Let them give thanks to the LORD for His loving devotion and His wonders to the sons of men.
This psalm one of those many Scriptures which show God's mindfulness of the needs, not alone of one land and age, but of all. For see what variety of condition, character, occupation, experience, are portrayed in this one psalm - the desert, the city, the sea, the prison, the traveler, the exile, the sailor, the disease-stricken, the captive, the storm-tossed, the rescued. And thus it is that all men, of all ages and all lands, may find, whatever their condition, in this blessed book that which meets their case, which seems written for just such as they. But the psalm mainly contemplates God's great deliverances, and is a summons to all men to praise the Lord for his goodness. This is the burden of the text, and it plainly teaches that for men thus to praise the Lord is -
I. INFINITELY DESIRABLE. The psalmist longs that they should do this; he seems eagerly waiting for that outburst or' praise which he feels ought to be forthcoming. And it is thus to be desired:
1. Because it is so right. If this could not be said of it, nothing else that might be urged could justify such longing after it. But this can be said. For God's goodness deserves men's praise. Think how great, how varied, how constant, how all undeserved, how costly, is the goodness of God to men, and how it follows them continually all the days of their life here, and then goes with them into the eternal life. If a fellow man have shown to us, when in distress, great kindness, we are not slow to acknowledge it; or if we were, the verdict of our fellow-men would at once condemn us.
2. It so brightens our life. That which darkens life is the dwelling on its unhappy events, or on those which we think unhappy. But if we would brighten life, we have to reverse this process. Collect the happy facts of life, and let memory recollect and ponder them. It will be found that however great the sum of our sorrows may be, the sum of our joys is greater.
3. It gives us courage in the conflict with the social evils of the day. There are many such. They are demanding men's attention more and more. The bitter cry of multitudes of our fellow men can be no longer stifled or ignored. And good men are setting themselves to see what can be done to remedy these wrongs. But every one knows that it is much easier to point out a wrong than to find a remedy. For there are so many who profit by the wrong, that they will never, if they can help, let go their hold of it. All man's selfishness rises up to guard it, and its defenses are strong indeed. But what can so encourage us to assail these strongholds of wrong as the conviction, wrought by the habit of praising the Lord for his goodness, that he whom we know to be good cannot but be against such wrong, and with those who seek to remedy it? There will be heard in their souls the ancient stirring cry, "Deus vult!" and like as that emboldened men in the days of the Crusades, so for this far more important and difficult crusade it will serve the same blessed office of emboldening the hearts of those who undertake it. But such custom is -
II. LAMENTABLY ABSENT. The text is both a confession and a bitter complaint of this fact. But why is this? Wherefore is it that men act towards God in a way which would cover them with shame were they to act so in regard to their fellow-men? The very words of the text suggest not a little of the answer.
1. Many do not believe in the Lord. They will not absolutely deny his existence, but they are not at all certain of it. And such uncertainty paralyzes praise. They, of course, believe in some "force," some efficient power, which produces what they see. They cannot help believing in that. But what it is they do not pretend to say. They are materialists, evolutionists, agnostics, but no more.
2. Others question the "goodness for which men should praise the Lord. They are bewildered at many aspects of the natural world and of the social world, that seem to throw grave doubt on that goodness. And when they look within and see what they themselves are, how evil and wrong; and when they listen to what not a few theologians tell them of God, and the doom he destines for the mass of men, a very sea of doubt and misgiving surges over them, not to say swallows them up.
3. And others deny any wonderful works." They do not believe in the supernatural, and all miracle is but myth. They believe only in the reign of law, and that things happen not in any "wonderful" way, but according to fixed, orderly, and ascertained law. They have a natural explanation for everything, and need no Divine intervention to account for aught that has occurred. They believe in "wonderful works" done by "the children of men," by their genius, skill, daring, but not in any done for them. Such are some of the silencers of men's praise and gratitude. But, whatever the cause, the effect is most sad. Man's own self becomes, to him who believes not in God, the greatest and most important being he knows, and what but hideous selfishness can follow? And he who doubts - as, alas! so many do -
"That he and we and all men move
Under a canopy of love
As broad as the blue sky above," = - What is there for him but to sink Down into a wretched pessimism, a despair of good, such as may be met with in wide regions of the thought, speech, and writing of this unbelieving age? Pride, miserable atheistic Pride, is another of the Dead-Sea fruits
III. IS EARNESTLY TO BE SOUGHT AFTER. But how may men be made to praise the Lord for his goodness - how? This is, indeed, an important question, and almost as difficult as important. Not, we think, by their simply going over the mercies they have received, because, unless they believe them to be God's mercies, the mere enumeration will do no good - will probably only foster pride. But we believe that St. John supplies the true answer. He says, "We love him, because he first loved us." This is the genesis of the spirit of praise, its true point and spring - our seeing and believing God's love to us in Christ our Lord. So, then, would we quicken this spirit of praise in ourselves, let us get back whence it first began; and would we awaken it in others, the best, we believe the only way, is to -
"Tell them the old, old story
Of Jesus and his love." S.C.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness.
