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Bow down Thine ear, O Lord, hear me: for I am poor and needy.
Man and the great God
I. Man in a variety of aspects.
1. What every man is. “Poor and needy.” Morally this is the case with every man. He is “poor” (Revelation 3:17). And “needy.” What does he need? Knowledge, pardon, purity, power.
2. What every man requires. “Be merciful unto me, O Lord.” “The wages of sin is death.” He must throw himself on mercy; mercy is his only ground of hope.
3. What every man should be.
(1) Pious. “For I am holy.”
(2) Trustful “That trusteth in Thee.” He is infinitely trustworthy.
(3) Incessantly prayerful “I cry unto Thee daily,” or all the day. We should “pray without ceasing.” True prayer is not a service but a spirit.
4. What every man should believe. “For Thou, Lord, art good,” etc.
(1) God is essentially good--the primal font of all goodness.
(2) Forgivingly good. “Ready to forgive.” Many men esteemed good have not sufficient goodness in them to forgive. Forgiving goodness is goodness in its highest manifestation.
(3) Abundantly good. “Plenteous in mercy,” etc. No sinner need despair.
5. What every man should do.
(1) He should seek a knowledge of the Divine will, in order to obey it. “Teach me Thy way,” etc. “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” This should be the great question in every man’s life.
(2) He should strive for unity of heart, in order to praise God for evermore. “Unite my heart,” etc.
II. God in a variety of aspects.
1. He is infinitely incomparable.
(1) Incomparable in being. “Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord.” Angels that excel in strength, etc. But what are they to God?
(2) Incomparable in works. “Neither are there any works like unto Thy works.”
2. He is universally attractive. “All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship,” etc. Glorious prediction this.
3. He is transcendently great. “For Thou art great,” etc. (Isaiah 44:6). “All nations before Him are as nothing.”
4. He is unspeakably kind (Psalms 86:15). (Homilist.)
A pattern of prayer
Earnest reiteration is not vain repetition. Christ used many repetitions, as does the psalmist. This is a pattern of prayer in its invocations, petitions and pleas.
I. The invocations. The appeals to the Divine Name.
1. The significance of invocation, not a mere formality, but the basis of all prayer.
(1) Names expressing certain aspects of Divine character.
(2) The use we make of these names.
(a) Thought. We think of God under this aspect.
(b) Confidence. We avow our faith in Him.
(c) Appeal. We remind God of what He has declared Himself to be.
2. The invocations in this prayer. Note the frequent and varied use of the Divine names. These are made the ground of confidence.
(1) Jehovah--a name with two-fold meaning.
(a) The word itself. Eternal, underived existence.
(b) Its history. The seal of the covenant, i.e. the eternal God entering into covenant relations with man.
(2) My God.
(a) God implies fulness of power.
(b) My God. The Godhead appropriated, i.e. Almighty strength, claimed by human need.
(3) Lord, not here meaning Jehovah, but the God of authority and dominion.
II. The petitions--a progress in thought and desire.
1. The introductory petition.
(1) Loving regard. “Bow down Thine ear.”
(2) A mighty answer. Hearing means answering.
2. Deliverance under a three-fold aspect.
(1) Protection--“preserve my soul.”
(3) Mercy. The source of both. The first two emphasize the psalmist’s peril. The last his unworthiness. No word as to the manner of deliverance. He leaves all that to God.
3. The crowning blessing. Gladness as the result of all these. “Rejoice the soul of Thy servant.”
III. The pleas. The arguments of prayer. The reasons why God should bless.
1. Man’s necessities. “I am poor and needy.”
(1) Circumstances borne down by outward calamity.
(2) Character, destitute of inward resources. These constitute a prevailing plea with God.
2. Man’s relations and desires towards God.
(1) Divine favour. “I am holy.” I am favoured by God.
(2) Possession. “Thy servant.” The Lord cares for the slave.
(3) Confidence. “That trusteth in Thee.”
(4) Supplication. “I cry unto Thee daily.”
(5) Aspiration. “Unto Thee do I lift up my soul.”
3. God’s own character. “For Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive.” This the mightiest plea of all. We can add to these pleas the name of Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Assurances that God will hear prayer
The most of these supplications may be found in other parts of Scripture as promises from God. Only so far as an articulate Divine word carries my faith has my faith right to go. In the crooked alleys of Venice, there is a thin thread of red stone, inlaid in the pavement or wall, which guides through all the devious turnings to the Piazza in the centre where the great church stands. As long as we have the red line of promise on the path, faith may follow it, and it will come to the Temple. Where the line stops it is presumption and not faith that takes up the running. God’s promises are sunbeams flung down upon us. True prayer catches them on its mirror, and signals them back to God. We are emboldened to say, “Bow down Thine ear,” because He hath said, “I will hear.” We are encouraged to cry, “Be merciful,” because we have our foot upon the promise that He will be. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
The soul’s true elevation is a progress--
I. Godward. “Unto Thee.” It does not really rise as it moves towards worldly wealth, position, influence, or knowledge; but only as it moves towards God.
II. By self-effort. “Do I lift up my soul.” It must rise, not as a stone rises into the air, by the application of a foreign force, and as soon as the force is expended comes down again; but as the lark rises, by its own energy, and the use of its own pinions. Self-lifting is the true lifting; and it requires aa effort, resolute, energetic, and persevering. (Homilist.)
Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer.
In such a prayer-psalm as this, there is no studying of language: it is the pouring out of the heart as the heart boils over, the utterance of the desires as they bubble up from the soul’s deeps, with an entire carelessness as to the fashion of the expression. This ought to be a hint to you when you pray. Do not study how to arrange your words when you come before the Lord. When your heart is like a boiling geyser, let it steam aloft in pillars of prayer. The overflowing of the soul is the best praying in the world.
