Psalm 127:1
Our ignorance of the exact reference of this psalm enables us to apply it, as perhaps otherwise we might not be able, to all builders whatsoever. Four such seem to be pointed at here.

I. THE TEMPLE-BUILDERS.

1. We know that this was one of the solicitudes of the returned exiles - to uprear again the temple of the Lord. And in the books written after the return from Babylon we read about this and the difficulties they had to encounter, and the success they at length achieved. Continually they needed to remember that "except the Lord build," etc.

2. And in the gathering together the living stones which are to form the Church of God, how we need to remember this same truth! Her builders are perpetually tempted, and some are all too prone, to try other methods in this work than those the Lord employs. We are apt to rely on wealth, eloquence, learning, talent, and all other such things, and to forget that it is the Lord alone can really make our work successful.

II. THOSE OF THE CITY. (Ver. 1.) Jerusalem is doubtless meant, and, surrounded as she was by relentless and ever-watchful foes, the sentinels and guards needed ever to be on the alert. But again the same reminder comes in. And it does so still. This is the age of great towns and cities, of municipal corporations who naturally and properly take pride in the cities over which they are placed. They cannot but know how much depends upon wise administration and rule, on the sagacity and wisdom which the citizens can supply. And they who know the history of municipalities know how eager corruption and vice are to assert their power. And often it seems that to pander to them would help on the city's prosperity. But the city-builders need to recollect the truth of this psalm. What is all man's wisdom apart from God?

III. THE BUSINESS. (Ver. 2.) "Our house," "our firm," - these are well-known expressions for business associations - how many are hard at work to build such houses? And in the keen competition of the day, how difficult this often is I what temptations are on every hand, by tricks of trade, by what is called smartness, to get on, it matters not much by what means. How many succumb to such temptations, and try to keep one conscience for Sundays and quite another for weekdays! They have little faith in what this psalm says, "Except the Lord," etc. Their faith is in strenuous hard work, rising early, sitting up late, eating the bread of toil, and so to win rest and repose for themselves. But it is not so, the psalmist declares; for all that toiling and moiling is "vain;" the Lord giveth to his beloved that which they need without all that restlessness and anxiety; their souls repose in him; he keeps them in perfect peace (cf. Proverbs 10:22, Revised Version margin). Let the Lord, then, be the predominant partner in every firm; so shall the house be built.

IV. THE HOME. (Vers. 3-5.) People marry, and then begins the upbuilding of the family. What strenuous exertion does many a father put forth for the sake of his family! If the children be numerous, the parents are often very slow to appreciate the congratulations of these verses (3-5). The reason is that they are counting most precious for their children what the Lord scarcely counts precious at all. Of course, only a fool would despise secular advantages for his children, if they may be had; but infinitely more important for them is the grace of God possessing their hearts. Then no real ill can come to them, but eternal good shall be their portion. - S.C.







He that goeth forth and weepeth.
: — All life is a sowing. Some sow to the lusts of the flesh. A chosen company sow to the spirit. These often sow in sadness, for such sowing involves self-denial and struggling against the flesh. But their reaping will compensate them. Now this holds good in regard to the whole spiritual life, but it applies also to individual incidents in that life. To prayers offered amid tears. To the daughters of affliction, the sons of pain. But we take the text in regard to every Christain worker.

I. DESCRIBE HIS SERVICE. It is said of him, he goeth forth. What does this mean? This, that he goeth forth from God. God has sent him. It is a sin beyond all others to take up the ministry as a mere profession. And this going forth is from the place of prayer. Our truest strength lies in prayer. But the word tells of the whither as well as the whence. And this going forth is away from the world, "without the camp," aye, and beyond the range of ordinary Christian labour. "He that goeth forth," not he that sits at home, shall win the reward. "And weepeth." What means this word? As the former word told of the mode of service, so this tells of the man himself. A man who cannot weep, inwardly if not internally, cannot preach. He must be sensitive, tender-hearted, a man in earnest. Some one asks, "Why does he weep?" Because he feels his own insufficiency, because of the hardness of men's hearts, because he is often disappointed. Blossoms come not to be fruit, or fruit half ripe drops from the tree. Next, we read, "he beareth precious seed." This an especial point of success. There is no soul-winning by untruthful preaching. The Gospel, and that only, will serve. Tell it out as those who know it is precious, not flippantly, or as though we were retailing a mere story from the "Arabian Nights." And as those who know that the truth is a seed. Do not speak of it and forget it, or think of it as a stone that will never spring up. Believe there is life in it, and something will come of it.

II. THE WORKER'S SUCCESS. "He shall come again" to his God whence he set out, come in thanksgiving and praise. "With rejoicing," yes, even in his very tears, but mainly in his success. Many have asked whether every earnest labourer may expect to have this. I have always inclined to the belief that such is the rule, though there may be exceptions. It seems to me that if I never won souls I would sigh till I did. I would break my heart Over them if I could not break their hearts. I cannot comprehend any one trying to win souls and being satisfied without results. With sheaves. As an old expositor says, he comes with the wains behind him, with the wagons at his heels. They are his sheaves, for though all souls belong to Christ, they yet belong to the worker. God puts it so, "bringing his sheaves with him."

III. THE GOLDEN LINK OF "DOUBTLESS." The promise of God says so. The analogy of nature assures you of it. God mocks not the husbandman. And Christ assures you of this. Think, too, of those who have already proved it. See the triumphs of missions. Therefore be up and doing. You who are not saved, I ask you not to sin, but to come to Christ.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. THE QUALITIES AND REQUIREMENTS OF THE SUCCESSFUL SOWER.

1. He "goeth forth." This shows a set purpose, a fixed and definite design. It also suggests that the work is done at some personal cost, some self-denial.

2. He "weepeth." The burden of souls is laid upon him. A trifler must fail; this thorough earnestness is essential to success.

3. He "bears precious seed." The seed is the living word for a lost world; truth for souls wandering in fatal error; "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God." It is precious, because it is the gift of God's love by Jesus Christ; because of the price paid for it; because of its fruit, peace, love, joy in the Holy Ghost. How does he bear it? Best of all forms, the only perfect mode is in the heart; so that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth may speak.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THE HARVEST PROMISED.

1. It is abundant. For seeds in the hand there shall be sheaves on the shoulders.

2. It is gladdening. The sower goes forth weeping; he returns rejoicing.

3. It is sure.

(J. McTurk.)

: —

I. THE SEED.

1. Its origin is Divine.

2. Its vitality.

3. Its value. "Precious."

(1)Because it is a Divine gift.

(2)Because it meets human necessity.

(3)Because of its blessed, practical results.

(4)Because it is adapted to all classes.

(5)Because it has no equal, and nothing can take its place.

II. THE SOWER.

1. His energy — "goeth forth." He does not waste his precious time in berating other sowers, or in telling what wonders he is going to do in the future; nor does he allow his zeal to evaporate in sentiment or song. But he "goeth forth." We have a sufficient number of word-critics and analyzers; we want more men who would rather scatter the seed than argue about its constituent elements.

2. His emotion — "weepeth." Why?

(1)Felt responsibility.

(2)Discouragements in the way. Poverty, ignorance, drunkenness, sensuality, a disposition to cling to sins and force their way to perdition.

(3)Lack of appreciation and sympathy.

(4)Meagre results of former sowing.

(5)Inability to reach the masses, who need us most.

3. His errand — "Bearing precious seed." The bread of life for a perishing, famine-stricken world. The God-sent sower is a man of one work and one kind of seed. He is not a drawing-room evangelist; he "goeth forth." He is not a man of business, he is not a politician, he is not a scientist. He is a worker for God, a sower of the seed. He preaches Christ, not himself; God's thoughts, not his own.

III. THE SUCCESS.

1. Certain.

2. Inspiring.

3. Remunerative.

4. Individual ownership. "Their sheaves."

5. Palpable results. "Bringing." Then to sow is to reap.

(T. Kelly, D. D.)

Some think the mission cause is less popular now than formerly. This opinion may be true to some extent. There may not now be the excitement which, we are told, prevailed at first. For this several reasons may be assigned. The novelty has passed away. Other institutions have sprung up to divide public interest. But the chief reason no doubt is, that experience is bringing out the real nature of the work undertaken as it was never brought out before. Does not very much of the disappointment and complaint which we sometimes hear expressed at the result of mission work arise from wrong expectations?

I. As to THE SOIL, what a contrast this presents to that at home.

1. Look at its extent. Those who know nature and mankind only in small countries like our own cannot conceive the proportions they assume in the world's great continents. There is not a greater difference between the hills which we call mountains, and the streams which we dignify as rivers, and those elsewhere, than there is between humanity here and humanity there. It may be thought at least the moral greatness is with us. As to superior civilization, much of this is prejudice, which a wider acquaintance with the world dissipates. I confess that the only indisputable point of superiority in us, as far as I know, is in the possession of a pure and true religion. Take this away, and we should be no better than the rest. But as to material size and numbers, we are comparatively insignificant. Place a man on a peak of the Alps or Himalayas, and what an overwhelming astonishment comes over him. A like feeling is experienced by one who finds himself moving among the world's great populations. In this country we have thirty millions to deal with — thirty millions to save, one by one. But you might divide China alone into twelve such countries, with twelve times thirty millions. You might cut up India into six such countries, with six times thirty millions. The mind is lost even amid such numbers; but what would it be in measuring entire continents? The number of mission-converts is often compared with the total population of the world. But it would be fairer to make the comparison with the number actually brought under Christian influence. Missions, though universal in spirit and aim, are not so in fact. Compare the ground gained with that actually attempted, and the disproportion will appear less.

2. Contrast, again, the nature of the two fields. In this respect the conditions are as opposite as they can be. At home Christian agencies are more nearly adequate to the work to be done. It is true there is much religious destitution. But what sort of destitution? Not so much destitution of ministers and sanctuaries as of the religion which would make more ministers and sanctuaries necessary. Must there not be more religious success and growth before more of these outward products of religion will be seen? But Christian churches are not all. Our whole country is professedly Christian, and has been a thousand years. A thousand years of history are in our favour. Our doctrines are the doctrines generally received. Besides a powerful Christian literature, the general literature of our country is Christian in spirit. The stamp of the Bible is on our national character. All this is an incalculable gain to the cause of truth. The way of the preacher is made easy. Directly you go into a heathen country, this state of things is reversed. When we speak of the wickedness and spiritual apathy of heathen lands, we may seem to mention nothing special. Are these unknown at home? Bad as the state of morality may be here, we assure you there is worse than your worst. Heathenism makes the same sins blacker. If there is so much wickedness where so many checks are at work, .what must there be where most of these checks are unknown, and religion herself becomes the patron of vice? Converse with the priests, read the lives of the deities, observe the images of impurity and cruelty — "lust hard by hate" — which surround you in worship. As to the practical effects of idolatry, its very nature is degrading. In judging of mission work, then, many forget that abroad we meet with all the old hindrances, and others still more formidable.

II. Let us look also at THE SOWERS. In this respect we may think there is no room for difference. The same agencies will suit either field. Let us see. What is the state of things at home? First, the language is the preacher's own. He has not to plunge into the difficulties of a new tongue and literature. Again, the machinery is provided to his hand. In both respects how different abroad! In many parts a difficult language, imposing long and hard toil, blocks the very threshold. The labourer may be full of zeal. His soul, like Paul's, may be stirred by what he sees. But he is dumb. For long he is a child learning to speak. Take the other point. Suppose you have a system of agencies formed and at work. Many could most efficiently keep it going who would not be equal to originating it. It is evident that on both grounds the mission-field requires special gifts — mental adaptation, a spirit of enterprise, skill to create and organize. There must be these special qualifications-for the special work which lies before us in other lands. Even the best labourers must often lament their insufficiency. They often feel the terrible disadvantage at which they labour. Every seed as it falls into the earth is wet with tears wrung from earnest, anxious souls. "The sun goes down on a life of faithful toil, and little impression is made on the waste, few ears are gathered. What a contrast between the present beginnings and future destiny of the Gospel! The Church goes forth weeping; she returns with sheaves rejoicing. Now wrong has the majority; the triumph seems to be with error; faith struggles for mastery in one place, for existence in another. All this will be reversed. Instead of sowers weeping, you will hear shouts of reapers rejoicing — shouts which ring louder and sweeter for the years of working and waiting which have gone before. Instead of a few bright patches of fruitfulness, enough to keep faith alive, the world's wide field shall stand thick with sheaves — sheaves of souls dearly ransomed and hardly won. Meanwhile what is our duty? To sow on. Let not weeping hinder sowing. Sow money, sow sympathy and prayer, sow lives of earnest work for Christ.

(J. S. Banks.)

If it takes six months for nature to restore to the farmer his reward, how much do you think is needed before this world is made to rejoice and blossom like the rose? We must be patient, we must be generous, we must be far-seeing; and we must remember that all the money that is sunk in schoolrooms and sunk in good teaching, all the money that seems occasionally to be flung away — I do not mean anything foolish — in this field of education, will be bearing fruit when we are dead. And upon the thoroughness of the education in England during the years to come will depend our prosperity and our position amongst the nations of the earth. We ought to be thankful for our army and navy, but in the future nations are to depend less upon armed men and more upon intelligence. Or if you take the ease of social reform in any of its departments, why, it is over fifty years since men began to work at the temperance cause, and sometimes it does not seem to have advanced greatly. But it is advancing, and habits of temperance and self-restraint are spreading amongst the people. We may not in our days see a sober and thrifty nation; but some day, when this land is delivered from the curse of drunkenness and the improvidence which follows it, people will rise up and bless the sowers in the sleet of past days. And, if that be true of education and morality, what will you say to religion — to recast a single soul in the character of Jesus Christ? To recast a whole race will take centuries; but it is going to be done l He that works for a speedy return works for a passing return; he who works for eternal ends must work deeply and wait patiently. He may die before the vessel comes into harbour, but he is going with the tide that is to carry her into harbour. The throne of God is established in righteousness and not in unrighteousness. Did not Christ, living and dying, triumph over this world? It is with such that this man allies himself, whom you may think so foolish and short-sighted. He places himself beside the throne of light; he places himself beside the throne of Jesus Christ. If he is beaten, he is beaten, when every one of us is beaten, and the whole human race is beaten, and nothing remains but ruin and chaos. If there be order, he wins; if there be righteousness, he is going to come out conqueror. "Well," you say, "I like to see a little." Well, then, my friend, will you remember that your life is not the whole life of the Kingdom of God. And although the class you are going to teach this afternoon in that back street is just a little bit of heaven begun, as well as you can begin it, it is not the whole kingdom of heaven. What do you think of the prophets now, and especially the prophets who prophesied the Messiah in heathen Babylon and decadent Jerusalem, and who died and never saw the promise, and never saw the prophecy fulfilled? And now, behold, we have seen everything they said come true, and generation after generation has blessed them for their words. Courage yourselves with the Psalms, with Amos, with Hosea, and the second of Isaiah! What do you say of the prophets? They gave up all they possessed and went out and preached the Gospel. And some preached in heathen cities, some in Europe, some Asia, and we do not know where some of them preached. And they died. So far as we know most of them were martyrs.

(John Watson, D. D.)

We are just in the middle of harvest. We are reaping; we are bringing our sheaves home: and we, too, reap with joy, more or less; we bring our sheaves home with rejoicing. There are many good reasons for this. The harvest, you all know and feel, is the end and crown of the year, — the end, not in the same way in which winter is the end of the year, as closing its eyes, and laying it in its grave, but as being its consummation and fulfilment. It is the end for which the seasons roll round in their busy course. It is the end for which the earth opens her womb, and pours out her fatness. It is the end for which the sun looks down with his fostering fatherly smiles upon the earth, and cherishes her day by day more and more, according as she can bear it. Moreover, here, too, there is need of tears: there is need that the bosom of the earth should be torn up by the ploughshare. She likewise must go forth on her yearly way weeping, when she bears her precious seed; or she will never come again rejoicing, bringing her full sheaves with her. God has blessed the work of your hands: He has given you a good harvest: it will bring you in much profit. Let it be your care then that the poor shall also be partakers in the blessings, which God's bounty has poured out for them as well as for you. When any prosperity betides a household, it is right and fitting that all the members of the household, from the highest to the lowest, should partake in that prosperity, that all should be invited to a fellowship in the same rejoicing. So may the servants in a household be encouraged to feel that they are united to their masters by some other bond than the iron chain of necessity, — that there is something in their faithful services beyond the worth of money, and which no money can repay, — that they are moral beings, with hearts and souls, with consciences and affections, — that they are to show this in their conduct, and that their masters also are to show their conviction of this in all their dealings with them. In this manner does it behove you to show your thankful conviction that the harvest is indeed a blessing, and not to thwart God's gracious purpose, that it should be a blessing, not to you alone, but to all men, of every class and condition. For this is what renders it truly precious. The earth rejoices because she is made God's minister to pour forth her treasures for the support of mankind. And this is a further reason why you also may lawfully rejoice in the harvest. Joy for any outward good that befalls ourselves is narrow and selfish and barren. But joy for any good we may be enabled to do to others is of a right kind. It is a joy which has the purifying spirit of love in it, a joy such as the angels feel when they are sent on God's errands of mercy. This is the great privilege granted to you whose calling is to till the ground. You are employed by God as His ministers for the good of your brethren. It is through your means that the race of man is sustained and enabled to live from year to year. It is at your hands that God gives us our daily bread. For this thought, moreover, should be always present to your minds; that that which you do, you do not of yourselves and by yourselves, through any strength of your own arm, or any wit of your own head, but only through the power of God, as His servants and ministers. When we look at the harvest as the gift of God, then it becomes a ground of pure and unmixed rejoicing. As he who is truly suffering from want and distress is thankful if you give him a small alms, and is the more thankful if your alms be large, so, if we are really convinced that the harvest is the gift of God's bounty, then, even if the harvest be a scanty one, we still rejoice and are thankful to God, from whom we had no right to claim or expect anything richer; and if the harvest be abundant, we are the more exceeding thankful. Indeed this, you will ever find, is one among the many benefits which arise from the habit of looking at all the events and dispensations of this world as the appointment and ordinance of God. You will be confident that, whatever their immediate appearance may be, they are good, and are designed for good. You will be delivered from all repining on account of them. What, ever they may be, you will be thankful for them. If the dispensation be grievous, you will discern something that required to be chastened and corrected: and for that chastening and correction you will be thankful to Him whose chastening is a sure proof of His love. If, on the other hand, the dispensation be such as even the natural heart welcomes with delight, your rejoicing on that account of it will be doubled, when you look on it as a token of your heavenly Father's bounty.

(J. C. Hare, M. A.)

: — Our text, taken in its largest significance, is to be classed with those passages which speak of the reward of good works, and use that reward as a motive to their performance. There can be nothing clearer from the Bible than that though man can expect nothing for his works, so that his best actions, if tried by their own merit, would produce only wrath; he will, nevertheless, be judged by his works, and receive a recompense, of which these works will determine the extent. It is impossible that man should gain any reward, if you connect with reward the notion of merit; but it is quite possible that while that which is bestowed is of grace and not of debt, yet there may be a rigid proportion maintained between his actions and his condition, so that his final allotment will be dependent on his works, as though those works could establish a right to some portion of happiness. And when this principle has been settled — the principle that though We cannot merit from God our actions will decide our condition — we may speak of good works as to be hereafter rewarded, because they shall as actually regulate our portion as though that portion were a recompense in the strictest sense of the term. If, then, it be lawful to speak of reward, we may certainly speak of the husbandman who "goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed," as coming "again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." It will frequently happen that we have no means of ascertaining that any beneficial results have been produced by our most earnest and disinterested labours; and it is quite possible that no such results have yet followed, and that they never will follow. The minister may have toiled in vain; the parent may have striven in vain; the philanthropist may have been generous in vain. Not only may it be true that none of these parties can discern any fruit of their exertions and sacrifices; it may be further true that no fruit whatsoever has been yielded; so that minister, and parent, and philanthropist have apparently spent their strength for nought. And yet, even in this extreme case, you can only suppose that the retributions of eternity will abundantly prove the statements of our text. The "precious " seed has been sown; the man perhaps "weeping" as he sowed it, and our decision must be, if we shut out the appointments of the future, that it is utterly lost, and will never, in any fruit, return to its original proprietor. But, if you bring those appointments of the future into the account, you presently discover the falseness of such a decision. You show that God has kept an exact register of our every effort to promote His glory and the welfare of our fellow-men, and that whatever may have been the success of that effort, it will receive a recompense proportioned to its zeal and sincerity. There must be no such thing as the giving up in despair, because hitherto we seem to have been toiling in vain. We cannot tell that it has been in vain. We know that the remark is often made that the children of religious parents turn out worse than those of worldly; but we have no faith in the historical accuracy of this remark. Now and then there will be striking and melancholy cases; and these cases the more noted because occurring in families upon which many eyes have been fixed, are taken as establishing a general rule, and that a rule which concludes against the worth of religious education. But we are persuaded that the sum total of the evidence from fact is immeasurably the other way; and we have no hesitation in appealing to this evidence as corroborating the gracious description of our text. It will sometimes happen that the parent's efforts are frustrated, so that neither during his life, nor after his death, is the prodigal child reclaimed from his wanderings. But ordinarily you have the spectacle of the old age of a father and a mother cheered by the piety of their offspring. If the sons and the daughters have been carefully trained in the way they should go, then adherence to it will be generally amongst those rich consolations which God ministers in their last days to parents.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

: — If a man builds, Nature straightway sets to work to undo his building. Rust eats into the iron and decay into the wood, and little by little time ravages and destroys. But if a man plants, Nature proceeds to complete his unfinished work. He sows a seed, and behold wheat; he plants a cutting, and behold a tree. Such is the difference between working alone and working with God. He who sows truth in human hearts works with God. The seed drops into the heart; lies there; is long hidden; sprouts; pushes forth the blade and ear, and finally the full corn. Not at once, often only after long delay; but it fails not. Heaven and earth shall pass away; all things material decay. "But My words shall not pass away;" truth is imperishable.

(Lyman Abbott, D. D.).

Except the Lord build the house.
Various considerations taken together require the opinion that this middle Song of Degrees was composed by Solomon. It suits the time of peaceful house-building and civil settlement and progress during which he reigned. It uses a word answering to his name, Jedidiah, meaning beloved of the Lord, and seems in connection with it to refer to the promise of "a wise and an understanding heart," unasked "riches and honour," and, if he should prove faithful, length of days, made to him "in a dream by night." So "He giveth His beloved sleep," or "to His beloved in sleep" (2 Samuel 12:25; 1 Kings 3:5-15). It appears to suggest that the claims of the temple to the efforts of builders are superior to those of any other intended erection. And it agrees with Solomon's sententious style in his Proverbs, one of which exactly expresses its substance and teaching: "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it," or, "and labour adds nothing thereto" (Proverbs 10:22).

(E. J. Robinson.)

Homilist.
I. HUMAN LABOUR WITHOUT GOD.

1. Its possibility.

2. Its fruitlessness.

(1)It does not secure the approbation of the great Master.

(2)It does not yield moral satisfaction.

II. HUMAN REPOSE (ver. 2).

1. A generally recognized blessing.

(1)Bodily. The labouring world hails the hour when its exhausted frame can lie down to sleep.

(2)Mental. To have the mind free from the harassing cares and painful annoyances of life. All desire this.

2. The repose of a true worker is a special blessing. The bodily repose He gives to His "beloved" in the stillness of the night has a special value — the pillow so soft, and the bed so guarded. The mental repose He gives is also of a far higher kind. It is the repose of conscience, the repose of a soul centring all its loves and hopes in Him.

III. HUMAN OFFSPRING (vers. 3-5). The tutor of Alexander the Great once proposed the question, whether a large family be a good or an evil? And he answered his own question thus, "Everything depends on the character of the children. If of an excellent disposition, blessed is the father that hath many of them, if of a bad disposition, the fewer the better, and, still better, none!"

(Homilist.)

I. NO HOUSE STANDS THAT GOD DOES NOT BUILD, whether the house signify the home, the business, the character, or the church; for human sufficiency is a foundation of sand (Proverbs 14:11).

II. NO CITY IS SAFE THAT GOD DOES NOT KEEP, whether interpreted politically as belonging to the State, or religiously as being that of the heart: for the arm of flesh is a bulwark of mud (Proverbs 11:11; Proverbs 29:8).

III. NO LABOUR IS PROFITABLE THAT HE DOES NOT BLESS, whether it be manual or mental: for without grace it increases sorrow or multiplies wickedness (Proverbs 10:16).

IV. NO SLEEP IS PEACEFUL THAT HE DOES NOT GIVE, being broken by searing dreams or prevented by devising schemes (Proverbs 4:16).

V. NO FAMILY IS BLESSED THAT IS NOT A HERITAGE OF HIM (Proverbs 3:33).

(J. O. Keen, D. D.)

1. Nothing is here said against labour. The Bible has no sympathy with indolence. We are commanded to be diligent in business as well as fervent in spirit; to work with our own hands, that we may have lack of nothing ourselves, and have something to give to him that needeth.

(1)Labour is a necessity.

(2)Labour is honourable.

(3)Labour is pleasant.It promotes cheerfulness, preserves our faculties in healthy exercise, and gives elasticity to both mind and body.

2. Nor is there any censure of watching. A city contains property that is valuable and lives that are dear; and, should there be external enemies, it is surely an act of common prudence to station sentinels on the walls, lest an unexpected attack be made.

3. What, then, is the evil hero condemned? It is placing an undue confidence in our working and in our watching. The spirit rebuked is the presumption which ascribes success to our own exertions, and which carefully excludes Jehovah from all consideration. A house is built; but the Lord is never thought of. Watchmen are appointed to protect the city; but no reference is made to the Keeper of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps. An enterprise is entered upon, involving important issues; but in all the calculations there is no more place left for God than if He were asleep in the depths of the heavens, and took no cognizance of human affairs. What is this but atheism?

(N. McMichael.)

The Lord builds the house. This is our first great consideration: we are very apt to forget it; we think it is our work, but "He that built all things is God." The Lord builds the State. Civil society is a house not made with hands: its component parts show the finger of God; language, sympathy, law, are of God. But how true is it that the Church is a house built by God! Men may persecute or aid it, but "except the Lord build," etc. The Church of God is like a house for security and strength. As you have never heard of men living anywhere without houses of some kind, so we have never heard or read of Christians living anywhere without forming communities, families, or churches. Dissolve the family, and society would perish; dissolve the Church, and Christianity would perish! Then let us consider how the Lord builds the house. "Upon this rock I will build my Church," etc. "Other foundation can no man lay," etc. "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

(B. Kent, M. A.)

The old Latin maxim "Ex nihilo nihil fit," "From nothing, nothing comes," is the starting-point in all our reasonings concerning God's work on earth. It cannot have sprung from nothing, it must therefore be due to some positive force acting first upon, and then through it. That force must have intelligence in order to impart intelligence to the work of its hand; and all the wise, and curious, and intricate phenomena of the universe testify that nothing short of an infinite intelligence could have poured such streams of power and wisdom along the channels of creation. That infinite intelligence we call God. The methods by which God brings about the accomplishment of His purposes on earth — since those purposes include and shape matter and mind — are simply the methods by which He shapes matter and mind, so as to elaborate from them separately, and from their interworking, whatever result it is His pleasure to secure.

1. When God wishes to accomplish any purpose, lie shapes toward the result which He desires, all those blind forces of nature which have in them any co-operation with it. When He wishes to give the peace of plenty to any land, He sendeth forth His commandment into the air, and up to the sun, and forth to the winds, and out upon the seas, and along the furrows of the soil; and His word runneth very swiftly to nil genial and fertilizing influences, and they obey His behest with their marrow and fatness, and so He fills its borders with the finest of the wheat. And when the rigours of winter are a needful preliminary to any work of His, He giveth snow like wool, and scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes, and casteth forth His ice like morsels, until no man can stand before His cold. And when that work is done, and milder airs are more salubrious for His designs, then He sendeth out His word and melteth them; He causeth His wind to blow, and the waters flow. And so fire, and hail, and snow, and vapour, and stormy wind fulfil His word; and mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl praise the Lord by performing His decree which they cannot pass.

2. When God wishes to accomplish any purpose on earth, He sways that intelligence which needs to be brought into co-operation with His design by motives. This influence is exerted in innumerable forms. Sometimes it is by direct pressure, and by the presence of the immediate and most obvious motive of which the subject will admit; as when He secures, the choice, by the sinner, of "that good part which cannot be taken away," by urging upon his soul the guilt of disobedience, the beauty of holiness, the joy of forgiveness, the danger of delay, or the awfulness of death in sin. Sometimes it is by a circuitous and indirect approach that the work is accomplished. Some meteor, in the eventide, flashes its sudden and vanishing brilliance across the arch of heaven; or some white-winged cloud trails its evanescent shade along some sunlit slope, and the mind — so often dull to all teachings — is opened to snatch the moral of the scene, and goes away, sadly reflecting on the dangers that accompany a life that is fitly emblemed by the falling star, and the fleeing shadow. Or the sight of a coffin, or a hearse, or a cemetery — it may be, in some moods, of a church, or even a Bible — will start the mind upon a train of meditation which the gentle and gracious Spirit may cherish into a motive strong enough to overturn and overturn within the soul until He is enthroned there whose right it is to reign.

3. This being so — the empire of matter and the empire of mind being alike in subjection to His pleasure — it follows, since lie who can absolutely and entirely control all matter and all mind must be invincible — that God can do anything which He pleases to do, whatever it may be. He can make a Word, or make an unwilling man willing, just as easily as a carpenter can drive a nail — because He knows how to do it, and has the means with which to do it, and the power by which to do it. So it follows, also — since God's control covers all things, and His volitions are the cause of all things — that nothing can be done in this world which God is not pleased to aid, or, at least, to permit.

(H. M. Dexter.)

"Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."

1. That is true even about a house of stone and lime. To build a house is the most interesting thing almost that any mortal man undertakes to do for himself. When a man does set about building a house, he is usually settled in life as far as it falls to him to make a settlement. The house he builds is very likely the house in which he means to live and to die. If he does not literally rise up early and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows, nevertheless he is sure to have an extraordinary amount of interest in his house, and most men who do build a house for themselves worry the architect and obstruct the workmen with their anxiety to have everything in it just according to their mind. But, for that very reason, because building a house is such an interesting and serious thing in any man's life, surely he ought to feel then, most of all, that his life is in God's hand, and that it depends on God whether this great undertaking in which he is engaged is going to turn out well for him.

2. It is true, also, if we take the house in the sense in which it is so often used in the Bible, of a family. To build a house, in the Bible, often means to found or bring up a family; and further down in the psalm we have a reference to that sense (ver. 3). "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it," and the most anxious fatherly and motherly care can come to nothing, indeed, is likely to come to nothing, just in proportion as it forgets God, and in forgetting God becomes nervous, and fretful, and repellent, where it ought to be able to attract.

3. Then, again, this text is true if we take the house in the sense that it is often used in the Bible, of a nation. "Except the Lord build that house, they labour in vain that build it." There is a place, and there are duties for statesmen and for town councillors, for all persons who take the responsibilities of the public upon them; but it is not the anxiety of statesmen, it is not their own wisdom and their own intelligence, it is not their own plans for enlarging territory, or opening up new markets, or anything of that kind on which the security and strength of the people are built. There is just one thing on which a nation can be built up, and that is the goodwill of God which is given to the righteous. Righteousness exalts a nation.

