Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
as a whole, it may be brought home to us for everyday life in the continuous unfolding of the Scripture. At the same time, the two divisions of the psalm are so entirely distinct that they call for separate treatment, as they open up to the preacher entirely different branches of thought and instruction. There is no reason to question the Davidic authorship of the psalm, but it is so couched that from its contents there is nothing by which we can infer either its authorship or date; and it so speaks to man as man, that it is of equal value by whomsoever or whensoever it was penned. We have in its first six verses a rehearsal of the voices of God in the firmament above. And we gather from the forms of expression that the writer was accustomed to speak of natural phenomena in the language of his day. In his view the firmament of heaven spread out as a hemisphere above the earth, like a splendid and pellucid sapphire, in which the stars were supposed to be fixed, and over which the Hebrews believed there was a heavenly ocean. The Bible was not meant to teach science, but to teach God. Science has to do with the matter, order, and laws of the creation. In religion we have to do with the great Author of all. And while we find the writer far enough away from our present conceptions of what the heavens are, we find he is one to whom God had spoken as Jehovah, the great I AM - and who had been taught God's Law to man as well as God's utterances in nature. And as God's voices to us have become clearer than they were in the psalmist's time, by his revelation in Christ Jesus, so the glory of his works has become amazingly clearer through the discoveries man has made therein; and he will fall very far short of a suitable setting forth of the truths of this first half of the psalm, who does not utilize the recent discoveries of science as a pedestal on which to set, in clearer and fuller ways, Jehovah's glory! The expositor is bound to show how gloriously science helps religion, in furnishing him with new material for setting forth the greatness of God l An unfolding of the verses before us will lead us along several lines of thought, with which we propose to deal cumulatively.
I. THERE ARE NATURAL OBJECTS AND FACTS HERE SPECIFIED. The heavens. The firmament. The sun. The orderly succession of day and night. In regard to each of these, science helps religion. And grand as was the scene in olden time to the natural eye, and with all the imperfections of ancient knowledge, the grandeur is unspeakably vaster now, owing to discoveries which have since been and are still being made (The expositor of this psalm needs to read up to date in astronomical researches.)
II. AMONG THEM THERE IS INCESSANT ACTIVITY. "The heavens declare," etc. Their activity is not conscious on their part, but it is nevertheless real. Light is ever acting on the vegetable world, and helps to open the petals of the flower, to give blossom its colour, and fruit its sweetness. Thus there is a reciprocal relation established between the sunbeam and the plant. So also is there between the stars above us and the mind of man. And though they utter not a word (ver. 3, Hebrew), they are sounding forth a message to the soul of man. "Their line is gone out," etc. (ver. 4). The word "line" is one of much interest. It meant, first, any cord or string; then a string stretched out so as to emit a musical sound; then the sound emitted by the string; then a full musical chord.
"For ever singing, as they shine,
III. THESE ACTIVITIES ARE WONDROUSLY VARIED. The four verbs used here are all of them exceedingly expressive. The heavens are falling the glory of God, recounting it to us as in the pages of a book; the firmament is showing his handiwork, setting it before our eyes as in a picture; day unto day welleth forth speech, pouring it out as from a fountain; night unto night breatheth out knowledge, breathing it out gently so that the attentive listener may hear. "During the French Revolution, it was said to a peasant, ' I will have all your steeples pulled down, that you may no longer have any object by which you may be reminded of your old superstitions.' 'But,' replied the peasant, 'you cannot help leaving us the stars.'"
IV. WITH ALL THIS VARIETY OF EXPRESSION, THEY TELL OF A CREATING POWER. "The glory of God;" "The firmament showeth his handiwork." When this is said, there are two points involved - one implied, the other expressed. It is implied that man has the faculty of understanding these varied forms of expression. Surely a perceived object implies a perceiving subject, and a message addressed implies the existence of those by whom it can be understood. The question of the origin of things will, must, come up; quite irrespectively of method, there will be the question of cause. The old design argument is valid as ever, though it may need to be thrown into a different form. That which it requires mind to understand, must a fortiori require the equivalent of mind to bring into being. From nature's framework, power, wisdom, benevolent adaptation, order, etc., are manifest. Even the objection raised from the existence of wasted seeds, abortive organs, rudimentary and undeveloped possibilities, comes to nought when it is remembered that no atom of matter is wasted, but, if unused at one moment, is worked up again in other collocations. The advance of the most cultured thought at the present time is remarkable. The old atheism is now out of date; and so, intellectually, is even the old agnosticism. It is behind the times. The latest developments of Darwinism honour God. But while on the ground of knowledge and culture, intellect must admit the existence of "a Power above us," it is only the lowly, devout, and loyal spirit that will see God in all things, and enjoy all things in God.
V. GOD'S MESSAGE FROM THE HEAVENS IS RESPONDED TO IN HOLY SONG. Whoso forgets the title of the psalm will miss much of its beauty and glory. It is meant for the choirmaster. It is to be set to music, and uttered in song. Poetry, music, song, are the audible response of man to the inaudible voices of the day and of the night. Through the stars, God speaks to man without words; with his voice man speaks to God. Thus the universe is one grand antiphony. God's music delighting man; man's music adoring God. The heavens speak to us of God; we respond to the God of heaven. Note: Although we do not wish here to anticipate unduly the teaching of the second half of this psalm, yet we may be permitted to remark that, glorious as the music of the heavens is to those who have ears to hear, yet there is another message from the eternal throne, which alone tells us the thoughts God has towards us, and which, when understood and received, does touch our hearts and move our tongues to louder, sweeter, tenderer song than ever nature's glory could inspire. - C.
I. THE GRAND SUBJECT. "The glory of God."
II. THE SPLENDID AUDIENCE. "All the earth."
III. THE FAITHFUL DELIVERY. Marked by truth, freshness, constancy, impartiality (vers. 1-4). Other preachers cannot continue by reason of death. Hence there is change. One succeeds another. But this preacher goes on without break or weariness from day to day and age to age, bearing witness for God (Romans 1:20; Acts 14:17).
IV. THE DIVERSE RESULTS. Minds vary. Where there is freedom of thought, there will be difference of opinion. When Paul preached at Athens, "some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again on this matter. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed" (Acts 17:32-34). And so it is here. Some hear, and others hear not. Some recognize God's presence and working, and give him praise, and others deny that in all they see there is anything more than the evolution of matter, and the play of cause and effect.
V. THE NECESSITY OF THE WORD. Nature can teach, but only such as are susceptible. It can proclaim the glory of God, but only to such as have already been brought to the knowledge of God. Our minds have been darkened and deadened by sin. Nature cannot tell us how sin is to be taken away. It is dumb as to a Saviour. it cannot inspire hope. It cannot convert the soul. Hence the necessity of the Word - of the Law by which is the knowledge of sin, and the gospel which reveals to us a Saviour. It is those who have been brought to the knowledge and love of God through Jesus Christ who are best able to appreciate the service of nature. - W.F.
nature it is continuous. Day utters speech unto day, night unto night. It is speechless; it has a language, but it is not articulate. It is universal. Gone out through all the world, and through all time. In his Word it his a converting power - power to make wise, to rejoice the heart and enlighten the eyes. It endures for ever; unlike the firmament, and is entirely true and righteous.
I. A COMPARISON OF THESE TWO REVELATIONS.
1. Both reveal God's glory. The heavens reveal his glory by day and by night. But our solar system is but the glory of a single point of light, when compared with the glory of all the systems that fill infinite space. But quality rather than quantity is the test of the glory of any work. To redeem and reclaim a world of souls from the ruin of sin transcends the work of creating and sustaining all the suns and the stars of the universe; and this is the glory of God's Word.
2. Both contain important instruction. "Day unto day uttereth speech" (ver. 2). "The testimony of the Lord is sure [or, 'true'], making wise the simple."' To the devout mind nature suggests more than it directly teaches - the Sun of Righteousness, the mighty Quickener and Joy of darkened souls. Christ the great Bridegroom of the Church. But the Word uttered by prophets, Christ, and inspired men, expels our ignorance upon the topics most necessary to our highest well-being. They make us truly wise.
3. Both demand study and labour to enjoy their blessings. Great things can benefit us only by the exercise of earnest and inquisitive thought. La Place and Newton thus came to understand the science of the heavens; Milton and others, their poetry; and David and others, their religion. We benefit by the Word in a similar way. Study leading to practice and experience will open its stores of truth to us.
II. A CONTRAST OF THESE REVELATIONS.
1. The one universal, the other partial. Every one not born blind has seen the heavens; there are millions who have never heard of Christ. God does some things by taking them entirely into his own hands; but he takes us as fellow-labourers in the work of making known his Word.
2. The one is full of great spiritual energies; the other is not. Material things can do only material work; nature cannot alter a depraved will or heal a wounded conscience. Spiritual forces must rouse spiritual natures like ours. Christ is the Word of God, and can give the highest deliverance and salvation which souls need. Makes us wise with the noblest wisdom, gives light to the mind. The one rejoices the senses, the other the heart. The mourner can be made to sing, the captive to leap for joy, the heartbroken to laugh with gladness, the penitent to receive peace. Nature can do nothing of this to any extent. - S.
I. WHAT IT IS. Six names are used, and six different statements are made with regard to the Bible.
1. It is "the Law of the Lord," and, as such, it is "perfect."
2. It is "the testimony of the Lord," and, as such, it is "sure." In it God speaks with solemn earnestness and insistance, and what he says may be trusted.
3. It is "the statutes of the Lord;" and the statutes of the Lord are "right." The way of duty is clearly and unmistakably marked out.
4. It is the "commandment of the Lord." It is not mere counsel or instruction, but has all the authority and awfulness of "commandment." And as such it is "pure," clear as crystal, illuminating as the light.
6. Lastly, the Bible is spoken of as "the judgments of the Lord." This refers to the administration of the Law. God's "judgments," being the execution of his will, must be "true." Based upon the eternal principles of right, they must themselves be eternal.
II. WHAT THE BIBLE DOES.
III. WHAT THE BIBLE DESERVES. We have it in our hands. We have heard its character, and the claims made in its behalf, and what is our response? The language employed by the psalmist fitly expresses what our feelings and conduct should be, how we should treat God's most Holy Word.
1. It deserves to be valued more than gold.
2. It deserves to be loved and delighted in as "sweeter than honey and the honey-comb."
3. It deserves to be studied and obeyed with increasing devotion; for thereby our minds are enlightened, and our lives illumined, and great is our reward in purity and peace and the love of God. And if we have learnt its preciousness ourselves, we shall surely labour to make it known to others, that they also may be enriched by its treasures and blessed with its joys. - W.F.
I. THE HEAVENS SPEAK OF GOD; THE WORD DECLARES JEHOVAH. It is too commonly supposed that the use of the several words "Elohim" and "Jehovah" indicates a difference either of date, of document, or of authorship. There does not seem to us to be any adequate ground for such distinctions. As we in one and the same sermon or tract may use a dozen different names for God, why may it not have been so of old? The word "Elohim" indicates God as the God of nature. The word "Jehovah" points to him as the revealed God of our fathers. And it is from our own revealed God that the Word proceeds, from the depths of his heart; it is far more than any works of his hands. Hence the change of the word "God" to the word . "Jehovah."
II. JEHOVAH, THE REVEALED GOD, HAS PUT BEFORE US PRICELESS MATERIAL FOR OUR USE. There are six various terms to indicate this. Law; or the great body of truth in which God would have his people instructed. Testimony; or the Divine declaration as to what he is, has done, is doing, and will do. Statutes; or precepts, which indicate specific duty. Commandments; or rules for the regulation of the entire life. Fear; i.e. that fear of him, so repeatedly enjoined, and which in an infantine age was the predominant view of duty towards God. Judgments; the right-settings, in the Divine declarations pronounced against sin and in favour of righteousness. Let us put all these together, and lo! how rich are we in having all these voices from the eternal throne! But how much richer still are we in having the words of the New Testament economy superadded to those of the old!
III. THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH ARE AS REMARKABLE FOR QUALITY AS FOR VARIETY. The very names given to them are inspiring: "perfect," "sure," "right," "pure," "true," "righteous," "standing fast." These several terms may be gathered up into three - true in statement, right in direction, everlasting in their duration. Even so. In the words of God we have absolute truth. In the precepts of God we have perfect directories for life and duty. And we know that, change what may, time is on our side, for "the Word of the Lord endureth for ever" Note: The words of God in the Bible are the only ones to which these epithets apply. Then it will be a very serious mistake if in school education or family training we ever allow the Bible to be crowded out or set on one side. For we must note -
IV. THAT THE WORDS OF GOD ARE ADDRESSED TO THE INNERMOST PART OF OUR NATURE. (Ver. 7, "the soul.") Although this word, in Hebrew, is very frequently used in as free and popular a sense as it is with us, yet, on the other hand, it often denotes the highest part of our nature - even that which pertains to spirit, conscience, and to the regulation of the moral life of man. Such is the case here; as, indeed, the marvellous effects of the Divine Word (as pointed out under the next heading) plainly indicate. So much is this the case, that the Word is regarded even here as "dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow," and as a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The Old Testament conceptions of man and of sin are very deep and very solemn. As the late Dr. Duncan, Professor of Hebrew, rightly remarked, "The Hebrew language is peculiarly rich in religious and moral terms, though scanty enough in others. The reason is evident - it chronicled a revelation."
V. THE EFFECT OF GOD'S WORDS ARE AS MARVELLOUS AS THEIR CONTENTS AND AIM. Some six of these are specified in the psalm. And one other is illustrated by its writer. The six effects referred to are:
1. Converting the soul. Restoring it, calling it back from its wanderings, and causing it to return to God and home.
2. Making arise the simple. Where the words of God arc read, studied, appropriated, by an honest and upright heart, they will lead in the way of understanding, and make wise unto salvation.
3. Rejoicing the heart, by their disclosures of God's glory, grace, wealth, and love. To those who drink in the Word, God is their "exceeding Joy."
4. Enlightening the eyes. This may mean either illumination or refreshment, restoring life and fainting energies (cf. 1 Samuel 14:24, 29). The former meaning, "illumination," is triply true; tot God's commandments enlighten a man concerning God, duty, and himself. There is nothing like the searching Word to reveal to us what we are.
5. Warning is another effect. The exhortations to good and the dissuasion from evil are standing menaces of the peril of refusing the one and choosing the other.
6. Reward. No one can follow the commandments of God without ensuring a rich, ample, constant recompense. Another effect of the Word of God is illustrated by the writer of this very psalm, who shows us the influence it had upon him. It awoke from him an earnest, prayerful response, awakened by the sight of himself which the commandment gave. The prayer is threefold - against involuntary, secret, and presumptuous sins. It is:
1. Cleanse me, which has a double meaning of" Pronounce me clean, and keep me so."
2. Keep me back. It is a prayer that the restraining grace of God may keep in subjection a wayward and impulsive nature.
3. Accept me. (Ver. 14.) It is an earnest prayer that at the moment the Word reveals his guilt, the grace of God may cover it with the mantle of forgiving love, and receive him in spite of all his guilt. And to this prayer there is appended an earnest plea. The praying one invokes two of the names of God in which the Old Testament saints were wont most to delight, "My Rock" and "my Redeemer." The word translated "Redeemer" is specially noticeable. It is Goel. (For illustrations of the use of the former word, see Deuteronomy 32:4, 31; 2 Samuel 22:32; Psalm 62:2, 6, 7; Psalm 73:26; Isaiah 26:4. Of the latter, see (in Hebrew) Numbers 35:12, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27; Job 19:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 63:16.) Note:
(1) How unspeakable is the mercy that, though our guilt might welt make us dread the approach to a holy God, yet his grace is such that we may flee to him and find deliverance there! The same Word which unbares our sin also reveals his grace.
