Friday, June 9th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 85". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ psalms-85.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 85". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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THIS is a psalm written after a signal display of God's mercy towards Israel, but when there was still much wanting to make the condition of the people altogether satisfactory. It consists of a thanksgiving for the deliverance vouchsafed (Psalms 85:1-3); a prayer for further and more complete restoration to favour (Psalms 85:4-7); and a joyful anticipation of the granting of the prayer, and of the bestowal on Israel, ultimately, of all temporal and spiritual blessings (Psalms 85:8-13). There are no such distinct and definite allusions in the psalm as to tie it down to any particular date; but, on the whole, it would seem to suit best either the time of Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:1-13; Ezra 4:1-24.) or that of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9:1-15; Ezra 10:1-44; Ne 2-6.).
The thanksgiving. God is thanked for two things especially:
(1) for having granted his people forgiveness of their sins (Psalms 85:2, Psalms 85:3); and
(2) for having, partially at any rate, removed his chastening hand from them, and given them a return of prosperity (Psalms 85:1).
Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land; or, "thou art become gracious" (Kay, Cheyne)—a preceding time during which God was not gracious is implied (comp. Psalms 77:7-9). Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. It is most natural to understand this of the return from the Babylonian captivity; but possible that some lighter affliction may be intended, since שׁבות is used, metaphorically, for calamities short of actual captivity (see the comment on Job 42:10).
Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people; thou hast covered all their sin. God's remission of punishment, and restoration of his people to favour, was a full indication that he had "forgiven their iniquity" and "covered their sins." This was so vast a boon, that a pause for devout acknowledgment and silent adoration seemed fitting. Hence the "selah," which is at the end of the second verse, not of the first, as Hengstenberg states.
Thou hast taken away all thy wrath. Forgiveness of sins implies the cessation of wrath, though it does not necessarily imply the cessation of punishment. Thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger. This expresses the meaning better than the marginal rendering.
The prayer. Two things are prayed for—first, that God will turn the hearts of his people wholly towards himself (Psalms 85:4); and secondly, that he will complete his work of deliverance by removing the traces, that still exist, of his past anger (Psalms 85:5-7). Israel is still in a state of great distress and weakness, suffering from the natural consequences of its sins, which keep it depressed and sad.
Turn us, O God of our salvation. Thou art turned to us (Psalms 85:1); let us also be turned to thee. We cannot turn of our own mere wish to turn; we need thy helping grace (comp. Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7, Psalms 80:19). And cause thine anger toward us to cease. Verbally, this contradicts Psalms 85:3, whence it has been supposed by some to come from the mouth of another speaker. But really there is no contradiction, if we understand, both here and in the next verse, by God's anger, the effects of his anger, which were still continuing (comp. Ezra 3:12, Ezra 3:13; Ezra 4:4-24; Ezra 9:2-15; Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:17; Nehemiah 4:1-22; Nehemiah 5:1-19).
Wilt thou be angry with us forever? This is equivalent to "Wilt thou still go on punishing us?" Wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? or, "from generation to generation?" This suits well the first period after the return from the Captivity, when the depressed condition of Israel continued for several generations.
Wilt thou not revive us again! literally, wilt thou not return and revive us? (comp. Psalms 71:20). So Ezra prays God to "give Israel a little reviving in their bondage" (Ezra 9:8). That thy people may rejoice in thee. The "revival" and "rejoicing" came in Nehemiah's time, when the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem was kept "with gladness, both with thanksgiving, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps" (Nehemiah 12:27).
Show us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation. Compare the devout petitions of the Church morning and evening, "O Lord, show thy mercy upon us. And grant us thy salvation" (Order for Morning and Evening Prayer).
The joyful anticipation. The psalmist anticipates a favourable answer to his prayer, and proceeds to note down the chief points of it. God will "speak peace to his people" (Psalms 85:8), bring his salvation near to them (Psalms 85:9), contrive a way by which "mercy and truth," "righteousness and peace," shall be reconciled (Psalms 85:10, Psalms 85:11), shower blessings on his land (Psalms 85:12), and guide his people in the way marked out by his own footsteps (Psalms 85:13).
I will hear what God the Lord will speak; i.e. "I will wait now and hear the Divine answer to my prayers" (comp. Habakkuk 3:1, "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me"). For he will speak peace unto his people. He will give them a gentle answer—one breathing peace and loving kindness. And to his saints. And especially he will so answer the elite of his people—the khasidim, "his saints," or "loving ones." But let them not turn again to folly (comp. Ezra 9:10-14). If, after the deliverance that they had experienced, they turned again to such "folly" as had brought on their misfortunes, it would make their end worse than their beginning.
Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; or, will be nigh. The answer to the prayer in Psalms 85:7. That glory may dwell in our land. Professor Chevne asks, "What glory?" and suggests, "The true Shechinah, the manifested presence of Israel's God." But it may be doubtful whether anything more is meant than a return of earthly glory and prosperity, such as that for which Nehemiah laboured and prayed.
Mercy and truth are met together. God's mercy and God's truth are reconciled and brought into harmony. The psalmist does not say—probably does not know—how, He accepts the fact of the reconciliation, which is revealed to him (Psalms 85:8) by faith, and boldly announces it. The explanation was reserved for the coming and teaching of Christ. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. "Righteousness" and "peace" are synonymous with "mercy" and "truth." Here they are personified—"represented as angels in human form" (Cheyne).
Truth shall spring out of the earth (comp. Isaiah 45:8). One result of the reconciliation of God's mercy and truth shall be a growth of righteousness among men. The pardoned people of God shall bring forth much fruit. And righteousness shall look down from heaven. God's righteousness "looks down from heaven" (like the sun), to draw up and mature the feeble plant of man's righteousness, which, without it, would come to nothing.
Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good; i.e. shower blessings on his laud, both spiritual and temporal. And our land shall yield her increase. Other crops may be included, but the special reference is to a large increase of good works.
Righteousness shall go before him. Prepare the way, i.e; for the restoration of the people to God's favour (compare the first clause of Psalms 85:11, and the second of Psalms 85:12). And shall set us in the way of his steps; i.e. cause his people to walk in the way marked out by his footsteps—i.e. by the indications of his will either in nature or in the written Word.
"Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" The prayers of Scripture, like its promises, never grow old. They deal not with the changing surface and circumstances of life, but with its living heart and abiding needs. So this prayer of the old psalmist is as fresh and fit for our lips today, as when the ink was wet in which he wrote. The same Spirit who inspired him also "helpeth our infirmities."
I. THE BLESSING SOUGHT: REVIVAL. This word has come to be often used for a season of extraordinary religious activity, attended by numerous conversions. But it properly means the quickening, strengthening, elevating, of life already possessed; but perhaps feeble, declining, threatened with extinction. This must be God's work, by the power of his Spirit. "Wilt thou not revive us?" All life, natural and spiritual, is from God nod in God. At the back of all force is his power; at the back of all causation, his will; at the back of all law, his wisdom (Psalms 33:6; Psalms 104:30). But there is this wonderful and glorious difference between the realm of natural and of spiritual life—in the outward material world we have to deal with laws; the power working under and behind those laws is inscrutably hidden. But in spiritual life it is just God's power we have to deal with; the laws according to which it is put forth are mostly beyond our ken. In the natural world there is ample range for prayer; but in the spiritual we are shut up to prayer. We are to pray for daily bread, for which we must work, as well as for forgiveness of sin, for which we cannot work. But with this difference—the ungodly husbandman will reap his harvest, if he works for it, though he does not pray; but pardon, and the grace of God's Spirit, will not be given to those who do not ask (Luke 11:13; James 1:5; 1 John 1:9).
II. HOW WILL THIS QUICKENED LIFE SHOW ITSELF? In:
1. Lowlier humility. Deeper consciousness of sin, need, weakness. That Church, of all the seven addressed in the Apocalypse, which said, "I am rich, and have need of nothing," was the very one that was in the very jaws of death (Revelation 3:17). We put this note of revival first, because our Lord puts it first in describing the character and blessedness of his true disciples (Matthew 5:3-5). The first token of revived life in a frozen limb is intense pain; the flesh that is past feeling is past cure (see Ephesians 4:19; Proverbs 26:12).
2. Increased spirit of prayer. More urgent habitual sense of need of prayer. Disposition to more frequent prayer (however brief). Perhaps at first no increased freedom and delight, but rather depressing sense of the weakness, coldness, unworthiness of our prayers. More earnestness, especially in prayer for others. Stronger faith in God's promises (not in our own prayers). Perseverance and patience. Out of all this must come, sooner or later, both delight and power in prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit with our spirit, bringing our desires into harmony with God's will, and helping our infirmities.
3. Growing love of God's truth. The Bible will be dearer to us, fuller of light and help. Christ's word will abide in us (Colossians 1:9-11).
4. Deeper, more inspiring, controlling views of the love of God in Christ. (Ephesians 3:16-19.)
III. RESULTS OF REVIVAL. "That thy people," etc. The psalmist was thinking of God's chosen nation, Israel. That is no hindrance to our application of both prayer and promise. The conditions and forms of national life and of Church life are wholly different from what they were then; never can be the same. But principles abide. Righteousness still exalts a nation. "Blessed is the people whose God is the Lord!" A dead or lukewarm Church cannot be a joyful Church; nor a lukewarm worldly Christian a joyful Christian. Suppose all English men, women, children, to become true, earnest, loving disciples of our Lord Jesus, "filled with the Spirit;" the whole face of society and national life would be changed, because its heart would be changed (Acts 8:8). Meanwhile, revival, with all its fruits, either in the Church or in the nation, must begin in the hearts and homes of Christians. Then the joy of the Lord will be our strength. All turns (remember) on this word, "thou." With God is life's fountain. In him our bodies live: how much more our spirits! (John 15:5; Philippians 2:13).
The purpose of God's gracious chastenings.
"He will speak peace …but let them not turn again to folly." The spirit of this psalm is compounded of penitence and praise, humility and hope; inspired by great troubles and great deliverances. This verse expresses what we may call the moral, the very heart of the psalm; the golden link between the thanksgivings blended with confessions of Psalms 85:1-7, and the splendid promises of Psalms 85:9-13. The lesson is twofold—first, that sin is folly, most of all in God's people; and secondly, that God's gracious purpose in chastening is to keep us from sliding back into sin, turning again to folly.
I. SIN IS FOLLY. Q.d. it is acting in disregard of known consequences. The Hebrew word here translated "folly" also means "hope" or "confidence"—the blind confidence of one who knows that "the end of these things is death," yet listens to the tempter who says, "Ye shall not surely die;" that "the wages of sin is death," but counts on their not being paid. He sins in spite of warning, reason, experience; hoping he may seize "the pleasures of sin for a season," and yet escape its eternal consequences. No man chooses perdition. But it comes to the same thing whether you leap over a precipice or walk along the brink with your eyes shut. Sometimes the sinner sins with open eyes, and, just because he knows the danger, flatters himself he can stop in time. He is not on the brink—only on the gentle grassy slope; but involuntarily his steps quicken—he cannot stop—he is lost! A traveller through the snow knows that the one fatal danger is to yield to sleep. "Only for five minutes," he says; and closes his eyes, never to open again. Or a thirsty wayfarer in the desert is warned that a spring is poisonous. The bones of those who have encamped near it whiten the ground. "One draught only!" he says; and presently his bones whiten with the rest. Every one is ready to say, "He sought his fate; has only himself to blame." Are there none amongst us to whom conscience (if awake) would answer, "Thou art the man"? "Their eyes have they closed" (Matthew 13:15). They have "forsaken the fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 2:13). They "heard the sound of the warning (Ezekiel 33:5; Hebrews 10:28, Hebrews 10:29). If sin is folly, trumpet, and took not the clearer the light, the greater the folly. Therefore the sins of Christians must be the greatest folly. This does not apply to sins of infirmity, against which we are watching, fighting, praying, of which the Christian is sadly conscious, but which have not "dominion over" him. But what these lead to, if we fail to watch, fight, pray: willing yielding to temptation, wilful persistence in wrong, against conscience, loving what we are pledged and bound to hate, ceasing to strive to please God;—this is indeed to "turn again to folly."
II. GOD'S PURPOSE IN HIS DEALINGS WITH HIS CHILDREN IS TO PREVENT THEM TURNING BACK TO SIN. This both in his mercy and in his chastening.
1. In his mercy. "I will hear," etc. God's purpose in forgiving sin is both to incline and to enable us to forsake it. Its guilt is cancelled, that its power may be destroyed. Else forgiveness were useless, wasted. The cross of Christ, constantly set forth in the New Testament as the atonement for our sins, the reconciliation whereby we are brought back to God (Romans 5:9, Romans 5:10), is as plainly set forth as the mightiest motive to holiness (Galatians 2:20; see the whole of Romans 6:1-23.).
2. God's chastening discipline has the same end in view (Hebrews 12:10, Hebrews 12:11; Psalms 119:67, Psalms 119:71). The danger is real. Christians are exposed to the ordinary temptations which beset human nature, though with diminished force; and have some special temptations. We need constantly to open our hearts to the force of all the motives here suggested.
(1) God's forgiving mercy, and our enjoyment of it (Romans 12:1).
(2) God's chastening, and our experience of it.
(3) God's promises, and our hope.
(4) God's warning, "Let them not turn again to folly," and the unspeakable folly and misery of neglecting it.
For the ransomed slave to run back to slavery, the released prisoner to hanker after his cell and fetters, the man restored to health to long for his sick-room, the blind whose eyes have been opened to shut himself up in the dark,—seems less insane than for those who "have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," to be "again entangled therein and overcome" (2 Peter 2:20; Hebrews 6:4-6).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Temporal mercies of little avail without such as are spiritual.
There had been great outward mercies (see Psalms 85:1-3). Probably the wonderful deliverance of Judah, Jerusalem, and Hezekiah from the threatened might of Assyria was the occasion of this burst of thanksgiving. But the psalmist—it may have been Isaiah himself—whilst grateful, indeed, for God's deliverance, as he well might be, was nevertheless sore distressed at the spiritual condition of his countrymen (see Isaiah's denunciations of the wickedness of his people, Isaiah 1:1-31. and passim). There needed, therefore, to be an inward conversion as well as an outward deliverance such as they had experienced. And until this spiritual reformation was brought about, the anger of God rested on them still. Hence the prayer, "Revive us again," etc. In this psalm we have—
I. THANKFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF MERCIES RECEIVED, (Verses 1-3.)
II. EARNEST PRAYERS FOR YET GREATER ONES, (Verses 4-7.)
III. CONFIDENT BELIEF THAT THE LORD WILL ANSWER, (Verse 8)
IV. JOYFUL ANTICIPATION OF THE BLESSINGS THE LORD WILL GIVE. (Verses 9-13)—S.C.
I. NOTE THE CHIEF WORD OF THIS VERSE: "REVIVE." It implies:
1. Life. The new creation has been accomplished, the passing from death unto life has taken place.
2. But that life has declined, and therefore needs revival. How often this occurs! Our spiritual life is not as our natural life, which is weakest at the beginning and end; but the spiritual life is strong in the vigour of its first love, nor does it ever at the last hour fall from God, but in the midst of the years, like the wires of the telegraph between the posts, it often falls to its lowest. The causes are not a few, but may be summed up in one—the not abiding in Christ.
3. The life which has declined can be revived—the health and vigour come back again, the backsliding be healed.
II. WHAT IT EXPRESSES. It is an earnest prayer, an impassioned pleading for revival. It means, "Oh that thou wouldst revive us again!" Now, this reveals:
1. Consciousness of need. There may be the need, as at Laodicea, and no consciousness of it; but when such prayer as this is heard, it shows that the soul is wide awake to its needs.
2. Distress on account of it. Earnest anxiety is aroused; the work of conviction has been done; this prayer proves it.
3. The confession of it, and the casting of the soul on God for its need being met; and this could not be without there being also:
4. Confidence that God would answer his prayer. A child must see the look of "Yes" in his lather's face, or else he will soon give over asking; but when he does see that look, what a vehemency of asking then ensues! And so with the child of God here. He has seen that look of "Yes" on the Father's face, and hence this confident earnestness. Such are the characteristics of every such prayer as this. Note—
III. ITS PLEA. "That thy people may rejoice in thee." So then it is plainly taught that a low religious life and a joyous one are incompatible; there must be a reviving if there is to be rejoicing. Hence it is that to so many people religion seems rather a distress than a delight. They are, as it has been said, like a man with a headache; he would not like to lose his head, but he is very uncomfortable with it. A man was once invited to eat of some apples from a certain orchard, but he promptly declined. His friend was much surprised, and asked him the reason. "Oh," said he, "I took of some of your apples the other day, which were hanging over the hedge, and I am quite sure I do not want any more of them." "Ah," said the other, "I am not surprised; those apples were a poor lot; but I put them there on purpose for the boys, who are always taking what does not belong to them. But come into the middle of the orchard, and try the fruit there, which is of a very different sort." And so it is with many Christians; they take only the hard sour fruit of the religious life; that which is full of delight is in the midst of the garden of God, whither as yet they have never entered. It is good to be God's servants at all, better, far better, to be of those who rejoice, whose service of God is not a drudgery, but a delight; best of all when the rejoicing is in God, not in his blessings merely, but in him. God wants us to rejoice in him; the world will be more surely won for God when more joy characterizes his servants, and for ourselves, it is the surest guarantee of steadfastness.—S.C.
What God the Lord will speak.
Note, by way of introduction, that we have here:
1. A personal resolve. "I will hear." Some would not; others could not; others would offer to hear for him and report; but the psalmist makes the wise resolve that he will hear for himself. It is ever best to go direct to God, and employ no intermediaries.
2. It is also a firm resolve. Whether the word be rendered "I will," or "I would," or "let me hear," it denotes resolve. And no one will ever hear what God the Lord will speak unless his will be settled in that purpose. The devil hates such hearing of God, and will do all in his power by raising up every kind of hindrance—who knows not this?—to prevent it.
3. It is a sincere resolve. The hearing means no mere listless listening, but it is that of the heart, with real desire to hear what God the Lord will speak. Therefore the hearing will be, as it ever should be, attentive, prayerful, obedient. Consider—
I. THE SPEAKER. God the Lord. Three things are taught.
1. That God the Lord will speak. His very name involves this. He is the covenant God; hence his name Jehovah, Lord, is added, which declares him to be the God of Israel. But such name indicates that he will not be heedless of his people's prayer. And he has spoken of old time. Their records are full of the story of his interpositions in their times of need. And it is what we should expect, the need of his speaking being so great. Revelation, incarnation, atonement, the work of the Holy Ghost, are all antecedently probable; man, God's offspring, needing them so terribly.
2. That we can hear. This is man's distinction; he is a spiritual being, and can receive messages from God, who is a Spirit; he does perpetually receive and respond to them: "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said," etc.
3. That what God speaks is what man needs to hear. Man has heard enough of what his own sinful heart has to say, and of what his fellow men say, in their doctrines, imaginations, counsels, and a miserable hubbub and confusion their discordant utterances make; but the psalmist resolves to come away from all this, and hear God. It is our wisdom as well as his.
II. WHAT HE SPEAKS. "Peace unto his people."
1. Peace with himself. They have quarrelled with him, rebelled again and again, but now when they turn to him his word shall be of peace.
2. And amongst themselves. "He stilleth … the tumult of the people:" the nations shall learn war no more.
3. And in their own hearts. "The Spirit beareth witness with our spirits," etc. (Romans 8:1-39.; Luke 7:48). None can over-estimate the worth of this peace, and none need be without it.
III. HOW DOES GOD SPEAK?
1. Authoritatively. "He speaks, and it is done."
2. My his Spirit.
3. Through the Holy Scriptures, and by the voice of his providence and the response of our conscience and reason.
IV. THE CONDITION ON WHICH HE SPEAKS. "Let them not turn again," etc.
1. It is implied that they have now turned from their folly. Note that name for sin; sometimes it is called by far sterner names. But is it not "folly"? All these prayers and vows show that there has been repentance.
2. Let them not turn again. There is no need that any should. And we never shall if we abide in Christ.—S.C.
The saints' salvation, the land's glory.
They who fear God may be sure that he will come and save them, not alone for their own sake, but also for the sake of the land in which they dwell. The salvation of any sinner is for the blessing of very many. God has respect to others outside ourselves when he saves any one of us. The glory of the whole nation is furthered thereby; the blessing of the Church is the blessing of the land. For in such land there dwells—
I. SPIRITUAL GLORY. How God is worshipped, loved, praised; how mightily his Spirit works in men's hearts, when he comes in saving power!
II. MORAL GLORY. The work of God in men's souls ever "makes for righteousness." Vice, profanity, and all ungodliness are abashed, and slink away when the power of God is made known.
III. NATIONAL GLORY. For "righteousness exalteth a nation:" when once has such a nation perished?
IV. SANCTUARY GLORY. To the Jew, the temple of the Lord was his glory. "The joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion." And what are all our sanctuaries and services if in them God's salvation is not seen?
V. HARVEST GLORY. (Cf. Psalms 67:1-7; "Then shall the earth yield," etc.) There is close connection between inward character and outward condition.—S.C.
Our foes become our friends.
It is difficult, indeed impossible, to say what was the actual thought of the writer when he penned the words of our text; for they are true in several ways. He represents mercy and truth as going in different directions, and with opposite intent, but they meet, and are brought into harmony as though at variance before. And it is the same with righteousness and peace; there seemed no common course of action open to them; they must be opposed; but, lo! they embrace, and all discord ceases between them. Now, where is such union of opposites to be seen? And we answer—
I. IN GOD. In the wisdom of God when devising our salvation. Christ is the Wisdom of God, because in him, whilst mercy has full scope, nevertheless, the Law is magnified and made honourable. There was no compromise, no tampering with the holy Law of God, although God did so love the world as to save it (John 3:16). Love reigns, yet the Law is fulfilled as it never was or could be before, and is magnified in infinitely higher way than if in vindication of God's broken Law the whole human race bad been forever condemned (cf. Romans 8:4). All this was shadowed forth by the tables of the Law being placed within the ark of the covenant, on which rested the mercy seat, and whereon was sprinkled the atoning blood (1 John 2:2). Thus in God those attributes which seemed to be and were hostile to us, and those which alone seemed our friends, met together, were reconciled, and, as it were, kissed each other.
II. IN MAN. Probably this was the thought of the psalmist. He is exulting in the anticipation of the regenerated moral life of God's people when his salvation should come to them; cruelty and inhumanity should give way to mercy, and truth between man and man should replace their too common falsehood and lies; righteousness, justice, fair dealing, should prevail instead of fraud and wickedness, and peace should banish war. "Earth should be carpeted with truth as with fair flowers, and be canopied over by righteousness as with the beautiful sky, or as by night with the glorious stars." Men should "serve God in holiness and righteousness without fear, all the days of their life."
III. IN CHRIST. The text may be taken, has been so, as descriptive of the holy and beautiful life of our Lord—of him "who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." In him, as in no other, those contrasted qualities of our humanity, which in us are generally so ill balanced, found perfect equipoise and harmony. The Divine symmetry and fair proportions of the holy life, "the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" (Ephesians 3:18), were seen in all their beauty. He was "the perfect Man, Christ Jesus," the lovely Image on which the saints gazed with perpetual, adoring rapture, and grew towards whilst they gazed, and so became the saints, the holy ones, they were. Yes, in him our text was indeed fulfilled. And—
IV. IN GRACE. (See 1 Corinthians 1:30.) What is the true Christian but one who has known in his own experience the power of the perfect Christ? Some believe in a Christ whom they have fashioned to themselves, as all fondness and compassion and pity, who will not be stern with any one. Others conceive of him only as an awful Judge, launching out the thunderbolts of his wrath against wretched, sinful men. But the grace which saves is that told of Titus (Titus 2:11-14). Grace includes mercy and truth, righteousness and peace.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Recognition of national mercies.
This psalm belongs to the "sons of Korah," and we can hardly be wrong in associating it with the early years of the restoration from the Babylonish captivity. "The psalm shows that union of thankfulness for restoration, of sense of present distress and weakness, and of bright Messianic hope, which is especially characteristic of the writings of this period." "It opens with an acknowledgment of God's goodness and mercy in the national restoration, in terms which could hardly apply to any other event." Plumptre connects the psalm with the Assyrian distress in the time of Hezekiah. Other writers, among whom may be named Spurgeon, insist on the Davidic authorship, and connect it with distress from the Philistines. There is one grave peril attending the separation of Christianity into small sections. The national relations of God are likely to be underestimated, and the merely local relations of God to individual experience, and to the experience of small communities, overestimated. While fully recognizing that God bears close and saving relations to the individual, it may yet be properly urged that he bears relation to each nation, is at the heart of its calamities and of its triumphs, working for the nation now as truly as for the nation of Israel in the olden time. God is in history. But this means that God is in history while the history is in the making. And God should be discerned in political struggles, in social movements, in philanthropic enterprises, in national deliverances. To many persons the national thanksgiving for the recovery of the Prince of Wales from imperilling illness, was a delightful proof of the readiness of the English people to respond when God's hand in the bestowment of national mercies is pointed out to them. Two things may be illustrated and impressed.
I. RECOGNIZING NATIONAL MERCIES IS A NATIONAL DUTY. Apply to ordinary mercies, such as are illustrated by the yearly harvest. Then the national heart turns to God; and a national voice of thanksgiving is uplifted to him. Apply to special mercies, such as:
1. Preservation from, or removal of, epidemic disease.
2. Mastery of elements of social disturbance.
3. Hopeful changes of political relationships.
4. Victory for the national army.
5. Removal of difficulties that put the national peace in peril.
II. HELPING THE NATION TO RECOGNIZE ITS MERCIES IS THE DUTY OF THE NATIONAL LEADERS. More especially of those who believe in God, and are consecrated to the work of rendering witness for him. Mistake is often made by limiting the work of God's ministers to the "spiritual" and "personal" parts of their work. Every true minister is a leader of his people in recognizing God's work in the nation, and in renewing national thanksgiving and trust.—R.T.
While thankfully acknowledging all that God has done for his people, the psalmist clearly sees that it was but the "fierceness" of God's wrath from which he had turned, and that some of his wrath remained, seeing that the work of national recovery was incomplete, and heavy burdens still pressed on the people. Perowne recalls the circumstances of the exiles as Nehemiah found them. They were "in great affliction and reproach." "It was only in the midst of perpetual opposition and. discouragement that he was able to carry on his work. The bright prospect which was opening before the exiles had been quickly dashed. They had returned, indeed, but it was to a desert land and a forsaken city, whose wails were cast down, and her gates burned with fire; whilst jealous and hostile tribes were ever on the watch to assail and vex them. Hence it is that the entreaty for mercy follows so hard upon the acknowledgment that mercy has been vouchsafed." As a person might look, in a depressed mood, on the returned exiles, God's redemption was incomplete. Their restoration to their own land had brought them apparently no rest, no consolation, no hope for the future.
I. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH GOD'S REDEMPTIONS ARE NEVER COMPLETE. They are always redemptions from some calamities, not redemptions from all calamities. Every redemption is a beginning, holding within it the promise of something more that God is about to do. Open this fully out by showing that a spiritual redemption is to be followed by a bodily redemption. Christ wins the soul, and then proceeds to win the whole human sphere, and eventually all creation. The great redemption removes the soul penalties of sin; but it is not a perfect redemption until it has removed all the bodily penalties and disabilities of sin also. As a matter of Christian experience, we always feel, with the apostle, as if redemption were something yet to come. As we read our lives, they are still spheres for a divinely redemptive work. The full salvation "is ready to be revealed in the last time." Redemption thought of as complete checks a living dependence. Redemption thought of as incomplete keeps us in close reliance on the present and ever-working Redeemer.
II. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH GOD'S REDEMPTIONS ARE EVER IN PROGRESS. They are only incomplete as the building at which the workmen are working. Those exiles would be comforted as they realized God with them, delivering and rescuing, and carrying, in practical detail, to its perfection his gracious redemptive thought.—R.T.
Quickening as God's work.
In his very striking image of the dry bones in the valley, the Prophet Ezekiel, in a most emphatic way, declares that "quickening," "requickening," is the work of God, and of God alone. When man works he must stop short at imparting life,—that is beyond him. He may copy the forms of living things, but at the end of all his works it must be said, "There is no breath in them." God gives all life. "Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon the slain, that they may live" (Ezekiel 37:9, Ezekiel 37:10).
I. THE CHURCH OF CHRIST CONSTANTLY NEEDS REQUICKENING. This is true of all the ages. We have to take account of the ever-recurring tendency to flag and taint and fail. Men have never been able to keep up to the high levels which they may at times have attained. The whole history of Israel is a series of illustrations of this truth. Back from all reformations and revivals Israel constantly fell into indifference, or into formality. It may be shown that:
1. Times of special strain are followed by rebounds. An army is never in such peril as in the relaxed hours that follow a great victory.
2. Mere continuance tends to develop into formality. As with constant practice at the piano, the player comes to play without thinking.
3. Energetic people, who must be doing, are always in danger of neglecting the culture of the interior life. It may be well searchingly to examine ourselves, and see whether we need requickening.
II. REQUICKENING IS IN THE POWER OF GOD ALONE. We must not only admit that as an abstract truth; we must feel that as a truth bearing direct relations to ourselves. The limit of man's doing may be illustrated by the garden plants. We water them, and they do not care for our work, or respond to it. We can do little more than wash the dust from their leaves, and moisten the air around them. God rains his heavenly rains upon them, and they respond at once; lift up their heads, hold out firmly their leaves, and evidently feel the thrill of new life. One of the most delightful and inspiring views we can get of God sees him ever at work, restoring things that have gone wrong, and reviving things that are flagging. He is the Source of all life,—that we admit. He is the Restorer and Requickener of all life,—that we want to feel.
III. WHETHER WE BE REQUICKENED DEPENDS UPON OURSELVES. There are conditions in us for which God ever waits. His work cannot be all that he would have it be until we are in right condition.
1. We must see our need of requickening.
2. We must put away the self-indulging things which have been injuriously telling on our life.
3. We must be in attitude of prayer—of united prayer.—R.T.
Revivals; or, discerning the signs of the times.
They who read the times, with keen interest in the spiritual vitality of the Church, cannot fail to recognize the need of spiritual revival. The features of religious life may, in essence, be those characteristic of every age, but there may be subtleties and severities in their forms and settings at particular seasons which make them unusually effective for evil.
I. ONE SIGN OF OUR TIMES IS VASTLY INCREASED INTELLIGENCE. Science has developed. Literature has unfolded. Education has become a mania. In our pride we are saying, "We are wiser than our fathers." But this is attended with perilous moral evils. It is so easy now to become proud in our imaginations, confident in our reasoning, and scornful of the higher powers of the soul, in our admiration of the powers of the mind.
II. ANOTHER SIGN IS THE INTENSE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE. Facilities are now afforded for meeting the cravings of bodily pleasure which have nourished the cravings into a soul mastering passion. The world of landscapes, of art, of science, of music, of poetry, of play, lays its treasures now at the feet of the poorest. And no good man can begrudge the world's toilers the relief which these later days can provide. But the passion for that which is pleasing is telling seriously on the sense of duty, and even on the higher moral qualities, on the reserve and self-restraint, which belong to the essence of noble character. What we like is coming to rule, rather than what we ought.
III. ANOTHER SIGN IS THE PRESSURE OF BUSINESS, AND THE HASTING TO BE RICH. Typified in the man who regretted the compulsory Sunday rest, because then he had no chance of making money. Success in life is fast becoming the modern Baal that outrivals Jehovah.
IV. ANOTHER SIGN IS THE CALL FOR INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL, RATHER THAN SPIRITUAL PREACHING. Men ask for "essays;" they chafe under "persuasions." They seek for "soothings;" they do not want "reproofs," "correction in righteousness," and inspirations to the pursuit of holiness.
V. ANOTHER SIGN IS THE MULTIPLICATION OF ORGANIZED FORMS OF CHRISTIAN WORK. Machinery taking the place of life. Men paying for the doing of what they should do themselves. Christ claims our personal service, the expression of our soul's vitality; and that claim can never be commuted for any money payment, or entrusted to any substitute. If, then, we can see signs of the Church's falling from its vocation, let us see that:
1. God must not be thought of as separated from the interests of a decaying Church. To cease to connect God with its condition is the last stage of a Church's decline.
2. God must be sought as the only Source of spiritual revival. We cannot remedy spiritual evils by any form of personal effort, if those are made apart from dependence on God.
3. The revival of God's Church begins in the revival of individual souls.—R.T.
Expectancy of grace.
Illustrate by the words of the Prophet Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:1), "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me." The psalmist had been praying for full restoration, and gracious requickening of the national life. And the text reveals his attitude after prayer. Of answer he felt assured. Then for it he waits watchfully. His attitude is one of expectancy. And that attitude honours God. The New Testament commends "praying," and "watching thereunto."
I. THE ATTITUDE OF EXPECTANCY GIVES VALUE TO THE PRAYER. It declares that the man's heart was in it; that the subject was of vital interest to him; and that he believed in God as the "Prayer answerer." It does more than this. It reveals that in the prayer there was a true submission. The man who watches for answer cannot but feel that the answer depends on the infinite wisdom and good will of his heavenly Father. He who truly says, "Thy will be done," watches that he may know the will, in order that he may do it. A prayer that is not followed by watching is a prayer of which God need take little heed, seeing it is evident that the man who prays cares but little about that for which he prays.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF EXPECTANCY SHOWS FIRM GRIP OF THE PROMISES. What the promises connected with prayer assure is answer—some kind of answer. But not the particular form and kind of answer which we desire. The man of faith lays hold of this promise of answer. No prayer is disregarded by God. If we may use an earthly figure which is suggestive, he never leaves his letters unanswered. But expectancy always links with submission, and leaves the form of answer to the Infinite Love. Illustrate by the response that came to the psalmist. The social and moral evils, that seemed to limit the Divine restoration, were gradually mastered, and true hearts can recognize, in gradual removal of evils, specific answers to their prayers.
III. THE ATTITUDE OF EXPECTANCY NOURISHES THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER. Because it keeps up the sense of dependence on God; and prayer is but the expression of that dependence. It is a first impulse to pray, when the soul is full of the spirit of dependence. Lose that, and the soul makes prayer the last thing. Keep that, and prayer is always the first thing. Meeting our expectancy, Christ seems to say to us, "According to your faith be it unto you."—R.T.
Self-pleasing is folly.
"But let them not again turn to folly," or presumption. Sometimes the infatuation of sin is meant by the term "folly." Sometimes it is a synonym for "idolatry." Here the thing which is regarded as foolish is "following the devices and desires of their own heart," rather than watching for and doing the will of their God. A book was written some years ago to show that "all sin is folly." Wrong doing, in the long run, serves nobody's real interests. And it has often been shown that the skill devoted to evil schemes would have accomplished valuable results, if only it had been devoted to right and good things. The special point in the text is, that the saints are those who have been set right, delivered from self-pleasing, and it is folly indeed for them to turn back upon the old spirit and the old ways.
I. THAT SELF-PLEASING IS FOLLY IS SHOWN BY THE NATURE OF THINGS. Mall is not an independent, self-ordered being. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." He is God's child, and is no more safe, going alone, than is any other child.
II. THAT SELF-PLEASING IS FOLLY IS SHOWN BY THE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE. It is but the fact that we have fallen into needless perplexities, difficulties, and sorrows, when we have tried to take our own independent course. We never have been strong and safe except when we leaned on God, and fully opened our heart and life to Divine guidance. Find the things in life which have turned out to be foolish; and searchingly inquire into the moods of mind and heart that were related to them.
III. THAT SELF-PLEASING IS FOLLY IS DECLARED IN THE DIVINE WORD. (See Psalms 49:13, "This their way is their folly.") The self-pleasing of the Israelites is represented by the expression, "a stiff-necked and uncircumcised generation;" and in their history there are plentiful scenes of calamity into which their foolish self-willedness led them. The psalmist earnestly deprecates a return upon such self-pleasing which brings such needless difficulties. "He that sinneth," in his self-will, "sinneth against his own soul." It is true that he is wicked before God; but it is also true that he is foolish, in view of his highest interests.—R.T.
God and man working together.
"Truth springeth out of the earth; and righteousness hath looked down from heaven." This is poetic phraseology, which more prosaically may be stated thus: "When man is faithful to God, then God will be found faithful to man; and so God and man will work together for good." The psalmist sees quite plainly that the incomplete redemption can only be completed if the people put away their evils, and show themselves fully loyal to God. But he is quite confident that, if they do, then God will surely be faithful to them, and finish in them his work of grace. That God is to men as men are to him, and that he and they must work together if the full blessing is to be realized, was stated by an earlier psalmist. "With the merciful man thou wilt show thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt show thyself upright; with the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward." Open this subject by illustrating the following topics:—
I. GOD AND MAN IN OPPOSITION. What God wants, man refusing. Show the confusion thus caused. And the hopelessness of man's state, if he persists in "running on the bosses of Jehovah's buckler."
II. GOD AND MAN IS INDIFFERENCE. This represents the more usual state of things. Men are often not strong enough to actively resist; but they say, "Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him?" And they say to him, "Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways!" But that indifference, which puts outside the Divine love and lead, is every whit as perilous for us as active opposition.
III. GOD AND MAN IN HARMONY. This is the ideal state—the relation designed in man's creation. Here naturally come in evangelical teachings respecting the way in which the designed harmony was lost, and the way in which that harmony can be recovered. The beauty of the scene suggested by these figures should be dwelt on. "This is a delicious scene. Earth yielding flowers of truth, and heaven shining with stars of holiness; the spheres echoing to each other, or being mirrors of each other's beauties. 'Earth carpeted with truth, and canopied with righteousness,' shall be a nether heaven. When God looks down in grace, man sends his heart upward in obedience"—R.T.
God's righteousness opening a way.
"The meaning of this difficult verse may probably be as follows: Righteousness shall go before him (Jehovah), and shall make his footsteps a pathway for his servants to walk in." "God's march of right will leave a track wherein his people will joyfully follow." Aben Ezra curiously explains this verse to mean, "He shall cause the man of righteousness to walk before him, and makes his footsteps for a way to him." Plainly the verse must be treated in the harmony of the psalm. Evidently the latter tart is a vision of the spiritual and temporal deliverances and blessings which would surely come to the exiles—though now in much distress—if they turned heartily to Jehovah, and persisted in serving him in truth and righteousness. Among the blessings anticipated was prosperous harvesting from the land; and with this naturally goes safe guidance of national affairs, and a way out of national difficulties. God's faithfulness would go before the people in all their public affairs, opening for them the way in which they should go (see the term "righteousness" in verse 11).
I. GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS, OR FAITHFULNESS, IS ACTIVE FOR HIS PEOPLE'S GOOD. It is "going before him;" it is not quiescent. "God for us" means "God working for us."
II. GOD'S ACTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS TRIUMPHANT OVER DIFFICULTIES. Opening ways implies that ways have been closed. Hindrances have blocked them.
III. GOD'S ACTIVE RIGHTEOUSNESS WORKS FOR THE COMPLETION OF THE REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE. There is an inspiring sense in which we may be sure that God must be true to himself. If he has purposed a thing, he will surely overcome all difficulties in the way of its accomplishment. If he has planned the full redemption and sanctification of believers, it does not matter how impossible that may seem to him; "God's righteousness will surely go before him, and make a way."—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Listening for God's voice.
The psalm was written on the return from Captivity.
I. THE. BURDEN OF GOD'S SPEECH TO MAN. Peace. Peace with him.
1. The way of peace.
2. The nature of peace.
II. A DETERMINATION TO LISTEN. Man listens to man.
1. According to the claims of the speaker to be heard.
2. When the subject is interesting and important.
3. When the subject is important to him. Then we give the closest attention.
III. THE PRACTICAL EFFECT OF GOD'S SPEECH. "Let them not turn again to folly," i.e. wickedness. The wickedness will then be aggravated. It is then so well known to be wickedness. "If I hadn't spoken to them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin."—S.