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THIS short psalm is mainly didactic. It places in contrast the extreme wickedness of the wicked and the inexhaustible fulness of love, faithfulness, and righteousness which characterizes the God whom the wicked dare to offend. It ends with a brief but earnest intercessory prayer, that God will favour the righteous and protect them from the assaults of the ungodly, followed by an expression of confidence that the prayer will be granted.
The psalm divides itself into three strophes, corresponding to the division of the subject-matter.
Strophe 1. (Psalms 36:1-4) gives the portrait of the wicked man.
Strophe 2. (Psalms 36:5-9) paints the Divine goodness.
Strophe 3. (Psalms 36:10-12) contains the prayer and the expression of confidence.
The title ascribes the psalm to David; and the critics generally acquiesce. Some of them point out special Davidical indications; but no one has ventured to assign it to any particular occasion in David's life. The epithet given to David in the title, "servant of Jehovah," would seem, however, to connect it with Psalms 18:1-50.
The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart. This is a difficult passage. In the first place, the text is uncertain, since some manuscripts have לבו, "his heart," in the place of לבי, "my heart." And further, whichever reading we prefer, the meaning is far from clear. Dr. Kay translates, "Transgression's oracle to the wicked is, 'In the interior of my own heart;'" and understands the meaning to be that the sinfulness of the wicked man deludes him into the belief that his wickedness is known to no one but himself—it is all safely locked up in the recesses of his own heart. Professor Alexander suggests as possible, "Thus saith depravity to the wicked man, 'In the midst of my heart, there is no fear of God before his (i.e. God's) eyes.'" Others, preferring לבו to לבי, render, "Transgression speaks to the wicked within his heart; There is no fear of God," etc.; regarding the two clauses as perfectly independent the one of the ether. This is, perhaps, the best explanation. There is no fear of God before his eyes. Either he belongs to the class of "fools, who say in their heart, There is no God" (Psalms 14:1), or he agrees with those who cry, "Tush, God hath forgotten: he hideth away his face; he will never see it" (Psalms 10:11).
For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful. Another very obscure verse, explained in various ways. The rendering of Professor Alexander is to be preferred, "For he fiattereth himself in his own eyes, as to God's finding his sin and hating it;" i.e. he flatters himself that he will conceal his sin from God, so that God will not discover it to hate it (see also the comment of Dr. Kay, and the Revised Version)
The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit (comp. Psalms 12:2; Psalms 28:3). He hath left off to be wise, and to do good. There was a time when he occasionally acted wisely, and did what was right. But that time is gone by. Now he is consistently wicked.
He deviseth mischief upon his bed; rather, he deviseth iniquity—the same word as in the preceding verse. In the night, when he should be looked in innocent slumber, he lies awake, devising wicked schemes against others (comp. Proverbs 4:16; Micah 2:1). He setteth himself in a way that is not good. More correct than the Prayer-book Version, "He hath set himself in no good way." The wicked man is not merely negatively bad; he determinately chooses a path of life that is evil. He abhorroth not evil. He has no aversion to it, no horror of it, no shrinking from it. Whether a thing is right or wrong is to him a matter of complete indifference. So callous is he, so hardened.
Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens. Instead of the usual contrast between the wicked man and the godly one (Psalms 1:1-6; Psalms 4:2, Psalms 4:3; Psalms 5:10, Psalms 5:11, etc.), the psalmist here makes the startling contrast between the wicked man and God! The character of the wicked man is given in four verses (Psalms 36:1-4), the portrait of God in five (Psalms 36:5-9). God's first and principal characteristic is "mercy"—or rather, "loving-kindness" (חסר). This quality is revealed, not on earth only, but also in heaven, towards the angels. Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Next to loving-kindness in God comes "faithfulness"—fidelity to every promise that he has ever made, unswerving attachment to those whom he has once loved, undeviating maintenance of the truth (comp. Psalms 57:10; Psalms 108:4).
Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; literally, like the mountains of God; and so Luther, Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, and the Revised Version. According to the Hebrew idiom, this means "the very greatest mountains"—those which seem to stand the strongest and the firmest. Thy judgments are a great deep; i.e. such as man cannot fathom—unsearchable—past finding out. O Lord, thou preservest man and beast. The providential care of God for his creatures is another of his leading characteristics, and one especially deserving man's attention and gratitude. It is a form of his loving-kindness.
How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! The psalmist, having made mention of the "loving-kindness of God" as his most characteristic quality (Psalms 36:5), and again brought it into notice as causing him to provide so carefully for all his creatures (Psalms 36:6), cannot refrain from glorifying the quality whereto he has called attention. "How excellent"—or, how precious (Kay, Alexander, Cheyne, Revised Version)—" is thy loving-kindness!" How does it exceed all that we could have anticipated! How far does it go beyond all that we deserve! Therefore the children of men put their trust (or, shall put their trust, or shall take refuge) under the shadow of thy wings (comp. Psalms 17:8; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 63:7, etc.). Encouraged by the consideration of thy goodness, the beney Adam, the children of weak, frail, sinful man, shall take heart, and lay abide their natural timidity, and turn to thee, and put their trust in thee, gathering themselves under the shadow of thy protecting wings, and looking to thee, and thee only, for safety and defence (see Ruth 2:12).
