Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. EVEN THE MIGHTIEST OF MANKIND ARE UNWORTHY OF TRUST.
1. They cannot save in our greatest extremities. "In whom is no help." From want of ability and often from want of wilt.
2. The plans and projects of man soon come to an end. (Ver. 4.) His purposes perish, and he passes away. The masters of one age are deposed by those who come after them, and their systems are exploded.
II. THOSE ONLY ARE HAPPY WHO TRUST IN JEHOVAH. (Vers. 5-10.)
1. God is the almighty Creator. (Ver. 6.) Of the heavens, the earth, the sun, and all living things. This is power, spiritual and physical.
2. God unchangeably adheres to the fulfillment of his promises. (Ver. 6.) "Keepeth truth for ever." Men easily change their mind, and do not keep their word.
3. He obtains right for the oppressed. (Ver. 7.) Cannot allow unrighteous men a final triumph over the weak and unprotected. Succors those who suffer wrong without doing wrong.
4. Provides daily bread for the poor and needy. (Ver. 7.) God is a bountiful God, "who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not."
5. Is beneficent and gracious, as the Ruler of men. (Vers. 7-9.) "Looseth the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). Openeth the eyes of the blind - both of the mind and the body. Raiseth up the fallen, and upholds the fainting." "He loveth the righteous," but he is tender towards all the naturally defenseless - the strangers, the widow, and the fatherless.
6. God's kingdom endureth forever. (Ver. 10.) The eternal duration of his kingdom is the guarantee for its future glorious completion, and for the ultimate victories of love. - S.
"Oh, how wretched I. THIS IS THE LESSON WHICH THE RACE HAS TO LEARN. In the light of it may be read the story of humanity. That story begins with the safety and innocence of free-willed, voluntary dependence. It passes into the peril and disaster of self-reliance. Ages unfold a thousand forms in which man vainly tries to remedy the disaster into which he has brought himself by relying on the aid of his fellow-man. The universal hopelessness of such reliance, however tried, will bring round the race at last to the safety and virtue of full and entire and obedient trust in God. II. THIS IS THE LESSON WHICH THE INDIVIDUAL HAS TO LEARN. It is the lesson to be learned in every life that is lived; and yet some never seem to learn it. The more marked instances of the untrustworthiness of man, which sometimes bring about our material ruin, are but prominent and impressive illustrations of an insufficiency which belongs to humanity, and is found in some degree affecting every form of human relation and alliance. Measures of trust in men are permissible, and bring much of the restfulness and joy of life; but absolute trust in man is never safe. Even from our dearest and best friends of earth we learn to turn to God, and find in him, and in him alone, our soul's refuge and rest. - R.T.
I. THIS IS THE LESSON WHICH THE RACE HAS TO LEARN. In the light of it may be read the story of humanity. That story begins with the safety and innocence of free-willed, voluntary dependence. It passes into the peril and disaster of self-reliance. Ages unfold a thousand forms in which man vainly tries to remedy the disaster into which he has brought himself by relying on the aid of his fellow-man. The universal hopelessness of such reliance, however tried, will bring round the race at last to the safety and virtue of full and entire and obedient trust in God.
II. THIS IS THE LESSON WHICH THE INDIVIDUAL HAS TO LEARN. It is the lesson to be learned in every life that is lived; and yet some never seem to learn it. The more marked instances of the untrustworthiness of man, which sometimes bring about our material ruin, are but prominent and impressive illustrations of an insufficiency which belongs to humanity, and is found in some degree affecting every form of human relation and alliance. Measures of trust in men are permissible, and bring much of the restfulness and joy of life; but absolute trust in man is never safe. Even from our dearest and best friends of earth we learn to turn to God, and find in him, and in him alone, our soul's refuge and rest. - R.T.
breath goeth forth" - but their bodies crumble into dust - "he returneth to his earth" - and even their very thoughts perish. They may have boasted loudly of what they would do - have breathed out threatening and slaughter; but death comes, and in that very day their thoughts perish. Now, in considering this declaration, let us -
I. EXPLAIN ITS MEANING.
1. It tells of men's thoughts. Thoughts are the rulers and real governors of men. The power of thought is man's noblest faculty, and its results are more far-reaching than that of all his other powers. By it he is distinguished from, and raised above, all the rest of the creation of God; and upon the use of this faculty depend his character and condition now, and his eternal destiny beyond the grave.
