To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD. The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
The chief part of our text sets before us God in the variety and boundlessness of His loving nature, and the close of it shows us man sheltering beneath God's wings.
I. We have, first, God in the boundlessness of His loving nature. The one pure light of the Divine nature is broken up in the prism of the Psalm into various rays, which theologians call, in their hard, abstract way, Divine attributes. These are "mercy, faithfulness, righteousness." Then we have two sets of Divine acts: judgments and the preservation of man and beast; and finally we have again "loving-kindness," as our version has unfortunately been misled, by its love for varying its translation, to render the same word which begins the series and is there called "mercy." (1) Mercy and loving-kindness mean substantially this: active love communicating itself to creatures that are inferior and that might have expected something else to befall them. This "quality of mercy" stands here at the beginning and the end. It is last as well as first, the final upshot of all revelation. (2) Next to mercy comes faithfulness. God's faithfulness is, in its narrowest sense, His adherence to His promises. Not only His articulate promises, but His past actions, bind Him. His words, His acts, His own nature, bind God to bless and help. His faithfulness is the expression of His unchangeableness. (3) The next beam of the Divine brightness is righteousness. The notion of righteousness here is that God has a law for His being to which He conforms, and that whatsoever things are fair, and lovely, and good, and pure down here—these things are fair, and lovely, and good, and pure up there; that He is the archetype of all excellence, the ideal of all moral completeness; that we can know enough of Him to be sure that what we call right He loves, and what we call right He practises. (4) God's judgments are the whole of the ways, the methods, of the Divine government. They are the expressions of His thoughts, and these thoughts are thoughts of good, and not of evil.
II. Look at the picture of man sheltering beneath God's wings. God's loving-kindness, or mercy, is precious, for that is the true meaning of the word translated "excellent." We are rich when we have that for ours; we are poor without it. The last verse tells us how we can make God our own: "They put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings." God spreads the covert of His wing, strong and tender, beneath which we may all gather ourselves and nestle. And how can we do that? By the simple process of fleeing unto Him, as made known to us in Christ our Saviour, to hide ourselves there.
A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 2nd series, p. 211.
Psalm 36:6-8I. The creatures cannot give God intelligent thanks; in their own way they do it, yet not intelligently. But man can give a voice to it. God preserves the beasts as well as the men, and man comes as the high-priest of creation—a sinner, yet encouraged by the grace of life—and gives thanks in creation's name to Him from whom all good things come.
II. Mark how from the first step, the preservation of man and beast, the Psalmist ascends. Whoever comes near to God in any way must come near to all that is in God; for he comes near to Himself. He comes near to the Preserver, but the Preserver has other characters as well. Thus the Psalmist is led from the consideration of the food which supports temporal life to that which supports spiritual, everlasting life. The loving-kindness of the Lord—on that a soul can feed.
III. "They shall be abundantly satisfied." In order to satisfaction there are two things needful: that things be satisfying in their nature and that they be satisfying in their quantity. The assurance is here given as regards the house of God that the things are not only of a satisfying nature, but of a satisfying quantity. God is bountiful in the provisions of His providence and in the provisions of His grace.
J. Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, p. 286.
Psalm 36:6(1) Mystery is a necessity. So long as the finite has to do with the infinite, there must be mystery. Every atom in the universe is an ocean into which if you take three steps you are out of your depth. (2) Mystery is more than a necessity. It is a boon. Imagination must have its play, and expectation its scope. And mystery cultivates the two high graces of patience and faith, for you cannot be educated without mystery. (3) Mystery is joy in everything. Half the happiness of life would be gone if we had not always to do with something beyond it.
I. When suffering of mind or body comes, perhaps the first cry of nature is, "Why? Why all this for me? Am I worse than others? Am I made the target of all God's shafts?" Mystery answers mystery. It is mystery, in great part, for this very end, that you may say, "Why?" and have no answer but "Sovereignty, God's own absolute, rightful sovereignty!" All the most afflicted servants of God felt great mystery—Abraham when the sun went down, "and lo! an horror of great darkness fell upon him;" and Jacob in that fierce night of supernatural Wrestling; and Moses at the burning bush; and Job in "thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men," etc.
II. Study the Cross. Read all its lessons. Take all its comfortings. In all your suffering, learn to love the mystery which gives you concord with Jesus and all His saints. Do Do not wish to see all. Do not wish to explain all. Stand on the shore of that great sea, and do not try to know all that lies in those depths and all that stretches beyond your little horizon. There are some minds to which mystery is a toil; but as we grow in grace we learn first to bear mystery, then to accept mystery, then to choose mystery.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 13th series, p. 77.
Psalm 36:6In our text God's righteousness is declared to be like the great mountains. Notice some of the analogies between them.
I. Like them, it is durable. The mountains of the earth have been often employed as emblems of permanence and stability. It is by them that men have sometimes sworn. Sometimes God compares Himself with the mountains, and then we read that "as the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even for ever." Sometimes He contrasts Himself with the mountains, and then we read that "the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but that His kindness shall not depart from His people." (1) The permanence of God's righteousness follows of necessity from the inherent unchangeableness of God Himself. (2) His righteousness is exposed to none of the circumstances or accidents which bring peril to the righteousness of man.
II. God's righteousness is like the great mountains in its mysteriousness. Indeed, it is not only His righteousness, it is Himself, in all the essentiality of His being and perfections, that is a mystery. Faith must come to the aid of reason when we contemplate the righteousness of God as it slowly, but surely, accomplishes its purposes in the government of the world.
III. God's righteousness is like the great mountains because, like them, it has heights which it is dangerous to climb. We cannot comprehend the higher mysteries of the Gospel; and if we could, it is more than doubtful whether any corresponding benefit could be derived from them. Men can no more live on the high mountains of theology than they can on the high mountains of the earth.
IV. God's righteousness is like the great mountains because, like them, it is a bulwark and a defence to all who regard it with reverence and faith. While it has heights on which the presumptuous spectator is sure to be lost if he should attempt to climb them, these very heights, if he will remain in the position which God has assigned to him, will be his surest defence and guard. I know of no truth which furnishes a more solid basis for the soul than the righteousness of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures.
E. Mellor, Congregationalist, vol. i., p. 389.
References: Psalm 36:6.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 213; E. Mason, A Pastor's Legacy, p. 145; F. O. Morris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 337; J. Jackson Wray, Light from the Old Lamp, p. 320; J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i., p. 184.
Psalm 36:7-9I. In the enjoying of God there is implied a sense of His love and favour. These feelings are not congenial to the mind of fallen man; for he neither loves God, nor places confidence in Him as really interested in the happiness of His creatures. On the contrary, the natural tendency of the human heart is to distrust God and to regard Him as an Enemy. It is only when the soul is enlightened in the knowledge of Christ that the sense of God's love and favour is shed abroad in the heart and truly realised. The soul, freed from that slavish terror under the influence of which it could only look up to God with suspicion, now rises in affection and desire toward heaven, and the believer regards God as his Father and his Friend.
II. Another element in the enjoying of God is the delightful feeling which His people cherish of His presence with them. The believer not only acknowledges, in the language of the Psalmist, that God compasses his path and is acquainted with all his ways, that there is no escaping from His spirit or fleeing from His presence, but he delights to contemplate Him as present with himself personally, and feels a positive satisfaction in the thought of His presence with him. And the reason is obvious. The presence of God is to him the presence of a Friend.
III. Another element is our being made partakers of a Divine nature. God by His Holy Spirit imparts to His people a resemblance to Himself, working in them all the graces that form the ornament of the Christian character, and bringing their will into a state of conformity to His own blessed will. That is what is usually called having communion with God, and it is the highest glory and happiness of which our nature is susceptible in the present life. In these things lies the chief happiness of man; in these only can the soul find a portion suitable to its immortal nature and its imperishable faculties.
A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 29.
With God is the well of life; and in His light we shall see light. The first is the answer to man's hunger after righteousness; the second answers to his thirst after truth.
I. With God is the well of life. In Him is the life thou wishest for. He alone can quicken thee, and give thee spirit and power to fulfil thy duty in thy generation.
II. And so, again, with the thirst after truth. Not by the reading of books, however true, not by listening to sermons, however clever, can we see light, but only in the light of God. Know God. Know that He is justice itself, order itself, love itself, patience itself, pity itself. The true knowledge of God will be the key to all other true knowledge in heaven and earth. As the Maker is, so is His work; if therefore thou wouldest judge rightly of the work, acquaint thyself with the Maker of it, and know first, and know for ever, that His name is love.
C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, No. 2.
References: Psalm 36:8.—C. J. Vaughan, Voices of the Prophets, p. 306; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 64.
Psalm 36:8-9In these verses we have a wonderful picture of the blessedness of the godly, the elements of which consist in four things: satisfaction, represented under the emblem of a feast; joy, represented under the imagery of full draughts from a flowing river of delight; life, pouring from God as a fountain; light, streaming from Him as a source.
I. Satisfaction. "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house." Now, I suppose, there is a double metaphor in that. There is an allusion, no doubt, to the festal meal of priests and worshippers in the Temple on the occasion of the peace-offering; and there is also the simpler metaphor of God as the Host at His table, at which we are guests. The plain teaching of the text is that by the might of a calm trust in God the whole mass of a man's desires are filled and satisfied. God, and God alone, is the food of the heart. God, and God alone, will satisfy your need.
II. Notice the next of the elements of blessedness here: joy. "Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures." There may be a possible reference here, couched in the word "pleasures," to the garden of Eden, with the river that watered it parting into four heads; for "Eden" is the singular of the word which is here translated "pleasures" or "delights." The teaching of the text is that the simple act of trusting beneath the shadow of God's wings brings to us an ever-fresh and flowing river of gladness, of which we may drink. All real and profound possession of, and communion with, God in Christ will make us glad—glad with a gladness altogether unlike that of the world round about us, far deeper, far quieter, far nobler, the sister and ally of all great things, of all pure life, of all generous and lofty thought.
III. We have the third element of the blessedness of the godly represented under the metaphor of life, pouring from the fountain, which is God. The words are true in regard of the lowest meaning of life, "physical existence;" and they give a wonderful idea of the connection between God and all living creatures. Wherever there is life, there is God. The creature is bound to the Creator by a mystic bond and tie of kinship, by the fact of life. But the text does not refer merely to physical existence, but to something higher than that, namely, to that life of the spirit in communion with God which is the true and proper sense of life, the one, namely, in which the word is almost always used in the Bible.
IV. "In Thy light shall we see light." The reference is to the spiritual gift which belongs to the men who "put their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings." In communion with Him who is the Light as well as the Life of men, we see a whole universe of glories, realities, and brightnesses. (1) In communion with God, we see light upon all the paths of duty. (2) In the same communion with God, we get light in all seasons of darkness and sorrow. "To the upright there ariseth light in the darkness," and the darkest hours of earthly fortune will be like a Greenland summer night, when the sun scarcely dips below the horizon, and even when it is absent all the heaven is aglow with a calm twilight.
A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 2nd series, p. 227.
Psalm 36:9I. It is quite certain that we see nothing by that which is in the object itself. We see it by that which falls on it from above. And this process of seeing everything by a communicated light must go on and on till we arrive at a primary light, and that light alone shows itself. It cannot be known by anything external to itself; it is its own expositor. Such is God. We can only know God by Himself. The means whereby we see God are within God. "In Thy light shall we see light." The Bible mirrors the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost mirrors the Son, the Son mirrors the Father, and we know God. And all through the principle is the same, and the rule is absolute—we know God by Himself. "In the light of Thine own being shall we see light."
II. Take the general law that everything is to us just what God is to us. It is the presence or the absence, the nearness or the distance, of God which makes it happy or unhappy, injurious or beneficial. Its complexion all depends on the God that is in it. There may be much beauty, but we shall not find it out till He makes it known to us. "In Thy light shall we see light."
III. This is specially true in sickness and sorrow. God loves to show what His light is by making it burn where all around is very dark. Watch; if you can only see it, there is already a line upon the cloud. The day-star is risen, and soon it will all come in its own order—a twilight, a breaking, a fleeing away of the shadows, a mounting of the sun in your heart higher and higher, a merry warmth, a meridian splendour.
IV. The power of everything, the soul of everything, is its light. In God's triple empire it is all one Light, and the Light is Christ. As on that fourth day of creation God gathered up all the scattered particles that played in the new-made firmament and treasured them in the sun, so in the four thousandth year of our world did He concentrate all light into Christ. That is light's unity, and thence it flows through nature, grace, and glory, and light is trinity.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 10th series, p. 28.
We have in these words the significant declaration that God, the fountain of the true and highest life, is known by men in no other than His own light, as the sun is contemplated in no other resplendence than that which streams forth to us from itself. Faith in the living God as He reveals Himself is the light of all our knowledge.
I. Take, first, the problem of the world. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." There is not a truer word than this in the Bible. Believing is not knowing, it is true; but yet belief, duly enlightened and confirmed, leads to a knowledge and science certainly very different in its nature from that which we arrive at by the process of reasoning and observation, but not on that account of a lower degree of certainty; and the science which begins by abandoning this faith is condemned by an inexorable judgment of God, at a certain point, earlier or later, either to be reduced to silence or to enter on the path of error.
II. The conception of God—who shall satisfactorily determine it? or does not your confession ultimately come to this: God is great, and we comprehend Him not? Yet He has written His monogram deep on every conscience, and all the heavens cry aloud of His glory. But nature conceals God as well as reveals Him. The impure conscience compels man to flee from his Maker, and thus leads the darkened intellect upon the path of error. The Son of God has given us understanding that we may know Him that is true; to His disciples it is granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
III. The heart of man. Man remains in the end the greatest enigma to himself. The Bible is just as little a handbook of natural science as of the science of man. Yet this memorial of the Divine revelation of salvation has afforded more satisfactory contributions to the solution of this problem also than the varying systems of all philosophers and psychologists together. The key to the mystery of humanity lies within those sacred pages which testify of sin and grace.
IV. But though the great word of reconciliation has been spoken, what avails it so long as the conflict of life continues so terribly to rage, and to demand so many victims? The old proverb is true that man has a warfare upon earth, a warfare which begins with his birth and usually ends only with death. Wondrous fact that He who reconciles man to God reconciles him also to life, to conflict, to the most bitter grief, and teaches him something higher than subjection—teaches him the secret of a joy which sings psalms even in the deepest night!
V. Only one question remains: the question as to the final triumph of the conflict of the ages. God's world-plan—what know ye of it who place faith as a blind beggar outside the crystal palace of your science? To us it has been made known, this mystery of God's good pleasure to gather all things together under Christ as Head. To subserve the coming of His kingdom, men's spirits struggle, and the nations rage, and the ages revolve, and the discords follow each other, but at last to be resolved into one prophetic voice, "Maranatha, Jesus comes."
J. Van Oosterzee, Preacher's Lantern, vol. iv., pp. 483, 555.
David saw the world all full of seekers after light; he was a seeker after light himself. What he had discovered, and what he wanted to tell men, was that the first step in a hopeful search after light must be for a man to put himself into the element of light, which was God. The first thing for any man to do who wanted knowledge was to put himself under God, to make himself God's man, because both he who wanted to know and that which he wanted to know had God for their true element, and were their best and did their best only as they lived in Him. Notice three or four facts concerning human knowledge which seem to give their confirmation to the doctrine of the old Hebrew singer's song.
I. First stands the constant sense of the essential unity of knowledge. All truth makes one great whole, and no student of truth rightly masters his own special study unless he at least constantly remembers that it is only one part of the vast unity of knowledge, one strain in the universal music, one ray in the complete and perfect light.
II. A second fact with regard to human knowledge is its need of inspiration and elevation from some pure and spiritual purpose.
III. Another characteristic of the best search after wisdom is the way in which it awakens the sense of obedience.
IV. Closely allied to this fact is the constant tendency which knowledge has always shown to connect itself with moral character. The combination of these consciousnesses makes, almost of necessity, the consciousness of God. As they are necessary to the search for light, so is the God in whom they meet the true Inspirer and Helper of the eternal search.
Phillips Brooks, Sermons Preached in English Churches, p. 89.
Psalm 36:9I. The frequent occurrence of these two images in conjunction, in tacit, unemphatic passages, shows us how deeply the symbols and their meaning too had sunk into the heart of the nation. But they were at last to receive their full, precise, and definite interpretation—an interpretation which should bring the life and light of God home to every man, and show him, not merely that far off in heaven light and life existed, but that they were brought close to every one's home, not merely that the well of life was with God, as the Psalmist knew, but that it rose and ran close by the ways of man, not merely that "we shall see light" in distant years, but that there is for us One that is the Light of the world, which whoso followeth shall not walk in darkness.
II. Look at what our Lord says about the living water of life. "On the last day, that great day of the feast"—just perhaps after the priest had poured the water from his ewer, while the crowds were still undispersed—"Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink." The water in the Temple was not drunk, only poured out. But Jesus returns at once to the rock which was the meaning of the ceremony, and to the old scene in the desert when the thirsting congregation wished to drink of the clear, outflowing tide. "If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink." Drink what? That which the ancient water signified: life, and strength, and purity. Innocence restored, strength attained, life assured—all these are in the draught which He places at your lips. Once drink of Christ's spirit really, and it shall rise and flow from your own lips, full of freshness, full of progress. To the Christian moralist alone of all moralists the lessening of fault, the growth of perfection, can bring no vanity, for he alone knows that it is not of himself he lives, that the life of Christ is his only life.
Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 32.
References: Psalm 36:9.—J. Vaughan, Old Testament Outlines, p. 109; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, pp. 292, 311; S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 97.
For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.
The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.
He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil.
Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.
Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast.
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me.
There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.