Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David. Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.The Mystery of Prayer
Instructive as we feel our prayers to be, when we try to think quietly what they mean, what they involve, we are often haunted by misgivings and difficulties.
I. Problems of Prayer.—Prayer in the sense of communion between the Divine and the human Spirit we can understand, but prayer in the sense of definite petitions—can I seriously hope that God will change the vast complicated order of things in answer to a momentary request from a single one of His creatures? And so the native hue of our resolution, of our instinct to pray is 'sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought'. Now our sense of the worth—of validity—of prayer will depend upon our conception of God. We have had a wrong conception before our minds which we have seen to be responsible for much unsettlement of thought and indifference of life—a conception, I mean, of God as the Almighty dwelling in some vast and distant region, and beholding from afar this universe which He has called into being and over which He has inexorable laws. Now if belief in prayer means that we are to suppose that in response to our petitions this Being descends upon His universe and arbitrarily interferes with its course and breaks its laws on our behalf, then in our minds, filled as they must be with the truth of the unity of nature, there is no possible place for such a belief in prayer. But let us turn from this wrong conception to the true conception, and have God before our minds as One who is ever present, not only in the whole of His universe but in each single part of it, so that its ceaseless energy is His will, its law the expression of His thought; in all its myriad movements it is held together by the unity of His infinite Mind and Will. Then we shall find that within His unity of Nature there is a place, a real and necessary place, for prayer.
II. Unity of Nature.—(a) What do we mean by this unity of Nature? The Unity of Nature is, let us remember, the rational order in which the universe and each part of it is held together by one indwelling Spirit. (b) Now secondly, what do we mean by 'the laws of Nature'? They are simply the expression to us of the ways in which this indwelling Spirit of God works; whenever we see the same effects following from the same causes, we say we discern a law of Nature, that is, a method by which God chooses to work in His world. (c) Thirdly, what do we mean by the power of Nature? We can only mean by the power of Nature the energy by which the Will of this Infinite Spirit works itself out in the universe; and power acts, and must act in a rational universe according to purpose. We may then, without difficulty, believe that the indwelling Spirit of God is everywhere so arranging, so adapting the forces of Nature in which He dwells that it shall minister to the spirit of man, by working upon his prayer and giving an answer to it as He sees best. Prayer therefore finds its place, its rightful place, we may even say its necessary place, in the unity of Nature. This does not mean that the answer to prayer can ever interfere with the course or break the laws of Nature. We merely mean that God can so arrange and order the laws of Nature as seems to Him best for a sufficient purpose.
—Archbishop Lang, The Church Family Newspaper, 1907, p. 512.
A Sermon to Seamen
I. What is the Lord to us? He is the God of our salvation. And this implies that we all need salvation. You have not attained to right ideas of yourself and right ideas of God unless when you think of God you think also of your need of being saved from sin and of Him as the Lord and giver of that salvation. Salvation is of the Lord alone. It begins in His everlasting purpose, in His sacred covenant, in His Divine choice of His people, and is carried out by the gift of His dear Son, by His life and by His death. Now it is a curious thing that in this salvation there is a curious mixture of the terrible and the gracious. We see in salvation a God so terrible, so angry against sin, that even to save the man he loves He will not put up the sword of His justice. And how terrible a thing it is to view Jesus Christ coming into the sinner's place and bearing the wrath of God on account of sin!
II. I have set forth what God is to us—The God of our salvation. Now what will God do for us? He will answer us. This shows that we must all pray, There is not a believing man in the world but what must pray, and we shall never get into such a state of grace that we have not need to pray. What do we pray for? Well, according to the Psalm, one of the most important things is to pray against sin. Do your sins hold you captive? can you not keep away from them? Are they too many for you? Cry to the Lord to drive them all away. A word from Him can chase those demons from you and leave you at perfect peace. But remember, if we pray to be delivered from sin and to be brought nearer to God, He may answer us by terrible things in righteousness. God often sends us ingots of gold in rumbling wagons drawn by black horses. Our trials and troubles and crosses are among the best things we have. The more tender the love of God, the more likely are we to get chastening.
III. The third point is this. What the Lord is to the ends of the earth. He is the confidence of all the ends of the earth. I am going to spiritualize that—who are the ends of the earth? All that live at the extremes of heat or cold, we may liken them to the ends of the earth. And God is worthy to be the confidence of those who are farthest off from His Church, from Himself, from the Gospel, from hope, from anything that is good. The ends of the earth might mean also those that are least known. There are some that are the ends of the earth, of whom nobody thinks. Do I speak to one who has been thinking 'No one cares for my soul'? Do they quite pass you by? Well, come and put your trust in the Lord for He is the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and you resting in Him shall find a helper in Him.
