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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Psalms 30

 

 

Verse 5

Psalms

THE TWO GUESTS

Psalms 30:5.

A word or two of exposition is necessary in order to bring out the force of this verse. There is an obvious antithesis in the first part of it, between ‘His anger’ and ‘His favour.’ Probably there is a similar antithesis between a ‘moment’ and ‘life.’ For, although the word rendered ‘life’ does not unusually mean a lifetime it may have that signification, and the evident intention of contrast seems to require it here. So, then, the meaning of the first part of my text is, ‘the anger lasts for a moment; the favour lasts for a lifetime.’ The perpetuity of the one, and the brevity of the other, are the Psalmist’s thought.

Then, if we pass to the second part of the text, you will observe that there is there also a double antithesis. ‘Weeping’ is set over against ‘joy’; the ‘night’ against the ‘morning.’ And the first of these two contrasts is the more striking if we observe that the word ‘joy’ means, literally, ‘a joyful shout,’ so that the voice which was lifted in weeping is conceived of as now being heard in exultant praise. Then, still further, the expression ‘may endure’ literally means ‘may come to lodge.’ So that Weeping and Joy are personified. Two guests come; one, dark-robed and approaching at the fitting season for such, ‘the night.’ The other bright, coming with all things fresh and sunny, in the dewy morn. The guest of the night is Weeping; the guest that takes its place in the morning is Gladness.

The two clauses, then, of my text suggest substantially the same thought, and that is the persistence of joy and the transitoriness of sorrow. The one speaks of the succession of emotions in the man; the other, of the successive aspects of the divine dealings which occasion these. The whole is a leaf out of the Psalmist’s own experience. The psalm commemorates his deliverance from some affliction, probably a sickness. That is long gone past; and the tears that it caused have long since dried up. But this shout of joy of his has lasted all these centuries, and is like to be immortal. Well for us if we can read our life’s story with the same cheery confidence as he did his, and have learned like him to discern what is the temporary and what the permanent element in our experience!

I. Note, first, the proportion of joy and sorrow in an ordinary life.

The Psalmist expresses, as I have said, the same idea in both clauses. In the former the ‘anger’ is contemplated not so much as an element in the divine mind, as in its manifestations in the divine dealings. I shall have a word or two, presently, to say about the Scriptural conception of the ‘anger’ of God and its relation to the ‘favour’ of God; but for the present I take the two clauses as being substantially equivalent.

Now is it true-is it not true?-that if a man rightly regards the proportionate duration of these two diverse elements in his life, he must come to the conclusion that the one is continuous and the other is but transitory? A thunderstorm is very short when measured against the long summer day in which it crashes; and very few days have them. It must be a bad climate where half the days are rainy. If we were to take the chart and prick out upon it the line of our sailing, we should find that the spaces in which the weather was tempestuous were brief and few indeed as compared with those in which it was sunny and calm.

But then, man looks before and after, and has the terrible gift that by anticipation and by memory he can prolong the sadness. The proportion of solid matter needed to colour the Irwell is very little in comparison with the whole of the stream. But the current carries it, and half an ounce will stain miles of the turbid stream. Memory and anticipation beat the metal thin, and make it cover an enormous space. And the misery is that, somehow, we have better memories for sad hours than for joyful ones, and it is easier to get accustomed to ‘blessings,’ as we call them, and to lose the poignancy of their sweetness because they become familiar, than it is to apply the same process to our sorrows, and thus to take the edge off them. The rose’s prickles are felt in the flesh longer than its fragrance lives in the nostrils, or its hue in the eye. Men have long memories for their pains as compared with their remembrance of their sorrows.

So it comes to be a piece of very homely, well-worn, and yet always needful, practical counsel to try not to magnify and prolong grief, nor to minimise and abbreviate gladness. We can make our lives, to our own thinking, very much what we will. We cannot directly regulate our emotions, but we can regulate them, because it is in our own power to determine which aspect of our life we shall by preference contemplate.

Here is a room, for instance, papered with a paper with a dark background and a light pattern on it. Well, you can manoeuvre your eye about so as either to look at the black background-and then it is all black, with only a little accidental white or gilt to relieve it here and there; or you can focus your eye on the white and gold, and then that is the main thing, and the other is background. We can choose, to a large extent, what we shall conceive our lives to be; and so we can very largely modify their real character.