I. David in his prayer sought, beyond all things, to have personal intercourse with God. To my mind that is just the distinction between prayer before conversion and prayer after it. Note well that David, while he thus sought to have dealings with God, to come to close grips with the Lord in the act of prayer, was not presumptuously bold. He perceives the condescension of such fellowship on God’s part. This may be seen in the first line: “Bow down Thine ear, O Lord, hear me.” As if he said, “Thou art so high that, unless Thou shalt stoop very low, Thou canst not commune with me. But, Lord, do thus stoop. Bow down Thine ear. From Thy lofty throne, higher than an angel’s wing can reach, stoop Thou down and listen to me--poor, feeble me.” As you further read in this psalm, you will notice that David, in order to obtain this high privilege, pleads his need of it. He cries, “I am poor and needy”; as much as to say, “Lord, do come to me, do let me have personal intercourse witch Thee, for nothing else will serve my turn. I am so poor that Thou alone canst enrich me; I am so feeble that Thou alone canst sustain me. Thou hast made me: Lord, forsake not the work of Thine own hands; I, Thy child, am full of wants, which Thou only canst supply. Oh, deal with me in great compassion!” He next pleads his personal consecration: “Preserve my soul, for I am holy”--consecrated and dedicated to the Divine service. Moreover, David, anxious to use every argument, pleads his trust: “Save Thy servant that trusteth in Thee.” This is s conquering plea: “Lord, my sole reliance is on Thee; come to me, then, and justify the confidence which Thou Thyself hast inspired.” Then, notice that David pleads for God’s presence because He is God’s servant. “Save Thy servant.” He urges yet another reason why just now he should see God, namely, that he is always in prayer: “I cry unto Thee daily.” Blessed are we when prayer surrounds us like an atmosphere. Then we are living in the presence of God; we are continually conversing with Him. May we climb to the top of the mount of communion, and may we never come down from it! David also tells the Lord that, when he could not attain to the nearness he desired, yet he struggled after it, and strained after it. Now, when a man’s daily cries and inward strivings are after God, he may certainly expect that God in prayer will have intercourse with him. There are occasions with all His people when the Lord brings them very near, and speaks with them, and they with Him, when His presence is to them as real as the all-pervading air, and they are as much rejoiced in it as in the presence of father, or wife, or child, or friend. Still David, conscious of the great privilege which he sought, was not content without pleading the master argument of all: he pleads the great goodness of the Lord. “For Thou, Lord, art good.” As much as to say, “If Thou wert not good Thou wouldst never listen to me. I am, as it were, a noxious insect which a man might far sooner crush than speak with; and yet Thou art so good, my God, that instead of setting Thy foot on me, Thou dost lift me up and talk with me.”
II. David desired personal answers from God. We hear our fellow-Christians say, when we tell them of instances in which God has heard our prayers, “How very extraordinary!” And we look at them, and say, “Extraordinary?” Has it become an extraordinary thing for God to be true to His own promise? I like better the remark of the good old lady, who, when her prayer was answered, was asked, “Does it not surprise you?” She said, “No, it does not surprise me; it is just like Him.” A promise is like a cheque. If I have a cheque, what do I do with it? Suppose I carried it about in my pocket, and said, “I do not see the use of this bit of paper, I cannot buy anything with it,” a person would say, “Have you been to the bank with it?” “No, I did not think of that.” “But it is payable to your order. Have you written your name on the back of it?” “No, I have not done that.” “And yet you are blaming the person who gave you the cheque! The whole blame lies with yourself. Put your name at the back of the cheque, go with it to the bank, and you will get what is promised to you.” A prayer should be the presentation of God’s promise endorsed by your personal faith. We expect our God to answer our prayer all the more surely when we are in trouble. David so expected: “In the day of my trouble I will call upon Thee: for Thou wilt answer me.” Trouble is sent to make us pray. When we pray, the prayer becomes the solace of our trouble; and when the prayer is heard, it becomes the salvation out of our trouble. Many of you would be out of trouble quickly if you prayed. “Sir, I have been doing my best.” And what is your best? A better thing than your best is to wait upon the Lord. Now, if we expect God to answer us, we do so on very good grounds. There are certain natural reasons. I was turning over in my mind the question, “Why do I pray? Why have I any reason to believe that God hears me?” And I thought to myself, “Well, on natural grounds I have a right to believe that God will hear prayer, or otherwise why is prayer commanded?” The Scripture is full of prayer. It is an institution of the old covenant, as well as of the new, and yet it is a piece of folly if God does not hear it. Observe, again, that prayer has been universal among all the saints. There have been saints of different moulds and temperaments, but they have all prayed. Some of them have been, like Heman and Asaph, masters of song, and they have prayed; others could not sing, but they have all prayed. But, if you turn to scriptural reasons, why was there a mercy-seat if there is nothing in prayer? Why does the throne of grace still remain as a permanent institution, of which Paul says, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace,” unless there is a reality in it? Tell me, why is Christ the way to the mercy-seat? Why is He Himself the great Intercessor and Mediator, if there is nothing in prayer?. The Holy Ghost helpeth our infirmities in prayer; surely there must be something effectual where He lends His aid. What! is He, after all, helping us to do a thing which produces no result? For, once more, we know that God hears prayer, because we have met with multitudes of His people who can tell of answers to prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In the day of my trouble I will call upon Thee: for Thou wilt answer me.
The day of trouble
I. Here is a day that may be expected by us all, Though all men do not “walk in the midst of trouble,” all must meet with trouble sooner or later. There is no human experience that has not had, or will not have, such a day--personal and relative troubles, bodily and spiritual troubles.
II. Here is a determination that should be formed by us all. “I will call upon Thee.” This resolution--
1. Agrees with our instinct. In trouble, men involuntarily call on God. This resolution--
2. Agrees with our reason. Who else can really help us? Money profiteth nothing in the day of trouble; and the tenderest, truest friendships are helpless.
III. Here is a hope that may be entertained by us all. “For Thou wilt answer me.”
1. Thou hast answered others who called on Thee in trouble.
2. Thou hast promised to answer all who call on Thee in trouble. (Homilist.)
Among the gods there is none like unto Thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto Thy works.
God’s works unique
I. God’s works in the material domain have no equal.
1. How exquisite in perfection. How delicate in structure, symmetrical in form and hue. Compare the finest fabric that the human hand has ever produced with the commonest flower of the field, and what a difference.
2. How infinite in variety! From the microscopic atom to that central orb that holds the material universe together, from the animalcule to the archangel, no two alike. How limited the range of man’s inventions, what a sameness in all his productions!
3. How immeasurable in extent! “The works of the Lord are great,” etc. Ill. God’s works in the mortal domain have no equal.
For example, how different the way in which God deals with enemies with the way men do!
1. God offers forgiveness to the rebel; man crushes him.
2. God offers forgiveness to the rebel after he has frequently refused it.
3. God offers forgiveness to the rebel, and makes the greatest sacrifice, “He gave His Son,” etc. Verily, “His ways are not our ways.” (Homilist.)
The wonder-working God
I. The glories of Israel’s covenant God unequalled. “There is none like unto Thee.”
II. The operations of His hands. “Neither are there any works like unto Thy works.”
1. In nature, who can make a tree such as God makes? You may make an imitation of it. Who can make a blade of grass such as God makes?
2. In providence there are no works like unto God’s. If He send forth His servants, as He did Jeremiah, to throw down, root up, and overturn nations and empires. It is He that giveth power to get wealth, He it is that fixes the bounds of our habitations; nay, more, it is His constant employ to order the very steps of every good man.
3. Now, look at what might be accounted religious works, or what may be termed the work of grace. Can any god work like Him?