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house. God will satisfy all who trust in him with "blessings out of his holy seat," and will satisfy them abundantly. The blessings intended are spiritual blessings; and the "house" is, primarily, "the place where God set his name," which at this time was the tabernacle. Faithful Israelites were to expect spiritual blessings through faithful attendance on the tabernacle worship, so far as it was accessible to them. The "house" typified heaven, whence, of course, the blessings really came. And thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures; literally, the river of thy Edens. Thou shalt give them access to an exhaustless fountain of delight, a stream like that which watered Eden (comp. Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 55:1; John 4:14; John 7:37, John 7:38).
For with thee is the fountain of life. The ultimate source of all life is God. Israel had been taught by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:20) that God was their Life; but this was not all; he is equally the Origin of life to everything that lives—to angels, men, beasts, birds, fishes, zoophytes, plants (see Genesis 1:11, Genesis 1:20, Genesis 1:24, Genesis 1:27, etc.). And, as he is the sole Source of natural life, so is he also the one and only Origin of spiritual vitality (Psalms 30:5; Psalms 66:9; John 1:4; John 6:57; John 7:37-39, etc.). And in thy light shall we see light (comp. John 1:4, John 1:5, John 1:9; 1 John 1:5-7). God is essentially Life and Light. He "has life in himself" (John 5:26). He "is Light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). The Son, who is "the Light of the world" (John 8:12), is hut "the Effulgence of his Father's glory" (Hebrews 1:3, Revised Version), "Light of light," the ray which streams from the Sun of the universe. Yet from him comes the light which enlighteneth all creatures (John 1:9). "In his light we see light."
O continue thy loving-kindness unto them that know thee. Here begins the third strophe. Having finished his" instruction," the psalmist passes on to prayer; and is content to ask that God will be in the future such as he has been in the past—that he will "lengthen out," prolong, or "continue his loving-kindness" to his faithful servants, dealing with them as he has hitherto dealt with them (Psalms 36:5, Psalms 36:7), mercifully, graciously, and lovingly. His faithful servants are "those that know him," because, as Hengstenberg observes, "the true and essential knowledge of God is to be found only in a sanctified mind." And thy righteousness to the upright in heart. Continue, i.e; to deal justly with those whose heart is right with thee—who, in spite of occasional lapses, are really in heart sincere.
Let not the foot of pride come against me. The mention of "the foot of pride" is noted as a mark of Davidical authorship. "Every psalm of David which speaks of danger points to the pride of his enemies as the source" (Canon Cook). And let not the hand of the wicked remove me; or, drive me away (Revised Version), i.e. force me into exile, as Absalom's party succeeded for a time in doing (2 Samuel 15:13-30).
There are the workers of iniquity fallen; or, yonder (Kay). It is as if the psalmist suddenly saw a vision. "There"—on a spot that presents itself to his eyes—are the wicked actually "fallen;" they lie prostrate in the dust. They are cast down, and shall not be able to rise; or, to rise up again (comp. Psalms 18:38). Whereas the righteous may fall into misfortune repeatedly, and recover themselves (Proverbs 24:16), the workers of iniquity, when their time comes to fail, usually perish. At any rate, this would be the result of the overthrow which the psalmist sees in a sort of vision.
The portrait of the godless man.
"He abhorreth not evil." This dark trait is the crowning stroke in the portrait here drawn of the godless man. If a man does not hate evil, it is certain he loves not good. Those twin precepts are like stems from one root (Romans 12:9, "Abhor … cleave"). What a man loves and follows shows what he will be; but what he hates shows what he is.
I. HATRED OF SIN IS A MORE SEARCHING MORAL TEST THAN ADMIRATION OF GOODNESS. True, any real love for goodness, desire after righteousness and holiness, shows a man not yet hopelessly bad. But there is a weak approval of good, with no earnest effort to follow it, which only amounts to self-condemnation. To recognize the right, true, good, kind, honourable path, and yet not choose it, is even a distinct step downward. Power to say "No" is the decisive test of strength of moral character. Good, if followed at all, must be pursued actively—uphill. But to go wrong you need hut yield, and drift with the stream. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence" (Matthew 11:12).
II. Hence HATRED OF SIN IS AN ESSENTIAL AND GLORIOUS FEATURE OF GOD'S CHARACTER. (Habakkuk 1:13; Jeremiah 44:4; Proverbs 6:16.) If men had power to stop the mischief and suffering caused by sin, they would think lightly of sin itself. It is because God does not think lightly of sin that he does not interfere to prevent the misery. If the stream is to flow clean, the fountain must be cleansed. God will not make an evil tree bear good fruit. Suffering is the divinely ordained penalty, warning men off from sin, tracking men out in their sins, calling men to repent of sin, witnessing to God's hatred of sin (Romans 6:23). But this is only one side. Misery, suffering, death, are no arbitrary infliction; no artificially contrived punishment. They are sin's natural result. Want of love to God and to man, ripening into "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7); and that self-indulgence and self-worship which practically are enmity to men, cannot but bear the bitter fruit of misery and death (Romans 6:21; Galatians 5:19-21). A world of perfect joy and lasting happiness must be a world from which sin is eternally shut out (Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15).
