Great Texts of the Bible
The Good Providence of God
Thou openest thine hand,
And satisfiest the desire of every living thing.—Psalm 145:16Surely a delightful psalm—a psalm of great rejoicing for God’s goodness to man’s weakness; of the Lord’s being “nigh,” very near to us; of His abundant kindness, of His power and glory, of His open hand, of His feeding the hungry. Surely a psalm to make glad the heart; a song for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery torment of the fiery furnace; a song for every living thing because the Lord, the Lord God is with us. O, all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise Him, and magnify Him for ever! He openeth His hand and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.
“Every living thing.”
Life makes a claim on God, and whatever desires arise in the living creature by reason of its life, God would be untrue to Himself, a cruel Parent, an unnatural Father, if He did not satisfy them. We do not half enough realize the fact that the condescension of creation lies not only in the act of creating, but in the willing acceptance by the Creator of the bonds under which He thereby lays Himself, obliging Himself to see to the creatures that He has chosen to make.
1. God’s pensioners! How did He treat them when He walked with them and talked with them in the days of His earthly life? There was a day when the disciples came in the wilderness to Jesus, saying, “This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: send them [the multitudes] away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread.” Four thousand men besides women and children was a great family to provide for anywhere, and in such a place as this it would never occur to the disciples that their need could be supplied. Send them away—it was a perfectly natural suggestion. Let them go and get their supper, for they are hungry and it is getting late. And Jesus “answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat.” The disciples looked up in wonder—what did the Master mean? Should they go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread? Where was the money to come from? And where should they find so much bread to buy? It was trouble enough at best to find bread for wife and little ones at home; but here in the desert who could spread a table for ten thousand hungry guests? Give ye them to eat. It was the voice of God. It was with the consciousness of Divine power that the command was given. It was the impulse of the great bounty that fed the world, the easy familiarity of One who was accustomed to open His hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
2. “Every living thing.” What a family is this to be provided for, each with its separate mystery of life, each with life to be sustained, each to be adapted to the light and air, and the subtle influences upon which life depends!
(1) Shall we go into the primeval forest and think of the creatures that roam in its depths? Shall we stand and let the procession pass before us?
If the forest has attractions for the huntsman, how much more interesting it must be to the naturalist. What one who has delighted the world for over fifty years thought of the Guiana forest may be seen in Waterton’s Wanderings. The enthusiasm of the Yorkshire squire has probably never been surpassed. To him the forest was something more than the awful solitude which is the first impression it makes on a stranger—it was full of life. The painter sees patches of colour in the landscape, but the naturalist recognizes the objects which make up the scene. On the sand-reef he distinguishes the footsteps of a jaguar and the remains of his dinner, and can picture what has taken place in the night. A peccary left her hole in a hollow tree at nightfall to feed under the saouari-nut trees. She is quietly cracking the shells and munching the oily kernels, when the great cat suddenly pounces upon her, and she is torn to pieces and eaten. Sitting on a hollow tree beside the creek, the naturalist sees a thousand flowers and fruits floating down the stream. Now he distinguishes a palm nut snatched under the water by a great fish, or a shoal of small fry feeding on the yellow hog-plums which are so conspicuous against the dark water. Now there is a splash as an alligator comes out of the thicket and dives under, to come up again some distance away, hardly distinguishable except to a trained eye. This reminds us of the protective coloration of every living thing in the forest. Protective contrivances are found in every forest animal. Snakes are nearly invisible in the gloom, notwithstanding their brilliant colours when played upon by the sunlight. With so few atmospheric changes it might be supposed that the tropical forest would give rise to little variation in animals and plants, yet, on the contrary, it is here that nature runs riot, as it were. Nature has been lavish with her gifts. The forest is densely populated—more so, in fact, than any city ever was or could be. There is not room for one in a thousand of the children born therein, so that the fight for standing room is like that of a crowd at a fête. It follows, therefore, that every possible contrivance to gain a position has been developed, and the result is almost perfection. Every living thing is ever moving forward, working towards an end which is unattainable—perfection. But, although this object will never be achieved, the results of the struggle bring it continually a little nearer, and therefore cannot be otherwise than good. Nature does not take care of the weaklings, she provides no asylums; if some of her creatures cannot work for a living they must make room for those who can. Individuals are of little consequence as such, but nevertheless as links in the endless chain they are of the greatest importance. Guiana is pre-eminently a land of forest and stream, and it has followed that both animal and vegetable kingdoms have been developed to suit these conditions. Some are equally at home on land, in the water, or on the trees, those that cannot easily live in the flood being able to climb out of its reach. Then we must also take into account the kinds of food procurable. The interdependence of one animal on another, and these again upon the seeds of trees and even on flowers, is so close, that we can hardly conceive of their existing apart.1 [Note: J. Rodway, In the Guiana Forest, 31.]
(2) Shall we consider the fowls of the air, again a myriad form: the eagle soaring in its height, the birds that fill the woods and valleys with their song, the great hosts of sea-fowl? Who can think of their numbers?
From Cannara Francis went farther south, and east to Bevagna. Brother Leo was his companion, and the sympathy between them, the beauty of the ways bordered with flowers—amongst them the delicate blue and white love-in-a-mist, which fringes the hedgerows in June, blue cornflowers, rose-coloured vetches, purple loose-strife, scarlet poppies, gay larkspurs and sheets of feathery bedstraw—the twitter of birds upon the trees, the fields ripe to the harvest, refreshed and uplifted his heart, so that his joy welled over in song. Where the birds gathered he paused, and, unalarmed, they clustered about his feet and on the branches overhead. In an ecstasy of tenderness for his “little brothers” he spoke to them of their Creator, whose care for them deserved their love and praise. “For He has made you,” he said, “the noblest of His creatures; He has given you the pure air for a home: you need neither to sow nor to reap, for He cares for you, He protects you, He leads you whither you should go.” And the birds rejoiced at his words, opening their wings and fluttering and chirping as if to thank him for rating them so precious in God’s sight. Then moving amongst them, he blessed them and went on his way.1 [Note: A. M. Stoddart, Francis of Assisi, 134.]
(3) Shall we go outside them to the world of plant life? What endless diversity is here in the grass of the meadow, the corn of the field, the crowded hedgerow, the tangled copse, the leafy forest, the mossy rocks, the weeds that hide beneath the sea, the flowers that fill the earth with beauty and the air with fragrance, the great trees festooned with creepers!
The whole science of flowers to the thoughtful mind in these days is full to the brim of the most delightful and suggestive poetry. And how much better fitted is it now than ever before for the illustration of moral and religious truth! Science has anointed our blind eyes with its own magic eye-salve, and enabled us indeed to see men as trees walking. We see our own human nature reflected in the nature of the flowers of the field in a previously unknown way. We see the analogue of the mother’s bosom in the milky substance of the two cotyledons of the seed for the primary nourishing of the young embryo which they contain. We see the lover’s joy in the spring blossoming of the flowers, and the loveliness with which Nature then adorns her bridal bower; and we see our own selfishness in the spreading of the flat leaves of the daisy around its roots close to the earth, so that no other plant may grow beside it, and it may get whatever space and air and sunshine it needs for its own development. He who considers the lilies how they grow, in the manner in which recent science teaches us, and in the light which modern investigation has shed upon their marvels and mysteries, will learn lessons which will make him wiser and better. It has been suggestively said that “the flower is the type of the universe, and the lily of the field is solving over again all problems.” It is not perfect creation, complete all at once, that we see, but God sowing seeds, making things to grow by outside circumstances and living forces within; slow, gradual evolution from the nebula to the full-orbed star, and from the chaotic star to the skilfully ordered and richly furnished earth, fit to be man’s dwelling-place, and the scene of probation for immortal souls.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan, The Poetry of Plants, 9.]
God’s Open Hand
“Thou openest thine hand.”
Now look from nature to nature’s God—“Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” God satisfies the desires of every living thing. Our desires both lift us up and set us down. Our desires mark us off from all other living creatures. Where others have needs only, ours is this dignity—we desire.
1. Desire—it is a dainty word. It were much that He should satisfy the need, the want; but He goes far beyond that. Pity is moved to meet our need; duty may sometimes look after our wants; but to satisfy the desire implies a tender watchfulness, a sweet and gracious knowledge of us, an eagerness to bless. God is never satisfied until He has satisfied our desires.