III. The designs of his love.
1. The salvation and redemption of His Church.
2. The new creation of every member of the Church, to qualify them to enjoy redemption. What a subject for personal self-examination!
3. The tribute of praise He designs shall be paid to Himself. “My glory,” says He, “will I not give to another,” nor my praise to graven images; therefore is there no god like our God, and no other god shall have any of His tribute. (J. Irons.)
The text is the expression of the unsophisticated man in the presence of earth and sky; and, mind, Jesus Christ is on the side of the unsophisticated man. “Consider the lilies, how they grow,” etc. He did not say that Solomon was not a match for a landscape, but he was not arrayed like “one” of these. That is, in the estimation of Jesus Christ, there was more splendour in a single wild flower than there is in all our manufactured magnificence. It is something like what Mr. Ruskin said: “There is more beauty in a bluebell than would be necessary to decorate a dozen cathedrals.” The unsophisticated man feels that there is no rivalry between our creations and the magnificence of the Creation. Everybody knows that when Aladdin’s palace was built the magicians were disturbed, and left a window incomplete, and all the genius of the East failed to complete that window. But, I say, if a bit of the sky had been left incomplete, or a section of the rainbow unpainted, or the petal of a flower organically defective, who would have finished that? Oh, no, “amongst the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord.” A great many art critics fancy that God Almighty is not much of an artist, and that you require a great deal of correction and idealization before you can get a picture. The botanist feels that flowers must have a great deal of care and training before they are fit for the show; and most people who have to deal with nature have a consciousness that it does not satisfy their artistic sense. So to-day, you perpetually hear of the limitation, the irregularity, the defectiveness, and failures of nature. Now, what are you to say to these? Are you to deny them? Not for a moment. But remember this, that whenever you mark the defects of nature, those alleged defects are only part of a larger ultimate perfection. Let me say this--two great canons--everything in nature is good in its place, and everything in nature is good for its purpose; not ideally perfect, but good in its place, good for its purpose. But I wish to speak to you on the perfection of God’s works as revealed in His government of the race. Now, the unsophisticated man, looking at the structure of society, the independence of the nations, the unfoldings of evolution, would say at once that God was wonderful in counsel and excellent in working; amongst the gods there is no ruler like Thee, O Lord, neither is there any government like unto Thy government. But the critic steps in again. What! Look at the planet; think of human history; mark all the confusions and catastrophes of the ages; and could any government be worse than the government of God--that is, if there be such government? Now, what are we to say? Let us begin again. Everything good in its place. What is that? Get the right distance, look at the thing with a true perspective, and you will give a favourable verdict. Let me illustrate it. There has appeared, almost in our own day, a new historian--the philosophical historian. The old historians gave anecdotes of kings and of camps, stories of the people, the movement of the times. It was a series of sketches, a series of anecdotes; and there they finished. But in modern times we have another historian--the philosophical historian. What is his particular vocation? He shows how the different nations have contributed to the development of civilization; what part the Egyptian civilization played, what part the Greek, what part the Judaic, what part the Roman. Why did not the philosophical historian come earlier? Because the right point of view had not been reached; the Egyptian did not know what he was doing--the Greek did not, the Jew did not, the Roman did not. They were up in the dome, they were far too near. But the philosophical historian is the man who has got the proper distance; he has got the floor, and he begins to see that the past has not been a gigantic muddle, but there has been system in it, order, purpose. The chaos is revealing itself as a picture. The philosophical historian says, “Under everything there is a plan; running through all things there is a purpose; and what for ages looked to men but a confused and purposeless history begins to show to-day the great, universal, and splendid purpose of Him who sits upon the throne and governs all things to His own great ends.” Don’t you judge too quickly; you wait ten thousand years; you have plenty of time. What is ten thousand years to you? The great purpose of God that is hidden begins to make itself known through the mist, and what you once thought to be a chaos you see to be a cartoon. Yes, you say, but ten thousand years is rather trying to us, with our impatience. It is; you need not always wait so long. Three centuries ago an ugly tyranny in this nation drove out from us some of the noblest women and noblest men that belonged to the commonwealth. Now, if you had been on the Atlantic coast, and had seen the Mayflower driving across that wild sea to an unknown world, you would have said, with your little view of things, “Where is the wisdom and purpose of this? Talk of the government of God--could there be a worse government than the government that permits the expatriation of these noble men and women?” The American Republic of to-day is God’s explanation of the mystery of three centuries ago, and the voyage of the Mayflower. Yes, you say, but one gets a bit tired in three centuries. It is tedious. Well now, let me tell you this. God does not always keep you waiting three centuries. You know, young people think they know every thing, and they do pretty nearly, but there are a few things that God keeps for the aged, there are a few odd truths that He whispers in our ear; and I tell you one is this. As a man gets older he begins to see that his life has not been made up of unrelated patches, but it has been an intelligent working and programme throughout. When a man is young, life seems made up of events unrelated, contradictory, grotesque; life seems made up of ups and downs, ins and outs, births, deaths, and marriages, without rhyme and without reason. But when a man gets old, at the right distance from the dome, he begins to see that God girded him when he knew it not, and that God has been shaping things from infancy to age. I don’t think for a moment that I deceive myself when I think to-day of my life; I can see to-day what I did not see before, that God has been standing at the back, and He has ordered things, and what I once thought a mistake I see now to have been right, and before I have done, very likely, I shall see the picture more clearly than I see it to-day. I am a philosophical historian on a small scale, and I begin to feel that God has worked out my life with a distinct purpose and plan, and I have a deep conviction that He has done all things well. Everything good in its place--what did I say?--everything good for its purpose. Try that again. What is the object of the government of God? To make us perfect, to make us into noble men and women. The failures of society are only imperfections that aim at a larger perfection--the perfection of the man. When you judge things, you judge they are blunders, because they have spoiled your money, or they have spoiled your health, or they have spoiled your happiness. Not at all. Think how they stand related to your discipline, your higher education, your perfecting in knowledge and righteousness; think of that. Judge the purpose, and then you will see that it was not a blunder. “Thy judgments are a great deep,” says the psalmist. Yes, a great deep, that is now, and we are sceptics, we are complaining, the air is filled with criticism and cynicisms and blasphemies. “Thy judgments are a great deep,” and we say all sorts of wicked things. But on the last page of the book I read, “For Thy judgments are made manifest.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
The ways and works of God
The psalmist is here speaking of the incomparableness of the workmanship of God. The perfection of the Divine action as we witness it in creation: “Amongst the gods there is none like unto Thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto Thy works.” That is the utterance of the unsophisticated man as he stands in the presence of the grandeur of the world. You know that in the old story of the building of Aladdin’s palace by the spirits, that they were disturbed in their work and they left one of the windows incomplete, and all the artistry of the East failed to finish that window and make it harmonize with the work already done. But I say if a bit of the sky had been left uncoloured, who would have dared to dye it? If the fragrance had been left out of the rose, who would have supplied it? But we are not left to instinctive admiration, for the critic comes along. There is not a man in this place but who knows that there is more said to-day about the imperfection of nature than about its perfection. Our artistic friends are sure they could have improved the world vastly if they had been consulted. The result is that many people speak much about the imperfections of nature, the imperfections of society, and the imperfections of life. Now, what are we to say about these? How are we to deal with these questions? Are we to deny them? No, not for one moment. Admit them, and then declare that the apparent imperfections of the world are only the proofs of a more glorious and more wonderful perfection. There are two principles which I want you to keep in mind while we follow this thought--that everything in nature is good in its place. It does not seem good if you take it out of its place. Now, when you went to Rome and had climbed to the dome of St. Peter’s, the thing which struck you was the imperfection of the fabric, the material was coarse, the inlaying was carelessly done, and the colours were crude. But when you came down to the floor 250 feet beneath and looked up, it was a triumphant success; its very imperfection was its perfection. The artist knew that his work was to be looked at from the floor, and he made his plans accordingly. If he had finished it in fullest detail he would have defeated his own purpose. But instead he made it rough, and so created a picture of great beauty. It is just like that in nature. The sacred writer, with a fine discrimination, says: “Everything is beautiful in its time, in its season.” Everything is beautiful in its order, everything is beautiful in its place, so that when a man sees only the imperfect or the unscientific, all I can say to such an one is that he has taken it out of its context, he has looked at it out of its perspective. There is a further principle, everything is good for its purpose. The ideally perfect is not always the ideally practical. One of the greatest scientists of this age has told us that if any optician was to send him an instrument as imperfect as the eye, he would return it at once with a severe reprimand for his carelessness. We are told that the eye has serious technical defects. The optician could make us a better, but he does not. I do not doubt that he could make us once more theoretically and ideally perfect. But if we got an eye like that, its very refinements would be an impediment to us. It would not be of service for its purpose. With all its defects the human eyes is good for its purpose. I want to say a word about the Divine action in the ways of God’s government. The unsophisticated man looks on the world all down the ages, and he says, How wonderful, how marvellous in counsel! What providential leadings we have seen. Don’t you be in too great a hurry, for you will have the critic down on you. He will ask you if you can shut your eyes to the suffering of the world, to the bankruptcies of civilization, to the tragedies of nations, and to the miseries of individuals. Let us go back to our first principle. Everything is good in its place. If you are going to judge wisely, you must have a true standpoint, and before we can judge history we must have such a true standpoint and wait long enough. In our day you have a new school of historians--the philosophical historian. The old historian used to give us pictures of things; he would tell us anecdotes about the kings, parliaments, and contemporaries, and the events of great personages. The philosophical historian is of another type. His method is to find out the succession and harmony of events. He says to you that “through the ages one increasing purpose runs.” He tells you how the great nations have worked for one purpose. The Jew contributed ethics, the Greek beauty, the Roman jurisprudence, and he points out to you how the different nations were all working unconsciously for the bringing in of a wider purpose. Now, what I want to know is, why did not the philosophic historian come sooner? To see the providence of God sometimes you have to wait six, eight, or even ten thousand years, but what is that to you and me? We have plenty of time, for we are alive for evermore. God’s plan runs on, and it is not for us to say Chat we can interpret His workmanship. If you had stood on the shore that day when the Mayflower steered her course from our land! The occupants were fleeing from tyranny in this country. Surely it was cruelty and a spectacle for pity. It seemed as if the great men and noble women were driven out to find a home in another part of the world. But we were too near to the pinnacle to see rightly. You wait until you get to the floor. Wait three hundred years, and the American Republic is God’s interpretation of the Mayflower. The young people will not understand this, but it has its appeal to the patriarchs. They will agree with me that the difference in the past and the present vision of life is all a matter of a new perspective. Thus what was once a shapeless, purposeless confusion is revealed as the perfect plan of God. So I say to you, when you are tempted to judge God’s ways hard, always be sure that you have waited long enough. “He maketh the wrath of men to praise Him.” What is the purpose of the government of God? Is it to make us rich, or strong, or to make us famous and happy? If His government aimed at such results, it has broken down most pathetically. But it does not aim at such results. It aims at the moral development of the individual and the cleansing of the community, the making of a holy nation. These are the aims of His government, not material but moral aims. A German writer, in pointing out the defects of nature, shows that many animals are woefully defective. The organs of motion are often mechanically defective. We cannot argue with these men, they say it is so, and no doubt it is true. But t was most struck with the last line of the paragraph. He finished by saying, “Considerations of a higher order have determined these imperfections.” I tell you that as I walk along the streets of the city and look on the suffering world, on the sickness and the loss, the poverty and the tears, I often whisper to myself, “considerations of a higher order have determined these imperfections.” Ah! God sometimes smites us on lower grounds for higher purposes. He afflicts me to-day that He may give me to-morrow higher and better things, “considerations of a higher order have determined these imperfections.” Let us consider this in relation to the Divine action in revelation. How you could emphasize this! How wonderful those pages have been to you, promises full of stars for dark times. Sweet pastures where the Shepherd leads His flock. But suddenly the critic comes down upon us, and he says with a mighty scorn, “That Book perfect! It is full of crudities, full of inconsistencies, and full of imperfections.” Don’t deny these charges, but reveal the greater perfection. The sun has spots, but you don’t break it up and cart it away for scrap iron. Go back to your principles. Everything good in its place. Now, there are those who find fault with the Old Testament, and especially with the Pentateuch. I say to you that the Pentateuch has been effective not in spite of its imperfections, but because of them. It was the only way in which God could educate a sensual age. Just think of a rose looking down at its roots, and saying, “There is a nasty thing. It has got no colour, no shape, and no fragrance.” But the root is perfect as a root, and the perfection of the root is the rose which graces its top. And I say to you to-day that you must not despise that Old Testament out of which you sprung. Boast not thyself against the root, for thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. It is also good for its purpose. What is the purpose of this revelation? It is to teach redemption, not geology or astronomy. It was to reveal God, and make you like Him. I was very interested during my visit to America in a correspondence on what would have been the effect if the sun had been another colour, say, if it had been green, or scarlet, or blue. It was a very amusing controversy, but I was most interested in the conclusion they arrived at, viz., that, on the whole, it was better as it was. The sun may be defective, but it ripens your corn, and colours your flowers. And so with the revelation of God: it fulfils its purpose. This book has illumined men, inspired men, and comforted men. His weakness is stronger than our strength. His weakness is greater than our wisdom. (W. L. Watkinson.)
All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; and shall glorify Thy name.
