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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 73

 

 

Verses 1-28

Psalms 73:1-28

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

The trouble of Asaph

In human biographies men are wont to cover up their heroes’ imperfections. They see no reason why they should be recalled, but many why they should not. And in religious biographies what evident exaggeration there often is. But this can never be said of the lives of the men told of in the Bible. They are evidently men like ourselves. They have known our misery, passed through our struggles, and often, like us, have had to bow their heads in repentance. By this single trait I recognize the book of God. Nothing but the guidance of the Spirit of truth could have held back these writers from glorifying their national heroes. Now, this psalm tells of one who undoubtedly was a believe, but nevertheless passed through doubt and knew all its bitterness. See--

I. What made asaph doubt. It was the sorrow Of those who feared God combined with the prosperity of the wicked. The spectacle of this world is a great school for unbelief, and makes more unbelievers than all the books of atheists. Instinctively we believe in the God of holiness and love; but when we look out into the world we cannot find Him. Fatality is what we see. In nature, for it cares neither for our prayers nor our tears. In history, for if now and then there seems to be a providential law therein, more often there is no trace of anything of the kind See the fate of those vast empires which for ever have passed away. In life: was not the old prophet deceived when he said he had never seen the righteous forsaken? How often our prayers are not heard. Fatalism is what the world teaches every hour. Antiquity was fatalistic, and so are our chief thinkers of to-day. What problems are brought before us by the sorrows that befall the godly. Poverty, sickness, injustice--this most unendurable of all.

II. What saved him from his doubt.

1. He believed in God, the God of his race and people. He came--and it is a blessed thing to come--of a holy race.

2. But he could not explain these problems. Human reason cannot. There are the mysteries, insoluble, of affliction; yet more of sin; and of the future life. Science has no answer for them.

3. But Asaph went into the sanctuary of God, and then he understood the end, the purpose of God in all this which the future alone, and not the short-lived present, can unfold. Now, Asaph saw God’s purpose in regard to the wicked, and his tone changed from bitterness to pity, as he thought of the “slippery places” in which they stood, and of the “destruction” which was their end. How all changes to our eyes when we consider things from God’s point of view. And he saw God’s purpose in regard to those who wait on Him and fear Him. Even now consolation, sweetness, peace are theirs. The meanest calling is invested with grandeur when God is served in it. Without doubt the struggles of God’s people have been terrible. But consider their end--“Nevertheless I am continually with thee.” Asaph has come out of the sanctuary, and his face is beaming; his tears are effaced. His look is brightened by a divine hope, and it is a song of thanks which comes from his lips. And so shall it be with all them whose trust is in Asaph’s God. (E. Bersier.)

The Asaph psalms

Here in the beginning of the third book of the Psalter we have eleven psalms which are grouped together as being Asaph’s psalms. Those psalms have very much of a common character and a common style; they are the production of some oriental Bacon, of some Tacitus of grace. They are obscure if you will, they are oracular, they are sententious, they are occasionally, it must be admitted, sublime. And, first of all, Asaph’s was no affected scepticism; Asaph was a real doubter. In a certain sense he may be looked upon as the St. Thomas of the Old Testament, but the doubt of St. Thomas, as we all know, was about a fact and about a dogma which underlay that fact--the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead--the doubt of Asaph was about the moral truth of the government of God, for the cause of his doubt about the goodness of God was the inequality of human society, the fatal injustice as it appears to some in the distribution of the good things of this life. It was the base and mean character of many of those who are the most tremendous winners in what seems to be the ignoble lottery sometimes of a successful life. These men did not repeatedly hear the summons of the grim sergeant, Death; they were not repeatedly dragged by chains; “there are no bands in their death;” that oppressive burden that lies on the rest of our suffering humanity--they seem for a time clean outside of it; they are not in trouble as other men. And then there comes the deterioration of character, the encompassing pride, being robed with violence; the fulfilment of the words of that fierce satire, “Their eyes stand out with fatness, they have more than their hearts can wish.” There are hearts and hearts, and they have all, more than all, that hearts like theirs can wish for. Now, the means of removing Asaph’s doubt we find to have been these four.

1. In the first place, there was his own spiritual life. If these haunting doubts about the goodness and the justice of God were real, if there was no good God in the heaven above, then his whole spiritual life was worthless. Well might he say in the thirteenth verse, if it were so, “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.”

2. And the second means of the removal of this doubt was the spiritual life of the children of God--“If I say I will speak thus, behold I should offend against the generation of Thy children”--he would be doing wrong to them, he would be breaking faith with the saints of God, who had lived this life upon earth and who had passed into the home beyond with this full faith.

3. Then a third means of removing this doubt we find in the closing part of the psalm (Psalms 73:23-28). The spiritual life is also an eternal life, an eternal life in God and with God. Now, this psalm might almost be marked as the great psalm of the Hebrew “Summum Bonum, The Highest Good.” We are told by St. Augustine that the ancient classical philosophy had worked out no less than two hundred and eighty-eight different views or solutions of the “Summum Bonum,” the highest good of man. It was, we have been told on great authority, a sort of scholastic theology of the Pagans, but here is Asaph’s view of the “Summum Bonum,” hero is the view of all the saints of God. How nobly the psalm begins! The prophet had long been encompassed about with the shadows of darkness and doubt. At last he looks upward and he says, “And yet, after all, God is good to Israel, even to those who are of a clean heart”; and as the psalm begins so it ends: “It is good for me to draw nigh unto God.” Take this in, take in the eternal life with God in the home above, take in that and no doubt will arise about the distribution of God’s good things, and we shall say with the psalmist: “So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee.”

4. And then the fourth means was this--it was a revelation in the sanctuary: “When I thought upon this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” All of us who love the Psalter have critical friends who tell us not to be too mystical in our views, not to think of Christ or Heaven in the psalms; but when they comment upon this verse they begin to turn mystical and say, “Think of some inward sanctuary in your mind, think of some place where you may be alone with God”; to which I only reply, “My literal friend, you must be literal here at all events.” The word unquestionably means the outward sanctuary of God, the visible sanctuary built up upon Mount Zion, the place upon which men walked with human feet, and listened with human ears. This was where Asaph learned to find the solution of his difficulty. (A. Alexander.)

A perplexing problem, and satisfactory solution

I. A perplexing problem. We live under the government of God, and His government extends to all persons, and all interests in every life. This is a fundamental fact. From what we know of the character of God as good and just, and seeing that He has power to carry out all His decisions, we might expect that in every instance virtue would be rewarded and vies would be punished. But, in observing the circumstances of men, this expectation is falsified. For a time, at least, some of the wicked prosper, and some of the righteous do not prosper, until bad men say, and good men are tempted to say in their depression and doubt, surely the sympathy of the Divine Ruler must be on the side of vies, the reins of government must have fallen out of His hands, and what ought to be an orderly creation is simply a chaos. Why is the life of many a good man embittered by the wickedness of his son, whilst the ungodly father in some instances is surrounded by the best children? Why is the breadwinner taken away when the family seem to need most the strength of his arm, the intelligence of his mind, and the influence of his example? Why is it that some of the beautiful and noble, full of intellectual and Christian promise, are out off in youth, whilst not a few of the stained and mean are allowed to drag their ignominy through a long, stained and dishonoured life? Why is it that sunshine and sorrow seem in so many eases to follow no rule of effort or desert? Ah! those are some of the dark riddles, the strange perplexities, of which many a life is full. Here we are confronted with a business problem. Now, nothing is more clear than that in worldly affairs the battle is not always to the strong. Whatever we may say in our conceit, worldly success does not always reflect commercial genius. It is surprising indeed with how little brains some business men succeed. They ought to succeed in business, for they exhaust themselves in the one supreme and strenuous effort of money-making, and have no time or taste for anything else. Some of the most shallow and superficial men I have met are men of this mould. Beecher said of such: “They resemble a pyramid, which is broad where it touches the ground, but grows narrower as it reaches the sky.” In saying this I do not wish it to be understood that the righteous man is less fit and likely to succeed in temporal affairs than the unrighteous. No, religion helps a man to get on in the world. Other things being equal in the man, that man who is honest, industrious and persevering is more likely to succeed than his neighbour, who may have the same natural ability, but no Christian principle. Undoubtedly religion quickens and expands the whole man, and fertilizes the wide area of life. A man who is formed, reformed, and informed by religion will do far more effectual work than the same man without religion. Another fact must also be borne in mind. Some good men, whom we like to hear sing and pray in the “sanctuary,” are not strong and smart at the “receipt of customs.” Business is not their forte. They are estimable men in their home and Church relations, but they lack the keenness, suspicion, alertness, push, and enterprise so greatly necessary in these days of keen competition and quick movement. One can easily see why some easy, confiding, unsuspicious men who do not adapt themselves to certain changed conditions in business do not succeed. The wonder would be if they did. But baying said this, we all know worthy men who comply with the conditions Of worldly success, and are even then disadvantaged, kept down and back by the greedy, avaricious worldlings, with whom they do not and cannot compete in certain questionable and wicked practices. Some are too delicately fibred, too considerate of justice, generosity, handsome behaviour, too Scripturally conscientious to chord in practice with those who do not scruple at lying advertisements, fictitious capital, adulterated articles. And so they secretly and silently suffer in mind and state. They are beaten and baffled, not simply by the greedy and gigantic monopolies, which appear to be the order of the day, but by the positive wrong-doing of the unscrupulous, who will have gain by means fair or foul. And so it is in my pastoral round, I have seen the good man--a struggling tradesman “fretting” because of evil-doers, “envious” against the “workers of iniquity.”

1. It tries his trust. It is easy to trust God when the “cup runneth over.” But it is very hard for a man with an ill-stocked larder, and an ill-furnished wardrobe, to lean his whole weight upon God.

2. It proves his zeal. “Money is a defence.” The rich man is protected by earthworks against much that beats pitilessly and cruelly upon the poor man.

3. It tests his humility. To retrench the pleasant superfluities of life, to abridge his sphere of usefulness, to curtail his gifts, to live in a smaller house, to miss his name from the subscription list, to rank among the unfortunates and be quiet--all this goes against the grain of a spirited, mettled man, who, although poor, is still a man of desire and ambition.

4. It taxes patience. Baffled and utterly bewildered, there are sad moments when the tempted Christian says he cannot understand the Divine dealings with him.

II. A satisfactory solution. For a moment Asaph’s conscience wavered, for a time giddiness seized him. How is it he did not fall into the abyss? Asaph believed in God. He could not after all believe in chance. That was the saving thought. Like a ship swinging at anchor, he swayed about by the ebb and the flow of the tide, but he did not drift from his moorings. What was it that wrought the vast change in the psalmist? It was going into the house of God. This is the Divinely-appointed place where God graciously answers those who are perplexed and pained, and who kneel, saying, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” The judicial faculty to weigh things, to take a calm survey of the entire situation, needs stillness and retreat. It is here, in the sanctuary, we see the relationship of this brief and broken life on earth to the wide, boundless kingdom of the eternal. Wait calmly until the clouds roll by. Said Dr. Dixon, “It is in the nature of a cloud to pass away.” Possess your soul in patience, and, amid the sweet silences and kindling visions of the sanctuary, you shall change your murmur to a psalm. Revelation reconciles, if it does not explain, by telling us that there is a magnificent future, veiled, but certain, for which present inequalities and seeming injustices are the necessary, the suitable, the merciful preparation. You are now moving in the twilight, but it is the morning twilight, to be followed by the glory of eternity, when all these tangled things shall be smoothed out, and the vexed things of earth made plain in the light of heaven. (G. Woodcock.)

The goodness of God to Israel

I. The description given of the people of God.

1. Their name.

2. Their character.

II. The considerations by which their interest in the Divine love may be proved.

1. By His Son He has saved them from hell.

2. By His Spirit He purifies them from sin.

3. By His providence He guides and guards them on earth.

4. At their death He receives them to heaven.

Lessons:

1. If the goodness of God to the true Israel be thus great, how great should be their confidence in Him, and the love with which they love Him in return!

2. Let the sinner so come and share with the Israel of God in the blessing described in the text. (Evangelical Preacher.)

Bad men in good circumstances, and a good man in a bad temper

I. Bad men in good circumstances. The bad men are described as the “foolish and the wicked.” Folly and wickedness are convertible terms. Sin is folly. Man sinning is man violating all the laws of reason, all the principles of true policy. Such are the bad characters before us, and they are found in good circumstances, they are in great prosperity. The material heavens shine on them, the earth yields up her fruit to gratify their every taste and to supply their every want. Providence pours into their lap those gifts which it denied the Son of God Himself.

II. A good man in a bad temper. Asaph, the supposed writer of this psalm, acknowledges that he was “envious” of these bad men who were living in good circumstances.

1. He was in an envious temper.

2. He was in a murmuring temper (Psalms 73:18).

3. A wrong opinion. The writer thought that it was “in vain.” Three facts show that this is a great mistake:

No; this cleansing the heart is no vain work. No engagement is so real and profitable. Every fresh practical idea of God is a rising in the scale of being and of bliss; every conquest over sense, appetite, and sin, is a widening and strengthening of our spiritual sovereignty; every devout sentiment, earnest resolve, and generous sacrifice attunes our hearts to higher music. (Homilist.)


Verses 1-28

Psalms 73:1-28

Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.

The trouble of Asaph

In human biographies men are wont to cover up their heroes’ imperfections. They see no reason why they should be recalled, but many why they should not. And in religious biographies what evident exaggeration there often is. But this can never be said of the lives of the men told of in the Bible. They are evidently men like ourselves. They have known our misery, passed through our struggles, and often, like us, have had to bow their heads in repentance. By this single trait I recognize the book of God. Nothing but the guidance of the Spirit of truth could have held back these writers from glorifying their national heroes. Now, this psalm tells of one who undoubtedly was a believe, but nevertheless passed through doubt and knew all its bitterness. See--

I. What made asaph doubt. It was the sorrow Of those who feared God combined with the prosperity of the wicked. The spectacle of this world is a great school for unbelief, and makes more unbelievers than all the books of atheists. Instinctively we believe in the God of holiness and love; but when we look out into the world we cannot find Him. Fatality is what we see. In nature, for it cares neither for our prayers nor our tears. In history, for if now and then there seems to be a providential law therein, more often there is no trace of anything of the kind See the fate of those vast empires which for ever have passed away. In life: was not the old prophet deceived when he said he had never seen the righteous forsaken? How often our prayers are not heard. Fatalism is what the world teaches every hour. Antiquity was fatalistic, and so are our chief thinkers of to-day. What problems are brought before us by the sorrows that befall the godly. Poverty, sickness, injustice--this most unendurable of all.

II. What saved him from his doubt.

1. He believed in God, the God of his race and people. He came--and it is a blessed thing to come--of a holy race.

2. But he could not explain these problems. Human reason cannot. There are the mysteries, insoluble, of affliction; yet more of sin; and of the future life. Science has no answer for them.

3. But Asaph went into the sanctuary of God, and then he understood the end, the purpose of God in all this which the future alone, and not the short-lived present, can unfold. Now, Asaph saw God’s purpose in regard to the wicked, and his tone changed from bitterness to pity, as he thought of the “slippery places” in which they stood, and of the “destruction” which was their end. How all changes to our eyes when we consider things from God’s point of view. And he saw God’s purpose in regard to those who wait on Him and fear Him. Even now consolation, sweetness, peace are theirs. The meanest calling is invested with grandeur when God is served in it. Without doubt the struggles of God’s people have been terrible. But consider their end--“Nevertheless I am continually with thee.” Asaph has come out of the sanctuary, and his face is beaming; his tears are effaced. His look is brightened by a divine hope, and it is a song of thanks which comes from his lips. And so shall it be with all them whose trust is in Asaph’s God. (E. Bersier.)

The Asaph psalms

Here in the beginning of the third book of the Psalter we have eleven psalms which are grouped together as being Asaph’s psalms. Those psalms have very much of a common character and a common style; they are the production of some oriental Bacon, of some Tacitus of grace. They are obscure if you will, they are oracular, they are sententious, they are occasionally, it must be admitted, sublime. And, first of all, Asaph’s was no affected scepticism; Asaph was a real doubter. In a certain sense he may be looked upon as the St. Thomas of the Old Testament, but the doubt of St. Thomas, as we all know, was about a fact and about a dogma which underlay that fact--the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead--the doubt of Asaph was about the moral truth of the government of God, for the cause of his doubt about the goodness of God was the inequality of human society, the fatal injustice as it appears to some in the distribution of the good things of this life. It was the base and mean character of many of those who are the most tremendous winners in what seems to be the ignoble lottery sometimes of a successful life. These men did not repeatedly hear the summons of the grim sergeant, Death; they were not repeatedly dragged by chains; “there are no bands in their death;” that oppressive burden that lies on the rest of our suffering humanity--they seem for a time clean outside of it; they are not in trouble as other men. And then there comes the deterioration of character, the encompassing pride, being robed with violence; the fulfilment of the words of that fierce satire, “Their eyes stand out with fatness, they have more than their hearts can wish.” There are hearts and hearts, and they have all, more than all, that hearts like theirs can wish for. Now, the means of removing Asaph’s doubt we find to have been these four.

1. In the first place, there was his own spiritual life. If these haunting doubts about the goodness and the justice of God were real, if there was no good God in the heaven above, then his whole spiritual life was worthless. Well might he say in the thirteenth verse, if it were so, “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.”

2. And the second means of the removal of this doubt was the spiritual life of the children of God--“If I say I will speak thus, behold I should offend against the generation of Thy children”--he would be doing wrong to them, he would be breaking faith with the saints of God, who had lived this life upon earth and who had passed into the home beyond with this full faith.

3. Then a third means of removing this doubt we find in the closing part of the psalm (Psalms 73:23-28). The spiritual life is also an eternal life, an eternal life in God and with God. Now, this psalm might almost be marked as the great psalm of the Hebrew “Summum Bonum, The Highest Good.” We are told by St. Augustine that the ancient classical philosophy had worked out no less than two hundred and eighty-eight different views or solutions of the “Summum Bonum,” the highest good of man. It was, we have been told on great authority, a sort of scholastic theology of the Pagans, but here is Asaph’s view of the “Summum Bonum,” hero is the view of all the saints of God. How nobly the psalm begins! The prophet had long been encompassed about with the shadows of darkness and doubt. At last he looks upward and he says, “And yet, after all, God is good to Israel, even to those who are of a clean heart”; and as the psalm begins so it ends: “It is good for me to draw nigh unto God.” Take this in, take in the eternal life with God in the home above, take in that and no doubt will arise about the distribution of God’s good things, and we shall say with the psalmist: “So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee.”

4. And then the fourth means was this--it was a revelation in the sanctuary: “When I thought upon this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” All of us who love the Psalter have critical friends who tell us not to be too mystical in our views, not to think of Christ or Heaven in the psalms; but when they comment upon this verse they begin to turn mystical and say, “Think of some inward sanctuary in your mind, think of some place where you may be alone with God”; to which I only reply, “My literal friend, you must be literal here at all events.” The word unquestionably means the outward sanctuary of God, the visible sanctuary built up upon Mount Zion, the place upon which men walked with human feet, and listened with human ears. This was where Asaph learned to find the solution of his difficulty. (A. Alexander.)

A perplexing problem, and satisfactory solution

I. A perplexing problem. We live under the government of God, and His government extends to all persons, and all interests in every life. This is a fundamental fact. From what we know of the character of God as good and just, and seeing that He has power to carry out all His decisions, we might expect that in every instance virtue would be rewarded and vies would be punished. But, in observing the circumstances of men, this expectation is falsified. For a time, at least, some of the wicked prosper, and some of the righteous do not prosper, until bad men say, and good men are tempted to say in their depression and doubt, surely the sympathy of the Divine Ruler must be on the side of vies, the reins of government must have fallen out of His hands, and what ought to be an orderly creation is simply a chaos. Why is the life of many a good man embittered by the wickedness of his son, whilst the ungodly father in some instances is surrounded by the best children? Why is the breadwinner taken away when the family seem to need most the strength of his arm, the intelligence of his mind, and the influence of his example? Why is it that some of the beautiful and noble, full of intellectual and Christian promise, are out off in youth, whilst not a few of the stained and mean are allowed to drag their ignominy through a long, stained and dishonoured life? Why is it that sunshine and sorrow seem in so many eases to follow no rule of effort or desert? Ah! those are some of the dark riddles, the strange perplexities, of which many a life is full. Here we are confronted with a business problem. Now, nothing is more clear than that in worldly affairs the battle is not always to the strong. Whatever we may say in our conceit, worldly success does not always reflect commercial genius. It is surprising indeed with how little brains some business men succeed. They ought to succeed in business, for they exhaust themselves in the one supreme and strenuous effort of money-making, and have no time or taste for anything else. Some of the most shallow and superficial men I have met are men of this mould. Beecher said of such: “They resemble a pyramid, which is broad where it touches the ground, but grows narrower as it reaches the sky.” In saying this I do not wish it to be understood that the righteous man is less fit and likely to succeed in temporal affairs than the unrighteous. No, religion helps a man to get on in the world. Other things being equal in the man, that man who is honest, industrious and persevering is more likely to succeed than his neighbour, who may have the same natural ability, but no Christian principle. Undoubtedly religion quickens and expands the whole man, and fertilizes the wide area of life. A man who is formed, reformed, and informed by religion will do far more effectual work than the same man without religion. Another fact must also be borne in mind. Some good men, whom we like to hear sing and pray in the “sanctuary,” are not strong and smart at the “receipt of customs.” Business is not their forte. They are estimable men in their home and Church relations, but they lack the keenness, suspicion, alertness, push, and enterprise so greatly necessary in these days of keen competition and quick movement. One can easily see why some easy, confiding, unsuspicious men who do not adapt themselves to certain changed conditions in business do not succeed. The wonder would be if they did. But baying said this, we all know worthy men who comply with the conditions Of worldly success, and are even then disadvantaged, kept down and back by the greedy, avaricious worldlings, with whom they do not and cannot compete in certain questionable and wicked practices. Some are too delicately fibred, too considerate of justice, generosity, handsome behaviour, too Scripturally conscientious to chord in practice with those who do not scruple at lying advertisements, fictitious capital, adulterated articles. And so they secretly and silently suffer in mind and state. They are beaten and baffled, not simply by the greedy and gigantic monopolies, which appear to be the order of the day, but by the positive wrong-doing of the unscrupulous, who will have gain by means fair or foul. And so it is in my pastoral round, I have seen the good man--a struggling tradesman “fretting” because of evil-doers, “envious” against the “workers of iniquity.”

1. It tries his trust. It is easy to trust God when the “cup runneth over.” But it is very hard for a man with an ill-stocked larder, and an ill-furnished wardrobe, to lean his whole weight upon God.

2. It proves his zeal. “Money is a defence.” The rich man is protected by earthworks against much that beats pitilessly and cruelly upon the poor man.

3. It tests his humility. To retrench the pleasant superfluities of life, to abridge his sphere of usefulness, to curtail his gifts, to live in a smaller house, to miss his name from the subscription list, to rank among the unfortunates and be quiet--all this goes against the grain of a spirited, mettled man, who, although poor, is still a man of desire and ambition.

4. It taxes patience. Baffled and utterly bewildered, there are sad moments when the tempted Christian says he cannot understand the Divine dealings with him.

II. A satisfactory solution. For a moment Asaph’s conscience wavered, for a time giddiness seized him. How is it he did not fall into the abyss? Asaph believed in God. He could not after all believe in chance. That was the saving thought. Like a ship swinging at anchor, he swayed about by the ebb and the flow of the tide, but he did not drift from his moorings. What was it that wrought the vast change in the psalmist? It was going into the house of God. This is the Divinely-appointed place where God graciously answers those who are perplexed and pained, and who kneel, saying, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” The judicial faculty to weigh things, to take a calm survey of the entire situation, needs stillness and retreat. It is here, in the sanctuary, we see the relationship of this brief and broken life on earth to the wide, boundless kingdom of the eternal. Wait calmly until the clouds roll by. Said Dr. Dixon, “It is in the nature of a cloud to pass away.” Possess your soul in patience, and, amid the sweet silences and kindling visions of the sanctuary, you shall change your murmur to a psalm. Revelation reconciles, if it does not explain, by telling us that there is a magnificent future, veiled, but certain, for which present inequalities and seeming injustices are the necessary, the suitable, the merciful preparation. You are now moving in the twilight, but it is the morning twilight, to be followed by the glory of eternity, when all these tangled things shall be smoothed out, and the vexed things of earth made plain in the light of heaven. (G. Woodcock.)

The goodness of God to Israel

I. The description given of the people of God.

1. Their name.

2. Their character.

II. The considerations by which their interest in the Divine love may be proved.

1. By His Son He has saved them from hell.

2. By His Spirit He purifies them from sin.

3. By His providence He guides and guards them on earth.

4. At their death He receives them to heaven.

Lessons:

1. If the goodness of God to the true Israel be thus great, how great should be their confidence in Him, and the love with which they love Him in return!

2. Let the sinner so come and share with the Israel of God in the blessing described in the text. (Evangelical Preacher.)

Bad men in good circumstances, and a good man in a bad temper

I. Bad men in good circumstances. The bad men are described as the “foolish and the wicked.” Folly and wickedness are convertible terms. Sin is folly. Man sinning is man violating all the laws of reason, all the principles of true policy. Such are the bad characters before us, and they are found in good circumstances, they are in great prosperity. The material heavens shine on them, the earth yields up her fruit to gratify their every taste and to supply their every want. Providence pours into their lap those gifts which it denied the Son of God Himself.

II. A good man in a bad temper. Asaph, the supposed writer of this psalm, acknowledges that he was “envious” of these bad men who were living in good circumstances.

1. He was in an envious temper.

2. He was in a murmuring temper (Psalms 73:18).

3. A wrong opinion. The writer thought that it was “in vain.” Three facts show that this is a great mistake:

No; this cleansing the heart is no vain work. No engagement is so real and profitable. Every fresh practical idea of God is a rising in the scale of being and of bliss; every conquest over sense, appetite, and sin, is a widening and strengthening of our spiritual sovereignty; every devout sentiment, earnest resolve, and generous sacrifice attunes our hearts to higher music. (Homilist.)


Verse 2

Psalms 73:2

But am for me, my feet were almost gone: my steps had well nigh slipped.

Spiritual crises

The problems of human life and destiny pressed sore upon the mind of the good and thoughtful Asaph, the writer of this psalm. The story of his struggle and victory is here recorded.

I. The perilous crisis in a good man’s life. “My feet were,” etc. The sword is dropping from his nerveless hand, the shield from his grasp. His strength is ebbing fast. Now--

1. Such crises may arise from circumstances over which we have no control: and--

2. In the holiest lives.

II. The antecedent history of this crisis is disclosed (Psalms 73:3-4; Psalms 73:13, etc.).

1. Asaph had come to doubt of the Divine Sovereignty. “How doth God know?” If God were Sovereign, how could He let such wickedness be? He forgot the future retribution.

2. And the Divine Fatherhood.

3. And had endeavoured to extricate himself by the aid of human reason alone (Psalms 73:16).

4. This crisis was not an innocent one. Its root was unbelief.

III. The method of deliverance is revealed. “Until I went into the sanctuary” (Psalms 73:17). On which note--

1. The sanctuary is the best place for trembling faith. Because

2. The sanctuary is not necessarily any material edifice. Probably in this case it was. But every spot hallowed by heavenly intercourse is a sanctuary. Jacob’s stony temple; Peter’s housetop, etc. And even within the sanctuary it is the attitude of the mind, not the position of the body, which brings relief.

IV. A recipe of prevention is recorded. We have--

1. A confession of folly (Psalms 73:22).

2. An expression of confidence (Psalms 73:23).

3. An affirmation of trust (Psalms 73:24).

4. A testimony of gratitude (Psalms 73:28; Psalms 73:25). Therefore, learn--

Narrow escapes

The victorious general in the hour of triumph has not unfrequently reason be remember how nearly, through oversight or miscalculation, he had lost the day: a little more pressure on this wing or that, a trifling prolongation of the struggle, a few minutes’ further delay in the arrival of reinforcements--and his proud banner had been dragged in the dust. The pilot guiding his barque safely into port sometimes knows how through lack of seamanship he nearly made shipwreck. The successful merchant remembers crises in his history when he found himself on the brink of ruin, when the last straw only was wanting to precipitate the catastrophe. And like narrow escapes occur in the spiritual life.

I. The occasions of our peril.

1. Our soul is sometimes in imminent danger from unbelief. Many of God’s people find their faith severely tried, and hardly endure the trial. We have perhaps been exercised on the Divine existence, or we doubted the Divine Word. Sometimes these doubts have been pressed upon us from the outside by the disciples and literature of scepticism, at other times suggested by our own experience; and our soul fluttered in the fowler’s net.

2. At other seasons our special danger has arisen from worldliness. The most spiritual of God’s people may perchance remember when their heart was all but absorbed by the secular--the inner man forgotten in the outer, the eternal in the temporary, the love of the Father in the love of the world. Little by little we yielded to the authority of worldly maxims, to the tyranny of worldly interests, to the indulgences of worldly society and pleasure. Prayer became infrequent and unreal; the house of God was neglected; the Scriptures lost their relish; the family altar was dropping stone by stone into the dust.

3. Again, our peril has been actual immorality. How nearly betrayed by passion, appetite, covetousness, pride: the partition thin between us and the fallen.

II. The lessons of our deliverance.

1. Thankfulness. Great is our debt of gratitude to Him who renders our venial errors innocuous, who sustains us as we unwittingly step on slippery place or giddy brink; who delivers us from our inexperience, short-sightedness and frailty, not permitting our infirmity to work its natural issue of woe.

2. Humiliation. When we remember the fulness of light, the strength of motive, the richness of grace against which we sinned and brought ourselves into jeopardy, we may justly be humbled.

3. Caution. Narrow escapes gender presumption in foolish men, but the wise are admonished.

4. Sympathy. Having so narrowly escaped condemnation, we must think kindly and hopefully of those who went a little further, only a little further, and fell; having been so nearly run over, we must think tenderly of those who are carried to the hospital.

5. Consecration to God. Where a Christian is ever stumbling and slipping there is a real weakness of character, a deep defect of mind or heart or will, a central lack of balance and force. What such of us need is to come to the psalmist’s conclusion--complete, final devotion to God. Let us thus yield ourselves to God, and these humiliating, dangerous episodes we shall know no more. Let us dwell in the sanctuary. Every visit to the throne purges our vision, refreshes our soul, renews our strength. In communion with God we find the secret grounds of God’s ways, and become able to await calmly and hopefully the solution of all painful problems. Worship, too, fills the soul with spiritual images and forces, preserving from the insidious en-croachments of worldliness. And, faithful to our priestly privilege and purity, we shrink from contact with the unclean thing. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Faith--its peril and rescue

I. When was the faith of the psalmist endangered?

1. When he “saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

2. When he observed the apparent desertion of the righteous. The adversity of the saints was more mysterious than the prosperity of the wicked.

II. Why was the faith of Asaph imperilled? Faith is designed for times of darkness, distress, etc. Job declared, “Though He slay me, yet,” etc.

1. The psalmist has a wrong spirit. “I was envious,” etc. Our opinions are affected by our moods. Envy impaired the judgement and blurred the spiritual vision of Asaph.

2. The psalmist had narrow views. We are apt to express our opinions as if we understood all events and could compass all time.

III. The rescue of faith.

1. Through holy influences. “I went into the sanctuary”--the place nearest God.

2. Through clearer views, “Then understood I their end.” As we trace, on the other hand, the closing chapters in the lives of Joseph, Daniel and others, apparent discrepancies fade away.

3. Faith becomes more vigorous than before. He not only was satisfied but jubilant: “Whom have I in heaven but Thee,” etc.

Lessons:

1. Guard against judging by appearances, or from imperfect data.

2. Trust where it is difficult to trace infinite love.

3. Faith rests, questionings are silenced, when the soul is nearer to God. (John Love.)


Verse 3

Psalms 73:3

I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

A popular fallacy exposed

The position I wish to lay down is this:--that the condition of the godly poor even in this world, is far superior to that of the ungodly rich. Public sentiment, I am aware, is against this doctrine; hence the universal struggle to be rich. Hence, too, the popular disregard of goodness as goodness, and the almost contempt for it if found in connection with poverty. Hence the current cant in some districts of the religious world that God’s “dear people “ have the worst portion in this life; that as a rule their situation here is not comparable to that of those who forget God.

I. The wealth of the one is in his hand; that of the other in his heart.

1. The one is of contingent value; the other is of absolute worth.

2. The one is essentially virtuous; the other is not.

3. The one is essentially a blessing; the other often a bane.

4. The one is alienable; the other is not.

II. The greatness of the one is in his circumstances; that of the other in his soul.

1. The one is respected for what he has; the other for what he is.

2. The respect rendered to the one is in proportion to the low state of moral education among the people; not so with the other.

III. The happiness of the one is from without; that of the other is from within.

1. The happiness that springs from without is sensational; the other spiritual.

2. The happiness that springs from without is selfish; the other generous.

3. The happiness that springs from without decreases; the other is ever heightening. (Homilist.)

Our wealth is proportionate to our content

Our incomes should be like our shoes; if too small they will gall and pinch us, but if too large they will cause us to stumble and trip. Wealth, after all, is a relative thing, since he that has little and wants less is richer than he that has much and wants more. True contentment depends not upon what we have, but upon what we would have. A tub was large enough for Diogenes, but a world was too little for Alexander. (The Quiver.)


Verse 4

Psalms 73:4

For there are no bands in their death.

No bands in the death of the wicked

I. Their minds are occupied exclusively with the things of a present world (Philippians 3:19).

1. Habits.

2. Tastes.

3. Wants.

II. The conscience and heart, then, exemplify the effect of long-continued resistance to the Gospel.

1. The natural effect.

2. The judicial effect.

3. This produced by the abuse of abundant mercy.

III. The moral character of God is grossly misapprehended.

1. It is with God they have to do.

2. Did they apprehend His character, infinitely holy and just.

3. They have an idol in His place.

IV. The nature of the law by which they are to be tried and judged is not understood.

V. There is generally an extreme ignorance as to the nature of the salvation which is offered in the gospel. (J. Stewart.)

Bands in death

I. Let us see what are some of the bands of death, the sufferings of the Christian at his departure, that we may realize more fully this seeming freedom and tranquillity of the wicked. Need we say that death, when seriously looked at, is always terrible? Consider that religion teaches men to be far more jealous of themselves, and to think far more deeply and correctly of judgment and of eternity than others do. At death the books are made up, our fate sealed irrevocably. There is also the sense of the holiness of God, before whom he must so soon appear, with the eager desire that he had served Him in his day and generation with all tenderness of conscience, and a consequently painful sense of shortcomings and offences.

II. The freedom of the wicked.

1. The quietness and peacefulness of the death-bed of a wicked man, without the agony of remorse, without bitter self-chiding and awful presentiments of judgment and eternity, may tell the same tale that the violence, the pride, the cruelty, the rashness, the unrestrained licentiousness of his life did.

2. The placid death-bed of the wicked, without a groan, or pain, or fetter, without regrets or murmurs, is sometimes welcomed by him in his stolidity and ignorance as a happy escape from some disappointment or trouble.

3. The wicked shall be freed from bands in their death, if, by the temptations of Satan, they have been led to presume on that mercy from God which they have never sought.

4. They have no bands in their death, because of its utter suddenness and unexpectedness. This busy present, these manifold wants, and cravings, and indulgences, these strong drinks that deaden the soul, and their over-mastering passions of a life of brief rule over others, of vengeance, of rivalry, of tyranny, of temporary renown and influence--oh, how they succeed in banishing the thought of death while yet the vigour of life is full in veins and body! (G. B. Blake, M. A.)


Verse 5-6

Psalms 73:5-6

They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.

The mercy of a changeful life

In the first verse a fact is stated; in the second verse an inference is drawn; and our business will lie with the showing you that the inference is just, The stated fact is, that the wicked have less of trouble than other men--and this fact we shall assume without any endeavour to prove; the inference which the psalmist drew was, that on this account, on account of their comparative exemption from tribulation and the changes and chances of life, the wicked remain the wicked--“compassed with pride as a chain, and covered with violence as a garment.” And here therefore is the principle, which we shall endeavour to exhibit and establish;--namely, that continuance in wickedness is a natural consequence of exemption from trouble. You have the same principle announced in other portions of Scripture; so that we shall not be building on a solitary passage, in laying before you an important topic (Jeremiah 48:11; Psalms 55:1). We are well aware, that so natural is the desire for prosperity, and the aversion from the trials and changes of life/ that we may expect to have prejudices and inclinations arrayed against us, as we attempt to make good the position derivable from our text; but nevertheless, the cases we shall have to describe are so common, and the reasons we shall have to advance so simple, that we may calculate on obtaining the assent of the understanding, if not on overcoming the repugnance of the heart.

I. And we shall perhaps best compass our design by endeavouring to show you, in the first place, the tendencies of a state in which there are no adverse changes. We may not hesitate be affirm of prosperity that it is far harder to bear than adversity. We may apply to it the remarkable words of Solomon in reference to praise: “As the fining-pot for silver, and the furnace for gold, so is a man to his praise.” As though he had said, that praise as much tries a man, and detects what is in him, as the fire of the furnace the metals submitted to its alchemy. You will occasionally meet with cases in which there appear to have been few or none of the thwartings of what is called Fortune; whatsoever has been undertaken has succeeded, and the individuals have worn all the aspect of being the favourites of some overruling power, with whom it rested to dispense the good and the evil of life. And where there has not been from the first a course of unbroken prosperity, there will often set in a sudden tide of success, and the man is borne along year after year on the waters of this tide, with no storms to retard him, and no rocks to endanger. This is far enough from uncommon, especially in a commercial community. But with such men attachment to earthly things grows with their acquirement; and if not impossible it is a thing of extraordinary rareness and difficulty to have the affections fixed on things above whilst the hands are uninterruptedly busied with sweeping together perishable riches. The man who is never made uneasy upon earth, is naturally almost sure to take it as his home, and to settle himself down as though it were never to be left. Thus the reasons are plain and convincing, not to be easily overlooked nor controverted, which go to the proving of prosperity, that it has a tendency to keep men at a distance from God. Undoubtedly the grace of God, mighty at overcoming every obstacle to conversion and every impediment to piety, may enable a man, under circumstances the least favourable to religious improvement, to seek and to know “the things which belong to his peace”; but we now speak only of the natural and direct tendencies of prosperity, allowing that they may indeed be counteracted, though not perhaps without some more special assistances, than we are ordinarily warranted in expecting from above.

