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Be merciful unto me, O God.
I. A blessed religious exercise.
1. Praying. “Be merciful unto me,” etc. An epitome of all true prayer. Mercy is what we need; to remove our sense of guilt, to break our moral chains, to clear our spiritual vision, to quicken and harmoniously develop all the powers of our higher nature.
2. Trusting. “My soul trusteth in Thee.” This implies--
(1) A knowledge of the trustworthiness of God.
(2) A supreme love for the excellency of God.
3. Resolving. “Yea, in the shadow,” etc. God is the natural Protector of souls.
4. Hoping (Psalms 57:3). All godly souls are in a waiting attitude.
II. A wretched social condition. Among savage, crafty and deadly enemies (Psalms 57:4; Psalms 57:6). That men should feel thus to their fellow-men argues two things.
1. That morally they are in an abnormal condition.
2. That sin is essentially malignant. Sin, when it enters the soul, scorches all benevolent sympathy. Sin never fails to make its subject a tormenting devil.
III. A happy moral state. Moral fixation, or godly decision of soul, “My heart is fixed.” In our unregenerate state the heart is unsettled, divided, distracted, and herein is its misery. This fixation originates--
1. High happiness. “I will sing and give praise. Awake, psaltery and harp,” etc.
2. High worship. “I will praise Thee, O Lord,” etc. (Homilist.)
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing
The writer begins in deep distress; but he prays himself out of the pit; and in the end he rises to a sunny height of security and faith, where he praises the God who has delivered him.
I. The art of prayer (Psalms 57:1-6). Here he, first, clearly and fully describes his trouble. This is part of the art of prayer. It is often because we have nothing definite to pray about that our devotions are unsatisfactory. God is as interested in the trials of His people to-day as He was in those of David. Next, he argues his ease. And this also is part of the art of prayer. God likes us to put our intellect as well as our feeling into our prayers. His first argument is that he is trusting in God (Psalms 57:1): he is trusting, he says, as the fledgeling cowers beneath the wing of the mother bird. Can God leave in the lurch any one who is thus depending on Him? But in Psalms 57:2 he uses a still stronger argument: he appeals to God’s character, calling Him “God that performeth”--or rather perfecteth--“all things for me.” God the Perfecter, who, when He has begun a good work, must finish it--how can He leave the career of His servant in its broken and incomplete condition? This is an argument we can all use, and it is one which cannot fail with God. He has now raised himself to complete confidence that God will deliver him; and to this he gives exquisite expression in the third verse, describing Mercy and Truth as two angels, whom God will send forth to rescue him from his necessities. In the same way in the 23rd psalm Goodness and Mercy are represented as attendants, following a good man all the days of his life, watching over his footsteps and always at his service.
II. The art of praise (Psalms 57:7-11). First, praise begins with the fixing of the heart--“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” The flutter of excitement is over, and he is able to collect his powers in perfect repose. But, secondly, they are not to go to sleep, though they are in repose; for he says, “Awake up, my glory; awake psaltery and harp; I myself will awake early.” “My glory” is a name in Scripture for the soul, and surely a very fine one; the soul is the glory of man. But it needs to be awaked to engage in God’s praise. There is music in it, as there is in a piano when it is shut; but the instrument must be opened and the keys touched. The music in our souls is allowed to slumber too much. The words, “I myself will awake early,” ought rather to read, “I will awake the dawn.” David was to be so early astir at his devotions that, instead of the dawn awaking him, he would awake it: he would summon it to arise out of the east and help him to praise his Maker. But it is not Nature alone he would inspire with his enthusiasm: so full is he of joy in God that he wishes to communicate his emotions to all his fellow-creatures (Psalms 57:9). How marelously has this wish been fulfilled! The Psalter has been translated into scores of languages, and wherever it has been known it has been loved. Finally he gives the reasons for praise (Psalms 57:10), “For Thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and Thy truth unto the clouds.” These will always be the reasons for praise that is truly hearty--to know the mercy that is as far above our sins as the dome of heaven is above the earth, and to know the faithfulness which, having begun a good work in us, will complete it unto the day of Christ. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
In the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge.--
Christ our refuge
What a beautiful illustration is the city of refuge of olden time of Christ as our Refuge! We have heard the solemn words, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” How can we escape from death? There is a Refuge, even Jesus; and we can hide in Him and be safe.