Embodied life is ever seeking, and it must find, whether embodied or disembodied. From the amœba to the archangel all forms and modes of life are on their way towards satiety; everything must reach its due fulfilment, though probably not on this plane; it would be a poor destiny that could complete itself on earth. One wonders what the destiny of the lower creation is; but we may rest assured
That not a worm is clov’n in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]
(1) What is the object of desire to a man who loves God? God. What is the object of desire to a righteous man? Righteousness. And these are the desires which God is sure to fulfil to us. Therefore there is only one region in which it is safe and wise to cherish longings, and it is the region of the spiritual life where God imparts Himself. Everywhere else there will be disappointments—thank Him for them. Nowhere else is it absolutely true that He will fulfil our desires. But in this region it is. Whatever any of us desire to have of God, we are sure to get. We open our mouths and He fills them. In the Christian life desire is the measure of possession, and to long is to have. And there is nowhere else where it is absolutely, unconditionally and universally true that to wish is to possess, and to ask is to have. There is, however, an eternal element in all desire, which, ultimately, will find its fruition in the love of God.
Dear children, ye ought not to cease from hearing or declaring the word of God because you do not alway live according to it, nor keep it in mind. For inasmuch as you love it and crave after it, it will assuredly be given unto you; and you shall enjoy it for ever with God, according to the measure of your desire after it. St. Bernard has said: “Man, if thou desirest a noble and holy life, and unceasingly prayest to God for it, if thou continue constant in this thy desire, it will be granted unto thee without fail, even if only in the day or hour of thy death; and if God should not give it thee then, thou shalt find it in Him in eternity: of this be assured.” Therefore do not relinquish your desire, though it be not fulfilled immediately, or though ye may swerve from your aspirations, or even forget them for a time. It were a hard case if this were to cut you off for ever from the end of your being. But when ye hear the word of God, surrender yourselves wholly to it, as if for eternity, with a full purpose of will to retain it in your mind and to order your life according to it; and let it sink down right deep into your heart as into an eternity. If afterward it should come to pass that you let it slip, and never think of it again, yet the love and aspiration which once really existed live for ever before God, and in Him ye shall find the fruit thereof; that is, to all eternity it shall be better for you than if you had never felt them.1 [Note: Tauler’s Life and Sermons (trans. by S. Winkworth), 294.]
(2) The thing we desire in every object of desire is greater than we know; it is greater than the object itself as that object now is. God enlarges our soul by means of the desire, and will give us vision by and by of the wonder and glory of the reality of which we have all the time been in search, though only dimly knowing what it was. The soul’s desires are not illusory and ephemeral; they are in essence spiritual and Divine, though we so often misdirect and degrade them.
The desire after God does not begin on our part. God has not hidden Himself from man for the purpose that He might allow His creature, His lost child, to cry after Him. We love God because He first loved us. If we desire God, it is because God hath first desired us. God asks for our heart as His tabernacle; He surrounds us night and day with tender, pathetic appeals: He says, “If any man love me, I will come in, and make my abode in his heart.” He plies us, as mother never plied her prodigal child, to come home again; and there is not one word of grace, or pathos, or tender entreaty, which He has withheld from His argument, if haply He might find His way, with our glad consent, into our heart of hearts. Do you desire God? It is because God first desired you. Do you feel kindlings of love towards Him? Your love is of yesterday. His love comes up from unbeginning time, and goes on to unending eternity!2 [Note: Joseph Parker.]
2. “Thou openest thine hand.”—What does this bring home to us? Does it not in the first place set forth the marvellous liberality of God? This means that God’s creatures do not wait upon Him in vain. He does not disappoint their need and their expectation. When the due season comes, His hand opens to fill their hearts with food and gladness. He does not give grudgingly or sparingly, but with full and open hand. Nor does He trim and carve His gifts according to the measure of our merit. If He were to do that we should fare badly, for we have all been undutiful children. He even gives us freely when we deserve not His goodness but His condemnation.
(1) “Thou openest thine hand.” That is enough. But God cannot satisfy our deepest desires by any such short and easy method. There is a great deal more to be done by Him before the aspirations of love and fear and longing for righteousness can be fulfilled. He has to breathe Himself into us. Lower creatures have enough when they have the meat that drops from His hand. They know and care nothing for the hand that feeds. But God’s best gifts cannot be separated from Himself. They are Himself, and in order to “satisfy the desire of every living thing” there is no way possible, even to Him, but the impartation of Himself to the waiting heart.
