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A LITURGICAL psalm, in which a divided choir, together with a leader—a priest or precentor—take separate parts. The occasion is one of danger (Psalms 115:2), but, at the same time, of confident hope and trust (Psalms 115:3, Psalms 115:9-15). A portion of the choir begin with an appeal to God for help against the heathen, whose vain worship of idols they cover with scorn (Psalms 115:1-8). The leader then exhorts to trust in God in the first clause of three consecutive verses (Psalms 115:9, Psalms 115:10, Psalms 115:11), half the choir responding in the second clause. The whole choir raises a joyful strain in Psalms 115:12, Psalms 115:13, the leader re-spending in Psalms 115:14-16, and the choir and congregation together concluding the whole with a final burst of praise in Psalms 115:17, Psalms 115:18.
Metrically, the psalm falls into four stanzas or strophes—the first of three verses (Psalms 115:1-3), and the other three of five verses each (Psalms 115:4-8; 9-13; 14-18).
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give glory. God is prayed to help Israel, but not for their sakes, not to cover them with glory—rather for his own sake, that glory may rest on his Name, and himself, among the nations. For thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake. In order to be true to his qualities of mercifulness and truthfulness.
Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? (comp. Psalms 42:3, Psalms 42:10; Psalms 79:10). If Israel is un-helped, the heathen will triumph, and ask scornfully what has become of Israel's God? Is he unable, or is he unwilling, to deliver them?
But—rather, and—as though he would say, "and all the while, as the heathen scorn and question"—our God is in the heavens; in his place, where he always is, watching over us. He hath done what soever he hath pleased. He has the will to help us, and he has the power to do whatsoever he pleases.
The scorn of the heathen is retaliated. They scoff at the God of Israel. What, then, are their own gods? Silver and gold indeed (Psalms 115:4), but the work of human hands. Fashioned into a human shape, as if they were sentient being—but absolutely devoid of all sense and intelligence. The satire is somewhat roughly worked out (Psalms 115:5-7), but idolatry provokes rough speaking; and the tone here adopted is imitated in Psalms 135:15-18, and echoed in Isaiah 44:9-20. The inspired writers seem to have felt, that, when idolatry came under consideration, the criticism should be brief and trenchant.
Their idols are silver and gold. At the best—often mere wood and stone (Deuteronomy 4:28); but the idols of the Babylonians were mostly of the more precious materials (Herod; 1:183; Daniel 3:1; Ep. Jeremiah 1:4, Jeremiah 1:11, etc.). The work of men's hands (Psalms 135:15; Isaiah 44:12-17). To avoid this reproach, some images were said to have fallen down from heaven (Acts 19:35).
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk net: neither speak they through their throat. Possessing a semblance of every organ of human sense, they are wholly unable to perform any of the functions. That men should worship them, or believe in their power to help, is an utter absurdity.
They that make them are like unto them. Equally vain, futile, and power less (comp. Isaiah 44:9; Jeremiah 2:5). So is every one that trusteth in them. To "trust" in an idol is an almost inconceivable folly. Yet there is abundant proof that the heathen actually did so trust (see Herod; 5:80; 8:64, 83).
The idols and the idol-worshippers having been sufficiently scorned; the latter especially, for their "trust" in idols, Israel is exhorted to trust in the only sure Object of confidence, Jehovah. Three several times the leader of the choir gives forth the call—" Trust in the Lord "—and three several times the choir responds with the acknowledgment that he, and he alone, "is their Help and Shield." The exhortation seems to be addressed, first, to the lay people generally (Psalms 115:9); then to the clerical order (Psalms 115:10); finally, to all, whether laity or clergy, who are true Israelites at heart (comp. Psalms 115:12, Psalms 115:13).
O Israel, trust thou in the Lord. Follow not the example of the heathen who trust in idols. Rather, be an example to them. He is their Help and their Shield (comp. Psalms 33:20). The change of per son implies a change of speaker.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord. God's ministers were yet more bound than his people generally to trust in him. He is their Help and their Shield (comp. Psalms 115:9).
Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. Professor Cheyne explains this of proselytes, the σεβόμενοι of the Acts; but surely the order followed is one of climax—first, ordinary Israelites; next, those officially holy, the priests; finally, those actually holy, the truly faithful Israelites. He is their Help and their Shield. It would have been better in every case to have kept the Hebrew order of the words—"Their Help and their Shield is he."
Psalms 115:12, Psalms 115:13
The whole choir, or perhaps the whole congregation, expresses its confidence in God. He has always Been mind-fill of his people, and, in response to their threefold expression of trust, will bestow on them a threefold blessing.
