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How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!
A good man in relation to the scenes of public worship
As deprived of these privileges. In his deprivation he reveals--
1. A devout admiration for them (Psalms 84:1). It is the law of mind, that blessings when lost always appear to us more precious. Lost health, lost property, lost friends, lost privileges.
2. An intense longing for them (Psalms 84:2). It is “the living God “that gives these scenes attractions to the soul. It is not the sublimity of the site, the splendour of the architecture, or the magnificence of the services, that the godly soul hungers for, but “the living God.”
3. A high estimation of them (Psalms 84:3). What the house is to the sparrow, and the nest to the swallow, true worship is to the devout soul--the home, the resting-place.
II. As in quest of these privileges (Psalms 84:5). Not only are they blessed whose home is in the sanctuary, and who spend their days in perpetual praise; but those also are blessed who, though at a distance, have God for their strength and help, and press on in pursuit of religious privileges.
1. Though they encounter difficulties, they are still blest (Psalms 84:6).
2. Though they encounter difficulties, they shall with increasing strength pursue their way until they reach their blessed destiny (Psalms 84:7).
III. As in contemplation of these privileges.
1. He prays (Psalms 84:8-9). He invokes the Almighty to attend to his prayers, and to “look upon the face,” or to favour, His “anointed,” that is, the king. What titles he here applies to the Almighty! “O Lord God of Hosts,” “O God of Jacob,” “O God our shield,” etc.
2. He avows the transcendent privileges of public worship (Psalms 84:10).
3. He exults in the relation and beneficence of God (Psalms 84:11). (Homilist.)
Delight in God’s house
I. Longing for God.
1. Soul-hunger (Psalms 84:2). A man in good health enjoys his food, and, when he is hungry, he desires it. But once the soul is quickened, it must have “bread to eat that the world knows not of.” The “heart and flesh cries out for the living God.”
2. God’s altars (Psalms 84:3). The altars of God are suggestive of the forgiveness of sins, of communion, and protection. For there were the various sacrifices made which brought the soul into communion with God, through the burnt offerings, the meat offering, the peace offering, and the sin and trespass offering; there the man who was fleeing for his life might ever find a place of safety and refuge. Having expressed this desire, he ascribes two other titles to the Lord: “my King and my God.” He who would call God his King must yield himself by faith to God, as well as do homage to Him.
3. The blessings of God’s house (Psalms 84:4) “In God’s house everything will be granted to the soul, and nothing be asked of it in return but the praise of Him.”
II. The blessed man is a blessing.
1. The blessed man described (Psalms 84:5). His will and desire, all his powers and purposes are so surrendered to God, that God can use him in blessing others.
2. How the blessed man becomes a blessing (Psalms 84:6). God has ordained that His people, especially those who themselves have been filled and refreshed by His own blessed life, by dwelling in His house, shall be the means of saving the world. What a blessed mission is this; what a glorious privilege!
3. Reflex blessings (Psalms 84:7).
(1) “They go from strength to strength.” Every grace in us is increased by the use of it (Isaiah 40:29-31).
(2) “Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God” (Matthew 25:23).
4. The prayer of the blessed man (Psalms 84:8).
III. The blessings of salvation (Psalms 84:9-12). God is the complete protection of His saints. He is the whole armour with which we clothe ourselves.
1. Complete satisfaction. Sometimes the unbelieving world looks with pity upon the Christian who has turned his back upon all the carnal pleasures of the world; but the answer of the man who has found satisfaction in God and in His service is simple and emphatic (Psalms 84:10). To be such a privileged servant of God is better than to be like Dives in the midst of all his feasting and revelling.
2. Every need supplied (Psalms 84:11). Protection from all evil, and every needful thing He will supply out of His energetic goodness, as the sun causes the earth to be fruitful with every good thing by the power of his rays. Chief among these things is “grace” for the time being, and “glory” for the time to come. What can man want more?
3. A final beatitude (Psalms 84:12). May the Lord of hosts, the God of Jacob, our King and our God, fulfil all His goodness to us in these things, by creating in us a longing thirst and desire, which shall be converted into prayer, and trust, and real possession. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
Delight in God’s house
The great truth which underlies this psalm is that God reveals Himself especially in the sanctuary. In the house of God we find--
II. Peace. As its walls shut out the noises of the world, so its worship shuts out earthly confusion and strife.
III. Spiritual strength. Hearts fail, consciences yield, life-strings snap, because men do not seek the God of Jacob to strengthen them out of Zion. We must bear hardships and sorrows. Every road, from the cradle to the grave, leads through the valley of Baca; but pilgrims to Zion change barrenness to bloom, singing together as they go.
IV. Spiritual Joy. Such delight is wholly disconnected from earthly advantages; it flourishes upon their loss. Pascal wrote, “Happiness is neither within us nor without us; it is the union of ourselves with God.” There is no necessary limit to this joy, none except the capacity of the human spirit. Practical inferences:--
1. A church should be built to manifest God.
2. The worship of the Church should seek the same end. Music, Scripture, prayer, teaching, have but one objects--to draw the soul nearer to God.
3. There is no substitute for the sanctuary. Bigotry may close its doors, but the early Christians consecrate a chapel in the catacombs, and Covenanters make cave or barn or sea-beach a temple. Neglect of the sanctuary proves not abundance, but lack of spiritual life. (Monday Club Sermons.)
A psalm of exile
We seem to see here a spirit chastened by grief, taught by suffering to sing and to pray and to hope. And such is the general tone of the psalms of the dispersion. They remind us of the old and deep lesson, that the chastisements which seem not to be joyous but grievous in the present, will yield hereafter the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby. The psalm falls naturally into strophes.
1. In the first of these, containing the first four verses, he calls to mind and enthusiastically describes his feelings in thinking of the Temple. Nothing is left to the exile but the solace of memory, faith and hope. And memory and imagination, acting by the law of association, call up the details of the scene. He dwells fondly upon the birds nestling as they have been from time immemorial permitted to nestle in the Temple. This thought, that the God of the Temple afforded shelter to the birds of the precincts, swallows, doves, storks, etc., was held by Gentiles no less than Jews. Men of Kyme, says Herodotus, went to the Temple of Apollo, near Miletus, to inquire concerning one who had taken refuge with them from the Persians what they should do, and the oracle replied that he was to be given up to the Persians. One of the men of Kyme ventured to treat the oracle as false, and himself made renewed inquiry. But the same answer was returned. He then went round the Temple, and disturbed the sparrows and other birds who had built their nests in the Temple. Meanwhile there came a voice from the sanctuary to Aristodikos, saying, “Most profane of men, how durst thou do these things? Dost thou overthrow my suppliants from the Temple?” “O King,” was the retort, “it is thus that thou succourest thy suppliants, for thou biddest the men of Kyme give up a suppliant.” There is something very beautiful in the idea of the Divine Being as the protector of small, helpless creatures like the house-haunting birds, and we at once remember the words of Jesus, “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father.” If God takes thought for sparrows, much more does He for men.
2. From the birds his thoughts glances to the worshippers, who are still able to frequent the Temple; and he recalls the pilgrim throngs on their way thither. “Blessings on those who dwell in Thy house; still will they praise Thee. Blessings on the men whose strength is in Thee, who love to think of the pilgrim way.” Those whom he mentions as dwelling in Jehovah’s house--i.e. in the Holy City--are under the yoke of a foreign conqueror in these last years of Judah, and in a very depressed condition. Yet the psalmist anticipates that they will still be able joyfully to sing of the Divine victory. And then, as to the believers scattered about in foreign lands, and who will travel up to Zion by the pilgrim caravans, they will have manifold hardships by the way; but confidence in Jehovah will give them strength, and they will overcome them all. With lively sympathy he thus depicts them--“They passing through the Baca valley,” etc. We may compare the imagery with that in Isaiah where he depicts the desert solitudes as bursting out into rose blossoms, and being filled with songs; the parched land transformed into a pool; its thirst satisfied with springs of water; the haunts of dragons becoming green with reeds and rushes. Upon a great highway the ransomed people of Jehovah are seen returning, and coming to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads (Isaiah 35:1-10.). And the thought and the imagery are very similar when the prophet Hosea speaks of the Valley of Achor (woe) being transformed into a Door of Hope, and the people singing there as they did in the days of yore when they came up out of the land of Egypt. These things are for us allegories or parables of the soul. It is in the soul, and the soul alone, that we are to look for these wondrous transformations of deserts into gardens, and parched valleys into springs of living water. It is through undying trust and hope and love, cherished in the midst of every suffering scene of life’s pilgrimage, that these marvels must be wrought.
3. And now, from these soothing exercises of memory and imagination, the royal poet turns to himself, and composes his spirit in an attitude of deep humility and holy prayer. “O Jehovah, God of Hosts, hear my prayer: attend, O Jacob’s God. O God, our shield, behold, look upon thine anointed’s face!” This, then, is the language of a king. In virtue of his high office and dignity he would have enjoyed in former days a place of high honour in the Temple. But rather, he says, he would be as the humblest menial in a great house, and, after the Oriental custom, prostrate himself in the dust in the presence of his Master, than dwell, as he is dwelling now, possibly in circumstances of comfort or even of luxury, among the heathen. For supposing this psalm to have been composed by King Jeconiah, while he was in honour and esteem at the Court of Babylon, the language is peculiarly impressive as an evidence of the piety of his spirit. “Sun,” he proceeds, “and shield is the eternal God! Grace, glory will Jehovah give; will not refuse happiness to those who walk in innocency.” And then the psalm ends, as it were, with a sigh of relief and repose, betokening that the flow of feeling has found its true outlet and rest. “O Jehovah of Hosts, blessings on the men who trust in Thee!” We may draw a few simple lessons from the beautiful psalm. We need to see the blessings and the privileges of our life in perspective, at a distance, before we can truly realize their worth. The youth knows not how happy he has been at home, feels not in all its preciousness the blessing of a mother’s love, till he looks back upon the early scene from some distant place, and from amidst scenes that are strange to his heart. And so of those scenes of worship in which our spirit was educated for eternity. The afterglow of Sundays, the reflection amidst busy hours on songs and sermons that have been listened to not always with interest at the time--these are experiences often the most enriching. It follows, that all our diligence in attending to spiritual things now must secure for us a far-off interest of good--memories of sweetness and refreshment, it may be, in some distant land or scene of suffering, like that of the psalmist in exile. But there are other lessons. The soul deprived of its wonted props, its associations of place and circumstance, is taught more entirely to throw itself upon the spiritual resources. His soul was east down within him at the hill Mizar, and it is cast down in Babylon. Yet why so? He knows that God is to be sought and found there no less than in the Temple. What are space and time to the worship of the Spirit? And what is the use of the glorious faculty of imagination but that we may, in a sense, cancel time, and live in fellowship with the great and good of the past--that we may break down the bounds of space and pass to our friends across seas and deserts, and join with all saints in that worship which is invisible and unending, and is fixed to no particular spot of earth? As Fenelon says, “We may be very near to one another without meeting, or be far apart while occupying the same room.” God unites all and obliterates the greatest distance where hearts united in Him are concerned. In that Centre be who is in China or Japan and those in France meet one another. But perhaps the thought that most naturally offers itself from the study of the psalm is the blessedness of religious memories. (E. Johnson, M. A.)
This psalm has well been called “The Pearl of Psalms.” It shines with mild, soft radiance, comparable to that precious gem. I would myself speak of it as being full of mingled music, and mingled music is sometimes of the sweetest. For the most part the note is high, and the strain is sweet; yet there is a tone of sorrow underlying and interleaving all. David sings, indeed, but he sings of his sorrows. Happy is the man who can sing in the time of grief, and turn his very sadness into themes for melody.
I. “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts.” This is a eulogy of the house and worship of the living God. Whereever David may have been in person, his heart was yonder. The windows of his soul were ever open towards Jerusalem. Is not the title which David applies to God instructive? “O Lord of Hosts.” The tabernacle of the sanctuary seemed to David like the pavilion of the King or general, in the very centre of the camp, and he, as one of the King’s mighty men, looked towards that pavilion, gazed at its waving signal, and longed to be soon beneath its very shadow. The Church of the living God, the God of Hosts--for He is still the God of battles, and a Man of war--is the place wherein the soldiers refurnish themselves, and refurbish their arms. The worship of His house, the means of grace, these are as the armoury whence the shield the helmet, the breastplate, the sword, the preparation of the Gospel of peace for the feet, are all provided. It is also as the refreshment place, where God succours and sustains the weary warriors, wells breaking up and leaping forth at their very feet, as they did at Samson’s, if needs be.
II. Then follows an elegy (verse 2). David was bereaved indeed. He had lost the sanctuary. He was away from the place where God revealed Himself particularly. They tell me that those who have dwelt among the glorious mountains of Switzerland cannot bear to live away from them. They pine and die, away from their native land. After some such fashion David looked Zionward. Absence made his heart grow fender still. What was it that he longed for? For the courts of the Lord. Ah, burner for the sake of the courts themselves. What are the courts without the King? He seeks not the place, but the presence; not the courtiers, but the monarch; not the subjects, but the Lord Himself.
III. An allegory (verse 3). The birds were free to visit the sacred place. “Oh,” thought David, “would I were as privileged as they.” He would not change places with them. He did not wish he were a bird, but he wished he had the access they enjoyed, and the familiarity and temerity that characterized them. What birds were they? Only sparrows, merely swallows, the one the most worthless and the other the most restless of birds; yet were they privileged to be where David at that time was debarred from going. Oh, prize your privileges. Make God’s house your home. Love it not only for the benefit you may get from it yourselves, but for the blessing it may bring your children. “The swallow hath found a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.” Thank God for the church, and the Sunday school, and the Bible classes. Despise none of them; they will bless both you and your households.
IV. An augury (verse 4). The birds dwelt in the precincts of the Holy Place, and, according to their nature, they praised, they sang. Swallows and sparrows are not song birds, you say. Ah, but they chirped and chattered, and this was their best praise to God. Now just as the Roman augurs pretended to foretell coming events by the flight of birds and other means, so it seems to me--perhaps it is a quaint conceit--David ventures to prophesy that all who dwell in the Lord’s house will be still praising Him. “Why,” he says, “there are those birds chattering, chirping, twittering all the while, So long as they have so secure an abode, their hearts go forth in praise to God. There also are the priests, the Levites, and the Nethinim, the servants of the priests, surely so long as they have a hand in this work they will be full of praise to God.” Certainly this is true of the upper world. I do not know that I could suggest a better epitaph for the happy Christian who praised God on earth, but is praising Him better still on high, than this word or two from our closing verse. What are they doing yonder? “Still praising, still praising.” I would fain have it on my own tombstone. I could not wish a better word than that, “Still praising.” “Still praising.” Yes, when eternity grows old, “Still praising.” They practised here, and rehearsed on earth, and now they can see Him face to face, and praise Him more than angels can. Oh, begin His praises here, that you may continue them hereafter. (T. Spurgeon.)
The beauty of the house of God
I. Wherein lies the beauty of the House of God? It does not consist in mere outward loveliness. In proportion as one learns to worship God in the spirit he becomes unconcerned about the particular architecture of the building. As a piece of workmanship he may admire it as much as any, but as a place of worship it possesses no more charm than the country barn devoted on the Lord’s Day to the preaching of the Gospel. I fear that in the present day reverence for mere bricks and mortar is becoming a very fashionable error. Beauty of design in the sanctuary walls is thought more of than beauty of holiness in sanctuary worship. This is the result of a religion that goes no deeper than the eye sees. But to the man educated of God, mere external symmetry will be powerless to evoke the psalmist’s exclamation of “how amiable are Thy tabernacles.” He wants something more. Something that touches the inner springs of the soul. A house of God without worship is a fiction and a lie.
