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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 90". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ psalms-90.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 90". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.
The prayer of Moses
The propriety of the title is confirmed by the psalm’s unique simplicity and grandeur; its appropriateness to his times and circumstances at the close of the error in the wilderness; its resemblance to the law in urging the connection between sin and death; its similarity of diction to the poetical portions of the Pentateuch (Exodus 15:1-27; Deuteronomy 32:1-52; Deuteronomy 33:1-29), without the slightest trace of imitation or quotation; its marked unlikeness to the psalms of David, and still more to those of later date; and finally the proved impossibility of plausibly assigning it to any other age or author.
I. The great contrast (Psalms 90:1-6). The poet says what God has been, but he implies what He still was, and would continue to be. His Divine being reaches from an unlimited past to an unlimited future. Far otherwise is it with man’s days. He has no independent existence. The Being who made him turns him back to the dust from which he came (Genesis 3:19), and when He say, Return, there is none to refuse obedience. He whose existence is timeless endures, but men soon perish. He swoops them away as with a driving storm which carries everything before it. Their life consequently is as unsubstantial as a dream.
II. Death is the wages of sin (Psalms 90:7-12). The psalmist is a stranger to the fond notion that man is the victim of circumstances; that he deserves compassion rather than penalty. His brief life and swift death may seem mysterious, but they are not an accident. Like the flower he does not simply fade away, but is cut down. Various instrumental agencies may be employed to terminate man’s existence, but the real cause is God’s wrath against sin. How must iniquity take on a dreadful hue when contrasted with the unsullied purity of heaven, the resplendent glory of the Holy One of Israel? This dark shadow extends over the whole of life, and not only its close. “All our days” bear the same stamp, and even when they stretch out into years, still they fly away “as a thought,” a comparison used by Homer and Theognis, yet without the underlying thought of Moses that the flight is retributive (verse10). The best comment on this sad confession is the statement of Goethe made near the close of his long life. “Men have always regarded me as one especially favoured by fortune Yet after all it has been nothing but pains and toil.” But besides this there is no permanence. An end does come, must come, even to the longest term of years. As the man of God looks over the record of the forty years’ error, he cries out, “who knoweth,” who regards and feels “the force of Thine anger”? Who has such a conception of it as befits a becoming reverence for God? The implication is that there is none. Hence the devout entreaty, “So teach us,” etc. Such is the power of sin, the seductive influence of a worldly mind, that we shall not know the link between God’s wrath and our own mortality unless we get instruction from above.
III. Prayer for the return of God’s favour (Psalms 90:13-17). Here Moses returns to the starting point of the psalm. Whither should the contemplation of mortality as related to sin, and of Divine wrath against sin, cause us to turn but to God, our eternal home? The loss of His favour is, as usual, represented as His absence, and hence the entreaty for His return. The fervour of this request is well set forth by the abbreviated question, “How long?” i.e. How long wilt Thou retain Thine anger? Calvin’s letters show that this “Domine quousque” was his favourite ejaculation in his times of suffering and anxiety. The literal version of the other member of the couplet is, “Let it repent thee concerning,” i.e. so change Thy dealing with them as if Thou didst repent of afflicting them--a bold form of speech used by Moses elsewhere (Exodus 32:12; Deuteronomy 32:36). The next verse asks to be sated, abundantly supplied, with the lovingkindness of Jehovah in the morning, i.e. early, speedily; and the object of this prayer is stated to be that the offerers may have reason to sing for joy and be glad during the whole remainder of their lives. But if this be true of the Old Testament, that an early experience of grace gladdens all one’s subsequent course, much more must it be of the New Testament with its fuller light, better covenant and larger promises. The next couplet is an affecting reminder of past trials, which are here made to be the measure of future blessings. The desire is that former sorrows may be compensated by proportionate enjoyments in time to come. The weary sojourn in the desert, where each halting-place was a graveyard and their march was marked by the tombs they left behind them, they desire to forget in the enjoyment of a permanent home in a land flowing with milk and honey. The same request is renewed in asking for the manifestation of God’s work, that is, His gracious care for His chosen, the course of His providential dealings on their behalf. A beautiful and suggestive variation of this wish is given in the next clause where the term “work” is exchanged for “majesty,” intimating (Romans 9:23) that the glory of God shines conspicuously in His grace. This display of the sum of the Divine perfections is asked on behalf of the children of generations yet unborn, God being the God not only of His people, but of their seed and their seed’s seed (Isaiah 59:2). The closing verse of the psalm comprehends both the Divine and the human side of the work given to God’s people. First, the psalmist prays for the beauty of Jehovah, that is, all that which renders Him an object of affection, His wondrous graciousness, to be revealed to them in the way of experience. But this, so far from superseding rather implies their own activity. Hence the next petition mentions “the work of our hands,” a favourite Mosaic phrase for all that we do or undertake, which God is requested to establish, i.e. to confirm and bring to a favourable issue. The repetition of the words is not merely a rhetorical beauty, but an expression of the importance, the necessity of such Divine aid. (T. W. Chambers, D.D.)
The psalm of the wanderings
Throughout this psalm two threads are twisted, the one sombre with gloom, the other bright with golden light. We will not dwell on the former. There is plenty of that already in the lives of most of us. Suffice it to say that to Moses the plaintive chords of sorrow appears to have been composed of three notes--the rapid flight of the ages, the anger of God incurred by sin, and the afflictions which beset human life. But opposite to these the aged lawgiver gives three thoughts, on which he rested his soul.
I. God. What great thoughts Moses had of God.
1. As Creator. To God he ascribes the birth of the mountains, which in their grandest aspects and in magnificent confusion were heaped in that Sinaitic peninsula. To God also he ascribes the moulding touch which shaped the universe of matter, and gave form to the earth. What though seas and rivers, glacier action and earthquake, were his graving tools, yet the maker and former of all things was God.
2. As eternal. He is not only God, El, the strong. He is Lord, Jehovah, the i am. And he labours hard to give us some true conception of His everlastingness. He speaks of the eighty years of human life as being, in comparison with it, short and soon; much in the same way as we should describe the duration of an insect’s life, which passes through all the stages of existence from youth to age, between dawn and sunset in comparison with the life of man. He recites the generations of mankind, and describes their passing in to God like guests into a hostelry, their life to His being brief and transitory as a night-sojourn when compared with the permanence of the building in which it is spent. He goes back through the long process of creation, and says that God comprehends it in the extent of his being as a very little thing.
3. But the thought that helps us most is the conception of God as the dwelling-place, the asylum, the home of the soul. Moses needed it, if ever a man did.
II. Gladness-making mercy. As Moses reviewed the desert pilgrimage it seemed one long line of transgression, each halting-place marked by its special graves, the monuments of some sad outbreak. He pined for gladness; he knew that there was gladness in the heart of the blessed God, enough to make him glad, and not him alone but all who were weary and heavy laden throughout the precincts of the camp; and having confessed their sins he now turned to God his exceeding joy and said, “Make us glad.” And his demand for gladness was not a small one. He asked that it might be according to the days in which they had been affiliated and the years in which they had seen evil. It was a great request, but not unreasonable, for days and years of sorrow often give us capacity for receiving blessing. Let us, too, ask Him to put gladness into our hearts. Let us believe that it will honour and please Him if we dare to lay claim to blessedness, such as He alone can give, and when He gives does so with full measure, pressed down, and running over. The plea must be made to His mercy. We have no claim on any other attribute of God. And beyond that we must ask Him to satisfy us. We have sought satisfaction in all beside: in health and flow of spirits, in success and friendship, in books and affairs; but we have found it nowhere, and we shall never find it unless in Himself.
III. Work, or co-operation between God and man. Moses’ complaint about the shortness of life indicates that he was no idler. The days were not long enough for all he had to do, and therefore life seemed to pass so quickly through his hands. Amid all that made him sad, he found solace in the thought that what he did would last. The leaves fall, but each, ere it finds a grave in the damp autumn soil, has done something to the tree that bore it, which will be a permanent gain for summers yet unborn. The preacher dies, but his words have furnished impulses to souls which have become part of their texture and will be part for ever. The workman finds a nameless grave beneath the shadow of the great unfinished minister, but the fabric rises still and will rise; his work will be part of it for ever, a joy and beauty for coming generations. But after all our work in itself is not sufficient to resist the disintegrating forces of time, which, more than all else, tries and tests its quality. And, therefore, we need to ask that God’s work may become manifest through ours. In my work let Thine appear; through my weak endeavours may that hand achieve which made the worlds and built cosmos out of chaos. “Let Thy work appear.” And in asking that God’s work may appear, we make a request which involves His glory. The one cannot appear without the other, so that in all coming time children and children’s children may behold it, and as that glory shines upon their faces it must transform and transfigure them so that the beauty of the Lord our God will be upon them. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
God our home
There was a tradition among the Jews, although these traditions are not altogether trustworthy, that Moses, the man of God, wrote this psalm or prayer. And it has always been felt that the psalm seemed to have some special connection with, or reference to, the experience and the impressions of the children of Israel in the days that they were doomed to wander up and down in the wilderness without being allowed to enter into the promised land. And there is much in the psalm that corroborates that view. It is the psalm of a generation of men who felt themselves to be wasting away under God’s wrath, consumed by His anger. They are spending their years as a tale that is told. The vanity and emptiness of life are pressed home upon them with great severity. At the same time, it is not a psalm of mere wailing and lamentation. There is the exercise of faith in it, not only in the first verse, but in the appeal to God to come and dwell with them as their case requires, and make them experience His mercy. Now, if we are to take this idea, and see.how far it will carry us through this psalm, we must remember this, that when the children of Israel were leaving Egypt they were very much exercised about the hope of a habitation. They were leaving one habitation--the land of Egypt. It was a house of bondage; still, a house is a house, even if it be a house of bondage, and it is wonderful how men often shrink from breaking up some accustomed state of things, not discerning well what is to replace it. But the objections of the Egyptian rulers and the hesitations of the people were mightily overcome, and by and by they found themselves on that famous march through the wilderness towards the land which God had sworn to give them for an inheritance. It was to be their habitation, and it was not only to be their habitation, but also God’s habitation. The value of it was that He was to dwell in it with them, watching over them; and accordingly at the Red Sea they sang: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in.” Many thoughts about this wonderful habitation, many expectations about what it should prove to be, must have been in their minds. By and by there fell out that rebellion upon the report of the spies, which carried away the people as will a flood. One or two stood out against it, but the general cry of the people was to go back to Egypt. They despaired of that promised land, of that goodly inheritance. I think it would be a mistake for us to take it for granted that all those who had joined in this defection, all those who were involved in this unbelieving revolt from God, wore even then mere carnal and unbelieving men. It may have been the case that some of them were men and women who had some good thing in them towards the Lord God of Israel. It is not such a rare thing, unfortunately, it is not such a surprising thing, to find persons Who have the root of the matter in them and are believers, carried away by a stream of defection and by a sentiment of unbelief, as if they could not stand against it. And certainly we may suppose, when we look to the ends that God has in chastening, which is not for our destruction but for our salvation, that among those who were visited by this great disappointment some were brought to faith by the very chastening which was inflicted upon them. That agrees with the ends which God has in chastening. We are told that the people mourned greatly. They strove, as it were, to reverse the sentence which could not be reversed; but I should be disposed to believe that there might be among them persons who either were or came to be men of desire and men of faith towards the Lord God of their fathers. But if we are to open our minds to an idea of that kind, then what a tremendous disappointment fell upon those who belonged to this class, and how difficult it must have been for them to know what to say or do. As to the mere unbelievers, they were disappointed, of course; but they would perhaps turn to the ordinary avocations of the camp in the wilderness, prepared to make the best of it until the end of their pilgrimage had come. But those who had any trust in God and any longing for the experience of God’s favour, how must it have been with them? All hope was over now of that habitation to which they had set out to go. No more dwelling with God in the land of which their fathers told them. Their children should go in; the very bones of Joseph should go in; but they were to be shut out. Indeed, one would say that they would turn to the duties that fell upon them in connection with daily life, unable to speak to any man the thoughts that were in them. It was so hard the feeling that all was over; and yet the deep longing in the heart protesting against its being all over. Yes, and yet, when we come to think of it, we may see how such souls were visited, and how they found their way to God through that experience. We may see how God brought good out of evil and light out of darkness. For still they were under God’s care; still the manna was supplied to them and still the waters ran to satisfy their thirst. Still in the midst of their tents one tent arose which was God’s tent, who was dwelling in the midst of them. He was providing for them, caring for them, and they could go to Him in His tabernacle with their vows and their free-will offerings; and no doubt in the month Abib they would draw together and remember that they were God’s firstborn whom He had brought out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and with a stretched-out arm. To those who had no care about God, all that would be nothing, but it might be a great deal to these who were ready to say with Jonah, “I am cast out of Thy sight, yet I will look again towards Thy holy temple.” For what did it come to, after all? That God was their dwelling-place even now. In His shadow they dwelt, His food they ate, His protection was extended to them, and if He chastened them, might they not remember that as a man chastenteth his own son, so the Lord God chasteneth them? And if they were enabled to get so far, if they were enabled to look upward out of that desolate condition of theirs and to claim a relation to God in which He was their dwelling-place, then they would not only be able to look upward, but to look forward too. I dare say it was one of the thoughts in their hearts, when they set their faces to go out of Egypt to that promised land, that when they came to die, as die they must, their tombs would be in that land on which God looked from the one year’s end to the other. That was over now; there was nothing for them now but to leave their bones lying anywhere, wherever they might drop in the wilderness. Yet even so, they might believe that God’s promise would hold and that God’s goodness would not fail, and that when the great days of the fulfilling should come, they also, wherever their nameless grave might be, should not be altogether forgotten or left out of the blessedness of His people. And if God was their dwelling-place, how natural that their prayer should take this course of appealing to God to make them feel their interest in Him, to make them feel God’s interest in them. The pledges that they had once looked to see fulfilled had been swept away, and they stood face to face with God, and if they were to live a life of faith in God they required help. “O satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children.” How that sentence on their lives expressed the vanity of their lives, they could make nothing of them; they would lead to no result. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.” We also are passing through our pilgrimage to the land which God has set before us, and in the case of many of us our experiences are very different from those of which we have been thinking in connection with this psalm. But there are others of us whose experience prepares them to join in some of the reflections and especially in some of the prayers of this psalm. Perhaps there are some who cannot see the use of their lives. Their expectations in life have been crossed; sorrows have come where they hoped to have prosperous and progressive times. They have difficulty in understanding any Divine purpose in their lives, or any human purpose that a person could follow out with cheerfulness, with a sense of accomplishment and success. And they are apt to feel that God is not thinking about them. Such persons deserve the sympathy of all those who have not been so tried as they have been. Perhaps there have been circumstances in their lives, temptations and failures that lead them to feel that this failure of their lives, this want of an outlook and an upward prospect before them, has been duo to their own sin, and their own foolishness, which has perplexed their heart, and which has brought upon them the experiences which often do follow sin and folly--and it may be so. But it is true that you need a dwelling-place, and so also it is true that through these many experiences of yours you may be enabled to find your way to the faith that God is your dwelling-place; that He has not been forsaking you, but has been sweeping away treasures that were too lightly contemplated, and too lightly held, to make room for His coming in Himself into your lives, with a new manifestation of His grace, with a new sense of your own sin and unworthiness, and at the same time a new experience of His goodness. We have all homes, or have had homes, and what idea do we associate with the home, the dwelling-place to which we naturally belong? First of all the idea is of protection. A little child feels sure of protection in its own home, and it is right; there are people there who would die rather than let it come to harm. Then there is provision--wants met; forethought exercised that we may be provided for. Then there is a sense of peace, a sense of familiar surroundings, of being at home, at peace with all that is around you. There is also a sense of enjoyment, a sense of love and gladness that make a cheerful and happy place. We need this, and in a measure it comes to us in our own homes, but they may pass away. They are to teach us that we need the true home, and the Lord must be our dwelling-place, in whom is protection--“He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep”; in whom there is provision, “Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.” And then there is gladness. Some of us, perhaps, cannot realize true, simple, childlike gladness in connection with religious faith or experience, but that is not because there is any doubt about the gladness, but because we are not far enough on. And, therefore, if I speak to any who find a difficulty in the experiences of their life is recognizing the Divine care and goodness, I would say to you, Is your case worse than the case of those men and women of whom I have been speaking? And if this was the very way in which God taught them what He was and what He could be to them, and enable them to say, “Lord, Thou art our dwelling-place,” then should we not learn the same lesson; learn it when sorrows and perplexities and troubles come to us, to go to God for deliverance, and for a knowledge of what it is to yield ourselves to God, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God. It is a sad business to think of those who are living in happy homes, in homes which have much happiness, and many elements of good about them, and yet have no outlook further; as if when by and by the materials of that earthly home fall away, they will pass out into eternity houseless and homeless. That will not do; we are very clearly told that if we are to find that blessedness we must seek it now. (R. Rainy, D.D.)
Man and his Maker
I. In the safe guardianship of God (Psalms 90:1).
1. In other places God is represented as the dwelling-place of human souls (Isaiah 4:6; Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalms 91:9). Human souls want a home, a place where they can rest in confidence, sheltered from the storm, protected from the burning rays, and shielded from every danger and every foe.
2. What a dwelling-place is God!
(1) How safe! The combined armies of hell cannot enter it; the strongest storm in the universe cannot affect it.
(2) How happy! In it there is everything to charm the imagination, gratify the love, delight the conscience, transport the whole soul in raptures of joy.
(3) How accessible. Its doors are open to all. Untold millions have entered it, and yet there is room.
(4) How enduring! The strongest castles rumble before the breath of time, and the material universe may be dissolved, but this “dwelling-place” will stand for ever.
II. In physical contrast to God (Psalms 90:2-6). Here is the Eternal in antithesis with man the evanescent, the absolute in contrast with man the dependent.
1. Man is mortal. Dust we are and to dust we must return. But this event occurs not by accident, or disease or fate. No. “Thou turnest man to destruction.” There are no accidental deaths in the world.
2. Emblems of the brevity of human life.
(1) A “watch.” This, according to Hebrew chronology, was only one-third of the nocturnal season. Life is spoken of, not as a year or a month, but as a third part of a night, so brief it is.
(2) “Sleep,” “Sleep ceases,” says Luther, “ere we can perceive it or mark it; before we are aware we have slept, sleep is gone.” When the oldest man, as he is about passing away, looks back on his past life, the whole seems only as a vision of the night.
(3) “Grass.” What are men? Merchants, warriors, emperors, armies? Grass, nothing more. The wind passeth over them and they are gone. Oh, what is man to God? (Homilist.)
The gate to God’s acre
It is the oldest of stories, sung in this oldest of psalms; of human weakness, turning in dismay from the change and decay about it, to find refuge in the eternity of God. We are not suffered to waste time in the attempt to comprehend the abstract truth of God’s eternity. We are lifted for the moment, in order that we may descend; suffered to grasp a few of the treasures of the Divine glory, that we may carry them back to glorify our earthly life.
1. This splendid thought of the Divine eternity is made to touch the shifting and inconstant character of our earthly state, by the single word “dwelling-place.” I am a wanderer on earth, there is an eternal home for me; I am sick of confusion and change, there is eternal abiding in Him who is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” and only a change “into the same image from glory to glory.”
2. But a correct view of the eternity of God conveys warning as well as comfort. The more it is studied, the stronger is the contrast into which it throws the brevity and uncertainty of human life.
(1) The eternal power of God convicts us of helplessness. Notice the sharp contrast. “From everlasting to everlasting, O God,” Thy life is self-sustained--in Thine own power: man’s life, that gift in which he so exults and on which he presumes to play “such fantastic tricks before high heaven,”--that which flowers out in his pride and high endeavour, in his ambitions, plans, and grand enterprises, is a thing so little in his power, that Thou turnest him even unto the finest dust with a word; and, with another word,--“Return, ye children of men”--callest others into being to fill his place.
(2) The eternal being of God is used to convict us of delusion. We measure life by false standards. The psalm brings us back to the true rule of measurement (Psalms 90:4; Psalms 90:12).
3. These suggestions are enforced by the figures which follow. Each of them sets forth a truth of its own.
(1) There is, first, the fact that man passes swiftly from life. “Thou carriest them away as with a flood.” “Thou carriest men away from life, as a mountain torrent, rising in an hour, sweeps away the frail but that man has built.”
(2) Take the next figure: and to the same thought of the swift passage of life, we have added that of its unsubstantial, unreal character, and of man’s unconsciousness of its passage. “They are as a sleep in the morning.”
(3) Again, look at the third image: the grass which flourisheth in the morning and is cut down at evening. Here still is the old key-note--the quick passing of the life; but with a new thought, namely, how the beauty and strength and aspiration of life are disregarded in the swift flight of time. It is cut down. Why this strong expression, as if it were not left to wither of itself, but were destroyed by violence?
4. The question marks the transition to the next portion of the psalm, embraced in the next four verses. This matter of brief life and swift death is a mystery, is it also an accident? Then, as now, men were prone to say, “Man is to be pitied: man is the victim of circumstances: man is not guilty, but unfortunate: man is not depraved, but fettered: man deserves not punishment, but compassion: sin is no ground for wrath, but for tolerance.” True it is that the Bible is an evangel of love, and pardon, and compassion; true that “like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him”; but also true that the Bible, from beginning to end, blazes like Sinai with God’s hatred of sin, resounds with warnings of man’s danger from sin, and sets forth as in letters of fire that man is responsible for sin, and liable to its penalties; true that history, and prophecy, and psalm, and gospel, and epistle are grouped round one definite purpose, to save him from the power, dominion, and consequences of sin. In view of these terrible facts, and of men’s persistent blindness to the power of God’s anger then, as now, is it strange that Moses prayed, is there not good cause for us to pray, “Teach us to number our days”? Whither shall a sinful, short-lived man flee, but to a holy and eternal God? Thither turns the prayer of these last five verses, and turns with hope and confidence. Man is the subject of God’s wrath, but there is mercy with Him to satisfy him who flees from the wrath to come. Man is a pilgrim and a stranger, with no continuing city, but there is gladness and rejoicing in God for all his brief days. Man’s beauty consumes as the moth, but “the beauty of the Lord our God” shall be upon him, and that beauty is immortal, untouched by time and change. Man’s work is fragmentary, his plans often disconcerted, his grandest enterprises nipped in the bud by death, but God’s touch upon human work imparts to it the fixedness of eternity; and if He establish the work of our hands, it shall abide though the world pass away and the lust thereof. He will make good the sufferings of sin by the joys of Holiness. (M. R. Vincent, D.D.)
God a dwelling-place
I. The eternity of God.
1. The existence of God never had a beginning.
2. The existence of God will never have an end; it stretches into futurity further than our minds can follow it or angels trace it; it is an everlasting life, a deep and mysterious stream which never began, and will never cease, to flow.
II. In what relation this everlasting being stands to ourselves. We are reminded of the power by which He formed the earth and the worlds; we are reminded of the eternity in which He dwelt before there was a creature to know and adore Him; and for what end?--that a world of destitute sinners may be encouraged to consign themselves to His care and to trust in His love. He is “our dwelling-place,” our refuge, our habitation, our home.
1. A refuge from dangers.
2. The seat of our comforts.
3. The place of our abode.
III. What feelings the contemplation of God in this light ought to excite.
1. Grateful acknowledgment.
5. To the careless and ungodly--terror.
Other enemies may be incensed against us, but while they are preparing to execute their purposes of wrath, “their breath goeth forth”; they die; and there is an end of their terror. But an avenging God never dies. The weapons of His indignation are as lasting as they are strong. (C. Bradley, M.A.)
The glorious habitation
1. The dwelling-place of man is the place where he can unbend himself, and feel himself at home, and speak familiarly. With God you can be always at home; you need be under no restraint. The Christian at once gives God the key of his heart, and lets Him turn everything over. The more God lives in the Christian, the better the Christian loves Him; the oftener God comes to see him, the better he loves his God. And God loves His people all the more when they are familiar with Him.
2. Man’s home is the place where his affections are centred. Christian man, is God your habitation in that sense? Have you given your whole soul to God?
3. My next remark is concerning the lease of this dwelling-place. Sometimes, you know, people get turned out of their houses, or their houses tumble down about their ears. It is never so with ours; God is our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Christian, your house is indeed a venerable house, and you have long dwelt there. You dwelt there in the person of Christ long before you were brought into this sinful world; and it is to be your dwelling-place throughout all generations. You are never to ask for another house; you will always be contented with that one you have, you will never wish to change your habitation.
1. Self-examination. It is remarkable that almost the only scriptural writer who speaks of God as a dwelling-place is that most loving apostle, John. He gives us (1 John 4:12) one means of knowing whether we are living in God: “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” And again, further on, he says, “And we have known and believed the love that God is to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” You may then tell whether you are a tenant of this great spiritual house by the love you have towards others. In the 13th verse is another sign: “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” Have you actually the Spirit of God within you? If so, you dwell in God. But the apostle gives another sign in the 15th verse: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” The confession of our faith in the Saviour is another sign that we live in God. But there is one more sign whereby: we ought to examine ourselves, in the third chapter 24th verse: “He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him.” Obedience to the Commandments of God is a blessed sign of a dwelling in God. Some of you have a deal of religious talk, but not much religious walk; a large stock of outside piety, but not much real inward piety, which develops itself in your actions.
2. Congratulation to those who dwell in God. I congratulate you, Christians, first, that you have such a magnificent house to dwell in. You have not a palace that shall be as gorgeous as Solomon’s,--a mighty place as immense as the dwellings of the kings of Assyria, or Babylon; but you have a God that is more than mortal creatures can behold, you dwell in an immortal fabric, you dwell in the Godhead--something which is beyond all human skill. I congratulate you, moreover, that ye live in such a perfect house. There ne’er was a house on earth that could not be made a little better; but in God you have all you require. I congratulate you, moreover, that you live in a house that shall last for ever, a dwelling-place that shall not pass away; when all this universe shall have died out like a spark from an expiring brand, your house shall live and stand more imperishable than marble, self-existent as God, for it is God! Be happy then.
3. One word by way of warning. Do you know, poor soul, that you have not a house to live in? You have a house for your body but no house for your soul. Have you ever seen a poor girl at midnight sitting down on a doorstep crying? Somebody passes by, and says, “Why do you sit here? I have no house, sir. I have no home.” “Where is your father? My father’s dead, sir.” “Where is your mother? I have no mother, sir.” “Have you no friends? No friends at all.” “Have you no house? No; I have none. I am houseless.” And she shivers in the chill air, and gathers her poor ragged shawl around her, and cries again, “I have no house--I have no home.” Would you not pity her? Would you blame her for her tears? Ah! there are some of you that have houseless souls here this morning. It is something to have a houseless body; but to think of a houseless soul!(C. H. Spurgeon.)
God our home
There is pathos in the fact that the author of this psalm never had an earthly home in the truest sense. For the first fifty years of his life he was the foster son of an alien; for the next, a fugitive; and for the last, a wanderer in the wilderness. But God is the best home, after all. How one feels the blessing of a pleasant home after long travel. What should a home be?
I. A place of shelter. And God is that, from wrath, sin, sorrow.
II. A place of supply. There we go for “ our daily bread.” And it is God who gives us that.
III. Of enjoyment. Those do not know God who have never found delight in Him.
V. Love. (M. B. Riddle, D. D.)
Jehovah our home
I. Man needs A home. Like the climbing plant, without the strongest stem to support it, the sensibilities of our frail but wonderful nature trail in the dust.
II. God reveals himself as humanity’s home. The perfection of our home in God is seen in three particulars.
1. Physical adaptation. This world is fitted up for man’s accommodation; fitted to engage energy and repay toil. It is not for the idler’s comfort.
2. Intellect finds a home in God. Never talk of religious dulness. Our Father spreads out for the education of His children the grandly-illustrated page of nature, and the letter of His love.
3. Heart and soul--our moral being--find a home in God. “In all generations.” Religion, under every different form, and with every varied accompaniment: patriarchal simplicity, Mosaic picture, Christian manhood--has ever been the same, ever fitted to man’s heart.
III. Our home in God is inviolable. Out of God, there is no resting-place for the jaded spirits of men.
IV. God our home: then it is eternal.
V. This home is to be reached through Christ. (Homilist.)
I. How did Moses come to win this foil against his sense of the brevity of life? He sought to purge his vision of every film, and he trained his mind to detect a presence of God underneath the veils of nature and behind the masks of history, till the very earth around him was haunted ground. God was quite as invisible to him as to you or me, and yet, according to the apostle, he lived as seeing Him. God had become a dwelling-place to Moses, because thought and desire had made a well-worn path toward Him, and He was a refuge to which he continually resorted. Such realization of God cannot be extemporized. A solid and substantial fabric which shall afford thought and feeling, all the repose and solace of a home, can be ours only as we acquaint ourselves with God, and enter into such familiarity with Him that He shall grow to be as definite and real to us as any of the daily facts of our common world.
II. What it meant to Moses that God should appear as a “dwelling-place.” Through all the years of his earthly career he had never had a permanent home. He had been a pilgrim and sojourner on the earth, and learned the full meaning of the word “homelessness.” But, as one weary with long marches behold afar some stately mansion where love and welcome wait to greet him, so on the thought of Moses dawned the great vision of a quiet and enduring home, where his tired limbs and aching spirit should find balm and ease. His life had been driven hither and thither at the caprice of circumstances; in no sunny nook or sequestered vale of peace could he stay; goaded on, he had to leave behind him whatever engaged his interest, and where he fain would tarry. But from that gleaming dwelling-place yonder he should go out no more for ever. Instead of change there would be permanency; instead of the vicissitudes and fluctuations of fickle fortune there would be the constancy of unharassed tranquillity. You say, such a faith is an experience to be coveted. You sigh, and wish that it might be yours. But note that he had no monopoly of such a dwelling-place. He says that it is just as available, just as accessible, to us as to him. God is a Dwelling-place for His people in all generations. And, in spite of the murky vapours which hide our heavens, many a one since has found it true that it is possible to have in God all the security and rest of a dwelling-place. “In all generations” the great fact stands; it has never been annulled; its wide doors are sealed against the approach of none. We may conceive of the glorious attributes of our God as so many various chambers or retiring-rooms, places of security, of gratification, or of repose, to which it is our present privilege to resort. When disconcerted with the mysteries of life, we will rest in the omniscience of God, and remember that the all-knowing One cannot err. When our desires seem to fail, we will rest in His fidelity who will never break His word of promise. When life grows bitter, we will resort to Him, like the sobbing child that pillows its head on a mother’s bosom, because He has sent us this message: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort thee.” As I close, I want to ask whether or not you, any of you, feel “at home” with God. I have read of some “who remembered God and were troubled.” If it is thus with you, He cannot be your Dwelling-place. You may have paid Him occasional visits at distant intervals, but “he that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High abides under the shadow of the Almighty.” (J. G. Van Slyke, D.D.)
House and home
(with Isaiah 57:15):--Here are two homes. In the one case, God is a home for the human heart. In the other, the heart becomes a home for God. This double doctrine has in it the very soul and marrow of real religion. The most complete description of man the sinner is that he is “without God.” The most complete description of man the saved is that he is “in God,” “he dwells in God and God in him.” I once beard a negro bid “good-bye” to the missionary who had found a way into his heart for Jesus and himself too. “You lib here,” said he, putting his hand upon his heart. “You lib right in my heart. You came to me, an’ you say, ‘ I love you, John,’ I open the door and you come right in, an’ I say, you’se welcome to all I’se got. You say, ‘John, do this;’ ‘John, don’t do that;’ an’ you love poor John; till my heart warm through and through. Massa, good-bye; but you lib here all same till I die.” Verily the man of God was in John’s heart. Jesus wants to come into the contrite heart! To you He says, “Come down; for to-day I must abide in thy house!” But when God dwells in us by His Spirit, and “makes our heart His home,” He becomes our dwelling-place and our home. It is not possible to retain in perpetuity any earthly home, but this home, the heart of God, can never fail through all the years. These walls can never crumble; this roof-tree can never decay; these foundations can never fail. From everlasting to everlasting He is God. Neither is there any eviction possible; nor any room for alarm at the approach of hostile foot or invading arm. The Lord is my fortress, my strong tower. “A safe stronghold our God is still!” That was the thunderous victor-song of Luther and his fellows, and all the armies of Pope and devil could not dislodge them. The Christian’s dwelling-place is a safe home! For the eternal God is his refuge, and around him are the everlasting arms. Only cross the threshold, and you shall go out no more for ever. The Lord our dwelling-place. That speaks to us of shelter. When the cold winds blow, and the tempest beats, and the storm of rain or snow goes driving through the streets, how sweet to cross the threshold and gain the shelter of our home. We can hear the hurly-burly outside--the noise of the rain against the window-pane; the moaning of the blast; but none of these things move us--we are safe at home. “Our dwelling-place.” How the word tells us of comfort; of content; of rest and home delights. By the ingle and the hearth we are able to forget the tedious toil and moil of the day. The toil-worn limb, the tired hand, the weary foot, the aching head, the jaded brain find at home a welcome quiet, a refreshing rest, a comforting repose. To dwell in God is to win that refreshment and obtain that rest. And does not the word speak to us also of supplies? Our dwelling-place, God. Food lies on His table; the finest of bread; honey in the combs; wines well refined, fatlings of the flock; all this and more tells the story of the bountiful provision, the sumptuous fare provided for every one who dwells in God, housed and homed in the loving heart of Jesus Christ. (J. J. Wray.)
God as a dwelling-place
Perhaps the noblest form of dwelling-place, and the one most akin to Moses’ meaning, is that of human friendship. As little children, when taken among strangers, we looked all around for mother, and if only she were there we rushed to her, and hid in her, covering our face, but feeling safe, and able presently to look out on the guests as from a window in a house on a crowd. Or, in later life, it has been our lot to be misrepresented and misunderstood by all except by one man of noblest fashion. And it has seemed as if we were almost indifferent to all beside, so long as He is pleased and satisfied. “Let the cruel winds of slander come,” we have cried, “and reproach, and hate; He understands and appreciates me; judged by His standard, I am true; tested by His opinion, I am right against a world in arms, I am content to abide in His approval and be at peace.” Or, in other circumstances still, you have learnt to love, with all your heart and soul, so that your existence seems almost to have passed into that of another, and to be safe, restful, almost careless of all else, so long as that house stands unsmitten by the tempest which whirls around. All these are dwelling-places to which souls betake themselves, destined, alas! all of them, to perish, except that human love which, in so far as it is threaded with the Divine, partakes of the nature of God Himself, and is eternal. But none of them can give to the soul such blessed rest as to be able to say to God, “Thou, O Lord, art my rock, and my fortress, my shield, and my high tower.” It was thus that the apostles made their dwelling-place in the nature of their Lord. Their life was hid with Christ in God. So our blessed Lord lived in God His Father. Just as a child looks out on a mob in the streets from the security of the strong castellated dwelling, where it sits on its father’s knee, so did Jesus look out on the malice and hatred of men from His rest in the very heart of God. This is the true life, which, thank God! is within the reach of us all. Put God between yourself and men with their strife, or sorrow with its fret and care, chafing like the perpetual wash of the wave which retreats only to return. Ask what God says of you measure yourself only by His standards. Seek only His well-done. Dwell deep in God. And because thou shelf have made the Lord, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. As the cathedral of Cologne rears itself in incomparable majesty beyond the trailer houses around, offering a permanence which storms and time cannot impair, so does God rear Himself as our all-sufficient dwelling-place amid the passage of creation, of generations, and of centuries. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
God--the Home of the soul of man
Heinrich Heine, a Jew by birth, not by conviction, professed Christianity in 1825. This profession, however, was merely formal, a necessary preliminary to his practising as a lawyer in Germany. Compelled to leave Germany, he lived in Paris, where he was one of the most brilliant figures in the brilliant society of his day. During many years his wittiest gibes were directed against religion; irreverence was rife in the world around him, and he never hesitated to give it sparkling utterance. But towards the end of his life came a change. A few years before death he wrote, “Yes! I have returned to God like the prodigal son, after my long swineherdship . . . Is it misery that sends me home? Perhaps a less miserable reason. A heavenly homesickness overtook me.” Still later: “I die believing in God one and eternal, Creator of the world. I implore His mercy upon my immortal soul.”
Even from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.
The eternity o God
I. In what respects God is eternal.
1. Without beginning.
2. Without end.
3. Without succession or change.
Of a creature it may be said, he was, or he is, or he shall be. As it may be said of the flame of a candle, it is flame, but it is not the same individual flame as was before, nor is it the same that will be presently after; there is a continual dissolution of it into air, and a continual supply for the generation of more; while it continues it may be said there is a flame, yet not entirely one, but in a succession of parts: so of a man it may be said, he is in a succession of parts; but he is not the same that he was, and will not be the same that he is. But God is the same without any succession of parts, and of time; of Him it may be said, He is; He is no more now than He was, and He shall be no more hereafter than He is.
II. God is eternal, and must needs be so.
1. This is evident by the name God gives Himself (Exodus 3:14). The eternity of God is opposed to the volubility of time, which is extended into past, present, and to come. Our time is but a small drop, as sand to all the atoms and small particles of which the world is made; but God is an unbounded sea of Being,--“I am that I am,” i.e. an infinite life.
2. God hath life in Himself (John 5:26). He hath life by His essence, not by participation. He is a sun to give light and life to all creatures, but receives not light, or life from anything, and therefore He hath an unlimited life; not a drop of life, but a fountain; not a spark of a limited life, but a life transcending all bounds. He hath life in Himself; all creatures have their life in Him, and from Him. He that hath life in himself doth necessarily exist, and could never be made to exist, for then he had not life in himself, but in that which made him to exist, and gave him life. What doth necessarily exist, therefore, exists from eternity; what hath being of itself could never be produced in time, could not want being one moment, because it hath being from its essence, without influence of any efficient cause.
3. If God were not eternal, He were not--
(1) Immutable in His nature;
(2) An infinitely perfect being;
(4) The first cause of all.
III. Eternity is only proper to God, and not communicable (1 Timothy 6:16). All other things receive their being from Him, and can be deprived of their being by Him. All things depend on Him, He of none. All other things are like clothes, which would consume if God preserved them not. Whatsoever is not God, is temporary; whatsoever is eternal, is God.
1. Of information.
(1) If God be of an eternal duration, then Christ is God (Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 13:8; Revelation 1:8; John 16:28; John 17:5). As the eternity of God is the ground of all religion, so the eternity of Christ is the ground of the Christian religion. Could our sins be perfectly expiated had He not an eternal divinity to answer for the offences committed against an eternal God? Temporary sufferings had been of little validity, without an infiniteness and eternity in His person to add weight to His passion.
(2) If God be eternal, He knows all things as present.
(3) How bold and foolish is it for a mortal creature to censure the counsels and actions of an eternal God, or be too curious in his inquisitions!
(4) What a folly and boldness is there in sin, since an eternal God is offended thereby!
(5) How dreadful is it to lie under the stroke of an eternal God!
2. Of comfort.
(1) If God be eternal, His covenant will be so.
(2) If God be eternal, He being our God in covenant is an eternal good and possession.
(3) The enjoyment of God will be as fresh and glorious after many ages as it was at first.
(4) If God be eternal, here is a strong ground of comfort against all the distresses of the Church, and the threats of the Church’s enemies. God’s abiding for ever is the plea Jeremiah makes for his return to his forsaken Church (Lamentations 5:19).
(5) Since God is eternal, He hath as much power as will to be as good as His word. His promises are established upon His eternity, and this perfection is a main ground of trust (Isaiah 26:4).
3. For exhortation.
(1) Let us be deeply affected with our sins long since committed. Though they are past with us, they are in regard of God’s eternity present with Him; there is no succession in eternity as there is in time.
(2) Let the consideration of God’s eternity abate our pride.
(3) Let the consideration of God’s eternity take off our love and confidence from the world, and the things thereof. The eternity of God reproaches a pursuit of the world, as preferring a momentary pleasure before an everlasting God; as though a temporal world could be a better supply than a God whose years never fail. (S. Charnock.)
The eternity of God
I. Explication. Eternity is a duration without bounds or limits; now there are two limits of duration, beginning and ending; that which hath always been, is without beginning; that which always shall be, is without ending. But eternity, absolutely taken, comprehends both these, and signifies an infinite duration, which had no beginning, nor shall have any end: so that when we say God is eternal, we mean that He always was, and shall be for ever; that He had no beginning of life, nor shall have any end of days; but that He is “from everlasting to everlasting.”
1. From the dictates of natural reason. This attribute of God is of all others least disputed among the philosophers; all agree that God is eternal, and are agreed what eternity is; viz. a boundless duration; and however they did attribute a beginning to their heroes and demons, whence come the genealogies of their gods, yet the Supreme God they looked upon as without beginning; and it is a good evidence that this perfection doth clearly belong to God, that Epicurus, who had the lowest and meanest conceptions of God, yet is forced to attribute this to Him: Tully (do Nat. Deor. lib. I) saith to the Epicureans, “Where, then, is your happy and eternal Being, by which two epithets you express God?” And Lucretius gives this account of the Divine nature, “It is absolutely necessary to the nature of the gods to pass an eternity in profound peace and quiet.”
2. From Scripture and Divine revelation. St. Peter’s conversion of the words, “One day is as a thousand years,” etc., only signifies this, that the longest duration of time is so inconsiderable to God, that it is as the shortest; that is, bears no proportion to the eternity of God. But directly, the Scripture frequently mentions this attribute (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 57:15); and this, as it is attributed to Him in respect of His being, so in respect of all His other perfections (Psalms 103:17; Rom 1:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; Galatians 1:5).
III. Doctrinal corollaries.
1. From the eternity of God, we may infer, that He is of Himself. That which always is can have nothing before it to be a cause of its being.
2. We may infer the necessity of His being. It is necessary everything should be, when it is; now, that which is always is absolutely necessary, because always so.
3. The immutability of the Divine nature; for being always, He is necessarily; and being necessarily, He cannot but be what He is; a change of His being is as impossible as a cessation.
IV. Practical inferences. The consideration of God’s eternity may serve--
1. For the support of our faith. There are two attributes which are the proper objects of our faith and confidence--God’s goodness, and His power; both these are eternal.
2. For the encouragement of our obedience. We serve the God who can give us an everlasting reward.
3. For the terror of wicked men. (J. Tillotson.)
The eternity of God
“Time and space are not God; but creations of God: with Him it is universal here; so it is an everlasting how.” (T. Carlyle.)
Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
Man’s thoughts of man
I wish to point out our duty to the world of humanity; to the communities to which we belong; to the generation in which we live; to the great family of mankind, of which God has made us members.
1. What have been, what are men’s thoughts respecting the race of man? We know not for how many thousands of years our race may have lived on this little planet, rolling and spinning “like an angry midge” amid the immensities of space; but, over a space of forty centuries at least, in the pages of many literatures, in the accents of many tongues, we find the opinions of men respecting man. They have been uttered, as freely as to-day, by the bards and prophets of races long since vanished, in language long since dead. Man has ever been a mystery to himself. “Who are you?” indignantly asked an irascible person, who had been delayed in his hurried progress by running against a modern philosopher in the streets. “Ah,” replied the philosopher, “if you could tell me that--if you could tell me what I am--I would give you all I possess in the world.” To-day, however, we do not want to enter into any transcendent mysteries; we only want to learn what men have thought of man in his moral, his spiritual, his religious aspect. And here, strange to say, we are confronted at once with a perfect chaos of conflicting judgments. According to some, man is a being so small, so intolerably contemptible, so radically unjust, mean, and selfish, that he is not worth working for; he is not only “a shadow less than shade, a nothing less than nothing”; not only “fading as a leaf” and “crushed before the moth”; not only like the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven; but also, as far as moral dignity is concerned, he is the mere insect of an hour; a creature essentially allied to the animal; a being who combines the instincts of the tiger and the ape; a blot on God’s fair creation; a jar in the sweet untroubled silence; a discord amid the infinite harmony; “a flutter in the eternal calm.” It is remarkable how cynics and sceptics in all ages have coincided in this view. Think of Diogenes, searching in daylight with a lantern to find a man in the streets of Athens; think of Phocion, whenever a passage in his speech was applauded, turning round and asking, “Have I said anything wrong, then?” think of Pyrrho the atheist, describing men as a herd of swine, rioting on board a rudderless vessel in a storm; think of La Rochefoucauld reducing man’s virtues into mere selfish vices in thin disguise; think of Voltaire describing the multitude as a compound of bears and monkeys; think of Schopenhauer, condemning this as the worst of all possible worlds, and arguing that man is a radical mistake; think of the more serious voice which says, “However we brazen it out, we men are a little breed.” But then turn to the other side, the grand and exalted opinions which man has entertained of man. Think of Shakespeare’s, “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!” Think of Henry Smith’s, “When we turn our eyes upon the soul it will soon tell us its own royal pedigree and noble extraction by those sacred hieroglyphics which it bears upon itself.” Or take Novalis, “Man is the true Shekinah, the glory-cloud of God. We touch heaven when we lay our hands on that high form.”