The golden age that is coming
When all the nations fall down in practical worship before the One all-holy, all-wise, and all-strong, then the golden age will have come, the millennium of the world. Three remarks about this event.
I. To all human experience it is most unlikely. See what the nations have been through all the ages that are past, and see what they are now. How far away from, and how hostile to, the great God. Judging from our own experience it seems an impossibility.
II. To all true reason it is most proper.
1. Because all nations are His, and they are morally bound to serve Him.
2. Because all nations must worship Him if they would be virtuous and happy.
III. To all scripture it is most certain.
1. Scripture teems with Divine promises of such an event.
2. It is the nature of Divine promises that they must be fulfilled. (Homilist.)
The hope of David
I. The origin of this hope. It grows directly out of his reverence for God. He feels his God has charms that must win the hearts of men; that He has activities which lead Him to seek and to save the lost; that His Spirit is breathing everywhere upon the face of the great world; that God is not content to be without His children or to leave them in the far country, and accordingly, believing in God he believes in man; and his eye, filled with Divine light when it looks on man, catches some Divine features in man, traces a family likeness; and he speaks of “man whom God has made.” If you despair of the success of the Gospel in heathen lands, it is not because you know man, it is because you do not know God. If you knew Him--that His heart is as large as all His attributes, that in His vast family there is no one beneath His care, or thought, or love, that His love touches all, and His kingdom rules over all--that knowledge of God would dispel doubt and loose your neck from the bands of poorer fears: and, revering God, you would hope for man--I have not yet done with the question of the origin of the hope, because there is a little more shown us by the psalm itself. For both this reverence for God and this hope for man have again their root in the psalmist’s penitence; and we do not get at the bottom of the matter till we get to the broken spirit and the contrite heart; that gives him reverence for his Maker and faith in his brother man. Looking up he sees a Father, and looking round he sees the golden age coming on apace, mankind waking to truth, ready to accept it, erring only because they do not know it. He sees no gulf fixed between man and God here, and no despair necessary or inevitable. He lives in adoration and in hope.
II. The hope itself. It is a hope that there will be one universal religion; that however diverse in constitution, temperament, training, experience, sooner or later truth will dominate over all error, and grace rule all hearts, and mankind belong to Christ. It is a great hope. Even the philosopher, the historian, the man of science might rejoice in that; much more we who know the value of each individual spirit in the sight of its Maker. Let us look at it.
1. All the holiest men in all ages have cherished this hope. The devout has never been a narrow heart--never. It enlarges all thoughts when we get into the realm of communion with our God. Moses had breadth of view when he said, “There shall be one law to you and to the sojourner that dwelleth with you,” and taught that God was the God of the stranger. David had no narrowness. Again and again in all his psalms you see precisely the same feeling as is exhibited here. You know how Isaiah dwelt in expectation of the distant isles coming to Jehovah, the rams of Nebaioth coming up on His altar, people coming from the north and the south, and the land of Sinim pressing into the house of His glory. You know how Ezekiel had the missionary spirit in him, how he describes the river of the water of life deepening as it flowed, and carrying to every land the life of healing with which it was charged. You know how Paul argued. Through all his epistles there is but one great argument advanced, that the Gospel is to be a world-wide message, that Christ is not second Abraham, but second Adam--head of mankind, and that as death has come upon all men, so the grace of God through Jesus Christ will come upon all men unto salvation. You know John’s vision: “I beheld, and lo, a great multitude out of every nation,” etc.
2. This hope has been justified largely by past experience. That creed of Israel was once the creed of a single man. It lay in the heart of Abraham, who found it. Although trained as a heathen, as an idolater, as a worshipper of other gods, following the inward voice he found the great God. He gave the creed to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, and these to a few others. In two or three centuries it had received sufficient acceptance to become the living thing about which a nation crystallizes, and which can be embodied in a marvellous law infinitely ahead of anything then existing. It finds more adherence still, better acceptance in the days of David, still more in the times of the prophets, and still larger acceptance amidst the discipline and the furnace of the Babylonish captivity, till in the time of Christ it was the creed of a great people scattered throughout the world, and leavening all nations where they were scattered. That is an instance only; from one man, this creed spread till it animated a people. And the same thing has been going on ever since. The creed of the Church of Christ--that God is love and man should be--is brief and clear. There seemed but little hope of its being accepted. All nations resisted, as you and I did when it first came to us. It was too good news to be true. The Jew despised it, the Roman tried to crush it, and the warlike tribes of the nations turned away from it as something that would enfeeble their manhood. But it passed from heart to heart, from city to city, till it became the creed of the great Roman Empire, and has gone on and on until to-day it is the creed of three hundred millions of people, and these three hundred millions the strongest part of the earth’s inhabitants.
3. The welfare of mankind is bound up in its realization. Raise the man and you raise his whole condition. Reform from the heart outward, and you secure an effective reform which you cannot secure if you begin at the other end. All good work is God’s work, and will win His reward. But still the great work is that which gives the man his manhood, which sets him free, which gives him an immortal hope. Give him that, and you give him thrift and self-respect, and civil liberty, and the power of mastering everything that is adverse in his condition. The welfare of mankind is bound up in this hope.
4. The realization of this great hope tarries because of our indifference. We decline to be our brother’s keeper. We eat our morsel of the bread of life alone. (R. Glover.)
Thou . . . doest wondrous things.
In this age a great amount of wealth is lavished on “curiosities.”
I. One of the greatest curosities which has been made for you is the created world. When you see anything which is wonderful, the first questions are, Who made it? How did it get here? Some people say that this earth made itself; and that the machinery of its creation is a thing of chance. What a grand old curiosity is this world which God has made! It may also be likened to a glorious picture which speaks to us of Him.
II. Another curiosity which is intended for us is the bible. Thank God, the Bible is now so cheap that every man may possess a copy. It was once so scarce and dear that it was chained in the churches. The Bible is the grandest curiosity in the world.
III. Another great curiosity is yourself. What are you? What is your destiny? What is your pathway? Is it for happiness or misery? (W. Birch.)
Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth.
I. Moral light sought from the true source.
1. God has a “way” for man. He has a course, a mission for every man.
2. Of this “way” man is ignorant. He is in darkness. Errors as to the chief good have abounded in all times.
3. God alone can teach that “way.” “Teach me Thy way, O Lord.” Philosophers, poets, and priests have failed to throw light on this way.
II. Moral light sought for a right reason.
1. It is sought, not for mental speculation, but for life regulation.
2. Walking in this path is a walk of--
(2) Invigoration; and
(3) True progress. (Homilist.)
Three phases of religion
In the expressions “teach,” “fear,” “walk,” we have religion presented to us in the three aspects of knowledge, feeling, and conduct. In other words, religion in the head, in the heart, and in the feet. The several forms of human activity may be described by three phrases--I think, I feel, I do.
I. Religion as a matter of knowledge, a process of instruction. “Teach me Thy way, O Lord.”
1. The teacher is the Lord. Men are both blind and in darkness in relation to spiritual matters; there is an objective and a subjective disability in regard to these things. The Bible is calculated to meet both these conditions; it not only dispels the darkness--that is, removes the historical ignorance of men regarding God’s plans and methods for saving them--but it goes further; it removes their blindness by conferring the faculty of spiritual vision. “The entrance of Thy word giveth light.” There is not only the word, but the word secures an entrance into the mind, illuminating it with the light of God. Divine truth not only reveals objectively, but is by its very nature, as the mind of the spirit, instinct with a convincing force, enabling it often to overcome the most ingrained prejudices, to arouse the most callous indifference, conquer even the fiercest hostility, and secure for it the most cordial reception by the mind.
2. The learner. He displays the first essential of a true learner, a keen desire for his lesson. He craves it even on his knees, for he prays that he might be taught. How essential an attitude is this in all who would truly learn of God. It is the teachable disposition--the true receptive mood. The Divine Teacher will not withhold the waters of knowledge from a soul thus panting for them. How emphatically is Divine instruction promised to such as manifest this docile disposition (Psalms 25:9; Psalms 25:14). Meekness and fear, that is, docility and reverence, are qualities in the pupil which unlock the secrets of the Divine heart.
II. Religion in the heart, or religion as a matter of feeling. “Unite my heart to fear Thy name.”
1. The “fear” is not that of terror or dismay, but love. It is the childlike disposition, sweet, trustful, and penetrated with holy, subduing reverence.
2. The essential condition of this beautiful disposition is a heart at peace with all its passions, in thorough harmony with God. This consecrates all its aims. God becomes henceforth the great end of every act, thought, ambition, etc.
III. Religion in the life, or as a matter of conduct. “I will walk in Thy truth.” The process has now reached its final stage, from the head to the heart, from the heart to the conduct--in other words, from knowledge into motive, from motive into action; from an understanding illuminated by Divine instruction to a heart dominated by Divine love (heart-fear), from a heart dominated by Divine love to a life regulated by Divine truth. (A. J. Parry.)
A dutiful prayer and a wise resolution
I. A twofold petition.
1. “Teach me Thy way.”
(1) Man’s need of Divine instruction.
(a) This is obvious from the darkness of his understanding. In consequence of this, he does not see things as they really are, and, as a result of this, the estimate he forms of them is false and deceptive. Hence the most pernicious results must necessarily accrue. These are manifest in the wrong objects which he naturally pursues, the sinful pleasures he seeks after, and the forbidden things in which he delights. No change for the better need ever be expected on the part of man’s darkened understanding, for it possesses no power of self-rectification. He must receive light from above, just as the sun-dial must receive the sun’s rays if it is to be of any practical utility.
(b) This is obvious from the hardness of his heart. This state of hardness is one which does not remain stationary, for, just as in the continuance of frost, the ice thickens and the ground hardens, so in like manner, under the operation of his depraved tastes and habits, the heart of the natural man waxes harder and harder.
(2) The psalmist doubtless desired instruction, at least, in two important points--viz., in God’s way of pardon, and in the way of purity and spiritual progress.
(a) Pardon is a blessing of universal need and measureless value. It is God’s prerogative to forgive sins, for “who can forgive sins but God only?” The way of pardon being provided, it is indispensable that we know it before the blessing can be enjoyed.
(b) A renewal of heart is as essential as a reversal of condition: for how can two walk together except they be agreed? Without holiness, no man can see the Lord.
2. “Unite my heart to fear Thy name.”
(1) This petition obviously implies the conviction that reverence is due to Jehovah. This reverence for God requires the concentration of the heart’s affections.
(2) It is plainly implied that God alone can beget in us this reverential spirit. O let us be persuaded that from God alone all holy thoughts and pure desires proceed.
II. The wise resolution. “I will walk in Thy truth.” His resolution intimates progress. Whether conscious of it or not, progress is a law of our being--progress in that which is good, or growth in that which is evil. The resolution of the psalmist implies progress in the right direction. “I will walk in Thy truth.” The objects to be sought are to possess the sanction of the God of Truth, the life that is to be lived is to be that which is enjoined by the God of Truth, and in prosecuting life’s journey he is to take God’s truth as a light to his feet, and as a lamp to his path. Religious profession and Christian practice must, therefore, correspond. (A Brunton.)
Prayer for light and guidance
A man in David’s position needed special light, almost more than we do. He trod a somewhat solitary path in morals and religion, He had no spiritual masters at whose fees he could sit. Our world is made brilliant by guiding lights and example. We have Christ, and Christian influences, and Christian finger-posts everywhere about us. Yet we need to offer this prayer only less, if at all less, than those men of old. We often find ourselves in moral perplexities, riddles are set before us for which we can find no solution. It is very evident, then, that we need this prayer, and cannot offer it too frequently and too earnestly. In truth there is such a strong pull in the wrong direction that we are not likely to take the right way in any doubtful moment unless the light is made clear, unless we feel the drawings of a mightier Power, unless we ask each day, and often more than once a day, in all humility and in all sincerity, that God will make us feel that drawing power, and show us that light, and cause us to know the way wherein we should go. But now, to offer this prayer two things are indispensable. We must first believe that prayer is a real thing, offered to a real Being, offered to One who hears and takes the trouble to answer, and who can answer in ways unknown to us. Further, if this prayer is to be of any value, we must be prepared to go in God’s way when He shows it. “Teach me Thy way; I will walk in Thy truth; unite my heart to fear Thy name.” Because if the heart is not united, if one part is looking towards God’s light and the other pulling away from it strongly to what one likes a great deal better, there is nothing but confusion, indecision, cross purposes, and the guidance is given in vain, even if in that case it is given at all. For we never get light unless we ask for it with the whole heart and are resolved to walk in it if it can be shown Us. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Unite my heart to fear Thy name.
Unity of heart
Unity of heart is essential--
I. To force of character. Mind, like light, air, water, diffused, is comparatively worthless; compressed, it is mighty. Condense the rays of the sun, and they shall burn up the world; compress the air, and it shall rive the mountains. There are three states in which we find mind in this world.
1. Unconcentrated. Millions of men have no definite object in the world, they are distracted and unstable.
2. Wrongly concentrated. There are minds set upon inferior objects, such as business, polities, literature, science, etc.
3. Rightly concentrated. It is trotted to “fear Thy name.” United in God, centred in Omnipotence.
II. To peace of soul. The mind divided is distracted and disharmonious. Peace requires that all the faculties and affections of the soul flow in one direction towards one object, and that object agreeing with our dictates of right and our highest aspirations. God alone is such an object. Our constant prayer should be, “Unite my heart to fear Thy name.” (Homilist.)
Prayer of saints for constant holiness
I. A good man has not two hearts. David does not pray that God would unite his old and new heart, or his old and new principle, or his old and new disposition, or his old and new taste; but his one, only heart. The new heart destroys the old heart,
II. What his one heart is. A sinner’s heart consists in a train of mere selfish affections; but a saint’s heart consists in a train of both benevolent and selfish exercises. The best of saints are imperfectly holy in this life; and their imperfection in holiness consists in their sometimes having holy, and sometimes unholy affections. Their holy and unholy affections are always distinct, and never blended together. Their holy exercises are never partly holy and partly unholy, but perfectly holy; and their unholy exercises are never partly holy, but perfectly unholy. A train of holy and unholy affections forms the heart of a saint; but a train of constant, uninterrupted sinful affections forms the heart of a sinner.
III. The heart of the saint needs to be united. The perfect holiness of Adam, in his primitive state, wholly consisted in the constant and uninterrupted succession of his holy affections. The perfect holiness of just men in heaven consists in the constant and uninterrupted succession of their holy affections. Nor could there be the least moral imperfection in the hearts of good men in this world, if their affections were constantly holy, without any interruption by affections of an opposite and sinful nature. The reason why the heart of a good man needs to be united is, because it is disunited by a contrariety of affections; and not because his affections are too weak, or low, or languid. The only way to raise the ardour of a holy heart is, to make the succession of holy affections more constant and less interrupted, or, in other words, to unite one holy affection so intimately with another, that there should be no time, nor room, for any sinful affection to intervene, interrupt, or cool the ardour of Divine love.
IV. There is a propriety in his praying that God would unite his heart.
1. Every Christian finds that his heart is more or less disunited; that not only his love, his fear, his faith, and other gracious affections are sometimes what he calls low and languid, but actually interrupted by directly opposite exercises. He finds opposition instead of submission; unbelief instead of faith; the love of the world instead of love to God; and aversion to duty, instead of delight in it. These are positive exercises of sinful affections, which are diametrically opposed to positive exercises of grace.
2. It is proper for Christians to pray that God would unite their disunited hearts, because no external means or motives will produce this effect without His special influence.
1. If every Christian has but one heart, and that heart consists in moral exercises, then no person is passive in regeneration.
2. If a good heart consists in good affections, which are continually liable to be interrupted by affections of an opposite nature, then it is easy to see wherein the deceitfulness of the heart consists, viz., in its mutability.
3. If the hearts of good men consist in free, voluntary exercises, then they ought to be perfectly holy in this life. For if they ought to have one holy exercise, then they ought to have another and another, in a constant, uninterrupted succession. They have no right to exercise one selfish, sinful affection.
4. If a good heart consists in holy exercises, then the Gospel as really requires perfect holiness as the law. The difference between the law and the Gospel does not lie in their precepts, but in their promises. The law promises eternal life to nothing short of the constant, uninterrupted exercise of holy affections, and-condemns the man who indulges one selfish, sinful affection; but the Gospel promises eternal life to every one who perseveres in holy exercises, though they are interrupted in a thousand instances.
5. If the hearts of saints consist altogether in moral and voluntary exercises, then they never have any more holiness than they have holy exercises.
6. If the hearts of saints consist altogether in free, voluntary exercises, then there is a foundation in their hearts for a spiritual warfare.
7. In the view of this subject Christians may see their great moral imperfection. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Man’s need of a united heart
Who will not recognize the immense importance in every pursuit and employment of having the heart at one, the character consistent? “Methinks,” says Plato, “it would be better for my lyre to be out of tune and discordant, and even the chorus of singers whom I lead,--yea, better for the whole world to be at variance with me and contradict me,--than that I in my own person should be out of concord with myself and self-contradicting.” Yes, anything is better for a man than a distracted, unharmonized, inconsistent character. Yet with how many is this the case! I speak not now of that progress of gradually ripening opinion and judgment which is the necessary condition of all thoughtful minds: I require not that a man’s mature age should be brought to be measured by the unripe words and hasty inferences of his youth: it were better, indeed, and happier for him, if the whole life unfolded itself gradually and consistently; but of this progress, or of the lack of it, I am not speaking now. Few of us, I suppose, can look back many years without being sensible of more than a mere expanding change; few who are not conscious that while they have purchased some experience it has been at the reluctantly paid price of much of their former self-confidence. But what I do reprobate is this,--that the same man, at the same time, should be uncertain, self-counteracting, divided against himself,--in words, in acts, in the influence of his character over others. Anxious to appear like others in society, the young often profess strong opinions, and take decided courses, with regard to matters on which, from their very limited experience, they can know but little; they become strong upholders of this or that side in difficult questions, imitating, and going beyond, the partizanship of their elders. And hence, from this very pertinacity, comes fickleness and self-contradiction. As, by widening experience, the light of truth breaks in here and there, the young heart, if brought up under purifying and hallowing influences, is ever susceptible of just and generous impressions; and these very often clash with the artificial or traditional views before so strongly upheld, and bring about inconsistency and confusion. And these thoughts lead us to one remark; that with the young especially, one of the first conditions of this unity of heart is a humble and conscientious adoption of opinions. And here I say that it is lamentable to see men punctiliously upholding an accredited opinion which we have reason to knew they do not themselves hold. O it is by such men and such lives that mighty systems of wrong have grown up under the semblance of right; by such, that vast fabrics of conventional belief have been upheld for power’s sake and for gain’s sake, long after their spirit has departed; it is in spite of such men that the God of truth has broken these systems to pieces one after another, and has strewn the history of His world with the wrecks of these fair-seeming fabrics. Let us not be consistent thus. Our prayer does not run after this sort, “unite my acts, that I may make me a name and become great;” but far otherwise--“Unite my heart that I may fear Thy name.” Now, it is plain to all that these last words, “to fear Thy name,” must have a meaning very far removed from that of mere dread or terror of God. This he may have, and has, whose heart is not united; the inconsistent and the unprincipled, even in his worst moments, has the bitter drop of the terror of God and His judgments abiding at the bottom of his soul. Besides, such a terror is as unreasonable as it is undesirable. A heart at unity with itself cannot be in disunion with the chief object of its being; and that object is to serve and glorify Him who is its Creator and Redeemer. Manifestly then we must seek here for another definition of fear than mere dread; and to that definition our last consideration will guide us. Take that consideration in this form. If our hearts are to be brought into real and wholesome unity, it must be by the objects of their affections being in their right relative places. A united heart, for instance, cannot place Him in a low or secondary position of affection and regard whom nature and reason themselves combine to place first. If it be so, conscience will ever and anon be bearing testimony against the disproportion,--and infinite disunion will be the result. No; if we would be consistent men, God must be first in everything. If this is so, the first consequence will be that our motives will be consistent. We shall not be acting from a selfish desire now, and a generous impulse then; openly and frankly to one man, and covertly and craftily to another; but this fear of God will abide as a purifying influence in the very centre of our springs of action; His eye ever looking on us, His benefits ever constraining us. And union of the heart in God’s fear will save you also from grievous or fatal inconsistency in opinion. (Dean Afford.)
Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell
Saved from the depths
A plan has lately been proposed and successfully employed for raising the cargoes of sunken vessels.
A huge electro-magnet, operated from the deck of a vessel, is lowered to the submerged cargo; and if it be of a character subject to the influence of magnetism, it is attracted and lifted by this power, and thus easily saved. There is a power from on high which came to seek and save that which was lost. Down in the murky depths of the waters of sin, this magnet of love draws to itself sinful souls, and lifts them by its power to the bright sunlight and pure air above. Not by any virtue or power of their own--simply by the love that passeth understanding and the saving power of the Divine Redeemer--they are uplifted from the depths and made to stand among the rescued ones of the Lord. (Cora S. Day.)
Show me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed; because Thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.
Tokens for good
At the outset note--
1. How this man in the hour of conflict looks to his Divine protector. Not to men but to God does he cry, And observe--
2. That his troubles drove him to God. Too often they drive men away from God.
3. We look to God along. We may not set up a rival with God in the temple of our trust. What is it that thou wouldst yoke with God? Oh to be cut clear of all visible supports, and props, and holdfasts! You have seen a balloon well filled struggling to rise: what kept it downy What hindered it? The ropes which bound it to earth. Cut clear the ropes, and then see how it mounts! With a spring it leaps upward while we are gazing into the open sky. Oh for such a clearance and such a mounting for our spirits! Alas, we are hindered and hampered, and those bonds which detain us are our visible supports and reliances. “My soul, wait thou only upon God.” The Lord bring us into this high state of spiritual emancipation. Now, let us notice the request David puts up. If we are in his state of mind when we put up a like prayer, this asking for a token will do us no harm: otherwise such desire may be very hurtful to us.
I. This request for a token. It was to be from God and according to God’s will, and asked in faith, not in unbelief. For we have no right to say we will not believe unless God give us a token. We are bound to believe Him whether He gives us a token or not. And tokens that men have had, or thought they had, they have come to question about after a while. Peter, though he had seen our Lord’s transfiguration, declares that he had the “more sure word of prophecy.” Yet may we ask for tokens in a subordinate sense, when we are willing to believe God without them: we may ask for them as confirmatory signs and seals. Several such are named in this psalm.
1. We may long for answer to prayer (Cf. 5:1, 6). If we have received such answers (and have we not?), we may take them as tokens for good.
2. Then, preservation of character is another token (Psalms 86:2). If amid much trial and temptation we have been able to maintain an unblemished reputation, then you need not envy any among the sons of men.
3. Deliverance in trouble is another such (Psalms 86:2). And there is another form of token which must never be overlooked, and that is--
4. A sense of pardoned sin (Psalms 86:3; Psalms 86:5). Before this all ills disappear. And--
5. Support under trial. If God gives you this, if you are able to say to all God sends you, “Thy will be done,” take comfort from that.
6. Cheering visits from Christ, and fresh anointings of the Holy Spirit are also most sure tokens for good. They are implied in Psalms 86:4; Psalms 86:11; Psalms 86:16; and in our text.
II. The result of such tokens. Our enemies are abashed before them, The most malicious adversaries of God’s people have stood in awe of them.
III. Conclusion. What an unhappy state must those be in who have troubles, but have no God to go to: enemies, but no defender; darkness, but no star of hole. Your friends, and, still less, yourself, are to be trusted in such times. What can they do? Oh, seek the Saviour’s face. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Tokens for good
Webster defines a token thus: “Something intended to represent or indicate another thing or event.” The rainbow was the “token” to Noah that a second flood would not destroy the world (Genesis 9:1-17). The blood on the doorposts of the Israelites was a “token” that their firstborn would be spared when the destroying angel passed over the land (Exodus 12:13). The going down of the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward, was a “token” or sign that fifteen additional years would be added to Hezekiah’s life (Isaiah 38:7-8). God grants to His people tokens for good.
1. A deep sense of sin is a token for good--the precursor of salvation. Sinners must be made sorrowful for their sins, or they cannot be saved.
2. Prayerfulness. Do you feel a strong impulse to pray for the prosperity of the Church, or for one of its individual members; for your family, or for your personal growth in the Divine life? It is “a token for good,” the work of the Spirit within you, a sure precursor of some blessing which God has in store for you.
3. A spirit of inquiry into the meaning of God’s Word. Luther received “a token for good” when reading an ancient manuscript in his cell. He saw what a treasure of light and life there was in the Bible compared with the traditions of the Papacy. He discovered the doctrine of justification by faith, which he calls “the test of a standing or falling Church.” He also found that millions of people were ready to receive its blessed light.
4. In the prosecution of our work God gives “tokens for good.” A preacher saw no good done, and resolved to quit the scene of his labours, but he was encouraged by the dream of a man with a small hammer striking a large head, which after a long time flew into a thousand pieces.
5. Dark and distressing dispensations of Providence are often a “token for good.” Health decays: business fails. Temporal loss often leads to spiritual gain. If God takes away one blessing He confers another more fitted to promote our well-being than that of which He deprived us. The drying up of the streams of earthly comfort lead men to seek the water of life. (H. Woodcock.)
God our helper
I like this Saxon word “holpen.” There is something substantial in the appearance of it and hearty in the sound of it. When associated with certain adverbs and prepositions its meaning comes out in full force. Help forward, onward, out, over, off, to, up. “Thou, Lord, hast holpen me.” We have cause to say this every birthday, and when completing each stage of life. Have we not reason to say it at the end of decades of years, as we pass from childhood to youth and from youth to manhood? In truth this is a suitable utterance at the end of every day. (Samuel Martin.)
To what shall we liken comfort? It is like copious and heavy dew to withering flowers. It is like rain to the parched and thirsty earth. It is like an anodyne to sharp pain. It is like the sight of coast and harbour to the mariner, when the sea is rough and the sky is stormy. It is like the appearance of the moon after hours of thick, black, dark cloudiness. It is like the mother’s voice to a terrified child, and like the mother’s arms to a fretful babe. “Comfort” is a word which we interpret by our feelings. A mother’s lap and bosom, and a bird’s nest, are embodiments of God’s idea of comfort. (Samuel Martin.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 86". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany