Psalm 49:4
The author and the date of this psalm are alike unknown. There are, however, matters concerning it of much more importance, which we do know. One of these is that the writer was a believer in God; and that while the dark problems of life perplexed him, as they do and have done so many others, he saw light above and beyond them. Another is that in this psalm we have the words of one who had "inclined his ear" to hear what the great Speaker would say unto him, and what he would have him write. He would not put pen to paper till he received the word from heaven. "Antequam ad alios loquar, prius devote audiam ipse Spiritum Sanctum intus me erudientem." "In the words, 'I will incline mine ear to a similitude,' it is plainly implied that the wisdom which the psalmist would communicate is no self-sprung possession, but one that has been acquired by him... he only brought forth what he had learned in the school of God" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). The theme of the psalm is suggested by the fact, so often observed, that much of the world's wealth is in the hands of the ungodly. Concerning it, "in Psalm 37. David, in Psalm 49. the sons of Korah, and in Psalm 73. Asaph, teach the same truth" (Fausset, p. 258). In dealing therewith we shall portion out the homiletic expositions in three distinct outlines. In this we deal with the darker side of the theme.

I. ONE OF LIFE'S MOST PERPLEXING FACTS IS THAT SO MUCH WEALTH SHOULD BE IN BAD HANDS. No observant man can fail to see many illustrations of this. The greatness assumed by the rich often overshadows humbler souls. It sets them wondering why God should let so many of his people struggle with poverty while many of the ungodly are rolling in wealth. And, to the eye of sense, it darkens the world's outlook when, while "money answereth all things," the great bulk of it should be possessed by the godless, the selfish, the oppressors, and the vile. The fact creates fear (ver. 5) in the evil day, since those who have the money-power, and are in a sense the lords of the world, use their power unrighteously. So much so that our Lord employs the striking epithet, "the mammon of unrighteousness ' (Luke xvh). Only one hint, indeed, is given, in the word "iniquity" (ver. 5), that these rich men are evil men. "But this seems to be designed, as m our Lord's parable of the rich man and Lazarus, to show that the selfish, proud, boastful use of riches, the mere luxuriousness of wealth, apart from violence or unscrupulousness of conduct, is evil, and finds its end in the outer darkness" But let us note -


1. Wealth cannot screen from death (vers. 7, 8, 12). There may be (Leviticus 25:47-55), according to the Law, redemption from poverty; but no brother has any ransom price wherewith to prevent death or to deliver from it. Then, it must be given up altogether.

2. After death the wealth cannot be controlled; it is left to others (ver. 10).

3. The departed one must see corruption (ver. 10).

4. He can carry nothing away (ver. 17; 1 Timothy 6:7). The "rich" one is "bankrupt" at the moment of death.


1. They trust in riches (ver. 6; Mark 10:24).

2. They boast of their wealth (ver. 6). Yet wealth can never ward off care or sickness.

3. They shut their eyes to their precarious holding of their wealth (ver. 11).

4. They even cherish "inward thoughts" of perpetuity (ver. 11).

5. They make special efforts to perpetuate their honour (vers. 11, 12).

6. They congratulate themselves on their greatness (ver. 18; Luke 12:19). And all the while they are "fools" in wisdom's eye (ver. 13).


1. Like the brutes, they will yet be reduced to silence (ver. 12). Their proud boasts will soon be stilled.

2. They will descend to Sheol; i.e. to the realm of the departed, Neither the word "Sheol" nor the word "Hades" contains per se any moral significance, nor does either word convey per se the notion of joy or sorrow. But the connection may give such significance to the words. Such is the case here and in Luke 16:23; in both the thought of evil and of sorrow is conveyed.

3. Death will shepherd them. They will be under him, for him to lead and feed them. What a shepherd - death!

4. Their flesh will consume away; their glory will be gone (vers. 14, 17, 19, 20). No light ahead!

5. In the great awakening, "in the morning " - the morning of the resurrection - the upright, whom they despised, shall have dominion over them (LXX., κατακυριεύσουσιν). The lordship was theirs during the night, because of their riches; in the morning that lordship will be transferred to the upright, because of their righteousness (Revelation 2:26, 27). Hence, note:

1. There is no reason to fear in the day of evil; for evil itself is in the restraint of infinite Power.

2. Where the world sees cleverness and riches, be it ours to see folly and poverty, if godliness be not also there! "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness." - C.