The importance of the harvest season is universally known. The labour and produce of the whole year depend finally on it. A good harvest is not a particular, but a general benefit. Bread is the staff of life; and as all mankind are maintained by the fruits of the ground, so they are all interested, either directly or indirectly, in the season of harvest. Now, the benefits we enjoy in common with our fellow-creatures are the most proper grounds of gratitude and praise to the universal Benefactor; and it is incumbent on us all on this occasion to unite in thanksgiving to Him who gives us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with joy and gladness. To awaken a still more lively sense of our obligation to God, let us consider the time at which it was bestowed. If we turn our attention from God to ourselves, from the Author to the object of this blessing, we shall see still fresh ground for religious gratitude, in estimating the kindness of a benefactor, the character of the beneficiary is a circumstance which is always to be taken into account. The unworthiness of those who receive a favour, enhances the kindness of him who bestows it, and should more strongly recommend him to their affection. If this consideration recommends the goodness of men, how much more does it enhance the Divine beneficence! Let our souls rise, then, in gratitude to that gracious Being, who is ever mindful of us, though we be forgetful of Him; who daily loads us with His benefits, though we perversely abuse them. To complete a sense of our obligation to God, let us consider our security for the enjoyment of this blessing which providence has bestowed upon us. He has not only blessed us with plenty; he has also given us peace to enjoy it
SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE DIVINE GOODNESS.
1. The Divine goodness is self-evident in the creation of the world. How beautiful, how glorious, are all the works of His hand!
2. The high dominion to which man was appointed by the Divine fiat further proves the goodness of his beneficent Creator. He was not to be a vassal, not to be placed on terms of equality, but was to have "dominion over the fish of the sea," etc.
3. The Divine goodness is further evident in the provision of the Gospel. How comprehensive is the scheme of wisdom; bow glorious the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God!
II. GOD'S LEGITIMATE CLAIM. "Forget not all His benefits." The Divine goodness claims the praise of our tongues.
III. THE EARNEST DESIRE OF THE PSALMIST. He would not only give praise himself, but he would be the means of leading others to see and feel that it is an important duty.
The earnestness with which the psalmist repeats again and again this benevolent wish — as devout as it is benevolent, and expressive of the gratitude that it invokes — implies that men are remiss in paying their thanks to the Supreme Benefactor, and that they have need to be urged to the performance of that cheering duty. Not that the human heart is naturally disinclined to acknowledge God in His benefits, but because it is so easily led to forget Him altogether in the multitude of its cares and .pleasures; and because it knows that it can never estimate fully the number and extent of His mercies; and because it is so apt to misunderstand the truest occasions of thankfulness, and so not pay its tribute aright. The sacred poet describes under four distinct figures the lovingkindness, of which He would impress the memory upon the minds of His people. They are fitted to represent all those examples of deliverance which are often vouchsafed, and which challenge in a peculiar manner the admiring gratitude of those who are permitted to witness them. But we perceive that they are all of one class. They all look to some extraordinary exhibition of the saving might of the Most High. If we await such as these, we shall soon be capable of appreciating none. Cases of visible and imminent peril are always rare. A long life will often stand in no need of rescue from such. But few have found themselves in the situation of the fainting traveller in search of his way. Few have been compelled or have chosen to expose themselves to such a risk. As for the second example, the preacher might address many a crowded assembly without finding one person who had felt chains upon his wrists, and sat in undeserved captivity, abandoned of all companionship, and trembling for his life. Sickness, on the other hand, we must admit, is a common visitant, and sickness of the most alarming and fatal character no unfrequent one. And yet it is almost a singularity, compared with comfortable health, and the answer, "I am well," to friendly inquiries. Then, as to the last succour named — that amidst the horrors of shipwreck — what a small proportion of people have ever undergone any personal hazard of this kind , — have ever been likely to be swallowed up in that treacherous highway, whose dust is the salt spray and its pavement thousands of fathoms down! We should have to make similar abatements and allowances as to any other of those uncommon demands on our thanksgiving, which are the most striking to the most common minds. And when we have made all these, there is another set of exceptions that claims equal consideration. They remind us, and how truly, that such occasions as have been alluded to are not only seldom experienced, but are in the highest degree doubtful as to their result; the issue being for the most part deadly, and not gracious. The bones of the poor traveller are found in some unknown spot, or never found. The loaded captive is left to his fate. The diseased man sinks away from a bad state to a worse, till the grave is friendly enough to open its last refuge from weariness and distress. The shattered vessel goes down in the gale, and the sailor's cry of entreaty or despair is drowned in the hollow gust, as if none regarded it. What, then, is the inference? It is, that we should not found our praises of the Lord on things that are precarious in their event, and far apart in their occurrence. It is, that we should look for His "wonderful works" in those that are most constant. We should think more of our continual preservation than of a fortunate escape, — more of the benefits that millions partake of with us, than of those by which we may be for a moment distinguished, — more of the merciful laws of our being, than of its transient incidents, — more of the great truth that a parental Providence reigns, than of any fact that may seem to illustrate its singular interferences. The spirit, then, of the contemplative man should be filled with the love of the Being that fills all in all. The succession of our years should be one thanksgiving day.
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