II. Now, in thus showing the dangerous tendencies of an unbroken prosperity, we have in a measure also shown you the beneficial results of change and calamity; but the advantageousness of “being in trouble as other men,” of “being plagued like other men,” is too important a truth to be dismissed as a mere inference from what we have already established. We wish, therefore, now, to give ourselves to the separate consideration of this second truth: the truth, that it is the direct tendency of adverse changes in our circumstances to make us more attentive to religious duties, and more earnest in seeking those things which God promises to His people. We remark, in the first place, that change admonishes us of the transitory nature of terrestrial good. Exactly in proportion as calamity is deferred, confidence is strengthened; and if evil be slow in coming, men easily persuade themselves that it will never come. If for many years there have been no eruption of the volcano, from whose outbreak the peasantry had fled with every demonstration of terror, cottages will again be built around the treacherous mountain, and the smiling gardens clustered on its side; but if the cottages were swept away year after year by fresh descents of the fiery flood, we may be sure that the peasants, however attached to the place, would be finally wrought up to the abandoning it altogether, and seeking a home in some more secure, if less lovely place. And it may be, that with some of you the chain still binds, and the garment is still worn, because “they are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other folk.” Then may the Almighty God send them trouble! Come anything rather than indifference, and apathy, and carnal security; anything, rather than that settling down of the soul in earthly comforts and entanglements, in which there is no disturbance, till from it there is no escape. (H. Melvill, B. D.)


Verse 10

Psalms 73:10

Therefore His people return hither, and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.

The full cup for Christ and His people

It is great comfort to meet amid the many references to the ungodly the mention of the people of God. But in the text he tells the sad truth that, owing to what they saw of the prosperity of the ungodly, many of “His people”--God’s people--return hither, that is, to the same unhappy place of doubt and unbelief where his own feat had well nigh slipped. It is disreputable ground for a Christian, but many of them have been found there. Observe, then, the following three things, which are set forth in my text: first, the holy and honourable household specified as “His people”; second, their usual experience--“a cup, a full cup, waters of a full cup wrung out to them.” And then, in the third place, we will glance at the pattern and contrast all of this in the cup of Christ. (Joseph Irons.)


Verse 12-13

Psalms 73:12-13

Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.

Paganized Christianity

The trouble with us is that in our everyday life we do not make our faith vital enough. We bring the ways of the world into the Church, instead of taking the ways of the Church into the world. We find doubt, and temptation, and difficulty, and sin at the very threshold of our being, and we try to drive these foes out of our nature by the weapons which we find lying scattered around us in our mixed social life, instead of rising to the height of our privilege and our calling aa followers of Christ and children of our Father in heaven.

I. The common weapon of our moral life is duty--the sense of our moral obligation to a principle of right which is ruling us. It is a grand principle; it brings forth great moral results, but it is not the highest motive in the armoury of character. It is like the sure and faithful study of the primary school, which acts as a strong basis for the after education to rest upon. But the primary school can never be the university, and the mere sense of duty can never bring out of your nature the highest results of which you are capable A sense of duty is fine in a son and in a father, in a wife and in a husband; but there are higher motives in human nature than this primary motive of duty, and these higher motives bring about the higher results. A sense of duty is a fine element in an artist, in a poet, in a musician; but you know perfectly well that any genius, any nature with a soul and with a great executive capacity, will scorn this rudimentary germ of motive power. It is a primary motive; it is an clementary principle. It is like the ruled copy book to the child who is trying to write; it is like the transparent slate to the child who is learning to draw. You make use of it; you are trained and developed by it, and then you pass it by; it has done its formative work in the matter of your education.

II. The other motive is faith--grasp upon God--the privilege of service--the faculty of spiritual apprehension. We do our duty to believe in God: we believe in God, and as a result of this we do our duty. After all that we may say about it in the brisk and brilliant intellection of our younger days, a living God is better than an uncertain conscience; privilege is always a higher motive than duty, and the grasp of your nature upon divine things through the faculty of spiritual apprehension will be a surer and more intuitive guide than your hastily gathered deductions from the decalogue. Over our fears, over our failures, over our shortcomings and wrongdoings, the borrowed light of duty will at times be powerless to force its way. But the cry of the rejoicing prophet of old, as with a new belief in the God of their fathers the captives came back from the land of their exileship, will again and again be realized with us as we stand face to face with the hard problem put before us--“Who art thou, O great mountain?” etc. If you live for earth, for gain, for pleasure, or for self, you may gain your end, but you will lose your very soul. But if God is a reality, if the spiritual life has any meaning to you, if beneath all the rubbish of dogma and cant in religion, you get your feet once upon that rock which is the Rock of Ages--God above us--God in us--God in Christ--God in human life--God in immortality--then that instinct of the awakened soul, that hunger of the spiritual nature for the Being who created it, will generate its own motive power--a power fourfold greater than the mere sense of duty--and the problems of life which before had been too hard for you will be made easy when, like this far-off, honest doubter of our psalm to-day, you see the meaning of life as by a flash, when you stand in the presence, not of duty merely, but in the presence of God! (W. W. Newton.)

The prosperity of the wicked no argument against God’s providence

I. The prosperity of the ungodly, which the good man is grieved at seeing, is a mere illusion of fancy, when no such thing as happiness doth really attend them. The emptiness of worldly good, and its utter insufficiency to answer the endless cravings of our several desires, betray themselves in nothing more, than in that general imagination which seems to haunt all orders of men amongst us, that if they had somewhat which they have not, somewhat which they see others have, and fancy themselves to want, all would be well and easy with them; when yet those others are not more easy than themselves, but are teased with the same incurable imagination, the same dissatisfaction for want of somewhat which they have not, or for some unpleasing circumstance in what they have, which spoils their relish of all the entertainment they can find in life.

II. Divers considerations, which may clear the providence of God from all reproach and misconstruction in it.

1. It is fit and reasonable that some room should he left for the operations of faith, for the trials of virtue, and for liberty of action; all which ends would be defeated if the punishment of sin did in every instance immediately attend it.

2. Without such an interposal from the hand of Providence, as, for the reasons just given, would be improper and inconvenient, the sinner must and will have his chances in the scramble of life, must and will secure to himself more than a common share in the felicities of fortune.

3. Our present state is designed not so much for retribution as for trial; and consequently what best answers to the latter purpose is the fittest portion for us. Now, the ends of trial may be consulted as effectually in a station of prosperity as in a post of adversity; since each hath its proper temptations cleaving to it, which, upon proof, may exemplify the firmness or weakness of our several virtues. And in all reason and decency it ought to be presumed that the great Searcher of hearts is the fittest judge which of the two conditions is most likely to approve them.

4. It follows, as a certain consequence from the promiscuous distribution of adversity and prosperity in this present life, that there must and will be a life beyond it, in which the righteousness of our holy Judge will perfectly clear up the honour of His government, and signalize His never-failing regard to His laws. (N. Marshall, D. D.)


Verse 13

Psalms 73:13

Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.

Trust and trouble

The innocent suffer with the guilty, often suffer for them, that so the guilty, spared, may be led by God’s goodness to repentance; to be helpful in such a ministry is an abundant recompense for all its pain. This the Gospel teaches us; it tells us that we have not “cleansed our hearts in vain, and washed our hands in innocency”; for that the fellowship of the righteous Saviour is the fellowship of the Man of Sorrows. But it brings us face to face with deeper mysteries than those which it solves. If we ask the reason of this--why God has so constituted the world as that all this is true; if we are not content with seeing how God acts, but want to know the reason, then there is no answer for us. We can do nothing but wait and trust. God is doing for us in the Gospel what He did for Asaph in the sanctuary; He is bringing us to trust in Him. He is confirming our faith, enlarging our conceptions of His righteousness, calling us to a broader view of His counsel, deepening our confidence that He is good. There is no mystery in life so dark but we can bear it, if only we are persuaded that God is pursuing His purpose in it. Let us consider, then--

I. How forgetfulness of God leads us to chafe under the painful dispensations of human life (Psalms 73:8). No doubt Asaph was perfectly familiar with the pious sayings in which the experience of the godly is gathered up and afterwards repeated by others. Doubtless he could have talked as sagely as we about the prosperity of the wicked being transient, of the Lord’s loving whom He chastens, and scourging every son whom He receives. But the feebleness of his hold upon these truths is seen in that he cannot bear their actual sight. When he “sees” the prosperity of the foolish; when he marks their pride and self-complacency, that seem to laugh his lowly trust in God to scorn; then he finds that his maxims do not serve him much, he gives way to envy of them. He needs more than maxims, however sage. It is the actual stress of life, contact with all its hard and trying realities, that tests our faith. We can talk well about God’s favour being our chief joy. But can we bear to “see” the prosperity of the wicked while we ourselves are in adversity? That is the real test and strain. Notice, too, how envy grows into self-righteousness. “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain.” Such words suggest that the man is pretty well satisfied with himself, because he is free front blame. And Psalms 73:10-14 show deep distrust in God, as well as flippant self-satisfaction. It suggests, “We good men ought not to be treated thus, we are not being dealt with righteously.” They even venture to ask, “Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Does God Almighty know what He is doing? This is what is meant. Asaph is startled when he sees where the speculation he has begun is leading him. Hence he says, “If I say, I will speak thus, behold I should offend against,” etc.

II. Notice some considerations which may help us to trust that God is good in ordaining for us the painful dispensations of human life. Perhaps we could not have borne prosperity. When Asaph went into the sanctuary of God and saw the end of the wicked, he learned that they had been “set in slippery places,” that the “pride” which “compassed them about as a chain,” that their “having more than heart could wish,” had but sealed them up against the day of “desolation,” and the “terrors” that should “utterly consume” them. Because they were prosperous, they were self-confident, and their self-confidence was their destruction. And then there opens upon him an awful vision of what prosperity might have done for him. With the memory of his sinful murmuring upon him, he feared that he might have grown sinfully proud. The heart which tribulation had grieved would have been hardened by prosperity. So “foolish” was he, and “ignorant” in his adversity, “as a beast before God”; what would he have been if he had known no trouble? Then think, how hopeless would be the restoration of the wicked, which the Gospel bids us hope for, and not for their destruction, if all the sufferings of life were apportioned to them, and the righteous were never troubled. They would be consciously and irrevocably doomed, and they would sink into worse despair. It is to save them from this end that God does them good: He would “spare” them, that so “His goodness may lead them to repentance”; He would save them from the hopeless agony of seeing themselves already condemned. It is the grace of God that restores the ungodly, not His punishments. And then let us look on Christ--what a life was His! Trouble, anguish, and at the end the Cross. And yet He was God’s well-beloved Son. Would we not be with Him? God has better things for His children than prosperity. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

A right act but a wrong opinion

I. Here is a right act. Cleansing the heart and washing the hands mean the cultivation of personal holiness; and this is certainly a right work for man. It implies three things:--

1. The consciousness of personal defilement.

2. The possession of a cleansing element.

3. The effort of personal application. Moral evil is the defilements--Christianity is the cleansing element--and practical faith is the personal application.

II. Here is a wrong opinion. The writer thought that it was “in vain.” Three facts show that this is a great mistake:--

1. That moral holiness involves its own reward.

2. That moral holiness is pro-meted by temporal adversity.

3. That moral holiness will meet with its perfect recompense hereafter.

No; this cleansing the heart is no vain work. No engagement is so real and profitable. Every fresh practical idea of God is a rising in the scale of being and of bliss; every conquest over sense, appetite, and sin, is a widening and strengthening of our spiritual sovereignty; every devout sentiment, earnest resolve, and generous sacrifice attunes our natures to higher music. (Homilist.)


Verses 15-28

Psalms 73:15-28

If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of Thy children.

Searching and finding relief in the right direction

. Searching for relief in the right direction (Psalms 73:16-17) He went where the mind of God was to be met with, where he obtained such ideas from the great Fountain of wisdom as calmed his agitation and solved his difficulties. Whenever God speaks to us, whether in providential events, or in the works of nature, or in sacred writings, or in the dictates of our own consciences, it must be in some place, and that place is a sanctuary. To go into this sanctuary, is simply to put our minds in a reverent, praying, waiting attitude.

II. Finding relief in the right direction.

1. New light came (Psalms 73:17). The condition of the wicked.

2. New inspiration came. New confidence in God.

The problem of suffering

A great preacher has reminded us of a truism that we are all in danger of forgetting, namely, how very old our difficulties are, that there is really very little of novelty about them. We are apt to think that they are new, that no one has ever faced the problems with which we are confronted; that human life at no period of its history has been crowded with problems and perplexities as it is crowded for us to-day. But all the time there is really very little of novelty about them. When the cry goes up, “It is too hard for me,” what can religion say? “Until I went into the sanctuary of God”--that is what religion says.

1. To believe in God is to believe in His purpose; it is to be absolutely certain that there is a golden cord somewhere running through the history of the world, running through the story of my own personal life, often hidden, sometimes emerging, but continually there, the eternal purpose of God. If I am sure there is a purpose, though I have not found it yet, I can afford to wait if there is anything to be waited for. I can understand how the very waiting, the very imperfection of my knowledge, the very impossibility of explaining things to me as yet, may be invaluable to me, develop powers m me that will best enable me to see the light when it comes.

2. The man who prays, apart altogether from the answer to his prayer, prays humbly, feelingly, perhaps with moral consciousness, in the very act of prayer is calming his spirit, accumulating strength, exercising his highest powers in the highest way. “As He prayed He was transfigured.” And the man who worships, without much thought of edification perhaps, in the very act of worship is realizing his dependence on his God, educating his whole nature.

3. The sense of immortality was borne in on him in the sanctuary of God. “Man doth not live by bread alone.” The whole place rang with echoes of that cry. Those lives that were in his thought, those inequalities that troubled him, that suffering that was so undeserved, that prosperity that was so basely won--how small they all look beside that endless life of which the sanctuary spoke to him. God has a larger scheme than he has ever dreamt of, a vaster vision of prosperity a loftier standard of happiness--“then understood! the end of these men.” The idea of consecration. The sanctuary of God! It speaks of a separate place, a hallowed house of men and things consecrated to the service of God. Do you remember that splendid picture, the vision of St. John, the crowned ones of the earth bringing their crowns and flinging them down before the throne? What were those crowns? Surely the completions, the highest developments of the power and the talent with Which God had endowed them. That is the picture of the future. But, tell me, may it not be the picture of to-day? Surely, it makes the grandeur of one’s work when you dedicate your work. Those crowned ones were never so crowned as when they cast their crowns before the throne. It makes the value of their work. Everything is valuable, but for what, for whom is that work done? It lights up the whole career, it makes failure more bearable, success more sweet. It is all for God, it is brought into His sanctuary; we cast our crowns before Him. (Bp. F. E. Ridgeway.)

Doubt

The most intelligent among believers themselves have, as a rule, known painfully what doubt is, and have even built up their newer and better faith upon the ruins of the old. If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for faith. Doubt is simply the power to see the negative side of things of which faith is the power to see the positive side. No believer who knows what he is talking about claims that everything is clear. What believers do claim, in all the great questions between faith and unbelief, is that the reasons for unbelief are outweighed by the reasons for faith, and that if faith has its difficulties, unbelief has more. And they claim this also, that while allowing to the full the force of the agnostic question, “Who hath known the mind of the Lord?” all that we practically need to know of God for the imperious necessities of life and duty and redemption has been adequately revealed in Jesus Christ. And as we admit that there is room for doubt, let us further admit that the ministry of doubt has often played a beneficent part in the progress of men’s knowledge of truth and their advance from a lower to a higher faith. God as often speaks to us through the chill silences of doubt as when the whole air around us is musical with the voices of faith. Hence the saying that the doubters of “one generation are the believers of the next.” The great movements of thought in science, in philosophy, in religion, have invariably begun in scepticism as to the finality of the movements which went before them. True, as Carlyle says, scepticism is not an end, but a beginning. But you must have the beginning before you can have the end. Let us distinctly understand, however, that the doubt which deserves sympathy, and which God often uses as a stepping-stone by which a man may pass to a nobler faith, is doubt that rests on intellectual grounds, not on moral, or, rather, immoral grounds. That was the kind of doubt which the psalmist had. He assures us he had cleansed his heart, and washed his hands in innocency. His doubts were those of a good man, who was earnestly trying to live a pure and upright life. Now, supposing that a man is really and truly striving to be a good man, pure in thought, devout in heart, upright in life, spiritual in his views of things, and yet is troubled with grave and bewildering doubts, what is he to do? Several things; but the one thing which I have both time and desire to emphasize now, is this--he should keep his doubts to himself. That was what the psalmist did. He felt that, if he had not done so, if he had gone about instilling them into other minds, and suggesting to them difficulties they probably did not feel, he would have been acting treacherously towards God’s children and his own brethren. Treacherously! No, more than that--devilishly! It is the serpent in Genesis who insinuates doubt. It is the Mephistopheles in Faust who is the spirit that denies. “Don’t tell me your doubts,” said Goethe wisely, “tell me your certainties; I’ve doubts enough of my own.” Be sure of this--that the most serious moral injury you can do to your brother-man is in any way to undermine his religious faith, unless you have a higher one to offer him in place of it, or to weaken his sense of the sacred imperiousness of the moral law. It involves, first of all, the man’s loss of what even sceptics themselves admit to be, and what believers know from experience to be, the noblest and fullest source of the moral strength we all need for successful resistance of the assaults of temptation and of sin. What is the meaning of human brotherhood, if there be no Divine Father, if there be no Christ in whom humanity is summed up and perfected, crowned and glorified? Then, secondly, loss of faith involves, as a rule, loss of courage to do and bear in this human life of ours. It is a common saying, but it is very true, that ages of faith are strong and heroic ages, and ages of scepticism ages of weakness and decay. And what is true of ages is true also of individuals. Look abroad upon the world to-day, and everywhere you will find that it is believers who are foremost in the ranks of those who are toiling self-denyingly for the real progress of our race. And the reason of this is clear. You know how the companies that supply us here in London with water build lofty towers at their pumping-stations. Why? Because it is a law of nature that water will not rise above its own level. And so, if the cisterns at the top of our houses are to be supplied with water, a column of the fluid must be forced at the pumping-stations to a height higher than that of the highest houses where the water is to come. In the same way, if we are to be inspired to holy and loving activity for the good of others, we must draw our inspiration from a source higher than ourselves. Life for man must flow from life in God. We can give to others only as we receive from Him. And though I don’t by any means deny that there are to-day many men and women who are doing noble service in the field of philanthropy without any profession of religious faith, this is rather in spite of their lack of faith than because of it. What they would gain in joy, in inspiration, in a sense of support in their work, if they had this faith, may be proved from the experience of those who, with labour for man, join belief in Christ and God. So much for the influence of faith as regards doing. And as for its influence as regards bearing--bearing pain and loss, grief and trial--can you find anywhere such a source of resignation and comfort and hope as in the conviction of God’s changeless love and unerring wisdom, in the feeling of the tender and sustaining sympathy of the Divine Man of Sorrows? Our very tears glisten in the sunlight of God’s smile. The Cross of Jesus has turned the bitter waters of suffering into a fountain of health and life. (Henry Varley.)


Verse 16-17

Psalms 73:16-17

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

The rectifying influence of the sanctuary

It is not perfectly clear what is here meant by “the sanctuary of God”; literally it means “the holies of God.” A few would understand it in the first sense as designating “the righteous plans of God’s government,” or “the secret grounds of his dealings with men”; while others would take it, in the second sense, as denoting “the eternity where God dwells as in a holy place.” But to me it seems self-evident that by “going into the sanctuary of God,” in this seventeenth verse, the primary reference of the term must be to the temple, which was the earthly residence of God and the place where He communed with His people. Asaph had been greatly disturbed by the anomalies which were continually occurring in the world around him. But by the revelation made in the sanctuary, through sacrifice and symbol, he was enabled so to grasp anew the truth that God is righteous, and so to appropriate the God of the mercy-seat as his own God as to find there the compensation for all his privations and the solvent for all his perplexities. But under the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ is the true antitype of the temple, and therefore, when by faith we enter into Him, we have the true corrective influence, by which we are able to rectify the false judgments of the world, and to preserve our faith amid all the doubts and difficulties that the course of things suggests. See this in--

I. Christ’s estimate of wealth. Men think it the supreme good. But Christ bids us care only to be rich toward God.

II. Of greatness. He makes it to consist in service.

III. Success. In a Christian’s daily business he is thrown continually among those who consider that the laws of his Lord are fanatical, or impracticable, and who tell him that if he is determined to act upon them, he may as well make up his mind to be defeated in the race of competition. More than that, his observation convinces him that as things now are their assertion is largely true; and so, as the days go on, he is in danger of being lowered to their level. But the Sabbath comes, and he enters into the sanctuary, where he is confronted with God, and then and thereby all the webs of sophistry that his fellow-men have spun are swept away as easily as one brushes from his path the gossamer of the morning. During the week the consciences even of the best among us have been more or less affected by things immediately around us, so that we are in danger of making serious mistakes in our life voyage. But here Christ comes to us and gives us our “true bearings,” as they are in the standard of His Word, undisturbed by any earthly or metallic influences, and so the needful rectifications may be made by us and we may start out afresh. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The faculty of judgment

Let us think of the presence of God as the school of a right judgment, of communion with God as the means of growth in that high grace whereby frail, erring men may come to view with some justice of insight the movements and controversies, the hopes and fears, the promises and opportunities and dangers of tim age in which they have to play their part.

I. How rare a thing is any high degree of the faculty of judgment. It may be, perhaps, more common than the very finest forms of literary or artistic excellence; but it is surely rarer than such a measure of genius as suffices to secure a recognized place among the poets or painters of a generation. There are more men whose works one can praise than there are whose judgment one can trust. There are many, indeed, whose decision on any point within the sphere of their especial business or study we, from outside that sphere, may gratefully accept as not likely to be bettered for some while. And even in regard to the conduct of life, in the sphere of judgment, there are many whose counsel it would be impossible to set aside without uneasiness or distress, many whom we must feel to be incomparably wiser judges than ourselves, many who will always enable us to see, more justly than by ourselves we could see, some aspect of a case. But there are very, very few from whom we get that higher, deeper, broader help which it is the prerogative of true excellence in judgment to bestow; help to discern, through the haste and insistence of the present, what is its real meaning and its just demand; help to give due weight to what is reasonable, however unreasonably it may be stated or defended; help to reverence alike the sacredness of a great cause and the sacredness of each individual life, to adjust the claims of general rules and special equity; help to carry with one conscientiously, on the journey towards decision, all the various thoughts that ought to tell upon the issue; help to keep consistency from hardening to obstinacy, and common sense from sinking into time-serving; help to think out one’s duty as in a still, pure air, sensitive to all true signs and voices of this world, and yet unshaken by its storms. Yes, it is rare indeed, such help, and one’s whole heart goes up to God in thanks and praise for those with whom one finds it; and it is as they are taken from one that something like the chill of autumn falls on life, and the real severity, the trial and strain of it, is felt, in deepening loneliness and silent fears.

II. It hardly can seem strange that excellence in judgment is thus rare if we go on to think of the manifold discipline that it needs.

1. Even physical conditions tend at least to tell on it, and most of us may have to own that there are days on which we know that we had better distrust the view we take of things. It is good counsel that a man should, if he has the chance, reconsider after his holiday any important decision that he was inclined to make just before it; that he should appeal from his tired to his refreshed self; and men need to deal strictly with the body and to bring it into subjection, not only lest its appetites grow riotous, but also lest it trouble with moods and miseries of its own the exercise of judgment.

2. There must also be the insight and resourcefulness of learning; that power to recognize and weigh and measure and forecast, which comes of long watching how things move; the power that grows by constant thoughtfulness, in study or in life; the distinctive ability of those who, in Hooker’s phrase, are “diligent observers of circumstances, the loose regard whereof is the nurse of vulgar folly.” It is a high prerogative of the real student of history, that power to summon from the past the very scenes and issues, achievements and disasters, unverified alarms and swift reversals, which may point to the real import of the present and correct its misplaced emphasis.

3. And then, beyond all physical and intellectual conditions, are the moral qualities and habits, without which even able men blunder so strangely. For round the seat of judgment there are specious counsellors, who read our perverse desires before we own them to ourselves, who know exactly the rate of swerving from justice which will suit and gratify without shocking us, whose Suggestions really seem reasonable enough, till, as it were, the search-light of an honest contrite heart is turned full upon them. No knowledge of the world will guard right judgment in a man who lets ill-temper have its way with him; no warnings from history or experience will pierce the smoky fog of wilful sullenness; no fineness of discernment will be proof against the steady pressure or the sudden onsets of ambition, And what shall we say of vanity as an assessor in the work of judgment? Surely, brethren, many of us might describe, with the help of humiliating recollections about our own folly, some stages of defective sight which are like milder forms of that blindness, that loss of all sense of humour and fitness and proportion, which belongs to a well-settled satisfaction with oneself.

4. But there is another disclosure that he needs, if in the multitude of sorrows, in the cloudy and dark day, in the terror by night, he is still to hold the course to which God calls him. Only by a light that is not of this world can we surely see our way about this world; only in the strength of thoughts that are not as our thoughts can we “think and do always such things as be rightful.” In God’s light do we see light; and for all our discipline and care we shall lose our way if we try to find or keep it in forgetfulness of Him and of His self-revealing. Sooner or later it will come home to us, by His mercy, that we must strive to bring our souls into His presence and to hold them there, if we would hope to “see life steadily and see it whole.” We too may set our minds, as the psalmist set his, to think out and understand the hard things that the experience of life presents to us; we may perhaps fancy that we do understand them, and we may even deal with them successfully for a while; but presently we too shall find that they are proving too hard for us, until we go into the sanctuary of God. For it is there, in the most adequate consciousness of His presence that, in the power of the Holy Ghost, our weak and sinful souls can reach; it is there that the faculty of judgment gradually gains its freedom, its illumination, and its strength. It is not only that those who seek with contrite hearts that awful, holy Light must needs have striven to put away the sins that darken and bewilder counsel. It is far more than this. It is that in the stillness and simplicity of drawing near to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and in the passiveness and intense listening of the soul, conscience may speak to us with penetrating clearness of the height, the majesty, the tranquillity of justice; of its home, in the very nature of God; of its work, sure as His will; of its exactness, absolute as His perfection; of the silent and immediate certainty with which the false estimates and verdicts of mankind are set right before “the Judge of all the earth”; of the solemnity of that appeal which, spoken or unspoken, reaches Him from every age, and is written down and cannot be erased: “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them?” “The Lord look upon it, and require it; Thou art the helper of the friendless;” “Thou art set in the throne that judgest right;” and of our heavy responsibility for every exercise of the power given us from above, to judge and act in whatsoever sphere, as His vicegerents among men. And then, as conscience thus speaks out her witness to the supreme and everlasting royalty of justice, the soul is also strengthened in the presence of God by a deeper sense of the power that is on the side of justice--the power that can wait, but not fail; that may use this means or that, but all for one unalterable end; the power which is behind the patience of Almighty God, and which we forget when we grow restless and fretful at His tarrying, and misread the little fragment that we see of His vast purpose in the world. But, above all, more moving to our hearts, more responsive to our need, than any thought which we can grasp of His power and His justice--there comes to us, as we watch and pray in the sanctuary of His presence, the distinctive disclosure of the faith of Jesus Christ. Much may still be dark and strange to us, and the questions that are always rising round us will need our utmost care, and we may often make mistakes in thought, and word, and deed; but the real, inner bewilderment, the fatal blundering of the soul can hardly be when we think of men and deal with them as, one by one, the distinct and unforgotten objects of that love which we ourselves have known in its astounding forbearance and condescension and inventiveness and glory. There is some sure light in the perplexity of this world, some hope even in its worst disasters, something steadfast through its storms, something still undefeated by its sins; since it is the scene where God, whose love can only be measured by the Cross, is seeking, one by one, in countless, hidden ways, the souls of men, if here He may but begin to draw them ever so little towards Himself, that hereafter He may prepare them to be with Him where He is. (Bishop Paget.)

The sanction of science to the Christian interpretation of the world

I. The theories and findings of modern science agree with the scriptural account of the constitution of things. Everywhere the Bible affirms or assumes that the ideal, the primitive, the essential arrangement of things was “very good,” but that the catastrophe called sin broke up the original order, and henceforth Nature became full of contradiction and misery. Never does revelation fall into the error of teaching that the substance of the world is vicious, or that any of its great laws are malevolent, but with wonderful clearness and consistency it main-rains that Nature is a right noble system unhappily spoiled. Are not our great philosophers conscious that this interpretation of the world expresses the substantial truth? Professor Huxley finds two distinct orders prevailing in Nature--a cosmical order and a moral order; the cosmical order being vicious, the moral order, which is discovered in the growth of civilization, being the expression of reason and righteousness. But is it possible to believe that two distinct antagonistic programmes prevail in Nature side by side? Surely if science has established one position more firmly than another it is that which affirms the unity of things, and it is impossible to believe that in the bosom of Nature a dual order should exist like that which Huxley suggests. Is it not far more reasonable, far more in keeping with science, to infer that there is but one celestial, persistent order, which someway has been obscured and disturbed? And what is this normal order? If the world presents such contradictory phenomena and yet we are compelled to believe in one fundamental law and order, what is that fundamental law and order? Is the good element the deepest thing in Nature, or the bad element? Are truth, goodness, and beauty the primitive, essential, and abiding laws of the world, or illusion, selfishness, ugliness, misery? Huxley suggests, as I have just said, that there are two orders, the cosmical order, which he calls the “natural” order; and the moral order, which he calls the “artificial” order; but this view has not commended itself to the majority of thinking men. The moral order of the world which is more and more coming into light presents no features of “artificiality.” Surely the moral order is the universal, the fundamental, the persistent order; amid the flow of phenomena it is the moral kingdom and law which cannot be moved. The earth is full of perplexing sights and experiences, but at the bottom it is good. The ethical process is really the cosmical process. The eternal elements are truth, goodness, mercy, beauty, joy. We should not have noticed the maladies of the world had there not been first an organic health; we should not have felt the discords of the world had we not first ‘been conscious of an eternal music. The rational, the moral, the good, constitute the profound and absolute order. Nature as we see it is not the ideal Nature; the order of Nature, taken simply as science knows it, is not its true order; we behold the primitive design in a darkened glass. Nature with all her terrible phenomena rises up,. as human nature with all its terrible crimes rises up, the magnificent protest on its lips: “I, yet not I, but sin which dwelleth in me.” And as the ages proceed the true and eternal order of right and beauty is ever being revealed more conspicuously.

II. Revelation teaches that all things have been thrown into confusion through the abuse of man’s free will, and modern science has made it the more easy to believe in this doctrine. Let us state exactly the dilemma that the condition of the world involves. Very often we find it impossible to look out upon the great universe without feeling that it is a magnificent expression of infinite intelligence and beauty. Our intellect exults in it; our heart does; our whole unsophisticated nature. We feel as sure as we can feel sure of anything that this glorious orb could not spring out of the blind workings of rude matter. Little comes out of a pot of paint left to itself. You must put the fire of genius under it before those magical prismatic exhalations arise which are known as the Crucifixion of Rubens, the Transfiguration of Raphael, the Paradise of Tintoretto, the Judgment Day of Michael Angelo. Genius alone glorifies paint into pictures, builds stones and dust into a St. Mark’s, converts ink into Iliads. So we cannot believe that this round world and all that it inherits sprang out of the blind working of slime and fire-mist. A fire of genius must have glowed under chaos before there arose out of it rounded skies, suns, moons, stars, the million types of birds, beasts, blossoms, human faces, human hearts, human consciences, all the living pictures and vital shapes of this wondrous universe. The order of the world suggests to our intelligence a rational Creator; the beauty of the world a loving and perfect God. Darwin acknowledges all this in his simple, touching manner. He says, “Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty, or rather impossibility, of conceiving the immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting, I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.” (‘Autobiography and Letters.’) Again he writes: “I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force.” And in one of his latest letters he says, “You have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the universe is not the result of chance.” But very different thoughts and feelings took possession of Darwin when he surveyed other aspects of Nature. Greatly distressed by its enigmas, he was constrained to write himself an Agnostic. He says, “With respect to the theological view of the question, this is always painful to me. I am bewildered, I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” (‘Autobiography and Letters.’) Again he writes: “I cannot overlook the difficulty” (of believing in the existence of God) “from the immense amount of suffering through the world.” And again, “This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent First Cause seems to me a strong one.” Revelation solves this problem by declaring that the world as we see it, and its line of development as we know it, are not according to God’s ideal and purpose. “And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good! So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.” But, by the abuse of free-will, man has spoiled himself and marred the whole creation. There is something that man can call his own, “his own lust,” inordinate, irregular desire, and this intemperance and disobedience of thought and action have spoiled the good and perfect gifts of God. There is a great deal in this world that was not created by God, that does not come from the normal action of His laws, and in which God disclaims all proprietorship. We call earthquakes, cyclones, pestilences, famines “acts of God,” but the more we understand the power of man over telluric nature the more are we persuaded of his responsibility in these catastrophes. Man to a great extent holds the climates in his hand; the vast dominion of Nature falls into confusion through his sins of omission and commission; and if you consult Darwin, Marsh, and other scientists you learn that man, not God, is the agent of huge catastrophes which are charged to the account of the Almighty. As John Garth Wilkinson keenly observes, “Man is the insect of the universal gall.” And when we regard the ugly, venomous, and “destructive forms which abound in the earth, they are no more to be imputed to God than are deserts and pestilences. The author of “Evil and Evolution” says aptly, “Evolutionists are agreed that it is just the fierce struggle of created things that has produced birds and beasts of prey, and there can be little doubt that it is the malignity of the struggle that has produced the venom of so many reptiles.” And I may add here that this work, which I read after writing this address, contains a very interesting chapter on the subject of evolution without maladjustment. We do not hold the Almighty responsible for the stiletto of the assassin, the sword of the tyrant, the cup of the poisoner, and we do not hold the Almighty responsible for the locust, the spider, the vulture, the shark, the phylloxera, the microbe, for the fang of the serpent, the beak of the hawk, or the blade of the sword-fish. What is done under our eyes by the malign cleverness of the breeder of dogs has been going on in Nature to an infinite extent and by secret processes we may not follow. “Every good and every perfect gift is from above;” but our lusts are ourown,” and they have put their stamp of original horrible disfigurement upon the fair face of the world. The lord of the house determines the house in an extraordinary degree, and the good creatures of God by our misrule and violation have become agents and forces of evil. But it will be said that it is only possible to develop the world on the lines of conflict and suffering, it is only thus that things can be evolved and perfected. Now, it is quite true that the world hitherto has been developed by bitter and bloody processes, and, without doubt, seeing that we are what we are, no other method is possible; but it was palpably God’s design that we should reach the goal by another path--by a path of sunshine and flowers. Great things have come to pass through hunger, battle, bleeding, and death, but this is not the normal programme of God. He would have attained the glorious ideal through peace and plenty, through noble passions and fellowships. Sir W.J. Dawson has an instructive page in which he affirms that whilst the struggle for existence has played a great part in the development of the world, the most productive and progressive ages were those in which the struggle for existence played the least part. “Again, we are now prepared to say that the struggle for existence, however plausible as a theory, when put before us in connection with the productiveness of animals and the few survivors of their multitudinous progeny, has not been the determining cause of the introduction of new species. The periods of rapid introduction of new forms of marine life were not periods of struggle, but of expansion--those periods in which the submergence of continents afforded new and large space for their extension and comfortable subsistence. In like manner, it was continental emergence that afforded the opportunity for the introduction of land animals and plants. Further, in connection with this, it is now an established conclusion that the great aggressive faunas and floras of the continents have originated in the north, some of them within the arctic circle, and this in, periods of exceptional warmth, when the perpetual summer sunshine of the arctic regions coexisted with a warm temperature. The testimony of the rocks thus is that not struggle but expansion furnished the requisite conditions for new forms of life, and that the periods of struggle were characterized by depauperation and extinction.” (Salient Points, p. 27). The world would be far more beautiful, scientists declare, without this exhaustive struggle for life. Colour being dangerous is kept down to conceal creatures from their natural enemies. Humming-birds are so splendid because they have no enemies, and all birds and beasts would acquire new beauty were it not for the hawk and the tiger. And in many directions it is seen that, whilst struggle secures fitness and strength, it also implies impoverishment and extinction. These facts give an insight into the benign possibilities of Nature, and show how peace, abundance, and sunshine might have filled the earth with mild beasts, glorious vegetation, and noble men. God could have worked with other pressures, attractions and stimulations. We struggle now by a “Via Dolorosa “ and with bleeding feet to the golden goal, but God meant us to reach it by a way of pleasantness and a path of peace. That God should endow a creature with freewill, knowing that that endowment would involve its possessor in manifold sorrows, is a mystery we may agree to give God time to explain, but granted the moral agent, that is, the free agent, and granted that this agent proved faithless, the anarchy of the world is explicable without impeaching the character of its Creator and King. God is right and man is wrong, and the wrongfulness of man has perverted his whole environment. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Light arising in darkness

I. Unassisted human reason cannot vindicate Divine providence.

1. Because we are prone to err.

2. Because we see only parts of the ways of God.

3. Because Jehovah does not fully reveal Himself.

II. The way of duty is the way of safety.

1. We receive instruction. Wherever we commune with God, meditating on the Word of God, and praying, “Open Thou mine eyes, that,” etc., we are in “the sanctuary of God,” and are taught of the Lord. Receiving light from Holy Scripture, and from the Holy Spirit, our incorrect judgment respecting the prosperity of the wicked is rectified, and we see sufficient to convince us that the Judge of all the earth does right.

2. We grow in faith. Two things especially nurture our faith.

3. We rejoice in hope. The end is not yet. Eternity is before us. (P. J. Wright.)

On the difficulties of speculative inquiry

Knowledge is pleasant to the mind as light is sweet to the eye. But such pleasantness has its limit. Its pursuit may become painful--“too painful for me.” See this in the mercy of the providence of God. Up to a certain point it is delightful to contemplate; but it has also its fearful aspects which forbid too close a scrutiny. So of man’s intellectual nature: how pleasant to investigate man’s position, prospects, destiny under the government of God. Yet inquiries of this sort lead to dark and fearful issues. What are we to say of the problem of evil under the rule of a benevolent God? And the effect of such inquiries is twofold. Some are made sceptics: others are embarrassed and distressed. Some become angry and do nothing but complain. Others are much troubled and hindered in their religious life. Now, I would offer some considerations by which this feeling of painfulness may be mitigated or removed. And I begin with a confession--that I cannot solve the difficulties of speculative philosophy, nor the problem of the universe. I admit their reality, but they are all of them reducible to a common clement, and to a simple expression. They all prove only this--the imperfection, the restriction of our knowledge, nothing more; and concerning this we note--

I. That such restrictions of our knowledge are only part of a general system. Mystery is everywhere.

II. They are an essential element of our being. There are of necessity mysteries to all created beings. It may be that to God all things are clear, but to us they cannot be, for we are finite and He is infinite.

III. We have knowledge sufficient for all practical purposes. But these are the great purposes for which life is given, and to accomplish them God did not teach any one a theory. Men fed themselves on the fruits of the field long time before they knew botany; sailed on the rivers and seas before they knew the science of navigation. And so our Bible will tell us our duty and what else we really need to know, though on many questions it leaves us where it found us. But how foolish to refuse practical obedience until we can solve the problem of the universe.

IV. Restricted knowledge is an important element in our moral condition. It tests what is in a man’s heart, and gives scope for faith.

V. But restricted as our knowledge is, its field is marvellously ample. See the varied departments of science, natural, intellectual, moral. The expanse is crowded with objects. No one can master them all. And then--

VI. We are in a position, is regard to knowledge, of brilliant expectation. Soon we shall remove to a world where our present limitations will be no more, and where we shall know even as we are known. Therefore have patience. Are you prepared for the discoveries of the other world? Think how momentous they are. Do not, because some things are “too painful “ for you to know now, waste your life in inaction and complaint. (J. H. Hinton, M. A.)

Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down into destruction.

The sinner’s end

Want of understanding has destroyed many. The best place go get understanding is the sanctuary of God. Until he went there David was in a mist, but in the sanctuary he was as on a mountain summit with the clouds far beneath his feet. For there he had communion with God, and heard the law of God, and so understood the end of the wicked. Let us then try to--

I. Understand the sinner’s end.

1. Like all else, there is death, but what a death is his.

2. It is the death of all in which he took delight.

3. It brings him to the bar of God.

4. He is sent be everlasting hell. Now, all this is certain; and often sudden; and how terrible; and it is endless.

II. Seek to profit by it.

1. How grateful should we be if we are saved.

2. Let us make our calling and election sure.

3. Be earnest about the salvation of others.

III. Warn the unrepentant. You are slipping down to perdition. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Slippery places

Winter is the season of frost. Then there is ice on every hand. There are perils on the land and on the water.

I. There are slippery places in life.

1. Scenes of animal excitement. The market--the theatre--the social feast--the excitements of wine and music, such things as work upon the senses, and enkindle the passions.

2. Opportunities of selfish gratification.

3. Company of the ungodly.

4. When tempted to doubt God’s righteousness and love.

II. Those who walk in slippery places are in danger of falls.

1. Insecurity.

2. Risk of injury.

III. Slippery places prove fatal to the wicked.

1. Unmask the evil of their character (Proverbs 11:3). Judas.

2. Reveal the worthlessness of their hopes. Seem to thrive, promise themselves ease and length of days. Vanity. When tested they fail utterly (Psalms 73:17; Proverbs 29:1; Psalms 146:4; Job 8:13-20).

3. Manifest that they are the objects of God’s displeasure. Nothing keeps them out of hell but God’s mercy. Destruction is impending. Sure--sudden--overwhelming.

IV. Some counsels as to slippery places.

1. Avoid them, when possible (Psalms 119:101; Proverbs 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Psalms 17:4).

2. When you do come to them walk warily. “Watch and pray.” “Be not high-minded, but fear.”

3. Take such friendly help as may be available (Ephesians 6:15; Psalms 23:4; Ecclesiastes 4:9-10; Psalms 26:1; Psalms 119:63).

4. Should you fall, endeavour to get good from the evil. Time for thought--prayer--renewal of faith and strength.

5. Should you escape, be thankful, and give God the glory (Psalms 94:18; Psalms 116:1-8).

6. Let Jerusalem come into your mind. There will be no “slippery places,” etc. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)

The prosperity of the wicked insecure

This may be argued--

1. From the fact that it is not founded on the favour of God.

2. From the uncertain and temporary nature of the very elements of which it is composed.

3. From the fact that the very habits to which that prosperity gives rise, may acquire such strength as to destroy it. Napoleon Bonaparte is an illustrious instance of the power of that habit of overgrown, lawless ambition, which in one luckless hour can ruin the splendid fortunes of an empire.

4. From the fact that their own consciences are not thoroughly reconciled to their prosperity, and the pangs and forebodings of conscience can soon embitter and destroy the very essence of worldly fortune.

5. The known uncertainty of life haunts the wicked with a dread that destroys the baseless joys of their prosperity. (D. L. Carroll, D. D.)


Verse 20

Psalms 73:20

As a dream when one awaketh.

The sleep and dream of ungodly men

I. The ungodly are asleep. Not physically but spiritually.

II. In this sleep they dream. They fancy the world and its joys are real, abiding, secure, satisfying.

III. At death they awake. Their all is in this world, and lo, death comes and strips them of all they valued, as a dream of one awaking. How much better to have this awakening here! (W. Harris.)


Verses 22-25

Psalms 73:22-25

So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before Thee.

Flesh and spirit a riddle

What secrets of inward experience we have in our text. Consider--

I. The confessions concerning the flesh. David was a great saint, yet he tells God--“So foolish was I. . . beast before Thee.”

1. Foolish. It was sinful folly, not to be excused by frailty, but perverse and wilful. And is not this true of us?

2. Ignorant. Surely after all his experience he ought to have known better than to be envious of the wicked. And how often we have to make the like confession. If we could but see ourselves we should see our knowledge to be nothing and our ignorance to he all. Then--

3. “As a beast before Thee.” The Hebrew is, “I was a very beast before Thee.” It means, so worldly-minded, so empty of all holy desire, so short-sighted, so full of animal passions. But turn to--

II. The expressions of the spirit.

1. He is conscious of Divine regard. “Nevertheless I am,” etc. Upon His mind, before His eye, in His hand.

2. Of Divine help. “Thou hast holden me.”

3. Of Divine guidance. “Thou shalt guide,” etc.

4. Of Divine reception. “Receive me to glory.”

III. To the conclusion of the whole. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee,” etc. I have known men lose their property, and what is dearer than property, but they have not said, “Whom have I in heaven,” etc. The confessions of our text will be heard in the adoring gratitude of the redeemed in glory. That Christ should have saved them--the foolish, the ignorant, and who had been as a beast before Him. But this He will do for all who believe. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A pilgrim’s progress

I. The pilgrim’s character and condition before he was turned to the Lord. “So foolish . . . beast before Thee.” What a hearty and thorough confession this is! Probably it was not so made at first. Men never accurately measure the depth of the pit they lay in until they are out of it. Note the terms he uses in this confession. See the cattle browsing on the grass. It is no shame to them to be beasts; but it is a shame for a man to be as a beast, for he was made in God’s image. The beast never had a soul; and I have quenched the life of mine--put out its light. I was like a beast in having a body and life and appetites, and stopping short with these, as if these were all! They knew not a God to live for; and I lived without God. Being a man, I became as a beast.

II. His present nearness and peace. “Nevertheless I am continually with Thee.” What a difference--“I was as a beast”; but “I am with Thee.” Transformations unknown in nature are accomplished in grace. The man has become new. How has it been brought about? There has been reconciliation; the saved are made nigh through the blood of Christ. And this nearness continues.

III. The cause and manner of this great deliverance. “Thou hast holden me by my right hand.” It is God’s doing, not his own. The picture represents a father leading his strayed child home.

IV. The course through life which the penitent now expects to keep. “thou shalt guide me,” etc.

V. The issue of all in eternity. Look to the last three points, that we may mark their order and their relations.

1. Salvation accomplished by almighty grace: “Thou hast holden me.”

2. New obedience now, according to the Word of God: “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel.”

3. Hope of glory afterward: “Thou shalt receive me.” In the middle is the actual holiness--the new obedience of the saved man, and on either side of a strong one on whom it may lean. On the one side is salvation already accomplished; on the other is the hope of glory yet to come. (W. Arnot.)


Verse 23

Psalms 73:23

Nevertheless I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand.

The Christian’s portion

Four privileges of God’s servants are mentioned in the text.

I. His presence with them--His constant presence. “I am continually with Thee.” It is another way of saying, ‘“Thou art continually with me.” The Lord is ever side by side with His people.

II. Support. “Thou hast holden me”--“holden me by my right hand.” Two men may be travelling together the same road in company, and yet separate one from the other. “But” (says the psalmist) “not so the Lord and I His afflicted servant; He takes hold of my hand, as He walks by my side, and lets me feel His presence, and I am content.” With Him the wilderness becomes (as it were) a paradise; and without Him the fairest earthly paradise--oh, how soon does it become a desert to our souls!

III. Guidance. “Thou shalt guide me”--“guide me with Thy counsel.” “Thou” shalt do it. Hitherto we have looked on the Lord, as simply the companion and upholder of the believer on his way; here, you perceive, another character is given Him. He points out that way to him--the way to glory--leads him to it, and directs him along it.

IV. Glory. Thou shalt “afterward receive me to glory.” The Lord’s guidance of us is ultimately to end in this. Thither all His dealings with us tend. And now I would say to you two things.

1. Aim to get the psalmist’s faith and confidence, He saw and felt and rejoiced in his own personal interest in God’s care and love. And--

2. Aim to get the psalmist’s submissive spirit. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

God’s abiding presence

Here was a man who lived with an abiding sense of the Divine nearness. To him God was not an occasional visitor, but an abiding guest. “I am continually with Thee.” Now, is this a common experience with religious people? I fear not. “Lo, I am with you always,” said Jesus, and if we do not realize His presence the fault must be our own. Well, now, let us see what effect this abiding consciousness of God would have upon our daily life and experience.

I. Our life would be much holier. It is related that a certain shoemaker kept by his side a portrait of that famous Brighton preacher, the Rev. F.W. Robertson, and that whenever he was tempted to do anything wrong he took a look at the portrait, the very sight of which made it practically impossible for him to yield. Now, if the sight of that good man’s portrait could have such a restraining effect upon that shoemaker, what would be the effect upon your life and mine did we daily live with the holy God before our eyes? “I have set the Lord always before me,” said the psalmist; and did we live with a constant consciousness of the Divine nearness I am sure we should be restrained from many things to which we are so apt to yield, and in which we sometimes perhaps indulge. But in a more positive way, and in a much larger sense, our whole life would be wondrously hallowed if we only carried into it all an abiding sense of the Divine presence. Professor Drummond has said that “there are men and women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words. Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops of our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find a music in our souls that was never there before.” And if the society of good people can exert such a hallowing influence upon us, what must be the sanctifying effect of daily companionship and fellowship with God? “Ten minutes,” said Professor Drummond, “spent in His society every day, aye! two minutes, if it be face to face, and heart to heart, will make the whole day different.” And if our whole life were pervaded with the consciousness of the Divine, as, thank God, some lives have been, then the whole life would be different.

II. Such a consciousness of God would make our life much stronger and safer. Life is full of difficulty and danger, and if we would be valiant and victorious we must seek a fuller and more constant realization of the Divine presence. I remember that on one occasion I had a very lonely road to travel, and had often felt exceedingly nervous. But I had an old friend who frequently accompanied me on that part of the journey, and in his companionship I had no sense of danger, but felt equal to any emergency. And amidst life’s thickest difficulties and dangers we may have the companionship of God, and that shall be our defence. The strongest and bravest man may well fear to face life’s stern duties and- difficulties in his own strength; for in that case defeat is inevitable. But with the assurance of God’s presence there comes power to face life’s sternest forces and foes. “Our sufficiency is not of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God.”

III. This abiding consciousness of God would make our life much happier. In ordinary life there is certainly much to sadden and sour the human heart, and the one great antidote to that is a more vivid realization of the Divine presence. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.” Those words have a present significance. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy;” not then and yonder only, but here and now. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” The unexpected appearance of Jesus in their midst chased away those men’s disappointment and doubt and sadness, and inspired them with a new hope and gladness. I have a little girl who repeatedly awoke in the night, and was terribly frightened with the darkness; and she always insisted on coming into her mother’s room and bed. Nothing else would satisfy or soothe her. One night her mother said to her, “You should not do so, Olive, for there is nothing to be afraid of; and it is just as dark in this room as in your own.” Then, nestling up beside her mother, the little one replied, “Yes, mother, but you are in this dark room.” Ah, her mother’s nearness made all the difference to the child’s feelings. And there is nothing that can disarm the soul’s fears and soothe its sorrows like the realization of our Father’s presence. (B. Haddon.)

Influence of the Divine presence on a good man

I. His internal moral state.

1. The belief of the Divine presence acts upon them here, first, as an incitement to virtue. The presence of one whom we highly esteem and revere, of a sovereign, for instance, a father, or a friend, whose approbation we are solicitous to gain, is always found to exalt the powers of men, to refine and improve their behaviour. Hence, it has been given as a rule by ancient moralists, that, in order to excel in virtue, we should propound to ourselves some person of eminent worth; and should accustom ourselves to act as if he were standing by and beholding us. But what is the observation of the greatest or wisest men on earth to that presence of the Divinity which constantly surrounds us? The man who realizes to his mind this august presence, feels a constant incentive for acquitting himself with dignity.

2. Supposing, however, his virtuous endeavours to be faithful, many imperfections will attend them. Passions will sometimes overcome him; and ambition or interest, in an unguarded hour, will turn him aside into evil. Hence he will be ashamed of himself, and disquieted by a sense of guilt and folly. In this state, to which we are often reduced by the weakness of human nature, the belief of God’s continual presence brings relief to the heart. He can appeal to Him who knows his frame, that, in the general train of his conduct it is his study to keep the law of God.

II. His external circumstances.

1. It not only preserves the virtue of a good man amidst the temptations of pleasure, but it gives to his prosperity a security, and a peculiar relish, which to others is unknown. He dwells as with a friend and protector, from whom he conceives his blessings to proceed. He can appeal to him for the thankfulness with which he receives them; and for his endeavours to employ them well. He trusts that the God whom he serves will not forsake him; that the goodness which he has already experienced will continue to bless him; and though he believes himself not exempted from the changes of the world, yet, in the midst of these, he has ground to hope that sources of comfort and happiness shall always he left open to him. Moreover, the pleasures of life, while they last, are unspeakably heightened by the presence of that Benefactor who bestows them. The pleasing emotion of gratitude to the giver, mingles with the enjoyment of the gift.

2. From the prosperous, let us next turn to the afflicted condition of a good man. For as prosperity may, affliction certainly will, at one time or other, be his lot. It enters into the appointed trial of his virtue; and, in one degree or other, is the doom of all. Here we shall find various situations occur, in which no relief is equal to what a virtuous and holy man derives from a sense of the perpetual presence of God.

The Christian with God, supported by Him

I. What is implied in being continually with God.

1. As a duty, it implies, that this is peculiar to real Christians; as they alone are prepared for it, and disposed to it, as being acquainted with Him, reconciled to Him, and in a state of the most intimate friendship with Him (Amos 3:3).

2. As a privilege, it implies that they are with God,

II. The happiness resulting therefrom. The Lord holds them by their right hand. This is necessary--

1. On account of the weakness of their graces (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

2. The remains of the carnal mind (1 Corinthians 3:3).

3. The prevalence of evil example (1 Corinthians 5:8).

4. The opposition of the world (John 15:19).

5. The unwearied diligence of Satan (1 Peter 5:8).

6. And in all these circumstances God will uphold them, according to His word and promise (Hebrews 13:6; Isaiah 54:17).

Improvement:--

1. How happy is the state of those who walk with God! Let us cultivate a greater intimacy than ever.

2. How dreadful is the state of those who are at a distance from God! (Psalms 73:27). (T. Hannam.)

Constant enjoyment of the Divine presence consistent with variable experiences

Our abiding frame is the index of character, said Garfield. “I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man. But I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea from which all heights and depths are measured. When the storm has passed and the hour of calm settles upon the ocean, when the sunlight bathes its smooth surface, then the astronomer and surveyor takes the level from which he measures all terrestrial heights and depths.” And it is thus with the saint in his spiritual enjoyments. They may be as variable as the surface of the ocean, but he does not judge of his state by their fluetuations, but by the fact that deep down in his heart, in yearning and desire, if not in actual experience, he is able to say, “I am continually with Thee.” (The Quiver.)


Verse 24

Psalms 73:24

Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.

God-guided freedom

Some, as the Church of Rome, would deny to men the right of free thought. They appeal to authority, and think it better that men should hearken only to their appointed guides. Now, I say that a Church which hinders and destroys thought curses the world. The men who think make progress; they become inventors, owners of the land they till and of the houses in which they dwell; they become foremen and masters; while the men who do not think are carriers of the hod, the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.

I. That a god-guided life is a pilgrimage.

II. Divine counsel is given to all who try to do God’s will.

III. Let the resolve of the psalmist be repeated in your soul. Thou shalt guide me and receive me. If you resolve to be true to yourself, by acting up to the light you have, then God will guide you by His counsel, and afterward receive you to glory. Our heavenly Guide will never steer us wrong. Trust Him. (W. Birch.)

Guidance and glory

In this psalm troubled men find help.

I. How shall we meet our troubles?

1. There is no better way than to go into the sanctuary of God. Sorrow is almost a blessing if it drives us there.

2. Next, we may well look on to the end of things.

3. Best of all, we must be careful to maintain the blessed life. To be continually with God, cultivating the momentary sense of His presence.

II. But why are these experiences not more permanent? We read that “Daniel continued.” Oh to be steadfast and unmovable!

1. We must always distinguish between our emotions and our attitude. The one may die off our lives like the sunset glory from the ridges of the Alps, that seem so grey and cold when it is gone; but the other should resemble the changeless perpetuity of the everlasting hills, unaltered by the transitions of the ages, dr the alternations of day and night. You may not always feel as happy, but you can always say “Yes” to the will of God, and realize your attitude in the risen, ascended, loving Jesus, amongst the thousand thousands that minister to Him. In moments of depression, be sure to live in your will and His will.

2. We must be careful to maintain this attitude of the will unaltered. God is constantly putting into our lives little or greater occasions of testing. Unless we are watchful in applying to each new point the principle of surrender, which we have assumed, we may drift from full face, to three-quarter, and half-face, before we are aware.

3. We must exercise ourselves to have the “conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.” Not a scrupulous, but a sensitive, conscience. Conscience and the Holy Ghost are expressly allied by the apostle--the crystal stone ever bathed in the translucent glory of heaven.

