It is usual to put a frontispiece in the beginning of a book; and if the book is a biography, the frontispiece is usually a portrait. The first Psalm is the frontispiece of the Psalter and the portrait of the man described in the course of these inspired Psalms. The perfect fulfillment of the ideal is only to be found in that Man of men, the Son of man, the Lord Jesus Himself. So it is not out of place among the Messianic Psalms, among which it was classified by the most spiritual of the Christian fathers.
It has another title to a gospel place. The word “blessed” with which it opens is the keynote of the New Testament and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When He opened His mouth on Mount Hattin, to proclaim the righteousness of the new kingdom, His first word was “blessed,” and He repeated it again and again until He had laid the foundation of New Testament righteousness in eight beatitudes. When He went away from earth, His hands were extended in blessing; and when He closed the revelation of His love in the Apocalypse of John, its last whisper was a benediction. So this word “blessed” brings the first Psalm down to gospel times and up to gospel heights. Indeed, the book of Psalms is a wonderful anticipation of the spirit of Christianity.
This beautiful Psalm contains the portrait of a righteous man.
I. BY WAY OF CONTRAST
In the distance is the figure of the ungodly man sinking into the darker, deeper shadows of the scorner. The course of the evil man is described in a very dramatic way by three climaxes which express the downward descent of evil.
1. We have the three words — ungodly, sinner, scorner. These are three very different stages of wickedness, three very different kinds of men.
The ungodly man is remarkable rather for what he is not. He is a man of the world, perhaps a moral and respectable man, but he is ungodly; he has no supreme love for God; he has no interest in divine things; he is not saved; he is not consecrated; he is not living for God.
But the sinner is a very different character. The progression has deepened; the ungodly man has become the sinner; the man without God has become evil; he is now a wrongdoer, a transgressor, a man positively evil, speaking, acting, thinking, living unrighteously and in contravention to God’s holy will and law. He may be a dishonest man, an immoral man, a profane man, a selfish man, a false man; but it matters little, for all sin is of the same kind if not of the same degree.
But there is a deeper gradation, the scorner. This is the reckless, presumptuous, abandoned, profane, and utterly reprobate man who has given up God, conscience, fear, hope, everything holy, sacred, and divine; who has sinned against the Holy Ghost, and has swept out on the awful current of infidelity and defiant wickedness. He is past feeling; he is given over to a reprobate mind; His heart is hardened. He despises the things of God, and he is waiting for his doom.
2. But there is a second climax, marked by the three words, counsel, way, and seat. The counsel of the ungodly is simply their example, their principles, their conversation, their ideas of things. But the way of sinners is their actual conduct, their deeds, their works of evil. The man has now come to perpetrate them, to share them, to do as they do.
But there is still a deeper descent, and that is the seat of the scorner. A way is something from which a man may turn back, but a seat is that in which he has sat down and made himself comfortable. He has committed himself to his evil course and does it without compunction, distress, or any sense of reproof or condemnation. He is a lost, willful man; and if a miracle of grace does not interpose, he is irrevocably lost.
3. There is still another climax: walketh, standeth, sitteth. The first describes an unsettled course of life. He has not yet committed himself to these principles, but is allowing himself to be thrown into contact with them.
But the next expression describes a more settled condition. He standeth. He has become settled in his evil course; he continues in it; he is determined in his spirit; he has taken his stand for evil.
But the third term is still more positive — sitteth. It describes a man who has become at ease in his evil course, who has made himself comfortable in wrongdoing, who has fixed himself and settled himself forever in unbelief and sin. He has said to God: “Depart from me for I desire not the knowledge of your ways,” and God has left him to himself, a poor self-castaway, awaiting the hour of judgment when his eyes will open with amazement and horror, and see the folly and madness of his sin.
These are the progressions of evil. Truly, the sinner cannot stand still. The descending avalanche gathers volume as it rolls. Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. It is an awful thing to begin to go down. You reach a point where you cannot stop. Like the poor driver in California who had been accustomed to drive the stagecoach up and down the tremendous declivities of the mountains, and knew so well how to stop the wheels by pressing on the brakes; but as he lay one day upon his dying bed, conscious that he had oft neglected the great salvation, and indeed had rejected the Savior, he cried with bitter agony: “I am going down the mountain and cannot get my feet upon the brakes!” He could find no stopping place.
O brother, if you are on the downward road today, stop! It all begins with neglecting the great salvation. The second step is rejecting, and the third step is despising. Brother, stop now, and the hand of infinite love will grasp you and lift you up to righteousness and salvation.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS MAN’S POSITIVE CHARACTERISTICS
1. “His delight is in the law of the Lord”; his life is in conformity to the will of the Lord; his character is founded upon God’s revealed will. The law here does not mean the Ten Commandments, but the whole Mosaic revelation. The Hebrew word ‘thorah’ means instruction.
The only true foundation of any life is righteousness. Nothing else can bring blessedness. There are mechanical and material laws which cannot be violated; and if you try to build your wall off the plumb-line, it will certainly crumble in ruins about your head and leave you overwhelmed and crushed. Just as vain is it for you to attempt to build your spiritual house on unholy principles. The slightest deviation from spiritual righteousness will bring failure, danger, perhaps destruction. God expects men to be right; requires them to be right; enables them to be right. He has given us a perfect standard, and He is able to bring us up to it. Let us not try to lower it to accommodate God’s will to ours, but let us hold it up in its high imperial grandeur and claim the grace to enable us to rise to meet it.
The New Testament is not less righteous than the Old. The very foundation of the redemption of Christ and the cross of Calvary is God’s holiness, justice, and eternal righteousness. Nowhere does God’s will shine more conspicuously than in the cross of Calvary. The very death of Christ was but a testimony to it. Even to save men God would not violate one tittle of its terms, but required the exaction of its utmost penalty, and the fulfillment of its minutest precept. Christ has come not to excuse us from the righteousness of the law, but to deliver us from the penalty of the law, and then so to deliver us from the power of sin “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
2. The second characteristic of this man is his delight in the law. Some men obey the law because they must; this man, because he wants to. Two little words express the high condition of two dispensations: the one is have to, the other is love to. The blessedness of the Christian life is that we love to do right, to be right. We delight in the law of the Lord. God writes it upon our inward parts. That service which we render without the heart’s full consent is not right service. That righteousness which does not spring from the depths of our being is not complete or satisfying to the great heart of God.
He wants to make us so pure that we shall love the right and hate the wrong, and every instinct of our being shall choose the will of God, and cry, “I delight to do your will, O my God: yes, Your law is within my heart.” Nothing but the infinite grace of Christ can give us this spirit. Here the Old Testament picture fails, and the New Testament Christ must come to realize the ideal only as His heart is in our heart.
3. This man is a man of practical fruitfulness and usefulness. He is not a man of theories and experiences only, but he lives in the great world of living men and women, and busy events and things, and everywhere and always his life is a benediction. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.”
A tree is not only a beautiful thing with its luxuriant verdure, but it is a most useful thing, especially if it is a fruit-bearing tree, and bears its fruit in its season. This man lives for others and for God, and makes the world his debtor. The age in which he lives, his country, his church, his home, his business, are all better for him. He is not a one-sided man, but he fits into all situations, and is faithful and fruitful under all circumstances. He “brings forth his fruit in his season.”
Is he a business man? He carries his religion into his business. Is he an old man? He lights up the winter of age with the torch of faith and love and holy gladness. Is he a young man? He is bright, manly, enterprising, buoyant, a young man among men, but a man of God and a blessing to every one he touches. Is she a mother? She brings forth the fruit of her holy life among her children, and generations call her blessed. Is she a maiden? She adorns her youth and beauty with the loveliness of Christ’s spirit and character, fresh, beautiful, springing, youthful, simple-hearted, child-like as a girl, yet sacred, white-robed, separated from the world and dedicated to God, making men and women to feel as she moves among them as if an angel had passed by. Is it a suffering Christian? There is fruit appropriate to the hour of sorrow, the time of temptation, the hard conflict, the hour of misunderstanding, loneliness, disappointment, desertion. All this is recognized but as an occasion to glorify God and show the loveliness of the Christian life. Is it a time of prosperity? There is also appropriate fruit for this, the spirit of cheerfulness, usefulness, unselfishness, and remembrance of the claims of God and the needs of men. There is fruit for childhood days, for the morning of youth, for the meridian of life, for the twilight of age, for the shadows of sorrow and death, for all possible situations, circumstances, and places; and the man whose roots are planted by the rivers of water finds in God support and strength for every possible condition.
4. The next characteristic of this man is permanence. “His leaf also shall not wither.” His life is not a spasm of well-meaning effort, dying in weak reaction, but a steady, onward movement of constant and victorious power, his path shining more and more unto the perfect day. Of such a man the Master has said, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
Such are the characteristics of the godly, the righteous, the ideal man. Oh, who can meet the lineaments of the picture? who but He, of whom the world’s proud, heartless ruler had to say, “Behold the man,” and of whom the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THIS MAN
The Hebrew introduction to the Psalm is very full and expressive. Literally it may be translated, “Oh, the blessedness!” There are many blessednesses in this life. It is always blessed, blessed in every way.
1. He is blessed in what he escapes, the wretched lot of the ungodly, the sinner, and the scorner. For, surely, the way of the transgressor is hard, and he is happy indeed that shuns it.
2. He is blessed in the spontaneousness of his life. “His delight is in the law of the Lord.” Anything is happy in life if we can enjoy it and take pleasure in it. The hardest cross is a joy if it is our delight. The blessedness of the spiritual life consists in this, that it is not an effort, a struggle, a painful constraint, a burden of law; but it is a delightful freedom, a springing impulse, a spontaneous overflow, an artesian well rising ever from exhaustless depths, a great current of water to swim in, bearing us upon its bosom, and making all duty, and even trial, a luxury of joy, a luxury of love.
Oh, do you not long, heavy-laden ones, for the life in which it will not be ‘have to’ but ‘love to’; for a life in which you shall always have your own way because you delight in God, and He gives you the desires of your heart; for a life that will fulfill His own sweet promise, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”; for a life in which you shall run in the way of His commandments when He has enlarged your heart? This is the life of the godly. This is the life of the first Psalm. This is the life of the New Testament saint. This is the life of Christ. This is the life of the Holy Ghost. This is the well of water which Jesus gives, to be within us, springing up into everlasting life. Oh, the blessedness of such a life!
3. The blessedness of such a life springs from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. This is what is meant by the rivers of water where he is planted. These rivers refer to the blessed influences of the Holy Spirit. It is not one river, but many, the manifold streams that flow with all the fullness of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of peace, of love, of joy, of holiness, of wisdom, of power, of prayer. This is the source of all blessedness. It is this that makes his life so spontaneous and his lot so easy. A power from above, a power from within fills all his being and divinely enables him to fulfill all the will of God.
He walks in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. He lives in that blessed kingdom which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. He is a tree in the garden of the Lord whose fruit is love, joy, peace. He is drinking of the fountain which is the source of the blessedness of God and the raptures of heaven. Blessed is the man who is planted by the rivers of water!
4. He is blessed because all that he does shall prosper. His life is not in vain. He accomplishes what he undertakes. His work succeeds. He may not be rich or great or prosperous in the sense in which the world understands and esteems. He may have many troubles and what the world calls failure, but no real evil comes to him. All things work together for good to him. God turns everything that comes to him into real blessing, and surely this is prosperity in the truest sense.
5. He is blessed because of God’s approval. “The Lord knows the way of the righteous.” This is enough to make any life happy and successful, for God to set His heart upon it and to take delight in it. The word “knows,” according to a familiar Hebraism, means “to approve.” The Lord does set His heart upon His people. He takes pleasure in them as a mother in her child. He looks with complacent delight upon their consecrated service and holy purposes to glorify Him. He loves to bless them. He says: “I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.”
In His favor is life, and His loving kindnesses are better than life. Oh, the blessedness of the man who walks in the light of His countenance, who walks in His favor! Oh, the happiness of “the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk in the light of your countenance!” What can harm those whom God loves, chooses, and uses? “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
6. He is blessed because of the future issues of his life in contrast with the ungodly, for there is a day coming when all lives shall be tested, and the transient prosperity of the wicked shall fade away like the chaff before the wind. Oh, then shall we know the blessedness of the righteous life, and truly appreciate what it meant to choose God as our God and to know His great salvation!
“When this passing world is done; When has sunk yon glorious sun; When we stand with Christ on high, Looking o’er life’s mystery; Then, Lord, shall we fully know — Not till then — how much we owe.”
In conclusion, where shall we look for the realization of this glorious picture? Who can fill up in his own life these perfect lineaments? Listen to the sad cry of God through the ages of the past! “I sought for a man among them . . . but I found none.”
But at length the Son of man appeared; and as He stood upon the banks of the Jordan, the Father was satisfied. Humanity had reached its bloom and fruition and there was the Man on earth at last who met all the conditions of ancient prophecy and inspired Scripture. It was Jesus. But what avail is this to us? Can we imitate His holy character any more than we can fulfill the first Psalm? No! Teaching and example are alike unequal to the task of transforming man. We know the right but cannot rise to it. Thank God, there is a better way!
Here is a beautiful rose. How we wish we could copy it. The painter takes his brushes and he tries, and lo, there appears a very wonderful imitation. But you put it to your face, and there is no fragrance. It is a lifeless pigment. Or perhaps some gentle fingers carefully shape from wax or some finer fabric the exquisite petals, and tint them like the beautiful forms of nature. As you hold it in your hand, it looks like a rose; but, still, it is dead, and you throw it aside dissatisfied. It is not your rose. Ah, there is a better way!