II. When this beauty is most seen. The amiability of God’s tabernacle is not always equally perceived. There are times when we are led to utter the words of our text with a deeper emphasis than usual. Seasons when an unprecedented glory fills the house. I will just mention a few times when God’s house seems to possess a charm almost beyond description. Certainly we must place first on the list the few Sabbaths immediately following conversion. What a blessed freshness there is about the worship then; it is something so new, so different to any joy experienced before that its very novelty lends enchantment. The beauty of the sanctuary is also wonderful when there is that in the service specially suited go our present experience.
III. The extent to which the beauty is appreciated, and the only man who can appreciate it at all. The first word of the text gives us an idea of the extent of David’s appreciation, and well may the verse close with a note of admiration. The psalmist felt that it was impossible to tell in words the beauty of the place. He could but exclaim “how amiable” and leave it for hearts which have felt the same to fathom the depths of the word. This we know, however, that in his eyes the tabernacle made of skins outshone in beauty all the silken tents of luxury and sin, and one day in its Courts was worth more to him than a thousand spent elsewhere. The “how” defies all measurement and description. The only man who can behold this beauty is also learnt from one word--the little word “thy.” It was because the tabernacle was God’s that its beauty appeared so great. Now, no alien from God can find a joy in anything because it is God’s. He who loves not a person can never see a beauty in that person’s house simply because it is his. Affection for the inhabitant must precede love for the habitation. (A. G. Brown.)
The believer’s love for the sanctuary
The Christian loves the sanctuary--
I. Because it is the dwelling-place of the Most High. In the works of creation and providence we behold Him coming forth as a God of ineffable goodness, unable, as it were, from the graciousness of His nature, to withhold unnumbered good things even from the fallen. But it is the sanctuary which is the tabernacle of His glory. There He specially reveals Himself as the God of all grace; there is the mercy-seat; there, sinful though we be, we may draw nigh to the God of our spirits through the High Priest of our profession, the Son of His love.
II. Because He feels pleasure in its hallowed employments. He knows by experience that as in Ezekiel’s vision the healing waters flowed from the sanctuary, and imparted life and fertility to every region through which they wound their way, so the gifts and graces of God’s Holy Spirit, descending from the heavenly Zion, pour their refreshing and sanctifying current through the courts of the Lord’s house, and that from its services, as from consecrated channels, he drinks of that stream which makes glad the city of God.
III. Because it is the symbol of better things to come. Our mental joys within these earthly temples are but the beginnings and the foretastes of the joys of heaven; our songs in the assembly of the great congregation, they are but the representative of the vast multitude who are even now singing the new song of the redeemed; and all the privileges which surround us, and in which we now delight, are the only outline of the final state of perfection when we appear in that land of which the Lord God is the light, and the glory, and the sanctuary. Oh! how glorious shall be that service compared with this! (S. Bridge, M. A.)
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
The profoundest hunger of human nature
The words “soul, heart, flesh,” are here used to represent the whole man, human nature in its entirety; and this human nature is here longing, craving, hungering, crying out for the “living God,’ nothing less. This means--
I. That nothing less will satisfy humanity. Not a whole universe, not a million pantheons of dead gods; it is the “living God.”
II. That humanity requires no logic to prove that there is a God. So inwrought into man is the belief of His existence, that the whole being cries out for Him.
III. That anti-theism is anti-humanity. Anti-theism is a lie to our common nature. (Homilist.)
The heart’s cry after God
I. The desire of heart and flesh--the living God. Sibbes well observes that the desires of the heart are the best proofs of saintship; and if a man wishes to know whether he is really a saint or no, he can very soon find out by putting his finger upon the pulse of his desires, for those are things that never can be counterfeit. You may counterfeit words; you may counterfeit actions; but you cannot counterfeit desires.
1. Every saint has within his breast that which is actually born of God, and therefore it cries out after its own Father.
2. Every believer has the Spirit of God dwelling within him, and if he has the Spirit of God dwelling within him, it is only natural that he should desire God.
3. The experience of earth often makes you long more for God. After you have discovered the hollowness, the disappointing nature of the world.
II. The intensity of this desire.
1. It is an intensity that drowns all other desires “Crieth out for God.” I passed a little child the other day being led by the hand by a kind-faced policeman; and as the little thing walked by his side, I could hear it amidst its sobs, continually crying, “Father! father! father! father!” Yes, in this great city-full of people, the only face the child waned to see was the face of its father. He knew he had lost a father’s hand, for he had wandered from a father’s side, and he wanted father back again. “My heart and my flesh crieth out for God.” Just as a lost child cares not for a million faces it may meet along the road--it wants to look at its father’s face--so the true born child of God can rest satisfied with nothing short of a sight of his God. “My heart and my flesh crieth out for God.”
2. It is an intensity of desire that creates pain. The language of our text is the language of a soul which can bear its anguish no longer in silence. It is a cry extorted by inward pangs. (A. G. Brown.)
The soul’s want of God
The chief want of man is God. The soul is for God, and God for the soul. What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
1. The first step in this answer to the deepest want of human nature is the conviction that God is--that God lives. Heart and flesh cry; where is the response? Joyful is the moment in the soul’s experience when the reality of God’s being comes over us with its full power. The first need of the soul is to feel that God is real--the great reality and essence of all things. And if sin had not shut up and darkened the windows of our being, this gracious light would flow in on every side.
2. Then we are to feel that He is Present and Living. The belief of not a few seems to be in a past God, a deceased, departed Deity, and the world as a huge skeleton out of which all the soul has gone, not an abode for the indwelling Power, but the ruins of His former stately palace. But He has not made the world and then retired from it. He is not an absentee proprietor. He is the present Creator, the living God, as on the world’s first morning. He dyes the flower, and ripens the corn. Laws are but His uniform modes of working. Forces are but the heavings of the indwelling Almightiness. He is, and He is present. He overflows creation. He is all in all.
3. But the heart and flesh have another note in their cry, and it is for a Good Being, or, as our Saxon has it, God, that is, the Good, whom we may love. God, the Good, is in all systems, all beings, and in all working according to His own being, that is, for good.” Father is His proper name. Nature, Providence, Jesus, all teach this comforting lesson. And When the heart in its hopes and affections, and the flesh in its griefs and pangs, cry, the response comes from every side, and is echoed and re-echoed in endless and harmonious sounds--God is good.
4. The want of the soul is not only for a good, but for a great God, whom we may adore. It admires greatness with an even earlier and intenser admiration than goodness. Our tastes change very much from youth onward. Things we once passionately admired cease to move us. The soul has got beyond them. It exhausts one thing after another. But there is one youthful sentiment that is never outgrown--that rises with our intellectual stature, and spreads with our moral expansion, and soars with our spiritual aspirations--and that is our faith in the Great God--
“And, as it hastens, every age
But makes its brightness more divine.”
5. The nature of man has been so created as to seek after a Wise and Infinite Intelligence. We admire with huge respect the men even who have been able to pocket a little science, who can read a dozen languages, who are largely conversant with affairs, and know things as they are. A skilful invention is heralded from hemisphere to hemisphere. He who has read one of the characters in Nature’s alphabet, or spelled out a few syllables or words in her mighty lore, is hailed with all the titles of glory. But no libraries, geniuses, scientific or literary associations, no fragments and crumbs that fall from the table of knowledge, can meet the unextinguishable thirst of man for the spiritual and the immortal. Let him not think to fill an infinite craving with anything less than the Infinite. But if I have at all rightly interpreted the significance of this cry, which is for ever ascending from the breast, and seeking after God, you may ask, How shall it be satisfied? I would not dogmatize, and say by any one way, but rather by all ways. It is more in the waiting, receiving, and teachable state of the soul, than it is by methods, cultures, churches, and dispensations. Seek, then, for the truth, and in the truth God will ever be coming, and entering in and taking possession of the soul, and driving out every darkness and weakness. Rest not short of God. (A. A. Livermore.)
The religious sense
What is the secret of the enduring charm, the comforting and ennobling influence of the psalms? Is it not to be found, in part at least, in the frank revelation made by the psalmist of his own personal experience and aspiration? His prayers are not addressed to the congregation I In rapturous praise and in fervent prayer he pours out his soul unto God. So wide and varied is the range of his experience that alike in joy and sadness, in exultation or contrition, in victory or defeat, we find in his confession of sin, his jubilant gratitude, his martial ardour, his triumphant faith, the best statement of our own sin and failure, expectation and yearning. Thus to the very depths of our nature does he go down when, as in the text, he exclaims, “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.”
I. Man has a religious sense. It is customary to speak of the “five senses”; but modern physiologists affirm the popular enumeration to be defective. It does not take into account, we are told, the sensations of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, or the sensations of organic life. Neither does it recognize the “muscular sense,” whereby we measure and regulate our bodily activities. We hear also of an “internal sense,” or the mind’s knowledge of its own operations. Then, again, we occasionally hear of the “aesthetic sense,” whereby we have the perception or feeling of beauty. Philosophers, as Shaftesbury, have affirmed the existence also in man of a “moral sense,” meaning that moral distinctions are not due to reasoning processes, but are recognized by a kind of feeling, or “an immediate and undefinable intuition.” In like manner may it be affirmed that man has a religious sense. Just as we are constituted to taste and touch, to have a sense of the beautiful, and to have a sense of right and wrong, so are we constituted to feel after God. “Wherever man is there religion is,” said Max Muller, who also affirms, “I maintain that religion, so far from being impossible, is inevitable if only we are left in possession of our senses.” Just because you are a man, made by and for God, the religious element within you constrains you, in spite of yourself, to exclaim of all earthly pursuits and pleasures promising satisfaction and peace, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
II. The religious sense needs training. Whatever be the stage of moral and spiritual experience, the limits of development have not been reached. The religious sense can always be “touched to finer issues.” By neglect it pines and withers. Through disuse the facility of speech in a foreign tongue lessens and disappears, and how completely the mastery has been lost may not be known till on some sudden emergency, to our utter humiliation, we find the words will not come when we “do call for them”; and we who once could swiftly weave our thought into speech, now stand in dumb imbecility. It is too often forgotten that a similar retribution, but infinitely graver in its issues, awaits the man who neglects to maintain his religious nature in healthful efficiency. When we call to mind the sure operation of this law, need we wonder that, spiritually, men differ so greatly, and that while some are keenly sensitive to the softer whispers of Divine love, others need the loud thunders of Heaven’s artillery to rouse them to a consciousness of God? If the man of business give only the fragments of his time to the culture of his soul, what marvel that, whilst sagacious and successful in commerce, he should be weak, ignorant, and wayward in spiritual insight and service. If the student of Nature devote all his thought and energy to the investigation of her laws, what wonder that the penalty of excessive and exclusive study of physical science should be, as Darwin had to acknowledge with sorrow, the loss of relish for music, poetry, and the higher pursuits that refine and elevate life. If the intellect be trained and the affections neglected, what wonder that a Francis Bacon should show himself “wisest, meanest of mankind,” ready and eager to sell his glorious birthright for a mess of pottage. O the pity of it, that men should so zealously train the understanding and so persistently neglect the heart, should suffer the cobwebs to darken the window of the soul, and allow the holy fire to go out! Yet is there no part of our nature we can so ill afford to leave undisciplined. If religion meant pardon only, even then delay would be dangerous, but if it mean the training of the soul, the development of character after the pattern of Christ Jesus, the discipline of the religious sense to swift, accurate, and joyous activity, is it not of all follies the greatest to neglect or postpone the culture of the soul?
III. What is the method of training? The answer is not difficult. It is one advantage of the line of thought pursued that the reply can be so easy and natural. How do men proceed to train their other senses? How is it that the dyer discerns varieties of hue unapparent to the untrained eye? How does the artist appreciate distinctions of shade invisible to the ordinary vision? Though there may sometimes be original and native superiority, it still holds true that “practice makes perfect.” How shall the ear be trained to appreciate the subtle harmonies of music? Will it suffice to read treatises that describe the auditory and vocal organs? Will it be enough to study theories of musical composition? Will it not be needful to listen to music, to note the separate and combined effects, and ourselves to play and to sing if we are to possess executive skill and correct musical judgment? No one ever yet became a musical expert who did not use his ears! In like manner, it may be said, no man ever became an efficient public speaker by reading manuals of elocution, or treatises of rhetoric alone. There is needed intelligent and persevering practice for the attainment of the art to conceal art, and to speak with ease, clearness, and force. A man learns to swim not by perusing written instructions on natation, but by swimming. He learns to paint by painting. However useful theories of the various arts may be, in every sphere it is recognized that it is only by practice, wise and sedulous, the highest efficiency can be gained. It is that the simplicity of this has caused it to be overlooked when religious training is considered? How many appear to think that the mere reading of the Bible will discipline the nature! To study a chart is one thing, to navigate the vessel by its information quite another thing. To read the Bible is good, to act according to its directions is better. “Exercise thyself unto godliness,” was Paul’s counsel to Timothy.
IV. Can we by innate strength of will accomplish this high work? For physical and mental training are not schools, colleges, teachers, and professors required? Can the irreligious man, by his own resolve alone, develop high religious sensibility? The uniform declarations of the Book of God concur with the humiliating testimony of personal consciousness, that it is not in man to direct his steps, to subdue his turbulent passions, to bring his motives and plans into harmony with the Divine will, to educate to unerring precision and robust energy his religious sense. Nor is there any need that he should attempt the impossible task. The heart cries out for the living God, and He delights to answer its cry. (A. Cowe, M. A.)
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself.
Sparrows and swallows
These birds found in the sanctuary what we would find in God.
I. Houses for themselves. That they should find houses in and around the Lord’s house is remarkable, and David dwelt on it with pleasure.
1. Consider what they were. Sparrows.
(1) Worthless creatures. Five for two farthings.
(2) Needy creatures, requiring both nests, food, and everything else.
(3) Uninvited guests. The Temple did not need them, it might have been all the better without them.
(4) Numerous creatures; but none were driven away.
2. Consider what they did. “Found a house”--a comfortable, suitable abode.
(1) They looked for it, or they could not have been described as having found it.
(2) It was there already, or they could not have found it.
(3) They appropriated it. Their right lay in discovery; they found a house and occupied it without question. O for an appropriating faith!
3. Consider what they enjoyed. Safety, Rest, Abode, Delight, Society, Nearness. All this in the house of God, hard by His altars. Thus do believers find all in Christ Jesus. And so, secondarily, they find the same things in the assembly of the saints, in the place where God’s honour dwelleth. We come to the house of the Lord with joy. We remain in it with delight. We sit and sing in it with pleasure. We commune with our fellow-songsters with much content.
II. Nests for their young.
1. Some persons are not so much in need of a house fez themselves; for, like swallows, they live on the wing, and are active and energetic; but they need a nest for their young, for whom they are greatly anxious. They long to see the young people settled, happy, and safe in God. Children should be housed in the house of God. The sanctuary of God should be the nursery of the young.
(1) They will be safe there, and free there. The swallow, the “bird of liberty,” is satisfied to find a nest for herself near the altars of God. She is not afraid of bondage there either for herself or her young.
(2) They will be joyful there. We should try to make our little ones happy in God, and in His holy worship. Dull Sabbaths and dreary services should not be mentioned among us.
(3) They are near the blessing when we bring them near the house of the Lord.
(4) They are in choice society; their companions will be the companions of Jesus.
(5) They are likely to return to the nest, as the swallows do; even as the young salmon return to the rivulet where they were hatched. Young folks remember their first impressions.
(6) Children truly brought to Christ have every blessing in that fact. They are rich: they dwell in God’s palace. They are educated: they abide in the Lord’s temple. They are safe for time and eternity.
2. The second blessing of a nest for our young often follows on the first, or getting a house for ourselves. But it needs prayer, example, and precept. Children do not take to religion as ducks to water: they must be led and trained with earnest care. Are you sighing after Christ for yourself and your children? Are you content without Christ? Then you are not likely to care about your children. Do you already possess a home in Jesus? Rest not till all yours are housed in the same place. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
More value than many sparrows
I. A bitter and significant contrast. “The sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself,” while I! We do not know what the circumstances were, but if we accept the conjecture that he may have accompanied David in his flight during Absalom’s rebellion, we may fancy him as wandering on the uplands across Jordan and sharing the agitations, fears and sorrows of those dark hours, and in the midst of all, as the little company hurried hither and thither for safety, thinking, with a touch of bitter envy, of the calm restfulness and serene services of the peaceful tabernacle. But, pathetic as is the complaint, when regarded as the sigh of a minister of the sanctuary exiled from the shrine which was as his home, and from the worship which was his occupation and delight, it sounds a deeper note and one which awakens echoes in our hearts, when we hear in it, as we may, the complaint of humanity contrasting its unrest with the happier lot of lower creatures. Be true to the unrest, and do not mistake its meaning, nor seek to still it, until it drives you to God.
II. A plea which we may use, and a pledge on which we may rest. “Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” The psalmist pleads with God, and lays hold for his own confidence upon, the fact that creatures who do not understand what the altar means may build beside it, and who have no notion of who the God is to whom the house is sacred, are yet cared for by Him. And he thinks to himself, “If I can say, ‘My King and my God,’ surely He that takes care of them will not leave me uncared for.” The unrest of the soul that is capable of appropriating God is an unrest which has in it, if we understand it aright, the assurance that it shall be stilled and satisfied. These words not only may hearten us with confidence that our desires will be satisfied if they are set upon Him, but they point us to the one way by which they come. Say “My King and my God” in the deepest recesses of a spirit conscious of His presence, of a will submitting to His authority, of emptiness expectant of His fulness; say that, and you are in the house of the Lord. For it is not a question of place, it is a question of disposition and desire.
III. A warning. Sparrows and swallows have very small brains. They build their nests, and they do not know whose altars they are flitting around. There are plenty of people who live like that. We are all tempted to build our nests where we may lay our young, or dispose of ourselves or our treasures in the very sanctuary of God, with blind, crass indifference to the Presence in which we move. The Father’s house has many mansions, and whereever we go we are in God’s temple. Alas! some of us have no more sense of the sanctities around us, and no more consciousness of the Divine eye that looks down upon us than if we were so many feathered sparrows flitting about the altar. Let us take care that we give our hearts to be influenced, and awed, and ennobled, and tranquillized by the sense of evermore being in the house of the Lord. Let us see to it that we keep in that house by continual aspiration, cherishing in our hearts the ways that lead to it; and so making all life worship, and every place what the pilgrim found the stone of Bethel to be, a house of God and a gate of heaven. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Thy swallow’s nest
The swallow, like the robin and the wren, is one of the sacred birds of Christendom. Its own beauty throws a shield of protection over it; and by rude and gentle natures alike it is regarded with a feeling of veneration akin to that which pervades the quaint rhymes of the “Ancient Mariner.” It makes its nest under the lowly cottage eaves, almost within reach of eager childish hands stretched forth from the dormer window; but it is as safe and unmolested there as under the porch of the rural sanctuary, whose profound quiet is disturbed only once a week by feet of reverent worshippers. Nor can we wonder at this beautiful feeling which extends to a few favoured birds and flowers an interest in that blessed religion which guards and hallows everything that God has made, as an earnest that it shall yet embrace all nature. It has more and other beauty than the mere grace of its form and the glossy sheen of its plumage. All the past summers of life have shed their halo around it. To the careworn mind there is childhood in every twitter of its little throat, and in every flash of its purple wing. It is full of our own human heart. Scarcely less wonderful than itself is the nest which it builds, in defiance of the laws of gravity, against the smooth masonry of the gable. It attaches its frail nest to the enduring structure of man that it may share in its endurance. It seeks, as the psalmist tells us, the vicinity of the altar of God, the safe sanctuary of holy places.
1. And is there not a profound lesson for us in this curious contrast? We are migratory like the swallow; and the land from whence we have come and to which we are hastening is fairer than any tropical dream of groves of palm and violet skies of unfading summer. We wear immortal wings within; and no small part of the sadness of human life arises from the incongruity between our capacities and attainments, our longings and enjoyments; between the infinite duration of our immortal spirits and the transitoriness of all things here.
2. The swallow, aerial as is its flight, transient as is its stay, graceful and ethereal as is its form, nevertheless builds its nest of the common clay of the ground; but compensates for the seeming degradation by attaching that nest to the home of man and the very altar of God. And so God has made our bodies of the dust of the earth, and closely connected our life with it. We must make our nest of clay. But while by our bodies we belong to one set of circumstances, we belong by our souls to another and higher. We are immortal guests dwelling within a transient house of clay that must one day crumble and fall and be resolved into the elements out of which it was built. And we, too, must build our clay-nest against the house of God, near the very altar of heaven, if its vanity and insignificance are to be redeemed, if we are to learn most richly the meaning of our discipline, and find strength to endure unto the end, and lay up provision in a storehouse which death cannot rifle.
3. The swallow’s nest has a wise lesson for us in the building of many other structures, mental and moral, as well as material. To labour steadily and to wait patiently is the precept which it enforces. Only by slow and cautious degrees can any human effort reach perfection. Especially in the growth of the spiritual being, the formation of the Christian character, do we need to act upon the swallow’s motto of “Haste is slow.” We must not force our higher nature into premature or impatient development lest it become weak and unstable. Like all Nature’s operations, which proceed by a wise and orderly progression from the seed to the blade, and from the blade to the ear, and from the ear to the full corn in the ear, never anticipating at any stage what belongs to a more advanced one, never exhibiting an abnormal precocity, the kingdom of heaven in us should develop its germinating fulness with the same ease and quietude and steady progress. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they will be still praising Thee.
The priest and the pilgrim
1. The means of grace are prized in proportion to the difficulty or danger in the way of their enjoyment. The Scottish Covenanters would not be absent from public worship, although to be present at a conventicle was to brave not only oftentimes winter cold and storm under the open sky, but as well the cruel death that threatened them as law-breakers. Shall we not appear to our less favoured brethren to be the spoilt children of too many mercies?
2. The psalmist’s utterance also illustrates the universal disposition among men to think they see in the lot assigned to others benefits and advantages greater than anything they themselves enjoy. Much of this discontent and murmuring has no better justification than an erroneous estimate of the prosperity and happiness of others. A little reflection would show it to be unworthy and mean-spirited. Instead of saying, “Happy are those others,” and allowing discontent to embitter our spirit, let us look around, and, seeing what others lack and suffer, say gratefully, “Happy are we.” Not envy, but loving, self-forgetting sympathy will be the passion stirred in our hearts. The pilgrim is not justified in supposing that those who remain in God’s house are so much better off religiously than himself. After all, it is not constant and close association with sacred things that makes a man blessed. The following three verses (5-7) effectively enforce this lesson. They are best understood as the reply of the Temple ministers to the pilgrim’s exclamation, “Happy are they that dwell in Thy house!” These do not seek to make out that they are not happy, but with quiet dignity they perform the useful and needful service of drawing the man’s attention to his own happiness. “Nay,” say they, “not only those who dwell in God’s house are happy. Happy is every man whose strength the Lord is, and very specially such as are pilgrims on the highways with gladness in their heart.” The pilgrim limits the conditions of happiness unduly. All who put their trust in God, pilgrims like himself, are as fortunate as they. Happy is the priest and happy is the pilgrim! (A. S. Laidlaw, B. D.)
The blessedness of dwelling in God’s house
I. There is a place peculiarly distinguished as the House of God. Jehovah planned, built, furnished and inhabits it.
II. There are persons who find an abiding residence in it. This implies--
1. The most ardent attachment to it.
2. Constant attendance upon it.
3. The greatest enjoyment in it.
III. Such characters are truly blessed.
1. From the nature of their employment. Praise.
2. From its perpetuity. (T. Spencer.)
Blessings received in the sanctuary an incentive to special praise
I. A sacred scene. What though wealth may have poured no tribute to enrich it? what though art may have conferred no labour to adorn it? what though nobility may have allowed no patronage to sanction it? what though royalty may have pronounced no decree to exalt it? what though there be no ceremonial of gorgeous pomp to decorate its ritual, and no thrilling notes of scientific harmony to reverberate through long-drawn aisles and lofty domes, melting the passions by its charm, and swaying the senses on the side of salvation?--yet let there be the open voice of inspiration, let there be the prayer of the penitent and the hymn of the grateful, let there be the voice of the living ministry “declaring the whole counsel of God,” and expounding the Gospel of His grace--and there angel bands descend and hover, the “ministering spirits” of the place, and there God pronounces, as of old, in solemn approval, “This is my rest for ever, here will I dwell, for I have desired it.”
II. A delightful fact. The house of God is the scene of--
3. Fellowship with God.
4. Preparation for heaven.
Here it is, you plume your souls for “the glory, which is yet to be revealed in you”; and it is but a trifling distance that separates you from the consummation, when you shall stand in the presence of God. “Blessed,” then, “are they that dwell in His house.”
III. As appropriate enjoyment. “Still praising “God--
1. When you tell verbally of His goodness.
2. As you render personal consecration to His service.
3. By advocating with others the claims of His house and cause. (J. Parsons.)
It is early morning. A party of pilgrims are drawing nigh to the Holy City. They have come from afar to pay their vows in the house of the Lord. They catch sight of the golden sheen from the eastern front of the Temple as it flashes in the morning light, and break out into song. “O how lovely are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts.” But as the pilgrim still toils on his way and climbs the long ascent, hot, wearied, travel-stained, his throat choked with the sands of the desert, his tongue parched with thirst, he cannot help contrasting his position with that of the fortunate servants of the Temple. There they are constantly and without effort where he can be but once or twice in his life, and then only at great sacrifice of time, energy, comfort. It takes him days of wearisome and exhausting travel to come and pay his vows, while the priest, and even the doorkeeper have nothing to do but to tumble out of bed at the last minute and they are on the spoil He can only stay amid these delightful scenes a few days at the most, and must then return to the tents of wickedness, where it is so hard to keep a conscience void of offence. The Temple servants, on the other hand, can hardly fail to be good. They dwell always in the gracious and heavenly atmosphere of the Temple courts, and continually engage in sanctifying and delightful duties. How enviable their lot! “Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, they are constantly praising Thee.” The priest, the Levite, and the doorkeeper are at their customary duty. The pilgrim song strikes on their car. They cannot help pausing a moment. How fresh and sincere it sounds! What genuine and holy passion! “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord.” And now again that note of exaltation and rapture, “My King and my God!” The old doorkeeper looks at the aged priest. They are both in their fortieth year of service. They have never departed from the Temple, each engaged in his same round of duties all the time. They read and share each other’s thoughts. “Ah!” sighs the priest, “for the pilgrim’s experience! He is visiting the holy spot, not because he has to be here, but because he has a strong desire to come. What adventures he has had on the way! What perils confronted and difficulties surmounted! And now he is here, and sees everything for the first time. All is fresh, full of novelty and interest, reality and zest. I, poor wight, have been doing these same duties for forty years! And I am bound to fulfil them, whether in the mood or not. It is long enough since I had a new idea, or felt the breath of a fresh inspiration. Behold what a weariness in the monotonous reiteration of even holy duty! Would I could change places with these pilgrims!” “Blessed is the man who finds such strength in Thee, who has it in his heart to make a pilgrimage to Zion.” So it is all the world over, in religious and in daily life! We see the desirable things of the lot of another and the hardships of our own. “To this side of the river,” says the Hindu proverb, “that side looks green.” But cross the river and see! Have you not in walking along a street after a heavy shower of rain often noticed that the other side was far drier than the puddly pavement you were treading? So to avoid walking in the water you have crossed the road, but your feet got wet nevertheless! Many a young Christian, harassed and tempted at his daily work, thinks how fine it must be to be a minister. Well, so it is. But the position must not be judged by the parade day. It might be a good thing for him to be a minister just for one week. Lots are more equally divided than we think, and it is well that we should be initiated into the secret of St. Paul, who had learnt in whatsoever state he was therein to be content. For we may be well assured that if we are not content in our own lot we never should be in that of any one else. From the opinion of others we may learn some of the advantages our own calling possesses. The pilgrim tells the Temple servant for what he envies him, the Temple servant can show the pilgrim the compensation of his position. And the wise-hearted will heed the criticism. The sage bids us not to leave the ills we have to fly to those we know not of. The pilgrim must see the grand compensation of his lot. He cannot always be engaged offering the sacrifices of the sanctuary. But let him remember that life’s redeeming and renewing ministry is not confined to the hours or places of worship. “Look,” says the priest, surveying the wilderness which the pilgrim has sorrowfully trodden; “passing through the valley of weeping they make it a place of springs.” In the wilderness of the world, through which God’s people pass as strangers and pilgrims, their struggles are sacrificial, their tears life-giving. They wander in the wilderness in a desert way, hungry and thirsty, their souls faint in them, but as they go through it they turn the wilderness into a pool of water and the dry land into a spring of water. All that come after them bless God for the sighs and tears, the struggles and pains of those that went before, for they find that the desert has rejoiced and blossoms as the rose. You bewail the wickedness of your generation or the neighbourhood in which you live, or the business place you work in. You sigh and say, Woe is me that I dwell in the tents of wickedness; I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. Already you are a doorkeeper of the house of the Lord. If ever the people among whom your lot is east are to hear of Christ and see the Kingdom of Heaven opened, it is by your witness and Christly ministry among them. Christ is the Door, and, if I may so say, you are the Door-keeper. That is your privilege, your great opportunity. You may be the only one on the pilgrimage in your neighbourhood, or family, or place of business. But you will not long be. For as you pass oh your way your cheery courage, your prayers, your sorrows and struggles shall, by God’s grace, avail to change the face of the dark spot in the midst of which He has placed you and to make the wilderness into a fruitful field. (F. L. Wiseman.)
Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee.
I. It springs from a special connection with God. “Whose strength is in Thee.” In what does a soul’s strength consist?
1. Disinterested love.
2. Sympathy with right. The stronger the sympathy with right, the more mighty.
3. Concentration of faculties.
4. Uplifting hope. All these elements are to be found in God, must come from Him; and where they are there is strength of soul, the sublimest Strength of all.
II. It changes the unpropitious in circumstances into blessings. “Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well.”
III. It involves a progress in the journey of life. “They go from strength to strength.” The nearer the pilgrim advanced towards the Temple, the more strength he got, by companionship, exercise, and resolution.
IV. It enables the soul to reach at last the very presence of the eternal. “Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” (Homilist.)
In whose heart are the ways.
Ways in the heart
This man’s heart is not like the trackless desert or the wild waste. There are “ways “in it, “ways “of truth and righteousness and goodness, and these show that the spiritual and moral energies of the man have been, and are, at work. Now, the man is happy who has ways in his heart, for spiritual culture is the secret of spiritual blessedness, compared with which all other happiness is an empty dream, a passing shadow, and nothing more. Blessed is he “in whose heart are ways.”
