The trees of the LORD have their fill, the cedars of Lebanon that He planted,
I. THE LEVELLING OF THE WATERS. (Vers. 5-8.) Evidently the poet is conceiving the original condition of the earth, when God dealt with it to make it the abode of man. Then it is conceived as a solid mass, surrounded by an envelope of watery mist, which rose higher than the tops of the mountains. The ancients did not apprehend the circular form of the earth, and so mists rising above the mountains presented to them no difficulty. The poet sees this mist dispelled by the command of God, and any one who has seen the mists roll away, in a mountain district, will fully appreciate his figures. They do seem to "go up by the mountains and down by the valleys." But in the Divine leading, the issue is that the waters gather into their various appointed places, and the dry land appears. What intangible, fickle things these mists seem to be! Then how glorious must he be at whose bidding they move!
II. THE CONTROLLING OF THE WATERS. (Ver. 9.) This impression is best associated with the sea. Sometimes, when it is driven high by wind and tide, its destructive possibilities seem overwhelming. Yet even then we calmly take our place on the tide line, and feel sure God's bound of silver sand will be an effective defence. When he is pleased to loosen his control, the world is flooded again, as in Noah's days. What must he be who holds in restraint the great wide sea?
III. THE EMPLOYING OF THE WATERS. Even more wonderful than the restraining of the sea in bounds is the storing of the waters in the thousandfold cisterns of the hills, whence they come forth in perennial springs to supply the creatures of God. More wonderful is the continuous uplifting of the great sea into the sky, where it may form the banks of clouds, which, at fit times and seasons, burst over the earth, and, falling in chemically enriched drops, fertilize the earth, and make it bring forth food for beast and man. What must be the glory of him who is the God of the springs, and the God of the rain, to whom the waters are but an ever-obedient ministry? - R.T.
I. As the sap is the vital principle of vegetation, so IS THE HOLY SPIRIT THE LORD AND GIVER OF LIFE — of all life in every realm where living things move and have their being. But the life of man is the highest outcome of His vital force, revealing itself in his physical, mental, and emotional energy. From Him and from Him alone has come that most wonderful of all forces, which can arrest the moral decay within the souls of men and transform them into living trees of the Lord's right-hand planting.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap.
I. The first likeness that I trace is AS TO OWNERSHIP AND POSSESSION. The cedars are "the trees of the Lord." They are His peculiar property; His mark is on them, if I may so speak. We own no proprietorship but that of God Most High. His we are, and Him we ought to serve. "The Lord's portion is His people." The Lord has planted the cedars and His Saints; therefore He owns both. If there is any beauty in us, any blossom on us, any promise of fruit, any shadow or shelter for our fellows, it is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. if we are members of Christ's Church through faith in Him, it was His Spirit that planted us upon the hills of God.
II. God's people resemble cedars because of THEIR BEAUTY AND MAJESTY. I associate those two adjectives, for it takes at least two to describe the peculiar charm of the cedar tree. It is possessed alike of grace and grandeur. So should it be with Christians. There should be about every lover of the Lord a tender spirit, a loving disposition, the beauty of holiness, the charm of grace: and there should be withal a sacred dignity, a laudable ambition, a holy audacity, high up-holding of the head — not in selfish pride, but in simple trust.
III. The feature of these trees to which our text specially directs us is THEIR VITALITY. They are full of sap. The sap of the tree is as the blood of the body — and "the blood is the life thereof." It is this same sap which is the secret of its growth from the sapling stage to the full maturity of which we have been speaking; and it is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the power of this blessed Book, and the influence of the good Spirit in our hearts, which make us to grow. Oh, that all my powers of heart, and head, and thought, and wish, and feeling, felt the blessed influence of the Divine life. I cannot bring forth fruit, I cannot hope to be fresh and green, unless I also am thus full of sap.
