"Gather to Me My saints, who made a covenant with Me by sacrifice."
Asaph was the leader and superintendent of the Levitic choirs appointed by David (1 Chronicles 16:4, 5; cf. 2 Chronicles 29:30). He and his sons presided over four out of the twenty-four groups, consisting each of twelve Levites, who conducted, in turn, the musical services of the temple." "It is remarkable," says Hengstenberg, "that the voice against the false estimate of the external worship of God proceeded from the quarter which was expressly charged with its administration. Asaph, according to 1 Chronicles 6:24, was of the tribe of Levi." a But let the human penman have been whosoever he may, there is in this psalm so much of the sublime grandeur of a stern and inflexible righteousness, that we have therein, manifestly, the writing of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost to utter words for God that should be suited for all Churches and all the ages throughout all time; so that it behoves us to listen to them as to the words of the living God, declaring the principles of eternal judgment. "In a magnificent vision the prophet to whom this psalm is due beholds the Almighty denouncing a solemn judgment against the degradation of his Name, and setting forth the requirements of a spiritual religion." In opening up this psalm, therefore, the expositor may well yearn to unfold it, "not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God." In that spirit, and with that aim, we hope to deal with it now. There are some ten questions to be asked and answered concerning this disclosure of judgment which the psalm so sublimely sets before us.
I. TO WHOM DOES THE OFFICE OF JUDGE BELONG? In the sixth verse we read, "God is Judge himself." He allows none but himself to sit in judgment on others; for none else has the authority or the ability to do it. But he, whose great Trinity of names is given here, keeps all in infinite hands. "God," the Supreme Ruler; El-Elohim, the God of gods; Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel; - he it is who is thus enthroned and speaks with his voice, on the eternal principles which are the basis of his throne.
II. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THAT OFFICE? As here indicated, it includes the expression of his mind and will, as to the worship he requires, the conduct he approves or disapproves, the decisions he forms, the sentences he pronounces, the destinies he assigns. For long God may have seemed to keep silence hereon (ver. 21), but he will not be silent always (ver. 3).
III. WHEN DOES THE JUDGMENT TAKE PLACE? It can scarcely be questioned that the remarkable words in ver. 3 point to a specific time when God shall come to judgment, and when attendant on the judgment there will be great signs and wonders in the heaven above and the earth beneath (see vers. 1, 3, 4). But three or four distinctive forms of God's judgment are indicated in Scripture.
1. The judgment at the last day. This is brought before us in Matthew 25:31-46.
3. The judgments that are brought upon Christian Churches that are unfaithful. These are plainly enough shown us in the epistles to the seven Churches
4. The judgment that is ever going on in every visible Church - a judgment by One whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and who walks in the midst of the golden lamps. This is God's "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:1), the principles of which never, never vary. What they will be seen to be at the last day they are now, seen or unseen.
IV. WHO ARE THE JUDGED? (Ver. 5.) The heavens and the earth are called to be witnesses of God's judgment "of the covenant people" (Cheyne). "This psalm," says Dickson, "is a citing of the visible Church before God... to compear before the tribunal of God, now in time while mercy may be had, timously to consider the Lord's controversy against the sinners in his Church, that they may repent and be saved." "The psalm," says Perowne, "deals with 'the sinners and the hypocrites in Zion,' but it reaches to all men, in all places, to the end of time." It contains the message of Divine indignation to those in Israel who were not of Israel; it specifies:
1. The superstitious - those who brought offerings of slain beasts in sacrifice, thinking that God accepted them as such, or who even, perhaps, stooped to the pagan notion that such sacrifices were "food for the gods." Hence, though there is no rebuke over any offerings withheld (ver. 8), yet there is severe indignation against the low conceptions of God and his worship with which these offerings were brought (vers. 9-13).