I. The way of repentance. The work of grace begins with this.
II. The way to heaven. But when we speak of a thing being in the heart we mean more than that it is known to us; we mean that we love it. And in this sense the way to heaven is in the believer’s heart. Every child feels happy when he is on his way home, and so does every true husband, and every true wife, and every true parent, and so does every pious pilgrim feel as he journeys to his home in the skies.
III. The way of holiness.
IV. The way of prayer. Just as the quickened seed seems to know to grow upwards, or, at least, is drawn upwards, and gently finds its way through the soil, so the heart, quickened by grace, rises heavenward. (A. Scott.)
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well.--
The valley of Baca
“The pilgrim band,” says Perowne, “rich in hope, forget the trials and difficulties of the way. Hope changes the rugged and stony waste into living fountains. The vale blossoms as if the sweet rain of heaven had covered it with blessings. Hope sustains them at every step. From station to station they renew their strength as they draw nearer the end of their journey, till at last they appear before God.” Delight in the end is thus described as rendering the way to it, however toilsome in itself, delightful too. A deep religious sentiments-such is the thought--has power to change the mind’s estimate of things without, and thus to render the painful pleasant and the pleasant doubly blest.
I. We may see this in the increased interest which spiritual religion imparts to the idea of life, and the view of the present world. What the sun is to the earth, God is to the souls of His rational creatures. The soul has an atmosphere which behoves to be filled with Heaven’s own sunlight. We cannot be blessed without Him. It is the opening of the eye upon His glory that changes the aspect of existence (Psalms 36:9).
II. We may trace this further, in reference to the exercises and duties of religion. See Hannah--with what joy she anticipated the day when she should perform her vow. See that student in a far-off land toiling at the acquisition of a foreign and sometimes barbarous tongue, presenting little when acquired to gratify his taste, and nothing to gain for him the world’s renown, but one in which he may be able to “preach “among the heathen the “unsearchable riches of Christ!”
III. The same principle applies to the sadness and suffering through which God may lead. The very thought is sustaining, that affliction, instead of “rising out of the dust, or springing forth out of the ground,” comes from the hand of God. But this is not all. Piety, devout feeling towards God, looks at the ends to be attained by Divine dealings. It is to pass through the crucible of the Almighty refiner. It is to receive the discipline of “the Father of Spirits.”
IV. This extends also to the hour of death. Humanity shrinks from dissolution; but religious feeling sustains even there, for now the aspect of death is changed. It is dissolution to the body, but it is emancipation to the soul. And it is the passage to life. It is the gateway home to God, to the fatherland, to the joys unutterable and eternal. (E. T. Prust.)
The pilgrims in the valley of Baca
I. The description given of the righteous people of God.
1. The state of their souls before God.
(1) Strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.
(2) Thoughts and affections interested with Divine and spiritual subjects; conversation in heaven.
2. The general tenor of their conduct in the world. To all such men this barren wilderness becomes a place of spiritual refreshment and purification.
(1) They cordially believe the assurance that, “though the Lord causes grief, yet doth He not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men; that He chastens us only for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” Under this impression they are mainly solicitous that their afflictions should produce in them the benefit which is designed.
(2) The mercies and comforts which God bestows, they receive with devout and thankful hearts, as designed to cheer and support them on their way, and to inspire them with a thirst for more exalted blessings.
II. The success and happiness which attend them (Psalms 84:7).
1. Their successful progress. Whether the way be rough or smooth; whether their road now lies through the valley of weeping, or whether they are permitted to drink of the cup of heavenly consolation; in any case, we are commissioned to say to the righteous, that at least it is well with their souls. They are instructed how to derive spiritual support and nourishment from every circumstance of life; as the bee extracts its honey even from the most unsavoury flowers.
2. The happy termination of their journey. They may be scattered far and wide from each ether, as they pass along their destined course: they must be prepared, from time to time, to lose for a season their friends and companions by the way. Some will get before, and leave us weeping in the vale. But still they all shall meet again. (E. Whieldon, M. A.)
Rightly rendered, the first words of these verses are not a calm, prosaic statement, but an emotional exclamation. The psalmist’s tone would be more truly represented if we read, “How blessed is the man,” or “Oh! the blessednesses,” for that is the literal rendering of the Hebrew words, “the blessedness of the man whose strength is Thee.”
I. The blessedness of the pilgrim-spirit. “Amplius,” the dying Xavier’s word, “further afield,” is the motto of all noble life--scientist, scholar, artist, man of letters, man of affairs: all come under the same law, that unless there is something before them which has dominated their hearts, and draws their whole being towards it, their lives want salt, want nobility, want freshness, and a green scum comes over the pool. To live is to aspire; to cease to aspire is to die. Well then, looking all round our horizon, there stands out one path for aspiration which is clearly blessed to tread. There are needs in all our hearts, deep longings, terrible wounds, dreary solitudes, which can only be appeased and healed and companioned when we are pressing nearer and nearer God, that Infinite and Divine Source of all blessedness, of all peace and good. To possess God is life; to feel after God is life, too. For that aim is sure, as we shall see, to be Satisfied.
II. The blessedness of the pilgrim’s experience. “Passing through the valley of weeping they make it a place of springs, the rain also covereth it with blessings.” No doubt the poet is referring here to the actual facts of the pilgrimage to Zion. No doubt, on some one of the roads, there lay a gloomy gorge, the name of which was the Valley of Weeping; either because it dimly commemorated some half-forgotten tragedy long ago, or, more probably, because it was and and frowning and full of difficulty for the travellers on the march. The psalmist uses that name with a lofty imaginative freedom, which itself confirms the view that there is something deeper in the psalm than the mere external circumstances of the pilgrimages to the Holy City. If we have in our hearts, as our chief aim, the desire to get closer to God, then our sorrows and our tears will become sources of refreshment and fertility. Ah! How different all our troubles, large and little, look when we take as our great aim in life what is God’s great purpose in giving us life, viz. that we should be moulded into His likeness and enriched by the possession of Himself. But that is not all. If, with the pilgrims’ hearts, we rightly use our sorrows, we shall not be left to find refreshment and fertilizing power only in ourselves, but the benediction of the rain from heaven will come down, and the great Spirit of God will fall upon our hearts, not in a flood that drowns, but broken up into a beneficent mist that falls quietly upon us, and brings with itself the assurance of fertility. And so the secret of turning the desert into abundance, and tears into blessings, lies in having the pilgrim’s heart.
III. The blessedness of the pilgrim’s advance. “They go from strength to strength.” I do not know whether the psalmist means to use that word “strength” in the significance which it also has in old English, of a fortified place, so that the metaphor would be that from one camp of security, one fortress, to another, they journey safe always, because of their protection; or whether he means to use it rather in its plain and simple sense, according to which the significance would be that these happy pilgrims do not get worn out on the journey, as is the wont of men that set out, for instance, from some far corner of India to Mecca; and come in battered and travel-stained, and half dead with their privations, but that the further they go the stronger they become; and on the road gain more vigour than they could ever have gained by ease and indulgence in their homes. But, whichever of these two meanings we may be disposed to adopt, the great thought that comes out of both of them is identical--viz, that this is one of the distinguishing Joys of a Christian career of pressing forward to closer communion and conformity with our Lord and Master, in whom God is manifested--viz, that we grow day by day in strength, and that effort does not weaken, but invigorates.
IV. The blessedness of the pilgrim’s arrival. “Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” Then there is one road on which whosoever travels is sure to get to his goal. On all others caravans get lost, overwhelmed in a sandstorm, or slain by robbers; and the bleached bones of men and camels lie there on the sand for centuries. This caravan always gets there. For no man ever wanted God that did not possess Him, and the measure of our desire is the prophecy of our possession. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The vale of tears
1. Some have said that Baca is a real place--bearing, down even to modern times, a somewhat similar designation--a plain now called Wady Baker, lying in Northern Palestine, on the direct route of the pilgrims who came up to the Passover Feasts. In explanation of the name, which certainly means “weeping,” they tell the story of a Bedouin who, fleeing before his enemy, lost here his favourite dromedary, and fell into tears, not only because of his broken attachment, but because of his inevitable capture in the deprivation of his means of escape.
2. Others have said that the reference is to any valley of Baca-trees, or mulberries. These would be of frequent occurrence on any line of travel around Jerusalem, and would be sought for defence in the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays were hottest, and for the encampment at night, when the company made a halt. And in order to explain the allusion in the name, they remind us of the fact that the mulberry-tree, whenever any one of its twigs or leaves is wounded, exudes from the cut copious drops of thick sap, falling like tears on the sward beneath.
3. Still others say that this language is wholly figurative. There may, or may not, be an indirect allusion to some locality or some familiar landscape; but the meaning is simply tropical. It is intended to present an image of human life. The old Latin Vulgate, and all the ancient versions, render the expression--in valle lachrymarum. There originated our common metaphor, when we call this world “a vale of tears.”
I. Every true Christian must expect to have his own private “valley of Baca.” No two believers can see or travel the same path. Every Christian has his personal path of experience. But even this shows the intelligence which is resident in our trials. Nothing happens; all is ordered. And one of our arguments to prove we are in the true way is found in the discovery that it leads through roughness and confusion. If it ever grows easy and luxurious, we may fear we have wandered. And this is the way along which our Saviour went before us. He was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
II. Every true Christian must expect “to pass through his valley of Baca.” Jerusalem lay on the top of a hill. It was surrounded with mountains, traversed by ravines and gorges. Straight up over them the festival-pilgrims forced their advance. And these were the times when they sang their cheerfullest psalm--this one among them. There is no mountain without its valley. Our finest off-looks of experience are found when we have risen to the summit of the hardest passes, “And felt upon our foreheads bare the benedictions of the air.” And by the grace of God rests have been allowed by the way. Notable seasons of remembrance have we all of halts for refreshment we have already enjoyed.
III. Every true christian must expect to find a “well “in each valley of Baca.” In every sorrow there is some mitigation. Sometimes, again, trouble opens sluices of joy in our experience quite new. It was one of the incidents in the Crimean war, that a soldier lay famishing with thirst, and complaining bitterly, as a cannon-ball tore past him, that he was still left under fire. Meantime the missile of iron buried itself in the cliff-side behind him, splintered the rock, disclosed a spring, and sent close to his hot lips a full stream of water for his refreshment. Most of us have watched almost breathlessly as some tremendous providence shattered hope, or health, or comfort, or home, and yet found we were still alive afterwards, and indeed surrounded with blessings of which we never knew the existence before, and never felt the power till now.
IV. Every true Christian may force even the valley of Baca to become his well. The moment any Christian in simple-hearted confidence commits himself to Divine providence, he discovers the absolutely limitless reach of that statement with which this wonderful old psalm closes: “The Lord God is a sun and shield,” etc. This positive self-surrender is one of the conditions of forcing sorrow to minister comfort. It is compelling the weapon, which slays thousands of Philistines, to pour forth a fountain for our thirst. And the other condition is habitual repose on Divine wisdom. Trust in God cannot be exercised by fits and starts. It is not a thing of impulse, but of steady, every-day principle. With these two conditions met, any believer can turn his valleys of weeping into fountains of refreshment always.
V. Every true Christian will find his valley of Baca ending on the mount of God (Psalms 84:7). Then he will understand it at last. It may not have been what he would have chosen; but its discipline was profitable, and now its end is peace--eternal, sacred, sure. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
They go from strength to strength.
The theory of true progress
What is the true progress of man? We say progress of “man” in contradistinction to the progress of ideas, “graces,” principles, faculties, or arts.
1. Progress in the accumulation of wealth is not the true progress of man.
2. Nor progress in the attainment of knowledge.
3. Nor progress in social influence.
4. Nor progress in theological zeal.
5. Nor the progress of any element in the soul distinct and separable from it.
I. True progress is the progress of the soul in appropriating, with happiness to itself, all external objects to its highest use. But how is this appropriation to be made? How is this outward universe to promote the growth of our souls? Not without our willing and earnest effort. Put the acorn into a congenial soil, and external nature, by a necessity, will draw all the particles of vitality from its “milky veins,” and elaborate them into majestic forests. The seed has no resisting force; it is passive in the plastic hand of nature. But it is not so with mind; it has a choice in the matter. There must be investigation and application.
II. True progress is the progress of the soul in distributing, with happiness to itself, the highest blessings to the creation.
1. Analogy indicates it. There is nothing made for itself--nothing whose powers and influences, are entirely circumscribed to self. Whatever a creature receives it gives out, with the modification and increase of its own force. The clouds borrow water of the ocean, but they pour it forth again in refreshing showers upon the thirsty hills, which, in their turn, send them amongst the valleys. The tree borrows from every part of the world in order to build up itself, but it gives out, in return, beauty, fragrance, and fruit. Thus all things give what they appropriate. The material is but the emblem of the spiritual, and thus all nature typifies man’s distributive function.
2. Its instinct suggests it. “There are,” says Bishop Butler, “as real, and the same kind of indications in Nature that we are made for society, and to do good to our fellow-creatures, as that we were intended to take care of our own life, and health, and private good; and that the same objections lie against one of these assertions as against the other.”
3. It has a sphere for it. No two spirits, perhaps, throughout the intelligent universe are exactly alike: the one has what its neighbour requires, and thus to all there is a field for distribution. Now, true progress is, as we have said, the progress of the soul in distributing the highest blessings, with happiness to itself. What are the highest blessings? Spiritual thoughts. Ideas that will stimulate to duty, and nerve for nobler deeds; that will shed new light on being, and present the Eternal to the mind under aspects yet more lovely; that will guide to loftier walks of existence; that will touch new chords, develop new powers of being, awaken new hopes, and kindle higher aspirations; I call the highest blessings.
III. True progress is the progress of the soul in both appropriating and distributing, under an ever-heightening consciousness of the Creator’s presence and approval. Neither of the two former instincts to which we have referred--that of self or society--is more real, deep, or universal, than the Divine All men, in all periods, circumstances, and places, have developed their intuitive belief in the supernatural and Divine. This instinct is the ultimate fact in our spiritual constitution: it is the fountain-head of all religions. It has reared temples for the world, transformed men into priests, and wood and stone into gods. It is the breath of prayer, the song of thanksgiving, the soul of worship, through all lands and ages. To enjoy the approbation of the Deity is the grand desideratum of life. This last element of progress--namely, the ever-heightening consciousness of Divine approbation--transcends the other two, inasmuch as it involves them. It is only as this consciousness is felt that the spirit can succeed, either in the great work of appropriation or distribution. This is the spirit of advancement. (Homilist.)
Progress is the order of the day. It pervades everything. It is found in every walk of life. It is breaking up many of our old stereotype notions, and is forcing into notice and practice the newest and best discoveries. Who would not wish our age to be progressive in the useful and beautiful and great? So it is pleasant to see individuals progress--to see them rise step by step to the attainment of some great and worthy object
I. The character of spiritual progress.
1. It is slow. From step to step Holiness and heaven are to be obtained slowly--little by little. If we cannot fly or run we must be willing to climb and walk, thankful to go forward, though slowly.
2. It is toilsome. Not only slow work, but hard work. The ascent is difficult and dangerous, like the ascent of some ice-bound mountains. Painfully does the traveller move upwards.