‘There’s nothing either good or bad

But thinking makes it so.’

They who will can surround themselves with persistent gladness, and they who will can gather about them the thick folds of an everbrooding and enveloping sorrow. Courage, cheerfulness, thankfulness, buoyancy, resolution, are all closely connected with a sane estimate of the relative proportions of the bright and the dark in a human life.

II. And now consider, secondly, the inclusion of the ‘moment’ in the ‘life.’

I do not know that the Psalmist thought of that when he gave utterance to my text, but whether he did it or not, it is true that the ‘moment’ spent in ‘anger’ is a part of the ‘life’ that is spent in the ‘favour.’ Just as within the circle of a life lies each of its moments, the same principle of inclusion may be applied to the other contrast presented here. For as the ‘moment’ is a part of the ‘life,’ the ‘danger’ is a part of the love. The ‘favour’ holds the ‘anger’ within itself, for the true Scriptural idea of that terrible expression and terrible fact, the ‘wrath of God,’ is that it is the necessary aversion of a perfectly pure and holy love from that which does not correspond to itself. So, though sometimes the two may be set against each other, yet at bottom, and in reality, they are one, and the ‘anger’ is but a mode in which the ‘favour’ manifests itself. God’s love is plastic, and if thrown back upon itself, grieved and wounded and rejected, becomes the ‘anger’ which ignorant men sometimes seem to think it contradicts. There is no more antagonism between these two ideas when they are applied to God than when they are applied to you parents in your relations to a disobedient child. You know, and it knows, that if there were no love there would be little ‘anger.’ Neither of you suppose that an irate parent is an unloving parent. ‘If ye, being evil, know how,’ in dealing with your children, to blend wrath and love, ‘how much more shall your Father which is in heaven’ be one and the same Father when His love manifests itself in chastisement and when it expands itself in blessings!

Thus we come to the truth which breathes uniformity and simplicity through all the various methods of the divine hand, that howsoever He changes and reverses His dealings with us, they are one and the same. You may get two diametrically opposite motions out of the same machine. The same power will send one wheel revolving from right to left, and another from left to right, but they are co-operant to grind out at the far end the one product. It is the same revolution of the earth that brings blessed lengthening days and growing summer, and that cuts short the sun’s course and brings declining days and increasing cold. It is the same motion which hurls a comet close to the burning sun, and sends it wandering away out into fields of astronomical space, beyond the ken of telescope, and almost beyond the reach of thought. And so one uniform divine purpose, the ‘favour’ which uses the ‘anger,’ fills the life, and there are no interruptions, howsoever brief, to the steady continuous flow of His outpoured blessings. All is love and favour. Anger is masked love, and sorrow has the same source and mission as joy. It takes all sorts of weathers to make a year, and all tend to the same issue, of ripened harvests and full barns. O brethren! if we understand that God means something better for us than happiness, even likeness to Himself, we should understand better how our deepest sorrows and bitterest tears, and the wounds that penetrate deepest into our bleeding hearts, all come from the same motive, and are directed to the same end as their most joyful contraries. One thing the Lord desires, that we may be partakers of His holiness, and so we may venture to give an even deeper meaning to the Psalmist’s words than he intended, and recognise that the ‘moment’ is an integral part of the ‘life,’ and the ‘anger’ a mode of the manifestation of the ‘favour.’

III. Lastly, notice the conversion of the sorrow into joy.

I have already explained the picturesque image of the last part of my text, which demands a little further consideration. There are two figures presented before us, one dark robed and one bright garmented. The one is the guest of the night, the other is the guest of the morning. The verb which occurs in the first clause of the second half of my text is not repeated in the second, and so the words may be taken in two ways. They may either express how Joy, the morning guest, comes, and turns out the evening visitant, or they may suggest how we took Sorrow in when the night fell, to sit by the fireside, but when morning dawned-who is this, sitting in her place, smiling as we look at her? It is Sorrow transfigured, and her name is changed into Joy. Either the substitution or the transformation may be supposed to be in the Psalmist’s mind.