2. But it is said that men's thoughts perish. This is not true of all thoughts of men, for many of them do not perish, but live with a vigour and vitality, after the death of him in whom they originated, far greater than ever they possessed during his lifetime. And this has to be said even of many of those thoughts which it were well for men that they should perish; for embodied in books, imprinted on the hearts and nature of children, transmitted from one generation to another, it is all too plain that evil thoughts may live on, and work wide mischief, though the men whose minds first conceived them have long passed away. Happy would it have been for us if their thoughts had perished with them; but they have not, and in a very real and awful sense, "he that is unholy is unholy still, and he that is filthy is filthy still." And assuredly good thoughts do not perish. What is the Bible, but the record of holy and precious thoughts, which have by no means perished, and which are fruitful of good now, perhaps, more than at any previous period since they were given to the minds of the holy men of old who spake or wrote them down? And what do we not owe to the recorded or remembered thoughts of good men now no more? How the deep convictions of such men, expressed not only in words, but in their lives, have influenced those who have come after them, even to many generations! It is, therefore, certain that all men's thoughts do not perish in that very day on which they die. But our text is true of all unembodied thoughts. Like as it was needful for God to become incarnate if men were to fully know him, or, indeed, to know him at all, so those spiritual product of our minds - our thoughts - must take form and substance, body and shape, if they are to have any influence upon ourselves or others. And they do this in many ways. They are seen in character. "As a man thinketh.., so is he;" so that we can reason back from a man's character to the nature of his thoughts. And in the character of others. Now, a man's children reveal not seldom what he is; what his main thoughts have been are shown by the impress they have left on them, and this both for good and evil. And they are heard or read in his words - in a man's letters, or books, or discourse - and thus their influence is made permanent. And in deeds. These stereotype thought, and make for it an abiding power. Now, such thoughts do not perish with a man's earthly life; they continue, and often increase in power. But all other thoughts perish - all such as are merely thoughts, and have never been embodied in character, or word, or deed. And there are a vast number of these. Mere purposes and intentions that remain such. The psalmist is comforting himself with the reflection that the wild, cruel purposes of the foes of God's people will all come to naught when those who have formed them die. And for the blessing of the Church of God, what a host of these thoughts have perished! And so, too, with good intentions, if they are not acted on. The road to hell is paved with such. Death comes, and "in that very day," etc.
II. ILLUSTRATE ITS TRUTH. The endeavors against Israel in Egypt. The destruction of Sennacherib. Haman's wrath and discomfiture. Deliverances of the Church in the age of the martyrs, through the death of persecuting emperors. Destruction of the Armada, etc. And there have been illustrations also on the side of those who had cherished good purposes, but put off fulfilling them. Felix, who said to St. Paul, "Go thy way, and at a more convenient season," etc. Herod, who heard John the Baptist gladly, but ended by putting him to death. And the sad but large army of the waverers and unready ones, who are found in every rank and order of society, in the Church and in the world, in public positions and in such as are obscure. All these furnish proof and illustration of our text. And there was that rich fool to whom God said, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee," etc. (Luke 12:16, etc.).
III. POINT OUT ITS LESSONS. They are such as these:
1. Of thankfulness; that God so puts an end to the evil purposes of evil men.
2. Of diligence. "What thy hand findeth to do," etc. Have done with the halting, wavering, fruitless thinkings, and do what God would have thee do; and at once, lest thy thoughts perish with thee.
3. Seek to have thy mind filled with thoughts that will not perish, but that shall live and bless thee and many more besides.
4. Commit thine heart into God's keeping; "for out of it are the issues of life."
5. By surrender to Christ hasten the day when all thine evil thoughts shall perish from out of thy mind, and Christ's thoughts shall take their place. - S.C.
I. THE LORD'S INFINITE POWER. (Ver. 6.) He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, "the sea, and all that therein is." He is the mighty God, and infinite in power.
II. HIS ETERNAL TRUTH. He is faithful to his Word; he "keepeth truth for ever." None ever trusted in him and found his Word to fail. Contrast this with human help.
III. HIS BOUNDLESS COMPASSION. See what an array of poor, helpless, and miserable ones are here enumerated as the special objects of his goodness.
1. The oppressed. (Ver. 7.) For them, when none else can or will, he executeth judgment, and avenges them of their adversaries.
2. The hungry, the starving poor; to them he giveth food.
3. The prisoner; those immured in the tyrant's dungeon, or shut up in rigid captivity.
4. The blind. In all ages, in the lands of the Bible, blindness was a calamity as common as it was terrible; to give them sight was, therefore, one of the chiefest mercies of God, and declared his bounty and goodness as great indeed.
5. The bowed down. What a vast company of these human experience has ever furnished! The burden of care, the weight of responsibility, the crushing power of sorrow, - these are ever at work to recruit the ranks of the bowed down. But it is the Lord's special office - an office to the fulfillment of which not only the psalmist here, but myriads of God's people in all ages, bear their testimony, to raise up them that be bowed down (Luke 13:10-17).
6. The strangers. In our day, in Christian lands, the stranger is not so forlorn a being as he undoubtedly was in the days of the psalmist. Then, to live on the other side of a river flowing between one territory and another, made a man a rival, a foe, as the very etymology of the word "rival" tells, and bound you to treat him as your deadly enemy. Hence, for a man to be a stranger in a strange land was to be exposed to all manner of insult and wrong, and to be in continual peril of life itself. Israel had been such a stranger, and knew all the miseries of such a lot; but he here bears his testimony that "the Lord preserveth the strangers."
7. The desolate by bereavement. The fatherless and the widow are selected as types of the most desolate of all. Remember the parable of the importunate widow as showing the peril of oppression on the part of cruel adversaries, and of neglect and injustice on the part of a corrupt and unscrupulous judge. If God did not interfere for these desolate ones, none other would. But "he relieveth," etc. Such is the compassion of the Lord our God; and when a man knows this, not merely by hearing of it, but by actual experience, how can he keep from rendering praise to the Lord? The very stones would cry out if he were silent.
IV. HIS PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. Hence it is that he executeth judgment for the oppressed, He will not suffer wrong to prevail; but" the way of the wicked he turneth upside down," for "the Lord loveth the righteous." It is delightful to think of the compassion of God; but even that would not so stir our hearts were it not that it is all based on righteousness. Man's great longing is for justice - right between man and man - but as yet he has never fully attained to it; and he never will until the righteous Lord, who loveth the righteous, is recognized and rejoiced in as our Lord and King. But even here and now God gives us to see his righteousness; for have we not read and heard of and seen, and that again and again, "the way of the wicked" turned "upside down"? Here, again, is another full-flowing fountain of praise.
V. HIS PERPETUAL REIGN. (Ver. 10.) Even could we attain, as one day we shall, to the joy of witnessing the Lord's righteous, loving, and holy rule thoroughly and universally established, his kingdom actually come, and his "will done on earth, even as," etc.; yet, if it were but a passing and temporary dominion, destined after a while to come to an end, how that would sadden all our hearts, and silence the praise that would otherwise rise perennially towards God the Lord! But "the Lord shall reign for ever... unto all generations." Well, therefore, may we, and will we, praise the Lord. - S.C.
I. THE GOD OF JACOB IS ONE WHO COMES NEAR TO US, SO THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM. It was so with Jacob. See in his history how often God came near to him - at Bethel, when serving with Laban; at Peniel; and at yet other times and places; so that there is left upon our minds the conviction that it was the continual privilege of Jacob to enjoy this communion with God. God was Jacob's God because he was thus willing to come near to Jacob, and to be known by him as his God. Now, such knowledge of God as this must minister to the happiness of a man. Where should we be, in the midst of all the bewildering confusion of affairs, as it seems to us, unless we had the faith of God? What a cage of wild beasts this world would quickly become were the faith of God to disappear from men's minds! In times of ease and prosperity, when men have more than heart can wish, and fare sumptuously every day, they may imagine that they can do without God; and, so far as any acknowledgment of him on their parts is concerned, they do deny him altogether. But in the dark hours of life, and when heart and flesh fail - as sooner or later they will - then the need of God is felt and confessed as it ought always to have been; then it is seen that "happy is he that hath the God," etc. And it is seen by him who hath such Help not in dark hours only, but at all times. Who can tell the quiet of mind, the holy strength, the calm patience, the unquenchable hope, the unfaltering trust, that are begotten of this most blessed Help? And as he was willing to reveal himself to Jacob, so will he to us; and in Jesus Christ our Lord he has revealed himself, and promised to be with us always. "God made us for himself, and our heart has no rest until it finds rest in him."
II. NOT ONLY MAY WE KNOW HIM, BUT HE IS ONE WHO KNOWS US. "He knoweth the way that I take." With what constant interest does God appear to have watched over all the way along which Jacob had to go! When Jacob did not think God was near him, he was so, as at Bethel. And at the end of his life he tells of God as "the God who fed me all my life long... the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." He was not to Jacob, he need not be to us, any mere abstract, far-away Being, but one God. It is true of us who trust him that he interests himself in our concerns. In all that affects his people he takes a living and a loving interest - not alone in their religious life, but in their secular, business, everyday life as well. Do let us believe this. We are very apt to forget it, if not question and almost deny it. But God is called the God of Jacob for this very reason, that we may joyfully know him as the God who careth for us at all times.
III. AND BECAUSE JACOB SO REPRESENTS US ALL. God is often spoken of as the God of Abraham and of Isaac. And so he was; but they lived on so lofty a plane - were, especially Abraham, such heroes of faith, that we, poor, feeble, imperfect, stumbling, falling people that we are, fail to get much consolation out of that name. But when we are told that he is the God of Jacob, then we come to see that he is just the God such as we all need. We want a God who will be gracious, and will not cast us off and throw us over because of our sins. He will punish us for them, as he did Jacob, and hold us down to the punishment until we will let the sin go; but he will not cast us off. No; he is the God of Jacob, and we are all of us far more Jacobs than we are Abrahams. And he will ever keep before us bright hope. All along through the weary way that the patriarch had to take he Was cheered by the promise of God which he had received at Bethel. He never forgot it; it shone like a beacon-light before him, and its good cheer never left him. The opened heavens, the throne of God, the ladder uniting earth and heaven, the angels ascending and descending, - this vision, ratified with repeated promise, was the mainstay of his soul, and enabled him to go forward on the way God had appointed for him.
IV. AND IT IS THUS GOD DEALS WITH US. We have "the hope set before us," and, "looking unto Jesus," we are strong to run the race set before us. And meanwhile we have given to us blessed installments of what hereafter we shall abundantly receive. We have, or may have, the sense of God's forgiveness, the blessedness of the pure in heart, the joy of God's presence, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; and each of there precious gifts serves but to confirm and intensify our hope. But the all-important question is - Have we the God of Jacob for our Help? We may not have, but yet we may have, very much that is good and fair. God may fill your veins with health, your coffers with gold, your rooms with all things of beauty, and your whole life with comfort and outward ease. "But you are like in such case to those trees which in the winter-time are called Christmas-trees. One feels a kind of pang at the first sight of such a tree. No doubt it is beautiful in its way, with the little lights twinkling among the branches, and the sweet gifts of affection hanging from every spray. But the tree itself - are you not sorry for it? Rooted no longer, growing no more. No more circulation of the living sap, no more sweet discoursing by its means between air and soil, between soil and air. The last waves of its life are sinking, and the more you hang upon it and the more you gather round it, the faster it will die" (Dr. A. Raleigh). And if our hope be not rooted in the God of Jacob, we are like one of those trees. Loaded, it may be, with all manner of pleasant things, and surrounded with affection, but dying all the while. Let it not be so with us, for it need not. - S.C.
Jacob should be thus singled out, and God should be presented in the special relations that he bore to that particular patriarch. God is the God of Abraham and of Isaac; but while there is much to be learned of God from his relations to them, there was - and in an unusual sense there was for the returned exiles - something special to learn about God from his relations with Jacob. The point of interest seems to lie in these contrasts.
I. ABRAHAM AND ISAAC LIVED, ON THE WHOLE, RESTFUL, QUIET LIVES; JACOB LIVED A LIFE OF STRAIN AND CHANGE. The impression left on us by the lives of Abraham and Isaac is that of peaceful careers. Their movements were quiet tribal migrations, and the troubles they passed through were only family experiences and neighborly quarrellings. From them we learn what God is in relation to the usual and commonplace in human experience. But Jacob was a man who was tossed about from the beginning to the end of his days. A quiet, home-loving man, who was never permitted to be quiet. He had a life full of stern experiences; the strain was on him right up to life's close. We cannot wonder that the returned exiles, who found they had entered upon a very hard experience, should think of Jacob, and comfort themselves by recalling what God had been to him. The "God of Jacob" is the God of the checkered life.
