He makes wars to cease throughout the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields in the fire.
Psalm 42. It is "a song upon Alamoth," which, according to Furst, is the proper name of a musical choir. As the word "Alamoth" means "virgins," it is supposed that the song was for soprano voices. We have, however, to deal with the contents of the song itself. It has long been a favourite with the people of God. "This is my psalm," said Luther. To this we owe his "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," and many other songs of the sanctuary. It would seem to have been suggested by some one of the many deliverances which the Hebrews had from the onsets of their foes; but to which of those it specially refers, is and must be left an open question. There are phrases in it which remind us of the redemption from Egypt (cf. ver. 5 with Exodus 14:27, Hebrew). There are others which recall the deliverance for which Jehoshaphat prayed (cf. vers. 10, 11 with 2 Chronicles 20:17, 22, 23). Other words vividly set forth the boasting of Sennacherib and the destruction of his army (cf. vers. 3, 6 with 2 Kings 18:29-35; 2 Kings 19:6, 7, 15-19, 28, 35). At each of these crises the four points of this psalm would be
(1) a raging storm;
(2) a commanding voice;
(3) a humbled foe;
(4) a jubilant song.
And how many times this song has been sung by individuals, by families, by Churches, by nations, the closest students of history best can tell. And in setting forth this song for homiletic use, we might show that it records the repeated experience of the Church; that it becomes the grateful song of the family; that it fits the lips of the believer in recounting providential mercy; that it is the constant song of the saints in rehearsing redemption's story. To deal with all these lines of thought would far exceed our space. We will confine ourselves to the last-named use of the words before us, showing that this forty-sixth psalm means far more on the lips of the Christian than it did on the lips of Old Testament believers. It is not the song itself that is our chief joy, but that revelation of God which has made such a song possible for believers - first under the Old Testament, and specially, in Christ, under the New Testament.
I. THE SAINTS NOW HAVE A CLEARER VIEW OF GOD. (Hebrews 1:1, 2.) Of old, God spake through prophets; now he speaks in his Son. And when we hear our Lord say, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father," we know at once to whom to turn for the interpretation of that greatest of all words, "God." To the Hebrews, their covenant God was revealed in words (Exodus 34:6, 7); but to us he is revealed in the living Word, in the Person of the incarnate Son of God. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
II. THE SAINTS NOW CAN RECORD A GREATER DELIVERANCE than Israel of old could boast - an infinitely greater one. Not only was there all the difference between rescues that were local, temporary, national, and one that is for the race for all time, but also the difference between a deliverance from Egypt, Ammon, Moab, and Assyria, and one that is from Satan and from sin; from the curse of a broken Law, and from the wrath to come. The song of Miriam is infinitely outdone by the new song, even the song of Moses and the Lamb.
III. THE SAINTS CAN NOW REJOICE IN A BETTER COVENANT. At the back, so to speak, of the psalm before us there was a recognized covenant between God and the people (Exodus 19:5, 6; Psalm 46:7, 11). In the later days of David "the everlasting covenant" was the aged monarch's hope and rest. But now, in Christ, we have the "better covenant," "the everlasting covenant," sealed and ratified with blood (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 13:20; Matthew 26:28). This covenant assures to the penitent, forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified. It includes all that Christ is and has, as made over to those who rely on him, for ever and for ever. It is not dependent on the accidents of time or sense. No duration can weaken it; no ill designs can mar it; not all the force of earth or hell can touch these who look to "the sure mercies of David."
IV. THE SAINTS NOW MAKE UP A MORE PRIVILEGED CITY. (Ver. 4.) While nations were proudly and angrily raging like the wild waves of the tossing sea, there was a calm, peaceful river, whose branches peacefully flowed through the city of God. Thus beautifully does the psalmist indicate the calm which took possession of believers then, while the nations roared around them. And in "the new Jerusalem," the present "city of God," which Divine love founded, and which Divine power is building up, there still flows the deep, still, calm river of Divine peace and joy and love. Or, if it be preferred, let Dr. Watts tell " That sacred stream, thine Holy Word, That all our raging fear controls; Sweet peace thy promises afford, And give new strength to fainting souls." Through the new city of God, the Holy Catholic Church, made up of all believers, this peaceful stream ever runs, refreshing and fertilizing wherever it flows. No frost congeals it; no heat can dry it up; it will eternally make glad the city of God. Hence -
V. THE SAINTS NOW PEAL FORTH A MORE JUBILANT SONG, We can sing this psalm, especially its first verse, with wider intelligence, larger meaning, deeper peace, and more expansive joy, than were possible to the Hebrews of old. As revelation has advanced, the believer's joy in God has grown likewise. Faith becomes larger as faith's Object becomes clearer. And no Hebrew could sing of the deliverance of his fathers so joyously as we can sing of the redemption of a world - a redemption in which we can rejoice, not only in our days of sadness, but in our days of gladness too. And as the psalmist could think of God as the Lord of hosts, and yet the God of Jacob; as the Leader of the armies of heaven, and yet the Helper of the lonely, wayworn traveller; so the believer, in thinking of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, can say, "He died for all," and also, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
VI. THE SONG IS GRANDEST WHERE TROUBLE HAS BEEN THE GREATEST. "He has been found a Help in trouble exceedingly " - the adverb expressive of intensity may refer to the greatness of the trouble. But however this may be, certain it is that it is in the troubles of life that the believer finds out all that God is to him. And the man who can sing this psalm most jubilantly is the one who has been weighted with care most heavily. This is the glory of our great redeeming God. He is a Friend for life's dark days, as well as for the bright ones. Note:
1. The troubles of life often bring out to us our need of God. It is easy to be serene when trouble is far from us, and to spin fine philosophic webs; but let trouble come upon us, - that will make all the difference. The late beloved Princess Alice was almost led to the dark negations of Straussianism; but when she lost her child, her trouble led her to feel her need of a Refuge, and then she sought and found the Lord. Ellen Watson, the accomplished mathematician, revelled in exact science, and "wanted nothing more," till the death of a friend broke in on her exact science, rent her heart, opened her eyes, and was the means of leading her to Jesus. The experience of a young civil engineer, whom the writer visited in his last illness, was precisely the same.
2. Those who can give us no comfort or rest in the troubles of life are of little use in such a world as this. In a letter of an aged Unitarian minister to a friend of the writer, the expression is used, "I am just battling with the inevitable." "Battling with the inevitable!" So it must be, if men turn away from our God as the Redeemer from sin, the Saviour of the lost.
3. It is the glory of Christ as our Refuge that he can hide us securely in the fiercest troubles of life.
"Should storms of sevenfold thunder roll, And shake the globe from pole to pole No flaming bolt shall daunt my face For Jesus is my Hiding-place." ? C.
He maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire.I. As IT AFFECTS THE HAPPINESS OF MANKIND. Think of —
1. Its rapid extinction of innumerable lives without concern.
2. Think of the manner of their death. Far from their native home, no tender assiduities of friendship, no well-known voice, no wife, or mother, or sister, is near to soothe their sorrows, relieve their thirst, or close their eyes in death. Unhappy man! and must you be swept into the grave unnoticed and unnumbered, and no friendly tear be shed for your sufferings, or mingled with your dust?
3. But think, also, of the condition of those countries which are the scene of hostilities. How dreadful to hold everything at the mercy of an enemy.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF WAR UPON THE MORALS OF MANKIND. It is both the offspring and the parent of injustice. The injury which the morals of a people sustain from an invading army is prodigious. The agitation and suspense universally prevalent are incompatible with everything which requires calm thought or serious reflection. In such a situation is it any wonder the duties of piety fall into neglect, the sanctuary of God is forsaken, and the gates of Zion mourn and are desolate? Familiarized to the sight of rapine and slaughter, the people must acquire a hard and unfeeling character. Let us now turn to the pleasing part of our subject, which invites us to contemplate the reasons for gratitude and joy suggested by the restoration of peace. Permit me to express my hope, that along with peace the spirit of peace will return. How can we better imitate our Heavenly Father, than, when tie is pleased to compose the animosities of nations, to open our hearts to every milder influence? Let us hope, more mutual forbearance, a more candid construction of each other's views and sentiments will prevail. No end can now be answered by the revival of party disputes. Our public and private affections are no longer at variance. That benevolence which embraces the world is now in perfect harmony with the tenderness that endears our country. Burying in oblivion, therefore, all national antipathies, together with those cruel jealousies and suspicions which have too much marred the pleasures of mutual intercourse, let our hearts correspond to the blessings we celebrate, and keep pace, as far as possible, with the movements of Divine beneficence.
(Robert Hall, M. A.)
Homilist.There are three methods at least adapted to crush this monster of war, and to banish it from the habitations of men. One is political, another is educational, and the other is Christian. The one pertains to the science of government, the other to the science of teaching, and the other to the science of remedial mercy. The first is good, the second is better, the third is best of all — it is infallible.
I. THY, POLITICAL METHOD. There is, I think, a form of human government adapted not only to arrest the progress of this demon, but to bind him in indissoluble chains. What is it? A cosmopolitan administration, a great federal government for the world, a government which shall bear, with some modification, the same relation to all the present kingdoms of the earth, as the Government of America to all the States with which it is united, or as the various counties and boroughs of England to the British rule. But how would such a world-wide government "cause wars to cease from the ends of the earth"?
1. It would promote free mercantile intercourse. Mutual temporal interests, if not strong enough to bind hearts in harmony, are strong enough to yoke limbs and brains together in a common work.
2. It would lead to the destruction of nationalities. Nationality is a "middle wall of partition" that keeps men asunder, and makes those on each side feel jealous and suspicious of the other. It is a false glass through which we look at other nations. A glass which magnifies their vices and minifies their virtues. Nationality is an insolent, swaggering, greedy, heartless monster on the earth.
3. It would lead to the abolition of the despotic power. Who are the men that create wars? Not the people — not the farmer, the manufacturer, not the mechanic, and the labourer; but the arrogant and ruthless despots who by villainy or fortune have gained their way to power. Such men would have but little power in a thoroughly cosmopolitan government.
II. THE EDUCATIONAL METHOD. What is this method? The indoctrinating of men with a true knowledge of their duty, their rights, and their interest. Whence is the knowledge of duty to be obtained? We have the revelation of an infallible ethical Teacher — One who was sent into the world by God to teach man his duty both to himself and his fellow-man.
1. Work into the people of the earth the conviction that all men are equal in the sight of God, that one man has rights as well as another, that each holds his being and his powers in trust from the Almighty, and must render to Him an account at last. And what then? Why then every man would respect his own individuality, employ his own individual talents, and work out his own individual beliefs, and despots would have to fight their own battles; men would no longer consent to be engines worked by tyrants.
2. Were men permeated with this true idea of their obligation to their fellow-men, could war exist a day? No. Men would feel that war was not only a curse to the community, destroying the Jives of men and the means of human support, creating misery in all directions, and entailing poverty on posterity, but also a huge crime before Almighty God.
3. War is a tremendous mistake, not only in morals, but in policy. In what does the interest of a nation consist? In the means of support, comfort, and education. On what do these depend? On the amount of a nation's skilled industry. Anything that checks productive industry is a national curse. War is the greatest adversary to the prosperity of a community; war is destruction, both of the produce and of the producing power.
III. THE CHRISTIAN METHOD. What is this method? The conquering of evil by good. This is something higher than ethics, Diviner than all mere human teaching. This is the essence of Christianity. Christianity is essentially pacific. This may be argued from the teachings of the New Testament, from the biography of Christ, which is Christianity, and from the fact that its universal triumph will issue in universal peace.
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