(2) The revelation of God through the stars will not suffice for us; we want the word of promise too.
(3) Those who most luxuriate in the Word should also, more than others, luxuriate in the works of God.
(4) Those who accept both know perfectly well that nothing in the book of nature can run counter to the book of grace. - C.
I. WHAT THE DIVINE LAW TAUGHT THE PSALMIST. (Vers. 12, 13.)
1. His manifold sins and errors. "Who can understand his errors?" Who can tell how often he offendeth? Our sins and mistakes are greater in number than we can understand or reckon. Our moral infirmity is greater than we can estimate.
2. That he was largely an ignorant transgressor. "Cleanse thou me from the sins that I know not of." Arising from self-deception and self-ignorance. Others see in us what we cannot see in ourselves. The proud and covetous and unjust do not think themselves so. Cleanse us from the pretence to virtues which we have not.
3. To pray for deliverance from the temptation to deliberate sins. That he might not commit presumptuous, wilful sin. He does not ask for the pardon of such sins, but to be restrained from them. "If we sin wilfully after that we have come to the knowledge of the truth," etc. No sacrifice in the Jewish Law for such sins.
II. THE LAW GREATLY REWARDS THE STEADFASTLY OBEDIENT. (Vers. 11, 14, 15.)
1. By giving them an increasing spirit of consecration. "Let my words and meditations and actions be more and more acceptable in thy sight." Obedience leads to further obedience, and longs for nothing short of being perfectly acceptable to God.
2. By giving a more perfect consciousness of God's acquaintance with our thoughts and ways. The whole passage shows that, as well as the fourteenth verse. The disobedient think they can hide their ways from God. "How doth God know?" The obedient know that all things are naked and open before him; and rejoice in the thought, because they are aiming at what is acceptable to him.
3. By revealing God as a sure, faithful Redeemer from all evil. A rock is the image of faithful stability, and means that God will not swerve from his promise of redemption. The disobedient are the unbelievers; they attribute their own mind to God, and so cannot trust him. - S.
I. AS OFFERING A SACRIFICE. The thoughts and feelings of the soul uttered and unuttered.
1. The sacrifice is spiritual. Words and meditations. Man's heart is the most precious thing God has created - the jewel of the universe. The thoughts that come out of the heart and the words that utter them - these are the precious treasures the psalmist offers before God.
2. The sacrifice is complete. The words of the mouth and the meditation of the heart indicate the whole man. This is the Christian view of man's priestly work - the presenting of body and soul as living sacrifices. Not a partial offering of one part of our lives, nor of the outward apart from the inward life, but the total consecration of our whole being.
3. This offering is not acceptable to God on its own account. It is acceptable to God on account of the great expiatory sacrifice, and because that has brought us into a new and peculiar relation with God. Intrinsically, the offering is not acceptable. For all man's words taken together, what are they? Our words when they utter our most religious thoughts, our truest deepest faith, our most rapturous love, our triumphant hope and praise, are unworthy of being thus offered. But when you add the words of every day and every employment, these are vain, proud, irreligious, sometimes blasphemous. And then our thoughts! But God in Christ is pleased with our offering. A child's letter is pleasing to its father because it is his child's.
II. AS CONTAINING A PRAYER. Then what do they imply?
1. That God alone can deliver him from the sins he prays against. From secret and presumptuous sin. A faith is implied that God would so deliver him. They may have a wider meaning.
2. That God is the Inspirer of right words and right thoughts. "Make my words and thoughts such as shall be acceptable in thy sight."
III. THE WARRANT FOR OFFERING BOTH SACRIFICE AND PRAYER. The psalmist felt that God was his Rock and his Salvation. Stability and deliverance are the principal thoughts here. - S.