4. We must ever keep our heart open to the Holy Spirit. It is His province and prerogative to nurture the inner life, and to fill it with the realized presence of the Lord.

5. We must be very careful to maintain unbroken the habits of the devout life. Too many are like the slip-carriage, which runs for a little from the impulse received from the engine, but then slackens till it comes to a stand; instead of resembling that which keeps its connection with the speed and strength of the locomotive. In a laundry, the other day, I saw two kinds of irons. One, the usual sort, needing to be put on a heated surface at frequent intervals to fit them for their work. The other, in which the iron was attached by a flexible gutta-percha tube to the gas-pipe, so that it was easy to use it, and inside the iron a jet of flame, fed by the gas, which maintained it at a regular temperature, and counteracted the chilling effects of its work. Is not this what we want? Not depending on the outside stimulus of a convention, a mission, or a sermon; but receiving straight from God Himself that inward fire of the Holy Ghost, to give and perpetuate which is the dearest passion of the heart of Jesus. All this will cost us something; the daily dying to self; saying “No” to the flesh; the cutting-off of hand or foot; the dropping down into the earth to die: but these sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the growing glory of our life, or its blessedness. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Guidance to grace and glory

I. The conviction which led the psalmist to take a guide. Happily for him, that conviction came very early. If I am to have a guide on my journey, I should like to have one at the beginning, for it is the starting that has so much to do with all the rest of the way.

1. ] suppose it was because of a work of grace upon his heart; for, naturally, we do not like being guided. It is a fine piece of knowledge when you have learned that you are not fit to take care of yourself, but need somebody to lead you all the way through life.

2. I suppose that the psalmist said to the Lord, “Thou shelf guide me,” because he had been convinced of his own folly, and therefore felt that it was well to commit himself into wiser hands; and also that he had obtained some knowledge of the difficulties of the way. To no one of us is the path of life an easy one, if we desire to be pure, and clean, and upright, and accepted with God.

3. The psalmist’s desire to have a guide also showed his great anxiety to be right. I wish that all men began life with an earnest desire to act rightly in it; and that each one would say, “I shall never live this life again, I should like to make it a good one so far as I can.” If this were the intense desire of every one of us, we should be driven at once to this conclusion, “I must have a guide. I want to live a glorious life; and if I am to do so, I must be helped in it, for I am incompetent for the task by myself.”

II. The confidence winch led him to take God as his guide. If we were but in our right senses, we should all do so.

1. A man, looking about wisely for a guide, will prefer to have the very best; and is not God, who is infinitely wise, the best Guide that we can have? Who questions it? Is not the Lord also the most loving, the most tender, the most considerate, who can be chosen aa a guide?

2. Choose Him also because of His constant, unceasing, infallible care. If I choose a guide who may die on the road, I am likely to be unhappy; but God will never die. If I choose a guide who, being my friend at the starting, will not care for me when I have advanced halfway on my journey, I am unwise in my choice; but God cannot change, He will ever be the same. But will God guide us?

3. Well, it were vain to choose Him if He would not; but of all beings God is most easy of access.

III. The heavenly commerce which now reigns between the soul and its guide. How does God guide us?

1. By the general directions of His Word. Obey the Ten Commandments. Imitate Christ.

2. There are great principles infused in every man who takes God for his Guide.

3. God guides His people on the way of life by giving a certain balance of the faculties. When we come to God in penitence, when we are born again of the Spirit, and live by faith in Christ, then, first of all, fear is banished and faith takes its place. We are then better able to judge which is the right road. Above all, the grace of God guides us very much by the dethroning of self as the traitorous lord of our being, and makes us loyal to Christ When a man acts out of loyalty to Christ, he is pretty sure to act very wisely and rightly.

4. There is a special illumination of mind which comes from dwelling near to God.

5. At the very worst times, when all these things will fail you as a guide, you may expect mysterious impulses, for which you can never account, which will come to you, and guide you aright.

IV. The sure result of this guidance: “Thou shalt . . . afterward receive me to glory.” On earth, there is no real glory for us unless we are guided by God’s counsel. There is no true glory for any man who takes his own course. Afterward He will receive you to glory. This is a delightful thought, but I can now only answer this one question. When we die, who will receive us into glory? Well, I do not doubt that the angels will. John Bunyan’s description of the shining ones, who come down to the brink of the river to help the pilgrims up on the other side of the cold stream, I doubt not is all true; but the text tells us of somebody better than the angels who will come and receive us. Our dying prayer to our Lord will be, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and His answer will be, “I receive thee to glory.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Lord the Guide of His people

I. In what way The Lord conducts and guides His people in this present state.

1. By His providence.

2. By His Word.

3. By His Spirit.

The Spirit of God does not reveal any new truths different from, or in addition to, those recorded in the written Word. He does not guide by impressions on the mind, the nature and tendency of which cannot be explained. But He opens the understandings to understand the Scriptures. He enables and disposes clearly to perceive, and faithfully to apply the truths already revealed in His Word, as the various cases and circumstances of His people require.

II. What is implied in that glory into which The Lord will receive His people, after He has led and conducted them through the present life.

1. Heaven may be represented by the term “glory,” because it is a glorious place. If this earth which we inhabit, defiled as it is with sin, exhibit to a careful observer such evident marks of the most consummate wisdom and design--what must be the majesty of that place, where the whole art of creation has been employed, and where God has chosen to show Himself in the most magnificent manner to the view of all its blessed inhabitants?

2. Oh! how glorious is the company that fill the mansions in our Father’s house above!

3. The employments of heaven are glorious.

4. The enjoyments of heaven infinitely transcend our highest conceptions. (A. Ramsay, M. A.)

A new year’s resolve

I. Man requires a guide in the path of life.

1. Man’s ignorance of the future.

2. Man’s proneness to consult false guides.

3. Man’s frequent mistakes.

4. The awful consequences of mistakes.

II. God is the only true guide for man in the path of life.

1. He alone knows all the future.

2. He alone understands the full relation of the present to the future.

3. He alone has capacity be provide for our future.

4. He alone has manifested that interest that would warrant our perfect confidence for the future.

III. God himself will guide man individually in the path of life. “Thou shalt guide me,” etc. The psalmist did not believe in the Pantheist’s god, he speaks of a person--“Thou.” Nor in the Deist’s god who cares only for the vast; it was for the individual “Me.” Every man requires special guidance. Each man is a world in himself and has an orbit of his own. No two are alike.

IV. Under the guidance of God the path of life becomes glorious. What does the world call glory? Conquest? You have conquest over evil when guided by God. Exalted fellowship? The greatest spirits of all worlds and times are the society of those whom God guides. Dignified position? They are kings and priests. (Homilist.)

Guidance and glory

I. Guidance here.

1. He confesses his need of guidance, It is a grand thing if God compels us to seek direction.

2. He professes confidence in God.

3. He announces his belief in God’s willingness to lead him. This is not included in the other; it is a distinct step. Are you sure that God will guide you? You may be sure, for He who wings an angel guides the sparrow; He who tells the number of the stars heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.

4. He declares himself willing to be led.

II. Glory hereafter.

1. We are just as sure that it is to be revealed as we are that guidance is ours moment by moment. The glory seems more wonderful than the guidance, but it is not really so The flower is more beautiful than the bud, yet the flower was in the bud, and glory is but grace developed and revealed. The glory to which we are to be received is part and parcel of the guidance which we daily enjoy.

2. The only uncertainty is as to the time, and I think we ought to bless God that there cannot be full knowledge in this respect. It is enough that we know that He will receive us to glory afterward. Blessed word, “afterward”!--after the pain, after the struggle, after the toil, after the cross, after the temptations, after the work is done, that is when He will receive us. Do not ask to know more than that.

3. Did you notice that the arrival is called a reception? “And afterward receive me to glory.” Thank God for this! There is a welcome awaiting us there. I have known what it is, occasionally, to arrive unexpectedly in a strange place. The vessel draws up to the wharf, there is a crowd of folks to meet their friends, and one looks anxiously for a familiar face, but no, the message had miscarried, or there was some mistake about the time and there is nobody to extend a welcome. Oh, you do not run any such risk as regards heaven.

4. And what is there beyond the reception? Just this--glory! I was wondering what was the Scriptural use of this term glory. I find that in the Word of God it stands for riches, authority, sumptuous buildings and garments, and in some instances for hosts of warriors. Well, all these things are yonder in illimitable degree. (T. Spurgeon.)

Man’s constitution declares his need of Divine guidance

Suppose a man were to say about a steamship, “the structure of this vessel shows that it is meant that we should get up a roaring fire in the furnaces, and set the engines going at full speed, and let her go as she will.” Would he not have left out of account that there was steering apparatus which was as plainly meant to guide as are the engines to draw? What are the rudder and the wheel for? Do they not imply a pilot? And is not the make of our souls as plainly suggestive of subordination and control? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The guidance of the Holy Spirit as compared to a compass

A mariner who puts out to sea, losing sight of land, beholds nothing but a waste of waters around him. The night comes on, and clouds and darkness gather in upon him. But in his chart and compass he has an infallible guide. He regulates the sail as the wind requires, and holds to the rudder, never losing sight of the compass, and watchfully keeps the narrow way to which it confines him by night and by day. So the wise Christian looks up as one continually dependent on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the one source of all his spiritual life and motion. He is careful to watch the least breathing of the Spirit upon his soul that he may not quench it, but yield himself up to its full impression. And adding to this, his faith, all diligence and watchfulness, he is wafted onwards in safety, amidst the storms and wrecks around him in an evil world. (H.G. Salter.)


Verse 25-26

Psalms 73:25-26

Whom have I in heaven but Thee?
end there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee
.

God the only portion

“Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” Not “what.” Not in things, but in persons, the personal soul must find its portion. Not in many, but in One, to whom the soul can look, and to whom, as here, it can lift up its cry.

I. God alone can meet our sinfulness. This is our first need, for we are sinners, and this fact affects everything else. There may be any amount of slumbering grandeur in us, but it cannot get out for sin. None of us would be willing or able to reveal to another all that he is conscious of in himself. Hence men are reserved with one another. A man is accosting his neighbour in neighbourly kindness, and thinking the while, “He does not know me, and I durst not tell him what I think and what I feel and what I am. If I were sure he would understand everything just as it is, I might be able to tell him; but being sure that he would not understand, I cannot.” Now we are not speaking of any great sins or vices which particular men may have committed, and the remembrance of which they carry within, like ghastly skeletons shut up in closed rooms, but just of the secret of sinfulness which is in every heart. A terrible secret! A secret which must be told, which cannot be shut up for ever. But to whom? To Him who is greater than the heart, and who knoweth all things. To Him, in fact, because He knoweth all things. And then, according to His own promise, He will meet us and take all our sin away. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but he that con-fesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” God is for ever declaring His willingness to forgive. Thus He makes Himself our God by meeting our sinfulness.

II. God alone can meet our feebleness. We are compassed with infirmities, we are made up of needs. Some are so utterly blinded and bewitched that for a while they seem to indulge the hope that this world is the foundation-rock on which they can rest. How we should pity such men! And how pitiable indeed they become when they are undeceived; when the seeming rock shows itself to be but shifting sand; when the fair house shivers itself to atoms in their hands, and they stand houseless and homeless in the storm.

III. God only can meet our nobleness. For we are noble, as well as frail and sinful. Things high and low meet strangely in our nature. We are made in the image of God. The image is marred but not erased. We belong to a fallen but also to a rising race. And this is our nobleness that we are still God’s sons, and that we are awakening to this consciousness. And God alone can meet us in this. As He alone can understand the vastness of our needs, so He only can understand the greatness of our desire and the strength of our endeavour to be like Him, and with Him again. We misread, and then we misreport, each other woefully. We are on the homeward way together, and no doubt there is thus great mutual help, but there is mutual hindrance as well. One often casts a shadow on the path of another. He seems to see nothing but the wrong things, and the weaknesses; the rightness and the growing strength are within, and are seen only by Him who looks from above. It is not only that the wrong things are seen, and the weaknesses are noted, but often the right is called the wrong, and treated so. No doubt the temper of suspicion and distrust is fostered by the publicity which everything now receives, or rather by the malign prominence given in our daily literature to the vile and the wrong things. For the good things are not published; they are put into quiet corners; a thousand of them may be enacted by effort and by sacrifice, by patience and perseverance and love, and no notice will be taken of them. This uncandid temper, this extreme unwillingness to see moral inequalities among men, this strange desire to strike down the lofty and lay them with the low, rather than toil for the elevation of the low to the level of the lofty, is becoming quite one of the operative principles of our intellectual and social life, and of course it affects the Church also. Suspicion is bred among Christian men. One does not see how God is working in another, how the glorious image is shining out again. All this is trying enough, but at least it should enhance and endear to us the truth we are now enforcing, that God alone can meet our nobleness. How precious the privilege of being able to turn to Him when we can turn to no one else!

IV. God alone can meet and satisfy our immortality. He only is “the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever.” Even if the things and the persons we are so apt in our haste and blindness to put in the place of Him could be to us what we hope, the question still remains, “For how long?” and turn where we will, we can find no answer of such a kind as to furnish the ground of confidence for a single day. Try to apply the great language of the text to any person, to anything, but Him, and what a mockery it will be! Turn, then, from sin to God, from frailty to God, from trouble to God, from baffled endeavours to God, from unrequited love to God, from self to God, from men to God, from the world to God, from heaven to God, from eternity to God; and standing, separated and alone, on the height of this decisive hour, say, while heaven hears the cry, and angels register the vow--“Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none,” etc. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The home of the heart

The more perplexed and sad the music at first, the more triumphant and jubilant is the orchestral close. This singer’s first notes were both perplexed and sad. He was wrestling in vain with the old problem of the apparent disconnection between goodness and happiness, his “steps had well nigh slipped”; he was down in the depths, burrowing there. He has soared now to the heights. He has caught hold of God’s hand, and feels that he is ever with Him, and so the distribution of life’s uncertain ill and good becomes a less difficult and a far less important problem. Therefore the end of his song circles back to the beginning. He began by saying, and saying it when he could scarcely believe it to be true--“truly God is good to Israel, but as for me”--and He ends with “it is good for me to draw near to God.” In this utterance we have--

I. The perfection of wisdom. What did the psalmist mean by the rapturous question, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee”? Perhaps, he was thinking, amongst other things, of false gods, and proclaiming the monotheism of Israel and disowning the gods of the nations. Perhaps he had no such specific idea in his mind; but simply looking up into the heavens with all their stars, and with all their possible inhabitants, he felt that they were nought to him. And then does he come down, or does he go up, in the next clause? “There is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” In one respect that is a descent; more truly it is a climax. What does he mean? This is not the utterance of a foolish, false, unnatural, impossible effort to denude him of what makes man. God desires no vacuum in the heart into which He comes. He does not “make a solitude and call it peace.” Mark that “beside Thee”--“none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” Does not that suggest that there is to be none else on a level with Him; that His throne is to overtop all other golden seats? It implies, also, that all other delights and desires are held, not only in subordination to, but in association with, the supreme desire and delight which is fixed upon Him. A-s many loves as you will, as many desires as the heart can frame, if only all are linked with God, and you love and aim at all other loves and aims in God, and at God in all others.

II. A practicable ideal. Can it be realized perfectly? No. Permanently? No. Approximately? Yes. Progressively? Yes. Do you ask how? The first thing to do, because men are meant to be guided by their brains, is to familiarize our minds, by frequent contemplation and meditation, with the truth that God is our all-sufficient good. There is no depth in religion unless that lies at the very root of it all. And there will be no power in the practical life, for the sake of the clamant demands of which so many of us are strangers to God and ourselves, unless, in the midst of the bustle and the crowd, we do clear for ourselves a little space, and there, in the silence of our own souls, learn to know how good God is. And another thing that is necessary in order that we shall progressively approximate to this great ideal is diligent and honest direction and suppression of desires that draw us away from Him. You have to cut off the suckers and the side-shoots if you want the leader to go straight towards the sky. You have to dam up the side-streams if you want the river to run with a power and a scour. And you have to exercise coercion, violence sometimes, on these vagrant desires, and gather them together, if they are to be directed successfully and triumphantly to Him. But there must be further distinct efforts, not only of a negative kind, and in the way of suppression and withdrawal, but of the positive kind, in the way of seeking after a closer union with God, and a more continuous experience of His all-sufficiency. If we practise these three things, meditation, self-control, and the aspiration after God, in the measure in which we do we shall be able to make this psalmist’s word our own, and we shall find it true what God Himself has declared, “I have never said to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek ye My face in vain.”

III. The secret of blessedness. The misery of human life is its being torn asunder by the multiplicity of aims and objects. The blessedness of human life is its being simplified and unified into search after one. All of us know how the number of vulnerable points in a life is increased, just in the measure in which its aims and desires are manifold. And we might all of us know how we become lords of circumstances, and cased in triple armour against all sorrows, when we bring our lives down to the simplest form, and say, “God only is my good and my desire.” It is bad business to put all your capital into one speculation. It is good trading to put all your desires on God. God, and God alone, will unify our lives. This saying discloses the secret of peace. It is something to be delivered from all painful and perpetual and profitless quests after the manifold, and instead of wandering about the world seeking for goodly pearls, to have no need to roam, because at home we have the one pearl of great price. Need I remind you, again, how this great utterance reveals to us the secret o! blessedness, in that it points us to the only path on which he that seeks is sure to find. To seek for anything else than God is to lay up for ourselves sore hearts some day. To seek after Him, and Him only, is to secure blessedness in the search, and blessedness in the fruition. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The believer’s portion in his God

1. We are here taught that God is the portion of His people. God not only gives us His grace and favour, pardon of our sins, a perfect righteousness, and a glorious inheritance, but He gives us Himself. He bids us find our happiness not merely in the streams which flow from His goodness, but in Himself, the fountain of all.

2. While the psalmist professes to take nothing short of God Himself as his portion, he expressly excludes all other claimants upon his supreme regard and affection. He can survey the whole firmament, and range through all the courts of heaven’s glorious palace; and though his eye falls upon myriads of noble and blessed objects--angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim--prophets, apostles, and martyrs--saints of all climes and all ages--all these he passes by, he will set his hopes upon none of them, he will fix his heart’s trust upon nothing short of the eternal God Himself.

3. If the believer thus excludes all in heaven from competition with the one Lord of all for the supreme place in his heart’s affections, much more will he not allow anything on earth to interfere with such a claim. The kind benefactor, the sympathizing fellow-sufferer, the beloved Jonathan who is as his own soul; none of these must be permitted to usurp a place reserved for only one. They have their own appointed places, but they must not presume to occupy that throne in his heart which of right is his Lord’s.

4. But besides these various claimants upon the believer’s affections, there is one who is often a more formidable rival to their rightful Lord than any other, and that is himself. It is very rarely that a man does not love himself better than any one else; and too often he occupies in his own heart the very throne of God. His dependence is upon his own wisdom and his own strength. He trusts in his physical or his mental capacity, or it may be his spiritual understanding and Christian experience. His trust is divided between his Lord and himself--his Lord’s mercy and goodness, and his own faith and holiness; and so when these fail, as fail they always will, then of course he is disquieted and discouraged.

5. What then is the conclusion to which all this leads us? I do not know that we can express it more forcibly than in the closing words of the psalmist himself--“It is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Thy works.” (W. E. Light, M. A.)