I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
Some minds are darker than a dark saying. Doubt is cloudland; and cloudland presupposes the existence of some degree of light. In complete darkness no cloud is perceived. The time at which a man begins to doubt is the critical point of life. Doubt in a young and inexperienced mind may develop into a demon of free thought. Much depends upon the way in which doubt is treated by the doubter himself, and by his advisers. Doubt is not a thing to be injudiciously dealt with. Take care how you open a dark saying. The dark saying is any question difficult to answer or hard to solve. Notice that David does not say, I will close up my dark saying — I will fold the serpent up in my bosom, and let it sting me. He says, "I will open my dark saying." Often enough a man's peace of mind depends upon the way in which he opens his dark saying. Too often he has to open it himself, without sympathy or help from any one. It may save us some disappointment if we settle it as a general rule that a providential thing does not mean a pleasant thing. Tim ultimate end of Providence is the sanctification of the human heart, and it is not probable that God will sanctify us by letting us have our own way. We frequently apply the term Providence loosely. When we reap worldly advantage we say, It is quite providential. When trouble comes we omit the word. The opposite of this is true as a rule. Prosperity will never wean us from this world, but adversity may. When dark sayings trouble us, let us pray to the Father of lights that He may guide us into all truth. We are vexed and mystified by second causes, because we forget that He is the Great First Cause of all. His providence to us is like a piece of tapestry reversed. We see that a hand has been at work, but the threads are massed in confusion. In the day of account we shall see the other side. David further says "upon the harp." Musical instruments are called instruments of God. It is to the Psalms, not to the Proverbs, that the heavy heart turns for consolation. Even when the harp hangs upon the willows, the spirit of song awakes in sympathy with the loved and lost. It was to the Psalms that the suffering Saviour turned in the hour and power of darkness. The introduction of the Gospel into Europe was marked by the strength of song. "At midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God." Who shall say what resolutions, what ardent longings after purity, and peace, and truth, have been breathed into the souls of men by sacred song? "In days when liberty of thought was choked by tyranny, when bigotry warped the understanding and suppressed the truth, what was there left to the people but the emotion of a song?" The clark saying was opened upon the harp, and stray seeds of sanctity were germinated by the atmosphere of music, though sometimes it was but the music of some distant chime. By the power of song we are transported into a sphere where selfishness and world. liness have no part; a world where nothing defileth or maketh a lie. Man is the only creature who abuses the gift of sound. From him only comes the jarring note. He can only sing the new song in the world to come.

(Henry J. Swallow.)

My text points to two principles; first, there is the bowing before, and hearkening to, the mystery of things — the universal, parabolic utterances; and, second, the turning the mystery and the parable into a cheerful song — the dark saying becoming, like the bird's song in the covert of the night, a clear stream, without sorrow and without care. Find the cheerful aspect of solemn things. See how sorrow is rounded by cheerfulness; hearken, and you will be able to give a cheerful response to the most solemn views of life. The greatest mystery of all art, perhaps, is music; the soul that leaps from the mere material chords and pipes, and, whilst it emanates from, plays upon the spirit of man. There is a mystery and a meaning in music we can never either expound or explore; and it is felt that those natures, which are the greatest burden and mystery to themselves, find most the solace of song in the combinations of all great sounds; we have known this, it is not always that in joyfulness of heart we sing. The girl oppressed by some great trial and loss, as she bends over her needle, or goes about her house-work, will sing, and, while she sings, finds unconsciously that her song has been her medicine, and has given to her relief. And something like this is a very general experience. Hence we have poetry for all cultured people, and hymns for holy people; and do we not know what it is to become happy while we sing? Good it is sometimes to utter the dark saying to the harp rather than to others; it composes, allays, and tranquillizes the mind while we utter it. Therefore, says David, "I will open my dark saying upon the harp." David was a master of the harp, and we see, plainly enough, that to him life was full of dark sayings, uttered with more or less of clearness, coming upon him with more or less of gloom. His dark sayings are abundant. We have often thought together of that wonderful summary of holy genius, the Book of Psalms. He would seem to have given everything to his harp; everywhere, as in the words of the text before us, "he was inclining his ear to a parable." To him, it would seem, nature was a great harp, framed, touched and moved by the finger of God, and every object became jubilant, and even prophetic.

I. ALL SCRIPTURE ITSELF IS A DARK SAYING ON A HARP. However you regard it, you must be amazed by its mysterious unity, not less by its mysterious murmurs — murmurs as of a distant, infinite sea, or as in a forest we listen to the tones as of strange bells among the far-off boughs. There is a Divine reticence in the Bible; there is aa awful secretiveness. Oh! it is all parable; it is all dark saying! Vainly do I ever think I have exhausted any single word or meaning; it is inspiration and revelation throughout. It is a "dark saying," for it is inspiration; it is "uttered," for it is a revelation.

II. MAN HIMSELF IS A DARK SAYING ON A HARP. He is himself a universe of being in which life, and nature and grace seek to combine in music. Consider thy nature: how strange that we should be made thus, strange the opposition between sin and conscience, even in the best of men; strange the contradiction between what man effects and what man is. Has not his history through all time been a dark saying? What is this creature we call man? Is he angel, or is he beast, or is he fiend? for there are things he has done which warrant all these translations, read simply from the sensual eye. And what a mistake the life of man seems! And sometimes, how his failures and his inner conflicts seem to boast of him as of a being built out of the pieces of the wreck of the fall.

III. AND PROVIDENCE IS A DARK SAYING ON A HARP. The mysteries of Providence were as startling to David as they are to us, and the very psalm whence I take this text recites and records them; it did not seem to be a world of highways to the psalmist; and this is one of the great causes of grief and of the dark sayings — the world and its sorrows. It is the cry, the incessant cry, "Why hast thou made all men in vain?" The world is full of dark sayings; it is hieroglyphic all, you feel the incongruity and the contradiction, but you have never felt it so clearly as the Bible has stated it, and especially the psalmists; they perpetually — Asaph, David and others — saw and uttered their sense of the solemn discords of this life. There is a picture I have often turned to look at in the chapel in one of the old palaces of France, and I have sometimes looked, as the dear dreamer said, till the water has found its way to my eyes; it is suspended over the altar — it is the cloud of eternity, and the Ancient of Days is there, and the Lamb is there, and round the circle the harpers harping with their harps — every one robed in white, and every brow bound with the crown — "kings and priests unto God and to the Lamb for ever"; every eye fixed on "the Lamb, as it had been slain," and every crowned form bearing a harp, and striking it "to Him that hath loved." "To them were given harps." Why, what does it mean? Oh, it tells how the lost life will regain and be restored to its unity. This is that harp, all the chords of the being one, and for ever one. Then, indeed, may we say, "I will praise thee on the harp, O God, my God."

(E. Paxton Hood.)

I. THE MYSTERY OF NATURE. John Stuart Mill's arraignment of created things is too well known to be repeated. A more recent writer is Mr. Laing, who says in his Modern Science and Modern Thought, "Is it true that love is creation's finest law, when we find this enormous and apparently prodigal waste of life going on; these cruel internecine battles between individuals and species in the struggle for existence; this cynical indifference of nature to suffering? There are approximately 3,600 millions of deaths of human beings in every century, of whom at least 20 per cent., or 720 millions, die before they have attained to clear self-consciousness and conscience. What becomes of them? Why were they born? Axe they nature's failures and cast as rubbish to the void? To such questions there is no answer." Perhaps it is wrong to say there is no answer, for considerations exist in plenty which tone down the harsher aspects of nature's work. But when this is admitted there remains much that is enigmatical. Now, the effect of this mystery upon some minds is to drive them into pessimism; it is a mystery whose discord is for ever jarring on their ears. Not so with the man who walks by faith. He says, "I believe in God," and instantly there is harmony. Nature has mysteries still, but they are set to music.

II. THE MYSTERY OF SUFFERING. Huxley says, "If there is one thing plainer than another, it is that neither the pleasure nor the pains of life, in the merely animal world, are distributed according to desert, for it is admittedly impossible for the lower order of sentient beings to deserve either the one or the other. If there is a generalization from the facts of human life which has the assent of thoughtful men in every age and country it is that the violator of ethical rules constantly escapes the punishment he deserves; that the wicked flourishes like a green bay tree while the righteous begs his bread; that the sins of their fathers are visited upon the children; that in the realm of nature ignorance is punished just as severely as wilful wrong; and that thousands upon thousands of innocent beings suffer for the crime or unintentional trespass of one." (Evolution and Ethics, p. 12.) The professor's statements are not cast in such a form as to be above challenge, but they may be taken as indicative of the attitude of many towards the problem of suffering. Broken law will explain much of the world's woe, perhaps more than we are apt to imagine; and the educative influence of suffering is not far to seek. "Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress." But after all there remains much that is mysterious; very often moral sequences seem to fail entirely, and the good man dies in his struggles to do right, whilst the prosperous sinner lives to satirize every sound principle of commercial morality. Hence we have the cynic in our midst, and the pessimist is always within shouting distance. But the man who discerns spiritual things after a spiritual manner can feel something more than hard and unexplainable facts in the problem of suffering. God is behind it, he says, and therefore all is well. The mystery has lost its bitterness; it is still a dark saying, but it is a dark saying upon the harp.

III. THE MYSTERY OF DEATH. Mr. Goldwin Smith looking at death and destruction in all grades of creation says, "Our satellite, so far as we can see, is either a miscarriage or a wreck," and "if omnipotence and benevolence are to meet it must apparently be at a point at present beyond our ken." Mr. Smith answers himself when he says, "so far as we can see." Without God and immortality, the despair of the present generation is the most natural product of mental inquiry; the picture of blighted prospects and incompleted lives stricken down by the hand of death is enough to appal the stoutest heart. But in Christ all mysteries are set to music. It was the superior music of Orpheus which saved him from shipwreck on the siren's shore, and since hope springs eternal in the human breast, Christianity, as a gospel of glad tidings, will always play other tunes than the note of wailing and despair; in the future, as in the past, her better music will be the world's salvation.

(T. S. Knowlson.)

In seeking to get instruction from the text, we may regard it broadly as inculcating the principle, that the dark problems of the world may be so understood, that instead of leading us to despair they become a source of light and hope and joy.

I. THE PROBLEM OF THE DIVINE EXISTENCE. This is the first of all problems — the earliest, the most necessary, the most irresistible. Primeval man long ago had to face it as we have to face it to-day. For the savage dwelling in the rude cave, or in the log-hut, reared on piles driven into the ground in the centre of a lonely lake, this was the principal theme of speculation, even as it is still the question which by its vastness wearies the strongest thought, and baffles the keenest insight. The first of all questions is, at the same time, the darkest. Interrogate Nature, and what is it that it tells you? It tells of a first cause, powerful, mighty and omnipotent. It points to a force that is infinite, a wisdom that is transcendent, and a will that is all-dominant. But it speaks of more than this. It speaks of a law that is invariable, relentless and cruel. It has its tale of pain, and suffering, and sorrow, and death. If it glories in the sunshine and the rain, it recounts with grief the story of the plague and the earthquake, and the unceasing strife of man, and beast, and earth, and sea, and sky. Over all there is the one necessity, for all there is the same struggle.

II. THE PROBLEM OF THE WORLD. How did the world come into being? Is it the result of chance, of fate, of a blind force working how and as it may? No millions of years, no unimaginable stretches of time, can bring the existent out of the non-existent, the intelligent out of the non-intelligent, the cosmos out of the chaos. How, then, can we open this dark saying of the world's history on the harp? How can we set it to harmony and rhythm and music? There is one way only that I know. Behind the world there is a Divine Person; in the movements and the laws of the world there is a Divine will. All comes from God; all is under His care and governance.

III. THE PROBLEM OF MAN'S LIFE. Taken as he is, and apart from his relation to God, man's life is inexplicable. It is a contradiction, without meaning or purpose. There is in it the high and the low, the pure and the impure, the spiritual and the material. It is divided in interest; it is driven this way and that; and oftentimes it becomes the sport of a power and a fate that are too much for it. But, in the light of the Divine love, and the mediation of Jesus, this enigma of the human life becomes plain.

IV. THE PROGRESS OF HUMANITY. Nation follows nation, kingdoms and dynasties rise and fall, and there seems to be no real progress. Civilizations are more or less relative. We in these last times, notwithstanding our marvellous modern science and discovery, are, in some respects, behind the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and Romans, or even the Celts and the Scandinavians. Is there any progress then at all as the result of the conflict of the ages? Is life in the main stationary, or does it like a mighty wheel go round and round for ever? The key to this question can alone be found in Christianity. It has already infused new life into the nations, it has re.created their moral standards, and it has given them a pre-eminence which the old Pagan peoples never knew. It has done all this because it has set before men not only an infinite hope, but because it has supplied them with the motive and the power to realize it. It has given them a new ideal, it has also provided them with a new dynamic, or force, by which they can attain the ideal. We need have no fear for the future. Humanity, instead of having become effete and lived its day, is only setting out on the line of infinite progress that stretches before it. Much it has done in the past, much it has achieved in these modern times; but infinitely more will it yet achieve before its course is run. Physically, intellectually, morally, the race has still before it a boundless destiny.

(R. Munro, B. D.)


1. Because they are so far to seek. From the Creator, not the creature; from eternity, not from time.

2. Because they are so little known. The world disregards them.

3. Because they meet with so much repugnance. All the impulses of our depraved nature are averse and hostile to the wisdom that sanetifieth. Oh, how difficult to understand what opposes our heart's propensities!


1. Because the specific designs of Providence are concealed. A man knows not whether in any enterprise, though he has scrutinized his motive and implored Divine direction, he is to fail or succeed. Through his failures may come his truest successes.

2. Because the aim of Providence is overlooked (Ephesians 3.; John 2.). We fix our eyes on outward things, and call prosperity and adversity after them. That is a bright Providence wherein these abound, and a dark one whereby these are smitten. Now God looks at our souls; — their liberty from earthly fetters; their confidence in Divine support; their formation and sustenance of holy purpose; their culture and maturity of moral character.

3. Because the dispensations of Providence inflict pain and distress. What a dark passage leads to conversion!


1. Because God has put a harp into your hands. It would be ungrateful not to use this. Do you ask what this is? I reply, The Gospel in all its plenitude of mercy, remedy, promise, prospect.

2. Because your dark sayings are thus opened, i.e. they become clear and plain. Devotion illuminates the mind. While you are musing the fire kindles and burns.

3. Because every true prayer is a prophecy. The evils it deprecates will assuredly pass away.

(W. Wheeler.)

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