Both are true. No human heart, however wounded, continues always to bleed. Some gracious vegetation creeps over the wildest ruin. The roughest edges are smoothed by time. Vitality asserts itself; other interests have a right to be entertained and are entertained. The recuperative powers come into play, and the pang departs and poignancy is softened. The cutting edge gets blunt on even poisoned spears by the gracious influences of time. The nightly guest, Sorrow, slips away, and ere we know, another sits in her place. Some of us try to fight against that merciful process and seem to think that it is a merit to continue, by half artificial means, the first moment of pain, and that it is treason to some dear remembrances to let life have its way, and to-day have its rights. That is to set ourselves against the dealings of God, and to refuse to forgive Him for what His love has done for us.

But the other thought seems to me to be even more beautiful, and probably to be what was in the Psalmist’s mind-viz. the transformation of the evil, Sorrow itself, into the radiant form of Joy. A prince in rags comes to a poor man’s hovel, is hospitably received in the darkness, and being received and welcomed, in the morning slips off his rags and appears as he is. Sorrow is Joy disguised.

If it be accepted, if the will submit, if the heart let itself be untwined, that its tendrils may be coiled closer round the heart of God, then the transformation is sure to come, and joy will dawn on those who have done rightly-that is, submissively and thankfully-by their sorrows. It will not be a joy like what the world calls joy-loud-voiced, boisterous, ringing with idiot laughter; but it will be pure, and deep, and sacred, and permanent. A white lily is fairer than a flaunting peony, and the joy into which sorrow accepted turns is pure and refining and good.

So, brethren! remember that the richest vintages are grown on the rough slopes of the volcano, and lovely flowers blow at the glacier’s edge; and all our troubles, big and little, may be converted into gladnesses if we accept them as God meant them. Only they must be so accepted if they are to be thus changed.

But there may be some hearts recoiling from much that I have said in this sermon, and thinking to themselves, ‘Ah! there are two kinds of sorrows. There are those that can be cured, and there are those that cannot. What have you got to say to me who have to bleed from an immedicable wound till the end of my life?’ Well, I have to say this-look beyond earth’s dim dawns to that morning when ‘the Sun of Righteousness shall arise, to them that love His name, with healing in His wings.’ If we have to carry a load on an aching back till the end, be sure that when the night, which is far spent, is over, and the day which is at hand hath broken, every raindrop will be turned into a flashing rainbow when it is smitten by the level light, and every sorrow rightly borne be represented by a special and particular joy.

Only, brother! if a life is to be spent in His favour, it must be spent in His fear. And if our cares and troubles and sorrows and losses are to be transfigured hereafter, then we must keep very near Jesus Christ, who has promised to us that His joy will remain with us, and that our sorrows shall be turned into joys. If we trust to Him, the voices that have been raised in weeping will be heard in gladness, and earth’s minor will be transposed by the great Master of the music into the key of Heaven’s jubilant praise. If only ‘we look not at the things seen, but at the things which are not seen,’ then ‘our light affliction, which is but for a moment, will work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’; and the weight will be no burden, but will bear up those who are privileged to bear it.


Verse 6

Psalms

ONE SAYING FROM THREE MEN

Psalms 10:6. - Psalms 16:8. - Psalms 30:6.

How differently the same things sound when said by different men! Here are three people giving utterance to almost the same sentiment of confidence. A wicked man says it, and it is insane presumption and defiance. A good man says it, having been lulled into false security by easy times, and it is a mistake that needs chastisement. A humble believing soul says it, and it is the expression of a certain and blessed truth. ‘The wicked saith in his heart, I shall not be moved.’ A good man, led astray by his prosperity, said, ‘I shall not be moved,’ and the last of the three put a little clause in which makes all the difference, ‘because He is at my right hand, I shall never be moved.’ So, then, we have the mad arrogance of godless confidence, the mistake of a good man that needs correction, and the warranted confidence of a believing soul.

I. The mad arrogance of godless confidence.

The ‘wicked’ man, in the psalm from which our first text comes, said a good many wrong things ‘in his heart.’ The tacit assumptions on which a life is based, though they may never come to consciousness, and still less to utterance, are the really important things. I dare say this ‘wicked man’ was a good Jew with his lips, and said his prayers all properly, but in his heart he had two working beliefs. One is thus expressed: ‘As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved.’ The other is put into words thus: ‘He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten, He hideth His face. He will never see it.’

