evidently taught, such is the vitality of the soul, that no power can annihilate it but the omnipotence of that Being who brought it into existence; and therefore to deny its immortality is to contradict the plainest testimony of God Himself. Equally opposed to the authority of Holy Scripture is the theory which teaches that, at death, the soul passes into a state of unconsciousness until the resurrection Our Lord, when confuting the materialists of His day, who cavilled at His doctrine, asserted the actual conscious existence of the Jewish patriarchs, though at that time the latest of them had been dead nearly two thousand years. When the Saviour was about to expire as our atoning victim He said to the thief, who was dying by His side as a penitent malefactor, “Verily, today shalt thou be with Me m paradise.” When Lazarus died, angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom; and when the rich man died, in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments. Now, had the souls of men passed at death into a state of unconsciousness, the condition of Lazarus and of the rich man would have been perfectly alike; but here their state is that of awful contrast, the one of blessedness, the other of torment. In conformity with these representations the apostle Paul speaks of death as being preferable to life. But why preferable? Because, as he affirms, to die was gain. Yet to pass into a state of unconsciousness would be to suffer loss--the loss of all the enjoyments and privileges of life (Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). While these passages decide the question as to the continued existence and consciousness of the soul, they also unfold the grand Cause of its blessedness--it is in the soul’s being with Christ. The promise to the dying thief was, not only that he should be in paradise, but with Christ in paradise. The blessedness anticipated by St. Paul consisted in his being with Christ. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Thus these two ideas--the presence and manifestation of God to man--belong to the dispensation of eternity as well as time, and constitute the blessedness of heaven as well as of earth. The soul was made for God, and can find neither happiness nor satisfaction without Him. This is a law of our being, and is as applicable to the future as it is to the present life. Gravitation is not a more universal and imperative law in the physical universe than is this law of dependence on God in the spiritual world. Let us notice some of the conditions which render heaven an advanced dispensation for the realisation of the presence and manifestation of God to the human soul.
1. In heaven there will be perfect freedom from all the evils, sufferings, and dangers of the present state of being. Ever since man fell from God he has been subject to the evils and sorrows of a fallen state; and though religion greatly mitigates the sufferings of humanity, and supports us under them, yet its highest attainments cannot remove them. The world, the flesh, and the devil are antagonistic to our spiritual welfare, and the Christian life is an athletic struggle--a warfare against active foes and evil influences, which beset us at every step. We inherit diseases, afflictions, and death. Though such a state of things may suit a period of discipline and probation, it is not compatible with a state of absolute safety and perfect enjoyment. The battlefield may develop the courage and valour of the warrior, but the tranquil bower suits the contemplation of the philosopher. The storms of winter may cause to strike deeper the roots of the tree, but the calm sunshine of summer is required to develop its foliage and ripen its fruit. The struggles and tears of a probationary life may give nerve and athletic vigour to the Christian, but the calm rest which remaineth for the people of God is the state better suited to the contemplation of the Divine perfections and the deep consciousness of the Divine presence.
2. In heaven the powers of the soul will be quickened and its capacities enlarged. In the present state the soul, being united to a material fabric, performs many of its acts through a material organisation. A large proportion of its ideas are received through the medium of the senses. There is, however, as clear a distinction between the faculties of the soul and the material organs through which it acts, as there is between the soul itself and the fabric in which it resides. It is the soul that sees and hears, and the eye is merely the optical instrument through which it sees; and the ear is but the acoustic apparatus by which it perceives the various sounds, harsh or harmonious, which are made by the vibrations of the atmosphere. The same principle applies to the other material organs, through which the soul receives impressions and performs its various operations. Besides, it must be remembered that the Holy Spirit has the power of communicating, and the soul the capability of receiving, ideas and impressions by direct and immediate contact, without the interposition of the bodily senses. Hence the inspiration of prophets, and the Divine illumination and spiritual emotions of believers. The mind can abstract, compound, reason, imagine, cherish principles, and experience emotions of deepest joy or anguish, by its own internal operations, even when some of the organs of sense are destroyed. What visions of beauty and grandeur did the mind of Milton create after his eyeballs had ceased to admit a ray of material light! But in this case the mind is already furnished, all its faculties stimulated by exercise, refined and expanded by knowledge, and its emotions excited by experience. Let us then suppose such a mind, during the life of the body, bereft not only of one, two, or three, but of all the five senses: what then would be its state? True, it would be cut off from all further communication with the external world; but it would still have a world within itself--a world of thought, reasoning, and imagination, equally capacious, and of emotion far more intense than it had before. If such, in truth, would be the state of a soul deprived of the organs of sense, but still linked to the living material fabric, what should hinder it from possessing and exercising the same powers and realising the same state when the body ceases to breathe? Death is nothing more than the dissolution of the material fabric--the understanding, the memory, the judgment, the conscience, the powers of volition and emotion are still inherent, as essential properties of its nature, and must remain with it forever; but vastly increased in their activity and intensity, in consequence of their separation from the earthly tabernacle in which they had resided. All the representations of Holy Scripture sustain these views of the soul in the separate state. The soul of the rich man in hell was in a state of vivid consciousness, having a clear knowledge of the present, with a full recollection of the past, a keen susceptibility of suffering. That the faculties of the soul in the separate state are more vigorous and capacious, and therefore better adapted for receiving the manifestation of God, than while in this mortal body, may be further argued on various grounds. The body has many wants of its own which, though inferior, are imperative in their demands, and retard the development of mind. But on the soul’s dismissal from the body these wants all cease, together with all the cares and toils they occasioned, leaving the soul unbroken leisure for contemplations and pursuits congenial to its nature, and exercises adapted to accelerate its highest attainments in knowledge, holiness, and bliss. While united to the body in its present state, the soul is located to a confined and narrow spot of Jehovah’s dominions, and cannot explore those displays of the Divine perfections which are presented in other and brighter regions of the universe. Nor is a world abounding with error the most fitted for the perception of truth; nor a world of sin the best adapted to the growth of moral excellence. Even now, the mind borrows from art means to supply the deficiencies of its own material organs: the microscope to magnify the diminutive, the telescope to discover the remote, and the acoustic tube to convey distant sounds, because the eye and the ear are not fully adequate to the mind’s investigations. Hence our best perceptions are but limited and obscure. The narrow grating of a dungeon admits a portion of the light of heaven, but let the incarcerated captive emerge from his cell and he beholds the whole hemisphere beaming with light, and an extended prospect filled with ten thousand beauties unknown before. So may the soul on passing from the body, which now limits its operations. Besides, this material fabric is too frail for the full exertion of mental power. Intense thinking softens the brain, and intense feeling, whether joyous or painful, soon exhausts the nervous energy. Progress is the law of mind, but decay the law of matter; and, within a very few years, the body becomes incapacitated as the medium for mental attainment and progress. So that were not death to relieve the soul from the restraints of physical weakness and the decay of age, the development of mind must be arrested and its noble powers be doomed to stop in their progress, just at a point when most fitted to make the greatest advancement and to realise the highest joys. But the soul, on emerging from the body, escapes from these restraints; it breaks its fetters and enters upon a state in which it may exert its vigorous powers unhindered by weakness, unarrested by decay, and expand its capacities without limit and without end. In such a state how adapted the soul to drink in the knowledge of God, to receive the disclosures of Jehovah’s perfections, to enjoy the manifestations of His presence, and to sustain an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory. The sublime mysteries of creation, providence, and redemption, continually unfolding new glories, will astonish and delight the mind forever.
3. As another facility for the manifestation of God, the soul shall be admitted into His immediate presence. Heaven is a place as well as a state of being. It is said that spirit has no relation to place, but we confess to the vulgar conception that if a spirit exist it must be either everywhere or somewhere; that unless it be ubiquitous it must have a limited presence. And, as in the present life, the human spirit is located in the human body, so in eternity it must have a location. As there was a locality for the Shekinah, the visible symbol of the Divine presence, so there is a sacred place, a distinct region, where the personal presence of Jehovah is manifested and displayed. To determine the particular locality where heaven is, no man is able. As to the description of this glorious place, language fails to set forth its beauty. In every inspired description of heaven the Shekinah, or the visible presence of God, is made prominent. The earthly temple, while forming a shrine for the Shekinah, was a mode of its concealment from the ordinary view of the people. The glory was curtained off and shut in, so that the radiant symbol was enthroned in solitary majesty in the most holy place. But in the New Jerusalem no temple is seen, for no external shade is required; and in the brightness of a better dispensation, concealment and restriction have disappeared. Here, then, is the first consummation of the believer’s aspirations and hopes. At last the wilderness is left, and the promised paradise is gained; the weary pilgrim has arrived at home; the absent son and heir has entered his Father’s house. The journey of faith ends in realising vision and actual possession. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee.” But love longs for the sight and presence of its object. But while the promises, which speak of our seeing God, imply an optical vision of the Deity, they imply also a more enlarged, comprehensive, and profound knowledge of His character and perfections; for the manifestation of the Deity, in order to our enjoyment of Him, is the end of all His dispensations, and applies to heaven as well as earth. Hitherto we have seen a gradual brightening of this manifestation, as one economy has succeeded another; and the manifestation in heaven shall be brighter than all its predecessors. Moreover, as the perfection of our vision always depends upon the perfection of the visual organ, and its proper adjustment to the object beheld, as well as upon the degree of light thrown upon it, so does the perfection of the soul’s knowledge of God depend upon its moral state, as well as upon the increased light which will beam upon it in eternity. So the untutored savage and the sensualist perceive but little, though they see much, for a brutish man knoweth not these things. Hence there is an amazing difference between men’s power of perception and appreciation, arising from the difference in their mental state, their education and habits of life; and often as great a difference between the same men in different periods of their own history! But the pure in heart see God. Their eye is open to perceive Him; their affections are sanctified to appreciate Him, and their aspirations are spiritual to enjoy the Holy One; and thus men see God just in proportion to their personal purity and their resemblance to Him. Here, then, we perceive important reasons which account for a deeper, a richer, a sublimer manifestation of God to the soul in heaven. All the conditions of the mind will favour this development. While absent from a world of illusion, while free from the restraints of a weak and decaying body, it is free from every vestige of sin; while dwelling in the light of the Divine presence, it is capacitated by a state of perfect holiness for seeing and appreciating the beauty of the Lord. There sin shall no more avert the eye from God, nor blur its perception of His glory.
4. In heaven the disposition for communion will be perfectly developed, affording the highest and most perfect gratification of that social principle which God has implanted in our nature. Man was formed for society. Yet society, as it exists in this world, is confessedly imperfect. Sin has infused its poison into this, as well as into every other cup of earthly happiness. There is a want of confidence, of disinterested affection, of constancy and fidelity. But in heaven this defect shall be supplied. For there angels and archangels, and the spirits of just men made perfect--all beings of unspotted holiness and full of love--will be our companions and our friends. “In this world the possession of a few friends, nay, even of one friend, is justly deemed an invaluable treasure, but what will be our blessedness in that world where all are our friends, and where the soul, like the region where it dwells, will be capacious enough to admit them all?” No rival interests, no conflicting aims, no jarring passions, no malign or discordant tempers disturb the society of heaven. This holy fellowship of heaven will contribute, in no small degree, to the grand purpose of a further manifestation of God to His intelligent creatures. In such a state of being, and favoured with such society, how rapidly must the soul grow in the knowledge of God! What are earthly teachers, however erudite, eloquent, and profound, compared with our instructors in heaven? What are our learned libraries here compared with the accumulated treasures of heavenly wisdom and knowledge there? What, indeed, are our present revelations, conveyed as they are through the imperfect medium of human speech, and received by minds so dull in their apprehensions?
5. In heaven there shall also be the most intimate, delightful, and ennobling communion with God. The disposition for communion dwells in the Deity Himself and ere a solitary creature existed it was reciprocally exercised between the persons of the Godhead--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man being formed in God’s image and likeness, this disposition for communion was implanted in his nature; and while it gives man delight in the society of his fellow man, and makes the communication of thought and affection a source of happiness, it finds its highest gratification and development in fellowship with God. There the soul, dwelling in the immediate presence of Deity, and disengaged from the absorbing cares and distractions of a secular state of being, will realise the most intimate and uninterrupted fellowship with God. It will not, indeed, as the oriental philosophy teaches, be absorbed into the Deity, and, losing its personal consciousness, be swallowed up in the abyss of the Godhead; but with its identity preserved, as distinct and personal as it is in this inferior state, it will realise a union with God so perfect in the aspirations of its desires, in the intercommunion of its thoughts and affections, that it will live in God and God in it. We know a man best, not by seeing his picture or reading his history, but by personal intercourse and communion. Thus two congenial minds penetrate rote each other’s thoughts, and reciprocate each other’s dispositions; they see as they are seen, and know as they are known. And thus it is (let us reverently speak it) that the soul knows the great and eternal God--not merely intellectually, as His perfections are displayed in His works and His character unfolded in progressive dispensations, but in the deep personal consciousness of our union with Deity. In this manifestation of the Deity the Holy Spirit will operate in heaven as He does on earth, but with an augmented power proportioned to the superior state and capacity of disembodied souls. Searching, as He does, the deep things of God, He will reveal them to the blessed, with whom He will abide forever.
6. In heaven the saints will be engaged in the most ennobling employments.
7. There is one word uttered by an inspired apostle which is more pregnant with meaning as to the manifestation of God to the soul in the spiritual world, and of the eternal happiness flowing from it, than could be expressed by a thousand volumes. It is the single declaration that we “are heirs of God.” The apostle says the believer is an heir--not of the material universe, for that is poor compared with the treasure named--not of heaven, for that is not expressive of the opulence intended; but he is an heir of the God of the universe, of Him whose presence makes heaven what it is--an heir of the Deity Himself. As the mind has no limit to its development, nothing but the infinite can suffice for it; and there is nothing infinite but God. Of God Himself, then, the believer is now an heir; in eternity he enters into his possession and enjoyment, with free and full access to the fountain of eternal blessedness. All there is in God is his: his to know, so far as his understanding can comprehend; his to enjoy, so far as his capacity can contain; and eternity itself is designed to yield successive developments of the infinite fulness there is in God.
8. The state of the soul in heaven is one of further expectation. No dispensation which God has given to man in the present world has been a complete and ultimate good, but an instalment of some greater good to come. Promise and prophecy have ever led the mind onward and upward. Indeed, the exercise of faith and hope has been a prominent and indispensable element in that educational process by which the great Teacher has trained and developed the human mind in every age. Hence the progressive development of the Gospel plan, from the first promise of a Saviour through the successive stages of the Divine economy. Hence, too, the transition from the cloudy symbol of the temple to the personal manifestation of the incarnate God. Thus faith and hope live in heaven as well as on earth; and though much once promised is now realised, yet from the elevation to which he is exalted he beholds a wider horizon of truth and a brighter prospect of future blessedness; and faith in the promise and hope of the expected good are elements of his present enjoyment. Having noticed the various elements of the happiness of heaven, we ought here to remark that the essential qualification for this blessedness is holiness. We cannot conclude without adverting to the awful contrast presented in the condition of the wicked after death. They have the same nature, but a different doom. (W. Cooke, D. D.)
I. The nature of heavenly felicity. It is living in the presence of God. It is living at the right hand of God, that is, in a state of exaltation, dignity, and glory. It is a state of joy. It is a state of pleasure.
II. The plenitude of heavenly felicity. Expressed by the word “fulness.” Here our enjoyments, even our religious enjoyments, are accompanied by fear, mixed with sorrow, frequently interrupted, at best but partial, and at most but small. There will be fulness, what is pure, without any alloy; perpetual, without any interruption; and what is enough, without any satiety.
III. The duration of heavenly felicity will be for evermore. “Evermore” is one of the scriptural expressions denoting interminable duration. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The power of a presence
Not necessarily a spoken word or an act performed--simply a presence. There is a Divine presence, distinct from any word, or act, or exercise of Divine power; the charm is found in this, that God is there; it is what He is, not what He does or says, which His presence emphasises. The use of worship is partly this, that it makes His invisible presence a reality. The more forms and ceremonies corrupt the simplicity, of worship, the more is attention diverted from God as a spirit. Closet prayer is especially helpful, if not hurried and superficial. To wait until a proper conception of God’s presence impresses the soul makes prayer of vastly more service to the suppliant. Every human being has a presence. It used to be said of Lord Chatham, that in the man was something finer than in anything he said. We hear with us a power that for good or evil is greater than any influence exerted by our deliberate acts or words. Swedenborg called it an “atmosphere.” It is as inseparable from the person as the fragrance from the flower. It is the unconscious reflection and transmission of character. It sometimes contradicts the words and studied externals; and it sometimes coincides with and confirms their witness. That atmosphere makes the home and the Church and society more than all else. Negatively a good “presence” restrains, and positively, it inspires. To stay in Fenelon’s society, an infidel said, would compel him to be a Christian. While we emphasise the deliberate and voluntary part of our lives, God doubtless sees that the most potent, for good or evil, are the influences which silently and unconsciously go out from us, like the savour of salt and the radiance of light. (Homiletic Review.)
I. True happiness is not to be expected here. This is implied in the text. The world is not our home. This life is but a small part of our existence. Take a general survey of the condition of human life. How weak and helpless is infancy! Childhood and youth are vanity! How many dangers always attend us! Who is secure? Changes of condition and circumstances are many times as sudden as they are sad. God is good and wise, as well as great. His benevolence is as unbounded as His power. Joys are mingled with our sorrows. Religion does not undertake to preserve its friends from affliction, but forewarns them of it, that they may be prepared to meet it. And it is a mighty support and cordial under it. Moreover, we have never found in the world as much as corresponds with all the capacities, and fully answers all the expectations, and gratifies all the desires of our souls.
II. Where shall we partake of that happiness of which our nature renders us capable? We must die before we can thus live. Death will transmit the children of God to the glorious presence of their heavenly Father, and there shall they be blessed.
III. The properties and excellencies of our future blessedness.
1. As to the degree--perfection. Nothing is wanting to render the joy complete.
2. As to the duration--perpetuity. The joys are for evermore. God is the fountain; and pleasures flow at His right hand in an endless stream. Reflections.
(1) Give not up your prospects and hopes of heavenly pleasures, perfect and perpetual as they are, for the sake of any worldly profits or sinful pleasures.
(2) To be without God’s gracious presence with us upon earth is very grievous; and with that we ought to give no place to fear and dejection, fear of evils that may happen to us, or dejection under such as have already overtaken us. (E. Sandercock, D. D.)
The happiness of the saints
Joy is the soul’s rest and satisfaction in the enjoyment of a suitable good.
1. The character of those who shall have fulness of joy. Such as repent of their sins; believe in Christ, are upright in their profession, and follow the example of Christ.
2. Wherein this blessedness consists. The presence of God is the presence of His glory; the presence of His face, without a veil; His immediate presence, without obscuring mediums; His countenancing presence, as a pleased friend and father; His fixed and abiding presence, we shall be forever with Him; His influxive and efficacious presence, a glimpse of which made Moses’ face to shine. Their happiness is also occasioned by those joys and pleasures which are at God’s right hand. The joy and pleasures of the heavenly world are spiritual and heavenly, not carnal and earthly. Pure without mixture. A multitude without number. Full without any want. Constant, without diminution or interruption. Perpetual. Improvement:
1. Hence see the folly and madness of those who seek their portion in this life.
2. Let such glorious views and expectations comfort the heirs of glory in the midst of all their tribulations.
3. Let it excite all such to diligence and activity in the ways of God. (T. Hannam.)
The emotions of a saint just arrived in heaven
Fulness of joy is a most comprehensive expression. It implies the perfection of enjoyment in all the faculties of being. That joy which is destined to ultimate extinguishment cannot be said to be perfect joy. The expression “fulness of joy” cannot have relation to this world. It must stand related to some other and higher sphere. Heaven is the goal of the Christian’s race.
1. The glorified Christian will feel that he has been the subject of a change which affects everything connected with him save his identity. One source of singular emotions is the absence of the body, the former inlet of physical pain, and of general suffering.
2. Another source of new and joyful emotions springs from the unencumbered action of the spirit, and its unconstrained inspiration in the air of heaven.
3. Another source of happiness is the fact that the believer has now entered into more exalted society than he enjoyed on earth.
4. The friendships of heaven will be of a higher order than those of earth.
5. Another element will be the clear light which will then be shed upon all God’s dealings with the believer while he was upon earth.
6. That which will give fulness of joy to the glorified believer will be the unutterable privilege of standing in the presence of his Saviour Jesus Christ. (A. S. Gardner.)
The presence of God
I. What we are to understand by the presence of God here. God is present everywhere by His infinite knowledge and almighty energy. He fills universal nature. But the Psalmist speaks of a more gracious presence, those peculiar manifestations of Himself with which He delights His believing and obedient people, and which He affords them through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only in Jesus Christ that we, sinful creatures, can see or think of a holy and just God with any comfort.
II. How does it appear that in this presence there is fulness of joy? Consider this presence as it is known in--
1. This world. Here the enjoyment of it first begins. To the good man the Divine presence gives a peculiar and most lively relish to every enjoyment here. The creatures around us, the beauties of nature and art, the social connections in life, the Divine Word, and all means of grace, are all more desirable and delightful as tokens of the Divine presence are found in them. We are all exposed to affliction, trials, perils and death, and our consolation in all comes from the presence of God.
2. The world to come. There our joy will be full indeed, because--
(1) It will be absolutely pure and unmixed. It will be all joy, without any alloy of sorrow; without even the fear of it.
(2) It answers to every want and desire of our nature. It includes every possible delight, and will leave no desire unsatisfied.
(3) It will be full in point of duration. It will fill even the endless ages of eternity itself.
(4) It is all derived from, and supported by, the fulness of Christ. Improvement:
1. Hew mean the sentiments and pursuits of the bulk of mankind appear in view of this truth.
2. There must be some very great change wrought in us, before we can so enjoy the Divine presence as to find our happiness there.
3. How invaluable a blessing the Gospel is. (Daniel Turner.)
The presence of God, as it is the beaten and happiness of the saints
The presence of God maketh heaven, and the perfect happiness to be enjoyed there.
I. The characters of those who shall be blessed by being in the presence of God forever.
1. Those who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ with a Divine, practical, heart-purifying, and life sanctifying faith.
2. You who are upright in a good profession.
3. You who are Christ’s honest servants.
II. What presence of God makes heaven unto the saints. The presence of His essence is as really on earth as in heaven.
1. The presence of God that makes happy in heaven is the presence of His glory.
2. It is the presence of His face; in the glory of the Mediator.
3. His immediate presence, manifested no longer through obscuring mediums.
4. His countenancing presence.
5. His fixed and abiding presence.
6. His efficacious and influxive presence. (James Robe, M. A.)
“Fulness of joy” to come
There can be no doubt that in their primary application these words bear reference to the Lord Jesus; for of Him only could it be said, “Thou wilt not suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” But while we thus believe that the Psalmist is writing chiefly about Jesus, we at the same time feel that, He being the Head of the body, the Church, these verses may for the most part be applied to all those who are made living members of His body by the mighty operation of the Lord the Spirit. The text speaks of a “fulness of joy,” and tells us where it is to be had. Jesus always intended His people to be happy. One of His sweetest discourses closes with the words, “these things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you and your joy might be full.” But the believer has to confess, notwithstanding all the blessed promises of God’s Word, that his joy is not full. He has real joy, spiritual joy, springing from the consciousness of the love of God; and this joy is a great help to him. But he wants more. Now, amongst the things which interrupt the fulness of our joy on earth is--
I. The weakness of our faith. There are very few, even of the most advanced Christians, who do not mourn over weakness of faith. Abraham himself failed once and again. We walk by sight overmuch, or at least desire to.
II. The slowness of his growth in grace. He longs to love God with all his heart and soul and strength; to be holy even as Christ is holy, perfect even as his Father in heaven is perfect. But when he sits down to examine himself, and weighs his thoughts, his words, his deeds, in the scales of the sanctuary, he finds so much of worldly conformity, so much cleaving to the earth, so little rising in thought and spirit to heaven, that he rises from the examination with a drooping spirit and an aching heart.
III. The power and ascendency of besetting sin. Whether it be pride, or covetousness, or envy, ill-temper or uncharitableness, whatever it be, we have all of us some sin which has a greater power over us than others. It may be we fondly deemed we had wholly subdued it. But in a little while some trifling temptation is laid in our way; it looks enticing, fascinating, profitable; away go all our good resolutions, and we are betrayed into the commission of that very sin against which we had prayed so earnestly, and whose power we thought we had broken.
IV. Seasons of spiritual desertion. He has been walking for some time in the light of God’s countenance, rejoicing ever to look up and see a Father’s smiling face. But things are sadly altered now. Prayer goes up, but the answer comes not. Difficulties encompass him on every side; his enemies are many and mighty, yea, they come in like a flood; he cries aloud, but his Father makes as though He heard not; distress, tribulation, anguish come upon him. Again he well-nigh sinks in despair.
V. Care concerning provision for the future. You, my poorer brethren, will understand what we mean. Most, if not all of you, have to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. We meet you looking careworn, anxious, depressed; joy has departed from you, and trial wears you down. Very many, we fear most of you, increase these cares and troubles by carrying them yourself instead of casting them on Jesus; and you lose much of the joy that religion affords, because you refuse to see a Father’s hand in all that befalls you. But to you, who are the Lord’s own dear people, we say, yet a little while and these cares shall be over.
VI. The loss of the near and the dear. But look on to blessed reunion in Christ. (Henry J. Berguer.)
At Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.--
Two ideas are here brought together,--fulness of joy, and the presence of God. Joy is the realisation of God’s presence in heaven. This absolute necessity for some distinct and uniform characteristic in order to the enjoyment of heaven seems to be very generally forgotten. The general idea is that everyone is to be perfectly happy there, according to his own inclinations. Heaven is not a place in which the evil disposed could find pleasure if they were put there. Consider what is happiness. On what it depends. Happiness is a relative term. In circumstances precisely the same, one man would be happy and another miserable. To produce happiness, circumstances and character--position and disposition--must agree, and if they do not, either must change so as to become suited to the other. If a man who is now wicked would be happy in heaven, his character must become changed to suit his circumstances. Our Lord Jesus has secured for all who believe on Him the free pardon of all sins. He has opened to all a heaven which they never could have earned by their own acts. But He has never abolished the necessary qualification for actual admittance there. (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
On the presence of God in a future state
In the early age of the world those explicit discoveries of a state of immortality which we enjoy had not yet been given to mankind. But in every age God has permitted such hopes to afford consolation and support to those who served Him.
I. The hope of the Psalmist in his present state. “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” There are different paths or courses of conduct, which may be pursued by men in this world; a path which leads to life and happiness, and a path which issues in death and destruction. These opposite lines of conduct are determined by the choice which men make of virtue or of vice; and hence men are divided into two great classes, according as their inclinations lead them to good or to evil. The path of life is often a rough and difficult path, and it conducts us up a steep ascent. The hope that good men entertain is, that this path of life shall be shown them by God; that, when their intentions are upright, God will both instruct them concerning the road which leads to true happiness, and will assist them to pursue it successfully. In all revelation there is no doctrine more comfortable than this, that good men are pursuing a path which God has discovered and pointed out to them. Every path in which He is the conductor must be honourable, must be safe, must bring them in the end to felicity. The Divine Being will never desert those who are endeavouring to follow out the path which He has shown them. With Him there is no oblique purpose to turn Him aside from favouring the cause of goodness. No promise that He has made shall be allowed to fail.
II. The termination of these hopes in a future state. All happiness assuredly dwells with God. The “fountain of life” is justly said to be with Him. Whatever gladdens the hearts of men or angels with any real and satisfactory joy comes from heaven. Every approach to God must be an approach to felicity. The enjoyment of His immediate presence must be the consummation of felicity. The whole of what is implied in arriving at the presence of the Divinity we cannot expect to comprehend. Surrounded now with obscurity, no hope more transporting can be opened to a good man than that a period is to come when he shall be allowed to draw nearer to the Author of his existence, and to enjoy the sense of His presence. In order to convey some idea of that future bliss, by such an image as we can now employ, let the image be taken from the most glorious representative of the Supreme Being, the sun in the heavens. There are two sublime and expressive views of the Divine Essence given us in Scripture, On which it may be edifying that our thoughts should rest for a little--
(1) God is Light. The revelation of His presence infers a complete diffusion of light and knowledge among all who partake of that presence. This forms a primary ingredient of happiness. Ignorance, or the want of light, is the source of all our present misconduct, and of all our misfortunes. The light of God’s presence not only banishes the miseries which were the effects of former darkness, but also confers the most exquisite enjoyment.
(2) God is Love. His presence must, of course, diffuse love. Heaven implies a society, and the felicity of that society is constituted by the perfection of love and goodness flowing from the presence of the God of love. Hence follows the entire purification of human nature from all those malevolent passions which have so long rendered our abode on earth the abode of misery. Considering God under these two illustrious characters, which are given of Him in Scripture as Light and as Love, it follows that in His presence there must be fulness of joy. Remember that, in order to arrive at the presence of God, the path of life must previously be shown to us by Him, and in this path we must persevere to the end. These two things cannot be disjoined, a virtuous life and a happy eternity. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)
I. Our truest notions of heaven are derived from considerations rather of what it is not than of what it is. How glorious a liberty it will be to attain “the redemption of our body.” Think of the toil it has to undergo, the distempers and pains to which it is subject. But then, we shall be out of the reach of these. There will be no sickness, no withering old age; no poor shall cry for bread, none shall thirst or hunger any more. And there will be no more death. No, not of the irrational creation; the sheep and cattle will be slaughtered no more. And there will be no more sin. Then the nations learn war no more. Sin is the root of all our miseries. But days of innocence that we cannot know here will be realised there. Such are some of its negative blessings.
