Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE BEGINNING OF THE PSALM. In this he ingeniously pointeth at those rocks against which he was like to have split his soul.
II. THE MIDDLE OF THE PSALM. In this he candidly confesseth his ignorance and folly to have been the chiefest foundation of his fault.
III. THE END OF THE PSALM. In this he gratefully kisseth that hand which led him out of the labyrinth. Such is the clear and accurate summing up of the contents of this psalm by an old Puritan divine. Should any of us, unhappily, find our own portraiture in the conduct told of at the beginning, may it not be long ere the middle and the end of the psalm portray us equally well! - S.C.
I. HIS TEMPTATION.
1. It was a very terrible one. (See ver. 2, "My feet were almost gone," etc.) How honest the Bible is! It tells the whole truth about men, and good men, too. It shows them tempted, and all but overcome.
2. It arose from his seeing the prosperity of the wicked. A sight, to Old Testament saints, very hard to bear. For they had not our knowledge of the life eternal. Ver. 24 is no disproof of this statement. For had it meant, as we so commonly take it to mean, the being received to the future "glory" of God's redeemed in heaven, how was it that so large a portion of the Jews in our Lord's time did not believe in any future life at all, and that our Lord had to turn to the (to us) apparently irrelevant declaration, "I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac," etc., when, if the common interpretation be right, there was this and other plain Scriptures like it to appeal to? Hence, and for yet other reasons, we hold that the Old Testament saints had not the knowledge of the future life and the recompenses that should be accorded them. Therefore to them the sight of what seemed to be injustice - such as the prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the good - was especially painful; for they knew of no remedy.
3. And it wrought him much harm. He became envious and bitter, vers. 4-14 are one long protest and complaint against God; and sullen - "as a beast before thee;" and miserable - "it was too painful for me." And it all but overthrew him (ver. 2). Such was Asaph's trial.
II. OURS IS THE SAME TODAY. We see just what Asaph did; and we are tempted to say, as many do say, "The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom, nor, indeed, wisdom at all;" and so they will have nothing to do with it. But our excuse is far less than that of Asaph, since clearer light and fuller knowledge are ours. Nevertheless, the facts of life do lead to unbelief, if we look only at them. Men feel that right ought to prevail. When we were children, we were told that it would. But very often, so far as we can see, it does not. We look at nature, and it appears utterly immoral, because cruel, relentless, unforgiving, murderous to the weak, favouring only the strong. We read history, and bow often it records only the triumph of the wicked and the abasement of the good! Society, also, is ordered on anything but a morally righteous basis. And do we not everywhere see the innocent suffering for the guilty, involved in their sin, and bearing their doom? It is not merely the suffering, though so great, that gives rise to unbelief in God, but the seeming injustice of its allotment. And hence, today, the drear cynicism and unbelief of the Book of Ecclesiastes tells the thought of not a few. But note -
III. SOME SURE SAFEGUARDS AGAINST THIS TEMPTATION. See how Asaph found deliverance, and came at length to the conclusion which he avows in the opening verse of this psalm.
1. He held his tongue - did not talk about his doubts, but kept them to himself, so far as men were concerned (ver. 15).
2. He laid them all before God. (Ver. 17.) He "went into the sanctuary." He prayed, but did not argue. And the result was that he came to see facts in their true light; that the ungodly man's wealth meant but so many "slippery places." Death for him was "destructions" and its certain prospect caused him to be "utterly consumed with terrors;" and even at his best he was "despised" of the Lord (vers. 19, 20). Thus Asaph's envy was turned into pity, as well it might be.
3. He realized the love of God. He gained this by honest confession of the sin of which God had convicted him (vers. 21, 22). Also by calling to mind the love which God had shown him (ver. 23); the care exercised over him; and the sure prospect of blessedness set before him. Thus there came a great rush of love in his heart toward God (ver. 25); and the settled persuasion both of the misery of being far from God (ver. 27), and of the blessedness of drawing near to him (ver. 28). Thus the mist and darkness cleared away, as, on the mount of communion with God, they ever will. - S.C.
I. HIS DANGER. Expressed in the second, thirteenth, and twenty-second verses.
1. The example and sophistries of the wicked had nearly wrought his own downfall. His feet had been tempted by their prosperity to forsake the ways of righteousness, and he had almost fallen into their infidelity.
2. His faith in righteousness had been nearly lost. (Ver. 13.) In vain had he cleansed his inward and outward life - at least, he was tempted to think so for a time.
3. Others had been induced to follow the example of the wicked. (Ver. 10.) "Therefore turn his people after them, and at the full stream (of their prosperity) would slake their thirst" (Perowne).
II. THE CAUSE OF HIS DANGER. (Vers. 4-9.)
1. The wicked and atheistic seemed prosperous and happy. They had no trouble, no sorrows that hasten their death ("bands"). They are proud and violent, oppressive and defiant of the heavens. All these are hasty and superficial estimates of the experience of the wicked.
2. He himself was troubled and chastened continually. (Ver. 14.) He who had been at such pains to cleanse his heart and hands. This was mystery that bewildered him.
3. But he restrains the utterance of his doubts to others. (Ver. 15.) He forebore to shake the faith of others, and cause them to stumble.
III. REASSURANCE BY THE RECOVERY OF HIS FAITH. (Vers. 17-28.)
1. He found the solution in the light of God's presence. (Ver. 17.) The sanctuary was the symbol of God's presence. Hitherto he had studied the matter only in the light of human experience; now in the light of God's righteous character.
2. Their prosperity would come to a sudden end. (Vers. 18-20.)
3. Communion with God is the realization of our highest destiny, not any unknown good. (Vers. 23-28.) - S.
I. NOTE SOME OF THEM.
1. The doubt and darkness of unbelief caused by brooding over the mysteries of providence (cf. Jeremiah 48:11).
2. Terrible temptation. See Joseph in prison, Moses in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, the martyrs. "The righteous scarcely are saved."
3. When brought very low, as the prodigal son was, by our own sin. Then the crisis is when we have to decide whether we will turn back to God or go on in our sin. The prodigal went back to his father; Ephraim was joined to his idols, and, like Amon, "sinned more and more." How many are in heaven now who once were all but lost! David, Manasseh, Peter, the penitent thief, Mary Magdalene, and many more.
II. WHAT SUCH INSTANCES TEACH US.
1. Never to despair of any one. God can save them.
2. Never to presume for ourselves. "Let him that thinketh he standeth," etc.
3. Great thankfulness, if we are kept.
4. Deep sympathy with those who fall.
5. Ever to abide in Christ. - S.C.
Psalm 55:19; Jeremiah 48:11). Thus -
I. GOD IS EVER TEACHING US THIS TRUTH.
1. In his Word. See also Hebrews 12, and the biographies of God's people in all ages. The history of the Church as given in Scripture abundantly reveals God's merciful law of change.
2. By analogy. God suffers nothing to be without change. Even the rocks and hills, the solid globe, are all subject to change. The seasons alternate. Storm and tempest make pure the air which, as in the Swiss valleys, would otherwise become stagnant. The great sea is "troubled, that it can never be quiet." In plant life, "except a corn of wheat fall into," etc. The processes of change are varied and ever acting in the entire vegetable world. And so in animal life. Not to experience change would be death. And it is so with the mind. No change there is idiocy. It must be stirred by the incoming of fresh truth, and the readjustment of old. In social life -
"The old order changeth, giving place to new, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world." In ecclesiastical life. What was the Reformation but the tempest that rushed through the valleys of the Church life of that day, where the air had become so stagnant and corrupt that men could not live? And it is so in political and in moral life. Much peace is much peril. "Because men have no changes they fear not God." We cannot glide into the kingdom of God, nor, as the well known hymn mistakenly teaches that we may - "Sit and sing ourselves away II. BUT WHY IS ALL THIS? Because in our nature there are rooted evils, which can only be got rid of by the action of this law of change. Such as: 1. Self-will. See the stream come brawling noisily along, as it descends through the valley down from the hill. But, lying right in its way, lo! there is a huge rook. Down comes the stream full tilt towards it, as if it would say, "Just you get out of my way." But that is exactly what the rock does not do; and so the angry stream dashes against it. And oh, what rage and riot, what fret and fume, there at once arises! But if you wait a moment, and watch, you will see that the stream seems to be thinking what it had better do; for lo! it glides softly, smoothly, quietly round the rook, which still stands stubbornly and relentlessly just where it stood before. The stream seems to have learnt a lesson - it has become all at once so gentle and submissive. Now, that is one of the ten thousand natural parables with which the world is full. The stream of our self-will, determined to go its own way, rushes on its course; but the rock of God's law of change, sending adversity and trial, stands in its way, and will not move, and self-will is broken against it, as God intended it should be. Only so can this evil be cured. 2. Pride. Trouble and sorrow humble men, and bring down the haughty spirit. 3. Unbelief. The materialism and atheism of the day are shattered by this law. In the day of distress, the soul cannot keep from calling upon God. 4. Selfishness. Ease fosters this as it fosters so much more that is evil; but trial often teaches men to think of others as well as of themselves. 5. And so with indolence and the love of the world. To be "in trouble as other men are" has a salutary power to rouse men from the one and to loose them from the other. And what opportunity does this law of change give for bearing testimony to the sustaining power of God's grace! Trouble endured with patient God-given courage is a mighty argument for God, the force of which all feel. III. WHAT SHOULD BE OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS THIS LAW? 1. Faint not; fret not; fear not. 2. Humble yourself beneath the mighty hand of God, so that you may secure the blessing your trouble is destined to bring. - S.C.
"Sit and sing ourselves away
II. BUT WHY IS ALL THIS? Because in our nature there are rooted evils, which can only be got rid of by the action of this law of change. Such as:
1. Self-will. See the stream come brawling noisily along, as it descends through the valley down from the hill. But, lying right in its way, lo! there is a huge rook. Down comes the stream full tilt towards it, as if it would say, "Just you get out of my way." But that is exactly what the rock does not do; and so the angry stream dashes against it. And oh, what rage and riot, what fret and fume, there at once arises! But if you wait a moment, and watch, you will see that the stream seems to be thinking what it had better do; for lo! it glides softly, smoothly, quietly round the rook, which still stands stubbornly and relentlessly just where it stood before. The stream seems to have learnt a lesson - it has become all at once so gentle and submissive. Now, that is one of the ten thousand natural parables with which the world is full. The stream of our self-will, determined to go its own way, rushes on its course; but the rock of God's law of change, sending adversity and trial, stands in its way, and will not move, and self-will is broken against it, as God intended it should be. Only so can this evil be cured.
2. Pride. Trouble and sorrow humble men, and bring down the haughty spirit.
3. Unbelief. The materialism and atheism of the day are shattered by this law. In the day of distress, the soul cannot keep from calling upon God.
4. Selfishness. Ease fosters this as it fosters so much more that is evil; but trial often teaches men to think of others as well as of themselves.
5. And so with indolence and the love of the world. To be "in trouble as other men are" has a salutary power to rouse men from the one and to loose them from the other. And what opportunity does this law of change give for bearing testimony to the sustaining power of God's grace! Trouble endured with patient God-given courage is a mighty argument for God, the force of which all feel.
III. WHAT SHOULD BE OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS THIS LAW?
1. Faint not; fret not; fear not.
2. Humble yourself beneath the mighty hand of God, so that you may secure the blessing your trouble is destined to bring. - S.C.
I. THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE LED ASTRAY. For by "his people" many understand the people of God to be meant, and that they, allured and ensnared by the glitter of earthly prosperity, turn from the ways of God to follow after these ungodly ones. "They are led away by the evil example, just as the psalmist confesses he himself was;" and they turn after them. (Cf. "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.") How often this happens' But what is meant by the "waters of a full cup," etc.? Either the cup of unholy pleasure, which they drain to the dregs; or else it is, as in Psalm 80:5, and as actual experience attests, that when God's people go astray, as here represented, it will be a full cup of sorrow and tears that they will have to drink, as indeed they do. The most miserable of men are backsliders from God. It cannot but be so. This is what our translators meant to imply by their rendering. But another meaning that the words warrant is -
II. A CROWD FOLLOW THEM, THAT IS, THE UNGODLY. The people spoken of are the crowd of hangers on to the prosperous - those who will try to find favour with the rich and great of this world. The Prayer book Version thus sets it forth: "Therefore the people fall unto them, and thereout suck they no small advantage." These hangers on are the people who attach themselves to the world's rich ones, and "who gather like sheep to the water trough," in hopes of what they may get. But whether they get anything or no, the ungodly whom they follow do; they "suck no small advantage." They are yet more worshipped and fawned upon, and have ready to hand innumerable and willing tools to serve their purpose and to bring more "grist to their mill." And the result is that they get more proud and arrogant than ever (see ver. 11). But, child of God, whoe'er thou art, say to thy soul, "My soul, come not thou into their secret."
III. THE PEOPLE OF GOD HAVE TO SUFFER BITTER PERSECUTION. So the Chaldee, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate seem to understand the words. The wicked turn upon God's people, who are, in consequence, "fed with the bread of tears, and have given to them tears to drink without measure" (Psalm 80:5). It is the predestined lot of the people of God; but our Saviour tells us that it is a blessed portion. The last and chiefest of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) declares, "Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you," etc. And it is so; for it shows, by your endurance of persecution, that you have found out the preciousness of the love of God, and know assuredly that, for the sake of it, you may be well content to die. That is knowledge which is, here and now, life eternal. May God keep us from exemplifying the first of these interpretations, and from forming part of that miserable crowd told of in the second! but if we are found amongst the third, then Christ will call us his blessed ones. - S.C.
What have I, but - Whom? Things, however many, rich, glorious, beautiful, cannot satisfy the soul, neither in heaven any more than on earth. Not in things, but in persons, the personal soul must find its portion. And not in many, but in One; to whom the soul can look, to whom at all times it can come, and to whom, as here, it can lift up its cry, "Thou art the Strength of my heart, and my Portion forever." But -
I. SUCH DELIGHT IN GOD HAS BEEN HELD TO BE IMPOSSIBLE. For example:
1. Calvin, a learned, devout, and in the main a true expositor of Scripture, but sadly wanting in those more gentle and tender instincts which are absolutely essential to its full and accurate understanding, has, in commenting on our text, actually said, "If we give the smallest portion of our affections to the creatures, we in so far defraud God of the honour which belongs to him." Now, that is utterly untrue and in dire contradiction to the Word which says, "If we love not our brother, whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?"
2. And there are many devout souls haunted with the fear that, in loving those around them with the intense affection which they know they bear towards them, they are somehow defrauding God of what is due only to him. And yet more, when they compare the love which they have for God with the love which they cherish for those dear to them on earth, the latter love seems so much warmer and deeper than the former that, when they come to a text like this, they hesitate, and confess to themselves that such words are not for them - for them they would not be true. And they are sore troubled about this, and scarce know what to do. They would like to be able to say them, but they feel they cannot. Now, of course, there are many people in whom it would be hypocrisy, gross and palpable, were they to speak as does the psalmist here. They are cold, hard, worldly, and so earth-bound that they never think about loving God. The utmost you can get from them is a vague confession that they "suppose they ought to." But we are thinking of really devout, godly souls, who nevertheless sorrowfully confess that the words of our text, and the many others like them, are far beyond what they can say. Such people believe, apparently, that, though our blessed Lord has commanded them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, they do not, and they doubt if any one ever has done so, or can. They do not seem to see how serious is the charge they thus bring against the Lord - that he has commanded what it is impossible to obey. Earthly parents do not deal with their children so, but they seem to think our heavenly Father does.
II. BUT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR US, NEVERTHELESS.
1. Here, at any rate, stands one declaration of it. The psalmist, if he did not express, as we are certain he did, his own deep and sincere feeling, must have been the victim of delusion, or else a wretched hypocrite. But who thinks that?
2. And he is not alone in such utterance. The psalms are full of them, and we have already referred to the first and great commandment. The New Testament also speaks of "perfect love" - just that sentiment which our text tells of.
3. And there have been and are thousands of souls in which such love dwells, to whom God is their "exceeding Joy," whose supreme delight is in God.
4. And what seems to does not really contradict this. For consider the elements of our love to God. They are - complete distrust of self; confidence in God only for the supply of our souls' deepest needs, such as pardon, peace, purity, eternal life; holy reverence and awe and gratitude. But all these are far other than what we cherish to our fellow men; so that they do not clash one with the other. On the contrary, the lower love may help the higher, and the higher cannot exist if the lower do not.
III. BUT IF SUCH SUPREME DELIGHT IN GOD BE POSSIBLE, IT IS ALSO INFINITELY DESIRABLE. All life, even the most mean and poor, becomes transformed, transfigured, glorified, by means of it. The soul becomes independent of all earthly favour, and heeds not this world's frown, nor all "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Unspeakably blest, and blessing is the characteristic of the soul in whom this love of God dwells. See Paul's "sorrowful, but always rejoicing," etc.
IV. IT IS ATTAINED THROUGH OBEDIENCE AND TRUST. "He that keepeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me," said our Lord. Such obedience is not only the fruit, but the root, of the love which grows out of it. We obey, and we come to love him whom we obey. Serving is the secret - not alone the sign, but the source also - of loving. Our love for our children is in proportion to the sacrifices we make for them. It is so everywhere and forever. - S.C.
I. THE FAILING OF HEART AND FLESH here told of.
1. Some understand this as the result of his foolish conflict with God; and here, as all who contend with God are, he was worsted and brought low.
2. Others, as telling of his passionate desire after God, how he was "sick of love," broken down with his longing for God.
3. Others, as telling of his heavy load of trouble. "He had a God's rod instead of a good piece of bread for his breakfast every morning; and the table was covered with sackcloth, and furnished with the same bitter herbs both at dinner and supper."
4. Anyway, it is a fact that heart and flesh do fail, both of the evil and of the good. The best herbs wither as well as the worst weeds. There is no discharge in this war.
5. What a rebuke it is to those whose treasures are all of the world!
II. THE STRENGTHENING GOD. How does he accomplish his gracious work?
1. By his Spirit in our hearts.
2. By his Word of promise for the future. The Spirit and the Word are his "rod and staff," which comfort us. - S.C.
I. IT IS SO BY WAY OF CONTRAST WITH WHAT HE HAD BEEN DOING - wearying himself to understand the hidden ways of God, the labyrinth of his providence. No good had come of that, but only evil. Gotthold, in his 'Emblems,' tells us of the freaks of his child. The father was one day sitting in his study, and when he lifted his eyes from his book, he saw, standing upon the window ledge, his little son. He was terribly frightened, for the child stood there in utmost peril of falling to the ground and being dashed to pieces. The little lad had been anxious to know what his father was doing so many hours in the day in his study, and he had at last, by a ladder, managed, with boyish daring, to climb up, till there he stood outside the window, gazing at his father with all his eyes. "So," said the father, as he took the child into his chamber, and rebuked him for his folly - "so have I often tried to climb into the council chamber of God, to see why and wherefore he did this and that; and thus have I exposed myself to peril of falling to my own destruction."
II. BECAUSE OF WHAT IT IMPLIES.
1. That he was at peace with God. A soul unreconciled cannot draw near.
2. That he knew the way. He had learned the blessed but difficult art of drawing near; for drawing near is of the heart, not of the lips merely; and Satan will always try, and too often he succeeds, to hinder that.
3. He had found how good it was by his own experience.
III. BECAUSE THE LIGHT IS SO MUCH BETTER in the region near God. What a fog and mist he was in until he "went into the sanctuary of God," and drew near to him! We see things truly there as we cannot elsewhere.
IV. THE TEMPESTS OF THE SOUL DIE DOWN THERE. It is the region of blessed calm.
V. THE AIR IS SO INVIGORATING. God is "the Health of my countenance," "the Strength of my heart."
VI. IS NOT GOD OUR GOD, OUR OWN GOD, OUR SOUL'S HOME? Where, then, can we be better than at home? - S.C.