IV. We shall also do well to seek to be like the cedars as to THEIR UTILITY. I venture to class under this head their ornamental character. We get into a habit of dissociating these two qualities — ornament and usefulness. I cannot at all see why a thing cannot be both ornamental and useful. If it can be only one, I know which I prefer. Away with the mere ornamental, and let us have what is practical and serviceable. But if we can combine the two, so much the better: what say you? The cedars are both ornamental and useful. We have spoken of their charm and grace, and I put that down as one of their uses. Do you not think God designed that some eye should be gratified by a look at His cedars? You know that wherever trees are, the adjoining country is rendered much more fertile through their presence. Some lands have been quite transformed by the patient planting of trees. Oh, where the Church exists, if the members are often of this sort, there will be blessing all around. The wide-spreading cedars gave grateful shade. This was the beauty of their branches, that 'twixt them the sunshine could scarcely filter through; and in those hot lands it was gratifying indeed to get beneath those boughs. Have you shaded anybody? Have you tried to help the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to teach the ignorant? That is your work. Do it for Jesus, and your reward is sure. The cedar trees were useful, too, for building purposes. The woodwork of the House of the Lord was of cedar-beams. You know what this meant for the cedars — the axe had to be plied upon them. They must needs he cut and planed and squared, that they might have their place in the Sanctuary. the Lord make us content even for this. If we can serve Thee better, let Thine axe come upon us; let us know the sharp edge of sorrow, and the heavy tool of trial. What matters it if we by so suffering can take honourable place in the building of God, and help to glorify the Name of Jesus!
1. The creation of the Christian Church was an evidence of this Divine energy.
2. Another evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church is its imperishable vitality. He has enabled it to grow through all these centuries, to survive the wear and tear of years, the storms of persecution — still clothed with foliage, and laden with fruit for the healing of the nations.
3. If the presence of the indwelling Spirit accounts for the existence and indestructible vitality of the Church, it also explains the marvellous variety of its forms of life.
II. The movements of the sap are suggestive of THE METHODS BY WHICH THE HOLY SPIRIT CONVEYS HIS LIFE TO MEN.
1. There is a mystery in His operations. Nature in all her works for ever "half reveals and half conceals the soul within." So is it with the energy of the Lord and Giver of Life. His ways are past tracing out, nor can it be otherwise. He is a Spirit, moving with absolute freedom whensoever He listeth on whomsoever He pleaseth, in whatever manner He may choose.
2. A second analogy between the movement of the sap and the energy of this spiritual life lies in its gentleness.
3. The impartiality of the Holy Spirit's influence. The sap leaves no part of the tree unvisited. The unseen network of roots and fibres, the pillared stem and its bark, the branches and their twigs, with the innumerable leaves — all receive their supply. It is so with the individual — the mind, will, and affections, aye and the body also, are penetrated by the Divine influence. It is so when the Divine grace descends upon a congregation — it reaches the richest and the poorest, the youngest and the oldest, the learned and the illiterate. It will be so when it enters the open heart of the habitable world — for we may perceive by the very trees of the wood that God is no respecter of persons!
III. Returning once more to the trees of the Lord, we see in their abounding fulness THE RESPONSE THEY GIVE TO THE SPRING LIFE IMPARTED. They are filled — they are satisfied. The human heart is not like the three things of the wise man — the grave, the thirsty earth, the flame of fire — insatiable. It longs and craves and seeks, but there is a supply. "We cannot hope from outward forms to win the passion and the life whose fountains are within," but the Holy Spirit brings to the soul that inward stream of life to fill it with all the fulness of God. Then are we satisfied, as the trees are, and for similar reasons. Their yearnings are appeased — the impulse to unfold themselves in form, colour, movement, is met, and that mysterious ecstasy of travail to bear fruit is abundantly fulfilled.
(E. J. Brailsford.)
I. ON ACCOUNT OF THE PECULIARITIES OF THEIR STRUCTURE. They reveal a new idea of the creative mind. They are neither Phaenogams, or flowering plants, nor Cryptogams, or flowerless, and have many points of alliance with club-moss. They combine the highest appearance with the lowest structure, and are thus links binding together the two great orders of vegetation. In them we have an example among plants of a common principle in God's moral procedure towards His creatures, choosing the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and giving more abundant honour to that which lacked. Into the earthen vessel of the humble organization of the cedars He has poured the glory of the highest development, that the glory may be seen to be all His own. And in this wondrous combination of types in the "trees of the Lord" we have a dim foreshadowing of "Him who dwelt in the bush"; who united in Himself the highest and the lowest, God and man, in one person for ever; and who still, though in the midst of the throne, dwells with the man that is of an humble and contrite heart. The cedars are "trees of the Lord."
II. ON ACCOUNT OF THE ANTIQUITY OF THEIR TYPE. Of this class Preadamite forests were principally composed. In every stratum in which arborescent fossils occur we can trace this antique tree pattern. We burn the relics of extinct cedars in our household fires, as the microscopic investigation of the coal formation reveals. They form the evergreen link between the ages and the zones, growing now as they grew in the remote past, inhabiting the same latitudes, and preserving the same appearances in bulk and figure. Universal in space and universal in time they are monuments of the unchangeableness of the Ancient of Days — proofs indisputable that the vegetable kingdom did not commence as monads, or vital points, but as organisms so noble and complicated that even the most bigoted advocate of the development theory must admit that they could not have been formed by the agency of physical force. During untold ages the cedars were the sole examples of forest vegetation. They afford an illustration of a general law of the deepest philosophic import, namely, that the first introduced animals or plants of any class have been combining types. From the side, as it were, of those Preadamite cedars God took the ribs, of which He made the graceful palm-tree to yield its welcome shade and fruit in the thirsty desert, and the beautiful apple-tree to clothe itself with its bridal dress of blossoms under the smiling, tearful skies of the northern spring. Thus is illustrated that the ceaseless working of the Creator hitherto has been exercised only in the eternal unfolding of the original conception. The cedars are "trees of the Lord."
III. ON ACCOUNT OF THE MAJESTY OF THEIR APPEARANCE. Religion and poetry have sounded so loudly the praise of the cedar that it has become the most renowned natural monument in the world. At an elevation of six thousand feet, with their roots firmly planted in the moraines of extinct glaciers, with their trunks riven and furrowed by lightning, with the snows of Lebanon gleaming white through their dusky foliage, who can fail to feet the force of the psalmist's words, "The trees of the Lord are full of sap," etc.
(H. Macmillan, D.D.)
1. The grace of God is like the vegetation of the earth, in all places. Climb the Alp, and far up on its side you pluck the edelweiss. God was here before you. Go out upon the desert, and far out in that sterile plain you find the waving palm growing beside the spring. God was there before you. Go with your message of cheer to some down-town ward where men are crowded together thicker than corpses in a cemetery, and between the chinks in the pavement are seen blades of grass. God was there before you. As in nature, so in grace. God's prophets are not all confined to Judaism; God's grace is not all confined to Christendom. Wherever a man has been found bowing the knee and lifting up the heart, there God's grace has been responding; for God's grace reaches unto all them that call upon Him, by whatever name, through whatever form, in whatever service.
2. As God's grace is everywhere, like the trees, God's grace is freely offered unto all, as the forest offers its shade alike to the wild beast and to the domestic animal, and its shelter for nests alike to the large and the little, and drops its fruit alike into the hands of the good and the evil.
