Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.
I. THERE IS THE GLORY OF ZION (vers. 1, 2). Those words are something more than merely patriotic feeling. The Jew's glory in Jerusalem was a different thing altogether from the Roman's pride in Rome. For, to the devout Jew, there was one thing, and one thing only, that made Zion glorious — that in it God abode. The name even of that earthly Zion was "Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is there." They celebrate concerning it that it is His city, the mountain of His holiness. This is its glory. And it is no spiritualizing or forcing a New Testament meaning into these words when we see in them the eternal truth, that the living God abides, and energizes by His Spirit and by His Son in the souls of them that believe upon Him. It is that presence which makes His Church fair as it is, that presence which keeps her safe. It is God in her, not anything of her own, that constitutes her "the joy of the whole earth."
II. THE DELIVERANCE OF ZION. The psalm recounts with wonderful power and vigour the process of this deliverance (vers. 4-8). Mark the dramatic vigour of the description of the deliverance. There is, first, the mustering of the armies. "The kings were assembled" — we see them gathering their far-reaching and motley army, mustered from all corners of that gigantic empire. They advance together against the rocky fortress that towers above its girdling valleys. "They saw it, they marvelled" — in wonder, perhaps, at its beauty, as they first catch sight of its glittering whiteness from some hill crest on their march — or, perhaps, stricken by some strange amazement, as if, basilisk-like, its beauty were deadly, and a beam from the Shechinah had shot a nameless awe into their souls — "they were troubled, they hasted away." The abruptness of the language in this powerful description reminds us of the well-known words, "I came, I saw, I conquered," only that here we have to do with swift defeat — they came, they saw, they were conquered. In their scornful emphasis of triumph they are like Isaiah's description of the end of Sennacherib's invasion, "So Sennacherib, King of Assyria, departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh."
"The trumpet spake not the armed throng,
But kings sat still, with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by."One image is all that is given to explain the whole process of the deliverance, "Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind." The metaphor is that of a ship like a great unwieldy galleon caught in a tempest — compare the destruction of the Spanish Armada. However strong for fight, it is not fit for sailing. And so this huge assailant of Israel, this great "galley with oars," washing about there in the trough of the sea, as it were — God broke it in two with the tempest which is His breath. You remember how on the medal that commemorated the destruction of the Spanish Armada — our English deliverance — there were written the words of Scripture: "God blew upon them and they were scattered." What was there true, literally, is here true in figure. And then mark how from this drastic description there rises a loftier thought still. The deliverance thus described links the present with the past. "As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God." And with all the future — "God will establish it for ever." God will establish Zion; or, as the word might be translated, God will hold it erect, as if with a strong hand grasping some pole or banner-staff that else would totter and fall — He will keep it up, standing there firm and stedfast. If it had been possible to destroy the Church of the living God it had been gone long, long ago. Its own weakness and sin, the ever-new corruptions of its belief and paring of its creed, the imperfections of its life and the worldliness of its heart, the abounding evils that lie around it and the actual hostility of many that look upon it and say, Raze it, even to the ground, would have smitten it to the dust long since. It lives, it has lived in spite of all, and therefore it shall live. "God will establish it for ever." In almost every land there is some fortress or other which the pride of the inhabitants calls "the maiden fortress," and whereof the legend is that it has never been taken, and is inexpugnable by any foe. It is true about the tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion. The grand words of Isaiah about this very Assyrian invader are our answer to all fears within and foes without, "Say unto him, the virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn."
III. ZION'S CONSEQUENT GRATEFUL PRAISE AND GLAD TRUST. The deliverance deepens their glad meditation on God's favour and defence. "We have thought of Thy lovingkindness in the midst of Thy temple." And it spreads God's fame throughout the world (ver. 10).
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion.I. A REHEARSAL OF JEWISH HISTORY. This is necessary in order to understand the inner meaning of this psalm. Israel's history begins with Abraham. His life nomadic, wandering, a wilderness life. And so with Israel for centuries it was a forced desert experience.
II. THE DIVINE PHILOSOPHY OF IT. It was to make up the longing for rest, for a settled habitation and a national life. They had learned enough to know that cities enable men to unite, to concentrate for great material purposes. Cities not only symbolized but secured possession, fixity, safety, growth, nationality. Hence their joy in Jerusalem of which this psalm is an utterance.
III. AND TO ALL THIS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE CORRESPENDS. God's call separates, but ultimately unites. Let us anticipate our future in "the city of habitation."
Psalm 12): — There is comfort for us in the thought that Zion's beauty was spiritual; there is also warning. Wanting spiritual power, certain churches would have something left, a remaining charm. Their architectural monuments, their imposing ceremonies would still command a measure of deference and support, But wanting spiritual power, we are destitute indeed. Our Churches consist of persons who have made deliberate profession of faith in Christ; faith whereby they enter into spiritual union with Him. He is their Head, they are His members.
I. Charm in our church life must therefore ever be dependent, first, upon the actualizing of this relation, by REAL COMMUNION WITH CHRIST. The unreal has no charm for God, and He purposes that it should have none for man. The Bible makes this clear, and experience echoes Bible teaching. Real communion with Christ is not sentiment. It is the surrender and reinforcement of the will. It is obedience, love, self-sacrifice supernaturally sustained. It is sharing the spirit and life of Jesus.
II. Another essential to charm in the Church is SYMPATHY. The New Testament incites to brotherly love, bearing one another's burdens, looking on the things of others, and such like. In the first age, before the art of sublimating precepts into metaphors was discovered, these incitements found response; love was patent, sympathy flowed freely. The stream of sympathy flows still, but its course is often blocked by boulder-like conventionalities; and, where communion with Christ is defective, it fails at the spring. The social meeting, not unknown among us, merits study and development: the meeting in which our members get to know one another, discover that Christian fellowship is compatible with social friendship, and find opportunity for quiet natural speech upon the things of God.
III. This brings me to another matter which must contribute charm to our Church life, namely, THE DISCLOSURE OF JOY IN GOD. Our recoil from cant has silenced the sincere. Yet, doubtless, every Christian should reveal, in look and word, the wealth of joy he has discovered in the Gospel. Of course, it is "bad form" to be demonstrative; to advertise one's emotions. It may be. But the stony immobility that never calls attention with enthusiasm to marvels of nature or miracles of grace is insulting to God; a fraudulent witholding of His due praise.
IV. Something should be added about AGGRESSIVE ACTIVITY. If the Church is to maintain and increase her charm she must make it clear that she holds no truce with the giant wrongs under which men suffer. In warring against these the Church has done, and is doing, nobly. We claim, too, that she has supplied inspiration for' humanitarian enterprise effected under other auspices. When our best men take their seats in Town Council, the Church is present in their persons, and is a good councillor. Yet her watchword must be "Forward." The dullest scorner must be left without excuse for echoing the stupid libel that our churches are Pullman cars for heaven, the passengers caring only for their travelling comforts and safe arrival.
(W. M. Thomson, D. D.)
God is known in her palaces for a refuge.
Homilist.It is not the nation makes the people, but the people make the nation. On the rulers depends the nation's prosperity. When God is honoured in the palace He will be worshipped in the cottage. When Atheists make laws, sedition will be the offspring.
I. INFLUENCE ALWAYS DESCENDS. It is like the rain and dew. The less follow the great. Great power, great wealthy, great minds always lead.
II. THE GREAT AFFECT THE GREAT. The kings of the earth saw and were troubled. Palace religion is more displayed than that of the cottage. God has His own work for the insignificant, but the great have also their higher sphere.
III. NATIONAL RELIGION IS NATIONAL PRESERVATION. The kings hasted away. Their hostility was vain in the presence of Him who was the Refuge of the palace.
I. THE CONCEPTION OF GOD IS THE GREATEST THING IN MAN. In proportion as it is lost or distorted, human dignity decays, and the race sinks nearer the level of inferior creatures. The mould on which he was made is the cause of man's original greatness; but when he ceases to lay himself habitually back upon his origin, his being shrinks down again into the dimensions of a lower species.
II. GOD IS. This is the first proposition in the inspired confession of faith (Hebrews 11:6). An atheist may reason against the existence of God, and a worldly man may keep God out of all his thoughts, but neither the one nor the other can blot God out of being. Although we practically banish God out of our little spot of time, He will meet us when we enter His great eternity.
III. GOD IS KNOWN. Observe Paul's method in reasoning with the Athenians regarding the altar which they had dedicated to the unknown God, and the cognate argument which he addressed to the idolaters at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:22-29). This is an inspired recognition of natural religion. The revelation which has been imprinted on earth and sky does not go far enough for the necessities of the fallen; but it is true as far as it goes. Men ought both to perceive its meaning and trust in its truth.
IV. GOD IS KNOWN IN HER. "God is known," may be taken as the motto of natural, "God is known in her," as the motto of revealed religion. Wherever Christ is admitted King into a believing heart, there are the thrones of the house of David, there the temple stands, and thence sweet incense rises morning and evening to Heaven. Wherever many such believers are congregated, there is the city of the great King; wherever there are believing men and women, there is a peopled Jerusalem; and of that city it is the distinction still that God is known in her.
V. GOD IS KNOWN IN HER PALACES. The psalm commemorates a revival in high places (2 Chronicles 17.-20.). When grace was poured into the heart of the king, all ranks felt the benefit. The human skull, where the material organ of thought resides, has been called the palace of the soul. The princely spirit that dwells beneath that stately dome counts and keeps the whole world its tributary. In a princely way this king of the creatures has caught and tamed the powers of nature, and yoked them to his chariot. At the door of that regal residence a Stranger stands and knocks. Hear His voice, "If any man open, I will come in." This is God our Saviour. When He is admitted, God will be known in that palace; for, "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father." Not Christ in heaven, but Christ in you, is the hope of glory.
VI. GOD IS KNOWN IN HER PALACES FOR A REFUGE. The idea, the existence, the knowledge of God, whether among rich or poor, become for us all or nothing, according as we recognize Him as our refuge, or fear Him as our foe. For poor, blind, guilty, dying creatures, such as we are, there are only two ways open — we must either flee from God, or flee to Him. To those no good can happen, to these no evil. One thing is needful; and this is the meaning of a Gospel ministry, "Be ye reconciled to God." Make Him your refuge, and you will find the way is open, the welcome prepared; all things will work together for your good.
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God.
I. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT THAT WE LISTEN TO TRUE WITNESSES; for, else, we shall not be able to say, "As we have heard, so have we seen." It is of the first importance to you all that you should hear the Word of God, and receive the truth as it is in Jesus; so that, both in the throng of life, and when you stand upon the borders of death, and in the changeless state of eternity, you may be able to say, "We thank God for the Gospel which we heard; for what we heard with our ears has been verified in our lives."
II. GOOD HEARING LEADS ON TO SEEING — "As we have heard, so have we seen." Some of you have heard, and heard, but have never yet seen. The man who is content with one inlet to his mind, namely, his ears, but never uses his eyes, must imagine that God has made a mistake, and has given him more senses than he needs. Surely this argues a want of sense. "O taste and see that the Lord is good." You will ask how can a hearer of the Gospel become a seer of it?
1. He can do this by examining the facts which lie hears stated, and judging whether they are really so. The Scripture tells you that your heart is deceitful — see whether it be net so. It tells you that there is a natural inclination in man towards evil — study yourself, and see whether this is not the case.
2. We further see what we hear when we obey the commands and receive the blessings promised upon obedience. "if we confess our sins," etc. "Come unto Me," etc.
3. We also turn hearing into sight when, receiving the blessings which are promised to faith, we enter into a new life.
III. SEEING WONDERFULLY CONFIRMS THE TRUTH OF WHAT WE HEAR. I am sure I can appeal to those of you who have seen the Lord in His glory, so as to abhor yourselves in dust and ashes, and to those of you who have seen yourselves, so that you have been ashamed and confounded at your own ways. I say, I can appeal to you to confirm the most solemn statements of Holy Scripture. However much its denunciations may make you shudder, your inmost soul consents to the truth of them. Brighter things, however, have we heard and seen. We heard that there is a calling of God, whereby He separates His chosen from the rest of mankind. We heard, too, that if we came to Jesus as we were, He would receive us; and He did receive us. Then we heard that there was such a thing as regeneration. "Ye must be born again." Many of you know the great and radical change, because you have experienced it. Further, to show you how experience supports the Word of God, we were told many times over that God hears prayer. We were reminded of the Saviour's words, "Ask, and it shall be given you," etc. Have you not prayed yourselves out of the dark into the sunlight; prayed yourselves out of the depths of despair up to the throne of God?
IV. WHEN HEARING TURNS TO SEEING, AND IS CONFIRMED BY IT, THEN IT LEADS TO WITNESSING. So many are decrying the truth, that, if in your heart and conscience you have proved it true, you are bound to give to the Lord the testimony of even a stammerer. Your mouth is as God made it: use it as best you can, and speak up for His name and cause. Oh, for more of the missionary spirit, more telling out to the ends of the earth of what the Lord has done I What were the stars, if they did not shine? What were the sun, if He did not make our day? What were the rivers, if they did not water the lands? What were the sea itself, if it did not act as the pulsing heart of the world? What are Christians, if they do not shine as lights? Piety bottled up is dead. Religion put into a tin and hermetically sealed is useless.
V. HEARING, SEEING, WITNESSING, GOD WILL GIVE YOU A YET FULLER ASSURANCE THAN YOU HAVE AS YET. "God will establish it for ever." That is the conclusion which the saint comes to, when he has tried the truth for himself, and borne witness to the result of his trial. God will never leave His Church. God will never forfeit His word. God will never desert His Gospel. His honour is bound up in the whole enterprise that Christ undertook, He must go through with it, and He must arrive at a glorious conclusion.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE PLEDGE OF SECURITY IN THE NAME OF THE CITY. "The city of the Lord of hosts" — what does that great name for God mean? It means, I take it, very much the same thing as Jesus Christ praised the Roman-centurion for having groped his way to discover; that all the universe is like an embattled legion, subject to the command of one authoritative Imperator, or Emperor, the Lord of hosts. Well, then, if the city is His, who is going to take it? What about Sennacherib? He may muster his hosts as he likes, but "in the morning they were all dead corpses," and Sennacherib went away back to Assyria to pray to his god. Much he made of that; for whilst he was praying his sons cut his throat; and that was the end of the worship that is given to "the hosts," and not to the Lord of "the hosts." But that is not all. The city is "the city of our God." He is Lord of the hosts, but there is a relation more tender and blessed between us and Him than there is between them and Him, for he is "Our God." And how does He come to be our God? By what He has done, and by what we have done. The relation is reciprocal; His side of it is His taking us for His and telling us that He has done so; our side of it is our taking Him for ours by faith, love and obedience, and by our hearts' speech saying to Him, "Thou art my God." Then we may rest secure, if "the Lord of hosts is with us," etc.
II. How ALL THE WONDERS OF THE PAST ARE REPEATED TODAY. That sounds paradoxical. "The age of miracles is past," say many sad hearts. We do not "see" as "we have heard," and we sometimes begin to doubt whether we have heard aright, just because we do not see what has been told us. Well, for all that, the triumphant word of my text is true to-day, as true as it was in regard to those who saw the miracle of the dead Assyrian hosts. My life is as full of God, if I like to make it so, as ever was the life of any patriarch or prophet or apostle of them all. Earth is as much crammed with God as it used to be. Not only is the reality of this working the same, but I venture to say the manner in which He now does His great things for us is an advance on the manner in which He did them of old. It is better to have a Christ in the heart than a Christ working miracles beside us; better to be guided by the Divine Spirit that dwells in us than by the pillar of fire and cloud. It is better to be committed to the responsibility of our own judgments, and our own purified hearts, than it is to hear a voice from heaven saying to us in articulate syllables what we ought to do. And they who are, or, if they will, may be, "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man," do not need to envy those of old to whose palsied limbs the hands of the Saviour gave power, or to whose blind eyes he gave sight.
III. THE CONFIDENCE FOR THE FUTURE WHICH SPRINGS FROM EXPERIENCE. It is always safe to reckon on God's future, and to infer what it will be, from God's past. You cannot do that with men, you can do it with Him; because He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We get tired of helping people, and say, "I have done it so often that I really cannot do it any more." God says, "I have done it so often that I will not cease doing it." Men's purposes change; His do not. Men's resources get exhausted; His never. If we are trusting to Him we can boldly say, "Tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant." It is always safe to reckon on God's future being of a piece with God's past. Therefore, the city and the citizens, each one of whom has a personal relation to God, must live for ever, in order that they may possess all that God can give them. That is a plain way of putting what can be put in more graceful language, by saying that the experience of communion with God here is the best proof, to any of us, of immortal life hereafter. Because God has given us what He has given, and been to us what He has been, and done for us what He has done, it is impossible to believe that there can come an end to the relation between Him and us, and that the man who has clasped God's hand can ever die." He shall establish it for ever."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1. The Church, like a parent of a family, gives a volume into the hands of those who join her communion, bidding them receive it as Divine, and study it as the word which can alone guide them to glory. And her members, like the children of the household, have no better reason, at first, for receiving the Bible as inspired, than because they have heard so in the city of the Lord. They yield so much of respect to the directions of their authorized teachers, or to the impressions which have been graven on them from infancy, as to give their homage to a volume which is presumed to bear so lofty a character. But then, though it may thus be on hearsay that they first receive the Bible as inspired, it is not on hearsay that they continue to receive it. We speak of those in whom the Word has "wrought effectually"; and we confidently affirm of them, that, though at one time they believed in the inspiration of the canonical Scriptures, because their parents taught it, or their ministers maintained it, yet now are they in possession of a personal experimental evidence, which is thoroughly conclusive on this fundamental point.
2. But there is yet a more obvious application of the words of our text. It is said of God by Solomon that He "requireth that which is past." He seeks again that which is past, recalling, as it were, the proceedings, whether in judgment or mercy, of departed ages, and repeating them to the present generation. And it is on this account that there is such value in the registered experience of the believers of other days, so that the biography of the righteous is among the best treasures possessed by a church. It is, in one sense at least, a vast advantage to us that we live late in the world. We have all the benefit of the spiritual experience of many centuries, which has been bequeathed to us as a legacy of more worth than large wealth or far-spreading empire. We have not, therefore, to tread a path in which we have had but few precursors. Far as the eye can reach, the road we have to traverse is crowded with beckoning forms, as though the sepulchres gave up their host of worthies that we might be animated by the view of the victorious throng. And this is an advantage which it is hardly possible to overrate. You have only to add to this an acquaintance with the unchangeableness of God, and there seems all that can be needed to the encouragement and. confidence of the righteous.
3. If there be one passage of Scripture which we venture to put into the lips of redeemed men in glory, it is our text; in tiffs instance we may be confident that the change from earth to heaven will not have made the language of the one unsuited to the other. Oh, as the shining company take the circuit of the celestial city; as they "walk about Zion, and go round about her," telling the towers thereof, marking well her bulwarks, and considering her palaces; who can doubt that they say one to another, "as we have heard, so have we seen in the city of our God"? We heard that here "the wicked cease from troubling," and now we behold the deep rich calm. We heard that here we should be with the Lord, and now we see Him face to face. We heard that here we should know, and now the ample page of universal truth is open to our inspection. We heard that here, with the crown on the head, and the harp in the hand, we should execute the will and hymn the praises of our God, and now we wear the diadem, and wake the melody.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of Thy temple.
I. THE MENTAL ART IS THOUGHT. "We have thought." It is you that think, not your body. But all mental acts are not thought. Memory, consciousness, sensations, emotions, are not thought, though they may be productive of it. Thought is judgment. We think when we analyze, compare, classify. Now, this faculty has certain properties, as —
1. Power; for it is the mightiest of all forces. The entire universe is the outcome of the thought of God.
2. Pleasantness, which rises at times to ecstasy. Pleasure is connected with the use of all our faculties, and not least with this of thought.
3. Universality. All can think. This is a thinking age, but it can never get beyond Jesus Christ, for He is the wisdom of God and the light of the world.
II. THE THEME OF THOUGHT — God's lovingkindness. Yes, perhaps, some of you say, a noble and inspiring subject of thought, truly. But is there not a prior question? Is it a fact that God exists and that He loves? We live in a perplexing world, and strange and bold theories are afloat. How shall we know that God is, and that He loves? Begin with the fact nearest you, and which you do not and cannot question — your own personal existence. Each of you can say, "I am." Equally certain is it you did not make yourself. You come from a source adequate to such a result, and that source we call God, by which word we mean one equal to such a workmanship as you are. And now, admitting you had a Creator, what is there in you that indicates His heart towards you? What is there that shows love? Look at yourself fairly, beginning with your body, and take part after part. Your eye; what would you have lost if born blind, and what have you gained by seeing? Your ear; what do you owe for that? Your hands; what have they done for you? Is speech worth having? Any benevolent meaning in putting your palate at the entrance of food into your body? — in protecting the drum of the ear? — in giving you a curtain for the eye? — in covering the brain with a helmet of bone? Work without sleep would bring on madness, and at night the curtain is drawn, and you get your needed rest. What as to yourself, viewed as distinct from this wonderful framework? You have consciousness, sensation, memory, judgment. Can any calculation adequately convey to you the value of these endowments? You have, moreover, a moral sense, a heart, a will. And for these moral capabilities and cravings there is an abundant response in the hearts around you, and the proofs of a supreme moral Ruler — proofs which remain such, whatever your disposition towards them, and your ignoring of their voice. Having studied this personal Bible — yourself, extend the same thoughts to your nearest of kin, your household, your neighbourhood, your nation, your race — think of mankind in all generations. Add to these data all other living beings that do and have existed from the beginning as far as your imagination can give them room, and then ask, Did all the good and enjoyment embraced within this whole come out of indifference, malevolence or love?
III. MATERIAL AID. We do not need the particular help which the ancient Jews had; but we can no more dispense with material appliances in our religious services than we can cease here to be clothed with flesh and be denizens of a material globe. We have God's own original temple — the house in which Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Christ worshipped, a house the marvellous Divine teachings of which science is every day unconsciously unfolding to the eye of faith — a house big enough and free enough to hold all men at all hours, without money and without price, a house in which we "all live, and move, and have our being." Here we can all think on the Divine love, and pray. Nor, whatever you may specifically and religiously do in things material, would we ever have you despise or neglect this really Divine temple with all its marvellous aids to religious thought. But, while doing that, you can and ought to do the other thing also. You ought, out of the stones and clay of this inexhaustible storehouse, go and make other buildings specially adapted to the purpose of religious thought and worship, and not only build them, but use them, and induce all you can to avail themselves of their help.
(J. C. Gallaway, M. A.)
I. THEIR OCCUPATION WAS GRACIOUS. "We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God."
1. Thought is a noble faculty; the power to exercise it distinguishes men from the brute beasts. We grovel when we are under necessity to perform the acts that relate only to the body; we rise as we are able to perform the functions of the mind and heart.
2. God's lovingkindness is a theme that is specially worthy of thought. It is an amazing thing that He should ever have so highly favoured such unworthy persons as we are, and favoured us so long, tenderly, and perseveringly.
3. Such thought as our text describes is essential to all true worship. It is very much in proportion to our thought that we do really worship. Suppose we sing the praises of God without thinking; is that praising Him? Nay, no more than if we could have taught a parrot, or constructed an automaton to make the same set of sounds.
4. This task of thinking of God's lovingkindness ought to be a very easy one, for there is abundance of material to think of in God's lovingkindness. I beg you to consider the various acts of Divine grace, all of which are full of the lovingkindness of the Lord — the everlasting covenant, personal election, redemption, effectual calling, adoption, sanctification, final perseverance.
II. THE PLACE WAS APPROPRIATE. "In the midst of Thy temple."
1. If we are in the midst of God's spiritual temple, His true Church, we may well think of His lovingkindness in permitting us to be there. Some of your old companions are not here; perhaps they even ridicule the idea of coming to such a place as this. Possibly some of your former associates are now where hope and mercy can never reach them.
2. Standing in the midst of that temple, which is the true Church of God, we cannot help thinking of the lovingkindness of the Lord, for every stone in that temple testifies to His lovingkindness. These are the living stones that are "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord."
3. We may also think of the lovingkindness of the Lord in the midst of His temple, because everything in that temple reminds us of His lovingkindness. There was, for instance, the altar of burnt offering; and we can say, "Thank God for the lovingkindness which has provided for us the one great atoning sacrifice by which our sin is for ever put away." There stood, too, the golden altar of incense; and every thoughtful believer says, "Thank God for the lovingkindness which has given us Christ to be our Intercessor before the throne of God on high, where His prevailing prayers are continually ascending on our behalf." There also stood the shew-bread upon the sacred table; and we say, "Thank God for Him who, as the Bread of life, is the ever-present and ever-satisfying food for His people." There, too, was the golden candlestick or lamp-stand; and we can say, "Thank God for His lovingkindness in having provided all-sufficient light for His people."
III. THE RESULT WAS BENEFICIAL.
1. They were made joyous (ver. 11). So, think of the lovingkindness of the Lord to you, and see if that does not make melody in your heart unto Him, and cause the big bells in your soul to ring carillons of praise so full of jubilant gladness that your very body shall seem as if it could hardly bear the joy. I have sometimes seen an old church steeple rock and reel when a marriage peal has been run out from the ancient belfry; and, in like manner, at times, one has felt so happy that the poor physical frame seemed as if it could scarcely endure such excess of bliss as the soul was delighting in the lovingkindness of the Lord.
2. Thinking upon the lovingkindness of the Lord would unloose our tongues (vers. 12, 13). If you have really tasted of God's lovingkindness, you must tell others about it. You cannot keep as a secret the love of God to you. The first instinct of a new-born soul is to tell its joy to somebody else.
3. As we think of God's lovingkindness, we shall be confirmed in our loyalty to Him (ver. 14). "This God is our God;" He was our father's God, and our mother's God, and the God of the dear ones whom He took from us to be with Him in heaven; and "this is our God." He is the God to whom we looked in the day of our soul's distress, when we saw Him in Christ Jesus, reconciled unto us through the death of His Son; "this God is our God for ever and ever." He is the God who has heard our prayers, the God who has been with us in our direst extremity; He is the God on whom we have cast our unworthy selves, trusting Him with our souls, and our all, for this world and the world to come, "this God is our God for ever and ever."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thy right hand is full of righteousness.
Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. CHRISTIANITY. The Rationalist regards it as a system more or less divine which must needs be measured by human reason before it can bind the consciences of men. This low and inadequate view may be Protestant as against the superstitions of the Papacy, but it is not evangelical, inasmuch as it denies the infallibility of Scripture, the vicarious atonement of our Lord and its related doctrines. But Christianity is the complete revelation of the Divine will in the Scriptures. It is Christ revealing Himself to the human consciousness.
II. THE CHURCH is one in historical transmission; and it is catholic, including all who fear God. Ecclesiastical arrangements are not of its essence, and do not interfere with its real unity, which is that of the Spirit. Rome has been fighting on a thousand battlefields to compel an external unity, but human nature will never submit to it. Such unity is but a dream, an ecclesiastical device.
III. RELIGION. This is to some —
1. An intellectual conception only. To others —
2. Feeling, rapture. To others —
3. A devout performance on the Lord's day. But —
4. To the evangelist it is faith and holiness.
(Elbert S. Porter, D. D.)
1. What is to be understood by the preservation and protection of the Church, so as we may look neither for less nor more than what we are like to meet with?
2. What is meant by searching into, and considering of, these causes and means of the Church's preservation? "Walk about Zion, tell her towers, set your heart to her bulwarks, consider her palaces," etc.
3. What are those causes and means of the Church's preservation, those towers and bulwarks which will not fail, whenever Zerah or Sennacherib comes, or whatever attempts are made upon Zion?
4. What reason is there why we should thus search into and consider these causes of the Church's preservation and protection?
5. What is the testimony which we have to give concerning this matter to the ensuing generation? "That ye may declare it to the generation to come."
( J. Owen, D. D.)
I. THE NATURAL ADVANTAGES OF OUR SITUATION.
1. Our soil is fertile, liberally rewarding the husbandman with "grass for cattle, and herb for the use of man"; with all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life.
2. No country in the world is more sufficient for itself, or more independent of every other; while from innumerable ports we disperse our superfluities and the fruits of our industry to every nation under heaven.
3. Our climate is mild, temperate and salubrious. We are neither scorched by excess of heat, nor made torpid by intense cold.
4. Our people are hardy and vigorous; patient of toil; docile, generous and open; attached to their country; intrepid in war, industrious at home.
II. THE EXCELLENCE OF OUR GOVERNMENT.
1. Ye have personal liberty, which, as it cannot be taken from you without a crime, so neither can ye alienate it of yourselves but for a time, and upon such terms as still keep you under the protection of the laws, to guard you from abuse, and to secure your hire.
2. Ye have political liberty. Every man is allowed to declare his sentiments concerning the measures of government, and to animadvert on them in the most public manner.
3. Ye have religious liberty in a very eminent degree. Every man is allowed to hold his own creed, and to worship God in his own way.
III. THE FAVOUR OF PROVIDENCE.
(J. Adamson, D. D.)
I. THE CHURCH OF GOD IS OUR BIRTHPLACE. Angels said, "This man was born there."
II. THE CENTRE OF OUR CHIEF SOCIAL ATTRACTIONS. Are not our grandest associations connected with the house of God? These are the men that are to stand by us in times of trouble. These are they who are to counsel us when we go astray. These are the men who are to carry us out to our last slumber when we have done with our earthly toil. Oh! I want to be surrounded by church friends, some to counsel me, some to encourage me, some to cheer me and strengthen me. I want to sit with them, and sing with them, and pray with them, and die with them.
III. THE HOME OF OUR CHILDREN.
IV. A REFUGE. Seafaring men do not always expect smooth sailing. Neither ought we on the sea of life always expect to have smooth sailing. You have not always had it the way you wanted it in the past. You will not always have it the way you want it in the future. But when trouble came you went into the house of God and found it a refuge. You had your troubles explained to you.
V. OUR MONUMENT. It seems a very silly thing to expend one or two or three thousand dollars on a tombstone. But that which you do for the Church of God is your eternal monument. It is a living memento.
VI. The GATE OF HEAVEN.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Homiletic Review.I. HER TOWERS. These naturally represent the great truths that are lifted into prominence. There are some ten great truths curiously related and parts of one system. Five of them are like corner towers — the Being of God is central to all — then the doctrine of the Son, the Spirit, Man, and the Word of God. The intermediate connecting truths are the Mediation of Christ in Atonement, the Mediation of the Spirit in Regeneration, Justification by Faith, the Inspiration of the sacred writers, and the right of private study of Scripture. No one of these truths can be sacrificed without weakening the whole structure.
II. Her BULWARKS. These as naturally represent the great barriers or defences of the Church, which act as restraints against wickedness and worldliness, serving both to keep in disciples and keep out evildoers. The Church has certain separating barriers which define her province and life, and restraining barriers which repel and restrain evil. No small part of the service of the Church in the world is found in the resistance to evil. What the dykes are to Holland the Church is to the community: it keeps out the flood of evil.
III. Her PALACES. These suggest beauty, honour, delight, privilege, and may stand for all the privileges of the children of God.
1. Worship, with all the ordinances, sacraments, prayer, praise, etc.
2. Fellowship, both with God and saints.
3. Holy living and growing both in knowledge and grace.
4. Service to God and man.
I. THE IMPORTANCE TO BE ATTACHED TO THE TOWERS AND BULWARKS OF ZION, AND THE DUTY OF ALL TO HELP IN MAINTAINING THEM. The world is spared for the sake of the Church to be redeemed out of it, and the Church is to aid in gathering together the souls that shall be saved. How much, then, does the world owe to the Church, for it is only for her sake that it is preserved. As the Canaanites were for Israel, who should inherit their land.
II. ALL PEOPLE IN A CHRISTIAN LAND, WHATEVER THEIR POSITION, ARE UNDER STRICT OBLIGATION TO AID IN TEE BUILDING OF ZION, Now, this duty is binding, not on private individuals only, but on men in their official capacities as kings, rulers and having authority. It would be strange if those who, by their position, could do most for this work, were free from obligation to do anything. All past history, as given in Scripture, contradicts those who would have no connection between the Church and the State. For kings and governments have helped the Church, have been commanded to do so, and been blessed for that which they have done. Then, "my soul, come not thou into their secret." Who would separate what God has joined?
Mark well her bulwarks; consider ye her palaces.
I. BULWARKS SYMBOLIZE POWER AND STRENGTH. I fail to discern any of the marks of decay and weakness with which the Church of God in our day is charged. Her towers are growing stronger, her glory more resplendent, her foes decrease, and her friends become more numerous. Some of the manifest emblems of power are —
1. Christian civilization. The very air men breathe is charged through and through with Christian thought.
2. The Bible, for it is a great source of power. One of the surest proofs of its power is the virulence of its enemies. Men would not attack a book which is a dead letter.
3. The vast accumulation of wealth, and the number of churches. These are signs of power. The value of Church property in our land is unparalleled, and increases greatly every year. There is not a single heathen temple in process of erection in the world. The Church gives hundreds of thousands a year for mission world. Her light flashes away up in frozen Greenland, in Central Africa and in Polynesia. Christ will be universal King.
II. RICHES AND GLORY ARE INDICATED BY THE PALACES OF ZION.
1. There is the palace of assurance — the doctrine of the witness of the Spirit. These need no witness of guilt — of that men are conscious. When pardon comes we have the witness of the Spirit that we are taken into the family of God.
2. The palace of Christian fellowship.
3. That of Divine communion. Zion with her towers, her bulwarks, her palaces, is the joy of the whole earth. Now she is the Church militant, but shall be soon the Church triumphant.
(J. H. Bayliss, D. D.)
This God is our God for ever and ever.
I. THE NAME OF FATHER. What word could more truly convey the love of God to us?
II. THE NAME OF THE SON. What a revelation this is; how it brings heaven very near to us and clears the way for sinners to draw nigh to the holy God.
III. THE NAME OF THE HOLY GHOST. He it is who makes us holy, raises us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness and so fits us for the eternal inheritance. He is our Instructor; the Spirit of counsel, of knowledge and true godliness; the Spirit of God's holy fear.
(R. D. B. Rawnsley, M. A.)
1. In the words "This God," we have a bold and unanswerable assertion.
2. In the statement that "This God is our God" we have a personal possession.
3. As He is our God for ever and ever we have an eternal joy.
I. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE. I was taught as a child to dread God. He was said to love me only when I was obedient, and to make a place for me in hell when I was not a good child. Feeling conscious that I was more bad than good, I dreaded God; and had a great fear of going to sleep lest I should die and see Him before morning. It was teaching as unwise as it was untrue. What a revelation when I read in the New Testament that Jesus was God! And when I felt He loved me, and listened to my prayer, and smiled upon me, I went forth to tell a little playmate who, like me, had lost his mother, that Jesus would be a gentle mother to him.
II. OUR GOD IS ALSO A PRACTICAL GOD. He teaches men the science of self-government. His intention is that His people shall be conformed to His likeness; and in order that they may copy Him, He gives the Divine nature to all who ask. God would have us run willingly in the path of His commandments. Some parents never let their children out of their sight, and so protect them from evil; but it would be better to teach them the fear of the Lord, so that they may be able to resist temptation and practise goodness. It is good to be saved from sin by any means, but it is best when our own principle holds us back from it. And so God does not hold us from temptation by outward force, but by the inbreathing of His Spirit; He would have us obedient children who love to do His will. God also deals practically with nations as with individuals. He is teaching nations the art of self-government, and is training men to see that war is not only a blunder, but a crime.
III. I should like to have shown that OUR GOD IS A PERSONAL GOD. He knows you, He loves you, and He is now present with you! Speak to Him in prayer; He hears you. Seek His Holy Spirit; He gives it to you. Trust Him.
I. OF HIS INFINITE POWER. In creation, by a word; the earth and man, his body and soul. What power is here. This is my God, this God that has done all things that can be conceived of, whether "in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth." "Comes there before you now dangers, jeopardy, adversaries? Comes there before you now something that you are anticipating, of which you stand in dread? and you feel, would to God I had defence and protection for ever? Say to Him, "Who is our God? Thou art my portion saith my soul." Before you say it, He will answer. Who is our God? He it is who created the heavens and the earth by His mere commandment, and who could unmake them all to-morrow by a similar commandment, again upholding all things by the word of His power. He is our Father, and we are His sons and daughters, according to His promise.
II. THE INFINITE WISDOM OF GOD. DO you not know what marks of consummate sagacity are meeting us at every step? There is that great and wide sea of which I spoke; possessed of an ingredient that maintains it in its purity, and yet getting discharged of that ingredient naturally and advantageously day after day! The great wide seal The source of the fertilizing shower, the great receptacle to which those fertilizing showers return! Mark the wisdom there! There is the sun placed just in the position necessary for the beautiful diffusion of its light and heat; and here is our earth in its relation to the sun, so revolving as to obtain the benefit of its sunshine and of its warmth, and so related to it as to give us all the seasons in their turn. Wisdom again!
III. THE UNSPEAKABLE MERCY OF GOD. For this see how righteousness and love, justice and mercy were harmonized.
IV. HIS UNCHANGEABLENESS. And He waits to be yours. To reject Him is to perish.
I. A BLESSED SELECTION. "This God," amongst all other gods, shall be our God. For there were many gods of different name and nature. Some for one country and others for another. But in our day all Christian nations profess, whatever be their sect or denomination, to worship the same God. There are many Churches. Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Mormon and others. Now, which is the true Church, and what God is the right God? And we must each one make our choice. It is a responsibility that we cannot transfer. It is said that every man makes his own god. And it is true that a man will of necessity ascribe to God those faculties and attributes which he himself possesses and values most highly. "To the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful." Every rightly educated man in a Christian country must, after studying the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, believe in God our Father. If he be a man of balanced judgment, that is, if his mind be formed mentally "on the square," in my opinion, he must admit that the highest ideal, the noblest character, the most beautiful disposition that can possibly be described in human language is that of the Divine Being, our heavenly Father, as revealed by Jesus Christ. What a beautiful name is that of Father! And He is the Father of our spirits which, though the body may perish, are indestructible. And God is revealed as a pardoning God, freely forgiving our sins.
II. THE BLESSED DECISION. "This God is our God." Believe in God's power and willingness to save us. Trust Him utterly, and through Jesus Christ He will save us.
I. THE PSALMIST MAKES THE PAST THROW LIGHT ON THE FUTURE. He notes how God has interposed for His people, and upon such facts he bases his assurances for the future. Such is God — so mighty and so careful for His people. Our God, who has made our cause His own; for ever, for He is always the same. And as He has been, so He will be even unto death. And certainly, if the psalmist had been the most learned of historians, if he could have anticipated the large and minute knowledge and the elaborate philosophies of history which mark the present, he could not have reached a wiser conclusion. For if, in our studies, we leave God out of history or of personal experience, these give us no ground of hope for successful guidance in the future. If any one is satisfied to believe that he has reached his present success, or that the world has attained its present point of progress through human wisdom alone, I wish him joy of his conclusion, and should be interested to know how he reconciles it with the facts. The administration of the world has clearly proved itself to be altogether too large a thing for either the individual or the collective wisdom of mankind.
II. AND GOD IS OUR GOD. He is not merely an abstract fact, but a personal possession. "This God is our God." This permission to appropriate God is one of the most precious revelations of Scripture. God gives Himself to us. God's giving Himself in Christ is no new gift. He had done that long before Christ came. The psalmist had said, "Thou art my God, O God." That little word "my" represents the eternal relation of God to His people. And if God is ours, then, whatever is in God is available for us, is ours. A good many of you do not practically believe that. If you did, you would not worry and fret as you do. You will not accept God's large meaning. If a rich and wise man in whom you have perfect trust should come to you this morning and say, "For the rest of your life you shall absolutely command my purse, ray knowledge, my experience," you would appreciate that, and would believe it, and would get substantial help and comfort from it. And yet God says to you nothing less than this. I am your God. All that you can receive as a man I put at your disposal. That is your new-year's gift if you will believe it. Some things God will net give you because they would hurt you. Other things He will not give you because you could not use them if you had them. In giving you Himself God gives you more than all His gifts combined.
III. THIS POSSESSION IS FOR EVER AND EVER. More than this year's future is assured. No king, no capitalist can say what you can. They cannot say of their crown, their gold, "This is mine for ever." The head that wears the crown must be laid low, and the rich man's gold pass into other hands. But God is ours for ever and ever.
IV. The thought is made specific — GOD IS OUR GOD AS OUR GUIDE. This idea of guidance is frequent in the Scriptures. See Israel in the wilderness. And our Lord, in the beautiful figure of the good shepherd — "He goeth before them." And in heaven, "the Lamb shall lead them to fountains of living waters." Such is God, our God, our Guide, an approved Guide. The history of His guidance, the map of the tracks by which He has led His people, is before us. The first instance has yet to be shown of one who has fared other than well by following God as a guide. Do you cite me the great army of the sorrowing, the persecuted, the martyrs? They have not fared ill if their own testimony is worth anything. They have had their choice. They could have forsaken God if they would, but they chose to follow Him through suffering to death. On their own testimony they fared better with God and with tribulation than with the world and without God. And our Guide has unerring wisdom (Psalm 73.). "Thou shelf guide me with Thy counsel." Is it not worth trying? Suppose that for this year you literally accept it as the law of your life, to let God take care of you. Keep your hand in God's, your eye upon His face; do what He tells you; do your best, and believe with all your heart that God will do the best for you. I care not how many troubles and disappointments you shall meet — if you do not say at the close of the year that it has been the happiest, or rather the most blessed, year of your life, come to me and tell me I have misread God's promises. And what is this blessed promise but that which we find in Christ's words, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
He will be our guide even unto death
1. If we were going to ascend Mont Blanc, we should seek for a guide in whom we could feel confidence; he must be a man of experience, one who had travelled that way many times, who knew every danger and how to avoid them; he must be a strong man, and one who would be able to render aid in case of accident, one who would not desert us in the hour of need, but stand by us even unto death; and many a guide has lost his life in these perilous ascents in the effort to save the traveller in his care. The guide would expect us to follow him, and to obey him, and no one would neglect to do this. So in our journey through life, One has offered to be our Guide and lead us safely to the heavenly Jerusalem. There are many dangers by the way, many pitfalls for the unwary and ignorant, and those who insist on going alone are sure to get lost; let us choose this Guide, for He has experience, He has travelled this way before, and He knows every step. He is a guide we can have such confidence in, we need never doubt Him for a moment, but He must be obeyed, we must follow Him just as He tells us.
2. Into what paths will He guide us? He led the children of Israel through the desert, but into a land flowing with milk and honey. And sometimes He leads His people through darkness, but the way leads up to light, through sorrow up to joy, through tears up to happiness; separations will end in reunions, weakness in strength, sickness in health. He will lead us into that land where shall be no more hunger nor thirst, where the sun shall not light on us, nor any heat. For He shall lead us unto fountains of living water, and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no night there. What a glorious Guide and Leader!