I have seen an end to all perfection, but Your commandment is without limit.
contrast. No other relation brings out so clear and full a meaning. The meaning of the whole, therefore, must be something like this: Here is something called 'perfection' existing among men in a great variety of forms. 'But,' says the psalmist, 'according to my experience and observation, these are altogether too superficial, and too precarious, and too short-lived to make men happy, and the very best of them, the idealisms of human life, can never be attained. But thy commandment is exceeding broad,' and that will do, unless men hinder, what nothing else will do." The human hopes referred to are a man's wholly self-centered purposes and ambitions. Let a man fashion something for himself as a supreme aim of life; let it be something which he regards as "perfection;" let it bear no relation to the blessing of his fellow-men, or to the will and honor of God, and there will surely be an end to all such perfection. Let perfection be humanly conceived success and happiness, and ere life closes the man will say with the "preacher," who had such a varied experience, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
I. ALL AROUND US WE MAY SEE THE END OF PERFECTIONS. The story of the ages is the story of well-conceived ideals in social and national life that were never realized. The story of individual lives that had only self-centered aims is this wail, "My purposes are broken off." It is even a large truth that no life ever was lived that realized its ideal, reached its perfection, or accomplished its purposes. And this must be so because perfection is for the race, not for the individual, who has never more than a piece of the whole entrusted to him. And because, by man's very nature, he cannot rest satisfied with things, only with character, which finds expression in things, and is always below a possible attainment, while God is the supreme character.
II. IF WE CANNOT GET PERFECTION, WE MAY WORK TOWARDS IT. To do this we must get out of the human sphere into the Divine sphere. Man fails to reach his own perfection because it is so small. God's Word is large, broad, and towards its perfection man may move through all eternity, and get ennobled as he moves. - R.T.
I. THE SORROWFUL CONFESSION — "I have seen an end of all perfection."
I have seen an end of all perfection; but Thy commandment is exceeding broad.
Homilist.I. The NATURE of this discovery. "An end of all perfection." Material nature is perfect in all its departments and forms; but in human history no perfection is found. It is not found in the thoughts, affections, purposes, or actions of men. It is not found in men individually or collectively. Complete moral perfection is extinct.
1. This fact should humble us in the dust. The only property in man is character; and if his character is bad, man has nothing therefore of which to be proud. His own vileness should keep him in the dust.
2. This fact should startle us into effort. In moral imperfection there is guilt, ruin, hell. How to get rid of it is the great question, and should be the great object of life. For this all should labour supremely.
II. The MEANS of this discovery. "Thy commandment is exceeding broad." Broad!
1. Because it embraces everything pertaining to man. Not only his outward actions and audible utterances, but the deepest and most secret feelings of his heart.
2. It embraces everything pertaining to every man. It takes in individuals, families, communities, Churches, and nations. In the light of this law moral imperfection is then everywhere.
1. There are severe limits to human knowledge. The wisest tell us their path leads to a point at which there is "no thoroughfare." They encounter "the Unknowable." All they know is, that there is more to be known.
2. There are severe limits to human enjoyment. The most attractive programme of pleasure palls. The gay monarch offers a fabulous sum for a "new pleasure." Restless pleasure-seekers outpace even the devil's ingenuity, for even he cannot make the programme hold out.
3. There are severe limits to human examples of excellence. We select our hero, and he enjoys our brief worship. But we find a flaw, and the homage fails. You need only know a man well enough to detect his weakness. A modern celebrity was asked if he believed in perfection: said he, " No! I have seen too many perfect people."
II. THE JOYFUL REJOINDER — "But Thy commandment is exceeding broad."
1. The "commandment" broadens beyond the limits of human knowledge. It reveals God — His counsels — eternity and its destinies. It presents us with a science of the unseen, and a redemption to which there is no human analogy.
2. The "commandment" is exceeding broad in the extent of the enjoyment it unfolds. It presents an infinite range of delights to man's restless soul. It unseals infinite sources of pleasure. It teaches us to "joy in God." It introduces a new, subtler, more refined and inexhaustible quality of happiness. We have Christ's "joy fulfilled in" ourselves. We "enter into the joy of our Lord." It ushers us into that Presence for ever, where there is "fulness of joy."
3. It is "exceeding broad" in its provision for human attainment — its ideal. The Old Testament standard reaches the infinite word godly. The New Testament sets before us the example of Him in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). Man's soul can never be satisfied without a definite aim; yet at the same time an infinite aim. Here the conditions meet — "The stature of a man in Christ Jesus." Application — And this "commandment" is nigh thee! — now!
I. HE SPEAKS OF THE TRANSIENT AND FINITE. He had observed that there was a great deal of perfection — many good and perfect gifts — in the world.
1. In nature. The revolving seasons, the flowers that bloom, the fruit that ripens, and the sun that shines, are each beautiful in its time. But every summer has its winter, every flower dies, all fruit decays, and every day has its night. Transiency and limitation are written upon everything. There must be a constant replenishing, or the universe would be bankrupt. The same forces are preserved and resuscitated by new combinations, and directed to new uses. The conservation of force is a means by which God upholds nature, else it would collapse.
2. In human history. The rise and fall of empires — the might of the sword — the power of governments — the sway of know-ledge — the charm of fame — the influence of wealth — are all transient. It is this "end" that perplexes men.
3. In religious externalities. Many symbols and ceremonials have come and gone. They have lost their meaning in realities. The pillars of cloud and of fire have vanished: the manna has ceased. The tabernacle, the temple, and their ritual have passed away. Even religious structures like the temple, which, of all buildings, supply the strongest resistance to the wear and tear of time, fall into decay and ruin.
4. In individual and social life. Man exhausts everything. As we advance in life all attainment dwarfs in the presence of new ideals. The ideal of the Hebrew, through the revelation of God, was very high. Contrast the self-complacency of the Greek with the consciousness of non-attainment on the part of the holiest Hebrews. Where there is no conception of holiness there can be no adequate conception of infirmity and sin, and even of non-attainment. So far, however, the psalmist has not said all; nor even the half. It were a sad tale were that all. "But" is the remedial point in the verse.
II. THE PSALMIST SPEAKS OF THE COMPREHENSIVE AND PERMANENT — "Thy commandment is exceeding broad."
1. It was comprehensive. It applied to men's thoughts and motives, as well as their words and deeds. It touched life and emphasized responsibility at every point. It left no void space, no gap or chink for the guilty to escape. It presented the divine ideal of perfection.
2. It was permanent. Our Lord teaches us that heaven and earth shall pass away; but that not a jot or tittle of the law shall pass. Hence the necessity of the Incarnation and the Atonement. "The love of Christ constraineth us." Our supreme hope is to be like Him. "And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself as He is pure." He is "changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord," and thus becomes "perfect in Christ Jesus."
I. The psalmist said these words truly, and we may say them truly, as to THE HAPPINESS THIS WORLD CAN YIELD. The psalmist did not say, and no more do we, that in this world there is no happiness at all. What is said is that there is no perfection of happiness: no life which is evenly joyous or evenly cheerful. The heavy, bitter blow falls now and then; and there are manifold drawbacks from the pleasantest earthly lot; a thousand little anxieties, vexations, — well, there is no better word, worries: things which, if they do not absolutely embitter the cup of existence, certainly deprive it of all right to be called the perfection of worldly good.
II. We may say these words with truth, in regard to THE EXCELLENCE OF THE PEOPLE WE KNOW.
III. We have learned to little purpose, if we have not done the same in regard to OURSELVES: our own good purposes, our own devout feelings, our own faith, and hope, and charity. It is a lame life we lead: it is but a very rough approximation to the right line. In some kind of way we keep to religious rule; but we need not even talk of perfection who know that we come short, in everything we do.
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
I. THE TEMPORAL. "I see that all things come to an end." We live in a world of change; nothing is lasting, nothing is permanent down here. The little life of man, the little work of man sooner or later comes to an end. "I see that all things come to an end." The beautiful summer-time which delights us all changes at last into the long dreary winter. Nature changes, "the grass withereth, the flower fadeth." There are changes in public life as well as in private life; changes abroad and changes at home; changes in our own individual lives. The boy changes into the young man; school life is over. The young man changes into the man in his prime; youth is over. And old age creeps on, then cometh the end. Whether it be beauty, or wit, or learning, or pleasure, or honour, or position, or riches, experience will soon show us the end of all these things.