4. But this text is true especially when we think of the house of the Church. We often speak of the Church as the house of God. In the New Testament we read of Christ as its foundation, of the Church being built upon Him. One of the great picture-words of the New Testament is the word "edification," and "edification" means the act of building, or of being built. It is truer of the Church than of anything else in the world, that "except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."(1) For instance, we want to build the Church up in numbers. We want to see the Church grow. We want to see those who are outside coming in. Now, we might wish that in quite a selfish sense. We might be members of a very small congregation where half the pews were not let; or we might be members of an ecclesiastical party that was in a very small minority in the country, and might want new recruits. If these were our objects, then, of course, we would have to achieve them out of our own resources. It would not be a thing in which God had any interest. But if we want to build up the Church in numbers in a real sense; if we want to bring those who are far away from Christ near; if we want the love of Christ made known to those who do not know it; if we want those who are lonely and solitary, and, perhaps, selfish, to be brought into the home and family of love, and to give and receive all kinds of loving services and to find a home for their lonely souls in the house of God and the family of God — if that is what we are striving for, surely we feel at once that we cannot do that ourselves, that the only power that can reach people for that end and bring them into the Church is the power that God Himself bestows.(2) We want to build the Church up not only in numbers, but in security. We want the Church to be a safe place. The Church ought to be a house so secure, so defended, so vigilantly guarded that it would be impossible for any assault to prevail against it and impossible for any of its members to be lost. Now the only way in which we can get the right spirit of watchfulness, the spirit that will enable us so to watch that we will not lose any, is to get it from the Lord Jesus Himself. "He that keepeth Israel slumbereth not, nor sleepeth." It is only when we come to God, and get the Spirit of God put into us by God Himself, it is only then He uses us to build up His house into a safe, secure dwelling for the children, out of which they cannot be lost, that the house will be built up as it needs to be.(3) We want to build up the Church, not only in numbers and in security, but, above all things, in character, in holiness, and in love. I have no doubt that in every Church there are many people deeply dissatisfied with their own characters, knowing very well that judged by any standard of holiness and love they are very far from what they should be. I have no doubt there are plenty here who are striving against their sins, sometimes rude, gross sins, evil lusts and passions, falsehood, slothfulness, selfishness, greed, envy, pride, self-will, and sins like that, and not only striving against them but failing, and being disappointed and defeated in their struggle. And even people who have not got any harsh, rude offences like that to strive against at the beginning, may be striving for finer and more beautiful parts of the Christian character, and just with the same sense of being defeated and disappointed. And the reason of it in almost every case is this, they are doing it alone, and it cannot be done alone. "Except the Lord build that house, they labour in vain that build it." "Work out your own salvation," not because God leaves that for you to do, but because it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, in furtherance of His good pleasure.

(J. Denney, D. D.)

I. WHAT WE MAY NOT EXPECT, namely, that God will build the house without our labouring, that God will keep the city without the watchman's waking, or that He will give us bread without our toiling for it. This principle may be applied to —

1. Our ordinary life. One of the things which Christianity cannot bear is laziness. If in business I am not diligent I cannot expect to prosper. If I wish to be a man of learning, I cannot get it simply by praying for it; I must study, even to the weariness of the flesh. If a man be sick, he may trust in God as much as he wills; that should be his first thing, but let him also use such remedies as God has given if he can find them out, or learn of them from others.

2. The great matter of our salvation.

3. Our spiritual growth. If a man will not feed himself upon the bread of heaven, can he expect that he shall grow strong?

4. Our Christian work, in trying to bring souls to Christ. We cannot expect to see men converted if we are not earnest in telling them that truth which will save the soul. It is the work of the Spirit to convert sinners; to regenerate must be ever the sole work of God; yet the Lord uses us as His instruments.

II. WHAT WE MAY EXPECT; We may expect failure if we attempt the work without God. We may expect it, and we shall not be disappointed.

III. WHAT WE SHOULD NOT DO.

1. In our ordinary affairs we should not fret, and worry, and grieve.

2. In the matter of the soul's salvation a man should be anxious, yet his salvation wilt never come by his working, and running from this one to that and the other. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows," for to those who are in Christ, to those who simply believe on Him, "He giveth His beloved sleep."

3. Now, with regard to growing in grace, I believe that it is much the same. It is foolish to be always fretting and worrying, and saying, "I am not humble enough, I am not believing enough, I am not this or that"; go to Christ, and rest yourself on Him, and believe that what He has begun to do for you and in you He will certainly perform and perfect.

4. Here comes in again our working for the Lord. It is a sweet way of working for Christ "to do the next thing," the next that needs to be done to-day, — not always forecasting all that we are going to do to-morrow and the next day, but calmly and quietly believing that there are so many days in which a man shall be able to walk and to work, and while we have them we will both walk and work in the strength of God.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

