The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.Voices of Creation
This is a great intellect in a contemplative mood. The appreciation of nature is the work of intellect; hence, in proportion as the human mind is cultivated, is nature found to be teeming with instruction and sources of enjoyment. Never, perhaps, was nature more graphically described than in the psalm before us. Facts are here turned into poetry. Divine power is celebrated in strains the most elevated and inspiring, while the exquisite adaptations of nature are indicated with the minuteness and delicacy of the most analytic observation.
The opening reference presents a stroke of true sublimity: the Psalmist describes light as the garment of Deity. He speaks of the heavens being stretched out as a curtain—of God making the clouds his chariot and walking upon the wings of the wind;—he lays bare the foundations of the earth, and sounds the depths of the great waters—looking down the sides of the mountains, he notes the springs gushing in music and beauty—he marks the wild ass quenching its thirst, and hears the fowls of heaven singing among the branches—he observes the sap circling in the trees of the Lord, and is impressed with the majesty of the noble cedars that adorn the crest of Lebanon;—he notes the bird building its nest, the wild goat bounding over the rugged hills, and the feeble coney finding its lodgment in the rock. Having taken this survey, he turns his gaze towards the heavens, and watches the moon as she keeps her seasons, and bursts into rapture as the glory of the setting sun sheds its beams upon his vision—and, again reverting to earth, he hears the roar of the lion as he shakes the forest in searching for his prey—next he beholds the great deep with its gallant navy, and the dread leviathan! We cannot wonder, therefore, that the amazement and gratitude of the Psalmist should break into the exclamation, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all."
This world is not unfavourable to moral culture. It has been described as a "vale of tears," and as a "waste howling wilderness," and, to some extent, the description is accurate. We must ever remember, however, that our consciousness of guilt has perverted our vision and our taste, and that in proportion as we become godlike, will fresh beauties strike our eye, and new charms challenge our admiration. The Psalmist is holy on a planet which has been cursed, and even through the darkness of the divine frown can see gleamings and blazings of true glory.
All agencies are under the control of an Infinite Intelligence. Speaking of the waters that stood above the mountains, the Psalmist declares, "At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away." In this he asserts the great principle that all forces are under the management of divine wisdom and paternal love. We have the assurance, therefore, that our Father knows every tempest that sweeps through the air—notes every dew-drop that quivers on the opening flower—and is acquainted with every breeze that stirs the atmosphere. Conscious of this, we may accept without hesitation the exceeding great and precious promise: "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday." You will observe that God speaks of these with the familiarity of one to whose will they immediately bow.
The divine resources are equal to every exigency. The necessities of nature are endless. In all parts of the universe there are mouths opened, eyes upturned, and hands outstretched. Mouths, eyes, and hands are directed to a central Being, and what is his reply to this million-tongued appeal? Is there hurry or confusion in his palace? Is he surprised by some unexpected exigency? Does he ask the suppliant throngs to pause until the excitement of their appeal has subsided? Nay! Hear the explanation of the Psalmist: "Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing"! Mark the sublime ease which is here indicated. Could that ease have been more significantly expressed? Compare it with the anxiety and fretfulness of man when besieged with numerous appeals! How soon are his resources exhausted! How early does he cry for relief and rest! Yet as the universe takes its seat, so to speak, at the table of the Lord, the divine Benefactor simply opens his hand, and the universe is satisfied!
The divine existence is to constitute the central fact in all our contemplations of the universe. The Psalmist is not content with looking at nature: in the highest sense he "looks through nature up to nature's God;"—hence he opens the psalm with the cry, "Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty." Having taken a survey of nature, he exclaims, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works!" And, having completed his inspection, he again turns upon his soul, and invokes it to praise the Lord. You hence perceive that God was the central fact in the Psalmist's contemplations. He never passed into a region whence he was unable to behold the Maker of all! When he looked at light he saw it as the robe of God—when he watched the refreshing shower he exclaimed, "he watereth the hills from his chambers"—from the fir-trees as the house of the stork, and the rocks as the dwelling of the coney, the Psalmist beholds the palace of the Eternal!
This fact serves three purposes:—(1) It disproves the speculations of pantheism. Pantheism teaches the identity of God and nature; but in this psalm we have more than fifty references, by noun or pronoun, to the existence and attributes of a personal agent! Behind all and over all the Psalmist describes a personal power as presiding;—he sees, as it were, the mysterious hand that has lighted the countless orbs which shine in the diadem of night; and amid the calm regularity of the universe he hears the sound of the divine "going." The Psalmist, therefore, distinctly teaches the existence of a Being who is infinitely above the powers and glories of nature, and for whose pleasure they are, and were created.
(2) It undermines the materialistic theory. This theory teaches the non-existence of mind. What we call mind, it denominates a refinement of matter. The entire psalm, however, proclaims and celebrates the presence of Infinite Mind. It sings the honour of a Being who ponders the wants of his creatures, and who has delicately balanced the adaptations of nature and moral existences. Not only so, but every note that breaks from the Psalmist's inspired tongue proclaims the presence and the capabilities of mind. Regarding the psalm, therefore, as authoritative on the question, the materialistic theory is reduced to an absurdity.
(3) It invests the universe with a mystic sanctity. Everywhere we behold the divine handiwork. As the architect embodies his genius in the stupendous temple or noble mansion, so, as we have repeatedly affirmed, has God materialised his wisdom and power in the physical creation. You hold certain possessions dear on account of the mind which they represent, or the hands which they memorialise, and shall not the child of God appreciate the wonders of creative power, as he realises the fact that they testify to his Father's wisdom and love? to the Christian the wind becomes sacred, as he remembers that it is written, "he walketh upon the wings of the wind."
We see, then, in what mood the Psalmist conducted his contemplations of nature. Creation was to his spirit the very gate of heaven. He found an altar everywhere. The world was transformed into a "solemn temple." He did not walk through the world-museum as a mere utilitarian, though in nature's sublimest poetry he found the highest moral usefulness. Let us always survey creation with the eye of a Christian: surveying it with such an eye, we shall never fail to realise the most exquisite enjoyment—on every hand beauty will appeal to the eye, and in every season music will present her offering to the ear. Loneliness will thus become an impossibility. The mysterious ladder, connecting earth with heaven, will ever be visible. While the ascetic and the misanthrope are breathing dolorous strains, we shall be uttering doxologies of thankfulness—while the cheerless mourner is describing earth as a barren desert, and a vale of tears, we shall be gratefully exclaiming,
The principle of dependence is everywhere developed in the universe. This assertion is abundantly sustained by such expressions as: "These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season." "That thou givest them they gather." "Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust." "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth." It is thus shown that every natural phenomenon is traceable, directly or indirectly, to the divine purpose or government. The varied natural changes are attributed to the Spirit of the Lord: when the flowers grace the earth, the Psalmist exclaims, "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created;" and when generations are consigned to the tomb he adds, "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust." The Psalmist, therefore, ignores the presence of "chance," or "accident;" in his view God is enthroned, and the divine dominion is over all!
We infer, then,—First: The existence of an absolutely self-dependent power. Finite conception is totally unequal to the comprehension of such an existence. We have sung
Second: The special mission of each part of the universe.—The Psalmist in his wide excursion and minute observation detects nothing that is wanting in purpose. Man alone is failing in the exercise of his true function. All nature proclaims his shame, not by direct reference, but by self-consistency. From the grass-blade to the vastest planet that shines in the firmament there is harmony with the divine will; but in man there is impurity; in his arm rebellion rules! The sun never fails to pour splendour on the worlds which claim him as a centre; but man who is the glory of this lower scene has quenched his light, and now lurks in darkness, because his deeds are evil!
Third: The profound humility by which every intelligence should be characterised. Seeing that we are dependent on God for "life and breath, and all things," it becometh us to dwell in the dust of humility. There is one question which may well smite human pride, and bring human consciousness to an estimate of man's actual position, viz.: "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" Men of genius! Ye who boast of your power to rule the mind of multitudes, or betake yourselves into lofty regions, where you can be free from the intrusions of vulgarity; what have you that ye have not received? Your genius never sheds a single ray which is not borrowed from the Infinite Light, nor could it ever exalt you into those sacred realms of enjoyment, except by the power of the Infinite Arm! Men of money! What have you that ye have not received? Remember, that the silver and the gold are God's, and the cattle upon a thousand hills: the tact, the energy, the forethought, to which you attribute your success, are as truly a divine creation, as is the sun in whose light you conducted your toils. "Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights." It little becomes us, therefore, to assume the airs of arrogancy, or to use the rod of despotism. We are all dependent! Our breath is in our nostrils. The divine will determines the measure of our days; let us, therefore, in genuine humility, conduct the business of life, and prove our Christian discipleship, by reflecting his beauty who was meek and lowly in heart. Our rejoicing is this that we depend on One who cannot fail; on One who has only to open his hand, in order that his creatures may be filled with good: we need entertain no alarm as to the resources which are under God's control; for when the abundance of the physical universe is exhausted, we have yet in reserve, the unsearchable riches of Christ.
A devout contemplation of the universe is calculated to increase man's hatred of sin. This is strikingly evident from the concluding language of the Psalmist. Having beheld the symmetry, the adaptation, and the unity of the divine works, he directs his gaze to the moral world, and, beholding its hideous deformity and loathsomeness, he exclaims, "Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more;" as though he had said, "There is one foul blot on this glorious picture; one discordant note in this enrapturing anthem. Let this spot be removed and the picture will be perfect; bring this note into harmony, and the melody will be soul-enthralling!" Have not kindred feelings agitated our own breasts as we have gazed on the landscape, or listened to the "melody of nature's choir," or praisefully watched the rising sun, "as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoicing as a strong man to run a race"? Has not a verdict on our species escaped our lips as we have mused on nature's magnificence, and that verdict assumed the well-known form—"only man is vile"? If so, we can sympathise with the Psalmist as he longs for the utter extinction of iniquity. When we cry out: "Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more," in what sense do we pray for their annihilation? Certainly not as commanding fire from heaven to consume those who obey not the Gospel; nor as praying that God would "stir up all his wrath," and consign his foes to eternal ruin. God and Christ, reason and mercy, alike forbid! We would consume the sinner by consuming his wickedness. We would terminate the generation of evildoers by expelling iniquity from the moral creation. But can this be done? Is not the extinction of evil a Utopian dream? Nay! Blessed be God, "there is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin and uncleanness;" and again, "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin"! Christ came to consume the sinner by taking away the sin of the world; and all who exercise faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, having truly repented of sin, become children of light, and heirs of everlasting riches, being brought into harmony with the nature of God.
We conclude with a few words of a directly practical nature:—First: God must be the central fact in our being. As he is everywhere influentially visible in creation, so should he be manifest in our daily demeanour. While engaged in the transitory affairs of earth, we should walk as those who "have no continuing city, but seek one to come;" and amid the restlessness of sublunary irritation, we should be fixed on the immovable Rock; the Rock Christ Jesus. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon;" this declaration we have on the highest authority. Let us, therefore, not squander our time in attempting the experiment, but accept the assurance as an infallible certainty. Let us take this as a fundamental principle, and if it produce its true effect, we shall love the Lord our God, with all our heart, and mind, and strength.
Second: What is the highest relationship we sustain to the Creator? We must, as we have seen, sustain one relationship to God, viz., that of dependant. No spirit, however self-sufficient, can find a region in which he can truthfully affirm "I have no need of God!" But is this the highest relationship which any of us sustain? God forbid! The worm beneath our feet, if gifted with utterance, would say, "I, too, am a dependant." Has it, then, come to this, that man—created in the image and likeness of God, is reduced to the level of the reptile? Are we content to be the mere "pensioners on the bounty of an hour"? We are called to a higher standing: to be the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. This lofty privilege we may achieve through the infinite merits of the Saviour's sacrifice, for "the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost."
Third: This beneficent Creator also reveals himself as man's Saviour. God, through Christ, created the worlds, and through him also he renews the moral creation. We, therefore, worship God in Christ. It is not to the Creator, as such, that the penitent draws near in quest of pardon—it is to God as presented in the character and sacrifice of Christ that he directs his application. We revere the God of Nature; may we accept him as the God of our Salvation: we tremble at the power of the Creator; may we repent while beholding the tenderness of Christ. Reverence for the Creator will never save us, for there is no name given among men whereby we can be saved but that of Christ Jesus.
Fourth: The extinction of sin should be the good man's supreme object. He who converts a sinner from the error of his way, saves a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins. They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars in the firmament, for ever and ever. It is not for us to make light of sin. We are to regard it as God regards it, and of him it is declared that he cannot behold sin with the least degree of allowance. Let us, by divine grace, aid in the extinction of iniquity. The cry for our help is loud and urgent—it rises not only from distant shores, but from the heart of our own country, and every Christian can have no difficulty in interpreting its message into the oft-repeated language—"Come up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty."
Almighty God, we cannot tell how many are thy mercies; they are continual, they are more than the sands upon the seashore, and the stars are not so many in multitude as are the compassions of the Lord towards the children of men. Thou dost love us: thou didst so love the world as to give thine only begotten Son to save it. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us; and while we were yet enemies his Son died for us. We cannot understand this: it blinds our reason with an infinite light; we see not why it should have been: we can understand thine anger better than we can comprehend thy love, for we know that we have incurred the one and have not deserved the other. We forget God; we do not retain God in our thoughts: thou art the trouble of our life if not its supreme joy, thou art our hell if not our heaven. Thou knowest the world in which we are placed: behold, thou hast set us herein to dress it and to keep it, and we are idle men. No hireling ever misspent his hours as we have wasted the time thou hast given unto us. We have considered ourselves, we have consulted oracles that would flatter us, we have sought out the lie that would please us most for the passing moment, and we have listened to that lie rather than to the gospel of thy judgment and thy love. It well becometh us, therefore, to shut our eyes in shame, to run away into the darkness of the night, to put our hand upon our mouth and to say, each for himself, "God be merciful unto me a sinner." This we now say: every heart says it, every soul utters the penitential cry—surely thou wilt answer us as with trumpets and mighty voices from heaven, and the angels shall cry unto us that our iniquity is pardoned. We love the Saviour, though we often forget him: deep down in our hearts is a very tender love for his Cross. We can say to him, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that we love thee." Our sins are not greater than our love: our guilt is black, but our love is greater than our guilt. O wondrous mystery of the heart, yet so true. Lord, answer us, not according to the measure of our guilt, but according to the desire and yearning of our life. Amen.