Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place?
Psalm 24:3Psalm 24:3
. This psalm breathes the spirit of aspiration. It speaks of the earth as the Lord's; but we are not to rest with the earth. The call is," Who will ascend?" As one of our own poets has said -
"Not to the earth confined, ascend to heaven." Aspiration is an instinct of the heart. The young man is full of hope. Nothing seems to him impossible. His spirit leaps within him, longing to take part with others in the struggle of life.
"Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new,
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do." Often such aspirations come to little. Work is hard. Progress is difficult. Things turn out so different from what was expected. Some fail. Others falter and lose heart. Others sink down to the dull routine of business, and the bright vision that charmed their youthful fancy fades away. But there are some who succeed. They have had ambitions, and they have stuck to them. They have had purposes, and have courageously carried them out. But if their aspirations have been limited to this world, success brings no real satisfaction. Byron found himself famous, and for a while was a great power; but how miserable were his last days! Even Gibbon, when he had brought his great work, that cost three and thirty years of labour, to an end, felt anything but quite satisfied. "I will not dissemble," he writes at Lausanne, "the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that whatsoever might be the future fate of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious" (vol. 1. p. 23.). Our aspirations need guidance and support. The true ascent is to "the hill of the Lord," and "his holy place." The Hebrews had much to stimulate them in the very conditions of things. They had to "go up" to Jerusalem, and when they went to the house of the Lord, the way was "still upward" - from the entrance to the holy place (Ezekiel 41:7). And all this was made helpful to them as regards higher things. But we have greater aids and encouragements. We have "the hope of glory;" the lives of the good who have gone before us; the voices of the prophets; the example of our blessed Lord; and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Every true life has its Jerusalem, and we must "go from strength to strength," still upward, if we are at last to reach the joy and peace of God. There are difficulties, as there will be in the way of all high endeavours; but we are comforted with the promise of help and the assurance of success. Thought is good, "meditated action" is better, but right action carried out, and that to the end, is best of all. If we are of the generation that seek God (ver. 6), then our motto will be, "Death to evil, and life to good." If we open our hearts to the King of glory, then under his leading our path shall ever be onward and upward, till at last we stand in the holy place, and receive the blessing from the Lord.
"Breathe me upward, thou in me
Aspiring, who art the Way, the Truth, the Life!
That no truth henceforth seem indifferent,
No way to truth laborious, and no life -
Not even this life I live - intolerable"
(Aurora Leigh.') W.F.
This introductory question, sung as the procession climbed the steep, had realised what was needed for those who should get the entrance that they sought, and comes to be a very significant and important one.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?
We may fairly compare the life of a Christian to the ascent of a mountain. Propose the text as a serious question.
I. SOME WHO ANSWER "WE SHALL" ARE YOUNG BEGINNERS. They have not yet tried the rougher part of the mountain. Be not overconfident. There is a sense in which to be weak is to be strong,
II. OTHERS SPEAK OUT OF SHEER IGNORANCE. "Oh," say they, "it is not far to heaven. It is a little thing to be a Christian. You have only to say, 'God be merciful to me,' and the thing is done." Oh, poor ignorant soul, your folly is too common. To the unaccustomed traveller, nothing is more deceptive than a lofty Alp. You think you can get to the top in half an hour, but find it a full day's journey. It is so with religion.
III. OTHERS THINK THEY HAVE FOUND A SMOOTH ROAD BY WHICH THEY MAY AVOID ALL ROUGHNESS. Take care, presumptuous soul, for the greener the path the greater the danger.
IV. OTHERS THINK THEY WILL BE SURE TO ASCEND BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY CARRY WITH THEM. This is the way in which the worldly-wise and self-sufficient talk, and those who are rich and cumbered with much serving in the world.
V. BUT OTHERS SEEM VERY SAD. Why mourn you? "Oh," say they, "we shall never ascend the hill of God." I should have thought you the very ones who would ascend. Why do you think you shall fail?
1. One says: "I am so weak, and the hill is so exceeding high. I can do nothing good. But God will help you.
2. I am so sorely tried, and the way is so rough." But the road to heaven never was anything but rough, so you may be the more sure you are in the right way.
3. "But I have been sorely tempted; and across my path there is a swollen torrent, and I cannot wade through it." But the Lord knows how to deliver thee. In one of the wild valleys of Cumberland we were rained up for two or three days. The little brooks had been swollen until they roared like thundering rivers. But I noticed, when we did make the attempt, that the sheep which fed upon the mountain side could spring from stone to stone, rest a moment in the middle, while the angry flood rushed on either side, and then leap and spring again. I thought of the text, "He maketh my feet like hind's feet."
4. "But I have lost my way altogether, I cannot see a step before me; a thick fog of doubt and fear hangs over me." We too have passed through such fogs. Let him not fear but trust in the Lord.
5. "But my woe is worse. I have been going down hill. My faith is not as strong as it was; my love has grown cold; my depravity has burst out. I am sure it is all over with me," In climbing a mountain it often occurs that the path winds downward for a season, But Christians never mount better than when they descend.
6. "But I am in such danger. I fear I shall fall." When a Christian looks down it is likely to make his head swim. Look up! The Scripture does not bid us run our race looking at our own tottering legs, but "looking unto Jesus."
VI. LOOK AT THE MAN WHO IS ABLE TO ASCEND THE HILL OF THE LORD.
1. He is well shod.
2. Girt about his loins,
3. He has a strong staff.
4. And a guide.
5. He marks the way. And oh! the joy when the sunset is reached.
On its historical side the Ascension of Christ is an event of surpassing grandeur and sublimity. It is an event without parallel in the history of mankind. For the Ascension of Christ rises far beyond the translations of Enoch or Elijah. His ascension was the ascension of a risen and immortal man, of a spiritualised and glorified body. It was therefore a perfectly unique and unparalleled event. This historic fact, applied to ourselves, penetrating our inmost being, conquering our wills, directing our motives, stirring our thoughts, exalting our actions — this, and this alone, is of redeeming service and eternal consequence. One of the greatest needs of our age is this applied Christianity; this application of historic, doctrinal religion to daily righteousness. We want the life of Christ imputed to us; and imputed, not by some ecclesiastical or juridical fiction, but in a plain, honest, practical way — the way of faith shown forth by works. What a poor paltry thing our modern respectable Christianity too often is! The Christianity of the Gospel is real and glorious. It begins with the cradle, and does not end with the grave. It has no will except the will of God. What is the message of the two Ascension Psalms (24, 25.)? Their first message is of Christ. That message was primarily and historically fulfilled when Christ Himself passed through the heavens. But the message is not concerning Christ alone. It concerns every Christian in so far as his character and conduct are fashioned after the model of Christ, his redeeming Lord. For as with the Resurrection, so also with the Ascension of Christ. He is the first fruits; afterwards all that are His. His ascension is the pledge and guarantee of our final ascension. Why did Christ our Lord ascend? The Psalmist answers: "Because He had clean hands and a pure heart." Because Christ was perfect in heart and life; it was impossible for Him to be holden of death or of earth, Not only because He was perfect Son of God, but also because He was perfect son of man, He ascended into the heavens. His Ascension was accomplished by the force of a Divine and spiritual necessity — a spiritual necessity engendered by His absolute and unblemished righteousness. As fire ascends towards the sun by a natural law, so by a spiritual law goodness ascends towards God. What is true of Christ in perfection is also true of every Christian in part. All who, in humble faith, imitate His character will, by virtue of the same spiritual necessity which compelled His Ascension, themselves also at length ascend whither He has gone before to prepare a place for them. We must earnestly endeavour to practise the character and imitate the conduct of Christ before we can hope to follow in the shining path of His glorious exaltation. Ascension in heart and mind, in conversation and conduct, must be the forerunners of final, bodily ascension.
? — Sometimes the question is asked merely from idle curiosity. Sometimes with a sigh of hopelessness, in sheer despair. See the answer of the Psalm. Not only outward morality, but inward purity. His walk, his work, and his conversation must all be absolutely pure; he must be able to bridle his tongue, as well as keep his heart pure. The text comes to us on Ascension Day to tell of one who has climbed this hill. It is because He has gone up before us that we too are able to enter into that heavenly hill. He has ascended up on high, as our great forerunner. This day's truth once more inspires us with courage.
I. THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS. It lies deep in all men's hearts, and underlies sacrifices and priesthoods and asceticisms of all sorts. It sometimes rises in the thoughts of the most degraded, and it is present always with some of the better and nobler of men. It indicates that, for life and blessedness, men must get somehow to the side of God, and be quiet there, as children in their father's house. The universal consciousness is, that this fellowship with God, which is indispensable to a man's peace, is impossible to a man's impurity. So the question raises the thought of the consciousness of sin which comes creeping over a man when he is sometimes feeling after God, and seems to batter him in the face and fling him back into the outer darkness. That this question should rise and insist upon being answered as it does proves these three things — man's need of God, man's sense of God's purity, man's consciousness of his own sin. The "ascent of the hill of the Lord" includes all the present life, and all the future.
II. THE ANSWER TO THIS GREAT QUESTION. The Psalm contains the qualifications necessary. They are four. They mean, "Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." An impossible requirement is laid down, broad and stern and unmistakable. But is that all? Read on in Psalm, "He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." So then, the impossible requirement is made possible as a gift to be received. In Jesus Christ there is the new life bestowed that will develop the righteousness far beyond our reach.
Homilist.I. THE SOUL'S CRY. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" The spirit of this question is, how is fellowship with the great God to be attained? This state of fellowship with God is the great want of human souls. It is —
1. A very elevated state. It is the highest state of moral being. A soul in communion with God is high up above the mists, impurities, and tumults of worldly life.
2. A very holy state. Communion with Him is the holiest condition of souls.
3. A very desirable state. All should ascend, but what is the qualification for ascending? Of all the desirable things in life there is nothing so desirable for man as fellowship with God. For this his nature craves.
II. THE TRUE RESPONSE.
1. The way of reaching this state.(1) Moral cleanness. A man may be clean handed so far as the eyes of men are concerned, and black hearted to the eyes of God. The clean hands must be hands washed by the pure sentiments, motives, and aims of a holy heart. The means —(2) Moral reality,
2. The blessedness of reaching this state. "He shall receive the blessing from the Lord." This blessing includes all others — loving fellowship with himself, and the possession of conscious and divinely recognised rectitude of character.
()Who may ascend, was a picturesquely appropriate question for singers toiling upwards; and "who may stand?" for those who hoped presently to enter the sacred presence. The ark which they bore had brought disaster to Dagon's temple, so that the philistine lords had asked in terror, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" And at Beth-Shemesh its presence had been so fatal that David had abandoned the design of bringing it up, and said, "How shall the Ark of the Lord come to me?" The answer which lays down the qualifications of true dwellers in Jehovah's house may be compared with the similar outlines of ideal character in Psalm 15 and Isaiah 33:14. The one requirement is "purity." Here that requirement is deduced from the majesty of Jehovah, as set forth in vers. 1, 2, and from the designation of His dwelling as "holy." But this is the postulate of the whole Psalter. In it the approach to Jehovah is purely spiritual, while the outward access is used as a symbol; and the conditions are of the same nature as the approach. The general truth implied is, that the character of the God determines the character of the worshippers. Worship is supreme admiration, culminating in imitation. Its law is always, "They that make them are like unto them; so is everyone that trusteth in them." A god of war will have warriors, and a god of lust sensualists for his devotees. The worshippers in Jehovah's holy place must be holy. The details of the answer are but the echoes of a conscience enlightened by the perception of His character. In ver. 4 it may be noted that of the four aspects of purity enumerated, the two central refer to the inward life (pure heart; lifts not his desire unto vanity), and these are embedded, as it were, in the outward life of deeds and words. Purity of act is expressed by "clean hands," — neither red with blood nor foul with grubbing in dunghills for gold and other so-called good. Purity of speech is condensed into the one virtue of truthfulness (swears not to a falsehood). But the outward will only be right if the inward disposition is pure, and that inward purity will only be realised when desires are carefully curbed and directed. As is the desire, so is the man. Therefore the prime requisite for a pure heart is the withdrawal of affection, esteem, and longing from the solid-seeming illusions of sense. "Vanity" has, indeed, the special meaning of idols, but the notion of earthly good apart from God is more relevant here. In ver. 5 the possessor of such purity is represented as receiving "a blessing, even righteousness," from God, which is by many taken to mean beneficence on the part of God, "inasmuch as, according to the Hebrew religious view of the world, all good is regarded as reward from God's retributive, righteousness, and consequently as that of man's own righteousness or right conduct" (Hupfeld). The expression is thus equivalent to "salvation" in the next clause.
