Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy. I will praise You with the harp, O God, my God.
Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalms 43:5 would suggest. There is a variation between some of the expressions in the former and those in the latter; but there is nothing in this psalm which needs elaborate explanation. There is, however, an expression in both of them, which contains in itself a doctrine of amazing depth, one of which thousands of living believers are perpetual illustrations and proofs, though, as a doctrine, it receives far too little notice. The doctrine is connected with the religion of the face, and is this - that when Divine light shines in the soul of man, it will cause a radiance all its own to beam from the countenance; that God is indeed the salvation of a man's features. An Irishman was once asked what made him look so happy after his conversion. "Oh," he said, "Christ lightens our hearts, and then he brightens our face." As Dickson quaintly remarks hereon, "As when the Lord withdraweth both the outward tokens of his favour and his inward consolation for a time, the countenance of the godly cannot but be heavy, cast down, and look sad, like a man that is sick; so when God returneth to comfort and to own his own, either both inwardly and outwardly, or inwardly only, the man's face looketh cheerful: he is the health of my countenance. The Rev. Joseph Cook, of Boston, U.S., in a remarkable lecture on Solar Self-Culture, says, There is only one form of culture that gives supremacy, and that is the form which produces the solar look; and the solar look comes only from the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. It may be incontrovertibly proved, by the coolest induction from fixed natural law, that the highest culture must be that through which the solar look shines, and that this look is possible only when there exists in the soul glad self-surrender to the innermost holiest of Conscience. In that innermost holiest Christianity finds a personal Omnipotence." We are all familiar enough, indeed, with the generally admitted fact that the face is an index of character, but the truths underlying that fact demand from us closer attention than is sometimes given thereto.
I. IT IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD, THAT IN A WAY EITHER OF MERCY OR OF JUDGMENT, THE FACE SHOULD BE THE INDEX OF THE SOUL. When Moses had been on the mount, communing with God, his face shone. When Hannah had laid her burden before God, her countenance was no more sad. When Stephen was before the council, in the midst of hostile, angry men, his face was as the face of an angel. The late devout Samuel Martin, of Westminster, had a face so radiant through fellowship with God, that when a friend had called on him with Dean Stanley, the dean remarked afterwards, "I am glad you took me to call there; I have seen the face of an angel." The truth that communion with God lights up the face is recognized by Dante, who, speaking of Beatrice, says -
"... with such gladness, that God's love
II. THAT THE DEVOUT SOUL LOVES TO COMMUNE WITH GOD. The whole of Psalm 42. and 43, shows us this. And the experience of believers is perpetually verifying this, in prayer there is an upward look of the whole being. "Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul;" "Our eyes wait upon the Lord our God;" "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills." And in this uplooking of the man there is an entirely different set of mental and spiritual powers and energies at work than when the habit of looking downward or around, or even the habit of not looking at all, is in exercise. The soul is in communion with the best and dearest of Friends, enjoying a luxury of fellowship with which a stranger cannot intermeddle.
III. WHEN THE SOUL THUS COMMUNES WITH GOD, GOD SENDS HIS GIFTS DOWN INTO THE SOUL. God reveals himself within, and makes us full of joy with his countenance; and in revealing himself he brings with him purity, peace, and power; and when such privilege is realized, the outer discomforts of life are forgotten in a joy unspeakable and full of glory. The temptations of the evil one cease to have power when God is near; the heaviest toil can be undertaken, and the weightiest cross be carried with cheerfulness and even with song; and since by the law of association we grow like those we love most, we, beholding the glory of the Lord, shall be changed into the same image, from glory to glory!
IV. THE EFFECT OF ALL THIS WILL BE THE SALVATION OF THE FACE. Such is the remarkable expression in Psalm 43:5; it is translated, "the health of my countenance;" literally it is, "the salvation of my face." Even so Christ is - is now - the Saviour of the body, and in the emancipation of the spirit from sin he is redeeming the face from ignoble marks and traits. How often have we known a man's face marvellously changed at his conversion, not by evolution, but by regeneration. "He doesn't look like the same man!" is an exclamation often heard. A well-known minister was converted while preaching. Such a radiance instantly shone into his face, that an enthusiastic Methodist jumped up and exclaimed, "The parson's converted! The parson's converted!" A brave Scotch soldier, whose countenance rarely wore a smile, and from whose lips never a word was heard as to his personal religion, suddenly beheld the glory of the words, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out;" and as suddenly radiance gleamed from his face, the padlock fell off his lips, and he exclaimed, "rye Christ by the hand! I've Christ by the hand!" And in his second volume the Rev. J. G. Paten, writing of a convert from heathenism, says, "His once sullen countenance became literally bright with inner light" (p. 217). See also 'Leaves from my Note-book,' by Rev. Wm. Haslam (1890), p. 99. All the spiritual gifts which God bestows - joy, peace, purity, strength - will find corresponding expression in the lines and features of the countenance, giving demonstrative evidence of the present power of Divine grace even over the body, and yielding no dim prophetic forecast of the day when Christ shall alter the fashion of our bodies of humiliation, and transform them to the fixed type of his body of glory. Hence throughout the Book of Revelation, the purity of the blessed is indicated by their being robed in white, i.e. not the whiteness of snow, but the brightness of the star. If even here, with such partial sanctification, the bodily change is so great, what will it be when the purifying and glorifying processes are complete - when every soul will be full of love, and every' face will be a perfect index of the soul? How beautiful must faces be when perfect love is reflected therefrom!
V. THE SUBJECT IS NOT ONLY ONE OF GREAT DOCTRINAL INTEREST; IT IS ALSO FRAUGHT WITH DEEP PRACTICAL SIGNIFICANCE.
1. Let us cultivate the habit of observation, and make a religious study of the human face. The holiest men will never be mistaken for hardened atheists:
2. Let us each seek to realize the duty of letting the face speak for God. And it will, if we are constantly in talk with God. His peace, his purity, his power, imparted to the soul within, will certainly make their mark without.
3. Let the young take care of their faces. God made them to be beautiful, not with that beauty which is no deeper than the skin, but with the "beauty of holiness." Be true. Love and follow the right. Live to please God. In all your troubles speak to God. And your face wilt show the result; for God will be the "health of" your "countenance." Amen. - C.
Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.
I. OF HIS STRONG DESIRE FOR RESTORATION TO THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD. It is of the very essence of the religious heart that it should yearn for God. Let a man's religious life be full and fervent, and the use of what are termed "the means of grace" may be safely left to the instincts of his own soul. But does not every pious heart sympathize with David's delight in the house of the Lord? Who of us has not realized there a fuller and more fervent feeling of His presence than anywhere else? Who of us neglects or disparages God's house without coldness and dulness creeping over our whole devotional life? Its services are the festivals of our piety, it is the place where His honour dwelleth. But the psalmist speaks of worship before God's altar. Why the altar rather than the mercy-seat? It is not enough to say that he spake the language of his dispensation, which was one in which sacrifice was prominent. Why was it so? There is but one satisfactory answer — that it was an institution prophetical and preparatory to the great sacrifice of Christ. By no satisfactory process, at least to minds like my own, can it be explained away or reduced to a mere symbol of self-sacrifice. The facts and instincts of our moral consciousness all agree to the doctrine of sacrifice as it is set forth in the Bible.
II. THE PSALMIST'S SUPERLATIVE JOY IN SUCH WORSHIP. Why have we not more joy? It is absent almost everywhere. In all churches and services, in hymns and prayers. It is because we fail of the personal character essential to it, and because we think hard and false thoughts of God.
(H. Allen, D. D.)
I. THE PECULIAR NATURE OF THAT WORSHIP WHICH GOD HAS AUTHORIZED. It is going to the altar of God. We ought all to be aware that there is a peculiarity in the worship which God authorizes. There is —
1. The recognition of our sin. When man was innocent he needed no atonement. There was no altar in Paradise. But now we need one.
2. Our first liability to punishment is acknowledged.
3. And that God is propitious through the atonement He has appointed. A mere sacrifice is not sufficient, for it might have been a human invention merely. But this God has appointed. Atonement is for the penitent (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:29-31).
II. THE EMPHATIC DESCRIPTION WHICH IS GIVEN OF THE JOY OF IT. — "God, my exceeding joy." This joy arises from —
1. Our being placed in the presence of a Being of infinite glory and perfection. It supposes reconciliation with God.
2. Because this worship enables us to appropriate this display of glory to ourselves. David speaks of "My God."
3. It is the joy of confidence.
4. And in going to the altar of God we have the renewed assurances of His favour.
5. And there is the joy of life.
I. IN THIS ORDINANCE THERE ARE TO THE SINCERE CHRISTIAN MANY SOURCES OF JOY.
1. The fullest assurance and the clearest evidence of the forgiveness of sins.
2. The strongest and most illustrious proof of Divine love.
3. The fullest assurance of receiving from God all that is necessary for comfort and happiness while in this world, and that both for spiritual and temporal life.
4. A pledge and earnest of heaven.
II. PRACTICAL IMPROVEMENT of this subject. See —
1. How great is God's goodness in providing for us now so rich entertainment.
2. What joy and consolation there are here be the fearful and doubting Christian.
3. And, indeed, to all without exception, because here we see that God is in Christ "reconciling the world unto Himself."
"What nothing earthly gives, nor can destroy
The soul's calm sunshine and her heartfelt joy."
II. GOD ALONE IS "EXCEEDING JOY." He alone lasts, He only overflows. And all this but natural to Him who is the Lord of the universe. And this exceeding joy is undisturbed by any fear of coming to an end. The bridal pair are very happy, but the thought often comes, One of us must survive the other; which, alas? But the joy of God cannot be disturbed by any calamity. And how elevated it is. For "none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate."
III. THERE IS A GREAT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THINKING ABOUT GOD AND ENJOYING HIM. It is one thing to apprehend God, and another to appropriate Him. The God of experience is the God we need.
(E. Paxton Hood.)
I. THE GOOD MAN'S DUTY — going to God. This implies —
1. Submission as to his Sovereign.
2. Friendship so as to commune with God as to his troubles, joys, sins, fears, hopes, needs.
II. THE GOOD MAN'S BLESSEDNESS — exceeding joy in God. It exceeds all other joy.
1. In its nature. It is not earthly but spiritual and divine.
2. As to its degree. Creature joy is but little — a drop — at most, but in God's presence is fulness of joy.
3. As to duration. It is as the house on the rock compared with that on the sand. Let us ask, What is our joy?
1. How wrong not to go to God. We are either still children of wrath, or if not there has been some sad declension from God.
2. How great our obligation to Christ.
3. Let us long for heaven.
(Samuel Lavington.)I. IN WHAT MANNER WE SHOULD ATTEND UPON GOD'S ORDINANCES; IN IMITATION OF DAVID'S EXAMPLE.
1. He resolved to deal with God only by the intervention of an atonement.
2. He intended not to continue an idle spectator, nor to consider himself as such, during his attendance in God's tabernacles. Here is the market-place, where all that is truly valuable is exposed to sale by God's authority, and may be bought without money and without price.
3. He resolved to bring somewhat with him into God's tabernacles which he might offer upon His altar. And every Gospel worshipper, when he "comes into God's courts, ought to bring an offering with him." If you are duly affected with what He has done for you, nothing less will satisfy you than to offer yourself, and all your services, and all your talents, and all your possessions as a sacrifice of thanksgiving upon the Gospel altar.
4. tie would present his gift upon the altar, and expect the acceptance of it only in that way. When you present your supplications to God, remember that you can receive no gracious answer, whatever it is that you pray for, unless through Christ. And when you make an offering of yourself and your services to God, consider always that it is only for the sake of Christ and His atoning sacrifice that any of your offerings can be accepted.
II. WHAT IT IS TO GO TO GOD HIMSELF AT HIS ALTAR OR IN HIS ORDINANCES.
1. A cheerful and ready forsaking of all sin. Our degree of intimacy with God in ordinances will always bear a proportion to our diligence and success in cleansing ourselves from sin.
2. A turning of our back upon the world and leaving it behind us. We must go to heaven, not by any local motion, but by an elevation of our hearts, affections and desires above the vanities of a present world; and setting them upon "the things that are above," "where Christ is at the right hand of God."
3. A believing acceptance of God Himself as the person's everlasting and all-satisfying portion upon the footing of His own gracious grant and promise. In that wonderful declaration, "I am the Lord thy God," so often repeated, God makes over Himself to us; as a portion, in the enjoyment of which we may be supremely blessed, even through an endless eternity.
4. An offering up to God all our desires in a way of fervent supplication.
5. A diligent searching after God, and after communion with Him in His ordinances.
6. An attendance upon God in ordinances with a view of being so much nearer to the full enjoyment of Him in the holy of holies above.
III. IN WHAT RESPECT IT IS, ON WHAT GROUNDS, THAT GOD MAY DE CALLED HIS PEOPLE'S EXCEEDING JOY.
1. Why is God called His people's "joy"?(1) God is the author and the efficient cause of all the believer's joy. It is one of the fruits of His Spirit dwelling in His people.(2) God is the object of the believer's joy.
2. Why the believer's joy in God has the epithet "exceeding."(1) It exceeds all the joy that arises from the possession of any other, or of all other objects. All other objects are but the works of His hands. Therefore, that joy of which He is the object exceeds all that arises from other things, as far as the Creator is superior to the creature.(2) It exceeds all the grief, heaviness and sorrow incident to the child of God through the manifold trials and miseries of all this life.
1. All attendance upon Divine ordinances must be fruitless and unprofitable when persons are not concerned to come to Christ in ordinances.
2. No person comes really and acceptably to Christ who comes not, at the same time, unto God through Him.
3. In vain will any person attempt to come unto God, any otherwise than through Jesus Christ.
4. In this text we may. see who among us shall be acceptable worshippers in God's tabernacles; and particularly who will be welcome guests at His holy table to-day.
1. As the immutable source of his supreme satisfaction. Let a man possess the favour of Him in whose presence there is fulness of joy, and he needs no more. Our lesser sources of satisfaction may be destroyed, but our greatest can neither perish nor change by the influence of evil.
2. As a perpetual supply of good which he may always appropriate. As the objects which constitute the materials of earthly happiness are all external, consequently they, as well as the happiness they create, are alike subject to change and decay. But they who rejoice in God have that redundant spring whose waters fail not. External sources of comfort may be dried up, like the prophet's book, but the inward solacements of piety remain.
3. As the wise controller of all worldly events. It is on this ground that the believer can maintain his serenity of mind amidst outward causes of perturbation. Amidst all his trials he is well assured that God has attached an ultimate design of mercy to every sorrow. He can generally perceive that design, even if he cannot understand its full extent of good. In some cases it comes to prove and exhibit the excellency of his principles, the beauty of confiding faith, and the power of quiet meekness. In other instances it is to correct the evils of his heart, wean him from earth, and stimulate him to seek all his joys at God's right hand.
4. As that Being who will eventually recompense the trials and sorrows of His people with eternal joy. Here the Christian is but a pilgrim through the wilderness preceding that promised good land, of which he gets but few and scanty gleams. Here, he has the flower of hope; there, God will give him the fruit of perfect joy. The largest desires of the soul shall hereafter be amply satisfied. The spirit, freed from all the sorrows, sins, and imperfections of this world, shall find perfect purity its element, and shall reflect the happiness of God for ever, as jewels the rays of sparkling light.
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