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O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth . . . show Thyself.
Persecutors and their victims
I. The awful condition of the wicked persecutor. The persecutors referred to (Psalms 94:1-10) are represented as “proud,” speaking “hard things,” as “workers of iniquity,” as “breaking in pieces” the people of God, as “slaying the widow and the stranger,” and “murdering the fatherless.” Every age and country has abounded with such oppressors, they are rife even in this land of liberty.
1. They are prayed against by their godly victims (Psalms 94:1-2).
2. They are understood by their godly victims, who saw in their hearts--
(1) Atheism (Psalms 94:7).
(2) Brutality (Psalms 94:8).
(3) Folly (Psalms 94:8-10).
II. The blessed condition of their pious victims. These victims regarded their persecution--
1. As a Divine chastisement (Psalms 94:12). All afflictions even when they come by the cruel persecution of men are employed by the Almighty Father as chastisements and corrections. Although He does not originate the evil He directs it and uses it for good.
2. As a Divine chastisement that would come to an end (Psalms 94:13). The afflictions will not continue for ever, a long and blessed repose will ensue. The persecutors will fall into the pit which they have dug. The sinner is ever his own destroyer; with every crime he is sinking his own dark bottomless pit into which he must fall.
3. As a chastisement under which they were guaranteed Divine support. The pious victims experienced
(1) Divine help (Psalms 94:17-18).
(2) Divine consolation (Psalms 94:19).
4. As a Divine chastisement that would end in the ruin of their enemies (Psalms 94:20-23). (Homilist.)
Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
The absurdity of libertinism and infidelity
In the style of the sacred authors, particularly in that of our prophet, to deny the existence of a God, the doctrine of providence, and the essential difference between just and unjust, is one and the same thing (Psalms 10:1-18; Psalms 14:1-7; Psalms 53:1-6).
1. If ye consider the discernment and choice of the people, of whom the prophet speaks, ye will see, that he had a great right to denominate them most brutish and foolish. What an excess must a man have attained, when he hates a religion, without which he cannot but be miserable!
2. Having taken the unbelieving libertine on his own interest, I take him on the public interest, and, having attacked his taste and discernment, I attack his policy. An infidel is a disturber of public peace, who, by undertaking to sap the foundations of religion, undermines those of society. Society cannot subsist without religion. Nor can worldly honour supply the place of religion. Finally. Human laws cannot supply the place of religion. To whatever degree of perfection they may be improved, they will always be imperfect in their substance, weak in their motives, and restrained in their extent.
3. The infidel carrieth his indocility to the utmost degree of extravagance, by undertaking alone to oppose all mankind, and by audaciously preferring his own judgment above that of the whole world, who, excepting a small number, have unanimously embraced the truths which he rejects.
4. Yet, as no man is so unreasonable as not to profess to reason, and as no man takes up a notion so eagerly as not to pique himself on having taken it up after a mature deliberation; we must talk to the infidel as to a philosopher, who always follows the dictates of reason, and argues by principles and consequences. Well, then! Let us examine his logic, or way of reasoning; his way of reasoning, ye will see, is his brutality, and his logic constitutes his extravagance. In order to comprehend this, weigh, in the most exact and equitable balance, the argument of our prophet (verses9, 10). These are, in brief, three sources of evidences, that supply the whole of religion with proof. The first are taken from the works of nature; He who planted the ear; He who formed the eye. The second are taken from the economy of Providence; He that chastizeth the heathen. The third are taken from the history of the Church; He that teacheth man knowledge. These arguments being thus stated, either our infidel must acknowledge that they, at least, render probable the truth of religion in general, and of this thesis in particular, God regardeth the actions of men: or he refuseth to acknowledge it. If he refuse to acknowledge it, then he is an idiot; and there remains no other argument to propose to him, than that of our prophet, Thou fool! When wilt thou be wise? But if the power and the splendour of truth force his consent, then, with the prophet, I say to him, O thou most brutish among the people!
5. Why? Because in comparing his logic with his morality I perceive that nothing but an excess of brutality can unite these two things.
6. I would attack the conscience of the libertine, and terrify him with the language of my text, He who teacheth man knowledge, shall not He correct? That is to say, He who gave you laws, shall not He regard your violation of them? The persons whom I attack, I am aware, have defied us to find the least vestige of what is called conscience in them.
7. Perhaps ye have been surprised that we have reserved the weakest of our attacks for the last. Perhaps ye object, that motives, taken from what is called politeness, and a knowledge of the world, can make no impressions on the minds of those who did not feel the force of our former attacks. It is not without reason, however, that we have placed this last. Libertines and infidels often pique themselves on their gentility and good breeding. Reason they think too scholastic, and faith pedantry. They imagine that, in order to distinguish themselves in the world, they must affect neither to believe nor to reason. Well, you accomplished gentlemen! do you know what the world thinks of you? The prophet tells you; but it is not on the authority of the prophet only, it is on the opinions of your fellow-citizens that I mean to persuade you. You are considered in the world as the most brutish of mankind. You live among people who believe a God, and a religion; among people who were educated in these principles, and who desire to die in these principles; among people who have many of them sacrificed their reputation, their ease, and their fortune to religion. Moreover, you live in a society the foundations of which sink with those of religion, so that were the latter undermined, the former would therefore be sunk. All the members of society are interested in supporting this edifice, which you are endeavouring to destroy. What is this but the height of rudeness, brutality, and madness? (J. Saurin.)
God and human misery
Whatever we think of it, there can, I think, be no doubt that the pressure of human misery has led many to doubt that there can be a God at all; and, if He exists, whether He can be as beneficent as He has been represented to be. Men simply say that if they were omnipotent they would not tolerate the wrongs that now smite, the evils that now destroy. They say that they could not tolerate it if they had only power to prevent it, but God, if He exists at all, and if He be all-powerful, seems to us as if He paid no heed, but restrains His power and lets the hideous carnival of misery go on from generation to generation. Now, let me say inferences on this line are often hasty, and obviously erring. Things are overlooked that must needs be considered if intelligent judgment is to be reached. I do not know, indeed, any explanation that removes every difficulty Concerning some things we can at best but yet see as through a glass darkly. Still, I want to mention some things that, in forming our judgment concerning God and His relation to human misery, should never be forgotten.
1. Wrong is very often done by the general ascription to God of all human misery. Men overlook what the Divine purpose of our Lord was, to declare the relation of God to the sin and woe of our race. We find in the world wheat and tares--that is indisputable; the tares are hurtful, deadly--yes, but whence came they? Not from God: He repudiates alike responsibility and blame. “An enemy hath done this.” The world is not as God wants it, not as God designed it, not as God seeks it shall yet become. He should not, therefore, be credited with, or blamed for that which men freely and wickedly do. Now, it is no reply to say that God should have made a race that could not sin. That is but the spluttering of human ignorance. God had a right, if He saw it wise, to create a race of moral beings; but moral being you cannot have without the possibility of sin. If the moral nature be given, then man may exercise his power in good or in evil. He can go up or go down, can do the one because he can do the other.
2. Wrong is often done by thinking of the misery that prevails as if it were undistributed. We are apt to think of the mass of suffering that we know exists as if it fell on one human heart. But no one bears it all. It falls on those who are countless in their multitude. Every heart knows its own sorrow, but no heart knows the sorrow of all other hearts. Each carries his own burden. Now, let us be honest and face the facts. We speak of human misery as crushing men and women. But should they be crushed by it? Have we a right to complain of misery as mastering us, if we do not take advantage of the grace by which God means us to master the misery? And then let us not overlook that into every life, however darkened, there comes some compensation. I have known a man declaim against God for creating a world like this, speak of it as hurtful and unfair and without interest; and within a few minutes he was in raptures over a painter’s reproduction of a very little bit of the earth or of the sea. I have known a man complain by the coffin of his child, but never thank God for the gift of that child, or for all the gladness the child meant to him during the years that it lived.
3. Wrong is often done by overlooking the slowness of moral progress. The cruel wrong that grieves and hurts is not, as I have pointed out, of God. He is against it, and He would have men to put it away from them. But then men are slow in responding to the Divine call. Of course we should have been far further on in progress than we are now, and we would have been if we had only been more responsive to God; but the selfishness that seeks to sway us all, the ignorance as to what is really our true interest, the absorption in the things that can be seen and felt--these have betrayed, and have prevented God’s will being done on earth as it is done in heaven. The wheels of the Gospel-chariot drag heavily, and wrongs that have hurt others still remain to hurt us, and some of them probably will remain to hurt generations yet to be. You say, Why does not God arise in His might, and lay all iniquity in the dust? Because He is God. That which you desire is not His method, cannot be, just because He is God. He deals with His children alike, the loyal and the rebellious, according to the nature which He has given them. He teaches, He draws, He allures from evil, and you can see the effect in the growing sensitiveness as to what we owe to our fellow-men. There are forces at work that must make for a fairer distribution of wealth; forces at work that must bring to an end the wide disparity between East and West.
4. Wrong is often done by overlooking that pain is often sanctified unto much good. Pain in itself is not an evil. Pain is but nature’s cry to men to give heed to avoid what is hurtful, and to follow that which is beneficent. God doth not afflict willingly the children of men, but in order that we may be made partakers of the Divine nature. There is always an uplift in our sadness, an uplift towards God and heaven.
5. Wrong unutterable is often done by overlooking the all-transforming and all-subduing grace that is put at our disposal the sorrow of life is too great for any one to bear alone, but no one is meant to bear it alone. God wants to carry our griefs for us; grace is revealed, grace that touches our common lot, grace that lightens our larger and our lesser griefs, grace that comes that through it we may attain even now unto the foretaste of heavenly blessedness. All things work together for good to them that love God. (G. Gladstone.)
A blind god wanted
A god or a saint that should really cast the glance of a pure eye into the conscience of the worshipper would not long be held in repute. The grass would grow again around that idol’s shrine. A seeing god would not do: the idolater wants a blind god. The first cause of idolatry is a desire in an impure heart to escape from the look of the living God, and none but a dead image would serve their turn. (W. Arnot D. D.)
He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?
He that formed the eye, shall He not see?
Evolution and design
These words contain the germ of all natural and moral philosophy. There are two great underlying ideas--First, the abstract argument from design that intention and purpose, not blind chance, has evolved the most wondrous mechanism of the animal frame; second, the parallelism between the laws and working of mind and of matter, proceeding from one and the same Author. Each has its laws of sequence, causes produce results, and those results intended and foreseen in both cases alike. As the ear is made for hearing and the eye for seeing, so He that gave man knowledge, or, what is the same thing, the power of acquiring knowledge, intends it to be used; and if, as in the case of the heathen, the moral light is perverted, suffering, punishment, as a necessary law or consequence must ensue. Chance is set aside, as it is now by the student of physical science, dismissed like the older idea of fate. On the scientific doctrine of chances, the evolution of such a mechanism as the eye is, as has been shown by Professor Pritchard, almost incalculable. “Blind law,” the next hypothesis, is equally insufficient. Hence some of the ablest exponents of the doctrine of evolution maintain that the circle of evolving laws or forces must certainly be ruled by some Intelligence, either inherent and immanent, or else transcendental and probably personal, guiding and superior to them all. One of the foremost living naturalists and a champion of the doctrines of evolution maintains
(1) that atoms are centres of force,
(2) that force is known to us as Will,
(3) that the Will that governs the world is the will of higher intelligences, or of our own supreme intelligence; that we cannot account for man’s physical peculiarities, much less for his consciousness, his language, his volition, or his moral sense by evolution simply, that there is a feeling, a “sense of right and wrong in our nature, antecedent to, and independent of experiences of utility” (Wallace)
A “Blind Intelligence,” immanent in matter or not, by no means solves the problem. “What are the core and essence of this hypothesis? Strip it naked and you stand face to face with the notion that not alone the more ignoble forms of animalculae or animal life, not alone the noble forms of the horse and lion, not alone the exquisite mechanism of the human body, but that the human mind itself, emotion, intellect, will, and all their phenomena, were once latent in a fiery cloud. Surely the “mere statement of such a notion is more than a refutation.” But when, passing beyond the notion of a blind intelligence, we accept the fact that He that made the eye could see, that there is a relation between a personal Supreme Being, and His creation; we find far fewer difficulties. There are difficulties, but the fact of the possibility of the theory is admitted by all. John Stuart Mill designated it as the most persuasive of all arguments for Theism. It explains the world; and, what is more, it does what no other theory does, it finds a first ground for all existing things. The theory of design stands undisturbed by the doctrine of evolution. No laws impressed upon matter or upon mind, banish a God from the world He has made. We do not necessarily press the idea of design in each detail, but we maintain that, throughout the universe, there is a general fitness, a correlation of function with power, which point to a prescient antecedent Intelligence. Above all is this correlation manifest in organic structures, animal and vegetable. Mind is presented to us throughout the universe. And, as evolution in the organic world, carries out the Will of a prescient Intelligence, so, in the moral world, sin or evil, by a natural consequence, entails punishment. “He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not He correct, for He knoweth?” We are here brought face to face with the greatest admitted difficulty in the world as we know it: the existence of evil, and of suffering as a consequence of evil. Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to separate the material and moral government of the world. Parallel laws rule both. The existence of man now throws light on the final cause of the animated creation. To be consistent with the plan adopted by God, it was necessary to evolve successively the long line of vertebrates from the Silurian epoch to the present day. Man’s rudimentary organs are suggestive of evolution. But in his moral nature he stands apart from animals by a gap which neither observation nor philosophical reasoning has ever bridged. Nor can we conceive of any force capable of being differentiated into the Will, a power which may act in direct opposition to the forces of nature. Evolution could not by natural laws produce man. As Mr. Wallace writes, “If it be proved that some Intelligent power has guided or determined the development of man, we may see indications of that power in facts which by themselves would not seem to prove its existence.” Among these he adduces the brain, with its convolutions far beyond the needs or use of the savage, the absence of hair on the back of even the lowest races, and the hand, which has all the appearance of an organ prepared beforehand for the advance and use of civilized man, and one which was indispensable to render civilization possible. But why should evil be introduced? Simply because of God’s will. Man was made a moral free agent. Moral evil has been defined as the conscious abuse of means, instead of using them for the ends for which they were designed. An animal cannot be guilty because it obeys natural laws without reflecting upon them. Man can and does reflect, and uses his freewill to obey or not: but he has disobeyed. The heathen did not choose to retain God in their knowledge. Here comes in the distinctive feature of God’s moral government. In all else, a gradual process is wrought out by natural laws. But moral evil has come in, and, as nature cannot always effect a cure without external aid, so natural processes alone could not restore humanity. The impetus of evil was too strong; the natural instincts of goodness were overborne. God steps in as the physician, and by the revelation of His Son enables humanity to rise from its moral degradation. Neither out of Greek philosophy, nor out of Judaism, nor out of any other existing system could the teaching or the work of Christ have been evolved. The results have proved it. No other system has ever done for man what this has done, and is doing, in elevating the degraded. Christ’s teaching of universal love and everlasting life through Himself, has done what no other religion or philosophy ever attempted. If evil be the necessary concomitant of Freewill, it is no less a recognized law of nature as a result of the struggle for existence. Pain and death are spoken of as physical evils. Let it be so. But death is a necessary accompaniment in the natural world of the struggle for existence, and pain is a necessary and benevolent provision for maintaining the instincts of self-preservation. So in the moral world, misery, the result of sin, and sin itself, or the misuse of powers and faculties, are the necessary concomitants of Freewill. Why does evil exist? Why do animals exist? Why do I exist? There is no answer except for Christianity. There is but one explanation of our existence here, and Revelation gives it. It was to render man’s life here probationary in every way. The future existence of man is the only interpretation of his existence here, and the more we wait for our final redemption in patience and hope, the less shall we feel the penal character of physical evil here. And in spiritual life there is the same doctrine of development as in the natural, for what is the growth in grace but the evolution of the perfect man in Christ from the germ of the Holy Spirit’s planting? That Holy Spirit and His work may be an enigma, but it is no greater enigma than the origin of physical life. For both we claim an origin, and that origin divine. And the doctrine of evolution, which deduces all natural life from the germ, on the origin of which it does not speculate, is exactly parallel to the doctrine of theology, which deduces all spiritual life from the heaven-implanted germ, and all man’s spiritual future from the unfolding of that grand revelation of the Will of God, that “what the law could not do,” etc. (Romans 8:3). (Canon Tristram.)
The three/old argument
Reverence is at the root of all religion! When the libertines of the French Revolution crowned the Goddess of Reason with garlands, they worked hard to eradicate the old reverence for God out of the hearts of men! Reverence is not superstitious fear; it is not a degrading and debasing affright at the Great Power above us, who rules the world as with an iron sceptre: it is a reverence for God as He is, the embodiment of all holiness, justice, righteousness and truth. Who, in this sense, shall not fear Thee, O God?
I. The first argument is physical, and founded on the senses. Use has deadened our sense of wonder. The ear is the most wonderful harpsichord in the universe. It is exactly related to the constitution of things around us, working with ease, with pleasure, and with perpetuity, so that year after year it never requires returning, is unaffected by variations of temperature, and is not worn out with use--all this is very, very wonderful! It has opened up to us already a most wonderful world. Myriad are the voices of creation, the whispering of the breeze, the purling of the brook, the songs of birds, the rustling of the corn, the deep bass of the breaking waves of the sea, and all the varied tones of human voices. These sensations of hearing which might have been painful, are all full of pleasure. And so wonderful is the variety of sound, that we know the tones of our own children’s voices in an assembly. The prisoner knew the voice of the musician singing outside his cell. Mary knew her Master’s voice after the resurrection. The sheep on Israel’s mountains may hear the familiar call of Jesse’s shepherd son, but God’s sheep must not hear His voice! We are often told of the marvels of faith: of what men will believe. I have often longed to prepare a paper on the marvels of unbelief! With these facts of observation before us, with this present constitution of things, with man himself the great marvel of workmanship, well may we once more ponder the words, “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?” Then think of the eye; on its soft and delicate mirror, what pictures have been reflected: they have required no porters to carry them into the picture gallery within you, and memory, with little effort and no noise, re-touches them as they hang upon the wall. And is God, who created the eye, the only Being that is not to see? Is the finite being to watch, to behold, to observe, and the Infinite One to be sightless? What a marvel of unbelief is this! We have indeed reached the ultima thule of folly’s argument if we can believe this.
II. The second argument is historical, and founded on God’s moral government of nations. “He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not He correct?” God not only hears and sees, He acts. When the ungodly were exclaiming, as the psalmist says, “The Lord shall not see, the Lord shall not regard it,” the Lord was seeing, regarding, judging! Had they forgotten how Pharaoh and his host were drowned in the Red Sea? Had they forgotten the heathen priests (1 Samuel 5:4-6)? Had they forgotten the judgments on the priests of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 23:1-37)? We have a larger and broader background of history than they had! We have seen “joy and gladness taken away from the plentiful field, and from the land of Moab” (Jeremiah 48:32-33), and now pastures, vineyards, villages, cities, all are waste. Yes! “Moab is spoiled and gone up out of her cities” (Jeremiah 44:15-24). We can see from ruined ramparts Bozrah desolate as Isaiah says (Isaiah 33:10), “without man, without inhabitant, without beast.” We can look upon the high places of Eastern Judea, and remember the words of Jeremiah, “I beheld, and lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness,” etc. Yes, and far away from Judea we can walk amid the ruins of the idolatrous Egyptians, we can visit their pyramids and the remains of their stupendous temples, and we can turn to the words, “I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, it shall be the lowest of the kingdoms, neither shall it exalt itself any more upon the nations.” We can visit Nineveh, and Babylon, and find the truth of our text written there. We can go to Hebron and Kerioth, and read the words of the old Hebrew prophets (Isaiah 27:10; Isaiah 22:4). “He that chastiseth the heathen, shall,” etc. In the light of these facts we need no voice from the heavens to give us the audible yea! And conscience and Scripture say the same. Is it wise, then, to live the frivolous, indevout lives that so many do? to risk our high estate as immortal beings?
III. The third argument is mental, and founded on the mind of man. “He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not He know?” Few study their own minds! I cannot think that they would indulge in such empty conceits about the future if they did! Any one mind is more wonderful even than a material universe! How noiselessly it works; how vast its store. Some minds, of course, illustrate this wonderfulness more than others. Historians like Hume, Macintosh, Macaulay, Lecky, must have the rich gatherings of years of study stored in their mental treasury. Let a man ponder himself, and then he will cease to be deluded by the sophistries of materialism! Two facts will be self-evident, one is personal consciousness--man is! He mingles with no other! If he is certain of anything, he can say, “I think, therefore I am.” The other fact is, a receptive power, man is constantly receiving, growing alike in the extent of his knowledge and in the capacity to know. Now whilst man has this consciousness himself, it is strange that the tendency of modern science should be to do away with the idea of a personal God, and to lose Him in some generalization of force or law. The psalmist anticipates this beautifully in these words: You know, you think! How came you to do it? “He that teacheth man knowledge,” etc. Yes, the teacher of knowledge knows. Let that thought comfort our hearts in all the bitter experience of grief. He knows. Many of our inner histories may be as difficult for others to interpret as Egyptian hieroglyphics. But He knows. Verily, then, there is a God that judgeth in the earth. Verily, then, there is a God that comforteth His people. Verily, then, there is a God that is able to help and willing to cast His shield over us in every time of battle and trouble. His eye is upon us, His ear is open to our cry, His judgment is not according to outward appearance, but His judgment is just and His thoughts are to us-ward: and once more the Saviour stands before us with open arms, saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (W. M. Statham.)
Views of the Divine character
The argument by which the being of a God is established is one of the simplest that can be conceived. We feel that we ourselves exist; we see the world, both of intelligence and of matter, existing everywhere without us; we know that neither we ourselves, nor any other human beings, were the original causes of the existence and powers which we and they possess. Matter, we not less irresistibly conclude, could not create itself. From what we feel in ourselves and see in others, and behold in the material world, we therefore rise to some higher Being and power--to some superior mind--till we reach one that is above all--a first cause, which must be immaterial and uncreated; and this cause is God. Whoever has ears to hear, or eyes to see, or an understanding to apprehend any truth, has, in these powers of body and of mind, a constant and indisputable evidence, if he would only attend to it, of the providence and government of God.
I. “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?” The wonderful mechanism of the human ear; its exquisite adaptation to the purpose which it is intended to serve; the delicate construction of some, and the stronger texture of other parts of its organization; the one so requisite to the acute discernment of the almost infinite variety of sounds that are conveyed to it, and the other to protect it from the external injuries to which it is constantly exposed: all these circumstances bespeak the existence and influence of a Power in its formation super-eminent alike in wisdom and in goodness. He who heard the groanings of Israel in the land of Egypt, and the prayer of Daniel in the lions’ den, heard also the cry of Abel’s blood from the field of fratricide, and the sigh of Jonah from the bowels of the deep. And His ear is not now heavy that it cannot hear. We may be bound in the arms of sleep, and incapable of being roused by the loudest noise around us; but He never slumbers nor sleeps: His ear is ever watchful and acute. We may, through inattention or ignorance, mistake one sound for another; but nothing can weaken or injure His power of perfect and intuitive discernment. We can hear a voice only when it is comparatively near us, and when unimpeded by natural obstructions to its conveyance; but, from the very ends of the earth, and throughout every region of the universe--from the depths of a dungeon, as well as the solitude of an unpeopled wilderness--every sound that is uttered enters His ear.
II. “He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” As, of all our senses, that of sight is the most important and, valuable, so its organs are the most exquisitely and delicately constructed; presenting us, in every part, with new and most demonstrative evidence, that He who formed them must be equally almighty and all-wise. Knowledge is to God what vision is to us. When, therefore, in the figurative language of Scripture, we speak of His eyes being in every place, beholding the evil and the good; of His eyes seeing and His eyelids trying the children of men; of the darkness and the light being both alike unto Him; and of His looking not on the outward appearance, but on the heart--we speak of His universal, intuitive, and penetrating knowledge of every object, and event, and being, through every region and spot of His universe, during every day and hour and instant of time. Appearances may deceive us, but nothing can impose on Him. We may be betrayed by an illusion of our senses, but His is an eye of unerring, penetrating and infallible knowledge.
III. “He that teacheth man knowledge, shall He not know?” Must not He who formed the human mind, with its wondrous complement of varied yet united, and, when in the state in which they originally came from Him, exactly balanced and harmonizing faculties, be perfectly acquainted with every movement of every one of them? He knows on what our affections are most constantly and supremely placed--whether on objects of present earthly endearment, and things that perish with the using; or on Himself and Christ, and the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. He knows how our conscience is directed and influenced--whether by our own wayward passions, and the maxims and practice of the world around us, or by His unerring and holy will, by the dictates of His Word, and the motions of His Spirit; and whether it is insensible and hardened, sometimes roused, but again and more deeply deadened; or sensible and tender, alive and on the watch, as the monitor of His grace within us. He knows also the reception which we have given to the revelation of His mercy and will--the light in which we regard its intimations--the interest which we feel and take in its warnings and its promises--the faith which we exercise in the Saviour, whom it makes known to us--the submission which we give to His righteousness and law, or the impenitence and unbelief and disobedience with which we contemplate and think of His plan of reconciling and justifying and sanctifying grace. (D. Dickson, D.D.)
The Divine signature in man
The text is a beautiful statement of a principle which has always been held to have great argumentative force. It played a part in the mental history of the German philosopher Leibnitz. Suggested to him by a friend, who pointed one day to an open Bible, and asked, “Will not these words help you?” the words of our text became the motto and the keynote of his system, the pattern on which he constructed it, the statement in which he summarized it. We shall look at it, however, not in its philosophical, but its practical bearings, and select our illustrations accordingly.
I. The eye and the ear of perception. Simple observation, that is the thought we set out with: the power to discern, to discover, to watch, to know. And for the purpose we speak of--the purpose of mere perception--how marvellously are these instruments fitted! Take the eye, what a miracle of delicacy, adjustment, and minuteness we have there! “Whence is it,” Sir Isaac Newton asks, “that the eyes of all sorts of living creatures are transparent to the very bottom, and the only transparent members in the body, having on the outside a hard, transparent skin, and within transparent humours, with a crystalline lens in the middle, and a pupil before the lens, all of them so finely shaped and fitted for vision that no artist can mend them? Did blind chance know that there was light and what was its refraction, and fit the eyes of all creatures, alter the most curious manner, to make use of it? These and suchlike considerations always have prevailed, and always will prevail, with mankind to believe that there is a Being who made all these things, and has all things in His care, and is therefore to be feared.” What a power to disturb and disquiet has the human eye! There is the eye of the warder, for instance, with its vigilance. When Lafayette was imprisoned at the time of the French Revolution, part of his punishment was this: that in the door of his cell there was a slit, and at the slit there was placed an eye, never closed, never withdrawn. And it was just the portion of his punishment he felt most intolerable. Or, again, there is the eye of the child with its innocence. That man, that woman must be far gone indeed who can consciously and deliberately sin with the clear, unsuspicious eye of a child turned upon them in the act, in wonder at its character or in ignorance of its guilt. Or, again, there is the eye of the professional man with its searching. Among the heathen recipes for virtue is this one by Cato, pathetic in its half-presentation of the truth: “I conceive,” he says, “that the best plan for cultivating goodness is continually to imagine the eye of some distinguished character fixed upon you.” What the pagan lawgiver commended as a matter of fancy, the Bible-taught believer acknowledges as a matter of sober, solemn fact.
II. The eye and ear of appreciation. What does the eye of the artist mean? It means the revelation of new sights, or rather the shedding of new glory on common and familiar sights. It means a deeper mystery in the sky, a softer shimmer on the sea, a fresher green in the woods, a richer purple on the heather, a brighter gold on the gorse, a lovelier glow in the sunset as it mirrors itself in the placid lake, or sheds itself upon Alpine snows, turning the white into orange and rose. What does the ear of the musician mean? It means a susceptibility to all sweet sounds, and these not only the strains of art, but the melodies of nature too. It means sympathy with song, whencesoever it arises--from the surge as it booms on the beach, from the rivulet as it chimes on the pebbles, from the birds as they pipe on the branches, from the wind as it harps on the pines, from the cataracts as they blow their trumpets from the steep. The eye and the ear of appreciation--this eye of the artist receptive of all fair visions, this ear of the musician receptive of all sweet tones--who gave them? And “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” He that created these faculties of appreciation, shall He not appreciate? He that bestowed these capacities of enjoyment, shall He not enjoy? He that formed the eye, in correspondence with all fair colours, shall He be blind? He that planted the ear, in responsiveness to all rich cadences, shall He be deaf? Nay, let me realize that He watches the unfolding of these colours, let me realize that He listens to the echoing of these cadences, drawing a joy out of each deeper than mine is, as the infinite is deeper than the finite--purer, too, as the absolutely and originally holy is purer than the frail, the imperfect, and the fallen.
III. The eye and ear of affection. We may look at these two senses as symbolical of the feelings that so often inform and direct them, the instincts of love, benevolence, and compassion, to which the eye and the ear are ministers, of which the eye and the ear are interpreters. So that the argument runs, “He that inspired these instincts, so real, so deep, so powerful, in the heart of humanity around, to soothe its sorrow, to help its weaknesses, to cement its relationships, all through social and family life--He that inspired these instincts in His creatures, shall He not Himself possess them, and that too in far higher measure?” While human friendship and human love remain to us, they will be all the more welcome and all the more precious, as windows through which we see the wealth of the Eternal sympathy, stepping-stones by which we may climb to the mystery of the Eternal love. Never let that man or woman despair of the pity and helpfulness of God while there remains to him or to her the beating of one kind human heart, still interested, still loving, still hopeful, still true. So long as that heart is there, it is a witness and a pledge of the friendliness of God’s heart, that great charity of His which suffers long and is kind, and which is still ready to receive you, still anxious to help you, if you will only believe Him, and go back. Yes, and when human friendships vanish, and human ties dissolve, when we can speak of them no longer as possessions of the present, but only as memories of the past, we can learn the lesson, we can use the argument notwithstanding. The eye that brightened with welcome at the sight of our coming, or moistened with sadness at the hour of our going, may have mouldered in the dust of the grave; the ear that lent itself--oh, how readily!--to the tale of our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, may be sealed in the dulness of decay: but He that planted the eye and the ear lives on, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, unchanged in His sympathy, His helpfulness, and His love; and when father and mother forsake, then the Lord will take up. I say all this is comfort--comfort for those who are willing to accept of it, on God’s own terms, in God’s own way. Recognize Him as a Father, receive Him as a Father, revealed and guaranteed in Christ. (W. A. Gray.)
Man’s powers the gifts and emblems of God
I. Man’s powers are the gifts of God.
1. This fact should check all tendency to pride in the man of superior endowments.
2. This fact should check all tendency to envy in the man of inferior ability.
II. Man’s powers are the emblems of God. The argument implied is, that what He has given us, He has in Himself.
1. A sense of moral justice.
2. Affection for offspring.
3. Power of spontaneous action.
4. Sense of personality. In conclusion: Man! adore thy Maker. Wipe from the mirror of thy being all the pollutions of sin, that, having a pure heart, thou mayest see God Himself, and be blessed for evermore. (Homilist.)
The Planter of the ear must hear
I. The notion that God cannot hear or see is pernicious. We perceive that men who talked in this godless fashion were proud. Hence the prayer, “Lift up Thyself, Thou Judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.” Pride is very apt to grow great when knowledge is small, and reverence is absent. Proud language usually goes with profane talk and blasphemous ideas; for it comes of the same kindred. “How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? . . . Their tongue walketh through the earth,” saith David. No bounds can be set to the evil perambulations of an atheistic tongue. Not even heaven itself is free from the assaults of its pride. They slander God Himself, because they imagine that He does not hear. Nor is this the end of the mischief. When the fear of God is taken away from men, they frequently proceed to persecute His servants. “They break in pieces Thy people, O Lord, and afflict Thine heritage.” If they cannot get at the leader, if they cannot smite the shepherd, they will at least worry the flock. “They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.” Take God away, and what a place this world would be! Without religion our earth would soon become a huge Aceldama, a field of blood. A world without God is a world without fear, without law, without order, without hope. Note well, that if we were persuaded that God did not hear, and did not see, there would be an end of worship. Would there not? Could you worship a deaf God? Nor is this all: it seems to me that there is, to a large extent, an end of the moral sense. If there be no God to punish sin, then every man will do as seemeth right in his own eyes; and why should he not?
II. The notion that God cannot see and hear is an absurd notion. The very idea of hearing seems to me to necessitate that He who conceived the idea, was Himself able to hear. He could not have borrowed the idea, for there was no other being but Himself in the beginning: whence took He the thought, but from His own Being? He that invented the idea, also planned the way by which hearing would become possible. What an intellect was that which forged the link between matter and mind, so that the movements of particles of air, and the impression made by these upon the drum of the ear should turn into the impressions upon mind and heart! And can you believe that this marvellous instrument for hearing was made by a deaf God, or a dead God, or an impersonal power; or that it came into existence through “a fortuitous concourse of atoms”? But even if you had an ear made--and I suppose that it would be no very great difficulty to fashion, in wax, or some other substance, an exact resemblance to an ear--could you produce hearing then? God alone gives the life which hears. That particular point in which motion is translated into audible sound--where is that? There is a spiritual something--the true man, and this it is which God makes. Do you know yourself? Could you put your finger on yourself? Oh, no; that mystic being, that strange, half Godlike existence, the soul, is not within the range of our senses. He that made the soul, has He no soul? Can He not hear?
III. That God hears His own must be especially certain, from the very argument of the text. “Why?” say you. Why, because they have new and spiritual ears, and they have God-given spiritual eyes; and He that planted the spiritual ear, shall He not hear? And He that formed the spiritual eye, shrill He not see? Do you imagine that if God has given us the grace to hear His voice, He will not hear us when we lift up our voices to Him? Rather let us each one say, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints.” He has created in the minds of some of you a sense of need, and will He not pity you? You were not hungry for mercy; you were not thirsty for righteousness till His Spirit came and gave you life, and with that life the soul-hunger. Will He not satisfy the hunger He creates? Will He not fulfil the desire He has implanted? In addition to this, He makes us long after holiness; will He not work it in us? Does your child pine to be good, and can you help him to be good, and will you not do so? To the ear which God has enabled to hear His call the Lord will lend His own ear to hear prayer. He that makes us long for purity will work it in us.
IV. A belief what God hears and sees has a very beneficial tendency upon those who firmly hold it. It works good in a thousand ways. Time would fail me to recount a tithe of them. It may suffice to take a thought or two, and turn the matter over in our minds. If we feel that God sees and hears, what an incentive it is to do right, and to be valiant for the truth! Soldiers will play the man in the presence of their prince. If our Lord looks on, what will we not do and dare? The same sense of His presence will act as a check to any and every deed of sin. We cannot indulge the thought of evil when the Lord Himself hears that thought. Does the Lord look on, and shall I sin in His Divine presence? It acts grandly as a preservative against the desire of applause and the fear of man. He who knows assuredly that God hears him will speak the truth though all the world should listen, or though no one but God should hear him. The assurance that God sees and hears is a wonderful care-killer. Why should I be anxious? If the Lord knows our soul in adversity, and if His eye is ever upon us, are we not safe? And, oh, how this will tend to promote your fellowship with God! How we love Him who heareth us always! Since He is always seeing us, we learn to see Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Among the most skilful and assiduous physiologists of our age have been those who have given their time to the examination of the ear and the study of its arches, its walls, its floor, its canals, its aqueducts, its galleries, its intricacies, its convolutions, its Divine machinery, and yet, it will take another thousand years before the world comes to any adequate appreciation of what God did when He planned and executed the infinite and overmastering architecture of the human ear. The most of it is invisible, and the microscope breaks down in the attempt at exploration. The cartilage which we call the ear is only the storm door of the great temple clear down out of sight, next door to the immortal soul. Great scientists have attempted to walk the Appian Way of the human ear, but the mysterious pathway has never been fully trodden but by two feet--the foot of sound and the foot of God. Three ears on each side the head--the external ear, the middle ear, the internal ear, but all connected by most wonderful telegraphy. The external ear in all ages adorned by precious stones or precious metals. The Temple of Jerusalem partly built by the contribution of earrings, and Homer in the “Iliad” speaks of Hera, “the three bright drops, her glittering gems suspended from the ear”; and many of the adornments of modern times were only copies of her jewels found in Pompeiian museum and Etruscan vase. But while the outer ear may be adorned by human art, the middle and the internal ear are adorned and garnished only by the hand of the Lord Almighty. The stroke of a key of yonder organ sets the air vibrating, and the external air catches the undulating sound and passes it on through the bonelets of the middle ear to the internal ear, and the three thousand fibres of the human brain take up the vibration and roll the sound on into the soul. The ear so strange a contrivance that by the estimate of one scientist it can catch the sound of 73,700 vibrations in a second. The outer ear taking in all kinds of sound, whether the crash of an avalanche or the hum of a bee. The sound passing to the inner door of the outside ear halts until another mechanism, Divine mechanism, passes it on by the bonelets of the middle ear, and, coming to the inner door of that second ear, the sound has no power to come further until another Divine mechanism passes it on through into the inner ear, and then the sound comes to the rail track of the brain branchlet, and rolls on and on until it comes to sensation, and there the curtain drops, and a hundred gates shut, and the voice of God seems to say to all human inspection, “Thus far and no farther.” In this vestibule of the palace of the soul, how many kings of thought have done penance of lifelong study and got no further than the vestibule! Mysterious home of reverberation and echo. Grand Central Depot of sound. Head-quarters to which there come quick despatches, part the way by cartilages, part the way by air, part the way by bone, part the way by nerve--the slowest despatch plunging into the ear at the speed of 1,090 feet a second. Small instrument of music on which is played all the music you ever heard, from the grandeurs of an August thunderstorm to the softest breathings of a flute. Small instrument of music, only a quarter of an inch of surface and the thinness of one two-hundred-and-fiftieth part of an inch, and that thinness divided into three layers. In that ear musical staff, lines, spaces, bar, and rest. Oh, the ear, the God-honoured ear, grooved with Divine sculpture and poised with Divine gracefulness and upholstered with curtains of Divine embroidery, and corridored by Divine carpentry, and pillared with Divine architecture, and chiselled in bone of Divine masonry, and conquered by processions of Divine marshalling. The ear! A perpetual point of interrogation, asking How? A perpetual point of apostrophe appealing to God. How surpassingly sacred the human earl You had better be careful how you let the sound of blasphemy or uncleanness step into that holy of holies. The Bible speaks of “dull ears,” and of “uncircumcised ears,” and of “itching ears,” and of “rebellious ears,” and of “open ears,” and of those who have all the organs of hearing and yet who seem to be deaf, for it cries to them, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” To show how much Christ thought of the human ear, He one day met a man who was deaf, came up to him, and put a finger of the right hand into the orifice of the left ear of the patient, and put a finger of the left hand into the orifice of the right ear of the patient, and agitated the tympanum, and startled the bonelets, and, with a voice that rang clear through into the man’s soul, cried, “Ephphatha!” and the polypoid growths gave way, and the inflamed auricle cooled off, and that man, who had not heard a sound for many years, that night heard the wash of the waves of Galilee against the limestone shelving. To show how much Christ thought of the human ear, when the Apostle Peter got mad and with one slash of his sword dropped the ear of Malchus into the dust, Christ created a new external ear for Malchus corresponding with the middle ear and the internal ear that no sword could clip away. And to show what God thinks of the ear we are informed of the fact that in the millennial summer which shall roseate all the earth “the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped,” all the vascular growths gone--all deformation of the listening organ cured, corrected, changed. Are you ready now for the question of my text? Have you the endurance to bear its overwhelming suggestiveness? Will you take hold of some pillar and balance yourself under the semi-omnipotent stroke? “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?” Shall the God who gives us the apparatus with which we hear the sounds of the world not be able Himself to catch up song and groan and blasphemy and worship? Does He give us a faculty which He has not Himself? Drs.Wild and Gruber and Toynbee invented the acoumeter and other instruments by which to measure and examine the ear, and do these instruments know more than the doctors who made them? “He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?” Just as sometimes an entrancing strain of music will linger in your ears for days after you have heard it, and just as a sharp cry of pain I once heard while passing through Bellevue Hospital clung to my ear for weeks, and just as a horrid blasphemy in the street sometimes haunts one’s ears for days, so God not only hears, but holds the songs, the prayers, the groans, the worship, the blasphemy. How we have all wondered at the phonograph, which holds not only the words you utter but the very tone of your voice, so that a hundred years from now, that instrument turned, the very words you now utter and the very tone of your voice will be reproduced. Amazing phonograph! But more wonderful is God’s power to hold, to retain. Ah! what delightful encouragement for our prayers! What an awful fright for our hard speeches! What assurance of warm-hearted sympathy for all our griefs!” He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The imperial organ of the human system is the eye. All up and down the Bible God honours it, extols it, illustrates it, or arraigns it. Five hundred and thirty-four times it is mentioned in the Bible. Omnipresence “the eyes of the Lord are in every place.” Divine care--“as the apple of the eye.” The clouds--“the eyelids of the morning.” Irreverence--“the eye that mocketh at its father.” Pride--“Oh, how lofty are their eye!” Inattention--“the fool’s eye in the ends of the earth.” Divine inspection--“wheels full of eyes.” Suddenness--“in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump.” Olivetic sermon--“the light of the body is the eye.” This morning’s text--“He that formed the eye, shall He not see?”
I. The human eye.. If I refer to the physiological facts suggested by the former part of my text, it is only to bring out in plainer way the theological lessons of the latter part of my text. “He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” I suppose my text referred to the human eye, since it excels all others in structure and adaptation. Man, placed at the head of all living creatures, must have supreme equipment, while the blind fish in the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky have only an undeveloped organ of sight, an apology for the eye, which, if through some crevice in the mountain they should get into the sunlight, might be developed into positive eyesight. See how God honoured the eye before He created it. He cried until chaos was irradiated with the utterance, “Let there be light!” In other words, before He introduced man into this temple of the world He illuminated if, prepared it for the eyesight. And so, after the last human eye has been destroyed in the final demolition of the world, stars are to fall, and the sun is to cease its shining, and the moon is to turn into blood.
II. To show how God honours the eye, look at the two halls built for the residence of the eyes. Seven bones making the wall for each eye, the seven bones curiously wrought together. A kingly palace of ivory is considered rich, but the halls for the residence of the human eyes are richer by so much as human bone is more sacred than elephantine tusk. See how God honoured the eyes when He made a roof for them, so that the sweat of toil should not smart them; and the rain dashing against the forehead should not drip into them; the eyebrows not bending over the eye, but reaching to the right and to the left, so that the rain and the sweat should be compelled to drop upon the cheek instead of falling into this Divinely protected human eyesight. See how God honoured the eye in the fact presented by anatomists and physiologists that there are 800 contrivances in every eye. For window shutters, the eyelids opening and closing 30,000 times a day. The eyelashes so constructed that they have their selection as to what shall be admitted, saying to the dust, “Stay out,” and saying to the light, “Come in.” For inside curtain the iris, or pupil of the eye, according as the light is greater or less, contracting or dilating.
III. A contrivance so wonderful that it can see the sun ninety-five millions of miles away, and the point of a pin. Telescope and microscope in the same contrivance. The astronomer swings and moves this way and that, and adjusts and readjusts the telescope until he gets it into the right focus; the microscopist moves this way and that, and adjusts and readjusts the magnifying glass until it is prepared to do its work; but the human eye, without a touch, beholds the star and the smallest insect. The traveller among the Alps, with one glance taking in Mont Blanc and the face of his watch to see whether he has time to climb it.
IV. What an anthem of praise to God is the human eye! The tongue is speechless and a clumsy instrument of expression as compared with it. Have you not seen it flash with indignation or kindle with enthusiasm, or expand with devotion, or melt with sympathy, or stare with fright, or leer with villany, or droop with sadness or pale with envy, or fire with revenge, or twinkle with mirth, or beam with love? It is tragedy and comedy and pastoral and lyric in turn.
V. Divine inspection. Shall Herschel not know as much as his telescope? Shall Fraunhofer not know as much as his spectroscope? Shall Swammerdan not know as much as his microscope? Shall Dr. Hooke not know as much as his micrometer? Shall the thing formed know more than its master? “He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” The recoil of this question is tremendous. We stand at the centre of a vast circumference of observation. No privacy. On us, eyes of cherubim, eyes of seraphim, eyes of archangel, eyes of God. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place.” “His eyelids try the children of men.” “His eyes were as a flame of fire.” “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Oh, the eye of God, so full of pity, so full of power, so full of love, so full of indignation, so full of compassion, so full of mercy! How it peers through the darkness! How it outshines the day! How it glares upon the offenders! How it beams on the penitent scull Oh the eye of God. It sees our sorrows to assuage them, sees our perplexities to disentangle them, sees our wants to sympathize with them. If we fight Him back, the eye of an antagonist. If we ask His grace, the eye of an everlasting friend.
VI. There is no such thing as hidden transgression. A dramatic advocate in olden times, at night in a court-room, persuaded of the innocence of his client charged with murder, and of the guilt of the witness who was trying to swear the poor man’s life away--that advocate took up two bright lamps and thrust them close up to the face of the witness, and cried, “May it please the court and gentlemen of the jury--behold the murderer!” and the man, practically under that awful glare, confessed that he was the criminal instead of the man arraigned at the bar. “Oh!” you say, “my affairs are so insignificant I can’t realize that God sees me and sees my affairs.” Can you see the point of a pin? Can you see the eye of a needle? Can you see a mote in the sunbeam? And has God given you that power of minute observation, and does He not possess it Himself? But you say, “God is in one world, and I am in another world; He seems so far off from me I don’t really think He sees what is going on in my life.” Can you see the sun ninety-five millions of miles away, and do you not think God has as prolonged vision? But you say, “There are phases of my life, and there are colours--shades of colour--in my annoyances and my vexations, that I don’t think God can understand.” Does not God gather up all the colours, and all the shades of colour, in the rainbow? And do you suppose there is any phase or any shade in your life that He has not gathered up in His own heart? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
He who knows assuredly that God hears him, will speak the truth though all the world should listen, or though no one but God should hear him. We do not want applause from men, since God hears us. If the Queen were by, and a soldier performed a deed of valour, and a person were to say to him, “You did well, and you may be proud that Corporal Brown and Sergeant Smith saw you and approved of what you did.” “Oh,” says be, “I care nothing for corporals and other petty officers; Her Majesty herself looked at me, and said, ‘Well done.’ She will, with her own bands, put the Victoria Cross upon me in due time. That is the reward I seek.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
God’s indictment of our thoughts
In treatises on morals and in manuals of religion, much has been said about controlling one’s thoughts. This is a difficult task to perform.
I. God in the text brings a severe charge against our thoughts. We are taught that only the blood of the Lord Jesus can cleanse them.
1. Consider what thought is, and how far and swiftly it can go. It allies us to the spirits above. It can go so far that the bounds of the infinite alone can check it; so swiftly, that it can distance an archangel in his most rapid flight. Think of its achievements!
2. This thought, so marvellous in its capacity, God charges with vanity. It is a heavy indictment.
II. There are many proofs of the correctness of the charge.
1. This vanity appears in man’s persistent seeking to pry into the mysteries of God.
2. It is seen in this, that when man cannot see, he proceeds to conjecture; when he cannot know then he guesses.
3. It is seen in the many ways the thoughts of men lead them into arrant, nonsense.
Self-importance. Pleasures of sense, and appetite, etc.
4. It appears by a review of our past. In manhood, how foolish the thoughts of our childhood appears! We have then put away childish things. So the past period of our lives appears to us at every succeeding stage.
III. Two things are needed,
1. Purification of our thoughts.
2. Regulation of our thoughts, by--
(3) Self-examination. (M. Dix, D.D.)
The true character of man’s thoughts
Suppose a man should find a great basket by the wayside carefully packed, and, on opening it, he should find it filled with human thoughts, all the thoughts which had passed through one single brain in one year, or five years, what a medley they would make! How many would be wild and foolish, how many weak and contemptible, how many mean and vile, how many so contradictory and crooked, that they could hardly lie still in the basket! And suppose he should be told that these were all his own thoughts, children of his own brain, how amazed would he be, how little prepared to see himself as revealed in these thoughts! And how would he want to run away and hide, if all the world were to see the basket, opened and see his thoughts! (J. Todd, D.D.)
Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law.
I. God’s children are under tuition. Other children may run about, and take holiday; they may wander into the weeds, and gather the flowers, and do very much what they like; but. God’s own children have to go to school. This is a great, privilege for them, although they do not always think so. Children are not often good judges of what is best for themselves. Note how this tuition is described in our text; the very first word concerning it is “chastenest.” In God’s school-house the rod is still extant; with the Lord, chastening is teaching. He does not spoil His children; but chastens them, aye, even unto scourging, as the apostle puts it (Hebrews 12:6). I know that some of us have learnt much from the Lord’s chastening rod. For instance, we have learnt the evil of sin. “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy Word.” Our chastening teaches us the unsatisfactory nature of worldly things. We can easily become attached to the things which we possess. It is a very difficult thing to handle gold without allowing it to adhere to your fingers; and when it gets into your purse, you need much grace to prevent it getting into your heart. Do we not also learn by affliction our own frailty, and our own impatience? Ah, yes, we find how great our weakness is when first one thing is taken away, and then another. Do we not then learn also the value of prayer? And then how precious the promises become. They shine out like newly-kindled stars when we get into the night of affliction. And oh, how should we ever know the faithfulness of God if it were not for affliction? We might talk about it and theoretically understand it; but to try to prove the greatness of Jehovah’s love, and the absolute certainty of His eternal faithfulness--this cometh not except by the way of affliction and trial.
II. God’s children educated. “That Thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity,” etc. “What!” you ask, “chastened to give us rest? It is usual for chastening to break our rest.” Yes, I know that it is so with other chastenings; but in very deed this is the way in which God gives rest to His people. First, we learn to rest in the will of God. Our will is naturally very stubborn; and when we are chastened, at first we kick out, like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; but by degrees we feel that we must bear the yoke. We then go a little further, and we feel that we ought to bear it, even though God should lay upon us anything He pleases, and we should feel it very galling. By and by the yoke begins to fit our neck, and we come even to love it. We make advances in our spiritual education when we learn to rest after our afflictions. When any trouble is over, great delights often come to us. It is with us as it was with our Master; He had been with the wild beasts; worse still, He had been tempted of the devil; but angels came, and ministered unto Him. Perhaps there is no happier period of life than the state of convalescence, when the sick man is gradually recovering his former strength after a long illness. So God gives surprising peace to His people when He takes away their troubles, but He also gives them a great measure of peace in their troubles. Thus, for another lesson, we learn to rest in adversity. The Lord chastens us in order that we may learn how to stand fast, and bear up bravely while the trouble is yet upon us.
III. God’s children are still dear to Him (Psalms 94:14). First, “the Lord will not east off His people.” When you are put into the furnace, and into the greatest heat that can be obtained, it is that the Lord may take away your dross and purify you for His service. Then, further, the Lord “will not forsake His inheritance.”
IV. God’s people will be righted in the end (Psalms 94:15). Judgment has gone out of the world for a while, though it watcheth and recordeth all things. It is gone partly for our trial and testing, that we may learn to trust an absent God and Saviour. Judgment is also gone away in order that mercy may be extended to the ungodly, that they may live, and that they may turn to God; for He willeth not the death of any, but that they may turn unto Him and live. Judgment has gone up to the throne for a while until the wicked shall have completed the full measure of their sin, “until the pit be digged for the wicked.” Do not be in a hurry, child of God; the Lord has timed His absence. “Judgment shall return unto righteousness.” You shall hear the trumpet soon. And what then? Judgment shall be welcomed by the godly. When it comes, “all the upright in heart shall follow it.” The chariot of righteousness shall lead the way, and all the people of God shall follow it in a glorious procession. Then shall they receive their Lord’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Word of God taught by His providence
I. Why God chastises men in order to teach them out of His word. The general reason is because they disregard milder modes of teaching. If men would regard the still small voice of God in His works, and read His character therein displayed, they would fly to His Word for light and instruction, without needing or feeling His chastising hand. But they will not open their eyes to see Him, nor their ears to hear Him, until they are constrained to do it by the rod of correction.
II. How God employs chastisements to teach men out of His word. He makes them feel the necessity of reading, hearing, understanding and embracing the Gospel, and then opens their hearts to embrace it. He causes them to know the rod, and who has appointed it; and the happy fruit is the taking away of their sins. Thus He often afflicts men for the purpose of giving them saving instruction.
III. The happiness of those whom God effectually teaches the knowledge of His word, by means of the afflictive dispensations of His providence.
1. The knowledge men are taught through this medium affords them real comfort and consolation, though their afflictions continue. They feel a joyful confidence in the rectitude, wisdom and goodness of all His dispensations. They choose that His will should be done rather than their own; and that His glory should be promoted, rather than their own personal good should be regarded.
2. They are happy when their peculiar troubles and trials are removed. Divine instruction in adversity teaches them how to feel and act in prosperity.
3. They shall be happy for ever.
1. If God sometimes chastens men in order to teach them out of His Word, because milder means will not produce that desirable effect, then we must conclude that they are very unwilling to receive Divine instruction.
2. If it be owing to Divine-instruction that Divine chastenings do men good, then we may conclude that Divine chastenings alone will do them no good. The natural tendency of Divine chastenings is to stir up whatever moral corruption lies in the heart; and they will produce no other effect unless God Himself teaches them to profit.
3. If God improves the time of affliction as a favourable opportunity of instructing men out of His Word in the knowledge of Divine things, then the friends of God ought to improve the same favourable season for giving religious instruction to the afflicted.
4. If God employs chastenings as the most powerful means of instructing men in the knowledge of spiritual and Divine things, then those who refuse instruction under His correcting hand have reason to fear He will say concerning them, “Let them alone,” that they may perish in their ignorance. He has said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.”
5. Since God oftener instructs men in a time of adversity than in a time of prosperity, they have more reason to fear prosperity than adversity.
6. Let what has been said lead all to inquire whether they have ever derived any spiritual benefit from adversity. (N. Emmons, D.D.)
The school of affliction
I. The qualities of the man here blessed by the prophet.
1. He is chastised of God.
(1) This must teach us patience when we are wronged, injured and oppressed in any sort by evil men, because then being under them we are under God’s rod.
(2) It is a doctrine of singular comfort to the children of God being in the hands of their cruel and crafty adversaries, because their adversaries also are in the hands of God, as a rod in the hand of the smiter.
2. He is taught of God in His law. If in our affliction we will learn anything, we must take God’s Book into our hands, and seriously peruse it. And hereby shall it appear that our afflictions have been our teachers, if by them we have felt ourselves stirred up to greater diligence, zeal, and reverence in reading and hearing the Word.
3. The lessons which affliction teacheth.
(1) Those who are yet to be converted. They by their afflictions are taught this one worthy lesson, worth all the lessons in the world; namely, to convert and turn to the Lord, to repent and believe the Gospel.
(2) The second kind of lessons taught by affliction is to those already converted. Concerning the right manner of bearing affliction. Concerning the right profit and holy use of afflictions. These lessons are proper to the converted, it being impossible for a man unconverted to leave either of them.
II. The blessedness which belongeth to the child of God.
1. The first kind of blessedness I call privative, because it consisteth in taking away of that curse which naturally cleaves to all afflictions.
2. There is also a positive blessedness in the afflictions of the godly. There is not only the absence of evil from affliction, but good also is present, in regard whereof the afflicted worthily are called and counted blessed.
(1) The good from whence they have their original; namely, the love of God disposing these afflictions to us.
(2) The good annexed to them, and necessarily concomitant with them. Our conformity with Christ our elder brother, who first suffered, and then entered into glory, who first wore a crown of thorns, and then of glory; who first felt the weight of His burdensome cross, and then that eternal weight of happiness (Romans 8:29). Our communion with Christ who is a fellow-sufferer with us in all our afflictions, unless such wherein we suffer as evil-doers (1 Peter 4:18). The powerful presence of God’s Spirit, cheering and comforting us in our affliction. Blessedness is nothing else but enjoying sweet communion with God. Now, since this communion is most of all enjoyed in affliction, worthily are the afflicted counted blessed.
(3) The good confirmed to us by them. The present good is our adoption, whereof they are assured pledges and badges unto us (Hebrews 12:1-29.). Good which afflictions confirm unto us is future. And that twofold.
(i.) In this life, an enlargement of comforts both inward and outward, even answerable to the measure of afflictions.
(ii.) In the life to come. “If we suffer with Him,” etc. Thus were the martyrs blessed in their afflictions, blessed in their martyrdom, God honouring them like Elias, sending for them, as M. Bradford speaks, to heaven in a fiery chariot. Thus we see how in every respect the afflicted are to be accounted blessed. (D. Dyke, B.D.)
How God deals with His saints
We all seek happiness. Some place it in high, some in low things; some seek it in the gifts of earth, some in the thoughts of heaven; some in sensuality, some in temperance; some in gratifying themselves, some in helping others; some in the fleshpots of Egypt, some in the manna which is angels’ food; but happiness we all seek, even if, at the very moment of our seeking it, we are utterly destroying its possibility. Now, does God grant what we call happiness to His saints on earth? Think you that they will complain that He slew them, though they trusted in Him? Do you imagine that had they to make their choice once more, they would say that they had been but miserably befooled, and would be ready to exchange their Saviour’s service for Satan’s lies? Oh, let them come forth; let them lean from the crystal battlements of heaven; and though we see them not, let them make the silence voiceful. And do they not say, “Listen ye, our brothers, who are toiling on the sea, while we have gained the shore. And know first that God in no wise deceived us. If He gave us not the things that earth counts blessings, neither did He ever promise them, but forbade us to set our heart in any way upon them. And if He gave us sorrow and sighing, and what the world accounted evil things, neither in this has He deceived us, for He warned us that we should have them. He bade us mortify the flesh; and we knew that mortification is not bliss. He told us that ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth’; nor were we ignorant that chastisement is not pleasant. Tradition told us that our Lord had said, ‘He who is near Me is near the fire’; and no tradition, but His own words, told us (Matthew 10:25). No, our God never deceived us. Our eyes were open. We had counted well the cost.” Nor is this all their answer. They bend to us from those pure sunlit heights, and we hear them saying, “And all that our God made us suffer, we knew to be for our good. We wished to be true and noble men, and at any cheaper price than this we could not be so. Not a pang we suffered, but it weaned us more wholly from the world. Not a disappointment which befell our feebleness, but it made us rest more utterly on Him. Not a garish lamp of earth which died out in fume, but it made more visible to us the living sapphires of spiritual hope. For the afflictions which were but mercies in disguise; for the flame which purged away the dross; for the furnace-heat which tried the silver; for the conflagration which burned up the straw and stubble, while the precious stones were left; for the floods which swept away the sand-built bases, to prove to us how unshakeable is that alone which is built upon a rock; for all these we thanked God then--we thank Him yet more deeply now. Yes, remember that our desires were not those of the world. All that we prayed God for was a noble heart which no earthly affection could drag down; and that He gave us, not only in, but by our sufferings. Oh, think not that we repine at these our sorrows; for we longed for one thing, and one thing only, which was to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect; and He (as with His own dear Son) so made us perfect by the things which we suffered.” And once more the saints say to us, “And you who think that God dealt hardly with us His saints, ask yourselves whether others, who were not saints in any wise, escaped the sorrows which He gave to us. Selfish men, mean men, vulgar men, false, sensual, unloving men, may seem for a time to escape their cross, but does it not fall on them more crushingly at the end? If our lives seemed to fail, do not theirs? If the wicked flourish like a green bay-tree, are they not scathed sometimes by the fire from their bramble passions, and does not the axe at last swing down through the parted air upon their root? If men abused and slandered us, do bad men also escape slander and abuse? And have they any amulet against pain, sickness, loss, bereavement, and all the natural ills of life? But was there not this difference between us, that when calamity fell on us we were strong and calm and pure to bear it, but when it fell on them it was calamity meeting an accusing conscience? And when calamity meets crime, then indeed it is the thunder-cloud gathering upon the midnight, it is the dashing of the sea against the sea. And even at what they would have called the best, did not the very world sicken them of the world? Is there not, as Bossuet said, enough of illusion in its attractions, of inconstancy in its favours, of bitterness in its rebuff, of injustice and perfidy in the dealings of men, of unevenness and capriciousness in their intractable and contradictory humours--is there not enough of all this to disgust us? Aye, and therefore better was our hunger than their satiety; better the freedom of our emancipated affections than their sick, surfeit, and passion-fettered ease.” So, then, the saints would tell us that God did indeed deal hardly with them--that He did send them trials, but had forewarned them that it should be so, and He sent largely and richly His peace therewith; and if they had not been His saints, then they would have had the trials but not the peace. “The things we resigned,” they say, “were mean things, and vile, and things we did not value; the things we gained were eternal. To us alone was it given to be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; to count it all joy when we fell into divers temptations; to rejoice in tribulations; to plunge into the willing agony and to be blessed. And in choosing this lot we heard voices which you too may hear; we saw beckoning hands which you too may see. ‘Come, My children,’ those voices called to us, ‘come and do My will. Let the hearts of others be foul with iniquity or fat as brawn--had all been such, the world had been a fen of corrupted waters, or a hell of raging strife--but ye are called to help, to raise, to inspire, to ennoble it.’“ (Dean Farrar.)
New conceptions of truth gained through discipline
A friend, writing of Dr. Gunsaulus, the beloved Chicago preacher, tells us that one large factor in his later religious development has been an experience in physical suffering and nervous depletion such as is rarely the lot of any child of God. “I have suffered an inch off my leg,” he said plaintively, and then he added words that sank deep into his friend’s memory: “If I had to suffer it all again, and, in addition, to crawl across the continent on my hands and knees in order to get the conception of truth and life which has come to me through this discipline, I would gladly do it.” What a testimony from such a man!--
The privilege of trial
At a meeting I attended lately for the Army Scripture Readers Society (writes a correspondent) I was greatly struck by a speech made by one of the soldiers present. In this speech he twice remarked, “It was my privilege to be wounded,” when speaking of the South African War. How beautiful and how rare. If we could all only have faith like this simple untaught soldier, and receive all trials and sorrows of our everyday life as privileges because sent from our Heavenly Father to lead us to Him! “So by our woes to be Nearer, my God, to Thee; Nearer to Thee.”
Until the pit be digged for the ungodly.
The retributive doom of the wicked
I. It is terrible; it is a “pit”; conveying the idea--
1. Of darkness; no sunlight.
2. Confinement; enclosed all around.
3. Of desolation; no society.
II. It is preparing. The pit is being “digged,” it is in process, not completed. Who is digging it? Not the Almighty, but the sinner himself. Deeper and deeper it becomes with every transgression he commits. (Homilist.)
Who will rise up for Me against the evil-doers?
or who will stand up for Me against the workers of iniquity?
The summons to holy work
It is hardly possible to read this psalm through without feeling that the inspired voice in it denounces the unbelief of the heathen’ world. When a man has come to a deep conviction of the Oneness of Jehovah every other worship is to him an abomination, for such worship must either be an awful rivalry to Him whose glory cannot be given to another, or must involve a total misconception of His nature and a blasphemous corruption of His name.
I. Characteristics of these evil-doers.
1. Not more than one-seventh of the human race is even nominally Christian; and among these Christians are reckoned all the populations of Austria, France, Russia, America, and Spain; the Greeks, the Copts, and the Armenians; the priest-ridden inhabitants of Brazil and Mexico, and all the crowds of our English cities; the Sabbath-breakers, the despisers of God’s love, the haters of God’s law, the drunkard, the harlot, the miser, the dotard, and the fool. Verily, an accumulation of sin, a multitude of evil-doers, are to be found in so-called Christendom! But let us turn from the one-seventh to the six-sevenths of this world’s population. Here, notwithstanding all our grievous imperfections, we are passing out of Goshen into Egyptian darkness.
2. Their variety. In one place there is subtle speculation, in another gross vice; here utter indifference, there wild fanaticism; in one tribe crushing ignorance, in another daring philosophy and luxuriant imagination. Some there are who, under the stimulus of history and myth, are virtual adorers of humanity, as the Confucianist and the Northern Buddhist; others, without traditions, or love, or duty, cherish no reverence, and fear no evil. The regiments of the prince of this world wear various uniforms; the mutineers in God’s army are widespread and bear divers colours: they speak a hundred dialects or tongues, and are scattered over the whole world. Amid the varieties that we have to contend against, and the sins that we know to be grieving the heart of Immanuel, let us not omit to notice the men who find in the variety of the mutineers some arguments against the legitimacy of the Great King, who give to these forms of evil-doing gentle names, who are hopeless about the work of their reduction, and give it up in despair.
3. Their organization. The differences of which we have spoken in race, position, language, religion, philosophical character, take great leading types, and have prominent characteristics. Take away caste from the Brahmin, and you deprive him of his birthright. Take away caste from the mind of the Hindu, and you take away his living God. The most acute minds, and the best educated of the native populations, fight against all that we can believe to be sacred and holy, with the desperation of men who are contending for the altar, the homesteads, the graves of their fathers.
4. Their depravity. We would not blacken our poor humanity beyond its deserts, but nowhere, not even amid the most polished provinces of India and China, can we find a righteous class, or discover anything approximating a moral elevation--a standard of excellence which can excite the faintest hope that heathenism has within itself the elements of improvement or the seeds of life. Even the few exceptions of men whose virtues have been notorious, whose temptations have been overcome, whose philosophy, whose affections, or whose patriotism have triumphed over their lust, and been mighty enough to redeem them by God’s grace from the universal pollution, do after all shed the most terrible light over the corruption that is untouched, and reveal throughout the wide extent of man the presence of a power and of possibilities, of a conscience, a freedom, and a spirit in man which leave him, as the apostle says, “without excuse.”
II. The course which God has taken with these evil-doers, and also what is involved in the appeal here uttered. “Who will rise up for Me against the evil-doers?” “Who is on the Lord’s side? Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” By these appeals to the heart of His people, God seems to tell us that He is not going to crush, or destroy, or convert, or save these evil-doers by any fiat of omnipotence, by any touch of His imperial sceptre, His method has always been to teach men by men; to uproot error by truth; to overturn and undermine evil influence by good influence; to conquer darkness by light; to drive out hatred by love. He took up the manhood of Jesus into His own Godhead, and made that great light henceforth to rule the day, and He made the reflections of His glory--as all lesser lights really are--to rule the night; and ever since the exaltation of Jesus, when He intends to reach the hearts and conquer the wills of men by His love, He calls the sons of men, the brethren of Jesus, to His help against the mighty.
III. The response which is made to this appeal. Science, commerce, luxury, a polished language and unlimited resources, have had their day and utterly failed, having miserably succumbed in revelry, suicide and hell. Never let us hope that we can save Africa with cotton, or India with railways; the Moslem is not softened by a telegraph, nor the Dyak of Borneo purified by geometry. God calls for other helpers; and lo! by the side of all these shadowy forms, an angel of light (Revelation 10:1-2). The thunders utter their voices, and “another angel appears, having the everlasting Gospel,” etc. Wheresoever this power has gone it has gained victories. Every sanctuary, every log-cabin where the name of Jesus has been breathed, is a scene where a battle has been fought against evil-doers, and a victory has been won. With whatsoever individual, class, or nation it comes fairly into contact, the evil is driven out, the tendencies to good sublimed and purified. It is the Gospel which shows the only way of meeting the clamour of insulted conscience, and supplies motives strong enough to lift the soul into harmony with its own moral law. (H. Reynolds, B.A.)
Zeal for Christian enterprise
When Dr. Beecher, the father of Mr. Beecher-Stowe, lay dying, his sons said to him, “Would you rather go to heaven, or begin the battle on earth again?” The eyes of the old warrior in the cause of Christ sparkeled as he replied, “Boys, if I had the choice I would choose the battle.” If all professing Christians were as eager to fight for their King against the forces of darkness, the world would soon be won to the Saviour. Alas! too many seem to think more about going to heaven than seeking to lead others there. (The Quiver.)
During one of the great battles of the American Civil War a recruit who had lost his company in the tumult of strife approached General Sheridan and timidly asked where he would “step in,” “Step in?” thundered Sheridan, in a voice that frightened the already terrified recruit almost as much as the roar of cannonading and musketry. “Step in anywhere; there’s fighting all along the line.” An accident occurred recently that very forcibly brought Sheridan’s words to mind. A heavy piece of machinery was being moved into a building by means of a block and tackle. Suddenly one of the ropes parted and the machine began to slide backward. The two men who had charge of the work sprang to stay its progress, but it was more than they were capable of doing. “Give us a lift,” one of them shouted to a bystander. “Where shall I take hold?” asked the man thus addressed, unmindful of the fact that both men were exerting every muscle to control the machine and that there was not a second to lose. “Grab hold anywhere!” yelled the mover. But another had already seen the necessity for instant action, and rendered the necessary assistance. It may be that we are in a field of Christian enterprise where we are unaccustomed to work, and are timidly asking where we shall “Step in.” We may find our answer in the words of Sheridan, “Step in anywhere; there’s fighting all along the line.” (Christian World.)
When I said, My foot slippeth; Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.
A common incident of the journey
The soul in peril can seldom say much, but that which is said is generally expressive. Take, for example, these words: they imply faith in the presence of One able to help--abhorrence of the sin to which ha is tempted--and confidence in His willingness to save. This experience is a common one. All of us are, at some time, found in slippery places.
I. Some slippery places, We are the more exposed to falling when we are brought into circumstances of--
1. Poverty and want. Christ was tempted when He hungered.
2. Of annoyance and vexation. Moses smote the rock in anger.
3. Of dejection and perplexity (Psalms 73:2-3).
4. Of sore bereavement and trial (Job).
II. Some things concerning the traveller, rendering these the more perilous.
1. The absence of the staff, or negligence in its use. Learn the promises and use them.
2. The foot ill-shod.
3. Drowsiness. “Watch and pray, that,” etc.
5. The lantern untrimmed or insecure, so that it goes out or burns dimly.
III. The sure means for preservation. We have simply to cry to the Deliverer. The secret of a secure and blessed life is constant ejaculatory prayer. The moment danger is oven anticipated, to ask for timely assistance. (R. A. Griffin.)
Upheld by Divine mercy
Not often has the voice of man pointed the way and brought sinners to Christ with so much of picturesque and sweet persuasiveness as did that of Dr. Bonar. What could be finer than this eccentric way of stating the Gospel: “Suppose that I, a sinner, be walking along yon golden street, passing by one angel after another. I can hear them say, as I pass through their ranks, ‘A sinner! a crimson sinner!’ Should my feet totter? Should my eye grow dim? No; I can say to them, ‘Yes, a sinner--a crimson sinner--but a sinner brought near by a forsaken Saviour, and now a sinner who has boldness to enter into the Holiest through the blood of Christ.’”
In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul.
Comfort amid disquieting thoughts
The word here translated “thoughts” means thoughts of a pensive, anxious nature--thoughts which have in them nothing bright and pleasant; thoughts which yoke themselves with cares; which perplex and disturb and depress us; and which we are not very ready to speak about, but are rather inclined to keep to ourselves. Our text speaks of the “multitude” of such “thoughts.” They are not rare and exceptional. They are to be found in all. Nor do they come to us merely at great crises and emergencies of our life, when something startling wakes up within us slumbering faculties, or when something crushing evokes hidden feelings of our heart. No; such thoughts come to us all at times, now darting into our mind like a lightning flash; now floating dreamily within our consciousness on some current of ordinary reflection. And their number who will reckon? As sparks fly off from the heated iron, so do these thoughts spring up in every reflective mind. For such thoughts, the psalmist implicitly admits there is no remedy in ourselves. From disagreeable things outside us we may protect ourselves; but who can insure himself against the influence of thoughts which arise within, and which come most easily in seasons of solitude and retirement from the world? Happy are they who learn the folly of fleeing from such thoughts; who know the wisdom of boldly fronting them with the precious thoughts of God; who are able to use the psalmist’s words as the expression of their experience. “In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts have caused me to leap and dance for joy.” Not only has he been able to bear the uneasy, anxious thoughts; not only has he been able to resist and overcome and quench them; but also he has experienced sensations of a directly opposite character; sensations of joy and exhilaration comfort. Care and anxiety and grief do, by God’s grace, but make more real to us the tenderness of His sympathy and the amplitude of His love. Let us particularize some of these thoughts within us which disquiet and distress us, and let us see how they are met and satisfied by the comforts of God which delight our souls. In the multitude of our disquieting thoughts will be found some concerning God and the future. “What if there were no God? What if it be true, after all, that the immortality of the soul is a delusion?” Such thoughts are very distressing. Still, let us face them calmly. It is not sinful to face and examine them when they come. They are permitted to come to us that we may not be satisfied with a traditional, superstitious, unintelligent belief. They who have passed through honest doubt without making shipwreck of their faith attain to a confidence and assurance regarding the truth of Christianity which nothing can shake or weaken. Their faith before was a sapling which had never felt a breeze, whereas now it is an oak which has been nursed into strength amid furious storms. They will feel that it was worth all the disquiet they suffered to attain to the firm peace which they now enjoy.. The consolations of God were small to them formerly compared with what they are now. They never knew before the preciousness of God’s thoughts as they know them now. But another, and a very different class of disquieting thoughts are to be met with in many of God’s people; I mean uneasy thoughts about their temporal affairs. You remember how you trembled at the thought of things which were threatening; how you persuaded yourself that disasters were inevitable; how your spirits were depressed, your bodily health enfeebled, and yourself unfitted, in a great measure, for meeting an emergency if it arose. In such an hour, when you turned to Him whom you were dishonouring, what light fell upon your path, what consolation entered your heart, what strength was imparted to your resolution, what grace was given you to accept cheerfully whatever might come. Think yet again. In the multitude of our uneasy, anxious thoughts there will be some about our friends. God has linked us so closely to those around us that even the most selfish of us cannot always care only for ourselves. Perhaps some of the most solicitous thoughts we ever have are about those who are near and dear to us. And yet we must bury them to a large extent in our heart. They must be to each, “My thoughts within me.” The careful, anxious thoughts which crowd forth from a Christian parent’s heart, and cluster round his or her children, are a multitude which no man can number. Yet, amid such thoughts, what comfort a Christian parent has in God! Upon whom, save upon Him, can he roll such a load of care? To whom, save God, can he tell all that is in his heart? And mark his consolation. God is his Father. All the love and pity and care; all the solicitude and tender concern which he feels for his child, God feels for him. What confidence, what gladness, what trust that enables him to feel. His anxieties about his children are changed into arguments for faith; into unanswerable reasons for calm, unwavering trust. Once more. How many anxious, disquieting thoughts some Christians have about death. Perhaps most or all of us have them. And there is no class of thoughts men are more unwilling to utter than these. They keep them in their own heart. “My thoughts within me.” And yet, when we bring them to God in prayer, how many consoling messages He brings home to our hearts from His Holy Word. What peace, what satisfaction, what comfort we experience in leaving to His loving care all that may happen! The hour of our departure is fixed by Him. Before that hour comes, nothing can take us away; after it has arrived, nothing can detain us here. “My times are in Thy hand. Not only the time, but also the place and the manner are arranged by Him. And who loves us so wisely or so well as He? Regarding it all, we need not have a single care. (W. Young, B. A.)
David’s malady and remedy
I. The malady.
1. The grief itself. “Thoughts” considered simply in themselves do not contain any matter of grief or evil, they are the proper and natural issue and emanations of the soul which comes from it with a great deal of easiness, and with a great deal of delight, but it is the exorbitancy and irregularity of them which is here intended, when they do not proceed evenly and fairly, as they ought to do, but with some kind of interruption. The finest wits are liable to the greatest distractions; and the more advantages any have of doing evil, the more occasions have they likewise of suffering evil, as the mind is capable of the greater comfort and contentment, so it is also of the greatest trouble; and look as it is in the body, that the most exquisite constitutions are liable to the greatest pains, so in the soul the most sublime and raised parts are exposed to the most disquieting thoughts.
2. The amplification of this evil from the number. “Multitude of thoughts.” Thoughts crowding and thrusting in themselves in a violent and confused manner one upon another.
(1) Man’s mind goes from one thing to another like a bee in the change of flowers, and is never at rest; and this is a part of that vanity which is upon it; this infirmity is seen in nothing more than it is in the performance of good duties, prayer and hearing of the Word, and such religious exercises as these, wherein this multitude of thoughts does in a special manner discover itself.
(2) Our thoughts are for the most part answerable to the estate we are in, and the occasions which are presented to us. Now, forasmuch as there is an alteration in them, there is also a diversity in these, suitable and agreeable thereunto.
3. The subject of this grief and distemper is David himself; from whence observe that even the children of God themselves they are sometimes troubled with anxious and solicitous thoughts, and that also in a very great multitude and plurality of them.
(1) Concerning their own salvation and state in grace.
(2) Concerning their own preservation and provision and state always in the world.
(3) Concerning the public state and condition of the Church of God and the commonwealth. All these several heads do make up this multitude of thoughts in the Church of God.
4. The intimacy or closeness of it. “In my very heart.”
(1) The secrecy of this grief.
(2) The settledness and radication of this evil; it was within him, and it was within his heart, that is, it was deeply rooted and fastened, and such as had a strong groundwork and foundation in him, such were these troublesome thoughts, they were got into his very inwards and bowels, and so were not easily got out again.
(3) The impression which they had upon him, and the sense which he himself had of them. They were such as did grievously afflict him, and pierce him, and went near unto him, they went to his very heart, and touched him, as it were, to the quick, through the grievousness of them.
II. The remedy.
1. The physic itself.
(1) To take it distinctly and simply in itself. “Thy comforts.” He speaks here to God, and gives testimony to His comforts in this hi.s present condition. “My thoughts,” but “Thy comforts”; we may raise thoughts of ourselves, but it is God only can settle them: we may torment ourselves, but it is God only can relieve us; none can comfort but God. “Thy comforts,” not only original and effective, but likewise material and objective; not only as God is the author and bestower of these comforts, but likewise as God is the object and matter of this last. If we speak properly and exactly, so all comforts are God’s comforts, even those comforts which are in the creatures, and which are derived and conveyed to us in them, they are no other than His. The comforts which are in friends, estates, outward blessings, are all His comforts. They are His as giving the thing, and as giving the contentment. But these comforts here in the text are said to be His in a further consideration. “Thy comforts,” that is Divine comforts, Christian comforts, spiritual comforts, comforts drawn from religion. The closer we walk with God, the more comfort we have from Him, not only hereafter in heaven, but also now at present here upon earth, which should therefore be a further spur to incite us hereunto.