Cut a little graft from that rose and put it in the warm nursery; or take one of its seeds and plant it in the ground. In a little while, opening its fragrant bud and breathing its sweetness into your nostrils, you have the offspring of your rose! It is identical because it was born of it. It is its own very self reproduced. Ah, that is the secret of the first Psalm! To imitate Christ and His example is but a painted or imitation rose; but to take the living Christ and let Him be born in your heart and reproduce Himself there, so that it is not you but Christ that lives in you — that is the living rose. That is why He lived and died and rose again, that He might come into every open heart and become its life and purity, its love and joy, its righteousness and salvation.
The Messianic character of this Psalm is established beyond all others by the frequent references to it in the New Testament, in direct connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. To none but Him could its strong language be applied without the wildest extravagance. It contains three striking pictures.
I. THE EARTH PICTURE
It is a vision of the world in rebellion against God and His Son, Jesus Christ. The first element in the picture is the restlessness of the nations. “Why do the heathen rage?”
To the Psalmist’s mind, humanity is like a heaving ocean, like a troubled sea which cannot rest. The stormy deep is frequently employed as a symbol of human passion, and of the troubled, restless masses of humanity. Along with this, the Psalm expresses the idea of vanity, of unrest and strife. “Why do . . . the people imagine a vain thing?” They are like the ocean, ever fretting but never accomplishing anything by its unrest, beating against the shore in futile rage, and rolling back again into its own restless tides, rising and falling, but never any fuller.
“Vanity of vanities” indeed. Oh, how little has come out of all the world’s ambition and mighty endeavor! What is Pharaoh today but a withered mummy in a glass case? What is Caesar but a particle of dust that makes up old Rome? What has become of Nebuchadnezzar’s grandeur or the very site of his splendid city? Well might the great Frenchman say as he gazed on the splendid pageant of the review of the Grand Army under the Pyramids, “Nothing is lacking here, nothing but permanence.” Oh, how the smallest fragment of all that which came from God lives in immortal glory while the mightiest monument of human greatness passes away in oblivion!
Pharaoh is gone, but Moses remains. Nero is forgotten, but Paul is more illustrious today than when he died under Nero’s hand. Nebuchadnezzar is but a dream, but Daniel’s prophecies are only today reaching their grandest fulfillment. Pontius Pilate and Tiberias Caesar have disappeared, but Jesus Christ, their contemporary, is rising every day, every century, into still more prominence.
On the front of a Mohammedan mosque, centuries ago, was traced in gilt letters the name of Mahomet, but underneath the plaster that bore the inscription, the Christian architect secretly cut in the solid stone the name of God and a verse of His holy Word. This was the verse: “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and his dominion endures to all generations.” Ages passed on, the superficial stucco crumbled from the front of the mosque and left the stone work exposed to view, and then the inscription of God’s holy Word came out in all its bold relief. Today it stands before the eyes of every passer-by a memorial of the imperishable glory of the things of God, and the transitoriness of all man’s boastful pride. How vain, how transient, how futile all the selfishness, the ambition, and the strife against God!
But the figure tells not only of the restlessness and vanity, but also of rebellion. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” This is the spirit of lawlessness which in every age has resisted the authority of God and is culminating today, as never before, in a thousand forms of license and lawlessness, and which is to reach its full development in the coming of the Lawless One. We see it in its most extreme forms in the anarchy and socialism of our age and the revolt of men against every form of government and religion.
We see it next in the democratic tendencies of our time. We see it in the bold antagonism of many to the authority of the Christian religion, and the popular demand for a freedom that ignores the Sabbath day, the laws of marriage, and even the restraints of morality sometimes. We see it in the insubordination of the young, the precocious freedom of the children of our land, the dissolution of parental authority and control, and the irreverence and self-will of the young.
We see it in the spirit of freedom that is entering the Church of Christ, lowering the standard of Christianity, the spirit of compromise with the world, the laxity of Christian life, the rejection of the authority of the Scriptures, the tendency to reduce even God’s Word to the standard of human reason, the refusal of the human heart to submit to God’s requirements of personal holiness on the part of His people, the ungodliness and unrighteousness of professing Christians, and the refusal to believe that God requires personal holiness on the part of all who claim to be His people and his followers. We see the two classes even in the Church of God: those who accept God’s holy will in all its requirements, and those who do that which is right in their own eyes.
The age is rapidly drifting into license and lawlessness, and we need not wonder at the bolder forms that the daring infidelity and wickedness assume, in defying the very authority of heaven and claiming that man is able to be a God unto himself. We shall yet see greater things than these. The world is hastening to its Armageddon, “to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”
II. THE HEAVEN PICTURE
How different is all on the heaven side!
1. How calm and tranquil is Jehovah amid the raging of His foes! He “sits in the heavens.” He is not agitated, He is not oppressed. He is not even doing anything, but calmly waiting till they have spent their force in vain, like the fretting billows against the rockbound coast.
2. He despises all their petty and futile hostility. “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” How foolish must seem to Him all the efforts of His enemies to defy Him! How ridiculous the attacks of infidelity upon the Bible, and how vain the fiercest assaults of human and hellish hatred against the cause of Christ! How God loves to confound His enemies by little things, and to laugh to scorn their vain attempt to resist Him.
Once in England, it is said, a bold and blatant infidel had amused and overawed a crowd by his defiance of God to strike him dead; and after again and again appealing to heaven to prove if there was anything in Christianity, without any apparent effect, he turned to his audience and ridiculed the God who was powerless to harm him. Some were influenced by his audacity, but God was waiting. On his way home, apparently in good health, he suddenly fell from his horse, and in a few moments expired. A medical examination was held, it was found that the cause of his death was a little insect no larger than a sand fly, which he had inhaled. This smallest of insects was sent against him to show how contemptible all his strength and opposition were, and how easily God could confound and destroy him by the feeblest of His creatures.
So, again and again, has God turned into contempt the wrath of His enemies. The very place that was once used as a meeting place for infidels in London became an office of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the very arguments that infidelity has turned against Christianity have been found afterwards to be the strongest evidences of the truth of the Bible.
3. At length God’s hour will come, and His mighty voice will speak in anger and His glorious arm be raised in judgment. “Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.” God’s judgments have already fallen upon a sinful world, and the vials of His wrath are now preparing for the days of tribulation. So daring has human wickedness become and so audacious human pride, that
“The purging fires must soon begin, And judgment end the curse of sin.”
4. God’s supreme remedy for all the evils of humanity is His own dear Son, Jesus Christ. Not judgment, but Jesus, is the provision of heaven for rebellious men. So we come to
III. THE CHRIST PICTURE
1. We see the divine King. “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.” Earth’s true King is no less than God’s eternal Son. That which should be recognized as the height of honor has been the one object of the world’s fiercest opposition. The Lord’s parable has been fulfilled. “Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But . . . they said . . . This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.” But He shall have His inheritance in this little world, the high and eternal honor of having as its King the Creator of all worlds and the highest of all beings.
2. He is the King of Zion, the King of Israel Himself. On the cross the inscription was by the order of an overruling providence: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS,” and this shall yet be verified in the fulfillment of history. Christ is the only living heir to David’s throne, and on that throne He shall yet sit in glory and majesty.
3. He is the King of His Church. Men have tried to govern the spiritual kingdom of God, but Christ is the only Head of His Church, and all her work and worship should be subject to His authority and dedicated to His glory.
4. He is the King of Nations. “Ask of me, and I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.” All earth’s nations are yet to be subject to Him, and all her tribes and tongues are to have a part in the redemption song of which He shall be the theme. But let us not forget how this kingdom is to come to Him. It is to be given to prayer. “Ask of me.” Is this to be His prayer alone, or is it to be His prayer in unison with the Church as inspired by the Holy Ghost? Is this not our high calling, to be the voice with which He shall ask? the priesthood through whom His prayer shall be breathed to heaven, and the world evangelized and brought to His feet?
This is the great force, dear friends, through which the Gospel is to be spread among all nations. This is the mightiest force of Christianity today: believing prayer prompted by the Holy Ghost. This is the mightiest missionary lever. And this is something that every Christian may wield if he will, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It will be found by a reference to the history of missions, that all the great triumphs of the Gospel have been in answer to prayer. It will bring money, it will bring men, it will bring openings for the Gospel, it will bring millions to accept it. Let us mention two simple illustrations.
A few years ago, two or three earnest women were led to ask in united prayer that God would lay it upon the hearts of some men of wealth to give largely to foreign missions. In the town where they held their little prayer meetings there was a very rich man who was opposed to foreign missions and had often spoken of the folly of giving so much to the heathen when there was so much need at home. After a time this man died; and when his will was probated, it was found that he had left many thousands of dollars to foreign missions, and that the will was made at the very time these ladies were praying about this matter. God had quickly answered their prayer and touched his heart, without his knowing whence the impulse came.
Again, in a little town in Ohio, an old minister had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and spent his last days in continued prayer for the world’s evangelization. It was customary for him to write his prayers in his diary, and this he did with systematic order, going around the world and covering in turn every mission field. It was found after his death that in the very order of his prayers God had poured out His Spirit upon each one in the form of missionary revivals, leading to the conversion of many souls. Thus God had answered his prayers with such literal exactness as to encourage us in claiming definite results.
Oh, do we realize how much Christ depends upon us to give completeness to His intercession? He is but the Head in heaven, we are the body on earth, and He needs us to fill up the unity of the prayer and make it the cry of the whole body — not only the Head in heaven but the Bride on earth, with the Holy Ghost inspiring her cry. Beloved, do you realize that your Master needs your prayers? You have prayed much for yourself; do you ever pray for Jesus? He is asking you today, Will you pray for Me and My kingdom? It is one of the promises of the seventy-second Psalm, “Prayer shall be made for him continually.” How much are you praying for Him? How much have you been delivered from selfish prayers? What fruit are you claiming in heathen lands which you may never see?
What a wonderful page is the blue firmament of heaven! Always beautiful, it is most beautiful of all in the glorious East as David gazed upon it often on the plains of Bethlehem, and Persian sages studied it with eager search for truth and God. Oldest pages, grandest of records, graven with the finger of God, punctuated with burning stars of light! All else beneath those old skies has changed, but the skies are still the same. The same constellations are hanging in the blue vault which the Magi studied and which David wrote about in this beautiful Psalm.
But how the page has grown since David’s day, in another sense, through the deeper insight which human science has given to the vision and the mind of man. Under the telescopic lens, how much more those skies reveal than David saw, and with what deeper meaning and profounder feeling the intelligent astronomer, or even the well-informed and developed student of natural science, can read these ancient words: “When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You are mindful of him? and the son of man, that You visit him?”
I. THE MAJESTY OF NATURE
We have here a view of the majesty of nature. Majestic and glorious as the heavens are to the natural eye, they are incomparably grander when seen with the eye of science and under the magnifying lenses of the telescope of the astronomer. Man has been able in the progress of the human mind to weigh these mighty orbs, to span that vast immensity, to tell how far those worlds are hung from our little planet, and how long their light has been traveling across the mighty spaces of immensity.
The facts of astronomy are so stupendous that the mind reels under the weight, and the brain almost sinks in the effort to realize their magnitudes and distances. So we first think of their vastness.
We know something of the dimensions of our globe. It is a pretty large sphere, especially when we begin to travel across the continents. But our globe is but a pigmy among the planets of our system.
Yonder crystal star that shines in the evening — our noble planet Jupiter — is hundreds of times bigger than this globe; and yonder sun that whirls us around his center once a year is 350,000 times the size of the earth. It would take 350,000 earths to make one sun. But the sun is by no means the vastest of the worlds of space. While he is the king of light to the planets of our system, yet there are other suns in yonder firmament that look to us like little stars, far vaster than he.
Beautiful Sirius, the brightest of the fixed stars — that shines like Venus all night long in our heavens — is 63 times as big as the sun. Yonder Pole Star, that you have to search for in the heavens because of its comparative insignificance, is 86 times the size of the sun. Arcturus, of which Job sang so long ago, would make 500 of our suns; and Alcyone, which twinkles in the Pleiades — the beautiful seven stars, so-called, which you can see any evening directly above your head — could be divided into 12,000 pieces, and each piece would be as large as the sun.
The comet of 1680 covered a space four times the distance between us and the moon, and its tail was long enough to reach from here to the sun, and then nearly as far beyond, or about 130,000,000 miles.
Shall we look next at the distance of these vast orbs? Our nearest neighbor is yonder silvery moon that seems to us so much greater than the stars because so near. She is 240,000 miles away, or about thirty times the diameter of our globe. The sun is about 400 times farther distant than this, or 95,000,000 miles. This seems an enormous distance, and yet light which travels about 240,000 miles in a second, could reach us from the moon in a little more than a second. From the sun it takes about ten minutes for the light to come; that is to say, after the sun rises in the morning, it takes about ten minutes for its light to reach us, swiftly as it flies across the intervening spaces.
But yonder Pole Star is 3,000,000 times as far as the moon, and the light which takes only ten minutes to reach us from the sun would be sixty years in reaching us from Polaris. That is, if it had been destroyed sixty years ago, it would only now disappear from the sky. But what is that compared with distant Andromeda, one of the stars of yonder nebula, so far away that it would take 7,000,000 years for its light to reach our globe!
Look up some night in the southern heavens, and you will see a faint light upon the sky. When looked at with a powerful telescope, it is a great bank of suns, each standing out distinct. How wide, do you suppose, is that space of stars? How far from the one extremity to the other of that little circle of nebulous light? It would take a ray of light, traveling 200,000 miles a second, 30,000 years to sail across that little speck.