III. This note of warning is one SPECIALLY NEEDED BY THE TIMES WE LIVE IN. Modem society is strong (stronger than at any past epoch) in benevolence, kindliness; pity for the suffering, the fallen, even the guilty. It is weak on the sterner side—indignation against wrong, contempt of falsehood, stern zeal for justice, hatred of evil. We may see this in social life, in commercial life, in political life, in Church life, in theology. We like to "make things pleasant." We persuade ourselves that sin is no such very great evil; that God will not he very hard on it. We forget that the most tremendous denunciations of sin and of sinners are from the loving lips of our Saviour himself. "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil!" (Psalms 97:10).
The fountain of life.
This short but sublime psalm opens in a minor key. With a few powerful strokes the psalmist paints the blindness, untruthfulness, blasphemous presumption of an ungodly life—a life void of godly fear, and of that hatred of evil without which there is no true love of goodness. Then as with a sudden recoil from this hateful spectacle, the psalmist turns to God, pouring forth a noble strain of praise. He contemplates God's mercy, truth, justice, bountiful providence, and loving-kindness to his children (Psalms 36:9). May be looked at as the crowning point of this hymn of worship, at which praise turns to prayer.
I. GOD IS THE SOLE ORIGINAL POSSESSOR OF LIFE—UNDERIVED, SELF-SUSTAINED, ETERNAL. "The Father hath life in himself" (John 5:26). "God draws existence from his own self. We possess but a borrowed existence; being is not native to us. As in our turn, one by one, we shall pass out of this life, and the world will go on its way without us; so, if God willed, we might pass out of being, and the universe would not miss us" (Saurin). But God "inhabiteth eternity" (Isaiah 57:15). This truth, the foundation of religion, is sublimely set forth in the Old Testament, especially in contrast with the vanity of idols; and is shadowed forth in the personal name by which God entered into covenant with his people (Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:3; comp. Isaiah 43:10-13; Isaiah 44:6; so in the New Testament, John 17:3; Revelation 4:9, Revelation 4:10).
II. GOD IS THE AUTHOR AND SUSTAINER OF LIFE. The variety, beauty, activity, fruitfulness, joy, of the life of all living creatures are so many streams, whose inexhaustible fountain is in him (Acts 17:25, Acts 17:28). From the gigantic trees of California and Australia, four hundred or five hundred feet in height, to the all but invisible moss on Arctic snows; from the eagle, soaring above the mountain peaks, the elephant in his massive strength, the whale plunging deep in ocean, to those creatures revealed by our strongest-lenses, tens of thousands of which find ample space in a few drops of water;—all draw life and being every moment from him. The least is as carefully designed and finished as the highest. Let us not forget how these two worlds of life—plants and animals—are balanced and made mutually dependent: the plant feeding on the air which the animal breathes out, and which to itself is poison, and giving back that which the plant needs not, but which to the animal is the breath of life. Even death and decay are made to minister to life. The creatures appear and vanish, like waves on the great river of life; but the river flows on, for its fountain is in God (Psalms 104:27-31). Shall we imagine that this is true only of our small world, and that all the suns and systems with which space teems are splendid deserts? Or is not Isaiah 45:18 true of many and many another world as of our own?
III. SPIRITUAL LIFE—MAN'S HIGHEST LIFE—LIKE BODILY LIFE, HAS ITS FOUNTAIN IN GOD. He alone bestows and sustains it. We share with the lower creatures the life of sensation and conscious activity. But we have also (whether we heed it or not) a higher life, or capacity of life—the life of personal character, which may be cultivated and perfected in personal communion with God. Each one has in him germs of good and of happiness; germs, too, of evil and misery, for whose full development this life does not afford room. Each human spirit, a world in itself, has in it material for heaven or hell. This is so, whether we like to think so or no. More than this, Scripture reveals (what we could never have discovered, reasonable as it is) that the Spirit of God, personally bestowed and dwelling in us, creates and sustains this higher life (John 3:6). The most vigorous life—bright intellect, intense emotion, strenuous will, fruitful activity—if destitute of living communion with God, and devoid of his Spirit, is pronounced in Scripture but a living death (Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:5; 1 John 5:12).
1. Worship. If we could rise to the height of these words, fathom their depth, read their full meaning, our souls would he bowed, yet uplifted in adoration—filled with the glorious sense of the majesty, the mystery, the infinite greatness and goodness of God (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:15, 1 Timothy 6:16).
2. Submission. He with whom is the fountain of life must determine how and how long the stream shall flow. Our lives belong to him. When he withdraws life he is not taking away what we have any right or claim to—only what is his (Hebrews 9:27). But the Lord Jesus holds the key (Revelation 1:18).