That is to say, the only explanation of a godless life, unless the man is an idiot, is that there lie beneath it, as formative principles and unspoken assumptions, guiding and shaping it, one or both of these two thoughts: either ‘There is no God,’ or ‘He does not care what I do, and I am safe to go on for evermore in the present fashion.’ It might seem as if a man with the facts of human life before him, could not, even in the insanest arrogance, say, ‘I shall not be moved, for I shall never be in adversity.’ But we have an awful power-and the fact that we exercise, and choose to exercise, it is one of the strange riddles of our enigmatical existence and characters-of ignoring unwelcome facts, and going cheerily on as though we had annihilated them, because we do not reflect upon them. So this man, in the midst of a world in which there is no stay, and whilst he saw all round him the most startling and tragical instances of sudden change and complete collapse, stands quietly and says, ‘Ah! I shall never be moved’; ‘God doth not require it.’

That absurdity is the basis of every life that is not a life of consecration and devotion-so far as it has a basis of conviction at all. The ‘wicked’ man’s true faith is this, absurd as it may sound when you drag it out into clear, distinct utterance, whatever may be his professions. I wonder if there are any of us whose life can only be acquitted of being utterly unreasonable and ridiculous by the assumption, ‘I shall never be moved’?

Have you a lease of your goods? Do you think you are tenants at will or owners? Which? Is there any reason why any of us should escape, as some of us live as if we believed we should escape, the certain fate of all others? If there is not, what about the sanity of the man whose whole life is built upon a blunder? He is convicted of the grossest folly, unless he be assured that either there is no God, or that He does not care one rush about what we do, and that consequently we are certain of a continuance in our present state.

Do you say in your heart, ‘I shall never be moved’? Then you must be strong enough to resist every tempest that beats against you. Is that so? ‘I shall never be moved’-then nothing that contributes to your well-being will ever slip from your grasp, but you will be able to hold it tight. Is that so? ‘I shall never be moved’-then there is no grave waiting for you. Is that so? Unless these three assumptions be warranted, every godless man is making a hideous blunder, and his character is the sentence pronounced by the loving lips of Incarnate Truth on the rich man who thought that he had ‘much goods laid up for many years,’ and had only to be merry-’Thou fool! Thou fool!’ If an engineer builds a bridge across a river without due calculation of the force of the winds that blow down the gorge, the bridge will be at the bottom of the stream some stormy night, and the train piled on the fragments of it in hideous ruin. And with equal certainty the end of the first utterer of this speech can be calculated, and is foretold in the psalm, ‘The Lord is King for ever and ever. . . . The godless are perished out of the land.’

II. We have in our second text the mistake of a good man who has been lulled into false confidence.

The Psalmist admits his error by the acknowledgment that he spoke ‘in my prosperity’; or, as the word might be rendered, ‘in my security.’ This suggests to us the mistake into which even good men, lulled by the quiet continuance of peaceful days, are certain to fall, unless there be continual watchfulness exercised by them.

It is a very significant fact that the word which is translated in our Authorised Version ‘prosperity’ is often rendered ‘security,’ meaning thereby, not safety, but a belief that I am safe. A man who is prosperous, or at ease, is sure to drop into the notion that ‘to-morrow will be as this day, and much more abundant,’ unless he keeps up unslumbering watchfulness against the insidious illusion of permanence. If he yields to the temptation, in his foolish security, forgetting how fragile are its foundations, and what a host of enemies surround him threatening it, then there is nothing for it but that the merciful discipline, which this Psalmist goes on to tell us he had to pass through by reason of his fall, shall be brought to bear upon him. The writer gives us a page of his own autobiography. ‘In my security I said, I shall never be moved.’ ‘Lord! by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong. Thou didst hide Thy face.’ What about the security then? What about ‘I shall never be moved’ then? ‘I was troubled. I cried to Thee, O Lord!’-and then it was all right, his prayer was heard, and he was in ‘security’-that is, safety-far more really when he was ‘troubled’ and sore beset than when he had been, as he fancied, sure of not being moved.

Long peace rusts the cannon, and is apt to make it unfit for war. Our lack of imagination, and our present sense of comfort and well-being, tend to make us fancy that we shall go on for ever in the quiet jog-trot of settled life without any very great calamities or changes. But there was once a village at the bottom of the crater of Vesuvius, and great trees, that had grown undisturbed there for a hundred years, and green pastures, and happy homes and flocks. And then, one day, a rumble and a rush, and what became of the village? It went up in smoke-clouds. The quiescence of the volcano is no sign of its extinction. And as surely as we live, so sure is it that there will come a ‘to-morrow’ to us all which shall not be as this day. No man has any right to calculate upon anything beyond the present moment, and there is no basis whatever, either for the philosophical assertion that the order of nature is fixed, and that therefore there are no miracles, or for the practical translation of the assertion into our daily lives, that we may reasonably expect to go on as we are without changes or calamities. There is no reason capable of being put into logical shape for believing that, because the sun has risen ever since the beginning of things, it will rise to-morrow, for there will come a to-morrow when it will not rise. In like manner, the longest possession of our mercies is no reason for forgetting the precarious tenure on which we hold them all.

So, Christian men and women! let us try to keep vivid that consciousness which is so apt to get dull, that nothing continueth in one stay, and that we shall be moved, as far as the outward life and its circumstances are concerned. If we forget it, we shall need, and we shall get, the loving Fatherly discipline, which my second text tells us followed the false security of this good man. The sea is kept from putrefying by storms. Wine poured from vessel to vessel is purified thereby. It is an old truth and a wholesome one, to be always remembered, ‘because they have no changes therefore they fear not God .’

III. Lastly, we have the same thing said by another man in another key.

‘Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.’ The prelude to the assertion makes all the difference. Here is the warranted confidence of a simple faith.

The man who clasps God’s hand, and has Him standing by his side, as his Ally, his Companion, his Guide, his Defence-that man does not need to fear change. For all the things which convict the arrogant or mistaken confidences of the other men as being insanity or a lapse from faith prove the confidence of the trustful soul to be the very perfection of reason and common sense.

We may be confident of our power to resist anything that can come against us, if He be at our side. The man that stands with his back against an oak-tree is held firm, not because of his own strength, but because of that on which he leans. There is a beautiful story of some heathen convert who said to a missionary’s wife, who had felt faint and asked that she might lean for a space on her stronger arm, ‘If you love me, lean hard.’ That is what God says to us, ‘If you love Me, lean hard.’ And if you do, because He is at your right hand, you will not be moved. It is not insanity; it is not arrogance; it is simple faith, to look our enemies in the eyes, and to feel sure that they cannot touch us, ‘Trust in Jehovah; so shall ye be established.’ Rest on the Lord, and ye shall rest indeed.

In like manner the man who has God at his right hand may be sure of the unalterable continuance of all his proper good. Outward things may come or go, as it pleases Him, but that which makes the life of our life will never depart from us as long as He stands there. And whilst He is there, if only our hearts are knit to Him, we can say, ‘My heart and my flesh faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. I shall not be moved. Though all that can go goes, He abides; and in Him I have all riches.’ Trust not in the uncertainty of outward good, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.

The wicked man was defiantly arrogant, and the forgetful good man was criminally self-confident, when they each said, ‘I shall not be moved.’ We are only taking up the privileges that belong to us if, exercising faith in Him, we venture to say, ‘Take what Thou wilt; leave me Thyself; I have enough.’ And the man who says, ‘Because God is at my right hand, I shall not be moved,’ has the right to anticipate an unbroken continuance of personal being, and an unchanged continuance of the very life of his life. That which breaks off all other lives abruptly is no breach in the continuity, either of the consciousness or of the avocations of a devout man. For, on the other side of the flood, he does what he does on this side, only more perfectly and more continually. ‘He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,’ and it makes comparatively little difference to him whether his place be on this or on the other side of Jordan. We ‘shall not be moved,’ even when we change our station from earth to heaven, and the sublime fulfilment of the warranted confidence of the trustful soul comes when the ‘to-morrow’ of the skies is as the ‘to-day’ of earth, only ‘much more abundant.’

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Psalms 30:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/psalms-30.html.

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