Reasonable rapture

The text indicates the very high-water mark of religious experience, the very apex and climax of what some people would call mystical religion to which this man has climbed because he fought with his doubts, and by God’s grace was able to lay them. To him the world’s uncertain ill or good becomes infinitely insignificant, because for the future he has a clear vision of a continued life with God, and because for the present he knows that to have God in his heart is all that he really needs.

I. A necessity which, misdirected, is the source of man’s misery. We all of us need, though, alas! so few of us know that we need, a living possession of a living perfect person, for mind, for heart, for will. You try to fill that deep and aching void in your hearts, which is a sign of your possible nobleness, and a pledge of your possible blessedness, with all manner of minute rubbish, which can never fill up the gap that is there. Cartload after cartload may be tilted into the bottomless bog, and there is no more solid ground on the surface than there was at the beginning. Oh I consult thine own deepest need; listen to that voice, often stifled, often neglected, and by some of you always misunderstood, which speaks in your wills, minds, consciences, hopes, desires, hearts; and is it not this: “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God”?

II. The longing which, rightly directed and cherished, is the very spirit of religion. He, and only he, is the religious man, who can take these words of my text for the inmost words of his conscious effort and life. And only in the measure in which you and I recognize that God is our sole and all-sufficient good, in that measure have we any business to call ourselves devout or Christian people.

III. The blessed possession which deadens earthly desires. The sun when it rises quenches the brightest stars, that can but fade in his light and die. And so when, in answer to our longing, God lifts the light of His countenance--a better sunrise--upon us, that new affection dims and quenches the brightness of these little, though they be lustrous, points, that shed a fragmentary and manifold twinkling over the darkness of our former night. Only remember that this supreme, and in some sense exclusive, love and longing does not destroy the sweetness of lower possessions and blessings. A new deep love in a man’s or a woman’s heart does not make their former affections less, but more sweet and noble and strong.

IV. The possession which is the pledge of perpetuity. The whole context requires us to suppose that the psalmist’s eye is looking across the black gorge of death to the shining tableland beyond. So here we are admitted to see faith in the future life in the very act of growth. The singer soars to that sunlit height of confidence in the endless blessedness of union with God, just because He feels so deeply the sacredness and the blessedness of his present communion with God. Next to the resurrection of Jesus Christ the best proof of immortality lies in the present experience of communion with God. If there be a God at all, anything is more reasonable than to believe that the union, formed between Him and me, by faith here can ever come to an end until I have exhausted Him, and drawn all His fulness into myself. This communion, by its very sweetness, yieldeth proof that it was “born for immortality.” And the psalmist here, just because to-day God is the Rock of his heart, is sure that that relation must last on, through life, through death, aye I and for ever, “when all that seems shall suffer shock.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Tenderness of desire

I. They express a conscious necessity which God alone is able to meet. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” God alone can meet the varied needs of our nature.

II. Strong and absorbing love for God. This no hireling love for what it gets, but love for the giver, for the Lord Himself. And it need not come into collision with the love of our earthly friends. If we put the love of man first, all is wrong: but put the love of Christ first, and then all is right. (E. Garbett, M. A.)

Why should a man love Jesus Christ

I. Because of the superlative beauty of His character. Jesus Christ is the purest, truest, highest, most gracious human character which this world has seen. Every lofty virtue had in His life its natural home; every rich grace flowered in faultless perfectness, in coherence, and congruity, and symmetry. In the great worlds of character and conduct, in the realms of thought and feeling, speech and act, He has a sovereign pre-eminence. Without the thought of His character and the power of His influence, the moral wealth of the world would suffer an irreparable impoverishment, and the strength of the world’s ethical energy would be seriously diminished.

II. Because of the depth of His appeal to us. He never appeals to us for small things, but asks for those higher consecrations which tax to the very limit every power of life.

III. Because of the elevation to which He raises life. We have no need, and no desire, to disparage the delicate beauty of the lives of some splendid Pagans, nor are we unmindful of the nobility of some characters which have even neglected the Gospel of our Lord--unconsciously to them, Christ is the root of every bit of their goodness. In every walk of life, and in every realm, Jesus has lifted some noble spirit into an excellent grandeur; He has fertilized his thought, inspired his genius, deepened every noble enthusiasm, strengthened every holy purpose, lifted every power to its best energy, created and sustained the highest tastes and sweetest dispositions, and given to the whole life symmetry and influence. (G. B. Austin.)

The desolate soul finding rest in God

1. In those moments when the soul is left desolate, do not still seek comfort from the world. Why would you set your heart upon that which is not?

2. Be not overwhelmed with over-much sorrow. Such feelings are natural in the first flowings of affliction; but it is not meet to indulge and brood over them, so as to abandon the duties of life and sink in melancholy.

3. Harbour not revenge against those who have injured you, or in any way been the cause of your affliction. Revenge stops the sources of Divine consolation.

4. Beware of interrupting your desires toward God by any wilful sin. Afflictions do not intercept, they rather raise the desires to heaven; but every wilful deliberate sin overspreads the soul with a thick cloud, and separates betwixt us and our God.

5. Improve distresses of every kind as means of virtue, and grounds of praise. (S. Charters.)

The necessity of an Infinite Being to make men happy

I. The insufficiency of any worldly good for the happiness of man.

1. The nature of man in his present state makes it impossible for him to be completely happy. He hath hopes which cannot be answered, fears which cannot be silenced, desires will not be satisfied.

2. The nature of things, or at least the posture of them, will not and cannot render us completely happy. They have too much uncertainty to be depended on, and too much alloy mixed up with them to pass for durable or solid riches.

II. The absolute necessity of an infinitely perfect being, to make man completely happy. Let us therefore examine what are the essential qualifications of an all-sufficient good, that we may be sure we are right, in resorting to God for it.

1. God is Almighty, and so can do whatever He pleaseth in heaven and earth. Wherever therefore the ingredients of our happiness are scattered, He can bring them together, and make the faculty and its object meet.

2. Infinite wisdom knows how to employ an infinity of power with all advantage for our interests.

3. His goodness assures us that He will exert these great perfections in our favour, so that whatever infinite wisdom can contrive, or infinite power do for us, His infinite goodness assures us will be contrived and done for us.

4. Eternity and unchangeableness are necessary to finish and complete our happiness. (N. Marshall, D. D.)

God the only adequate portion

I. The psalmist had ascertained what the nature and properties of an adequate portion for man must be. He had, without doubt, considered himself, his nature, his wants, his capacities--had thought on his situation, and the dangers to which he was exposed from every quarter. He must have ascertained what influence that must have on his soul, and on those scenes of trial and temptation through which he might be called to pass--what it must do when strength and flesh fail, when death shall call him away from every created comfort, dissolve the dearest and tenderest connections--what it must do for his departing spirit, and that throughout eternity--to which he could direct his thoughts, and say, “This is all I want.”

II. The psalmist had resolved the question, whether the proper portion and felicity of man was in created nature, or in God. This would be his language:--“Could I ensure the favour and friendship of Jehovah; His power, my shield; His light, my sun; His wisdom, my counsellor; His arm, my support; that consolation and joy He can at present create; and that never-ending felicity He can give me to possess; should I not then have what will satisfy my soul? May I not rest here, and say--‘It is enough’?”

III. The text expresses the decided conviction of the psalmist, that the only portion and felicity of man is in God.

1. God is all-sufficient. There is no difficulty from which He cannot extricate the soul, no enemy out of the reach of His arm, no evil impending which He cannot prevent, nor any sum of felicity but what He can bestow.

2. God is an unchangeable good.

3. God is a portion of which the pious can never be deprived.

IV. Our text supposes the psalmist’s persuasion, that Jehovah would become that man’s portion, who, renouncing every other, seeks it in Him.

V. On this conviction, the psalmist made an actual and deliberate choice of God.

VI. The psalmist reposed in God with entire satisfaction--He was the supreme object of his desire and delight. (N. Hill.)

God the only adequate portion of the soul

1. God is the proper portion of the soul, because He is the only underived and absolute good. Whatever of virtue and truth, of moral worth and spiritual beauty, there may be in any part of the universe, among our race or other races, all must be referred to Him as its source.

2. He is a good adapted to the nature and necessities of the soul. Man was made originally in the Divine image; and whatever changes may have occurred in His character and condition, His nature is unchanged. A sick man is still a man; and a soul, dislocated and enervated by sin, is still a soul. As such it can find its supreme happiness only in God.

3. This will be further evident from considering that God is an infinite God. Here is a God we can adore. Here the intense longings of the soul are satisfied. In this august, ever-present, all-seeing, all-controlling Divinity, our minds repose with the assurance that His nature is not only suited to our nature, but absolutely boundless and unsearchable.

4. This implies that God is an eternal good--which may be mentioned as another proof that He is the only adequate portion for the soul. 5 As the crowning argument to show that God is the proper portion of the soul, it may be added that He is a most comprehensive good. Where He gives Himself, He gives every other good. (H A. Boardman, D. D.)

Moral character tested by the estimate of God, the chief good

The psalmist here uses the largest possible terms to assert his preference for God over all else. There is something very noble in such an assertion, so unqualified and so fearless, appealing, as it does, to the great Searcher of all hearts. Bow far off we are from being able to make the like assertion! Where is the single eye to God’s glory? and how frequent the attempt to “serve two masters,” and these irreconcilable. But such noble assertions as this are not to be regarded as beyond Christians generally. We have no proof that Asaph was a man of extraordinary piety. But though few only can adopt such language without presumption, still, to be a righteous man at all, it is necessary that he prefer God to aught besides, whether in heaven or in earth. A man may distrust himself whether he really does thus prefer God, and desire that he may do so far more, but the fact may be, all the same, that God is supreme in his affections. It is not the same thing our making God our chief good, and our being able to appeal to Him that we do. Just as there may be faith without assurance. There can be no real religion without God being first in our regard, but there may be this and yet no realization of it in our feelings. But our purpose now is to take the psalmist’s words and to use them as a measure by which all may judge men’s distance from moral excellence. And we do this--

I. In regard to the unconverted. God is not in all their thoughts, much less supreme in them. Nor do they wish Him to be. The psalmist desired, but they do not, to be for ever with God. It is said that men dread annihilation, the soul dying with the body. But do men dread this? Have not poetry and philosophy greatly exaggerated here? Unquestionably, man’s dissatisfaction with the present is proof of his being designed for another state of being. But whilst a man may have the witness in himself that he is not to be annihilated, he yet may have no horror at the thought of it. He would be glad to know that death is but an everlasting sleep. For they cannot endure to look forward. Wrath and retribution are there. Hence they cannot shrink, as do the godly, from ceasing to exist. But is not this the most affecting of all evidences of the vast extent of human degeneracy--that any should be willing to perish as do the brutes: that the soul should not shrink from annihilation? But the psalmist--how different his desire! And this not only as to the future, but as to the chief good of the present.

II. The righteous. Too often they love life over-much. If their circumstances be easy, how they shrink from death; how few are “ready to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” Christians who cling to this world are more blameworthy than the ungodly who shrink from the next. For the psalmist, God alone could suffice. And in regard to our hope of the future, take heed lest our delight in heaven be that there our loved ones are, rather than that God is there. The presence of God and Christ make heaven. Let us learn to say, “Whom have I in heaven,” etc. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)

God the only happiness of man

Man himself is not sufficient for his own happiness. Because he is liable to so many evils; so full of wants; compassed about with so many infirmities, and this from youth to old age. Think what evils would happen to man if the providence of God did not rule the world. Man, therefore, needs a source of happiness outside himself.

1. It must be an all-sufficient good.

2. It must be perfect goodness.

3. It must be firm and unchangeable in itself.

4. It must be such a good as none can deprive us of, and take away from us.

5. It must be eternal.

6. It must be able to support and comfort us in every condition, and under all the accidents and adversities of human life.

7. It must be such a good as can give perfect rest and tranquillity to our minds.

Nothing that is short of all this can make us happy: and no creature, no, not the whole creation, can pretend to be all this to us. All these properties meet only in God, who is the perfect and supreme good; and, consequently, God is the only happiness of man. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)

The discipline of desire

The disciplining of our desire lays upon us no small or light or fleeting duty. On the contrary, it has to do with the weightier matters of the law. The issues are far-reaching, and the application must be constant.

1. Be watchful of your desire for possession. A man may have a greed for gold without having the gold. A poor man may love money.

2. Be watchful of your desire for pleasure. Be on your guard that it does not take the moral grit out of your soul. Work and play should go hand in hand, and both should be hallowed.

3. Watch your desire for praise. Don’t let it tone down the energetic strokes that give strength and value to your virtues.

4. Watch your desire for ease. I suppose it is true that there is a vein of laziness in all of us. We don’t want to be bothered; but the world has a right to expect us to evince that we possess will, character, and to evince also that that character is supreme.

5. Watch your desire in reading. Be on your guard against books which make no requirement upon your thinking powers, and take care they do not wound your sympathy. Some persons will weep profusely over pathetic scenes described in books, and have no tears to shed or help to give in the actual needs and griefs of life.

6. Train your desire to make the best of your circumstances. We may not be able to choose our circumstances, but we can use them. Every man is a king or a slave. Don’t ask to be “coddled,” but let your request be: “Get out of the sunlight; give me opportunities.” Be on your guard against wandering desires, refit is these that give emptiness to life.

7. Finally, bring your desires to Christ. Put that desire which is spoiling you into His hands. Let His love cleanse and direct and complete it. There is nothing that will kill an old love like a new love, and higher. Make faith the teacher of desire. (W. R. Britton.)

The good man’s reward

There is a beautiful story of Thomas Aquinas, that one day, while worshipping in the chapel in which he was accustomed to perform his devotions, the Saviour appeared to him and said, “Thomas, thou hast written much and well concerning Me. What reward shall. I give thee for thy work?” Whereupon he answered, “Nihil nisi to; Domino”--“Nothing but Thyself, O Lord.”


Verse 26

Psalms 73:26

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Immortality

The especial point of this whole psalm lies in the contrast between the present and the future, between the transitory and the eternal. His bodily frame, or “flesh,” the psalmist feels, is breaking up. For the moment it might seem that his “heart” was partaking in the depressing sense of coming dissolution. The “heart” with the Hebrews means, speaking generally, the centre or inner seat of life, whether physical or spiritual. It is indeed used in one well-known passage of the Psalter in the physical sense of animal life-power which is quickened by food and made glad by wine. More commonly it is the centre from which the life-stream of thought and feeling pours through the soul. Thus the “heart” is said to “speak,” to “think,” to “conceive within self,” to “meditate,” to “desire,” to “cry out in song and jubilee,” to be heated with intense thought, to be grieved, to be desolate, to be smitten and withered like grass, to be wounded, to be broken. Especially is the heart the seat of the moral life, of its movement and repose, of its conquests and failures, of its final victory or death. Thus the heart is said to be “ready,” or “clean,” or “fixed,” or “whole” and “perfect,” or “converted,” or “hardened,” as the case may be. As the seat of the moral life the heart is described as “deep.” God knows its mysterious secrets. Thus, then, in the passage before us, “the flesh” is in contrast to the “heart,” as the animal frame of man might be contrasted with the life of consciousness, feeling, and moral effort. The former is yielding to the slow, certain action of time, and has already upon it the presentiment of death. The latter seems for one instant to lose the sense of its real indestructibility in its profound sympathy with the weakly body which yet encases it. But the darkness lasts for a moment only; for “God is the strength of my heart,” etc. The contrast is too perfect to be evaded. On the one side the perishing body; on the other, the undying soul. And it is this vision which removes the difficulty he had felt in regard to the ways of God. It melts away altogether beneath the rays of light which stream from one cardinal truth, it is solved by the doctrine of the immortality of the soul of man. (Canon Liddon.)

A common fact and a special privilege

I. A fact in the history of all men. The fact is the decay of man as a citizen of this earth. The seed of death is planted in us all, and as the seed grows, man decays. “All flesh is grass.” This inevitable decay of our nature shows two things:--

1. The absurdity of worldliness.

2. The necessity of spirituality. Without this, man has no interest in a life beyond this mortal state. With this, brighter worlds loom before him. This spirituality, however, can only be obtained through Christ. This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God.

II. A privilege in the history of some men. “God is the strength (rock) of my heart.”

1. God is the soul’s power. Without Him it has no moral strength to resist the wrong, to pursue the right, to endure trials, to welcome death, to serve humanity, and to honour God. God is the strength. As sap in all the branches of the tree, He is strength to all the faculties of the soul. “Our sufficiency is of God.”

2. God is the soul’s portion. “My portion for ever.” A loving heart can be satisfied with nothing less than the object of its affection. The object may give to the lover all he has, but unless he gives himself the hunger of love is not allayed. Even so man’s soul cries out for the living God, and nothing less will do. He is the portion

The believer’s consolation in death

I. What the psalmist means by the flesh and heart failing.

1. By the flesh failing, we are to understand death.

2. When the flesh is thus failing in a dying hour, the heart may be ready to sink into a state of despondency; and this may be owing--

II. The source of our dependence in such awful circumstances, God. “God is the strength of my heart.” This may be inferred--

1. From His love to them (Psalms 11:7).

2. From His ability (Isaiah 59:1).

3. From His infinite presence with them (2 Chronicles 16:9).

4. From His faithfulness to His kind promises made to them, and on which He has caused them to hope (Isaiah 43:1-3).

5. From their interest in Him, their portion for ever, “The Lord is my portion,” etc. (Lamentations 3:24).

6. What kind of a portion God is, no creature can fully describe (Job 11:7).

1. Let the consideration of our flesh failing daily excite us to a daily preparation for eternity.

2. As God is the strength of our hearts, let us trust in Him, in life and death, that He may be our portion for over. (T. Hannam.)


Verse 28

Psalms 73:28

It is good for me to draw near to God.

An assuredly good thing

When a man is sick everybody knows what is good for him. They recommend specifics by the score. Amid such a babel, it is well for a man if he knows what is good for himself. And so in our spiritual troubles. Every friend commends some different course. But the psalmist puts them all aside, and declares, “It is good for me to draw near unto God.” Thus--

I. He tacitly condemns other courses of action. From the connection of the text it is plain that he repents of certain kinds of thought to which he had given way. The text tells of his recoil from them.

1. From trying to fathom the mysteries of Providence. What have we to do with measuring its great depths? And yet we are ever trying to. Gotthold in his “Emblems” tells us of the freaks of his child. The father was one day sitting in his study, and, when he lifted his eye from his book, he saw standing upon the window ledge his little son. He was troubled and affrighted to the last degree, for the child stood there in utmost peril of failing to the ground and being dashed to pieces. The little one had been anxious to know what his father was doing so many hours in the day in his study, and he had at last, by a ladder, managed to climb up, with boyish daring, till there he stood, outside the window, gazing at his father with all his eyes. “So,” said the father, as he took the child into his chamber, and rebuked him for his folly, “so have I often tried to climb into the council chamber of God, to see why and wherefore He did this and that; and thus have I exposed myself to peril of falling to my destruction.” My God, it is not good for me to pry into Thy secrets with curiosity, but it is good for me to draw near unto Thee in sincerity. And--

2. We learn also it is not good for us, under any circumstances, to go to a distance from God. The preceding verse reads, “They that are far from Thee shall perish.” Now, the tendency of repeated affliction is, in the carnal mind, to drive us away from God. A dog may follow you if you otter it a bone but strike it and see if it will follow you then. But it can never be good for us to go away from God.

