Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
Notice what kind of unbelief is here. It does not deny the past fact. It acknowledges that God has done a miracle of mercy. But in that miracle it finds no such revelation of God Himself and His perpetual character and love as gives assurance that He will again be powerful and merciful. These Israelites have no accumulated faith. They are just where they were before the last miracle relieved them. That miracle stands wholly by itself. It does not promise or imply another.
I. The power of accumulation of life differs extremely in different men. Some men gather living force, wisdom, faith, out of every experience. Other men leave the whole experience behind them, and carry out with them nothing but the barren recollection of it. And the difference, when we examine it, depends on this: on whether the man has any conception of a continuous, unbroken principle or personal association running through life, and bringing out of each experience its soul and essence to be perpetually kept.
II. The true unity of life is the unity of a long journey in which, though the quick railroad is constantly compelling you to leave each new scene behind you, the wise, kind company of the friend whom you are travelling with, and who in each new scene has had the chance to show you something new of his wisdom and kindness, has been continually with you and bound the long journey into a unit.
III. Suppose a human soul looking out into the mysterious and unrevealed experiences of the everlasting world. The window of death is wide open; and the soul stands up before it, and looks through, and sees eternity. How shall the soul carry with it the sense of safety and assurance in God, which it has won within His earthly care, forth into this unknown, untrodden vastness whither it now must go? Only in one way; only by deepening as deeply as possible its assurance that it is God—not accident, not its own ingenuity, not its brethren's kindness—that it is God who has made this earthly life so rich and happy. Wrapped into Him, the soul may be not merely resigned; it may be even impatient to explore those larger regions where the power which has made itself known to it here shall be able to display to it all the completeness of its nature and its love.
IV. There is a difference between coming out of sorrow thankful for relief and coming out of sorrow full of sympathy with, and trust in, Him who has released us. To the soul that finds in all life new and ever deeper knowledge of Christ, life is for ever accumulating. This is the only real transfiguration of the dusty road, the monotony and routine of living.
Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord, p. 320.
References: Psalm 78:23-25.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 459. Psalm 78:25.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1497.
Psalm 78:34-37I. It is a subject well worthy of the serious consideration of all persons who desire to be in the safe way of salvation how commonly it happens that the best intentions and resolutions, made in times of danger and affliction, are thought little or nothing more of when the alarm is over. Every one knows that numbers of persons who have been on the very brink of death, and have been restored, yet have been in no respect whatever the better afterwards for such a fearful warning. Indeed, it is so common a case that no one wonders at it.
II. To a reflecting mind it seems little less than a- miracle that we should be preserved in the manner we are from day to day. And is not this matter for daily thankfulness and should not the consideration of it make us ever feel as persons every moment rescued from the brink of ruin, every moment supported by an unseen, almighty hand? However, as these daily mercies are so slightly regarded, our tender Father frequently by some more signal visitation calls us back from carelessness and folly. It is a truth ever to be remembered by us that the resolutions and vows we make in such hours of trial and on the bed of sickness are remembered and recorded in God's book. They will be brought forward again in the great day of final account.
III. We ought to be very careful of trusting to a partial amendment, of thinking that because we are better than we once were, or better than many other people, therefore we are in the way to heaven. Amidst this dim and perplexing prospect, the comfort is that our heavenly Father knows our weakness and our wants, that Christ Jesus, who is hereafter to be our Judge, is now touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. i., p. 126.
References: Psalm 78:38.—Preacher's Lantern, vol. iii., p. 57. Psalm 78:40.—F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i., p. 88.
Psalm 78:41I. Ever since the fall of man, there has been a natural tendency in the human heart to "limit the Holy One of Israel." This is the crime of idolatry and of heathenism. This was the contest of the Hebrew worship with the surrounding nations. Let us beware how we create an image of God in our minds dishonourable to Him, and by its limitation to our poor faculty become the means of limiting the Holy One of Israel.
II. For idolatry is not its own root; it is the growth of a seed deeper than itself, and that seed is sin. Sin limits the Holy One of Israel, the corrupt influence in the mind and in the heart, the perverted imagination, the perverted will. Sin closes the avenues by which God enters the human soul, and narrows the Divine Being in the conception.
III. There is no power so subtle as unbelief, doubt. By this we limit the Holy One of Israel. Doubt makes the Divine Being subservient to our own estimate of what He is. How frequently Christian men walk amidst the very mysteries and eternities of Godhead only to limit the Holy One of Israel.
IV. Some philosophers limit the Holy One of Israel even in the operations of nature. There is a feeling that as we enlarge the boundaries of the universe God is carried to a more remote distance from us. The past fills the soul ever with fear. It is so whenever we are led out into infinity. Night has had three daughters: Religion, Superstition, and Atheism.
V. Again, when on behalf of God we appeal to man as free, and invite him to love, and trust, and believe, doubt says, In what way can man's responsibility so act as not to limit God's royalty, if we are ambassadors for Christ? God Himself anticipates these objections; in prayer He aids: in speaking He aids. He is on the side of the freedom of man; He, too, will aid man to assert his freedom: and he who doubts the possibility of this limits the Holy One of Israel, who giveth His Holy Spirit to them that ask.
E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 365.
References: Psalm 78:41.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 272. Psalm 78:41, Psalm 78:42.—J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. v., p. 241.
Psalm 78:69I. Stability and permanence are, perhaps, the especial ideas which a church brings before the mind. It represents, indeed, the beauty, the loftiness, the calmness, the mystery, and the sanctity of religion also, and that in many ways. Still, more than all these, it represents to us its eternity.
II. See what a noble principle faith is. The Christian throws himself fearlessly on the future, because he believes in Him which is, and which was, and which is to come. One lays the foundation, and another builds thereupon; one levels the mountain, and another "brings forth the head-stone with shoutings."
III. The Churches which we inherit are the fruits of martyrdom. Their foundations are laid very deep, even in the preaching of the Apostles, and the confession of saints, and the first victories of the Gospel in our land. The Church alone can plant the Church.
J. H. Newman, Selection from the Parochial and Plain Sermons, p. 377 (also vol. vi., p. 270).
Psalm 78:70I. Consider David's calling. The words of the text form the clearest and grandest explanation of the wonderful process by which the unknown shepherd became Israel's greatest king. Two questions present themselves here: (1) How was David's shepherd life an unconscious preparation for his calling? The effect of solitude is to awaken faith in the invisible. Sailors see portents in the clouds, hear words in the night wind; shepherds have a strong belief in the supernatural. In solitude and stillness the deeper soul awakens. Amid the stillness of the ancient hills, David, the shepherd youth, was learning to feel a presence which surrounded him behind and before, and to realise the nearness of One who read his thoughts in the silence. (2) How did the Divine summons fit him for his vocation? The hour came when he was to know that through all his years he had been trained for it, when "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him from that day forward." And now observe, he was sent back to his flocks, in the full knowledge of his grand destiny sent to pass years of silent waiting. There were two great convictions awakened in him then that formed in him elements of strength through all his career: (a) the belief in a Divine Leader; (b) the belief in a Divine choice.
II. Notice the modern lessons of David's calling. (1) There is a Divine plan in every life. (2) There is a Divine vocation for every man. (3) There is a Divine Shepherd for every man.
E. L. Hull, Sermons Preached at King's Lynn, 1st series, p. 132.
References: Psalm 78:70, Psalm 78:71.—F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament, p. 36. Psalm 79:13.—F. W. Farrar, Old Testament Outlines, p. 124. Psalm 79—J. H. Hitchens, Catholic Sermons, vol. ii., p. 73. Psalm 79—J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 217. Psalm 79—P. Thomson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 247.
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.
And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.
He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.