Do you begin to realize the immensity of the universe? In that one little cloud of light there are suns upon suns, systems upon systems, worlds upon worlds.
But, again, think of their numbers. We can count a few thousand stars upon the sky at night. How many do you suppose astronomers have found in our firmament? Eighteen million, and these are all suns, each of them with its train of worlds around it like ours.
There are about 300 worlds in the solar systems. Suppose there should be as many in each of these 18,000,000 systems, how many worlds, do you suppose, belong to even our firmament? The mind is lost in trying to count. But they say there are millions of other firmaments besides ours, and each has its new stars which we have never seen. No wonder that we labor in vain to grasp the realization, and cry, “Lord what is man?”
Shall we think of their movements and velocities, the satellites revolving around their planets, the planets around their suns, and each sun with its planet revolving around some great center, and each of the suns revolving around some still greater? And so on, wheel beyond wheel, until we reach the satellite systems, the solar systems, the cluster systems, and the great universe systems, where all the stars of yonder heaven seem whirling around mighty Alcyone in the distant Pleiades, beyond which there may be still vaster wheels circling away through the realms of immensity.
This earth itself is spinning around yonder sun at the rate of 70,000 miles an hour, or twenty miles a second, and yet there is not even the vibration of the mighty express train as it sweeps through space. But the mighty comet of 1680 flew around the sun at the rate of 200 miles a second; and yet with this immense velocity, so vast was its orbit that it would take thirty centuries to complete its year. Surely, this is too high for us to comprehend, too vast for us to measure, and yet we can realize it sufficiently to sink into our littleness and to rise from our nothingness into the conception of our Father’s majesty and unsearchable glory.
But not only are these heavenly bodies vast and majestic, but they are beautiful beyond expression. Looked at through our modern instruments, some of yonder suns are brilliant green; some, like the Pole Star, a gorgeous yellow; some, a heavenly blue; some, like the Southern Cross, the color of drops of blood, while other stars are variegated, combining all the colors of the rainbow and looking like great bouquets of light in the heavens. Oh, what will they seem when we shall be endued in the new creation with all the physical powers which science is now anticipating, and faith is foretasting, and we shall know as we are known!
Such are some of the facts of this material universe. Surely “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
II. THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF MAN
“What is man, that You are mindful of him? and the son of man, that You visit him?” Surely at first sight man seems to be a strange contradiction as heir of all this mighty universe. His body, how weak and frail, the prey of disease, the victim of even the animal creation, and at last the food of corruption and the worm; his mind so weak and enfeebled even to understand this mighty world ; his spirit so oppressed by sin and sorrow, and led captive by evil influences and unhallowed beings! How touching Job’s description of the littleness of man who dwells in a house of clay, whose habitation is in the dust, who is crushed before the moth, whose days are as a handbreadth, and his life like the withering grass of the field!
And yet in the great purpose of God man has an importance that we can scarcely comprehend. Sometimes a very insignificant being has a singular value. Sometimes a little child is worth more than a whole kingdom. Sometimes it is the question of relationship. If that child is the child of a king, an empire’s destiny is wrapped up in his life. Little Moses in the Nile was more important than the pyramids of Egypt. Humble David in his sheepfold was more important than all the sons of Saul. So man, little as he may be, sustains a relation to the Creator of this universe which is unspeakably intimate and glorious. Into our nature has come the very Son of God Himself. The eternal Creator has called Himself our brother. Our human form is worn by Him who sits upon the throne. Our strange race, fallen though it is, has been chosen as the one eternal link between the Creator and the creation; and to latest ages, as angel after angel shall come, and inhabitant after inhabitant shall find his way to the great metropolis of the universe, he shall still find seated upon the throne, supreme above all those glorious worlds that we have just been viewing, a Man.
This it is that makes our race so important, that it is related to God Himself, and has been chosen to be the eternal embodiment of the Deity. This is the mystery of godliness: “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, . . . received up into glory.”
But, again importance is sometimes determined by a question of principle. A single human life has become important because it decided a principle. Six or seven Englishmen imprisoned in Abyssinia were important enough to bring on a war between Great Britain and that land. Nay, a single American subject, unjustly treated by a foreign nation, would involve this whole nation in war, if necessary, for his vindication. The little field of Waterloo was of no importance until a certain day when it became the scene where the destinies of Europe were to be decided and the greatest despot of the nineteenth century was to be broken forever.
And so man is linked with the greatest principle in the universe, the achievement of redemption, the settlement of the question of sin without inflicting punishment, the salvation of a lost race in harmony with the justice of God.
The question of sin, so far as justice was concerned, had been settled before when Satan and his legions had been hurled from heaven because of their disobedience and rebellion.
But now another question has come up. How can sin be met in any other way — not by judgment, but by mercy — and yet the holiness and justice of God be vindicated? Nothing less than the infinite wisdom and love of God met the issue. His own Son undertook the amazing mission, and, clothed in human form, bore the penalty of a guilty race, and now is working out for them the wondrous transformation by which the effects of that atonement become applied, and they are brought back not only from all the effects of sin, but to a place infinitely higher than the race ever could have enjoyed before; to be the sons of God, the partakers of the divine nature, the heirs of all the glory of which we have just now been speaking.
This gives to man an importance of which he in himself is altogether unworthy. This little planet has been chosen as the theater for working out the greatest problem of the ages, and it is yet to become the scene of the triumphant march of the King of kings and the Conqueror of Satan, over which all the stars shall wave their torches, and all the spheres shall sing in concert with cherubim and seraphim: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
III. THE HONOR BESTOWED UPON MAN
“You are mindful of him . . . You visit him. For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.”
This is high honor. God is mindful of man notwithstanding his insignificance. God has devoted His highest, wisest thoughts to the welfare of man. We are the supreme objects of the attention of Jehovah. How precious are His thoughts! This glorious Bible is the record of some of them, but they are more than can be numbered, and the ages to come shall “show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
But further and higher; He has not only been mindful of us, He has visited us. He has made this world His residence. He has tabernacled among us, and He is coming back again to dwell upon it through the coming age, and for a thousand years this little planet will be the center of the universe and the metropolis of all other worlds. Not distant Alcyone, but little Earth, will be the proud and happy capital of the realms of air, and wondering angels shall hover round it, and often say, perhaps, as they come from yonder blazing worlds, “What is man, that You visit him?”
Not only so, “You crown him with glory and honor.” Made a little lower than the angels, he is raised above them, for it is clearly taught here that he is to receive the supreme place in creation; for even this Psalm declares that this is to be taken rigidly and literally, and that “in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him” (see Heb. 2: 8). He is yet to rise to the supremacy of the universe, higher than those 18,000,000 suns, more glorious than all the satellites and stars, more mighty than all the forces of nature, and more honored than the highest archangel that bends before the throne.
IV. MAN’S FAILURE TO REALIZE THIS
This does not come out of the Psalm, but it does in the New Testament commentary of it. Speaking of it in the second chapter of Hebrews, the inspired writer says: “What is man, that You are mindful of him? or the son of man, that You visit him? . . . You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.” Oh, how true this is! We do not see this proud empire of man. We see human conquerors trying to gain this crown of universal dominion, but becoming themselves the slaves of sin and passion, enslaving others under them, and sinking at last beneath the dominion of the grave, while their empires fade away like the snowdrifts or the autumn leaves.
Man’s place, as a fact, is still that of a poor, sinning, sinking, sorrowing creature. With every pulse beat, another and another is passing to the grave, and up to heaven evermore is rising from this sad world one ceaseless groan of agony amid the spheres of space in a little black cloud of unbroken gloom. Even we who have begun to receive our kingdom are yet struggling with forces that oft seem too strong for us. Sin, Satan, sorrow, and sickness press us, and all things are not yet put under our feet. A few have sprung into victory, but it is only moral and spiritual. Material things still hold us down, and we are shut in from our great inheritance by the limitations of mortality, and can only claim our crown in foretaste, in hope and aspiration. But, thanks be to God, the problem is solved, the paradox is explained. “We see not yet all things put under him, but we see Jesus.”
V. THE HEAD OF HUMANITY CROWNED
We see Jesus, the Head of humanity, crowned already as the pledge that we shall share His crown and inherit all His glory. The race is not yet victorious, but the Head of the race is; and where He is, we shall be; as He is, so shall we be like Him! Glorious hope! We have not the victory yet in all its fullness, but we have the Victor, and “he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one.”
He is not there for Himself, but for us, “Head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all.” Glorious vision! Glorious forerunner! Glorious guarantee! It is enough! Man is crowned! Man is crowned in the Son of man, and all His spiritual seed are following hard after Him, and soon shall be by His side. Oh, as we see our failings and shortcomings, our limitations and disappointments, let us look up! One has reached yonder heights, and we are following Him. Invisible cords bind us to His heart. We can never be separated from Him. Not as a solitary and selfish Conqueror does He sit yonder, but as our Brother and Helper, and from His heart there come to our hearts the cords of love and power that are drawing us to Him to share His dominion and to partake of His glory.
This was the meaning of the cherubim that God placed at the gate of Eden in the hour of man’s shameful fall. The faces of the lion, the ox, the eagle, and the man were typical of the glory of the Son of man, to which we, His redeemed posterity, are yet to rise. When the picture of man’s primeval innocence had been blighted and broken, God hung up the picture of man’s redeemed and far surpassing glory, that man might see from the beginning his future destiny, and that it might lift him to high and glorious hopes.
Not the cherubim now at the gates of Eden, but the loving Christ at the gospel gates, standing before us as the Pattern of our perfect humanity, the Inspiration of our hopes, and the glorious Head of our redeemed race. Let us claim the realization for ourselves. Let us see Jesus. Let us take Jesus. Let us rest short of nothing that He has given us in Himself, and amid all the discouragements, depressions, and defeats of life, let us look up, let us press on, let us sing:
“High is the rank we now possess, But higher we shall rise; Though what we shall hereafter be Is hid from mortal eyes.
“Our souls, we know, when He appears Shall bear His image bright; For all His glory full disclosed Shall open to our sight.
“A hope so great and so divine May trials well endure, And purge the soul from sense and sin As Christ Himself is pure.”
These three beautiful Psalms give us the combined picture of the risen and ascended Christ. The twenty-fourth comes in central order after the twenty-second and twenty-third. The twenty-second is the Psalm of crucifixion; the twenty-third, the picture of blessings that follow to us; and the twenty-fourth, the ascension of the Lord and His glorious reign at God’s right hand. The logical order begins with Psalm 16: “My flesh also shall rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in hell; neither will You suffer Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life: in Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”
I. DESCENT INTO HADES
This is the inspired picture of what is known in the ancient creeds as the Lord’s descent into Hades. That the Psalm refers to our Lord directly is evident from Peter’s application of it in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. Peter says it cannot refer to David, whose sepulcher is with them, and whose flesh has seen corruption. Therefore, it must refer to Jesus, who had been raised from the dead by the power of the Father.
But what is meant by His descent into Hades? For the Apostle says in Ephesians: “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” The Apostle Peter has given us the strongest light on this subject of any New Testament writer: “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit [or rather, in the Spirit]: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient . . . in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water.”
This forms the battleground of Bible exposition. It is not necessary that we should even state all the views that have been held and advocated. It is enough to give the two which are most approved by evangelical teachers. The old conservative view is that it refers to Noah preaching through the Holy Ghost to the antediluvians, who are now “the spirits in prison,” because they were disobedient when he preached to them. In other words, and freely paraphrased, it might be rendered thus: “Jesus is put to death in the flesh, but is quickened, or raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit, which in the days of Noah, and through Noah, preached unto the unbelieving men of that age, who are spirits in prison.” In fact, it is a bungling attempt to make the Bible meet a preconceived opinion; and even though it is a good opinion, it is a profanation to wrest Scripture, even with the best intent.
The central meaning of the passage is, that Christ died in His body, but not in His spirit; but, on the contrary, that spirit was quickened into intenser life the moment of His death, and in the disembodied state His spirit went and preached to spirits in prison; that is, to the inhabitants of the world of the dead. The Old Testament represents departed spirits as dwelling in a region called Sheol or Hades.
This seems to have had two sections, one for the lost and one for the saved. The latter is the Paradise of the dying thief, the bosom of Abraham where Lazarus went, the place where Abraham was gathered to his fathers, a sweet and restful place where the redeemed ones waited for the great redemption. It was not heaven, for heaven was not yet opened.
There was another section to this region where the spirits of the wicked passed, represented by the rich man in the parable, far away from the unsaved, and yet in view of them, even across the great gulf. Now, it was to this region of the dead that the spirit of Jesus passed.
In order truly to die it was necessary not only that His body should hang lifeless on the cross, but that His spirit should go down into the regions of the dead. But how did He go? Not as others had gone before, as victims of death, but as Conqueror and Witness, to preach the consummation of redemption. Even to the unbelieving dead, it was proper that He should announce the accomplishment of those promises which they had rejected. Even to the devil himself and all his angels, it was right that the Son of God should proclaim that he was defeated at length, and that his last desperate blow had been turned against himself in the very death of the Lord.
But to the saints of the past how peculiarly fitting it was that He should preach the great truth that He had come and died for their complete salvation, and that the gates of their prison were about to be opened, and they were to follow Him in a few days as He ascended heavenwards to take His place with them at His Father’s side. This is the sense in which He went to preach to the spirits in prison. That He went to proclaim a second probation, another chance of salvation, we do not believe; and there is no semblance of evidence anywhere in the Scriptures to prove, or even imply it. This is the time of men’s probation; this is the day of grace; and when it shall be passed, he that is unjust shall be unjust still, and he that is righteous shall be righteous still.
II. HIS RESURRECTION
“You will not leave my soul in hell [Hades]; neither will You suffer Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life.”
Not long did He remain among the dead. On the morning of the third day the fetters of the tomb were burst asunder, the stone rolled away, the spirit returned to the uncorrupted clay, and the body sprang to life in all the fullness and glory of immortality, and Jesus became the firstborn from the dead. Others had been raised from the dead, but He was the first raised to die no more. Even the saints that were raised in connection with His crucifixion did not come out of their graves until after the resurrection of their Lord. This glorious fact of the risen Christ is the general theme of the apostolic testimony; it gives eternal greatness to the whole Gospel; and in proportion as we realize it, it uplifts and glorifies our whole Christian life.
The difference between the religion of the New Testament and Judaism on the one hand, or Romanism on the other, lies right here in the conception of a living Christ. It is the great evidence of Christianity. It is the mighty inspiration of spiritual life. It is the pattern, both of our spiritual resurrection now and our future glorification in His fullness when He shall come again.
That path of life which He has shown has become the shining way to a mighty multitude, who pass from mortality to immortality, from the race of Adam to the race of our second great Head of humanity. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” “The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
But we pass on from this theme, which has been so often unfolded, to the third question.
III. HIS ASCENSION
This is described in Psalm 16, and more fully in the others. “In Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” This, undoubtedly, is an allusion of Christ to the ascension at His Father’s right hand. Psalm 24, however, expressly refers to this glorious event. It is the responsive chorus of the saints and angels who attend the Son of God as He ascends. “Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be you lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in,” is the shout of the approaching procession as it mounts the sky and nears the heavenly portals.
“Who is this King of glory?” is the answer of the heavenly chorus that wait at yonder gates. And then the answer is returned from the approaching throng: “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” “Lift up your heads, O you gates,” again they shout, “even lift them up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” Once again the heavenly hosts answer, “Who is this King of glory?” And once again the chorus around the King sends back the cry as they reach the gates, and both companies unite in the swelling refrain, as it echoes to the confines of the universe, “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”
It is something like the mighty scene which John presents, the whole creation in earth, and in the heaven, and in the sea, away out to the uttermost parts of the universe, waiting with the saints and angels to echo, “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”
To apply this sublime Psalm to the ascension of the ark to Mount Zion would be unworthy of its lofty character. For there were no everlasting doors; but the gates through which Jesus passed shall never be shaken or removed. The throne to which He ascended can never pass away. The glory which He has inherited can never decline.
The New Testament has given us the earth view of this glorious event. Out to Bethany He has led them. Perhaps for a moment they have entered that loving home and taken a last farewell of its dear inmates; perhaps they have accompanied the disciples and the Lord from the door to the little eminence on which He stands; and now, with hands out-stretched in blessing, He is speaking to them — perhaps praying with them — when, suddenly, they behold Him rising and disappearing.
Often in these forty days had He vanished from them, but now His attitude is different; He does not disappear, but fully in their view He begins to ascend. His hands are still stretched out toward them with tenderness and love as higher and higher He rises into the clear, blue heavens, while they gaze intently as if they would follow if they could. Higher and higher He rises, still blessing, still spreading those hands above their heads, until a cloud intervenes, and they see Him no more. Perhaps it was a cloud of angels; angels, we know were there — multitudes of angels, and multitudes of saints.
Upward and upward still He arose, beyond the nearest of the stars, beyond the distant constellations, beyond the nebulous clouds which form the great invisible worlds, beyond the vision of the eye, to the one central spot, somewhere in this immensity where stands the metropolis of the universe, the throne of God, and the home of the redeemed. “Far above all principality, and power,” the Apostle has said, “and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.” Far above all heavens, that He might fill all things. Then it was that the glorious chorus of the twenty-fourth Psalm begins, and the King of Glory enters in and takes His seat at the right hand of God.
But the New Testament picture has one little addition, sweeter than all the rest. Just at that moment, when all heaven was prostrate before Him, and when the echoes of those songs were resounding through the universe, His loving heart was turned backward to the earth He had just left; He was thinking of the eleven loving hearts, whose eyes were still straining upward and trying to pierce the little cloud that hung between Him and Bethany. Quickly, therefore, does He send back from the heights of glory two angel messengers, to bear to them His last word of comfort and of love: “You men of Galilee, why stand you gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.” How beautiful! How loving! How comforting! It was as if He sent them back a miniature photograph of His own face, and written at the bottom, “The same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Blessed be His name forever for those three little words, “This same Jesus.”
Oh, how things change! But how sweet to know there is One who is the same forever! I have read somewhere the sweet poem of an old man who addresses the companion of his life after sixty years of sojourning together, and tells her that to him she has still the same face that he knew when she was a little child. Others see the wrinkles and the gray hair, the stooping form and the faded cheeks, but he ever sees only the bright young face of sixty years ago. To him, to his love, her youth is immortal. Her girl-face is stereotyped forever upon his heart, and she can never grow old. This is, in a sense, true of all loving memories. We see the ideals of things rather than the things themselves, and our imaginations sometimes picture those we love as they have been rather than as they are.
We thank God sometimes for those who are not. To us their faces can never change. That beautiful child is forever young. Others grow old and are scarred with sin and wrinkled with care, but there are some who live in our love and memory in immortal youth and beauty. Thank God that it is forever “this same Jesus.” We may change; He changes not. Circumstances may change; He changes not. As He loved you then, He loves you still and will love you forever. O strange, changeless heart of Christ, we praise Your changeless love. We cannot understand it fully, but let it draw us to be worthier of His love.
Why did He ascend?
1. That He might enter upon His reward. “Being made so much better than the angels, he has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
2. That He might assume the kingdom and government of the world which the Father had put into His hands, as mediatorial King; for now power was given Him in heaven and in earth, and He is Head over all things for His Church. His ascension has put all things under His feet, and He sits in calm repose and mighty omnipotence, from henceforth expecting until His enemies are made His footstool.
This is the Holy Ghost’s picture of the suffering Savior. It is the Ecce Homo of the Psalms. The Gospels have given us the outward picture; this is the inner one, the Holy of Holies of the Redeemer’s anguish when He trod the winepress alone.
Well does it precede the twenty-third Psalm. That is the picture of the Shepherd in the fold, but this is the Shepherd in the night, in the desert, in the wilderness, among the wolves, with bleeding feet and broken heart, seeking for the sheep that went astray. May the Holy Spirit engrave the picture upon our hearts!
I. CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS
1. The first element in it is the Father’s desertion. The opening verse is the wail of Calvary: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
Have you ever felt a sense of God’s displeasure or desertion? Do you remember your first conviction of sin and your cry for pardon? Then you know something of the suffering of Christ when He stood in the place of a sinner under the judgment of God and suffered the penalty our sin deserved.
For the first time in His existence He felt the withdrawal of the Father’s love. Never had the Father’s face been clouded before. But now it is turned away. Nay, it is turned against Him. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him. You have made him sick in smiting him.” We can scarcely understand it. But it was strangely, awfully true. For one day God dealt with Jesus as He will deal with sinful, rebellious men. All other agonies could not compare with this. This was the dregs of the cup of woe, the desertion, the wrath of God.
“The Father lifted up His rod. O Christ, it fell on Thee! Thou wast sore smitten of Thy God; Thy bruising healeth me.”
2. The second ingredient in the bitter cup was the cruelty of man. How vividly is it all portrayed! The mockery around the cross: “All that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him, seeing that he delighted in him.” The cruel crucifixion: “They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.” The weakness and agony: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax: it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like potsherd.” The awful thirst: “My tongue cleaves to my jaws.” The approaching dissolution: “You have brought me into the dust of death.”
It was the most painful and shameful form of public execution. Then, added to the torture of the cross were the insults of the men who mocked Him. How easily could He have silenced them! How easily could He have sprung from that cross and made them fall at His feet in terror! How easily could He have shown the power they doubted! But that would have forfeited our salvation. It was true, “He saved others; himself he could not save.”
Thomas Carlyle tells of a Scotchman who once, when ascending a coal shaft of a mine in the bucket, found the strands of the rope giving way. One had already snapped, and the other was breaking. There was another man in the basket, but the rope would not hold both. In a moment his purpose was formed. He was not afraid to die. He turned to his companion and quickly said: “Good-bye! You are not ready, and I am; meet me in heaven!” and he dropped from the basket to the bottom of the shaft. He saved another; himself he could not save. There was room only for one life. So the Master “died to save us all,” and bore the jeers and taunts of men that they who mocked Him might not die, but be saved by His very sacrifice.
3. The third element in the Savior’s cup of suffering was Satanic hate and demon rage and cruelty. Around Him there gathered in that dark hour, not only the cruelty and hate of men, but all the wrath of hell. “They gaped upon me with their mouths” is the strong language of the inspired picture. “Save me from the lion’s mouth.” “Deliver . . . from the power of the dog.” Like wild beasts they seemed to Him in their ferocity and hideousness. And so indeed they have often seemed to many of God’s dear saints in the dark hour of spiritual conflict.
Some of us have passed through the valley of the shadow of death. Amid the host of hell we have spent nights and days that seemed to be infested with dragon forms and fiendish shapes. Our very cheeks could feel the fire, and our ears could almost hear the hissing of the serpent ; and even the smell of the pit was in our nostrils as we passed along, or stood in the evil day in desperate conflict with the powers of darkness. In such an hour Martin Luther actually believed he saw the devil, and threw his ink bottle at him in reality of the conflict. The dying and unsaved soul has often been known to realize the vision of that dark and evil world, even as the departing saint has seen the opening of the gates of glory and the angel forms that wait.
Oh, if we have ever known the anguish of spiritual conflict and the awful pressure of Satan’s power upon our spirits, we can have some conception of what our Master suffered on that day on Calvary. There is no pain so keen, except the wrath of God, as that which comes from the fiery touch of Satan. But all the fury of the pit was concentrated upon the Savior in that day, in that hour. Man had determined to take His life, but Satan was determined to have His soul. Oh, if Satan only could have seized the precious spirit of the Son of God, and trampled beneath his feet the deeper life of the Sinless One, hell indeed would have triumphed and heaven have been lost forever.
This beautiful Psalm deserves to stand as the gateway to the Palace Beautiful of the Messianic Psalms. It has been written on the hearts of many generations and many pilgrims to the heavenly home. It has furnished green pastures and still waters to God’s flock through all ages, and has spread a table in the midst of their enemies for millions of God’s redeemed.
Go to the walls of martyr prisons; look at the records of the sainted dead; recall the echoes of Christian deathbeds; look back upon your own memories and associations, and you will find nothing more sweet, or spiritual, or tender, than this Psalm of psalms.
It has two great themes, two central figures running through it. The first is the Shepherd and His flock; and the second, the Father and His family. In this respect it recalls the fifteenth chapter of Luke and the two most precious of our Savior’s parables: The Good Shepherd and The Prodigal Son. It is the same picture that we find in the twenty-third Psalm.
I. THE SHEPHERD AND HIS FLOCK
No one but an Oriental can fully understand the vivid force of this beautiful figure. The shepherd of the East is not only a property owner, but he is a lover of his flock, and a friend and a father to every member of his fold. He knows them all by name, he lives with them, sacrifices everything for them, and loves them with tender affection. In short, he stands between them and everything. Of all creatures the sheep is the most defenseless, helpless, and foolish; it cannot help itself. And so the child of God is absolutely helpless amid the elements surrounding him, and especially the consecrated child of God. They who have wholly yielded themselves to Christ, and not to their own strength and sufficiency, are peculiarly defenseless when they wander from their Lord; they have not the strength of other men to stand alone, and they do not need it if they abide in Him. The safest place is that of utter helplessness and utter dependence.
The trouble with most of us is that we try to be our own shepherds. We forget that the Lord is our Shepherd, and our business is not to trouble ourselves, but to let Him keep us, and to trust and follow Him.
The emphatic words are the two smallest in the sentence: “my” and “is.” The first expresses the appropriating faith which claims Him. It is not enough to recognize Him as a Shepherd, but we must put ourselves under His protection and claim Him as our own by personal appropriation and trust. And we may do this. He allows us thus to claim Him, and He undertakes the everlasting care of all who do. “My sheep,” He says, “hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
The other word is the very emphatic “is.” David’s confidence is without a doubt. So we must trust our Shepherd.
It is not because the sheep is worth so much in dollars and cents, nor the value of its flesh, that it claims the shepherd’s care; but because he bought it and owns it; it is His and He belongs to it, to care for it as much for his own sake as for its sake. So the Lord allows us to claim His love and life be-cause we belong to Him, and He has given Himself to us. Has He not justified our confidence? Has He not come to seek us when we were lost? Has He not given us His life to save us? Has He not given us His wonderful promises and His more wonderful love and care? Let us take Him at His word and answer back, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
“I shall not want.” This covers every possible need of human life; every proper desire and want, whether it be for soul or for body, for this world, or for the world to come. We can claim the fullness of His supply and say, “My God shall supply all [our] need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” “The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” This is the state of utter content, thankfulness, and joy. It is the cry of the heart that has no pining, but can see nothing but blessing and goodness in its lot and in its future. So infinite is its Shepherd’s love, so vast His resources, so kind His care, that it can think of nothing that He will not supply.
Beloved, have you this unbounded confidence in God? Are you taking thus from Him of His fullness? Are you honoring Him thus by your testimony and your praise, or are you reflecting upon your Shepherd by miserable discontent and meager, thankless lives?
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” This is the testimony of His rich provision for our needs. Not one pasture, but many are supplied, and they are all green. He does not feed us on the stale bread of past experiences, but He gives us fresh supplies every day, like the morning dew and the morning light. And so abundant are they that we lie down among them for very satiety. We lie down because we cannot hold any more, even as we have seen the beautiful herds in the English meadows lying down amid the tall, green grass for very fullness. This is the picture of a happy, joyful, victorious Christian life. He “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
“He leads me beside the still waters.” Rather it should read, “the waters of rest.” Here again it is not one stream, but many; they are “waters.” This is the picture of the Holy Spirit and tells of the Divine Comforter as He brings us into the deepest rest of Jesus; the peace that passeth all understanding, peace like a river, and righteousness like the waves of the sea. But it is only when we follow His leading that we can have this peace. In our own paths we shall not find the waters of rest; but as we follow Him, taking His yoke upon us and learning of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, we shall find rest unto our souls.
“He restores my soul.” In the Hebrew this might mean “my life,” and thus express His physical redemption and healing love and life. He is the constant Quickener of our life, for the body as well as for the soul. It may also mean His restoring mercy when we go astray or stumble in the way. How often this is realized in our experience! How often we need our Shepherd’s tender, restoring mercy, and how tenderly and gently He does rest the erring and bring back the lost one! How different God’s dealings with sin from the devil’s, and even from men’s! How tender and patient His mercy! Look at Him as He meets Elijah on his running away, and tenderly rests him, feeds him, pleads with him, and then restores him! Look at Him as He looks on Simon Peter and melts his heart to penitence, and then gives him back more than he has lost! Listen to His tender words to the erring and the weak, and never, never fly from Him again, whom we have even offended, but
“Go to His bleeding feet, and learn How freely Jesus can forgive.”
And not only forgive, but heal our backslidings, cleanse from all unrighteousness, and turn even our mistakes into means of establishing and settling us.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness.” That is, the right paths. Not only does He rest, but He sanctifies. He cleanses, He keeps, He leads into the land of uprightness. He “is able to keep you from falling [stumbling], and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” For His own name’s sake He does all this.
This is the way He becomes our Sanctifier. It is Christ Himself who does it all. We do not deserve it; we cannot accomplish it. We can only receive it as the gift of His mercy, through the blood of Jesus Christ and His exceeding great and precious promises. “For his name’s sake.” “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel,” He says. We cannot claim any credit for our holiness. It is a free gift of His suffering grace, and we can only wonder and adore as we think of the love that does so much for us so undeservedly.
“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me.” This is because of our wandering. This is the way back from the forbidden paths, from the dark wilderness. It does not necessarily mean death itself, but any dark vale overshadowed like the grave. After we have wandered from God, we do often find such dark and lonely passages. It is also true that after we have become fully the Lord’s, we are often called to pass through the darkest trials, and are tested in the most painful ways, drinking of a cup more bitter, often, than death itself. Thus it is that the promise becomes so precious.
How much comfort there is in this verse! First, we go through the valley. We do not fall in the midst of it, but ever before us we can see the light at the farther end, the opening vista of the larger place that lies beyond. Again, we are saved from fear. This is often worse than any other evil. If we have no dread, we can have no harm. And He has said, “Whoso hearkens unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” How sweetly the Master’s presence can charm away our fears and whisper comfort and rest in the darkest hours!
Next, we have His promise, “You are with me.” This is the spirit of nearness and safety. Notice now how beautifully the grammar changes. Up to this time he has been speaking of his Shepherd in the third person, as “He”; but now it all changes and becomes “You.” The reason is obvious. The promise has become nearer; the Shepherd is no longer at a distance; he is not talking about Him any more, but talking directly to Him. Going through a deep tunnel one day, my little child drew close to me and held my hand. When we were on the other side and in the bright light, he was not afraid to sit away at a distance and play; but in the dark and narrow place he wanted to feel my touch every moment. So He lets us draw close to Him in the valley, and hold His hand and hear Him say, “I am with you, fear not.”
Again, even His rod comforts us. Even the thing that hurts us so is shown to us to be for our good, and we can say: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Your word.”
Again, “You have known my soul in adversities.” Often has the suffering Christian sung:
“Trials make the promise sweet; Trials give new life to prayer; Trials bring me to His feet, Lay me low and keep me there.”
A daughter of the East has told this beautiful story of the Oriental shepherd. Sometimes when his sheep would wander and would not answer to his call or come back to the fold, he would take his sling and a little stone and hurl it through the air. Lo! the wandering sheep is stricken, perhaps on one of its foolish feet, and falls wounded to the ground, to pick itself up again, to hobble back with its suffering member, but to escape the perils of the wilderness through its wound. So He wounds to heal and smites to save, and pains us only that He may save us pain.
But, again, not only does His rod comfort us, but His staff comforts us still more. It is not all chastening, but more blessing, and, “As the sufferings of Christ abound, so our consolation also abounds by Christ.” God has two hands; the one presses us down, the other presses us up. Thank God, it is the right hand that holds us up, for He says: “The Lord your God will hold your right hand, saying unto you, Fear not.”
How beautifully these two hands are described in the First Epistle of Peter: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God.” This is the hand that presses us down. But he adds very soon, “Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you.” That is the hand that holds us up; that is the staff that comforts us when the rod has smitten us. It is like the mother eagle, who stirs up her nest and hurls her young ones in mid-air, and leaves them to fall, screaming, earthward. But soon her mother-heart flies to the rescue, and swooping under them, she spreads abroad her wings and bears them up again in safety and repose, telling them, doubtless, in strange speech, that she has only done it all in order to teach them to use their little wings and learn to fly themselves. So God lets the pressure of trial come, and then upholds us in it with His everlasting arms, and bears us as on eagle’s wings.
This is the trial that comforts us. His precious promises — oh, how they cheer the sorrowing heart! How sweet they grow in trial, until the heavens glow with stars of hope we never realized before, for
“Sorrow touched by God grows bright With more than beauty’s rays, As trials show us worlds of light We never saw by day.”
II.THE FATHER’S HOUSE
The figure now changes. There is, perhaps, a spiritual gradation here. Trial and deeper experience, as we have already discovered, may bring us into a closer place with God; and so we have the Father’s house next. It is not the fold and the shepherd, but the family circle meeting at the table, the child dwelling in the house forever.
The first feature of the picture is danger; there are enemies. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” We never know the real force of spiritual conflict until we come into a closer place in the life of God. But the victory is so complete that we are not fighting now. He does all the fighting for us, and surrounds us with a wall of fire so wide and secure that we sit in the center, happy, fearless children, eating and drinking at the festal table as though there were no foe in sight. What a perfect picture of security! Eating and drinking in the midst of our enemies! Like the great Apostle, on the tossing ship in the Adriatic storm, bidding his companions eat and drink because they were safe under the promises of God. This is no longer the picture of the wilderness, but it is the prepared table of the feast where all the fullness of His love is freely given to us; and we sit down and partake of the riches of His bounty until our cup runs over in the full measure of our blessing and our joy.
Beloved, is this our place? Are we so victorious that, like our Master, we sit down expecting until all our enemies are made our footstool? Are we so full that our cup runs over and we can hold no more, so that we have ceased to think of ourselves and our blessings in the overflow with which we bless others?
“You anointest my head with oil.” This is the figure of the Holy Ghost. This is the spirit of the overflowing joy. This is the symbol of healing, of gladness, of sweet fragrance. In the East, when a traveler comes in from his journey, travel-stained and wet from perspiration, his feet are washed to take away the dust of the road ; his head is anointed with oil, and the sweet perfume removes the odor of heat and perspiration; and he sits down all sweetened and restored at the table of his host. So He anoints our head with oil, fills us with His gladness, sweetens us with His fragrance, and brings us into the innermost chambers of His love.
Provision is made the future. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Not only is the present abundantly supplied, but it is all right beyond. Goodness covers every temporal need; mercy, every spiritual need. Goodness includes every gift of His love; mercy, every provision for our sinfulness. Not only will He love us and care for us as His dear children walking in holy obedience, but His mercy will keep us holy and guard us from even our own unworthiness.
The “house of the Lord” in which we shall dwell in His presence. We are in it now and never shall be withdrawn. But surely it looks forward to His glorious coming, to the house made without hands which is awaiting us when He shall appear.
I cannot withhold a personal testimony. On the first night of a new year, after I had retired and fallen asleep in very close communion with the Lord, I had one of those rare dreams which leave behind them an impression of the voice of God. In my dream I was gazing into the heavens at night, looking at one of the brightest constellations, when suddenly there appeared among them a wonderful star as bright as Venus at its brightest. As I gazed upon it, wondering at its strange beauty in that quarter of the heavens, I became conscious that it was rapidly growing larger every moment. In a few moments I was aware that it must be swiftly approaching; so fast did it enlarge that it seemed to be literally rushing earthwards, and my whole being was stirred with the consciousness that some stupendous event was happening.
Then there passed over my spirit a distinct consciousness that the Lord was coming; that this was the Morning Star and that He was just behind it. The best part of the dream was that it brought only rest and joy. Startling as was the appearance and the certainty of the coming King, there was no fear, but a sweet consciousness that all was right; that I was glad He was coming; that I knew in a few moments He would be here. Although I saw no one around me, I had the quiet assurance that all was right for them, too; it was all right for those I loved as well as for myself. Just at that moment I awakened with the quiet sense that God had spoken to my heart with a personal message respecting what His glorious coming would be to me. Oh, that we all may so live each moment that “when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming”!
There is one thought more in this Psalm. The grammar changes once again to the third person, and the Psalmist is talking not to but about God. It is the voice of testimony to the world. It is the call which we should echo to those who know Him not as their Shepherd and their Father. Is there any such lonely lost one reading this message? Oh, let this little Psalm that has led so many to heaven lead you to God!
Down in a southern hospital a soldier was dying; he was a Scotchman and an infidel. A Christian worker stood by his cot, but he would not listen to the Gospel; he covered his face with the bed cover and turned away in pride and scorn. Noticing that the patient was Scotch, and knowing, himself, the sweetness of the old Psalms to the Scottish ear, the worker sat down a little way off and began to sing the twenty-third Psalm in the old Rousse version:
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me down to lie In pastures green; He leadeth me The quiet waters by.”
He sang on quietly, tenderly. Before he was half through the Psalm, the patient was trembling from head to foot and sobbing aloud. He threw the covering down and asked, “Why did you sing that Psalm? My mother taught it to me by her knee, and it was her last message to me when she died.” The ice was broken; the heart was open to the truth; tenderly the seed was sown, and the soul was saved.
Two days afterwards the worker returned, but the Scotch-man had passed through the gates. The nurse told him that the night before, as she was passing down the corridor, she heard him singing that verse about the dark valley, and before he got through it, he began to choke with exhaustion. Then he gave a great cry, and said, “Mother! Mother! Mother! I’m coming! The Lord’s my Shepherd, too!” The nurse hastened to his side, but he no more needed the care of human hands. He had been saved by the twenty-third Psalm.
I venture to add another incident which illustrates the preciousness of this Psalm for the living as well as for the dying. A well-known Scotchman in New York, a man of great influence and high Christian character, was lying in the stupor of apparent death. A Scotch minister, also widely known, was leaning over him trying to recall his attention from the sleep of approaching death. At last he began to repeat to him the twenty-third Psalm; and when he got to the second verse, Mr. P., roused from his stupor and began to follow him, repeating the words after him until the Psalm was finished. The effect on the sinking man was electrical; he was completely aroused and began to talk with those around him. From that moment he grew better and lived for many years, well and happy, a useful Christian, saved from death by the twenty-third Psalm.
Blessed watchword for both worlds! May the Lord make it gloriously real to us, and may we all be truly able to say with its closing refrain: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The title of this Psalm is Maschil. It is a Hebrew word signifying instruction. It touches very deeply the whole experience of the child of God, from the first to the highest stages of life.
I. INSTRUCTION CONCERNING SIN
Nowhere do we learn so much about sin in a few words as in the four terms here applied.
1. The first is transgression. This means to go beyond. It denotes the actual violation of the law of God by an act in contravention of a divine command. It represents positive disobedience. It includes all the overt acts of sin; all the deeds, words, and thoughts of men which they have committed contrary to God’s precepts and commands. This alone is enough to form an awful account against the sinner in the divine impeachment, but this is only the beginning of sin.
2. The word sin is next used, and it describes the converse of this; namely, the coming short of God’s will and law. The word here used means to miss the mark, to fail to reach our aim, and it includes that large and often overlooked class of evils, which we might call sins of omission. Little do we realize how much they mean, and how immense will be the account when we stand in the judgment of the Lord: all we might have been, all we might have done, all we might have said, all the sorrow we might have assuaged, all the sin we might have prevented, all the good we might have done, all the souls we might have saved. Oh, what will it be to look at this someday, as God will show us the picture of the possibilities of life, and we shall feel we have lost it forever?
Here are two men passing into judgment. Both have had equal opportunities, equal talents, equal wealth, equal length of life. They have perhaps lived side by side and often passed each other on the path of life. The one goes home with his hands full of sheaves. He has spent his fortune for God and for holy usefulness. He has used his time to do good. He has often denied himself some special pleasure to save a soul, or to comfort a sorrowing one at the gate of heaven. He meets not only the smile of his Judge, but his works do follow him, and glorious trains of happy spirits welcome him. How many there are to greet him as their deliverer, their comforter, and the instrument of their salvation! What a large place in heaven is filled by the fruits of his love! What eternal and infinite horrors have been saved by his self-denial and his loving life service. All this has come out of one consecrated life.
