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THE psalmist announces an appearance of God to his people "out of Zion," and a pronouncement of judgment upon them, which all heaven (Psalms 50:4) and earth (Psalms 50:1) are called upon to witness. The judgment takes the shape of a twofold address; first, to the righteous, who are exhorted to the spiritual worship of God (Psalms 50:14, Psalms 50:15), and warned against putting too much trust in sacrifice (Psalms 50:8-13); secondly, to the wicked, who are sternly reproved for their hypocrisy, their hatred of instruction, their sins in act and speech, their want of natural affection, and their low and unworthy idea of the nature of God (Psalms 50:16-21). In conclusion, a word of final warning is given to the wicked (Psalms 50:22), and a word of final encouragement to the righteous (Psalms 50:23).
The psalm consists of four portions:
1. An introduction (divided off by the pause-mark, "Selah," from the rest of the psalm), announcing the "appearance," and calling on heaven and earth to witness it (Psalms 50:1-6).
2. An address to the godly Israelites (Psalms 50:7-15).
3. An address to the ungodly Israelites (Psalms 50:16-21).
4. A conclusion, divided equally between threat and promise (Psalms 50:22, Psalms 50:23).
The psalm is ascribed to Asaph, the "chief," or superintendent, of the Levites to whom David assigned the ministry of praise before the ark (1 Chronicles 16:4, 1 Chronicles 16:5). So are also Psalm 73-83. Some of these may have been composed by later Asaphite Levites; but the present ode may well be Asaph's own, since it "bears all the marks of the golden age of Hebrew poetry." Asaph's composition of a portion of the Psalter is implied in Hezekiah's command to the Levites, reported in 2 Chronicles 29:30.
The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken. A combination of three names of God—viz. El, Elohim, and Jehovah—only found here and in Joshua 22:22. There it is translated "the Lord God of gods," which is a possible rendering. Separately, the three names seem to mean, "The Mighty One," "The Many in One" (Cheyne) or "The Three in One," and '"The Self-Existent One." He who is all these, the psalmist announces, "has spoken," and called (or, summoned) the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof; i.e. God has summoned all mankind to hear his judgment of his covenant people.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty (comp. Psalms 48:2; Lamentations 2:15; Lamentations 1:0 Macc. 2:12). God hath shined; i.e. has shown himself in his dazzling radiance. The psalmist, however, does not mean to announce a material, but a spiritual, fact.
Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence; rather, and let him not keep silence. Let him call attention to his "coming," that his judgment may be widely known. A fire (rather, fire) shall devour before him (comp. Psalms 21:9). And it shall be very tempestuous round about him. So in all theophanies (see Exodus 19:16; 1 Kings 19:11; Job 38:1; Psalms 18:13; Psalms 97:2-5; Acts 2:2; Revelation 4:5, etc.).
He shall call to the heavens from above; rather, to the heavens above; i.e. to the inhabitants of heaven—the holy angels. And to the earth (comp. Psalms 50:1). That he may judge his people. Heaven and earth are called upon to come together, and furnish a fit audience before which the judgment may proceed.
Gather my saints together unto me. By "my saints" the psalmist means here, not godly Israel, as in Psalms 16:3, but all Israel—the whole nation, whether true servants of Jehovah, or only professed servants. This is rendered clear by the ensuing clause, Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. Not even was the first covenant dedicated without blood (Hebrews 9:18; comp. Exodus 24:3-8); nor could any Israelite remain within the covenant without frequent sacrifice (Exodus 12:2-47, etc.).
And the heavens shall declare his righteousness. The angelic host, which comes to witness the judgment of Israel (Psalms 50:4), shall proclaim it a righteous judgment. For God is Judge himself. And he will certainly "do right" (Genesis 18:25).
"The continuance of this dramatic scene," as Professor Cheyne remarks, "scarcely answers to the commencement. The judgment seems to be adjourned, or to be left to the conscience of the defendants.'' The faithful are summoned, and appear, but not to receive unqualified commendation (see Matthew 25:31-40). Rather they receive a warning. The strong and prolonged depreciation of sacrifice (Psalms 50:8-13) necessarily implies that in the religion of the time too much stress was laid upon it. We know that, in the heathen world, men sought to buy God's favour by their sacrifices, some] believing that, physically, the gods were nourished by the steam of the victims, others regarding them as laid under obligations which they could not disregard. We know, too, that, in the later monarchy, sacrifice to so great an extent superseded true spiritual worship among the Israelites themselves, that it became an offence to God, and was spoken of in terms of reprobation (Isaiah 1:11-13; Isaiah 66:3). Already, it would seem, this tendency was manifesting itself, and a warning from Heaven was needed against it.
Hear, O my people, and I will speak. God will not speak to deaf ears. Unless men are ready to attend to him, he keeps silence. O Israel, and I will testify against thee; or, protest unto thee (Kay, Cheyne). I am God, even thy God. And therefore am entitled to be heard.
I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings. It is for no neglect of the outward ritual of religion—of sacrifice and offering—that I have to reprove thee. To have been continually before me; rather, they have been continually before me. I have had enough of them, and to spare. Not only have the daily morning and evening sacrifices been regularly offered, and the national worship thus kept up without a break; but the private offerings of individuals (see Psalms 50:9, Psalms 50:13) have been continuous and ample in number. But they have not been acceptable.
I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. The offerings of those who offer amiss will not be accepted. God declines to receive them.
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. So the Revised Version, Dr. Kay, Canon Cook, the Four Friends, and others; but many critics regard such a rendering as impossible. Of these, some translate, "And the cattle upon the hills, where there are thousands" (Hupfeld, Hengstenberg, etc.); while others read אלהים for אלף, and render, "And the cattle upon the mountains of God" (Olshausen, Cheyne).
I know all the fowls of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are mine; literally, are 'with me. All creation is God's, known to him, and owned by him, to be dealt with at his pleasure. How, then, should he need gifts from men?
If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; i.e. suppose it possible that I could be hungry, I should not have recourse to man; for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof—and I should have recourse to it.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? But is it to be supposed, can any suppose it possible, that I, the Lord of heaven and earth, the invisible Author of all things, both visible and invisible, can need material sustenance, and can condescend to find any sustenance in bulls' flesh and goats' blood? Scarcely did even the grossest of the heathen take this view. A vapour, an odour (κνίσση), was thought to ascend from the victims sacrificed, and this penetrated to the Olympian abodes, and gratified, or, as some would say, "fed" the gods. But such coarse feeding as that suggested in the text was hardly imagined by any, unless it were by utter savages and barbarians.
Offer unto God thanksgiving. The one offering acceptable to God is praise and thanksgiving out of a pure heart. This was designed to be the accompaniment of all sacrifice, and was the ground of acceptability in every case where sacrifice was acceptable. And pay thy vows unto the Most High; i.e. "and so pay thy vows." So offer thy worship, and it will be accepted.
And call upon me in the day of trouble (comp. Psalms 20:1). I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. The meaning is, "Then, when thou shalt offer unto me a true worship (Psalms 50:14), if thou wilt call upon me in the day of trouble, I will assuredly deliver thee, and so give thee occasion for glorifying me."
While even the more godly among the Israelites have been thus, to a certain extent, reproved (Psalms 50:8-14), the psalmist now addresses to the ungodly, the open and wilful transgressors, a far sterner rebuke. They claim the privileges of God's covenanted servants (Psalms 50:16), but perform none of the duties (Psalms 50:17-20), thus bringing down upon themselves a terrible menace.
But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? The wicked assumed that they were true Israelites. They were familiar with the words of God's statutes, and with the terms of the covenant. They claimed the right of enforcing them against others (Romans 2:18-20), while in their own persons they set them at nought (Psalms 50:18-20). God declares that they have no right to assume to be teachers of others until they have taught themselves—they are unfit even to "take his covenant in their mouth."
Seeing thou hatest instruction (comp. Proverbs 1:25, Proverbs 1:29). God, by his Law, teaches men their duties; but many men "hate" to be instructed. And castest my words behind thee. They proceed from "inward alienation" to "open rejection" of the moral law.
When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst unto him. God tests his professed, but really disobedient, servants by the second table of the Decalogue, and finds them wanting. If they do not themselves actually rob, they give their consent, they become accessories before the fact, to robbery. They probably participate in the gains. And hast been partaker with adulterers; rather, and with adulterers is thy portion; i.e. thou hast thrown in thy lot with them, hast adopted their principles, hast set at nought the seventh no less than the eighth commandment.
Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit; rather, thou hast loosed thy mouth to evil; i.e. given it liberty to utter all manner of wicked speech; and especially thou hast used mouth and tongue to cozen and deceive.
Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother. Professor Cheyne understands by "brother" any fellow-Israelite; hut the parallel in the second hemistich—Thou slanderest thine own mother's son—implies that an actual brother is intended. It is one of the special characteristics of the reprobate to be "without natural affection" (Romans 1:31).
These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself. Because God did not interpose openly to punish the sins committed, the transgressor dared to imagine him to be indifferent to sin, "such an one as himself"—no holier, no purer, no more averse to evil. But I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. But now the time is come when I shall no longer keep silence; I shall openly "reprove" thee, and marshal in set order before thee all the wicked deeds which thou hast done. God, as Calvin says, "will lay before them in exact order a full catalogue of their misdeeds, which they must read and own, whether they will or not."
Now consider this, ye that forget God. Having been "reproved," the wicked are now, in conclusion, exhorted and warned. "Consider this;" i.e. take it to heart, reflect upon it, let it sink deeply into your minds and consciences, and act upon it. Lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. A most awful threat. To "tear in pieces" is the act of a wild beast (Psalms 7:2). Job declares that God "teareth him;" but otherwise the expression is scarcely used of Divine chastisements. Certainly, if God, in his anger, lays hold upon a man to punish him, there is no possible deliverance at the hand of any other man (Psalms 49:7, Psalms 49:8). Deliverance, if it comes at all, must come from the Redeemer within the Godhead.
Whose offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God. As the wicked have their parting warning, so the godly have their parting encouragement. God is "glorified" (see Psalms 50:15) by those who offer him praise from a sincere heart; and if a man will lay down for himself a straight path and pursue it, God will "show him his salvation;' i.e. will bring him to peace and blessedness.
Thoughts of God.
"Thou thoughtest … as thyself." What a man thinks in his heart of God is the turning-point of life and character. If we think "all things are naked and opened," etc. (Hebrews 4:13), that we really "have to do" with God, this must needs tell on our whole view of life, from its greatest affairs to its least. If we think God takes no note of sin, we shall be careless of sin. If we think of God as severe, implacable, unjust, we may fear him, but cannot love him. If we think of him as loving and merciful, "faithful and just to forgive," etc. (1 John 1:9), we shall learn to "love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19); and loving, shall obey. And if we think of him as holy, we shall hate sin, and strive after holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Let us note
(1) the wrong thought of God here rebuked;
(2) the equally dangerous opposite error;
(3) the truth, which in a distorted, imperfect form, is to be found in both.
I. THE ERROR OF BRINGING DOWN OUR THOUGHTS OF GOD TO THE LEVEL OF HUMAN NATURE—measuring God by man. "Thou thoughtest," etc. This is the germ of idolatry. Man's nature makes him a worshipper. His reason demands God. His heart cries out for God. His weakness needs God. But his sinfulness shrinks from a righteous and holy God (see St. Paul's account of the matter, Romans 1:19-25). But those to whom this warning is spoken are not idolaters, any more than they are atheists. They "declare God's statutes" and "take his covenant in their mouth." Professed members of his Church, even teachers in it. But "in works they deny him" (Titus 1:16). Looking at this psalm as predictive, its first fulfilment was when our Saviour denounced the hypocrites of this day; as in Matthew 24:1-51. Its final fulfilment will be that of which he speaks in Matthew 7:21-23. (The whole second chapter of Romans is a commentary on this psalm.) How is such self-deceiving hypocrisy possible? Through false thoughts of God. Men persuade themselves that he does not mean what he says; will not be hard on them; is too indulgent really to punish sin. Not only a fatal error, but one that adds to other sins that of insulting the Most High! Terrible to think that men may set up an idol in their own thoughts—a false view of God's character and dealings, as unlike God as Baal or Juggernaut!
II. THE OPPOSITE ERROR IS THAT OF SUPPOSING THAT GOD IN NO RESPECT RESEMBLES MAN; OR MAN, GOD. That there is nothing in our nature—conscience, reason, affections—from which we may infer some correspondence in "the Father of spirits." God is thus removed out of all reach of our knowledge, sympathy, love; and even trust and obedience. This is the error to which men are most prone in our own day, especially men of cultured intellect and science. They see themselves surrounded by an order so stupendous, laws so unchangeable, worlds and systems so remote, so ancient, so infinite to our feeble thought, that the Creator seems infinitely removed—lost in the greatness of his own works. The world by wisdom knows not God. If such men worship, it is not the God revealed in the Bible and in Christ, but an idol—not of sense or imagination, but intellect—"the Infinite," "the Absolute," "the Stream of tendency making for righteousness," "the Unknowable."
III. IN BOTH THESE ERRORS THERE IS A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF TRUTH. But only half the truth. Half-truths are often the most deadly errors, when mistaken for whole truths. But truth is not found by flying from one error to the opposite extreme. The truth contained, but concealed and distorted, in idolatry, is that man's nature has something akin to God, so that man can converse with God. The truth contained, but perverted, in the philosophy which declares God to be "unknowable," is that our knowledge of him, though real and true, must needs be very limited. Finite minds cannot comprehend the Infinite.
The narrow limits of our knowledge of God, and its necessary imperfection, are amply taught in the Bible (see Exodus 3:13, Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 55:8, Isaiah 55:9). But the main efforts and purpose of the Bible, from first to last, is not to weigh us down with God's incomprehensible greatness, but to lift us up and bring us near to him. Its opening page shows us, not God in the likeness of man, but man created in the image of God. Then the Scripture goes on to reveal God
(1) by providence, dealing with individuals as well as nations and the race;
(2) by law, binding us to him in duty and obedience;
(3) by promise, binding himself to us in a personal moral relation, which we personally enter into by faith; by
(4) miracle, making nature, where only dead law seems to reign, reveal his living presence, power, and love;
(5) by inspiration, communicating in human thought and speech all that we most need to know of him. Lastly, all these meet and are perfected in Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:18; John 14:9).
Forgetfulness of God.
"Now consider," etc. The prevailing character of the Book of Psalms is that Divine truth is clothed in the language of human experience. But in this psalm God alone speaks. The personality of the psalmist vanishes. Man's voice is hushed. We are called into the very presence of God, like Israel at the foot of Sinai. It is God's voice that summons us to judgment, and sets our sins in order before our eyes. Yet it is the voice of merciful warning. "Consider!" (Isaiah 1:18). The sin here rebuked is forgetfulness of God.
I. IT Is NOT DIFFICULT TO FORGET GOD. God might have made it impossible. He might have surrounded us with symbols of his presence which the dullest could not mistake. Voices from the sky might thunder his Name in our ears. An inward irresistible consciousness of his being and presence might have been an inseparable part of our nature. But no! A mysterious veil hangs between our soul and our Creator. We have no direct knowledge of God. He has left us at liberty, if we please, to forget him. We can bury ourselves in things around us, and forget him in whom we "live and nacre and have our being."
II. It seems wonderful that it is possible, and not difficult; but more wonderful still that FORGETFULNESS OF GOD IS COMMON. Who are they who are here charged with forgetting God? Not idolaters. Not atheists. Not the openly profane and irreligious. Those (verse 16) who "declare God's statutes, and take his covenant in their mouth." Of such St. Paul speaks (Romans 2:17-23), and our Saviour (Matthew 7:21-23). They forget God. It is the description (alas!) of the daily life of thousands of habitual attendants on public worship. Hearers, but not doers; forgetful hearers (James 1:22-25).
III. FORGETFULNESS OF GOD IS A HUGE INGRATITUDE; A DEADLY SIN. How can you account for it? Men may dislike the Scripture doctrine of the sinfulness of human nature. They may deny it. But this fact stares us in the face—prevailing forgetfulness of God. How explain it, except as the Scriptures explain it?—men do not like to retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:28; Romans 8:7).
IV. FORGETFULNESS OF GOD MUST NEEDS BE VERY DANGEROUS; IF PERSISTED IN, FATAL. Your forgetfulness does not affect the reality of things. It banishes God from your thought and affection; not from his universe. He cannot forget. He must deal with you, and deal justly. He must take account of your forgetting him. "Consider!" Consider the folly, ingratitude, sin, danger, of forgetting God. His mercies are new every morning. "He will ever be mindful of his covenant;" "He is faithful and just to forgive sins;" and promises (Isaiah 43:25) to "remember them no more." Can there be forgetfulness in the infinite mind? Can God cease to be omniscient? Not literally; but by this intensely strong figure the Bible sets forth the generous and loving completeness of Divine forgiveness. It is an act of oblivion. "Consider!" We have forgotten God, but he has not forgotten us. He "remembered us in our low estate; for his mercy endureth for ever" (Psalms 136:23). He beseeches you to be reconciled!
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
The Judge, the judged, and the eternal judgment.
A psalm-writer whom we have not met before, appears to have penned this psalm—Asaph. But whether it was by him or for his choir is somewhat uncertain. "Asaph was the leader and superintendent of the Levitic choirs appointed by David (1Ch 16:4, 1 Chronicles 16:5; cf. 2 Chronicles 29:30). He and his sons presided over four out of the twenty-four groups, consisting each of twelve Levites, who conducted, in turn, the musical services of the temple." £ "It is remarkable," says Hengstenberg, "that the voice against the false estimate of the external worship of God proceeded from the quarter which was expressly charged with its administration. Asaph, according to 1 Chronicles 6:24, was of the tribe of Levi." £ a But let the human penman have been whosoever he may, there is in this psalm so much of the sublime grandeur of a stern and inflexible righteousness, that we have therein, manifestly, the writing of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost to utter words for God that should be suited for all Churches and all the ages throughout all time; so that it behoves us to listen to them as to the words of the living God, declaring the principles of eternal judgment. "In a magnificent vision the prophet to whom this psalm is due beholds the Almighty denouncing a solemn judgment against the degradation of his Name, and setting forth the requirements of a spiritual religion." £ In opening up this psalm, therefore, the expositor may well yearn to unfold it, "not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God." In that spirit, and with that aim, we hope to deal with it now. There are some ten questions to be asked and answered concerning this disclosure of judgment which the psalm so sublimely sets before us.
I. TO WHOM DOES THE OFFICE OF JUDGE BELONG? In the sixth verse we read, "God is Judge himself." He allows none but himself to sit in judgment on others; for none else has the authority or the ability to do it. But he, whose great Trinity of names is given here, keeps all in infinite hands. "God," the Supreme Ruler; El-Elohim, the God of gods; Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel;—he it is who is thus enthroned and speaks with his voice, on the eternal principles which are the basis of his throne.
II. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THAT OFFICE? As here indicated, it includes the expression of his mind and will, as to the worship he requires, the conduct he approves or disapproves, the decisions he forms, the sentences he pronounces, the destinies he assigns. For long God may have seemed to keep silence hereon (1 Chronicles 6:21), but he will not be silent always (1 Chronicles 6:3).
III. WHEN DOES THE JUDGMENT TAKE PLACE? It can scarcely be questioned that the remarkable words in 1 Chronicles 6:3 point to a specific time when God shall come to judgment, and when attendant on the judgment there will be great signs and wonders in the heaven above and the earth beneath (see 1 Chronicles 6:1, 1 Chronicles 6:3, 1 Chronicles 6:4). But three or four distinctive forms of God's judgment are indicated in Scripture.
1. The judgment at the last day. This is brought before us in Matthew 25:31-46.
2. The judgment expressed in providential dispensations on the Jewish Church (Jeremiah 7:1-20; Ezekiel 9:4-6; 1 Peter 4:17).
3. The judgments that are brought upon Christian Churches that are unfaithful. These are plainly enough shown us in the epistles to the seven Churches£
4. The judgment that is ever going on in every visible Church—a judgment by One whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and who walks in the midst of the golden lamps. This is God's "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:1), the principles of which never, never vary. What they will be seen to be at the last day they are now, seen or unseen.
IV. WHO ARE THE JUDGED? (Matthew 25:5.) The heavens and the earth are called to be witnesses of God's judgment "of the covenant people" (Cheyne). "This psalm," says Dickson, "is a citing of the visible Church before God … to compear before the tribunal of God, now in time while mercy may be had, timously to consider the Lord's controversy against the sinners in his Church, that they may repent and be saved." "The psalm," says Perowne, "deals with 'the sinners and the hypocrites in Zion,' but it reaches to all men, in all places, to the end of time." It contains the message of Divine indignation to those in Israel who were not of Israel; it specifies:
1. The superstitious—those who brought offerings of slain beasts in sacrifice, thinking that God accepted them as such, or who even, perhaps, stooped to the pagan notion that such sacrifices were "food for the gods." Hence, though there is no rebuke over any offerings withheld (Matthew 25:8), yet there is severe indignation against the low conceptions of God and his worship with which these offerings were brought (Matthew 25:9-13).
2. There were the scribes (see Matthew Poole), who expounded the Law, but kept it not (Matthew 25:16).
3. There were those whose service was but a form—who vowed to God, but did not pay (Matthew 25:14).
4. There were the openly wicked, who sought by profession of religion to cloak their wickedness (Matthew 25:17-20). Think of such a heterogeneous mass being collected together in one visible Church! Is it any wonder that "judgment must begin at the house of God"?
V. WHAT IS THE BASIS OF JUDGMENT? (Matthew 25:2.) "Out of Zion God hath shined." As from Mount Sinai he declared his will in the legislation of Moses, so from Zion he hath declared his will in the proclamations of prophet, apostle, saint, and seer; and according to those principles of truth and righteousness thus proclaimed is God's judgment ever being exercised; according to them will it finally proceed. And according to the measure of light granted to men, will be the standard by which they will be tried. Fuller light on this theme comes to view in the New Testament. Peter's words (Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 3:18-6), Paul's words (Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), throw a flood of light hereon, showing us that ere the final judgment comes every soul will come to know its relation to the Lord Jesus, and that according to its response will be its destiny. £
VI. WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH JUDGMENT WILL PROCEED? Five of these are indicated in the psalm.
1. That merely formal offerings are offensive to God (Matthew 25:8-13).
2. That no measure of religiousness will be accepted if iniquity has prevailed in the heart and life (Matthew 25:16).
3. That the truly acceptable worship is a life of consecration, fidelity, prayer, and praise (Matthew 25:14, Matthew 25:15).
4. That whosoever has ordered his life after the revealed will of God, will see God's salvation (Matthew 25:23).
5. That wherever the life has been one of forgetfulness and neglect of God, the guilty one will be confounded (Matthew 25:22).
VII. WHAT ARE THE COMPLAINTS MADE BY THE GREAT JUDGE? One is negative, viz. the absence of the worship of the heart; another is positive—hypocrisy and guilt screened under a profession of religion, and the thought being cherished all the while that they would never be detected (Matthew 25:21).
VIII. WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE SOVEREIGN JUDGE? A life of
(1) praise (Matthew 25:23);
(2) thanksgiving (Matthew 25:14);
(3) loyalty (Matthew 25:14);
(4) prayer (Matthew 25:15);
(5) glorifying God (Matthew 25:15);
(6) a good and upright conversation (Matthew 25:23).
Who does not see how infinitely such a life rises above that of merely formal lip-service?
IX. WHAT WILL BE THE ISSUE OF THE JUDGMENT? Under varied forms of expression, the results are declared to be twofold, according to the main drifts of character and life.
1. For those in the wrong, rejection, sin set in order, brought home, exposed, condemned (Matthew 25:21, Matthew 25:22).
2. For those who are in the right—the salvation of God (Acts 10:35; Acts 15:8, Acts 15:9, Acts 15:11). Thus under every head, though in archaic form, and with light less full, the very same truths are declared by the psalmist that were afterwards brought out more fully by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
X. TO WHOM IS THE CALL ADDRESSED TO HEAR ALL THIS, AND WHY? (Matthew 25:1, Matthew 25:4.) The whole earth is called on to witness and to watch the severely discriminating judgments of God on his visible Church; and every one is called upon to hearken, because it is God who speaketh. The Apostle Peter raises a momentous question in 1 Peter 4:17, 1 Peter 4:18. Whether we are ready to face the last judgment depends on how we stand in relation to that judgment which is going on every hour. Mote: After studying such a psalm as this, how vain does the question put by Roman Catholics appear, "Where can I find God's true Church?" For this whole psalm is addressed to God's true Church. Yet whoever, even "in Zion," is at ease, or formal, or corrupt, will find that not even membership in any visible Church will save him. Only those will be saved whose hearts are purified by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
God the righteous Judge.
I. THAT GOD WILL JUDGE ALL MEN. Even now there is judgment. Every act of our lives has its moral character, and carries its consequences of good or evil. But this judgment is but partial and incomplete. Reason, conscience, and Holy Scripture proclaim a judgment to come which will be perfect and final. The supreme Judge of all men is God. He and he alone has the right and the power. Be has perfect knowledge, and cannot err; he has absolute righteousness, and cannot do injustice; he has almighty power, and cannot be prevented from carrying his judgments into effect. In the psalm the vision seems gradually to unfold itself till the great God stands before us in awful majesty and glory, "the Judge of the quick and the dead."
II. THAT GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL SETTLE FOR EVER THE DESTINIES OF MEN. God comes to us now, but it is in mercy. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but would rather that all should turn from their evil ways and live. But there is a great crisis near, when he will come as a Judge, and when all men shall be brought consciously before him for judgment. The judgment will be universal: not only Israel, but all the earth; but it will begin at the house of God. Unavoidable: there will be no possibility of eluding the officers of justice, or of evading the testimony of the witnesses. Conclusive: it is the last judgment, from which there can be no appeal, whose sentences are irreversible and eternal.
III. THAT GOD WILL SETTLE THE DESTINIES OF MEN ON THE GROUNDS OF ETERNAL JUSTICE. There is a hint as to the principles on which the judgment will be based in Psalms 50:7. Everything may be said to turn on the kind of religion which we have. This is shown negatively (Psalms 50:8-13), then positively (Psalms 50:14-23). True religion is not outward, but inward; not formal, but spiritual; not conventional, but personal; not in privileges, not in professions, not in ceremonial observances, hut in the sincere obedience of the heart and life. It implies that God's love is supreme in the heart, and God's law is supreme in the life. Such a religion can only be obtained for sinners through Jesus Christ the Saviour. Where it really exists there is not only the form, but the power of godliness—in grateful thanksgiving and joyous obedience and adoring prayer (Psalms 50:23).—W.F.
True religion and its counterfeits.
The great evil to which Israel was exposed was the separation of religion from morality. This comes out lamentably in their history, and forms the burden of much of the teaching of their prophets. So in this psalm, which contains a powerful demonstration of the worthlessness of religion without godliness. The psalm may help us to consider true religion and its counterfeits.
I. SUPERSTITION. (Psalms 50:7.) Nothing in religion can be real and true but what is based on faith in the living God. What springs from fear without knowledge degenerates into the basest idolatries.
II. FORMALISM. (Psalms 50:8-14.) The heading of this psalm in our Bibles is very true and suggestive. "The pleasure of God is not in ceremonies, but in sincerity of obedience." To this all the prophets bear witness. Even ceremonies appointed by God himself become not only worthless, but odious, when they are observed without faith and love (Isaiah 1:11-17).
III. HYPOCRITICAL PROFESSION. (Psalms 50:16-21.) There is much of this always in the world—false profession, insincere obedience, unloving service. The evil effect on individuals, families, and society is terrible. With what righteous indignation are such hypocrites arraigned! and with what stern, resistless argument is the inconsistency and enormity of their conduct denounced!—W.F.
The day of trouble.
I. HERE IS A DAY THAT WILL COME TO ALL. You may not have hitherto known "trouble;" if so, be thankful, but prepared. The immunity of the past is no protection. Sooner or later it will be said to you, as Eliphaz said to Job, "Now it is come upon thee" (Job 4:5). And this is well. To be without trouble would be to lack one of the chief disciplines of life, and to lay us under the suspicion of being "bastards, not sons."
II. HERE IS A DUTY URGED UPON ALL. "Call upon me."
1. This duty is agreeable to our nature. In trouble we crave sympathy and help. As the child instinctively cries to its mother, so should we call upon God.
2. This duty is prompted by our circumstances. "Trouble" not only causes pain, but fear. Under the pressure of need we come to the throne of grace for mercy and grace.
3. This duty is enforced by the example of the good. They speak of what they have known. With grateful hearts they tell of what the Lord has done for them (Psalms 77:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:4).
4. This duty is urged by God our heavenly Father. He anticipates our needs; he lovingly invites our confidence; he assures us of his readiness to give us help and comfort (Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:2).
III. HERE IS A PROMISE ENCOURAGING TO ALL. The promise and the duty are connected, and both are to be taken together with what goes before (verse 14). It is when we have been living near to God, and have been daily performing our vows to him with praise and thanksgiving, that we are best prepared for the duty of prayer and the fulfilment of the promises. This promise implies what God will do for us, and what return we should then make to God. Calling upon God in trouble has an elevating effect; it brings us into nearer fellowship with God in heart and will and life. We will "glorify" God for being with us in trouble, as delivering us from trouble, as making trouble work for our good.—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
False to covenant.
God comes to Zion, as he once came to Sinai, amidst fire and tempest, calling upon the heavens and the earth to be his witnesses, while he summons his people to judgment, in which he proclaims how they had been false to the covenant that was between them.
I. THE ACCUSATION. (Psalms 50:7-13.)
1. They had forgotten the spiritual relations between them. (Psalms 50:5-7.) They were "his saints," "his people; he was God, even their God." And he had to testify against them. They had not acted up to the spirit of that relation.
2. They brought him unspiritual sacrifices. Their heart did not go with their offerings. He did not complain of the offering in itself, but of the spirit in which it was brought.
3. What they brought was no gift of their own. (Psalms 50:10-12.) Their offerings were his possessions, which he had in abundance.
4. They had forgotten his spiritual nature arid requirement. (Psalms 50:13.) The flesh and blood of animals could not please or satisfy a spiritual nature.
II. THE REQUIREMENT. (Psalms 50:14, Psalms 50:15.)
1. Thanksgiving. The gratitude and praise of the heart—a spiritual offering.
2. The paying of vows. The vows that are upon us in consequence of our covenant with God—or fidelity, faithfulness.
3. Prayer. "Call upon me in the day of trouble;" not only then, but specially then.
III. THE REWARD OF SPIRITUAL SERVICE. (Psalms 50:15.) "I will deliver thee in the day of trouble, and thou shalt praise me."—S.
God speaks to the whole nation in the previous part of the psalm; here to hypocrites.
I. THEY MADE PROFESSION OF RELIGION, WHICH THEIR LIVES CONTRADICTED. (Psalms 50:16-20.)
1. They treated the Divine Law with open contempt. (Psalms 50:17.) Because they "hated" the control that it imposes.
2. They were guilty of the grossest violations of that Law. (Psalms 50:18-20.) Theft, adultery, and false witness, not only against their neighbour, but against their own brothers, showing that they had lost even natural affection. Observe the gradual, progressive power which sin has to corrupt the whole man.
II. EVIL MEN MISINTERPRET THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD. (Psalms 50:21.) "Because sentence against an evil man is not speedily executed," etc. (Romans 2:1-4).
III. GOD WILL ASSUREDLY ENTER INTO JUDGMENT WITH MEN. (Psalms 50:21, Psalms 50:22.) Men are solemnly called upon to consider and remember this truth, that they may repent, and so escape destruction.
IV. THE ONLY TRUE WAY OF SALVATION IS DECLARED. (Psalms 50:23.)
1. The love of a grateful heart. This glorifies God.
2. And the love of an obedient life. This only is salvation—obedience out of love. "He that hath my Word and keepeth it, he it is that loveth me," etc.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 50". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27