3. Faith in Jesus. Christ is the Possessor and Dispenser of spiritual life (John 5:26). All the streams of both physical and spiritual life flow through him (Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:16; John 1:3). He came to give life (John 10:10). , But a man might die of thirst at the brink of a full-flowing fountain, if he would not drink. So, with infinite pathos, our Saviour says, "Ye will not come" (John 5:40). But all who will are freely bidden (John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17).
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
God's revelation of man to himself; or, the transgressors heart turned inside out.
It has been thought by some that this psalm was written about the time when Saul gave his daughter Michal to David with a treacherous design (see Walford, in loc.); by others, that it is a general description of some of the wicked men—such as Saul, Absalom, Ahithophel, etc.—with whom David was brought into contact (see Fausset hereon). But there is no clue in the psalm itself to any such specific historical reference. We see a special significance in the title of the psalm, which tells us that it was written by David as a servant of Jehovah, and banded by him to the choirmaster for use in the songs of the sanctuary. We may regard it as a description of the heart of the ungodly, written in the piercing light of Divine revelation (see Psalms 36:9), affording us a striking illustration of Hebrews 4:12, showing us that "the Word of God is" indeed "living and strong, sharper than any two-bladed sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow," being "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." We find, too, that the Apostle Paul regards the words, "There is no fear of God before his eyes," as a part of the Divine indictment against a sinful race, whether of Jew or of Gentile origin (cf. Romans 3:18). Hence the inspection of the human heart, the results of which are here stated, is one that has been carried on under the searching light of Heaven. And a terribly painful discovery it is, to find how much iniquity God sees hidden in the nooks and corners of the heart. For us to be always carrying on this introspection would be more than we could bear. Yet the wicked may well be asked to study their own hearts in the light of this description, that they may see how much they need deliverance from their dark and sinful selves; while the believer may well look into this description again and again, that he may see from how much he has been delivered by the grace of God.
I. LET US STUDY THIS SEARCHING INVESTIGATION OF THE SECRETS OF A HUMAN HEART. £ (Hebrews 4:1.)
1. The heart of an ungodly man has an oracle of its own. The Hebrew word translated "saith" is a noun, and means "oracle." Some would regard the phrase as elliptical, and as meaning, "The oracle [of God, concerning] the transgression of the wicked in his heart, is," etc. (so Cheyne and Olshausen). But it seems to us rather a satirical contrast. The righteous have their oracle, which is Divine. The wicked have their oracle, even transgression. The dislike of being governed by another is the governing principle of their lives. "Our tongues are our own: who is lord over us?" (Psa 12:1-8 :14; Psalms 2:3). Hence their "oracle" is dictated, not by loyalty, but by rebellion against God.
2. There are terrible negations in the godless man's life. (Hebrews 4:1, "There is no fear of God before his eyes,") There is no desire of the Divine approval, nor dread of the Divine displeasure. It was reserved for the nineteenth century, however, to develop the most impious forms of this denial of God. There are not wanting novels, such as George Eliot's and others, which present model characters in social life on the basis of non-theism, and which depict it as a virtue to be without any fear of God whatsoever. This psalm deals with an evil which is by no means a thing of the past. It is developed to-day in frightful form, and puts on a guise of virtue to hide its ghastliness. There is a second negation (Hebrews 4:4): "He hath left off to be wise and to do good." The absence of the fear of God will soon be followed by the loss of respect for man, and the deterioration of general intelligence and of social virtue. There is no sustaining impulse for the highest excellence when God ceases to be enthroned in the heart. For a third negation here specified shows clearly enough the drift of the godless man (Hebrews 4:5): "He abhorreth not evil." The issue of a materialistic denial of God, and of a materialistic view of man, must be the denial of evil as evil. Evil cannot exist if atoms of matter be all. For molecules never break the ranks, and can never get out of harness. And he who first abhors not evil, out of senseless bravado, will come to deny evil altogether, and will let his passions hurry him whither they will, on the inward plea that he is "acting according to nature."
3. There are equally terrible positive evils in the godless man's life. First, evils in thought (Hebrews 4:3). The psalmist means either that, in spite of his godlessness, he has a very good opinion of himself, or else that he flatters himself his sins will never come out to light, and be found out in all their naked ugliness. Nor is this all. But he positively deviseth mischief upon his bed (Hebrews 4:5). Even in the night he is pursuing schemes of serf-gratification, altogether regardless of righteousness or of the good of others. A second form of positive ill is found in his words (Hebrews 4:4). Truthlessness will soon follow godlessness. And when in his eye God ceases to be, it will not be long ere right ceases to be right, and truth to be truth. And a third form of ill will develop itself. "He setteth himself in a way that is not good." He plants his feet, he takes a determined stand, in the direction of gratifying self rather than in the direction of pleasing Cod. And will aim at nothing but "utility," in the narrow sense of hedonism. Right as right will have disappeared from the gaze of his eye, and will cease to govern either deed, word, or thought. How terrible a picture is this of unchecked human depravity!
II. WHAT PRACTICAL USE SHOULD BE MADE IN OUR DAY OF SUCH A TERRIBLE EXPOSURE OF THE SECRETS OF DEPRAVED HEARTS?
1. It is a very solemn thought that we are thus being inspected, at every moment, by an all-searching gaze. It is only where Divine revelation has been vouchsafed that sin is dealt with so very seriously, and that the heart is thus depicted so minutely.
2. How fearful the descent of sin, and how encroaching are its inroads on character! Yet, after all, we need hot fall into the error of supposing that the Word of God regards all as equally guilty or as equally corrupt. Yet, as the Apostle Paul shows in the second and third chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, where he is handling the indictment which stands in God's Law against us, we are "all under sin." If the Jew has sinned against a written Law, the Gentile has sinned against an unwritten law. Hence both are "guilty before God;" although the measure of each one's guilt, and the depth of each one's corruption, can be judged accurately by God alone.
3. Let us be devout/y thankful that we may know the worst of ourselves by comparing what we are with the pure and holy Law of God. To know the disease is an important step in seeking for a cure.
4. Even if we have not gone such lengths is guilt and maddened sin as are here described, let us thankfully acknowledge that we owe it to the restraining providence of God. For, alas! the germs of all ill are in each of us.
5. We need a deliverance from ourselves. We need forgiveness for guilt, and cleansing from corruption.
6. Since all are under sin, how righteous is the retirement of the gospel! "God commandeth all men everywhere to repent." No man is as good as he ought to be, nor yet as good as be knows he ought to be. And for this he ought to be sorry and to mourn his guilt persistently before God. When he is thus ready to put sin away by repenting of it, God is ready to put it away by forgiving it.
7. It is the glory of the gospel that it takes into account all our needs, from every possible point of view. In Christ we have pardon for the penitent's sin, and cleansing from the foulest corruption. Yea, through the Spirit of God we may be regenerated, and sanctified, and snatched from the power of darkness to the kingdom of God's dear Son.
8. It is only in that very Word which looks at sin most seriously that man is regarded most hopefully. Man and his sins are not inseparable They may be parted. And when this blessed effect is brought about, "being made free from sin, and become servants unto God," they will "have their fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."—C.
God's revelation of himself to man.
The reason for so sudden a transition in the theme of this psalm does not clearly appear. It is, indeed, possible that portions of two may be pieced together; but we have no proof of that. The remark of Calvin is very striking, "After having spoken of the great depravity of men, the prophet, afraid lest he should be infected by it, or be carried away by the example of the wicked, as by a flood, quits the subject, and recovers himself by reflecting on a different theme." £ Whether this be precisely the correct account of the matter or no, certain it is that too prolonged a gaze into the desperate wickedness of man would unnerve us and would generate a spirit of misanthropic distrust. For our own balance of mind, and peace and rest, we must turn our gaze away from the haunts of sin to the abode of perfect righteousness and halcyon calm. And, thank God, we can do it. And if we turn the glass of the Word upward instead of downward, we shall find more to inspire with rapture than we have seen to create dismay. But neither the one description nor the other can be accounted for by the ordinary laws of the human mind. The psychology of the natural man will not serve us here. Only a "man whose eyes are open" could have written either the first or the second part of this psalm. And we here see the working, not of psychology, but of pneumatology—of the pneumatology of the spiritual man when receiving and transmitting a revelation from God and of him. What the Apostle Peter says of prophecy generally may be applied to this psalm: it "came not of old time by the will of man." David spake as he was "moved by the Holy Ghost." Having, then, spied into the abyss of depravity by the glass of the Word, let us peer into the boundless heights of glory by looking through the same glass when turned upward. Let us study—
I. THE PERFECTIONS OF GOD IN THEIR SUBLIME AND PEERLESS GLORY. (Psalms 36:5, et seq.) We have put before us the sphere in which the Divine Being dwells—"in the heavens;" "unto the clouds." The heavens, in the highest sense, are regarded as the dwelling-place of God; and, to the same intent, the word translated "clouds." £ Since God is everywhere present, we must not confine his presence (in our thinking thereof) to one spot rather than another (Psalms 139:7-12). Yet we are permitted to think of "heaven" as being a region where he specially manifests his glory—" Our Father, which art in heaven;" "The Son of man' "came down from heaven" (cf. Ezekiel 1:26-28; Isaiah 6:1-4; John 17:5). High, high above this troublous scene of unrest and sin there is a throne of glory, there is a seat of power, there is a realm of unruffled, everlasting calm (Psalms 97:1). But here we have revealed to us him who is on the throne, and the glorious attributes which mark his infinite Being.
1. "Mercy," "goodness;" benignitas, misericordia. God has a heart. "He that formed the ear, doth he not hear? He that formed the eye, doth he not see? He that formed the heart, doeth he not feel?" Yea, verily. God is a Being of infinite tenderness, compassion, and love.
2. "Truth;" i.e. "faithfulness;" fides, veritas. "Hath he said, and shall he not do it?" "Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"
"Firm as a rock his truth remains
To guard his promises"
Not one thing hath failed or snail fail of all that the Lord hath spoken.
3. Righteousness." (Psalms 36:6.) "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." £ Justitia. It is because the righteousness of God is so firm and unmovable that we can repose in him the most entire and absolute confidence. Even love, divorced from righteousness, would fail to win our hearts. The work of Christ commands our homage, love, and rest, because therein love and righteousness are seen in sublimest concord. Note: How intense the relief to turn our eyes away from this scene of sin and corruption to him "whose dominion extendeth over all" in righteousness, mercy, and truth!
II. THE PERFECTIONS OF GOD IN THEIR BEARING UPON US.
1. Perfect administration. (Psalms 36:6.) "Thy judgments are a great deep;" £ a profound abyss (cf. Psalms 77:19). They often present a depth of mystery which we have no plummet to sound. But they are judgments for all that; i.e. right-settings—they are never at fault. And never is there any flaw in the Divine administration on this globe (Psalms 97:2).
2. Loving-kindness. The same word as is rendered "mercy' (Authorized Version) in Psalms 36:5. But the translators saw the meaning of "mercy" per se becoming "loving-kindness" towards us. Blot only has the sun light, but we feel the warmth of his rays. Even so the tender mercy of God discloses itself to us in innumerable acts of kindness and love.
3. Protection. (Psalms 36:7.) "The shadow of thy wings" (cf. Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:9-12; Ruth 2:12; Psalms 17:8; Psalms 91:4; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 61:4). Perhaps the most wonderful of God's attributes is that patience with men, whereby he restrains the power that could crush, and puts it forth so gently as to guard. Had we not been sheltered by an invisible guardianship, we had been crushed ere now a thousand times over. Note, also, that the figure of "wings," etc; indicates a marvellous tenderness of love.
4. Supply. (Psalms 36:8.) "The fatness of thine house "—the rich provisions of Divine love which are so largely enjoyed in the fellowship of worship in the courts of the Lord. "The river of thy pleasures;" literally, "of thine Eden." Is there here an allusion to the river which flowed peacefully through the garden of Eden when sin had not as yet tainted its bowers? Or is this phrase a declension that of the pure joy which is in the heart of God he gives those to partake who are in communion with him? If so, hire is a wonderful anticipation of the truth, "My peace I give unto you."
5. Life. (Psalms 36:9.) "The fountain of life." Here is a sublime expression of the doctrine which in modern phraseology is called "the origin of force"—a sublime expression thereof, however, on its moral and spiritual side. Such a phrase as this may well have been borne in mind by the Apostle John, £ when he says of the Son of God, "In him was life."
6. Light. (Verse 9.) "In thy light shall we see light." In how many senses this is true, and how richly it is true in every sense, it would require many homilies to show. We can but hint. Without God we can see no light anywhere. We have no basis for thought, no account to give of existence. Without the light from God to illumine our souls, we cannot see the glory of his love in creation. Without the enlightening and regenerating power of his Spirit, we cannot see the kingdom of Cod. But with God above, around, within, in what a blaze of light and glory may we live! £ Note: What amazing bliss is ours, even now, when the fulness of God is made over to us in Christ through his Word and Spirit! Perfect judgment, loving-kindness, guardianship living food, life, light! What more can we have?
III. THE DIVINE PERFECTIONS AS LAID HOLD OF BY BELIEVING MEN. When our God reveals himself thus to us as our God, it is but fitting anti right that our hearts should respond to such revelation. A response we find here. It is fivefold.
1. Here is an exhilarating sense of being in the possession of a precious treasure. (Verse 7.) "How excellent," etc. rather, "How precious is thy loving-kindness, O God!" Indeed, it is. Precious beyond thousands of gold and silver; yea," better than life" (Psalms 63:3; Psalms 43:4). God is our "exceeding Joy" Often and often may we muse with ever-increasing delight on the exhaustless stores of love which are ours in the heart of the infinite and eternal God (cf. Deuteronomy 33:26, Deuteronomy 33:27).
2. Here is a sense of safety and repose in fleeing for refuge to God. (Verse 7.) "Put their trust;" literally, "flee for refuge" (cf. Psalms 91:2). How intense the repose when we make God our Refuge! From the plots of men, from the strife of tongues, from perils of every kind, we can hide in God—blessed and safe in his almighty keeping.
3. Here is a sense of satisfaction in the abundance of a Divine supply. God's love is as meat and drink to us (of. John 6:1-71.). When all the fulness of God is made over to us in Christ, we are indeed well supplied. We often want more of Christ; we never want more than Christ.
4. The trust and love of the heart express themselves in prayer.
(1) For others (verse 10). We may bear all the saints on our heart as intercessors before God.
(2) For ourselves (verse 11). That God would so prove himself to us to be all that he has promised to be, that we may never be moved from the right and safe path by any of the plots and snares of designing men.
5. Already, in the anticipation of faith, we sing praise for delivering grace. (Verse 12.) "There are the workers of iniquity fallen." "There!"—emphatic. There they are! I look on far ahead, and know that I shall triumph in redeeming love, and that I shall yet see those that plotted my ruin brought to nought, as Israel saw their foes dead on the seashore (Exodus 14:30, Exodus 14:31; Psalms 46:6; Psalms 37:34-38; see Romans 64:7-10)..(For the application of all this in its highest and grandest form, see Romans 8:34-39.) Let us trust God, brothers, while danger is nigh, and we shalt shout in triumph when life's storms are over.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
We have here a terrible picture of, the wicked man.
I. HIS HEART IS THE SEAT OF EVIL. It is there as an "oracle.' It is enthroned. It speaks with authority. It gives forth its decrees for obedience. The true is opposed by the false. Righteousness gives place to unrighteousness. All counsels of reason and compunctions of conscience are hushed by the cry, "No God!" (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
II. HIS LIFE IS MARKED BY ABANDONMENT TO EVIL. The power that rules the heart rules the life. There is progress in depravity, as in goodness. Gradually the sway of sin extends, till at last it works without check, without remorse, without remedy. You know a servant by the livery he wears, so when you see a man who sins wilfully and habitually, whose words and actions and manner of life are manifestly regualted without any fear of God, you cannot but regard such a man as a servant of sin (Romans 6:16; John 8:34).
III. HIS CHARACTER IS FORMED UNDER THE POWER OF EVIL. Acts form habits, and habits character, The process is slow, but certain. What determines character is the power that worketh in us, be it good or be it evil (Galatians 5:17, Galatians 5:18). There is evil in all, but when the heart has been won back to God, the evil, though present, has lost its power. There is conflict, but the victory is Fare for good, and not for evil. On the other hand, where evil still rules supreme, the result is of necessity—greater and greater degradation and corruption.
IV. HIS FUTURE IS DARK WITH THE PROGNOSTICS OF EVIL. To those who are living without God, the prospect in this life is gloomy and painful, but there is still hope. The voice of mercy is ever sounding in their ears, "Why will ye die?" As time passes, things grow darker. Guilt increases, the heart is hardened, and reformation becomes more and more improbable (Jeremiah 13:23). Again and again signs and warnings are given—precursors of the end, foreshadowings of the doom that awaits the impenitent. But they are unheeded. There is a terrible retention of character, and the future has no star of hope to light the gloom. "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness."—W.F.
Look around, how distressing is the scene! Look back, it is the fame tale of human care and crime. Look before, little to encourage, or to lead us to believe that things will be better than they are. But look up, and we can take heart, and speak one to another of better times. Clod reigns. Christ is at the right hand of the Father, to carry out his gracious purposes. Though there be much that is dark and depressing, yet we are able still to pray to God as "our Father," to say, a Thy kingdom come," and to assure our hearts of the final victory of love, for "Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory."
I. FROM THE FALSEHOOD OF MEN WE MAKE OUR COMPLAINT TO THE FAITHFUL NESS OF GOD. Though men lie and beguille, God is true. His Word is truth. "He is faithful who hath promised" We may trust him utterly. Like him, let us also be faithful.
II. FROM THE INJUSTICE OF MEN WE MAY APPEAL TO THE JUSTICE OF GOD. Conscience within and the Law without bear witness that God is righteous. Justice is justice everywhere. Whatever be our lot here, we shall get right yonder. However basely men-may behave to us, God will treat us fairly. The Judge of all the earth will do right. In this faith we can possess our souls in patience (1 Corinthians 4:3, 1 Corinthians 4:4; James 4:11, James 4:12). Come what will, let us ever do that which is just and good to all men.
III. FROM THE SELFISHNESS OF MEN WE CAN TAKE REFUGE IN THE LOVE AND MERCY OF GOD. In trade and commerce and all the various businesses of the world, selfishness prevails. The rule is, "Every man for himself;" and the royal law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," is set at nought. Even in the Churches the leaven of selfishness is sadly operative. But "God is love." He is the great Giver. His delight is to show mercy, to do good and to communicate. He has come nearer than ever in Christ Jesus, and under the strong and loving covert of his wings we find refuge from all the oppressions and ills of life (Psalms 36:7). Let us make it our habit more and more to abide with God. Christ is in the bosom of the Father, and it is as we "live together with Christ" that we abide in the love of God, and are comforted in all our troubles, defended in all our dangers, and strengthened for every good word and work.
"Only, O Lord, in thy dear love,
Fit us for perfect rest above;
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray."
Psalms 36:6, Psalms 36:7
Righteousness; judgment; loving-kindness.
There are three great sayings here which deserve our deepest study. First, God's "righteousness," that perfection of his character which secures perfect justice in all his doings. It is like "the mountains," so high that it is always above us, so fixed and stable that it cannot be moved. Then God's "judgments"—his ways, his dealings with men—are called a "great deep," as being in many respects beyond our sounding or measuring, unfathomable and full of mystery (Psalms 77:19). Last, there is God's providential care. It is said, "How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God!" (Psalms 36:6, Psalms 36:7). But while these sayings are very striking and beautiful, looked at by themselves, they become vastly more significant and consolatory when we regard them in their relationship. Suppose we take the second, and place it in the light of the first and then of the third. In the "great deep" there is much that is awful and perplexing. But if there be mystery, this should not surprise us. We are but children. How can the finite comprehend the Infinite! But this mystery has its uses: it teaches us humility; it inspires us with reverence; it prepares the way for faith and hope and love. But much depends on our standpoint. See how different things become when we look at "the great deep" from the sure ground of the everlasting hills. It is significant that the psalmist speaks of the "mountains" before the "great deep," of the "righteousness" of God before his "judgments." Here is a lesson for us. Let us first make sure as to God's righteousness. Then when our hearts are established in this truth, we can look abroad without fear of the great deep of God's judgments. Even if, like Paul, tossed up and down "in Adria," the assurance of God's righteousness will give us peace, and sustain our hopes; and when we reach the shore again, we can look back, as from Melita, with thankful love and praise to God's ways and wonders in the deep. Then, further, when we take up the third great saying here, the light increases, and the sense of God's gracious presence and care becomes stronger and stronger. How often is it so in God's Word and works! Side by side with some grand manifestation of his greatness and majesty, we have some tender touch that speaks of his fatherly love and care. Whensoever, then, we are oppressed and appalled by the sight of the "great deep," let us call to mind, on the one hand, God's "righteousness;" and, on the other, God's love—that we may be comforted. Before us is the "great deep," with many things that are terrible and distressing—the shipwreck of dear hopes, the burying out of sight of beloved ones, the mystery of trial and of death—but, standing on the sure ground of God's righteousness, we may possess our souls in patience; and, contemplating the manifold and increasing proofs of God's love and goodness in our daily life, we may take heart, and say, "He cannot will me aught but good; I trust him utterly." Let us learn to take the right order in considering God's works. We should begin with what is plain and certain. We should study the dark things in the light of what is clear, the mysteries by what is revealed. Further, mark the importance of making much of common mercies, that we may be the better prepared for uncommon emergencies. God is educating us. When we know him as caring for us in little things, we can trust him to care for us in greater things (Matthew 6:30-34). If we have learned to run with the footmen without being weary, we can better contend with horses. If we do our duty and serve God in the land of peace, then we shall be the fitter to face the swelling of Jordan (Jeremiah 12:5). Above all, let us remember that only in God can we find a sure Refuge from all trouble (Psalms 36:7).
Though griefs unnumbered throng thee round,
Still in thy God confide;
Whose finger marks the seas their bound,
And curbs the headlong tide."
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The curse of wickedness and the blessedness of fellowship with God.
The psalmist complains of the moral corruption of his generation, and points the character of the time rather than any particular occurrence—unless "the foot of pride" in the eleventh verse may possibly refer to some invader that he dreaded. We have here a vivid description of the cursed state of ingrained, deliberate wickedness, and of the supreme blessedness of fellowship with God.
I. THE CURSE OF INGRAINED, DELIBERATE WICKEDNESS. (Psalms 36:1-4.) Represented under two main aspects.
1. The utter degeneracy of his thoughts. (Psalms 36:1, Psalms 36:2.) Translate, "The oracle, or voice, of transgression is in the heart of the wicked;" i.e. evil is the sovereign voice that speaks to or commands him. It is the only imperative voice that he hears—not the voice of conscience or duty. As a consequence, he does not see or hear God, and, therefore, does not fear to transgress. More than this, he becomes complacent ("flatters himself") in devising evil things as a sign of superior cleverness, and glories in hating rather than in loving. He is a fearful example of the total inversion of the moral order in all his thoughts. As a consequence, we have:
2. The utter degeneracy of his conduct. (Psalms 36:3, Psalms 36:4.) His words are the image of his thoughts—mischief and deceit. He has left off, turned from, every wise and good gay of living, as a thing gone out of his esteem, forming no part of his purpose in life. fie meditates only mischief on his bed, where other men remember the evil of the day, and repent; but he sinks to sleep or awakes from it in forming evil designs, setting himself into the direction of no good way, nor abhorring any evil.
II. THE SUPREME BLESSEDNESS OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. (Psalms 36:5-10.)
1. God's goodness makes him infinitely worthy of our trust. (Psalms 36:5-7.) His mercy. faithfulness, righteousness, judgments, preserving providence, are all infinite and perfect, and those who trust in him live in the holiest, safest shelter—under the shadow of his wings overspreading the "mercy-seat."
2. God will abundantly satisfy all their greatest needs. (Psalms 36:8.) They shall partake of the Divine satisfaction and joy—eat of the fatness of his house, and drink of the river of his pleasures. Because he is the Fountain of all life and the Substance of all light, and they who dwell with him shall draw his life into themselves, and see all things in the light of his presence.
3. They became confident of the downfall of those who are unrighteously opposed to them. (Psalms 36:11, Psalms 36:12.) "There!"—pointing as if to the scene of the ruin of his foes and the foes of God. Those who enjoy fellowship with God and Christ are assured that they too will at length conquer their spiritual foes, and enter fully into the kingdom that awaits them.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 36". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20