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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 91". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ psalms-91.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 91". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
A song of faith
I. The solitary voice of faith. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High”--how high up that “secret place” must be; how deep the silence up there; how pure the air! How far above the poisonous mists that cling to the low-lying swamps; how far out of the reach of the arrows or shots of the foeman, is he that dwelleth with God by communion, by constancy of desire, by aspiration, and by clear recognition of the Divine goal of all his work! “He that dwelleth” thus, “in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”--and since He is Almighty the long shadow that that great rock casts will shelter him who keeps beneath it from the burning rays of the fiery sunshine, in every “ weary land.” Let me keep myself in touch with God, and I keep myself master of all things, and secure from the evil that is in evil.
II. The great assurances which answer to this solitary voice of faith. Now, is it true, as the psalmist goes on to portray under a double figure of battle and pestilence, that the man who thus trusts is saved from widespread calamities which may be devastating the lines of a community? If we look on the surface it is not true. Those that “dwell in the secret place of the Most High” will die of an epidemic--cholera, or smallpox--like the men beside them that have no such abode. But, for all that, it is true! For suppose two men, one a Christian, another not, both dying from the same epidemic. Yet the difference between the two is such that we may confidently say of the one, “He that believeth shall never die,” and of the other that he has died. It is irrelevant to talk about vaccination being a better prophylactic than faith. No doubt this psalmist was thinking mainly of physical life. No doubt, also, you and I have better means of interpreting and understanding Providence and its dealings than he had. And for us the belief that they who “dwell in the secret place of the Most High” are immune from death, is possible and imperative, after a fashion far nobler and better than the psalmist could have dreamed. We must remember Old Testament conditions when we read Old Testament promises, and apply New Testament interpretations to Old Testament assurances. When we read, “there shall no evil befall thee,” and think of our own harassed, tempest-tossed, often sorrowful lives, and broken, solitary hearts, we must learn that the evil that educates is not evil, and that the chastening of the Father’s hand is good; and that nothing that brings a man nearer to God can be an enemy. The poison is wiped off the arrow, though the arrow may mercifully wound; and the evil in the evil is all dissipated.
III. A deeper voice still coming in, and confirming the enlarging all these promises. God Himself speaks, promising deliverance consequent upon fixed love. “Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him.” As the word in the original suggests, when a poor man presses himself close up against the Divine breast, as a dog might against his master’s limbs, or one that loves might clasp close to himself the beloved, then God responds to the desire for close contact, and in union He brings deliverance. Further, He promises elevation consequent on acquaintance with Divine character. “I will set him on high”--high above all the weltering flood of evil that washes vainly round the base of the cliff--“because he hath known My name.” Loving acquaintance with the revealed character of God lifts a man above earth and all its ills. Further, there is the promise of Divine companionship consequent on sorrows. “I will be with him in trouble.” Some of us know what that means, how we never get a glimpse of God until earth was dark, and how when a devastating flood as it seemed came sweeping over the fair gardens of our lives, we found, when it had gone back, that it had left fertility that we knew nothing about before. “With long life will I satisfy him,” through the ages of eternity, and “show him My salvation” in the glories of an immortal life. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The special providence of God
Rarely, if anywhere, has faith made so complete a shield of God, or planted itself so firmly within the circle of His defence. No wonder we find this psalm called in the Talmud a “Song of Accidents,” that is, a talisman or prophylactic in times of danger. And no wonder the ancient Church used it as its “Invocavit,” to rally and encourage the hearts of the faithful in troublous and stormy times. The question is, How are we to understand it? Is it true? Can a man, because he is a Christian, and fears God, count upon such immunity as is here described? Does he lead a sort of charmed life, clothed with impenetrable armour, which no shaft of pestilence can pierce, so that while thousands or tens of thousands may fall at his right hand, he shall never be touched? We know that it is not so. Is there, then, any way in which we can interpret it, so as to use it with intelligence and profit to ourselves?
I. The difficulty we feel in connection with the psalm is not that it assumes a special providence, as we call. It. This is taught everywhere in Scripture. It is difficult, indeed, to see how there can be any providence at all if it does not condescend to particulars, and take the individual, as well as the community or the race, into account. In the Old Testament its primary concern is with Israel as a people, and with the individual only in a subordinate and secondary degree. In the New Testament the individual is more distinctly and definitely an object of Divine regard. He, and the community of which he forms a part, are equally essential to one another, and that because the Church is not moved and governed from without, but from within; and such a government is impossible, except by the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the heart of each individual believer.
II. The difficulty which meets us here, then, is not that of a special providence, but of the manner in which it is said to act.
1. In the Old Testament the Divine providence was specially concerned in so guiding and controlling the history of Israel, that in it as a nation the kingdom of God, or of the Messias, should be realized. He was to judge the world with righteousness, and the poor with judgment. His reign was to be an era of peace and prosperity which should know no end. Those who were to be more immediately about Him, and to occupy the chief places of honour and authority, were to be His own people, to whom in a special sense He belonged. And round them, in ever-widening and more distant circles, were to be the other inhabitants of earth, all under the sway of the same benignant sceptre.
2. In the New Testament the point of view is entirely different. Religion is not embodied in a national history, nor is the kingdom of God an earthly kingdom, as even the disciples believed it would be up to the Day of Pentecost. Its essential characteristics are spiritual--righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. What made the difference? It was the Cross of Christ. On this stone of offence Israel had stumbled, and been broken in pieces. The kingdom of God was henceforth to appear under altered conditions. The old things having passed away, all things became new. And on this new creation was the impress of the Cross. And how had the Cross so transformed the whole spiritual outlook and hopes of men? It had shown that the greatest evil was sin, and that the righteousness which was to characterize the kingdom of the Messias could only be reached by atonement. Henceforward the great evil to be shunned was not poverty, nor hardship, but that which all along had arrayed itself against Him, and finally had nailed Him to the tree. Henceforth the greatest blessing to be gained was to have His spirit of disinterested and generous self-sacrifice. But the Cross of Jesus was more than the altar of expiation, more than the revelation of a love that passeth knowledge. It was also the consummation of His own experience, the perfecting of His humanity. But the sacrifice of the Cross, it may be said, was voluntarily borne. And though Christians must be ready to suffer for the truth, and to lighten the world’s burden, by bearing it as Christ did, may they not expect to be delivered from those evils which are neither imposed by loyalty to the Gospel, nor assumed for the good of others? Have they no right to look for special protection in times of famine or pestilence; or does God send these indiscriminately on the evil and the good, just as He sends the sunshine and the rain? Undoubtedly He does, and Christians have no right to look for immunity from the ills that are the common lot of men. Inasmuch as they are still a part of a sinful humanity, they must share in the judgments which may come upon it. But does a Christian, then, derive no advantage from his Christianity in such visitations? By no means. For he has placed himself under God’s care, who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, and who cannot allow His servant to suffer, simply because He will not take the trouble to save him, or grudges what the effort might cost. Moreover, he is persuaded that God is acquainted with every particular connected with his trial, the very hairs of his head being all numbered, and that if He chose He could secure his absolute safety. And what reconciles him to the fact that God does not choose? What but the conviction that there is thus to come to him a larger blessing than he would otherwise receive? (C. Moinet, M.A.)
God’s secret and shadow
I. The position indicated.
1. The place. We are to enter and to abide in the secret of God.
(1) God’s Word has its secret. There are some who read it through chapter by chapter, who have a large amount of superficial biblical knowledge, but who know comparatively nothing of its grand, glorious, momentous secrets. There are others who so read it that they grasp the real meaning, the grand spiritual realities that underlie its utterances; they so read it that they catch the very spirit of its Divine Author, so that the views formed and the feelings kindled towards the subject of which it treats, are the same as God’s. Such may be said to enter into the secret of God, or into “the secret place of the Most High.”
(2) Communion with God has its secret. There are some who say their prayers very regularly and very devoutly. So far as outward decorum and forms of speech are concerned, they are faultless. But communion with God there is none. There are others whose communion with Heaven is a sublime reality. The very presence of the Heavenly Father is consciously enjoyed.
(3) The love of God has its secret. There are some, and we fear professing Christians too, whose feelings towards God are those of polite reserve. They know nothing of living in the love of God. But there are others who get into His very heart. They are children.
(4) The purpose of God has its secret. There are some who feel little or no interest in that which lies close to God’s heart, engages His profoundest sympathies, and employs His untiring energies. They have never entered into that purpose, never felt its vital importance, never conceived its glorious design. Never seriously considered whether by their lives and actions they were co-operating with God, or opposing Him. But there are others who have so closely identified themselves with God’s purpose that it is the great centre to which every line of thought, of feeling, of intention, and of sympathy converges.
2. The attitude. “He that dwelleth.” To dwell means a fixed, settled, habitual mode of life. It must be so with our conduct in reference to God’s Word, God’s friendship, God’s love, and God’s purpose. We must dwell in them, live in them. We must ask for no holiday, no leave of absence, there must be no departure.
3. How attained. How can we reach and take up our abode in this the very heart of God? Christ supplies the answer, “I am the way,” etc.
II. The blessing enjoyed.
1. We have indicated what it is to dwell in the secret place of God’s Word. With minds thus furnished and filled we are under their protection. The world’s thoughts, and ideas, and principles of things may assail us, but they cannot do much with us; we know better; we have received a higher education, our minds are fortified with God’s thoughts, guarded with God’s ideas, protected with God’s principles.
2. We have indicated what it is to dwell in the secret place of God’s communion. In that position we get our whole nature animated with holy impulses, sympathies, tastes, and dispositions. We get our whole nature magnetized with the nature of God. With our whole nature thus infused, fired, animated, and magnetized with the very impulses and inspirations of God’s nature, we are under their protection. We are lifted into a higher sphere of life.
3. We have indicated what it is to dwell in the secret place of God’s love. In that position we get our best, strongest, and supreme affections impregnated with the love of God. We live under its shadow and protection. By its high and holy and potent influence we are preserved from the love of low, base, temporal, inferior things.
4. We have indicated what it is to dwell in the secret place of God’s purpose. In that position our energies, our sympathies, our interests, our intentions, and our pursuits are all enlisted and engaged in co-operating with God in bringing about the desire of His heart and the great pleasure of His will. In our labours and toils, our efforts and struggles to destroy sin and to establish holiness, whether it be in our own hearts, in the lives and conduct of our children, or in the spirit and practice of the world, we are under the protection and shadow of the Most High, because we are identified with God’s purpose. (B. Pierce.)
The believer safely dwelling in God
I. The place the psalmist has in mind. Intercourse and communion with the God that made us is not, as some represent, a fallacy. You may describe it as an idle thing; and so might the blind man say of the light of this glorious sun, and so might the deaf man say of music. But the thing is real; and your doubts of its reality lie in this--you want the discerning faculty. You want to be brought into contact with your God.
II. The conduct of the believer. Strip the text of metaphor, and this “dwelling” in God is only another term for trusting God. Try your confidence by these two tests. Is it an habitual, everyday confidence? Did it lead you yesterday, the day before, and the day before that,--has it led you to-day--to cast yourselves on the Lord? Is it a habit of faith? And then--is it grounded on the blood of the Lord Jesus? Is it a confidence in a reconciling, pardoning, redeeming God?
III. The blessing which the believer finds in the habitation he dwells in. This is expressed in almost the same terms in which his conduct is expressed. He “dwells in the secret place of the Most High”; that is his conduct. He “shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”; that is his privilege. Make God your refuge, and He will be your refuge; take Him as your habitation, and He will be your habitation; seek shelter in Him, and He will shelter you; go to Him for refreshment, and He will refresh you; delight thyself in Him, and He will give thee the desires of thy heart. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
A home in Christ
The psalmist has been pierced with the shafts of unkindness, yet he speaks of what he seems perfectly sure when he speaks of his dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, and abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. What is more sweet than this promise?
I. The secret place.
1. Some think the secret here spoken of is that intimacy of fellowship which God’s children enjoy in communion with Him.
2. Others think it has a more definite or special meaning. To my mind it is certain that the secret spoken of contains a promise and an expectation of the coming Messiah. The Wonderful, named in Isaiah 9:1-21, is in the margin rendered “secret.” So, in the text, the word rendered secret is connected with the Messiah; then the Christian’s hiding-place is in Christ.
II. Dwelling in this secret place. He that dwelleth, he who has a home, in Christ shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Every congregation might be divided into those who make their home in the world and visit Christ, and those who have their home in Christ and visit the world. A home in Christ. Oh, wondrous thought! The psalmist speaks of God as a refuge, a home, an abiding-place. John says, We dwell in Him and He in us. He is in all we have, all we are, and all we hope to be or hope for. You might as well undertake to describe a sunset to the blind or music to the deaf, as to talk of dwelling in Christ to one who has never tasted of the graciousness of the Lord. No man knows this but he who is already in Christ.
III. The promise. He shall abide, etc. When God’s love makes a promise, His sovereignty secures its fulfilment. He shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
1. In that shadow the Christian finds protection. We may live and die in its shadow. It is always the same, yesterday, to-day and for ever.
2. There is also refreshment in this shadow. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High has a perfect home, complete in all that can contribute to its safety, rest, and perfectness. Oh, make the experiment! (J. A. M. Chapman, D.D.)
God our dwelling, and in our dwelling
Where is the secret place of the Most High? We can find it by two spiritual lines of measurement, as by latitude and longitude at sea. The longitude, we will say, is the omnipresence of God. All do not practically believe that God is everywhere. Many will acknowledge this in words, while they have no realizing sense of it which makes it of practical value. To know the longitude at sea would be of little use without another element in the calculation, the latitude; as to know the latitude without the longitude leaves the mariner bewildered. Frequently a passing ship will set her signals to inquire of another ship, What is your longitude? though the latitude may have been determined by the sun at noon. Hence the other element of measure to find the secret place of the Most High, though we know Him to be everywhere, is a praying heart. It is interesting to know that the place here mentioned is not confined to one spot. A man may always live under the same tent; the place where he eats and sleeps will always be a secret place to him; yet the tents may be movable, sometimes in a valley, then on the side of a hill; then upon the hill top. So the secret place of the Most High is movable. As there is no latitude at the poles, no longitude at Greenwich, because longitude is the distance east or west from Greenwich and latitude is the distance from either pole, this represents that which heaven will be to us, where there are no seeming distances from God; for we shall no more walk by faith but by continual sight. But on earth, in all our journeyings toward heaven, we have constant need to find the secret place of the Most High, that is, a place of communion with God. The promise in the text is to such as make praying their breath; who hold continued communion with God, referring all things to Him as their fixed habit; breathing out love, adoration, confession, supplication, more intimately than they commune with the dearest friend. The promise is that they shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. This may signify--
1. Nearness. A child walking with you abides under your shadow; you are never far from him, you keep him in sight, within reach.
2. Protection. We cannot estimate the benefit of frequent prayer. (N. Adams, D. D.)
The secret of the Most High
We have here two distinct aspects of the one life in their living relations with one another. The first clause furnishes the living reason for the second; while the second is the necessary complement of the first. The luxuriance of the figures which the psalmist employs is due to the exuberance of a profound faith that has mastered all difficulties and contradiction, and dares to assert to the utmost possibilities of language the perfect security of those that dwell in the secret of the Most High. We are here in truth at the very highest point of pre-Christian revelation with regard to man’s spiritual relation to God, and it would be difficult even now to express the truth in question more grandly and truly than it is here expressed.
I. The secret of the true life. There is something inspringly grand in the conception here offered, that the secret of man’s truest and noblest life is identical with the secret of the Most High. The brute may find its life in the relations of the visible and temporal. But it is precisely in this that man is essentially different from the brute. He is not true man until he occupies the eternal standpoint; he does not begin to live until he has the vision of God. When man finds God’s secret place, he finds the place of eternal calm.
1. Such a life is marked by “inwardness.” In finding the secret of the Most High, man finds his most inward self. He enters into the inner temple of spirit, and feels the throb of life at its deepest point where it reveals its affinity to the essential life of God.
2. Again, to dwell in the secret of the Most High is to know God and be in fellowship with Him. By knowing God I do not mean an intellectual belief in His existence or a correct conception of His nature and attributes. I mean by it the direct consciousness of His presence. The life enters into the inner realm where God is seen, and gazes upon the glorious vision.
3. Such a life will be actuated and inspired by the highest ideals of service. Those that stand in the presence of God are of necessity “ministers of His that do His pleasure.” Those that truly walk with God will walk like God.
II. The security of the true life. There are three stages.
1. In the first (Psalms 91:1-8), the idea of temporal security predominates. The man of God is immortal until his work is done.
2. In the second stage (Psalms 91:9-13), the figures used are more suggestive of spiritual or quasi-spiritual foes.
3. The next and last stage (Psalms 91:14-16), leads us from security and victory to honour and glorification. The relation between the victorious man and God grows wondrously near; it is a relation of mutual knowledge and of mutual love. The language grows indefinite, the glory gathers in nebulous suggestion of a dazzling beyond, the godly man becomes transfigured before us, and a cloud receives him out of our sight. (John Thomas, M.A.)
The secret of His presence
There is some thing about the word “shadow” that always interests, for there never has been a shadow without the light; thus the “secret place” must be a place of brightness. It is a place where God is, for the nearest of all things to me in the sunlight as I journey is my shadow, and he who walks in my shadow or rests in it must be very near to me, so that when I am in the shadow of God I can reach forth my hand and touch Him; I can lift up mine eyes and see Him face to face. I know there is a sense in which God is always near us; He is in all things and He is everywhere; but there is something about the “secret of His presence” to which every one is a stranger until he has dwelt there.
I. The typical reference must be to the holy place of the tabernacle, which the priests were privileged to enter; but Peter assures us that we have become in this new dispensation “a holy priesthood,” so that it is possible for us to enter on that ground. For in the tabernacle just beyond the veil was a glory cloud, and all the magnificence that could be wrought in gold and silver, purple and fine linen; but I am persuaded that even that was as nothing when compared to that which awaits us when we enter the secret place of God.
II. It would be impossible for one to read the verses immediately following the text without being impressed with the fact that the most remarkable results will follow our abiding and dwelling is the “secret place.”
1. In the “secret place” there is peace. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” our Master said, “but in Me ye shall have peace.” I have read that a certain insect has the power to surround itself with a film of air, encompassed in which it drops into the midst of muddy, stagnant pools, and remains unhurt. And the believer may be thus surrounded by the atmosphere of God, and while he is in the midst of the turmoils of the world he may be filled to overflowing with the peace of God, because God is with him. This is true whatever your occupation, if it is ever so menial. The Rev. F. B. Meyer tells us of Lawrence, the simple-minded cook, who said that “for more than sixty years he had never lost the sense of the presence of God, but was as conscious of it while performing the duties of his humble office as when partaking of the Lord’s Supper.” What peace he must have had.
2. In the “secret place” there is purity. I suppose we might have been with Jacob when in his dream he saw the heavens opened and beheld the angels going up and coming down and heard the voice of God, and we should only have seen the dreary mountains round about. I doubt not but that we might have been with Paul when he was caught up to the third heaven, and we should have seen nothing but the humble surroundings of his tent; and I doubt not but that if Paul were here he would see God here this morning, and he would have walked on the street with Him yesterday. Is not the trouble with ourselves instead of our surroundings or our times? Every permitted sin encrusts the windows of the soul and blinds our vision. And every victory over evil clears the vision of the soul, and we can see Him a little plainer.
3. In the “secret place” there is power. There can be no effective service that is not the outcome of communion. Our Lord’s Day precedes the week of work, and this is always the plan of God. That wonderful fifteenth chapter of John is founded on that idea. We must abide first, and after that we cannot help but bear fruit. Oh that we might be so near to Him that we should be magnetized and charged with a spiritual force that the world can neither gainsay nor resist.
III. How may i enter into this “secret place”? Cannot something be said that will make the way plain? It can all be summed up in this answer. None can “know the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.” Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, I am the door, by Me, if any man will, he shall enter in.” There are some places in the Bible where the way seems plain. “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me and I in him.” (J. W. Chapman, D. D.)
Abiding in God
Mr. Meyer says, “The sun says to the little earth planet, Abide in me. Resist the temptation to fly into space; remain in the solar sphere, and I will abide in the formation of thy rocks, the verdure of thy vegetation, and of all living things, baptizing them in my fire.” “Abide in me,” says the ocean to the alcove, that shows symptoms of division from its waves. “Keep thy channel unsilted and open, and I will pour my fulness up to thy furthest shore twice in every twenty-four hours.” Abide in me. The vine says it to the branch, that it may impart supplies of life and fruit; the air says it to the lung, that it may minister ozone and oxygen to its cells; the magnet says it to the needle, that it may communicate its own specific quality, and fit it to guide across the ocean the mighty steamer, laden with the freight of human life.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.
The soul’s experience of God
I. A soul’s experience of God. The humblest child of God has as great a weapon forged for his defence of spiritual truths as has the most learned: they each have an experience of God, and that is a weapon which can never be blunted by any intellectual parrying.
II. The wealth of such a soul-experience of God.
1. He is my refuge--from trouble, sorrow, despair.
2. He is my fortress. The forces arrayed against the soul are not merely powers which need to be coerced if they are to yield their best, but some of the forces are in antagonistic opposition to the soul. At such times as these, what a fortress was to the people of ancient days--a place of secure defence--so God was to the psalmist.
3. He is my God. This is an advance upon the other two utterances. It is a grand thing to be able to say of any one, “He is my refuge.” It is a better thing to be able to say, “He is my fortress, my protector.” But it is the acme of happy experience to say, “He is my friend, my companion, my confidant.”
III. The result of his soul-experience of God. “In Him will I trust!” Trust, or faith in God, is the experiment of the soul in spiritual things, and the only way to a fuller knowledge and a more blessed experience. No longer need the scientist sneer at the faith, the experiment of the Christian, for the man who trusts God in all the circumstances of life is as rational, and proceeds from as rational a basis, as the scientist who, starting from the known, goes on by experiment to discover the unknown. Let your experience of God, of the Christ, of the Holy Spirit, never alter, except to be enlarged, purified, and intensified. This is the will of God concerning you. What are you to do in order to obtain that better experience? Why, this: you must experiment with God--“In Him will I trust”--along the lines He shall reveal. (W. A. Todd.)
To try and preach from this text is like trying to carry honey in your hands. Ere you can reach your friends to whom you would give it, you will find that a large part of it has oozed out between your fingers: or that you failed to convey to others what was so delicious to yourself. My text has been to my own heart sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. Have you been in the Alps, or in some other region where the scenery is peculiarly impressive, and where you have witnessed some transcendently beautiful and sublime view, have you tried to tell your friends what you have seen? How utterly you have failed, your words are all inadequate to give them any satisfactory idea of the glorious spectacle you have seen. Now, the unspeakable beauty of these two words is such that I feel I cannot fully convey it to you. I have seen in these two words such a wonderful display of the Lord’s condescension, of His favour to His chosen, and of the intense delight which springs therefrom, that I feel all incompetent to set it forth to you. However, may God the Holy Spirit give His help, and our meditation shall be sweet. Think--
I. Of these two words together. Now, to get at them, let us think of some of the special occasions in which God’s children have used them and have said, “My God.”
1. This is the young convert’s early confession. See Ruth’s word to Naomi--“thy God, my God.”
2. The statement of the Christian belief. There is one creed and confession of faith. See Thomas--“My Lord and my God.”
3. They have often been used to declare the determination of the believer when he has been surrounded by opponents and persecutors. See old Micaiah when the false priests were around him. “As the Lord my God liveth.”
4. They express the secret vow of the believer as he consecrates himself to the Most High. See Jacob at Bethel--“then shall the Lord be my God.”
5. They have been the deepest possible comfort to children of God in times of terrible trouble. See our Lord upon the cross, when all the waves and billows of judgment were going over His soul--“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
6. And in times of great deliverance. Hear Miriam’s song--“He is my God and I will exalt Him.” Daniel to Darius--“My God hath sent His angel,” etc. May these words be the frequent language of our lips.
II. The first word, “my.” “My God.” How can I call God mine? How can I call that mine which I cannot even conceive? If my thoughts cannot compass it, my heart shall possess it. Love possesses what reason cannot even look upon. But this daring appropriation means--
1. That I own God to be my God.
2. That I do personally recognize him. He is not a god in cloudland to us; He is intensely real and true.
3. That we have come into personal relations with Him, and--
4. That we have appropriated Him to ourselves.
III. The last word, “God”--what does it mean? But that is more than I can answer. There is no defining the Incomprehensible One. Yet we can call Him “My God.” But reflect upon His being near as to--
1. His nature, His person, His essence.
2. His attributes.
3. In what He has done I do not know, but I seem to myself to have talked away and to have missed my aim and object altogether, compared with what I have felt in meditating in private upon these dear and blessed words, “My God.” It is a deep well, but the water is cool and sweet if you can draw it up. “My God”--there is more than satisfaction in the words. If you have no money, never mind; you are rich if you can say, “My God” If the husband is buried, if the children have Bone home to heaven, do not despair, thy Maker is thy husband, if you can cry, “My God.” If your friends have forsaken you, if the unkindnesses of men drive you to say, “My God,” you will be a gainer by them. Anything which weans from earth and leads to heaven is good. I saw yesterday a park in which they were felling all the trees, and yet there were the poor crows building on elms that were marked to be cut down. I thought to myself, “You foolish birds to be building your nests there, for the woodman’s axe is ringing all around, and the tall elms are tumbling to the ground.” We are all apt to build our nests in trees that will be cut down. We get to love the creature, and to say, “My this,” and “My that,” and from this weakness our sharpest sorrows arise. If you build nowhere but on the tree of life, which can never be felled, your happiness will be eternal. For this you must be able to say, “My God.” (C. H Spurgeon.)
He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.
The covering wing
There is here a very distinct triad of thoughts. There is the covering wing; there is the flight to its protection; and there is the warrant for that flight. “He shall cover thee with His pinions”; that is the Divine act. “Under His wings shalt thou trust”; that is the human condition. “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler”; that is the Divine manifestation which makes the human condition possible.
I. The covering wing. The main idea in this image is that of the expanded pinion, beneath the shelter of which the callow young lie, and are gathered. Whatsoever kites may be in the sky, whatsoever stoats and weasels may be in the hedges, they are safe there. The imago suggests not only the thought of protection but those of fostering, downy warmth, peaceful proximity to a heart that throbs with parental love, and a multitude of other happy privileges realized by those who nestle beneath that wing. If we have felt a difficulty, as I suppose we all have sometimes, and are ready to say with the half-despondent psalmist, “My feet were almost gone, and my steps had well-nigh slipped”; when we see what we think the complicated mysteries of the Divine providence in this world, we have to come to this belief that the evil that is in the evil will never come near the man sheltered beneath God’s wing. The physical external event may be entirely the same to him as to another, who is not covered with His feathers. Here are two partners in a business, the one a Christian man, and the other is not. A common disaster overwhelms them. They become bankrupts. Is their insolvency to the one the same as it is to the other? Here are two men on board a ship, the one putting his trust in God, the other thinking it all nonsense to trust anything but himself. They are both drowned. Is drowning the same to the two? As their corpses lie side by side among the ooze, with the weeds over them, and the lobsters at them, you may say of the one, but only of the one, “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” For the protection that is granted to faith is only to be understood by faith. The poison is all wiped off the arrow by that Divine protection. It may still wound, but it does not putrefy the flesh. The sewage water comes down, but it passes into the filtering bed, and is disinfected and cleansed before it is permitted to flow over our fields.
II. The flight of the shelterless to the Shelter. “Under His wings shalt thou flee to a refuge.” Is not that a vivid, intense, picturesque, but most illuminative way of telling us what is the very essence, and what is the urgency, and what is the worth, of what we call faith? There are plenty of men that know all about the security of the Refuge, and believe it utterly, but never run for it; and so never get into it. Faith is the gathering up of the whole powers of the nature to fling myself into an Asylum, to cast myself into God’s arms, to take shelter beneath the shadow of His wings. And unless a man does that, and swiftly, he is exposed to every bird of prey in the sky, and to every beast of prey lurking in wait for him. The metaphor tells us, too, what are the limits and the worth of faith. A man is not saved because he believes that he is saved, but because by believing he lays hold of the salvation. The power of faith is but that it brings me into contact with God, and sets me behind the seven-fold bastions of the Almighty protection.
III. The warrant for this flight. “His truth shall be thy shield.” Now, “truth” here does not mean the body of revealed words, which are often called God’s truth, but it describes a certain characteristic of the Divine nature. And if, instead of “truth,” we read the good old English word “troth,” we should be a great deal nearer understanding what the psalmist meant. You cannot trust a God that has not given you an inkling of His character or disposition, but if He has spoken then “you know where to have Him.” That is just what the psalmist means. How can a man be encouraged to fly into a refuge unless he is absolutely sure that there is an entrance for him into it, and that, entering, he is safe? And that security is provided in the great thought of God’s troth. “Thy faithfulness is like the great mountains.” “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord; or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?” That faithfulness shall be our “shield,” not a tiny targe that a man could bear upon his left arm, but the word means the large shield, planted in the ground in front of the soldier, covering him, however hot the fight; and circling him around, like a tower of iron. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The Lord here compares Himself to a hen covering her brood, and He speaks not only of the wing, which gives shelter, but He enters into detail, and speaks of the feathers, which give warmth, and comfort, and repose.
I. When may this text be relied upon by a believer?
1. In cases of extreme peril.
(1) Public calamity.
(2) Domestic grief.
(3) Personal danger.
2. But texts of Scripture like this are not made to be hung up on the nail and only taken down now and then in stress of weather. Blessed be God, the promise before us is available for sunshiny days, yea, for every hour of this mortal life. You always need protection, and, believer in Christ, you shall always have it.
3. In times of temptation.
4. In times of expected trials. Many a true servant of God has said to himself, “What shall I do when I get old? I am just able now to pick up a living, but what shall I do when these withered limbs can no longer avail to earn my daily bread?” Do? Why, you will have the same Father then as you have now to succour you, and you will have the same Providence then as now to supply your wants. You thank God for your daily bread now, and you shall have your daily bread then, for He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings shall you trust.
5. In the hour of death.
II. How may we expect the text to be fulfilled?
1. It may possibly be verified to us by our being preserved altogether from the danger which we dread. God has often, as predicted in the present psalm, in times of pestilence, and famine, and war, preserved His people by remarkable providences. Strong faith has always a particular immunity in times of trouble. When a man has really, under a sense of duty, under a conscientious conviction rested alone in God, he has been enabled to walk where the thickest dangers were flying, all unharmed.
2. There are some dangers from which the providence of God does not preserve the Lord’s people but still He covers them with His feathers in another sense, by giving them grace to bear up under their troubles. You shall find your afflictions become your mercies, and your trials become your comforts. You shall glory in tribulation, and find light in the midst of gloom, and have joy unspeakable in the season of your sorrow.
3. In yet another way doth God set seal to this record when by His grace having sustained His servants in their trouble He brings them out of it greatly enriched thereby. Oh! it is a great blessing to be put through the fire, if you come out purified.
III. Why may we be sure that it shall be so?
1. Faith enlists the sympathy of God.
2. God’s promise is pledged. You keep your promise to your child, and will not God keep His promise to you? O rest in Him, then; He shall cover us with His feathers, for His own word declares it.
3. Moreover, you are His child, and what will not a father do for his own dear child? Were he a stranger you might take little heed though he were in trouble, in danger, or in deep distress--but your child, your own child--oh! you cannot rest, while he suffers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Under His wings shalt thou trust.
God s protective care
The simile before us represents the mother-bird guarding her young until they can guard themselves. It is protection as a process in training until one has learned to use his capacities for self-protection. The figure before us may be so misused as to emphasize what we may call the “nursery idea” in religious life. God’s purpose and plan is to train man to be self-reliant. As the meaning of all true charity is found in that help which develops self-help, so is God’s method in training man. His protecting help is to make man competent to help himself. This is a wide-reaching principle. The kind of God it discloses is one who has great respect for the creature He has made--a God who has put His image upon man by endowing him with certain qualities capable of growth; a God who puts great value upon the manly, self-sustaining character; a God who expects that when one is a child he will speak as a child, he will understand as a child, he will think as a child. But this same God expects that when the child grows into the man, he will put away childish things. A God who specially puts His protecting care round about the growing time of moral and spiritual childhood, that one may grow up into self-reliant, spiritual manhood--it is this kind of God who is revealed under this familiar likeness. It is truly the mother-bird brooding over her young, teaching, training, and caring for them against the time they must care for themselves. So, also, does this figure show us a certain kind of man--namely, a man who has developed a spiritual vigour and strength under the protecting care of God; a man who has learned from God that he has a mind which can expand with the thoughts of God, a heart which can throb with the feelings of God, a will which from feebleness and indecision can, under this same Divine training, grow virile and resolute. What can come nearer to what must be the true religion of the world as that which shows God protecting man, so that man may grow up into protecting himself? and, again, man affectionately accepting that protection, so that mind, heart, and will may grow up into religious self-reliance? Do we not see in Nature that the picture of the young always under the mother’s wing argues sick offspring when Nature would have growth in healthy self-reliance? In like manner Christian character, if it deserves the name, must be other than an exotic, to be cared for under glass and at a certain temperature. The true likeness is not to a tropical palm in a greenhouse, but rather to a sturdy oak or elm, living and growing in the climate of a North American winter. I know of no better illustration of God’s protecting care rightly used than in the staunch ocean steamer sailing out at the appointed time into the teeth of a hurricane. It is advertised to sail over the seas. The commander is not consulting the signals to see when he can safely set sail. Nor once under way is he studying his chart to find where he can make a harbour. Lighter ships, built for coast service, run for a refuge. Not so the sturdier craft. It is not seeking shelter or protection from the storm. But, with valiant confidence in itself, it moves out into the storm, with much buffeting, some breakages, half-speed at times--yes, occasionally “have-to,” so terrific is the gale--yet with no purpose to turn back, but moving on--steadily, slowly, resolutely moving on. (A. H. Hall.)
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
The reward of the wicked
I. There is a difference between the sufferings of the righteous and the wicked. The same external afflictions and trials may befall them; but to the righteous they are educational, to the wicked they are punitive--“the reward,” etc.
II. The Divine rule in this world is righteous. Under it the godly are protected by God, while the wicked are punished.
III. The righteousness of the Divine rule is not always manifest in this world.
IV. The righteousness of the Divine rule will ultimately be clearly manifest to all. The godly with their eyes “shall see the reward of the wicked.” There is a state where all the apparent inequalities of the moral government of our world will be clearly rectified (Isaiah 3:11).
V. The weak and fearful believer, notwithstanding his fears, shall not perish with the wicked. “Only with his eyes shall he see the reward of the wicked,” while he himself shall enjoy the glorious inheritance of the good.
Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
Immunity from disease
That wealthy promise has not become exhausted by the lapse of time. Rather has the promise acquired a new and deeper significance, and it now embraces in its generous charge the interests of the soul. We move amid moral pestilences. Plague-stricken people are all about us--men and women afflicted with moral and spiritual diseases which carry the germs of perilous contagion. How are we to escape them? The Maser went into the very precincts of the plague, and yet was immune in the foul contagion. Disease demands prepared conditions. If the conditions are absent the contagion is impotent. What, then, was our Lord’s condition when he entered into fellowship with men and women who were smitten by the plague of sin? “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” How different it all was in the life of Judas Iscariot! “The devil put it into the heart of Judas!” The germs fell in the prepared conditions; they found a congenial lodgment, and they bore their issues in an evil life.
1. One of the primary pre-disposing conditions of disease is physical exhaustion. The natural forces are reduced. The energy is spent. The army is driven away from the walls, the gates are left undefended, and the enemy has an open way. Our physical defences are found in the natural resistances of the body. Let these be impoverished, and our security is gone. Let me change the analogy. In the life of the body we are only safe when our income exceeds our expenditure. How is it with the soul? The strength of the soul depends upon the quality of its resistances. If the soul is strong and powerful, the Pharisaic germ of hypocrisy or the microbe of actual vice will gain no foothold. But the soul can become faint. Its defences can be straitened, and the stronghold may then be easily taken at the first besiegement of sin. Now, how does a soul become exhausted? We can use our previous figure: the expenditure has exceeded the income. We have broken correspondencies with our resources. We have ignored the land of rest. Men easily capitulate to the evil one when, by neglect of prayer, they have reduced themselves to spiritual exhaustion.
2. Another of the predisposing conditions to disease is bad food. Diet is not altogether a matter of indifference when we are considering the advance of disease. Some foods are the friends of hostile microbes; they are the forerunners of disease; they prepare the way, arranging congenial conditions. How is it with the soul? Is diet of any moment? With what kind of food are we feeding the mind? Is it a food which predisposes the mind to offer hospitality to the foe? How about our reading? Let us subject ourselves to a rigorous self-investigation. Can we honestly expect our minds to be healthy with the kind of food we give them? Thoughts are foodstuff. Where, then, shall we gather them? “He gave them bread from heaven to eat!” The Lord’s bread will make us immune against disease. “This is the bread, of which, if a man eat, he shall not die.”
3. Another predisposing condition to disease is undisciplined emotion. The bacteriologist has told us that excessive grief and fretfulness open the doors to the invading army of disease. It is not so much some commanding emotional passion which exhausts the body; little frets can do it. We can lose a pound quite as effectually by dropping two hundred and forty pennies as by losing a sovereign. The great point to remember is, that all these dispositions lower the strength and quality of our physical defences. How is it with the soul? Undisciplined emotion is a condition against which we must be on our guard. How easily some people can be stirred into violent emotion! Now, all unharnessed emotion impoverishes the spiritual defences. The devil likes nothing better than to get our emotions well stirred, to make us satisfied with these pleasurable feelings, and then behind our satisfaction to carry on his nefarious work. Emotionalism is the forerunner of evil contagion, and provides conditions for the microbe which will end at last in the bondage of an eradical disease. Let me mention one other predisposing condition of moral and spiritual disease.
4. Our bacteriologists tell us that one of the greatest discoveries of the last generation has been the absolute necessity of scrupulous cleanliness in all surgical work. Our doctors are now vigilant to the last degree in closing every door against the entrance of dirt. Operations are performed with sterilized instruments under the most exacting conditions of cleanliness. The smallest remnant of uncleanliness affords a foothold for disease. How is it with the soul? Is there any need of the same scrupulousness? Are we as vigilant in maintaining the purity of our spirits as the surgeon is in maintaining the cleanliness of His work? Do we not rather treat small scruples lightly, and do we not laugh at the morally painstaking, and label them faddy or puritanical? We retain a dirty little prejudice, or some spirit of undue severity, or some little policy which we persuade ourselves cannot be called wrong, but only expedient; and these retained uncleannesses afford the occasion an opportunity to the enemy of our souls; and through the entrance thus obtained he leads all the forces of darkness and the strong black battalions of hell. If we are to defeat him we shall have to attend to the scruple. One grain of dirt can afford sustenance to a host of microbes. Now, let me recall the glorious promise with which I began. “Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” It is possible for us to be in the world and yet not of it, to mix with sinners and yet be separate from them, to be perfectly pure and yet to go and be their minister and guest. Our only security is in God. In Him we have all-sufficient defences. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)
Safety from disease
In 1854, when Mr. Spurgeon had scarcely been twelve months in London, there was raging there a fearful epidemic of Asiatic cholera. With all his youthful ardour he plunged at once into the work of relieving the sick and the suffering and the dying, and of burying the dead. Weary and worn with much work, he one day came back from a funeral service feeling as though he himself were a prey to the awful judgment and scourge of God. He was passing along a certain street, and he observed in the window of a shoemaker’s shop a paper wafered to a pane of glass, and on which were inscribed in large characters the 9th and 10th verses of the 91st psalm--“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” Mr. Spurgeon said, “That was God’s message to me. I at once took heart, and from that moment I neither felt any fear of the cholera myself nor did I suffer any harm from repeated ministries upon the sick and the dying.”
For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
God’s angels helping good men on earth
I. God has angels at His command.
1. Spiritual existences.
2. Full of vitality.
3. Mighty in power.
4. Rich in knowledge.
5. Countless in number.
6. Vast in variety.
Spirits differ from spirits as plant from plant, star from star. They differ in nature, in the kind and measure of faculty. In experience. Some are older and more intelligent than others. In office. From Gabriel, who “stands in the presence of God,” down to that spirit next in degree to man. There are principalities and powers amongst them.
II. God employs His angels to help good men on earth.
1. Human life has many “ways.” There is the way of the boy, the way of the man, the way of the husband, the way of the father, the way of the merchant, the citizen, the statesman.
2. These “ways” are perilous. There are stumbling-stones at every step; temptations to infidelity, insensibility, dishonesty, falsehood, revenge, etc.
3. God sends His angels to help the good in all these “ways.” They impart--
(1) Sustaining power.
(2) Conquering power.
III. Conclusion. If angels are thus engaged in helping good men on earth, the following things may be inferred:--
1. That there must be some method by which they can communicate with man. What is this method? What is that which is the great sustaining and conquering power in man? Thought. Thought makes the man. May not angels have the power of suggesting thoughts--strengthening and all-conquering thoughts?
2. That the spiritual interests of man must be supremely important.
3. That it is consonant with the highest dignity to minister to the lowly.
4. That it is a profound disgrace to man that he should feel so little interest in the spiritual concerns of his brother. If angels are thus concerned for us, should we not be doubly so for ourselves?
5. That the humblest Christians may take courage. (Homilist.)
Angelic protection in appointed ways
I. There are ways which are not in the promise. “All thy ways” are mentioned; but some tracks are not to be followed by children of God, and are not their ways.
1. Ways of presumption. In these men court danger, and, as it were, defy God (Matthew 4:6).
2. Ways of sin, dishonesty, lying, vice, worldly conformity, etc. We have no permit to bow in the house of Rimmon (Ephesians 5:12).
3. Ways of worldliness, selfishness, greed, ambition. The ways by which men seek personal aggrandizement are usually dark, and crooked, and are not of God (Proverbs 28:22; 1 Timothy 6:9).
4. Ways of pride, self-conceit, boastful promisings, pretended perfection, etc. “Pride goeth before destruction.”
5. Ways of will worship, wilfulness, obstinacy, fancy, day-dreaming absurd impulse, etc. (Jeremiah 2:18).
6. Ways of erroneous doctrine, novel practice, fashionable ceremonial, flattering delusion, etc. (2 Timothy 3:5).
II. There are ways in which safety is guaranteed.
1. The way of humble faith in the Lord Jesus.
2. The way of obedience to Divine precepts.
3. The way of childlike trust in providential guidance.
4. The way of strict principle, and stern integrity.
5. The way of consecrated service, and seeking God’s glory.
6. The way of holy separation, and walking with God.
III. These ways lead us into varied conditions.
1. They are changeful and varied: “all Thy ways.”
2. They are sometimes stony with difficulty: “foot against a stone.”
3. They may be terrible with temptation.
4. They may be mysteriously trying. Devils may throng the path--only to be met by holy angels.
5. They are essentially safe, while the smooth and easy roads are perilous.
IV. But while walking in them all believers are secure.
1. The Lord Himself concerns Himself about them:--“He shall give His angels charge over thee.” He will personally command those holy beings to have an eye to His children.
2. Mysterious agencies protect them: angels bear them up in their hands, as nurses carry little children. Wonderful tenderness and power! Angels acting as servants to men!
3. All things are on their side, both visible and invisible. Command is laid on all to protect the saints (Psalms 71:3).
4. Each one is personally watched over. “Charge over thee to keep thee” (Isaiah 42:6; Genesis 28:15).
5. That watchfulness is perpetual--“All thy ways” (Psalms 121:3-4).
6. This guard also confers honour. How noble a thing to have the courtiers of heaven for a corps de garde!
7. All this comes to them by Jesus, whose the angels are, and whom they serve (Isaiah 43:4).
1. See how the lowest employment is consistent with the highest enjoyment:--Keeping guard over the Lord’s stumbling children is no discredit to angels.
2. How cheerfully we should watch over others! How vigorously should we hold them up whenever it is in our power. To cast off a stumbling brother is not angelic, but the reverse.
3. How safe we ought to feel, how fully trustful we ought to be. Alexander slept soundly, “for,” said he, “Parmenio wakes.”
4. How holy we should be with such holy ones for watchers! Great privileges involve heavy responsibilities. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Angels our guardians in trifles
The Scriptural representation brings down the ministration of angels to what appears trivial and insignificant, in place of confining it to some great crisis in the history of the righteous. And it is this fact which is so forcibly set before us by our text. For what contrast can be greater? We direct you to the examining whatsoever is told you in the Bible as to the nature and endowments of angels. You cannot come from such an examination but with minds fraught with a persuasion of the greatness and gloriousness of the Heavenly Hosts, impressed with a sense of the vastness of their capacities, the splendour of their excellence, the majesty of their strength. And then we set you to the considering what occupation can be worthy of creatures thus preeminently illustrious; not allowing you indeed to indulge the excursions of imagination, which might rapidly hurry you into the invisible world, and there place before you the thrones and dominions of those whom God is pleased to honour as His instruments in the government of the universe; but confining you to the single truth, that angels have offices to perform to the Church, and that every righteous man is a subject of their ministrations. I want a guardianship which will go with me to my everyday duties, which will be around me in my everyday trials, which shall attend me in the household, in the street, in my business, in my prayers, in my recreations; which I may be aware of as watchful where there is no apparent peril, and which I may be assured of as sufficient where there is the worst. And such a guardianship is revealed to me, when the hosts of heaven are affirmed to be employed on the protecting me against the most trifling accident. Oh! it might not do much towards cheering and elevating the poor and unknown of the flock, or towards the daily, hourly upholding of such as have higher places to fill, to be told of angels as encamping, as they encamped about Elisha, crowding the mountain with chariots of fire and horses of fire, when the King of Syria sent a great host to take the man of God. It cannot be often, if ever, that there is anything parallel to this peril of the prophet. But it just brings the celestial armies, in all their powerfulness, into the scenes of ordinary life--in other words, it gives to the doctrine of a Divine providence all that extensiveness, that individuality, that applicability to the most inconsiderable events, as well as that adequacy to the most important, which we require, if the doctrine is to be of worth and of efficacy, at all times, to all ranks, and in all cases--to be told that God has commissioned angels, the mightiest of His creatures, to bear us up in their hands, not lest we fall over a precipice, come beneath an avalanche, sink in a torrent, but lest at any time we hurt our foot against a stone. We are far, however, from being content with this view of the passage. There is indeed something that is exquisitely soothing and encouraging in the thought that angels, as ministering spirits, are so mindful of us that they look to the very pebbles which might cause us to trip;--how can we be other than safe if we do but trust in the Lord, when there is such care for our safety that the highest of created beings sedulously remove the least impediments, or watch that we surmount them? But this proceeds on the supposition that the hurting the foot against a stone is a trivial thing. We have spoken of the contrast in the text as though it were matter of surprise, that such an instrumentality as that of angels should be employed to so insignificant an end as that of preventing the hurting the foot against a stone. But is it an insignificant end? Is there, after all, any want of keeping between the agency and the act, so that there is even the appearance of angels being unworthily employed, employed on what is beneath them, when engaged in bearing us up, lest at any time we hurt the foot against a stone? Nay, the hurting the foot against a stone has often laid the foundation of fatal bodily disease: the injury which seemed too trifling to be worth notice has produced extreme sickness, and ended in death. Is it different in spiritual respects, in regard of the soul, to which the promise in our text must be specially applied? Not a jot. Or, if there be a difference, it is only that the peril to the soul from a slight injury is far greater than that to the body: the worst spiritual diseases might commonly be traced to inconsiderable beginnings. There is many a man who evinces, for a time, a steadfast attention to religion, walking with all care in the path of God’s commandments, using appointed means of grace, and avoiding occasions of sin, but who, after a while, in the expressive language of Scripture, leaves his first love, declines from spirituality, and is dead, though he may yet have a name to live. But how does it commonly happen that such a man falls away from the struggle for salvation, and mingles with the multitude that walk the broad road? Is it ordinarily through some one powerful and undisguised assault that he is turned from the faith, or over one huge obstacle that he falls to rise not again? Not so. It is almost invariably through little things that such a man destroys his soul. He fails to take notice of little things, and they accumulate into great. He concedes in little things, and thus gradually gives up much; he relaxes in little things, and thus in time loosens every bond. Because it is a little thing, he counts it of little moment; utterly forgetting that millions are made up of units, that immensity is constituted of atoms. Because it is only a stone, a pebble, against which his foot strikes, he makes light of the hindrance; not caring that he is contracting a habit of stumbling or not observing that, whenever he trips, there must be some diminution in the speed with which he runs the way of God’s commandments, and that, however slowly, these diminutions are certainly bringing him to a stand. Learn, from what angels are intent to do for you, what you should be earnest in endeavouring to do for yourselves. Those glorious, though invisible, beings bestow not their vigilance and carefulness on what is unworthy so lofty an instrumentality. They would not give such earnest heed to pebbles in the way, if it were not that pebbles are what men stumble over till precipitated into perdition, or what they mount upon till elevated into excellence. And if it might make you feel as though it were only at some great crisis, under some extraordinary temptation, or confronted by more than common enemies, that you had need for anxiety, effort, and prayer, to be told of angels as attending you to ward off the thunderbolt, or chain the tempest, oh, let it teach you how easy a thing it is to lose the soul, from what insignificant beginnings may fatal disease rise, with what unwearied earnestness you should avoid disobeying God in trifles, conforming to the world in trifles, relaxing in duty in trifles, to be told that angels, creatures of surpassing splendour and might, are commissioned to bear us up in their hands, not lest at any time we rush into the lion’s den, or fall from the mountain top, but “lest at any time we hurt the foot against a stone.” (H. Melvill, B.D.)
A little boy asked his mother to let him lead his little sister out on the green grass. She had just begun to run alone, and could not step over anything that lay in the way. His mother told him he might lead out the little girl, but charged him not to let her fall. I found them at play, very happy in the field. I said, “You seem very happy, George? Is this your sister?” “Yes, sir.” “Can she walk alone?” “Yes, sir, on smooth ground.” “And how did she get over these stones which lie between us and the house?” “Oh, sir, mother charged me to be careful that she did not fall, and so I put my hands under her arms, and lifted her up when she came to a stone, so that she need not hit her little foot against it.” “That is right, George. And I want to tell you one thing. You now see how to understand that beautiful text, ‘ He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.’ God charges His angels to lead and lift good people over difficulties, just as you have lifted little Ann over these stones. Do you understand it now?” “Oh, yes, sir, and I never shall forget it while I live.” Can one child thus take care of another, and cannot God take care of those who put their trust in Him? Surely He can; and there is not a child among you here to-day, over whom He is not ready to give His holy angels charge. (Christian Herald.)
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder.
This promise refers not only to the reptiles and wild beasts of outwards evil, but also to evils in which the deadliness of sin is concentrated against our individual hearts--the evil thoughts and deeds and words and habits that assault and hurt the soul. The lion is that inward sin, that special impulse and temptation which has most power against you. It is the favourite vice against which you are weakest. Oh! let none of us shirk the momentous question. Are you, or are you not, wrestling with; have you, or have you not, conquered the sin which doth most easily beset you? Let a man but once give himself over to a besetting and unrepented sin, and all else becomes in vain. Therefore, as you love your lives, enter alone, and with awful resolution, the dark caverns of your own hearts, face once for all the lion who lies lurking there, lay aside utterly the fancy that he can remain there without destroying you, give up the idle notion that you can fence yourself round against him by reason, or by philosophy, or by prudential reserves, or by vague procrastinations of the struggle. Nothing will save you but desperate wrestling with all the gathered forces of your life intensified by grace and prayer. But notice that the more early this battle is undertaken the more surely is it won. Hercules in the legend, while yet an infant in the cradle, strangles the serpent sent to slay him. He who strangles serpents in his youth will slay monsters in his manhood; he of whom the grace of God has taken early hold, and who has early strength to conquer temptation is not likely later on to lose his self-reverence and his self-control; if in the flush of youth he has stood at the feet of the law he will be little likely to revolt afterwards. Victory is won more easily at fifteen than at twenty, and more easily at twenty than at thirty, and a hundredfold more easily at thirty than at sixty. And alas! which of us has not been in one way or another defeated? Which of us can encounter that poison-breathing lion in the dark cavern of his heart, and strangle it fearlessly as once he might have done? But, lastly, lest such thoughts should tempt any one to despair, let me add at once that it is never too late to fight, never too late to mend, never impossible to slay the lion within you, and to tread the young lion and the dragon under foot. Was not King David a murderer and an adulterer, and yet God gave him back the clean heart and the free spirit? Was not King Manasseh an apostate and a worshipper of Moloch; and yet did he not learn to know that the Lord was God? And was not John Bunyan once a godless tinker; and did not he grow up to write the “Pilgrim’s Progress”? If you have sinned with these, cannot you with these repent? (Dean Farrar.)
Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him.
The character which God approves
I. The character which God approves. It is founded in the knowledge of Himself; it is established in the love of Himself, which that knowledge naturally inspires, and it is manifested and completed in the worship of Himself, which is the genuine expression of that powerful and animating affection which we are bound to cultivate.
II. The privileges which belong to this character. How great a satisfaction and relief is it in the time of affliction to have the company of a faithful and affectionate friend, who takes a part in our sorrow, who tenderly hears all our complaints! who kindly watches over our weakness! Such friends are the precious gifts of God. But they cannot be always near to each of us, and in many cases, all their attentions and sympathy are fruitless. Is there, then, no eye to see, and no powerful hand to assuage the sorrows of the heart, and the pains of sinking nature? Yes--“I.” saith the Lord, “will be with you!” (J. L. Adamson.)
A good man and the great God
I. A good man in relation to the great God.
1. He loves God. “He hath set his love upon Me.” All his affections are set on God; in Him his soul reposes.
2. He knows God. “He hath known My name.” He knows Him, not merely with the intellect, but with the heart, experimentally. God’s “name” is Himself. You can only really know a man as you sympathize with him.
3. He worships God. “Call upon me.”
II. The great God in relation to the good man. “Because” the good man is thus in relation to God, God does two things for him.
1. Delivers him. “ Therefore will I deliver him.” Delivers him from all evils, natural and moral.
2. Dignifies him. “I will set him on high,” where he shall have the sublimest views, enjoy the greatest security, command the greatest attention and respect. (Homilist.)
The favourite of God
I. What God says of him.
1. “He knows My name.”
(1) As a sin-hating, sin-avenging God! and this knowledge was a means of leading him to a deep sense of his own personal corruption, guilt, and danger as a sinner.
(2) As concentrated in the name of Jesus, who “shall save His people from their sins.”
2. “He hath set his love upon Me.” In the love of a Divinely-illuminated believer there is--
(3) Delightful complacency.
3. “He shall call upon Me.” “A holy heart,” says Leighton, “is the temple of God, and therefore must be a house of prayer.”
II. What God says to him.
1. There are some important truths implied. Though persons may be the objects of Divine favour, yet they are not exempt from trials and crosses of various kinds. Though the guilt of sin be taken away, there remains some of the effects of it, which God’s people feel while in the body; and though they are sinners saved by grace, yet they are still on probation for eternity, and exposed to temptations, and pains, and sufferings, and to death itself.
2. There are some important truths expressed. The Lord’s eye of infinite love is always fixed upon His suffering children; His ear of infinite love is wakefully attentive to their cry; His hand of infinite love is exerted to support them under their troubles, and finally to exalt them above them. (W. Dawson.)
Love must be fixed on God
Now, that is not a state to be won and kept without much vigorous, conscious effort. The nuts in a machine work loose; the knots in a rope “come untied,” as the children say. The hand that clasps anything, by slow and imperceptible degrees loses muscular contraction, and the grip of the fingers become slacker. Our minds and affections and wills have that same tendency to slacken their hold of what they grasp. Unless we tighten up the machine it will work loose, and unless we make conscious efforts to keep ourselves in touch with God, His hand will slip out of ours before we know that it is gone, and we shall fancy that we feel the impressions of the fingers long after they have been taken away from our neglectant palms. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I will set him on high, because he hath known My name.--
The name of God known
Knowing by sight and knowing by name are the two expressions we use in common conversation to indicate a slight and superficial acquaintance with any one. To say that we know a man by name, and only so, is to lay claim to the least possible acquaintanceship, and yet God’s declaration runs, “I will set him on high because he hath known My name.” Evidently one of two things is true. Either the preparation needed for entrance into heaven is a very slight and trivial one, being the mere ability to remember and repeat a given word; or else there must be in this Bible phrase, “knowing God’s name,” a vast deal more meaning than appears. Without doubt we are all agreed in favour of the second of the two alternatives. In modern life proper names are given in such an artificial way that we have come almost to forget the original purpose and design of names. But when we come to look into the matter we find that there is more in a name than this, or, at least, that there ought to be. Consider, by way of illustration, the method a naturalist, a chemist let us say, follows in assigning names to the materials with which he has to deal. He gives to things names that tell their own story--names that to the practised eye reveal in a moment the nature of the thing named. When a chemist discovers a new compound he does not name it at random, he does not choose a name simply because it strikes his fancy; indeed, he has really no choice at all in the matter, for the very laws of his science compel him to assign to the new substance a name which tells exactly, by means of a pre-arranged system of letters and numbers, just what the ingredients are, and in precisely what proportions they are mingled. Thus with the chemist to know the name of anything is equivalent to knowing the nature of it. Of course, taking men as they are and the world as it is, the application of this principle to proper names would be out of the question. And yet in primitive communities, and in that state of society’ which we find depicted in the earlier books of Scripture, some approach to this method of assigning names according to nature is observed. The proper names in the Book of Genesis almost all of them point to some personal characteristic either of body or mind in the bearer of the name. With these thoughts fresh in our minds we shall be better able, I think, than without them we could have been, to appreciate the singular stress laid in Scripture upon the importance of knowing God’s name. What is really meant is this, that man’s highest privilege, the end and purpose for which he was created, is to know God. But notice this: Every stage, every epoch, era, crisis in this progressive revelation of God has been marked by the annunciation of a name (Genesis 17:1; Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:3). Just is proportion to men’s enlarged knowledge of the nature of God has been their need of a new name for Him, not so much to replace as to supplement the old name. In other words, the names of God are so many tide-marks to indicate the continuous rise of revelation. The risen Christ is speaking to the eleven on a mountain in Galilee. They are there by an appointment made on the day of the Resurrection. They are alone together. They are soon to part. The movement is one when we naturally listen for a word of power. Now, if ever, is the time for the whole substance of the revelation which this Christ has come to bring to be compressed into a sentence. It is spoken: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This is the Christian name of God. This is the new dispensation ushered in. Is God the Father our Father? Do we know Him as the provident and faithful parent who cares for all our cares, who watches for our need, who lifts us when we stumble and strengthens us when we stand? Do we look upon the world we live in as His workmanship? Do its glory and its beauty, its wealth of storm and sunshine, speak to us of Him? Is God the Son our Saviour? Do we accord anything more than a cold assent to those sentences of the Creed that tell how for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and, in the dreariness and isolation of a poor man’s lot, toiled, and wept, and prayed, and suffered? Do we really find in Him and in His Cross a refuge when conscience upbraids us and the thought of guilt lies heavy on the heart? Is God the Holy Ghost our Sanctifier? All unworthy of so Divine a guest, do we still believe that He is our guest, and that He dwells within us? Do we supplicate His greater nearness and dread the thought of grieving Him away? Are we willing that His presence should be to us a cleansing fire, burning away all that is base and worthless in us? The doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is precious to believers, not on account of its title; no special virtue is claimed for that, but simply because it faithfully reflects what the Scriptures teach about the being of God. The Bible tells us plainly that God is one. The Bible tells us plainly that God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The doctrine of the Trinity couples together these two declarations, and affirms of them that they cannot be conflicting, that they must be harmonious. That is the whole of it. The Church does not stultify herself by asserting that three means the same thing as one, or that one equals three. But what the Church in this instance does is merely what natural science in a hundred instances does--she affirms two truths, the relations between which can only be dimly discerned, and, having asserted them, she lets them stand. There are motions of the heavenly bodies that cannot be reconciled with Newton’s law of gravitation. But does astronomy deny either the fact of the motions or the truth of the law? No; she accepts both, and bides her time, hoping for fuller light. The doctrine of the Trinity of God in no sense militates against the doctrine of the Unity of God. Indeed, the assertion of the Unity is quite as much an essential feature of the doctrine as is the assertion of the Trinity, for the ancient faith is this: “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” (W. R. Huntington, D.D.)
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him.
Four great promises
Peter speaks of “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). The promises of the text are among this number.
I. He will answer their prayers. He answers--
4. More abundantly than we ask.
II. He will be with them is trouble. We cannot escape trouble in this world (Job 5:7). In trouble many persons are forsaken of their friends. But God is the companion and friend who is nearest to us when we need Him most. In poverty, persecution, sickness and death He will be with us.
III. He will deliver them.
2. By unexpected means.
IV. He will honour them. It is not wrong to seek honour, but we should seek the best (Romans 2:7; John 5:4; John 5:44). God honoured Moses, Joshua, David, Ruth. These promises belong only to the people of God. (Anon.)
Prayer and its answer
I. A declaration. God has said in positive terms, “He shall call upon Me.” It therefore does not rest with the creature, whether he will call upon Him or not; it is not a matter poised in the balances of the creature, whether he shall pray or not. God has not left it to man, whether he shall take up prayer or lay aside prayer, but He has made it a part of His own sovereign appointments, of His own eternal decrees, which can no more be frustrated than salvation itself. Therefore this soul, that “dwells in the secret place of the Most High”--“he shall call upon God.” “He shall call upon Me.” When shall he call? Why, when the Lord pours out “the Spirit of grace and of supplications”; when the Lord lays wants upon his heart; when the Lord brings conviction into his conscience; when the Lord brings trouble into his soul. Then to call upon the Lord is no point of duty, which is to be attended to as a duty; it is no point of legal constraint, which must be done because the Word of God speaks of it; but it is a feeling, an experience, an inward work, which springs from the Lord’s hand, and which flows in the Lord’s own Divine channel.
II. A promise. “I will answer him.” What will He answer? Why, He will answer those prayers, which He Himself has indited. He will answer those wants, which He Himself has created. He will answer those hungerings, which He Himself has produced. But the answer that God gives, He gives in His own time. And I believe many of the children of God have had to cry to Him for days and weeks and months and years. But sometimes the Lord is pleased to answer our prayers more immediately; He brings us into those straits and troubles from which we cannot extricate ourselves, and then will answer our prayers and fulfil the promise. But perhaps it is in such a way as we least expect; and yet in such a way as most glorifies Him. We say, “Lord, make me rich.” He says, “I will; but thou must first be made poor.” We say, “Lord, let me have a precious view of Christ.” “I will; but you must first have a wretched view of self.” “Let me know the riches of Christ’s blood.” “I will; but you must first know the depth of your guilt.” (J. C. Philpot.)
You may not get what you fancy you need. You may not get this, that, or the other blessing which you ask, for perhaps they are not blessings. We are not always good at translating our needs into words, and it is a mercy that there is Some One who understands what we do want a great deal better than ourselves. But if below the special petition there lies the cry of a heart that calls for the living God, then, whether the specific petition be answered or dispersed into empty air will matter comparatively little. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The honour God puts on His faithful servants
The biographer of the Countess of Huntingdon tells how, “One day at court the Prince of Wales inquired of Lady Charlotte Edwin where Lady Huntingdon was, that she so seldom visited the court. Lady Charlotte replied, with a sneer, ‘I suppose praying with her beggars.’ The Prince shook his head, and, turning to Lady Charlotte, said, ‘Lady Charlotte, when I am dying, I think I shall be happy to seize the skirt of Lady Huntingdon’s mantle to lift me with her up to heaven.’” (R. Pitman.)
With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.
Long life desirable
Were it possible, angels perhaps would gladly exchange their seats of bliss, their harps of gold, and their crowns of glory, for the opportunity of playing the part we have in the great drama of the universe.
I. Because of the knowledge of God which we may here acquire. The more we know of God the more we shall love Him, and the more we love Him the more readily and efficiently shall we serve Him, and the more efficiently we serve Him the more exquisite the felicity we shall enjoy in His service. Now, there is a knowledge of God which we may acquire in the present life which we shall not have the opportunity of acquiring again. The method by which God is conducting the affairs of our world is different from any other; but it is only for a time. It has been adopted to secure a certain purpose, when that is secured it will cease (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28). Let us, then, improve the shining hour. If every thought of God will augment our eternal happiness and joy, let us seek to make the most and the best of life, by acquiring as full and comprehensive a knowledge of Him as the present life and state will admit.
II. Because of the grace of God which we may here experience. As the sick child has a fuller and more demonstrative proof of the care, tenderness, and affection of an earthly parent than the child in heath, so we have a fuller and more demonstrative proof of the care, tenderness, and affection of our Heavenly Parent than even angels can have. Think of the constant attention the tender care, the loving forbearance required on the part of God to keep us from falling, to support us under trial, to bear with our mistakes and blunders, our fears and unbelief.
III. Because of the obedience to God which we may here display. We are now encompassed with foes, beset with temptations, surrounded by opposing influences, and some of these are of the most subtle and alluring character. To obey God now, to pursue a course of unswerving adherence to His will and command now, is to give Him a higher and stronger proof of our fidelity and love than we shall have the opportunity of giving Him in any future state. And is God indifferent to such a proof of faithfulness and affection? He appreciates it with pleasure; He contemplates it with delight.
IV. Because of the work for God which we may here accomplish.
V. Because of the reward which we may here obtain. The right employment of every talent will ensure the more hearty commendation of the Master. (B. Preece.)
Christianity and longevity
It is high time that religion joined the hand of medical science in attempting to improve the world’s longevity. Adam lived 930 years. Methusaleh lived 969 years. As late in the history of the world as Vespasian, there were at one time in his empire forty-five people 185 years old. So far down as the sixteenth century, Peter Zartan died at 185 years of age. I do not say that religion will ever take the race back to antediluvian longevity, but I do say the length of human life will be greatly improved, and a person will be called a child at 100 years of age (Isaiah 65:20). Religion has only just touched our world. Give it full swing for a few centuries and who can tell what will be the strength of man and the beauty of woman, and the longevity of all?
I. Religion makes the care of our physical health a positive Christian duty. The Christian man lifts this whole problem of health into the accountable and the Divine. He says, “God has given me this body, and He has called it the temple of the Holy Ghost, and to deface its altars, or to mar its walls, or crumble its pillars, is a God-defying sacrilege.” So wonderful are these bodies that God names His own attributes after different parts of them. His omniscience--it is God’s eye. His omnipresence--it is God’s ear. His omnipotence--it is God’s arm. The upholstery of the midnight heavens--it is the work of God’s fingers. His life-giving power--it is the breath of the Almighty. His dominion--the government shall be upon His Shoulder. A body so divinely honoured and so divinely constructed, let us be careful not to abuse it. When it becomes a Christian duty to take care of our health, is not the whole tendency toward longevity?
II. Religion is a protest against all the dissipations which injure and destroy the health. Bad men and women live a very short life. Their sin kills them. Byron died at Missolonghi at thirty-six years of age, himself his own Mazeppa, his unbridled passions the horse that dashed with him into the desert. Edgar A. Poe died at Baltimore at thirty-eight years of age. The black raven that alighted on the bust above his chamber-door was “delirium tremens.” “Only this and nothing more.” Napoleon Bonaparte lived only just beyond mid-life, then died at St. Helena; and one of his doctors said that his disease was induced by excessive snuffing. How many people we have known who have not lived out half their days because of their dissipations and indulgences! Now, practical religion is a protest against all dissipation of any kind. “But,” you say, “professors of religion have fallen, professors of religion have got drunk, professors of religion have misappropriated trust funds, professors of religion have absconded.” Yes, yes; but they threw away their religion before they did their morality.
III. Religion takes the worry out of our temporalities. It is not work that kills men; it is worry. When a man becomes a genuine Christian, he makes over to God not only his affections, but his family, his business, his reputation, his body, his mind, his soul--everything. Industrious he will be, but never worrying, because God is managing his affairs. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Is there not rest in that? Is there not tonic in that? Is there not longevity in that? Suppose a man is all the time worried about his reputation? One man says he lies, another man says he is stupid, another man says he is dishonest, and half-a-dozen printing establishments get the man under Hoe’s cylinder and flatten him out, and he is in a great state of excitement and worry, and cannot sleep at night; but religion comes to him and says, “Man, God is on your side; He will take care of your reputation; if God be for you, who can be against you?” How much is that man going to worry about his reputation? Not much. Oh, nervous and feverish people of the world, try this almighty sedative; you will live twenty-five years longer under its soothing power! It is not chloral that you want, or morphine that you want; it is the gospel of longevity. “With long life will I satisfy him.”
IV. Religion removes all corroding care about a future existence. A mighty One on a knoll back of Jerusalem one day, the skies filled with forked lightnings and the earth shaking with volcanic disturbances, turned His pale and agonized face toward the heavens, and said, “I take the sins and sorrows of the ages into My heart. I am the expiation. Witness earth, and heaven, and hell, I am the expiation.” Accept that sacrifice and quit worrying. Take the tonic, the inspiration, the longevity of this thought. Religion is sunshine; that is healthy. Religion is fresh air and pure water; they are healthy. Religion is warmth; that is healthy. Ask all the doctors, and they will tell you that a quiet conscience and pleasant anticipations are hygienic. Glory be to God for this robust, rubicund religion! It will have a tendency to make you live long in this world, and in the world to come you will have eternal longevity. (T. De Witt Talmage.)