Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Thessalonians 4:6). The "avenger of blood" is a familiar figure in the Mosaic constitution. But Moses only adopted and modified an original tribal institution. The main functions of the Hebrew Goel, Avenger, or Redeemer, were three.
1. If any Hebrew had fallen into penury, and been compelled to part with his ancestral estate, the family avenger was bound to redeem it and restore it.
2. If any Hebrew had been taken captive, or had sold himself as a slave, the goel had to buy him back, and set him free.
3. If any Hebrew had suffered wrong, or had been killed, the goel had to exact compensation for the wrong, or to avenge the murder. It is evident that the psalmist lived in a time when wickedness triumphed in high places. We may think of the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, when the condition of Jehovah's prophets and people seemed to be hopeless; they could only cry mightily to God, seeking his preservations and his deliverances. The psalmist had no confidence in the existing rulers, who should have been the avengers of all the poor, the wronged, and the distressed. He had confidence in God, of whom it can be said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay."
I. MAN CANNOT AVENGE HIMSELF.
1. Because those who wrong him are often quite beyond his reach or control.
2. Because he has not at command the requisite forces.
3. Because he is not self master enough to temper justice with mercy.
4. Because he cannot be strictly judicial, but is sure to spoil his avengings by introducing personal feeling.
5. Because he is in grave peril of injuring himself in his avengings.
II. MAN MAY RESTFULLY LET GOD AVENGE HIM.
1. Because his power is sufficient.
2. His self-restraints are perfect.
3. His time is best.
4. His avengings prove to be blessings both for the wronged and for the wrong doer. - R.T.
I. A PRAYER FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF WICKED OPPRESSORS. (Vers. 1, 2.) Probably in anticipation of the Assyrian invasion.
II. THE GROUND OF THE PRAYER - THE INSOLENT AND ATHEISTIC SPIRIT OF THEIR CRUEL WORK. (Vers. 3-7.) They murder the fatherless, and say, "Jehovah seeth not?"
III. THE BLINDNESS AND CONTEMPT OF GOD THEY SHOW. (Vers. 8-11.) All sin implies this.
IV. THE BLESSED REST AND CONFIDENCE OF THOSE WHO ARE CHASTENED AND TAUGHT OF GOD. (Vers. 12-15.) "Judgment cannot always be perverted - cannot always fail."
V. THE DEEP CONVICTION OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS DERIVED FROM PAST EXPERIENCE. (Vers. 16-19.)
VI. AN ANTICIPATION OF RETRIBUTION ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED UPON THE WICKED. (Vers. 20-23.) - S.
present judging needs to be set more clearly before the Christian mind. Our notion of the Judge is of one who, at a fixed time, holds a grand assize; and this notion helps to shape our figure of a single final judgment. But the Israelite thought of judging, magistracy, as the most important continuous function of his king, which every faithful king would exercise daily, sitting in the gate to hear and decide all causes that might be presented, and so coming into constant judicial relation to the life of the people. Shifting God's judgment on to a future great assize should not be allowed to loosen our Christian sense of God's present rule as involving a present magistracy, and present punishments and rewards. Read life aright, and the signs of a present Divine magistracy will abundantly appear.
I. GOD THE JUDGE IS DISTINGUISHING IN DIFFICULT CASES. Illustrate from the nisi prius courts. Constantly in life we find ourselves bewildered. We do not know what to think, or what to do, or where to go. We are in danger of being carried away by the merely attractive. If we will but wait, God will surely decide for us, and make the right for us quite unquestionable.
II. GOD THE JUDGE IS RECOGNIZING AND REWARDING THE RIGHTEOUS. We never have any doubt of this until we become impatient, and want the recognition at once. Because the Judge is also the Sanctifier, he may delay the reward which he decides to be due. But he is keen to notice everything that is good.
III. GOD THE JUDGE IS THE PUNISHER OF ALL THE WICKED. We need never be deceived by the apparent prosperity of the unjust. It is part of their judgment. It is making them top-heavy in preparation for some irremediable fall. - R.T.
I. SUPPOSE THEY NEVER DID.
1. Then the devil would be right when he asked, "Doth Job serve God for nought?" He meant to say that men serve God only from selfish, interested motives.
2. Men would want to sin, though from fear they held back. The heart would remain unchanged, character would be the same.
3. The essential discipline and test of the righteous would be destroyed. We are tested when, though we see the wicked triumph, we still cleave to God.
4. The wicked would wax worse and worse. "The strength of sin is the Law."
5. It would be a confession that men cannot be governed by higher motives than earthly gain.
II. SUPPOSE THEY ALWAYS DID.
1. Earth would become hell, because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein.
2. The faith and fear of God would disappear.
III. SUPPOSE THEY SOMETIMES DO. This is the case. And sometimes they appear generally to triumph. Nevertheless, it is not always, nor for long. But the present order avails:
1. To glorify God by the fidelity of his people.
2. To lift them to a higher life.
3. To convince the world of the reality of the faith the believer holds. - S.C.
Revelation 6:10 as crying from under the altar of God, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
I. THE TETHER OF THE UNGODLY IS FIXED FOR THE HONOUR OF GOD. He will not permit his Name to be dishonoured or his work to be hindered. Nebuchadnezzar finds he has reached the limit of his tether when he begins to boast himself against God. Herod reaches his limit when, unreproved, he allows the people to shout concerning him, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man." Because God is and must be supreme, every man is under limitations. Against that men fret, but they can only hopelessly fret.
II. THE TETHER OF THE UNGODLY IS FIXED FOR THE SAFETY OF GOD'S PEOPLE. "What can harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?" The figure is presented of Satan, the deceiver and persecutor of the saints, as bound for a thousand years. He is always bound. See the figure of Satan, in the Book of Job, obliged to get Divine permission ere he can touch Job, or a thing that Job has. Even the malice of persecuting ages, and the shameless wickedness of the Inquisition, were in Divine limitations.
III. THE TETHER OF THE UNGODLY IS FIXED IN THE INTERESTS OF THE UNGODLY THEMSELVES. Illustrate from the antediluvians. Their life tether was about a thousand years, so they became gigantic in wickedness. What would proud, vicious men become now, if they could get free from Divine restraints? Mercy puts limits on the wicked. - R.T.
I. ITS NATURE. It is an argument from what we see in ourselves to what exists in God. If God has given to us certain powers, such powers must exist in him.
II. ITS FORCE. It is inconceivable that it should be otherwise. A man must have brutalized his soul, and become a fool, not to see this. God is not as man is - the mere employer of force which he does not and cannot create, but he is behind all force, its Creator and Source.
III. ITS SAFEGUARD.
1. For this argument needs guarding. If it be said that the presence of faculties in ourselves proves the existence of them in God, which is the argument in these verses, then might it not be said God is the author of the sin that is in us as well as the good, of that which is wrong as well as of that which is right? The heathen thought so, and hence they regarded their gods as altogether like themselves - embodiments of not merely good qualities, but also of lust and hate and all abomination. The idea of a holy God they never knew. And sinful men now often say, "God made us so," and thus cast on him the responsibility for their sin. "He that planted in me the love of sin, doth he not love it too?" So they falsely reason.
2. But how must such wrong extension of the argument of these verses be met? By noting that man has not merely the powers of thought, feeling, will, but also of conscience. This last is the regal, the judicial faculty, and decides what is of God, and what is only the product of our corrupt nature. Apart from conscience, there could be no right or wrong, but it infallibly tells, by its "excusing and accusing," how far we may go in arguing from what we see in ourselves to what exists in God. Else a man might say, "He that made me to lust, shall he not lust?" The ancient Greeks and the whole heathen world did say this.
IV. ITS MINGLED COMFORT AND WARNING.
1. As to the comfort this argument supplies.
(1) It shows that all our gifts are of God. "It is he that planted the ear," etc. (cf. James 1:16-18). As we think of the manifold advantages that come to us through these gifts of God, and what joy, can we fail to see the beneficence of our God?
(2) That they are reflections of God, mirrors, minute indeed, but yet true, of what he is. Therefore my thought tells of thought in him; my love, of his, my conscience, of moral judgment in him. It is our Lord's argument (Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 15.). But:
2. There is warning likewise. Against pride: "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" Against envy. We are as God willed us to be, and, if we be but obedient, equally well pleasing in his sight. Against trifling with sin. If we condemn it, and will to punish it if unrepented of, that condemnation and that will reveal what is yet more in God. They tell of judgment to come. - S.C.
I. MAN IS ALWAYS READY TO HELP HIS SUFFERING NEIGHBOUR. Man as man is. Some men, self-centred and self-seeking, are not. All true men are sympathetic toward sufferers, easily roused to champion the oppressed, and vigorous against the violent wrong doer. History is full of illustrations of the sacrifices men will make in behalf of the innocent and oppressed. No doubt the advancing civilization, which crowds cities, tends to put the disabled and oppressed out of sight and hearing; but let their condition come into view, and then men are ready with generous hand and gift, prepared to help. The psalmist is dealing with those who pleaded that, in the humiliations and distresses of his time, there were no more than signs of human sympathy and help; and who groaned that these were proving quite ineffective.
II. GOD IS ALWAYS READY TO HELP HIS SUFFERING PEOPLE. First, this is absolutely certain - he can see and hear. And this is quite as certain - he does see and hear. Then why does he not immediately intervene? To get the reason we must always take a large and comprehensive view of God's rule. And especially we must remember that he is the God of the wrong doer as well as of the saint; of the oppressor as well as of the oppressed. And it may be that the need of the hour is chastening for the good, and this may require that the evil be maintained as the chastening agency. - R.T.
Isaiah 40:27; here it is the reproach of the ungodly. The doubt of the pious soul is properly met by Divine comfortings and assurances; the reproach of the ungodly is properly met by scornful and withering reproof. "So far from 'not seeing,' 'not regarding,' as these brutish persons fondly imagine, Jehovah reads their inmost thoughts and devices, as he reads the hearts of all men, even though for a time they are unpunished" (see 1 Corinthians 3:20).
I. SUCH THOUGHTS ARE VANITY BECAUSE THEY ARE UNTRUE. They do not answer to the facts. If God be God, he must know what is going on; he must be controlling everything; he must be working toward the blessing of the good. Such thoughts are untrue if tested
(1) by right knowledge of God;
(2) by the assurances and promises of God;
(3) by the history of his dealings with men;
(4) by the personal experiences of believers.
II. SUCH THOUGHTS ARE VANITY BECAUSE THEY ARE UNWORTHY. The men who encourage them are not in a right state of mind. Men ought to trust God, not doubt him. Men ought to be quick to observe everything that can nourish confidence. If God's ways ever seem perplexing, our assumption should always be in favour of their wisdom and loving kindness. It is unworthy of men to doubt God in one thing, seeing he gives them such abundant reason for trusting him in a thousand things. He is "too good to be unkind."
III. SUCH THOUGHTS ARE VANITY BECAUSE THEY ARE UNSTABLE. They are but the feelings of the hour; they are based on no careful considerations. Men take them up when they are vexed at not getting what they wish, or not having things according to their minds. The moods of the hour may well be called "vanity." - R.T.
I. THE STRANGE BEATITUDE. "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest." Wherein is the blessedness? We reply:
1. Because of what such chastening often reveals. If he were not really a child of God, he would not endure it; he would start aside and rebel. An infidel told a minister of Christ, who has been stricken with total blindness, that if God served him so, he would curse him to his face. Then this minister - well known to the writer - bore his testimony to the wonderful grace of God, how his soul had been kept in peace, and that he could and did rejoice in God, notwithstanding all his trouble. The text is like the last of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you," etc. (Matthew 5.). The endurance, and yet more the meek acquiescence in it, are a real revelation from God, that such a man is one of the Lord's very own. To know that is blessedness indeed.
2. Because of what it is followed by. The Lord teaches him out of his Law. We are all of us laggard scholars; some of us are too proud to learn. But God's chastenings have a wonderfully humbling and softening effect, and bring the soul into the blessed and indispensable condition for receiving the teachings of God.
3. Because of what it ministers. "Rest from the days of adversity." They cannot trouble him. A while ago some works were being carried on at Dover pier; the men had to go down deep in diving bells to reach their work. One evening one of the men was drawn up, the day's work being done, and went to his home. It suddenly occurred to him that he had left one of his tools on the stone which he had been working at. That night a furious storm raged, and the sea was lashed into a wild tumult. When at length on the following day the man went back to his work, he made up his mind that he should never again see the tool he had left the previous day. But lo! when he got down to the depths where he had been at work, there was his tool, just where he had left it the night before. The fury of the storm had not penetrated so far down; it only had power on the surface; in the depths beneath all had been quiet and still. So is it with the soul of him to whom God gives rest from the days of adversity. His soul is in the depths of God's love, where no power of adversity can reach. And this has been proved true a thousand times, and will be for us all if we be really the Lord's. And by and by the adversity itself shall depart; it continues only "until the pit be digged for the wicked." Then there shall be rest without as well as within. Now he can have only the inward rest, and blessed indeed is that; but then externally as well as internally he shall be at rest.
II. A STERN NECESSITY. The destruction of the wicked; for that is what the words just quoted mean. For until then God's people cannot be perfected, but then they shall. Many object to this stern doctrine. They say God is too merciful ever to let such doom fall upon any soul. But what about his own people? If they cannot enter into God's rest until what is here said is fulfilled, does not this make it altogether likely that it will be fulfilled; yea, that it must be? If mercy to the wicked be cruelty to the righteous, as it is, what is it likely that God will do? There can be but one answer.
III. A TERRIBLE ONLOOK. "The pit digged," etc.
1. These words assert the fact that such retribution will surely come. Scripture evermore affirms it. Conscience confirms the Scripture, and observed facts in the constant acting of God's providence - the awful retributions that we see do actually come on the wicked - attest the same awful truth.
2. They tell the nature of this retribution. "The pit." It brings up before the mind the dark horror which awaits sin.
3. Its gradual approach. The pit is not yet dug, but is being made ready. It becomes wider and deeper every day.
4. Those who are preparing it. God and the sinner himself. In an awful sense he is a "coworker with God."
5. Its loud appeal. "Stop the digging!" If man stops, God will; he will not go on if you will not. Turn to him, and he will deliver you out of the horrible pit (Psalm 40:1). - S.C.
God; feel sure of his comprehensive ruling; apprehend that he works for the highest moral ends, and uses even the self-will and the wrong doing of men as agents in the accomplishing of his loving purposes; - and then the soul goes down into the quietness of a holy submission, and out of its enduring sings its songs of hope, even as apostles sang their joy in God when in the dungeon at Philippi. We can never read life aright until we can fully receive the idea of the Divine chastening. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and seourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Illustration may be found in God's dealings with his ancient people. In Egypt, in the days of the judges, and in the age of the later kings, we find what, at first sight, seem to be pure calamities. But we are helped to read them aright, and then we see that they are chastenings, designed to secure the moulding and the correcting of God's people. See also the story of the patriarch Job. There, too, we have calamities, but we are taught to see in them chastenings, and chastenings of the highest order, not meant to secure mere correction, but designed to effect the noblest spiritual culture.
I. WE MAY MISTAKE IF WE READ THE TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED FROM BELOW. That is, as those actually crushed down under it. Suffering prevents both right feeling and right thinking.
II. WE MAY MISTAKE IF WE READ THE TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED FROM THE LEVEL. That is, as those who are not suffering themselves, but are watching the depressions and woes of God's people. So far as earthly issues are concerned, we can see no good in the trouble. Indeed, evil seems better off than good.
III. WE CAN ONLY READ THE TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED FROM ABOVE. From God's point of view. Then we can see how things fit, and what things work towards. The wicked are only his staff with which he chastises his children for their good. - R.T.
I. THOUGHTS COME IN THRONGS. To one standing on the golden gallery that surmounts the dome of St. Paul's in London, and looking down on the streets below, the sight of the thronging multitudes of people, hastening hither and thither, each intent on his or her own business, the traffic never ceasing, is very striking. How the people come ando, some one way, some another, crossing and recrossing each other, never still for a moment, - it is all a picture of the minds of most men. Who could count or remember the multitude of thoughts that pass and repass, that come and go across thepathways of the mind? It is an incessant traffic, a concourse that is never still. And they are of all kinds, good, bad, and indifferent, grave and gay, coming one scarce knows whence, and going one as little knows whither.
II. MANY OF THEM OFTEN LEAVE THE SOUL SAD. There are those of an opposite character, and by God's mercy they are the most numerous and ordinary. And there are people who seem never to think seriously at all - the mere butterflies of life. But the Christian cannot be one of them. We know what our Lord said of the "wayside" hearers. The good seed never takes root there. But the soul awakened to things that are eternal must often think seriously, and, not seldom, sadly likewise. It was so with the writer of this psalm. To him also the enigmas of this unintelligible world came clamouring for solution, as they do still. "Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph?" (ver. 3). That was to him one of the many inexplicable and heart saddening facts of life. And how many minds are today agitated, perplexed, well nigh shipwrecked, and their lives darkened by the mysteries they must meet, but cannot comprehend? But -
III. GOD HAS PROVIDED RELIEF FOR SUCH SOULS. Indeed, much more than simply relief. He has provided "delight" for them. Unquestionably - blessed be his holy Name for it! - God has done this. The testimony of saints in all ages has shown that God giveth "songs in the night." See the life and letters of men like Paul; above all, listen to "the Man of sorrows" himself telling of his "joy," and praying that it may "be fulfilled" in his disciples. And there are children of God now plunged in poverty or pain, or both, and yet who know and confess that God is their "exceeding Joy."
IV. THIS IS ACCOMPLISHED BY MEANS OF HIS "COMFORTS." "Thy comforts delight," etc.
1. They are of God. Those that this world supplies could never accomplish this.
2. They come through various channels. Sometimes through Nature - her calm and beauty and grandeur uplift the soul. Or through revelation. Think of all the "exceeding great and precious promises." Or through providence. Or by his Spirit in the soul. This best of all.
V. THE CONDITION IS - TRUST IN GOD. - S.C.
I. OUR MULTITUDE OF THOUGHTS. A suitable and suggestive term. A true description. Have you ever tried to watch the process of the mind in ordinary times or in special times? Explain how the law of association brings up not one string of orderly thoughts, but various series, which branch and cross and conflict one with the other. Past, present, future, bring in their various thoughts. The importance of good ordering of thoughts, to the pious man, may be seen from these considerations,
1. Sin lingers in them.
2. Character is exhibited to God as much by them as by our actions; for "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
3. The power of religion is first felt in them.
4. They are the real springs of action, and they give character to our action.
II. GOD'S COMFORTING THOUGHTS. He gives comforting assurances for us to think about. God makes himself a Key-thought to the thoughts that we should cherish. Illustrate how the godly soul may fill his mind with the "exceeding great and precious promises," and how these will be always ready to come up, to dispel distracting thoughts, and soothe troubled thoughts. God's comforts are thoughts that realize God as the holy Father, Christ as the elder Brother, the Spirit as the present Guide, and "all things working together for good."
III. THE DUTY OF CHERISHING GOD'S COMFORTING THOUGHTS. They will ease our distress; they will recall us to trust; they will put a "song into our mouth." We may cherish them by full acquaintance with God's Word, which is the great storehouse of Divine thought suggestions, and by daily communion with God, which is sure to start fresh comfortings in our souls. - R.T.
I. SUBMISSION TO LAWFUL AUTHORITY IS A PRIMARY RELIGIOUS DUTY. Inculcated by Old Testament and New. Felt to be the right thing. Necessary to the individual and nation well being.
II. RESISTANCE TO UNLAWFUL AUTHORITY IS A PRIMARY RELIGIOUS DUTY. Unlawful authority is that which conflicts with the authority of God. All law that has claims on men is the translation, for particular relations, of the Law of God. Unless we can be sure that a thing can stand the Divine Law test, we are not bound to render obedience.
III. The case of the text is, however, more subtle than this. It brings before us lawful authority abused, and Divine Law dishonoured in its applications. And it may be difficult for men to see what is their duty in such a case. The psalmist seems to see his way clearly. He suggests that we should submit to the injustice, and cry mightily to God, that he would turn the hearts of the rulers. And he is right. To right law wrongly administered we should present submission, for history abundantly proves that through suffering the wrong doing of rulers is best revealed. But submission would be wrong if men had not the profound conviction that God rules the rulers, and is the Avenger of all the persecuted and oppressed. - R.T.