3. The grace of God, like the trees of God, is everywhere, and for every one; and it is clothed with a great, great power. Ask the child what is the greatest manifestation of force in the world. Perhaps he will summon you to the battlefield. "Listen," he will say, "to all these cannon belching out their thunderous tones; what power there is." Perhaps he will carry you to the factory. "See," he will say, "this ponderous engine driving its great wheels, and stirring all thin factory with its vibrating life." But when he is wiser he will go to the forest, where there is no sound of hammer or of saw, no buzz or bustle of wheel, no bang as of cannon; but in one great forest more power is wrought, it is said, than in all the factories in the world put together. The power of God is the power of a silent love. The still, small voice is more than the fire, the tempest, or the earthquake. Not in Sinai, but in Calvary; not in deluge of water or destroying flame, but in the manger and the cross, is the power of God witnessed.
4. "My God shall supply all your need." There is scarce any physical need of man which the carpeted and sheltering earth does not provide. And this is what the abundant trees whisper, bending their leaves to you, to repeat the message: "God is able to make all grace, abound toward you, that you at all times, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto all good works." We need not wait for the great transition, but here and now we may walk by the river of the water of life, we may walk under the shade of those trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, and we may pluck the fruit of that only tree that bears its fruit every month. Other trees lie bare and sere through the long winter; other trees drop their fruit only in the autumn time; but this tree of life, of which they are, after all, but a poor symbol, gives forth its fruit in every month, and every manner of fruit for every manner of need; and here and now we may harvest them, fed on food more life-giving and sheltered by shade more comforting than the Garden of Eden ever knew.
(Lyman Abbot, D.D.)
The cedars of Lebanon, which He hath planted
I. THE ABSENCE OF ALL HUMAN CULTURE. For —
1. They owe their planting entirely to the Lord. No human hand had any part in this work, neither delving the soil nor dropping in the fruitful cone. How those giants of the grove came to be where they are, none can tell. The early planting of these mighty trees is among the secrets which belong unto God. And this is quite true of every child of God. We are not self-planted, but God-planted.
2. Nor are they dependent upon man for their watering. The trees in the plain are fertilized by little canals running at their roots, and therefore are they green: but these, on the top of Lebanon, who shall find a stream for them? And so is it with the Christian who has learned to live by faith. He sings, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." And —
3. No mortal might protects them. They are planted on a mountain ridge no loss than six thousand feet above the level of the sea. The snow frequently lies upon their branches in enormous masses. They are in the most exposed position conceivable. Deadly dangers have threatened them from the very first. They are left unprotected, and yet the veterans survive. It is precisely the same with the Christian. He is not a hot-house plant, sheltered from temptation; he, too, stands in most exposed positions, and innumerable perils compass him about. But still he is able to say, "In all these things we are more than conquerors."
4. And they are utterly indifferent to human gaze. For thousands of years no human eye may have looked upon them. Moses desired to see them. David sang of them. But they heed not. And so with the Christian: he cares nothing for the smiles of men, and he cares as little for their frowns. He walks not before them, but "before the Lord." He leans not upon any arm of flesh, but understands how to stand upright. Out upon the piety which depends upon the public eye. I am not to have a religion like a dog-collar, which I may slip off and on, and be glad to be rid of it; it must be part and parcel of my being. It must not be the Pharisee's paint and tinsel which he puts on in the public place, and privately laughs at when he gets alone.
5. Their exultation is all for God and not for man. In vine and other fruit trees man has had some share in the product: not so here. It is all of God. The cedars have not a green leaf to magnify man with, nor a single cone with which to make him proud. And so in the Christian: there is nothing in you that can magnify man. All your thanks are due to God. You are the Lord's trees from first to last.
6. The cedar is independent of man in its expectations. They never expect man to care for them or to help them. Arab and Turk do their best to ruin the whole grove, but yet there they stand, expecting as little help from man as, in fact, they get. That is your case, O Christian. You are to depend on God alone. God is ever seeking to strike away from us all our human props and buttresses upon which we are so apt to lean. He would wean us from the world.
II. THE CEDARS OF LEBANON ARE A GLORIOUS DISPLAY OF DIVINE CARE.
1. In the abundance of their supply. "The trees of the Lord are full." They are saturated with moisture.
2. They are always green.
3. See their grandeur and size. In "The Land and the Book " it is said that some of them measure forty-one feet in girth, and are a hundred feet high. Supply direct from God is better than all else.
4. Their fragrance.
5. Their perpetuity.
6. How venerable they are.
III. THEY HAVE FULNESS OF LIVING PRINCIPLES. "They are full of sap." Now this is —
1. Vitally necessary.
2. Essentially mysterious.
3. Radically secret.
4. Permanently active.
5. Externally operative.
6. Greatly to be desired. Think, what glory to God a full-grown Christian brings to God Let us have this fulness of life.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)par excellence of the Bible — the type of all forest vegetation. Religion and poetry have sounded its praises so loudly and repeatedly that it has become the most renowned natural monument in the woods. For untold ages it covered the rugged slopes of Lebanon with one continuous forest of verdure and fragrance, and formed its crowning "glory." The ravages of man, carried on century after century, in the most ruthless manner, laid its proud honours low; and now only a few scattered groves survive amid the fastnesses of the highest valleys to tell of the splendour that had perished. But what a magnificent relic the one grove of Kadisha is! Each huge trunk, scarred and hoary with the elemental strife of hundreds of years, still spreads out its great gnarled boughs laden with emerald foliage and exquisite cones, "full of sap" in the freshness of undying youth, so that we cannot wonder at the superstition of the awe-struck Arabs, who attribute to the cedars not only a vegetative power, which enables them to live eternally, but also a wise instinct, an intelligent foresight, by means of which they understand the changes of the weather, and provide accordingly. No temple of Nature can be grander than the interior of that grove, where the natives of the neighbouring villages celebrate mass annually in June. It is a spot unique on earth. The sacred associations of thousands of years crowd around one there. In the fragrance of the cedars comes up the richness of Bible memories; each sight and sound suggest some incident alluded to by psalmist or prophet, and a feeling of awe and reverence, such as few other scenes can inspire, fills the soul to overflowing. There, at an elevation of six thousand feet, with their roots firmly planted in the moraines of extinct glaciers, with their trunks riven and furrowed by lightnings, with the snows of Lebanon gleaming white through their dusky foliage, with the stillness of earth's mightiest powers asleep around them, who can fail to feel the force of the psalmist's words, "The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted."
(H. Macmillan, D.D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Where the birds make their nests
I. NO GREATNESS IS SELF-COMPLETE. The spirit of the angels has been given largely to the forces of nature — "are they not all ministering spirits?" Is not the sea a servant, the wind a servant, and the sun a servant to the needs of man? Does he not count the lightning and the breeze and the moon among his maidservants? Had God created a larger sun than that which lights us now; had He made its face more clear, its heart more fiery, but had not given it a ministering spirit, that would be a worthless sun. If the sun we now have had been more independent, rising and setting according to its fancy, making winter in a fit of bad humour, and making summer after coming to itself again; if it burned its fires without caring anything for the comfort of the worlds under its government, there would be no longer any Cosmic life. But the sun knoweth its going down; and its light and heat have been blessed with the spirit of the angels — the spirit of generous service. The best minds of the world do not gather knowledge to keep it for themselves, but to share it with all. The best thinker that ever trod the earth was the young teacher of Nazareth, who was not ashamed to publish the highest truths of heaven in a common and popular language. His parables are meek and gentle enough to come in as the door of the poorest cottage. Had Christ been less a servant He would have been less a God. His generosity of intellect has made Him the Teacher of the ages. the best disciples of God are the best teachers of men.
II. A TRUE CHRISTIAN LIFE DELIGHTS IN THE SERVICE OF OTHERS. To the religious idler the chapter of excuses is a very interesting chapter; and there are many in the Church to-day who know every verse of it by heart. What could the cedars of Lebanon say if they wanted to refuse shelter to the little birds?
1. They might say that they were too venerable to serve such poor little things. Is there not a murmur like this on the lips of the Church? saying under its breath that it is too venerable "to go out into the highways and hedges" to search for the wounded poor? the way is too rugged and too far to go after the lost sheep. That is not the speech of God. Eternity was not too far away for Him to think of saving man. No Church can live on its past history. When it gives itself too much to the reading of "the genealogies of the family," its decay is beginning.
2. They might say that there were other trees in plenty who could serve the little birds. One of the chartered texts of Carlyle was that the world had made the value of a soul to be notching. And his severe way of putting the truth calls for the solemn thought of the Church. "Souls" are lost in the "congregation"; and we forget that the salvation of one soul is worth a life of toil and weariness and sacrifice. "You have laboured for twenty years and have made only one convert yet," said a man unmercifully to a quiet, hard-working minister. "Have I made one convert?" was the noble answer; "here are twenty years for the next one." One pearl won by thee for the Redeemer's crown will shine through all heaven!
3. They might say that the little birds often went away to sing. Many a village church teaches its children well, and then the glitter of city life takes them away from it before they have paid anything in return. Many a father and mother have placed the noblest sacrifices on the altar to give their boys to the world. There is a sound of loss in every home and in every church — the birds gone away from the nests. The teachers of our Sunday schools have to change their scholars often; the old leaving and the new coming. Is there not a moaning among the cedars of Lebanon for the music that is lost, the sweet carollings that have been hushed there for ever, the morning hymn and evening song silent, and the little homes empty and cold? When shall they return? This only teaches every honest workman in Zion to leave the harvest unreaped until he has reached home. The creation has been too skilfully fitted together for any good to get lost in it. If the song has forsaken the cedar where the young soul was nursed, the music of the world is richer somewhere. The hymn learned on the hallowed hearth keeps a longing in the mind for heaven. There the songsters, separated and scattered here, will meet again; and to hear them sing among the branches of the tree of life in Paradise will more than repay for the grief and distress of the parents, and the teacher, and the minister who lost them here.
(H. E. Lewis.)
I. THAT FOR EACH PLACE GOD HAS PREPARED A SUITABLE FORM OF LIFE. For the fir trees, the stork; for the high hills, the wild goat, and so on. Now, the teaching of this is clear.
1. Each age has its saints. So has it been, and so it ever will be.
2. And every position. From the palace to the poor-house, the Christian religion is adapted to all conditions.
3. In every Church.
4. In every city. God has an elect people everywhere.
II. EACH CREATURE HAS ITS APPROPRIATE PLACE. They look wretched enough out of their place. See the animals in the Zoological Gardens. Each creature looks best in his own place. So we each one are best in the position where God has placed us.
1. Providentially. We think otherwise, oftentimes; we say, "Oh, if we were only in such a position, how much better it would be."
2. Experimentally. God has not made two creatures precisely alike. No two leaves are: and it is so in Christian experience. Many distress themselves because they have not the experience of certain good people of whom they have read. "Have I felt precisely thus? Have I felt exactly that? If not, I am lost." But how vain all this is.
3. The same holds good as to individuality of character. God gives to one man one temperament: to another man another. As Luther and Melanchthon; Peter and John. Let no man wish to be what another is. Be yourselves in your religion.
III. EVERY CREATURE THAT GOD HAS MADE IS PROVIDED WITH SHELTER. See the declarations of the text. If, then, He has so cared for the lesser creatures, can He have left man's soul without shelter?
IV. FOR EACH CREATURE THE SHELTER IS APPROPRIATE. And —
V. EACH CREATURE USES ITS SHELTER. I never heard of a stork that when it met with a fir tree demurred as to its right to build its nest there, and I never heard of a coney yet that questioned whether it had a right to run into the rock. Yet the sinner does not recognize the provisions of his Saviour. He asks, "May I?" and "I am afraid it is not for me." O sinner, come, believe in Jesus and find salvation now.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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