March around Zion, encircle her, count her towers,
2 Chronicles 20.). We see from the narrative of the Chronicles that the children of the Korahites sang a song of praise on the occasion of that signal interposition of God, although it is not likely that the song then sang was the forty-eighth psalm; for the reference in ver. 7 is against that; and at first it is not easy to see how "ships of Tarshish" should come to be mentioned in this song, if prepared with reference to the event of which we have made mention. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:25, 26) makes mention of ships of Tarshish which belonged to Tyro, being "broken" by the east wind; and it is possible that the psalm may have an allusion thereto. But, singularly enough, the chapter that records Jehoshaphat's prayer and deliverance records also his defection and its punishment; and we are told that his ships were broken so that they were not able to go to Tarshish (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). If this be the reference in the song before us, its significance would be very striking; in that case, it would mean that Jehovah, Israel's God, who put the heathen to flight for Israel's sake, put even Israel to shame when her people or her kings left the straight path of reliance on and obedience to God alone; and that this was among the "judgments" of him whose right hand is full of righteousness; showing us that God's care for his Church is just as marked when he rebukes her for her sins as when he delivers her from her foes; and that both for his faithful chastisement as for his mighty interposition, his loving-kindness is rehearsed in his temple with gratitude and song. And there is a holy pride in rehearsing the privileges of Zion as far outweighing those of the nations around - a pride, however, which refers all the honour and glory of Zion to God, and to God alone. Interesting, however, as these historic allusions are to the student, the higher spiritual bearing of the psalm is far more interesting, and far more important, as it sets before us this theme - the privilege and honour of the Church of God. We need not here argue the point that the Christian Church is the successor to the honours and privileges of the Jewish Church. A comparison of Exodus 19:6 with 1 Peter 2:9 will show this. The Christian Church, in its largest sense, is made up of all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. The organization of distinct and definite communities as Churches is a necessity for the time now present, but no such organizations include all believers; many believers, moreover, are in no such organization at all; only "the Lord knoweth them that are his;" and over all such his care is exercised: in their totality as including all regenerated souls, they make up the Church of God. Of this Church as a unity we have now to speak.
I. GOD'S DWELLING-PLACE IS IN HIS CHURCH, (Vers. 1, 2.) It is quite possible that, after what we have just said about the Church in its entirety and vastness, and about the impossibility of its being scanned by any human eye, that it may be said, "But if the Church is thus undefinable by us as to its limits, we cannot conceive of it as a dwelling-place." This we can easily understand. But the demur has, in reality, no force. For it is quite clear from the New Testament that as there is "the Church" in the highest spiritual sense, so there are local and organized Churches in the geographical sense. Of this the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia are immediate and sufficient proof. And wherever a Church is faithful to its Lord, since whatever is true of the whole Church is true of any part of it, the believers in Jesus who belong to any local and faithful Church may apply to themselves that which Paul declared of the Ephesian converts when he wrote, "Ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Thus no Christian need hesitate to apply the words to the fellowship of believers to which he belongs; he may say," God is known in our palaces for a Refuge. This Church is a city of the great King. And the real presence of a living Saviour among us is our honour, our joy, our life (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20).
II. GOD HIMSELF IS THE REFUGE OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 3.) It is the privilege of the individual believer, in all times of trial, sorrow, and care, to betake himself to his God and Saviour as to an unfailing Friend. But this privilege rises to sublimity when a whole company of believers, encompassed with peril and threatened by foes from without, can all rush to their Saviour in faith and prayer, as to a Refuge from the gathering storm!
III. GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS IS THE THEME OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 9.) How much fuller and sweeter is this theme for meditation now than of old! Then it was gained through prophets; now from him before whose presence lawgiver and prophet retire, as stars are concealed in the brightness of the sun! How incomparably does Romans 8. surpass aught in the Old Testament! And what was there in the olden time so tender as Luke 15.? Verily such a theme lifts the soul heavenward, tunes the lips to song, and speeds the feet to run the race set before us.
IV. GOD'S DELIVERANCES MARK THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 4-8.) The effect of this vivid description is pictorial. We can almost see the kings eyeing Jerusalem with envy, plotting her capture, seized with panic and hurrying away as for very life. The psalmist says that he had heard of such deliverances in times past, and now had seen them. And any student of Church history who has been withal for fifty years a close observer of Church life, can say the same. That God is the perpetual Deliverer of his Church is the story of the past and the testimony of the present. Nor may we forget the double kind of deliverance:
(1) from foes without;
(2) from mischief within.
