Sunday, June 4th, 2023
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 85". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ psalms-85.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 85". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Lord, Thou hast been favourable unto Thy land.
A psalm of deliverance; songs and sighs
A part of the nation had returned, but to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies. Discouragement had laid hold on the feeble company, enthusiasm had ebbed away, and heart as well as faith had been lost. This psalm accurately reflects such a state of things, and is reasonably taken as one of the earliest post-exilic psalms.
1. The first portion presents one great fact in three aspects, and traces it to Jehovah. The restored Israel had been sent back by the conqueror as a piece of policy, but it was God who had done it, all the same. The blessed fact is joyously announced in Psalms 85:1, and the yet more blessed fact of forgiveness, of which it is a token, in Psalms 85:2. The word rendered “forgiven” implies that sin is regarded as a weight, which God lifts off from the pressed-down sinner; while that for “covered” regards it as a hideous stain, which He hides. Our sins weigh us down, and “are rank, and smell to heaven.” Verse 8 ventures still deeper into the sacred recesses of the Divine nature, and traces the forgiveness to a change in God’s disposition. His wrath has been drawn in, as, if we may say so, some creature armed with a sting retracts it into its sheath.
2. God turns from His anger, therefore Israel returns to the land. But the singer feels the incompleteness of the restoration, and the bitter consciousness suddenly changes joyous strains to a plaintive minor in the second part (Psalms 85:4-7). “Turn us,” in Psalms 85:4, looks back to “brought back” in Psalms 85:1, and is the same word in the Hebrew. The restoration is but partially accomplished. Similarly the petitions of Psalms 85:5 look back to Psalms 85:8, and pray that God’s wrath may indeed pass utterly away. The prayers are grounded on what God has done. He does not deliver by halves. He is not partially reconciled. The remembrance of the bright beginning heartens the assurance of a completion. God never leaves off till He has done. If He seems to have but half withdrawn His anger, it is because we have but half forsaken our sins.
3. The third portion brings solid hopes, based on God’s promises, to bear on present discouragements. In Psalms 85:8 the psalmist, like Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:1), encourages himself to listen to what God will speak, “2 will hear,” or, rather, “Let me hear.” Faithful prayer will always be followed by faithful waiting for response. God will not be silent when His servant appeals to Him, but, though no voice breaks the silence, a sweet assurance, coming from Him, will rise in the depths of the soul, and tell the suppliant that He “will speak peace to His people,” and warn them not to turn to other helps, which is “folly.” The peace which He speaks means chiefly peace with Himself, and then well-being of all kinds, the sure results of a right relation with God. But that peace is shivered by any sin, like the reflection of the blue heaven in a still lake when a gust of wind ruffles its surface. Verses 9-13 are the report, in the psalmist’s own words, of what his listening ear had heard God say. First comes the assurance that God’s salvation, the whole fulness of His delivering grace, both in regard to outward and inward evils, is “nigh them that fear Him.” They, and only they, who keep far away from foolish confidence in impotent helps and helpers shall be enriched. That is the inmost meaning of God’s word to the singer and to us all. The acceptance of God’s salvation purifies our hearts to be temples, and is the condition of His dwelling with us. The lovely personification of verses 10-13 have passed into Christian poetry and art, but are not rightly understood when taken, as they often are, to describe the harmonious meeting, in Christ’s work, of apparently opposing attributes. Mercy and faithfulness blend together in all God’s dealings with His people, and righteousness and peace are inseparable in His people’s experience. These four radiant angels dwell for ever with those who are God’s children. In verse 11 we have a beautiful inversion of the two pairs of personifications, of each of which only one member appears. Truth, or faithfulness, came into view in verse 10 as a Divine attribute, but is now regarded as a human virtue, springing out of the earth; that is, produced among men. They who have received into their hearts the blessed assurance and results of God’s faithfulness will imitate it in their own lives. Conversely, righteousness, which in verse10 was a human excellence, here appears as looking from heaven like a gracious angel smiling on the faithfulness which springs from earth. Thus heaven and earth are united, and humanity becomes a reflection of the Divine. Verse 12 presents the same idea in its most general form. God gives good of all sorts, and, thus fructified, earth “shall yield her increase.” Without sunshine there are no harvests. God gives before He asks. We must receive from Him before we can tender the fruit of our lives to Him. In verse 18 the idea of Divine attributes aa the parents of human virtues is again expressed by a different metaphor. Righteousness is represented doubly, as both a herald going before God’s march in the world, and as following Him. It makes His footsteps “a way “for us to walk in. Man’s perfection lies in his imitating God. Jesus has left us “an example” that we should “follow His steps.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
This psalm present to us genuine piety in three aspects.
I. Acknowledging the mercies of the past.
1. Restoration to their country. “Thou hast brought back,” etc. He brought them from Egypt and from Babylon.
2. Absolution of their sins. “Thou hast forgiven,” etc. When sin is forgiven it is “covered”; it does not reappear any more in producing suffering and anguish. Its guilt and power (not its memory) are crushed.
3. The cessation of penal afflictions. “Thou hast turned thyself,” etc. Genuine piety can recount such blessings in the past as these, and even of a higher order. “The presence of present afflictions should not drown the remembrance of former mercies.”
II. Deploring the evils of the present.
1. The sense of estrangement from God. “Turn us, O God of our salvation.” Departure from God is our ruin, return is our salvation. The separation between man and his Maker arises, not from His turning from man, but from the turning of man from Him.
2. The sense of the displeasure of their Maker. “Wilt Thou be angry with us for ever?” This really means, Wilt Thou afflict us for ever; shall we be ever in suffering? God’s anger is not passion, but antagonism to wrong.
3. The sense of deadness. “Wilt Thou not revive us again?” etc. They had been politically dead (Ezekiel 27:1-36.), and they were religiously dead. Such are some of the evils they deprecate in this psalm; and for their removal they now implore their God.
III. Anticipating the good of the future. “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” Piety here fastens its eye on several blessings in the future.
1. Divine peace. “He will speak peace unto His people.” He will one day speak “peace”--national, religious, spiritual, peace to all mankind.
2. Moral unity. “Mercy and truth are met together,” etc. These moral forces, ever since the introduction of sin, have been working, not only separately, but antagonistically; and this has been one of the great sources of human misery; but in the future they will coalesce, unite.
3. Spiritual prosperity. “Truth shall spring out of the earth,” etc. From the hearts of men truth shall spring as from its native soil, and it shall grow in stately beauty and affluent fruitage. And “righteousness shall look down from heaven,” delighted with the scene. (Homilist.)
The responsibility of favoured nations
It is true that the God of nations has His special calling and election for each of the races of mankind. To quote Bishop Westcott: “History on a large scale is the revelation of the will of God; and in the history of the greatest nations we may expect to find the will of God for them. They are themselves the record and the retribution of their past, and the prophecy of their future.” We Englishmen must be blind and thankless, indeed, if we fail to recognize God’s ordination in our own history, God’s warnings and promises in our fortunes. Surely He has been favourable unto this land of ours, until every acre of it is holy ground. To us also God has granted prophets, and captains, and reformers in long succession to “bring back our captivity,” until freedom means more in England to-day than it means anywhere else in the world. And upon us, too, God has laid the burden of a duty and destiny which we still only half discern. He has given us a charge which we can never fulfil abroad except as we become faithful to our vocation at home. To realize the very hand of the living God laid on our nation to-day humbles us into awe and seriousness and searchings of heart. The proud vision of Empire fades into a solemn sense of the Divine Imperator who ordains our inheritance for us; because the kingdom, and the power, and the glory are His own. (F. H. Darlow.)
Wilt Thou not revive us again: that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?
A prayer for revival
I. What is the time for such a prayer as this?
1. When we can remember some gracious acts of God in the past. After some mercy drops, it becomes us to cry for showers of blessing.
2. After tokens of Divine displeasure.
3. When saints feel languid.
4. When efforts seem to be useless.
5. When we have among us a number of persons who are backsliding.
II. The need of such a prayer. Who needs it?
1. The minister. If the preachers grow dull and sleepy, there is no wonder that the people do so; therefore, give us a special place in your supplications that we may be kept right for your sakes, and for Christ’s sake, and the Gospel’s sake.
2. All the leaders of our Church. Often, dead deacons and dead elders prevent a church prospering; therefore, let us pray earnestly for the leaders of God’s Israel, “Lord, revive them again. Put more spiritual life into them.”
3. The same is true of all the members of the Church without exception. How much they need reviving!
4. And all the workers, too.
5. The hesitaters.
6. The careless ones.
7. The outside public, who never go to hear the Gospel at all.
III. The essence of such a prayer. It means--
1. Dependence upon God.
2. Confidence in God.
3. Importunity with God.
IV. The net result if this prayer be answered. It seems rather singular, does it not?--that the psalmist should put as the reason for a revival that God’s people should rejoice in Him. You and I do not always estimate things aright. Preaching is only the stalk; conversion, prayer, praise,--these are the full corn in the golden ear. In the garden, the leaves may represent the work that is done; but the flowers are the praise that is rendered. In a revival, part of the result is the conversion of men, but the result is the praise of God; and that revival brings forth most fruit that gives to God the most glory. I reckon that we have served God when we have fed the poor, when we have taught the ignorant, when we have reclaimed the wanderer; but I am equally sure that we have rendered acceptable sacrifice when we have prayed to God, when we have delighted ourselves in Him, when the joy of our heart has in silence exhaled towards Him. So, therefore, if God will be pleased to send a revival, His people will rejoice in Him because they are revived. They will be thankful that their spirits are plucked away from their languor and lethargy; and then they will begin to rejoice with the joy of gratitude because God has done such great things for them; and then sinners will be converted, and straightway saints will rejoice over sinners saved. Now, as you come to the communion table, I want you to try to rejoice in God. “But I am mourning about myself,” says one. Well, mourn about yourself, if you like; but do rejoice in God. “Oh, but I am troubled in my circumstances!” Well, but a child of God should rise above circumstances, and rejoice in God. There is more in God to cheer you than in your circumstances to depress you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. This prayer was dictated by past experiences. “Wilt Thou not revive us ‘again?’”
II. It is the prayer of one alive to the preciousness and needfulness of such special effusions of the Holy Spirit. “Wilt Thou not ‘revive?’”
III. It is the prayer of one fully conscious that god alone is the source of reviving power and grace. “Wilt not ‘Thou?’” etc. Never was revival more needed than now. Therefore let us make this prayer our own.
IV. At times of revival Christians rejoice in God. (American Homiletic Monthly.)
Religious declension and revival
I. The causes of religious declension.
1. I have known trials in business the occasions of religious declensions--trials which ought to have led to God in prayer, who can by His mighty arm take us over them, but which have so absorbed the mind and so worried the spirit, that instead of their leading to God the man has sat down and sighed his soul away in sorrow.
2. I have known the very opposite of trials, namely, worldly prosperity, a cause of religious declension. The sea has been all calm, the tide has set in our favour, the breeze has filled our every sail, and with full sails our vessel has entered into the haven, and we have sought to make earth, not heaven, our home; our prosperity we have put down to our own ingenuity, and not to the goodness of God.
II. The evidences of religious declension.
1. Remissness in secret prayer.
2. Neglect of family prayer.
3. Neglect of the public means of grace.
III. The remedy for religious declension.
1. There is a remedy (2 Samuel 14:14; Jeremiah 30:17; Malachi 3:7; 2 Chronicles 17:4).
2. The means to be used for revival.
(1) We must become alarmed about our state, and apply for the remedy.
(2) We must humble ourselves before God.
(3) We must make a full surrender of ourselves.
IV. The blessedness of a revived religious state. It is the blessedness of--
1. Restored spiritual health.
2. Rejoicing in the God who gave it.
3. Joy in common with others. (A. M. Brown, LL. D.)
The causes and cure of religious declenesion
I. The causes.
1. Remissness in secret duty.
2. Inattention to God’s word.
3. Neglect of self-examination.
4. Allowed indulgence of some favourite sin.
5. Indifference to public means.
II. The means of spiritual revival.
1. Recollect yourselves.
2. Humble yourselves.
3. Surrender yourselves anew to the Lord.
4. Give yourselves unto extraordinary prayer.
5. Attend with constancy the public means.
6. Apply to yourselves what you hear and read of God’s Word.
III. The advantage of a revived and cheerful state of mind.
1. To ourselves. A new impulse will be given to our religious feeling and affections.
2. Others will share the advantage of our revival. Seeing how lowly, how forbearing, how kind, how cheerful, the followers of Jesus can be; they will be constrained to think favourably of that gracious Lord who “taketh pleasure in the prosperity of His servants,” and to allow the excellency of that religion which can make a fallen sinful creature so holy, so contented, so happy. Saints will be edified; timid professors encouraged; mockers silenced; and sinners convinced and won to the love and practice of piety.
3. The Lord Jesus Christ will be magnified by our liveliness and zeal in His service. (W. Mudge.)
A Pentecostal prayer
I. A general revival of true religion is needed.
1. The world needs it.
(1) The world of Christendom needs it. From having so long lived in a Christian country, many are disposed to take it for granted that they are Christians. Others, from so often hearing and reading the truth, fail to feel its power.
(2) The world of heathendom needs it. Much has been done to win the world to Christ, but much still remains to be done.
2. The Church at large and individual churches need it.
3. The individual members of our churches need it.
II. The grounds for expecting such a revival.
1. The fact that God has promised to revive His people.
2. The fact that He has again and again revived them--on the day of Pentecost; at the Reformation; under the preaching of Wesley and Whitfield.
III. The means necessary for bringing about a revival.
1. Prayer for an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Such prayer must be characterized by humility, fervency, perseverance, faith.
2. As all our blessings come to us through Christ, we must pray in His name.
3. As the Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit”--i.e. its instrument--we must study it ourselves, and teach it to others.
4. As God always works by means, we must employ appropriate effort.
(1) Put away all sin.
(2) Seek to cultivate true, healthy piety, as opposed to austerity, narrow-mindedness, sentimentalism, or laxity.
(3) Endeavour to progress in the Divine life ourselves.
(4) Seek to arouse others. (E. W. Wilson.)
The coming revival
Each of the last four centuries, to go no farther back, has been distinguished by a great revival of religion. In the sixteenth century there came what we may call the Protestant revival, in the seventeenth century the Puritan revival, in the eighteenth century the Evangelical revival; and during the nineteenth century we have witnessed a revival which it is more difficult to characterize, but which has been as real and will probably prove as fruitful as any of the former. It has manifested itself in various ways, by high ritualism on the one hand and by much earnest evangelism on the other. Probably its most distinguishing characteristic is that it has inspired Christian people with a strong desire to reach the whole population of the land, to uplift socially and morally the most degraded, and so perhaps it might be called the Democratic revival. It is certain that neither this nor any other of the religious movements I have named has boon unmixed good or evil. Like all things on earth, they have bison imperfect in character and results. But in each case there has been a vast preponderance of good, and all of them have helped to hasten on the age of universal righteousness. And the history of these four centuries seems to render infinitely probable a great revival in the twentieth century Another fact which makes us confident that we shall shortly witness a great revival is the manifest need of it. The coldness and deadness of many of our churches, the utter indifference of the masses, the neglect of public worship, the practical infidelity which is so common in all ranks of society, the hopeless misery of the “submerged tenth,” the comparative failure of the churches to rescue the very classes in which Jesus showed the greatest interest and amongst which He gained His chief success, all these things prove that a revival is necessary. Now, we find that when the need is greatest the help is nearest. It is the way of the Lord to display His grace and power in the day of His people’s extremity. The coming revival will be an intellectual movement. It will very largely consist in the awakening of the mind. Of course, every revival is in some degree an intellectual movement. Conversion implies the opening of the eyes and the turning from darkness to light. But in former revivals the intellectual element has not been the most prominent. A century ago, and even later, religion was chiefly emotional. The majority of the people in this country were uneducated, many of them were grossly ignorant. They were incapable of understanding an argument or of appreciating a spiritual idea. And so the preachers of the evangelical movement appealed to the fears of men. In the coming revival men will be brought to God, not by craven terror, not by coercion of any kind, but by persuasion, by conviction, by recognition of the truth. The religious movement of the twentieth century will be the triumphal progress of reason. But the chief glory of the coming revival will be its ethical character. It will bring about a great moral reformation. The weak point in former revivals has been in the development of character. We find Martin Luther complaining that the Protestants were no better in moral character than the Catholics. Puritanism produced many eminent saints, yet it also produced some notable hypocrites. The Puritan theology did not give to morality the high place to which it was entitled; and, indeed, in some respects it tended rather to depress the importance of moral character. In the coming revival high and pure morality will be accorded its sacred rights. It will be a revival of righteousness; it will fill men with an enthusiasm for goodness. It will be inspired by the practical theology of Jesus Christ; not by the theology of Luther, or Calvin, or Augustine, or even of Paul, so much as by that of the Great Master. And so it will produce in Christian men a character more true and manly, more Christlike, and more Divine. And on this account the coming revival will be more extensive and more permanent in its results than any that have preceded it. The great sign and evidence of the revival, when it comes, will be its manifesting power, its power of discrimination and discovery. Men are separated by great lines of moral demarcation, but generally these lines are visible only to Omniscience. When the revival comes they will show up clearly and with astonishing vividness. There are those who are saved and know they are saved: they will be the chief instruments of the revival. There are those who are not saved and know they are not; they will be the objects upon which the revival will exert its convincing and converting power. But there are also those who think they are saved and are not, good, easy people, self-complacent and censorious, to them the revival will bring a rude awakening. There is yet another class--those who are saved and do not know it--a much more numerous class than is generally supposed. With the great revival there will come to them a clearer vision. Receiving the Spirit of adoption, they will thenceforth serve the Lord with gladness. Doubt and weakness will give place to confidence and strength. (S. T. Bosworth, B. A.)
I use the term “revival” as implying, not simply the quickening and strengthening of the Divine life in the soul where it already exists, but also the production of that life where it has not before been enjoyed,--in other words, as including in it the conversion of sinners, as well as the edification of saints.
I. We need a revival. Is there not amongst us much spiritual insensibility--much formality--much worldliness? Is there any one of us who does not feel, when he seriously and thoughtfully reflects on his opportunities and privileges, that he is not what he ought to be--not what he might have been?
II. We may obtain a revival.
1. That this desirable result may be gained, let me remind you that spiritual revival is a personal thing. The revival of a Congregation or of the church at large can only be reached by the revival of the individuals of whom the congregation or church is composed.
2. Do you ask, how are we to get it for ourselves? I answer,--by the use of the right means in the right spirit.
(1) If you are not yet converted, you must begin by receiving Christ as your personal Saviour. This is the commencement of Divine life in the soul.
(2) Prayer--secret personal prayer. It is very well that you should seek the prayers of others; but if you do not pray for yourselves, you have no right to expect personal revival.
(3) The devout study of the Word of God. In it God speaks to us, and speaks to us directly. If we do not listen, bow can we be His children--how can we know His will or do it?
(4) The cultivation of a watchful and dependent spirit. By a watchful spirit, I mean a spirit ever on its guard against sin. By a dependent spirit, I mean a spirit conscious of its own guilt and depravity, of its own weakness and infirmity. (John Robson, D. D.)
1. What is the kind of spiritual awakening that is required in the days in which we are living? “A new realization of God.” Now, understand what realization is. There may be belief and no realization. Devils believe and tremble. I may believe in God and be as foul as Satan. I realize God, and He will be the Power that dominates me in all my thought and in every department of my being. You go to Switzerland and one object is in your thought, Mont Blanc, which dominates the valleys. When we realize that God will dominate our thoughts and our actions, we shall realize that He besets us behind and before, and that if we take the wings of the morning and go to the uttermost parts of the sea He is there. I would realize God; I would try to help you to realize Him. Now, the great difficulty of this subject comes from the fact that with the progress of science, as science has brought us knowledge, and knowledge is reality, we are brought to an understanding of the fact that He is great, passing all our comprehension, and we begin to understand that no man by searching can by any possibility find Him out. I can only tell you some things which will be when we realize God, when He is near to us and we appreciate that He is near to us as we are to one another. When that is true all places will be holy. All times are sacred when God is realized. And in the next place, all duties are sacred. Why do we say that one man in a large place is doing a great work for God, while one in a small place is doing a work of insignificance? Because we do not appreciate that everything done for Him is great, and that those who are most faithful are those who are most worthy of praise.
2. And then, in the next place, when we realize God, all men are sacred. In the humblest, in the barefooted beggar boy, in the man who sweeps the streets, in the one who is outcast and forgotten, there is something of the Divine. We doff our hats when those who rule us ride by, but in the man who sweeps the walk for you there is something of the King of the Universe. Ah, do we think of these things? That is the kind of revival that is needed. How may this revival be promoted? Well, in the first place, those who bear the Christian name ought surely to be those who lead in it; and if they lead in it, certain things must be realized. They must learn to practise the presence of God; and, moreover, they must learn also to lay upon it every weight and every sin. We cannot prevent a thought knocking at the door of our mind and looking in, but we can prevent that thought coming in and staying there. And then, associate much with Jesus Christ; He is the One who brings God to us; He is the One who reveals Him in a way in which we can understand Him. Spend time with Him, think about Him, feed upon Him, live with Him. Next, this thought: What will result when we do realize God, when this revival has come to us? What will be the results? Will you pardon me if I return my question with a question, and ask you what kind of life do you think you would live if God was just as real to you as His sun in the heavens? If you were sure every day, every hour, every minute, that the holy eyes of the loving God were on you, what kind of life do you think you would lead? Now, once more, consider if there are any signs of the coming of such an awakening.
3. I find signs of it in the amazing earnestness which characterizes the young men and the young women in our institutions of learning, so far as I know, the world around. There were never so many who were pledging themselves to the missionary service in the whole history of the world as are pledging themselves to-day. I find signs of this spiritual awakening also in the spirit of expectancy. We all feel--sensitive spirits in the pews and in the pulpits everywhere feel--as if we were on the verge of some wondrous revelation of spiritual reality. (A. H. Bradford, D. D.)
A revival sought
I. A revival is greatly needed. Compare our lives with those of Paul, Brainerd, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, M’Cheyne, Baxter, Whitefield. Think of their love for souls, their zealous labours, their self-denials, their communion with God. Why, beside such men our piety is scarcely discoverable even by the aid of a microscope.
II. It can come from God only. The land in India is parched and dried up for want of rain; where are the reviving showers to come from? Can a council of her wise men by consulting each other obtain it? No; from above it must come. We too, are dry and parched, and all our talk and schemes and Church organization will do nothing, unless the showers fall upon us from above. In tills matter we are absolutely dependent upon God. I have heard of men and Churches trying to “get up” revivals. Got-up revivals end in spiritual dearth, or, worse still, spiritual death. They must be brought down to be of any service.
III. Can we obtain revival? If so, how?
1. I believe we can, because--
(1) Of the promises God has made in this respect (Malachi 3:10; Isaiah 44:3; Zechariah 12:10).
(2) All who have ever earnestly and truly sought one have obtained it. Think of the times of Baxter, of Bunyan, of Burns, of Flavel, of Finney, of Wesley, of Whitefield, of M’Cheyne. In our isle, and lands beyond the seas, God has poured out His Spirit. Lord, Thou hast revived others; wilt Thou not revive us? Thou hast revived us in days past; wilt Thou not revive us again?
(3) Revivals are a part of God’s method of accomplishing His purposes, and without them the world cannot be converted.
2. How are we to obtain it?
(1) There must be a determination on the part of each member of the Church to have a better state of things. A revival must be desired before God will give it.
(2) There must be on the part of each one of us sorrow of heart for our coldness and backslidings, full confession of sin to God, the giving up of every known sin, and the earnest petition, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”
(3) There must be also on behalf of sinners soul travail (Isaiah 66:8). In this there is deep philosophy: ‘tis the mother who has felt the birth-pangs that loves and cares for the child as no other can. And ‘tie those who have wrestled with God for the conversion of men, who know how to care for them when converted.
IV. What will be the results of a revival when obtained?
1. It generally affects the minister, first and most. His lips are touched with the live coal from off the altar; he is clad with zeal as with a cloak. He has an unction from the Holy One resting upon him.
2. The deacons and all the members feel a kind of spell come over them. They don’t neglect family prayer now. They don’t forget to read their Bible now. All is changed, and things are as they should be.
3. Sinners who have listened for years, now, upon confession of their faith, wish to be baptized.
4. Then shall all the members of our Church be glad and rejoice in the Lord. (W. W. Williams.)
Lent, the season of revival
The advantage of such a season as Lent,--a season set apart for special prayer, and searching of heart, and amendment of life,--is that, where there is a feeling of slackness and failure, it meets it, and welcomes it, and sustains it, and guides it; and where there is no such wholesome feeling of inward concern and self-censure, it tends to awaken, and foster, and stimulate it.