What means it to have a God, or what is God? The answer is: God is one from whom we expect all good, and in whom we can take refuge in all our needs, so that to have God is nothing else than to trust and believe in Him with all our hearts; as I have often said, that trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and Idol. If the faith and trust are right, then thy God is also the right God, and, again, if thy trust is false and wrong, then thou hast not the right God. For the two, faith and God, hold close together.1 [Note: Luther, The Greater Catechism.]
(2) But we have to put our desires into words before God can satisfy them. “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” What then? Why should we ask Him? Because the asking will clear our thoughts about our desires. It will be a very good test of them. There are many things that we all wish, which we should not much like to put into our prayers, not because of any foolish notion that they are too small to find a place there, but because of an uncomfortable suspicion that perhaps they are not the kind of things that we ought to wish. And if we cannot make the desire into a cry, the sooner we make it dead as well as dumb the better for ourselves. The cry will serve, too, as a stimulus to the wishes which are put into words. Silent prayer is well, but there is a wonderful power on ourselves—it may be due to our weakness, but still it exists—in the articulate and audible utterance of our petitions to God.
The sweetest and the best talent that God gives to any man or woman in this world is the talent of prayer. And the best usury that any man or woman brings back to God when He comes to reckon with them at the end of this world is a life of prayer. And those servants best put their Lord’s money to the exchangers who rise early and sit late, as long as they are in this world, ever finding out and ever following after better and better methods of prayer, and ever forming more secret, more steadfast, and more spiritually fruitful habits of prayer: till they literally pray without ceasing, and till they continually strike out into new enterprises in prayer, and new achievements, and new enrichments. It was this that first drew me to Teresa. It was her singular originality in prayer and her complete captivity to prayer. It was the time she spent in prayer, and the refuge, and the peace, and the sanctification and the power for carrying on hard and unrequited work that she all her life found in prayer. It was her fidelity and her utter surrender of herself to this first and last of all her religious duties, till it became more a delight, and, indeed, more an indulgence, than a duty. With Teresa it was prayer first, and prayer last, and prayer always. With Teresa literally all things were sanctified, and sweetened, and made fruitful by prayer.1 [Note: A. Whyte, Santa Teresa, 18.]
(3) When we are ready, then, to receive God’s satisfying bounty we will bring all our desires before His throne, and their fulfilment will surely come to pass. All that our heart has ever craved of the beautiful and good, but which we have never had; all we have ever longed for and have never reached; all that has been taken from us that was dear and precious to our souls and to the loss of which we have never become reconciled; all we have ever wanted without being able to win, though we have tried hard and earnestly so to do; all we have ever won and been unable to keep, or have kept only to find that the joy we expected in it has never been ours—in all these we have been seeking something which is waiting for us in the hands of God, and He will not fail to give it us when we are ready to receive it.
And the amazing thing is that God more than satisfies our desires. His bounty is so great that many are unwilling to take His greatest gifts. For He has given His only-begotten and well-beloved Son, and how many refuse Him! How foolish it is to take God’s lesser gifts and refuse the greatest of all! The man in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress gathering the straws with the muckrake and neglecting the crown above his head is a fit picture of such un-wisdom. Let us not follow his miserable example, but rather, while we receive with thankfulness all the good that God gives us for the body, accept with equal readiness the Gift He has provided for the soul.
Work we may, seek and strive, and we are all bidden do this; but in the end it is not our doing. It is not the need we feel of Christ which saves us. It is Christ, and He is a gift. If He did not place Himself before us, we could never see Him. He puts Himself in our hands. Unless we can grasp Him there, we shall never grasp Him anywhere. He lies, like treasure, at our feet; if we do not find Him there, we shall never find Him anywhere. He lies, like the pearl, under our eyes: if we do not see Him there, we shall never see Him anywhere.1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 99.]
Aitchison (J.), The Children’s Own, 219.
Archibald (M. G.), Sundays at the Royal Military College, 73.
Kelman (J.), Ephemera Eternitatis, 332.
Ketcham (W. E.), in Thanksgiving Sermons, 288.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Psalms 51–145, 385.
Matheson (G.), Sacred Songs, 49.
Pearse (M. G.), The Gospel for the Day, 179.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, xiii. (1890), No. 48.
Wilkinson (J. B.), Mission Sermons, i. 95.
Christian World Pulpit, lxxxiii. 385 (R. J. Campbell).