II. Let us consider some of its positive blessings. The happiness of heaven is occasionally described under the most captivating forms of rural pleasure. We read of its green pastures, its clear fountains, its rivers of pleasures. When I sometimes walk in a garden, amidst fruits and flowers, and birds that sing among the branches, I feel relieved in turning to those promises which hold out to us, as it were, a renewal and restoration of these calm delights, in an unchangeable world, in the paradise of God. And sometimes the state of blessedness is likened to a city; and its brilliancy and magnificence are described. See the description, in the Revelation, of the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Such is the residence which God has prepared for His people. There they will pass, not a solitary existence, but will form a united and happy society together. All jarring interests, all selfish and discordant passions unknown. And then we shall meet the holy and illustrious dead: all who have walked with God on earth, or suffered for the testimony of Jesus. To see there, perhaps, those who led us to Christ, and our parents who watched and wept and prayed over our souls, and the children who followed their good example. Above all, we shall meet the Lord Jesus there. He has promised this to all His faithful ones. The evil hearts of men are made known by their desertion of God, but so are also all faithful souls which confess Him when all the world is against Him. How will His faithful flock hail their triumphant Shepherd, when He appears in glory! And then, there is the beatific vision of God--Himself unveiled without a cloud. But we have not now faculties for so high a theme. And these joys are for all who will accept Christ. We could never reach them by ourselves. Receive the Gospel in its fulness and it will prepare you for them. We, then, pray you, “Be reconciled to God.” (H. Woodward, A. M.)
The future happiness of God’s people set before the unconverted
God appeals to us by various motives. Amongst others this, which is addressed to our natural desire for happiness,--the blessedness of the children of God in another world. In the hope that some may be constrained thereby to seek Christ, we would consider the words before as. Now were the promises of our text to be realised, then, what in a few years would be our happiness?
I. It would be complete. “Fulness of joy” is there. No more evil. Especially no more sin. Therein “dwelleth righteousness.” It may be a far more glorious earth than ours, but this is not the substance of our hope. That hope is for freedom from sin; no more tormenting passions, no more envy, or anger, or tyrannical appetites. And there will be no more sight of evil in others. And no more temptations of Satan, And no more exposure to the wrath of God, for there shall be “no more curse.” And death and sickness and pain shall be no more. Nor toil, nor weariness, nor want, for the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want. And then we shall see His glory and His bliss. And all this will make us like Him. Our body shall be changed “like unto His glorious body.” That was revealed, in fact, at the Transfiguration. And what is better, we shall be like Him in mind as well as form. When we see His wisdom, goodness, holiness, truth and love, then shall we contract something of the same glory. And we shall share in His glorious bliss. It will be “fulness of joy.” Each as happy as his soul can be.
II. Then joys will be as eternal as they are complete. Death shall not take them from us, nor will they be liable to decay. It is an inheritance “incorruptible” and that “fadeth not away.” And yet many “make light” of these promises. They have no heart for such a heaven. May God change their heart. You, whose hope this is, live as those who look for such a heaven. (Baptist W. Noel, M. A.)
Nature and excellencies of the happiness of heaven
I. What is meant by the joy and pleasures at God’s right hand.
1. There are pleasures in heaven capable of giving joy and satisfaction.
2. There is a communication of these pleasures unto them who are in the immediate presence of God.
3. The saints have joy in the vision of God, the immediate fruition of Him and their likeness to Him.
II. The excellencies of these joys as expressed in the text. They are spiritual and heavenly, pure without mixture; a multitude without number; a fulness of them without want; a constancy without interruption or diminution, and a perpetuity without end. (James Robe, M. A.)
Little joy to be found on earth
The ancient Thracians used to keep a box in their houses into which they dropped a white stone to mark the day when they were happy, as it was an event which so seldom occurred. Lord Nelson wrote to a friend, “I am persuaded there is no true happiness in this present state.” Such was the mournful experience of one of the world’s heroes, on whom plenty, pleasures and glory combined to wait and minister. Lord Byron writes to the poet Moore, “I have been counting over the days when I was happy since I was a boy, and cannot make them more than eleven, I wonder if I shall be able to make them a dozen before I die.”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26