If the view given above of ver. 7 is correct, the verse suggests that the Church owes quite as much to God's chastening love in correcting her for her sins, as to his rescuing power in spoiling her foes. That he will do this is part of the covenant (Psalm 89:28-33).
V. THE HONOUR OF GOD'S NAME IS HIS OWN PLEDGE TO THE CHURCH. (Vers. 10,11.) In the attribute of God's righteousness is the Church's repose and glory. Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, faithfulness, justice, righteousness, can be the supports of sinful men. This is the supreme wonder of redeeming grace. Think of it! Sinful people rejoicing that God's right hand is full of righteousness!
VI. GOD'S GRACIOUS RELATIONS ARE THE GUARANTEE OF THE PERPETUITY OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 12-14.) We omit the italic "it in ver. 13 (Authorized Version), and translate the first word in ver. 14 that." The psalmist incites to a study of Zion's towers, bulwarks, palaces, privileges, that it may be declared to the generation following, that "this God is our God for ever and ever." And when we study the redemption in Christ which has founded the Church, the spiritual power which is building up the Church, the watchful providence which has for eighteen centuries guarded the Church, the story which we have to hand down to the coming generation is the same, but told with vaster emphasis, surer faith, and more rapturous joy. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide above death, and beyond it!" "Happy is the people that is in such a case! yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord!" - C.
Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. CHRISTIANITY. The Rationalist regards it as a system more or less divine which must needs be measured by human reason before it can bind the consciences of men. This low and inadequate view may be Protestant as against the superstitions of the Papacy, but it is not evangelical, inasmuch as it denies the infallibility of Scripture, the vicarious atonement of our Lord and its related doctrines. But Christianity is the complete revelation of the Divine will in the Scriptures. It is Christ revealing Himself to the human consciousness.
II. THE CHURCH is one in historical transmission; and it is catholic, including all who fear God. Ecclesiastical arrangements are not of its essence, and do not interfere with its real unity, which is that of the Spirit. Rome has been fighting on a thousand battlefields to compel an external unity, but human nature will never submit to it. Such unity is but a dream, an ecclesiastical device.
III. RELIGION. This is to some —
1. An intellectual conception only. To others —
2. Feeling, rapture. To others —
3. A devout performance on the Lord's day. But —
4. To the evangelist it is faith and holiness.
(Elbert S. Porter, D. D.)
1. What is to be understood by the preservation and protection of the Church, so as we may look neither for less nor more than what we are like to meet with?
2. What is meant by searching into, and considering of, these causes and means of the Church's preservation? "Walk about Zion, tell her towers, set your heart to her bulwarks, consider her palaces," etc.
3. What are those causes and means of the Church's preservation, those towers and bulwarks which will not fail, whenever Zerah or Sennacherib comes, or whatever attempts are made upon Zion?
4. What reason is there why we should thus search into and consider these causes of the Church's preservation and protection?
5. What is the testimony which we have to give concerning this matter to the ensuing generation? "That ye may declare it to the generation to come."
( J. Owen, D. D.)
I. THE NATURAL ADVANTAGES OF OUR SITUATION.
1. Our soil is fertile, liberally rewarding the husbandman with "grass for cattle, and herb for the use of man"; with all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life.
2. No country in the world is more sufficient for itself, or more independent of every other; while from innumerable ports we disperse our superfluities and the fruits of our industry to every nation under heaven.
3. Our climate is mild, temperate and salubrious. We are neither scorched by excess of heat, nor made torpid by intense cold.
4. Our people are hardy and vigorous; patient of toil; docile, generous and open; attached to their country; intrepid in war, industrious at home.
II. THE EXCELLENCE OF OUR GOVERNMENT.
1. Ye have personal liberty, which, as it cannot be taken from you without a crime, so neither can ye alienate it of yourselves but for a time, and upon such terms as still keep you under the protection of the laws, to guard you from abuse, and to secure your hire.
2. Ye have political liberty. Every man is allowed to declare his sentiments concerning the measures of government, and to animadvert on them in the most public manner.
3. Ye have religious liberty in a very eminent degree. Every man is allowed to hold his own creed, and to worship God in his own way.
III. THE FAVOUR OF PROVIDENCE.
(J. Adamson, D. D.)I. THE CHURCH OF GOD IS OUR BIRTHPLACE. Angels said, "This man was born there."
II. THE CENTRE OF OUR CHIEF SOCIAL ATTRACTIONS. Are not our grandest associations connected with the house of God? These are the men that are to stand by us in times of trouble. These are they who are to counsel us when we go astray. These are the men who are to carry us out to our last slumber when we have done with our earthly toil. Oh! I want to be surrounded by church friends, some to counsel me, some to encourage me, some to cheer me and strengthen me. I want to sit with them, and sing with them, and pray with them, and die with them.
III. THE HOME OF OUR CHILDREN.
IV. A REFUGE. Seafaring men do not always expect smooth sailing. Neither ought we on the sea of life always expect to have smooth sailing. You have not always had it the way you wanted it in the past. You will not always have it the way you want it in the future. But when trouble came you went into the house of God and found it a refuge. You had your troubles explained to you.
V. OUR MONUMENT. It seems a very silly thing to expend one or two or three thousand dollars on a tombstone. But that which you do for the Church of God is your eternal monument. It is a living memento.
VI. The GATE OF HEAVEN.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Homiletic Review.I. HER TOWERS. These naturally represent the great truths that are lifted into prominence. There are some ten great truths curiously related and parts of one system. Five of them are like corner towers — the Being of God is central to all — then the doctrine of the Son, the Spirit, Man, and the Word of God. The intermediate connecting truths are the Mediation of Christ in Atonement, the Mediation of the Spirit in Regeneration, Justification by Faith, the Inspiration of the sacred writers, and the right of private study of Scripture. No one of these truths can be sacrificed without weakening the whole structure.
II. Her BULWARKS. These as naturally represent the great barriers or defences of the Church, which act as restraints against wickedness and worldliness, serving both to keep in disciples and keep out evildoers. The Church has certain separating barriers which define her province and life, and restraining barriers which repel and restrain evil. No small part of the service of the Church in the world is found in the resistance to evil. What the dykes are to Holland the Church is to the community: it keeps out the flood of evil.
III. Her PALACES. These suggest beauty, honour, delight, privilege, and may stand for all the privileges of the children of God.
1. Worship, with all the ordinances, sacraments, prayer, praise, etc.
2. Fellowship, both with God and saints.
3. Holy living and growing both in knowledge and grace.
4. Service to God and man.
I. THE IMPORTANCE TO BE ATTACHED TO THE TOWERS AND BULWARKS OF ZION, AND THE DUTY OF ALL TO HELP IN MAINTAINING THEM. The world is spared for the sake of the Church to be redeemed out of it, and the Church is to aid in gathering together the souls that shall be saved. How much, then, does the world owe to the Church, for it is only for her sake that it is preserved. As the Canaanites were for Israel, who should inherit their land.
II. ALL PEOPLE IN A CHRISTIAN LAND, WHATEVER THEIR POSITION, ARE UNDER STRICT OBLIGATION TO AID IN TEE BUILDING OF ZION, Now, this duty is binding, not on private individuals only, but on men in their official capacities as kings, rulers and having authority. It would be strange if those who, by their position, could do most for this work, were free from obligation to do anything. All past history, as given in Scripture, contradicts those who would have no connection between the Church and the State. For kings and governments have helped the Church, have been commanded to do so, and been blessed for that which they have done. Then, "my soul, come not thou into their secret." Who would separate what God has joined?
Mark well her bulwarks; consider ye her palaces.
I. BULWARKS SYMBOLIZE POWER AND STRENGTH. I fail to discern any of the marks of decay and weakness with which the Church of God in our day is charged. Her towers are growing stronger, her glory more resplendent, her foes decrease, and her friends become more numerous. Some of the manifest emblems of power are —
1. Christian civilization. The very air men breathe is charged through and through with Christian thought.
2. The Bible, for it is a great source of power. One of the surest proofs of its power is the virulence of its enemies. Men would not attack a book which is a dead letter.
3. The vast accumulation of wealth, and the number of churches. These are signs of power. The value of Church property in our land is unparalleled, and increases greatly every year. There is not a single heathen temple in process of erection in the world. The Church gives hundreds of thousands a year for mission world. Her light flashes away up in frozen Greenland, in Central Africa and in Polynesia. Christ will be universal King.
II. RICHES AND GLORY ARE INDICATED BY THE PALACES OF ZION.
1. There is the palace of assurance — the doctrine of the witness of the Spirit. These need no witness of guilt — of that men are conscious. When pardon comes we have the witness of the Spirit that we are taken into the family of God.
2. The palace of Christian fellowship.
3. That of Divine communion. Zion with her towers, her bulwarks, her palaces, is the joy of the whole earth. Now she is the Church militant, but shall be soon the Church triumphant.
(J. H. Bayliss, D. D.)
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