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ANOTHER liturgical psalm on the advent of Christ The psalmist sees him take possession of his throne, but, this time, rather in judgment than in mercy. His accession is described with the usual features of a theophany (Psalms 97:1-6; comp. Psalms 18:7-15; Psalms 50:3-6; Psalms 77:14-19). The impression made on the inhabitants of the earth, whether idolatrous heathen (Psalms 97:7), or faithful Israelites (Psalms 97:8, Psalms 97:9), is then given. Finally, a practical lesson is drawn from the event prophesied, viz. "Let the Israel of God hate evil, and rejoice in the Lord and in his holy Name" (Psalms 97:10-12).
Metrically, the psalm consists of four stanzas, each of three verses. There is nothing in its contents to fix its date.
The Lord reigneth; or, the Lord has become King—has ascended his throne (comp. Psalms 93:1; Psalms 96:10). Let the earth rejoice. When God condescends to appear on earth, the earth is bound to rejoice. His coming cannot but improve the condition of affairs. Let the multitude of isles (literally, the many isles) be glad thereof. Even "the isles"—the abode of the Gentiles—are to feel joy, for they, too, at whatever cost (Psalms 97:3), will be benefited.
Clouds and darkness are round about him (comp. Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:22 :1Ki Deuteronomy 8:12). The "darkness" does not belong to the nature of God, who "is Light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), but to the interrelationship between God and man, in which are involved problems that man cannot solve. Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne; rather, the foundation of his throne—the firm basis on which it is immovably fixed.
A fire goeth before him. So long as there is evil in the world, the "fire" of God's wrath must necessarily "go before him" at each theophany, to sweep the evil from his path (see Isaiah 42:25). It is in this sense that "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). And burneth up his enemies round about (comp. Psalms 50:8; Matthew 13:30).
His lightnings enlightened the world. Here the tenses change from present to past—not, however, that any past event is alluded to, but merely to mark prophetic certainty. The psalmist, rapt in vision, sees the future as past. Lightnings play a part in almost' all theophanies (Exodus 19:16; Job 37:1-5; Psalms 18:13; Psalms 77:18, etc.). The earth saw, and trembled (comp. Judges 5:4; Psalms 68:8; Psalms 114:7).
The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord (comp. Judges 5:5; Isaiah 64:1; Micah 1:4). The earth itself is regarded as not only shaken (Psalms 97:4), but as melting and crumbling away at the descent of God from heaven to earth. At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth (comp. Joshua 3:11, Joshua 3:13.; Micah 4:13; Zechariah 4:14; Zechariah 6:5).
The heavens declare his righteousness (comp. Psalms 50:6; Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:30). By signs in the heavens it is proclaimed that the Lord has come to judgment. And all the people see (rather, have seen) his glory; literally, all the peoples; i.e. all the nations of the earth (comp. Psalms 97:1).
Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols. Professor Cheyne transposes this verse and the next, but without any necessity. It is quite natural that the effect of the theophany on God's enemies should be noted first. The effect is that they are "confounded," or rather, covered with shame. The display of real Divine power makes manifest the impotency of the idols, and puts their worshippers to the blush. Worship him, all ye gods. The theophany is a call on the false gods to worship the true God.
Zion heard, and was glad (comp. Psalms 48:11). To Zion, the Church of God, the company of his saints, the theophany brings, not shame, but rejoicing. The Lord comes for their relief, for their deliverance, for their exaltation. And the daughters of Judah rejoiced. The"daughters of Judah" are the other cities of Judaea besides Jerusalem. In a Christian sense, they may be taken to represent the irregularly organized Churches, which will participate in the general joy of the faithful at Christ's final coming. Because of thy judgments, O Lord. It does not show any vindictive feeling, if the saints, persecuted so long, "rejoice" when an end is put to their sufferings by the final judgment of the wicked.
For thou, Lord, art high above all the earth; rather, art the Most High (eliun) above all the earth (see the Revised Version). Thou art exalted far above all gods (comp. Psalms 97:7, and see also Psalms 83:18). No comparison can be made between Jehovah and the heathen gods. He is "exalted" far, far above them.
Ye that love the Lord, hate evil. The psalmist ends his strain with an exhortation to the faithful—an exhortation, first of all, to "hate evil." God hates evil (Psalms 45:7); evil will separate them from God, evil will be their destruction. Therefore let them hate and abhor it. It is indifference to evil, that, more than anything else, lays men open to the assaults of Satan. He preserveth the souls of his saints. He (i.e. Jehovah) watches tenderly over the souls of his saints—his holy loving ones, and preserves them in being, keeps them from destruction, and delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous (comp. Psalms 112:4, "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness"). God sheds the rays of his grace on the path of the righteous man, enlightens his understanding, and illumines his spirit perpetually. And gladness for the upright in heart. Together with "light," he sheds abroad "gladness," the irrepressible joy which comes from a sense of his favour and protection.
Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous. Such being the blessedness of the righteous, they are finally exhorted to "rejoice in the Lord," i.e. to show forth their gratitude to God in psalms and hymns of joy (comp. Psalms 32:11; Psalms 33:1-3), and to give thanks to him at the remembrance of his holiness; or rather, to give thanks to his holy memorial, which is the same as giving thanks to his Name (comp. Psalms 30:4, and the comment ad loc.).
"The Lord reigneth." To a thoughtful, loving, earnest Christian heart, the spectacle of prevailing disorder, wrong, misery, in this world (today as in past ages) is a source of sometimes almost unbearable wonder and grief. Then it is unspeakable consolation to remember "the Lord reigneth" (Psalms 11:3, Psalms 11:4). As from his own sin and trouble he takes refuge in God's love; so from the apparent triumph of evil, in God's righteous rule. God's Kingship or sovereignty involves these three:
(1) supreme power;
(2) rightful authority;
(3) exercise of this power and authority in actual government.
I. SUPREME POWER. "If we speak of strength, lo! he is strong." "With God all things are possible." No design, no emergency, to which his power is not equal. He is the Source—the Creator—of all other power. The forces of nature, the wills and faculties of men—of all creatures, lower or higher than men—have their root and being in him; hang on his sovereign will (Psalms 33:8, Psalms 33:9). We must not think of God's power apart from his wisdom (Psalms 147:5). Nor of these apart from his love (Psalms 145:9, Psalms 145:10). Blind unconscious force—the universe of atheism—is the most frightful of all conceptions. Force guided by loveless wisdom is an impossible idea, for it would have no motive for exercise. But it is "the Lord" who reigns; and "God is love."
II. RIGHTFUL AUTHORITY. The righteous self-evident claim to absolute and universal obedience. Power without right would be tyranny. Right without power would be an empty shadow—crown without sceptre. The right to obedience, and power to enforce it (or punish disobedience), together make up authority. Therefore to those attributes of power, wisdom, and love, we must add righteousness. "The sceptre of his kingdom is a right sceptre." While nature and Scripture proclaim that he does reign, reason and conscience declare that he ought to reign.
1. The right of absolute ownership is his (Psalms 100:3). He has created us.
2. Of infinite benefaction. All we have or hope for, or ever can enjoy, is his free gift.
3. Of perfect and sole fitness, infinite ability, to rule the universe he has created and owns. Knowledge which nothing, great or small, escapes. Power which upholds all in being, and which, if he please to exert it, none can resist. Goodness which no demand can overtax.
III. ACTUAL EXERCISE OF GOVERNMENT. (Psalms 103:19.) "He doeth according to his will," etc. (Daniel 4:35). He has bound all nature with a chain of love which natural forces and existences cannot even seek to break. He has given to man and other spiritual creatures, with reason to apprehend duty, and conscience to approve our fulfilment or condemn our neglect, a will endued with the mysterious power of disobeying his law, resisting his will. Without this we should be incapable of willing, reasonable, loving, conscientious obedience. Men therefore do disobey God; and the direct result of disobedience is the misery and death which fill our world (James 1:13-15). But man's disobedience cannot relax God's authority, or alter the fact that over all he reigns and rules. And this supreme authority is in the hands once nailed to the cross (John 5:22, John 5:23; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:21-23; Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13).
The hatred of sin.
"Ye that love the Lord, hate evil." On the darkest, most puzzling of all questions—the origin of evil—the Bible leaves us quite in the dark. Old and New Testaments are alike silent. This would be very astonishing if the purpose of Scripture were to make deep philosophers or subtle theologians. We cease to wonder when we understand, what people have come to see more clearly in these days than formerly, that the object of God's Word is to "make wise unto salvation;" to teach us to know God and to know ourselves, and to bring us home to God. In a word, it is the very same as the angel declared to be the purpose of the Incarnation, "He shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Therefore, while the Bible is dumb as to all questions of curiosity, it has a plain answer to such practical questions as, "What is sin? How ought we to regard it?" Sin in conduct is disobedience to God; in character, unlikeness to God. The first sin was an act of deliberate disobedience. Sin in every form is "that abominable thing" which our Father hates. Therefore we ought to hate it with perfect hatred. "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil!" We may take these words
(1) as a description;
(2) as a command.
I. HATRED OF SIN A CHARACTERISTIC FEATURE OF THOSE WHO LOVE GOD. It is to be expected of them; is peculiar to them; is a mark by which they may be known. It may be objected that this hatred of evil is felt by multitudes who make no pretence to love God. Every just man hates injustice—to others as much as to himself. Every benevolent man hates cruelty; every honest man, knavery; every sober man, intemperance; every one of pure life, impurity. All this without reference to God. This is so; and just here lies the difference. The Bible deals with evil not merely as wrong done to man, but first and foremost as sin against God. So the sinner is taught to see it (Psalms 51:1-4). So the saint laments it in others (Psalms 119:136, Psalms 119:158). So God regards it, both in judging and in pardoning (Psalms 50:21; Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7; Hosea 7:2; Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2). To set forth the complete teaching of Scripture on this would be practically to quote the whole Bible. If we wanted a title for the Scriptures, we might write on the back, "The story of sin, and how God deals with it." Real hatred of sin, then, springs from the Holy Spirit's teaching. An ungodly man may hate and despise many kinds of sin; but not as sin—breaking God's Law, dishonouring God, hateful in his sight, inconsistent with love to him. So also an ungodly heart may admire and delight in many kinds of goodness; but not because goodness and holiness are God's likeness, the fulfilment of his Law, and pleasing to him. Love of what God loves; hatred of what God hates;—this is the supreme test of character; in one word, sympathy with God (John 14:21, John 14:24). Our Saviour is in this, as in all else, our perfect Model. His habitual calm and gentleness, the stress he lays on doing good to those who hate or injure us, and his meek submission to immeasurable wrong, are apt to conceal from us his unsparing condemnation of sin. No denunciations of Old Testament prophets are more severe than our Lord's warnings concerning the impenitent cities, the hypocritical Pharisees, the guilty city of Jerusalem, the unfaithful servants. Nothing in the Bible is more terrible than his words to those who have tried to combine religious profession with a sinful life: "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
II. Therefore THIS COMMAND COMES TO US, WE MAY SAY, WITH THE WHOLE BIBLE AT ITS BACK—all the motives of the gospel added to all the motives of the Law. The words of the old Hebrew psalmist should have tenfold force in the ears and hearts of Christian believers, "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil." Reasons for hating sin are to be found in every page of human history; in every home and heart throughout the world. It is hateful as the source, directly or indirectly, of all the misery which pervades the world. Hateful as degrading, deforming, debasing, human nature; for which reason sin is so constantly represented in Scripture by the loathsome image of defilement (Job 9:30, Job 9:31). Hateful because "the end of those things is death" (Romans 6:21). What the Bible precisely means, what God means, by the death of a soul has been of late years fiercely controverted. I feel no warrant or wish to dogmatize. I only point out here that the tendency of sin, unforgiven, unrepented, unremoved, is to the extinction of all that is worth calling "life." Even one single sin, lying, e.g; or pride, or gluttony, if it were to gain absolute unchecked mastery, would render the man hopelessly selfish, blind to duty, incapable of nobleness, unfit for society, unfit, in a word, to live. But it is not by any or all of these reasons that we are here urged to "hate evil." It is by love. "Ye that love the Lord." Love to God and love of evil are the two most irreconcilable opposites in the universe. One must be fatal to the other. We could not love God, at least not aright, did we not know that "his work is perfect," etc. (Deuteronomy 32:4). The supreme truth that "God is love" involves his eternal abhorrence of sin, for sin is the deadly foe of love. The opposite of love is selfishness; and sin and selfishness are so closely connected that some of the deepest thinkers have reckoned them identical. Perhaps it is true to say that the essence of sin is want of love to God; and where love is absent, selfishness rushes in to fill the void. Accordingly, the great crowning proof of God's love is declared to be that which is at the same time God's crowning condemnation of sin," the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). Our Lord himself declares this to be a new and glorious reason for his Father's love (Isaiah 10:17). The crucial test of his own love (John 15:13). Of God's love to the world (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10). In sight of the cross let us learn how to "hate evil."
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Jehovah is King.
The subject of this psalm, as of the whole group to which it belongs, is the reign of Christ. Some glorious revival in the Jewish Church so uplifted the thought of the writer of these psalms that he sees, as if already present, that blessed advent and reign of the Lord which, whilst it must be the confusion of his adversaries, must also be the everlasting joy of his faithful people. We observe -
I. THE AFFIRMATION or THESE PSALMS—that Jehovah is King. "The Lord reigneth." The writer has no doubt of it at all. Therefore:
1. He bids the whole earth rejoice, even to its uttermost parts, the scattered islands of the sea.
2. He admits that much mystery remains. "Clouds and darkness are," etc.
3. Nevertheless, he affirms that righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. The Lord is enthroned, and righteousness and judgment shall be habitually upheld.
4. Nature bears witness to him. Lightnings, earthquakes, volcanoes, the earth melting like wax, symbolize his majesty and power.
5. The heathen are confounded, whilst his people,for abundant reasons (Psalms 97:9), rejoice.
II. THE GENERAL DENIAL OF THIS AFFIRMATION, which is met with in our day. There are not a few who say that the Lord will reign; but that, as yet, the state of the world is getting worse and worse, and will do so until the coming of the Lord, when he will bring all evil to an end. They look forward to that second coming of the Lord as the great hope of the Church. Hence it is only as having the right and the power to reign, and as now and then manifesting that power, that, at present, the Lord can be said to reign. They believe that the Lord shall reign, not that he does. But note—
III. THE NEW TESTAMENT CONFIRMATION OF THIS PSALM.
1. It everywhere declares that the Lord is King, is reigning now. Because such is the just conclusion from its constant statements that the coming of Christ was "at hand;" that generation in which our Lord lived was not to pass away until the coming of his kingdom. Some standing around him—so he declared—should not taste of death till they had seen him coming in glory. And with this all the teachings of the apostles agree. They tell of the Lord's coming as "at hand." They believed that some of them should remain and be alive at his coming. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," was the burden of their preaching; they went everywhere proclaiming that, and the coming of the Lord as its inauguration. But if our Lord has not come, then how are his words, and the words of his apostles, whom the Holy Spirit was to lead into all truth, to be understood? We shrink from saying that they were mistaken, and, unwittingly, taught error. Therefore we believe that he has come, and that he is indeed and in truth reigning now.
2. And the objection—Why, then, is evil so rampant?—is met by St. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 15:23-26. There the reign of Christ is plainly declared, and that "he must reign till he hath put," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:25), evidently implying that, though he doth reign, yet there will be enemies still to be subdued, and this will be only a gradual process. His coming was not to put an end all at once, in a moment, to all evil; but it should ultimately be done.
3. And this is still being done. Let the laws and customs of Christian nations tell. They are evil enough in many parts still, but will any one dare to say that the lot of humanity is as dark now as it was in our Lord's day? Has he done nothing for us? Who will say that? And let the growth and increased purity of the Church—far short, doubtless, of what they should and will be—also tell. And the Lord's work by his Spirit in the individual believing soul. Are we not conscious that he is more and more putting all our spiritual foes under his feet? Therefore we believe that the Lord has come, and that he reigneth.
IV. THE BLESSED RESULTS OF THIS BELIEF.
1. The need for twisting the Scriptures is taken away. We can read them in their plain and obvious meaning.
2. The infidel's taunt is silenced. Gibbon sneers at the Christian's belief, taking it for granted that the Lord has not come. And many today base their unbelief on the glaring contradiction between the Scriptures and the doctrine of so many Christians that Christ has not yet come.
3. We are not fighting a losing battle. The state of the world is not darkening drear—as so many say—but brightening. The Church has not to wait for, but to rejoice in, his presence.
4. Death, in the old dread meaning of the word, is abolished.
5. Satan is judged, fallen, condemned. We, whilst trusting in Christ, need have no fear. The Lord is King.—S.C.
The Lord reigneth.
On this truth we observe—
I. IT WAS THE FAITH OF ALL HOLY SCRIPTURE. The Law, the Prophets, the Psalms—these especially—the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation, all alike declare this faith, and in varied form utter their "Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth."
II. THIS FAITH IS COMMENDED TO US BY ITS NEVER-FAILING FRUITFULNESS IS ALL MANNER OF GOOD. Some beliefs which men have long and largely held have died away, and men have willingly let them die; but this faith is too blessed that we should lightly let it perish. It imparts peace to the mind amid all the vicissitudes of life; vigour to the will, strengthening it for strenuous action; and power for the help and comfort of our fellow men.
III. IT IS, NEVERTHELESS, GREATLY DOUBTED AND DENIED.
1. In some because of the sad and insoluble problems of this present life. Life seems to them an inextricable tangle, not worth living, all vanity and vexation of spirit.
2. In others, the teachings of science seem not only to remove God so far away, but throw doubt on his existence altogether.
3. In others, the increased sensitiveness to human suffering has caused the mind to recoil from doctrines and beliefs which were unquestioningly held by our forefathers, and the sight of the mass of unrelieved misery which crushes beneath its awful weight the multitudes of mankind in all ages and lands has begotten the dark doubt in minds not a few, whether there be an omnipotent and beneficent God at all. Perhaps men's doubts of this faith were never more widespread than they are now.
IV. BUT ITS EVIDENCES, NOTWITHSTANDING, ARE EVERYWHERE.
1. In the natural world, the power, wisdom, and beneficence of the Creator are, in spite of many mysteries, clearly to be seen (see Drummond's 'Ascent of Man').
2. In the order of God's providence, when men will obey its laws.
3. In the history of the Church.
4. In the experience of the individual believing soul.
V. AND THIS FAITH MAY BE ATTAINED TO BY WHOSOEVER WILL, The path is—obedience. "He that doeth my will shall know of the doctrine," etc. Refuse to cherish doubt. "I will trust, and not be afraid."—S.C.
These are sadly wanted. Evil is not hated as it ought to be, as in this verse it is commanded to be. The world and the Church alike are suffering from need of those who hate well. The world is left without guidance, and the Church without strength, or honour, or joy.
I. THERE ARE MANY WHO HATE NEITHER GOOD NOR EVIL.
1. They do not hate goodness. They would be shocked to be told they did. They often say fine things about it, and, like Herod with John the Baptist, do "many things" because of it. They do not practise it much—never, unless it is conventional and in good form. Still, they do not hate it. It would be almost better if they did. For then they could not deceive themselves as now they do. They imagine all is well with them, simply because they do not openly oppose goodness. Though not with it, they are, so they flatter themselves, not against it. It was specially to such that our Lord spoke his stern, solemn word, "He that is not with me is against me." They are the would be neutrals. Our Lord likens them to the "house swept and garnished," from which one devil is gone out, but who soon comes back with seven others worse. The publicans and harlots, who know and feel their sin, go into the kingdom of heaven before such.
2. And assuredly they do not hate evil. If it be very gross and flagrant, they will condemn it, but if it comes to them in plausible and specious garb, as it generally does, they make excuses for it, and allow it both in themselves and others. The devil has it pretty much his own way so far as these people are concerned. He fears none but those who hate evil.
II. BUT THOSE WHO LOVE THE LORD MUST HATE EVIL.
1. It stands to reason. Such hatred of evil is but the necessary consequence and concomitant of the love of the Lord; where the one is, the other is also.
2. They will do so always and everywhere. Most and first of all in themselves. Not only in its outward manifestations, but in its secret spring—the heart from whence it proceeds. It is of no use fulminating against evil in others whilst we cherish it in ourselves. This they deeply feel, and hence their perpetual prayer is for the "clean heart." And they will hate evil in others also. They will not connive at it, nor in any way countenance it; their lives will be a witness and protest against it, they will be "the salt of the earth."
III. THE MOTIVES THAT URGE THEM ARE FULL OF FORCE.
1. Sin is the curse of humanity. Its steps are blood marked all through the world's history. It "brought death into the world, and all our woe;" and as it was, so it is still.
2. It slew our Lord. How would we feel towards the murderer of our dearest friend?
3. Whenever we in any degree allow it in ourselves, it weakens and humiliates us, and brings darkness into our souls.
4. It is life or death with us. If we do not destroy it, it will destroy us.
5. It robs us of power over others, save to do them harm.
IV. BUT THIS HATRED OF EVIL NEEDS TO BE DILIGENTLY CHERISHED. For we are in peril of getting used to it, and so of acquiescing in it as a thing that cannot be helped. Therefore:
1. Pray the Holy Spirit to fill you with the love of Christ.
2. To reveal you to yourself.
3. Walk in the light.
4. Confess at once if you have sinned.
5. Openly commit yourself on the Lord's side.
6. Attack evil wherever possible.
7. Pray without ceasing.—S.C.
The seed of light.
The sacred writers often use strange metaphors; as here, light is said to be "sown for the righteous." Milton uses the same figure of the dew—
"Now Morn, her rosy steps in th' eastern clime
Advancing, sowed the earth with Orient pearl."
But let us get beneath the strange figure, and ask—
I. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
1. What is meant by light? It is a constant symbol for joy, gladness (Esther 8:16; Psalms 27:1, etc.). And, on the other hand, sorrow is likened to darkness.
2. What does the word "sown" mean? It is a very suggestive word. It teaches that the seed of joy is:
(1) Scattered abroad. And so it is for God's people; they find it everywhere, and often in most unlikely places. As Paul and Silas in their dungeon at Philippi.
(2) For a time out of sight. The seed, when sown, is so. See this in our coal beds. Light is sown there. Let there be the application of a due amount of heat, and the light will flash forth that was sown by the sun long ages ago. And in like manner, the grace of God has stored up joy and gladness in places where you would never have looked for them. Light is sown in them, and, though now out of sight, will in due time break forth (Psalms 126:5). Then
(3) certainly not lost. Sometimes it seems as if our light had gone from us forever. But it is not so; the losses, bereavements, trials of all kinds which darkened our life, they are but the furrows of the field into which the seed has been cast, and by which it is for the time buried. But as the farmer does not count his seed sown as seed lost, but quite otherwise, so should our thought be.
(4) But is in the care and keeping of God.
(5) Will come back multiplied.
(6) And glorified (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44). We are wont to speak of "God's acre," the old and beautiful name for our churchyards, and they are full of sown light. But all our life is a field thus sown. And there are many harvests, the resurrection morn chief of them all. Yet other fields are the Holy Scriptures, God's providence, the Holy Spirit's work. Light is sown for the righteous in all these. But the question will arise—
II. IS IT ALL TRUE? And we reply:
1. The order of nature seems to affirm it. How often has the righteous career been trampled upon and apparently destroyed, but it has sprung up again!
2. The Scriptures assert it unhesitatingly, and furnish perpetual proof, that the light of the righteous is never lost, but only sown preparatory to a blessed harvest.
3. And our heart's deepest convictions confirm it. We could not live without this faith.
III. WHAT THEN?
1. The instincts of our nature are not mocked. We were made for the light, for blessedness, and the righteous shall realize it.
2. What a terrible thing that any should be self-excluded—as the ungodly are—from the number of those for whom this word is spoken!
3. Be patient when some of your light is taken from you. It is wanted for seed.
4. Yield your hearts to Christ, that by his blessed Spirit he may make them righteous.
5. Look on to the harvest.—S.C.
The seed of light.
(Another outline.) The text leads us to consider—
I. WHENCE WHAT LIGHT OF GLADNESS AND JOY WE HAVE HAS COME. The seed was sown:
1. At the Creation.
2. In God's plan of providence.
3. In the gift of Christ.
4. In the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the Scriptures, and in our own soul.
II. WHERE WHAT OF LIGHT WE HAVE LOST IS CONE.
1. Into God's keeping.
2. As seed.
3. For increase and glory.
III. WHITHER WE MUST LOOK FOR WHAT WE WOULD HAVE COME BACK.
1. In the way of submission to God's will. (1 Peter 5:6.)
2. To the Holy Spirit's work in our souls.
3. To the unfolding of God's providence.
4. In the endeavour to help and comfort others.
5. To the resurrection morn, and the heavenly home.—S.C.
Giving thanks for God's holiness.
The psalm tells of the Lord coming in majesty and righteousness to judge the world. And here at the end of the psalm the writer remembers this judgment and the holiness which characterized it, and bids all righteous men rejoice.
I. WE ARE COMMANDED TO DO THIS—to "give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness."
1. "His holiness." It means not alone his righteous deeds, but yet more his righteous character; not alone for what he does, but for what he is in himself. He cannot be tempted of evil, cannot be moved away from perfect righteousness. God is holy in all his ways.
2. We are to give thanks for this. We are ready to give thanks for God's providential love and for his redeeming grace; but for his holiness we commonly cherish reverence and awe rather than joyful praise. This is wrong, and we are bidden here rejoice and give thanks.
3. And this whenever we remember his holiness. We do so in retrospect, looking back upon the righteous acts of the Lord. And we do so in prospect, anticipating the time when his will shall be done on earth as in heaven. We are to stay ourselves on the faith that he cometh to judge the earth, and that he shall judge the people righteously.
II. IT IS ASSUMED THAT WE ARE RIGHTEOUS. Such, in the first part of the verse, are distinctly appealed to. For only such can obey this command. To the ungodly the holiness of God is hateful; it is to him a constant and awful threatening, a dark cloud lowering over his life; he shrinks from coming into contact with it. How fearful are, often, the deathbeds of such men! And until we are regenerate, and know that we are accepted in Christ, the holiness of God must excite in us fear rather than thanksgiving.
III. And that THERE ARE GOOD REASONS FOR SUCH THANKSGIVING. And there are; for:
1. The holiness of God is the sure pledge and guarantee of our redemption. The atoning work of Christ, on which our redemption rests, is no plan whereby God's love may be satisfied at the expense of his holiness. For nowhere is that holiness more conspicuous than in that atonement. It magnifies the Law, and makes it honourable as nothing else could (cf. Romans 8:1, Romans 8:2). The tables of the Law in the ark of the covenant, on which the mercy seat rested, symbolized the eternal fact that God's mercy rests on righteousness; his love is sustained by and based upon his holiness.
2. And it is the assurance of our own holiness, that we shall be made like him. For whatever be the character of any man, one sure effect of it will be that he seeks to make his surroundings like himself. And so the holy God must seek to make his people holy; he cannot be satisfied until they are holy as he is holy.
3. And of our eternal blessedness. Could sin enter heaven, it would cease to be heaven—it would be the world over again. But nothing can enter heaven that defileth. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
4. And of the kingdom of God upon earth. The curse wrought by the Fall shall be banished by the redemption of God. Not in us alone, but in humanity at large, shall God's blessed holy will for our sanctification be done on earth as it is in heaven.
IV. AND THAT THERE NEED RE NO REASONS WHY ANY OF US SHOULD NOT "GIVE THANKS AT," ETC. For the two essentials for our thus giving thanks are ours in Christ.
1. We can be reconciled to God in him. Until we are we cannot be thankful for his holiness. But if we will come away from our sins, and confess them, and believe in him, then we shall be reconciled to God, and to us shall be given the new nature, the regeneration, without which we cannot even see the kingdom of God.
2. And we may be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Not forgiven only, but saved from sin itself (see Ezekiel 36:25, Ezekiel 36:27). And when this is done, then the very thoughts of our heart will be changed, and whereas we could not heretofore do aught but tremble at the remembrance of God's holiness, now we shall rejoice and give thanks.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
What God seems, and what God is.
The figures of this verse are evidently taken from the scenes connected with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Then "clouds and darkness" were the surroundings, and from these men might get a cursory and an unworthy impression of God; but then "justice and judgment" were declared to be the "pillars of his throne," and if men would but go beyond the appearances, they would apprehend God aright, and even discern the mission and the mystery of the symbols in which he appeared to them.
I. WHAT GOD SEEMS TO OUR IMPERFECT VISION. What could Israel see when the people dared to look up to the holy mount? Compare with what Moses saw who was on the holy mount. "And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke …and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18). For proper apprehension of God we are under two disadvantages:
Distance makes it difficult for us to see things clearly; and difficult for us to get them in the right perspective. Sin brings a dimness of the moral and spiritual vision—somewhat as drunkenness gives a double vision; and so the clouds round about God prove to be sin clouds in our own eyes. And sin brings a strange fear, because man can never separate sin from consequences, and he cannot help feeling that God will see that the consequences come. So our sin makes a "darkness" about God.
II. WHAT GOD IS TO OUR CULTURED VISION. That vision has to be cleansed before it can be cultured. Illustrate cultured vision by the trained eyesight of the sailor or of the scientific man. We at first may see nothing; gradually as we fix our gaze, and think as we gaze, we can see much. Cultured spiritual vision gradually gains right apprehension of what God is, and sees two things as absolutely necessary to the fitting idea of him.
1. He is eternally right in the principles that sway him.
2. He is practically right in the application of those principles. These two things are indicated in the abstract word "righteousness" and the concrete word "judgment." It may be shown how necessarily related these two are. If God is right, we may be confident that his ways are right.]f we can see his ways are right, we know that he is right.—R.T.
The sign of the storm god
(comp. Exodus 19:1-25.; Exodus 20:0.; Habakkuk 3:1-19.; Hebrews 12:18-21; see also Psalms 77:17, Psalms 77:18). There is here an evident reference to an Eastern thunderstorm. Lightning and thunder, among all superstitious peoples, are regarded as special manifestations of the Deity. To us storms are but nature forces, having their intensity, and their comings and goings, according to ordinary nature laws. But poetry can now do, better than superstition, what superstition has done in all ages and in all lands. We inquire what the "storm sign" tells concerning God. The one common feeling in tempest is the sense of the presence of an august and awful force that is uncontrollable by man, but controllable by God. In addition to this it may be said that the storm-witness for God is universal; it is rendered in every land and in every age. Point out that in Jewish history storms are directly associated with the destruction of God's foes, and the deliverance of God's people, as in the case of Sisera. See also the revelation of God to Elijah, at Horeb, in the wild storm and the still small voice. The storm voice says concerning God—
I. HE HAS AUGUST FORCES AT COMMAND. Nature forces are sublime in themselves, but they represent moral and spiritual forces far more sublime.
II. HIS FORCES ARE ALTOGETHER OUT OF MAN'S LIMITATION. Tempest makes us feel this. All the combined powers of all humanity could not stop a flash of lightning or silence a peal of thunder. What makes the storm so trying to us is the sense it brings of our utter helplessness. But that lesson man needs to learn in a thousand ways, and over and over again.
III. HIS FORCES MAY BE USED IN MISSIONS OF JUDGMENT. The lightning strikes some. The storm may damage much. And though we may not say in a particular case the lightning stroke is a particular judgment on the individual, we do properly get the impression of God's power to carry out the Divine threatening.
IV. HIS FORCES, HOWEVER USED, HELP US FULLY TO REALIZE HIMSELF. There is constant danger of men's being satisfied with one-sided views of God. Christianity exalts his love; therefore it is needful to qualify our view of God by the nature-teachings and the older revelations.—R.T.
Men's own gods.
The figures which men worshipped in the olden time were either shaped of wood or molten metal; but in either case they were hand carved or hand graven, finished off by man's skill; and to set prominently the fact of man's share in their making, they are called "graven" images. It does not matter what form a man's god may take—whether it be a creation of his hand or of his imagination; the thing that makes it an idol, a vanity, an altogether unworthy thing, is that it is his. Man is a dependent creature. He did not make himself; he has a Maker. He does not want a God; he has a God. Whatever a man makes is less than the man. The god a man makes must be an inferior being to himself; and so cannot be really his God.
I. THE INFLUENCES ON MEN OF WORSHIPPING THEIR OWN GODS. As they have no standard beyond themselves, there is no hope of their rising higher in intellectual or moral attainments. And men make their gods to represent what they like—their pleasures. So their gods are always actually lower than their best selves, and the worship of them must debase and degrade them. This is abundantly illustrated by the immorality of all heathenism, both formal and intellectual.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF MEN'S WORSHIPPING THEIR OWN GODS. They must come into a "confounding." Life brings round the strain-times when the helplessness of idols is revealed. Illustrate by the helplessness of the Baal priests in the great testing day of Carmel. Intellectual idols, in which men boast themselves now, can provide no cheer for sorrow, no light for death.
III. THE INFLUENCES ON MEN OF WORSHIPPING THE ONE GOD. They have the inspiration of an absolute standard. They can always see in God what they ought to be, what they might be, and what they should strive to be. They can always find in God something beyond them, something that they are not. High thoughts of God draw us on to noble attainments.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF MEN'S WORSHIPPING THE ONE GOD. They are never "confounded." They do receive Divine help. They are lifted above all fear of nature forces or of human forces that may be arrayed against them.—R.T.
Our attitude toward evil.
"Hate evil." In Scripture the term "evil" is employed in two senses—calamity and wrong doing. We can only "hate evil" when it stands for wrong doing. But it is necessary to carefully distinguish between hate of the wrong doer and hate of the wrong doing. The first is never right, the second is always right. We are to hate our own wrong doing, and to hate other people's. The term "hate" is also used in Scripture in two senses. Sometimes it means "feel intense dislike towards;' sometimes it means "put in the second place of your regard." The use of the term as applied to evil, and as representing the attitude towards evil of those who love God, may be seen in the other synonymous terms used in the Bible.
1. To hate is to eschew. A strong term, applying to something found unpleasant in the mouth, and therefore cast out. Of Job as an upright man it is said, "He feared God, and eschewed evil."
2. To hate is to depart from. So the psalmist (Job 24:14) bids us "depart from evil, and do good."
3. To hate is to abhor. The Apostle Paul (Romans 12:9) bids us "abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good." Gibbes says, "A man may know his hatred of evil to be true, first, if it be universal: he that hates sin truly hates all sin. Secondly, true hatred is fixed; there is no appeasing it but by abolishing the thing hated. Thirdly, hatred is a more rooted affection than anger; anger may be appeased, but hatred remains and sets itself against the whole kind. Fourthly, if our hatred be true, we hate all evil, in ourselves first, and then in others. Fifthly, he that hates sin truly hates the greatest sin in the greatest measure. Sixthly, our hatred is right if we can endure admonition and reproof for sin, and not be enraged." The points that may be opened and illustrated are these—
I. THE HATE WE CHERISH FOR EVIL IS AN INWARD FEELING. Show the natural repulsion of the pure minded from foul conversation. Those who love God become like minded with God; and so inwardly feel sin to be "the abominable thing."
II. THE HATE WE CHERISH FOR EVIL WILL FIND OUTWARD EXPRESSION.
1. In separation from it.
2. In resistance of it.
3. In fighting with it.
But never in any persecution of, or unauthorized attempts to punish, the wrong doers.—R.T.
Our Soul preserver.
It has always been a source of questioning and doubting to anxious minded men, such as the Psalmist Asaph, that God does not always preserve the bodies, or the circumstances, of his servants. But this ought to be no surprise to those who apprehend that God promises to preserve the soul; and he may, sometimes, be actually preserving the soul by not preserving the body. But perhaps this involves the higher Christian idea of the soul. In the older Scripture, and sometimes in the newer, the word "soul" is equivalent to "life;" and preservation of natural life is the thing assured. Take the promise in its twofold sense.
I. GOD PRESERVES OUR NATURAL LIFE. We press that truth into the familiar saying, "Man is immortal till his work is done." Nothing can ever touch a man's life save on God's permission. Evil of circumstance can never of itself rise to that height. Illustrate by the permissions and restrictions given to the "Satan" of the Book of Job. But our Lord raises an argument on God's care of our life. He who keeps alive will surely provide. The Preserver of our soul is surely the Provider of our need. What we may ever need of deliverance is guaranteed in the grace of our Preserver. Keeper always, Redeemer at call of our need.
II. GOD PRESERVES OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE. That is our supreme treasure; or rather, that is our true, our permanent self. Natural, animal life we do but share with the animals, and we can have it but for a time; circumstances are only the surroundings of our time of probation. They may all go, and we remain. What we are, when we have done with circumstances, and have ended our animal life, is the matter of supreme concern to us. It is, then, the soul character that God preserves and delivers; as the apostle says, "He will keep that we have committed to him unto the great day." Not a thing we have, and say we own, is safe. All may take wing and flee away. But with absolute confidence we may say, "He shall preserve our soul."—R.T.
The harvest for the righteous.
"Light is sown." Light is the type of everything pleasant. Perhaps it is conceived of here as hidden, like seed, in the ground. God's people no more see light about their paths than men can see seeds in the ground. They walk in darkness. But the seeds are there, and the light is there. And one day there will surely be revealings both for the seeds and the light—a harvest of the seeds, a harvest of the light. Perowne and others think that the verb "sown" is to be taken in the sense of "scattered," "diffused;" but the figure of light as hidden at present and waiting for a revealing day, is certainly more poetical and suggestive. Professor Grove gives the material for an effective illustration. "Marvellous as it may appear, light can actually be bottled up for use. Take an engraving which has been kept for some days in the dark; expose it to full sunshine—that is, insulate it—for fifteen minutes; lay it on sensitive paper in a dark place, and at the end of twenty-four hours it will have left an impression of itself on the sensitive paper, the whites coming out as blacks." Take "light" for vindication and blessing, see—
I. LIGHT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS IS ACTUALLY IN EXISTENCE. They may not see it, but that does not matter. The farmer does not see his seed. God's response to all goodness is immediate; but he often keeps his response a secret until the right time for revealing comes. There is comfort and strength in knowing that the light exists.
II. LIGHT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS IS IN GOOD KEEPING. AS the earth keeps the seed, so God keeps vindication, full deliverance, and blessedness for the righteous. See the figure of martyr souls safely kept under the altar, only crying, "How long, O Lord, how long?" There is comfort and strength in knowing that the light is safe.
III. LIGHT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS MUST BREAK FORTH SOME DAY. As surely as grass blades will show from the seeds, and loaded wains carry home the harvest. The time for breaking forth will be God's time, and that is, in every way, the best time.—R.T.
The inspiration of cherished memories.
"Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." Why does not the psalmist say, "at the thought of his holiness"? See that his point is this—you may be full of perplexity as you try to understand God's dealings with you just now; but you can always get comfort from thinking of God's ways with you in the past. And then you can very easily argue from what God has always been to what God surely is.
I. THE PLEASURE OF OUR CHERISHED MEMORIES. We love to live in the past. Like the old soldiers, we are always "fighting our battles o'er." As we grow older, we find more and more pleasure in thinking of our early days—school day scenes; youthful friendships; opening struggles; first love. But the Christian finds his great interest in tracing God's guiding hand. He has no doubt at all about God's goodness and mercy as he reads over his past. Life seems to him dotted over with pillars, on which over and over again he has written his "Ebenezer" And the "rightness," the "holiness," of God is the thing that so much impresses him. He can see how God led, and where he led, and can say, "It was a good way." Verily the "Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works."
II. THE ARGUMENT FROM OUR CHERISHED MEMORIES. Whatever may be the appearances of things, God is the Unchangeable One; the Rock; the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we know what he was, we know what he is. The better we know what he has been, the more fully and clearly we know what he is doing. No friend can bear that we should doubt that he will always be what we know him to be. We ourselves are distressed when those about us seem to fear lest we should be other than they know us to be. Never distrust God. All the ages tell what he has done, and what he was, and what he is.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The Divine character and government.
"Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and truth are the foundation of his throne."
I. WE ARE OFTEN IN DOUBT AND DIFFICULTY ABOUT THE DIVINE CHARACTER AND GOVERNMENT, "Clouds and darkness are round about him." We cannot reconcile all we see with:
1. Divine omnipotence. Abortions. The means do not attain the end.
2. Divine wisdom. Or the wisdom was not perfect.
3. Divine justice.
4. Divine goodness.
II. AN OVERPOWERING CONVICTION THAT THE DIVINE CHARACTER AND GOVERNMENT ARE PERFECT.
1. We feel that we are incapable judges of an infinite plan. We only see a part, therefore we cannot understand the whole.
2. What we can see and understand gives us unbounded faith in God in reference to what we cannot understand.
3. We feel assured that God is able to overrule what seems evil for final good. "All things work together for good."—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 97". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent