Do not fret over doers of evil; do not envy those who do wrong.
I. THE SEVERAL DUTIES HERE ENJOINED ON THE GOOD MAN. These duties are put into a form suggested by the circumstances which surrounded the writer. When David wrote this psalm he was an old man. Looking back on the scenes of past observation and experience, he had witnessed many strange inequalities on the surface of society. Looking in one direction, he had often beheld an ungodly man enjoying all that heart could wish, so far as this world was concerned; and in another direction he had as often seen a good man, one who walked closely with God, in the midst of trial, affliction, and distress. This state of things had perplexed him, and he knew that it still perplexed the righteous. To meet their perplexities and to assuage them, this psalm was penned; and it is this purpose which forms the background of thought throughout the entire length of the psalm.
1. The first injunction is "fret not (ver. 1). Do not worry or perplex yourself about these mysteries of God's providence. Even if the lot of the wicked seems more easy, more pleasant, more prosperous than yours, yet they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb; ' besides, "a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." God's people are infinitely better off, with him as their heavenly Friend, than any of the ungodly are, with all their noise and parade.
2. Hence a second duty is presented to us: "Trust and Rest in the Lord. Two expressions for substantially the same attitude of spirit. But this restful trusting is put in contrast from fretting. Your work is not to worry, but to trust your God. Now, in what sense is this intended? Let us picture the good man under the difficulty to which we have referred. He sees the ungodly in high places, while he is obscure, depressed, afflicted; and he wonders what it means, now, in what sense is such a one to trust in the Lord? He is to trust in God, believing that such a state of things is known and permitted by him in infinite wisdom; that this state of chaos is perfectly consistent with God's love for his people; that God has some wise and holy end in permitting it - to prove him and to improve him; and that he will see that end, either in this world or in the next.
3. Then there follows a third duty: Wait patiently. If we are content to wait and let God's methods in providence open up before us, we shall see the ungodly cut down (vers. 2, 9, 10, 15, 17, 20, 25, 36, 38); that God will give us the desires of our heart, and graciously clear our way (vers. 4, 5); that though we may have been misunderstood and misrepresented for a time, yet God will clear us and our reputation in the long run (ver. 6); that God will grant the true possession and peaceful enjoyment of life to the meek and loyal (ver. 11); that the little of the righteous brings far more joy than the much of the wicked (ver. 16); that he will be upheld where others fall (ver. 17); that supplies shall be sent to the saint even in days of famine (ver. 19); that step by step will be taken under the ordering of a Divine Guide (ver. 23); that even in falling he shall not perish, for to him shall be shown a Divine upholding grace (ver. 24); that the righteous man will leave a blessed inheritance to his children, - peace was his in life, and peace shall follow his children when he is gone to his rest (ver. 37); that his life is but an outworking of God's great salvation (vers. 39, 40). It is not in youth that all this can be seen, but if we believe God when we are young, we shall have proved him ere we are old. Only let us wait patiently." There is a vast unfolding plan, which, if we are wise to observe, will be ever revealing to us "the loving-kindness of the Lord."
4. And thus we are led on to a fourth duty - that of obedience. (Ver. 3.) "Trust in the Lord, and do good," i.e. "do right. In ver. 34 the same duty is expressed in another phrase, Wait on the Lord, and keep his way. Trusting and trying, resting and working, are to go together. We are to find out what God would have us do in the sphere in which he has placed us; then to trust in the Lord, be strong, and do it. And we may do right" (ver. 3), or, in other words, we may "keep his way" (ver. 34) in one or other of two methods. By actively doing the Divine will; and this is probably what most of us are called on to do - to pursue with energy the duties in active life that are set before us. Now, we may fulfil these:
(1) In attending at each moment to the duty of the moment; simply doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and with the distinct aim and purpose of pleasing God. May be our calling is not that which we should prefer, and yet we see no way open to any other. When God does open a way in another direction, by all means let us follow it. But, meanwhile, be it ours simply to do the work which lies before us, with a readiness and cheerfulness that befit those whose sole aim is to please God.
(2) In the cultivation of holiness we may "do right," ever setting the Lord before us, and aiming to follow him who "left us an example, that we should follow his steps."