II. The writer turns from the temporal to THE ETERNAL. He tries to fix our minds on the one Supreme Being who never passes away. "I am the Lord, I change not." "Thy commandment is exceeding broad." The great Rock of Ages remains unalterably the same.
1. God's love is exceeding broad.
2. His forgiveness.
3. His mercy.
4. His power to save.
5. His Church.
6. Heaven.We may differ in opinion down here, we cannot all think alike on earth, but there will be perfect unity there, for heaven, like God's commandment, is exceeding broad.
(A. E. W. Lait.)I. THE IMPERFECTION THAT IS ASCRIBED TO ALL CREATED OBJECTS.
1. Everything pertaining to the present world, its riches, honours, and enjoyments so earnestly coveted by carnal minds, will be found greatly deficient in their promised good when weighed in a just and equal balance. Experience proves them incapable of affording satisfaction; they first allure, and then deceive, and raise our expectations only for the purpose of producing disappointment.
2. There is nothing perfect in the Church of God, collectively considered, though it is composed of the excellent of the earth, in all ages and parts of the world. The tares and the wheat grow together until harvest.
3. The same imperfection which marks the general body attaches to the character of individual believers in various degrees; for as is the root, so are the branches.
4. As the psalmist had seen an end of all perfection in others, so also in himself; and this is what the best of men have seen in their own characters as well as he. There is neither intellectual nor moral perfection to be found on earth.
II. THE PERFECTION THAT IS ASCRIBED TO THE DIVINE LAW.
1. It includes the whole of our duty towards God, ourselves, and our neighbour.
2. It extends to all persons and to characters of every description.
3. Its dominion reaches to the inward 'as well as to the outward man, the heart as well as the life. It rules over the understanding, for obedience is founded in knowledge; the will, which must be bowed to the will of God; the affections, which are required to be set supremely on Him.
4. It comprehends the manner of our obedience, as well as the matter of it, and shows that nothing can be acceptable but what proceeds from a right principle. Love is the fulfilling of the law, both as to its spirit and design.
5. Its authority is perpetual, reaching forward to eternity. It is a perfect transcript of the Divine mind, and is necessarily as unchangeable as its great original (Psalm 119:89, 152).
6. It is exceeding broad with respect to its sanctions, or the rewards which it promises and the punishments it inflicts.
(B. Beddoms, M. A.)
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
1. "I see that all things come to an end." So we may say of all human institutions and customs, especially when we have gone through many lands, and seen many forms of opinion and worship.
2. "I see that there is a boundary beyond which they cannot pass" — I see that the institutions of the West come to an end almost abruptly when they reach the extremity of Europe. I see that the institutions of the East come to an end no less abruptly when they reach the extremity of Asia. We have followed each to their utmost limit; they cannot pass farther. But there is one thing which is broad enough to embrace them both and cross them both, namely, the commandment of God.
3. "I see that all earthly pleasures and enjoyments, one after another, have their natural ending." Not only wicked and selfish pleasures, which last only for the moment of their gratification, but innocent, just, good enjoyments, of necessity come to an end, or pass into something else. "But the commandment of God is exceeding broad." God's commandment widens, opens, and expands with new interests, enjoyments, affections, hopes, at every successive step we take, till we find ourselves at last in that Presence where there is indeed fulness of joy and pleasure for evermore.
4. "I see that all human greatness comes to an end." Every station in life, however great or prosperous, has its drawbacks, its checks, its limits. But moral or Christian greatness is "exceeding broad." The basis on which it is built up is as broad and firm as the conscience and heart of man, as the grace and goodness of God. Even the most far-reaching intellect and its effects come to an end at last. Look at those greatest of all monuments of the mind of man — books. How rapidly they come to an end! One Book alone has outlasted many generations, in all nations equally, and that is the Bible; and this is because of its "exceeding breadth" — because it embraces every variety and element of thought, and every phase of society; above all, because it embodies in every part the moral commandment of God, which endures for ever in heaven, and which speaks not to one condition of life only, but to all.
5. "I see that all human characters come to an end." How often do we see those who are good and wise up go a certain point, but beyond that we come, as it were, to a precipice — they break down, as we say; we wonder that, being so good as they are, they are not better; that, being as wise as they are, they are not wiser. One Character there is which is so "exceeding broad" as to grasp and overlap all others. This is the true sign of the Divinity of the character of Christ.
6. "I see that human life comes to an end." Our earthly life, the earthly life of those whom we have known and loved, is cut short by that dark abyss into which we cannot penetrate, and over which our thoughts can hardly pass. But God's commandment, and the fulfilment of God's commandments, is "exceeding broad"; it is broad enough to span even that wide and deep river which parts this life and the next. For it is this which makes this life and the next life one. Knowledge, prophecies, gifts of all kinds pass away, but the love of God and the love of man never fail.
7. Yes, "I see that all things come to an end." I see that human systems, human pleasures, human greatness, human wisdom, human excellence, human life, come to an end. But the commandment, the revelation, of God never comes to an end, because God Himself is Infinite — God, whom we adore in His three infinite perfections.
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF RELIGION, which is able to give a very good account of itself, because it settles the mind of man upon a firm basis, and keeps it from rolling in perpetual uncertainty; whereas atheism and infidelity wants a stable foundation; it centres nowhere but in the denial of God and religion, and yet substitutes no principle, no tenable and constituent scheme of things, in the place of them.
II. THE WISDOM OF RELIGION.
1. True wisdom begins and is founded in religion, in the fear of God, and in the keeping of His commandments.
2. This is the perfection of wisdom; there is no wisdom without this, nor beyond it.(1) The first point of wisdom is to understand our true interest, and to be right in our main end; and in this religion will best instruct and direct us. And if we be right in out" main end, and true to the interest of it, we cannot miscarry; but if a man mistake in this, he errs fatally, and his whole life is vanity and folly.(2) Another property of wisdom is to be steady and vigorous in the prosecution of our main end; to oblige us hereto religion gives us the most powerful arguments — the glorious happiness, and the dismal misery of another world.
3. The next point of wisdom is to make all things stoop and become subservient to our main end. And wherever religion bears sway, it will make all other things subordinate to the salvation of our souls, and the interests of our everlasting happiness; as the men of this world make everything to submit and give way to their covetous, and ambitious, and sensual designs.
4. Another part of wisdom is to consider the future, and to look to the last end and issue of things. It is a common folly among men to be so intent upon the present as to have little or no regard to the future, to what will be hereafter. But religion gives us a clear prospect of a life after death, and overlooks time, and makes eternity always present to us, and minds us of making timely provision and preparation for it.
5. Again, another main point of wisdom is, to do as little as we can to be repented of, trusting rather to the wisdom of prevention than to that of remedy. Religion first teacheth men innocency, and not to offend; but in case we do (as in many things we offend all), it then directs us to repentance as the only remedy.
6. The last character of wisdom I shall mention is in all things to consult the peace and satisfaction of our own minds, without which nothing else can make us happy; and this obedience to the laws of God does naturally procure.
(F. Ferguson, D. D.)
1. "I have seen an end of all perfection; for Thy commandment is exceeding broad." Read in this way they suggest the animating thought that our haunting consciousness of imperfection springs from the bright and awful perfection of the law we are bent on obeying, of the Ideal we have set before us. It is not because we are worse than those who are without law, or who are a law unto themselves, that we are restless and dissatisfied with ourselves; but because we measure both ourselves and our fellows by the lofty standards of God's commandment. That commandment is so broad, that. we cannot embrace it; it is so high, that we cannot attain to it; it is so perfect, that we cannot perfectly obey it.
2. But we may read the verse in another way, and still derive comfort and encouragement from it. We may say: "I have seen an end of all perfection in myself, and in the world; but Thy commandment is exceeding broad: that is perfect, though I am imperfect, and in its perfection I find the promise of my own." For shall God give a law for human life, and that law remain for ever unfulfilled? Impossible! "The gifts of God are without repentance" — irreversible, never to be lessened or withdrawn. His purpose is not to be made of none effect by our weaknesses and sins. In the law He has shown us what He would have us be. And shall we never become what He would have us to be? Can the law remain for ever without any life that corresponds to it and fulfils it? Nay, God will never take back the fair and perfect ideal of human life depicted in His law, never retract His purpose to raise the life of man till it touches and fulfils that ideal. And so the very law which is our despair is our comfort also, for if that be perfect we must become perfect; its perfection is the pledge of ours.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
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