2. There were the scribes (see Matthew Poole), who expounded the Law, but kept it not (ver. 16).
3. There were those whose service was but a form - who vowed to God, but did not pay (ver. 14).
4. There were the openly wicked, who sought by profession of religion to cloak their wickedness (vers. 17-20). Think of such a heterogeneous mass being collected together in one visible Church! Is it any wonder that "judgment must begin at the house of God"?
V. WHAT IS THE BASIS OF JUDGMENT? (Ver. 2.) "Out of Zion God hath shined." As from Mount Sinai he declared his will in the legislation of Moses, so from Zion he hath declared his will in the proclamations of prophet, apostle, saint, and seer; and according to those principles of truth and righteousness thus proclaimed is God's judgment ever being exercised; according to them will it finally proceed. And according to the measure of light granted to men, will be the standard by which they will be tried. Fuller light on this theme comes to view in the New Testament. Peter's words (Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 3:18 - 4:6), Paul's words (Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), throw a flood of light hereon, showing us that ere the final judgment comes every soul will come to know its relation to the Lord Jesus, and that according to its response will be its destiny.
VI. WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH JUDGMENT WILL PROCEED? Five of these are indicated in the psalm.
1. That merely formal offerings are offensive to God (vers. 8-13).
2. That no measure of religiousness will be accepted if iniquity has prevailed in the heart and life (ver. 16).
3. That the truly acceptable worship is a life of consecration, fidelity, prayer, and praise (vers. 14, 15).
4. That whosoever has ordered his life after the revealed will of God, will see God's salvation (ver. 23).
5. That wherever the life has been one of forgetfulness and neglect of God, the guilty one will be confounded (ver. 22).
VII. WHAT ARE THE COMPLAINTS MADE BY THE GREAT JUDGE? One is negative, viz. the absence of the worship of the heart; another is positive - hypocrisy and guilt screened under a profession of religion, and the thought being cherished all the while that they would never be detected (ver. 21).
VIII. WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE SOVEREIGN JUDGE? A life of
(1) praise (ver. 23);
(2) thanksgiving (ver. 14);
(3) loyalty (ver. 14);
(4) prayer (ver. 15);
(5) glorifying God (ver. 15);
(6) a good and upright conversation (ver. 23).
Who does not see how infinitely such a life rises above that of merely formal lip-service?
IX. WHAT WILL BE THE ISSUE OF THE JUDGMENT? Under varied forms of expression, the results are declared to be twofold, according to the main drifts of character and life.
1. For those in the wrong, rejection, sin set in order, brought home, exposed, condemned (vers. 21, 22).
2. For those who are in the right - the salvation of God (Acts 10:35; Acts 15:8, 9, 11). Thus under every head, though in archaic form, and with light less full, the very same truths are declared by the psalmist that were afterwards brought out more fully by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
X. TO WHOM IS THE CALL ADDRESSED TO HEAR ALL THIS, AND WHY? (Vers. 1, 4.) The whole earth is called on to witness and to watch the severely discriminating judgments of God on his visible Church; and every one is called upon to hearken, because it is God who speaketh. The Apostle Peter raises a momentous question in 1 Peter 4:17, 18. Whether we are ready to face the last judgment depends on how we stand in relation to that judgment which is going on every hour. Mote: After studying such a psalm as this, how vain does the question put by Roman Catholics appear, "Where can I find God's true Church?" For this whole psalm is addressed to God's true Church. Yet whoever, even "in Zion," is at ease, or formal, or corrupt, will find that not even membership in any visible Church will save him. Only those will be saved whose hearts are purified by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. - C.
Gather My saints together unto Me.1. What an expressive word — "My saints!" How the Lord appropriates them as His own! (Malachi 3:17).
2. "Gather My saints." "He shall gather the lambs in His arms." He shall "gather" them as a shepherd his sheep in the hour of weakness and danger. They shall not be weak or nervous then. The frail body shall be dropped for ever.
3. "Gather My saints together." It is the family meeting; it is the grand reunion; it is the glad assembly. We shall not rise to meet the Lord individually — in isolation; we shall be gathered together. What heart does not bound at the thought!
4. "Unto Me." What would that meeting be without Jesus? What is any meeting without Him?
(F. Whitfield, M. A.)
I. THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED.
1. They are Christ's saints. We are to be a holy people, "without blame before Him in love." How is it with us?
2. They have entered into covenant with God. Abraham (Genesis 15:9, etc.; Jeremiah 34:18). See also Noah's sacrifice. And so God's saints now covenant with God through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. THE COMMAND RESPECTING THEM.
1. They will be gathered together. They are not so now.
2. They will be gathered unto Christ. "Gather... unto Me." How blessed this prospect.
1. The duty of Christ's ministers — to gather together saints, from sin and the world, by the preaching of the Gospel. Nothing compensates if this be left undone.
2. The privileges of Christ's people. Eternal life in heaven is yours.
(C. Clayton, M. A.)
1. We have the party in whose name the court is called and held. It is in the name of the Holy Trinity, Hebrews "God! God! Jehovah; He hath spoken," etc. God will judge the world by the man Christ.
2. The issuing out of the summons to the whole world, called the earth from the rising of the sun, unto the going down thereof; from east to west, from the one end to the other.
3. From whence the Judge sets forth, making His glorious appearance. At the giving of the law He came from Sinai with terrible majesty (Deuteronomy 33:2). At this His appearance He will come from Zion, the city of the living God, namely, from heaven, the Church being so called as a heaven on earth.
4. His awful coming to the judgment. He is God, as well as man. Devouring fire shall be his harbinger (2 Thessalonians 1:8). But will any then bid Him welcome? Yes, His people will.
5. Whither the summons shall be directed. To the heavens, where the souls of the blessed are that are dead; to the earth, where the living are, good and bad, and where the bodies of the dead are (Revelation 20:13).
6. A special gracious order in favour of His people. See text. Now comes the time of setting all to rights with them. And they are further characterized as "those that have made a covenant," etc.From all which we gather these doctrines —
1. When Christ comes again to put an end to this world, and complete the state of the other world, He will publicly own the saints as His own, and they shall be honourably gathered to Him by His order.
2. When Christ comes again, this earth will be very throng, and a wonderful mixture will be in it more than ever at any time before; He having called to heaven, and the other receptacle of departed souls, and brought them all back to their bodies which are in the earth.
3. When Christ comes again He will put an end to this world ere He go. His very first appearance will put an end to the business of it. All trades, employments, and diversions in this world will end for ever. And, ere He leave it, He will put an end to itself by setting it on fire; so that it shall no more be capable of affording a habitation to man or beast; while withal the heavens that cover it shall pass away (2 Peter 3:10).
4. Saintship will be the only mark of distinction among men then.
(T. Boston, D. D.)
1. They are saints. By this expression, "My saints," God claims a property in them, and expresseth His care of them and love to them.
2. They have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice. They have taken Him to be their God, their ruler and portion; and given up all dependence upon other objects.
II. THE COMMAND. "Let it be thy care, O my soul! I have the honour and happiness to be gathered with His people; and to have fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This is the main thing; the source of my chief joy. I bless God that I am gathered with His saints, and united to His Church; and that I do not live in the total or general neglect of this sacred institution. I am willing and thankful to be laid under the most solemn engagements to be the Lord's, and often to recollect and renew them. I know that my treacherous heart needs every tie, to bind it more closely to God and its duty. I would come, deeply humbled for past violations of my engagements, and with the renewed exercises of repentance and faith. Lord, I come, to join myself to Thee in a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten; with a believing regard to Jesus Christ, the great sacrifice, here set forth, as crucified before my eyes." Let us remember what is said of this gathering. They shall all be gathered from all places, the most obscure and the most remote; and brought to the presence of their covenant-God and Father, who will applaud and reward their fidelity.
(Job Orton, D. D.)
(A. H. Moncur Syme.)
(G. C. Harris, M. A.)
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