(3) In personal efforts to help, to relieve, to comfort, or to serve another, we may do right. In this respect, as well as others, "it is accepted, according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." But we may "do right" also by patiently bearing the Divine will; and sometimes this is all the believer can do - simply to bear what God has laid upon him. Nor is there a nobler sight on earth than to see one who, racked with pain or wrapped in obscurity, can say, "My lot is appointed me by my Father's will; all that will is love, and therefore I can cheerfully bear it. If my Father were to give the rod unto my own hands, I would give it back to him, saying, 'Father, thou knowest best; do with me as seemeth good in thy sight.'" Why, such a one, though he never goes outside the doors of his own house from one year's end to another, is a missionary to the Church and to the world! Preach fervently as we may by words, we cannot preach like these suffering saints! But we must notice -
II. THE CONNECTION THERE IS BETWEEN THESE SEVERAL DUTIES. We have specified them under four heads.
1. Fret not.
3. Wait patiently.
4. Do right.
These four may be reduced to two: trusting and trying; or, in other words, to resting and working. Both are included in the verse already quoted. "Trust in the Lord, and do right." While these duties in combination make up "the whole duty of man," they are so connected together that neither can be discharged without the other. If we do not trust in God, we cannot do the right, and if we do not desire to do right, we have no right to trust in God. What, then, is the relation between them? At least a fourfold one.
1. Trust in God ensures the peace of mind which fits a man for work. E.g. take a tradesman in business, whose affairs are going down, and who will soon find himself on the wrong side of the balance-sheet. It is impossible for him to go about his business with the energy it requires, especially in these times. But put the man's affairs straight; tell him that everything is set right, and that by-and-by he will find himself in a better position than at present, - and you put new life into the man. When he knows that all is right, he can set about his work with all the zest that is needed. So it is here. There once were two burdens pressing on the heart. The one, of his spiritual interests, the other, of his temporal care. What has become of these? The first, the burden of guilt, he has laid at the foot of the cross. The second, the load of earthly care, he brings day by day, and casts it upon his God. Thus he has nothing left to care for, nothing left to be anxious about. Hence, the peace of God passing all understanding keeps his heart and mind in Christ Jesus; and, consequently, with unburdened heart, he can go about the work his Father has given him to do.
2. Trusting in God ensures the reception of strength for the discharge of work. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;" "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." So runs the promise, and so runs experience too. Strength according to the days; strength sure as the days; strength to the end of the days. Such will be the uniform result of" waiting on God all the day."
3. Trusting in God supplies a man with motives to perform his work. If I am permitted to trust in God, then honour requires that I shall do right; for I trust in God for strength to perform his will; hence when I ask for strength there is a tacit pledge that the strength received from God shall be spent in obedience to God. And not only so, but gratitude also requires that I should do right. If I receive of God's strength, how ann I but gratefully spend it for him? And the honor of religion requires that I should do right. For if I tell the world I am trusting in God, and yet fail to do right, what will the worldling say? What can he say, but this? - "Either your God is not the God you say he is, or else you have not the trust in him which you profess to have." If we want the world to believe in God, if we want them to give us credit for sincerity, we must show that, while we trust in God, we also do right.
4. Trusting in God gives a man a guarantee of the successful issue of his work. Is it mine to trust in God? Can I, under all circumstances, repose in him? Then I know that, to the very last, all shall be well. He hath said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Trusting in him, we will dare to work, to suffer, or to die.
5. Trusting in God will ensure a blessing to those on whom our work may afterwards full. (Ver. 37, Hebrew and Revised Version margin, compared with ver. 38, Hebrew.) The good man layeth an inheritance to his children's children. "The generation of the upright shall be blessed." The Old Testament does not project our thought into our own future life after death as the New Testament does, but it lays very much stress on the effect of a man's life on the generations which will follow him on earth: this is in accordance with Deuteronomy 7:9. And there can be no manner of doubt that the posterity of a man of trained righteousness, integrity, and piety, even though he be a poor man, will have the best of all legacies - pious poverty, God's blessing, and a father's prayers. We do not say that young people are now taught too much to look to their future life, but we do venture to affirm that far too little stress is laid upon, and mention is far too seldom made of, the thought of the effect of parental character upon posterity. The law of heredity is stronger than that of environment; or, to put the same truth in somewhat antique form, "Grace does not run in the blood, but it purifies it."
6. Trusting in God ensures a man of a home in God when the earthly work is over. Even when flesh and heart fail, God is the Strength of our heart, and our Portion for ever! - C.
I. THE SIN. Fretfulness is a sin against, —
1. Fretting in many cases supposes envy. "Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious," etc. Asaph did this, and ha forcibly describes this painful and injurious process in the seventy-third psalm. It became too painful for him. He questioned the rectitude of Providence and the wisdom of God. Just then he was stopped; like Job, he said, "Once have I spoken, but I will proceed no further"; he fell on his face, confessing, "I am foolish," "I was envious!" and soon the scene changed from darkness to light, from complaining to communion, from fretting to rest in God.
Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.Luther quaintly said that, whereas we cannot prevent the birds from hovering over and flying round about our heads, we can prevent them from building their nests in our hair. The Lord will net hold us accountable for the suggestions that the devil makes, or our own evil hearts produce, but He does hold us responsible for yielding to those suggestions, and nourishing them.
I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE COMPLAINT. Worrying, murmuring, or fretting, is certainly a malady. It must not be regarded as a mere circumstance that afflicts us from without. It is a deep-seated complaint that reigns within. One of the old Puritans says, of one who was always complaining, that he was "sick of the frets." He recognized that it was an inward ailment, affecting both soul and body. The root of the mischief was in the rebellious heart.
1. What is the nature of this complaint? It is of the nature of a fever. "Fret not thyself," or as it might be read, "Do not grow hot, inflame net thyself, because of evil-doers." Leave. to the sea to fret, and fume, and rage, and roar. Leave to the wicked, of whom the troubled sea is so apt an emblem, to toss to and fro, and cast up mire and dirt. Leave to the caged bird, that has no wisdom, to beat itself against the bars and make its incarceration still more unendurable; but for you who are already God's, who have such a Father and Friend, and such a home, to which you are each moment coming nearer, for you to fret is clean contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; and to the grace which is in Christ Jesus.
2. What are the causes of this complaint?(1) The prosperity of the wicked. I do not know of anything more likely to contribute to envy — which is nearly always an accompaniment of fretting — than a view of the prosperity of the wicked, that is if that view is a one-sided and short-sided one, as it generally is. The wicked spreads himself like a green bay tree, everything seems to go well with him. But he is a stranger to the one thing needful. He is altogether unacquainted with the joys we know, and what shall his end be? Have you ever found it in your heart to envy the apparent riches of the stage king, who struts his little hour behind the footlights with crown, and robes, and sceptre, and I know not what?(2) The care that seems inseparable from daily life. So long as we dwell in the land there must be the question of being fed and clothed. I had almost said that religion is a farce and a fraud unless it stoops with me to such matters as these. It does so.(3) There is another matter that mightily troubles some people, viz. the safeguarding of their reputation. Well, but let not this give rise to fretting and to distrust of God (vers. 5, 6). What reputation we have is due to God's grace. If He has made it, He will keep it. Your reputation is not of half so much account as are God's cause, etc.
3. What are the symptoms of this disease.(1) It is generally accompanied by envy — "neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity." Be on the look-out against that green-eyed monster jealousy, for it works havoc in the heart, and havoc everywhere.(2) It is accompanied also by loss of appetite that is, for the things of God. If we give way to repining, we shall not care for God's Word, prayer will become almost impossible, the Gospel itself will lose its zest.(3) Accompanying this fever there is, of course, a very high temperature. It is very easy, when you are in this state of mind, to get angry, and very difficult to cease from wrath.(4) There is a consuming thirst with this fretting fever, a longing for something one has not got, a parching of the tongue and a drying of the lip, almost unbearable.(5) The vision is impaired; we do not see things clearly.(6) There is loss of memory, for we forget the mercies which have gone before, a recollection of which would help us to bear the troubles of the present.
II. THE PRESCRIPTION.
1. The first item is trust in the Lord. Faith cures fretting. I believe in the "faith cure" — not as some administer it, but as God administers it. It is the only cure for worrying. If thou trustest all shall be well.
2. Do good. This is the second ingredient in the prescription. Do not give up, do not yield to fear. Do good; get to some practical work for God; continue in the path of daily duty, take spiritual exercise.
8. Diet is a very important matter in fever cases. It reads in the original, "Thou shelf be fed with truth." Oh, the patient begins to get better at once, if he is fed on faithfulness. If you eat God's truth and live on His Word, and drink in His promises, recovery is sure.
4. "Delight thyself also in the Lord." Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. "God writes straight on crooked lines;" delight in Him if you cannot delight in anybody else; delight in Him if you find no joy in yourself.
5. "Commit thy way unto the Lord." Not merely petition the King and then go on worrying, but roll the burden upon the Lord. Then the matter becomes His rather than yours; He accepts the responsibility which is too heavy for you. Too often we shoulder the load again.
6. "Rest in the Lord." Any doctor will prescribe rest in a case of fever; without it the patient is not likely to pull through. You must have rest; be still and see the salvation of the Lord, sit silent before God. Rubbing the eye is not likely to bring the mote out. Even if it does it will only inflame the optic more, and fretting is something like rubbing the eyes — it only increases the inflammation. Do not strive and struggle.
7. "Wait patiently for Him." The buds of His purposes must not be torn rudely open. They will unfold of themselves if you will let them. If you try to expedite matters you will spoil the whole business. God's time is the best time.
8. "Cease from anger and forsake wrath." Ah, I have heard of some people down with the fever who have been foolish enough to do things and to take things which are only calculated to add fuel to the fire. You cannot give up fretting until you begin to forgive.
2. While the fretting mood lasts, while we are troubled because God withholds certain things from us which He gives so abundantly to others, expectation from God is excluded. Hope pines when the heart frets, and peace flutters outside that soul which care corrodes, and which complainings fill with discord.
3. Yet many excuses are often made for this line of conduct; and the more it is indulged in, the more it is justified. "Wherefore should a living man complain? If a sinner, he has no right to do so; if a saint, no reason:" for a sinner deserves hell at any moment, and a saint, though most unworthy, is on his way to a glorious heaven; and his very trials and deprivations are a means of preparing and training him for that better world.
1. Ourselves. Destroys peace of mind; the mother of bitterness, harshness, fault-finding.
2. Others. Robs homes of their happiness.
3. God. John Wesley once said, "I dare no more fret than curse and swear." To have persons at my ears murmuring and fretting at everything, is like tearing the flesh from my bones. By the grace of God I am discontented at nothing. I see God sitting on His throne, and ruling all things."
II. The causes.
3. Want of faith in God. I have read that one of Cromwell's friends was a fretting Christian, to whom everything went wrong. On a certain occasion, when unusually fretful, his sensible servant said, "Master, don't you think that God governed the world very well before you came into it? Yes; but why do you ask? Master, don't you think God will govern the world very well after you go out of it?" "Of course I do." "Well, then, can't you trust Him to govern it for the little time you are in it?"
III. THE CURE.
1. Look on the bright side of things.
2. Look not merely at the present, but think of the future.
3. Have faith in God. Then you will welcome whatever comes, knowing that He can help, even by adverse circumstances.
2. How, then, is fretfulness to be cured? The psalmist brings in the heavenly to correct the earthly. "The Lord" is the refrain of almost every verse, as though it were only in the power of the heavenly that this dangerous fire could be subdued.(1) "Trust in the Lord." "Trust!" It is, perhaps, helpful to remember that the word which is here translated "trust" is elsewhere in the Old Testament translated "careless." "Be careless in the Lord!" Instead of carrying a load of care let care be absent t It is the carelessness of little children running about the house in the assurance of their father's providence and love.(2) "Delight thyself in the Lord." How beautiful the phrase! The literal significance is this, "Seek for delicacies in the Lord." Yes, and if we only set about with ardent purpose to discover the delicacies of the Lord's table, we should have no time and no inclination to fret. But this is just what the majority of us do not do. The delicacies of music are not found in the first half-dozen lessons; it is only in the later stages that we come to the exquisite. And so it is in art, and so it is in literature, and so it is with the "things of the Lord." "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Let us be ambitious for the excellent! God has not yet given to us of His best. He always keeps the best wine until the last. When we sit at the table of the Lord, tasting of His delicacies, fretfulness will be unable to breathe.(3) "Commit thy way unto the Lord." "Thy way!" What is that? Any pure purpose, any worthy ambition, any duty, anything we have got to do, any road we have got to tread, all our outgoings. "Commit thy way unto the Lord." Let us commit our beginnings unto Him, before we have gone wrong., let us have His companionship from the very outset of the journey. If I am going out alone, fretfulness will encounter me before I have gone many steps in the way; if I go out in the company of Jesus I shall have the peace that passeth understanding, and the heat of my life will be the ardour of an intense devotion:(4) "Rest in the Lord." Having done all this, and doing it all, trusting in the Lord, delighting in the Lord, committing my way unto the Lord, let me now just "rest." Don't worry. Whatever happens, just refer it to the Lord! If it be anything injurious he will suppress it. If it be anything containing helpful ministry He will adapt it to our need. This is the cure for care.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. THAT THERE HAS EVER BEEN A GENERATION OF EVIL-DOERS. All ages have been blackened with the shadow of evil-doers. Not a single century has been permitted to complete its revolution without being marred by their deadly presence! I ask you to mark the terrible energy implied in the designation "workers of iniquity." Reference is not made to men who make a pastime of iniquity, or who occasionally commit themselves to its service, but to those who toil at it as a business. As the merchantman is industrious in commerce, as the philosopher is assiduous in study, as the artist is indefatigable in elaboration, so those slaves of iniquity toil in their diabolic pursuits with an ardour which the most powerful remonstrance seldom abates! They are always ready to serve their master.
II. THAT THE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE NOT TO BE MOVED FROM THEIR COURSE BY THE GENERATION OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS. "Fret not thyself because of evil-doers," etc. This language does not sanction carelessness as to the moral condition and destiny of the parties indicated. We need to mourn over it. But we are not to "fret" over evil-doers, though it be natural to do so, when we think of the terrible harm they do. You punish such men more severely by taking no notice of their malignity — they would rejoice in provoking retaliation. And these "evil-doers" are often prosperous in their way, whilst the good are often exposed to social hardships. Imagine not that secular prosperity is a pledge of Divine favour.
III. THAT A TERRIBLE DOOM AWAITS THE GENERATION OF EVILDOERS. "For they shall soon be cut down," etc. Know ye of any such miserable spectacle as that of a human being "cut down"? As travellers have wandered over the ruins of classic temples, they have mourned their departed glory, but what are such ruins compared to the ruins of manhood? The heart that might have expanded with holiest emotion — wasted! The image of God an irrecoverable wreck! Imagination can paint no horrors so appalling. Though God uses not our chronometers in the measurement of time, yet the wicked themselves will have occasion to exclaim, "We are soon cut down!" You wrong your own souls in reasoning that "to-morrow shall be as this day and more abundant." The hour of your fullest joy is the hour of highest danger.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
Homilist.I. A PAINFUL PASSION. There may be fretfulness where there is no envy. One may fret because of the tardy advancement of a cause dear to his heart, or because of the troubles of those in whom he is interested. There is a great deal of fretfulness that is almost constitutional, and therefore innocent and free from all "envy"; but there can be no envy where there is not fretfulness. What is envy? It is not merely a desire to possess that good which another has: that is emulation. To crave after that which gives power, and worth, and happiness is a laudable ambition. We are commanded to "covet earnestly the best gifts." But "envy" is a malicious desire to possess what others have: it means their deprivation. Jealousy is a dread lest another shall possess what we wish for ourselves; envy is a dislike for another because he actually possesses the good desired; and because it is so impregnated with the malign it is always fretful. It is a grudging, growling passion; it is never at rest.
II. IT IS A FOOLISH PASSION. IT IS DIRECTED AGAINST THE MOST UNENVIABLE OF CHARACTERS. "The workers of iniquity will be cut down like the grass."
III. ENVYING THE WICKED. Shall the imperial eagle, whose undazzled eye drinks in the splendours of a cloudless sun, envy the worm that never rose an inch beyond its native dust? Shall the sun itself envy the flickering rush-light which the feeblest breeze can extinguish? Shall the heaving ocean, bearing on its bosom the richest merchandise, and reflecting from its deep blue eye the glories of the firmament, envy the little summer pool, which a passing cloud has poured into a foot-print? Sooner shall such envy be called into existence than the true child of God envy the "workers of iniquity."
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