And now the other meets his future. There is nothing to greet him. No happy spirits welcome him as their dearest friend. No white-robed saints lead him up to the throne as the one who led them to Jesus. But before him rises the vision of just such a heaven as his brother has received; just such a multitude as he, too, might have saved. But where are they? Down in yonder pit of darkness. As he sees what might have been in the light of what actually is for another, he awakes to realize what life meant; what it was not to do, not to sacrifice, not to serve the Lord. Oh, it will be an awful thing for such an one to meet his Judge, and see in the first flash of eternity’s light all that he might have saved and kept forever; but it is all forever lost!
O saint of God, if you could blot out the precious fruit of your life, would you for a million worlds? But that is what every sinful man and selfish woman is doing. That is the meaning of sin: the things you have not done, the love you have not given, the faith you have not exercised, the service you have not rendered, the reward you have not won.
3. The word iniquity also has a distinct meaning. Literally, it signifies something twisted, perverted, turned aside from its divine intention, and so it represents the perversion of human nature from its high and holy purpose. Man has perverted everything. That thing which God gave for the noblest uses has been prostituted for selfishness and evil. Man’s own body, created as the vehicle of the soul and its instrument of high and holy service, has been turned into the means of gratifying every unholy lust. The human mind, a ray of the divine and created to glorify God, has been used to glorify man, to worship the creature, to dishonor the Creator.
The very gifts of God and His infinite goodness have been abused as an encouragement to sin; and even religion itself has been turned aside from its sacred intent, and been used to serve the devil and promote the wicked selfishness of men. Surely men “have sought out many inventions.” “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”
But the word ‘iniquity’ has a more general meaning. It is used to express, in a general way, the whole depraved nature of man. It represents the deep fountain of corruption from which all transgressions and sins proceed; for worse than the streams of evil that have filled the history of humanity is the deep fountain of sinful human nature from which all have sprung. Fetid and foul may be the fog that rises from yonder marsh, but far deeper and fouler are the slimy waters of the unclean things that lie beneath the service, from which these fogs are only exhalations. This is iniquity.
It is the vile human heart of which God says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” And “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This is the real cause of human ruin. Our acts might be forgiven; our omissions might be overlooked; but our nature is ruined and only capable of continued evil, waxing worse and worse forever. Unless it be radically changed, it is incapable of happiness or holiness, and would turn heaven into hell, even as a leper’s body would infect and poison a whole community. There is nothing to be done with this wicked human heart but to destroy it.
4. There is still another term for sin — guile. This is the subtlest and most hopeless of all the characteristics of sin. It is utterly false, crooked, dishonest. We have often felt, in dealing with sinful man, that there was hope for the most abandoned and depraved, if we could only feel that the man was true and sincere; that he really was ready to acknowledge his sin without palliation or excuse, and truly longed to be right. There is hope for such a man. But when you feel a man is not honest and true, and that he is only deceiving you, playing with you, and using the cloak of religion for some mean and sordid motive, you feel that you can do nothing with him. He is irretrievably lost.
It is this double heart in man, this lack of uprightness and sincerity which makes his case so desperate. And this is the case with all men naturally, for the old serpent, the father of lies, rules in the children of disobedience, and makes them like himself, deceiving and being deceived.
Oh, what a category of evils: transgression, sin, iniquity, guile! If you have ever seen your heart as God sees it, you may well cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
II. INSTRUCTION CONCERNING SALVATION
God has four provisions to set over against these four names of sin.
1. The first is forgiveness. This has to do with our acts of evil. They render us liable to punishment; and when God forgives us, He acquits us of all charges, conceals the judgment against us, delivers us from guilt and punishment, and treats us as if we had not sinned. This is the purchase of Christ’s blood; this is the offer of the Gospel to all who will sincerely repent and accept the Lord Jesus Christ.
Beloved, to all of you who read these lines “through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”
2. Covered. “Blessed is the man whose sin is covered.” This is fuller, deeper, and more definite. It tells us of the great facts and principles that lie back of the forgiveness. Something had to be done to purchase this forgiveness, to provide for this settlement, to make right the relations between the sinner and the law of God. There had to be a covering.
Go back with me to Eden. See that guilty pair cowering with shame. It is not that their forms are naked. They, poor souls, are conscious of being exposed to the holy eye of God. Their sin is uncovered, and they cannot bear the exposure. So they take the fig leaves and sew them together, and put them on their persons. The searching eye of God has found them out, but His compassion provides a better covering. He bids them take those spotless lambs that stand before them, and doubtless, confessing their sins with their hands upon their heads, He slays the victims as sacrifices for their guilt. Then He takes the skins from their bleeding bodies, all dripping with crimson drops, and He puts them on their persons as a covering of blood, reminding them of the great Sacrifice that was yet to come, and by His blood make expiation for their guilt, and then by His righteousness cover their souls with spotless robes.
This was the meaning of the lid of the ark in the ancient tabernacle. It was the covering all sprinkled with blood which hid the broken law from the eye of Him who looked down from between the cherubim. The word propitiation means covering, and this word is applied to Christ. “And he is the propitiation for our sins”; that is, the covering for our sins. When the poor publican smote upon his breast and cried to heaven for mercy, his prayer was “God be the propitiation for me a sinner.” He saw that there must be a covering.
This was the meaning of the blood upon the doorposts of Israel’s tents when the destroying angel passed by. Jesus, the Great Sacrifice, in this beautiful type, was covering them from the wrath of the avenger. Beloved, are your sins not only forgiven, but covered, canceled, and forever put away through the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses from all sin?
3. Not imputed. This word literally means not to think. It not only describes the judicial act of God in acquitting the sinner and dismissing the charge against him, but it means still more: it means that He forgets as well as forgives, and thinks of us no longer in the light of our sin, but treats us and loves us as if we had never sinned. He puts it quite out of His heart, and never again upbraids us with its faintest suggestion.
This is the wonderful part of God’s forgiveness; it is so generous, so affectionate, so ennobling, that He takes away from the poor, guilty, shamefaced criminal cringing at His feet, every sense of shame, and lifts him up into His confidence, and gives him the self-respect and dignity of a prince and a child. There is something wonderful about this in God, and yet some of us understand it in our human relations. We want to trust those we love, and we must trust them perfectly. We know what it is to be unwilling to lose confidence in a friend, and to cling to that confidence even when we might suppose that it was not deserved. How the parent continues to trust his child, and refuses to doubt him even though he knows him to be wrong, until at length his noble confidence has ennobled its object! God is unwilling to lose confidence in us; and when He justifies us, He determines to trust us, and begins to treat us as if we were worthy of perfect trust; and indeed He makes us worthy by His confidence and by His grace.
How beautifully this comes out in some of His words respecting His people! “He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither has he seen perverseness in Israel.” Plenty there was to see, but He would not see it. He said: “Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Savior.” Lie they often did, but He would not believe it, but resolved to love them into goodness. He has been loving us and ennobling us by His love, and holding fast to us in His strong purpose of full salvation, and every moment He looks upon us in the light of that loving purpose as we shall be when we shall “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom” of our Father.
Oh, how wonderful this confidence of God! But how good and kind He is to exercise it toward us. How we love Him for it! He has sworn that He “would not be wroth” with us, “nor rebuke” us. This draws us to His bosom and makes us love Him and love to please Him. “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,” and against whom He will not even think one thought or shadow of his former self.
4. The expulsion of guile. “In whose spirit there is no guile.” God not only refuses to think a thought of evil against us, but He actually takes the evil away by putting in us the true heart, the honest will, the new spirit, and the single eye to choose and please Him. He drives out the evil to bring in the good. So we have the fourfold salvation over against the fourfold sin: forgiveness, atonement, love, and cleansing. All this is for us in the finished and perfect work of Christ. For “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Oh, the blessedness of the man who receives this full salvation! All our sorrows come from sin, and in full salvation we find our perfect joy. Do you know all this in its fullness? Is the blessedness of this great salvation even now filling all your being with the glad amen of praise to God?
III. INSTRUCTION CONCERNING TROUBLE AND SORROW
We have two kinds of sorrow in the next verses. One is the trouble of the impenitent sinner trying to override his conscience and be happy in his sins. But the Psalmist could find no peace this way. “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” Oh, the misery of a guilty conscience and a hidden sin! But, oh, the relief that comes to the penitent heart! “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
We have also the picture of the sorrows of the saint, but they do not touch him. “Surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.” And then he sends up his shout of triumph: “You are my hiding place; You will preserve me from trouble; You will encompass me with songs of deliverance.”
How free! Our spirit springs above all care and sorrow when we enjoy the love and peace of God. How light the burdens of temporal distress when the heart can spring and sing in the triumph of the Lord’s great love! Only let us see His gracious face and know that He is pleased, and we can sing above the darkness and the storm,
“Let cares like a wild deluge come, And storms of sorrow fall; May I but safely reach my home, My God, my heaven, my all.”
IV. INSTRUCTION ABOUT GUIDANCE
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go: I will guide you with my eye.”
1. We have God’s instruction. The forgiven and saved soul needs to be taught, and how graciously He teaches and opens up His Word!
But more than instruction is needed. Direction also in practical duty is required. “I will . . . teach you in the way you shall go.” This is more than knowledge; this is wisdom. And this He gives by His Holy Spirit to the sanctified judgment, and makes us know what we ought to do.
A little bit of broken glass is sufficient to reflect the full glory of the sun; so human love, a poor fragment at best, helps us to rise to that love divine of which it is the feeble type, the earthly foretaste of the Marriage of the Lamb.
The Bible is a love story, and the great objective point to which it moves forward is the rapture of the Bride and the Marriage Supper before the throne. In the beautiful story of Adam and Eve, the wooing and wedding of Rebekah, the sacred idyll of Ruth and Boaz, the exquisite poem of the Canticles, the parable of the Virgins, the Marriage of the King’s Son, and the beautiful vision of the Apocalypse, we find it running like a golden thread. The earthly figure is only the shadow. The reality is the union of the whole Church with her glorious Lord and Head.
This is the theme of the forty-fifth Psalm. It is the story of the Heavenly Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church. There are three points in the prophetic picture on which we shall dwell: the Bridegroom, the Bride, and the offspring.
I. THE BRIDEGROOM
This is a picture combining the elements of strength and sweetness, so seldom found together in any human character. Some people are strong without being gentle; others are sweet without being stable. This picture combines both elements in perfect harmony, like the solid mountains with their ribs of adamant and their covering of moss, verdure and bloom.
1. The stronger qualities.
The first of these is righteousness. “You love righteousness, and hate wickedness.” There can be no permanent love for one unless it is founded on esteem, and that esteem based on the sterling qualities of uprightness and moral worth. We cannot permanently love an unrighteous person. This glorious Bridegroom comes to us in all the attractions of perfect purity, uprightness, and infinite holiness. We can rest with implicit confidence upon His infallible integrity, and know that He is always right.
Truth is also essential to the confidence of love. We must be able to rest on the word of the one we love; not only upon his word, but upon his absolute sincerity, honesty, frankness, and faithfulness. We must know that he is thoroughly consistent and unchangeable in his love. Our Bridegroom is the embodiment of faithfulness. Written upon His vesture and upon His thigh are the words True and Faithful. His lightest word shall be fulfilled. His very thought is absolute fidelity. He is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Even “if we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself.” Has He given us a promise? We can rest upon it forever. Has He given us a right to trust Him anywhere? He will never change. Has He encouraged us to lean upon Him? We may lay our whole weight upon His faithful breast and know that He will never fail us. Others may change, but He is changeless, our truehearted and everlasting Friend.
Victorious power is another quality. He rides forth as a Conqueror amid His enemies and ours. There is none that can stay His hand from working. There is none that can resist His will. Other friends may want to help us, but they are not able. There is nothing that He cannot do for His Bride. He could speak worlds into existence for her if necessary, and His lightest command would banish in a moment all her adversaries. He is her Vindicator and Defender, and none can dispute His will. His friendship means eternal safety, eternal victory. All power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth. Those that are the objects of His love can never have cause to fear. Who would not have such a Friend? And, oh, who would refuse to be His Bride?
He has kingly and sovereign power. He has supreme authority. He has the right to exercise His power without resistance. The eternal Father has invested Him with all authority and dominion. His will is supreme above all this vast creation, and all shall yet crown Him “King of kings and Lord of all.” This is the Bridegroom that offers you His love.
2. His gentler qualities.
The first of these is His beauty. “You are fairer than the children of men.” There are fair faces and noble forms among the sons and daughters of men, but He is fairer than them all, in the loveliness of His spirit, and even in the beauty of His person.
If His very name can thrill the heart with such delight, what must His person be? All the beauty of human loveliness came originally from His hand and must, somehow, be in His person. All that is beautiful in the sunshine and the stars, the loveliness of nature and the beauty of art, is but the reproduction of something which was originally in Him. A photograph can combine in one face the beauty of twenty, so that the single picture expresses the charm of each different face combined in one. Ancient art sometimes gathered up in one single form the loveliness of man or woman in its Venus or Apollo; but, oh, what must that beautiful face be that can combine all the beautiful faces of earth lighted up by the glory of Deity!
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the radiance that streams from it, but that face itself we have not seen except through the revelation of the Spirit as He brings the full conception of its loveliness to the heart. Then, language is too poor to describe the view of Jesus which the heart sometimes catches even here. A poor dying idiot caught a glimpse of its glory, and for weeks he could only cry amid his wandering thoughts as his face every few minutes would light up, “Yon lovely Man; I want to go to yon lovely Man.” The great and good Dr. Anderson, of Boston, Secretary of the American Board of Foreign Missions, often said for weeks before he died, “I have such a longing to see the face of Jesus.” Some day we shall see it, and it will be ages before we shall want to look away to any other.