The Lord hath been mindful of us (comp. Psalms 98:4; Psalms 136:23). He will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel (comp. Psalms 115:10). He will bless the house of Aaron (comp. Psalms 115:11).
He will bless them that fear the Lord (comp. Psalms 115:12). Both small and great; literally, the small with the great; i.e. all, without any exception.
Again the leader raises his voice and announces special—no longer general—blessings:
(1) increase of their numbers (Psalms 115:14); and
(2) inheritance of the earth (Psalms 115:16).
The Lord shall increase you more and more. This was the original blessing bestowed on Abraham (Genesis 13:16; Genesis 17:4-6), and continually reiterated (Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 28:14, etc.). It is much dwelt upon by Isaiah (Isaiah 49:8-12, Isaiah 49:18-23; Isaiah 54:1-3; Isaiah 60:3-12, etc.). The main fulfillment of the promise was through the conversion of the Gentiles, who, when converted, became the true "Israel of God." But, even apart from this, the lineal descendants of Abraham have "increased more and more," to an extent which is most extraordinary. You and your children. You yourselves shall increase; but your children shall yet more increase. The multiplying would begin at once, but would be greater and more striking afterwards.
Ye are the blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth; i.e. of the true Lord and God, the Creator of all things, visible and invisible.
The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's; literally, the heavens are heavens of Jehovah. They belong to him—he dwells there; but it is otherwise with the earth. But the earth hath he given to the children of men. For man God framed this fair world; to man's use he adapted it with minutest care; and certainly not least for his own people, who are "the salt of the earth"—the human race by representation.
Psalms 115:17, Psalms 115:18
Once more the choir and congregation speak. The mention of "heaven and earth" (Psalms 115:15) reminds them of the third place—Sheol. In Sheol is no praise of God, but only "silence." They, at any rate, while they remain on earth, and have the power to praise God, will praise him without ceasing.
The dead praise not the Lord (comp. Psalms 6:5; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:11; Isaiah 38:18). Neither any that go down into silence. The notion of Sheol as a place of silence occurs in Psalms 94:17, and strongly in Isaiah 38:18.
But we will bless the Lord; literally, we will bless Jah—the shortened, and perhaps more emphatic, form of Jehovah. We, so long as we have any being, will sing praises unto our God (Psalms 146:2)—we will bless him, praise him, give thanks to him, from this time forth, and for evermore—not an absolute assertion of immortality, but a strong instinctive anticipation of it. Praise the Lord.
True and false worship.
In strong, nervous language we have here presented to us—
I. THE MAJESTY AND THE POWER OF GOD. (Psalms 115:3.) The heathen, in their ignorance, want to know where Jehovah is; they cannot see him. The reply is that he does not dwell in temples made with hands; that he is not confined to one building, larger or smaller; that no earthly trappings or grandeurs in any sacred city give any notion of his state. "Our God is in the heavens;" he dwells in celestial glory; he is high above us; his throne is not found here or there, but everywhere; beneath every sky you may look up and say, "God reigns on high." But not only does majesty belong to him, all power is his. "He hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." The psalmist does not state, but he suggests, that everything the idols could not do was within the power of the living God. He was speaking to men everywhere and at all times—in the sunshine and in the storm, in the dew and in the snow, in the con sciences of men, in the words of his prophets, in the divinely given Law. He saw all things and all men: "His eyes beheld, and his eyelids tried, the children of men." He heard everything; to his ears came the faintest whisper that proceeded from the lip. of the lowliest, as well as the songs of the great congregation. He wrought every thing; his hands fashioned us ourselves, and made all things about and above and beneath us: he "lays his hand upon us," to inspire and renew us. And though it never pleases God, and never can please him, to do anything that is unholy or unjust or unkind, yet is there no limit to his power. "All things are possible" to him. The spheres of nature, providence, and grace supply ample evidence that apparent impossibilities give way before his Divine wisdom and overcoming might.
II. THE FOLLY AND THE DOOM OF THE IDOLATER. (Psalms 115:2, Psalms 115:4-8.)
1. He thinks that God cannot be anywhere because his eyes have not rested on his form (Psalms 115:2).
2. He continues to worship an image which owes its existence to his own cunning (Psalms 115:4), and which cannot use its own organs (Psalms 115:4-7), which are helpless and powerless (see Isaiah 44:9-20).
3. He is destined to be miserably disappointed in the object of his trust; he will gain no help in his time of need, and, being thus unbefriended, he will himself lose heart and strength; the impotence of the idol will be conveyed to its deluded worshipper.
4. He will become like his idol in the moral character he ascribes to the deity. "Like priest, like people" is not so true an adage as "Like god, like people." Men always tend to become such, in character and life, as is the deity they adore.
III. THE PRIVILEGE AND THE DUTY OF THE DEVOUT. (Psalms 115:9-11.) The worshippers of the true and living God:
1. Have at their right hand an Almighty Friend, one who
(1) will enable them to spend their powers and their life in usefulness and happiness,—God is their Help;
(2) will be their Defense in time of trouble, guarding them from evil, or sustaining them in sorrow,—God is their Shield.
2. Should place in him an unfaltering trust. It becomes all the people of God (Psalms 115:9), especially all those who hold any position of prominence in Israel (Psalms 115:10), and particularly those who know and who declare themselves to be his servants, to put their trust in him. It is a painful spectacle when the avowed children of God begin, even at the very outbreak of trouble, to show signs of agitation and alarm. That does not "become the gospel" (Philippians 1:27); it does not "become saints" (Ephesians 5:3). It is unworthy of those to whom Christ has spoken such words as those he uttered (Matthew 6:25-34; Matthew 28:20; John 14:1, John 14:2, John 14:21-23).
IV. PIETY IN ITS MATURITY. (Psalms 115:1.) We may begin our Christian life by an earnest craving for the salvation of our own soul. Later on, when we have learnt some thing of the wisdom which is in Christ, we make our personal hope second and subordinate to the glory of Christ. We pray that his great and holy Name may be magnified. We are willing to be nothing, that he may be all in all.
1. Because of all that we have experienced of his mercy and his truth—the mercy that redeemed and restored us, the truth that has nourished and strengthened us—we long and pray for this.
2. In order that his mercy and his truth may be extended to every land and every home, this is our prayer. We may test the progress we have made in our Christian course by the unselfishness, the Christwardness, of our devotion.
God's practical kindness, past and future.
Much as is said in Psalms 115:12, more is implied. Written in full, it would read thus: "The Lord has been mindful of us: he has blessed us; he will still be mindful of us, and will still bless us." We have—
I. GOD'S GREAT KINDNESS IN THE PAST.
1. His thoughtfulness of us. He has had us in his mind, has "remembered us in our low estate," has been concerned for our true welfare, has rejoiced in our well-being, has sympathized with us in our sorrows.
2. His action on our behalf. He has blessed us; he has given to us a great estate—this earth—for our use (Psalms 115:16). He has blessed us with material bounties, with the nappy bonds of kindred and friendship, with the treasures that feed and satisfy the mind, with all sacred privileges.
II. ITS CONTINUANCE IN YEARS TO COME. "He will bless us," will "increase" us. The guarantees of this continuance are found:
(1) In his own unchangeableness—he is the same forever.
(2) In the fact that we are his own people, those whom his Son has redeemed with his own blood. If Israel, if the house of Aaron, might count on his kindness by reason of their relationship to him, much more may we, who are his children by faith in Jesus Christ!
(3) In the loyalty and obedience we intend to maintain: those who "fear him" (Psalms 115:13), who worship and serve him, will, as his servants, draw down his benediction and his blessing; the humblest as well as the highest of these may claim his mercy and his grace. But is there not—
III. A TIME-LIMIT TO HIS SERVICE. "The dead praise not the Lord" (Psalms 115:17). We have it in our heart to seek and serve the Lord; and we believe that, so long as we do, we may reckon on his abounding kindness. But how long will that last? At any moment "death may interrupt these songs." A flash of lightning, an engine off the rails, a puff of poisonous air, a chill, may bring the holiest and the wisest to the grave. And there is perpetual silence—no more song, no more service, no more rejoicing in that "long home." That is so; but then we have—
IV. THE TRUER AND THE LARGER OUTLOOK. Coming after Christ, we can give to the "evermore" of Psalms 115:18 a meaning which goes beyond the psalmist's thought. We think not of our departed as silent in the grave; we think of them as blessing and praising Christ in the heavens, as spending their powers in his higher service there, as taken out of, and not down into, the shadows of time, and introduced into the blessed light and unfading glories of eternity.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The heathen taunt, and what came of it.
To Israel, recently returned from exile, that taunt still seemed to sound in their ears. In this psalm, apparently a liturgical one, and used at high festivals in the service of the second temple, the mocking question of those who had held them in captivity—"Where is now their God?" was yet audible, through the keenness with which it was remembered. The sting and anguish of it still rankled in their hearts; and this psalm is the result of it. Consider, then—
I. THE MOCKING QUESTION OF THE HEATHEN, "Where is now," etc.? This, no doubt, was often asked. They had heard of the ancient glories of Israel, and the wonderful works God had done for them; but what a contrast was now presented—the abject condition into which Israel had fallen! And the character of the people also, as a whole, won scant respect. It was but a remnant, an elect few, that cherished the sacred memories of the past, and who were prepared, when opportunity came, to go back to their own land. But to the faithful few the question was full of pain. And here, in this psalm, we see—
II. THE EFFECT OF IT UPON THE MINDS OF THE FAITHFUL.
1. It humbled them before God. Psalms 115:1 is a confession of their own unworthiness, that no glory was due to them. And today, when the world mocks and scorns as it does, the people of God may well make like confession and similar disclaimer of all merit. Had the Church been different, the world would not have mocked as it does.
2. It led them to God to seek his aid, that this mockery on the part of the heathen should cease (Psalms 115:2). They desired that God would manifest his glory, and so silence the heathen scorn. And this is the need of the Church today. Let God be seen in our midst, and the taunt of the world will sink into silence.
3. Submission to God's will. (Psalms 115:3.) They knew that God was in the heavens, possessed of all power, wisdom, holiness; and whatever he pleased could only be right. It was not for them to dictate, but only to submit. They could trust him, that in due time he would interpose.
4. Scorn of idols and those who worshipped them. (Psalms 115:4-8.) The very brightness of their conception of God showed up all the more the darkness of ignorance in which the heathen lived. And the psalm pours out its sacred scorn of these mere dolls before which the heathen bowed down. Hence the scathing sarcasm and concentrated con tempt of these memorable verses. But has the day passed when men's "idols are silver and gold"? Is not that the exact description of ourselves as a nation? Do not we worship silver and gold? Would that we could but catch the contagion of the contempt which pervades these verses for our idols of today! We need to, and shall have to; and if we will not learn by gentle means, God will have to purge us of our idolatry by methods sharp and terrible, like as those by which Israel was brought to a better mind.
5. Earnest endeavor to arouse one another to trust only and altogether in God. (Psalms 115:12-15.) Would that the world's contempt of Christians today led them thus earnestly to stir one another up to a more completely God-surrendered life!
6. Renewed assurance of the grace and goodness of the Lord in his faithful people. (Psalms 115:12-15.) This follows on—it always does—earnest endeavor to deepen the hold of God on the hearts of others. Our own hearts come to be filled with deep and blessed sense of God's love, and the witness of the Spirit is beard full and clear within.
7. Fresh consecration to God. This seems to be the force of the concluding verses of the psalm (Psalms 115:16-18). The Lord in the heavens is sure to do his part; but we are here to do ours. Our time, however, is but short, for we are hastening to the grave where the dead are, and where none can praise God; therefore let us use our time well; and, God helping us, we will (Psalms 115:18).
III. LESSONS FOR OURSELVES.
1. How completely was the heart of Israel turned round! Their besetting sin before the Exile had been idolatry and departure from God. But now! God knows how to turn our hearts altogether to himself.
2. The contrast of the Christian's faith as to the life after this with the faith of Israel. Theirs is dark, ours is bright.—S.C.
Looking back and looking on: a new year's sermon.
There never has been a year in which, when we look back, we have been unable to say, "The Lord hath been mindful of us." And we may be sure there never will be a year of which, when we look forward to it, we may not say, "The Lord will bless us." The psalmist is quite sure about this: may we be so likewise! But—
I. LET US LOOK BACK ALONG THE COURSE OF THE OLD YEAR.
1. We affirm our conviction that we all should make thankful confession of the Lord's mindfulness of us.
2. But many will look back in far other ways.
(1) Some in self-congratulating spirit, but with no thankfulness to God. They will say to themselves, that what good they have won has been all their own doing. But for their own mindfulness of them selves, there would have been but little to be glad about.
(2) Others will deny that the Lord hath been mindful of them; it seems to them that he has forgotten them, if he has not turned against them. They point to their lessened, much lessened, resources. They were ever so much better off at the beginning of the year than they are now. Or here is a widow mourning bitterly the loss of her husband and the father of her now helpless children. Or a husband, whose home is darkened by bereavement of his beloved wife. Or others, who are kept prisoners on beds of weak ness, hopeless disease, or pain. "What!" say these, "hath the Lord been mindful of us? It does not at all seem like it."
3. Well, we reply, if he has not, then it is very unlike him.
(1) For his mindfulness of us is certainly not a recent thing; he says to his people that the kingdom has been prepared for them from before the foundation of the world.
(2) And all around us are proofs of his loving forethought. See in the history of creation how all our needs were thought of before man was placed on the earth. You cannot do so simple a thing as put some coal on the fire without being reminded of this. Where did that coal come from? Was it not got ready for our use long ere we could need it?
(3) And in the kingdom of his grace this mindfulness of us is conspicuously seen. Christ was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world. God was not taken by surprise when sin entered our world and began to do its deadly work. God had reckoned with it, and had determined that where sin did abound, grace should much more abound. The two arms of Christ's cross embrace—one, all the sinners of the past; the other, all that shall be to the end of time. "The mischief is more than met by the remedy, the malady by the medicine, and the plaster is as wide as the wound" (M. Henry).
(4) And it is true also in God's personal dealings with us. Reckon up your mercies—spiritual, temporal, personal, relative—and set them over against your sorrows, and see which are most numerous.
(5) And think, too, of what our deservings have been. Then see if you can deny any more that God has been mindful of you.
II. LET US LOOK ON THROUGH THE NEW YEAR, AND BE ASSURED THAT GOD WILL HELP US.
1. It is an argument drawn from what has gone before—and it is valid. We reckon, in regard to men, that what has been will be. The law of habit ensures this. And we may reverently say that God himself conforms to this law. Hence we may reason from what he hath done to what he will do.
2. Furthermore, he has known all along what reasons there are why he should not bless us. No one can tell God anything worse of us than he already knows.
3. And we are in Christ by faith in him. Therefore we are accepted in Christ. Shall not, then, God with him freely give us all things?
1. We will believe that he will bless us.
2. Inasmuch as his blessing is given into the hands outstretched in prayer and faith, and that move in obedience to him, so shall our hands be, and thus will we confidently expect his blessing.
3. And we will tell others of this.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Honor in honoring God.
This psalm evidently belongs to the time when the restoration from Babylon was only partially accomplished. The little colony settled in Jerusalem and the district immediately round the city, were the scorn of the neighboring petty nations, which were all heathen, and of the Samaritans, whose assistance in building Jehovah's temple they, perhaps unwisely, had refused. This psalm in a way meets scorn with scorn. Jehovah's people scorn the idol-worship of the nations, and the idol-nations scorn the insignificance of the company that talked so grandly about restoring the kingdom of David. But that is the darker side of the psalm. It is better to see that the scorn was but an unworthy expression of a state of mind and feeling that was good and right. Among the restored exiles there was great zeal for God, great jealousy for the honor of Jehovah; and it was this that made them refuse association with the semi-heathen Samaritans, and think so scornfully of the idol-worshippers. Not limiting ourselves to the state of mind of him who wrote, and those who sang, this psalm, let us regard the psalm as expressing generally the humble, loyal, zealous feeling of all true Jehovah-worshippers, and then three things are suggested.
I. PUTTING OUR HONOR ASIDE. "Not unto us … give glory." It is a universal experience that when God is really apprehended, self goes into the second place. It must be so. God can be in no place but the first. In the sphere of morals it is true that the most miserable of men is he who is anxious about his own dignity. He will turn everything into offence. In the sphere of religion it is true that the first sign of regeneration is the humility that claims nothing for self. "Not by works of righteousness which we had done;" "Not of works, lest any man should boast."
II. SEEKING GOD'S HONOR. "Unto thy Name give the praise." Dr. Chalmers spoke of "the expulsive power of a new affection." It is fully true of the soul's affection for God. It expels self and everything else, and compels a man to set God's honor first, to live for God (compare St. Paul's exclamation, "To me to live is Christ"). God's honor is sought by being good and by doing good; in relations, worship, and work. This aim glorifies all forms of life.
III. FINDING THAT WE GAIN OUR HONOR IN SEEKING GOD'S. In two ways.
1. The very effort to seek God's honor cultures us in the character that wins for us honor.
2. And God makes the honor of men come to us as his benediction. on our loyalty.—R.T.
The taunt of the unbeliever.
"Where is now their God?" (comp. Psalms 42:3). The expression is to be understood by the help of the associations of the psalm. It is always trying to be despised; always hard to work on faithfully under jeers and taunts. The neighbors of the restored exiles did not dare actually to interfere with them, because they were under the protection of the Persian authority; but they could taunt them and laugh at them. And it must be admitted that there was apparent occasion. The exiles were poor and few. They had been stopped in building their temple, and there were nothing but foundations to be seen. It might be said—If your God can do anything, he surely can get his own temple built. They dare not attempt to raise the walls and fix new gates and enclose the city; for every attempt would be checked. It might be said—If your God really cared for you, he would help you to defend yourselves. The pious souls were deeply hurt by this reproach cast on their God, and could only find rest in assuring themselves that if his will was a sovereign will, it was influenced by covenant promises. We can always turn from our doubtings as to what God does, and find our satisfaction in what God is.
I. THE STRAIN INVOLVED IN INCOMPLETENESS. We start out with a distinct life aim and purpose; but the years pass by, and all we have, as the result of labor and waiting, is an unfinished building, like some of the cathedrals. Then we are apt to lose hope, and to say—Not done now, it will never be done. So the years had passed for the exiles, and the new nation was still in a most incomplete state. No walls, no temple, no real freedom, no independent native government. It was a big strain on faith to see the nation's hope ever realized.
II. THE INTENSIFYING OF THE STRAIN THROUGH MISCONCEPTIONS, It was hard to see and to feel the incompleteness; but it was harder still to be told about it, to have it pointed out, and to be taunted with it. Those enthusiastic Jews who came out from Babylon expecting at once to accomplish great things, could see well enough the mere foundations of the temple, and the heaps of the ruined walls; but it was bitter ness indeed to have some one come up as they were looking, and whisper in their ear, "Where is now thy God?"
III. THE RELIEF OF THE STRAIN BY CHERISHING TRUSTFUL THOUGHTS OF GOD. (Psalms 115:3.) The check on our work God puts. Incompleteness is his permission. Failure is his discipline. If God is in them, and their state pleases him, then our incomplete things are blessings in disguise.—R.T.
The inefficiency of idolatry.
"The work of men's hands." Denunciation of the idolatry of the heathen is characteristic of the psalms of the restoration. With this passage may be compared such passages as Isaiah 44:9-20. In treating of idols it should be borne in mind that they are differently regarded by their intelligent and unintelligent worshippers. The mystical Hindu will tell us that his idols are to him nothing more than are to us the pictures of absent or dead friends. They are helps to memory and imagination. But to the great mass of heathen the idol-figure is the actual god worshipped, the embodiment of the god, the shrine of the god. So Scripture is justified in its scorn of the idol-deities. The point presented here is the helplessness of idols, in that they have organs of sense, but no sensibility. There is an argument in the simple statement that they are "the work of men's hands."
I. MAN'S HANDIWORK IS INFERIOR TO HIS BEST THOUGHT. No man ever yet reached with his hands what he had conceived in his mind. The artist's idea is better than his picture. It is inferior to the artist himself. The sculptor's figure is better than the model he produces. The literary man never writes as good a book as he intends to write. It is the universal fact that a man is always greater than anything he creates, or anything he accomplishes. And this must be true when a man attempts to mould with his hands the figure of his thought of God. He cannot imprison in gold, or silver, or clay, or wood, his whole thought. And he himself remains a nobler being than the god he creates; and so the god should worship him, and not he the god.
II. MAN'S BEST THOUGHT MUST BE INFERIOR TO DEITY. This is true of the best man's best thought. But what guarantee can we have that the idol-maker is a best man, and that best man at his best? Grant that the primary creations of Baal or Vishnu were the best conceptions of best men, still we face the fact, that, necessarily, the conception was short of the reality. No man by searching can find out God; and no man by imagining can find him out so as to represent him. Then this follows: God himself must give to men the earth-pattern of himself. He has done it. But the earth-pattern is no thing, no likeness of any thing in heaven and earth and sea. It is the living Being, the "Man Christ Jesus," "express Image of his Person."—R.T.
Like god, like people.
"They that make them shall be like unto them." This suggests a topic in the line of the previous homily. It is a law which works in a twofold way. As is the god who is worshipped, so are the people who worship. As is the people who worship, so are the gods whom they create for worship. It is, indeed, the very essence of the idea of a God worthy to be worshipped, that he shall be revealed to man, not created by him; that he shall be in the sphere of man's thoughts, and so apprehensible; but beyond the reach of man's thoughts, and so a perpetual inspiration to him. The reproach which Jehovah makes to his people is that they have not kept him beyond them, but have reduced him to their level. "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself." We have seen that what men attempt to embody when they make their own gods is themselves; the gods are like the people. The characteristics of any nation can be known by a study of its gods; and the characteristics of any particular age of a nation can be known by its relation to, and treatment of, the national gods. Therefore the history of the nations is so largely the history of the national religions.
I. Let men make their own gods like themselves, and THEY WILL NEVER MAKE THE GODS LIKE THEMSELVES AT THEIR REST. Whatever may be thought about the formulated doctrine of original sin, the fact of universal moral deterioration is bound to be generally accepted. And the sign of it is that man is not interested in his best; perhaps not even able to set before himself the image of himself at his best possible. So there never yet was an idol-god made that even represented its maker at his noblest.
II. Let men make their own gods like themselves, and THEY WILL BE SURE TO MAKE THE GODS LIKE THEMSELVES AT THEIR WORST. This can be effectually illustrated by the Kali, Sarasvati, Juggernaut, of India; the Baal and Ashtaroth of Phoenicians; the Moloch of Amorites; and even the refined and artistic creations of Grecian genius; for these represent man sensual, which really is man at his lowest. And this fact, that if man makes his own gods he makes them like himself at his worst, may be shown to be equally true of those immaterial, mental, figures of God which men now make as the idols of an intellectual age. They are no more worthy of God than the hideous figures of India, and this is the serious feature of the case. Let man make his god after the pattern of himself at his worst, and the god he makes and worships will inevitably debase him lower and lower.—R.T.
The call to trust implies imperiled trust.
This and the following verses were, apparently, sung as responses. This explains the repetition of the same idea. The scornful taunts of the surrounding peoples might have had a serious influence on Jehovah's servants. It might have taken all heart out of them. Probably many of the weaker ones did flag under the discouragements, and so there was a real need of this pleading of the psalmist for full and even rejoicing trust in God. The confidence felt by one man will often inspire the confidence of others. When one man can see God plainly working as Helper and Defender, he, in a very wonderful way, opens the eyes of others to see the same signs of Divine presence and power. Our trust in God passes from one to another, even as does an epidemic disease. And it may also be shown how often psalm and song help us to fetch back imperiled trust. Treating the case of the restored exiles as illustrative, we may see how our trust in God may now be imperiled—
I. BY GOD'S UNFULFILLED PROMISES. Some of God's promises really belong to our future, and we have no right to look for their present fulfillment; but such is the restlessness of man, that he persists in thinking he ought to have everything now. And as he cannot, he readily regards some of God's promises as unfulfilled. So through long ages men expected the promised Messiah, and often lost their faith and dimmed their hope because he did not come. But God's promises never are unfulfilled. It is only this—he has our whole lives to work in, he has all the ages to work in. Compare our Lord's saying, "My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready." Trust should make a treasure of the promises.
II. BY GOD'S INCOMPLETELY FULFILLED PROMISES. It is harder to keep trust when a promise has begun to be fulfilled, and has been checked in the fulfillment, than when it is altogether delayed. It was harder for the exiles to look on the new foundations of the temple than on the old ruins. There is no feature of Divine discipline that so severely tries our power to keep on trusting, as this checking of blessings that have begun to be bestowed; this asking us to accept of incomplete fulfillments.
III. BY GOD'S MISUNDERSTOOD PROMISES. So often we take God to promise what we wish him to promise, rather than what he does promise. Then we raise unreason able expectations, and get unreasonably depressed when they are not fulfilled. God may test and try our trust, but he never puts it in peril; we do that when we cannot wait, and persist in misunderstanding.—R.T.
The certainty of the Divine benediction.
"He will bless us." The repetition of the word "bless" adds great effect to this passage. The Lord has many blessings, each one worthy to be remembered—he blesses, and blesses, and blesses again. Where he has once bestowed his favor, he continues it, his blessing delights to visit the same house very often, and abide where it has once lodged. Blessing does not impoverish the Lord; he has multiplied his mercies in the past, and he will pour them forth thick and threefold in the future. He will have a general blessing for all who fear him, a peculiar blessing for the whole house of Israel, and a double blessing for the sons of Aaron. It is his nature to bless, it is his prerogative to bless, it is his glory to bless, it is his delight to bless; he has promised to bless, and therefore be sure of this—he will bless, and bless without ceasing. The subject dealt with should be this—The past is the pledge of the future. A nation makes a fatal mistake when it separates itself from its past; though it misuses the past when it binds itself with precedents, and so destroys its own freedom and individuality. A man makes the gravest mistake when he separates himself from his past, but he makes as grave a mistake when he persists in forcing his present life and relations into the old moulds. What is always safe to do is, keep in mind what God has been to us in the past. Our selves in our past seldom teach us much. In regard to human experience, Froude's word is a wise one, "Experience is like the stern-lights of a ship, which throw their rays on a way which has been taken." God in our past always teaches us much, seeing that we have no very definite aim in working for ourselves, and he has a very definite aim in working for us.
I. GOD HAS BLESSED US. How true this is seen to be in a review of the history of God's people Israel! Especially if we take, as the chief idea of God's blessing, over ruling for God. The more clearly we understand our own lives, the more fully we shall realize that as our best idea of God's blessing. Certainly it is what would most come home to the restored exiles.
II. GOD IS BLESSING US. This is a fact of observation; a conviction of feeling; and an argument from the nature of God. We cannot conceive of him as beginning to do a good, and leaving it off; and the blessing we need is blessing that we continuously need.
III. GOD WILL BLESS US. Since we are well assured that our conditions, relations, and needs will remain much the same, and call still for his merciful overrulings and blessings.—R.T.
The responsibility of being alive.
"The dead praise not the Lord." Joy in life is the characteristic of every healthy, right-minded person. Pining for death is, altogether and always, a sign of a morbid condition of body or of mind. It is a delusion to imagine that religion requires of us an indifference to life, and a yearning for heaven. The psalmists and kings of the old Israelite times loved life and dreaded death. One says, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. The Lord hath chastened me sore, but he hath not given me over unto death" (Psalms 118:17). Hezekiah expresses but the universal sentiment of the good men of his day when he says, "The grave cannot praise thee; death cannot celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth" (Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19). But if we have life, we must take it with all its responsibilities, and the first of these is that we acknowledge the God who made us, on whom we are wholly dependent, and who lays his righteous claims upon us. One of those claims is indicated by the psalmist. God calls for praise. All his works praise him in their order and fitness, in the precise fulfillment of the end for which they were designed. But God seeks that higher praise which can be offered by intelligent and free-willed beings. And the time in which they can offer the praise is the time of their lives amid terrestrial things. It is the praise of the living that God wants. It is praise while living that man can alone render.
I. PRAISE-TIME IS THE PRESENT TIME. It is never a mere duty that has been done; a demand that has been met. The praise that is God's due can never be paid, so that we can get a receipt in full for all our obligations. It is never a duty that can be put off to some by-and-by, something that we can promise to do some day. It is the duty of the hour. It is immediate response to God's present blessings.
II. PRAISE-TIME IS A LIMITED TIME. It is limited to life, and life is always short and always uncertain, so that a man's call to praise is a call of the moment. For praise "now is the accepted time." No man has any to-morrow until God gives it to him, and then he must call it today. Only by doing just the duty of the hour can any man meet his human obligations.
III. THE OCCASIONS OF PRAISE BELONG TO THE PRESENT TIME. It is true that there is call to praise for God's past dealings with us; and call to praise in view of the promises on which we are permitted to hope; but we can always find, if we will, calls to praise in the things actually around us; God's good hand is ever on us for good.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The honor due to God.
A call to the God of Israel, the living God, to rescue the honor of his Name from the reproach of the heathen.
I. GOD IS WORTHY OF THE HIGHEST HONOR. In contrast to heathen idols.
1. Because of his loving-kindness or mercy. (Psalms 115:1.)
2. Because of his truth or faith fullness. (Psalms 115:1.) Emphatically "truth and grace came by Jesus Christ."
3. Though invisible, he reigns and rules from the exalted heaven. (Psalms 115:3.) The idols are earthly things, and have no power.
4. God is omnipotent, able to execute his own will. (Psalms 115:3.) The idols are dead things, with no will; and their worshippers become as dead as they are.
II. GOD IS WORTHY OF TRUST. (Psalms 115:9-14.)
1. Because he is the Helper and Defender of those who trust in him. (Psalms 115:9-11.)
2. Because his past goodness is the pledge for future blessing. (Psalms 115:12-14.) He will bless and multiply both the great and the small together.
III. GOD IS WORTHY OF PRAISE AND WORSHIP. (Psalms 115:15-18.)
1. As the Creator of heaven and earth. (Psalms 115:15.) And the heavens are for the dwelling-place of Jehovah.
2. Because he hath given the earth to men for their possession.
3. God must be praised now and forever—before we go down into the silence of Hades. (Psalms 115:17, Psalms 115:18.) "The Old Testament," says Delitzsch, "knows nothing of a heavenly exclusion that praises God without intermission, consisting not merely of angels, but also of the spirits of all men who die in the faith" (but see Psalms 103:20-22).—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 115". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany