As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the LORD of Hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish her forever. Selah
2 Chronicles 20.). We see from the narrative of the Chronicles that the children of the Korahites sang a song of praise on the occasion of that signal interposition of God, although it is not likely that the song then sang was the forty-eighth psalm; for the reference in ver. 7 is against that; and at first it is not easy to see how "ships of Tarshish" should come to be mentioned in this song, if prepared with reference to the event of which we have made mention. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:25, 26) makes mention of ships of Tarshish which belonged to Tyro, being "broken" by the east wind; and it is possible that the psalm may have an allusion thereto. But, singularly enough, the chapter that records Jehoshaphat's prayer and deliverance records also his defection and its punishment; and we are told that his ships were broken so that they were not able to go to Tarshish (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). If this be the reference in the song before us, its significance would be very striking; in that case, it would mean that Jehovah, Israel's God, who put the heathen to flight for Israel's sake, put even Israel to shame when her people or her kings left the straight path of reliance on and obedience to God alone; and that this was among the "judgments" of him whose right hand is full of righteousness; showing us that God's care for his Church is just as marked when he rebukes her for her sins as when he delivers her from her foes; and that both for his faithful chastisement as for his mighty interposition, his loving-kindness is rehearsed in his temple with gratitude and song. And there is a holy pride in rehearsing the privileges of Zion as far outweighing those of the nations around - a pride, however, which refers all the honour and glory of Zion to God, and to God alone. Interesting, however, as these historic allusions are to the student, the higher spiritual bearing of the psalm is far more interesting, and far more important, as it sets before us this theme - the privilege and honour of the Church of God. We need not here argue the point that the Christian Church is the successor to the honours and privileges of the Jewish Church. A comparison of Exodus 19:6 with 1 Peter 2:9 will show this. The Christian Church, in its largest sense, is made up of all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. The organization of distinct and definite communities as Churches is a necessity for the time now present, but no such organizations include all believers; many believers, moreover, are in no such organization at all; only "the Lord knoweth them that are his;" and over all such his care is exercised: in their totality as including all regenerated souls, they make up the Church of God. Of this Church as a unity we have now to speak.
I. GOD'S DWELLING-PLACE IS IN HIS CHURCH, (Vers. 1, 2.) It is quite possible that, after what we have just said about the Church in its entirety and vastness, and about the impossibility of its being scanned by any human eye, that it may be said, "But if the Church is thus undefinable by us as to its limits, we cannot conceive of it as a dwelling-place." This we can easily understand. But the demur has, in reality, no force. For it is quite clear from the New Testament that as there is "the Church" in the highest spiritual sense, so there are local and organized Churches in the geographical sense. Of this the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia are immediate and sufficient proof. And wherever a Church is faithful to its Lord, since whatever is true of the whole Church is true of any part of it, the believers in Jesus who belong to any local and faithful Church may apply to themselves that which Paul declared of the Ephesian converts when he wrote, "Ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Thus no Christian need hesitate to apply the words to the fellowship of believers to which he belongs; he may say," God is known in our palaces for a Refuge. This Church is a city of the great King. And the real presence of a living Saviour among us is our honour, our joy, our life (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20).
II. GOD HIMSELF IS THE REFUGE OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 3.) It is the privilege of the individual believer, in all times of trial, sorrow, and care, to betake himself to his God and Saviour as to an unfailing Friend. But this privilege rises to sublimity when a whole company of believers, encompassed with peril and threatened by foes from without, can all rush to their Saviour in faith and prayer, as to a Refuge from the gathering storm!
III. GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS IS THE THEME OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 9.) How much fuller and sweeter is this theme for meditation now than of old! Then it was gained through prophets; now from him before whose presence lawgiver and prophet retire, as stars are concealed in the brightness of the sun! How incomparably does Romans 8. surpass aught in the Old Testament! And what was there in the olden time so tender as Luke 15.? Verily such a theme lifts the soul heavenward, tunes the lips to song, and speeds the feet to run the race set before us.
IV. GOD'S DELIVERANCES MARK THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 4-8.) The effect of this vivid description is pictorial. We can almost see the kings eyeing Jerusalem with envy, plotting her capture, seized with panic and hurrying away as for very life. The psalmist says that he had heard of such deliverances in times past, and now had seen them. And any student of Church history who has been withal for fifty years a close observer of Church life, can say the same. That God is the perpetual Deliverer of his Church is the story of the past and the testimony of the present. Nor may we forget the double kind of deliverance:
(1) from foes without;
(2) from mischief within.
If the view given above of ver. 7 is correct, the verse suggests that the Church owes quite as much to God's chastening love in correcting her for her sins, as to his rescuing power in spoiling her foes. That he will do this is part of the covenant (Psalm 89:28-33).
V. THE HONOUR OF GOD'S NAME IS HIS OWN PLEDGE TO THE CHURCH. (Vers. 10,11.) In the attribute of God's righteousness is the Church's repose and glory. Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, faithfulness, justice, righteousness, can be the supports of sinful men. This is the supreme wonder of redeeming grace. Think of it! Sinful people rejoicing that God's right hand is full of righteousness!
VI. GOD'S GRACIOUS RELATIONS ARE THE GUARANTEE OF THE PERPETUITY OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 12-14.) We omit the italic "it in ver. 13 (Authorized Version), and translate the first word in ver. 14 that." The psalmist incites to a study of Zion's towers, bulwarks, palaces, privileges, that it may be declared to the generation following, that "this God is our God for ever and ever." And when we study the redemption in Christ which has founded the Church, the spiritual power which is building up the Church, the watchful providence which has for eighteen centuries guarded the Church, the story which we have to hand down to the coming generation is the same, but told with vaster emphasis, surer faith, and more rapturous joy. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide above death, and beyond it!" "Happy is the people that is in such a case! yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord!" - C.
1. The Church, like a parent of a family, gives a volume into the hands of those who join her communion, bidding them receive it as Divine, and study it as the word which can alone guide them to glory. And her members, like the children of the household, have no better reason, at first, for receiving the Bible as inspired, than because they have heard so in the city of the Lord. They yield so much of respect to the directions of their authorized teachers, or to the impressions which have been graven on them from infancy, as to give their homage to a volume which is presumed to bear so lofty a character. But then, though it may thus be on hearsay that they first receive the Bible as inspired, it is not on hearsay that they continue to receive it. We speak of those in whom the Word has "wrought effectually"; and we confidently affirm of them, that, though at one time they believed in the inspiration of the canonical Scriptures, because their parents taught it, or their ministers maintained it, yet now are they in possession of a personal experimental evidence, which is thoroughly conclusive on this fundamental point.
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of Hosts, in the city of our God.
I. IT IS MOST IMPORTANT THAT WE LISTEN TO TRUE WITNESSES; for, else, we shall not be able to say, "As we have heard, so have we seen." It is of the first importance to you all that you should hear the Word of God, and receive the truth as it is in Jesus; so that, both in the throng of life, and when you stand upon the borders of death, and in the changeless state of eternity, you may be able to say, "We thank God for the Gospel which we heard; for what we heard with our ears has been verified in our lives."
II. GOOD HEARING LEADS ON TO SEEING — "As we have heard, so have we seen." Some of you have heard, and heard, but have never yet seen. The man who is content with one inlet to his mind, namely, his ears, but never uses his eyes, must imagine that God has made a mistake, and has given him more senses than he needs. Surely this argues a want of sense. "O taste and see that the Lord is good." You will ask how can a hearer of the Gospel become a seer of it?
1. He can do this by examining the facts which lie hears stated, and judging whether they are really so. The Scripture tells you that your heart is deceitful — see whether it be net so. It tells you that there is a natural inclination in man towards evil — study yourself, and see whether this is not the case.
2. We further see what we hear when we obey the commands and receive the blessings promised upon obedience. "if we confess our sins," etc. "Come unto Me," etc.
3. We also turn hearing into sight when, receiving the blessings which are promised to faith, we enter into a new life.
III. SEEING WONDERFULLY CONFIRMS THE TRUTH OF WHAT WE HEAR. I am sure I can appeal to those of you who have seen the Lord in His glory, so as to abhor yourselves in dust and ashes, and to those of you who have seen yourselves, so that you have been ashamed and confounded at your own ways. I say, I can appeal to you to confirm the most solemn statements of Holy Scripture. However much its denunciations may make you shudder, your inmost soul consents to the truth of them. Brighter things, however, have we heard and seen. We heard that there is a calling of God, whereby He separates His chosen from the rest of mankind. We heard, too, that if we came to Jesus as we were, He would receive us; and He did receive us. Then we heard that there was such a thing as regeneration. "Ye must be born again." Many of you know the great and radical change, because you have experienced it. Further, to show you how experience supports the Word of God, we were told many times over that God hears prayer. We were reminded of the Saviour's words, "Ask, and it shall be given you," etc. Have you not prayed yourselves out of the dark into the sunlight; prayed yourselves out of the depths of despair up to the throne of God?
IV. WHEN HEARING TURNS TO SEEING, AND IS CONFIRMED BY IT, THEN IT LEADS TO WITNESSING. So many are decrying the truth, that, if in your heart and conscience you have proved it true, you are bound to give to the Lord the testimony of even a stammerer. Your mouth is as God made it: use it as best you can, and speak up for His name and cause. Oh, for more of the missionary spirit, more telling out to the ends of the earth of what the Lord has done I What were the stars, if they did not shine? What were the sun, if He did not make our day? What were the rivers, if they did not water the lands? What were the sea itself, if it did not act as the pulsing heart of the world? What are Christians, if they do not shine as lights? Piety bottled up is dead. Religion put into a tin and hermetically sealed is useless.
V. HEARING, SEEING, WITNESSING, GOD WILL GIVE YOU A YET FULLER ASSURANCE THAN YOU HAVE AS YET. "God will establish it for ever." That is the conclusion which the saint comes to, when he has tried the truth for himself, and borne witness to the result of his trial. God will never leave His Church. God will never forfeit His word. God will never desert His Gospel. His honour is bound up in the whole enterprise that Christ undertook, He must go through with it, and He must arrive at a glorious conclusion.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE PLEDGE OF SECURITY IN THE NAME OF THE CITY. "The city of the Lord of hosts" — what does that great name for God mean? It means, I take it, very much the same thing as Jesus Christ praised the Roman-centurion for having groped his way to discover; that all the universe is like an embattled legion, subject to the command of one authoritative Imperator, or Emperor, the Lord of hosts. Well, then, if the city is His, who is going to take it? What about Sennacherib? He may muster his hosts as he likes, but "in the morning they were all dead corpses," and Sennacherib went away back to Assyria to pray to his god. Much he made of that; for whilst he was praying his sons cut his throat; and that was the end of the worship that is given to "the hosts," and not to the Lord of "the hosts." But that is not all. The city is "the city of our God." He is Lord of the hosts, but there is a relation more tender and blessed between us and Him than there is between them and Him, for he is "Our God." And how does He come to be our God? By what He has done, and by what we have done. The relation is reciprocal; His side of it is His taking us for His and telling us that He has done so; our side of it is our taking Him for ours by faith, love and obedience, and by our hearts' speech saying to Him, "Thou art my God." Then we may rest secure, if "the Lord of hosts is with us," etc.
II. How ALL THE WONDERS OF THE PAST ARE REPEATED TODAY. That sounds paradoxical. "The age of miracles is past," say many sad hearts. We do not "see" as "we have heard," and we sometimes begin to doubt whether we have heard aright, just because we do not see what has been told us. Well, for all that, the triumphant word of my text is true to-day, as true as it was in regard to those who saw the miracle of the dead Assyrian hosts. My life is as full of God, if I like to make it so, as ever was the life of any patriarch or prophet or apostle of them all. Earth is as much crammed with God as it used to be. Not only is the reality of this working the same, but I venture to say the manner in which He now does His great things for us is an advance on the manner in which He did them of old. It is better to have a Christ in the heart than a Christ working miracles beside us; better to be guided by the Divine Spirit that dwells in us than by the pillar of fire and cloud. It is better to be committed to the responsibility of our own judgments, and our own purified hearts, than it is to hear a voice from heaven saying to us in articulate syllables what we ought to do. And they who are, or, if they will, may be, "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man," do not need to envy those of old to whose palsied limbs the hands of the Saviour gave power, or to whose blind eyes he gave sight.
III. THE CONFIDENCE FOR THE FUTURE WHICH SPRINGS FROM EXPERIENCE. It is always safe to reckon on God's future, and to infer what it will be, from God's past. You cannot do that with men, you can do it with Him; because He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. We get tired of helping people, and say, "I have done it so often that I really cannot do it any more." God says, "I have done it so often that I will not cease doing it." Men's purposes change; His do not. Men's resources get exhausted; His never. If we are trusting to Him we can boldly say, "Tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant." It is always safe to reckon on God's future being of a piece with God's past. Therefore, the city and the citizens, each one of whom has a personal relation to God, must live for ever, in order that they may possess all that God can give them. That is a plain way of putting what can be put in more graceful language, by saying that the experience of communion with God here is the best proof, to any of us, of immortal life hereafter. Because God has given us what He has given, and been to us what He has been, and done for us what He has done, it is impossible to believe that there can come an end to the relation between Him and us, and that the man who has clasped God's hand can ever die." He shall establish it for ever."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2. But there is yet a more obvious application of the words of our text. It is said of God by Solomon that He "requireth that which is past." He seeks again that which is past, recalling, as it were, the proceedings, whether in judgment or mercy, of departed ages, and repeating them to the present generation. And it is on this account that there is such value in the registered experience of the believers of other days, so that the biography of the righteous is among the best treasures possessed by a church. It is, in one sense at least, a vast advantage to us that we live late in the world. We have all the benefit of the spiritual experience of many centuries, which has been bequeathed to us as a legacy of more worth than large wealth or far-spreading empire. We have not, therefore, to tread a path in which we have had but few precursors. Far as the eye can reach, the road we have to traverse is crowded with beckoning forms, as though the sepulchres gave up their host of worthies that we might be animated by the view of the victorious throng. And this is an advantage which it is hardly possible to overrate. You have only to add to this an acquaintance with the unchangeableness of God, and there seems all that can be needed to the encouragement and. confidence of the righteous.
3. If there be one passage of Scripture which we venture to put into the lips of redeemed men in glory, it is our text; in tiffs instance we may be confident that the change from earth to heaven will not have made the language of the one unsuited to the other. Oh, as the shining company take the circuit of the celestial city; as they "walk about Zion, and go round about her," telling the towers thereof, marking well her bulwarks, and considering her palaces; who can doubt that they say one to another, "as we have heard, so have we seen in the city of our God"? We heard that here "the wicked cease from troubling," and now we behold the deep rich calm. We heard that here we should be with the Lord, and now we see Him face to face. We heard that here we should know, and now the ample page of universal truth is open to our inspection. We heard that here, with the crown on the head, and the harp in the hand, we should execute the will and hymn the praises of our God, and now we wear the diadem, and wake the melody.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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