2. Which, then, are we to follow of these diverse judgments? By which are we to be guided in our own dealings with our fellow-men? I answer with all my heart, take the nobler and better view of mankind. Adopt it, not as a voluntary illusion, but as a sacred fact, as a living faith. Good and evil without end may be said of man; and both be amply borne out by history and by experience. That is due to the fact that man is a composite being; that he partakes of two natures--the animal and the spiritual; that he is swayed by two impulses--the evil and the good; that he has in him two beings--the Adam and the Christ; that “the Angel has him by the hand, and the serpent by the heart”; that our little lives are kept in equipoise by balance of two opposite desires--the struggle of the impulse that enjoys, and the more noble impulse that aspires. Hence we may say of man, in the same breath, “How poor, how rich, how abject, how august, how wonderful, how complicated is man.” “Glory and scandal of the universal,” says Pascal, “the judge of angels, a worm of earth; if he exalts himself I smite him down, if he humbles himself I lift him up.” But is there no practical reconciliation of these antitheses? Yes, there is: not in the world, not in nature, not in philosophy; but there is in religion, there is in Christ..
3. I would urge you, then, not to give up faith in God or in man, or in God’s doctrines for man, nor sweetness, nor charity, nor invincible hopefulness. To lose faith in man is to lose faith in God who made him; to lose faith in man’s nature is to lose faith in your own. Depend upon it, that the man who begins by saying, “Mankind is a rascal,” will soon add the words, “The world lives by its scoundrelism, and so will I.” It makes all the difference in the world whether you judge man from Thersites or from Achilles, from a Nero or from a Marcus Aurelius, from a Marat or from St. Louis; from living men like one or two whom one could name, or from the depraved, wife-beating sots and brutal burglars who are the festering curse of the lowest dregs of the population; from living women like some whom one could name, or from those unmotherly mothers and unwomanly women who nigh turn the motherhood to shame and womanliness to loathing. Oh, judge mankind from its highest and its best!
(1) Let us try to believe that there is a good side in every man. Man, it has been said, is like a piece of Labrador opal. It has no lustre as you turn it in your hand till you come to a particular angle, and then it shows deep and beautiful colours. We sometimes read with amazement how some one, who seemed to be past all remedy in abandoned vileness, suddenly, touched by the glory of heroism, will rise to a great act of self-sacrifice. Look at the battle of Waterloo; look at the trenches of Sebastopol; look at the charge at Balaclava; look at the burning of the “Goliath”; look at the wreck of the “Birkenhead”; to see how the commonest and coarsest of men can recognize the invincible claim and sovereignty of duty, even at the cost of life. Man’s nature may often look like the dull chill blank of the Alpine mountain side, darkened only by the shadows of its black and stubborn pines, but let the dawn blush in the vernal sky, and the south wind breathe, and the sun fire to the high tops of those mountain pines, and the snow will melt and vanish under their soft and golden touches, till at last it rushes down in avalanche, and then where yesterday was snow, to-day shall be green grass and purple flower.
(2) And as another way to help us in retaining our faith in human nature, let us sometimes turn away from the thought of bad men altogether, to that galaxy of heaven, wherein shine the clustered constellations of saintly lives. The saints in the long ages have not been few. To these have been due the progress, to these the ennoblement, to these the preservation of the world. Among all the bad passions, among all the disordered lives of men--amid all their meanness, and littleness, and emptiness, and egotism--it is as water in the desert to come in life and more often among the records of the dead on these natures “pure as crystal, active as fire, unselfish as the ministering spirits, strong, generous, and enduring as the hearts of martyrs.” Look on these; think of these; do not think of the heartless and aimless crowds that vegetate without living, but read the lives and actions of these fine children of the light.
(3) But above all, as the best of all rules, think constantly of Christ; and fix your eyes on Him. “Of what account after all are the saints compared to Christ? They are,” said Luther, “no more than sparkling dewdrops of the nightdew upon the head of the bridegroom scattered among His hair.” The only measure of a perfect man is the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
4. And oh, lastly, the most sure way to justify our faith and hope in human nature is to justify it in ourselves. If you would raise others, live yourself as on a mountain; live yourself as on a promontory. Say with the good emperor of old, “Whatever happens I must be good”; even as though the emerald and the purple should say, “Whatever happens I must be emerald, and keep my colour.” That is how men widen the skirts of light, and make the struggle with darkness narrower. To do this is a worthy object; it is the only worthy object of our lives. (Dean Farrar.)
For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
God’s estimate of time
1. Let us set this truth before our minds: that which seems a long season to man seems a very brief season to God.
(1) God has lived for ever. Farther back than our strongest thought can travel, farther back than our swiftest wing or fancy can fly, and there our God was. As a drop in the boundless ocean, so is a cycle of a thousand years in the view of Him who is alike without beginning of days and end of years.
(2) If God estimates the years by the magnitude of His empire, by the multiplicity of His cares, by the wide sweep of His eternal purposes, then no wonder that with God a “thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past.”
(3) Our Father in Heaven has an unspeakable blessedness. He is infinitely wise, holy, and good. He is love. “His tender mercies are over all His works.” He tastes for ever the perfect joy of creating bliss, and conferring it upon others.
2. I proceed to point out the practical uses of this truth.
(1) It helps our deep awe and holy reverence. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, as surely as love to God is the very summit of perfection.
(2) One way of keeping the world in its proper subordinate place is to more frequently fasten our attention on these subjects,--the power and grandeur of God, the eternity of His being, the perfection of His character, the boundlessness of His empire. These things have power to lift our minds on high.
(3) Lastly and chiefly: the practical use of this text is to strengthen our patience, and to cherish in us the assurance that, however long delayed, the purposes of God will be accomplished, the promises of God will be fulfilled. (C. Vince.)
The long day of God
With the Deity, such a vast existence indicates only vast events. And these events must necessarily assume the form of a progress in which the present shall become the cause of the morrow, for any other method would either make eternity a monotone, or else a reckless succession like the results of chance, the throwing of dice, or the forms assumed in the kaleidoscope. In ages and centuries where the mind has become aroused into that action which is called civilization, it is utterly impossible to believe in God except as being the Supreme Activity. Assuming, then, this Divine activity, we may the more readily assert that the endless events of this God will assume the form of a progress. This assumption of a universal law is justified by the fact proclaimed in many special laws. The acorn passes to leaf, to twig, to bush, to sapling, to tree, to the great monarch of the forest. In its long life each year is a progress, each day being the cause in part of the next day. Its second year so multiplies the leaves that they breathe in a double quantity of air in behalf of the third year, and the roots of the second year so redouble the nutriment on hand that they also order an advance of the whole plant for the next springtime. All that we see around us in the organic form is acting under a law of progress, hence it does not seem hasty if we conclude that all the events coming from the Divine activity are occurring in the form of a progression, the present being a result of the past and a cause of the future. If, as we all believe, man is an image of the Creator, we may read in the human mind a confirmation of the idea that God is expressing Himself in a continuous series of events, for in such a career only does man, God’s image, find happiness. The idea that God once acted should be crowded out by the idea that He is now acting. The world is a chain in which all the links are equally valuable, because each one is an inseparable part--a part without which there is no value in the chain. Hence you stand as much in the presence of God to-day as stood the earth when God was planting the Garden of Eden for the first sons of man. It may be that the external world, with all its forms and laws, is nothing else than the spiritual God, expressing Himself in visible and audible and tangible forms, in order that our souls may possess some outward revelation of the Deity. The light that makes myriads of colours, the sound that is divided up into music, the height and depth that are emblems to us of infinity, the grandeur of the “star depths,” and the millions of years consumed in their orbits, may be the only ladders upon which our humble feet can climb to any belief in a God. The laws of the universe, instead of concealing a God, do reveal Him, for they are the footprints of One whose form cannot otherwise be traced As the delicate wire of Franklin revealed an agency of which he had only dreamed--as it became a Jacob’s ladder upon which the invisible angels came down from the clouds--so the whole material world must be concluded as the path where God bursts from His invisible spirit-life out upon the sight of His children. Hence the laws of Nature are not indications that there is no God, or that there once was, but they are the places and the times when and where this Creator continually confesses His presence. The “thousand-year” day of God seems to argue that His children will not be limited to the earthly mornings and evenings, but will rise to where they can, like their Heavenly Father, see the past and the present, rise to where the love and memory dimmed by a few years have many returns to the souls torn asunder in this vale. If in God’s sight the children of earth stand near together, so that Paul and Wesley mingle their eloquence, and Magdalen and Guyon mingle their love, and Lovejoy and Lincoln their liberty and blood, then this “thousand-year” day which so mingles things separated on earth should be man’s day also beyond the tomb, that there, in blest companionship, souls may meet which toiled here for one end, but who never saw the faces about to follow them, nor saw the golden harvest destined to spring from their blood and tears. If to God the graves of Paul and Fenelon, of Magdalen and the Dairyman’s Daughter, of Lovejoy and Wiberforce, are all close together; under the same flowers and same Divine presence, there should be a realm beyond where those sleeping souls should wake to consciousness of their blended lives. (D. Swing.)
Thou carriest them away as with a flood.
The devastating ravages of death
The Israelites had not yet witnessed the swellings of Jordan, through which, by their Maker’s presence and power, they were to pass dry-shod; but they had witnessed--and never could they forget,--the watery ramparts of the Red Sea, where, rejoicing in their God, they walked through the flood on foot, which the Egyptians essaying to do, were drowned. And while standing safe and victorious on the opposite shore, full of recollections of the country which they had left, they can contrast the regular, pacific, fertilizing flood of Egypt’s river with the sudden and overwhelming inundation their eyes now behold, that awful flood which carries away their foes, when Pharaoh and his chosen captains, and their chariots and horsemen, and all their multitude are, in a moment, covered by the depths, and sink into the bottom like a stone; yea, the flood covers them, they sink as lead in the mighty waters.
1. The general idea intended to be conveyed by the phraseology before us is--destruction, fell, certain destruction, for such is the invariable consequence of a flood like that which is here supposed.
2. Such is the general idea intended by the phraseology before us; but connected with this, there are several special and subordinate ideas, which seem descriptive of some of the accompaniments of that visitation of Providence which is here referred to.
(1) The destruction caused by a flood is sudden. And this is a circumstance which adds, in no small degree, to the terrors of such a scene.
(2) The destruction which is caused by a flood is as indiscriminate as it is sudden. Wherever the flood spreads, it leaves some traces of its ravages. Like death, it has no respect of persons or property. It will enter kings’ palaces as readily as the hovels of the poor; it will assail the crowded streets and densely-peopled lanes of a city equally with the lonely tenants of the sequestered vale. And it is no less indiscriminating as to the victims whom it engulphs. On it rushes with undistinguishing and resistless speed, passing by none upon its course, pitying none, sparing none.
(3) There is this other peculiarity in the ravages of a flood, like that which is here supposed, viz. that in its progress it is irresistibly powerful. So long as the fury of the torrent lasts, human skill and human prudence are altogether futile.
3. Now, if you combine together these different ideas, viz. that a flood presents the imago of certain destruction--that in its approach it is sudden--in its ravages indiscriminate--in its progress irresistible, you will perceive with what propriety it is here employed as an emblem of death. (N. Morren, M.A.)
Like grass which groweth up.--
Like grass which groweth up
1. It is in vain to seek for a paradise or a home in this poor, delusive world.
2. After all, we ought not to weep too much over the vanity of life. Human life answers the purpose for which it was given. What Christian would consent to take up with earth and be for ever exiled from heaven? It is an infinite privilege that a good man may die.
3. It ought not to be a ground of despondency to good men that they are growing old and beginning to decay, and drawing rapidly towards a termination of their course. Death will not swallow up all. “There is a land above the stars and joys above his power.”
4. The delusive and fleeting nature of all terrestrial things, and the afflictions which are largely mingled with them, ought to make us long more earnestly after heaven. When we cannot find here a place on which to rest the sole of our foot, it ought to endear to us the thought of our eternal home.
5. The shortness of life and the unsatisfying and perplexing nature of all that it has to bestow, ought to stir us up to diligence in the proper business for which it was given us. (E. D. Griffin, D.D.)
For we are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled.
Man under a consciousness of Divine displeasure
I. It arose from a sense of moral wrong. “Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee,” etc. True it is that all our iniquities, even the most secret, those wrought in the deepest concealment, stand out clearly evermore to the eye of God. Thus a sin-convicted conscience profoundly feels that man is consumed by His anger, and by His wrath is he troubled. When a sinful spirit becomes conscious of its sinfulness, it invests the Almighty with the most terrible attributes of vengeance.
II. It solved the unhappiness of life.
1. Life is sad. “We are consumed by Thy wrath.” The same trials of life which are regarded by the man who has a sense of Divine forgiveness as the disciplines of a loving Father, are regarded by the man who is impressed with a sense of guilt as the inflictions of an incensed Judge. Hence Providence is different to different men. One feels it a system of grace, another a system of rigorous severity.
2. Life is empty. “We spend our years as a tale that is told.” Some translate “tale” thought, and some, sound that dieth away. How soon the loudest sound, even the crash of thunder, dies away in the atmosphere!
3. Life is brief. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” (Homilist.)
A conception of God’s anger
God’s anger is His love thrown back upon itself from unreceptive and unloving hearts; just as a wave that would roll in smooth and unbroken green beauty into the open door of some sea cave is dashed back in spray and foam from some grim rock. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
Sin estimated by the light of heaven
God and men view objects through a very different medium, and are placed with respect to them in very different situations. God is present with every object; He views it as near, and therefore sees its real magnitude. But many objects, especially those of a religious nature, are seen by us at a distance, and of course appear to us smaller than they really are. God sees all objects just as they are; but we see them through a deceitful medium, which ignorance, prejudice and self-love place between them and us. If you are willing to see your sins in their true colours; if you would rightly estimate their number, magnitude and criminality, bring them into the hallowed place, where nothing is seen but the whiteness of unsullied purity, and the splendours of uncreated glory; where the sun itself would appear only as a dark spot, and there, in the midst of this circle of seraphic intelligences, with the infinite God pouring all the light of His countenance round you, review your lives, contemplate your offences, and see how they appear.
I. Bring forward our iniquities, that is, our more gross and open sins, and see how they appear in the light of God’s countenance. Have any of you been guilty of impious, profane, passionate, or indecent, corrupting language? How does such language sound in heaven? in the ears of angels, in the ears of that God, who gave us our tongues for noble purposes? Have any of you been guilty of uttering what is untrue? If so, bring forward all the falsehoods, all the deceitful expressions, which you have ever uttered, and see how they appear in the presence of the God of truth. Have any of you been guilty, either at home, or in foreign countries, of perjury, or false swearing? If so, you may here see the awful Being whom you mocked, by calling Him to witness the truth of a known deliberate lie. And how, think you, such conduct appears in His eyes? Have any of you been guilty of fraud, injustice, or dishonesty? If so, bring forward your dishonest gains; hold out the hands which are polluted by them, and see how they look in heaven, in the presence of that God, who has said, Let no man overreach or defraud his brother in any matter; for the Lord is the avenger of all such.
II. Bring our hearts into heaven, and there, laying them open to view, see how they will appear in that world of unclouded light, and unsullied purity. Surely, if all the evil thoughts and wrong feelings which have passed in countless numbers through either of our hearts, were poured out in heaven, angels would stand aghast at the sight, and all their benevolence would scarcely prevent them from exclaiming in holy indignation, Away with him to the abode of his kindred spirits in the abyss! To the omniscient God alone would the sight not be surprising.
III. Take a similar view of our sins of omission. Our whole lives present one unbroken series of duties neglected, of favours not acknowledged. And, oh, how do they appear, when we review them in the light of God’s countenance! But the duties which we owe to God are not the only duties which we are required, and which we have neglected to perform. His law also requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves. And this general command virtually includes a great number of subordinate precepts; precepts which prescribe the duties of the various relations that subsist between us and our fellow-creatures. And how far have we obeyed these precepts? Oh, how much more might we have done than we actually have done, to promote the temporal and eternal happiness of all with whom we are connected! Nor do our sins of omission end here. There is another Being whom we are under infinite obligations to love, and praise, and serve with supreme affection. This Being is the Lord Jesus Christ, considered as our Redeemer and Saviour who has bought us with His own blood. We are required to feel that we are not our own, but His; to prefer Him to every earthly object. Every moment, then, in which we neglected to obey these commands, we were guilty of a new sin of omission. (E. Payson, D.D.)
All sin committed under the eye of God
I. Sin is inward and outward lawlessness. It is disloyalty in heart and life. A black and bitter thing leading to black and bitter consequences.
II. Men commonly attempt to conceal their sin.
1. From themselves--and will hardly admit that some evil deeds are sins under their peculiar circumstances.
2. From society generally.
3. From God Himself, who sees and knows their sins in all their enormity and aggravated character.
III. In attempting to conceal their sins men are doomed to complete failure. They are already “before Thee”--even “our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.”
1. It is so with all our personal sins.
2. With family sins.
3. With Church sins.
4. With national sins.
IV. To attempt to hide sin is to commit further and deeper sin.
1. Against ourselves--deeply injuring our moral nature.
2. Against our fellows--lowering the moral tone of society.
3. Against God--who is increasingly wronged and outraged.
V. Men ought to acknowledge their sin. Private sin. Public sin. All sin of every kind and character should be penitently confessed to God. “Thou hast,” etc.
VI. God has a complete knowledge of all sin committed against Him. It is in the very light of His countenance.
1. We have only a partial knowledge of sin,--in ourselves, in our friends, in society generally.
2. We have dim and imperfect conceptions of sin at best; for human lights are always changing, but God sees sin in itself and in the light of His own countenance, which never disguises evil.
3. We cannot prevent God seeing and knowing our sin. He Himself places it before His own eyes in all its nakedness and reality. What, therefore, must be the ultimate shame and misery of those who persist in sin? Therefore repent and believe the Gospel. (W. Unsworth.)
Secret things brought to light
If you were to take this church, as it is in ordinary daylight, and seek to inspect the secret impurities with which its atmosphere abounds, your sight would be unable to detect them. It would be the same if in broad daylight you were to examine the cleanest drawing-room in the cleanest house in this city; the sight would detect no uncleanliness in its atmosphere, it would appear perfectly pure. But now let a bright ray of sunlight stream through the church or through the drawing-room. Look into the beam! What do you see? Why, a new world: a multitude of motes, innumerable particles of dust, vast quantities of impure matter all floating about in the atmosphere which seemed so clean! In the broad, common light they lay concealed, but in the bright, sunny beam the secret things are discovered, and live and move before our gaze. Are there any secret things in our worship which need to be revealed? Do we worship in the light of God’s countenance, or in the light of mere tradition and custom? What more sweet and beautiful than the bringing of a gift to place upon God’s altar! It seems so spiritually pure and sound. We often regard it as a sign of moral and spiritual health. But worship is not so superficial a thing that it can be so superficially judged. Worship which may pass muster in a worldly light reveals its impurities in a more searching spiritual light. Every worshipper who passes into the light of God’s countenance is met by this bold challenge, “Has thy brother aught against thee?” and that is a challenge which searches us through and through. “First, be reconciled to thy brother.” Our secret relationships are held up in vivid clearness before us, and their rectification is an essential condition in all acceptable worship. Now let us pass from our worship to our social fellowship. Look at the dim, thick light in which social life is lived. The darkness is sufficiently tempered to enable us to detect prominent crimes, presumptuous sins--outrage, murder, and obtrusive forms of lust. But in this dim, thick light how much can be concealed, how many deformities, how many crooked dispositions, how many perverse purposes, how many malicious designs, how many revengeful spirits! Social life is poor because social light is dim. If we water a stronger social life we must have an intenser light, in which secret uncleanness will rise up to be judged. Here is a ray from God’s countenance (Matthew 5:39). Flash that through social life, let that light play on our relationships; would any horrible crookedness be revealed? It is not a business motto. It is not a social maxim. Here is rather the maxim of the world, “Pay a man back in his own coin.” A man can do that and not violate the current standard of social morality. He may do it and yet live up to social light. But if such action will satisfy society, it does not satisfy God. “Pay a man back in his own coin!” That is not how the great God pays us! (Psalms 103:10). That was not the way of Christ (1 Peter 2:23). That was not Paul’s way (1 Corinthians 4:12). The Lord purposes for us a clean, sweet, wholesome, social life, free from all secret foulnesses, and we can only obtain it by permitting the light of His countenance to fall upon us, and bringing our life into conformity with its great requirements. There is a bright side to all this, and I want to close with a gentle and encouraging word. The light which thus brings into prominence the secret sins also brings into prominence the secret virtue. The good Lord takes the candle and sweeps the house, not just to find the dust, but find the piece of silver! No bit of silver is lost. Every bit of secret goodness is seen in the light of His countenance. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)
We spend our years as a tale that is told.
Assuming this version to give the true idea of the author, we have here three thoughts,
1. Significance. A tale has some meaning; is intended to impart some idea to others. Life is big with meaning. Amongst the many things which the tale of life speaks out are two wonderful things.
(1) Man’s power of opposing himself, the arrangements of creation, and the will of God.
(2) The amazing patience and condescending mercy of God.
2. Observance. A tale implies, if written, readers; if oral, listeners. It is intended for observers. What observers has the life of every man! Society, devils, angels, God, are all observing, all reading us. Every act tells out some portion of this tale, and falls upon unnumbered ears.
3. Transitoriness. “A tale told.” Not inscribed upon marble or brass, not even written in a book,--but just “told.” The transitoriness of this tale, however, is not in its influence that is everlasting, every idea will tell on the ages, but in its earthly form of expression. It is passing away from here like a flower, a vapour. (Homilist.)
I. Seeing that life imperceptibly passes, it should be the care of us all, that it be not misspent, or its opportunities unimproved. Life may be passed as vainly as the time occupied in hearing an idle tale.
1. Some tales are light and trifling,--merely to amuse and make the reader laugh. Such, also, is the life of some. Always light-hearted, never serious. They tread a round of vanity.
2. Other tales are of a grave caste, and turn on the interests of human life; but they are altogether worldly in their tone and tendency. So with the lives of many. They occupy their days with business; they are industrious, enterprising: but they have no concern about spiritual things.
3. Some tales are tales of truth. They give an account of godly men who served God in their generation, and died in peace. Such are the lives of Christians. They are using the means of grace, and growing in weanedness from the world; they seek the salvation of others, and prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.
II. The most important of the tale is its close, and so also it is with life, The interest thickens towards the end.
1. Some tales, whether serious or trifling, have an unhappy termination. So the life of many. They die without preparation and without hope. The tale of human life is soon told, but how momentous are its issues!