IV. The last point is this. What is God to seafaring men, what should He be to them? He is 'the confidence of all them that are afar off upon the sea'. I have often likened the life of a seafaring man to what the life of a Christian should be. We take our bearings by the heavenly bodies. We are guided by the Word of God which is our chart, by the movements of the blessed Spirit within which is our compass. Trusting in Him we shall come to our desired haven without fear of shipwreck, for He that taught us to sail the spiritual sea will guide us safely over every inch of it.
—C. H. Spurgeon, The British Weekly Pulpit, vol. II. p. 69.
The River of God
There is no scarcity in God. The whole testimony of the Bible runs immediately and urgently in this direction: If we are straitened we are straitened in ourselves, we are not straitened in God; if we have not, it is because we ask not, or because we ask amiss; if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God which giveth unto all men liberally—wisdom upon wisdom—and upbraideth not; giving does not impoverish Him, withholding does not enrich Him; the river of God is full of water—always full. If we die of thirst the responsibility is our own.
I. Here is a wonderful river, rolling past our very dwelling-places, rolling through the whole area of our life and our experience. The whole Psalm is a kind of festival song. God is so abundant, so hospitable, so gracious, so plentiful; the whole tone of His sanctuary is plenteousness, abundance, more and more, to infinity. This Psalmist has a wondrous gift of utterance. I do not see how he can end this Psalm but with dancing and tumult and uproar of joy; and I cannot see how a man can be so thrilled with joy himself without making the valleys sing, and the thick standing corn lift up its voice in praise, and all the fields clap their hands, and all the mountains shout for joy. He has committed himself to a great task, and nothing but a special doxology can be the proper climax of a Psalm so exultant, so buoyant, so infinite in its desire to express its sense of the Divine bounty.
Here is a river unlike all other rivers. It is 'the river of God'. It is not a common stream; the Ganges and the Tiber thrown together could but poorly typify or symbolize this greater river that flows from the fount of the Divine heart. It is the river of God: it is not man-made, it is not man-directed, it is not man-owned, it is not man-patronized; it is God's, and we have only a freehold in it as God may grant us a lot and an inheritance in this ever-rolling and infinite river of life.
II. What of the responsibility of having such a river rolling through our whole life? God's abundance is greater than our necessity, God's answer makes our prayer look small; when we have said all we have to say, and think we have piled our supplications and desires heaven-high, and that we shall tax the resources of the Eternal to meet our demands, lo, one whispered breath of answer from God's heart dissolves the mountain we have piled, and we forget the littleness of our prayer in the infinitude of God's answer. Why will we build up ourselves against God? Who shall carry his own little manufactured vessel and catch the whole cloud of heaven within its small and contemptible capacity? Who can number the drops of rain? who can count the multitudes that dance upon the ridges of the earth and make them green with verdures and glad with joy?
III. What a wonderful revelation this is of the estimate which God puts upon human capacity! He has prepared for every man as if every man were a multitude of guests. Where does God pinch and scrape? Where does He so economize that He has barely leaves enough to cover the nakedness of the plantation? If God had made a little place for us at a little table, and if He had ever said to us, Dear little one, I give you welcome, but you will observe that the whole economy of this house is administered upon principles of bareness and stint and almost grudging, and I want you to respect the spirit of poverty by which my house is governed—there is no such passage, there is no justification for such a suspicion; the whole idea is plenteousness, abundance, fatness, multitudes, millions, the ends of the earth, and all flesh.
IV. 'The river of God is full of water.' You can satisfy your thirst there. All nations can satisfy their thirst there. All the passions, holy and beautiful and Divine, which constitute the charter of human nature, can be refreshed and satisfied at the river of God. There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. There is a river of which it is said, Whithersoever the river cometh there shall be life; everything lived when the river came.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. I. p. 30.
This beautiful Psalm, first of grace, then of nature, inverting the order of Psalm XIX., seems to have taken early possession of the heart of the Christian Church. There is a prayer which has come down to us from the Church of Alexandria, alluded to by Origen, first half of the third century, in which its language is largely used, and applied to the land of Egypt: 'Send rain out of Thy treasures upon those places which stand in need of it. Renew and make glad the face of the earth by its descent that it may bring forth and rejoice in the rain-drops. Raise the waters of the river to their just height; renew and make glad the face of the earth by its ascent; water the furrows and increase their produce. Bless, O Lord, and crown the year with the riches of Thy goodness, for the sake of the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger.'
References.—LXV. 9.—H. Macmillan, Bible Teachings in Nature, p. 90. J. Clarke, Christian World Pulpit, 1891, p. 201. LXV. 10.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 180. LXV. 11.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 292. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 460. LXV.—International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 80.
O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.
Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.
Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:
Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:
Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.
Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.
Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof.
Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.
They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side.
The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.