1. The cities of refuge were so scattered over the country that one of them could be easily reached from any part. “Kedesh” in the north, and “Hebron” in the south, while “Shechem” lay midway. “Bezer” was situated in the flat country, while “Ramoth” and “Golan” were on elevated ground. So our Refuge is easily reached by any one, it is “whosoever believeth in Him,” and “him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” It is the simple coming to Him and the taking Him at His word.
2. The gates of the cities of refuge were open day and night, that the man-slayer might enter at any time. And we, too, may go to our Refuge at any time. He is ever ready to hear our cry and to rescue us, and to save us; but let us not delay.
3. Any one might flee thither, the stranger as well as the Israelite. So it is with Christ: all may come to Him, of whatever nationality (Galatians 3:28).
4. When the man-slayer reached the city of refuge, he had to plead his cause to the elders of that city, and then, if necessary, before the congregation of the children of Israel; and it was only when his innocence of the crime of murder had been proved that he was allowed to take refuge there; otherwise he was delivered up to the avenger of blood to be slain. But in Christ the murderer may take refuge, and find pardon and peace; the worst of sinners have found refuge there.
5. Then we read that the man-slayer who had fled for refuge should stay in that city, for if he went out of the gate at any time the avenger of blood might slay him, and his blood would be upon his own head. He should have remained in the city whither he had fled. So with us; if we are not in Christ the Refuge, we are out at our own risk. (L. Shorey.)
My soul is among lions.
Some of you cannot say this, and you ought to be very thankful that you cannot. You live under very favourable circumstances. But there are many that are far less happily placed, and we are bound to remember them, and to sympathize with them. Now, when may a Christian man truly say, “My soul is among lions”? lie may say this when he is surrounded by those, whether in his home or place of business, who reproach and rebuke, jest and jeer at him, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Many are so placed. Now, I would speak to such as are amongst these lions--dogs would be almost a better name for them.
I. By way of comfort.
1. You will have fellowship with your Lord and His Church. He and they had to bear what you have, and far worse.
2. You should thereby be driven nearer to God. Be sure that you live near to God.
3. Endeavour to be very calm and happy. Take as little notice of the scoff as ever you can. Very seldom defend yourselves. The hammer strikes hard upon the anvil, but the anvil wears out many hammers.
4. Remember that the lions are chained. See the history of Daniel.
5. If your soul is among lions, there is another lion there--the lion of the tribe of Judah. The Covenanters have said that they never had such Sabbaths in Scotland as when they were hunted amongst the crags and glens by Claverhouse’s dragoons. Great power, then, attended the Word.
6. You will come out of the lions’ den unharmed. 7, And soon you shall be among the angels.
II. By way of advice.
1. If you dwell among lions do not irritate them. Some Christians do, and so have made matters bad for themselves. You cannot ram religion down people’s throats, or scold people into it.
2. Do not roar yourself. Do not meet railing with railing, hard words with hard words. Do not get soured in spirits. Overcome evil with good.
3. But do not be cowardly. A lion is afraid of a man if he looks him steadily in the face. Courage is what is wanted.
4. Do not go out alone among them--take your Lord with you.
5. If you feel very weak about it you may pray the Lord in His providence to move you to quieter quarters. But, better still--
6. Ask for grace to stop with the lions and tame them. Sometimes the Christian should say, “God has made me strong, I will stop here and fight it out. My Master would have me go where I am most wanted, and so I will stay here.” Do not be afraid of sinners, but seek to save them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Thy glory be above all the earth.
The Lord alone exalted
I. As the absolute decree of heaven. For--
1. His own glory is the first principle with God.
2. The ordination of Christ to His official work put Him under responsibility to effect this.
3. The principle is essential to the nature and existence of God.
II. The law of thy covenant of grace. All the leading truths of the Bible contribute to the glory of God--election, regeneration. The union between Christ and His Church. Redemption.
III. The language of every believing heart. For it is his desire, purpose and endeavour that God may be exalted. (Joseph Irons.)
My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.