His gracious words. “Grace is poured into your lips.” What a singular beauty there is in the words of Jesus, even if there were no deeper reality behind them! When did poetry frame such sentences as some of the promises that fell from the Master’s lips? “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Let not your heart be troubled.” There is music in their very sound, and their sweetness can never die. But how much sweeter when they are spoken to the heart by the Holy Spirit! Oh, how the memory lingers on some of these gracious promises whispered to us in some hour of sorrow, turning all our darkness into day and lifting us up into praise and victory!
“In your majesty ride prosperously, because of truth and meekness and righteousness.” This is more than beauty. This is grandeur, sublimity, loftiness, glory. But, notwithstanding, there is nothing in it that overawes or repels, for it is all so blended with meekness and gentleness that it attracts and rests us. How often we see these elements combined in the character of God: “Our Father,” the gentleness; “who is in heaven,” the majesty; “The Lamb,” the meekness; “in the midst of the throne,” the almightiness. He is a glorious King. He is a mighty Conqueror. He is the majestic God. But He is our Beloved, our Husband, and our Friend.
Sometimes we look at some distinguished man, or meet with some lofty personage, and yet we wonder at the freedom and simplicity with which we can think of him, because we know him as a friend is known. A little child can lie in the bosom of a queen and forget the monarch in the mother. And so the Bride can rest upon the heart of the King, and know that to her He is only her beloved. And so Christ will let us come as near, and even amid His transcendent majesty, see only the Savior who died for us and the Friend who loves us.
Gladness. “God, Your God has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows.” There are some natures that are so joyous and radiant that we love to be with them. Their very presence sheds gladness all around them. Jesus, our royal Bridegroom, is full of gladness, and to be in His presence is to have fullness of joy. They who dwell in His presence are ever happy and triumphant.
In our darkest hours, could we but see His face, it would be lighted up with victory and rest, and we would wonder at our own fears and cares. There is nothing more beautiful in the picture of His life than the radiant gladness that ever shone upon His face, and lighted up His spirit even in the most trying hours. When all around seemed dark and threatening, He could rejoice in spirit, and, forgetting all His sorrows, could say, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Even on the cross His joy triumphed over pain and death, and for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame.”
Sweetness. “All Your garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia.” Fragrance is the most exquisite and delicate of material things. It is the very soul of the flower. It expresses, better than any other earthly things, the idea of sweetness; that blending of joy and love which no other word could so well express; that quality which draws us to persons because of their loveliness, and sheds upon us such delight and comfort from their spirit. It is like the atmosphere of spices that filled the Holy of Holies; burning spices and clouds of incense.
It is that which makes the hour of prayer so sacred and sweet, and surrounds us in our closet with such a deep, delightful sense of the divine presence as nothing else on earth affords — more delightful and more sacred than the closest intimacy of human friendship, and the most perfect fellowship of kindred hearts. This is the spirit of Jesus; and if we are clothed in His garments, it will be our spirit, too, and, like His, all our robes will smell of myrrh and aloes.
These spices are significant. The myrrh was used for the dead, and the aloe is a bitter plant. The myrrh tells of the sweetness that comes from self-crucifixion, and the aloes, of the bittersweet that comes out of sanctified sorrow, while the cassia speaks of the other qualities of loveliness which fill the Savior’s heart and hold us to His bosom. Such is the royal Bridegroom, “the chiefest among ten thousand,” “yes, the one altogether lovely.” Well might the tongue flow as the pen of a ready writer; well might the heart glow with love and joy as he drew the picture of his glorious King and sweetest Friend. Many another heart has felt the same indwelling of the Savior’s love, and often has sung or felt:
“Jesus, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills my breast; But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest.”
II. THE BRIDE
We have her call. “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget also your own people, and your father’s house.”
1. She is to hearken. Why is this call so expressed? It is because the voice is so soft and low that if she does not hearken diligently she will not hear it. Jesus calls with a still, small voice; and if we are immersed in worldly thoughts and cares, we shall miss His call. The voice which calls the Bride is not a loud voice. The lover whispers his suit, and she must listen with open ear or she will lose the whispered words of love. How often have we missed the Master’s sweetest voice because we have not hearkened!
2. She must not only hearken but consider. This word literally means “to sit down together.” She must sit down with Him and let Him talk to her. She must let His message sink deep into her heart. She must think. Ah, how little we meditate and let the Lord’s message sink deep into our spirit! True consecration and deep spiritual life must begin in contemplation and deep communion in the secret place of the heart. “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still,” is the Psalmist’s appropriate word.
But she must also incline her ear. This means a willingness to hear; this means a direction of the heart to the call. Sometimes we refuse the call; we would rather not hear. We are afraid we shall be called away from the world and sin, or from some choice of our own self-will; but if we will incline our ear, if we will be willing to listen and catch the voice of God, we shall receive His messages and be led into the closer place of His love and fellowship.
3. There must be a separation. “Forget also your own people, and your father’s house.” There is something that must be given up before she can know His love and come into the fullness of His blessing. Every high spring rises from a corresponding depth. God loves the place of sacrifice. The place the temple rose was the spot where Abraham had given up his child and his all to God; therefore God immortalized it forever. The place where redemption was founded was the cross of Calvary. So in each of our lives, the everlasting memorial which God is preparing for us will spring out of some experience of separation and sacrifice.
We cannot have both the earthly and the heavenly. How much are we to give up? All, and then God will give back in Him whatever He chooses to give, no longer as it was before, but from henceforth as linked with Him. Abraham received back Isaac, but not to be the same; he was no longer his Isaac, but God’s.
It is not merely giving up, but a glad giving up, a turning of the heart and affections from every other direction because, of the greater attraction which draws us to Him, even as the bride no longer desires even the joys of home and the companionship of father and mother in comparison with the transcendent delight of her husband’s society.
4. We have her consecration. “He is your Lord, and worship you him.” She gives herself entirely to Him; she recognizes Him as divine; she worships Him. It is the dedication of all her being to One who is not only her Lover but her Lord.
5. Her garments. Much is said about her wardrobe.
First, her robes are all glorious within. It is her inner adorning that is emphasized. Outwardly and in the sight of men, she may seem common and unattractive, but her inner adorning is all glorious. Her heart is pure, her love is heavenly and divine, her spirit is as beautiful as His own.
“Her clothing is of wrought gold.” Gold is the symbol of the divine. This tells of the holiness and the loveliness that are not mere human virtue, but the very nature of God Himself, and the work of the blessed Holy Ghost; the imperishable qualities that come not from human effort, but from the indwelling life of Christ Himself within the heart.
Not only is her clothing of gold, but it is of “wrought gold.” Every garment is made for her especially. It is not ready-made clothing, but it is made expressly for her. It tells us of the grace which provides for each of us a heavenly robe exactly adapted to our own life. We are not all dressed alike, but God has given each of us a special provision of grace which He has for none besides. He adapts Himself to us with special care, and meets our every need with infinite provisions of His grace. He is ever working for us. His own loving hands provide for each emergency, and meet each new situation. As the actors upon the stage have different robes for each new act, which they have simply to put on and wear, so the grace of Jesus Christ has provided for each of us all things that pertain to life and godliness for every occurrence that meets us.
Again, we read of the raiment of needlework. This suggests to us the thousand little stitches which enter into our daily life, and the provisions of God’s grace are as minute as the threads in your garments. There is nothing too small for God’s mercy to provide, not by hours even, but by moments. We may live on Him and take Him for each new moment as it comes.
6. We have her intimacy with Him and His delight in her. “She shall be brought unto the King.” “So shall the king greatly desire your beauty.” This is the best of it. What are her garments, her companions, her other joys, compared with the joy of His presence, fellowship, and love? We read of the virgins, her companions. We may be virgins, or we may be the Bride. She has companions.
“The daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift.” This tells of the business of the world. Tyre was the type of earthly commerce. It means prophetically that a day is coming when the wealth of the world shall be at the feet of the Bride of the Lamb, and we who have given up all for Christ shall control and possess what others now prize so highly and risk their all to gain.
Next, we have the entering into the palace of the King. “With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the King’s palace.” Oh, how the vision rises before us: The bridal procession, the joyful songs, the glorious Bride, the welcome of the Savior, the happy meeting to part no more, the joyful greetings on that eternal shore, the entering never to go out again. Oh, will you, shall I be there?
There is another question: How are we answering the call now? “Hearken, O daughter, and consider.” “Will you go with this man?” God help us to answer as did Rebekah of old, “I will go.”
III. THE OFFSPRING
There is a glorious offspring from this marriage. “Instead of your fathers shall be your children, whom you may make princes in all the earth.” We do not enter upon the meaning of this glorious prophecy, the generations in the ages to come that shall be born of the Bride of the Lamb; but it is enough for the present to know that all we can be as Christians, and all that we can do to bring others to Christ, is the fruit of our own union with the Lord Jesus. “That you should be married . . . to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Every soul that we bring to Christ ought to be begotten of our love, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and be the real offspring of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Not until we know Him in His deepest intimacy, as the Bridegroom of our heart, can we know all the fullness of His power, and can we be to others all that He would have us be.
Beloved, what place are you taking? The place of the virgins or the place of the Bride? The virgin may be pure, but the Bride is something more. She has the marriage love, the bridal robes, and the nearness which no others can know. This is the high calling which we may accept and which we may miss. May the Lord Himself enable us to understand the kingdom to which we are called, and not to come short of the highest place to which mortals have ever been raised, and to which angels dare not aspire! “Hearken, O daughter, and consider,” a still, small voice is whispering to you. “Forget also your own people, and your father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire your beauty: for he is your Lord; and worship you him.”
This beautiful Psalm covers all the ages and dispensations.
I. THE MOSAIC DISPENSATION
It begins with the Mosaic dispensation: “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us.”
This is almost a repetition of the blessing of the high priest under the old dispensation. These were almost the very words that Aaron was to utter when he blessed the Hebrew congregation in the name of the Lord, and said: “The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give the peace.” This is the spirit of the Old Testament.
It is blessed and heavenly, but it does not reach beyond ourselves. It is our blessing rather than the blessing of others, and yet it is very precious and real; and, so far as it goes, it is our blessing still even under the new dispensation.
1. It begins with the divine mercy, the source of all our blessings, and especially of our salvation, the greatest of our mercies.
2. It speaks of our temporal blessings which form so large a part of the Old Testament promises: God’s goodness to us in our natural life and our earthly needs.
3. It reaches its fullness in the third petition, “Cause his face to shine upon us. This leads up to the Lord’s own personal presence with us, and the manifestation of Himself to us as He manifested Himself under the Old Testament in the Shekinah glory that shone in the Holy of Holies; and as He does in the New, through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in our hearts and the gracious manifestation of the presence of Christ in the consecrated spirit. This is all the most blessed and the most real, and all this is necessary before we can be prepared to go into the deeper and broader experiences of the Psalm. But this is all personal and does not reach beyond ourselves.
II. THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION
The second prayer of this beautiful Psalm covers the Christian dispensation and the wider publication of the Gospel to the Gentiles and to all the world: “That Your way may be known upon the earth, Your saving health among all nations.”
This is just as distinct a picture of the New Testament dispensation as the first verse is of the Old. This is the wider view of the Gospel for the whole human race. God’s way just means His glorious way of salvation and His high and holy will respecting man. Properly speaking, Christ is Himself God’s way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; and so it is a prayer for the knowledge of Jesus to be spread among all the nations.
The beautiful expression, “Your saving health,” includes the idea not only of salvation, but of healing, too, or, more correctly, of that fullness of blessing which the old word ‘health’ so perfectly expressed. The Saxon ‘hale’ gives us the perfect meaning, and it just describes the wholeness and soundness and wholesomeness which the Gospel brings into all our life, making everything right and happy and enabling us to say, ‘All is well.’ This is the Gospel that men need, a Gospel that brings glad tidings for every human need, and saves us utterly and perfectly in every part of our being.
The Psalmist’s prayer is that this may be known. We are not to save men, but we are to make God’s salvation known. All that Christ’s coming is waiting for is simply the proclamation of the Gospel among all nations. The world does not know this great salvation. Men will not accept it, but all should know it. This has been the business of the Church in the Christian ages. For this the Holy Ghost was given. This is our calling today. This is the meaning of Christian missions — to make God’s way known upon the earth, and His saving health among all nations. It is to this we are consecrating ourselves, and to this we dedicate ourselves anew this day.
After eighteen centuries there are still but a few million out of earth’s heathen nations who know the Gospel. Perhaps one-half of the population of this globe has never heard the name of Jesus, and God is sending us forth simply to tell them. A human government could reach all the tribes of earth in a very short space of time, with any message of importance. But the King of kings has not found an army that could carry His commission beyond the borders of earth’s unevangelized lands.
Oh, how we need to pray, “That Your way may be known upon the earth, ‘Your saving health among all nations.”
III. THE JEWISH PEOPLE
God’s purpose for the Jewish people is here made known. “Let the people praise You, 0 God; let all the people praise You.” The “people” here mean God’s chosen people Israel, as the “nations” mean the Gentiles.
This is to be the closing incident of the New Testament dispensation, the restoration and salvation of Israel. This prayer is now being fulfilled. The spirit of grace and supplication is now being poured out upon the house of David, and they that pierced Him are beginning to look upon Him, and to return to their rejected Messiah. Many of the ancient people of God are returning to their old land, and, better still, many of them are turning to their Messiah. God speed the day when all the people shall praise the Lord, and God, even their own God, shall bless them!