()The occasion of this Psalm is one of the grandest and most illustrious that anywhere occurs in history. By the phrases of ascending into the hill of God and standing in His holy place, the Psalmist would point out the persons who are to be admitted to worship God in His temple. In ascertaining the qualifications of the citizens of the spiritual Jerusalem the Psalmist does not so much as mention the external observances, the costly and laborious rites of the ceremonial law, but dwells alone on the great and essential duties of morality, which are of universal and eternal obligation. The qualifications here are those of the heart and of the life. "Clean hands and a pure heart." It is not enough that we wash our hands in innocency before men: we must be pure in heart before the eyes of infinite perfection. True religion is religion of the heart; it is a principle dwelling in the mind, that extends its influence through the whole man, and regulates the life. Unless our religion enter the heart we have no religion at all. We can never attain to the true beauties of holiness unless, like the king's daughters, we be all glorious within. A life sacred to devotion and virtue, sacred to the practice of truth and undefiled religion, joined to a heart pure, pious, and benevolent, constitute an offering more acceptable at the altars of the Most High God than whole hecatombs of burnt offerings and a thousand hills of frankincense in a flame.
()As soon as spirit touches spirit there springs up between them a relationship which we call moral. Whatever rightly flows from such spiritual contact is morally good. It is in the intercourse of human society that man proves himself to be a moral being. Faith, by admitting us into fresh contact with God and with our fellows, by endowing us with new relationships that have become ours through our inclusion within the new humanity, even the body of Christ, has necessarily laid upon us new moral obligations, responsibilities, and functions, all of which spring out of the very nature of our corporate faith. If we would determine the lines and features of the Christian temper and character we must look to the nature of that great fellowship into which we have been called. The Christian character asked of us is that habit, that activity, which must follow on our acceptance within the assembly of the first born, within the city of God. Whatever that acceptance makes desirable and natural, that is good and that is holy. The Church is a moral conception, a moral condition, by which we are to determine character.
I. THE CHURCH IS A HOUSEHOLD. What are the virtues essential to a household such as our Lord pictures, an organised kingdom of work? Fertile activity. The character will be forthcoming, energetic, stirring. The household demands activity of character, and it asks for a skilled and trained activity. What type and rule of character is suggested by —
II. THE CHURCH AS A FAMILY. It is a nursery and school of virtue. A family produces a character of courtesy, a sensitive recognition of varying characteristics, a delicate sense of others' rights. It instills self-repression, self-control, honour for one another, esteem of one another, the stooping of the strong to the weak. Negative self-repression will learn to give itself positive outflow in sympathy, tenderness, and affection.
III. THE CHURCH AS A BODY. What stamp does that great conception set upon character? It adds one peculiar note, the note of witness. A body is in essence the evidence, the proof, the pledge of that which acts through it. Its sole function throughout all its parts is to make manifest that secret presence which animates and directs it. The Christian who is of the body has mission, has vocation. He is there on earth to declare the name, to manifest the glory of God. The Christian character must therefore be stamped with the seal of mission.
IV. THE CHURCH AS A TEMPLE. There is to be positive beauty in the Christian character, It is to be full of delicate and lovely refinement. There is to be a touch upon it of grace, a charm of majesty and consecration. A character built up out of purity and love will have about it also the sense of mystery, the spirit of the temple. Purity and mystery, the temple gifts, where are they? Where are they in us, in our lives, so mixed, so unpurged, and so worldly? Not until we are more evidently of the body and of the temple will men be able to recognise and confess, "this is the generation of them that seek Him, that seek Thy face, O Jacob!"
Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart.High up among some lofty mountains you may at some time have been surprised and delighted by the sudden and unlooked for discovery of a crystal-like lake, nestling cosily amid giant cliffs, or hemmed in and well-nigh hidden from you by a forest of solemn and majestic pines or cedars. By day its placid surface reflected with dazzling splendour the sun's effulgence; while in the night the lovelier and more subdued glories of the moon and stars were so clearly reflected that the lake seemed transformed into a crystal setting which held these shining, jewels. In like manner is the Psalmist's assertion of the text but the reflection of that which has ever been in the mind of the Creator, and which later on was enunciated by the God-man in the beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." But why such stress upon this virtue of purity? Because —
I. IMPURITY IS THE SIN GOD MOST HATES. In proof, see what brought on the Flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the most terrible punishments which came on God's people. In the history of nations purity, preeminence, and power go together. Let a nation throw down the statue of Purity and it sounds its own death-knell.
II. A PURE HEART PURIFIES ALL THAT IT APPROACHES. It is so even with the most ferocious natures, and so it is with human beings. A corrupt heart draws out in an hour all that is bad in us; a spiritual one brings out, and draws to itself, all that is best and purest. Such was Christ. He stood in the world the tight of the world, to which all rays of light gradually gathered. He stood in the presence of impurity, and men became pure.
III. WE WHO ARE GOD'S CHILDREN MUST SEEK TO BECOME AND TO BE LIKE HIM. As light can have no fellowship with darkness, so can there be no fellowship between us and Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Impurity has on the spiritual man precisely the same effect that paralysis has on the physical man. The sin of impurity severs us from Christ.
IV. HOW MAY WE WIN THIS PURITY OF HEART? We would say —
1. Stand out firmly against evil thoughts and imaginations. A man's heart may become so foul that purity refuses any longer to be its guest. Then Satan has won the battle.
2. Be careful as to the influence of your companions.
3. Also be careful as to what you read. Books often blunt the moral sense. Dwell often upon the spotless purity of the Creator, and of the Master while upon earth. Pray daily for grace and power to hate everything that can take away from the whiteness and cleanness of your soul, and to guard against it.