The heart fixed
He summons his powers at once for the execution of his purpose No sooner is the resolve taken, than at once to the practice of the same. How striking and beautiful it is! Oh! it is well when the practice thus follows the principle, when the execution is contemporaneous with the purpose. “I will awake early,” the psalmist says. The figure there is exceedingly beautiful. It is in the original, “I will awake the early dawn”; not “I will awake when the morning breaks,” but “I will awaken up the morning.” “I will be beforehand with it; I will challenge the day.” Now, this purpose and determination results from a peculiar state of heart--My heart is fixed. Therefore let us consider--
I. This state of heart. “O God, my heart is fixed”--all is suspended upon that. When that is the case, there is salvation; till then, nothing is done. When that is done, all is done. The angels rejoice in heaven, and God Almighty, the Father of our Lord, is glorified. The heart, as we all know, is the man; all else of the man is governed by the heart. The physical and intellectual powers, what are they? The whole complex machinery of our constitution, what is it? Simply the servant of the heart. “Aye,” but some one will perhaps say, “the question is, upon what is the heart fixed?” Now, really, that is not the question. It is a question according to man’s mode of thinking, and according to man’s mode of acting, perhaps.
II. I grant you, there are ten thousand things that solicit the heart, and after which the heart of man runs; but there is but one thing in the universe upon which the heart can be “fixed.” Why, unless the object is fixed itself, how is it possible for the heart to be fixed? It may be directed towards, but how can it be fixed? If the thing is not fixed, what is fixed? One thing--God is fixed, and it is a simple truth that man is never fixed until he is fixed upon God. Surely a house, as to its fixedness, depends upon the foundation. Build a house on the sand, and is it fixed? You may fix it there as you think, but is it fixed? The foundation shifts, and what becomes of the house? Oh! the heart can only be fixed according to the fixedness of that on which it rests. (Capel Molyneux.)
I. On what was David’s heart fixed?
1. On God and His service.
2. On the diligent study of the lively oracles of God.
3. On the duty of prayer.
4. On the grand purpose of furthering the interests of Zion.
II. Why should we do likewise?
1. Because indecision degrades the character of man.
2. There is no solid and substantial reason why the heart should not be
fixed on God.
3. The nature of spiritual religion as developed in the Gospel, requires and supposes this fixedness of heart.
4. If we are not thus decided, we shall never accomplish anything truly good and great in the service of God. It is the man of settled views and fixed purposes before whom obstacles, that would be unconquerable to others, give way. (Evangelist.)
There are many temptations to a man to wander in doubt and uncertainty. He is driven hither and thither by doubts of self, of God, of revelation, of the past, and of the future. But there is no rest for that man until he is able to exclaim, “My heart is fixed.”
I. There is a possibility of positive religion.
1. The word “positive” is a species of cant phrase much used by doubters and Agnostics. But in this case we may strictly apply it to the state of a true believer. The inquirer has reached a state of satisfaction. He has found what he needed. There is for him now no further tossing about on the tempest of fear or anxiety.
2. There is something very blessed in this state of satisfaction. It is that of a mariner having arrived in port, of a student having attained the goal he coveted, the architect having seen the realization of his plans.
3. This state, too, is essentially a religious one. Nothing earthly can afford positiveness. There can be no certainty in any human act or any human hope; but in the search after God there can be, and is, perfect finality.
II. This state of satisfaction is a state of praise.
1. The key to open the door of heaven is praise. The solution of all doubts is praise. The end of all difficulties is praise.
2. The state, then, of our own miserable darkness and unrest rests upon the fact that we are always looking on ourselves, not on God. If we look on ourselves, we shall naturally see our own defects, sorrows. But if we look to His brightness we shall lose sight of all that is dark, and in His certainty we shall find an eternal stand and an unchanging hope. (Homilist.)
The fixed heart
I. The fixed heart. For a fixed heart I must have a fixed determination, and not a mere fluctuating and soon broken intention. I must have a steadfast affection, and not merely a fluttering love, that, like some butterfly, lights now on this, now on that, sweet flower, but which has a flight straight as a carrier-pigeon to its cot, which shall bear me direct to God. And I must have a continuous realization of my dependence upon God, and of God’s sweet sufficiency, going with me all through the dusty day. Is our average Christianity fairly represented by such words as these of my text? Do they not rather make us burn with shame when we think that a man who lived in the twilight of God’s revelation, and was weighed upon by distresses such as wrung this psalm out of him, should have poured out this resolve which we, who live in the sunlight and are flooded with blessings, find it hard to echo, with sincerity and truth? Fixed hearts are rare amongst the Christians of this day.
