Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous; befitting is the praise of the upright.
Philippians 4:4. It is refreshing to the spirit to find that in the olden times there were pious and holy souls, receptive of the revelation which God had even then given of himself, and who could gather up their thoughts in grateful calm as they mused on the perfections of their ever-reigning Lord. In this psalm there are no historic considerations presented, nor is there any individual experience suggested at which we have to look in studying this amazing illustration of joy in God. It is the "itself by itself " - the pure thing, the uplifting of a soul from the cloudland of earth to the sunland of heaven. Here is -
I. AN ENRAPTURING VIEW OF THE GLORY OF OUR REVEALED GOD. We use this word "revealed," as indicated By this psalm, advisedly on two grounds. For
(1) the name "Jehovah" (ver. 1) is the name by which God revealed himself to Israel (Exodus 6:3). The name "I am that I am" at once removes the God of the Hebrews far above all anthropomorphism. Then
(2) in ver. 4 we are told, "The Word of the Lord is right;" so that, as the word is the expression of thought, and as expressed thought indicates will, it is here declared that God had made known his will (see Psalm 103:7; Hebrews 1:1). How far God's early disclosures of himself went, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us (Matthew 22:31, 32). And it is by the light from words of God that we read his natural works. Having, then, God revealed by name and by word, what are the contents of that revelation which are here pointed out?
1. Right. (Ver. 4.) The Word of God, as given under the Old Testament, was preeminently right. As being such, the whole of the hundred and nineteenth psalm extols it. And now no nobler ethical code does the world possess than that given to Moses and the prophets, and confirmed by Christ.
2. Truth. (Ver. 4.) I.e. faithfulness. As righteousness marks the Word, so fidelity to the Word marks the works of God.
3. Goodness. (ver. 5.) I.e. loving-kindness. The earth is full of it. The sound eye rejoices in the sunshine; and the pure heart reads the goodness of God everywhere.
4. Power. (Vers. 6, 7, 9.) We cannot rejoice in bare power; but when infinite power is in alliance with perfect goodness and with loving-kindness, then we can.
5. Wisdom. (Ver. 10.) There is not only a power that sways matter, but a wisdom which controls mind, so that among the nations there can never be any plotting which can frustrate or intercept his plans.
6. Omniscience. (Vers. 14, 15.) He espies from afar the hidden thought of every soul (Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 139.). He knows men's hearts, as having created them (ver. 15) "alike," i.e. altogether, in one. There are variations in mind, but yet all minds act responsively to some necessary laws of thought inlaid in their original structure.
7. Steadfast counsels. (Ver. 11.) This is true of the plans of providence; but it is most gloriously true of the hidden mysteries and triumphs of his grace (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9; Acts 15:18).
8. All his counsels are in alliance with a holiness which warrants and invites confidence. (Ver. 21.) He cannot do wrong; he cannot be unfaithful or unkind (Psalm 92:15).
9. On some he looks with special favour and love. (Vers. 18, 19; see Psalm 18:25, 26.) Those who trust God most fully and follow him most faithfully will find that their lot is as beautifully ordered for them as if God had no one else to occupy his care. They will be guarded in peril, supplied in need, and comforted in sorrow; the loving glances of a gracious eye and the cheering words from a loving heart will give to such many a song in the night. Let all these nine features of God's glory be put together and looked at in blended sweetness, and see if they will not raise to an ecstasy of delight.
II. THE JOY WHICH UPRIGHT SOULS HAVE IN SUCH A GOD IS UNBOUNDED. Yes.
1. The joy has uprightness for its condition. Upright souls! Only such. But this does not mean absolutely perfect men, but men who mourn over the wrong, who have confessed it before God, who have received his pardoning mercy, and who loyally conform their lives to God's holy will and Word, who would not knowingly harbour any sin or aught that would grieve their God - men who have gone, in fact, through the experiences of Psalm 32. (of which, indeed, this may possibly be a continuation).
2. This joy has grace for its resting-place. (Vers. 18, 22.) "Mercy." The joy would have no ground stable enough if it were settled on any other basis than God himself, nor unless that basis were "mercy." "O God, be merciful to me I" is the cry which goes up from the penitent's lips more and more pleadingly as he moves forward in the pardoned life.
3. This joy has all that God is, has, and does for its contents. So the whole psalm teaches us; for the pardoning mercy of God has brought us so near to him that we know there is for us such an outpouring of love Divine as makes us infinitely rich for time and eternity.
4. This joy has boundless hope for its outlook. (Ver. 22.) As Bishop Perowne well remarks, "hope" indicates the perpetual attitude of a trusting and waiting Church. Believers know that God will do exceeding abundantly for them above all they can ask or think. As the rich disclosures of God under the prophets have advanced to their unveiling in the unsearchable riches of Christ, so will the wonders of Christ in grace move forward to those of Christ in his glory. We yet seek a Fatherland. "God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he bath prepared for us a city."
5. This joy has prayer for its upward expression. (Ver. 22, "Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us," etc.) Not that this is its only form of expression (for see below), but it is a joy which must and will find outlet in prayer for the constant supply of that mercy which feeds and sustains it.
III. THE JOY IS SUCH THAT IT MAY WELL RIPEN INTO A HOLY FELLOWSHIP OF MUSIC AND SONG. Here in vers. 1-3 the psalmist calls on all upright souls to join him in sounding forth the praises of the Lord.
1. God having taken off all our burdens of guilt and care, the tongue is set free for praise.
2. A common joy in God may wall suggest a grand concert of song. Fellowship in trouble is soothing; fellowship in peril is uniting; fellowship in need touches common sympathy; fellowship in gladness creates a grand inspiration and a mighty burst of praise.
3. In giving vent to our joy musical instruments may be "skilfully made subservient thereto. (Ver. 3.) To plead against this verse that we live in another dispensation, is not in place; for musical instruments in the hands of sanctified men are the servants of the Spirit, and we do but utilize God's own world of harmony when we press them into the service of celebrating redeeming love.
4. The right use and ample enjoyment in hallowed mirth, as we celebrate the praises of the Lord, may be made a holy and blessed means of grace. It is of no mean importance to recruit the bodily powers for God by means of the enjoyment of sacred music and song. And if, indeed, Christian people of musical tastes would seek to sanctify their special powers for God and his Church, many an abuse of their talents might be prevented, and many a holy outlet for their use secured. Well might Frances R. Havergal write -
Take my voice, and let me sing 5. The largest scope for the noblest music is opened up by the wonders of redeeming love. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, - all are grandest when inspired by the Cross. - C.
5. The largest scope for the noblest music is opened up by the wonders of redeeming love. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, - all are grandest when inspired by the Cross. - C.
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding.I. A PRIVILEGE TO BE SOUGHT.
1. This guidance is very full in its nature.(1) God is prepared to give you an inward understanding of spiritual things; for His instruction is intensely effectual upon the mind.(2) God adds the precept to the doctrine, and instructs us in both.(3) Here is fellowship as well as instruction; for the guide goes with the traveller, and thus will God, in the process of our instruction, give us fellowship with Himself.
2. This teaching is divine in its source. Our Lord may instruct us by men who are taught of Himself; but, after all, the best of His servants cannot teach us anything profitably except the Lord Himself teaches by them and through them. What a wonderful condescension it is that the Lord should become a teacher!
3. Observe how wonderfully personal is this promised guidance. The Infinite focusses Himself upon the insignificant!
4. This teaching is delightfully tender.
5. This teaching is constant.
II. A CHARACTER TO BE AVOIDED.
1. We are not to imitate creatures of which we are the superiors. One said, in my hearing, as an excuse for a passionate speech, "I could not help it. If you tread on a worm it will turn." Is a worm to be the example for a saint?
2. We must mind that we do not imitate creatures to whom we are so near akin. A large part of us is animal, and its tendency is to drag down that part which is more than angelic. How abject, and yet how august is man! Brother go the worm, and yet akin to Deity. Immortal and yea a child of dust. Be ye not the prey of your lower natures.
3. We are not to imitate creatures devoid of reason. Be sensitive to the Spirit of God. "Give me understanding and I shall keep Thy law."
III. As INFLICTION TO BE ESCAPED. DO not drive your Saviour to be stern with you. Do not choose the way of hardness — the brutish way. "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding," for then you will become sad, gloomy, dull, stupid, and full of disquietude.
IV. A FREEDOM TO BE ATTAINED. There are children of God who wear no bit or bridle: the Lord has loosed their bonds. To them obedience is delight: they keep His commands with their whole heart. The Son has made them free, and they are free indeed.
1. They are free, because they are in touch with God. God's will is their will. They answer to the Lord as the echo to the voice.
2. Because tutored.
3. Because always trusting.
4. Because tender.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. RELIGION cheeks the vices, follies, and passions of mankind, by inculcating a belief that there is a Superior Power which created us, such as we are; — that set good and evil before us, for our free will to choose; but promised a reward for the one, and a punishment for the other. All religion, therefore, stands upon the supposition that reason left to itself is insufficient to direct us; — for if we should all choose the good of our own accord, reward and punishment must be superfluous: even false religion supposes this; nay, even a religion in the hands of the magistrate, — a political religion, — the avowed invention of man, — the product of reason itself, imputes error to reason, and preaches up the necessity of control.
II. The very existence of LAW in the world is a testimony of the universal suffrage of mankind against the power of reason. If all men acted right of their own accord there would be no need of law to restrain them.
III. EDUCATION, though applied first to the individual, is the last resource of society. Men form themselves into society, from their mutual fears, for mutual protection. Their notions of a Deity may be derived from tradition or revelation. But, in the ordinary course of things, both religion and law exist before education. It is from reflection that men begin to perceive that the rising generation may be trained to habits suitable to the society of which they are to become members; and if education could act in proportion to its design, it would prevent the commission of those crimes which the law must punish.
IV. BUT DO WE REALLY HOPE TO STEM THE TORRENT BY RELIGION, LAW, AND EDUCATION? Yes — if they have not lost their effect upon the mind of man.
(M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
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