II. ABRAHAM AND ISAAC HAD, ON THE WHOLE, GOOD NATURAL DISPOSITIONS; JACOB HAD A TAINT OF EVIL IN HIS NATURAL DISPOSITION. God is the God of those who are born amiable, as Samuel was; and the most beautiful flowers of character are those in which grace is triumphant in sanctified amiability. And yet most of us turn anxiously to inquire what God was to Jacob, who was not born amiable, who carried from his mother a guileful, grasping, and over self-reliant taint of evil. God could be the God of Jacob. True, a man with such a disposition will make for himself a hard, stern life. And it is well for him not to have that easy life which would only nourish his evil. But God is in full and direct relations with the man in whom principle is struggling for mastery over frailty. But that just describes Jacob, and may just describe us. - R.T.
I. MAN IS SURROUNDED WITH THE ACTIVITIES OF EVIL. More than surrounded, for there is the more serious activity of evil within him. What has to be taken into full account is that evil is a ceaselessly and energetically active force. That truth is embodied for us in the description of evil as "a roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom he may devour." It is on account of that activity that we are bidden to "watch" When men sleep, the enemy is active, and goes sowing tares in their fields. One thing often surprises men. Temptation takes them at unawares; sometimes in their times of conscious strength, sometimes when they are unconscious of their weakness. Morning, noon, and night we have to take account of ever-active evil.
II. MAN NEEDS THE ASSURANCE OF THE SUPERIOR ACTIVITY OF GOD, illustrated by the way in which this need was felt by Persians, and met by Zoroaster, who taught the superior activity of Ormuzd over Ahriman - a superior activity which assured a continuous as well as a final triumph. This psalm brings on us an answering impression of the activity of our good God. And it is an activity
(1) in the sphere of the things that affect man, and
(2) in man himself. For it is the chief charm of the activity of God that we may think of it as the sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit, who "dwelleth with us and in us," - R.T.
I. THE ORPHAN IS THE COMMON TYPE OF THE HELPLESS IN ALL LANDS. Before powers of self-help are developed, he is deprived of both the father who earns for him, and the mother who cares for him. The God of the helpless is at once revealed when he is called the "Father of the fatherless," and when it is said, "In thee the fatherless findeth mercy."
II. FOR THE WIDOW AS A TYPE OF THE HELPLESS, IT IS NECESSARY TO THINK OF THE WILLOWS OF EASTERN LANDS. Illustrations may be taken from India. There the widow is not allowed to marry again; she is unable to work for her living, and would not be permitted to do so if she could; and, worse than all, at home she is only tolerated, for her husband's death is regarded as a judgment on some sin of hers. It is of the tenderest significance that God is called the "Judge of the widow," and that he is represented as saying, "Let the widows trust in me."
III. THE STRANGER IS AN EASTERN TYPE OF HELPLESSNESS, Modern civilization has destroyed personal concern for the welfare of strangers. It has provided its hotels and institutions, and shifted on to public bodies its individual concern. But in the East the stranger arriving at any place was freely offered hospitality; every home was open to him. He was recognized as temporarily helpless, because for the time away from home and friends. Think, then, how the good man is influenced by these three types of helplessness. And from the good man rise to think of God as moved by the pitiful sight of the widow, the hopeless outlooking of the orphan, and the anxious inquiring of the desolate stranger. They, and all helpless ones, may be sure of two things:
1. God will help them to help themselves.
2. God will help them when they cannot help themselves. "Friend of the friendless and the faint." - R.T.
I. PLANS MADE WITHOUT GOD WILL HAVE, SOONER OR LATER, TO TAKE GOD INTO ACCOUNT. The honest truth is that man can never safely make any plans without taking God, and God's relation to things, into consideration. And yet this must be acknowledged as a truthful description of the wicked man - "God is not in all his thoughts." But all man can ever do is, strong-willedly persist in putting God out of consideration. And God may respond by leaving him alone for a while. But the man cannot keep up his self-willedness long, and God will not keep aloof forever. When God puts himself into consideration, man's schemes are confused, and man's plans fall about him in ruins. Man proposes; God disposes.
II. GOD WILL SURELY OVERRIDE ALL MAN'S SELF-WILLED PLANS IN THE LONG RUN. Asaph and the psalmists of his class are full of fretfulness because the plans of the wicked seem to succeed. "He brmgeth wicked devices to pass. But Asaph goes into the sanctuary of God, and then he understands their end. Wait but a while. God is sure to "arise and shake terribly the earth," and shake down the most apparently stable erections of self-willedness. - R.T.