II. The manifold hindrances that we meet to such a uniformity of our religious life. There is, for example, the tendency to fluctuation which besets all our feelings, and especially our religious emotions. What would happen to a steam-engine if the stoker now piled on coals and then fell asleep by the furnace door? One moment the boiler would be ready to burst; at another moment there would be no steam to drive anything. That is the sort of alternation that goes on amongst hosts of Christians to-day. Their springtime and summer are followed certainly by an autumn and a bitter winter. Every moment of elevation has a corresponding moment of depression. But is there any necessity for such alternations? Some degree of fluctuation there will always be. The very exercise of emotion tends to its extinction. Varying conditions of health and other externals will affect the buoyancy and clear-sightedness and vivacity of the spiritual life. Only a barometer that is out of order will always stand at set fair. The vane which never points but to south is rusty and means nothing. But while there cannot be absolute uniformity, there might and should be a far nearer approach to an equable temperature of a much higher range than the readings of most professing Christians give. There is, indeed, a dismally uniform arctic temperature in many of them. Their hearts are fixed, truly, but fixed on earth. Their frost, is broken by no thaw, their tepid formalism interrupted by no disturbing enthusiasm. We do not speak now of these, but of those who have moments of illumination, of communion, of submission of will, which fade all too soon. To such we would earnestly say that these moments may be prolonged and made more continuous. We need not be at the mercy of our own unregulated feelings. We can control our hearts, and keep them fixed, even if they should wish to wander.
III. The means by which such a uniform character may be impressed upon our religious experience. A man climbing a hill, though he has to look to his feet, when in the slippery places, and all his energies are expended in hoisting himself upwards by every projection and crag, will do all the better if he lifts his eye to the summit that gleams above him. So we, in our upward course, shall make the best progress when we consciously and honestly try to look beyond the things seen and temporal, even whilst we are working in the midst, of them, and keep clear before us the summit to which our faith tends. If we lived in the endeavour to realize that great white throne, and Him that sits upon it, we should find it easier to say, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” But be sure of this, there will be no such uniformity of religious experience throughout our lives unless there be frequent times in them in which we go into our chambers and shut our doors about us, and hold communion with our Father in secret. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The fixed heart
Speak to those who have decided, but, who may be loosening their hold on God under the strain of life. No better description can be given of the influence of life on the Christian than this--it tends to loosen the bonds. They need to be constantly refixed.
1. Some disciples went back under the strain of Christ’s higher teachings.
2. Some forsook under the strain of Christ’s sufferings.
3. Some were hindered in running--“Ye did run well, who hath hindered you?”
4. Some were enticed by false doctrine.
5. Some were borne away by the love of the world.
6. Some are reproached for being neither cold nor hot.
These old readings of Christian living suit us now. Then times of refixing ourselves are needed. What fixity should we try to reach?
I. Fixity may concern the intellect. Show the importance of firm and ever-growing mental hold of truth and of God. Fixity for the intellect can only come with growth.
II. Fixity may concern the will. A power of resolve may shape a life. Illustrate by familiar tale in John Foster’s “Essays,” showing the power of decision.
III. Fixity should concern the heart. “My heart is fixed, O God.” The true life-force is from the heart,. Heart things are the lasting things. To the heart God appeals. The heart God wants. Intellectual fixity may not be possible. Will-fixity may depend very much on disposition. Heart-fixity tuiumphs over all externality. It concerns the principle and spirit of the life. Fixed everywhere and in everything for ,God. How broad, comprehensive, practical! (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
The prepared heart
This psalm is very strangely compounded. It is described in the title as the utterance of David when he fled from Saul and hid himself in the cave. It is the cry of a man beset with trouble and danger; yet all through it, we are startled by sudden transitions from cries for help and stories of wrong to cheerful expressions of hope and outbursts of praise. This condition of hopefulness and of cheerful steadfastness in the midst of trouble is one of those things which always puzzle a mere man of the world, but which present no mystery to a soul which walks with God. But the fact goes much farther than cheerfulness in trouble. The word “fixed” literally means “prepared,” “fit,” “ready.” “O God, my heart is prepared.” It is about this habitual preparation of heart that I wish to speak. The ideal perfect Christian life would be a life in contact with God along its whole line. It would be everywhere and always in communion with God. God’s will and God’s love would fill and move in every inlet and curve of the life, as the ocean in its gulfs and