II. Observe what is plainly commended--“to draw near unto God.”

1. This implies that we are reconciled to Him. To attempt to draw near while He is angry would be insanity. As well might the moth draw near to the candle. We must first be accepted in Christ.

2. To draw near the soul must realize that God is near to it, and must have a clear sense of who and what God is.

3. It is prayer, but it is more than prayer. There may be no words, but it is the laying open of the chamber of your soul that the Lord may enter and inspect the whole; it is the complete yielding up of yourself to God to be dealt with as He pleases.

4. It may assume the form of praise. As with David when he satin the Lord’s presence, wondering “Whence is this to me? What am I and my father’s house, that Thou hast brought me hitherto?”

5. It is looking at the matter in the Divine light. If we judge God from our standpoint we shall misjudge; but see how that which troubles you looks in the light of God. Bereavement, poverty, when seen as God’s way of saving your soul, look very different then.

6. It is the being pleased with anything and everything that pleases God. We are often willing to give up our own way to please those we love; should we not be so in order to please God?

III. The grounds for the unqualified commendation of this drawing near to God.

1. It is good in itself. How can it be otherwise? The courtier delights to bask in the presence of his sovereign.

2. It is good if we consider our relations to God. Are we not His children? But is it not a good thing for the child to come near to its parents?

3. And because of our pitiable condition and character. We are the weakest of the weak.

4. It removes many evils to which you are constantly exposed. Man of business, absorbed in your work, day by day, what can so keep you from worldliness and fret and anxiety, as drawing near to God?

5. And there are many good things which it will confer. There is no blessing which prayer cannot obtain, which close approaches to God will not ensure. If then it be so good, let us do it at once. You who have been living afar off; you who are happy; and especially you who are penitent sinners. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A devotional spirit

I. Explain what is meant by such devotional spirit. Note then--

1. Its means--prayer, etc.

2. Its refuge--God.

3. Its exercises.

II. Its importance and advantages.

1. Such spirit furthers holiness.

2. Helps the understanding of Divine truth.

3. Becomes a habit full of help to the soul. Is--

4. One of the strongest safeguards against temptation.

5. Cultivates all the Christian graces.

6. Fixes his heart.

7. Is humble, tender, childlike.

8. Gives increase in holiness, which but for it would yield no help (Psalms 104:1-35.).

9. Hangs round the very essentials of religion--Christ, God, the promises, etc. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)

Drawing near to God

I. The conduct referred to.

1. It implies that there has been separation.

2. It is the religion of the heart.

3. It demands enlightenment of mind, and--

4. The realization of God’s presence.

II. The benefit of this drawing near to God. “It is good for,” etc. This must depend upon the character of the God to whom we draw near. If He be only my judge, how could I say, “It is good,” etc. But He is our Father, and hence it cannot but be good to draw near to Him. Now, the blessings of this are--

1. Deliverance from care and fear. See David; the three Hebrew youths; Paul and Silas, etc.

2. It is the only real preservative from sin.

3. It is the assurance to us of safety new and for ever.

4. It is a very foretaste of heaven. Remember it is not a mere isolated act, but our habit. How terrible to come to a death-bed without ever having drawn near to God. (Montagu Villiers, M. A.)

The excellence of drawing near to God

I. As to its nature, it comprehends much. It implies, first, that man is morally distant from God. This sacred exercise implies that a medium or a means of access is appointed. We have this blessed truth set forth by Christ Himself; “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” He is the Daysman; He heals the wide and awful breach. In further illustration of this exalted exercise, I would remark, that prayer is appointed as the act of our approach to Him. There is a sense in which we cannot be nearer to God in one view than another. I cannot go where He is not. But in the act of prayer I enter as it were into His presence. Prayer is the appointed means of communication betwixt God and man. Let me further observe, in illustration of this holy exercise, that God requires it should be accompanied with a suitable disposition. Would you “draw near to God” acceptably? you must come with humility. Would you “draw near to God” with acceptance? you must draw near with fervour--contemplating the magnitude of the blessings which you ask. To “draw near” to God acceptably, you must draw near in perseverance. The blessing which you ask may be for a season withheld; or the success you implore may for a time be suspended.

II. The advantages of this exalted exercise. For David says, “It is good to draw near to God.” And why so? Because God has commanded it; and this circumstance alone ought sufficiently to convince us of its value and necessity. “It is good,” because, apart from the authority of that command, it is reasonable. “There is no truth more obvious, and eternal.” And there is yet another great advantage; it tends to help us to cherish the calmness of mind, so essential to our advancement, and our spiritual prosperity and peace. “It is,” further, “good,” as instrumental in obtaining all spiritual blessings. The truth of the text is exemplified in all the events of life; but in the awful hour of death you shall find, with additional energy of conviction, that “it is good for you to draw near to God.” “He will be the strength of your heart, and your portion for ever.” (John Bowers.)

Let us pray

There are many ways by which we draw near to God, but prayer is the best used means. So then take our text--

I. As A touchstone. Try your prayers by it. Is there any drawing near to God in them? No matter how beautiful, venerable, scriptural the form, if the petitions be never presented. Suppose I should desire a favour of some friend. I shut myself up alone, and I commence delivering an oration, pleading earnestly for the boon I need. I repeat this at night, and so on month after month. At last I meet my friend, and I tell him that I have been asking a favour of him, and that he has never heard my prayer. “Nay,” saith he, “I have never seen you; you never spoke to me.” “Ah, but you should have heard what I said; if you had but heard, it surely would have moved your heart.” “Ah,” saith he, “but then you did not address it to me. You wrote a letter, you tell me, but did you post the letter?” “No, no,” you say; “I kept the letter after I had written it; I never sent it to you.” Now, mark, it is thus with many prayers. There has been no drawing near to God. This drawing near is at first with holy fear, then with holy reverence, then with joy as a child to a father. Next--

II. On the text as a whetstone. Pray, for prayer explains mysteries; brings deliverances; obtains promises. If thou hast a burden on thy back, remember prayer, for thou shalt carry it well if thou canst pray. Once on a time Christian had to carry it. He crept along on his hands and knees. There appeared to him a fair and comely damsel, holding in her hands a wand, and she touched the burden. It was there, it was not removed; but, strange to say, the burden lost its weight. That which had crushed him to the earth had become now so light that he could leap and carry it. And prayer ensures success in our work for God. Two labourers in God’s harvest met each other once upon a time, and they sat down to compare notes. One was sorrowful, and complained that though he diligently sowed, no harvest came. The other said, “I steep my seed in prayer, and I have much success.”

III. As a tombstone. For the prayerless soul is a Christless soul. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The saint’s happiness

“It is good;” that is, it puts in us a blessed quality and disposition. It makes a man to be like God; and, secondly, “it is good,” that is, it is comfortable; for it is the happiness of the creature to be near the Creator; it is beneficial and helpful. “To draw near:” How can a man but be near to God, seeing He filleth heaven and earth: “Whither shall I go from Thy presence?” (Psalms 139:7). He is present always in power and providence in all places, but graciously present with some by His Spirit, supporting, comforting, strengthening the heart of a good man. As the soul is said to be in several parts by several faculties, so God present He is to all, but in a diverse manner. Now, we are said to be near to God in divers degrees.

1. When our understanding is enlightened; and so the young man speaking discreetly in things concerning God, is said not to be far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34).

2. In minding; when God is present to our minds, so as the soul is said to be present to that which it mindeth; contrarily it is said of the wicked, that “God is not in all their thoughts” (Psalms 10:4).

3. When the will upon the discovery of the understanding comes to choose the better part, and is drawn from that choice to cleave to Him, as it was said of Jonathan’s heart, “it was knit to David” (1 Samuel 18:1).

4. When our whole affections are carried to God, loving Him as the chief good. Love is the first-born affection. That breeds desire of communion with God. Thence comes joy in Him, so as the soul pants after God, “as the hart after the water-springs” (Psalms 42:1).

5. When the soul is touched with the Spirit of God working faith, stirring up dependence, confidence, and trust on God. Hence ariseth sweet communion. The soul is never at rest till it rests on Him. Then it is afraid to break with Him or to displease Him. But it groweth zealous and resolute, and hot in love, stiff in good cases; resolute against his enemies. And yet this is not all, for God will have also the outward man, so as the whole man must present itself before God in word, in sacraments; speak of Him and to Him with reverence, and yet with strength of affection mounting up in prayer, as in a fiery chariot; hear Him speak to us; consulting with His oracles; fetching comforts against distresses, directions against maladies.

6. When we praise Him; for this is the work of the souls departed, and of the angels in heaven, that are continually near unto Him. And thus much for the opening of the words. The prophet here saith, “It is good for me.” How came he to know this? Why, he had found it by experience, and by it he was thoroughly convinced of it. (R. Sibbes.)

Good to draw near

Who does not wish for good? But too many fail to understand what real good is, and choose that which is evil by mistake.

I. The action--“drawing near.” We may do so by prayer, by study, by preparation. But we must do so chiefly by being conformed to the likeness of the Holy Spirit and by being united through Jesus.

II. The reward. It is good--good in every way: good for our happiness; good for our holiness; good for our eternal interests; good for our usefulness; good for our Master’s glory. (Homilist.)

The nature and benefits of communion with God

I. What it is to draw near to God. It is to have clear and realizing views of His character, and especially as that character is made known in and by Christ--to exercise towards Him suitable acts of faith, dependence, love, gratitude and worship.

II. Why it is good thus to draw nigh to God.

1. Because it is then the soul realizes in an especial manner God’s love, and finds its own love powerfully called into exercise.

2. Because it has a peculiarly sanctifying influence upon the mind.

3. Because it is a means of strengthening the soul to run the race that is set before it, and to persevere without wavering in the ways of the Lord. (R. Oakman, B. A.)

Advantages of communion with God

I. What is included.

1. A Scriptural knowledge of God.

2. Faith in God.

3. An explicit apprehension of the only medium of drawing nigh to God and of access, whether it be by prayer, meditation, or communion with Him.

4. Humble, yet confident dependence on the aids of the Divine grace.

II. The advantages.

1. It tends to the intellectual elevation of the soul.

2. It is essentially adapted to man’s spiritual improvement.

3. It is the source of man’s highest blessedness.

4. It is good as connected with our absolute safety.

5. It is an essential preparation for the glory of heaven. (J. Burns, D. D.)

On devotion

I shall endeavour to recommend the duties of devotion, by considering their influence on the virtue and the happiness of human life.

I. They are admirably calculated to promote your improvement in virtue. The duties of devotion, leading to the contemplation of infinite excellence, and improving the best affections of the heart, plant in our breasts the seeds of virtue. The exercises in which these duties engage us are favourable also to its growth; for we come into the presence of God, not merely to adore the perfection of His nature, and to celebrate the goodness to which we owe all our bliss--we come to lay open before Him the secrets of our souls--to bewail the transgressions by which we have offended Him--and to form our resolutions of future obedience. These exercises lead to a serious review, and produce a knowledge of our own characters extremely favourable to improvement.

II. The influence of devotion on the happiness of life.

1. Devotion is, itself, a source of the sublimest enjoyment. The human mind delights in exercise; and the duties of piety are the noblest exercise in which its powers can be employed.

2. Devotion exalts and purifies every earthly pleasure. It adds to the enjoyment of our present comforts the delightful emotion of gratitude to our Maker.

3. But adversity is the scene in which devotion triumphs; for, however in our prosperity we may forget our Maker, affliction reminds us of our dependence on Him. (W. Moodie, D. D.)

The benefits of drawing near to God

I. He is the author of our salvation, and the fountain from which we draw our spiritual supply. The waters of a stream become purer and better as we approach the fountain head.

II. Drawing near to God enables us the better to know God. To know our fellow-men we must draw near to them. We may know something of God from tradition--from nature--from a cold and critical study of the Bible; but to know Him more perfectly we must draw near to Him, and thus know Him in our own Christian experiences.

III. It involves a drawing away from the world. Our arms are too short for us to walk hand in hand with God and the world. The great, clutchy arms of the world are about us, and the loving arms of God are extended towards us, inviting us to come nearer to Him.

IV. It puts us in our proper attitude toward the world.

1. It enables the world to put a proper estimate on us. When we are far away from God, the world is in doubt whether or not to count on us.

2. It enables us to form a proper estimate of the world. We owe the world a great deal, and we never know how much until we draw near to God.

3. This is the secret of success in the Christian life. Are we to accomplish anything together for the Master? This will depend upon the distance between us and God. (John Hall, D. D.)

On drawing near to God

I. By the practice of holiness and virtue throughout the general tenor of our life. He who lives in the exercise of good affections, and in the regular discharge of the offices of virtue and piety, maintains, as far as his infirmity allows, conformity with the nature of that perfect Being, whose benevolence, whose purity and rectitude, are conspicuous, both in His works and His ways.

II. By acts of immediate devotion. There are two ways by which these contribute to bring us near to God.

1. The first is, by their strengthening in the soul that power of vital godliness and virtue in which consists our chief resemblance to God: for it is never to be forgotten, that all our devotional exercises are subservient to this great end. Herein consist their whole virtue and efficacy, that they purify and improve the soul, raise it above low passions, and thereby promote the elevation of the human nature towards the Divine.

2. When our acts of devotion are of this nature, they form tim other sense in which the words of the text are to be understood. We therein draw near to God, as we enter into the most immediate intercourse with Him, which the nature of our state admits; approaching Him through a great Mediator and Intercessor; sending up those prayers to which we are encouraged to believe that the Almighty is lending a gracious ear; resigning ourselves to His conduct, and offering up our souls to Him; exercising, in short, all those acts of faith, love and trust which become dependent creatures towards their Sovereign and Father. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)

The benefit of drawing near to God

I. It will establish your confidence in godliness as a reality. Nearness to God is nearness to all that is good; for “with Him is the fountain of life.” Nearness to God is nearness to the object to which all religious institutions are designed to bring you: it is this that explains their meaning, and in this they gain their end. Nearness to God is nearness to religious truth, which is the animating soul of all these institutions; nearness to that truth, not in intellectual perception merely, but in an experimental, sense of its sweetness and efficacy.

II. It will rectify your estimate of terrestrial things. It is in the mount of communion with God that you are drawn away from the sordid and the grovelling, and made to soar to the spiritual and the heavenly. There your range of view is exceedingly widened; your souls are elevated, enlarged, and filled; things unseen and eternal are realized in their transcendent greatness and importance, and things seen and temporal sink into insignificance; the sublime of heaven expands before you, and reveals earth in its littleness, and you say (Psalms 17:14-15).

III. It will fortify your minds in the hour of temptation. What is the design of every temptation? To seduce from God. In nearness to Him, therefore, you are keeping your ground; you are resisting and overcoming. You are verifying what is said of the child of God (1 John 5:18).

IV. It will quicken your spiritual desires. This is a thing of great importance. Just as your spiritual desires are, so is your spiritual health: when they are languid, it is infirm; when they are lively, it is vigorous. Again, just as your spiritual desires are, so is your affection to the things of earth: when they are keen, it is dull; when they are weak, it is strong. Moreover, just as your spiritual desires are, so is your spiritual prosperity as a whole; so is your growth in grace, and so is your spiritual enjoyment. It is of the nature of grace in the heart, that the more it enjoys, it craves the more; and the more it has of the best of earth, it longs the more for the bliss of heaven.

V. It will augment your christian usefulness. The fit agent for rousing consciences, and moving hearts, and winning souls, is the man that comes forth from the presence-chamber of the King, with the atmosphere of “the Holiest” about him, and his own face shining with the lustre of the glory of God upon it. To conclude: see from this subject--

1. One thing about godliness which we should keep prominently before our minds. The good that is in it, and that flows from it.

2. One reason why we so much underrate the future world. It is because we so much overrate the present.

3. Who the safest and happiest man among us is. The man who is nearest to his God.

4. The mistake of those who make communion with God to consist chiefly in pleasing feeling. They will have the way to heaven to be heaven itself.

5. What to look for after those days of high privilege we have been seeing. The full harvest of those blessed fruits or effects of “drawing near to God,” of some of which we have now been speaking, is yet to be reaped. Let us take good heed to ourselves that we reap this harvest in all its fulness and preciousness. (D. Young, D. D.)

Nearness to God the key to life’s puzzles

I. Nearness to God is the one good. Union with God is life, in all senses of the word, according as the creature is capable of union with Him. Why; there is no life in a plant except God’s power is vitalizing it. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow”--because God makes them grow. There is no bodily life in a man unless He continually breathes into the nostrils the breath of life. If you stop the flow of the fountain then all the pools are dry. There is no life intellectual in a man unless by the “inspiration of the Almighty “ in union with God, from whom all just “thoughts do proceed.” And high above all these forms of life, the only real life of a spirit is the life that it draws from its union with God Himself, whereby He pours Himself into it, and in the deepest sense of the words it is true--“Because I live ye shall live also.” I need scarcely go on pointing out other respects of this supreme--or more truly, this solitary--good. For instance, nothing is really good to me unless I have it within me, so as that it never can be wrenched away from me. The blessings that we cannot incorporate with the very substance of our being are only partial blessings after all; and all these things round us that do minister to our necessities, tastes, affections, and sometimes to our weaknesses, these good things fail just in this, that they stand outside us, and there is no real union between us and them. So changes come, and we have to unclasp hands, and the footsteps that used to be planted by the side of ours cease, and our track across the sands is lonely; and losses come, and death comes, and all the glory and the good that were only externally possessed by us we leave behind us. “It is good for me,” amidst the morasses and quicksands and bogs of life’s uncertain and shifting ill and good, to set my feet upon the rock, and to say, “Here I stand, and my footing will never give way.” Do you, brother, possess a changeless, imperishable, inwrought “good like that? You may if you like. But remember, too, that in regard to this Christian good, it is not only the possession of it, but the aspiration after it, that is blessed. “It is good to draw near;” and the seeking after God is as far above the possession of all other good as the heaven is above the earth.

II. The way to nearness to God is twofold. On the one hand the true path is Jesus Christ, on the other hand the means by which we walk upon that path is our faith. The apostle puts it all in a nutshell when he says his prayer is that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,” and then, by a linked chain, leads up to the final issues of that faith in that indwelling Christ--“that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.” So to draw near and to possess that good, that only good which is God, all that is needed is--and it is needed--that we should turn with the surrender of our hearts, with the submission of our wills, with the outgoing of our affections, and with the conformity of our practical life, to Jesus. Seeing Him, we see the Father, and having Him near us, we feel the touch of the Divine hand, and being joined to the Lord, we are separated from the vanities of life, and united to the supreme good. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The delights of prayer

Alleine once wrote--“Though I am apt to be unsettled and quickly set off the hinges, yet, methinks, I am like a bird out of the nest, I am never quiet till I am in my old way of communion with God; like the needle in the compass, that is restless till it be turned towards the pole. I can say through grace, with the Church, ‘With my soul have I desired Thee in the night, and with my spirit within me have I sought Thee early.’ My heart is early and late with God; ‘tis the business and delight of my life to seek Him.” (Life of Alleine.)
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Psalms 74:1-23

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 73:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-73.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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