Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A FEARFUL SIGHT ON WHICH "THE LORD LOOKED DOWN? To what precise period of time the psalm refers, we have no means of knowing; nor at what exact period it was written. This, however, is of no consequence. Every point specified here can. be verified now.
1. The depravity of man had vented itself in the most egregious folly, even in the denial, of God. There is ample room for the Christian teacher to expose the folly of such denial quite irrespectively of his theory of creation, be it the evolutionary one or no. Either way, the
(2) cosmological, and
(3) ontological proofs remain the same;
in fact, the teleological proof is receiving abundant and amazing illustrations in modern discovery; so much so that its power again and again "overwhelmed" Mr. Darwin himself. The argument in Paley's 'Natural. Theology ' may need resetting, but in substance has lost none of its force. While Mr. Herbert Spencer's statement, that we know with undoubting certainty that there is "an infinite and eternal Energy from which everything proceeds" is one of which the Christian advocate may make large and effective use. That there is a God all Nature cries aloud in all her works. And not till a man is a "nabal," "a fool," a withered, sapless being, does he come to deny the Divine existence. Such denial has, however, not yet ceased. On the contrary, it has assumed in our days a boldness not even contemplated by the psalmist himself. There is
(1) practical atheism, where men profess to know God, while in works they deny him;
(3) theoretical atheism, and even anti-theism;
(4) and in some of the works of positivists, it is even reckoned as a virtue for men to have no fear of God before their eyes I
2. Such atheism is the most striking and grievous folly.
(1) It is irrational.
(2) It is corrupting.
(3) It breaks out into abominable acts.
(4) In the course of its evolution, it makes aggressions on and even mocks at theology, religion, and religions people.
(5) It will gradually dry up entirely the springs of social virtue. It may not do this in the first generation, if the denier of God has first been cast by early Christian teaching in the mould of social morality and goodness; but let generation after generation of atheists arise, and it will be seen that when the ties are snapped which bind men to their God, the ties which bind man to man are cut asunder as well!
3. Such atheism is fearfully widespread among "the children of men. None that did understand, that did seek God." It is common among
(1) the irreligious;
(2) the free-thinkers;
(3) philosophers, under the guise of philosophy;
(4) scientific men, under the guise of science. The fact is, atheism is of the heart, not of the head. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," and turns the very arguments which prove the Divine existence into an excuse for denying it! Its cry is, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us!" How grievous and terrible a sight is a world like this! How loathsome to infinite purity, when men are altogether become unprofitable, when there is "not one that doeth good, no, not one." Every expression in the psalm should be critically examined: they are all "gone aside;" they are all together become "filthy," "stinking," "corrupt," etc. There is a marvellous variety of words in the Hebrew for moral corruption. Nowhere in the whole world was the sense of sin, as sin, so deep as among the Hebrews. How was this? It will be seen how it was when we study our second question.
II. WHEN AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE DID THE LORD LOOK DOWN ON THIS MASS OF EVIL? The meaning of the psalmist could not go beyond the range of his inspiration and enlightenment. We live in a later age; the light is brighter now than then; and therefore the preacher will fall short alike of his privileges and of his mission, if he does not open up from this point more truth than it was possible for the psalmist to know.
1. In an early stage of the world, God looked down on it to punish its iniquity. The Deluge. Sodom and Gomorrah. The desolations which have come on Egypt, Babylon, Tyro, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Jerusalem. And when great calamities come, the most irreligious men become the greatest cowards. "There were they in great fear, where no fear was."
2. God looked on the wickedness of the sons of men, and resolved to call out therefrom a people for himself. (Cf. Isaiah 51:1, 2, Hebrew.) God called Abraham; and how his people became a family, a tribe, and a nation, the roll of sacred history records. And it is owing to this that the psalmist refers to "the generation of the righteous" (ver. 5), in distinction from "the children of men" (ver. 2). Hence it is and has ever been the case, that, however prevalent the depravity of men may have become, there have ever been some trusting hearts who have found their refuge in God.
3. God instituted a priesthood and sacrifices to instruct his people in the dread evil of sin. The whole Levitical institute means this, and nothing less than this. The Law was a "child-guide," which took men to school, and taught them that nothing was right with men till they were right with God.
4. God established a prophetic order, which should declaim against sin. (See Isaiah 59:1-20, specially the fifteenth verse.) The mission of all the prophets was to speak for God, and uphold his claims before the people. And as they prophesied, God's treatment of the world's sin was being unfolded, as we see in the chapter from Isaiah to which we have just referred.
5. In the fulness of the times, God sent forth his Son, who by his death should atone for sin, and who by his Spirit should conquer sin. This, then, is like a God. We might have expected, from the psalmist's words, that God would take vengeance on the sinner and crush him. But no. He is a just God and a Saviour; condemning sin and saving the sinner (Romans 3.).
6. God has created in the hearts of his own a yearning after salvation and righteousness, which is in itself a prophecy of God's ultimate triumph over sin, and of a time when the anguish of his people shall give place to joy (ver. 7)! These desires of the holy are prophetic germs. The aspiration in the closing verse of the psalm is one the fulfilment of which has been going on ever since, and will, till the Redeemer who has come out of Zion shall have completed his saving work. - C.