2. Other tales have a joyful ending. Hope is realized. So the life of God’s people. Whatever doubts, troubles, trials, disappointments chequered it, the close of it is peace.
III. Some tales come sooner to a close than others. So life;--in some cases three-score years and ten, or four-score years; in other cases not sixty, not fifty, not forty years--not thirty or twenty years, or even ten. Delay not. Make sure of salvation now. (W. H. Hewitson, M.A.)
Life an exclamation
I. The main idea of the text is the transientness of life; it has the brevity of a cry. Some lives have only one word, some several, yet is each an exclamation. Some have the completeness of finished sentences; some fail in the midst; some have only a beginning, rather intimate that there is something to be said than say it. Then is life short, indeed, when man dies, not because he has exhausted a force so much as because he has met with an obstruction. And yet how often is this the case! The days are “cut off;” “the sun goes down while it is yet day; “the flower fadeth.” Then, also, is life short when, though its voice fails not at the commencement of its utterance, it is broken off in the midst, and gives no complete expression to the deep meaning with which it is charged. And yet how often is it as an unfinished cry! How often do men pass away before they have half revealed the significance of their being! Things are long and short in comparison. The sense of duration is not absolute. The insect that lives but a day has, or might have, the feelings with which we regard seventy years . . . Suppose a being to live two millions of years, he would look down on our existence of seventy years with the same feelings as those with which we regard the creature of a day. It is only eternity that is really long--absolutely long. Eternity makes life nothing, and yet everything; sinks it to utter significance, and yet invests it with inconceivable importance.
II. If life is transient as a cry, it is a cry full of meaning. The importance of utterances does not depend on their length; it is not how long it takes to express a thing, but the nature of the thing expressed, which decides the greatness of the expression. A few words may reveal a world of meaning. Life is a cry, but what does it not reveal? The broken speech of our earthly days is the voice of souls. It shows what we are as souls; our principles, habits, etc . . . And, showing what we are, it shows also what we shall be, what we shall be for ever. And it does more than show what we shall be, it helps to make us it. Many different cries proceed from our common nature. Life in some is a cry of wonder, an expression of amazement at this mysterious universe, and their own mysterious being. Life in some is a cry of pain, grief from physical suffering, grief from adversities of lot, grief from social pressure on the heart’s affections. Life in some is a cry of joy, the rapid, incoherent speech of ecstatic feeling. I do not ask which of these your life is, nor does it much signify in relation to the most important of all matters. But I do ask you, what is the temper and the form of your life? Time, which is so short, is the season for conversion, salvation; and without these, when it is passed, you will find yourselves in an eternity for which no preparation has been made. Everlasting life dates from regeneration, not from death; we cannot have the life immortal if we be not born again. (A. J. Morris.)
The tale of our years
I. The tale of our years is told in chapters. This is necessary for reference, for the understanding of the main points and features of the story--chap, 1, chap. 2, chap. 3, and so through the table of contents. But what are these chapters? Is there one devoted to infancy, that piece that every one forgets if he ever knew it? Is there another for childhood with its gambols, summer days in the woods and on the shore, and Christmas Days in the dear old home? Is there another for youth, that sentimental time, so foolish and yet so sweet? Is there one for manhood, with its responsibilities and strenuous work, and yet one more for old age with its pensiveness and its memories, “the tender grace of a day that is dead”? But these are, after all, only the headings of the chapters. When you read what is written you would perhaps be inclined to make other divisions. There is, e.g., a chapter of sins. Every tale told has that in it. Then there is the chapter of opportunities, the chapter of change, the chapter of sorrows, the chapter of mistakes. When the true man turns to read through some of these, the tears fall upon the page. He can hardly, dare to think. But blessed be God he can pray. To read the story of the years m a spirit of penitence and trust is so to number our days as to get us a heart of wisdom.
II. The tale of our years is illustrated. Illustrations are exceedingly popular in these days. Now, one advantage of an illustration is that by it an impression is conveyed immediately. It is to a page or two of writing what a photograph is to a water-colour drawing, or what a telegram is to a letter. The salient features of the situation are seized at once; what would take ten minutes to read is taken in from a picture in ten seconds. So there are many people who see the illustrations who never read the story. Has it ever struck you that it is precisely so in our lives? For one who reads their story there are a hundred who see the pictures. From them they form their opinion of the story. For example, such a comparatively unimportant thing as manners is an illustration of life’s story. If you acknowledge an acquaintance in the street as if you saw a ticket-of-leave sticking out of his pocket, you will make an impression on him. It may be that behind a lofty look and a disdainful air there is a kindly heart and a really humble nature. But it was the illustration that was seen and that lingers in the mind. How true it is, too, that our habits illustrate the tale. Such things as exaggeration, little mean ways, indolence, unpunctuality. Or, again, how often we illustrate our story by exhibitions of temper. This is seen by our children and servants, and perhaps by some who have read less of the tale of our years than those who share our home. Now, there is a sense in which all our acts are illustrative.
III. The tale of our years has a plot. It is often not intricate and dramatic. It may be free from excitement, from that which in some stories is so unhealthy, the sensational. It may be homely, familiar, and commonplace. But it is there. God has a plan for my life. Not more surely had He for Abraham and David or for a Tennyson, a Gladstone or a Bismarck, the greatest of great men than He has for me. There is a hidden unity, an interaction and a coinciding, a sequence, to which we have at present no complete key. Life is not a chaos, it is a cosmos.
IV. The story of our years has an end. It is soon told, “the days of our years are threescore years and ten,” etc. “A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday,” etc. ‘Twas but yesterday that we were children, our world the nursery. ‘Twas but yesterday that we were wed, that our children were born, and now ‘tis toward evening; the day is far spent-the tale of our years will soon be told. Now of 999 out of every 1,000 of these tales it might be said, they are fleeting literature, they soon pass out of circulation; even the critics forget them, and they are interred in the vast literary sepulchre of the British Museum. But are they on that account valueless? Not necessarily. Those forgotten books may have suggested ideas to greater minds than their authors’. A spark may be dropped that kindles the fires of genius, and they blaze out in a splendour that impresses the world. So these lives of ours, which seem so commonplace, may enrich others.
V. The tale of our years has a moral. Every tale has, implicitly if not explicitly. And so has every life. When it is finished, it leaves on the mind of those who have known it intimately, some impression. There are some features that stand out, some moral qualities that have given a tone to the personality, or some principles that it has livingly illustrated. Men sum up their impression of the character. “He was a successful man, but he never lost the simplicity of his tastes or the geniality of his demeanour.” “He was a prosperous man, but his wealth corrupted his spirituality.” “He was a disappointed man, but his sorrow never soured him.” “He had an uphill fight, but he won the respect of all and the love of many.” But what the moral will be depends upon the dominant motives of the life. Are all lower considerations brought into subservience to that all-comprehending and ennobling ideal--“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever”? Then, if it be that, the story told by the years will be a “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a progress out from sin and bondage and selfishness, guided by the heavenly light, up to the Cross, where the burden of guilt rolls off into the grave of the Divine forgiveness; through the dark valley of temptation and awful conflict with him who would spill your soul; through “Vanity Fair,” unsoiled by its corruptions, to the Delectable Mountains of a solid and settled peace; then to the land Beulah, “where the shining ones commonly walk, because it is nigh unto the city;” until only the river remains, over which there is no bridge, but for which there is a Divine Pilot who makes it shallow for all who trust: “when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee,” etc. Then through the gate over which is written, “Blessed are they who do His commandments,” etc. (R. B. Brindley.)
1. Our years are “determined” (Job 14:5); give entertainment to this thought, close as we are upon the end of another year. “ Fear not, fret not, weary not, poor pilgrim of a day. The pilgrimage will soon be over. Thy days are determined. The number of thy months is with me. I have appointed thy bounds that thou canst not pass. Thou wilt soon accomplish as an hireling thy day. There is a time to be born, and a time to die.”
2. Our years are connected the one with the other. They are not like adjacent islands, deep water flowing around and between. We go right onwards, treading on the same kind of ground to the end. Such, too, usually, is the growth of character in the individual man. It goes on growing through the year, and it will not stop growing at the end of one year, and then begin again to-morrow morning when the year is new. The growing may be quickened or it may be confirmed a little, by the impressions and the sanctities of this last hour; quickened or confirmed in goodness; or else, alas, the heart, passing through these solemnities and agitations without a real religious faith, will be hardened in evil, and made more impervious to the impressions of any future season. And yet here let us be careful, else we shall come near to the acceptance of the very worst intellectual doctrine of this time--the doctrine of inevitable necessity, or, religiously viewed, the doctrine of a moral continuity in character and being, which nothing can break. We never lose our personal identity, character runs on, the same thinking substance, the same immortal soul continues; but grace, that renovating, cleansing, saving power, is introduced into the consciousness, transforms the character, lives in the experience, brings out the Divine images, makes the “new creature in Christ Jesus.” Need I say how prophetic our years become when we thus begin them in grace? Grace is the earthly name for glory. Glory is the heavenly name for grace. (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
The days of our years are threescore years and ten.
The days of our years
I. Life’s earthly limit. “Threescore years and ten.”
1. How long when viewed in the light of time--when compared with the common lot of mankind.
2. How short when viewed in the light of eternity.
II. Life’s common heritage. “Yet is their strength labour and sorrow.”
1. Life even at its best estate is made up largely of labour and sorrow, of working and weeping.
2. Thank God for the labour and the sorrow, for they help us to rise to higher things. “Before I was afflicted,” etc.
III. Life’s final transition. “We fly away.”
1. Happy transition for the Christian. The restraints of this cage life are ended.
2. Hopeless transition for the Christless. (Homiletic Monthly.)
I. God has divinely appointed that life shall be measured by divisions of time. Day and night, spring, summer, autumn and winter are God’s way of distributing time. Each division is big with suggestions to us for whom the divisions were made.
1. It is a beneficent arrangement. The changes from the brightness of noonday to the blackness of midnight, from spring’s sunshine and flowers to autumn’s shadows and yellow leaves, from summer’s heat to winter’s frost, are voices whose emphasis and pathos are ever uttering grand yet awful lessons about mortality and death.
2. The arrangement furnishes symbols of our lifetime. Spring paints our childhood, summer our manhood, autumn old age, and winter death. Each year is an epitome of life.
II. Life is measured by years because of its brevity.
III. Life must be measured by years because of its worth. Each year is dealt out to us in particles because of the preciousness of time. The possibilities that lie in every year, for good or evil, are prodigious.
IV. Life must be measured by divisions of time because of its imperceptible departure. It ebbs from us with every breath. We never had less of it than we begin this new year with. All the past is spent. Whether it has been squandered or well laid out, it is gone, and it went almost imperceptibly. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The limits of life
I. Explanatory remarks.
1. Consider threescore years and ten, or fourscore years, as the limit beyond which the life of man doth not pass. The folly which leads men to expect to live a hundred years, because one individual may have reached them, is like that which encourages them to expect mercy in their last hour, because the thief on the cross obtained it. It hath the worst effects on life, and produces the bitterest feelings of disappointment and regret in death.
(1) If we attend to the situation of the wicked, we will perceive the wisdom of this limitation of life. Seventy or eighty years are surely a sufficient space for the exercise of the Divine patience with them, and for proving what is in their hearts, whether they will keep His commandments or no.
(2) To the righteous, life is a state of manifold temptations, and as God doth not afflict willingly, He will not subject them longer to these than He sees it necessary for the trial of their graces.
2. Consider that the limits of human life which are here specified are reached by few. Death commonly selects for its victims life at its best, and man in his prime. It becomes us, therefore, to say, “I will use the world as if I were soon to leave it; I will live with my friends as if I were soon to part with them; I will discharge my duty as becomes one who expects soon to give in his account.”
3. The protracting of life to the limits here specified is not in itself desirable the strength of such old men is labour and sorrow.
(1) In consequence of the decline of their faculties, the aged are unfit for labour; and when they do apply themselves to it, they are soon obliged to desist. To them the grasshopper is a burden.
(2) Mental application is oppressive to them likewise. It is a toil to them to read, and what they do read is quickly forgotten.
(3) The languor and the wandering of their minds in religious duty distresses them. The affections which were once so active and fervent, now move slowly and reluctantly: and when they contrast their present with their past condition, it fills them with the painful apprehension that the Spirit of God hath abandoned them, and that they have lost what God hath wrought.
4. When life is come to these limits, its extinction may be hourly expected. It becomes the aged to submit to death without murmuring. It is your duty to be ready for your departure, and to employ every moment that remains in cultivating the spirit of the world to which you are going.
1. To those who have arrived, or are on the point of arriving, at these limits.
(1) Think on the many opportunities you have had of promoting the Divine glory in comparison of others; and remember, that to whom much is given, of them also shall much be required.
(2) Remember that if you are strangers to Christ, your saving acquaintance with Him must be now or never.
2. To those who are yet at a distance from these limits of human life.
(1) Let those who are far advanced in years be the object of your pity and of your kind attentions. Encourage them in their labour, and cheer them in their sorrow.
(2) Acquaint now yourselves with God; and if your days shall be shortened, grace shall conduct you more speedily to eternal life; and should they be prolonged for fourscore years, it will support and comfort you amidst the labour and sorrow of the season of decay.
(3) Consider the diseases and afflictions which may be sent to you in the early seasons of life, as intended to remind you that death is at hand, and to induce you to submit to it cheerfully. (H. Belfrage, D. D.)
From twenty to seventy
The seventieth milestone of life is here planted as at the end of the journey. A few go beyond it; multitudes never reach it. First, then, I accost those of you who are in the twenties. You are full of expectation. You are ambitious--that is, if you amount to anything--for some kind of success, commercial, or mechanical, or professional, or literary, or agricultural, or social, or moral. Are you looking for wealth? Well, remember that God controls the money markets, the harvests, the droughts, the caterpillars, the locusts, the sunshine, the storm, the land, the sea, and you will get wealth. Perhaps not that which is stored up in banks, in houses and lands, but,our clothing, and board, and shelter, and that is about all you can appropriate anyhow. What a critical time, the twenties! While they continue you decide your occupation and the principles by which you will be guided. You make your most abiding friendships. You fix your habits. Lord God Almighty, have mercy on all the men and women in the twenties! Next I accost those in the thirties. You are at an age when you find what a tough thing it is to get recognized and established in your occupation or profession. In some respects the hardest decade of life is the thirties, because the results are generally so far behind the anticipations. Nine-tenths of the poetry of life have been knocked out of you since you came into the thirties. Men in the different professions and occupations saw that you were rising, and they must put an estoppel on you, or you might somehow stand in their way. They think you must be suppressed. Your decade is the one that will probably afford the greatest opportunity for victory, because there is the greatest necessity for struggle. As it is the greatest time of the struggle, I adjure you, in God’s name and by God’s grace, make it the greatest achievement. The fact is, that by the way you decide the present decade of your history you decide all the following decades. Next I accost the forties. Yours is the decade of discovery. No man knows himself until he is forty. By that time he has learned what he can do, or what he cannot do. He was sailing on in a fog and could not take a reckoning, but now it clears up enough to allow him to find out his real latitude and longitude. He has been climbing, but now he has got to the top of the hill, and he takes a long breath. Oh, this mountain-top of the forties! You have now the character you will probably have for all time and all eternity. Tell me, O men and women who are in the forties, your habits of thought and life, and I will tell you what you will for ever be! My sermon next accosts the fifties. This is the decade which shows what the other decades have been. If a young man has sown wild oats, and he has lived to this time, he reaps the harvest of it in the fifties, or if by necessity he was compelled to overtoil in honest directions, he is called to settle up with exacting nature some time during the fifties. O ye who are in the fifties, think of it! A half century of blessing to be thankful for, and a half century subtracted from an existence which, in the most marked cases of longevity, hardly ever reaches a whole century. By this time you ought to be eminent for piety. You have been in so many battles, you ought to be a brave soldier. You have made so many voyages, you ought to be a good sailor. So long protected and blessed, you ought to have a soul full of doxology. My sermon next accosts the sixties. The beginning of that decade is more startling than any other. In his chronological journey the man rides rather smoothly over the figures “2,” and “3,” and “4,” and “5,” but the figure “6” gives him a big jolt. He says: “It cannot be that I am sixty. Let me examine the old family record. I guess they made a mistake. They got my name down wrong in the roll of births.” But, no, the older brothers or sisters remember the time of his advent, and there is some relative a year older and another relative a year younger, and sure enough the fact is established beyond all disputation. Sixty! Now, your great danger is the temptation to fold up your faculties and quit. You will feel a tendency to reminisce. If you do not look out you will begin almost everything with the words, “When I was a boy.” But you ought to make the sixties more memorable for God and the truth than the fifties, or the forties, or the thirties. You ought to do more during the next ten years than you did in any thirty years of your life, because of all the experience you have had. My subject next accosts those in the seventies and beyond. My word to them is congratulation. You have got nearly, if not quite through. Here and there a skirmish with the remaining sin of your own heart and the sin of the World, but I guess you are about done. How do you feel about it? You ought to be jubilant because life is a tremendous struggle, and, if you have got through respectably and usefully, you ought to feel like people toward the close of a summer day seated on the rocks watching the sunset. The most of your friends have gone over the border, and you are going to join them very soon. They are waiting for you. What we all need is to take the supernatural into our lives. Do not let us depend on brain, and muscle, and nerve. We want a mighty supply of the supernatural. How to get it? Just as you get anything you want. By application. If you want anything you apply for it. By prayer apply for the supernatural. Take it into your daily business. A man got up in a New York prayer-meeting and said: “God is my partner. I did business without Him for twenty years, and failed every two or three years. I have been doing business with Him for twenty years and have not failed once.” Oh, take the supernatural into all your affairs! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The days of our years
The days of our years are threescore years and ten. There is more sound than reality in that statement. The figures are illusory. Take from the seventy years some five years of more or less irresponsible infancy, and the figure drops to sixty-five. From sixty-five subtract one-third of itself as spent in sleep, and the figure drops to some forty-three years. That is, assuming that we live out the whole string of the seventy years. But let us take the obviously too high average of human life at fifty years: make the same deductions, and we shall find the average of human life reduced to some thirty years. But, though life is short, yet it is immortal; both the statements are true, and are therefore reconcilable. The leaves of every summer fall and die, but the great forests fatten and strengthen, and wave in the winds of centuries. An individual man dies and can no more be found than can the knell that dies upon his grave, yet humanity continues--continues building its cities, its temples and towers, weaving and spinning, carving and singing, going with a high joy, as if no grave had ever been cut in the breast of the green earth. We are not, therefore, to mope and moan about our own little day; we are not to lock ourselves up in the little prison of the uncertainty of our own existence; we are not to sit down and read the Bible till death tells us that it is time to go. We have to take in all the world as if it were our business to look after it; we must be inspired by our immortality, not discouraged by our frailty. It was thus that Jesus lived. He died ere He had lived out half His seventy years, yet He never died at all. He said: “Pull down what temple you like, that is good, and I will build it again: you cannot pull down God’s temples except that they may be rebuilt and enlarged;” and whilst the enemy had Him, the one on the left shoulder and the other on the right, and were hurrying Him away to kill, Him, He turned His head over His shoulder, as it were, and said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Jesus Christ still keeps His place in civilization. He begins where others end. Where they cry from exhaustion He puts on His strength. Where the mystery bewilders and blinds them, He dispels it by many a shaft of light. He is the propitiation for my sins, He stands between me and God, and O, mystery of love, He stands between me and Himself; for He, too, is Judge, and the sentence of life and death is upon His lips. He knows my days--He comforts me with many a promise. (J. Parker, D.D.)
And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow.
The evening of life sorrowful
1. From the ordinary weaknesses of the body. Very few are permitted to carry with them down into the vale of years the vigour of youth. The muscles lose their elasticity, the eye grows dim, the ear is dull of hearing, and the whole body bends toward the grave.
2. From decay of the mental energies. The power of thought, of reflection, of association, and of reasoning, the power of recollection and of memory, seem all to partake of the same weakness as do the powers of the body.
3. From depression of animal spirits. The mind that has been active, and has commanded attention and respect, cannot, without some degree of pain, see itself neglected, and sinking into comparative disesteem. Hence we cannot wonder if we see crossing the cheek, furrowed with age, the tear of melancholy.
4. From loss of companions. He stands like a tree which was once in the bosom of a forest, but now is left to feel the full weight of every storm, while the associates of his youth, whose united energies would obtrude the blast, have all perished; and his decaying boughs too strongly indicate that he must soon yield the soil to a later growth, and permit the winds of heaven to pass unobstructed.
5. From the impression that every step is upon the margin of the grave. Every pang he feels reminds him that his grave will soon be ready. So tardy flows the stream of life as to assure him that soon the heart will beat no longer. (D. A. Clark.)
Who knoweth the power of Thine anger?
even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath.
The power of God’s anger
I. When I consider the difficulties which lie in the way of our measuring the power of anger that resides in the bosom of God, I conclude that it is chiefly His steady and orderly goodness which has thrust His displeasure out of sight. Only occasionally does nature suggest wrath. Her deliberate arrangements are all inspired by goodness. I have often had occasion to observe how quietly the earth sets herself to repair, by slow and helpful work, the mischief which had been wrought in an hour, and I have never been able to witness it without admiration. I well recollect a scene which seemed to set me in the midst of nature’s fury. A fertile and populous Alpine valley had been turned to desolation by the storm of one winter’s day, when fierce torrents from heaven had snatched the frost-loosened stones from the mountain’s crest, and rolled them down its huge ribs with a rattle like thunder, to hurl them, an avalanche of barrenness, upon the peasants’ farms below. At once the wrath of Heaven had undone the labour of generations of patient men, silted up their homesteads and mills, torn up by the roots their vines and mulberry-trees, and turned into a bed of stones the acres on which their corn had grown. Here, one thought, might be seen “the power of His anger.” But long before I passed that way, the steadfast beneficence of God’s earth, lending itself to toilsome and unrepining hands, as it is wont to do, had begun to correct the mischief of its sudden wrath; and years on years of prosperous husbandry may pass over these peasant families before another day of ruin shall come to fill their vale with lamentation. Thus the earth bears witness that the Lord is slow to anger but of great mercy; that “in a little wrath He hides His face from us for a moment,” but it is “with everlasting kindness He hath mercy on us.” The experience which we have had of God in our own lives is to the same effect. To most of us, the days on which disaster fell into our life to crush us may be the most memorable we have spent; but they are by far the fewest. Such bitter days we count upon our fingers; our happier ones by years. The healthful and gladdening influences of God’s bounty, and human fellowship, and hope, and natural affection, are all about us continually. Judgment is God’s strange work; but His tender mercies are over all His works.
