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O come, let us sing unto the Lord.
The grandest of creature services
I. It is the most righteous. Adoration rendered to--
1. The greatest Being.
(1) Great in Himself (Psalms 95:3).
(2) Great in His possessions (Psalms 95:4).
2. The kindest Being.
(1) He made us. Possessing reason, imagination, conscience, freedom, etc.
(2) He supports us--provides for our necessities, watches over us, guides us through intricacies, and guards us from perils.
(3) He delivers us. “The rock of our salvation.” The strong ground of our confidence, the foundation on which our safety rests. Who will say then that this service is not the most righteous,--to adore most the most adorable, to thank most the supremely kind?
II. It is the most delightful. “Joyful noise.” Worship is the only service that ensures happiness.
1. It accords with the highest dictates of conscience.
2. It gratifies our highest love.
3. It engages our highest powers.
III. It is the most urgent (Psalms 95:7-8).
1. The neglect of this service is the hardening of the heart.
2. The hardening of the heart leads to procrastination.
3. This procrastination involves most calamitous results.
(1) It provokes the Almighty (Psalms 95:8).
(2) It leads to ruin (Psalms 95:11). (Homilist.)
I. A call to praise (Psalms 95:1-2; Psalms 95:6). Our call to praise and thanksgiving leads on, as we should expect such an one as David to teach us, to prayer. We praise for evidences of His nature, and such praise must lead us to pray that His attributes may find their exercise towards us; that He will deal with us as His perfect nature has dealt with other generations and other people. We offer thanks for the past, and every past mercy is ground of prayer for future mercies; every received mercy is a ground of hope upon which we build our prayers for new mercies.
II. The causes which demand our praise.
1. He is not only the Author of oar salvation, but He has made it strong, firm, immovable, resting upon Him, the Rock of Ages (Psalms 95:1-2).
2. We praise God for permitting us to observe His greatness; for the power to know Him in His works. It is not until we begin to examine the details of Creation--plants, birds, insects--to use the telescope upon the heavens, or the microscope upon invisible objects--that every single work, in itself a wonder, helps us to look up awestruck to the One Mind which made and which sustains all.
3. His individual care for each of us (Psalms 95:7).
III. A caution against the loss of the accepted time (Psalms 95:7-10). Alas! we have daily teaching like the men in the wilderness, that the chastened may only harden themselves against the hand of love which chastens! And poverty and sickness, by which God seeks to draw His children to Him, and to purify them for Himself, are made the very grounds for neglecting and disobeying Him!
IV. Rejection could not finally pass unpunished. There was a sentence upon those despisers (Psalms 95:11). God’s truth requires that His promises should be as sure to His opposers as to His followers and friends; and the sentence will follow. They could not enter into God’s offered rest, as Paul explains to the Romans, on account of unbelief. (D. Laing, M.A.)
The genesis of praise
This has been called the Invitatory Psalm. The Temple at Jerusalem had been restored. Its doors were again open for worship. And the psalmist sought to allure the people to a worship long neglected in the time of their exile. From the earliest times this psalm has filled a somewhat similar place in the services of the Western Church. It is the first note of praise in the order for morning prayer.
I. The spontaneity of song. Jehovah did not say: “Sing unto Me,” but men said one to another: “O come, let us sing unto the Lord!” Men sang because they could not help but sing. There are some things so natural to men that no Divine command is needed. Song is one of these. It grows naturally out of the emotions of a godly heart. The deepest feelings of the race have always found their fullest expression in poetry, and poetry reaches its highest utterance when wedded to music, on whose wings it soars to heaven.
II. The religious inspiration of song. Love is the great kindler of song, and takes on its noblest, purest forms as it goes out to God. And hence it will be found that in proportion to the strength of love in any religion is the place and power of its song. To the lovelessness of most of the pagan and heathen religions is due the poverty and even absence of song in their worship. To all intents and purposes the Hebrew and its successor, the Christian, faith are the only ones in which song prevails. And it will be found, if you look into the history, that as their conception of God grew in depth and tenderness, the more lovable He was seen to be, so their song grew in volume and worth. The theology of each age is reflected in its hymnody.
III. The religious occasion of song. The psalm before us probably sprang out of joy at the reopened temple at Jerusalem, that the feet of Israel could once more stand within the gates of Zion. Every lofty hymn has a sacred history. And thus the experience of elect souls is made to help other souls to higher levels of thought and feeling. They are like climbers who have reached the mountain summit, and beckon those in the valley to share with them the grand outlook to which their eye has reached. It is for us to respond to their call, so that as we sing we may be drawn upwards from the mists of earth to those. Goethe once advised, “as a means of making life less commonplace, that we should every day, at least, hear or read a good poem.” Better still would it be if we allowed no day to pass without joining in a hymn of praise. Marvellous has been the influence of song in the furtherance of religion in the days that are past. The Arians were among the first to discover its power. They organized singing processions to propagate their doctrine. Then the orthodox party followed their example. When Ambrose, the good Bishop of Milan, was ordered to give up one of his churches for Arian worship, he refused, and his devoted followers surrounded his house day and night to protect him from the troops of the Emperor. He arranged for his defenders hymns for every hour of the day and night. It was a charge against Luther that he was singing the whole German people into the Reformation doctrine. The Lollards gained their name from their custom of “lulling”--that is, singing softly. The Methodist Revival owed quite as much to the hymns of Charles Wesley as to the preaching of her saintly brother. The Oxford Movement owed its success not only to the “Tracts for the Times” and the sermons of Newman, but to “The Christian Year” of Keble. Where would the Moody and Sankey movement have been but for the “Sacred Songs and Solos”? The Salvation Army could not carry on its work without its rough but inspiring music. And my own conviction is that holy song will be one means of bringing to the Church a deeper unity. Through it the heart is permitted to speak, and by means of the heart, rather than the intellect, Christian people are drawn closer together. Theology has too often proved a dividing influence. Song usually tends to unity. (W. G. Horder.)
I. The practice of singing. Old Testament saints, as well as New, seem never weary of celebrating the praises of their Lord and Saviour; because He was made an offering for their sins, dead, risen, and ascended to His throne. And this is still the sweetest subject in the Church of Christ; for happy are they who have the Lord for their God--yea, thrice happy they who have “the kingdom of God” set up within them, which “is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
II. The object of singing psalms. The object of singing is, we see distinctly, the praise of Jesus. It is very important for you to notice that; for as the joy of the believer arises from his conscious standing in Jesus, so this joy is expressed in celebrating the praises of the glorious person and redeeming work of Jesus--for “God would have all men to honour the Son even as they honour the Father.” Singing is the outward expression of inward joy; and this is no doubt why the Holy Ghost has enjoined it on believers. It shows their sense of the infinite love of God in Christ Jesus. But at the same time that believers find joy in singing the praises of Jesus, as they are set forth in the Book of Psalms, they may also as they sing learn lessons for the practice of daily life. They have an interest not only in all Jesus was, but also in what Jesus is. Do they see that His trust in God was unshaken? They trust Him to make theirs steadfast also. Again: was His walk “holy, and harmless, and undefiled,” so that He could say in truth, “I have set the Lord alway before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved”? Then they depend upon Him for strength to tread in His steps. Were His tempers perfectly holy, so that He could say, “Thou hast proved Mine heart; Thou hast visited Me in the night; Thou hast tried Me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that My mouth shall not transgress”?--when, I say, they sing of this, they admire His example, and through His Spirit they strive daily to “put off the old man” and to “put on the new.” Again: was He carried through the greatest sufferings in perfect resignation, so that He could say, “Not My will, but Thine, O Lord, be done”? Then may they look up to Him in every trial for His promised support. Have the “everlasting gates” been opened, and “the King of glory” gone in? It is promised to them that they shall “see the King in His beauty”--yea, that they shall partake of that very glory.