creeks and round its promontories; and upon this high plane the general tenor of the life would be more even. It hardly needs to be said that we do not live in this condition, and that we do need certain special influences to recall our minds to heavenly things, to lift them into the atmosphere of rest and of devotion, and to keep them from drifting away into worldliness and sensuality. God has recognized the need and has met it. He has given the Sabbath with its rest from labour, He has given the sanctuary with its quickening influences, He has commended the season of special prayer. We are led up to these Pisgahs and Hermons of spiritual vision, to the end that we may carry the power of these visions into life’s common routine, to sanctify and to elevate that. These things are not an end unto themselves. The disciples were not permitted to stay on the Transfiguration Mount, but that glorious vision strengthened and kindled their hearts for the hard mission for which they were chosen. These exceptional experiences in our lives are intended to foster in us that constantly prepared, fixed heart of which David here sings: the heart that shall be prepared for praise, and for trust, and for worship, not only while sitting in heavenly places, but also among lions, among them that are set on fire, when the net has been prepared for the steps and the soul is bowed down, amid the fret and worry of life, and on the dead level of daily duty and care. (Marvin R. Vincent, D. D)
A fixed heart
There are many who doubt whether it is possible for a man to-day to say, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” There are so many ideas that have changed in only a generation, there are so many views that have broadened, and there are so many beliefs that have been entirely given up, that it seems impossible any more for a man’s heart to be fixed. It seems like deliberately shutting the eyes and stopping the ears to hope that the change is all over. A Christian’s heart is fixed on that which is almost as old as the hills. The essence of your faith, the solid core of it, Abraham had almost four thousand years ago. Our faith in God is Abraham’s faith, only fuller and lighted up with all the glory that shone from the face of Jesus Christ. It is stronger and surer for every heart that has been fixed by it since Abraham. Has it not worn well, this faith of ours? It has lived on through the downfall of five great universal kingdoms, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. It went down to Egypt with Jacob; it went forth to Canaan with Moses. It battled with the heathen. It rose in triumph under David; it sank back under defeat and destruction. It rebuilt its Holy City. It waited for Christ; it founded the Church and charged the apostles. It worked in the mines; it died at the stake; it endured persecution and loss. It fought the barbarians and converted them. It saved Europe. It kept strong when men were ignorant and debased. It quickened with the Renaissance; it purified itself in the Reformation. It fainted during the eighteenth century; it rallied again and rode the storm of the French Revolution. It burst out again in the nineteenth century in splendid missionary zeal. It is to-day stronger, broader, surer than ever it was before. The greatest thing about a man is the fixedness of his heart. When men say they cannot be sure of believing to-morrow what they believe to-day, they do not know of what kind of eternal stuff a man’s soul is made. The very essence of belief is that it is something never to be changed, fixed and eternal. If there is no eternal belief there is no belief at all. Belief means that, no matter what may happen, it will stand fast; belief is the insight of an eternal soul looking beyond time and chance. The man who has not come to believe in something that will last on to all eternity has not yet found out what there is down deep in his soul. The best thing there is about us men and women is our loyalty, our power of standing fast, of pledging our souls for time and eternity. Because we are eternal souls, we cannot help believing eternally. We want loyalty and the willingness to wait. When we meet with a doubt or a difficulty we ought to wait until Christ speaks. Shame on us if the reading of a single book, or a single argument of an unbeliever, can divert the stream of the faith of four thousand years from flowing through us and refreshing us. There are men and women to-day doubting God because of their misfortunes or their sufferings, although from the dawn of history men have transformed their lives and glorified humanity through their trust. Read all the bucks you like, but remember that Christian faith is not an argument, but it is an affair of loyalty. Your mind ought to receive new impressions, but your heart ought to be fixed. (John Tunis, B. A.)
The advantages of a fixed heart
A garden that is watered by sudden showers is more uncertain in its fruits than when it is refreshed by a constant stream; so when our thoughts are sometimes upon good things and then run off, when they do but take a glance, as it were, upon holy objects, and then run away, there is not such fruit brought into the soul as when our minds by meditation do dwell upon them. The rays of the sun may warm us, but they do not inflame unless they are contracted in a burning-glass; so some slight thoughts of heavenly things may warm us a little, but will never inflame the soul till they be fixed by close meditation. Therefore David tells us his “heart was fixed,” and saith the same concerning the frame of a good man. (H. G. Salter.)