II. Yet, although we cannot reach to the bottom of God’s wrath, and need not regret that we cannot, there is one way open to us by which we may partly estimate it. The wrath of God is “according to His fear”; to His fearfulness, that is, or His fitness for inspiring in the bosoms of men an awful and sacred dread. Such attributes as infinity, immensity, unsearchableness, almightiness, and omnipresence, are very fit to overwhelm our feeble souls under a consciousness of helplessness which is near of kin to terror. When to these is added the moral magnificence of a justice which judges by an absolute standard, and of a perfection which makes no account of anything in comparison of mere rightness or goodness, then such frail and yielding creatures as we are, whose very virtues are compromises, in whom nothing is found of perfect temper, may most reasonably shrink in terror.
1. Susceptible souls are sometimes, under favourable conditions, wrought to fear by the mere vastness, or mystery, or loneliness of God’s material works.
2. The mass of men are too unimaginative or too stupid to be much moved by the mere sublimity of God’s everyday creation. They need occasional outbursts of unwonted violence to prick their hearts to fear Him. God does not always mean, when He lets loose disease or disaster among men, to “make a way to His anger,” as He is said to have meant when He plagued old Egypt. For the most part He means mercy. He is still “turning His anger away and not stirring up all His wrath.” But what He probably does design by exceptional explosions of the fatal forces which slumber in nature is to awaken a wholesome terror in dull hearts, and to suggest how dreadful His wrath may prove when the time for wrath shall have come, since now in the time of grace His providence can be so fearful.
3. All this, however if we take it by itself, does not mean a great deal. In order to estimate the capacity of wrath in the Almighty, I need to know more than His strength, more than His material terribleness. I must know whether there exists in His moral nature any severity which will dispose Him to be angry on just cause, which will steel Him against the infirmity of unrighteous pity, and will move Him to be rigorous where rigour is required. In other words, has God in Him any element of moral terribleness? Is He of such deadly earnestness in His displeasure against wrong that He can, in despite of pity, inflict the extreme of pain, of wrath, of bitter death? for, if so, He is beyond question a most fearful God. A Being who possesses such strength as His, and at the same time is not too tender to use it against sin, must be to every sinner unspeakably dreadful. I do not say whether God can inflict uttermost suffering for sin, judge ye of that; I say He can endure it. He bore what it would be fearful to see another bear. He pursued sin to His own death, and in His jealousy for justice satisfied justice in His own blood. I make bold to ask every one of you who is not sure that he has repented of his sins, whether he thinks the God who took flesh and died for sin at Jerusalem is a God with whom it is safe to trifle? (J. O. Dykes, D.D.)
On the greatness of God’s anger
First see how anger can be ascribed to God: for an infinite and Divine nature cannot be degraded to those affections and weaknesses that attend ours. Anger is a passion, but God is impassible. Anger is always with some change in the person that has it, but God is unchangeable. Certainly, therefore, anger and the like affections can by no means be ascribed to the infinitely perfect God, in the proper and usual acceptation of the words, but only by an anthropopathy. God is said to be angry, when He does some things that bear a similitude to those effects that anger produces in men.
I. Preparatory cautional observations.
1. Every harsh and severe dispensation is not an effect of God’s anger. The same effect, as to the matter of it, may proceed from very different causes. Love is sometimes put upon the rigour of those courses, which at the first aspect seem to carry in them the inscriptions of hostility.
2. There is a great difference between God’s anger and His hatred; as great as there is between the transient expiring heat of a spark, and the lasting continual fires which supply a furnace. God was angry with Moses, David, Hezekiah, and with His peculiar people; but we do not read that He hated them. The effects of His anger differ as much from the effects of His hatred, as the smart of a present pain from the corrosions of an abiding poison.
II. Instances in which this unsupportable anger of God does exercise and exert itself.
1. It inflicts immediate blows and rebukes upon the conscience. When God wounds a man by the loss of an estate, of His health, of a relation, the smart is but commensurate to the thing which is lost, poor and finite. But when He Himself employs His whole omnipotence, and is both the archer, and Himself the arrow, there is as much difference between this and the former, as when a house lets fall a cobweb, and when it falls itself upon a man.
2. God’s anger exerts itself by embittering of afflictions. Every affliction is of itself a grievance, and a breach made upon our happiness; but there is sometimes a secret energy, that so edges and quickens its afflictive operation, that a blow levelled at the body, shall enter into the very soul. As a bare arrow tears and rends the flesh before it, but if dipped in poison, as by its edge it pierces, so by its adherent venom it festers.
3. It shows and exerts itself by cursing of enjoyments. We may, like Solomon, have all that wit can invent, or heart desire, and yet at last, with the same Solomon, sum up all our accounts in “vanity and vexation of spirit.” Alas! it is not the body and the mass of those things which we call plenty that can speak comfort, when the wrath of God shall blast and dispirit them with a curse. We may build our nest soft and convenient, but that can easily place a thorn in the midst of it, that shall check us in our repose.
III. Those properties and qualifications which declare and set forth the extraordinary greatness of God’s anger.
1. It is fully commensurate to the very utmost of our fears, which is noted even in the words of the text: “According to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath.”
2. It not only equals, but infinitely exceeds and transcends our fears. The misery of the wicked, and the happiness of the saints, run in an equal parallel; so that by one you may best measure the proportions of the other. And for the former of these, we have a lively description of it in 1 Corinthians 2:9.
3. Though we may attempt it in our thoughts, yet we cannot bring it within the comprehensions of our knowledge. And the reason is, because things which are the proper objects of feeling, are never perfectly known, but by being felt.
4. We may take a measure of the greatness of God’s anger by comparing it with the anger of men. How dreadful is the wrath of a king! (Proverbs 19:12). But what can be said of the terrors of an almighty wrath, an infinite indignation?
1. The intolerable misery of such as labour under a lively sense of God’s wrath for sin.
2. The ineffable vastness of Christ’s love to mankind in His sufferings for them.
3. Terror to such as can be quiet and at peace within themselves, after the commission of great sins.
4. The most natural sequel and improvement of all that has been said of God’s anger, is a warning against that cursed thing which provokes it. We see how dreadfully it burns; let us beware of the sin by which it is kindled. (R. South, D.D.)
The power of God’s anger
There is a slavish fear of God, and there is also a filial fear. The one belongs to the man who know God only as Creator--the other to him who through the Spirit of adoption has been led to know God as a Father. Which fear, then, is it which the psalmist gives as the measure of God’s wrath: “Even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath”? We cannot decide between the two, for either will equally serve as a standard, and therefore both may be considered as intended by the Spirit. But the difficulties of interpretation are not done with, so soon as we have settled that the passage thus admits of double application. There are more senses than one in which God’s wrath is according to His fear, whether that fear be the fear of a slave or the fear of a son; and we cannot, perhaps, better divide so intricate a subject, than by taking the two great classes of mankind, the lovers of the world and the lovers of God, and endeavouring to show in each case the applicability of the text.
I. We begin with those who as yet have turned no willing ear to the invitation, “Be ye reconciled to God,” and we are to listen to this thrilling question circulating through their ranks, “Who knoweth the power of God’s anger?” What then? If I view the whole family of man, exiled from happiness for the offence of their forefather, do I know nothing of the power of God’s anger? If I look upon our globe, going down with its teeming tenantry into the sepulchre of waters--if I survey the cities of the plain, drenched with the fiery showers--if I behold Jerusalem, turned up by the ploughshare of the Roman, and her sons and her daughters scattered like the ashes of a furnace--if I see God exemplifying with an awful fidelity the word of the psalmist, “A fruitful land maketh He barren, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein”--know I nothing of the power of the anger of the Lord? No man knows the power of God’s anger, because that power has never yet put itself forth to its full stretch. Is there, then, no measure of God’s wrath no standard by which we may estimate its intenseness? There is no fixed measure or standard, but there is a variable one. The wicked man’s fear of God is a measure of the wrath of God. There is such a fear and such a dread of that God into whose immediate presence he feels himself about to be ushered, that even they who love him best, and charm him most, shrink from the wildness of his gaze and the fearfulness of his speech. And we cannot tell the man, though he may be just delirious with apprehension, that his fear of God invests the wrath of God with a darker than its actual colouring. On the contrary, we know that “according to the fear so is the wrath.” We may therefore pause, and beseech those amongst you who are still living at enmity with God seriously to lay to heart this simple, but solemn truth--that fear is no microscope, when turned towards the wrath of your Maker. It cannot give the true dimensions, but it is utterly impossible that it should give larger than the true. God’s anger is altogether measureless: when once aroused we set no limits to its power; hence it is not possible that the fear should mount too high: wrath keeps pace with it in its most enormous strides. But God’s anger may be arrested; and here again it is that according to the fear, so is the wrath. The fear which gave a measure of wrath, in itself gives also the measure and the degree wherein it should be executed. God willeth not the death of any sinner, but would rather that all men should repent, and turn unto Him and live. Let this fear produce submission, obedience; and the wrath which was just ready to strike is mitigated and softened away; according as men do more or less tremble at God’s judgments, God does more or less execute them. Thus the power of the anger is not to be understood, because it is altogether inexplicable.
II. We turn to those men who have been admitted by adoption into the family of God, and we seek for senses in which, in reference to them, it holds good, that according to his fear, so is God’s wrath. It would appear from a verse in the 130th psalm, that true fear of God arises from a sense of God’s forgiving love--“But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.” It is, you observe, distinctly affirmed that the fear of God is the result of being forgiven of God. Let us, for an instant, trace the connection, and then turn it to a further illustration of the text. We may admit that in transactions between man and man such a connection does not necessarily exist at all. The forgiveness may be accorded without change of heart, and is not necessarily productive of change of deportment; but the reverse of all this must be affirmed when the forgiving party is God: He pardons only those whom He hath Himself made penitent; He renews the man when He remits his offences, and thus there is at once an assurance that the man becoming an altered man on becoming forgiven, forgiveness will bind him to God’s service by all those ties of gratitude and affection which an act of free grace seems most calculated to produce. And from this it clearly follows, that he who has most of the fear of God, will have the keenest sense of the wrath of God. It is the man who lives much upon Calvary, who frequently visits the scene of the Saviour’s agony, and who marks with wonder, with contrition, and with thankfulness the pouring forth of the most precious blood for the sake of his own rescue from final perdition--this man it is who will fear God with the fear to which forgiveness is parent; and who, we may now ask, can know so much of the wrath of God as he who is thus conversant with the emptying of that wrath on the head of the Redeemer? on this one occasion, though it may be on no other, God set forth to the intelligent creation the power of His anger; and if it were not that our affections are quickly borne down by the mysteries of Christ’s death, so that we can form to ourselves no conception of the intenseness of anguish, but are quickly bewildered and confounded at the very mention of the sweat of blood and the hidings of the Father’s countenance; if we could estimate--but who can estimate?--eternity condensed into a moment, and driven into the soul; if we could estimate the wretchedness, if we could weigh the burden, if we could count the arrows, and thus bring within our compass the endurances of the Saviour, there might rise up some amongst us to reply affirmatively to the question--“Who knoweth the power of Thine anger?” But, nevertheless, though no one can affirm of his knowledge that it is coextensive with the power, yet must all perceive that he carries knowledge furthest who is most deeply studious of the sufferings of Christ. And if it be undeniable that he will fear God most who is most with Christ in the garden and on the mount, and if it be equally undeniable that he who most scrutinizes the anguish which thronged the work of expiation will discern most of the anger of the Lord, then it will follow at once that the wrath is in proportion to the fear. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Man imploring the mercy of God
I. For a right estimate as to the duration of life. “Teach us to number our days,” etc.,
1. There is a certain judgment to be formed as to the duration of our earthly life. The prayer does not mean that we should know the hour, scene, or circumstance of our end; but that we should have a practical impression that life is temporary and preparative.
2. There is a tendency in man to neglect to form a true estimate of life. “All men think all men mortal but themselves.”
3. The formation of a correct judgment is essential to practical wisdom (Psalms 90:12).
II. For a restoration to the blessings of life.
1. Divine favour (Psalms 90:13). The meaning is, remove the sense of Thy displeasure, bless us with the consciousness of Thy favour.
2. True satisfaction (Psalms 90:14). Let the satisfaction be early. Come at once. Let it run through the whole of our life. “That we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Let the satisfaction be proportioned according to our past affliction (Psalms 90:15). Let our future joys compensate for our past affliction.
III. For a discovery of Divinity in life.
1. In His works, to men and their children (Psalms 90:16). The glory of human life is to see the glory of God in all the works of His hand.
2. In the prosperity of man’s own works. (Homilist.)
Numbering our days
This is a psalm of life and death, and one of the finest in the whole Bible. The comparisons made between the frailty and brevity of human life and the omnipotence and eternity of God are very striking. But a right use of the sense of mortality is a priceless blessing. We must all be accountants and arithmeticians in the best sense. Like the wise merchants we must frequently take stock in order to see where we stand. And we must also number our nights, with their blessings of rest and repose and renewal, for human life is incomplete without the night as well as the day.
I. Every man must come to his last day. We are born to die, and we die daily. Our home is not here, but yonder.
II. Man has a set time in which to live. Job speaks of certain bounds which man cannot pass. His life is fitted within certain boundaries by Divine Providence.
III. Man’s life on earth is comparatively short. We are asked to number our days, and not our years or months or weeks. We must live a day at a time.
IV. Man is dangerously apt to forget this numbering. He allows the days to slip away unnoticed. He counts his oxen and sheep, but not his days. He numbers other men’s days, but not his own. As Sir Thomas Smith said some months before his death, “It is a great pity men know not to what end they are born into the world until they are ready to go out of it.”
V. The nature of the numbering advocated by the psalmist. “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” We cannot number our days rightly without the Lord as our Teacher. We must go in for numeration under Divine guidance. It is not mathematical but moral counting--a numbering that brings glory to God. The chief end of man is to seek wisdom--not riches, or worldly honours, or sinful pleasures--but wisdom and not the wisdom of the world, but that of God. We have emphasized the truth of man’s mortality, let us also emphasize his immortality. (J. O. Davies.)
I. Who is it that teaches? It is God Himself. The mere record, as contained in the world which we see, or in the written Word which we read or hear, is not of itself sufficient. It is the letter, not the life: it cannot of itself convey a saving knowledge of the truths, of which it is nevertheless the chosen depository. Christ must be revealed in us as well as to us ere we can know Him as we ought. It was in Him, as the apostle tells the Galatians, that God was pleased to “reveal Himself.”
II. How does God teach? In many ways. By parents, ministers, friends. Also by outward objects--churchyard, storm, epidemic, etc.
III. The end of God’s teaching. “That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Do you find this a hard lesson? The Israelites found it so, and their stiff-neckedness is written in an enduring record for your learning. The old world found it so; for they were “eating and drinking,” etc. The foolish virgins found it so. Their lamps were gone out, they themselves were slumbering, when the bridegroom came and the door was shut. Are you wiser? Have you profited by these warnings? Have you been “taught”? Are you numbering your days with a consciousness of the relative difference between time and eternity? But what is wisdom? That is the practical question which so many never ask, though it concern them so vitally to learn the lesson; that is the question, too, which so many ask, but not of Him who alone can give them the true answer. What, for instance, did Moses himself esteem wisdom to be? Not all the learning of the Egyptians with which he was conversant, for he renounced it all, esteeming the reproach of Christ better than all the riches of Egypt. And what is Job’s definition of wisdom (Job 28:28; 1 Corinthians 3:19). What did the great apostle pronounce is not to be, after he had ceased to sit as Saul of Tarsus at the feet of Gamaliel? And what does he say it is? First, the receiving of Christ by us as sinners; secondly, the adorning of the doctrine in our lives. (Bp. Sumner.)
Numbering our days
I. What is intended by numbering our days?
1. We must form a correct estimate of human life, comparing its average length with its interests.
2. We must cherish a serious conviction of the uncertainty of life. Boast not thyself, young man, of thy strength, nor old man of thy wisdom, for a worm is in the bud of youth and at the root of age.
3. We must pay an observant regard to our days as they pass away. Days, weeks, and years are but the landmarks.
II. The specific purpose for which we are to number our days.
1. Wisdom consists in the adoption of the best means to secure the best ends. In what relation do I stand to God and eternity? is the first question which every man should put to himself. Until he can answer this solemn inquiry satisfactorily, he is but a fool in knowledge and a child in his pursuits.
2. To apply our hearts unto wisdom, we must moderate our affections to earthly objects. Eternity will be our grand concern. Like the apostle, we shall learn to die daily, we shall be crucified to the world with its affections and lusts; it will gradually recede and eventually disappear as an object of felicitous contemplation.
3. We must peculiarly cherish those graces which mitigate the sorrows and heighten the joys of the present life.
4. We must cultivate those dispositions of mind which will increase all the lawful enjoyments of life. Habitual dependence upon God, walking with humility and gratitude beneath his favour, adds zest to all our enjoyments. (S. Summers.)
The transitoriness of life
I. The feelings suggested by a retrospect of the past.
1. The analogies of nature which correspond with human life. All things here are double. The world without corresponds with the world within. No man could look on a stream when alone by himself, and all noisy companionship overpowering good thoughts was away, without the thought that just so his own particular current of life will fall at last into the “unfathomable gulf where all is still.” No man can look upon a field of corn, in its yellow ripeness, which he has passed weeks before when it was green, or a convolvulus withering as soon as plucked, without experiencing a chastened feeling of the fleetingness of all earthly things. No man ever went through a night-watch in the bivouac, when the distant hum of men and the random shot fired, told of possible death on the morrow; or watched in a sick room, when time was measured by the sufferer’s, breathing or the intolerable ticking of the clock, without a firmer grasp on the realities of Life and Time.
2. Moses is looking back, and his feeling is loss. Many a one consumed, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, by the wrath of God. Many a Hebrew warrior stricken in battle, and over him a sand-heap. And those who remembered these things were old men--“consuming,” his strong expression, “their strength in labour and sorrow.” We stand upon the shore of that illimitable sea which never restores what has once fallen into it; we hear only the boom of the waves that throb over all--for ever.
3. There is, too, an apparent non-attainment. A deeper feeling pervades this psalm than that of mere transitoriness: it is that of the impotency of human effort. “We are consumed”--perish aimlessly like the grass. No man was more likely to feel this than Moses. The cycles of God’s providences are so large that our narrow lives scarcely measure a visible portion of them. So large that we ask, What can we effect? Yet there is an almost irrepressible wish in our hearts to see success attend our labours, to enter the Promised Land in our own life. It is a hard lesson: to toil in faith, and to die in the wilderness, not having attained the promises, but only seeing them afar off.
II. The right use of these sad suggestions. Duty is done with all energy, then only, when we feel, “The night cometh, when no man can work,” in all its force. Two thoughts are presented to make this easier.
1. The eternity of God. Shall we give up our hopes of heaven and progress, because it is so slow, when we remember that God has innumerable ages before Him? Or our hopes for our personal improvement, when we recollect our immortality in Him who has been our refuge “from generation to generation”? Or for our schemes and plans which seem to fail, when we remember that they will grow after us, like the grass above our graves?
2. The permanence of results.
(1) The permanence of our past seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, are gone, but the harvest is gathered in. Youth and manhood are passed, but their lessons have been learnt. The past is ours only when it is gone.
(2) The permanence of lost affections. The sound and words are gone, but the tale is indelibly impressed on the heart. So the lost are not really lost. Perhaps they are ours only truly when lost. Their patience, love, wisdom, are sacred now, and live in us.
(3) The permanence of our own selves--“The beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Very striking this. We survive. We are what the past has made us. The results of the past are ourselves.
(4) The permanence of work. Not a true thought, pure resolve, or loving act, has ever gone forth in vain. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
For the New Year
I. The wisdom contemplated in our text means something like the following: “Teach us, O God, the essential truth as embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in His life. Then enable us to accept Him in faith.”
II. The word “heart” includes all the faculties. The whole soul and spirit, with all their strength, are to be applied in the search for wisdom.
III. God’s qualifications to instruct us.
1. He possesses sufficient knowledge. Is it not true that in the study of history, science, or philosophy, we are thinking God’s thoughts? It is said of Agassiz, that before he would venture upon a line of investigation, he would bow his head in prayer, and ask God to direct him in the discovery of the truth. Let us pray, likewise, that God will teach us wisdom; that He will enable us to discover the highest, and the greatest truth; the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, His only begotten Son.
2. God has the power to teach.
3. God has the strong personality necessary to impress the learner.
4. God’s works are evidence to us that He is competent to teach us wisdom. Can we look across the broad meadows of our valleys, the rolling pasture lands on the hillsides, and the boundless grain-fields of redeemed prairies, without feeling in our souls that He has stretched these out before us, and for us, in infinite wisdom? And as we dig into the bowels of the earth, and discover stupendous and varied forces, undreamed-of wealth of gold, silver, copper, oil and gas, are we not confounded and led to exclaim, “What infinite wisdom, goodness and power are manifested here”?
IV. Time is our only opportunity for acquiring wisdom. An Italian philosopher expressed in his motto “that time was his estate; an estate, indeed, that will produce nothing without cultivation, but will always repay abundantly the labours of industry, and satisfy the most extensive desires, if no part of it be suffered to lie waste by negligence, to be overrun by noxious plants, or laid out for show rather than for use.” Time is our opportunity to estimate human life by the purpose to which it should be applied. It should be measured by the eternity to which it leads. (R. V. Hunter.)
Life measured by days
Life must be measured by days--
I. Because a day is a Divine division of time.
1. This division of our time by God into periods whose coming and going must be felt, is a beneficent arrangement. Without it the voice of time would be a monotone in which we should sleep, not listen; or, even if we listened, it would make no impression on us. “Days should speak.”
2. God has given us, in the arrangement of “days,” striking symbols of the lifetime they unitedly compose. Each day is an epitome of a life. Morning paints our childhood, noon our manhood, night our death.
II. Because of its brevity. We do not attempt to reckon our mortal life by centuries, scarcely by years; for they are so uncertain, and at best there are so few of them. Only then do we realize that the sum of life demands, and will repay, careful calculation, and that a blunder in it is of immense mischief.
III. Because of its worth. Gold-dust and diamonds shall be weighed by grains, not by tons. So, because of its preciousness, “Time is dealt out by particles,” and we number it, not in decades or in years. Life, as a whole, is of such untold worth, that every portion of it is priceless.
IV. Because of its imperceptible departure. Its final departure is marked and emphatic enough. The agonies of bereavement, the mysterious process of dying, make that known and felt. But it is equally and more solemnly true, that life is always departing. It ebbs from us with every breath. (Homilist.)
The brevity of human life
The frailty of our being; the certainty of our death; the shortness of the intervening period; these are ideas with which we are familiar; and yet, strange to say, they seldom influence us, either justly or constantly. We may use this knowledge, in order to add to stoical indifference; to give pathos and interest to poetry; to induce certain arrangements with respect to our property or our families: to augment, by contrast, the enjoyment of the passing hour; but these are not the essential purposes to which our knowledge of the shortness of life ought to be applied. In the midst of all these speculations we may fail to “apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
I. The brevity of human life. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Against this destiny no sagacity and no prosperity can build up a shelter.
II. Our indisposition to contemplate wisely the results of that brevity. That which follows death; the introduction to another world; responsibility; judgment to come; the vision of God; eternal weal or woe; the friendly or unfriendly mediation of Christ; the spiritual character which welcomes or opposes the celestial manifestations of truth and wisdom; these are the associations which properly belong to death. Yet from this view of death, men deliberately turn away!
III. Thus situated, thus exposed, thus beguiled, how palpable becomes the truth, that a wise use of our conviction of mortality is the gift of God. Unless God shall deign to teach, we refuse to learn. The means of instruction are indeed abundant. Much knowledge is afloat in the world; and the daily events of life utter solemn accents, were we disposed to listen. But the machinery of instruction; the apparatus of revelation; the combination of events, are inadequate to make us wise. These are the means of wisdom, but they are not the disposition to be wise. The conversion of the heart is from God. (G. T. Noel, M.A.)
Numbering our days
I. What it is to number our days.
1. To find out the number of them. You cannot hope to live above seventy; it is an even chance whether you live to be thirty; and you are not sure that you will live a day.
2. To consider the kind of them. They have all been days of blessing--yet all of sin. Still God has spared you, and all His gifts continue with you.
II. For what purpose we are to number our days.
1. So as to be ready for the last one when it comes. What is the preparation needed? To be in Christ, and so escape condemnation in the judgment (Romans 8:1). To be like Christ, and so fit for the pure joys and company of heaven (1 John 3:2). To be each of these things now, as our last day may come at any time (Matthew 24:44).
2. So as to use them to the best advantage. Time given to sin is wasted and something worse. You must not only be doing, but doing good. Cultivating the garden of life. Digging out the weeds, and digging in the flowers and useful herbs (Ephesians 4:22). Cultivating the garden of your neighbour also. Helping the sinful out of sin, the suffering out of sickness, the sorrowful out of grief (1 John 3:17; Romans 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 1:4).
3. So as to make up for lost days. Time is a river, and runs only once under the bridge of life. Still lost time may be made up for a little by working extra in the time that remains. The train behind time makes up for it by putting on extra speed. You may do the same. In one hour get through the work of two.
III. How we are to learn to number our days aright. “So teach us,” etc. The text is a prayer. Moses could not number his days profitably. But God could teach him, and he cries to be taught. You cannot begin all this too soon. The Inquisition tortured its victims by putting them in a cell which gradually contracted till at last it crushed them to death. So life--large and roomy-looking in youth--gets narrower year by year, till at last we are pressed in the arms of death. Therefore begin early. (J. E. Henry, M.A.)
The wise reckoning of time
I. We ought, as Christians, to appreciate the opportunities presented of making great progress in knowledge--in intellectual improvement. Every thing is tending to show that the human race will soon be under no other government but that of mind; that, whatever may be the instruments which it shall use, intelligence will be the arm that will rule the world. By no higher ends than earth can afford, a multitude of unsanctified minds have been stimulated even to death in the career of mental improvement. Time, health, riches, life, have been sacrificed in the over-reachings of their souls after knowledge. But every Christian has infinitely higher motives to impel him to make acquisition of true science. If he be asked why he is labouring to obtain stores of knowledge, he can answer, because “the Lord hath need of them.”
II. We ought to count upon the opportunities presented for forming an elevated religious character.
1. One of these is the awakened attention and increased facilities for studying the Bible.
2. As another event in these times, adapted to form religious character, we may notice in some respects a salutary change in the ministry of the Gospel. It is now freed from many of the encumbrances of former ages that destroyed its power on the conscience and the heart.
3. Another fact bearing on this point is, that the days which we are numbering are days in which “the glorious ministration of the Spirit,” in that form which it took after the ascension of Jesus, has become more pervading and effective than it has been since the day of Pentecost.
III. We ought to count upon exerting a far more widely extended influence as Christians. Such are the laws of our intellectual and social being, arid such are the relations and connections of one mind with another, that an influence of some kind we must and shall inevitably exert. The kind of influence exerted, and the direction which that influence shall take, will be one of the most solemn items of man’s last account to his God. The elements of Christian influence are knowledge and holiness. How much more available is the power of holy example now than in those past days, when population was more sparse, and the means of personal intercourse more restricted! What an organ of extended Christian influence does the religious Press constitute! Think, too, what instruments of power are put into the hands of Christians by the organization of the great benevolent societies of these times. They can thus truly extend themselves, in an important sense, “beyond their measure,”--can stretch out the arm of mercy and pour light on the darkness and miseries of the whole earth. (D. L. Carroll, D.D.)
On numbering our days
I. What is implied. In order to make a just estimate of our days, let us reckon--
1. Those days, or divisions of time, in which we feel neither good nor evil, neither joy nor grief, and in which we practise neither virtue nor vice, and which, for this reason, I call days of nothingness; let us reckon these, and compare them with the days of reality.
2. The days of adversity, and compare them with the days of prosperity.
3. The days of languor and weariness, and compare them with the days of delight and pleasure.
4. The days which we have devoted to the world, and compare them with the days which we have devoted to religion.
5. The amount of the whole, that we may discover how long the duration is of a life consisting of days of nothingness and of reality; of days of prosperity and of adversity; of days of pleasure and of languor; of days devoted to the world, and to the salvation of the soul.
1. The vanity of the life that now is, affords the clearest proof of the life to come.
2. Neither the good things, nor the evil, of a life which passes away with so much rapidity, ought to make a very deep impression on a soul whose duration is eternal.
3. This life is a season of probation, assigned to us for the purpose of making our choice between everlasting happiness or misery.
4. A life through which more time has been devoted to a present world, than to preparation for eternity, corresponds not to the views which the Creator proposed to Himself, when He placed us in this economy of expectation.
5. A sinner who has not conformed to the views which God proposed to Himself in placing him under an economy of discipline and probation, ought to pour out his soul in thanksgiving, that God is graciously pleased still to lengthen it out.
6. Creatures in whose favour God is pleased still to lengthen out the day of grace, the economy of long-suffering, which they have improved to so little purpose, ought no longer to delay, no, not for a moment, to avail themselves of a reprieve so graciously intended. (James Saurin.)
Right estimate of life
The prayer implies--
I. That there is a certain judgment to be formed as to the duration of an earthly life. What is it? Not the exact hour, scene, or circumstances of our end. We thank Heaven for concealing all this. Ignorance of this is--
1. Essential to our practical watchfulness.
2. To our personal enjoyment.
3. To our social usefulness. It means that we should have a practical impression that life here is temporary and preparative.
II. That there is a tendency in man to neglect the formation of such a judgment. Why this tendency?
1. Not from the want of circumstances to suggest it. History, observation, experience--all remind us every day of our end.
2. Not from any doubt that we have about the importance of realizing it. All acknowledge the importance. But--
(1) From the secularity of one controlling purpose.
(2) From the instinctive repugnance that we have to death.
(3) From the moral dread of future retribution.
(4) From the delusive suggestions of the tempter. “Ye shall not surely die.”
III. That the formation of a correct judgment is essential to practical wisdom. “That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
1. Such judgment would serve to impress us with the connection between this life and the future.
2. It would serve to moderate our affections in relation to this earth.
3. It would serve to reconcile us to the arrangements of Providence. We are pilgrims, voyagers, scholars.
4. It would serve to stimulate us to render all the circumstances of this life subservient to a higher. Time is bearing us and all away. (Homilist.)
The just estimate of the shortness of human life, and our proper employment here
I. As regards the present world.
1. As all virtues in general, both by their own proper influence, and the blessing of God, which reason leads us to expect, and Scripture expressly assures us of, conduce to prolong our days, the consideration of their natural brevity may well direct us to a virtuous conduct; particularly to sobriety, temperance, and chastity; to a prudent moderation of anger; and to whatever duties have especially the promise or the prospect of long life annexed to them.
2. Since we have but a small time to stay here, it is our wisdom to make it as easy and agreeable to ourselves, and all with whom we have any intercourse, as we are able; and to imitate persons of prudence, who occasionally go journeys together; bearing with each others’ temper and behaviour; giving mutual comfort and assistance under the misfortunes and inconveniences of the way; and continually endeavouring to preserve or restore the good humour and cheerfulness of the company.
3. The shortness of life should teach us to be speedy and diligent in doing all such things as we ought to do.
4. The shortness and precariousness of our present state of being should teach us to avoid long pursuits of worldly profits or pre-eminences; which probably either we shall not have time to attain, or must soon quit.
5. A fifth use of numbering our days is, to check and compose all strong emotions of mind about worldly concerns; for in so transitory a state there can be nothing to deserve them. Why should we be elated with hope of future good, when both our own lives, and those on whom our expectations may depend, are subject to such innumerable chances; and the higher we raise ourselves in imagination, the more afflicting will be our fall? Why, again, should we be dejected with fear of future evils, when a thousand accidents which none of us can guess at beforehand, may prevent their coming; or, if they do come, our head may be laid low enough before that time, and far enough out of the way of feeling them?
6. The most important lesson, taught us by the shortness and uncertainty of our present life, considered in itself, is, that we may reasonably expect, and should therefore continually look forward to another.
II. With respect to the eternal life which is to follow. Whatever conclusions men may think they can draw from the former view, yet, when our life on earth is contemplated as a state of preparation for another and an endless one, then neither the wit, nor almost the folly of man, can make any other than virtuous inferences from the shortness of it.
1. Conviction of the necessity of applying diligently to know and do our duty.
2. Encouragement to persist in it to the end against temptation.
3. Support under the afflictions to which we are exposed in the meanwhile. (T. Secker.)
What is the wisdom which comes from the numbering of our days? Rather let me put it in this way: What are the varieties of human life which this wisdom condemns?
1. The anxious life. A matter of temperament, you say. Yes, to a certain extent. Blood, inherited disposition, may not be overlooked here. Then it is said that this over-anxious condition of the mind is a result of impaired health. And here also is a truth. It is only a very superior person who can rise above and triumph over his physical condition; who can be equable, and wise, and tender, when the body is sick. But admitting all this, still education, reason, truth, must not be left out here. There is such a thing as a man taking himself in hand for correction. He may call reason to his aid. He may smite his propensity with the hand of truth. So here, the hand of truth is raised for smiting, for condemnation. First, this truth,--your own helplessness; secondly,--God’s infinite goodness. And now comes the wisdom of the text, sharpest, strongest of all to rebuke and condemn here. Thus it speaks: It will soon be over. The dream will soon be past. The battle will soon be fought. Do not worry then. The burden so heavy, you shall carry it but for a day. The trial so sharp, you shall soon have an escape from it. These things will soon have an end, and that for ever. Oh, how quiet, how peaceful is the region to which human life hasteth!
2. The selfish life. This covers the whole range from mere indifference to hate; from hands which are folded in the presence of human want, to hands which are raised to beat down the weak and the struggling. Consider that only for the brief period of this life is it given unto any one of us to work our life power into the welfare of our fellow-men.
3. The worldly life. It may be to make money; it may be to get into places of honour; it may be the acquisition of knowledge. It matters not. Only so that the life of man is circumscribed by sense. Only so that in its noblest outreachings it is bounded by this world. So that the man does not love, or think upon, or care for, anything which he cannot handle, or see, or analyze. Just so sure as this is the case, so surely does the wisdom prayed for in the text condemn, “Thou fool, thou hast not numbered thy days.”
4. The irreligious or unchristian life. Doth not the fact that our days may end at any time condemn such a life? Unpreparedness for an event which may be precipitated at any moment,--is not this folly? (S. S. Mitchell, D.D.)
Time wisely computed
I. The psalmist’s petition. It suggests--
1. A duty to be discharged: “number our days.” The very term implies--
(1) That they have a limit, and that this is within the scope of our powers to calculate. The tale may soon be told.
(2) The uncertainty of life.
(3) The preciousness of time. As the miser counts and recounts his gold because it is his treasure, and fears lest a single piece should be lost, so should the child of eternity number those few and fleeting days which constitute his only season for preparing for eternity. Here alone is parsimony a virtue.
2. An inaptitude on the part of man for the fulfilment of the duty. He is called, indeed, to that for which his understanding is qualified, but to which his heart is not inclined.
3. This duty involves--
(1) A comparison of the number of our days with the duration of eternity.
(2) A comparison of the work which we have to do, with the space allotted for its accomplishment.
3. His need of assistance in the duty. God communicates this necessary instruction by His Word, and Providence, and Spirit--reminding by many a solemn text, by many an awakening dispensation, and by many an inward admonition, that “The time is short.”
II. The end to which the petition was directed. What is “wisdom”? We need no better definition than that which describes it to consist in “pursuing the best end by the best means”; and seeing that happiness is “our being’s end and aim,” and that holiness is the only revealed means of securing it, the definition in question obviously identifies wisdom with godliness. “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” Seek, then, to apply your hearts to the “wisdom which cometh down from above.” (C. F. Childe, M.A.)
The divine arithmetic of life
If ever we ought to practise what has been called the Divine arithmetic of life, it is at the close of one year and the beginning of another. In garrison towns there is a cannon fired at noon, and when people not accustomed to it hear it for the first time, they generally start and say, “Oh my!” so that the gun is often called by soldiers the “Oh my!” People are startled by the noise, but they might start, too, at the thought of how quickly each day passes. How much more ought we to feel the passing of a year !We have known fond mothers who got their children photographed annually to compare the pictures and see the progress that had been made. Were our spiritual photographs compared with those of last year, would we be found to have grown in grace? Have we been as happy as we might have been; have we done any acts of purely unselfish kindness; has any one been much the better for our existence during the past year; have we offered up one uninterrupted prayer? Let the walls of our chambers speak; let our churches, houses, offices speak. Are we more trusting in God and more useful to man? (E. J. Hardy, M.A.)
The true use of time
The man who numbers his days rightly, numbers them not as if they ended anything, but as if they began something. He thinks of them in their termination as bringing him, not to an end, but to a beginning, a beginning for which, if rightly used, they prepare and fit him. You should not look upon men and women as if they were grown, as trees which stand in their maturity plain to your sight. You should look upon them as seeds which are planted, which are hidden as yet, but which are destined to have appearance of full growth by and by. If you will only carry yourself in thought over beyond the time of what you call death; if you will only stretch your lives out endlessly, and conceive of yourselves continuing as living beings with all your present powers amplified and quickened to greater intensity of expression for ever and ever; if you will only think of yourselves as having close and emphatic connections with that which is beyond as well as that which is here--if you will only think of yourselves in this way, I say, until the next world has become as actual and impressive to your consciousness as the present world is, you will then put true measurement upon and give the true significance to time. You will then see what it is worth and what it is not worth. You will then see what it should lead to and what you cannot afford to have it lead to. And seeing this you will apply your hearts unto wisdom. Wisdom is a great word, because the idea it symbolizes is great. It is greater than knowledge, for knowledge symbolizes only what one has received. Knowledge symbolizes the accumulation of facts, the gathering and retention of information, the reception on the part of our memories of whatever has been discovered. But wisdom represents that finer power, that higher characteristic of mind, which suggests the proper application of facts, the right use of knowledge, the correct direction of our faculties. He whose heart is applied to wisdom has put himself in such a position that he can think divinely--think as God would think in his place. Have you this wisdom touching the government of your lives? Do you see your connections with eternity, with its law and its love, with its opportunities and: its occasions, with its joys and its glories? Are you living as those should live who can never stop living, who cannot even remain what they are, but must become better or worse? It is well for us that we can be taught of God. It is well that heaven has not left us in our ignorance. What would the world know of right and wrong but for God? What should we know even of ourselves but for Him? Let us, therefore, more and more accept God as our Teacher. Let us read His Holy Word with profound attention. Let us study Nature with reverent and inquisitive eyes. Let us by every method inform ourselves in respect to those great duties and obligations which deliver us from frivolity and sin. (W. H. Murray.)
How rightly to number our days
I was reading of King Alfred, who, in the days long before the modern time-pieces were invented, used to divide the day into three parts, eight hours each, and then had three wax candles. By the time the first candle had burned to the socket, eight hours had gone; and when the second candle had burned to the socket, another eight hours had gone; and when all the three were gone out, then the day had passed. O that some of us, instead of calculating our days by any earthly time-piece, may calculate them by the numbers of opportunities and mercies which are burning down and burning out, never to be relighted. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Return, O Lord, how long?
and let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants.
God’s return to the soul or nation
I. God doth sometimes desert and depart from His people for a time. Not in regard of their union, but in regard of communion and manifestation. Though nothing is hid from the heat of this sun, yet our souls may be hid from the light of this sun: God doth sometimes depart from His own people. There are some graces that do not open nor show themselves but in the sunshining day of God’s presence--thankfulness, joy, assurance. But there are other graces, that are best seen when God withdraws, and when God is absent--faith in God, and love to God especially.
II. The people of God are very sensible of His displeasure. They look upon it as a very tedious thing; and most afflictions. “O Lord, how long?” Without the presence of God they have no enjoyment, their enjoyments are as no enjoyments: the presence of God with them is the top of all their enjoyments. If the sun be down, it is not all the torches and candles lighted up that will give you a day; and if God be gone, it is not all your creature comforts will give you joy.
III. In the time of those departures their great desire is that God would return. What is the presence of God but the most desirable thing in the world? (Acts 3:19). God’s presence is the saint’s pleasure. God never returns empty-handed to His people. When He hath stricken them, He will let out more love unto them than ever before.
IV. When the Lord doth return unto His people, He doth then repent Him concerning His servants.
1. God doth not repent by the changing of His affection, but by the changing of His dispensation.
2. God will more easily repent of His judgments than of His mercies.
3. How it may appear that when God returns unto His people, that then He will repent Him concerning His servants. Why that appears by the thing itself. If a man say he will go from such a town and never return again, and then do return, he doth repent him concerning the thing, by his return; and so concerning God (Jeremiah 18:7-8).
4. But then, how shall we know in case God be absent, or God be departed, to know that God will return again? You may know it by your relations. If you be in covenant with God, God will return again to you though now He be absent; “Though He afflict you with rods, His lovingkindness will He not take away, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail.”
V. What shall we do that God may return again?
1. Be sure of this, that you keep your door open, the door of your hearts open for Christ’s return. When the master is abroad, the servant sits up to keep the door open for his coming in.
2. Be sure of this, that now in the time of Christ’s absence you neglect no duty, though very unsavoury to you. The more unsavoury the duty now is unto you through the absence of Christ, the more acceptable unto Christ.
3. Be sure that you go and stand there where Christ used to be. (W. Bridge, M.A.)
O satisfy us early with Thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
An early interest in God’s mercy essential to a happy life
1. That a man may live happily, that he may rejoice and be glad all his days, it is necessary that he should be early freed from all fears of death. Will it be said, he may refuse to think of death? I answer, he cannot always banish this subject from his thoughts in a world like this, where so many things occur which are suited to remind him of it. But from this cause of unhappiness, the man who early obtains satisfactory evidence that he is a subject of God’s pardoning mercy, is entirely free.
2. That a man may rejoice and be glad all his days, it is necessary that he should be freed in early life from a guilty conscience, and from apprehensions of God’s displeasure. But from these causes of unhappiness the man who is early satisfied with God’s pardoning mercy is free. He enjoys peace of conscience and peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. To render a man happy during the whole progress of life, it is necessary that he should be early freed from care nd anxiety, and especially from apprehensions of losing what he most loves. But it is impossible that an unpardoned sinner should feel perfectly safe, or that he should be free from care, anxiety, and apprehension.
4. That a man may rejoice and be glad all his days, he must early learn, in whatsoever state he is, therewith to be content. A discontented man is, of course, an unhappy man. But it is impossible that an unconverted sinner should be otherwise than discontented. While the soul is empty it cannot but feel uneasy, dissatisfied, discontented. But far different is the situation of one who is satisfied early with God’s mercy. What the sinner seeks in vain he has found. The light which sheds its radiance on his ath is furnished, not by lamps, but by the sun, a sun which never sets. The water which quenches his spirit flows, not from broken cisterns, but from the inexhaustible fountain of living waters.
5. That a man may rejoice and be glad all his days, it is absolutely necessary that he should early obtain the mastery of his appetites and passions, and be secured against the evils into which they would lead him. And no young man can have any security that he shall not be left to form such habits, unless he obtains that security which is afforded by God’s sanetifying grace and pardoning mercy. Presume not then, young man, upon thine own strength. Where so many others have fallen, thou mayest fall. Against such a fall thou canst have no security until thou obtainest the protection of God. Let Him hold thee up, and then, and then only, wilt thou be safe. This safety is enjoyed by all who are satisfied early with His mercy. (E. Payson, D.D.)
The text sets before us--
I. That which alone can satisfy the soul.
II. When that satisfaction ought to be sought. Oh, to seek it early! how much easier it is, how much more reasonable and according to the order of things, than to neglect it. Let not the frivolities, and the fooishnesses, and the delusions, and the day-dreams of life, cheat you of the one great thing.
III. The blessed results of that satisfaction, if sought and found. The very design of the Gospel is to restore the human race to happiness, and glory, and immortality. (H. Stowell, M.A.)
The prayer and the plea
I. The prayer.
1. The kind of blessing sought. “Thy mercy.”
2. The measure of it. “Satisfy us.” I never knew a scholar who had so much learning that he did not wish any more; or a rich man who was so rich, that he wanted no more wealth; or a man of the world who had had so many pleasures, that he had no desire for more; or one who was so well off, that he was in every respect thoroughly content. There is always a craving for something that we have not. We never can say, “It is enough!” There is just one thing that will fill any heart, and that is, God’s mercy. When a man has got that, he can say, with Paul, “I have all, and abound.”
3. The time of it. “Early”--in the morning. This is the very prayer for young people. They may be said to be in the morning of life. You can never ask or get the blessing too early--too soon.
II. The plea. “That we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” The reason given in support of the prayer is, that it would make those who offer it happy and glad, then and ever after. That would be no plea with a stranger, but it would be with a father. We have here the secret of true happiness. Many would put it differently--“That we may be good and holy all our days;” or, “That we may do what is right, and please Thee all our days.” That is all very good, and one may pray that too, but mark this--the plea is, that we may rejoice and be glad, as if joy and gladness could not be got in any other way. The sooner you experience the mercy of God, the sooner will you be truly happy and glad.
1. It will give present joy and happiness. John Bunyan was so overjoyed when he first found mercy that he could hardly contain himself, and tells us that as he went along the road, he could have told “the very crows on the ploughed land” what God had done for him, and how glad and happy he was, now that he was a pardoned man.
2. It will give future joy and happiness. “All our days.” When a child has got a new toy, at first it is everything to him; he is overjoyed about it, but soon he tires of it, and lets it fall out of sight, and seeks something else. But God’s mercy makes a man glad all his days. The gladdest hour of his life may be when he first finds it, but his peace is “like a river,” and flows on from day to day. And then, when the end comes, it is best of all: “all our days,”--not only here, but hereafter,--and that is the great thing. (J. H. Wilson, D.D.)
I. The deepest yearning of man is for satisfaction. “O satisfy us.” That is everywhere and evermore the cry of humanity. And what a strange cry it is, when you think of it. Man is the offspring of God; the bearer of His image; he stands at the head of the terrestrial creation; he possesses wondrous capacities of thought, and feeling, and action. The world, and all that is in it, has been formed in a complete and beautiful adaptation to his being. Nature seems to be ever calling to him with a thousand voices, to be glad and rejoice; and yet he is unsatisfied.
II. Satisfaction can only be found in the realization of Divine mercy.
1. Divine mercy is that which meets man’s greatest need--the need of pardon for sin.
2. Divine mercy brings all other blessings in its train. Pardon with Him is meant just to put us into a condition, legally, in which He can lavish upon us all the wealth of blessing that He possesses. It is one link only in a chain of benefits, reaching from the moment when it is bestowed right on through the ceaseless cycles of an eternity to come. He gives him a new heart; He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in him; He sanctifies, and gradually makes him meet for heaven.
3. Divine mercy is a permanent good--it endures. The blessings which it involves are eternal in their nature. You cannot affirm this of any other gifts.
III. Divine mercy is to be sought by prayer. How easy, suitable, gracious is this method! (C. M. Merry.)
The young man’s prayer
I. We will make our text the groundwork of a solemn pleading with young men and women to give their hearts to Christ this day.
1. The voice of wisdom reminds you in this our text that you are not pure in God’s sight, but need His mercy. Remember, then, that if you be saved in the morning of life, you will be wonderful instances of preventing mercy.
2. Salvation, if it comes to you, must not only be mercy, but it must be mercy through the Cross. Nothing else can “satisfy” a sinner.
3. I would press this matter of a youthful faith upon you, because you have a dissatisfaction even now. Well, then, I would have you come to Jesus, for depend upon it there is that in Him which can thoroughly satisfy you. What can you want more to satisfy your heart than love to Him? You say that not only does your heart want something, but your head. My witness is that there is in the Gospel of Christ the richest food for the brain. You get Christ as the central sun, and then every science and fact begins to revolve round about Him just as the planets travel in their perpetual circle around the central orb.
4. Our text says, “O satisfy as early with Thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” We never rejoice in the true sense of the term; we never possess solid gladness, till we are satisfied with God’s mercy. It is all a mockery and a pretence; the reality never comes to us till God’s mercy visits our heart; but after that what joy we know!
II. Take the text as your address to God. Every word here is significant.
1. “O.” This teaches us that the prayer is to be earnest. Dull, dead prayers, ask God to deny them. We must pray out of our very souls. The soul of our prayer must be the prayer of our soul. “O satisfy us.”
2. Makes it a generous prayer when you are at it. “O satisfy us early!” Pray for your brothers and sisters. I am sure we are verily guilty in this thing. Those that sprang from the same loins as ourselves, would to God that they were all saved with the same salvation.
3. See to it, next, that your prayer be thoroughly evangelical. “O satisfy us early with Thy mercy.” The prayer of the publican is the model for us all.
4. Let the prayer be put up now at once. The text says, “O satisfy us early.” Why not to-day? Oh that it had been done years ago! But there was time enough, you thought. There is time enough, but there is none to spare. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Early religion escapes the sequel of a lost life
There is a very interesting story told in a book of Dr. Barrett’s of an aged peer, a benevolent and distinguished lawyer and judge in his day. In his old age he was converted to a saving knowledge of Christ. But the story is that in his old age it was almost pitiable to see him at times. When his friends spoke brightly and cheerfully to him, he would say, “I am saved, but my life is lost.” He could not bring back the past, and that past stood out before him in such dark, ghastly vividness that he could not rise above the depression--he had lost his opportunity. Young men, young women, beware lest your lives are lost. True, you may come to Christ and be saved in after years; but the precious hours that are wasted now, without any serious purpose, are wasted for ever.
Make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
Gladness for sadness
Our prayer should be for--
I. Proportionate gladness; that our God who has filled one scale with grief would fill the other scale with grace till they balance each other. I have been told on the Scotch lakes that the depth of the lake is almost always the same as the height of the surrounding hills; and I think I have heard that the same is true of the great ocean; so that the greatest depth is probably the same as the greatest height. Doubtless, the law of equilibrium is manifest in a thousand ways. Take an instance in the adjustment of days and nights. A long night reigns over the north of Norway; in these wintry months they do not even see the sun; but mark and admire their summer; then the day banishes the night altogether, and you may read your Bible by the light of the midnight sun. Long wintry nights find compensation in a perpetual summer day. There is a balance about the conditions of the peoples of differing lands: each country has its drawbacks and its advantages. I believe it is so with the life of God’s people: therein also the Lord maintains a balance. “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” The good Lord measures out the dark and the light in due proportions, and the result is life sad enough to be safe, and glad enough to be desirable. A step further, and we have it thus, sorrow often prepares for joy. It might not be safe that you should enjoy worldly prosperity at the outset of life. Your adversities in business are meant to teach you the worthlessness of earthly things, so that when you have them you may not be tempted to make idols of them. In the spiritual life God does not run us up with glittering virtues all of a sudden; but deep prostration of spirit and thorough humiliation prepare the under-courses; and then, afterwards, stone upon stone, as with rows of jewels, we are built up to be a palace for the indwelling of God. Sorrow furnishes the house for joy. Once again, let me say to you, there is such a connection between sorrow and joy that no saint ever has a sorrow but what it has a joy wrapped up in it. It is a rough oyster, but a pearl lies within those shells if you will but look for it. Once more: the day will come when all the sorrows of God’s sending will be looked upon as joys. Perhaps in heaven, among all the things which have happened to us that will excite our wonder and delight, our furnace experience, and the hammer and the file will take the lead. Sorrow will contribute rich stanzas to our everlasting psalm.
II. Peculiar gladness.
1. Gladness at the sight of God’s work. When we are in deep tribulation it is a sweet quietus to survey the handiwork of our Father in Heaven. His work in providence, also, is often a consolation to us. Let us but see what God has done for His people and for ourselves in years past, and we are cheered. Trouble itself, when we see it to be God’s work, has lost its terror. A certain Persian nobleman found himself surrounded by soldiers, who sought to take him prisoner; he drew his sword and fought right valiantly, and might have escaped had not one of the company said, “The king has sent us to convey you to himself.” He sheathed his sword at once. Yes, we can contend against what we call a misfortune; but when we learn that the Lord hath done it, our contest is ended, for we joy and rejoice in what the Lord doeth; or, if we cannot get the length of rejoicing in it, we acquiesce in His will.
2. Gladness at the revelation of God to our children. No better comfort can be found for bereaved mothers than to see their sons and daughters converted.
3. Gladness at beauty bestowed. Sorrow mars the countenance and clothes the body with sackcloth; but if the Lord will come to us and adorn us with His beauty, then the stains of mourning will speedily disappear.
4. Gladness at our own work being established. To build up the Church and win souls for Jesus is first of all God’s work, and then our work. Why should a Christian work to win souls? Answer: because God works in him to win souls. God works to set us working: our work is the result of His work.
(1) The text prays for our work that it may succeed: “Establish Thou the work of our hands.” Oh, if God will but prosper us in our work for Him, how happy we shall be! It is web weather just now, the damp of sorrow is on all things, and so the seed sown in tears is speedily reaped in joy. Is not this something to comfort us? Let us pray God to send us more of it, that by conversions our work may prosper.
(2) Then we pray that our work may be lasting,--that is the chief point. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children.
The religious consecration of our households
I. Truths suggested in this prayer.
1. That real religion, wherever it exists, is a Divine production in the human mind. “Thy works,” etc. It is a work, and a work of God. God begins it.
2. That they who have experienced its power and preciousness themselves are anxious for its prevalence among those most dear to them. “Their children.”
3. That the preservation of religion in families is a leading object of God’s dispensations.
4. That it becomes the young, as they rise to years of consciousness and maturity, to unite their prayers with the prayers that are offered on their behalf. O satisfy us with Thy mercy.
II. Encouragements to present this prayer.
1. It is a point in which God’s glory, and man’s good, are found to meet and centre. You do not run counter to the tide of Divine designs, but in unison. It is God’s work, and God’s glory.
2. It is a subject to which the richest promises are made.
3. It has been amply answered in every age.
III. Practical hints for our own conduct.
1. Aim to be the instrument of fulfilling your own prayer. Show them God’s glory.
2. Take heed there is nothing in your conduct to counteract your instruction.
3. Ascribe to God all the glory of success. (Evangelist.)
Desire that God would let His work appear
I. The “work” of God, as mentioned here, denotes, primarily, the establishment of Israel in the promised land of Canaan; ultimately, the preparation of the way for the Messiah and His Church.
II. When this “work” may be said to “appear.” It may be described as appearing anew in different periods; as a work, delayed at times, yet “revived in the midst of the years.” Often, after seeming to have let alone His work, has the Divine Being awoke, laid bare His arm, and set His hand a second time to His unfinished work. The degree of piety prevailing at any time is the gauge by which we may measure that progress of this work in the prosperity of Israel.
III. Why it is so desirable that this prayer should be accomplished. The first concern of a Christian is, that his own life may be given to him as a prey; that He who has begun may perform the good work of His grace in his own soul: the second is, that the same good work may extend to others; that they also may be sharers with ourselves of the same salvation.
1. This desire is the dictate of piety,--of a regard to the glory of God.
2. It is equally the dictate of benevolence,--of a regard for the happiness of others. (R. Hall, M.A.)
Work and glory
This psalm has the threefold interest of subject, of authorship, and of association. Of subject, because it contrasts and combines God and man in the most thrilling and yet most natural way. All the greatness of God and all the weakness of man, and this so as to draw man to God in the longing cry, “ Let Thy work appear to us, let the beauty,” etc. And this interest is enhanced by the bare possibility that we read in this psalm, “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” How wonderful was his history, second only in interest to that of our Lord. And then the associations of this psalm--read as it is over the grave of our beloved departed ones. Therefore our attention is aroused when we come to consider the teachings of such a psalm.
I. “Show thy servants thy work” God worketh everywhere and always. Above all in Christ, in the Holy Ghost, and in all the operations of His grace. But man sees it not. Many things hide it. God must show it to him. And here Moses prays that his people may be made to see God’s work. Let us, as we need to, make the prayer our own.
II. “and their children thy glory.” The glory spoken of is the self-manifestation of God. There might, in conception at least, have been God and no glory. But it pleased Him not thus to be. He came forth to communicate, to recreate, to redeem. That forthcoming was outshining. And Moses prayed not only for the generation then living, but for their children. What better prayer can parents offer for their children than this? What better defence against the anxiety on their behalf which they feel so often and so keenly? And God has, in large degree, answered for us this prayer. Let us be grateful for the blessing, and let us hand it on. Never consent that your children should receive a Godless education. The prayer of the patriot, like that of the saint, must be, “Show the children Thy glory.” (Dean Vaughan.)
Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
The beauty of the Lord
We all feel moral beauty to be the highest. Much as we may admire the delicate touches of light and shade in a landscape, the rainbow tints on the rosy-coloured Alps, the beautiful gothic of the arched forest, the fragrant Kentish banks, the human face divine, yet we all feel that given a touch of heroism, martyr-like courage, or persevering fidelity to truth, the beauty of character as far exceeds beauty of face as the soul is higher and nobler than the tabernacle in which it dwells. Blessed be God, the Divine nature can be restored to us, “Where sin abounded grace did much more abound,” and as at the Cross we receive pardon and remission of our sins, so in vital union with Christ do we receive the new nature and the new name.
I. The beauty of God in our character. We cannot have the highest beauty without having God. I do not say we cannot have anything that looks beautiful. Everything that is amiable, considerate, gentle, true, unselfish in human character is in one sense beautiful--but if you look deeply enough you will see that one thing is wanting, and that without life in God, these virtues are only like the broken arches of Bolton Abbey--beautiful in ruins.
1. God’s image is beauty of the highest type.
2. The beauty of the Lord is brought out by the Spirit of God in the Christian. Character is a garment. Men see it. Religion is the life of God in the soul of man, and it blossoms before men. It is hard to see how a man can be churlish, or cold, or morose, or selfish, and yet claim to be considered a Christian; religion is not grace grafted on to our nature, but grace changing, purifying, and renewing our nature, so that we become new creatures in Christ Jesus.
3. In the midst of religious privileges this beauty may decay and decline. The Jews.
4. The production of this likeness may involve severe providences. To bring out the Divine likeness so that it may last, you may have to pass through the fiery furnace. God may put us in the furnace, but He will never heat it too highly: the picture will never be marred--never: “He will finish the work.”
II. The blessing of God on our undertakings. I like that expression, “work of our hands”--because all work, brain-work for instance, has to do with them, and all the forms of common toil as well. “Establish our work!” Can we all conscientiously ask God to do that? I do not mean in a spiritual sense as members of Churches, but as Christian men. Are you conducting your work on such principles that you can ask God to bless it? If not, the distinction between spiritual and secular will not help you. There is, of course, in reality no such distinction. It is conventional. But assuming that you use the distinction, how can you ask God to bless the work of your hands, if it is base, tricky, evil? When the prayer in the text was uttered--
1. It was the morning of a new life. Beautiful prayer that at special seasons. When the daughter is leaving her home, and bride and bridegroom are commencing the battle of life together, having to plan, to achieve the position which circumstances make possible to them. Yes! it is a season to kneel around the family altar, and for the fatherly lips to ask God to bless the work of their hands. So is it when we commence new undertakings about which we are full of much anxiety, and which will necessitate much effort. Who can bless, if God cannot?
2. It was the prayer of earnest men. God does not prosper our laziness, but our labour. Moreover, God meant all of us to use our hands. We want earnest hands. Not that earnestness is all. We want intelligence, thought, devoutness, wisdom, behind the earnestness! Our prayers will be but mockeries unless we have work to be established after all.
3. It was the expression of Divine dependence. The best building will soon show signs of downfall and destruction unless the work be cemented together by God. (W. M. Statham.)
The cry of the mortal to the undying
I. The yearning and longing cry of the mortal for the beauty of the eternal. The word translated “beauty” is, like the Greek equivalent in the New Testament, and like the English word “grace,” which corresponds to them both, susceptible of a double meaning. “Grace” means both kindness and loveliness, or, as we might distinguish, both graciousness and gracefulness. And that double idea is inherent in the word, as it is inherent in the attribute of God to which it refers. So the “beauty of the Lord” means, by no quibble, but by reason of the essential loveliness of His lovingkindness, both God’s loveliness and God’s goodness; God’s graciousness and God’s (if I may use such a word) gracefulness. The prayer of the psalmist that this beauty may be “upon” us conceives of it as given to us from above and as coming floating down from Heaven, like that white Dove that fell upon Christ’s head, fair and meek, gentle and lovely, and resting on our anointed heads, like a diadem and an aureole of glory. Now, that communicating graciousness, with its large gifts and its resulting beauty, is the one thing that we need in view of mortality and sorrow and change and trouble. And then, note further, that this gracious gentleness and longsuffering, giving mercy of God, when it comes down upon a man, makes him, too, beautiful with a reflected beauty. If the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, it will cover over our foulness and deformity.
II. The cry of the worker in a fleeting world for the perpetuity of his work. “Establish,” or make firm, “the work of our hands upon us,” etc. Our work will be established if it is His work. This prayer in our text follows another prayer (Psalms 90:16)--namely, “Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants.” That is to say, my work will be perpetual when the work of my hands is God’s work done through me. When you bring your wills into harmony with God’s will, and so all your effort, even about the little things of daily life, is in consonance with His will, and in the line of His purpose, then your work will stand. If my will runs in the line of His, and if the work of my hands is “Thy work,” it is not in vain that we shall cry, “establish it upon us,” for it will last as long as He does. In like manner, all work will be perpetual that is done with “the beauty of the Lord our God” upon the doers of it. Whosoever has that grace in his heart, whosoever is in contact with the communicating mercy of God, and has had his character in some measure refined and ennobled and beautified by possession thereof, will do work that has in it the element of perpetuity. And our work will stand if we quietly leave it in His hands. Quietly do it to Him, never mind about results, but look after motives. Be sure that they are right, and if they are, the work will be eternal. Just as a drop of water that falls upon the moor, finds its way into the brook, and goes down the glen and on into the river, and then into the sea, and is there, though undistinguishable, so in the great summing up of everything at the end the tiniest deed that was done for God, though it was done far away up amongst the mountain solitudes where no eyes saw, shall live and be represented in its effects on others and in its glad issues to the doer. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
A lovable God
Our times need the doctrine of a lovable God--a God whoso moral beauty may be all around us and upon us. The distortion and deformity of the Deity have long enough followed mankind. The moral beauty of such a Being should be above us, and in man’s heart and life. This “beauty” may in part be seen in the assumption of a long day for the unfolding of the Divine plan. It is perfectly vain to seek the “beauty of God” in the few days that surround man here. It is necessary to chant the words of the old anthem, “from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.” As we cannot take up a drop of water from the Atlantic and find in that drop the flow of the tides, the lifting up of billows, the power that floats all the ships of a thousand ports, and the soft and loud music of calm and storm; as to see the ocean we must grasp it all in its rocky bed, bordered by continents, so we cannot, in the face of a dying infant, or in the adversity of a good man, see the government of love of God. It has boundaries wider than these. We must wait, and, what the fleeting moments of man deny, ask the great years of God to bring. The tides of the mind, the deep music of human waters, cannot be seen in the drop of life. There is a God of justice that may be all lovable. The punishment may be so just, so inseparable from conscious guilt, so essential to the welfare of time and eternity, that it will not make God fearful, but will be one more circle of splendour in His halo of light. Alongside this attribute of justice must be seen with wonderful distinctness the fatherly love. We must give thousands of years of time to a Divine love. Our earth must be seen floating, not in an ether which our chemists shall attempt to weigh--not even in that sweet ether which Figuier imagines to surround some stars, and to be the food of the souls beyond--but floating in a Divine love. (D. Swing.)
What are some of the characteristics of moral beauty?
1. Beauty has no sharp angles, but its lines of continuance are so gentle that curve melts into curve. The truly beautiful life has no breaks, no harsh traits, or times when the better nature seems asleep or on a journey; no sudden starts from moral torpor into fresh spiritual life. The moral life is uniform; varied, it may be, at times, but pervaded always by the same spirit. But let it be said emphatically that this beauty cannot be put on. The blast that shall awake the soul’s rich melody must come, not from without, but from within. This beauty can be sustained only by taking our Saviour’s motto, “I am not alone, but the Father is with me.” The felt presence of God will be efficient beyond all things in keeping passion subdued and temper under control, while we maintain in the daily flow of life that sweet serenity with which everything good is seen to be in harmony. I remember seeing a picture of Joseph’s workshop, representing the carpentership of our Lord. The holy light which encircled the place rested on the shavings, the chips, the plane, and the saw, making it look like a picture of heaven. The painter was right; for with our Lord there was just the same Divine beauty in His handling of the plane and the saw as when He stooped at the grave of Lazarus and bade him rise and come forth. In so far as we can put this spirit into the humblest of work or play we make it divinely beautiful.
2. This beauty grows, or, if not, it cannot be. This is so with the outward beauty of the universe and its changes; year by year the spring in its delicate foliage is beautiful as it comes upon us so full of promise from the lifeless winter; but not less beautiful is the glow of summer; nor is the limit of this beauty reached till the fields bend with ripening grain, the trees with golden, luscious fruit, and the vines are drooping with the purple clusters. But the beauty of character, as that of nature, fades as soon as it ceases to grow. Take God’s perfect law, and look at it as the microscope for the examination of your characters; bring it to the level of your thought, feeling, and conduct for a single day; look close and deep, endeavour to ascertain precisely how your soul would appear with the strictest standard of judgment applied. I trust many of you would find ample reason to be happy and thankful; but are you sure that the microscopic mirror would not reveal to you those defects of which otherwise you were not aware? But apply this scrutiny to your Saviour’s character, and it only brings to light finer lines and richer hues of spiritual beauty; and those who have been long in the holy temple of that Divine character feel that it still grows upon them, and they can see more and more to admire every year they live. Thus it is that the best of men and women can talk of themselves in the humblest terms, not because they are less good, but because they use the microscope of God’s law upon themselves, and therefore see the difference between themselves and their heavenly Father. The more of His Spirit they have the more earnestly they crave for more.
3. Such are some of the characteristics of moral or spiritual beauty; and we need it for our own sake and for the sake of our fellowman.
(1) For our own sake, because without it we cannot in any sense be satisfied with ourselves.
(2) We need this beauty of character for the sake of others; it is this which, far more than anything else, confers goodness and the power of doing good. You will do good not so much by what you say as by what you are. What you say and do for others, and what you give, is the mere multiplicand of which yourself and the soul of goodness in you is immeasurably the larger multiplier; and the nature of the product depends mainly upon the multiplier.
4. Contemplate for one moment the union of strength and beauty in our great Exemplar, Christ; and the degree to which that strength, in Him so peculiar, lay in His beauty of character. As for strength, the world has not seen might like His. You know how the multitudes were silenced into respect by His presence. His days were full of energetic toil, and the prophetic phrase, “travelling in the greatness of His strength,” seems to refer to the momentous journey from His baptism to His cross; but would this might have come down through the ages had it not been for its majestic and transcendent beauty?
5. Take with you on your life’s journey the motto given in our text: “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Seek with strength that beauty that shall make your strength immeasurably stronger; so far as you can see along your path, instead of thorns, instead of briars, show by your faithful conduct that the flowers of heaven can grow on earthly ground. Worship God in the beauty of holiness; not alone in formal prayer and praise, but by making your work itself worship, your enjoyments thanksgiving. Rejoice in the Lord always; and so live that yours shall ever be a happy, lovely service, one that waits not for its reward in heaven, but is in itself an exceeding great reward (A. P. Peabody, D.D.)
The beauty of God
I. What is the beauty of God? Some have said that beauty is the indication of utility, the stamp of the highest usefulness. Others have made it to consist in the harmony of opposites; others in proportion or symmetry; others in conformity to a certain ideal standard of perfection. The saying attributed to Plato comes nearest to satisfying us,--“Beauty is the splendour of truth.” It is the lustre of perfection, the sign or token of a completed ideal. It always suggests the thought of a Being behind who seeks to realize His ideas and express Himself in them, and give a conception of their worth and beneficence. Do not beauty and sublimity owe their power to this, that they are suggestions of the illimitable, the transcendent, the infinite? Once in the history of this sinful world infinite beauty appeared. Divine loveliness spoke and acted among us, shone through the eyes, and lived in the actions and sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth. A beauty more splendid than day and all the jewelled crown of night, more tender than the most ethereal tints of flowers, more sublime than the mountains--the beauty of Divine love and truth and righteousness, of patience and longsuffering, dwelt in mortal flesh, streaming evermore through its covering, seeming the richer and tenderer for its covering, till it shone out in noontide glory through anguish and death. It is a perception of the beauty of God, a delight in it, a desire after it, which distinguish the spiritual man from others.
II. The beauty of God as reflected in man. There is always a suggestion of joy and hope about spiritual beauty. It speaks of a wide horizon. It is the beauty of a day in spring, having a hold of the future, while struggling with east winds and rain; looking on to summer, and not back upon it as do the fairest autumn days. It is the beauty of the rising sun, or of the sky before sunrise that presages a day of glory. Benevolence is the essential element. It is love that is lovely. To love the Infinite One and all Being in and through Him cannot but impart to the soul a deep beauty in harmony and alliance with the fairest scenes in Nature. But it is a strong and abundant life that is beautiful. Strength is the natural and genuine root of loveliness; and if there be anything fair to look upon that is not associated with this, but is rather a tender delicate grace inseparable from feebleness of principle or purpose, it must be somewhat of the nature of a sickly flush. Only, we should not forget that there is a beauty that precedes strength. For this is a characteristic of God’s work as distinguished from man’s, that it carries a measure of beauty with it from the beginning through all its stages. There is one beauty of the tender shoot and another of the plant in flower. Unity is an element of beauty. Intellect requires unity and is pursued through all sciences by this quenchless thirst. Conscience, heart and imagination also desire it, and without it have no rest. If we will examine it, we shall find that in every object which we reckon beautiful there is unity open or concealed. What we call proportion, harmony, balance, order are only modifications of this. But unity must never be so understood as to seem in conflict with freedom. The beautiful is free, expansive, flowing. Unity and freedom are both included in this utterance, as they are in the truth of things--“I will walk at liberty because I seek Thy precepts.” Joy also is an element of beauty. The joy that we get by looking at Christ is healing and softening. It is a joy from beholding beauty of the loftiest and tenderest kind, and must be productive of beauty. Repose is not less an element of beauty. How powerfully this element of calm strikes us in the life of our Lord. He had the repose of a perfectly balanced soul, of strength and love, of patience, meekness, and unshaken trust in God. Hence there is a beauty in Him of which the tranquil majestic vault of heaven and the serene stars are a picture. They who inherit His peace cannot but inherit something of His beauty. Naturalness and unconsciousness must be added as necessary to all the elements of beauty. Let us have simple reality, whatever else we want. The beauty of life is life. We do not make beauty. It grows. We must not seek it directly, else we shall certainly miss it. Now, what light does this psalm shed on this beauty of God? What light does it give on the means of attaining it? First of all, a soul must have its home in God. It must have rest and a centre, and it can only have this in the bosom of infinite love. It must realize God’s eternity. A deep sense of sin is another outstanding element in this psalm, and there is no real beauty possible to sinful man without that. The gladness that God gives, and the wisdom that God gives, are both prominent here, and they are both necessary to work out the beauty of God in us. (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
The beauty of the Lord
There is a relation between beauty and work. In this writer’s mind the two things are indissolubly connected. To him the beauty of the Divine nature is the beauty of an energy ever streaming forth towards some harmonious and perfect end. This is clear from the parallelism between the parts of this sentence: “Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants,” “And Thy glory unto their children,” and, “Let the beauty of the Lord our God rest upon us.” God’s work, then, is His glory and His beauty. The three are correlated as parallel, and therefore kindred, ideas. Perfect beauty is the fruit of activity ever tending towards useful and beneficent ends. You may have a beautiful statue or a beautiful picture, but the highest beauty is when you have movement and development. A painted flower, however exquisitely wrought, can never exercise the same charm as a growing wheat-stalk or an expanding rose-bud. Work itself is beautiful. What is more fascinating than to watch the movements of a skilled workman, a master of his craft? Let us understand, then, that the only truly beautiful life is the active life. The beautiful hand is the hand that has wrought something for the benefit and enrichment of humanity, that has achieved something for the common good. If I were to ask you to name the most beautiful life ever lived upon this earth, you would not hesitate. You would name the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the life whose motto was, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” and whose record was, “He went about doing good.” And herein was its beauty, that though cut off in its prime, He could say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” And I want you to feel that “the beauty of the Lord our God” may be upon us in all honest, earnest doing. No one ever asks whether Jesus of Nazareth was physically beautiful or not. He may have been plain-featured, as was Socrates; none the less is He the “altogether lovely” to our thought. It is significant that religion should be always spoken of in the Bible as a work of Divine “grace” in the heart; and “grace” is an essential element in our conception of beauty. It is the same identification as that which arose in the mind of the psalmist. He is thinking of no mere outward decoration stuck on to hide something ugly, like the plaster and stucco adornments of our modern debased architecture, which only accentuate the native hideousness of that which they are designed to conceal. He is thinking of the beauty which is the expression of an inward life, the “beauty of holiness.” (J. Halsey.)
The beauty of God
Beauty is that indescribable something in an object of sight or thought which awakens in us a feeling of satisfaction and gratification by the presentment of a perfect symmetry and harmony, a true proportion and adjustment, a unity without confusion or discord of a multitude of parts in a complete and congruous whole. And thus far the feeling is one and the same in the region of sense and in the region of mind. The beautiful in nature, the beautiful in art, the beautiful in literature, the beautiful in a person, the beautiful in a character, might be spoken of without impropriety in the same terms and ascribed substantially to the same characteristics, however distinct and diverse its action in these several provinces. The effect, the influence of beauty is, of course, utterly different in a thing and in a person--in a scene or a landscape on the one hand, in a countenance or a character on the other; and yet the same nominal account might be given of both, and the admiration awakened by both might be described in the very same phrase. Even so is it in that beauty which the text speaks of. Like that love of God which the Bible tells of, and which we must conceive of, however inadequately, as of the same nature and texture, so to say, only differing in its intensity and its purity, as the love which glorifies and sanctifies this human life of ours, so also is the beauty of God and the admiration of it by men and angels not to be idealized away in the fear of too much humanizing it; rather shall we dare to say of it, that it is the same quality and the same emotion in nature and science with the human, only infinitely lifted above it by its application to that one object in which there is no touch of defect in the beauty, and no possibility of excess in the admiration. It is still the symmetry and the harmony, the unity in manifoldness, the combination of parts in one consistent and congruous whole, which is the beauty, and which awakens the admiration of God Himself. But now, lest we should lose the thought in words, or fail to grasp the thing signified, just because it is so far above out of our sight, let us mention two or three particulars, the absence of any one of which in the revelation of what God is would be fatal to the beauty, and therefore fatal to the admiration, of God.
1. And we shall all, I think, be willing to place first, and not last, the Divine holiness as an attribute essential to the perfect Being. When a man really feels what sin is, feels what is the hatefulness, the meanness, the shamefulness, what is the wretchedness of sin, or of having sinned; that he even wishes to have it judged, and punished, and slain in himself; that it were no boon, but a sore penalty to be left with, and in, his sin, punishment being excused him;--I am sure that that man would miss in God, if it were not there, the attribute of severity; he would feel that the proportion, that the balance, that the combination was imperfect, if the Lord God were not, whatever else He be, strictly, severely just, of purer eyes than to look with toleration upon iniquity whatever the consequence to the creature that has clone amiss, and let in the tempter.
2. But if holiness is the first ingredient of the Divine beauty, certainly you will all say that sympathy is the second. To have revealed to me only a just God, only a God who rewards or recompenses according to our deservings, or only a God who makes His sun to rise indifferently on the evil and the good, and has made no provision at all for the mighty transition from the one class to the other by an all-availlng sacrifice and by a sanctifying Spirit--this would be to break the unity, to destroy the harmony, of Divine beauty, for it would leave me such as I am, out of the light and the warmth, out of the very reach and scope of the saving regard. I want the sympathy, which can supplement, which can condescend to touch the leper, and avail to say to the dead man, “I say unto thee, Arise.”
3. And we must not end without a third element, and what is that but the Divine help? Oh, when the battle has gone against me, when the good resolution has been again broken, when the severe lesson of consequence has been learned yet once more in vain, where should we be and what, if we might not still look up and lift up the eyes to One who is willing, often as it is, to help our infirmities, who will not upbraid us with sin or ingratitude will we but seek Him again with all our hearts, crying out for strength perfect in weakness, nay, enabling us to hazard the audacious yet most true paradox, “When I am weak,” just then, and then only, “I am strong”? Oh, “let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,” stirring us first to admiration, then to adoration, and then to communion. Let us remember how each one of the constituent parts of the Divine beauty is associated in Scripture with the name of Love. In one single letter St. Paul uses the three phrases, “Love of God,” “Love of Christ, “Love of the Spirit.” In one single verse St. Paul brings together in prayer the Trinity of the Divine Unity when he says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship (or communion) of the Holy Ghost be with you all.” Grace, love, communion. What lack we yet? Only that we stir up the gift; only that with such blessings as ours we starve not for lack of using; only that we east ourselves more humbly upon the goodness and forbearance, and longsuffering which has suffered us all those years, and still waits to bless. (Dean Vaughan.)
Beauty would be said, I dare say, by scholars, to be not a Hebrew, but a Greek idea. And yet the Hebrews had an idea of their own of beauty, and a very original one.
I. That God is beautiful (2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalms 27:4; Zechariah 9:17; Isaiah 33:17).
1. A feature of God which appears to ms go have this attractiveness is His own love of beauty. All the beauty that exists in the universe is of God’s making. “From Him all things sweet derive their sweetness, all things fair their beauty, all things bright their splendour, all things that live their life, all things sentient their sense, all that move their vigour, all intelligences their knowledge, all things perfect their perfection, all things in any wise good their goodness.”
2. A second feature of the mind of God which makes the same impression is the artistic perfection He bestows on His work. The two great instruments of modern scientific investigation, the telescope and the microscope, have enlarged our knowledge of God’s works in opposite directions.
3. There is a beauty of a still higher order, which we call moral, and this is still more characteristic of God. There are some elements of moral character which we cannot see displayed in men or illustrated in their actions without the heart rising up to greet them with delight. Gentleness, for instance, is of this nature. Is there any sight more touching you can see in a home than a strong man stooping to a child, and laying aside his strength and dignity to be its playmate, or in the streets than a father leading his little one and waiting patiently for the toddling foot? The same may be said of generosity. If a man who has been wronged, having both right and power on his side, yet forbears to take revenge and heaps kindness on his enemy, poetry will celebrate his act, and every heart that listens to it will respond. Self-sacrifice, voluntarily giving up comfort and dignity to go down to the rescue of the miserable, commands the same kind of allegiance. Now, all the qualities of this class, in their highest form and intensest degree, belong to God. They are comprehended in what is called the grace of God.
4. One other feature of the beauty of God must be mentioned, because it is the one which the Old Testament writers chiefly had in view when they conceived God as beautiful. This is holiness. God is even called in one passage “the beauty of holiness.” Now, by this word we generally understand a negation of everything impure, absolute freedom from sin and abhorrence of it. But in the Scriptures the word has a more positive and a richer signification: it signifies the perfection and unison of all God’s attributes. No quality belonging to a perfect being is absent from His nature; every quality is present in perfect development; and all are in unbroken harmony. This is very nearly the Greek idea of beauty.
II. The Church of God is beautiful, and its beauty is derived from the beauty of God: “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Is not holiness beautiful? Is there anything else so beautiful? I appeal to you who have seen it. Have you ever known any one who was conspicuously holy; who, when he met you, created in you the impression often that he had just come out of the presence of Jehovah, and that the glory of the interview was still lingering about him; whose very look reminded you of God and heaven, and was an undeniable proof of their existence? If you leave known such an one, tell me if you have ever seen anything else so beautiful as such a character? It is all beautiful, but there are some elements of holiness that have a quite peculiar attractiveness. Humility is one. What a lovely grace that is, especially when it is united with exceptional position or exceptional gifts! Unselfishness produces the same effect on the beholder, and so does the simplicity of a large manhood. But the beauty of the Church and of the true Christian is not only the beauty of the Lord in the sense of being like His, but also in the sense of being obtained from Him. It is not natural, not derived. It is a beauty which the Lord puts upon His people; and it is communicated not from without, but from within. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Man’s prayer for triumph over time and death
I. Man’s character when Divinely beautified. The prayer is that the beauty of God should “be upon us.” Then we shall remain. Our circumstances will change, our condition alter, our bodily powers decay, but upon us, that is upon something that is the actual, veritable indestructible we, a Divine something may ever rest. The “beauty of God” is that something. “All colours, lines, beauties of visible creation and of the invisible heavens are but dim hints of the ineffable beauty of God,” the beauty not of His creation, which is only a partial manifestation of Him, but of His character, which is Himself. This beauty of holiness is the beauty of God. When it clothes, covers, possesses, in a word is “upon” the human character, man is Divinely beautified.
I. What is the nature of this beauty?
(1) Manifold. Exquisite variety.
(2) Complete. No blemish or defect.
(3) Lasting. True character endures. Fever cannot burn out truth, consumption cannot waste away conscience, the axe or the guillotine cannot smite love. When we pray for the beauty of God, then we pray for a character that nothing can consume, or wither, or even enfeeble.
2. What is the method of its attainment?
(1) Right relationship with God. God must be our home, the sphere of our thoughts, labours, loves. Reconciled to God; at one with God.
(2) The discipline of the past. It was upon Moses, when he was old, that the “beauty of the Lord our God” was to rest. Just as it was upon “Paul the aged” that there gathered the glories of contentment, and peace, and heroism, that lit up his brow as with a diadem from heaven.
II. Man’s work when Divinely blessed. “Establish Thou the work of our hands,” etc. Men’s works outlive them. This is true in every sphere. The common mason’s labour has helped to build houses that will stand long after he has become dust. And in the realms of mind and morals it is still more emphatically so. But man’s great triumph, as Moses felt his would be, is in work that God so establishes that generations to come shall be blessed by it. It may have been quiet work. It may have been unseen work, as the hidden under waves of the tide that leave their deep ripples congealed on the sand long after the tossing, breaking surface breakers have been absorbed again in the great sea. Yes, in its results, work done for God and done in God’s Spirit is permanent. The results of the work of a reformer, like Luther, or statesman like Hampden, or philanthropist like Howard, are henceforward part and parcel of the moral universe, as truly as the planets are part and parcel of the material. But yet more permanent. They will last throughout eternity. (Homilist.)
This beauty is--
I. Varied. Faith in Abraham; patience in Job; purity in Joseph; meekness in Moses; earnestness in Paul; love in John; all in Jesus.
II. Growing. Like corn: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear; like the growth of trees: first the seedling, then the young tree fenced round, then the large tree fully developed, with its beautiful arch reflecting perfectly the great arch of the majestic sky overhead; like light: first the twilight, then the silver dawn gradually growing into the golden splendours of noon.
III. Unfading. Earthly beauty grows until it reaches full bloom, and then it begins to fade. But not so with the beauty of God. It grows brighter and brighter, for ever and ever. Time cannot write its wrinkles; care cannot plough its furrows; disease cannot impress its marks upon any of the features of this beauty; death cannot breathe upon its fadeless bloom.
IV. Attracting. Josephus informs us that the babe, Moses, was so remarkable for beauty, that “it happened frequently that those that met him, as he was carried along the road, were obliged to turn again upon seeing the child; that they left what they were about and stood still a great while to look on him.” Thus the perfect beauty of childhood is attracting, and in this it is a lovely symbol of spiritual Beauty. The beauty of God upon the primitive Church drew the eyes of the heathen toward her, and forced from them the exclamation, “Behold these Christians, how they love one another.” The beauty of God upon the disciples caused the people around to wonder, and take “knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” The beauty of God upon the members of the Church has been drawing and assimilating men of all tribes and all ages. And in proportion as her members have this beauty upon them are they successful in making others lovely.
V. Unconscious. A dutiful daughter watches by the bedside of her dying mother; anticipates her every wish; serves her day and night. How beautiful she is, but she does not know it. So with spiritual beauty (Exodus 34:29; Matthew 25:37-39). Thus, like the beauty of stars and rainbows, and flowers, and birds, and children, the beauty of God upon us, not in crescent fragments, but in full-orbed splendour, is invariably unconscious, until revealed to us by those who gaze upon it.
VI. Rare. It is rare as a few flowers amid a garden of weeds; rare as a few pebbles gleaming up out of an ocean of sand; rare as a few star clusters shining on the dark breast of night. It is rare and yet free, rare and yet attainable. Oh, it is wonderful that this beauty should be so uncommon when it is so free! It is universally attainable, for “it is unto all and upon all them that believe.” (John Dunlop.)
The privilege of believers in knowing God’s glory; and the effects of it upon their personal holiness
I. The privilege of Zion’s children.
II. The effects which the beauty of the Lord our God produces; it establishes the work of our hands; yea, most certainly the work of our hands shall be established. The privilege mentioned in our text consists of two parts: a vision of the beauty of the Lord, and an appropriation of Him as our God. The means of this vision and appropriation is usually called faith in the Word of God.
1. The work of our personal salvation is a great work, in which every one is concerned to be established. This is the one thing needful; and until we have some assurance of it, we can never be happy. Let us labour, then, to enter into this rest by faith.
2. Another great work every believer will wish to see carried on, and established, is the furtherance of Messiah’s kingdom upon earth. “Let Thy kingdom come,” he will constantly pray, in the conversion of Jew and Gentile, in the progress of the Gospel at home and abroad. (R. Frew.)
I. This beauty of the Lord our God was originally upon us,--was the primitive endowment of mankind, our highest and divinest excellence, described by our Creator Himself His own “image.”
1. Wisdom and knowledge.
2. Moral purity.
3. Vigour of moral purpose, or rectitude of will.
4. Supreme felicity in the Divine favour.
5. Immortal life.
II. This beauty, or moral perfection, has been lost.
1. By the fall, or the incipient act of human disobedience against God, moral evil has contaminated the whole of our nature. Sin entered, and in its train soon followed ignorance, error, weakness, guilt, misery and death.
2. The moral beauty of our original nature is utterly lost. If there exist any traces of man’s former beauty, they resemble such only as are left behind in the fragments of an edifice, or a city, which a conflagration has destroyed, or an earthquake shaken into ruins.
3. Our moral beauty, so far as relates to ourselves, is irrecoverably lost.
III. What ground there is for hoping that this beauty of the Lord our God may yet be restored to us.
1. We now see this beauty actually restored, in the person of the Son of God in our nature. He is called the second man, the Lord from heaven,--the restorer of the ruins of the first Adam,--by the renovation of the moral nature of all who are in Him,--upon the principle of assimilation to His own moral beauty.
2. The ministry, or dispensation of the Spirit, furnishes another firm support to the hopes of those who are desirous of attaining to the beauty of the Lord their God. The souls whom the Spirit of God renews and adorns after the image of Jesus Christ, shall retain the freshness and the perfection of their new and spiritual beauty for ever; and neither grow old nor grow weary in the felicities of their heavenly state.
3. The promises of the Divine Word are also replete with assurances of the restoration of our fallen nature.
4. The Mediator, Jesus Christ, is now glorified at His Father’s right hand in our nature; and has received all power in heaven and on earth,--power directly official and mediatorial, for the purpose of completing those objects that brought Him into our world corporeally.
5. Our hope, if not founded upon the experience of the saints of God, is yet confirmed and illustrated by it; for what we read concerning those in distant ages, and what we have witnessed in our own days,--of the knowledge, holiness, obedience, spirituality, joy and triumph of the Lord’s people, that we know is attainable still. And since the attainment of a renewed mind depends upon no gifts of nature, no mysteries of art, no advantages of birth, no endowments of education, no privileges of station or rank, but entirely upon Divine grace, every anxious, humble, wrestling heart may indulge the joyous hope of receiving the blessing.
IV. What means might be used by us to promote this desirable and glorious consummation, the attainment of moral perfection, felicity, and immortality.
1. The text sets before you by example, the important, all-important exercise and means of prayer.
2. There must be diligent attention to the Word of God, and faith in it. This is the celestial mirror both of truth and beauty; the very exact, identical reflection or image of all that we are required both to be and to do; not a broken fragment, as the heathens fabled in their classic story of the natural mirror of truth, first given perfect into the hand of man, but afterwards dashed to the ground, and pieces only of which can now be gathered up and fitted together with much skill and infinite labour by the wisest of the sons of men; but that mirror of truth which we possess is perfect and entire,--the mirror of the Divine mind, most pure, perfect, and unsullied. Into this law of liberty we must daily look, not as “a natural man beholding his face in a glass,” but coming thereto and continuing therein, that we may be changed, and till we are “changed, into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (G. Bedford, D.D.)
Beauty from Christ
Modern science teaches us that the crimson colour of a rose is not in the rose itself, but consists alone in the flower’s property of picking out, and reflecting back the crimson ray that mingles in the sun’s white light. And this applies to flowers of every hue. Their beauty is not their own; it is wholly due to the colours which emanate from the sun itself. So it is equally true of the believer. He has no grace of beauty in himself, but all his purity of thought and life, like the beauty of the flowers, is drawn from the Sun of Righteousness. In Christ he is “fair as the splendid, flower-embroidered hangings of Judah’s royal palace.” (R. Venting.)
Work made beautiful
A pathetic story is told of Professor Herkomer, the famous authority on art. His aged father, who lived with him in his beautiful home at Bushey, Hefts., used to model in clay in his early life. Later, when he had nothing definite to do, he took to it again; but his constant fear was that his work would show the marks of imperfection. At night he would go to rest early, and then his talented son would take up his father’s feeble attempts and make the work as beautiful as he well knows how. When the old man came clown in the morning he would go to see the work, and say, with evident satisfaction, “Ha! I can do as well as ever I did!” May we not believe that the hands of Divine Love will thus make beautiful our feeble work for God till it shall bear the light of day, and be perfect to all eternity!