()This new term, derived from a Greek word signifying purity, has been invented by Mr. Tomlinson to distinguish between ordinary and chemical cleanliness; for the two things are not by any means the same, We imagine that our bodies, when we haw thoroughly washed them, are perfectly free from all impurity; but the chemist proves to us by convincing experiments that, though we wash ourselves with snow water, and make our hands never so clean, we are still unclean. We cannot be made chemically clean by any process which would not injure or destroy us. The slightest exposure to the air — the great receptacle of all impurities — covers our skin with a greasy organic film, which pollutes every substance with which we come into contact. It is well known that the process of crystallisation in chemical solutions is set going by the presence of some impurity, in the shape of motes or dust particles, which act as nuclei around which the salts gather into crystals. But if the solution be protected from all floating impurities by a covering of cotton wool, which filters the air, it may be kept for any length of time at a low temperature without crystallising. A glass rod that is made chemically clean by being washed with strong acids or alkalis, such as sulphuric acid or caustic potash, can be put into the solution without exciting any change in it; but the smallest touch of what the most fastidious would call clean fingers starts at once the process of crystallisation, thus showing that the fingers are not truly clean. Nature is exceedingly dainty in her operations. Unless the agents we employ are stainlessly pure they will not produce the results which we naturally expect from them. Thus, for instance, if we scrape a few fragments from a fresh surface of camphor, and allow them to fall on water that is newly drawn from the cistern tap, into a chemically clean vessel, they will revolve with great rapidity, and sweep over the surface. But if the vessel, before being filled, has been rubbed and polished with a so called clean cloth, or if the water has stood awhile, or if a finger has been placed in it, the particles of camphor will lie perfectly motionless; thus proving that, however clean the cloth or the vessel or the finger may seem, an impurity has been imparted which prevents the camphor from exhibiting its strange movements. Or to adopt a more familiar experiment: if we pour a quantity of lemonade, or any other aerated fluid, into a glass which seems to be perfectly clean and bright, the lemonade will at once effervesce and form bubbles of gas on the sides of the glass. But if we first wash the glass with some strong acid or alkali, and then rinse it thoroughly with fresh water newly drawn, we may pour the lemonade into it and no bubbles will be seen. The reason is, that in the former case the glass was not really clean, and the impurities present acted as nuclei in liberating gas. But in the latter case the glass was really clean, and so could no longer liberate the gas from the liquid. Could we keep it clean we might stir the liquid a whole day and no sparkle would be raised. So, then, in common things, and yet more in spiritual, our utmost purity is a mere relative or comparative thing. We are never really clean. Our idea of purity and God's idea are two very different things. See Job's confession, "Now, mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore," etc. The physical fact is but a faint image of the moral; and chemistry, in showing us the wonderful purity of nature's operations, gives a new meaning and a deeper emphasis to the declarations of Scripture that nature's God is "of purer eyes than to behold iniquity." But to some men the infinite purity of God is a mere proposition exciting no emotion in the soul, a mere scientific truth like the chemist's talk about cleanliness. To another it is the most intense of all experiences, stirring and transforming the whole nature. Impurity in natural things is caused by waste, disintegration, or combustion, When objects have served their purpose in one form they become effete, and therefore impure. Running water is living water, and therefore is sweet and pure; but whenever it becomes stagnant it loses its life, begins to putrefy, and becomes foul and unwholesome. A rock is called a live rock so long as it is hard and sound in the quarry, "glistens like the sea waves, and rings under the hammer like a brazen bell," but whenever it is cut out of the quarry and exposed to the air it begins to lose the life that kept its particles together, and crumbles into dust. In its native bed the rock is pure, but when it is weathered by exposure it forms the mud of the highway, or the dust that pollutes everything by its presence. The clay and soil of our fields are caused by the oxidation or burning of pure metals; are, in fact, the ashes of metal's. The dirt that cleaves to our footsteps, as the emblem of all impurity, is produced by the disintegration of the brightest metals or the most sparkling jewels. We say of a tree, that it is living when it is growing and putting forth foliage and fruit, and in this state it is pure and beautiful; but whenever it ceases to grow it dies, and decay begins, and it harbours all sorts of abominable things, the products of corruption. Everywhere throughout nature impurity is caused by objects ceasing to preserve the natural life that is in them, ceasing to serve the purpose for which they were created. And so is it with man. Impurity in him is caused by the loss of spiritual life. He has broken the law and order of his existence, and his whole nature has disintegrated in an atmosphere of sin. And just as mica is the first product of the purest crystal when it is broken down from the law of its creation, so all impurity in man is the vile product — the rust, as it were — of a nature made in the image of God, through its corruption — that is, as the word implies, its breaking up together by sin. Separated from God, his rock, he has suffered decay in all his parts. Ceasing to grow and abide in the Tree of Life, he has been cast forth as a branch and is withered, the prey of vile lusts and morbid vanities. And this is true of all men. Yet all men are not alike. Many feel incapable of the vices which they see committed around them. But such moral purity as we see in some individuals, causing them to thank God in their hearts that they are not as other men, is like ordinary cleanliness as compared with chemical cleanliness. We think our hands, or a glass of water, or a tablecloth clean; they certainly seem to be pure and spotless; our senses can detect no defilement in them, and for the common purposes of life they may be sufficiently clean. But when we submit them to the test of chemical experiment we find out the hidden impurities, and understand how widely different our notions of cleanliness are from the absolute truth. Chemical cleanliness, I have said, is produced by washing vessels and substances that are employed in experiments in strong sulphuric acid, or with a strong solution of caustic potash, and then rinsing with water. Analogous to these powerful appliances are the means which God often employs to produce moral purity, those chastenings of the flesh and crucifixions of the spirit which are not joyous but grievous. He sends sickness, that wears out the body; trouble, that racks the mind; and sorrow, that takes all the relish out of life. He mortifies self-seeking by disappointment, and humbles pride by failure. He makes lust its own scourge, and the idolatry of the heart its own punishment. By all these searching and terribly energetic purifiers, that corrode the soul as sulphuric acid does the body, He helps forward outwardly the Spirit's work of renewing in the heart. His will is our sanctification. But it needs the burning heat of severe, oft-repeated, and long-protracted trial, working together with God's Spirit, to evaporate the incongruous elements of sin and sense that make us impure, and to build up the pure transparent crystal of Christian simplicity. And this process is ever going on, — and amid the common exposures of our daily work. Not out of the world, but in the world, are found the disciplines which purify the soul.
()This Psalm is associated with the removal of the ark of the Lord to the temple which stood on Mount Zion. It sets forth those who should be regarded as qualified to ascend Mount Zion, and take part in the proceedings of that memorable day.
I. CLEAN HANDS. The Jews attached great importance to clean hands, especially before eating and worshipping. In the literal sense, clean hands may not be regarded as a necessary qualification for Christians in order to their admission to the true holy place, which is heaven, but rather what clean hands typify and represent in a spiritual sense. Our hands are the representatives of our actions. Therefore clean hands, to us Christians, would mean what we understand by stainless conduct. They mean lawful and right, honest and irreproachable actions. Our hands, our practical conduct, must be clean, morally unstained, undefiled, if we are to follow in the track of Christ's ascension.
II. A PURE HEART. The character of a man's heart determines, above all things, his standing in the sight of God, his fitness to see God. Clean hands without a pure heart, an outward stainless life without the inward spirit of purity, will not suffice to admit a man to the holy place of God's presence. What is a pure heart? It means that the fountain source of a man's nature, from which flow all the streams of his life, is unpolluted by sensual lusts, by forbidden passions, by foul imaginations, or by anything whatever that is morally unclean. By a pure heart is meant not simply a chaste heart, but an altogether uncorrupt heart, of which chastity is only one of many forms.
III. HATH NOT LIFTED UP HIS SOUL UNTO VANITY. Hebrew, "hath not set his heart upon a thing of nought." Not fixed his heart upon things whose intrinsic value is worthless; such things as money, titles, society, worldly knowledge, earthly treasures, and the pleasures of this life. He does not set his affections on things of the earth. He does not allow them to take that place in his heart which is due to God, and to God only.
IV. NOR SWORN DECEITFULLY. By this is meant swearing falsely, taking an oath to a lie. The man who shall stand in God's holy place must be a "man of truth"; a man like Nathaniel, in whom there is no guile, no artfulness, no pretence, no insincerity, no hypocrisy, no unreality, no untruth in any shape whatever. He must also be true "in the inward parts," in his motives, aims, intentions, and aspirations. Ascending to heaven is a matter of spiritual character. Then who, among ordinary mortals, is really qualified for ascending to heaven? All that we can do is to keep the standard daily before our eyes, and do our honest best to reach it as far as possible. The life we are now living day by day may be an ascending life, ever moving upward, heavenward, Christ-ward.
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