IV. THE SECOND ADVENT
The personal coming of Christ and the blessing of the millennial earth and its redeemed nations are next referred to, in the words: “O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for You shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. . . . Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.”
This is the picture of Christ’s personal reign. It is He who shall judge the people righteously. It is He who shall govern the nations upon earth. It is this that is to make the nations rejoice and sing for joy. It is this that is to bring back more than Eden blessedness to the sin-cursed earth, until it shall yield its increase; and all the nations of the earth shall fear Him. God haste this glorious day for which creation is groaning and travailing in pain!
Oh, how different the picture now! Even those ancient Psalms forecast the awful vision as they cry, “Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.”
V. SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1. God has revealed to us His plan for the world and the ages. This beautiful Psalm contains a very clear outline of the dispensations and purposes of God. He has not called us servants, but He has called us friends; for all things that He has heard of the Father He has made known unto us. He has taken us into His confidence, and we can intelligently cooperate with Him in carrying out His great purposes for the world which He has redeemed. This is a high honor and privilege.
Many persons are working in the dark. They do not understand God’s idea for this age. They are expecting the world to be converted in the present dispensation, and they are disappointed because their hopes are not realized. This is not God’s intent, but rather to gather out of all nations a people for His name, then restore His ancient people Israel, and come Himself to reign over the millennial earth, restoring it to righteousness and peace. Let us accept our great trust and be worthy of the high honor He has given us as coworkers with Himself.
2. God has given us a great trust for the world. This Gospel is not our own, but given us for dying men. We dare not use it for ourselves without peril. Suppose some wealthy man were to bequeath a great estate to the suffering poor of New York City, and leave us as trustees of the fund; and we, instead of using it according to His benevolent wishes, were to sit down and enjoy it ourselves, and squander it upon our families and our pleasures. Would we not be regarded as false to our trust, and cruel, selfish, unjust, and criminal? Christ has left us the purchase of His blood, not for enjoyment merely, but for the world’s salvation. Terrible indeed will be the account which they shall have to render who have used this trust for their own salvation and enjoyment, and left the world, for whom it was intended, to perish in ignorance and sin. We are trustees of the Gospel. Let us never forget this.
3. We live in a very solemn time. We are on the threshold of the age to come, and at the close of the Christian dispensation. Never were times so momentous or opportunities so extraordinary. We belong to that generation for which all the ages have been waiting, and all beings might well envy; the generation whose high calling it may be to welcome their returning King and herald around the world the tiding of His coming. We have come to the kingdom for such a time as this. God help us to redeem the time and be true to His high calling!
4. God Himself has gone out before us and is working mightily in His providence and grace for the evangelization of the world. His providence has shaken every heathen nation, and opened almost all the world to the Gospel. His Spirit has been marvelously poured out upon the heathen, and His hand is manifest in the remarkable history of modern missions as in nothing else since apostolic times. With such encouragements, surely, we may well go forth and expect His mighty blessing on our efforts to evangelize the world.
5. We are living in an age when God is using not the mighty and the learned, but the humblest instrumentalities to do His work. He is choosing a people out of a people. He is taking the things that are weak and foolish; the things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are. No one need, therefore, say, “I am unfit. There is nothing I can do.” All we need is the baptism of His Spirit, the power of His presence, and He can use us mightily in our weakness and nothingness as witnesses to the name of Jesus. The victory of today is to be won by Gideon’s little band, the three hundred, and not by the thirty thousand.
6. Finally, the pole star of our missionary effort is the Lord’s personal coming. He is near at hand. It is this that stirs our hearts. It is this that makes every sacrifice and toil seem little. He is so near, and His recompense will make amends for all. Oh, let us go forth with this all-animating hope, and bring to pass the 67th Psalm in all the fullness of the Christian dispensation and the millennial glory!
“God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; That Your way may be known upon earth, Your saving health among all nations. Let the people praise You, O God; let all the people praise You. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for You shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Let the people praise You, O God; let all the people praise You. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.”
This Psalm has primary reference to Solomon, and is called a Psalm or Song for Solomon. But it is greater than even Solomon in all his glory, and reaches its true fulfillment in the “King of kings and Prince of Peace,” of whom Solomon was but a type. David was the type of Christ our King, with special reference to His conflicts and conquests. Solomon typifies His peaceful throne and His millennial kingdom.
This is the picture of Christ’s millennial throne.
I. THE KING
1. We behold here the picture of a wise king. “Give the king Your judgments, O God.” This word means the power to rule and judge with wisdom, such as God gave to Solomon in so preeminent a measure. This was his special request of God, and it was marvelously given.
We all remember the wonderful wisdom with which he detected the true mother of the child that was brought to him for judgment, and how his wisdom brought from the uttermost parts of the earth the wondering pilgrims, who came to sit at his feet and propound their hard questions until nothing was left unsolved of all their hearts’ desire. But a greater than Solomon is here, the “Wonderful Counselor,” the Man of whom it was said by His enemies, “Never a man spoke like this man”; the One who answered the craft and subtlety of His foes until they were glad to escape from His presence in silence and confusion — Christ, the Wisdom of God.
Earth owes much to wise sovereigns, but her true King has yet to come. What a glorious day that will be when upon the throne of earth shall sit that Mighty One, whose infinite wisdom shall govern the happy nations and bring to earth its highest possibilities of blessing!
2. He is a righteous King. “He shall judge Your people with righteousness, and Your poor with judgment.” How much the world has suffered from injustice, oppression, and wrong! All the sorrows of men spring from their sins. But the King that is coming shall be not only the Righteous One, but His people shall be all righteous. “In his days shall the righteous flourish,” and sin and wrong shall disappear from the earth. This is the secret of failure in all our social and political attempts at reform. The material itself is wrong, and until that is rectified, all the best of human plans must end in failure.
A building lay in ruins, and many were discussing the cause of the wreck. The architect said that the plans were perfect; the contractors declared that the specifications had been all complied with: every brick was in its place, and every arch was rightly set. Why had it tumbled in ruins? A plain workman took up a brick and crushed it beneath his fingers. “There,” he said, “is the cause; the brick is rotten, and one is not able to support the weight of another. The material is worthless, and all your best designs are useless with a lot of rotten brick.”‘ Alas! Republicanism, social reform, philanthropy, humanitarianism, legislation, example, philosophy, poetry, patriotism can do nothing to elevate and save humanity so long as the human heart is corrupt and the materials are worthless.
But the day is coming when sin shall disappear, when righteousness shall prevail, and when it shall be said of earth, in the language of the ancient prophet: “The Lord bless you, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness.” What a glorious day it will be when truth and virtue, honesty and uprightness, unselfishness and love shall bind man to man in a chain of holy benignity, and the prayer of ages shall be fulfilled: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
3. It is a kingdom of peace. “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. . . . In his days shall the righteous flourish; and the abundance of peace so long as the moon endures.” Other kings have ruled by the sword. But He shall be called the Prince of Peace. Oh, the unspeakable horrors of war! Who can measure its frightful expense in treasure and blood, in tears and agony? Oh, the horrors of bloody strife and the mutilated forms of dying men! Oh, the wild and devilish strife of the sanguinary battlefield! Oh, the myriads of graves that have marked the track of earthly conquerors! In the last few decades there is not an important nation under the sun that has not been deluged in blood. But all this is coming to an end.
“Through the dim future, through long generations, The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease; And, like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations, I hear the voice of Christ again say ‘Peace.’
“Peace, and no longer from its brazen portals The voice of war’s loud thunder shakes the skies, But beautiful as songs of the immortals The holy melodies of love arise.”
But that is only one side of peace. There are a thousand strifes that never end in blood. There are a thousand swords that only shed the richer blood of the spirit. Oh, the sorrows and sins that come from lack of harmony, from the discords of human hearts, from the ill adjustments of human lives, from the clash and friction of human spirits! Men are at war with themselves, at war with each other, at war with God. Oh, for the coming of the Prince of Peace! That will bring rest to every restless heart, harmony to every divided home, unity and love to all human lives, and peace with God, so perfect, that like the planets around their sun, all earth’s inhabitants shall move in harmony with the will of God, and earth once more become the counterpart of heaven, and its troubled sea of unrest like the sea of glass before the throne.
4. It will be a kingdom of grace and love. “He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. . . . He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. . . . He shall deliver the needy when he cries; the poor also, and him that has no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.”
He will be the King of grace, of gentleness, of meekness. He will be the Protector of the poor, the Comforter of the sorrowing, the Friend of the friendless. Earth has had its Prince Arthurs and its Peters the Great, whose glory it was to live among their peasantry and to befriend the lowly and the poor. But the coming King is the ideal of gentleness and grace.
Oh, the happiness His reign will bring! “God shall wipe away all tears” and redress all wrongs, destroy all enemies, heal all the wounds of the ages. What a world that will be where there will be no sin, no sickness, no sorrow, no selfishness, no Satan! What a Millennium that will be where we shall have our perfect bodies, our perfect spirits, our parted friends, and our blessed Savior forever!
“O long-expected day, begin, Dawn on this world of pain and sin.”
5. It will be a kingdom of glory, riches, and splendor. “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. To Him shall be given of the gold of Sheba; prayer also shall be made for Him continually; and daily shall He be praised.” While all the elements of spiritual blessings will be there, there will not be lacking one thing which can constitute material happiness and glory.
The earth will be transformed. Its physical features will be materially changed, its climate adjusted, its thorns and thistles, rocks and desert waste places exchanged for beauty and fertility, “and the wilderness and the solitary place shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” The very animal creation will be so changed that they will perfectly minister to man as in the first creation, and violence, cruelty, and suffering will pass away from earth. The riches and the glory of earth will be laid at the feet of Jesus and shared with His redeemed. Has He not said: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”?
It is then that the reward will come, and they who have followed Him in the sacrifice of all earthly ambitions will sit with Him on thrones and receive with Him a hundredfold of houses and lands and earthly distinctions and glories. This is not to be the chief element of their happiness. These things are nothing without Him. But having taught them to find their portion first in Him, He will give them all besides, and Himself with it and in it, and make real the old testimony of one of His saints: “First, I have everything in God, and then I have God in everything.”
6. It will be a universal kingdom. “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. Yes, all kings shall fall before him: all nations shall serve him.”
There will never be another universal kingdom until Jesus comes. Our boasted democracy is not going to include the world. Its next hope is a king, and earth is waiting for His advent with groans of pain. The Church is not going to become universal, but Christ Himself, by His personal coming, shall gather all nations and tribes and tongues beneath His peaceful scepter.
7. It will be an everlasting kingdom. “They shall fear You as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. His name shall endure forever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed.”
Not only for a thousand years will His kingdom last, but “forever and ever.” The Scriptural conception of the future is very glorious. It is not a monotonous forever, but it is a succession of aeons, or ages, of surpassing glory. The Millennium is but one of these ages. The new heavens and the new earth will be the next, and beyond that is age after age forever. Could we be told the glory of some of these distant ages, we could not even comprehend it. But as these mighty aeons roll on, we shall be prepared for yet greater progressions, and this mighty universe will expand until that great promise be fulfilled: “That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Such is a feeble outline of this inspired picture of the millennial kingdom of the Lord Jesus. The other Scriptures are full of the picture of this golden age of Christian hope and promise. But what can we do to hasten it?
II. HIS SUBJECTS
1. We can long for it. There is a great promise to those who simply and truly love His appearing. If we desire it, it will influence and transform our lives. It is the goal of our highest hopes and affections and the time when our real life shall begin. Is our treasure there? Are our hopes there? Is every fiber of our being crying: “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”? Is it home forever to our homeless hearts? This is what the Master sees and loves. This is what friendship appreciates in a friend — the sense of his absence, the longing for his return.
2. We can pray for it. Do you ever pray for the things that are coming to you after Jesus comes? Have you stored up anything on the other side of the resurrection, for which you are waiting and asking? Oh, you little know the power there is in that kind of prayer! It will elevate all your being by cords that are anchored to the very throne, and attractions that will lift you above the skies.
3. We can live for it. We can be ready for His coming every moment. He can keep your garments unspotted. Let Him adorn you with the wedding robe; and when all the members of His Church are thus adorned, and the Bride is ready for her husband, He will not be long in coming.
4. We can labor for His coming. The best way to hasten it is to send the Gospel to all nations and take the invitations to the wedding to all earth’s inhabitants. When this shall have been done, we know the end will come. Blessed hope! Lord, hasten it! Oh, let the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come,” and every heart respond, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
In Scotland’s darkest day, the nation at last felt that its only hope lay in the return of John Knox. So he was sent for, and eagerly they awaited the first signal of the great reformer’s advent. At length a messenger hastened up from Leith, entered the chamber where the delegates were secretly assembled, and, carefully shutting the door, a whisper was breathed, “John Knox has come.” It went from lip to lip, and men stood up with strange excitement, buckled on their armor and helmets, went from village to village, and from home to home, until, before many hours had passed, the tidings had been whispered to every waiting heart, “John Knox has come!” Brave men gathered quickly to the secret meeting place where a mighty host stood around their glorious leader, and the enemies of Scotland trembled on their throne before the power of one mighty man. Scotland was saved, and the religious liberties of the world were settled.
Oh, this is the only hope of the world! Let us send it up to heaven as the cry of prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” Soon the whisper will sweep down from yonder skies, “The Lord has come!” Around Him will silently gather His faithful waiting ones; scepters will fall and thrones will crumble, and the King of kings will take the kingdom, and the saints of the Most High will reign with Him forever and ever.
O day of days! O hope of hopes! O King of kings and Lord of lords! We wait, we watch, we long, we hope, we pray, we work for You. Amen.