I will sing and give praise.--
The true source of spiritual song
The text affirms a fact, and declares a resolution. “My heart is fixed;” this is the fact; and hence, apparently, the resolution, “I will sing and give praise.
I. The meaning of the words. “My heart is fixed.”
1. On what the psalmist had fixed his heart. On God. Everywhere else there might be darkness and despair, but here there were light, consolation and security. As he recalls to remembrance all that God had already done for him, and all that he had promised yet farther to do, his spirit enters a serener world, and he refrains from his complaint against his inveterate enemies. And observe, that in fixing his heart on God, the psalmist more especially contemplates those gentler features of the Divine character, on which the regards of the guilty and dependent creature must ever most complacently rest (Psalms 57:2-3).
2. How, or with what sentiments, it was so fixed. The expressions of confiding regard which occur throughout the psalm indicate that the heart of the writer was fixed on God by faith. In faith it is that he exclaims, “My soul trusteth in Thee,” etc.; and it is in the same faith, too, that he purposes to pray, when he says, “I will cry unto God most high, unto God that performeth for me.” Nor could his heart have been otherwise fixed on God, than by the virtue of that all-important principle which lies at the very source of practical godliness, admitting the light by which Divine truth irradiates the soul, and constituting the assimilating power, by whose energy the things believed are converted into the bread of life.
II. If the heart be thus fixed on God, praise and devout song will be the unfailing result; for fixedness of heart, or steadfastness of faith, is the only proper condition of the soul for these sacred exercises. We may use vain repetitions without a fixed heart. But if we would pour out our whole souls before God in those fervid and earnest supplications which, and which alone, we know to be acceptable; and if we would attain a humble assurance that we have been heard in heaven, we must go to the altar with fixed hearts. When, again, with the psalmist, we would “sing and give praise,” the mercy of God will be brought home in clearest and most lively apprehensions to our hearts, and then, instead of finding it difficult to pour forth the melody of joy and salvation, that will become the only possible mode of giving form and voice to the sentiments that swell and glow within us. (W. Stevenson.)
Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.
Art and worship
Art and Worship--these stand in our day like two rival spirits, contending for the mastery in the religious life of this country. In all our churches, alike in country parishes as in our great cities, where popular concerts and music for the million has done so much to raise the standard of taste, there is everywhere the same sense of unquiet. To some, music is the heavenly maid, and the more elaborate and artistic the more their soul is dissolved, as Milton describes his in ecstasies under Church music--
“There let the pealing organ blow
To the full-voiced choir below,
In service high, and anthems clear,
So may with sweetness through mine ear
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all heaven before mine eyes.”
But all men have not this sensibility to sound. The inner spirit is not reached in this way by concord of sweet sounds. There are some to whom music is only the least disagreeable of noises. But putting aside the two extremes of the highly-trained ear, delicately strung to vibrate within at the least note of music, and the ear dull, if not deaf, to its sweet influences, the vast majority of mankind are in the middle state on the subject. They think of music very much as the lady who, when asked how she liked the art, made answer that music was good when it was good. Now, though that sounds very much like a truism, it conveys an important thought, which is this--that music only answers the end it was intended for when it stirs the soul by quickening the sensibilities. What I mean is, that through the sense of hearing a quiver of emotion is borne in on the soul, nameless and undefined, and that this taken up into the soul is there translated into thought and clothed in some intelligible form. I pity the car which is unable to be the channel through which impressions of this kind pass which enter the soul as sound, and are there transmuted into spiritual impressions. But I know that many are not impressionable enough to be set thinking in this way on high and heavenly themes. On the contrary, elaborate music acts on them almost as a disturbing element in devotion, and they are set thinking not so much of the words of the Te Deum, as of the execution of the choir. To the choir let me say that the higher the class of the music the more carefully it should be executed. It is an infliction to a trained ear to hear high symphonies and sonatas where tune is secondary, and the stress depends on time and tone, rendered amiss by a careless and half-trained choir. Now let me say a word to the congregation, and particularly to the least musical portion, as I assume the majority to be. Ought there not, in the first place, to be some give and take on your part? A service has three parts--the prayers, which are for all, without exception; the praise, which is also for all who can follow to take part in; and the sermon, in which the preacher alone speaks, and all listen with as much attention and interest as he can draw out. “Awake up, lute and harp; I myself will awake right early.” The psalmist first calls up sounds of praise from wood and wire--the mere mechanical instruments of music. But does he stop there? If so, we should never rise above the mere externals of worship. Our churches would be no better than concert halls, and our services only oratorios. But not to end thus, he goes on to say, “I myself will awake right early.” He means that the praise which began with mechanical effort, as of lute and harp, shall go on and rise into the higher region of spiritual service. I myself will awake, and that, too, right early--i.e. with all my soul and strength. If music does not go on to this it fails of its object, and does harm instead of good. Our aim, then, should be to spiritualize our services. The senses are to buoy up the spirit, as a Santa Philomela, borne aloft on a network of the expanded wings of swans. This may be a fancy, but it symbolizes a great thought of the relation of art to worship. We shall never fully reach it on this side of eternity. But in heaven the hallelujah of the long thanksgiving psalm will be the perfect marriage and union of art and worship. (J. B. Heard, M. A.)