III. The spirit in which we are to sing. Two things are necessary--that a man should sing spiritually, and that he should sing intelligently--that he should know what he has to thank God for, otherwise he cannot do it intelligently. Have we not mercies to thank God for? Why not, then, join the Church of Christ in thanking Him for them? The believer should live as he sings; his life should be in harmony with his principles. (J. W. Reeve, M.A.)
Praise the outcome of Divine influence
The whole of Glasgow is supplied with water from Loch Katrine. It is brought through the intervening country, and is distributed in pipes along every street, and from the palaces above Kelvin Grove to the wretched flats in the Saltmarket it tells, to those who have ears to hear, sweet stories of lofty peaks, wooded slopes, cataracts, and sparkling rivulets in its Highland home. Embosomed in the Mountains of Eternity, and reflecting in its placid sweep the magnificent devices of uncreated wisdom, we see the vast unfathomable ocean of Divine love. From that ocean a bountiful outflow of holy influence has come down into the human mind, and been divided into little rills known as “psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” Not to the rich only do they ripple, but also to the poor; labour forgets its weariness while taking in or giving out their sacred words, and the widow mingles their sweetness with her scanty food, and even the little child sends forth a triumph caught from their melody.
Inciting one another to praise God
You know how the birds stir up each other to sing. One bird in a cage will excite its fellow, who looks at him and seems to say, “You shall not outstrip me: I will sing with you,” till all the little minstrels quiver with an ecstasy of song, and form a choir of emulating songsters. Hark how the early morning of the spring is rendered musical by the full orchestra of birds. One songster begins the tune, and the rest hasten to swell the music. Let us be like the blessed birds. Bless the Lord till you set the fashion, and others bless Him with you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Rock of our salvation.--
Christ the Rock of our salvation
The shipwrecked mariner, hoping for safety on the sea-girt rock; the hunted fugitive, flying for a refuge to the cliff on the plain; the fainting traveller, throwing himself down in the shade of rock in the desert; the steep and precipitous hill, with its encircling stream, forming the site of a mighty fortress: each of these pictures tells us of weakness finding comfort and aid, each sets forth the value of the redeeming work, and the mighty mission of Christ our Lord. For the very idea of a rock is that of stability and strength, that which cannot be moved, that on which we may rest secure. “For us and our salvation” Christ died, says the noble language of our Creed. He is the great example of self-sacrifice, and of the One who devoted Himself to death and suffering for the benefit of “the many.” But how shall we apply to our own selves the benefit of Christ’s work? How shall we find a refuge in the Rock of our salvation.? By a humble and faithful realization of what He has done for us. (J. W. Hardman, LL.D.)
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
On the existence, greatness, and government of God
I. The transcendent greatness of the psalmist’s God.
1. He is great in the eternity of His existence. God “only hath immortality.” Finite beings are always going forward to further immortality; but God possesses it in the most absolute sense. Other beings depend for their immortality on the will of their Maker, and flow of their duration; but He is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And as He is infinite in essence, He must necessarily be indestructible in the nature of His existence; for the power that destroys must always be greater than what is destroyed.
2. He is great in the immateriality, unity, and immensity of His existence. These are all necessarily implied in His eternity.
3. He is great in Omnipotence. Creation, in all its works of greatness and grandeur, falls infinitely short of a full exhibition of omnipotent power. For no finite substances, however multiplied and extended, could ever fill boundless space, or circumscribe the efforts of God Omnipotent. Here we might contemplatively roam after the ways and works of the Almighty Architect, until we were bewildered and lost in the magnitudes, mazes, and mysteries of creation. His power is also manifested in upholding all things created. He commands all the suns, systems, and planetary orbs, and they move in obedience to His sovereign pleasure.
4. He is boundless in love. Our first parents proved His goodness in the Garden of Eden, where His benevolence lavished around them every charm. There the “Tree of Life,” in grand and conspicuous pre-eminence, unfolded its verdant glories, and invited the human pair to partake of its immortality. The redemption of this fallen world is another proof of Divine love--into which angels desire to look, and in which we are everlastingly interested.
5. He is gloriously great in holiness. All the works of His creation, holiness of His laws, dispensations of His providence, influences of His Spirit, and condemnation and overthrow of wicked men and devils, proclaim that He is holy. And “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” will be the sublimest song that immortal millions can endlessly sing in the heaven of heavens.
6. He is incomprehensibly great in omniscience.
II. He is a “great King above all Gods.”
1. His right to the empire.
(1) Right of eternal priority. As there can be but one absolute and endless monarchy, so there is but one supreme and independent King.
(2) Right of eternal sufficiency. His “throne is for ever and ever.” It is founded in infinite wisdom, and upheld by everlasting strength. Amidst the revolutions of ages it stands the same.
(3) Right of universal inheritance. In His administration no law can be defective, no faithful subject go unprotected, and no enemy be triumphant. The thunders of the throne shall prevent all invasion, and His omnipotence defy all usurpation, until His right to reign shall be indisputably acknowledged, and the God of everlasting sovereignty be gloriously magnified.
2. His extensive empire.
(1) He reigns in the Kingdom of Nature. He reigns over inanimate nature by those fixed laws which regulate and revolve all matter; and carries forward as undeviatingly His superintendence over an atom as over a magnificent world. He reigns over animate irrational nature by instinct. He reigns over man by reason, conscience, and revelation.
(2) He reigns in the kingdom of providence.
(3) He reigns in the kingdom of darkness and damnation.
(4) He reigns in the kingdom of grace, for the protection and complete triumph of His Church.
(5) He reigns in the kingdom of glory--the heaven of heavens, the home of all the saint. (W. Barns.)
God of gods
I. The Divine sovereignty in the physical realm. Nature is full of the manifestations of a great intelligence, full of remarkable adjustments and adaptations, full of ordered sequences and wise contrivances. In other words, Nature, through all her domain, from those gleaming stars which shoot their rays through vast and interminable spaces down to those invisible and primordial atoms of which all substances are composed, and which maintain their ceaseless movements to and fro, is subject to a high and beneficent power. Everywhere there is manifest the sovereignty of law, and the sovereignty of law is the sovereignty of God. In most great cities they have a mansion house, or some similar building, which is a symbol and centre of that civic authority which rules over the whole of the area comprised in the civic boundary; and so this physical universe is the mansion house of creation’s God--not a house empty and tenantless, so far as the Creator’s presence is concerned, but occupied and inhabited throughout with that same creative spirit which in the beginning created all things, and which ever since has sustained and controlled all things.
II. The Divine sovereignty in the moral and spiritual realm. The kingdom of grace is the extension of the kingdom of nature, and the laws and principles which operate in the one operate in the other.
1. There is the prominence given to beauty. One might almost say that the object of the Creator was the creation of beauty, and that the great Designer had set His heart upon producing a picture of surpassing loveliness. And the object of God in redemption is clearly the creation or the re-creation of beauty, not outward beauty merely, but inward--beauty of character, beauty of soul.
2. There is the insistence of the Divine constancy and faithfulness. Banks fail, governments are overturned, empires break up and pass away, but the sun never refuses to shine, and the earth never declines to bring forth the vintage of her fruits and the harvest of her flowers. And this characteristic of faithfulness belongs as truly to the sphere of grace as of nature. The promises of God are all “yea and amen.”
3. There is the recognition of the value of the individual. Nature cares for the whole, and she cares not less for the individual parts of which the whole is composed. There is not a cowslip in the meadow, nor yet a blade of grass which catches its little drop of crystal and holds it suspended in the early sunlight but witnesses to the care and providence of God, and to the individualizing character of that providence. And the same is true of the grace which bringeth salvation. The disciples were all chosen and called separately and individually. There is not one of us, down to the least and the youngest, whose name is not written in Creation’s book, and for whom there is not a place reserved in Redemption’s record! (T. Sanderson.)
The strength of the hills is His also.
The strength of the hills
The characteristics of the things made are characteristic of their Maker. What, therefore, I find suggestive in the hills I find suggestive of God. What is the strength of the hills? It is not mere bulk, size, hugeness of form, massiveness of outline. Strength is not one characteristic; it is a combination of characteristics. Strength is a harmony of various elements.
I. Beauty. To see their green slopes speckled thin with sheep; the grey crag peeping out here and there like a hoary battlement; the purple heather making a feast of colour; the huge boulder, poised upon some dizzy eminence, seeming to threaten destruction to the venturesome climber; the cloud-shadows passing like swift and silent ghosts along the frowning steeps; is not all this an impressive exhibition in the picture-gallery of nature, open every day, and free of charge? And the thought of the psalmist is this,--that the beauty of the hills is in reality a beauty of God; that all this panorama of living loveliness is an indication of the loveliness of the Divine character.
II. Permanence. Who that has looked thoughtfully upon the mountains could imagine anything more typical of the immovable? Their sunless pillars are sunk so deep in earth that we cannot dream of their being moved out of their place; the idea of the fugitive and the transient is excluded as we contemplate the fixity of the hills. An Old Testament writer, indeed, has made them an image of permanence when he says that sooner than imagine that the kindness of God can pass away, or that the mercy of the Eternal can cease, the very mountains shall pass and the hills be removed. But even as he regards the one impossible, so he is sure that the character of God is fixed and unchangeable for ever. In this way does Nature become one of our best religious teachers. The hills speak to us of the permanence of the Divine. A fickle God would be worse than none at all. A God whose principles of action were continually changing would be the terror, and not the inspiration of his worshippers. Jesus Christ has given me a greater sense of trustworthiness and permanence than any one I know, and I think the reason is that He is the express image of the person of God. There is only one thing that abides--and it is character. There is only one thing that can make character--and it is love. There is but one man who lasts and keeps young throughout the centuries--“he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
III. Atmosphere. Why did your doctor send you away to the hills? It was to get change of air. He wanted you to get some of that mountain breeze into your wasted lungs; he knew that if he could get you away into that bracing ozone it would be better than all the pills and mixtures as before. The air of the hills is a tonic. The atmosphere ought to be an element in your religion. A religion without atmosphere is like a picture without perspective, dull, flat, uninteresting because unnatural. We are afraid to be natural in our religious life. Why is it that so many Christian people seem to be so bloodless, lifeless, atrophied in their character? It is simply want of air. They have no mountains in their creed. We shall never make much impression upon the world until we are less afraid of our own honest thought, and less bound by the rigid rule-of-thumb religion of society. Christ came to be to us the Truth, and to be the Truth that makes us free--free from our own ignorance, and sin, and unbelief, and fear--free to do the will of the Father by ministering health and kindness to our brethren. To be whole, holy, complete; to be like Christ, is at once the noblest, freest, hardest thing in the world, the one desirable attainment, the sole way to happiness; yes, to more than happiness, to blessedness; and the only way to reach this end is to live in the strengthening atmosphere of Christ’s love, and to avail ourselves of all the manifold riches of His grace.
IV. Outlook. What is it that makes you so anxious to climb the hill? The view. To see the landscape lying outspread before the eye; to see the country stretching away to the distant horizon; to realize the sense of vastness; to revel in the subtle poetry of distance; this is enough to make you toil up the steep path, and scale the rugged crag, and for a moment call the spreading scene your own. And it is this sense of outlook we need to get into our religion if we would obtain from it the best it has to give us. There is no faith which gives to man such a sense of vastness as the faith of Jesus Christ. The outlook He gives is so commanding and so rich that the eye cannot take it all in, and the mind reels as it tries to grasp it. But the heart is satisfied with that outlook, and pronounces it very good. Do not allow your outlook to be bounded by the grave; stand by the side of the Saviour, and look beyond into the eternal city. (A. Mursell.)
The strength of the hills
I. The immense power involved. We read of the hanging gardens of Babylon and count them among the wonders of the world. Yet in magnitude they were insignificant compared to the everlasting hills. We climb a range of mountains and find building material sufficient for a hundred cities. It exceeds the power of arithmetic to calculate, and it surpasses the power of language to describe, the colossal greatness, power and wealth of which they are the embodiment. How easy are miracles to Him who built the hills! How terrible to live in a world of such energies, unless we are loyally obedient to Him who can create and can destroy, and who is as wise and benign as He is omnipotent!
II. The dainty and marvellous beauty of the hills. Their loveliness images the beauty which exists in the mind of the Builder. In form, and outline, and altitude, here in round or undulating lines, there in abrupt and jagged peaks, here lofty and there in lowly elevations, there is constant variety. So, too, in the relation the mountains bear to each other. Some stretch along in terraces and some in continental ranges or chains; some tower up apart and alone; still others tumbled together in confusion, but everywhere bringing refreshment to the vision of the beholder, who is alternately awed and delighted. The verdure that covers their slopes, from the beech and birch below to the evergreen of the higher slopes, with the wild flowers between the splintered crags or the mosses and lichens that cling to them, and the changing colour of the verdure as autumn touches it with brilliant hues--all teach us God’s wonderful and eternal love of beauty and lift our thoughts to that city above which He is to make the crown and consummation of beauty eternal.
III. The utility and the helpfulness of the hills. They are rich in their stony or metallic materials, and in the forests that clothe them. Mountains influence the temperature, cooling in summer and protecting us from the rigour of winter. They are great hospitals for the sick, for some diseases cannot exist 2,000 feet above the sea. The springs that run among the hills unite to form the rivers that in turn pour their waters into the sea. There are moral as well as physical benefactions. The mountains teach us to face difficulties and to overcome them, inspiring strength to labour, perseverance and patience in toil and trial. The hills are helpful in stimulating the love of liberty, quickening great thoughts and poetic inspirations. The mountains have sheltered the persecuted people of God, and there the bones of His slaughtered saints have been sometimes laid. It was to the mountain Christ retired to pray; it was on a mountain He was transfigured; it was on a mountain He delivered that matchless discourse which will inspire men as long as time lasts. It was into “a great and high mountain” that John was carried, in the spirit, from which he saw Holy Jerusalem. Mountains are earth’s spires. We build spires a hundred feet or more, but these spires are lifted up miles in height toward heaven, pointing to Himself and clothed with pure, white, awful majesty, as if to remind us of the great white throne of judgment which is to be revealed.
IV. The littleness of man is another lesson of the hills. Men may tunnel the earth and lift magnificent bridges, but with all their wealth and force they can neither build nor level the Alleghanies and the Sierras. God alone has reared them, and at His word they will vanish as a dream when one awaketh. “What is man that Thou art mindful of him!”
V. How beautiful is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ! The mountains tell us nothing of His mercy and grace toward sinful men. They tell of inexorable power, but not of forgiveness. It is in Christ alone we learn this: He who built the mountain opened the eyes of the blind, and blessed the little children. The Bible is the great moral mountain of the world. Why is it that men are unwilling to receive it? (R. S. Storrs, D.D.)
The sea is His, and He made it.
Considerations on the sea
When we place ourselves upon the shore, and from thence behold that immense body of waters, stretching away on all sides, far as the eye can reach; and when we consider how large, a portion of the globe is covered in like manner; what a noble idea are we hereby enabled to form of the immensity of that Being who is said not only to weigh the mountains in a balance, but to take up the sea in the hollow of His hand! In whose sight the hills are but as dust, the ocean is no more than a drop. The immeasurable breadth of the sea may remind us of God’s boundless mercy; its unfathomable depth holds forth an image of His unsearchable judgments. When we see a mass of water rising up by a gradual ascent, till the sky seems, as it were, to descend and close upon it, a thought immediately strikes us--what is it which prevents these waters from breaking in upon and overflowing the land, as they appear in heaps so much above it? Let us adore that unseen power which, by a perpetual decree, keeps them in their proper place, nor suffers them to intrude themselves into one which is not theirs. Hear attentively the noise of the sea--how grand and awful the sound, even as the voice of the Almighty God when He speaketh! And is not this what the waves always say,--praise the Lord--praise Him with your voices, as we constantly do with ours, while we thus intelligibly proclaim aloud the might of His power and the glory of His majesty! Nor is the sea more wonderful in itself than it is beneficial to mankind. From its surface vapours are continually arising, drawn upwards by the heat of the sun, which, by degrees formed into clouds, drop fatness on our fields and gardens, causing even the wilderness to smile, and the valleys, covered over with corn, to laugh and sing. Thus the prayers of the faithful servants of God, daily ascending from all parts of the earth, return in large effusions of grace and blessing from heaven. But we are indebted to the ocean not only for the vapours sent up from its surface, but likewise for many springs, which have their origin from the great deep beneath, with which the sea communicates. These, arising in vapour through the lower parts of the earth, break forth and issue in streams, many of which joined form rivers, and so go back again to the place from whence they came; as the blood in the human body flows in streams from the heart, through the arteries, and returns to it again, in rivers, by the veins, which grow larger as they approach and are about to empty themselves into the great reservoir. In the greater, as well as the lesser world, there is a constant circulation maintained. The income is proportioned to the expense, and nothing is wasted. All rivers, saith Solomon, run to the sea, yet the sea is not full, or, does not overflow; to the place from whence the rivers come, thither do they return again; but not till, by their innumerable turnings and windings, they have refreshed and enriched large tracts of country in their passage. So Divine grace springs up in the heart of a Christian man, as water doth in a fountain, supplied from an invisible and inexhaustible storehouse. It flows forth in his words and action, doing good to all around it in its course, and is finally swallowed up and lost in the boundless ocean of infinite perfection. (Bp. Horne.)
God’s ownership of the sea
God has given the land to man, but the sea He has reserved to Himself: “the sea is His, and He made it.” He has given man “no inheritance in it; no, not so much as to set his foot on.” If he enters its domain, he enters it as a pilgrim and a stranger. He may pass over it, but he can have no abiding place upon it. He cannot build his house, nor so much as pitch his tent within it. He cannot mark it with his lines, nor subdue it to his uses, nor rear his monuments upon it. If he has done any brilliant exploit upon its surface, he cannot perpetuate the memory of it by erecting so much as an arch or a pillar. It steadfastly refuses to own him as lord. And with this is connected that other feature of the sea which marks its reservation to God: I mean its loneliness. There are spaces measured by thousands and thousands of miles over which no ship has ever passed. The idea of a nation’s commerce whitening every sea is the wildest fancy. If all the ships that have ever been built were brought together into a single fleet, they would fill but a hand-breadth of the ocean. The space, therefore, that man and his works occupy on the sea is as small in extent as the hold he has on it by his power is slight and superficial. Both together are as nothing. The ocean covers three-fourths of the surface of the globe, and by far the greatest part of this vast expanse is and ever has been entirely free from his presence and visitation. And it is this vastness, this loneliness, and this impossibility of subjugation by man, that set it apart from the secular aspect that belongs to the rest of the world, and consecrate it as the peculiar possession and dwelling-place of the Most High. Like some vast builded temple, it perpetually speaks of Him and for Him. It bodies forth His immensity. It represents eternity. Its vastness, its omnipresence, and its separation from the presence and power of man, set it apart as the symbol of God, the temple of His abode, and the place of His special manifestation. We can walk down to the shore and lay our hand upon its waters; and when we do so, we feel as if we touched the feet of Jehovah; as if we saw the very fields of immensity and eternity, and held within our grasp the lines that bound us to another life. And it is this which gives the sea its mystery and might; that it is fraught with these Divine elements; that it is charged with these spiritual suggestions; that it is the symbol of eternity and infinity, and crowds upon us, with irresistible majesty, the vision of that life unseen, and those worlds unknown, for which our souls are made, and to which the feet of every one of us are swiftly and irreversibly travelling. (L. Swain, D.D.)
The wonders of the sea
I. Its extent. The surface of the globe is said to be two hundred millions of square miles, and of these more than two-thirds are supposed to be water; so that the surface of the sea may be one hundred and forty millions of miles. And then, with regard to its depth, it is beyond all calculation. The depth may, in some parts, be sounded; but a great portion is unfathomable. It is, therefore, a fit emblem of the immensity of its Maker, of whom it is said, “Who by searching can find God, who can find out the Almighty to perfection?” It may be considered also as an emblem of eternity, that vast eternity to which we are all hastening, and into which we must ere long be launched.
II. Its bounds and limits appointed by God (Jeremiah 5:22; Isaiah 40:12). Shall such a God be forgotten? Shall He be insulted by profane oaths, drunkenness, etc.?
III. Its inhabitants. Although the surface of the sea presents only a barren prospect, having no hills nor trees to adorn it, yet it contains a multitude which no man can number of living creatures, far more numerous than all the tribes of animals which inhabit the land.
IV. Its utility. But when we speak of the great advantages which the world has derived from the sea, there is one which as much surpasses all the rest as the brilliant sun in the firmament exceeds all the twinkling stars of the night--it is “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God,” which must have been brought to our country by a ship; and it is supposed as early as in the days of the apostles, and most probably by some British princes and nobles who had been prisoners in Rome, where it is thought they were converted by the ministry of St. Paul. To the Gospel we owe the great and innumerable improvements gradually introduced; which have at length rendered England the glory of all lands, and have made us superior in religion, arts, and arms to every nation under the sun. (Anon.)
O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
I. Its principle. God made each, and God rules all; and while of each is demanded individual acknowledgment and homage--“Stand in awe and sin not, commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still,” “enter into thy closet, and shut thy door, and pray to thy Father which is in secret,”--yet of all is required, that they should acknowledge a common origin, recognize a common supremacy, confess a common necessity, deprecate a common peril, avail themselves of a common salvation.
II. The form. We are enjoined in the text to “worship and bow down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
III. The benefits. We thus realize by faith the presence of an unseen Deity. We thus recognize the moral supremacy of the God who wilt be our Judge. We feel the precariousness of life, and are thus made to improve its remaining opportunities. The act of coming hither is the confession that we have a soul; and the act of uniting in what is here transacted is a cultivation of the soul for immortality. (T. Dale, M. A.)
Our modern word “worship” is the old Saxon “worth-ship”--that is, in its application, the adequate recognition of God’s “worth “ or due, and the creature’s loyal payment of his debt. In the Bible the word signifies generally an act of respect or of homage. Sometimes it is used of the deference which one man pays to another--as, for example, the case of Nebuchadnezzar, who “worshipped “ Daniel. Sometimes it is used to express the spurious devotion which men of old paid to idols. But most frequently it is used to indicate the highest homage that man can pay to his Maker, i.e. adoration. It is only moral intelligence that can appreciate the worth and due of God, and that is capable of offering to Him the sublimest adoration. Now, man is involved in a threefold relationship--a personal one, a family one, and a public one. From none of these will God consent to be excluded, nor is it right that He should be. We cannot dismiss Him from our personal lives, for He so encompasses us that to be rid of God means that we cease to exist. We may not close the door of the family against Him, for the family is peculiarly His institution, over which He has the right of perpetual superintendence. And if public life advances without God as its Captain, it must, as all history demonstrates, finally land in the bog of despair and ruin. But it is not sufficient that God be not excluded from the threefold life of man. He must be actively welcomed into each sphere, and His “worthship” be recognized therein. Undoubtedly, the most important thing of all is the worship of God in the persona! life of each man. As individuals we must recognize and love God. We cannot in this matter lose ourselves in the crowd. Next in importance to personal life is the life of the family and the worship of God there. With every fibre of my being I say to you, guard your families. Do not let your children grow up little better than heathens--teach them the Fatherhood of God and His right to their love and service. But now let us give all our attention to the matter of the public acknowledgment of the worship of God. The New Testament throughout assumes the necessity of public worship, while in several places it commands it (Hebrews 10:25; Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 14:40). And there is the example of Christ (Luke 4:16). But these commands and assumptions are not arbitrary; they simply voice the Divine instinct within us, that gregarious instinct which results in public gatherings. It is this instinct that makes public worship a necessity, for in it we express our common belief, our common prayers, and our common thanksgivings. Each of us is bound to a common Creator by a common bond, and each creature is bound to every other creature by virtue of the bond which binds all to God, and this common bond must receive common recognition. How shall this recognition be best set forth so as to employ the whole of our faculties in the exercise? Our public worship should be a service common to all. It is impossible for any minister to pray so as to comprehend all the needs of his people; at best he can only touch the surface, and it is inconvenient and might be indecorous for each person to state his own case in public. But there are certain thanksgivings and prayers which touch every nature, and in public worship these should be stated. Christ taught His disciples a form of prayer in which they were to say, “Our Father,” “Give us,” “Our trespasses”--a prayer common to all. But for thanksgiving and prayer to be common they must be responsive--this is demanded by the necessity of the case. The Bible patterns of worship are responsive. Read the accounts of worship in Revelation 5:12. And that great Temple book--the Psalter--was composed for responsive worship. This, you perceive, brings us at once to the question of a liturgy. Might we not have a series of liturgies, compiled, if you will, from the Bible only, so arranged as to promote unity of thought? (F. C. Spurt.)
The psalm contains two strophes or stanzas: the first consisting of five verses and the second of six. Each of these stanzas opens with an invitation. The first is an invitation to praise offered loudly with the voice. “O come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation; let us go forth to meet Him with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with hymns.” And the second stanza begins with an invitation to something altogether different,--to worship, or as we had better render it, to adoration. “O come, let us prostrate ourselves, let us bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” The word which is rendered “worship” means prostration, literally nothing less than prostration. The two Words which follow mean something less emphatic--the first, the bending of the body while the worshipper still stands, the second kneeling. Nothing changes in the East so far as habit is concerned, and you cannot to-day enter a mosque without seeing each of these three words literally acted on. Sometimes the worshipper bends his head and shoulders, then he kneels, then he prostrates himself entirely, touching the ground with his forehead. This, so far as the outward posture goes, is undoubtedly what the psalmist meant to invite the congregation of Israel to do, as being the outward expression of adoration. But adoration is an inward act of the soul which corresponds with those postures of the body which have just been described. It is the soul recognizing its nothingness before the magnificence of God, its sin before His purity, its ignorance before His omniscience, its feebleness before His power. It is the creature lying in the dust and understanding, as by a flash of light from heaven, what it is to have a Creator and to be alive in His presence. It is sinful man emptying himself of self-assertion before the Being who made him, knowing himself, or almost knowing, himself as he is known, crying: “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord,” etc. When we assemble and meet together in church, it is to “render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at God’s bands, to set forth His most worthy praise, to hear His most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul.” Of these four objects of assembling together in church, that of hearing God’s Word, whether read or preached, is not now in question. But what is the relation of the other three, thanksgiving, praise, and prayer for blessings, to adoration? They all three differ from adoration in this, that in each of them the soul is less prostrate, more able to bear the thought of self, than in pure and simple adoration. Certainly, in praise we seem to forget self more easily than in thanksgiving or prayer, since thanksgiving carries the mind back to something which we have received, and by which presumably we have profited, and prayer, in the narrower sense of the word, asks for new blessings, whether for the body or soul. Pure adoration has no heart for self; it lies there silent at the foot of the throne, conscious only of two things, the insignificance of self and the greatness of God. And yet adoration must be the basis, so to put it, of true thanksgiving, and praise, and prayer; it is the fitting acknowledgment of our real relations with God, which should precede them. It sometimes does, indeed, imply so paralyzing a sense of this our nothingness before God that left to itself it would make praise, thanksgiving, and prayer impossible. But here, as we lie in the dust, the one Mediator between God and man bids us take heart as He utters that most consoling sentence: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” He-bids us, as it were, take His hand, and thus, with Him and by Him, not merely adore God, but praise Him, thank Him, pray to Him. Let us, then, briefly remind ourselves of some leading benefits of worship, which explain the importance which is assigned to it by the Church of Christ. First of all, it places us, both as individuals and as a body of men, in our true place before God our Creator. Unless, or until, we believe that one Being exists to whom we stand in a relation utterly different from that in which we stand to any other--namely, that of owing our very existence to Him--worship is impossible. Worship only begins when faith acknowledges the Almighty Creator: it dies away as faith in Him decays; it dies away as He gives place in thought to some purely human imagination respecting how the universe came to be what it actually is. But even where there is no difficulty in believing in God the Creator, and no disposition to question His existence or His power, we sometimes observe that this great belief has no practical effect whatever upon life and thought. Many men practically live as though it were not true that it is God who has made us and not we ourselves. Now, the corrective to this--which is a practical failure, after all, rather than an intellectual mistake--the corrective to this is worship. Worship places us face to face with the greatness of the Creator. The very first effort of worship implies that God is resuming, has resumed, His true place in our thoughts, that He is no longer jostled out of our mental life by a hundred puny worthless rivals belonging to the world of sense. Worship, too, obliges us to think that we are ourselves. It is one thing to hold the immortality of man as an abstract tenet; it is another to be looking forward with a steady, practical aim to a life to come. Worship, depend upon it, is the great preparation for another life--a waste of time, no doubt, if the soul dies with the perishing body, if decay be succeeded by no resurrection, but a use of time than which none can be more sensible, more legitimate, if there be a most certain hereafter, and if, while “the things that are seen are temporal, the things that are not seen are eternal.” And thus, lastly, worship is a stimulus to action when--and, of course, only when--it is sincere. If it be true that “to work is to pray,” it is also true that to pray is to work. Prayer is, in fact, work, since it makes a large demand upon the energies of the soul, and it creates and trains in us capacity for other kinds of work than itself. It not only illuminates the understanding and kindles the affection, it braces, it invigorates the will. In worship we are in contact with the most real of all beings; with Him off whose will all else that is strictly depends, and in comparison with whom the most solid matter in His universe is but as an unsubstantial shadow. This contact with the highest reality cannot but brace us, and accordingly we find in all ages that the noblest resolves to act or to suffer have again and again been formed as though in obedience to what seems a sudden overpowering flash of light during worship. So it was with Isaiah when he saw the vision in the temple. “Then said I, Here am I; send me.” So it has been with more than one enterprise of our own day; the original resolution to make the venture has dated from the half hour of sincere worship, in which the energies of a single character have been lifted altogether above their average level, so that it became natural and easy to remove the mountains of obstacles around that had before barred the way to action. In another world we shall probably look back upon the way in which we have spent much of our time here with deep, although unavailing, regret; but we may be sure that no such regret will ever be felt on account of any time that has been devoted to the worship of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. (Canon Liddon.)
The duty of external worship
External adoration may be considered as--
I. A part of that natural homage which the whole man, soul and body, owes to God, upon the account of His creation and preservation of us, and His sovereign dominion over us. We all look for the glorification, not only of our souls, but bodies, in the life to come. Now, a reward supposeth a work; it is meet and right, therefore, that we should worship and glorify God in this life with the body as well as the soul, if so be we expect that God should glorify “both our bodies and souls in another.”
II. A help and assistance towards promoting the spiritual worship of our souls. There is so close a connection between the mind and its organs, that they act, as it were, by consent; and the motions of the one do commonly, and in some degree, pass into the other. And this natural sympathy shows itself nowhere more remarkably than in acts of devotion. We usually blame the body to a high degree, as the great clog and hindrance of the soul. And so it often is. But here it may be made to draw equally in the yoke of duty; nay, even to give wings to the mind, which it presseth down, and overwhelms on many other occasions. Nor is the body more beholden to the soul, for the beginning of its motions, than the soul afterwards is to the body, for the increase of hers.
III. A sign by which we express to others the religious esteem and veneration that dwells in us. Great are the advantages which the people of God, when they are met together, do mutually receive from it. The cold and remiss worshipper is, at the sight of an exemplary, kindled into some degrees of holy warmth; the fervent and devout in the presence of it becomes yet more inflamed. A religious emulation rises then in the breast of the faithful, a holy strife and desire of excelling. But believers are not the only persons that receive benefit by it; unbelievers, too, though unwillingly, have their share. The profane scoffer, who dares encounter a single Christian without shame or fear of reproof has here an answer to his bold scoffs, in that still and powerful argument, which arises from the behaviour of a devout multitude, worshipping God in the beauty of holiness: such an argument as will destroy all its unreasonable suspicions, and convince him of the sincerity of men’s hearts towards God, by the natural unaffected signs of it, which are shown in his service: such as will put him in mind of the numbers of devout and good men against which he engages; lead him on from the thought of the present congregation to those of the same kind that are spread over the face of the earth; and make him sit down and consider whether with such a small strength (his own, and that of a few more) he can encounter so many thousands, even the united wisdom and practice of mankind (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). (Bp. Atterbury.)
Whatever other ends are secured by sanctuary service,--the education of thought, the quickening of sensibility, and the deepening of religious trust,--this is one main end, the worship of God. We bow before God because He is infinitely just, and true, and pure, and good,--worthy of all our reverence and love; and the song of redemption, as it is celebrated in heaven, fixes our attention upon the glory of the Saviour’s nature, as well as the merit of the Saviour’s work.
I. Everything in a Christian service should be regulated so as to advance spiritual life. The instincts of a fervent Christian man will resent all that is showy and formal, and will rejoice in all that lifts his heart and his thoughts into communion with the living God.
II. If that spiritual worship be present there will be no cry for forms of prayer. To enjoy prayer is one of the marks of true devoutness, and when there is delight in approaching God, the soul will choose its own simplest forms of speech. They will be touched with a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Meditation is prayer in preparation, and prayer is preparation spoken.
III. In the preservation of spiritual devoutness the worshippers have much to do. Remember this: that worship must be in harmony with our life, and not a brilliant exception to it. True prayer is connected with the continuous life of God in the soul. It is not the lifting up into a region we are strangers to, a kind of Alpine summit situation to which we have painfully climbed, but rather the enjoyment of an air which is the common breath of our souls. Then the worshipper can afford his earnest and hearty Amen! This he ought to do, this God wishes him to do: “Let all the people say, Amen.”
IV. In such spiritual worship, praise takes, its appropriate place. We desiderate united praise. It is not loudness we want; shouting, either in preaching, praise, or prayer, is not power; but we do want the united service of all voices and hearts, as they are touched with the Spirit of the living God. Nothing is so painful as a kind of languid indifference, or a listless mannerism, as though we had little at all to do with the service. Every man, woman, and child in the sanctuary ought to sing, ought to be in earnest about it, and ought to do their best at it.
V. In such spiritual service we are typing and tasting the worship of heaven. That worship we may well believe will be all that is deepest in reverence, all that is sweetest in melody, all that is purest in love. (W. M. Statham.)
I. The component elements of true worship. As it is the chief fact with regard to man, so it is of the highest consequence.
1. It has its inward principles. Its root is in the soul. “God is a Spirit,” etc. There must be--
(1) Profound reverence. This is the basis of religious excellence, and is inspired by the contemplation of God and of ourselves in His sight.
(3) Submissive trust and love.
(4) Humble hope.
2. It has its proper external acts. As the face is the index of the emotions, so outward acts are the index of the spiritual feelings within. There must be--
(1) Appropriate postures and demeanour.
(2) Appropriate times.
(3) Appropriate acts and places.
“Splendour of churches is only blameable when it interferes with charity; God, who requireth charity as necessary, accepteth the other also as being an honourable work.”
II. The reasons rendering Divine worship obligatory.
1. It is based upon our relations to God and the constitution and nature of the human mind.
2. It is a Divine institution. In the Old Testament it is abundantly commanded; taken for granted in the New Testament.
3. It is of supreme importance to the mental and spiritual welfare of the world.
(1) Its importance to ourselves is great. It maintains a sense of religion in the soul.
(2) To others the value is great.
Without our days, and acts, and places of worship, men would become entirely abandoned to a worldly and irreligious life. The maintenance of worship is the proclamation of the fundamental truths of religion, which bring blessedness to the individual soul, and peace and prosperity to society. Seek to attain the highest ends of worship in yourselves. Make your life one act of worship, “one great psalm.” (James Foster, B.A.)
Humility in approaching God
“Shall we presume,” says Thoreau, “to alter the angle at which God chooses to be worshipped--kneel before the Lord our Maker?”
To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation.
I. The time specified--“To-day if ye will hear His voice.” This is the uniform time and tense of the Holy Ghost’s exhortations. “Consecrate yourselves to-day to the Lord.” “I command thee this thing today.” “Son, go work to-day in My vineyard.” Therefore, “To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.”
1. “To-day” is a time of obligation Every man is under a present necessity as a subject of God to obey his Lord today, and having rebelled against his God, every sinner is under law to repent of sin to-day.
2. Remember, also, that to-day is a time of opportunity. There is this day set before us an open door of approach to God. This is a very favoured day, for it is the Lord’s day, the day of rest, consecrated to works of grace. Today our Lord Jesus rose and left the dead that He might declare the justification of His people. This is a day of good tidings, therefore I pray you to seize the golden moments.
3. Remember that it is a time limited (Hebrews 4:7). To-day will not last for ever; a day is but a day. When days are longest, shadows fall at last and night comes on. The longest life soon wanes into the evening of old age, and old age hastens to the sunset of the tomb.
4. A word of encouragement: it is a time of promise, for when God says to a man, Come to Me at such a time, He by that very word makes an engagement to meet him. He has made no appointment with thee to meet with thee to-morrow, but He has engaged to speak with thee to-day, if thou wilt hear His voice. Never shall one wait and say, like young Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth,” without God’s speaking in words of love ere long.
II. The voice to be regarded. “His.”
1. Remember that the voice of God is the voice of authority. God has a right to speak to you; shall the creature refuse to hear the Creator? Shall those who are nourished and fed by Him turn a deaf ear to the Preserver of men? When He saith “to-day,” who among us shall dare to say that he will not hearken to-day, but by and by?
2. It is the voice of love. How wooing are its tones!
3. It is the voice of power. Old man, the Holy Ghost saith still, “To-day, to-day”; and He that saith “to-day “ can make to-day for thee a day of tenderness and melting, till you will be no longer like a stone.
4. It is a pledging voice. When He saith, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found,” He doth, as it were, covenant that He will be found of you. Listen, then, to His promising voice, His cheering voice; it will cast all unbelieving fear out of you, and drive away Satan better than David’s harp drove the evil spirit out of Saul. God help you so to do.
5. The voice of God should be easy to hear; for “the voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”
III. the evil to be dreaded. “Harden not your heart.”
1. It will be a serious evil if you do. Under the sound of love’s entreaties, within ear-shot of mercy’s imploring tones, the sinner is hardening his heart. Sad work to harden one’s heart against one’s own welfare! Shall any man do this and go unpunished? What think you?
2. It is a greater sin in some than in others, for the Scripture quotes the instance of Israel (Hebrews 3:8). Some of you are the highly privileged as compared with others.
3. This dreadful sin can be committed in a great many ways. Some harden their hearts by a resolution not to feel, some by wishing to wait, some by getting into evil company.
4. This sin will bring with it the most fearful consequences. “He sware in His wrath, they shall not enter into My rest!” You wish to rest at last, you long to rest even now. But it cannot be till you yield to God. You are not at peace now, and you never will be if you harden your hearts. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Sinners entreated to hear God’s voice
I would press the importance, the necessity, of immediately becoming religious--
I. Because of the shortness and uncertainty of life. You are mortal; it is appointed to all men once to die. You are frail, and may die soon and suddenly. You stake your soul without any equivalent; for if life should be spared you gain nothing; but should it be cut short, you lose all, you are ruined for eternity.
II. Because you cannot properly, or even lawfully, promise to give what is not your own. To-morrow is not yours; and it is yet uncertain whether it ever will be. To-day is the only time which you can properly give to God.
III. Because if you defer the commencement of a religious life, though but till to-morrow, you must harden your hearts against the voice of God. God commands and exhorts you to commence a religious life immediately. If you do not comply, you must refuse, for there is no medium. If you disobey, you must assign some excuse to justify your disobedience, or your consciences will reproach you and render you uneasy; if no plausible excuse occurs, you will seek one; if none can readily be found, you will invent one. This tends most powerfully to harden the heart.
IV. If you do not commence a religious life to-day, there is great reason to fear that you will never commence it. The very causes which induce you to defer its commencement render it highly improbable that you will ever become religious. Every day’s delay will render it more difficult.
V. Because, after a time, God ceases to strive with sinners and to afford them the assistance of His grace. He gives them up to a blinded mind, a seared conscience, and a hard heart. Thus He dealt with the old world; the wicked sons of Eli; the Jews in the time of Isaiah (6:9,10); and the inhabitants of Jerusalem in our Saviour’s time (Luke 19:41-42).
VI. Because you are, while you delay, constantly making work for repentance; you are doing what you mean to be sorry for; you are building up to-day what you mean to throw down to-morrow. How irrational and absurd is this! I will not now hear God’s voice, but I mean to mourn, to be grieved for it hereafter. Could you say this to your fellow-creatures without blushing?
VII. Because it is the express command of God. “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” And the Holy Ghost saith, Obey God’s command, hear His voice to-day, and do not harden your hearts against it. Dare any of you trample on a known command of God? (E. Payson, D.D.)
In the winter evening, when the frost is setting in with growing intensity, and when the sun is far past the meridian glory, and gradually sinking in the western sky, there is a two-fold reason why the ground grows every moment harder and more impenetrable. In the first place, the frost, with increasing intensity, is indurating the stiffening clods; on the other hand, the genial rays of the sun, which alone can soften them, are every moment withdrawing and losing their enlivening power. As long as the sinner remains unconverted, he is under a double process of hardening. The frosts of eternal night are settling down upon his soul, and the Sun of Righteousness is withdrawing His powerful beams for evermore. If grace do not penetrate the heart to-day, there will be less chance of it to-morrow. (R. Venting.)
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation.
Israel’s provocation against God, and the punishment inflicted on them
I. The conduct of israel. Their conduct was marked by ignorance and error. “They have not known My ways,” and they “do err in their hearts.”
1. Ignorance is not always criminal. Some things we cannot know, through the limited nature of out faculties; other things God does not choose for us to know (Deuteronomy 29:29); and others it is not our interest to know. God will never impute blame for unavoidable ignorance.
2. When the most important subjects are presented to us, and the most favourable means offered for knowing them, then ignorance is highly criminal. This was Israel’s case. Does not our conduct too nearly resemble theirs?
3. Error was another of their crimes. Ignorance produces error (Matthew 22:29). Errors are of two sorts,--of judgment, and of heart. Errors of judgment may consist with rectitude of heart; the heart may be right with God, where erroneous opinions warp the judgment. But errors of heart are the most deadly and destructive that exist upon earth; when the affections are perverted and the heart wanders from God. This was Israel’s error (Isaiah 5:20; Isaiah 29:13). And this error in heart gave birth to error in the life (Isaiah 28:7).
II. The effect produced by this conduct. “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation,” etc.
1. God takes cognizance of human conduct. He sees all our actions, whether in the broad daylight, or amidst impenetrable darkness, for the darkness and the light are both alike to Him: and He sees them as they are.
2. The ignorant and erroneous conduct of men is highly offensive to God. His is the grief of a Father whose bowels yearn over the miseries of a child (Jeremiah 31:20; Hosea 11:8).
3. God exercises long patience with His creatures (Acts 13:18).
III. The punishment which this conduct merited. “Unto whom I sware in My wrath,” etc.
1. Whatever forbearance God may exercise towards His creatures, yet a continuance of crime must ultimately produce the infliction of punishment.
2. Israel’s punishment was a deprivation of rest; “They should not enter into My rest.” This threatening primarily referred to the exclusion of Israel from the land of Canaan (Numbers 14:22-23). This was a land of rest, compared with the toils and perils of the wilderness (Exodus 33:14). But Canaan was typically representative of heaven (Hebrews 4:11). They shall not enter into it--they have no preparation for it, and no promise of possession.
3. The awfully affecting language in which the threatening is expressed leads us to reflect on the terrible doom of its subject; “I sware in My wrath.” Illustrated by Numbers 14:28-29; Numbers 14:35.
1. Learn what ideas we ought to entertain of sin.
2. That ignorance and error which some deem perfectly innocent expose men to the wrath of God.
3. That sin in the professing people of God is attended with peculiar aggravations.
4. That the doom of impenitent sinners is certain and irreparable. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Unto whom I sware in My wrath, that they should not enter into My rest.
Obstinate sinners doomed to eternal perdition
I. The ways by which God usually prepares and ripens a sinner for certain destruction.
1. By withholding the virtue and power of His ordinances; and when God seals up the influences of these conduits, no wonder if the soul withers and dies with drought. For, alas! what is a conduit by which nothing is conveyed! That which God uses as an instrument to save, meeting with the corruption of some obdurate hearts, is made a means to ruin: as it softens some, so it hardens others. As the same rain that, falling upon a tree or plant, makes it grow and flourish: falling upon wood cut down and dried, makes it rot and decay. He whom the very means of salvation did not save must needs perish.
2. By restraining the convincing power of His providences.
(1) Common calamities.
(2) Particular judgments.
(3) Unexpected deliverances.
3. By delivering up the sinner to a stupidity or searedness of conscience. This hardness growing upon the conscience, is like a film growing upon the eyes: it blinds them. And that which makes the conscience blind to discern its duty makes it bold to venture upon sin.
II. What sort of obstinate sinners those are that God deals with in this manner.
1. Such as sin against clear and notable warnings from God. God sometimes hedges in a sinner’s way, so that it is really very difficult for him to proceed, and not only more safe, but also more easy for him to return. How many men have gone to church with their hearts fully engaged in a resolution to pursue some secret, beloved sin; and there have been strongly arrested with the convincing force of some word, so seasonably and, as it were, purposely directed against that sin, that they have thought the preacher to have looked into their very hearts, and to have been as privy to their most inward thoughts and designs as their own consciences! Now, this is a manifest admonition and caution, cast in by God Himself; which, to baulk or break through, greatly enhances the sinner’s guilt. Sometimes God warns a sinner from his course, by making strong impressions upon his mind of its unlawfulness and contrariety to the Divine will: which impressions are so strong and cogent that they overbear all the shifts and carnal reasonings that the subtlety of a wicked heart can make in the behalf of it. Again, sometimes God meets the sinner with some heavy threatening sickness, lays him upon the bed of pain and languishing, and scares him with the fears of an approaching death, and the weight of an endless confusion.
2. The other sort of sinners are such as sin against special renewed vows and promises of obedience made to God. The violation of these is more than ordinary sinful; not only from the necessity of the matter to which they oblige, but also from the occasion upon which they were made. For men seldom make such vows but upon extraordinary cases; as upon the receipt of some great endearing mercy, or some notable deliverance; which causes them, by way of gratitude, to bind themselves to God in closer and stricter bonds of obedience. Whereupon, such as make a custom of affronting God, by a frequent and familiar breach of these, are justly very odious to Him, and, from odious, quickly become unsupportable.
III. Two questions that may arise from the foregoing particulars.
1. Whether the purpose of God passed upon an obstinate sinner (here expressed to us by God’s swearing against him) be absolutely irrevocable. This is most certain; that both these propositions may, and are, and must be unalterably true; namely, That whosoever repents, and leaves his sins, shall be saved; and yet that he whosoever God has sworn shall never enter into His rest can never enter into it; and all pretences to the contrary are but harangue and declamation, and fit to move none but such as understand not the strength of arguments or the force of propositions.
2. Whether a man may know such a purpose to have passed upon him antecedently to its execution. Now, if any will pretend to gather the knowledge of such a purpose of God against him, it must be from some effects of it. Such, as I show, were God’s withdrawing His grace, and that secret convincing power that operates in His word and in His providences; but this cannot immediately be known by any man; since it is (as we here suppose it to be) altogether secret. Or, further, he must gather this knowledge from some qualifications, or signs, accompanying those persons that are in such a wretched condition. Such, as I show, were sinning against particular warnings and admonitions from God; as also against frequently renewed vows and promises of amendment and obedience. But these I mentioned not as certain, infallible marks of such a forlorn estate, but only as shrewd signs of it. For besides that the Scripture declares no man absolutely and finally lost, as soon as these qualifications are found upon him, unless they continue so till his death; so it is further manifest that the grace of God is so strange and various in its working upon the heart of men that it sometimes fastens upon and converts old overgrown sinners, such as, to the eye of reason, were going apace to hell, and almost at their journey’s end. From all which it follows, that no man, in this life, can pass any certain judgment concerning the will of God in reference to his own final estate; but ought, with fear and trembling, to attend God’s precept and revealed will; and so gathering the best evidence he can of his condition from his obedience, with all humility to expect the issue of God’s great counsels and intentions.
1. To exhort and persuade all such as know how to value the great things that concern their peace, to beware of sinning under sin-aggravating circumstances.
2. To convince us of the great and fearful danger of a daring continuance in a course of sin. Who knows what a day may bring forth, and what may be the danger of one hour’s delay? This is most sure, that every particular repeated act of sin sets us one advance nearer to hell. And while we are sinning obstinately, and going on audaciously in a rebellious course, how can we tell but God may “swear in His wrath” against us and register our names in the black rolls of damnation? (R. South, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 95". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19