Man's history upon earth is mainly, alas! the history of a struggle to establish lives, homes, and States on a basis which is not God's foundation, and by a rule which is not God's law. This is the enterprise of man's self-will, his perverted and prostituted freedom, through all the ages; and God from on high has never ceased to confound it, to write on it Babel, and to lay it by the shattering shocks of His providence in the dust. The concord of man's thought and activity with God's is the secret upon earth of all true, real and abiding work. The human builder and workman may be masters of their art and zealous in their craft, but the fundamental question is, are they building by the rule that God has made known to them, and on the lines which He has laid down? And it is equally the test of all lofty and noble art. The poet is a maker, it is the exact meaning of the word; it matters not whether he works in word, in colour, in clay, the principle is the same. Is it a dream of his own vain fancy, or is it a vision of God; is it what the Lord hath said or shown to him that he is interpreting to his fellow-men? Man, of all beings, is made for this lofty fellowship, this high co-operation of thought and will with his Maker. Man, made in God's image, can understand God's plans, meanings, and ends. A Newton can think out after Him the thought by which He made the creation; a Paul can grasp and expound the plan by which tie redeemed and will renew the world. Man is so constituted that God can work in him without marring his freedom; nay, thought, word, and work in the human only rise to their full completeness when they are the fruit of inspiration; that is the effectual in-working of that living Spirit who quickens all that lives in all the worlds. First, let us look at the bearing of this principle on the building of the house of life. By this I mean those principles and habits of moral judgment and action which are the true house of the soul, wherein it dwells, and from which it comes forth to work benignly or malignly for itself and mankind. Of that house man is the architect, not God; that house he is daily building, and that building will abide and be the home or the prison of the soul through eternity. Nature and the world furnish the materials; the form and the substance of the structure you create for yourselves, it is yours, your own, your work, the product of your being, your shame or your crown while that being endures. A nature with certain temperaments and tendencies comes to you, how you know not, whence you know not, save that it is God's gift to you, your endowment, your talent, your capital in life, by wise trading with which your wealth will grow. I speak of this as God's gift; by His various endowment of men, the rich diversity of original gift and faculty, He maintains that splendid variety, that action and reaction of widely diverse agencies and influences which it is His aim to secure both in the physical and human worlds. And thus He keeps the constant pressure of His hand on both. From God, too, comes the will and the power to work upon the original endowment, and to give it the shape and the form in which the inner heart delights. Character grows like a picture or a statue by innumerable light touches on the rough substance of the nature. Moral habits of action are beaten out like a path by the multitude of light footsteps which pass to and fro. There must be the will and the moral judgment to determine the direction, and then it is the daily footsteps which form the habit of the life. And it is a terrible power, this power of framing fixed judgments and habits of action, vast and awful are the issues to which it tends. You may make holy, beautiful, blessed activity as easy and natural as the outflow of light from the sun; you may make them as hard, as impossible as courtesy in a churl, or a generous impulse to a base miser's heart. Daily the house is being built, daily the soul is becoming clothed or cased in its habit, and is settling the form and possibility of its future. And first, if you would build wisely, look to the foundations. And build daily in conscious, blessed dependence on the co-operation of a higher hand. Remember that in this matter you are the fellow-worker, the fellow-helper with God, whose interest in your building transcends your own. Daily, hourly, let there be a guiding of your choice, a strengthening of your hand, a blessing of your work from on high. Let the Divine Spirit dwell in your spirit as in His temple; let Him fill your life with the light of His wisdom, let Him touch your heart with the glow of His love.

(J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Except the Lord keep the city.
I. "EXCEPT." — GOD MAY NOT KEEP THE CITY. Can anything be more false than to attribute human wretchedness in our towns and cities to causes outside men themselves? Without self-restraint, without the high virtues of temperance, purity, and providence, gold, if it could be picked up in the streets, would only feed disease instead of bettering life! That man is a mere charlatan who hides the great truth that the drinking saloons, the music halls, and the gay Alhambras of our great towns are ruining the moral excellencies and energies of our people!

II. "EXCEPT THE LORD." — MORAL LIFE IS THE STRENGTH OF A CITY. Can anything so demand our sympathy in this age as the movements which have to do with moral life? And we must remember all elevating movements have to do with moral life. Christianity works in detail, and Christian life is itself preserved by care for detail. Given impression at the house of God, given conviction of sin and coming to Christ, then come the after years, the idle hours, the temptations, the innumerable besetments, and if you can thus provide for the healthy development of character, you are doing much to save the England of the future, to bless your country, and to hold up the pillars of the State. And where all our aesthetic and intellectual pursuits have the shield of Christianity east over them, when the genius of the Gospel pervades our institutions and inspires our efforts, we may look for that keeping of which our text speaks.

III. "EXCEPT THE LORD KEEP." — ALL CITIES NEED KEEPING. Can anything be more secure than a city kept by God? Whether it is applied to a kingdom, or to a people, or to the wonderful heart of man, the word is suggestive. A city, a place where wealth is, where treasure is, where active, energetic power is. We seem to see the watchmen on Jerusalem's gates! Men able to sweep the horizon and to note the advancing cavalcades. We are taught in the text that all watching is vain without God.

IV. "EXCEPT THE LORD KEEP THE CITY — THE WATCHMAN." Can anything be so mistaken as to suppose that God's keeping excludes human care? We must watch, although God keeps. This truth is familiar to us all. We act upon it in the world, though we are mystified by it in the Church. God keeps the rain in the great reservoir of the clouds, and the winds in the hollow of His hand, and regulates them with a view to the preservation and productiveness of the land. He keeps the seasonal He keeps watch over all the processes of nature, and He says to us, break up the fallow ground, plough, harrow, and sow. So God would not have us watchless because He is watchful. No! this fact is to be an incentive to us to activity, not an excuse for negligence. We are reminded by our Saviour to watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation! and when we have done all, we are to rest on Christ as our only sure protection.

V. "EXCEPT THE LORD KEEP THE CITY, THE WATCHMAN — WAKETH BUT IN VAIN." We can never do without God! We may be what the world calls awake, wide-awake, but our own skill, or cunning, or craft will not save us. I was wise, says the man; I secured the best, the ablest physicians for my children. I was wise, says the voyager in the Cunard line, they never had a shipwreck yet. Stay, stay, "Except the Lord," oh! do we think enough of that; we have been kept in going out and in coming in, but who has kept us?

(W. M. Statham.)

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