By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the stars by the breath of His mouth.
Philippians 4:4. It is refreshing to the spirit to find that in the olden times there were pious and holy souls, receptive of the revelation which God had even then given of himself, and who could gather up their thoughts in grateful calm as they mused on the perfections of their ever-reigning Lord. In this psalm there are no historic considerations presented, nor is there any individual experience suggested at which we have to look in studying this amazing illustration of joy in God. It is the "itself by itself " - the pure thing, the uplifting of a soul from the cloudland of earth to the sunland of heaven. Here is -
I. AN ENRAPTURING VIEW OF THE GLORY OF OUR REVEALED GOD. We use this word "revealed," as indicated By this psalm, advisedly on two grounds. For
(1) the name "Jehovah" (ver. 1) is the name by which God revealed himself to Israel (Exodus 6:3). The name "I am that I am" at once removes the God of the Hebrews far above all anthropomorphism. Then
(2) in ver. 4 we are told, "The Word of the Lord is right;" so that, as the word is the expression of thought, and as expressed thought indicates will, it is here declared that God had made known his will (see Psalm 103:7; Hebrews 1:1). How far God's early disclosures of himself went, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us (Matthew 22:31, 32). And it is by the light from words of God that we read his natural works. Having, then, God revealed by name and by word, what are the contents of that revelation which are here pointed out?
1. Right. (Ver. 4.) The Word of God, as given under the Old Testament, was preeminently right. As being such, the whole of the hundred and nineteenth psalm extols it. And now no nobler ethical code does the world possess than that given to Moses and the prophets, and confirmed by Christ.
2. Truth. (Ver. 4.) I.e. faithfulness. As righteousness marks the Word, so fidelity to the Word marks the works of God.
3. Goodness. (ver. 5.) I.e. loving-kindness. The earth is full of it. The sound eye rejoices in the sunshine; and the pure heart reads the goodness of God everywhere.
4. Power. (Vers. 6, 7, 9.) We cannot rejoice in bare power; but when infinite power is in alliance with perfect goodness and with loving-kindness, then we can.
5. Wisdom. (Ver. 10.) There is not only a power that sways matter, but a wisdom which controls mind, so that among the nations there can never be any plotting which can frustrate or intercept his plans.
6. Omniscience. (Vers. 14, 15.) He espies from afar the hidden thought of every soul (Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 139.). He knows men's hearts, as having created them (ver. 15) "alike," i.e. altogether, in one. There are variations in mind, but yet all minds act responsively to some necessary laws of thought inlaid in their original structure.
7. Steadfast counsels. (Ver. 11.) This is true of the plans of providence; but it is most gloriously true of the hidden mysteries and triumphs of his grace (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9; Acts 15:18).
8. All his counsels are in alliance with a holiness which warrants and invites confidence. (Ver. 21.) He cannot do wrong; he cannot be unfaithful or unkind (Psalm 92:15).
9. On some he looks with special favour and love. (Vers. 18, 19; see Psalm 18:25, 26.) Those who trust God most fully and follow him most faithfully will find that their lot is as beautifully ordered for them as if God had no one else to occupy his care. They will be guarded in peril, supplied in need, and comforted in sorrow; the loving glances of a gracious eye and the cheering words from a loving heart will give to such many a song in the night. Let all these nine features of God's glory be put together and looked at in blended sweetness, and see if they will not raise to an ecstasy of delight.
II. THE JOY WHICH UPRIGHT SOULS HAVE IN SUCH A GOD IS UNBOUNDED. Yes.
1. The joy has uprightness for its condition. Upright souls! Only such. But this does not mean absolutely perfect men, but men who mourn over the wrong, who have confessed it before God, who have received his pardoning mercy, and who loyally conform their lives to God's holy will and Word, who would not knowingly harbour any sin or aught that would grieve their God - men who have gone, in fact, through the experiences of Psalm 32. (of which, indeed, this may possibly be a continuation).
2. This joy has grace for its resting-place. (Vers. 18, 22.) "Mercy." The joy would have no ground stable enough if it were settled on any other basis than God himself, nor unless that basis were "mercy." "O God, be merciful to me I" is the cry which goes up from the penitent's lips more and more pleadingly as he moves forward in the pardoned life.
3. This joy has all that God is, has, and does for its contents. So the whole psalm teaches us; for the pardoning mercy of God has brought us so near to him that we know there is for us such an outpouring of love Divine as makes us infinitely rich for time and eternity.
4. This joy has boundless hope for its outlook. (Ver. 22.) As Bishop Perowne well remarks, "hope" indicates the perpetual attitude of a trusting and waiting Church. Believers know that God will do exceeding abundantly for them above all they can ask or think. As the rich disclosures of God under the prophets have advanced to their unveiling in the unsearchable riches of Christ, so will the wonders of Christ in grace move forward to those of Christ in his glory. We yet seek a Fatherland. "God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he bath prepared for us a city."
5. This joy has prayer for its upward expression. (Ver. 22, "Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us," etc.) Not that this is its only form of expression (for see below), but it is a joy which must and will find outlet in prayer for the constant supply of that mercy which feeds and sustains it.
III. THE JOY IS SUCH THAT IT MAY WELL RIPEN INTO A HOLY FELLOWSHIP OF MUSIC AND SONG. Here in vers. 1-3 the psalmist calls on all upright souls to join him in sounding forth the praises of the Lord.
1. God having taken off all our burdens of guilt and care, the tongue is set free for praise.
2. A common joy in God may wall suggest a grand concert of song. Fellowship in trouble is soothing; fellowship in peril is uniting; fellowship in need touches common sympathy; fellowship in gladness creates a grand inspiration and a mighty burst of praise.
3. In giving vent to our joy musical instruments may be "skilfully made subservient thereto. (Ver. 3.) To plead against this verse that we live in another dispensation, is not in place; for musical instruments in the hands of sanctified men are the servants of the Spirit, and we do but utilize God's own world of harmony when we press them into the service of celebrating redeeming love.
4. The right use and ample enjoyment in hallowed mirth, as we celebrate the praises of the Lord, may be made a holy and blessed means of grace. It is of no mean importance to recruit the bodily powers for God by means of the enjoyment of sacred music and song. And if, indeed, Christian people of musical tastes would seek to sanctify their special powers for God and his Church, many an abuse of their talents might be prevented, and many a holy outlet for their use secured. Well might Frances R. Havergal write -
Take my voice, and let me sing 5. The largest scope for the noblest music is opened up by the wonders of redeeming love. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, - all are grandest when inspired by the Cross. - C.
5. The largest scope for the noblest music is opened up by the wonders of redeeming love. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music, - all are grandest when inspired by the Cross. - C.
Exodus 15:8). What is meant, however, here, is the separation of land and water at first, and possibly the continuance of the same power keeping them still apart, since the verbs in ver. 7 are participles, which imply continued action. The image of "an heap" is probably due to the same optical delusion which has coined the expression "the high seas," since, to an eye looking seawards from the beach, the level waters seem to rise as they recede; or it may merely express the gathering together in a mass. Away out there, in that ocean of which the Hebrews knew so little, were unplumbed depths in which, as in vast storehouses, the abundance of the sea was shut up, and the ever-present Word which made them at first was to them instead of bolts and bars.
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
1. We may immerse God in Nature, if we treat Nature as possessed of properties strictly personal. A very great deal of common language is vitiated by this blunder. But will is an attribute of personality, and Nature has not will.
2. We may unduly isolate Nature as God's workmanship from God the worker. We do this if we regard the universe as teaching us' nothing of God, being only a whirl of material change without spiritual meaning; or as if having only a given amount of force which will run down, like a watch. But against both of these note —
I. THE WORLD IS GOD'S CREATION — a separate thing, therefore, and inferior to Himself. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made." Now a word serves two functions.
1. It is the organ of command, conveying an act of will.
2. It is the reflection of the speaker's self, revealing his nature. The great fact of the whole ancient world was this, that its multiform religions started from a nature basis. The sun and stars, the reproductive forces of animal and vegetable life, the decay and revival of the year, was the common fact which very early riveted the attention of primitive man, till out of it there grew up in many lands, under many shapes, a system of religious observance everywhere the same in principle. Plainly this system of religion started from the Bible truth that Nature is a revelation of God. By degrees, no doubt, the Divine idea became obscured. The sense of Nature's unity grew feeble. Men came to see not so much one God speaking through all His creatures, as rather a separate morsel of divinity inherent in each separate creature. From using the sun, or the dawn, or the sky, or the spring, as a symbol only for that Invisible Being whose thoughts these objects revealed, men began to adore the symbol, and to forget the Invisible Person behind it. Easy and rapid was the downward plane to idolatry and polytheism and gross fetish-worship. Yet what is worth noting is, that such Nature-religions would have been impossible had not Nature really spoken to unsophisticated men a Divine message. This, be it remembered, was a very different thing from that cold logical argument of the modern theist, who infers a Designer from the observed facts of science. Not to the reason, so much as to the intuition, of early man did Nature address itself. It spoke poetry, not logic. We are far enough removed now from that early stage of human experience. The world is grown, and its work is not to worship Nature, but to master it. But we can only do this by observing the laws by which its Creator governs it. Thus both ancient nature worship, and modern nature study, both depend upon the fact that Nature, being God's Word, speaks to us His thoughts.
II. Now COMPARE THE MORAL REVELATION WITH THIS OF NATURE.
1. It starts from and builds upon the revelation of Nature.
2. It can only be understood if God be above Nature and yet present, self-revealed in Nature.
3. It agrees with the old. In absolute unity of plan. In orderly plan and obedience to fixed law. In the slowness and even laboriousness of the processes of its growth. In the stern maintenance of law, avenging all transgression.
4. But the Gospel goes on beyond and tells of redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
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