I. In considering God's moral government of the world, we should be careful to TAKE THE RIGHT STANDPOINT. Much depends on the way we look at things. We may be too near or too far off; we may lean too much to the one side or to the other. Here the standpoint is not earth, but "heaven." This is the perfect state. Here we take our place by the side of God, and look at things in the light of his truth. If we have the Spirit of Christ, the true Son of man, then, though on earth, we shall yet be "in heaven" (John 3:13).
II. Another thing is that we should have regard to the TRUE STANDARD OF JUDGMENT. (Ver. 2.) Much is being done to find out about the people who lived in the ages that are past; but we have to do more with the present day. Wise governments make inquiry as to population and the condition of the people - materially, intellectually, and socially. Here God is represented as holding inquest, and the chief concern is as to the moral condition of men. Religion is put first. If men are fight with God, then all is right. The standard by which things are measured is the Law of God. How do men stand to God? Do they believe in God? What is the state of their mind and affections with reference to God? "To see if there be any that understand, and seek God." It is not what other men think of us, nor is it what we think of ourselves, that is of importance, but the supreme thing is what God thinks of us.
III. We are thus led to apprehend THE JUST RETRIBUTION IMPENDING. (Vers. 2-6.) Life presents a varied aspect. But when we look at it in the light of God, society divides itself into two great parties - the wicked and the righteous.
1. There is marked diversity of character. Contrasted with the righteous - "my people," as God calls them in his love and grace there are the multitude who have gone aside, and who have waxed worse and worse, in their corruption and ungodly deeds. In this psalm there is something like a climax. In Psalm 10. we have the ungodly, or fool, hugging himself in his fancied security, and saying, "I shall not be moved." Then in Psalm 11. there is an advance to a bold denial of God's omniscience and justice: "The foundations are destroyed." Then in Psalm 12. there is a further and still more fearful stride, in daring defiance of God: "Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?" From this it is but a step to sit down "in the seat of the scornful," and to cry out in derision, "There is no God!"
2. But as there is diversity of character, so there will also be diversity of retribution. Judgment will be according to righteousness. Reason is appealed to (ver. 4). In wonder and pity, the question is asked, "Are they so senseless as not to see the consequences of their own wrong-doing?" But their stupidity and stubbornness will not stop the progress of events. Conscience is also appealed to (ver. 5). The term "there" brings the scene before us with the vividness of a picture. We see these wicked men "there" in their places; "there," in the midst of their works and their pleasures; "there," where they are priding themselves on their strength and their conquests; and "there" the hand of God seizes them, and they are stricken with terror (Leviticus 26:36). And what conscience confesses, experience confirms (ver. 6). The uneasy sense, that, after all, God is on the side of the righteous, causes fear, and events are continually occurring which go to prove that the fear is well-grounded. The nearer we come to God, the fuller our sympathy with God, the more complete our trust in God, the better shall we be able to judge as to God's doings. In God's light we shall see light. God's interest in man will be clear; God's holy grief because of the folly and wickedness of man, will be evident; and bright and enlivening as the outshining of the sun from the midst of clouds and darkness will be the love of God for his people, and his tender and abiding care of them through all the vicissitudes of their earthly life. The wicked dishonour God by their distrust and their scorn. Let us honour God by our faith in his eternal love and goodness, and by our unceasing prayer that his salvation may come to all nations. "Alleluia! Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God!" - W.F.
I. ATHEISM. (Vers. 1-3.)
1. Atheism in the thought and in the desires. (Ver. 1.) The "heart" in the Old Testament is not only the seat of desire, but of thought also. But it is more easy for a bad man to wish there were no God, than honestly to think it.
2. Atheism in conduct. This is described under a positive and negative aspect. Corrupt conduct - they are gone away from the right path into every wrong way; especially they prey upon the righteous as they would eat bread; i.e. it is as natural for them to be cruel and unjust towards them as it is to eat bread. They have tried to defeat the counsels of the poor. The negative aspect is that not any of them did good, nor did they seek God or call upon the Lord. God was wholly shut out of their lives and thoughts.
II. THE INCREDIBLE IGNORANCE OF ATHEISM. The "fool" hath said. "The fool" expresses the climax of imbecility. "Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge," etc.?
1. He is ignorant of God's all-seeing scrutiny of the human race. (Ver. 2.) In Genesis 11:5 it is said, "The Lord came down from heaven, to see the city and the tower," etc. Men from a very early period have had this thought of God's perfect knowledge of human affairs.
2. They have had experiences which filled them with great fear. (Ver. 5.) God was in the righteous generation; where they thought themselves safe, there they began suddenly to be afraid. The discourse here is of Divine judgments actually inflicted.
3. They have been frustrated in their best-laid plans. (Ver. 6.) "Whatsoever the pious man plans to do for the glory of God, the children of the world seek to frustrate; but in the final issue their attempt is futile; for Jehovah is his Refuge." This is the meaning; and their defeat should have taught them who was on the side of the righteous.
III. THE PRAYER SPRINGING OUT OF THIS CONFLICT BETWEEN GOD AND THE WICKED. (Ver. 7.) Prayer for the speedy deliverance of God's people. This is the perpetual cry of the Church. - S.