I myself will awake early.
The proper subject of such a text as this would be the excellence of early rising, especially when we would serve God. The dew of dawn should be consecrated to devotion. In the original it is, “I will awaken the morning.” Early rising is an economy of time, an aid to health, and thus it doubly lengthens life. Our first hours are our best. But we wish to speak now rather of the awakening than to plead for the “early.” It is bad to awake late, but what shall be said of those who never awake at all? Better late than never, but with some, it is to be feared, it will be never. Therefore I would ring the alarm-bell till the sluggard cries, with new-born determination, “I myself will awake.” In the world people are, and must be, awake; let it be likewise in the Church.
I. When we would praise God. Our text is connected with the duty of praise. Let us be awake in such praise, both in private and in public. How often do we hear half-awake singing! We shall not praise at all if our souls be not awake. Sleeping birds sing not. When the three holy children sung in the fire their song was sweet indeed; yet had they not been thoroughly in earnest, they had poured forth no holy hymn.
II. Wakefulness is a great need in the entire spiritual life. It is a great want of the Church now. Slumber is so natural to us. Our talk about the things of God is very much like the talk of sleepers. “Yet,” says one, “I hope we act consistently.” I trust you do, but there are many people who walk in their sleep, and, alas! I know some Christian professors who appear to he trying very hazardous feats of sleep-walking just now. Some somnambulists have been able to walk in places where, had they been awake, they never would have been able to endure the dizzy height; and I see some Christians running awful risks, which I think they would never venture upon unless Shay had fallen into the deep sleep of carnal security. Dissenting Churches I know best about, and there are many where the minister preaches in his sleep, where prayer is offered in sleep, and even the communion is celebrated amid a profound spiritual slumber. Adam slept soundly when the taking away of his rib did not awaken him, but what shall we say of those who startle not though they are losing all the strength and glory of their souls? But we must wake up, for we are in an enemy’s country. Did not the Master say, “Watch”?
III. Certain ways of keeping yourselves awake. Make it a matter of prayer. Use means; set the alarum of a good conscience, and mind you never tamper with it: attend an earnest ministry; let in the sunlight upon your souls, the light of the Sun of Righteousness; take example from the activity of the world. “I cannot sleep after such an hour,” says one, “for I hear the tramp of those who are going into the city, and the grind of the street traffic.” Read the biographies of eminent servants of Christ who have been full of zeal for Him. They will shame us out of our sloth. Above all, hear the trumpet of the second coming, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.” Let that awaken and keep us awake.
IV. The great and urgent need that the unconverted sinner should awake. A deep and horrible sleep holds you fast. If it were not so, you would perceive your danger and be alarmed. God has many ways of waking His elect ones. See Paul. The garden at Philippi. Augustine. Have a care lest you awake too late. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I will praise Thee, O Lord, among the people.
I. Its theme. Mercy and truth.
1. The blessings which flow from them reach to all men.
2. They are worthy of the unreserved confidence of all men.
II. The spirit of its offerer.
1. Strong confidence in God.
2. Fervent gratitude and reverent admiration towards God.
III. Its enthusiasm. Seen in his resolution to praise God--
1. With the noblest powers of his being.
2. With choice instrumental accompaniment.
3. With affectionate zeal.
IV. Its sphere. Universal.
V. Its imperfection (Psalms 57:5). Our most reverent and most enthusiastic praise is inadequate to so sublime and glorious a theme. (Anon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 57". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20