1. Can we put a little more self-denial and effort into our religious exercises and devotions?
2. Can we see our way to embarking on a crusade,--a truly holy war,--against some besetting sin, or fault, or failing, of our own; with a determination to suppress it and stamp it out;-or to denying ourselves some little innocent indulgence, for the sake of self-discipline and the love of Christ;--or to applying the Cross practically to ourselves in any other special way whatever?
3. Can we cut out for ourselves, or anyhow aid in, any enterprise of Christian philanthropy, having for its object the bettering of the physical, social, intellectual, or religious condition of our fellow-men, around us or at a distance; some enterprise which we can help and forward by money, by prayers, or by personal labour and toil; and this, in the recollection, and under the inspiration of the Saviour’s words: “inasmuch as ye have done it,” etc. (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The test of a true revival--joy and delight in God
Pardon and quickening are joined together in Psalms 85:5. We beseech the Lord and Giver of Life to revive among us that life of the spirit which grows stifled, and choked, and deadened by the pressure of the world. Nothing gives thoughtful Englishmen graver concern than the decay of high ideals, alike in the politics and the literature of the nation. And in the Church itself, while we raise great sums of money, do we not grow painfully aware of a certain dearth and poverty of spiritual passion, which can only be re-inspired and rekindled from above? “Wilt Thou not revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?” Note this searching test of a real revival: it fills Christians with a new joy and delight in God Himself. As the Holy Ghost comes upon us and the power of the Highest overshadows us, the Church breaks out in a fresh “Magnificat,” and sings, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” And the Church becomes the irresistible missionary when it can chant that victorious song. (T. H. Darlow.)
Revivals--their relation to nations
Historians seldom take note of so obscure an event; yet, if the secret connections of revivals with the destiny of nations could be disclosed, they would appear to be more critical evolutions of history than the Gothic invasions. A volume has been compiled narrating the decisive battles of the world. But more significant than this, and probing deeper the Divine government of the world, would be the history of revivals. (Austin Phelps.)
Don’t predict a revival
There is a current idea that the best way to start a revival is to preach to the Christians in a church. I do not accept that idea. If you want to raise up a lazy crew on board ship, set them hauling in that man who has fallen overboard. Don’t talk too much about “revival! revival! revival!” Don’t predict a revival. I never in my life knew a predicted revival that came to pass. In my own ministerial experience the spiritual operations known as “revivals” generally began in a prayer-meeting. I learned more theology in those experiences than I ever could have learned in a theological school. A cold prayer-meeting inevitably makes a frigid church. Hang your thermometer up in the prayer-meeting. Watch the first indication of the Spirit. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
I will hear what God the Lord will speak.
The return of prayers
I. When a man hath put up prayers to God, he is to rest assured that God will in mercy answer his prayers; and to listen diligently, and observe how his prayers are answered.
1. Because otherwise you take an ordinance of God in vain in your hearts, which is to take God’s name, with whom in that ordinance you deal, in vain; for it is a sign you think your prayer not an effectual means to attain that end it is ordained for, and say secretly in your hearts, as they (Job 21:15).
2. Not simply God’s name, as in an ordinance made known, but also His name, that is, His attributes, are taken in vain. For it is a sign you think of that God you pray to, that either “His ear is heavy, that He cannot hear, or His hand shortened, that He cannot save,” or His heart straitened, that He will not: and thus you rob Him of one of His most royal titles, whereby He styles Himself (Psalms 65:2).
3. You let God speak to you in vain, when you do not listen to what He answers.
4. You will provoke the Lord not to answer at all; He will forbear to answer, because He sees it will be in vain.
5. If you observe not His answers, how shall you bless God and return thanks to Him for hearing your prayers?
6. As God loseth, so yourselves also the experience which you might get thereby.
(1) Both experience of God and His faithfulness, which will cause in you hope and confidence in God another time, when you have found Him again and again answering your prayers. And also--
(2) By observing God’s answers to your prayers, you will gain much insight into your own hearts, and ways, and prayers, and may thereby learn how to judge of them.
7. You will lose much of your comfort (John 16:24). Comfort it is many ways--
(1) To hear from God, as to hear from a friend, though it be but two or three words, and that about a small matter; if there be at the bottom this subscription, “your loving father,” or, “your assured friend,” it satisfies abundantly; so also--
(2) To know that God is mindful of us, accepts our works, fulfils His promises.
(3) How doth it rejoice one to find another of his mind in a controversy; but that God and we should be of one mind, and concur in the desire of the same things ,--not two in the earth only agree (Matthew 18:19), but God who is in heaven and we agree,--this rejoiceth the heart exceedingly. And thus it is when a man perceives his prayer answered. Therefore you lose much of your comfort in blessings when you do not observe answers to your prayers.
II. Now, as for rules and helps to find out God’s meaning towards you in your prayers, and to spy out answers, and how to know when God doth anything in answer to your prayers.
1. Concerning prayers put up for the Church, for the accomplishment of such things as fall out in ages to come.
(1) There may be some prayers which you must be content never yourselves to see answered in this world, the accomplishment of them not falling out in your time: such as are those you haply make for the calling of the Jews, the utter downfall of God’s enemies, the flourishing of the Gospel, the full purity and liberty of God’s ordinances, the particular flourishing and good of the society and place you live in. All you whose hearts are right do treasure up many such prayers as these, and sow much of such precious seed, which yet, must be content to have the Church, it may be, in after ages to reap; all which prayers are not yet lost, but will have answers: for as God is an eternal God, and Christ’s righteousness an “everlasting righteousness,” and therefore of eternal efficacy (Daniel 9:24), “being offered up by the eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14), so are prayers also, which are the work of the eternal Spirit of Christ, made to that God in His name, and in Him are eternally accepted, and of eternal force, and therefore may take place in after ages.
(2) Only at present in prayer it may be that thou hast revealed unto thee, by a secret impression made on thy spirit, that these things shall come to pass, and so hast thy faith confirmed.
(3) And when they are accomplished, and thou in heaven, thy joy will surely be more full for thy prayers.
2. Concerning answers to our prayers for others, for particular men, as friends and kindred; and likewise for temporal blessings.
(1) Such prayers God often hears (James 5:15-16; 1 John 5:16).
(2) Prayers for others may often also not obtain the particular thing prayed for them (1 Samuel 15:35; Psalms 35:13).
(3) When the prayers are thus made out of conscience of our duty for such whom yet God doth not intend that mercy unto, then they are returned again into our own bosoms, to our advantage; even as St. Paul saith, that his rejoicing that others preached, though they lost their labour, should turn to his salvation (Philippians 1:19),
(4) If we have prayed long for those whom God intends not mercy unto, He will in the end cast them out of our prayers and hearts, and take our hearts off from praying for them. That which He did by a revelation from heaven to some prophets of old, as to Samuel and Jeremiah, the same He doth by a more undiscerned work; that is, by withdrawing assistance to pray for such by withdrawing the spirit of supplication from a man, for some men, and in some businesses.
(5) God will hear those prayers for, and answer them in, some others, in whom we shall have as much comfort as in those we prayed for; and so it often proves and falls out.
3. The third case to be considered is, when a man prays for something with others, or which others likewise pray for with him, so as he is not alone in it; how then should he know that his prayers have a hand in obtaining it, as well as theirs? For in such cases Satan is apt to object, though the thing is granted indeed, yet not for thy prayers, but for the prayers of those others joined in it with thee.
(1) If thy heart did sympathize and accord in the same holy affections with those others in praying, then it is certain thy voice hath helped to carry it: “If two agree on earth,” says Christ (Matthew 18:19), that is, if they harmonically agree to play the same tune; for prayers are music in God’s ears, and so called “melody to God” (Ephesians 5:19).
(2) God doth usually and often evidence to a man, that his prayers contributed and went among the rest towards the obtaining of it; as--
(i.) By some circumstance: as, for example, sometimes by ordering it so that that man that prayed most for a thing of concernment, should have the first news of it when it comes to be accomplished; which God doth, as knowing it will be most welcome news to him.
(ii.) By filling the heart with much joy in the accomplishment of what a man prayed for: which is an evident argument that his prayers did move the Lord to effect it, as well as the prayers of others.
(iii.) If God give you a heart thankful for a blessing vouchsafed to another, prayed for by you with others, it is another sign your prayers have some hand in it.
(3) And, lastly, in case the thing concerned thyself, which was prayed for by others helping thee therein, what cause hast thou but to think that it was granted for thy own prayers, and not for theirs only? seeing God stirred up their hearts to pray for thee, and gave thee a heart to pray for thyself, and besides gave thee the thing which thou desiredst. Which argues thou art beloved as well as they, and accepted as well as they. (T. Goodwin.)
Hearing the Lord
I. As To doctrinal truth. It would be very dangerous if we had no rule to go by. In things of importance it is--
1. Plain and decided. There is no obscurity as to man’s sin or the way of salvation, or the reward of the good, and the loss of the evil.
2. Always accessible. The book of the law of the testimony is in our midst.
II. As to my movements in life. How much depends upon one wrong step as it regards our comfort, reputation, or usefulness! Even if sin is pardoned, its consequences cannot be remedied. Marriage, business, the choice of a home, have frequently produced dire results. A Christian should, therefore, at every step try to hear what the Lord shall speak. Integrity and uprightness are the principles He requires, and these must form the groundwork of every action.
III. As to the dispensations of His providence.
1. Every visitation has its mission. There is a purpose in every pain and an object in every trial. Let us, then, not only hear, but learn. Many are often in such a state of ignorance, despondency, and doubt, that they cannot understand what object or purpose God may have in view; but while the natural man is concerned to escape from trouble, the Christian is only anxious to have the trouble sanctified and improved.
2. We pray to God. Do we want to hear what He has to say in reply? Most of our petitions are never thought of as soon as they are delivered. We knock at the door, but never stay to see it opened. Can we expect that God will attend to those prayers which we ourselves contemn? (Homilist.)
The believer’s expectation
We have here a solitary believer introduced, reviewing the dispensations of God, meditating on the prayers and praises already offered to the Divine Majesty, humbly waiting for the result.
I. His disposition. He had sought forgiveness, consolation, revival, from the hands of God, both for himself and his people; and now he would watch, wait, attend, expect the Divine direction, and the Divine blessing.
1. It is a patient disposition. I long now for pardon; for the assurance of pardon; for the powerful efficacy of Divine grace, that I may be converted, and sanctified, and enabled to glorify God; but I must wait in the use of the appointed means, till the Lord shall “lift up upon me the light of His countenance.”
2. It is an attentive disposition, an expecting, watching frame of mind. God the Lord will speak, and I must be observant of His voice. It may not come in the great and strong wind, nor yet in the earthquake, nor yet in the fire; it may be the “still small voice,” the silent intimation of Providence; the gentle moving of the pillar and of the cloud. I must therefore attend and watch, to know what my Master’s will is.
3. It is an obedient disposition. It is the disposition which Abraham evinced, when, having heard the most painful precept, he arose early in the morning, and hastened to its fulfilment. It is the temper of the wounded Israelite, who no sooner heard of the brazen serpent, than instead of reasoning or disputing, or prescribing some more excellent way, turned his dying eyes, beheld and lived.
II. His expectation. God speaks peace to His people--
1. By enlightening their understanding to perceive the way of peace. God “can be just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus”; such gracious words as “these descend like the dew or the rain upon a thirsty land.
2. By communicating to the soul the assurance of peace. Believing the declarations of His word; seeing a suitableness and sufficiency in the atonement of Christ, the convinced sinner comes with humble faith pleading His sacrifice and relying on Him.
3. By communicating to them a spirit of peace. Having much forgiven, they love much.
III. The concluding caution. “Let them not turn,” etc. The deceitfulness and depravity of the heart of man appears in nothing more striking than in the backslidings of those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (T. Webster, B. D.)
Peace: how gained, how broken
I. What we know the Lord will speak.
1. He speaks peace to a certain company--“to His people and to His saints.” Let us, then, ask ourselves, Has the Lord ever spoken peace to us, or will He do so? If God is everything to you, you are among His people, and He will speak peace unto you. That peace is, however, always connected with holiness, for it is added, “and to His saints.” His people and His saints are the same persons. Those who have a God know Him to be a holy God, and therefore they strive to be holy themselves.
2. But now, notice here that the peace which is to be desired is peace which God speaks, and all other peace is evil. The question is sometimes put--“We see bad men enjoy peace, and we see good men who have but little peace.” That is one of the mysteries of life; but it is not a very difficult one as to its first part. Sometimes their peace arises from sheer carelessness, sometimes from worldliness, and sometimes from despair. God alone can speak true peace to the soul. The blood of Jesus speaks “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” We read that on the storm-tossed lake “there was a great calm.” How great is the quiet of a soul which has seen and felt the power of the atoning sacrifice!
3. I have told you that only God can speak this peace; let me remind you that He can give you that peace by speaking it. One word from the Lord is the quietus of all trouble. No deed is needed, only a word. Peace has not now to be made: the making of peace was finished more than eighteen hundred years ago on yonder cross.
4. Sooner or later the Lord will speak peace to His own. How blessed are the shalls and wills of the Lord God! “He will speak peace unto His people.” Doubt it not. There may be a time of battling and of struggling, the noise of war may disturb the camp for months; but in the end “He will speak peace unto His people.”
II. What we fear may mar this blessing of peace. Peace may be broken with the Christian, through great trouble, if his faith is not very strong. It need not be so; for some of those who have had the greatest fight of affliction have had the sweetest peace in Christ Jesus. Peace may be broken through some forms of disease, which prey upon the mind as well as the body; and when the mind grows weak and depressed from what are rather physical causes than spiritual ones, the infirmity of the flesh is apt to crush spiritual peace. When the Lord hides His face, as He may do as the result of grave offence that we have given Him, ah! then we cannot have peace. But, after all, the chief reason why a Christian loses his peace is because he “turns again to folly.” What kind of folly?
1. There is the folly of hasty judgment. Have you never judged without knowing and considering all the surroundings of the case? Have you not come to a wrong conclusion, when you have ventured to judge the dealings of God with you? You have said, “This cannot be wise, this cannot be right; at any rate, this cannot be a fruit of love”; but you have found out afterwards that you were quite mistaken, that your severest trial was sent in very faithfulness.
2. Another kind of folly is of like order: it is repining, and quarrelling with the Most High. Some are never pleased with God; how can He be pleased with them? There can be no use in contending with our Maker; for what are we as compared with Him? Let the grass contend with the scythe, or the tow fight with the flame; but let not man contend with God.
3. Another kind of folly to which men often turn is that of doubt and distrust. Be satisfied with God, and you shall be satisfied in God.
4. Some turn to the old folly of looking for life upon legal principles. You remember how Paul seemed astonished at this perversity. “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” When you try to draw your comfort from what you are, and what you do, you are foolish. Self is at best a dry well.
5. Some lost their place by turning again to the folly of intellectual speculation. Stick to the Scriptures.
6. But the worst form of folly is sin. Remember what it cost your Lord to make you free from the consequences of former folly; never return to it. Look a little way before you. Think of the street of gold, the river which never dries, the trees which bear eternal fruit, the harps of ceaseless melody. We cannot turn again to folly! O God, do not permit us to do so! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For He will speak peace unto His people.
Tidings of peace to be spoken to consciences distressed
In the words you have a discovery of God’s proceedings in treating of peace or proclaiming war with His people and subjects.
1. You see that sometimes God doth not speak peace to His own children. This was their state for the present, when this psalm was penned: “He will speak peace”; therefore, at present He did not.
2. There must needs be some great reason for this, they being His people. They had fallen into some gross folly or other; some sinful, inordinate dispositions had been indulged unto and nourished in them; which is usually, though not always, the cause of this His dealing. And as wicked men may out of His patience have a truce; so, on the contrary, with His own, God may take up a quarrel; yet He loves them, and remembers them with everlasting kindness. The uses are these--
(1) As peace with God is dear to you, so to take heed of turning unto folly. Only take this advertisement, that they are not mere follies or ignorances that do interrupt or break the peace.
(2) Doth God take up quarrels against His own? Then, upon any breach made, go forth to meet Him. Let not the sun go down upon God’s wrath towards thee.
(3) If the peace of God’s own people be thus often interrupted, what wrath is reserved for the children of disobedience?
3. When the child of God wants peace, he can have no peace till God speak it.
(1) Because God is the king of all the world, the sovereign Lord of all.
(2) Because God is the Judge of all the world, and the party offended.
(3) Peace, especially of conscience, is a thing must be created, for our hearts of themselves are full of nothing but turmoil, as the raging sea, which cannot rest.
(4) The wounds of conscience which are in God’s people are of that quality that none but God can cure them; for the chief thing that wounds them is the loss of God’s favour, not simply His wrath.
4. Let God’s people be in never so great distress, yet it is an easy thing for God to give place to them.
(1) Because His speaking is creating; if He speaks, He makes things to be, even with a word. As at first He did but say, “Let there be light, and there was light”; so still, if He but say, “Let there be peace,” there is peace; He made all, and upholds all by the word of His power.
(2) Because the light which God gives to a man’s spirit when He speaks peace is a sure and infallible light, and therefore a satisfying light, so as when it comes it must needs give peace, and no objection, no temptation can darken or obscure it when it shines.
5. Let God be never so angry, and His people’s distress never so great, yet He will speak peace in the end to His people.
(1) Consider who this God is that is to speak peace, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak”; He is the Lord, and therefore able to speak what pleaseth Him; He is peculiarly “the God of peace,” and therefore willing to speak peace.
(2) Consider who they are to whom He is to speak it. They are His people, as the text hath it; and to them there is no question but He will speak peace, though He seems angry for a while.
(3) If God did not in the end speak peace, they would indeed return to folly. As it is a rule in physic still to maintain nature, and therefore when that shall be in hazard to be destroyed, they leave giving purging physic, and give cordials; so doth God with His people: though with purging physic He often brings their spirits very weak and low, yet He will uphold and maintain their spirits, so as they shall not fail and be extinguished, but then He will give cordials to raise them up again. (T. Goodwin.)
But let them not turn again to folly.--
Saints cautioned against returning to folly
1. Sin, in every form of it, is the greatest folly and madness.
2. The whole world, God’s people and saints as well as others, are naturally under the power of this folly.
3. When men first become God’s people and His saints, they are in some degree turned from the folly of sin.
4. The people of God, after their first conversion from folly, do yet frequently relapse into it.
5. Such is the great grace of God unto His people, that He often speaks peace to them, even when they have been playing the fool remarkably; and this is the way in which He makes them turn to Himself.
6. God’s people are very apt to return unto folly, soon after He has spoken peace to them.
7. God’s speaking peace to His people, lays them under particular obligations not to turn again to folly. There is no vice held in more general abhorrence amongst men than ingratitude; and its enormity riseth in proportion to the importance of the benefits received, and to the dignity of him who confers, and the ill desert of him who receives them. Judging by this rule, how black the ingratitude of returning again to folly, after God has spoken peace to our souls!
8. A relapse into folly, after God has spoken peace to our souls, may be attended with very dangerous consequences to ourselves. We may perhaps hear again the voice of war, which formerly gave so much disquiet.
9. Those to whom God hath spoken peace ought to be particularly watchful, lest they return again to folly. Learn--
(1) How much it is our duty to read, hear, and meditate upon the Word of God; seeing in it, when explained and applied by His Spirit, He speaks peace unto His people.
(2) What it is that enables the people of God to bear up under all outward crosses and troubles in this world. It is God’s speaking peace to their souls.
(3) That believers are not to be discouraged from entertaining an assurance of the love of God, from an apprehension that such assurance tends to licentiousness.
(4) This subject reproves all those who enjoy a peace which God doth not speak to them in His Word. Those, for instance, who, when their consciences are disquieted with guilt, seek to suppress their clamours by vain amusements, or by a hurry of business. This peace is not founded in the faith of God’s Word, and therefore it is false; and if it is rested in, it will issue in war and wrath. (A. Swanston.)
Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him.
The nearness of salvation to piety
The fear of God does not mean servile terror, but loving reverence; it means piety. The subject of these words is the nearness of salvation to piety. They are so near that they are inseparable; in truth, they are essentially one. Where there is piety there is salvation, and nowhere else; where there is salvation there is piety, and nothing else. This vital connection between salvation and piety serves two purposes.
I. To correct a popular delusion. In popular religious tracts and pulpits, men are constantly exhorted to seek salvation, as if it were something outside of them, something away in another region, and to be reached by scheming. But it is in the state of the heart, and nowhere else. “Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend to heaven to bring it down?” etc. It is in supreme love to God and self-sacrificing love for man.
II. To urge the cultivation of personal piety. “The grace of God hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,” etc. (Homilist.)
There is safety in godly fear
Holy fear is a searching the camp that there be no enemy within our bosom to betray us, and seeing that all be fast and sure. For I see many leaky vessels fair before the wind, and professors who take their conversion upon trust, and they go on securely, and see not the under water till a storm sink them. (H. G. Salter.)
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
The bridal of the earth and sky
This is a lovely and highly imaginative picture of the reconciliation and reunion of God and man. The poet psalmist, who seems to have belonged to the times immediately after the return from the exile, in strong faith sees before him a vision of a perfectly harmonious co-operation and relation between God and man. He is not prophesying directly of Messianic times.
1. The heavenly twin sisters, and the earthly pair that corresponds. “Mercy and truth are met together”--that is one personification; “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” is another. It is difficult to say whether these four great qualities are to be regarded as all belonging to God, or as all belonging to man, or as all common both to God and man. I am disposed to think of the first pair as sisters from the heavens, and the second pair as the earthly sisters that correspond with them. “Mercy and truth are met together” means this: That these two qualities are found braided and linked inseparably in all that God does with mankind. Mercy is love that stoops, love that departs from the strict lines of desert and retribution. And truth blends with mercy. That is to say, truth in a somewhat narrower than its widest sense, meaning mainly God’s fidelity to every obligation under which He has come. God’s faithfulness to promise, God’s fidelity to His past, God’s fidelity in His actions, to His own character, which is meant by that great Word, “He sware by Himself.” Love is thus lifted up above the suspicion of being arbitrary, or of ever changing or fluctuating. In the second two, “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other,” we have the picture of what happens upon earth when mercy and truth that come down from heaven are accepted and recognized. To put away metaphor, here are two thoughts.
(1) That in men’s experience and life righteousness and peace cannot be rent apart. The only secret of tranquillity is to be good.
(2) Righteousness and her sister, Peace, only come in the measure in which the mercy and the truth of God are received into thankful hearts.
2. God responding to man’s truth. “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” Where a man’s heart has welcomed the mercy and the truth of God, there shall spring up in that heart, not only the righteousness and peace, of which the previous verse is speaking, but specifically a faithfulness not all unlike the faithfulness which it grasps. Righteousness looks down, not in its judicial aspect merely, but as the perfect moral purity that belongs to the Divine nature. No good, no beauty of character, no meek rapture of faith, no aspiration Godwards, is ever wasted and lost, for His eye rests upon it.
3. Man responding to God’s gift. “Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good, and our land shall yield her increase.” Earthly fruitfulness is only possible by the reception of heavenly gifts. The earth yields her increase by laying hold of the good which the Lord gives, and by reason of that received good quickening all the germs.
4. God teaching man to walk in His footsteps. “Righteousness shall go before Him and set us in the way of His steps.” The psalmist here draws tighter than ever the bond between God and man. Man may walk in God’s ways--not only in the ways that please Him, but in the ways that are like Him, and the likeness can only be a likeness in moral quality. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A blessed coalition
I. Here is a coalition of the most blessed qualities. “Mercy,” a modification of love, love commiserating: “truth,” which means reality, eternally antagonistic to all shams and hypocrisies; “righteousness,” the immutable law of the moral universe, to which all must bow sooner or later; “peace,” not insensibility, inaction, or stagnation, but the moral repose of souls centred in God. These are the moral qualities here specified; and more precious are they a thousand times than all the gems of ocean, or orbs of immensity.
II. Here is a coalition of blessed qualities that have been separated. In all human history, ever since the introduction of sin, these blessed qualities have been working separately and even antagonistically. There has been “mercy” without “truth,” and “peace” of a certain kind, without “righteousness.” They have not worked together either in communities or in individuals, hence the constant agitations and struggles in all human life.
III. Here is a coalition of qualities blessed in their reunion. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” These celestial sisters come together and embrace one another with delight. Blessed is this union! Let them be united in our hearts and conduct! (Homilist.)
Divine perfections united to save sinners
In the restoration of the Church by Jesus Christ, the glorious attributes of the great Jehovah conspire together for the redemption and salvation of sinners. And although the perfections of God, mentioned in the text, may be represented as opposed to each other, yet in the covenant of grace they all agree. Observe the uncommonness of such a meeting: two opposites in two pairs, meeting together. The unanimity of such a meeting; that contraries should shake hands and kiss each other.
I. That the perfections of Jehovah do harmonize in their respective claims concerning the salvation of the Church.
1. Mercy pleads for the guilty Church (Psalms 86:15).
2. Truth stands up for God’s faithfulness against sin (Genesis 2:17).
3. Righteousness or justice comes and claims execution (1 John 3:4; Romans 12:9).
4. Peace pleads for a mediator (Job 33:24; Isaiah 9:6; Galatians 4:4).
II. The time and place of this friendly meeting.
1. The place of assembly was in Christ (Colossians 1:19; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
(1) Mercy is vouchsafed to the soul deserving of eternal death, through the mediation of Christ.
(2) Truth or faithfulness stands engaged for the soul through Him, being upheld by Him, through the atonement.
(3) Righteousness or justice is satisfied in him, and pleads for an everlasting release.
(4) Peace flows into the soul of the believer, as proof of the unanimity of the meeting.
2. Some of the various meetings called by these parties.
(1) At the eternal council-table of covenant love (Ephesians 1:5).
(2) In the garden of Eden after the fall (Genesis 3:15).
(3) At Bethlehem at our Saviour’s advent (Luke 2:11):
(4) On Mount Calvary (Hebrews 12:2),
III. The manner of their meeting in the soul’s salvation.
1. A wonderful meeting (1 Timothy 3:16).
2. A joyous meeting (Isaiah 53:10).
3. A holy meeting (Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 2:8).
4. A happy meeting (Ephesians 1:8).
5. A free meeting (2 Timothy 1:9).
6. An unexpected meeting to us (Romans 11:33).
7. An inseparable meeting (Hebrews 13:8).
IV. The glorious purpose for which they met.
1. To promote Jehovah’s glory (Ephesians 1:6).
2. To disunite some unhappy meetings (Isaiah 28:18).
3. To unite opposite characters (1 Corinthians 1:7; John 17:21).
4. To unite opposite nations in one body (Ephesians 2:16).
5. To unite opposite covenants of works and grace (Romans 10:4).
6. To bring the Church to glory (Hebrews 2:10). (T. B. Baker)
The tenderness of God’s rule
We commonly think of God’s righteousness as contrary to His mercy; we supplicate His regard for us, personally, to qualify His regard for right. How hard it is to recognize that law is the minister of love, and love the fulfilling of law! Let us now consider some of the ways in which He reveals this to us.
I. Parental rule is one of these ways. The government of every pious household is, in measure, a revelation of the government of God. “Men are but children of a larger growth.” We call ourselves the children of God, and this is much more than a merely endearing name. We have all a child’s hold on God’s affections, all a child’s need of discipline and correction, all s child’s power to grieve Him; and He has all a Father’s kind determination to train us in right.
II. The tenderness of God’s strict rule is revealed to us again in the experience of life. It is hard to say whether most injury is done by over-strictness or by over-indulgence. Regard for right is the truest personal regard. God would shield men from woes unnumbered, from confusion of an unregulated will, from the conflict of passion, from the loathing that follows self-indulgence; and, therefore, has He made His laws so severe and certain, and, therefore, does He subdue us to His laws. Truth is not opposed to mercy; where there is no righteousness love works destruction. The experience of life prepares us to turn in gladness to our God, in gladness to rest in the rule of Him in whom we see that “mercy and truth are met together,” etc.
III. This revelation, again, is granted in prayer. We mourn under some appointment of life, thinking God is punishing us in it for our sins; as we pray to Him, we learn that we are not being punished, but chastened. We ask that God’s anger may be taken away and we forgiven; we see that we are already forgiven, and that what we thought was anger was only the fidelity of love.
IV. The tenderness of God’s strict law is revealed to us in the Gospel of Christ. It is personal regard for man which we see pre-eminently in Jesus; yet who so much as He makes us feel the constraining bond of righteousness? He is filled with human sympathy; in the fulness of His pity He makes their sorrows, and their shame, and their struggles His own; but the influence of His associations is to make men feel more and more that they cannot escape the rule of God. He delivers them from the penalties of law; but it is to awaken in them a reverence for it, deeper and more solemn than any experience of penalty can be. He frees them from its pains by transforming its painfulness into an entire devotion to it. He shows them that personal regard is not at variance with regard for right; for the Father, who loved the Son, did not out of regard for Him turn aside from strictest law.
V. The closing verses declare the blessed effects of this discovery in a true and fruitful, in a trusting, an intelligent and obedient life; in a life hallowed by God’s smile and crowned with His constant benediction. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
Rigorousness and clemency in God’s procedure with man
The words “truth,” “righteousness,” and “judgment” in these passages we shall take to represent the stern, the inflexible, and severe in God’s dealing with men; and the words “mercy” and “peace” to represent the mild and the clement.
I. In God’s procedure with man these principles are found in harmonious co-operation.
1. We see these two principles harmoniously operating in God’s dealing with us through the phenomena of nature. In the earthquake and the tornado, in the fierce lightnings and the rolling thunders, in the raging oceans and the furious winds, we feel ourselves confronted with the stern, the rigorous, and the terrible; but in the serene and the sunny we feel ourselves in the presence of the mild and the lenient. Both in nature work together, they “kiss each other,” and bring about the good ordained.
2. We see these two principles harmoniously operating in God’s dealing with us through the events of human history. When we read the history of our race--its wars, famines, pestilences, and innumerable calamities--we are brought before the severe and awful in God; whilst in the happiness of tribes, the prosperity of nations, and the gradual advancement of the race, we see the merciful and the kind; but both principles co-operate, the rigorous and the clement. They “meet and kiss each other.” They are in a blessed partnership in their endeavours to make humanity what God would have it be.
3. We see these two principles harmoniously operating in God’s dealing with us through the circumstances of individual life. In the various afflictions, physical, intellectual, and social, which every man has, God in the sterner aspects of His character appears before us; whilst in the pleasures and enjoyments of our life He faces us in an aspect tender and kind. But both principles co-operate. “Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment,” etc.
4. We see these two principles harmoniously operating in God’s dealing with us through the means of redemptive Providence. In the life of Christ, God seems in one aspect terribly righteous, on the other side infinitely merciful, but the two are one; they meet, kiss, and co-operate in making a perfect Saviour. It is so in the redemptive training of men for everlasting blessedness. First, law comes to the man with its flashing light and terrible thunder, rousing conscience, and kindling the terrible fames of remorse, and the Divine One seems rigorous and awful. Then comes the assurance of forgiveness, the centralizing the affections in infinite love, and ell in God seems tender and merciful. But the two principles meet together and co-operate in bringing about the same blessed result, viz., the training of the soul for a higher life.
II. Though these principles harmoniously co-operate in God’s procedure with man, one is ever in the ascendant. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
1. In the phenomena of nature you see more of the clement than the stern. The mild, and not the rigorous, is the queen of nature; storms and earthquakes, thunderings and lightnings are but the exceptions; sunny days, serene earth, and calm atmospheres are the rule.
2. In the events of human history you see more of the clement than the stern. History, it is true, records bloody wars, blasting pestilences, and writhing famines, but these after all are only exceptions in God’s dispensations with mankind; peace, health, and plenty, have been the rule.
3. In the circumstances of individual life you see more of the element than the stern. It is true we have our afflictions and our sorrows, but these are exceptions. As a rule, the existence of most men is that of health and judgment; goodness and mercy follow us. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment,” in our experience.
4. In the means of redemptive Providence you see more of the clement than the stern. In the Christian life there have been the pains connected with conviction, repentance, and conversion; but these are in the initial stages of the Christian life; succeeding stages are generally calm, and often jubilant, and the end everlasting life. (Homilist.)
Mercy and truth meeting together
There is always truth enough in the world, but it is merciless truth. Men are quick enough to see the faults and sins of their neighbours. If truth is merely fault-finding, then there is plenty of it everywhere. No man ever commits a sin but some one sees it and points it out. But cold, hard truth never convinces; it only provokes; It hardens instead of converting. It seems like injustice, cruelty, wrong. Truth without love has, therefore, virtually the effect of falsehood. It is often said that men are seldom converted by argument or controversy. This is because controversy is so apt to be carried on in a spirit of coldness and hatred, rather than love. There is also enough love in the world, if love means only kind feelings, weak good-will, which is too full of sympathy to see the faults of others and point them out, which will concede or suppress truth for the sake of peace. No. Love which has no truth in it is not love, but real enmity. To treat a bad man as if he were not bad, is a cruel kindness. It puts darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. It confounds moral distinctions. It encourages the man who might be cured by vigorous remedies to go on from bad to worse till he is incurable. It is not easy to unite these great forces, for they are polar forces and antagonist. A truthful man tends always to be too hard; a loving man tends to be too soft and yielding. This conflict between truth and love is sometimes presented to us as a problem in ethics. If a robber asks me which way his victim has gone, shall I tell a lie and deceive him or not? Shall I tell a lie to an insane person or a sick person for his good? Is it right ever to deceive? These questions, when put in abstract form, cannot always be answered. But the practical answer comes to us if we have learned to live in truth and love. When these are united in our character, they will not be divided in our speech or our action. We shall not tell any lies from good nature, but we shall be taught in the hour of exigency what to do and say. The promise of Jesus will be fulfilled: “Take no thought what ye shall say, for it will be given you in that hour what ye ought to say.” If we live in the whole a united life, we shall not act partially or in a one-sided way. The Lord will help us in each exigency to say and do the right thing, not sacrificing truth to love or love to truth. Life often teaches us that way which logic fails to find. The only live work, too, is that which has both truth and love in it. We must love our work, to do it well; We must also believe in it, to do it well. The lowest drudgery becomes a fine art when we put our mind and heart into it: a fine art becomes mere drudgery when we practise it only to make money or get reputation out of it. Work is very hard when we do it only because we must; it is very easy when we have faith in it and love it. (J. F. Clarke.)
True peace is inseparable from righteousness
Peace may be sought two ways. One way is as Gideon sought it when he built his altar in Ophrah, naming it, “God send peace,” yet sought this peace that he loved as he was ordered to seek it, and the peace was sent in God’s way. “The country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon.” And the other way of making peace is as Menahem sought it when he gave the King of Assyria a thousand talents of silver, that “his hand might be with him.” That is, you may either win your peace or buy it--win it by resistance to evil; buy it by compromise with evil No peace is ever in store for any of us, but that which we shall win by victory over shame or sin-victory over the sin that oppresses, as well as over that which corrupts. (John Ruskin.)
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The moral prosperity of earth the joy of heaven
I. The history of earth will one day be characterized by moral prosperity. Truth--what a seed is this! The deadly foe of all falsehoods and wrongs, the root of virtue, the river of joy. Two things are implied in this growth of truth--
1. The preparation of the soil.
2. The implantation of the seed.
II. The moral prosperity of earth will be A source of delight to heaven. “More joy . . . over one sinner,” etc. What is the joy?
1. It is the joy of benevolence. A delight springing from the discovery of an increase of happiness in the universe.
2. It is the joy of piety. It is a delight to discover that, instead of a world of rebels, it is a world of loyal subjects. (Homilist.)
God’s purpose concerning the world
Heaven is the abode, the treasure-house of righteousness: it is filled with its riches, and no room is left for iniquity to enter. Truth is akin to righteousness--it is her daughter and her image; and when truth has covered the earth, even as righteousness clothes the heavens, this world and that, so long alienated in sympathy, and character, shall be one. Man shall bear the image of God, and earth shall be the reflection of heaven.
I. The Divine purpose. It is to reverse the moral state of things long prevalent among mankind.
1. Falsehood, and not truth, has had the ascendancy in our world, Falsehood has reigned in the regions of philosophy; and a thousand wild chimeras, the offspring of vigorous but wayward genius, have bewildered human minds. Portions of truth, gleams of light, playing amidst widespread darkness, have remained--the results of early impressions, the relies of primitive tradition, and the utterance of those instinctive tendencies and laws of mind, which nothing can completely crush; but error, various, manifold, portentous, gigantic error, has predominated and reigned.
2. The reversing of this scene forms the purpose unfolded in our text. What we have now been looking at reminds one of Vesuvius after an eruption, when the burning lava has transformed the surrounding region into a sulphureous lake, destroying the field and the garden, the village and the city. But, through the tender mercy of our God, the scene is to be changed; these fires are to be extinguished; a new moral soil, if I may so speak, is to be spread over the desolation of past ages; and then, quickened by the seeds of truth, and watered by the rains of reghteouness, the earth is to yield her increase, truth is to spring up and flourish, and so to clothe this lower world as to make it the counterpart of that upper one.
II. The partial realization of this purpose. The Gospel has not been 1800 years in the world for nothing. Its early triumphs were wonderful. Like an electric shock it passed through the Roman Empire. Superstition felt it; the heathen mythology lost its remaining hold on the public mind. Idolatry felt it, and the images of the gods were forsaken; philosophy felt it, and its vain and delusive speculations were dispelled. A revolution took place unparalleled in the history of the world. The religion of a few poor fishermen overturned the religion of priests, philosophers, and emperors. It altered the destiny of man; it gave a new impulse to the progress of civilization; it infused a fresh and healing element into society; it entered the family, and reformed domestic habits; it entered the region of literature, and shed upon it new light; it entered the halls of legislature, and improved the codes of nations; it entered the royal palace, and taught princes lessons of justice and mercy. Christianity thus strove to embody in man and society the beautiful picture sketched in my text; and to a very considerable extent, through the grace accompanying its proclamation, it realized its object. There were individuals, families, and churches, sanctified by truth, and rich in the fruits of righteousness. In all ages there have been such specimens! Blessed be God, they are numerous in the present day; perhaps more numerous than ever. They are to be found at home and abroad.
III. The future complete fulfilment. While man is eager, precipitate, longing to see the end of everything, God is saying, “Wait!” “The end is hot yet; but it shall come.” A glorious age of truth and righteousness shall come; the kingdom of Christ, in its power and glory, shall come. “My counsel shall stand; and I will do all my pleasure.” Nor is there, after all, any actual deferring or postponement of what God intends to do. God is not putting off what He once purposed to do earlier: He is fulfilling His first intentions; He is following out the original plan. There the intermediate steps were all marked, as well as the final issue. Indeed, the slowness of God’s work is only apparent. To us, who dwell upon the surface of the globe, its movements appear extremely slow--nay, it seems entirely stationary. Standing on the deck of our great world vessel, we feel not the motion of the mighty ship as it cuts its way through the infinite ocean of space; and it is only by the careful observation of the stars that we can realize and measure our progress; but in the eyes of God the earth is moving in its orbit with vast celerity, with a speediness of flight which mocks the arrow, and would startle us mortals, who are borne along by it, could we become fully sensible of its rushing pace. So the work of God in this world, for the consummation of the triumphs of truth and righteousness, seems slow to us; nay, sometimes may seem as though it had stopped; but, in the eye of Him who “seeth the end from the beginning,” it is swift, though tranquil; rapid like the planets, and like them tending to the accomplishment of its appointed round. (John Stoughton.)
Righteousness shall go before Him; and shall set us in the way of His steps.
I. The essential steps of the Lord’s dealings with us. The first thing in God’s dealing towards us is that He gives His well-beloved Son; and the first thing in His manifestation of Himself to us is to open our eyes to see our need of this, and thus to bring us into the same way, the way of His steps. The next step in a way of detail as given in this psalm is that of forgiveness. The steps now described in a way of detail naturally follow. “Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of Thy people.” That is one of the sweetest features of the Gospel. “Thou hast covered all their sin.” Here is Satan’s universal and entire defeat, seeing He has covered all their sins; and “who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Is not this a step in loving-kindness, is not this a step of grace, is not this an infinitely and an eternally advantageous step,--thus to receive Christ Jesus as to receive the forgiveness of sins?
II. The reasons why the Lord setteth us in the way of his steps.
1. That we may be supported when we fall into tribulations, adversities, and trials. If some of you are so placed at present that you may not exactly feel in your minds the force of this reason, you will before you die, because trouble is the lot of us all, affliction is the lot of us all, and the Lord brings us into His steps that we may be with Him, and be supported.
2. That He might foreshow us what we should do under difficult and trying circumstances. See Daniel in the lions’ den; see Mordecai. The Lord doth in ten thousand ways stir up His children, give them the spirit of prayer, make them look to Him to deliver them from their troubles; thus they shall escape ten thousand evils that they must have been entangled fatally by but for the reigning grace, power, and interposition of the blessed God.
3. The Lord keeps His people with Himself that they may be like Him. (James Wells.)