3. It is certain. “They go,” etc. They rise. They are near heaven. They have more of Christ’s likeness.
II. Some of the inevitable consequences of ceasing to progress.
1. Declension. If the soul is not gazing upward and Godward, it will gaze earthward. If Christ, the strong, loving magnet, does not draw the soul to Himself, the worldly magnet will draw it to itself.
2. Loss at every step; his prospects and hopes clouded, his peace gradually departs. (W. Darwent.)
From strength to strength
The old and the new man co-exist, and they bring antagonistic elements to bear, so that warfare and strife are the result. The spirit born of God is annoyed, and hindered, and offended, by the spirit born of Adam. But in this condition there is progression as well as conflict. The new man gains ground, and the victory is reserved for him; and on each successive collision his power is greater, and that of his adversary is enfeebled. Although he may win his way but inch by inch, he shall win it in the end. The signs of this progress are--
I. A growing sense of God. His faith in God is a belief which stirs his mind, which sways his conscience, which animates his soul. Impatient, sometimes, in his fleshly thralls, he breaks away from time and sense, and strives to get at God. If he digs deep, he digs for God; if he soars high, he soars for God. Does he range creation? He finds God everywhere--in landscape, in field, in flower, and in flood. Nature is full of Him. Does he rehearse the ways of Providence? He sees the methods of God’s wisdom, and the traces of His care. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about him.” Not only does he think of Him as the God of his life, but as his “reconciled God and Father through Jesus Christ.” The spirit of estrangement is exorcised; and, in a filial and full assurance, he asserts his sonship by the cry of “Abba, Father!”
II. A growing dependence upon Christ. He strikes out the “I” both for the past and for the future, and puts in “Christ.” It is not what I have done; but what Christ has done. Not what I can do; but what Christ can do. The Christian lives inversely, if we may so speak; the weaker he becomes, the stronger he becomes;--i.e. the weaker grows the man, the stronger grows the Christian. For just in proportion as he realizes he is not only weak and helpless, but that he is absolutely nothing without Christ; in that proportion is he impelled to take the firmer hold upon Him, till he who was weak, helpless, and nothing in himself, grows mighty, able, and everything through Christ who strengthened him. This growth in grace, moreover, is accompanied by increasing spiritual discernment.
III. Increasing steadiness and success in the resistance of temptation. The natural man makes no stand. He rather goes over to the enemy. Neither does the converted man, all at once, attain the full power of resistance, because he cannot, all at once, learn to look entirely to, and lean entirely on, Jesus. The young conscript will often show more apparent zeal against sin than the advanced Christian. The old soldier does not battle the less valiantly when the enemy is before him, because he does not brandish his sword so swaggeringly on parade. It is purpose, and not impulse, by which the old soldier is guided. And it is the veteran, not the recruit, who makes the fewest relapses, is most seldom disgraced by a repulse, and who gains the more frequent and most signal victories.
IV. Decreasing absorption in worldly objects and attractions. He puts things in their proper place, and in their proper order. God and heaven stand first; self and earth stand second.
V. An increased unselfishness and disinterestedness of religious emotion. He sees spiritual things now, absolutely; not merely in their relation towards himself, but as they are in themselves. He sees Jesus in a higher light than as a mere personal Saviour; he elevates Him to a loftier throne, for, as he beholds His moral excellency, he loves to commune with Him, and grows restless to be with Him face to face. The fully renewed heart wants to see Him take all His power, and reign.
VI. A deepened composure in anticipating death and eternity. Talk to him of death, and you talk to him of liberty; you tell him of one who strikes off the dungeon bars, and unclasps the detaining gives. (A. Mursell.)
The untiring travellers
I. The progressive nature of the Christian’s course. His repentance will be characterized by a greater hatred to sin--not so much on account of its penalties as of its pollution--its opposition to the Divine nature. His love to God--his benevolence to his fellow-creatures--and his affectionate sympathy for the household of faith, will perpetually improve in fervour, activity, and enlargement. His fortitude, mailed with a growing conviction of Divine truth, will be displayed in a more uncompromising adherence to what is right--in a more unbending resistance to what is wrong. Thus will he go from strength to strength, while the beauty of holiness will be daily brightening upon him, and his affinity and relationship to heaven made thereby increasingly manifest.
II. The means by which He gathers increasing strength and energy for its prosecution.
1. What the vale of Baca was to the Jewish pilgrims, the word and ordinances of God are to the heaven-bound traveller. Just as the little pits in the desert contained the rain which came from above to confirm the ancient inheritance of the Lord when it was weary, so are ordinances the instituted receptacles of the descending influences of Divine grace which come down like showers that water the earth to revive and invigorate the soul that thirsts for them.
2. The Israelites, in going up to Jerusalem, were strengthened and encouraged by the society of their fellow-pilgrims, who divided the toils of the journey, and whose presence and converse animated them to prosecute it to the end. Union and co-operation are powerful stimulants in any pursuit.
3. In going up to Jerusalem from the several parts of their country, to worship the Lord in the place where He had recorded His name, the Israelites, we are told, cheered their spirits and beguiled the weariness of the way by certain sacred melodies which they sang at intervals and in concert as they travelled along. The psalms entitled Songs of Degrees are generally understood to have been sung on these occasions. Now, this was a fruitful source of solace and refreshment. This made the journey pleasant and delightful. It is thus that the joy of the Lord is the strength of the Christian pilgrim. Every grace of the Spirit gives pleasure in its operation.
4. The Israelites were animated to the prosecution of their journey by the hope of reaching Zion and the prospect of the sacred enjoyments which awaited them there. “I had fainted,” says the psalmist, “unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” As he advances onward in his Christian course, with the glow of spiritual health and activity, every fresh triumph over besetting sin--every fresh act of self-denial increased--every new habit of goodness acquired--every Christian virtue striking deeper root in his character--and every known duty more faithfully, fully, and cheerfully discharged, bear him record that now is his salvation nearer than when he believed. While he measures not his pace by his own strength, but leans upon the faithfulness of Omnipotence with all the confidence that one reposes on the arm of an old and well-tried companion, the oil of gladness is poured into his heart, and his soul becomes like the chariots of Aminadab, for he can run and not be weary, he can walk and not be faint.
III. The blessed and glorious termination. The final issue of the Christian’s course rests not upon a peradventure, but upon the omnipotent power and faithfulness of God, that they may have strong consolation who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before them. The same hand which gave the new bias to direct the soul in its heavenward motion will continue to quicken and secure its progress (Philippians 1:6; John 10:28-29). (J. Anderson, M. A.)
For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand.
Time spent in worship is time best spent
I. There is no time like it for the development of the highest thoughts. Mind quickens mind. The greater the mind with which we are in conscious contact, the more power it has to rouse the intellect and set the wheels of thought a-going. Conscious contact with God’s mind is the strongest impulse to thought, and to thought of the highest kind. Thought upon Him, His attributes, operations, laws, claims, etc. Hence no engagement like that of genuine worship can evoke and develop the wonderful powers of human thought. It is by thought alone that a man rises.
II. There is no time like it for the excitation of the sublimest emotions. As our physical life is in the flowing blood, so our happiness is in the current of our emotions.
1. Gratitude is an element of happiness. The mind full of thankfulness is the mind full of joy. In true worship gratitude rises to the highest point.
2. Adoration is an element of happiness. When the mind is wrapped even in the admiration of physical or artistic beauty, it is happy; but when raised to an adoration of the highest moral beauty, its happiness is ecstatic. In true worship this is the case, the whole soul, so to speak, seems to float on the calm and sunny sea of infinite love.
III. There is no time like it for the promotion of soul growth. Our well-being consists in the healthy growth of all the wonderful germs of thought and feeling and faculty which are embedded in our spiritual natures. As there were in the earth when first it came from the hands of Almighty God the germs of all the vegetable and sentient life that have appeared during the untold ages that have gone, so in the human soul all the germs of power, greatness, and blessedness that a man will ever become are slumbering as embryonic germs in his soul. His paradise consists in their development. Now, genuine worship is the means, the only means, that can bring these powers out. It is only as the earth turns its face to the sun that its seeds of life are quickened, and it is only as the soul turns itself into conscious contact with God that its unbounded potentialities are quickened into vitality and brought into growth. (Homilist.)
Delight in public ordinances
The true servants of God may esteem a day in His courts better than a thousand--
I. On account of the distinguishing honour with which it is attended.
II. On account of the sublime pleasure which is there experienced.
III. On account of the high advantage that results from it. The service of the sanctuary tends to--
1. Improve the heart.
2. Regulate the conduct.
3. Afford comfort in affliction.
4. Prepare us for heaven. (D. Dickson.)
The Divine reckoning of time
The great need of the world is a vision of the vast unities of truth. Little thoughts make little lives. Vast inner apprehensions of truth are necessary to create a greater outer life. Now, it is clear that the psalmist in our text desires to lead us no little way beneath the surface of things. We have here first a measurement of time made in the light of the kingdom of God. It is the measurement of the sanctuary of the courts of the Lord--what we should now call the kingdom of God. In as far as we realize within our lives the power of this kingdom, we enter into the experience which the psalmist expresses in our text. Now, following the psalmist’s suggestion, a little consideration will show that time is anything or nothing according to the intensity of our life. On the one hand you can conceive of a man’s life becoming more and more vacant of thought and feeling and deed until time is scarcely existent for him. Such life is a living death, and death knows no dominion of time. On the other hand, you can conceive of a life so intense that vaster and vaster extents of life are crowded into a single moment until length measurements of months and days and years are almost annihilated by depth, and time is on the verge of appearing as eternity. The fact that between these two extremes there are greatly varying measurements of time affects our earthly life at every point. There are two or three simple facts concerning time related to our present subject which from their very simplicity may evade our attention. The first is, that our ordinary measurements of time are purely conventional, being taken from without us, and not from within our own lives. Another thing worth remembering is that time, whether inside or outside of us, is always measured by intensity, and can never be reduced to mere extension. Try as you will, you can only measure time by some expression of force, energy, power, movement. The next thing to be noted is, that the vast variations of intensities even in external things make any fixed measurement of time impossible. When we are told, for example, that certain rays of light are caused by some thousands of millions of vibrations in a second of time, thought has no possible way of reconciling the ordinary idea of a second with such an infinity of movement. The difficulty arises from the fact that the sunlight does not set its time by the revolutions of the earth, as we do, but by its own transcendent energies. Our thought is baffled because we try to measure the energies of one thing by the time of another. One day in the sunlight is better than a thousand. Yet all these external energies are as nothing compared with those that are possible for the human spirit. Here we stand in the very territories of the infinite. One great thought in a human heart has more intensity and mighty force of movement in it than all the forces of the external world put together. In human life, then, time has a completely new meaning, a meaning closely akin to eternity. But in human life also deep stretches beneath deep, and in man’s grandest possibility, in the place where he feels the presence of God and consciously unites himself with the Infinite, time reaches its highest intensities. Here lifetimes are often lived in moments. One day in such a life and in such experiences is better than a thousand. What, then, shall we say to this? There are cases where men, seeking to live as long as possible, spare themselves the heat and the burden of the day, and reach their four score years and ten by contributing nothing of the blood of their heart to the healing of the world. There are others that burn with fiery zeal for God and His kingdom, with a great passion of love for men and of devotion to the cause of righteousness. To them length of days has been promised, yet the fires consume their life, and in the bloom of youth or the pride of manhood they are laid in the grave. This is, of course, not a universal rule, but appears often enough to demand our attention. It is just at this point that the psalmist intervenes, saying, “Be careful how you measure. This is not a question of the revolution of the earth, but of the history of a soul. Here the measurements of the days and years vary infinitely. You have written four score years upon the tomb of the man that spent his years like a living death. Tell the sculptor to chisel out the falsehood without delay. Time is movement and energy, and he has been an idler. Even this slow revolving earth has outstripped him. Write clearly above his grave so that all may read it, ‘Time was within his reach for eighty circling courses of the earth around the sun. But he never grasped it, and he died an infant of days, an ephemeral creature without a life and without a history.’” And turning to the other tomb where lamentation is written for the brevity of a consecrated life, he would say, “Poor, blind calculators, to measure such a life by rising and setting suns, by changing moons, and by returns of summer and winter. In this life cycles of time gathered into single moments. For every day write down a thousand, and let the epitaph be, ‘Died in fulness of days, according to the promise, “With long life will I satisfy him.’ This measurement of time gives us also a new measurement of happiness. The Christian is sometimes scoffingly told by the sceptic that he, also, like everybody else, is simply seeking a maximum of pleasure, and working for a summum bonum of happiness. There is a plausibility in this accusation that makes it sometimes difficult to meet and refute. The first step towards meeting it is to make a great admission. Namely this, that the goal of the Christian life is unquestionably the point of highest and intensest happiness, and that such happiness is undoubtedly one of the glowing aims of the Christian life. It must further be allowed that, if anything called Virtue brought with it a maximum of misery and something called Vice entailed a maximum of happiness, the principles of Christianity would lead to the courting of vice and not of virtue. This apparent contradiction arises from the absurdity of the supposition that we have made concerning virtue and vice. To be flung into real and essential misery is an indication that the life is out of joint, that the unity of the spirit is shattered and lost, and its harmonies destroyed. To be really and essentially happy is an indication that the life has attained its highest powers and its noblest harmonies. By whatever game you may call these, the Christian life is a strenuous movement towards the latter, and must therefore have the maximum of happiness for its goal, and therefore in part for its aim. But when the scorner proceeds to say that all pleasure is essentially of the same nature, and that the difference is not one of morality but of taste, he puts himself at our mercy to be smitten hip and thigh. The human spirit must measure its happiness as it measures its time, not by length, but by depth. By this measurement the meaning of happiness, like that of its sources, varies to infinity. It may either be an ephemeral thing on the surface of the life, or it may sing its eternal song in the infinite depths of the human spirit. It may be simply the expression of a passing harmony of quivering nerves, or it may be the expression of the eternal harmonies of the Godlike moral forces that make man Divine. (John Thomas, M. A.)
On the threshold
Literally, “I would rather lie on the threshold,” rather fill the lowest place and execute the meanest office in God’s house, than be the greatest and happiest of those found elsewhere. We sometimes say, “I have only a little religion, but I would not part with it for all the world”; and that is substantially what David says here. The meanest living member of the Church of God is greater than the most honourable outside.
1. The least of saints is superior to the world’s greatest men. The doorkeeper represents the least glorious and least powerful member of the spiritual congregation; but even he is more influential than the richest and greatest of the children of ungodliness. The ultimate power in the universe is the power of righteous mind, the power of righteous character; and he who possesses these in the most modest degree is mysteriously noble and efficient.
2. The least of saints is superior to the world’s happiest men. The position of the doorkeeper on the threshold is the least desirable of all positions in the spiritual kingdom. He has the faintest glimpse of the temple glories, hears the least of its music, tastes little of its delicacies; yet the psalmist in effect says, “I would rather be the saddest of the saints than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” And we feel that his judgment was just. Communion with God, however faint, faith in the promises, however feeble, a sense of infinite truth and love, however dull, and a glimpse of heaven, however dim, give us a satisfaction beyond all gratifications of time and sense.
3. The briefest life of goodness is better than the longest life of worldliness: “One day in Thy courts is better than a thousand” elsewhere. A life of worldliness and sin properly speaking is not life at all. When Lizio, an Italian, was told of the death of his dissipated son, he replied, “It is no news to me; he never was alive.” A life destitute of the spiritual element is not truly life. To live is to feel the spirit in contact with God, to be filled with His light, to be thrilled with His joy, to be warmed by His love, to be satisfied with His likeness. This is life, and the youngest believer in Christ knows more of the quality and fulness of existence than does the voluptuous patriarch. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The good man’s love for the house of God
The good man loves the house of God--
1. Because it is a constant testimony for God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
2. Because it is a refuge to him from the inhospitable and uncongenial influences by which he is surrounded in the world.
3. Because it is a school in which he becomes more fully instructed in the truth as it is in Jesus.
4. Because it is the home where he enjoys the communion of saints.
5. Because there he enjoys fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
6. Because it identifies him more and more with the paradise of God above. (W. Brock.)
For the Lord God is a sun and shield.
God a sun and a shield
This is a startling conjunction of emblems. A “sun”: the centre of a system of worlds--the very synonym for splendour--so glorious, that it has been worshipped by multitudes as Divine. A “shield”: an implement in human war, at first simple and rude, made of twigs, or skins, or metal--a piece of merely human handicraft. What could the sons of Korah have meant when they sang that God was sun and shield? God is sun and shield--
I. In His distance and in His nearness. The fiery globe ninety-one millions of miles distant, and the shield worn on man’s left arm in battle, close to his very heart, are both emblems of Him of whom men often cry, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” and to bring whom near men sometimes use their telescope of logic; but who is moreover so near, that in Him we live, and move, and have our being.
II. In His greatness and in His gentleness. The sun so great, that if all the planets were fused into one, six hundred would not give the bulk of the sun;--and that shield that shelters the bleeding brow or wounded limb, are both alike true figures of God.
III. In His holiness and in His benevolence. God is light, dazzling, unapproachable. God is love, etc. In Him mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. The God I sometimes dread is the God to whom to cling. (U. R. Thomas.)
A least for the upright
I. Blessings in their fulness. “The Lord God is a sun.”
1. Then, if God is mine, I have not only light, but I have the source of light.
2. God is a sun: that is infinity of blessing. There is no measuring it.
3. It is an immutability of blessedness (James 1:17).
4. There must be added concerning God as a sun--that He is for ever communicating His light and heat and excellence to all who are about Him. I cannot conceive the sun shut up within himself. An unshining sun is a sun unsunned; and a God that is not good and pouring forth His goodness has laid aside His deity. It is contrary to the very notion and idea of an infinitely good God for Him to restrain His goodness, and keep it back from His people.
II. Blessings in their counterpoise. One blessing alone might scarcely be a blessing; for in being too great a blessing it might crush us. We may have too much of a good thing. We want some other boon to balance the single benediction. So notice here, “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” “Sun and shield” hang before my eyes like two golden scales. Each one adds value to the other. When God is a sun to His people it may be He warms them into temporal prosperity with His bright beams, so that their goods increase, their body is in health, their trade succeeds, and their children are spared to them: they are grateful to God, and joyful because of the blessings which He has bestowed upon them. When everything is bright with us the Lord knows how to sober His children’s spirits so that they use, but do not abuse, the things of this life. Even when they most abound with worldly joys He makes His people feel that these are not their heart joy. He shades us from the noxious effects of wealth and content. He suffers not the sun to smite us by day. Is not this a gracious style of counterpoise? It is also a great mercy that when God gives His people great spiritual joys He usually gives them a humbling sense of themselves at the same time. Its gives them grace so that they can be full of assurance, and yet full of holy fear; always rejoicing and yet never presuming; lifted up, and yet lying low before the Lord.
III. Blessings in their order. The Lord is to us first a sun and then a shield. Remember how David puts it elsewhere:--“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Light first, salvation next. He does not save us in the dark, neither does He shield us in the dark. He gives enough sunlight to let us see the danger that we may appreciate the defence. We are not to shut our eyes and so find safety, but we are to see the evil and hide ourselves. Ought we not to be very grateful to God that He so orders our affairs? Ours is not a blind faith, receiving an unknown salvation from evils which are unperceived; this would be a poor form of life at best. No, the favour received is valued because its necessity is perceived. The heavenly sun lights up our souls and makes us see our ruin, and lie down in the dust of self-despair; and then it is that grace brings forth the shield which covers us, so that we are no more afraid, but rejoice in the glorious Lord as the God of our salvation. Then notice the order of the next two things--grace and glory: not glory first: that could not be. We are not fit for it. Grace must first blot out sin and change the nature. We could not enter glory or enjoy it by any possibility while we are sinful at heart. Grace must renew us or glory cannot receive us.
IV. Blessings in preparation and blessings in maturity. “The Lord will give grace and glory.” Grace is glory in the bud; you shall see the rod of Aaron full of blooming graces; but this is not all--glory is grace in ripe fruit: the rod shall bear ripe almonds. The Lord will give you both the dawn and the noon, the Alpha and the Omega, grace and glory. What is glory? He that has been in heaven five minutes can tell you better than the sagest divine that lives; and yet he could not tell you. Nay, the angels could not tell you, you could not understand them. What is glory? You must enjoy it to know it. Glory is not merely rest, happiness, wealth, safety; it is honour, victory, immortality, triumph.
V. Blessings in their universality. “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Is there some good thing which does not come to us by the Lord’s being our sun? We shall not lose on that account. Is there another good thing which cannot be included in God’s being our shield? We shall not be deprived of that. Is there some good thing that cannot be comprehended in grace? I cannot imagine what it can be, but if there be such a thing we shall not miss even that. Is there some good thing that is not comprehended even in glory? Well, it does not matter, we shall have it; for here stands the boundless promise--“No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The privileges of the righteous
I. What God is.
1. A “sun.” His people are not strangers to happiness, and they derive it all from Him.
2. A “shield”--always at hand, impenetrable by any weapons, capacious, encompassing, adequate.
II. What God gives.
1. Grace--Divine assistance and influence, springing from the free favour of God. It is often expressed plurally: we hear of the graces of the Holy Spirit. When it regards truth, we call it faith;--a future good, hope;-trouble, patience.
2. Glory. This denotes splendour, fame, excellency displayed; and the sacred writers apply it by way of distinction to the transcendent dignity and sublime happiness reserved in heaven for the righteous.
III. And what does He withhold? “No good thing.”--O how full and comprehensive is the language of promise!
1. Behold in it the grandeur of His possessions. He who engages to withhold no good thing must have all good things at His disposal.
2. Behold in this promise the wonders of His liberality. All earthly benefactors shrink from a comparison with Him. He acts by no ordinary rule of bounty, by no human standard of beneficence. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,” etc.
3. Behold in this promise the wisdom of His dispensations. He has qualified His engagement, and regulated our hope, by the goodness of the things insured. Let us then drop not only our murmuring, but our anxiety.
IV. Whom does God regard in all these exceeding great and precious promises?--“Them that walk uprightly “in reference to self, others, God. (W. Jay.)
The Lord God a sun and shield
I. WHAT THE LORD GOD IS TO His PEOPLE.
1. A “sun.”
(1) Enlightening the dark mind.
(2) Fertilizing the barren mind.
(3) Consoling the cheerless mind.
2. A “shield”; protecting His people from the sword of Divine wrath, and from their spiritual adversaries.
II. What God will do for His people. He will give--
(1) He gives the principle of grace.
(2) He encourages the growth of grace.
(3) He will reward the combat of grace.
(1) The glory for which grace prepares.
(2) The glory which the saints in heaven now enjoy.
(3) The glory which He has promised
(4) The glory that exceeds all conceptions.
III. What God will not withhold.
1. Any necessary instruction.
2. Any needful correction.
3. Any requisite support. (T. Dunn.)
God as a sun and shield
I. The nature of God in general.
1. A “sun.”
What is it that makes the day? Is it not the sun? And so what is it that makes the happiness of the Christian but even God Himself? Seeing the Lord God is a sun, we should then hence learn to rejoice in that light and comfort which He does impart, and which we receive from Him. We should still desire that the light of His countenance may shine upon us more and more, and nothing should be more grievous to us than the withdrawing of this from us.
2. A “shield.”
(1) A large and broad shield, which is able fully to cover us, protect and keep us safe.
(2) A strong and impenetrable shield.
(3) A present shield.
God is not a shield at large to all sorts of persons whatsoever, but He is a shield and buckler to His children, and to such persons as by faith cleave unto Him. To these He is a shield indeed, and it is that which is matter of great peace and encouragement to them, especially in times of danger and uncertainty. And accordingly, further, we should learn from hence to improve Him, and make use of Him upon all occasions: we should betake ourselves to Him for protection, who has expressed Himself ready hereunto, and drawn out that virtue which is in Him to this purpose. There are two attributes in God especially which redder Him to us as considerable in this respect--His truth, and His power. The truth of God, He is a shield in regard of that (Psalms 111:4). All those gracious promises which God has made for the protection of His people, they are so many shields unto them, under which they may cover themselves. And then His power, that is another of His attributes which is useful in this regard: forasmuch as He is stronger than any evil which can happen unto them.
II. The particular expressions of God’s nature to us.
1. Affirmative. “The Lord will give grace and glory.” He might have said, has given for the time past, or does give it for the time present, but He chooses rather to set it in the future--will give for time to come, hereby to signify His constancy and unweariedness in this respect, and the continuation of His blessings to us. The gifts themselves here mentioned are of two forms: grace and glory, the one pertaining to this life present, the other to that which is in heaven.
2. The negative. “No good thing,” etc.
(1) In regard of that right and interest and propriety which a true believer has in all good things. There is no good thing whatsoever but a child of God has right to as his own, and as belonging unto him (Revelation 21:7; 1 Corinthians 3:21).
(2) All true believers as they have interest in all good things themselves from their relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, so they have likewise interest in that affection which might incline the heart of Him that has these things in His own disposing to bestow these good things upon them whatsoever they be (Romans 8:32).
(3) There is no good thing whatsoever which the children of God can desire which God is not able to bestow upon them in regard of Himself.
(4) As to the matter of actual performance. God does withhold no good thing from those that fear Him, in the event itself, but does indeed bestow it upon them, and does here by this passage in the text engage Himself to as much for them. This must again be taken with these explications. First, there is no good thing which God does withhold from all His children, take it absolutely and specificatively in regard of the things themselves. There are some of the children of God which do partake of every good thing in kind, in one rank or degree or other, as some of them have riches; and some of them have none, and some health, etc. Secondly, there is no good thing whatsoever which God does withhold from any of His children either in the formality or equivalency of it. Let it be truly good, and He does not withhold it, or if He does withhold it in the kind, yet He does not withhold it in the analogy and proportion and equalness of it. He gives them the sweetness and comfort of all these things in the denial of themselves; this we may see in that expression in Mark 10:29-30. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The believer’s blessings
Let us consider the several characters here given of God, and the several blessings which, in one way or another, these several characters ensure to the righteous.
1. It is the combination of characters which we regard as most deserving of attention: “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” If we consider God as a “sun,” there is much of grand and gorgeous imagery which comes sweeping before us. God is emphatically our “sun,” our source of light, as showing us ourselves. Conscience is the candle of Deity; and it will burn long and brightly in the natural man, though he thicken the atmosphere with the impure vapours of passion and lust; but it is not the candle of Deity which can search the dark corners of the heart--it must be Deity itself. “O Lord,” says the psalmist, “Thou hast searched me and known me”; and again he prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts.” God, as a sun, saith, Let there be light, and there is light., and as it was in the first creation, this light discloses an unshapen chaos; and man looks into Himself thus suddenly and supernaturally illuminated; and everywhere may he discover nothing but moral confusion. Even the light itself is the only beautiful and glowing thing--all on which it rests is deformity, wildness, and corruption; and ever after God is a sun to the man, by enabling him to carry on that very process of research and discovery which is indispensable to all progress in righteousness. According to the expression of St. Paul--“He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts.” And just as it is when the sunbeam finds its way into a darkened room, you see a thousand floating moats which would otherwise have escaped observation; so the piercing rays of Deity, entering the solitudes of the soul, will cause the chambers which had passed for cleansed and garnished, to appear full of the atoms of a widely diffused sinfulness. The light is carried into the corners which had been hitherto overlook
1. The sun shows him the hopelessness of the task in which he is engaged, and finds him fresh work to do, leaving him as far off as ever from completion. But now turn your thoughts on the combination of characters--“The Lord God is a sun and shield.” As a sun He shows me more and more my sinfulness; but then as a shield He gives me power to oppose it, and an assurance that I shall conquer. As a sun He discloses so much of the enormity of guilt that I am forced to exclaim--“Mine iniquities are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear!” But then, as a shield, He shows me how He has laid the load on a Surety who can bear it away into a land of forgetfulness. As a sun He makes me daily more and more sensible of the utter impossibility of my working out a righteousness of my own; but then, as a shield, He fastens my thoughts on that righteousness of His Son which is mysteriously conveyed to all who believe on His name. As a sun, in short, He brings facts to my knowledge, inasmuch as He brings myself and mine enemies to my knowledge, which would make the matter of deliverance seem out of reach and hopeless, if He were not at the same time a shield; but, seeing that He is a shield as well as a sun, the disclosures which He makes as a sun only prepare me for the blessings which He imparts as a shield; making me desirous, and fitting me to receive them. Who, then, shall wonder that under the combination of the characters of God the psalmist should break into expressions of confidence and assurance? Take the catalogue of things which inasmuch as we are fallen creatures, God as our sun instructs us to fear, and you find that, inasmuch as we are redeemed creatures, God as our shield enables us to defy. Who, then, shall doubt that there results from the combination of characters exactly that system of counterpoise which is generally to be traced in the dealings of the Almighty? Who can feel, if indeed he have been disciplined by that twofold tuition which informs man first that “he hath destroyed himself,” and then that “God hath laid help on One who is mighty,” the former conciliating, the latter encouraging--the one making way for the other, so that the sinner is emptied of every false confidence, that he may be tempted to courage--who, we say, can fail to draw from the combination of the Divine characters the inference drawn by the psalmist--to exclaim, that is, after recording that “the Lord God is a sun and shield, He will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
2. Let us now examine more attentively the psalmist’s expression of confidence, that “He will give grace and glory.” Did David mean that God will “give grace here,” and “glory hereafter”? No doubt the words are susceptible of this interpretation; and a very noble meaning it is--referring everything to the free gift of God, the power through which we become meet for heaven, and the heaven itself into which the righteous shall enter. And yet it would appear as though the psalmist were referring specially to what takes place upon earth. He applies the “shield “and the “sun” in his description of Deity, though it is only at present that God is as a shield to His people; in the higher state of being there will be no enemy, no difficulty, and, withal, no need of a shield. And if the “sun” and the “shield” may both be most properly referred to the Divine character, as a present display of grace, the “glory” may be presumed to belong to the Divine dealings, as at present experienced. In other words, “grace and glory” are represented as in some sense one and the same, as though grace were glory, and glory were grace. The truth contained in the clause is, then, that which may be derived from the saying of St. Peter, when he bids us “be sober, and hope to the end; for the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “The revelation of Jesus Christ” is to be at the consummation of all things, when everlasting happiness shall be entered on by the faithful; and nevertheless it is grace, not glory, which, according to the apostle, is then to be brought to the Church--an intimation which is only to be explained by identifying grace with glory--by supposing, that is, that glory differs from grace in measure, rather than in kind. And this is what we consider is taught by David in our text: he speaks of what God now communicates to the believer; but he speaks both of grace and glory. He represents, that is, grace as glory commenced, and glory as grace consummated. We do not wish to confound the engine with the work, or to make out that the process is the result. Of course, in strictness of speech, grace is the instrument, glory the produce. But if the glory lie in the being freed from sin, and if it be grace which is gradually setting us free, the hope of grace is the true “hope of glory.” Nor is it only freedom from sin which grace effects. It effects also consecration to the service of God. There are none but true Christians who really fulfil the great end of their being--that of promoting the glory of their Maker; and it is not through the working of any mere human principle that they propose to themselves so sublime an object. There must have been a change in the affections, a withdrawment of the heart from temporary interests, a vivid recognition of the position which we occupy through creation and redemption, ere the end at which our actions aim can in any degree be for the honour of God it is therefore to grace, as a principle implanted by God, that we ascribe every effort to advance God’s glory. If it be the direct result of the workings of grace that we are led to consecrate ourselves to the service of the Most High, let grace have unrestrained sway, and dust and ashes though we be, should we not become ineffably glorious? It will not be the robe of light that shall make us glorious, though brighter threads than sunbeams shall be woven into its texture; it will not be the palm and the harp that shall make us glorious, though the one shall have grown on the trees of paradise, and the other have been strung with the Mediator’s hands. We shall be glorious, as ministering to God’s glory--glorious as devoted to the service of the Almighty--glorious as employed on the business, and delighting in the commands of our Maker--glorious with a more than angel’s glory, because entrusted with more than an angel’s freedom. And if this be our glory, yea, then, poetry may give her music to what she counts more beautiful, and painting its tints to more sparkling things; but Christianity, the scheme of human restoration, recognizes no glory but the living to God’s glory! If this be our glory, where is the word which describes glory so emphatically as “grace”? Grace is that which produces consecration to God’s service, and therefore is grace nothing less than glory begun. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The sun and shield
The psalmist here embraces both nature and art in his illustration, setting forth what God is to His people. What the sun is to nature, what the shield is to the soldier, God is to His people: He also gives grace and glory.
1. God’s blessing to His people set forth under the figure of the sun.
(1) The sun is the centre of all beauty and glory. At first darkness was upon the face of the deep, but God gathered up the light and concentrated it in the sun, so that all the glory of the heavens and the beauty of the earth are but a reflection of the sun. So with the Sun of Righteousness (Colossians 1:19). All the beauty and glory of the Church triumphant and militant, collectively and individually, is a reflection of the Sun of Righteousness.
(2) The sun reveals and illuminates. We may pass along a highway surrounded with beauty on the one hand and dangers on the other, but all ignorant of it until it is revealed by the sun; so the plan of redemption by the light of the Sun of Righteousness reveals to us beauties that were hidden to the men of the world (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
(3) The sun is the concentration of all power. Without Christ ye can do nothing, but with Christ all things are possible.
(4) The sun is discovered by its own light. The same sun that looked down on the dial of Ahaz and painted the rose of Sharon in the days of Solomon, illuminates and beautifies the earth to-day, and is the only source of light, so the same Holy Spirit that inspired Samuel to teach and David to strike his lyre is the only source of instruction in the Church of God to-day.
2. The Lord is also a shield. This emphasizes the heroic side of the Christian’s character. It means war, and protection in that war. God stands between His people and their enemies.
3. God will give grace. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But we cannot work a thing out until it is first placed within, God gives us grace in the germ. Like the eagle that is in the egg, like the forest in the acorn, it takes time to develop.
4. God will give glory. The glory of creation is man. The glory of man is his soul. The glory of the soul is the grace of God within it. The kings of earth cause Daniel and Joseph to be clothed with royal robes, but God will clothe us with His own hands, with heaven’s best wardrobe out of the ivory palace. (W. N. Richie, D. D.)
The privileges of the upright
I. What is God?
1. A “sun.” The source of--
2. A “shield.”
(1) To your persons.
(2) To your graces.
(3) To your property.
II. What does God do? He gives--
(1) The goodwill of God towards us.
(2) The good work of God in us.
2. Glory--the completion of grace.
3. All good things--everything necessary for life.
III. Who are the characters likely to share this felicity? “Them that walk uprightly.” (M. Wilks.)
The Lord God a sun
Perhaps no other object in nature has so many attributes that fit it to represent a supreme and invisible Source of power, and life, and government, as the sun. It has peculiar aptness in representing a pure and spiritual God. These silent, mysterious, rejoicing influences of sunlight, that give to the heavens and the earth a charm that no tongue or pen has yet expressed, symbol to us the universal influence of the Divine mind that pervades creation with silent, invisible, life-giving power. What other symbol could give such a conception of purity, vitality, diffusiveness, continuance, and life-imparting power?
I. Observe its universality, as a fit emblem of the universal power of God. It is, in its centre and power, definitely located, as it were; and yet it reaches itself out, and fills immensity, and is as much in the east as in the west, in the north as in the south; and it pervades with endlessness, and, at the same time, every part of the vast physical domain of God. As much at night as by day is the stream falling down and beating upon this globe; and all the forces of light, its life-giving power, are borne, in this immeasurable flood, through infinite space. And is it difficult to rise from this glory of fulness to some faint conception of a mind that issues and impels streams of influence that go forth and fill the vast domain of existence? Is it impossible, when matter so nearly takes the proportion of universality or omnipresence, that mind, more ineffable and subtle and mobile than matter, should be able to bear itself abroad into the infinite realm?
II. Consider, also, that this forth-streaming of light and power from the sun has been going on through incomputable periods of time. The historic period of this earth--that, in other words, which records the appearance of the race of man upon it--is relatively short, being but five or six thousand years; while the scientific periods--namely, those which are known only by the interpretation of physical facts--are inconceivably greater. And through the one and the other, doubtless for millions of years, the sun has poured its vast stream of influence, undiminished. Nor is the source apparently wasted. For all purposes of illustration, it may be said that the sun gives without wasting, and is infinitely abundant, after measureless periods and spaces have been filled, in its luminous supply. Thus we rise to the conception of a mind that shoots forth creative and nourishing energy, and that pours it unwasted down through the ages of time, boundless, fathomless, undiminishing.
III. Consider also what an image of abundance the sun affords. The leaves of the trees, the blades of grass, all the parts of the growing vegetable kingdom, and the infinite swarms of minor insect life--all of them go to illustrate the thought of abundance, of multitudinousness. But what shall equal in these things the abundance of that solar flood that fills the heaven and the earth, that penetrates the soil, that saturates with heat rocks and stones, and that moves on for ever and for ever with illimitable processions, and everywhere both carries life and finds it? And where else shall there be anything that at all, for an illustration, equals the conception which we strive to form of the creative abundance of God, whose thoughts are for ever brooding, and yet whose life for ever is developed, and who is perpetually changing chaos into organization, and making organization progress through endless cycles of evolution, and through an inconceivable multiplicity of details?
IV. Consider its stimulating and developing power. All things presuppose the sun. It seems to us unthinking, as though everything had been created with its life within itself; as though animals had their life within themselves; as though vegetation had its life in itself. Nothing has. That sun which the beast does not recognize, that sun which the insect does not know, is, after all, its father and its mother. I ask the daisy, “Who is your father?” and it speaks to me of the seed and the root; while I know that the unplanted sun is the father of the daisy. I ask the pastures, “Who has created you?” and they speak of the showers; no blade of grass speaks of the sun; but I know that the unbaptized sun has, by its light of fire, baptized these its children, and that there is nothing that grows in Nature, of animals, or birds, or insects, or plants, that is not the immediate result of that unconscious sun that works everywhere. And when men say to me, “Show me the presence of your God; show me some sign that He is in human affairs, guiding them: you talk of the Holy Ghost, of the Spirit of God, of the Divine inspiration, and of the soul of man as being born thereby; now, give me some token that it is so”--when men say this to me, I point them to all the world, and say, “By the same signs and tokens by which you recognize that the life of the globe is in the sun, that is a myriad of leagues distant; the sun, that sounds no trumpet and waves no banner; the sun, that steals silently through the air, and that works, though you see not the working, but only the fruit of working--by these same signs and tokens you may recognize that the life of the soul is in God.”
V. The sun is the centre of attraction, the holding-force of the universe. Its invisible power harnesses all planets and stars. It guides the earth in all its courses. It is a government, in short. It not only gives vitality to all things of the earth, but it surrounds the earth, rendered vital, with guiding power, and holds it in its movements. So God is the centre of power, and the centre of government. By maintaining those eternal laws by which the human soul acts, He sits central. As the sun sits central in the solar system to hold the planets that roam only by its permission, so God sits central in the universe, holding this globe not only, but all its habiliments; and all its habiliments not only, but the soul of every man; and the soul of every man not only, but all that is in the human soul.
VI. Consider that generosity and impartiality which the sun exercises. It makes no discriminations and distinctions. I have growing in my garden the portulaca in beds, for the sake of its glowing colour. You know that it is first cousin to purslane--a weed that everybody who undertakes to keep a garden hates. I have hoed it, and pulled it up, and denounced it, and spurned it, and given it to the fire and to the pigs with maledictions. But I cannot find out that the sun exercises any discrimination between the purslane growing in my garden and the portulaca, r call one flower and the other weed; but God’s sun calls them both flowers. In this it is the emblem of God, who “maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” etc.
VII. Prolific and intimate in benefit as the sun is, it is observable that only a part of its benefit is thrust upon man, and that that part is mainly that which concerns his lower necessities. If we would go further, and use the sun as artists use it, and draw out its subtler elements of beauty, we must study its laws in that direction, and obey them. If we would derive from the employment of the sun its more perfect fruits and harvests, we must take the steps necessary to this end. Not upon every one does it thrust these bounties. They must be inquired for. So it is with the Sun of Righteousness. He sheds a providential watchfulness and protection upon all men, without regard to character; but if men would go higher, and perfect the understanding, refine the moral sentiments, purify the heart, and come to be God-like, developing the God that is in them, for this there is special labour required. (H. W. Beecher.)
The sun an emblem of God
What the natural sun is to material nature, God is to this world and its tenants, especially to those who fear His name. Of all the figures employed indicating some features of resemblance to God, there is none more beautiful and appropriate than the sun. “It is a pleasant thing for the eye to behold the sun,” i.e. to enjoy the effect of his diffused and reflected radiance. Earth and its countless inhabitants are deeply indebted to his vivifying rays. He is the source of all that quickens and beautifies nature, and thus has become the emblem of many blessings.
1. In all probability he was the first natural object which had the religious homage of man, and this may suggest the thought that the human mind delights in mysteries--in the insolvable more than the apparent and simple--as man could not easily prostrate himself before any object more mysterious in its nature. There is no searching of the sun; our eyes are too weak to stand the ceaseless ocean of light that emanates from him. How much less can we search the sun’s Creator. Contrasted with Him, myriads of suns are like so many dark bodies. His revelation of Himself in His works, and in His Word, in His Son, and in our souls, is more than sufficient for the comprehension of any finite mind and beyond the ken of the most philosophic eye.
2. The sun is ever the same. Ever since the Creator said on the fourth day, “Let there be light,” he has faithfully performed his function. Generations live and die; empires wax and wane; but he is the same from age to age, and gives his light to the father and the son; and shines upon the babe in his cradle as well as years after upon his grave, when numbered with the tenants of mortality. Thus the psalmist, in speaking of the kingdom of Christ, says, “His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun.” God is unchangeable. He is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” His being fills every point of duration, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” His thoughts and purposes are immutable. “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever; the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
3. The sun is larger than all the other planets.
It is difficult go conceive an adequate idea of his magnitude. If all the planets from Mercury, that receives a continual stream of light from him, to Neptune--that is three thousand and six hundred millions of miles distant from him, somewhere on the confines of creation--were made into one world, it is said that it would require six hundred such worlds to constitute one that would approach the sun in its dimensions. Infinitely greater than this is the disparity which exists between God and the highest, the mightiest, and holiest of His creatures.
4. Of all the works of God the sun is the most conspicuous. He occupies the most prominent position among the planets of heaven. Take him from the constellations of heaven, and all is darkness and confusion. What would this world be apart from God? Confusion, darkness, and unmitigated misery. Blessed be His name, He is here, as the cause of all causes, the force of all forces, the agent of all agencies, the breath of all life, and the source of all good.
5. The sun is most generous. He gives his all freely and impartially; he shineth on the just and unjust; his rays fall upon the sower of iniquity as well as the Christian in devout prayer and meditation. It is generally accepted now as being true that there are in the sunbeam three different principles, viz. the chemical, luminiferous, and calorific, and that each has a function to discharge in relation to the fruits of the earth. The chemical has to do with germinating the plant, the luminous assists in secreting from the air the carbon essential to its growth, while the calorie, or heating rays, are required to nurture the seed, and form the reproductive elements. What wisdom displayed in the fact, that the first of these is more powerful in the spring than in the summer, while the second becomes more powerful in the summer, and that in the autumn both are lessened, while the third increases in force; i.e. each principle becomes potent at the time when most required. How eminently adapted to our wants as well as those of Nature.
6. The sun is a fountain from whence flows a perpetual stream of goodness, and is an invaluable blessing to our world. God is an inexhaustible source of all good. He is the primal fount of all mercies. He is not only the Quickener of life, but the Giver and the Sustainer of it. Divine supplies and human wants are balanced. How loving the hand that adapts the blessings to our wants. How numerous they are. Can you reckon them? Life, health, food, raiment, peace, homes, relatives, friends, money, honour, and seasons of innocent pleasure; verily, our life is an endless history of Divine bounties. God gives these blessings to all without distinction. How loudly this calls for our gratitude. But He gives infinitely more to those that love Him, delight in His statutes, and frequent His sanctuary to adore and praise Him. To them He is a sun and shield. As the sun is everything to the earth, so God is to His people--He is their All. (J. Stevenson.)
Children of the sun
We are all lovers of the sun, and give it unwitting homage in a thousand ways. We seek it as if we were new-born flowers asking for a baptism of beauty and fragrance, and, like the birds, we pipe our merriest notes when it has dismissed the chilling clouds. Nor are bees and butterflies more content than are we when it favours us with its encouraging smiles and stimulating caresses. Distant yet near, hidden yet revealed, majestic yet lowly, mighty yet merciful, terrible enough to consume worlds and yet tender enough to open a blossom, vast enough to appal us, and yet beneficent enough to attract us--there can be little wonder that men of reverent temper have found in it touching suggestions of Him who giveth grace and glory. “The Lord is a sun.”
I. Then my life may be illumined. No nook or corner of our being need go unirradiated. Open the life to God as you open the eye to the sun, and you will no longer be a child of the darkness. We need not dwell in the shadow of sin, in the cave of doubt, in the pit of melancholy, in the cavern of unbelief, in the neighbourhood of gloom: we are called to the sunshine; we can walk in the light as He is in the light, we can tread on bright-topped hills, we can hear the message, “Let there be light.”
II. Then my life may be cheered. He, whose shining sun brightens every earth-spot, making the flowers start up in rare brilliancy, causing the birds to sing their sweetest sonnets, putting a beauteous bloom upon the fruits of the orchard, and dressing Nature in a glorious dress, says to us, “What that sun is to the physical world, I am to the spiritual. I can work a mighty transformation in your lives, can put an end to your soul’s winter, and can confer on you an endless summer. I can warm you through and through with My fires, and in the light of My face you can live perpetually, despite life’s changefulness, and the hard, trying, and perplexing things which come to you--for I am God, your Exceeding Joy, the Fount of Life, the very God of Peace.”
III. Then my life may be enriched. It is God who quickens me from the death of sin, who renews my life from day to day, who gives it its finest expression, who stores it with heavenly treasures, who generates within me the holiest desires, and fosters a thrice-blessed bliss-inspiring hope. Who can tell how rich I may yet become? When I see the gorgeous garniture of the universe, I know that God does not want me to be clad in less than a royal dress. When I see the opulence of Nature on all hands, L am sure He does not want me to fare meagrely. When I observe the superb dome of many-coloured glass above us, the vast panorama of earth and sea full of pictures, poems, and symphonies, I am sure that He intends me to rise to full and rich perfection.
IV. Then my life may be beautiful. Standing in the stream of the Divine Brightness, there is no knowing to what splendour we shall come. Drenched with the glory of His face, we shall have a sweetness far surpassing that of sun-kissed flowers, a ripeness which the fairest fruit will only faintly image, a beauty superior to anything earth has known. (J. Pearce.)
The Lord will give grace and glory.--
Grace and glory the gift of God
I. Viewing the promise as on the side of God, and of His condescension to us His guilty creatures, we may trace it in its source, and in the manner of its fulfilment.
1. Absolutely, grace and glory are the Lord’s; being of the essence of His nature; his property and possession.
2. Relatively to us, grace and glory are the Lord’s to give; He has them so that He may give them.
3. Grace and glory are given from the Father through the Son.
4. Grace and glory are given from the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
II. Consider it now on the side of man, and his need of God.
1. What are the aspects of our condition that make the assurance peculiarly suitable to our case?
(1) We find no favour, no grace, in the eyes of God. On the contrary, we are the objects of His just displeasure; guilty; condemned.
(2) In this condition, we have no fitness or qualification for being advanced by God to any post of honour, or distinguished by any special marks of His confidence and approval; no capacity of being glorified.
(3) In this predicament of estrangement and dishonour we are helpless; without any means of extricating or raising ourselves.
2. What more suitable,--what more necessary,--than this promise--“The Lord will give grace and glory”? A right princely and royal gift! And a right princely and royal act to make it absolutely a free gift! It is a procedure worthy of God. And it is the only procedure that could really meet our case. Of His own free will begat He us by the Word. Of His own free will He called us in His Gospel. Of His own free will He puts His Holy Spirit within us, and works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
III. The connection between grace and glory, and the dependence of the one upon the other.
1. Grace comes before glory; and only through grace can glory be reached. Grace first, and then glory. It must be so. Vain will you seek to commend yourselves to God, and win a character and name before Him, if you are not first found willing to be debtors to His mercy and sovereign grace, His full and free mercy.
2. Glory comes after grace; and grace is in order to glory. Why would you have the Lord to give you grace? Is it that you may hopefully press on to glory? Grace is the means to glory. Do you so regard it? Are you anxious, not merely about your personal rest, and ease, and comfort, but about your being put in a position and receiving power to serve the Lord freely, and to enjoy Him fully?
3. Grace implies glory (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29-30). What gracious soul is in heaviness through manifold affliction? Let him not faint. Let him seek grace to hold on, in the confident belief that the Lord, giving the grace he seeks, will give the glory for which he is content to wait.
4. Grace prepares for glory; and the proportion of grace determines the proportion of glory; or, to put it in a pointed form, the more grace the more glory.
5. The seals of grace are the pledges of glory. This is doubly true. It is true of the inward seal of grace, which is the Holy Ghost in the heart, and of the outward seals of grace, which are the holy sacraments in the Church. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Grace and glory
The Lord gives; there is nothing freer than a gift, and there can be nothing freer than that greatest of all the gifts of God, eternal life. That expression, “eternal life,” sums up these two things, grace and glory. “The Lord will give grace and glory.” It is His glory to give His grace; and because of His graciousness, He gives glory. Glory never comes without grace coming first, but grace never comes without glory coming last; the two are bound together, and “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
I. The first gift: “The Lord will give grace.”
1. The Lord will give grace to all those who feel that they need it, and confess their need. Claim anything as of right, and God will only give you what you have a right to claim, and that will be everlasting destruction from His presence and from the glory of His power. But confess that you are guilty, and stand ready for the death-sentence to be executed, and appeal to the unmerited mercy of God, and you shall have it freely given to you.
2. He will give grace to those who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Nay, He has given grace to them already. It has pleased the Father that in Christ should all fulness dwell, and therefore fulness of grace abides in Christ.
3. He will give more grace to those to whom He has given some grace. If you have had the first droppings of grace, keep on looking to Him who gave you those first drops, for there is a shower on the way.
4. He will give grace in the form in which it is needed.
5. He will give grace when it is needed. Grace is a thing which has to be used, and the Lord who gives it means us to use it. Whenever God sharpens my scythe, I know that there is some grass for me to cut. If ever He hands me down a sword, He seems by that very action to say to me, “Go and fight,” and He does not give it to me that I may have it dangling between my legs to show what a man of war I am. When you need grace, you shall have grace.
6. He will give us grace to a much larger degree when we are prepared to receive it.
7. He will give grace till it melts into glory.
II. The last gift. When our entire manhood, spirit, soul, and body shall be in heaven, then will this promise be fulfilled, “The Lord will give glory.”
1. “Glory” means, first, recognition. When Christ shall declare that He knows us, and shall say to each one of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”; when He shall confess us before men when He comes in the glory of His Father; O sirs, when Christ shall call out His poor persecuted followers, and amidst such a scene as never was beheld before, when angels shall lean from the battlements of heaven, and a cloud of witnesses shall gather round about assembled men, when Christ shall say, “You were with Me in My humiliation, and I own you as My chosen, My beloved, My brethren,” that will be glory.
2. The next meaning of the word “glory” is vision. “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty.” With Job, each believer can say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” etc.
3. The third meaning of the word “glory” is fruition. What the fruition will be I will tell you when I have been there. Long ago, we learned that “man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” Brothers and sisters, we have enjoyed His Word; we have enjoyed His day; we have enjoyed His covenant; we have enjoyed His love; but what will it be to enjoy God Himself, and to enjoy Him for ever? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Mountains have been exhausted of their gold, mines of their diamonds, and the depths of ocean of their pearly gems. The demand has emptied the supply. Over once busy scenes silence and solitude now reign; the caverns ring no longer to the miner’s hammer, nor is the song of the pearl-fisher heard upon the deep. But the riches of grace are inexhaustible. All that have gone before us have not made them less to those who follow us. When they have supplied the wants of unborn millions, the last of Adam’s race, that lonely man, over whose head the sun is dying, beneath whose feet the earth is reeling, shall stand by as full a fountain as this day invites you to drink and live, to wash and be clean. (T. Guthrie.)
No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.--
God’s good things lot the upright
It all depends on what you mean by a good thing. It does not follow, for instance, that a thing is good simply because it has a good name. Mankind is governed very much by names, and some very bad and hurtful things go by a good name in the world. The old name for the Cape of Good Hope was the Cape of Storms, but everybody would prefer the later name, though it does not lessen by an inch the height of the stormy waves. The Irish speak of the fairies as “the good people”; not that they have much confidence in their goodness, but because they think it judicious to speak of them in that way. Now, God’s good things are very varied in their names. Some have the best and most beautiful of names. Others again, nominally, are not so attractive. What a lovely name was that which Jesus gave His disciples when He said, “Henceforth I call you not servants, but I have called you friends!” They were raised to a higher level, and not merely got orders as servants, but confidences as friends. Who would presume, however, to call Himself by that name? But I find that Jesus speaks, in another place, of a yoke. That is not such an attractive name. There is no doubt, however, about its being a good thing, if it be Christ’s yoke. It is through the taking of that yoke upon us that we shall find rest unto our souls. I suppose, if we were asked as to the characteristics of a good thing, most of us would say that a very important one must be that it lasts. Well, that is true, above all, of God’s good things. They last. Time has been called “the prince of honest fellows,” for he brings out the real value of things in the long run; and time has proved the value of the Gospel, and the blessings that come to us through it. “Why do I not like that story so well to-day as yesterday?” said a little girl, when her mother told her the same story a second time. It is mostly the way, however. The interest fades with repetition. But the old, old story of Jesus and His love gets more precious and fascinating the longer we live, and the more we think about it. Sometimes we wonder what will be the good things of the next world, the good things that God has in store; for, you see, they have to last such a long time there, they have to last and satisfy us to all eternity. But that is a secret that will be kept till the time comes. Let us only be sure of this, the Lord can provide, and the Lord will provide. And to whom is the promise of the text made? To “them that walk uprightly.” What could be simpler than these words, and yet what could better describe our spiritual requirements? There is something noble in the erect posture. Only man can stand erect. The body does get bent as age creeps on, but the power of Christ can still make straight and keep straight the soul. No debility of age need set in there. (J. S. Mayer, M. A.)
O Lord of Hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee.
Of trust in God
I. The exercise itself.
1. Man is altogether insufficient for his own happiness.
2. God alone is all-sufficient for the happiness of man.
3. God in His Word has made a revelation of His grace, mercy, and goodwill towards sinners.
II. Some properties which ought to attend our trust in God. Our trust in God ought to be--
1. Universal, for all good things.
2. Fixed, close, continual.
3. Heroic and fearless.
5. Resolute and determined.
6. Reverential and humble.
7. Regular; i.e. corresponding to God’s revealed will, and to the tenor of His promises.
III. The blessedness of the man that trusteth in the Lord.
1. God Himself pronounces him so.
2. His state, with regard to God and eternity, is perfectly safe.
3. In being thus exercised he gives glory to God.
4. His trust frees him from all care and fear.
5. In thus trusting, he is filled with hope and joy.
6. In so doing, he is strengthened both for doing duty and suffering affliction.
7. His trust shall not be disappointed. (A. Swanston.)
On a religious trust in God, and the happiness attending it
I. The nature and grounds of a religious trust in God. To trust in God is to repose a steady confidence in His protection, and to have an invariable acquiescence of mind under all the dispensations of His providence. This notion of a Supreme Being, and submission to His will, cannot fail in producing proper sentiments of those Divine attributes, upon which this duty of affiance is grounded; which are His wisdom, power, goodness, and faithfulness.
II. The efficacy and advantages that result from this religious trust in God.
1. It teacheth us to entertain a modest and humble opinion of ourselves, and it is the best expedient to prevent those dangerous consequences that naturally flow from our supposed excellences.
2. By entertaining an humble opinion of our own endowments, our minds are more sensibly affected with juster apprehensions of God’s goodness, and more disposed to patience and resignation under His dispensations.
3. To form a true notion of Divine providence will afford an additional strength to this argument: pursuant to this we must consider, that the same all-powerful, all-wise Being, who created the world, must of necessity be the Governor of it, and so order affairs and dispose circumstances as He thinks fit.
III. Motives for improvement of this doctrine.
1. A believing trust in God’s help naturally produces the firmest persuasion and gives us the strongest security of His almighty protection.
2. We have the contemplation of a future state to cure all our discontentedness and to secure the stability of our peace. (W. Adey.)
I. The heart of religion always has been, and is, trust in God. The bond that underlies all the blessedness of human society, the thing that makes the sweetness of the sweetest ties that can knit men together, the secret of all the loves of husband and wife, friend and friend, parent and child, is simple confidence. And the more utter the confidence the more tranquilly blessed is the union and the life that flow from it. Transfer this, then--which is the bond of perfectness between man and man--to our relation to God, and you get to the very heart of the mystery. Not by externalisms of any kind, not by the clear dry light of the understanding, but by the outgoing of the heart’s confidence to God, do we come within the clasp of His arms and become recipients of His grace. Trust knits to the unseen, and trust alone. And trust is blessed, because the very attitude of confident dependence takes the strain off a man. To feel that I am leaning hard upon a firm prop, to devolve responsibility, to give the helm into another steersman’s grasp, whilst I may lie down and rest, that is blessedness, though there be a storm.
II. A life of faith is a blessed life, because it talks with God (Psalms 84:9-11). The ordinary Christian life of this day is terribly wanting in this experience of frank, free talk with God, and that is one reason why so many of us professing Christians know so little of the blessedness of the man that trusts in God. You have religion enough to keep you from doing certain gross acts of sin; you have religion enough to make you uncomfortable in neglected duty. You have religion enough to impel you to certain acts that you suppose to be obligatory upon you. But do you know anything about the elasticity and spring of spirit in getting near God, and pouring out all your hearts to Him? The life of faith is not blessed unless it is a life of frank talking with God.
III. The life of faith is blessed, because it has fixed its desires on the true good. “A day in thy courts,” etc. This psalmist, speaking with the voice of all them that trust in the Lord, here declares his clear consciousness that the true good for the human soul is fellowship with God. But the clearest knowledge of that fact is not enough to bring the blessedness. There must be the next step--“I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness”--the definite resolve that I for my part will act according to my conviction, and, believing that the best thing in life is to have God in life, and that that will make life, as it were, an eternity of blessedness even while it is made up of fleeting days, will pub my foot clown and make my choice, and, having made it, will stick to it. It is all very well to say that “a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand”: have I chosen to dwell in the courts; and do I, not only in estimate but in feeling and practice, set communion with God high above everything besides?
IV. A life of faith is a life of blessedness, because it draws from God all necessary good. “The Lord God is a Sun and Shield”--brightness and defence. “The Lord will give grace and glory”: “Grace,” the loving gifts which will make a man gracious and graceful; “glory,” not any future lustre of the transfigured soul and glorified body, but the glory which belongs to the life of faith here on earth; link that thought with the preceding one. “The Lord is a sun . . . the Lord will give glory”; like a little bit of broken glass lying in the furrows of a ploughed field, when the sun smites down upon it, it flashes, outshining many a diamond. If a man is walking upon a road with the sun behind him, his face is dark. He wheels himself round, and it is suffused with light, as Moses’ face shone. If we walk in the sunshine we shall shine too. If we “walk in the light” we shall be “light in the Lord.” “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Trust is inward, and the outside of trust is an upright walk; and if a man has these two, which, inasmuch as one is the root and the other is the fruit, are but one in reality, nothing that is good will be withheld from him. For how can the sun but pour its rays upon everything that lives? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The joy of trustfulness
I. The joy of trustfulness. The deepest and purest joys are the outcome of trustfulness and the abandonment of oneself to another. The law holds good of our relationship to God, as of our relationship to each other, namely, that we receive according to our faith. Trustful people have a way of communicating their own simplicity and generosity to those with whom they have dealings. To trust the goodness of another is to make goodness seem to him at once more desirable and more possible of attainment. God has created us with this natural capacity for trustfulness, and the exercise of it is a source of joy. The dearest and most precious relationships are founded upon it. The joys of love and friendship are deeper and purer than those of material possessions.
II. The believer’s joy is the object of his trust. Trust is sometimes misplaced. There are those who are base enough to take advantage of trust reposed in them. Many tragedies are caused by the discovery of untrustworthiness in the man or woman in whose hands we have placed our lives. The most interesting stories in literature are those of heroes and heroines whose trustworthiness is for long under a cloud, but which is finally vindicated. That which underlies our trust in each other is our love for goodness itself. “We needs must love the highest when we see it.” Our real love is for God, who is goodness itself. We love persons in whom we trust that goodness is to be found in large measure. The believer who makes God his trust is happy indeed, nor is there any danger of shock and disappointment to such a trust. If other trusts bring much joy, this brings supreme joy.
III. The supreme character of the believer’s joy--blessedness. There is something heavenly about the word. The kind and degree of joy which God experiences is known by this name. He is “the ever-blessed God,” “blessed for evermore.” Blessedness is calm and tranquil; it brings a sense of steadiness to the mind, and enables it to do its work without distraction or anxiety. (R. C. Ford, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 84". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20