(2) The second is by considering them connectively in reference to what went before in the beginning of the verse, “In the multitude of my thoughts.” First, here is their concomitancy, by making “in” to be as much as “cure.” “In my thoughts,” that is, altogether with them; and so it does imply thus much unto us, that the children of God are never wholly and absolutely disquieted and dejected in themselves; but as God does in His providences suffer them now and then to be troubled with sad thoughts, so at the very same moment and instant of time does he administer comfort more or less unto them. The second is their opportunity, “In the multitude” of distracting thoughts; that is, just when they were come to their height and extremity in me. The comforts of God are seasonable, and observe the proper time for their coming, neither too soon, nor too late; not before, that were too soon, nor after, that were too late; but “in,” that is, just in the very point and nick of time. This should teach us never to despair, but rather then to be fullest of hope, and to make perplexities to be a remedy against themselves. And so much for that second particular, to wit their opportunity. The third particular is their conveniency, and the suitableness of these comforts here spoken of. This is signified in that interpretation, which renders it by the word “according.” And here again are two things more. First, they are suitable to the number of the evils. And, secondly, they are suitable to the greatness of them.
2. The operation of this physic, and that we have briefly in these words, “Delight my soul.”
(1) For the act “delight,” this is a transcendent expression, which the Holy Ghost in the pen of the prophet David comes up unto: it had been a great matter to have said, they satisfy my soul, or they quiet me, no more but so, that is the highest pitch which a perplexed spirit can wish to itself. Those which are in great pain, they would be glad if they might have but ease, they cannot aspire so high as pleasure and delight; this is more than can be expected by them; but see here now the notable efficacy of these Divine comforts, they do not only pacify the mind, but they joy it; they do not only satisfy it, but ravish it; they do not only quiet it, but delight it.
(2) The second is the object, and that is my soul. We showed before how the grief was in the mind, and therefore the comfort must be so also, that the remedy may answer the malady. Bodily comforts will not allay spiritual troubles, but spiritual comforts will make very great amends in bodily infirmities. A good heart it will do good, as a medicine, as Solomon speaks; and it will give marrow and fatness to the bones. (T. Horton, D.D.)
Unruly thoughts quieted by Divine consolations
I. In evil times the misery of the saints of God is more from thoughts within than from troubles without.
1. The best men they are not freed, while they live here, from unruly, unsubdued thoughts.
(1) From the corruptions of the unregenerate part, the remainder of a corruption in the best men, it is like fire in an oven (Hosea 7:4-5), and he hath violent irruptions.
(2) From the invasion of some enticing creature-objects amongst them, as David saw Bathsheba: Achan saw, and he desired; considered and desired: so likewise it is said in 1 John 2:6.
(3) From the injections of Satan: for what are unruly thoughts? It is Satan doth himself many times immediately inject: so the devil put it into the heart of Judas to betray Christ.
2. In times of trouble, these thoughts come in by multitudes: a man’s thoughts are never so tumultuous as in troublesome times.
(1) Because in troublesome times the souls of men are awake. In times of prosperity and peace there is usually a spirit of slumber upon men; but when God empties a man from vessel to vessel, then how full of projects is the heart of man? never brought into danger, but the man his thoughts rise. Oh, how shall I escape? what shall I do? and how shall I make provision for myself?
(2) Satan takes special care to assail the hearts of men with thoughts in an evil time.
3. The great part of afflictions doth lie more in these tumultuous and unruly thoughts within, than in all a man’s troubles and afflictions without: winds without do not cause an earthquake, but wind within.
II. God doth provide for His people consolations in and answerable to their afflictions. Consider, first, there is no affliction that ever the people of God are cast into that He leaves destitute of consolation. It is never pure darkness (Genesis 15:17), even when the Church of God was as a sacrifice cut in pieces, yet notwithstanding there was a light passed between the pieces; it is never pure darkness, but yet notwithstanding it may be many times darkness in reference to creature-comforts, they may have no comforts they can look at here below. And this consolation that God gives them is a seasonable consolation, “In the multitude of my thoughts”: in the very time when I am most perplexed, then doth God bring in His consolations. Nay, not only in the affliction, but according unto the affliction, so shall the consolation be, and therefore Jerome reads it, “According to the multitude of my thoughts”; so were the multitude of God’s consolations; God will give it in the time and the season of it; but, withal, the Lord will give it according unto the measure; when He doth bring great afflictions, He provideth for you strong consolations, that as the affliction aboundeth, so the consolations shall abound; the Lord tells you, that His rewards shall be according to the measure of His mercies: it is an admirable expression in Hosea 10:12. (W. Strong.)
Religion the best support under the troubles of life
I. Religion moderates our love of the world, restrains our affections from the eager pursuit of its enjoyments, and thereby enables us to bear with greater patience its evils and afflictions, and prevents immoderate sorrow and dejection under them.
II. Religion affords such immediate delight and pleasure, as in a great measure supplies the want of any outward enjoyment, and allays the pain of any worldly distress.
III. Religion, as it teaches that all things are ordered by the most perfect wisdom and goodness, so it particularly assures every good man that all things shall work together for his real interest.
IV. Religion gives us the blessed prospect of a happy end to all our sorrows, and of rest from all our labours in the life which is to come.
V. Religion entitles us to the gracious influences of the Spirit of God, by which we are enabled to apply all these things to our comfort, and to rejoice in the Lord always. (F. Carmichael.)
Divine comforts in the world of thought
I. Man’s real world is in his thoughts, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” The universe and God are to a man according to his thoughts. Those thoughts are very multitudinous. “The multitude of my thoughts.” Who can count the thoughts of one man, even during one day? They flow through the soul as wavelets on the rapid stream.
II. Man’s real happiness is in his God. “Thy comforts delight my soul.” Thy unchangeableness amidst the mutations, Thy paternal providence amidst the solicitudes, Thy pardoning mercy amidst the remorses, Thy promises of immortality amidst the forebodings--all these “delight my soul.” (Homilist.)
God’s comforts greater than our troubles
God’s comforts are not like melting vapours and summer brooks. They are “rivers of pleasures,” and “wells of salvation.” We stoop down to drink where Abraham bent the knee. We draw water where David assuaged his thirst. Jesus talks to us of the living water which shall be “in us a well of water.” If the toils, and cares, and troubles which exercised the pious soul of the writer of this psalm should come in on us in all their multitude, and with all their tumult, like the noise of many waters, the “comforts” of our God, fuller, deeper, and more abiding, will come flowing in to still them, and to fill all the soul with their own sweet delights.
I. Suppose that the trouble arises directly out of the heart. The multitude of the thoughts in this ease are all tinged with self-accusation. Sin revives, the better self seems dead. Where is the comfort for such a state? In the whole Gospel. In all the fulness of Jesus Christ--His cleansing blood, His purifying Spirit, His tender love, His power to save to the uttermost.
II. Suppose that the trouble arises, not out of the heart directly, but out of the circumstances. There are some who have not habitually many fears within, but who have often or constantly great fightings without. Martha still lives her busy, toilsome life. “Careful and troubled about many things” is written on many a face. The comforts God has for such a state are manifold, and they sometimes break upon the man suddenly, like stars through clouds. “Ebenezer!” That seals and keeps all the past, so that now you cannot lose it. It will be a fact for evermore, and I trust to you a blessed memory, that the Lord has helped you through all that past. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want!” Is not that a plentiful provision for the present hour? And there are some texts with still more tenderness in them (Matthew 6:8; Philippians 4:19; 1 Peter 5:7).
III. Or suppose that the trouble arises in some way out of the strangeness and the strength of Divine providence. Every man with a will, with a plan, with any great and generous purpose, is sure to be at some time so thwarted as greatly to need the comforts of God. Then take these comforts, these two:--The first is this, that undoubtedly the supreme and perfect will of God has been working in all. And as soon as there is a devout recognition of that will, there will be some beginning of rest, some influx of a holy calm. But there is another. Because another is needed to make the comfort full. For the man might still say, “Then all I have been working for is pure loss--loss of energy, loss of affection, loss of time--mere ruin in God’s universe. God does not need ruins to build with. How much better, therefore, it would have been if I could have discovered the perfect will earlier, so as to save all that bootless toil and useless waste.” Not so. For here is the second comfort:--“All things work together for good to them that love God.”
IV. A devout Christian looking at the whole Church may well have a “multitude of thoughts within him.” This whole Church is the one body of Christ, and “every one members one of another”; and yet what divisions, what conflicts there are among the parts and sections! But here also God’s comforts come in. The Lord reigneth. He will heal the distractions of His Church. He will give “the same mind and the same judgment.” He will give one heart and one soul. He will pour out His Spirit as a spirit of love and power and of a sound mind. He will restore the waste places, the ruins of many generations. He will bring again Zion. He will establish and make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth. (A. Raleigh, D.D.)
Deliverance from danger; delight in distress
I. The soul’s danger and distress.
1. The danger arose, not from any impotency in the man, but from the slippery or rough state of the road. Your horse may be quite sure-footed, but if you drive him over a rough or ice-covered road he may stumble. This good man was both sound and strong. He believed that the man was blessed whom the Lord chastened. But just at this point the path became very slippery, and for the moment he felt confused, excited, and troubled, so that he was almost falling. Now, a much-needed lesson springs out of this circumstance. We are taught to guard ourselves against a spirit of self-sufficiency, and also to sympathize with our stumbling brethren, who are quite as sound and strong as ourselves, but who slip because of the stronger temptations they have to encounter.
2. But connected with this danger there is distress. As a rule distress follows in the wake of danger, even though the threatened danger has been averted. People who have experienced what seemed miraculous escapes have afterwards been visited by the greatest distress of mind. They are intensely thankful that they did escape, but the danger, that was so dreadful and imminent, takes such hold of their mind, that, though saved from it in a physical sense, they, nevertheless, go through it again and again in their imagination, and the process is one of the most acute pain. Deliverance from evil does not, as a rule, leave the mind full of pure joy and gratitude; the thought of the other alternative--what might have been--fixes itself like a barbed arrow in the breast.
II. Deliverance and delight. Observe the nature of the deliverance. He was held up, not lifted and carried away. His surroundings remain the same. The slippery path is before him as well as behind him. God simply sustains him. Thus it is that His mercy is often vouchsafed. He takes not away the burden; but He enables us to bear it. He changes not the scene from war to peace, but arrays us in the armour and strengthens us with the might that will ensure for us a glorious victory. He makes not the path less rough or slippery, but takes us by the hand, and so helps us on. And just as the danger is followed by distress, so the deliverance is followed by delight. “Thy comforts delight my soul.” The feet are not only firmly established, but a new song is put into the mouth. The heart’s agitation is calmed. The shock is allayed. The troubled mind finds peace. Its darkness is turned into day, and its motions are no more those of fear, but the ecstasies of pure delight.
III. The soul’s access to these blessings. “When I said.” The confession and the salvation are connected--the one leads to the other. And what of the confession? It is that of a trembling, humble soul that mistrusts itself; but though perplexed still, trusts in the living God, and so, in answer to its call, deliverance comes. What a difference there is, then, between confession and profession (Matthew 26:33-34). (Adam Scott.)
Medicine for the distracted
Good people are a thoughtful people. They are none the less so because they are men of faith. Christ’s words, “Take no thought for the morrow,” meant only take no carking care, no anxious thought: it was anxiety, not prudence, which He condemned. They take much account of their thoughts. Other men are scarcely alarmed at their actions unless they be very glaring, but the saint trembles when an impure thought defiles his soul. For thought makes character: “As a man thinketh, so is he.” We must, then, look well to our thoughts and keep our heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. Happy shall we be if we can say as the psalmist, “In the multitude,” etc. Note--
I. The psalmist’s declaration: It means--
1. That, when passing many subjects in review before him, he selected the joys of true religion, or the comforts of God, as the subjects which he preferred before all others. He knew the joys of quiet meditation. He was a man whose contemplations would take a wide range. He had lived a country life, he knew much of the beauties of nature, of the glories of the heavens, and he could unite his thoughts about them to fit words. Of all purely intellectual joys there is, surely, none greater than to be able to pour forth sublime truths in fitting words. But he knew also the delights of active life, and they are not a few to a man who is in vigorous health and mental force. Also he knew the splendours of a court. Yet, reviewing all his life thoughts, he makes this declaration, “In the multitude,” etc. Should not this be the assertion of every Christian?
2. The text means, also, that when he was exercised with many cares in life, he found his solace in the comforts of his God. He had many reasons for care. At court, when persecuted; “but,” we read, “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” This what we should do. Then--
3. When oppressed with evil thoughts he found his shelter in God. Such thoughts do come into the holiest minds. How horrible they are, and how desperate is the conflict of a gracious soul when it is tortured with them. But at such times the only consolation is to fall back upon God.
4. When the mind is worried with thoughts which cannot be dissipated, it is well to turn unto the Lord. Men will have periods in which they do not seem so much to have a subject for thought as to be prisoners of care to ten thousand subjects at once. They are carried away as with a flood. What nights of weary watchings and longings for rest that will not come do they cause! Now, there is no sleeping draught that I know of like contemplation of the love of God.
5. If ever we are beset with a multitude of thoughts of a doubting kind, we shall find our best solace in flying to our God. Francis Quarles, in his quaint “Emblems,” represents a man with a flail, who is dealing heavy blows all around, and the only one who escapes is a person who, with much daring, comes close to him; the way to escape the heavy blows of Providence is to close in with Him who wields the rod, for the further off the heavier the blow. In all dark times run home. Return unto your rest. If you cannot come to the Lord as a saint, come as a sinner.
II. What is this subject upon which David lays such stress? He says, “ Thy comforts delight my soul.” What are God’s comforts? They are the truths which surround the person and work of God. First there is the Father. What comfort that He is our Father! Then comes Jesus, the Son of God, our very brother, man, our perfect atonement, and He who has perfumed the grave in which we shall sleep, and then removed its door. And then the Holy Spirit, for He helpeth our infirmities. But these consolations spring from the whole work and system of Divine grace; from the attributes and from the promises of God. The Bible is a great honeycomb, and it drips with honey. Conclusion:--The way to comfort is the way which leads thee to thy God. And oh, poor sinner, the same way is open to you. Do not look within for comfort, for you will find none. As well go to the Arctic regions, and pierce icebergs to discover warmth, as look to yourselves for consolation. Away then to Him who has said, “Whosoever cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Multitudinous thoughts and sacred comforts
If a man were a mere animal he would not need the comfort which thought may bring, outward things would be enough. Let but the trough be full and the swine are happy; the pasture abundant and the sheep are content. But man needs far more. His greatest joy or misery must proceed from inner springs. Hence the importance, but also the labour and difficulty of guarding our thoughts, for they are unstable, unruly, fickle, swift, impetuous, changeable as the clouds of heaven. How then shall we do this? Let the text tell us. It speaks--
I. Of multitudinous thoughts and sacred comforts. None of these thoughts, then, are those which are tumultuous in the night of trial. At such times it is a great blessing if God’s comforts are, as they may be, our stay and holdfast. They were so to David (Psalms 94:9; Psalms 94:12; Psalms 94:14). And he calls to mind his own experience. “Unless the Lord had been my help,” etc. “Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.” Such thoughts as these in times of tumult will not merely console, but delight the soul. Perplexing thoughts and periods of dilemma. It is with some as with Israel at the Red Sea. The sea before them, the rocks on either hand, and the cruel Egyptians in the rear. In such cases there is nothing for it but to “stand still and see the salvation of God.” Remember that often all thy way is ordered by a higher power than thine. Our Pilot never sleeps, and His hand never relaxes its grasp. Remorseful thoughts in the hour of recollection. Who can be without these when he passes his life in review? Can there be forgiveness for all these? Then the comforts of God come to us in Jesus. Thoughts of heart-searching in seasons of spiritual anxiety. And of foreboding in days of depression. Lift high the banner, “Jehovah Jireh.” It must be well with us, it cannot be ill. Occasionally we have thoughts profound in times of meditation. There are many great mysteries in the Word of God, and foolish persons utterly befog themselves with them; some minds seem never to be satisfied until they find something which they cannot comprehend, and then they are ready to give up the Bible altogether; they act like one who should come in to a feast, and after turning over all the good things, should at last find a bone with no meat upon it, and should insist upon it that he would not eat a morsel until he could digest that particular bone. But I bless God for a religion which I cannot perfectly understand.
II. View these sacred comforts. View them in their nature. They are connected with God--the Father, Son, Holy Ghost. When Archbishop Whately was dying, a friend said to him, “Sir, you are great in death as well as in life.” The good man shook his head and replied, “I am dying, as I have lived, a simple believer in Jesus Christ.” “But what a blessing it is,” said the other, “that your glorious intellect does not fail you at the last.” “There is nothing glorious,” said he, “but Jesus Christ.” “Still,” said the other, “your grand endurance is a great support to you.” “I have no support but faith in the crucified Saviour,” said he. Comfort comes from the Lord alone. And these comforts have stability. Many consolations are like the life-buoys heard of a while ago, which are exceedingly useful on dry land, but of no service whatever when once a man trusts his life to them in the sea. But not so God’s comforts. And they are efficient. They delight “my soul,” my very self. And they delight, not merely sustain and quiet the soul.
III. A contrast. For many never think at all. Their thoughts, if they have any, are like a swarm of gnats, volatile, dancing up and down, light, useless. Oh, that men would think! Once there was a canoe afloat on Niagara, but some miles off the fall. As the current carried it on, people on the bank could see that the paddle was shipped and an Indian lying in the canoe fast asleep. They shouted as loud as they could to awake him, for they well knew what dread peril he was in. They ran along the bank shouting and calling to him, but it was of no use. He had either been drinking or was so fatigued that his slumber was most profound, and the canoe went on, continually increasing its pace. It dashed at last against a headland, and spun round in the torrent, and they said one to another, “He is safe; the man will be awakened. Such a start as that must rouse him up, and he will paddle out of danger.” But no, he went right on till the roaring of the fall was near, and then the course of the boat was so rapid that none could keep up with it, and it went whirling on faster and faster. So profound was the Indian’s sleep, that for a while even the roar of the fall did not awaken him, but at last he was aroused, and then he grasped his paddle; but it was all too late; he was borne onward, and the last that was seen of him was his standing bolt upright in the boat as it plunged over the abyss, and was never seen or heard of more. Ah! how like is this to those of you who are asleep, and are borne onward by the treacherous current. That fever, that sick-bed, like a headland jutting into the stream, methought it would have made you think. That frail bark of thine was twisted round and round. O that thy soul had been but aroused from its slumber. The noise of hell may well be in thy ears, and the sound that cometh up from the abyss of terror may well arouse thee; but alas, I fear, thou wilt sleep on until escape be no longer possible. But may God forbid. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Here is a twofold army, one marching against another, an insurrection and a debellation; a tumult and its appeasement; a band of thoughts assaulting, and a host of comforts repelling, resisting, protecting. There is a multitude of those thoughts, and no less is the number of these comforts. These troublous thoughts have got into the citadel of the heart, within me; and these consolatory forces have entered as far, even into the soul; “they delight my soul.” Those thoughts fight under the colours of flesh and blood, but these comforts under the banner of God; they are “my” thoughts, but “Thy” comforts; the cogitations of man, but the consolations of Jesus Christ.
I. Our foes.
1. The rebels are thoughts. As the world produceth vipers, and serpents, and venomous creatures, worms and caterpillars that would devour their parent, so the soul breeds noxious and mutinous thoughts, that are like an earthquake in her bowels; and while they maintain civil broils and factions one against another, she feels the smart of all.
2. The number of them is a multitude. Thought calls to thought, jealousy to fear, fear to sorrow, sorrow to despair; and these furies leap upon the heart as a stage, beginning to act their tragical parts. Man hath more wheels moving in him than a clock; only the difference is, that the wheels of a clock move all one way, whereas his faculties, like the epicycles, have a rapt motion. His sensitive appetite gives him one motion, his fantasy another, his reason a third, and his imperious, impetuous will crosseth them all, driving the chariot of his affections with the fury of Jehu. He desires and thinks, and chooseth, argues, consents, and dislikes, and makes more business than time itself. There are not so many hours in one year as there may be thoughts in an hour.
3. The captain of this troublesome soul is himself; “my” thoughts. From what suggestion soever our thoughts come, we call them our own; as whosoever begot the babe, the mother calls it her own child. Indeed, the praise and propriety of good motives we ascribe only to God, without whom we cannot so much as think a good thought; as the channel may gather filth of itself, but it cannot have a drop of pure water but from the fountain. Bad suggestions, though they proceed from Satan, we call them our own, because they are bred in the womb of our natural corruption; stubble is blown by the wind into the fire, and, being inflamed, it becomes fire.
4. The field where the skirmish is fought; “within me.” It is unhappy when soldiers march over the palaces of peace and seats of justice, where the councillors and senators used to sit. If there must be war, let it be in foreign countries, or if it will be in our own land, yet let it proceed no further than the borders; but when it is gotten into the chief city, though it be subdued, it will cost a dear victory.
II. Our friends.
1. They are “comforts”; not presumptions, nor promises, nor mere hopes; but solid and sensible comforts.
2. There is a plurality of them: “many comforts.” Are we troubled with the wants and miseries of this life? We have a comfort for that: “The Lord is my portion; He is my shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” Do we sink under the burden of our transgressions? We have a comfort for that. Mary Magdalene heard it to quiet all her storms: “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Are we haunted with temptations, hurried with persecutions? We have a comfort for that: “I will be with thee in trouble,” saith the Lord. Our comforts vie with the number of our sorrows, and win the game. The mercies of God passed over in a gross sum breed no admiration; but cast up the particulars, and then arithmetic is too dull an art to number them. As many dusts as a man’s hands can hold is but his handful of so many dusts; but tell them one by one, and they exceed all numeration.
3. “Thy comforts.” Troubles may be of our own begetting; but true comforts come only from that infinite fountain, the God of consolation; for so He hath styled Himself. The eagle, at her highest flight, will not lose sight of her young ones; if she perceive any danger approaching, down she comes again to their defence. Christ is indeed ascended up on high, yet He hath a favourable eye to His servants below.
4. “Delight the soul,” which is the last circumstance; the effect of all. All God’s war is for peace. We should never have had such a conflict, if God had not intended us for such a conquest. If here were nothing but sorrows, earth would be thought hell; if nothing but comforts, it would be thought heaven.But that we may know it to be, as indeed it is, neither heaven nor hell, but between both, and the way to either, we have a vicissitude of troubles and delights. In calamity, good nourishments are comfortable, good words are comfortable, good friends are comfortable, the physician is comfortable, a good spouse is specially comfortable; but in respect of these comforts, which do nevertheless pass all understanding, we may say of them, as Job did to his visitant friends, “Miserable comforters are ye all.” But blessed are the souls upon whom this Sun of comfort shineth; and happy are those showers of tears and sorrows that shall be dried up with such beams of comfort. (T. Adams.)
Thought of God should be continuous
Life is but a dreary stretch of wilderness unless all through it there be dotted, like a chain of ponds in a desert, those moments in which the mind fixes itself upon God, and loses sorrows and sins and weaknesses and all other sadnesses in the calm and blessed contemplation of His sweetness and sufficiency. The very heavens are bare and lacking in the highest beauty unless there stretch across them the long lines of rosy-tinted clouds. And so across our skies let us cast, a continuous chain of thoughts of God; and as we go about our daily work, let us try to have our minds ever recurring to Him like the linked pools that mirror heaven in the midst of the barren desert, and bring a reflection of life into the midst of death. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Divine comfort alone sufficeth
In all the comforts we have it is good to consider from whence it comes; is it God’s comfort or a fancy of our own? A comfort that is made up of our fancies is like a spider’s web that is weaved out of its bowels, and is gone and swept away with the turn of a bosom. (T. Manton, D.D.)
The thoughts of man multitudinous
The thoughts of a man’s heart--what millions are there of them in a day! The twinkling of the eye is not so sudden a thing as the thinking of a thought, yet those thousands and thousands of thoughts which pass from thee, that thou canst not reckon--they are all known to God. (A. Burgess.)
Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee, which frameth mischief by a law?
I. Iniquity has a “throne” on earth. It is a ruling power, it has the sway everywhere. Wrong is an imperial power.
II. The “throne” of iniquity is incompatible with God. “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee?” Impossible. It is eternally antagonistic to the Divine nature, law, and procedure.
III. The “throne” of iniquity legalizes wrong. “Which frameth mischief by a law.” In England wrong is legalized. What is war but legalized murder, monopoly but legalized dishonesty, unrestrained accumulation of wealth but legalized greed? What wrongs, alas, our fathers have legalized, from which we are suffering to-day. (Homilist.)
A startling inquiry
I. What is the throne of iniquity? Any government that upholds and protects wrong-doing, or that does not protect the people from the workers of iniquity, is a throne of iniquity. It frames mischief into law:--
1. When it protects that which is morally wrong by legal enactments, and enables men to defend their bad conduct by saying, “I have a government licence.”
2. When it patronizes that which is evil by using it as a source of revenue.
II. Such a throne has no fellowship with God.
1. Because God’s throne, God’s government, is upright, righteous.
2. He never makes a law to protect that which is wrong, nor to regulate evil.
3. He condemns, denounces, and prohibits all evil, both in the person and the state. He has no fellowship with the workers of iniquity.
III. Apply this to the liquor-traffic.
1. The manufacture, importation, exportation, transportation, and traffic in intoxicating liquors, for drinking purposes, is a great wrong.
2. Those who pass enactments to regulate or protect such an evil frame mischief into law.
3. To vote for such laws, or to suffer them to exist if we can prevent it, is to sustain “the throne of iniquity.”
4. Licence laws do not make the liquor-traffic right, but they do make those who enact them accomplices in the crime of the liquor-seller. (D. C. Babcock.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 94". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27