Psalm 111
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This is the theme of the psalm. These works are named six times in this short psalm. They are the occasion and cause of the fervent praise, and exhortation to praise, with which the psalm begins. It is one of the nine alphabetical psalms; that is, psalms so arranged for aiding the memory. Psalm 119. is the most conspicuous instance of this. In the psalm before us the alphabet is not complete. An interesting and instructive study is to reproduce in English this same structure, being careful not to alter the sense. It has often been done. The psalm opens with a summons to all to praise the Lord, and declares the psalmist's purpose to do so himself, both amongst those who sympathized with him - "the assembly of the upright" - and amongst those, many of whom did not - "the congregation." It is easy to praise the Lord amongst people who are all of the same mind as ourselves, but not so easy where there is indifference or hostility. But the psalmist declares that amid both he will praise the Lord. And the inspiration of his praise is the works of the Lord. He makes six affirmations concerning them.

I. THEY ARE GREAT. (Ver. 2.) There can be no question as to this, whatever true test of greatness we adopt - motives, methods, spirit, results. Especially is this true of God's chief work in the redemption of man by our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is true everywhere, in nature, providence, grace. The question for us to consider is - Are they great to us? Too many men despise them, "make light of it."

II. "SOUGHT OUT OF ALL THEM THAT HAVE PLEASURE THEREIN." Those who have pleasure in any study are the first to welcome any fresh light on their particular department of inquiry. And so in regard to the work of God in our own souls; if we know that work truly, then the study of like work of God will ever be pleasing to us. If we do not care for such study, it is an argument to prove not only that we have no pleasure, but also no part therein. Thus may we test ourselves.

III. "HONORABLE AND GLORIOUS." (Ver. 3.) This is how God's works may ever be recognized. What is otherwise is not his work. It is as the psalmist here affirms, both in regard to God and man, in regard to righteousness and mercy alike. The motive from which it sprang, the manner in which it was accomplished, and the result that follows, all deserve the praise here given.


1. This is so in regard to his work of mercy. Probably some great manifestation of God's grace led to this psalm. But especially God's great work of mercy in Christ - that is remembered and told of everywhere.

2. And so in regard to his judgment-work. Such as the Flood, the overthrow of Pharaoh at the Red Sea, the fall of Jerusalem, and other such awful displays of God's judgment. Because the Lord is gracious and full of compassion, he makes them to be remembered, that so we may not bring like judgment on ourselves.

3. His work of grace. If that has been done in our soul, we can never forget it.

V. THE POWER OF THEM HE HATH SHOWED TO HIS PEOPLE. (Ver. 6.) The Divine power, that they may have strong confidence in God, and go courageously forward to possess the heritage of the heathen.

VI. THEY ARE WORKS OF VERITY AND JUDGMENT. There is no crooked, insincere policy about them, no lack of righteousness or equity. Let our works be as his. - S.C.

The terms used seem to include the narrow and the wider spheres in which our witness for God may be, and should be, made. The Prayer-book Version brings out this point. "Secretly, among the faithful, and in the congregation." It is a point with the psalmists that God's praise can be no private thing merely, no personal indulgence or enjoyment only. If a man feels thankful to God, if a man recognizes his indebtedness to God, if a man is impressed with the greatness of God or the goodness of God, he lies under the solemn obligation to say so to somebody. If he is a sincere man, he feels the impulse to say so to somebody. He will even want to speak of these things to everybody whom he can reach. The sentences of the fortieth psalm may be taken as characteristic of the psalmists, and there is something guileful in the man who is unable or unwilling to recognize this duty of publicly witnessing for God. "I have not hid thy righteous ness within my heart: my talk hath been of thy truth, and of thy salvation. I have not kept back thy loving mercy and truth from the great congregation."

I. EACH MAN HAS A PUBLIC SPHERE OF HIS OWN. A circle outside himself, of which he is himself the center. Every man, in his own particular public sphere, is bound to make his witness for God. It is the same thing to say that every man must come into relationship with others outside himself; and these relations constitute his first public sphere. It may be a friendship. It may be the marital relation. It may be a family. It may be a business or social circle. If a man is for God, he must be active and voiceful for God in those first spheres. Illustrate by the stone thrown into a pond: it influences the waters that touch the shores only through influencing the little circle of waters just where it fell, and so on and on, through ever-widening circles.

(1) Personal influence,

(2) family influence,

(3) social influence, must be used for the convincement of the claims and goodness of God.

II. EACH MAN HAS A PLACE IN THE GENERAL PUBLIC SPHERE, The congregation is made up of individuals, and the enthusiasm of each goes to make the enthusiasm of the whole. The congregation is no mere mass of receptivity. That mistaken notion spoils much of public worship. The congregation, as an aggregate of individuals, should make common witness, by praise, thanksgiving, and testimony. But the testimony that is healthy, and inspiring to others, is testimony for God and concerning God; not that weak and enervating thing, testimony concerning individual feelings and experiences. - R.T.


1. His work in nature. Presents three aspects.

(1) The poetical.

(2) The scientific.

(3) The religions.

2. His work in providence. God in history is working out a righteous government of the world.

3. His work in redemption. This the manifestation of his grandest power - the power of God unto salvation. Three kinds of power.

(1) Physical.

(2) Intellectual.

(3) Moral or spiritual.


1. They reveal his infinite greatness. (Vers. 2-4.)

2. They reveal his unchanging righteousness. (Ver. 3.)

3. They reveal his grace and compassion to the sinful. (Vers. 4, 5.)

4. They reveal his laws for the government of our lives. (Ver. 5.) They show that obedience is the highest wisdom. (Ver. 10.) - S.

Sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. "The pleasure in God's works is in germ the best incentive to thoughtful search, and in fuller measure its sufficient reward." In regard to man's search for God, it may be properly said that what he finds depends on what he seeks, and the spirit in which he seeks. This, indeed, is true even of scientific research. A man must know what he is looking for, or he will find nothing intelligent in the revelations of telescope or microscope. A man writes, "I have searched the heavens for God during fifty long years, and have never found him yet." He did not believe there was a God, and so he never would find him. Let a man want to find God, and his search will be fully responded to. God is revealed, God reveals himself, to moral moods, and not to mere intellectual research. Souls find God, not eyes or minds.

I. GOD'S WORKS ARE BEYOND THE REACH OF WISE INTELLECTS. Men by their science can find out things, and account for the forms of things. But they cannot explain the meanings of things, or the relations of things. Nothing in the world is more uncertain and untrustworthy than wise men's theorizings. The most humiliating book could be written on the 'History of Exploded and Worn-out Theories.' Illustrate by referring to "certain cruel and loathsome practices of the animal world - as, for example, those of apes, dogs, frogs, the barbarity of the cat to the mouse, the thefts of the eagle from the fish-hawk, the rapture of nests by stronger birds who turn out their original tenants to die of cold and slow starvation, the enslaving of the black ants by the red, and sundry other habits which shock our sense of justice or of decency." The intellect of man, without guidance from the sense of God, has never found the meaning of such things. The key to them is hid from the wise, who in fact blind themselves by refusing to carry to the consideration of such things those truths concerning God which are "spiritually discerned." Nature in only an open secret to the God-fearing man.

II. GOD'S WORKS ARE WITHIN THE REACH OF LOVING HEARTS. These only are prepared to think kind things, loving things, trustful things. When we have right apprehensions of the infinitely wise and gracious Doer, such apprehensions as enable us to set our love upon him, we simply refuse to accept explanations of nature-mysteries that are dishonorable to him. They cannot be true. We pass them by. There is something better to be "sought out." Our good will toward God will keep us from resting content with anything that is unworthy of him; and we search on, assured that mystery will yield at last to love. - R.T.

I. LITERALLY, THE DECLARATION OF THE TEXT IS TRUE. Each harvest as it comes round, the daily supply of needed food, all are in evidence to support the declaration. Three facts are noted concerning this.

1. It is the Lord who is the Giver. To speak as so many do about nature and law, as if they were the producers of our food, is merely an evasion, and a not always creditable one, of the real truth.

2. The gift is the special mark of the Divine favor to his people. At once the reply arises - But are not the wicked fed as well as, and often better than, the good? Yes, this is so; but as Sodom would have been spared had there been found ten righteous men in her, so the world of the godless is spared and fed for the sake of the people of God, the salt of the earth. Without these, wherefore should God keep the world going? Therefore, though the ungodly do share, and more than share, these Divine supplies, they do not take them as gifts from God at all; still less do they believe what is the truth, that it is not for their sake, but for the sake of "them that fear him," God vouchsafes these supplies. "All things are yours," said St. Paul to the believing people of God; and his word but echoes the truth before us now.

3. They are proofs of God's faithfulness and truth. He never fails to do his part, though at times, by the cruelty and mismanagement of men, the portion of meat designed for some of his children gets terribly diminished, and even intercepted altogether. But it is the duty of them that fear God to do their best to bring such wrong to an end.

II. SPIRITUALLY ALSO IT IS TRUE. We are authorized by our Lord to take the food of the body as symbol of the food of the soul; and so read, the text is still true, and, indeed, more so than read literally.

1. Christ is that living Bread. (John 6.) And as bread is that one food which all partake of because it ministers to the physical needs of all; so Christ, the Bread of life, meets the deeper spiritual needs of all, of every age, clime, rank, character, condition.

2. And how freely and abundantly it is given, and how indispensable is it likewise!

3. But as the bread for the body, so this Bread of life must be eaten, not merely talked about, if it is to do us any good. We must receive Christ into our hearts by a true faith, and we must do this day by day continually. If we do this we shall know how true the text is. - S.C.

He will ever be mindful of his covenant. To the Jewish mind it was a source of constant satisfaction that Jehovah was actually under covenant-pledge to his people. Every look-back over the history of his race brought to view the fact, again and again, that Jehovah kept his covenant in mind. This, no doubt, seemed the more striking to him, because that same review of the history of the race revealed the fact that Israel had not kept in mind his covenant-pledge; but Jehovah's mindfulness of his covenant stood out in strong contrast with the people's unmindfulness of their covenant. See how this Divine memory of covenant becomes a ground of consolation and strength to the psalmist.

I. THE DIVINE MEMORY ENSURES PROMPT AND EFFICIENT HELP IN OUR TIMES OF NEED. It is memory of a solemn pledge to defend and succor. Illustrate by the influence which a vow, or pledge, or covenant has upon us. Illustrate by the free mason, who so solemnly pledges brotherly help to his brother freemasons wherever he may meet them. Long years after, and in distant lands, he meets a needy brother, remembers his covenant, and at once gives help and comforting and guidance. Whensoever his people are in need, God may be thought of as remembering what he has pledged. For his pledge we must look back to his entering into covenant with Abraham, and his renewing covenant with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. What Jehovah promised to be to Israel, the Father of Jesus has promised, in the new covenant, to be to us. To see the importance of the Divine memory, we should conceive what our condition would be if our God were forgetful, and willingly disregarded his promises, on which we are permitted to hope. It would be sad and hopeless indeed if we were left to keep God in mind of what he has given us to rely on. There is always rest in the confidence we have in his faithfulness. He ever "remembers his word unto his servants."

II. THE DIVINE MEMORY IMPLIES DIVINE TRIUMPH OVER HUMAN UNFAITHFULNESS. The old covenant was broken by Israel, and so God was relieved of his pledge. No one could have complained if God had refused to recognize any further obligations. That he does remember his covenant is a triumph of Divine love, which will not be frustrated, in its beneficent designs, even by man's sin. Man may forget, God will not. The glory of Jehovah, and of Jehovah-Jesus, lies in this triumph of persistent redeeming love over all our failure, neglect, and transgression. - R.T.

Are done in truth and equity (Prayerbook Version). The usual contrast to equity is "justice." Justice represents the absolute right according to standard; equity represents the practical application of justice with due consideration of circumstance. Or we may say that justice is right in the sight of God, equity is right between man and man. This distinction seems to be expressed in the words of the text, "truth" and "uprightness." Truth stands for the absolutely right. Uprightness stands for the practically right. Truth God appraises, who can read heart and motive. Uprightness man appraises, who can only estimate conduct.

I. THE WORKS OF GOD JUDGED BY THE ABSOLUTE STANDARD. "They are done in truth." There is no standard of truth or of righteousness separate from and independent of God. God himself is the Standard. We learn it by observing the things he has done. He has made his own standard. It is far above, out of reach, beyond our criticism. It embodies and expresses every virtue that we can imagine, and we look to find that all God's works are up to the standard which God himself has set. But this comes to bewilder men It is vague, speculative. Men cannot grasp any absolute things; and God's standard for himself is beyond intellectual grasp or imaginative setting. Therefore the absolute standard of truth and right is shown to us in the Person, words, and works of the Divine Son, the "Man Christ Jesus." And we can take that standard, apply it to the various works of God wrought in all the ages, and concerning everything we may say, "All his works are done in truth." It is so with the great work of redemption.

II. THE WORKS OF GOD JUDGED BY THE PRACTICAL STANDARD. The practical standard is the conception of righteousness and right, as between man and man, which is entertained in each particular age and nation. It is never perfect; but it always represents the highest and best thought attainable. Now, the psalmist is confident that all God's works, in their age, and in all ages, will even bear the testing of men's standards. They are done in "equity" as well as in "truth." - R.T.

Holy and reverend is his Name. "Reverend" here means "worthy of reverence." Horace Bushnell has a striking sentence: "This age is at the point of apogee from all the robuster notions of Deity." And therefore this age is an irreverent age. Even in the shaping of religious beliefs there are signs of undue familiarity with God. And that undue familiarity explains much of the weakness of Christian living, and lightness of Christian worship. The nineteenth century lacks awe of God.

I. JEWISH REVERENCE FOR THE NAME. Explain that in older times a name was supposed to gather up, and suggestively express, the attributes of a person. Moses asked for a name which would express God - stand for God to the people. And though the word given him was, properly, a declaration of fact rather than a name, it came to be treated as God's Name, and such a superstitious reverence for it grew up, that the Jewish people persisted in altering the vowels of it, so that never, by any accident, should they pronounce the hallowed Name. There was at least the danger of their coming to reverence the Name, rather than the Divine Being who was represented by the Name. If they did, their honoring of God was but a helpless and degrading formalism. A proper reverence for the sacred Name was enjoined in the third commandment (Exodus 20:7); and such reverence was characteristic of all loyal and saintly souls. See Abraham (Genesis 18:22-23); Jacob (Genesis 32:29); Moses (Exodus 3:13, 14); Joshua (Joshua 7:9); and also the psalmists and prophets. It may be said that reverence for the sacred Name was the key-note of the Jewish system. Of nothing were they more jealous. And if in this they were sometimes wrong, they were mostly right; for "holy and reverend is his Name."

II. CHRISTIAN REVERENCE FOR THE NAME. The Name of God revealed in Christianity is not the same as that revealed in Judaism. To the Jewish Church God is the one Existence, unique, spiritual; absolute Being. To the Christian Church God exists in relations, and only the highest and dearest of human relations is fitting to represent him. He is our Father. But that is the most reverend of all names. And the filial feeling ought to triumph over the superstitious. Show the reverence that is due from us in all our relations with the heavenly Father, the holy Father, the righteous Father. The Father-Name must never be "taken in vain." - R.T.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is the familiar statement of the Book of Proverbs (see Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10). "Here the fear of God, keeping his revealed commandments, is the key of 'wisdom,' which is the knowledge of the true end and purpose of life." The "fear of the Lord" is the Old Testament term for piety. The fear is not dread, but loving reverence, which finds its expression in ready and hearty obedience. It includes belief in God, knowledge of God, recognition of the claims of God, awe of the power and holiness of God, and the cherished sense of the presence of God. The fear of piety is a glorified fear.

I. PIETY IS THE INSPIRATION OF THEORETICAL WISDOM. It always awakens a thirst for knowledge. It has been constantly observed that when a man becomes pious he begins to become intelligent. His eyes are opened to the supreme mystery, and he wants to know all mysteries. He who becomes interested in God is sure to become interested in God's works and God's Word. And it may further be urged, that wisdom cannot be limited to the knowledge of material things which the senses can give us. There is a spiritual world apprehensible by those spiritual faculties which are only quickened by the revelation of God to the soul. The scientific man who ignores the spiritual cannot attain true wisdom. Belief in God is the absolute foundation on which alone can rest a complete knowledge of the world, of facts that are both sensible and spiritual. "Spiritual knowledge - the knowledge of self, the universe, Christ, and God - is the true knowledge. This grows out of piety - grows out of reverent love."

II. PIETY IS THE INSPIRATION OF PRACTICAL WISDOM: which is, obedience. Every man has the practical ordering of a human life, and human relations. A man of him self can only shape his life under the impulse of what he finds pleasing to himself. And no life can be ordered wisely under that rule. Man cannot act wisely if he be his own king, because he is created as a dependent being; and can no more bear fruit by leaning on himself than can the trailing vine. Dependent man must fear God. He must cherish the sense of duty; must carry out the designs of his Creator. Practical wisdom is taking our lives to God day by day, and saying, in filial love, to him, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Life is only ordered aright when God orders it. - R.T.

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