A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
I. How forgetfulness of God leads us to chafe under the painful dispensations of human life. It is an honest confession which we find in the third verse: "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." It is the actual stress of life, contact with all its hard and trying realities, that tests our faith. Can we bear to "see" the prosperity of the wicked while we are ourselves in adversity? (1) Notice how envy grows into self-righteousness. The words, "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain," etc., suggest one who is pretty well satisfied with himself if he has nothing to reproach himself with, who is content to be free from blame, with very little thought of a higher life to which God is calling him, a life of patience and faith, a life of entire dependence upon God. (2) Mark, again, the flippant self-satisfaction, the deep distrust of God, which breathes in vers. 10-14. The suggestion is, "We good men ought not to be treated thus; we are not being dealt with righteously." Asaph is startled when he has put his thought into words, and says, "If I say, I will speak thus, behold, I should offend against the generation of Thy children." God does not judge men in the hasty way in which we judge them. His counsel takes in other ends than merely to make the righteous happy and the unrighteous unhappy. He has a purpose in His forbearance with the guilty: He endures with much longsuffering and does them good continually that He may bring them to Himself. He has a purpose in the painful discipline He often appoints the godly: to make them purer, holier, stronger men.
II. Some considerations which may help us to trust that God is good in ordaining for us the painful dispensations of human life, (1) Perhaps we could not have borne prosperity. When Asaph went into the sanctuary of God and saw the end of the wicked, he learned that they had been "set in slippery places," that the pride which compassed them about as a chain, that their having more than heart could wish, had but sealed them up against the day of desolation and the terrors that should utterly consume them. And then there opens upon him an awful vision of what prosperity might have done for him. Trembling as at an awful peril he has just escaped, he gives himself to God's guidance: "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory." (2) We cannot accept as final the answer which was given to Asaph; the Gospel reveals to us a sublimer truth. The end of the wicked, he saw, was their destruction; their restoration is the end for which we are taught to hope and labour. Think how hopeless would be their restoration if all the suffering of life were apportioned to them, and the righteous were never troubled. It is the grace of God that restores the ungodly, not His punishments. (3) Enter again the sanctuary, and look on Christ. Who will not choose to be with Christ in humiliation and distress? God has better things to give His children than prosperity. It is better to be brave than rich; patience is better than comfort. (4) Nor can we understand the meaning of life at all while we are thinking only of ourselves. God would have us take our part in the restoring of the wicked to Himself. The lessons that we learn in our endurance give us a power over men that nothing else can give.
A. Mackennal, Christ's Healing Touch, p. 72.
Reference: Psalm 73:15, Psalm 73:16.—W. Baird, Hallowing of our Common Life, p. 54.
Psalm 73:16-17The rectifying influence of the sanctuary.
There has been some little difference of opinion among expositors as to the precise reference of the word here translated "sanctuary." Literally it means "the holies" of God, and so it may be taken either as the holy things or the holy places of God. In the mouth of one belonging to the old dispensation the primary reference of the term must be to the Temple, which was the earthly residence of God and the place where He communed with His people. Thus understood, the main drift and teaching of the Psalm as a whole is that in approaching God through the recognised channels of access unto Him, and in appropriating Him to himself, Asaph found the antidote which neutralised the poison of the insidious temptation by which he had been almost destroyed.
I. Consider the rectifying influence of the sanctuary as it bears upon the standards of judgment commonly in use among men. During the week the consciences of the best of us have been more or less affected by things immediately around us, so that we are in danger of making serious mistakes in our life's voyage; but in the sanctuary Christ comes to us and gives us our "true bearings," as they are in the standard of His word. (1) Take the case of wealth. Christ shows that it is not the great thing to be sought, but at the best only a means which may be made conducive to the furtherance of that end. To be rich toward God—that is the true aim of life. (2) Look at the Saviour's standard of greatness. To those who are filled with the love of greatness the Lord preaches the greatness of love, and to those who are enamoured of the service which authority commands He reveals the influence which service ultimately secures. (3) Take the matter of success, and see how Christ in the sanctuary rectifies the views of men regarding that. Success in His view is the drinking of the cup which He drank of and the being baptized with the baptism wherewith He was baptized; and one may attain that while yet, in a worldly point of view, he may be so poor as to have nowhere to lay his head.
II. Look at the rectifying influence of the sanctuary on the perspective of life. As we draw near to God in Christ we learn to give its relative value to each province of our lives and to keep each in its own place. The Sabbath is a weekly day of review, and as we meet Christ in the sanctuary everything in our conduct is contemplated in its relation to Him.
III. Note, finally, the rectifying influence of the sanctuary on the estimate which we form of the relative importance of things present and things to come. In the toil and trouble of daily life we are too apt to forget the issues which hang upon our existence here; but in the sanctuary, when we get near to Christ, we have heaven also brought nigh to us, and as we catch a glimpse of its glories our afflictions dwindle into insignificance, while we are fired by the joy that is set before us to make more strenuous efforts to overcome the evil that is in us and to endure the hardships that may come upon us.
W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, and Other Sermons, p. 325.
Reference: Psalm 73:16, Psalm 73:17.—Bishop Alexander, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 341.
Psalm 73:17I. What "the sanctuary" was into which David thus opportunely went, it is not very easy to decide. Perhaps the expression "sanctuary" meant the whole precincts of the tabernacle or Temple. Or, more likely still, it relates not to place at all, but to a certain frame of mind, or inner access of heart to God, of which the sanctuary was the emblem and type.
II. The thoughts which the word "sanctuary" would bring to the mind of a Jew were (1) the idea of separation—being alone with God, unworldly, a thing dedicated; (2) stillness—removal from the rush and the noise of life, and the conflict of opinions, and the strife of tongues; (3) holiness—a reflection of God being on every side; (4) refuge—a place of safety, where no avenger's step could ever tread, and no hurt could ever come; (5) the communion of saints—where God's people are; (6) consultation—where God's mind is revealed to those who seek it, either by intervention of priestly office, or by direct influence, specially communicated to those who are worshipping in spirit and in truth.
III. To every believer Christ is the sanctuary of God; in Christ the whole Deity enshrines itself; and he does not know yet what it is to go into the sanctuary who does not know what it is to run into Jesus, into the wounded side of that cleft Rock, and there shut in, into peace and holiness, to feel in sanctuary.
IV. We need the sanctuary (1) because we want calmness. The judicial functions of the mind want retreat. (2) It is in times of holy retirement that God is pleased to manifest Himself to His people, as He does not to the world.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 104.
Reference: Psalm 73:17, Psalm 73:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 486. Psalm 73:22.—Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 210.
Psalm 73:22-24I. Consider the character and condition of this man at first, and before he was turned to the Lord: "So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before Thee." He acted the fool because he did not know the truth, and he missed the truth because he acted the fool.
II. After describing his former alienation, the penitent next proclaims his present nearness and peace: "Nevertheless I am continually with Thee." "I was as a beast, but I am with Thee." Species do not interchange, but the transformations which are unknown in the sphere of nature are accomplished in the region of grace. The man has become new. His soul had been in abeyance; he had been as a beast in relation to God. But his original nature had been restored; the image of his Maker had been impressed upon his being. Loving, living communion has recommenced between the offspring, man, and his Father God.
III. Consider the cause and manner of this great deliverance: "Thou hast holden me by my right hand." (1) He ascribes his deliverance to God: "Thou hast holden me." (2) Above, there is an everlasting arm outstretched; below, a willing people gladly grasp it. The picture represents a father leading his strayed child home. The child is not dragged; he is led.
IV. The course through life which the penitent now expects to keep: "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel." In this man's esteem salvation implies holiness. (1) Deliverance from condemnation carries with it turning from sin. (2) The rule of life for the reconciled is the word of God: "Thy counsel." (3) Reconciled and renewed though he be, and walking in the light, he cannot yet be left to himself: "Thou shalt guide me." He needs and gets the present, permanent, personal care of the Father at every stage, every step, of his pilgrimage.
V. The issue of all in eternity: "And afterward receive me to glory." It is not, I shall make my way in, but "Thou shalt receive me." It does not imply any preternatural knowledge of heaven, but a spiritual communion with the Friend of sinners, who is already there. Unless the kingdom of God be within you here, you shall not be within the kingdom of God yonder.
W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, and Other Sermons, p. 212.
References: Psalm 73:22-25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 467. Psalm 73:23.—Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 211. Psalm 73:24.—H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, 1st series, p. 356; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 73; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 277, and vol. iv., p. 65; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons in Country Churches, 2nd series, p. 179; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 388. Psalm 73:24-26, H. F. Burder, Sermons, p. 449. Psalm 73:25.—E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 169; A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 319; Bishop Woodford, Occasional Sermons, vol. ii, p. 247.
Psalm 73:25-26I. God is the Christian's inheritance as the light of his intellect.
II. God is the Christian's inheritance as the refuge of his conscience.
III. God is the Christian's inheritance as the rest of his soul. He gives the soul (1) security; (2) happiness; (3) support in the hour of death.
W. M. Punshon, Pulpit Orations, 2nd series, No. 4.
Psalm 73:26I. Life and immortality, we are told, were brought to light by the Gospel. But the immortality of the soul was not first taught and believed when our Lord confuted Sadducean unbelief, or when He consoled His faint-hearted disciples on the eve of His Passion. The doctrine of immortality runs through the Bible. It underlies the history of the creation and the fall of man. It is involved in the statement that man was created originally in the image of God.
II. The authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, Divine and infallible, is the true and sufficient basis of this doctrine in the Christian soul.
III. In contemporary literature the word "immortality" is clung to with a desperate tenacity which proves how, in spite of their theories, men shrink from resigning themselves to the naked idea of absolute annihilation. Some believe in the immortality of matter, others in that of force, others in that of thought, and others in that of moral effort.
IV. The only immortality which can aspire permanently to interest and influence mankind must assert that the life of the soul in perpetuity is an objective fact, altogether independent of our mental conceptions, nay even of our moral activities. A real immortality is an objective fact; it is also the immortality of a personal life.
V. The words of the text are in all ages the exulting voice of the conviction, of the instinct, of the sense, of immortality in the servants of God. He upholds them in being, and His eternity is to be the measure of their own endless life.
H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, 1st series, p. 107.
Psalm 73:28The experience of ordinary life gives proof that "nearness" is not a geographical fact. You may live positively close to a man, and yet for every real purpose of neighbourhood—for any sympathy which may be formed, or any benefit which may accrue—you may still be as wide asunder as the poles; while oceans may separate heart from heart which nevertheless live in one another's life, and reflect each the every hue which passes over the other's breast. So certain is it that distance and nearness are moral things, founded upon moral principles, and leading up to moral consequences.
I. What then is nearness to God? (1) It is to be in Christ. The Apostles never separate nearness to God from an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ. God sees nothing near to Himself till He first sees it in His dear Son. (2) The nearness to God thus formed in Christ goes on to further results. There comes a felt presence always growing out of that sense of union with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian is a man always walking in the shade of a mighty, invisible Being that is with him everywhere. (3) Nearness generates resemblance. To be near God in His being is to be near Him in His image.
II. How is this nearness to God to be attained? (1) You must place yourselves under the attractive influences of Divine grace. The drawing principle, which is to bring God and you near, resides not in you, but in God. (2) Your own will must accompany the Divine compulsion. (3) You must be diligent in using the means of grace, those blessed opportunities when God and souls draw near.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 8th series, p. 157.
I. This is a text worth the notice of everybody. Who is there that does not wish for good? All of us are seeking after what we consider to be good for us. Only too many of us make a mistake as to what is really good for us. Some people fancy that the great good of this life is money; so they long for it, work for it, slave for it, and perhaps get it, only to find, after all, that it is not such a satisfying good as they thought. Others think that pleasure is the one thing desirable; so they pursue pleasure by every means in their power, often sacrificing their health and property for it, and then find that it is not worth the trouble they have spent upon it.
II. The text tells us of something which really is good: "It is good to draw near to God." There are several ways of drawing near to God, but there is one way which will occur to your minds before others. That way is prayer. God asks His children to come to Him in prayer, to pour out their thoughts and wants to Him, not because He is ignorant of them, but because He desires to attach us all to Him as His loving, faithful children. He wants prayer from us, but He wants something more: He wants our confidence, our faith, our trust. Therefore, while He always listens to our prayer, He does not always answer it at once, nor always in the way which we may desire. The best way is to draw near to God in prayer, and then leave Him to do what He knows to be best for us.
III. An old writer very quaintly compares this text to a whetstone. A whetstone is used for sharpening knives and other cutting instruments. Prayer sharpens our desires after good, and brings us often to the throne of God's grace.
G. Litting, Thirty Children's Sermons, p. 147.
References: Psalm 73:28.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 288, vol. xv., No. 879, and vol. xxvii., No. 1629; J. W. Lance, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 200; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xx., p. 284. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 271.
First, there is in this Psalm a description of the prosperity of the wicked, and of that hauteur and pride which they in their prosperity manifested, then of the afflictions of the godly, operating in the Psalmist, and he supposed in others, as a temptation. In ver. 21 we have the recovery, and the thoughts of the recovery.
I. The first-fruit of the Divine deliverance is self-loathing. "Truly Thou art good," and I was ignorant; I ought to have known that always.
II. The second fruit is gratitude to Him who had guided him: "Thou hast holden me by my right hand."
III. From the experience of past blessings, the experience of this great vouchsafed deliverance, he rises to hope: "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory."
IV. The next step is wondering adoration: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee?"
V. He sums up the Psalm by an act of faith: "I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Thy works." His faith reposed in God not only for what God would do for him, but for what God would graciously employ him for doing, and fit him to do in some good measure.
J. Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, p. 236.
This Psalm is the work of a believer, and yet it is the expression of a soul who has passed through doubt and experienced all its bitterness.
I. Consider what made Asaph doubt. Asaph had seen the course of this world: he had seen the prosperity of the wicked; he had seen those who feared God suffering in desertion and in despair. His soul was troubled; and in a gloomy hour he called in question the righteousness, the wisdom, and also the action of God. The spectacle of this world is a great school for unbelief, a school which makes more impious people than all the books of atheists. If we contemplate the world, our gaze wavers, for we seek in vain there for that law of love and of righteousness which, it seems to us, God should have marked on all His works. As children, we believed we should find it there, for a science had been made for our use. History for us was a drama of which God was the living Hero: if the righteous suffered, it was a transitory trial and soon to be explained; if the wicked triumphed, it was the dazzling flash of a day. Later on our view was enlarged, and God had receded from us. Between Him and us was raised the immense, inexorable wall of fatality. (1) Fatality in nature, for its smile is deceptive; and when we have seen it shine on a grave in presence of which our heart is torn, it appears to us implacable even in its very beauty. We study it, and everywhere we find a savage law in it, the law of destruction, which pursues its silent work each day and each minute. (2) Fatality in history. Progress? Where is it in the old world? What plan is there in the history of those races who are sinking today, dragged down by an incurable barbarism, in those lucky strokes of force, in those startling immoralities, which success strengthens and sanctions? Is it consoling to tell us that the blood of the righteous is a fruitful seed? Over how many countries has it not flowed, leaving only the barrenness of the desert! (3) Fatality in life. Even here the moral law wavers and is often effaced. There is no need to be a philosopher in order to encounter the problems of life; trial, sooner or later, places them before us. For some it is the trial of poverty, for others the trial of ailment; but what excites excessively all these doubts is injustice.
II. For a moment Asaph's conscience wavered; for a moment giddiness seized him. How is it that he did not fall into the abyss? Asaph believed in God. He could not believe in chance, for in his people's language there is not even a word to designate chance. Asaph tried to deny God and His action in the world. "I was tempted to say it," he exclaimed, "but I felt that in saying it I should be unbelieving, and should offend against the generation of Thy children." I should offend against my race—that is the thought which withheld him.
III. Notice how God enlightened and strengthened Asaph. In the sanctuary of God light was waiting for him. There he learned "the end of those men." Asaph saw the end of the designs of God. His eyes were opened, and he altered his language. Gratitude has succeeded to his murmuring; instead of the trials beneath whose weight he succumbed, he has seen, he sees always better, the favours which are eternally his inheritance. "Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory."
E. Bersier, Sermons, vol. i., p. 165.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.
Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.
They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.
They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.
And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me;
Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.
Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction.
How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins.
So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.