Again and again they tested God and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me," etc.? What barrier in the way of blessing do such limitings set up? But what must it be to limit God? How much more sad and deplorable that must be! Now -
I. MAN CAN LIMIT GOD.
1. But this may be questioned. It should seem impossible when we think of the greatness and power of God, of his universal sway, of his infinite wisdom, of the hurt and harm that must come of such conduct. All such considerations seem to render impossible the limiting of God.
2. But undoubtedly man can do this. For else he would be a mere machine, not a man; he would have no more volition than a tree or a bird. If he is to be able to say "Yes" to God, he must be able also to say "No." And he can and does. Scripture asserts it - see this whole psalm. God stood ready to bless, but Israel would have none of his counsel, and set at nought all his reproof. Reason asserts it, for it steadily affirms that we are free, and can will and choose as we please. Experience asserts it. Concerning nations, Churches, individuals, has not God again and again said, as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem, "How often would I have gathered thee... but ye would not!"? We read how in some places Christ could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief.
II. AND MEN DO THIS STILL.
1. Very often in their prayers and desires. They insist too much upon definite blessings being given. They ask some temporal blessing - rain, or health, or the sparing of life, or it may be a spiritual blessing; but they limit God to definite time, manner, and means. And such prayers come to nothing, for they have asked amiss. And then men make a mock at prayer. We need to remember our Lord's words in Gethsemane, "Father, not my will, but," etc.
2. Yet more do we limit God in our thoughts. (See vers. 19, 20.) And all anxious care and foreboding is really a limiting of God. Hence Christ so forbade it (see Matthew 6.). How Jacob limited God when he cried, "All these things are against me"! We shall get help against this by heeding Paul's counsel (Philippians 4.), "Be careful for nothing, but," etc. But if foreboding care is guilty of this, yet more is despair, whether for ourselves or for others.
3. But most of all, and worst, our sins limit God. The Church at Laodicea kept the Lord outside her door. And how often we stand in our children's way, when God would bless them, by our worldliness and unbelief! We will not let God bless us or them. God would, but we would not. May the Lord pardon us every one, and save us from this sin! - S.C.
I. IN WHAT WAY WE MAY LIMIT THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. To limit is to set bounds to His operations; to circumscribe or confine Him in His ability to effect certain purposes or works, Now, God is often limited —
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of IsraelI. We limit the Holy One of Israel by DICTATING TO HIM. Shall mortal dare to dictate to his Creator? Shall it be possible that man shall lay down his commands, and expect the King of heaven to pay homage to his arrogance? Will a mortal impiously say, "Not Thy will but mine be done"?
1. O heir of heaven, be ashamed, and be confounded, while I remind thee that thou hast dared to dictate to God! How often have we in our prayers not simply wrestled with God for a blessing — for that was allowable — but we have imperiously demanded it. Christ will have nothing to do with dictatorial prayers, He will not be a partaker with us in the sin of limiting the Holy One of Israel. Oftentimes, too, I think, we dictate to God with regard to the measure of our blessing. We ask the Lord that we might grow in the enjoyment of His presence, instead of that He gives us to see the hidden depravity of our heart. The blessing comes to us, but it is in another shape from what we expected. We go again to our knees, and we complain of God that He has not answered us. You must leave the measuring of your mercies with Him who measures the rain and weighs the clouds of heaven. Beggars must not be choosers, and especially they must not be choosers when they have to deal with infinite wisdom and sovereignty. And yet further, I fear that we have often dictated to God with regard to the time. We pray again and again, and at last we begin to faint. And why is this? Simply because that in our hearts we have been setting a date and a time to God.
2. I will address myself now to those who cannot call themselves the children of God, but who lately have been stirred up to seek salvation. There are many of you who are not hardened and careless now. Sinner, what hast thou been doing, while thou hast Said, "I will restrain prayer because God has not as yet answered me"? Hast thou not been stipulating with God as to the day when He shall save thee? Suppose it is written in the book of God's decree, "I will save that man and give him peace after he has prayed seven years," would that be hard upon thee? Is not the blessing of Divine mercy worth waiting for?
II. We limit the Holy One of Israel by DISTRUST.
1. Children of God, purchased by blood and regenerated by the Spirit, you are guilty here; for by your distrust and fear you have often limited the Holy One of Israel, and have said in effect, that His ear is heavy that it cannot hear, and that His arm is shortened that it cannot save. In your trials you have done this. You have looked upon your troubles, you have seen them roll like mountain waves; you have hearkened to your fears, and they have howled in your ears like tempestuous winds, and you have said, "My hark is but a feeble one, and it will soon be shipwrecked. It is true that God has said that through tempests and teasings He will bring me to my desired haven. But alas! such a state as this was never contemplated in His promise; I shall sink at last and never see His face with joy." What hast thou done, fearful one? O thou of little faith, dost thou know what sin thou hast committed? Thou hast judged the omnipotence of God to be finite. Thou hast said that thy troubles are greater than His power, that thy woes are more terrible than His might. I say retract that thought; drown it and thou shalt not be drowned thyself. Give it to the winds, and rest thou assured that out of all thy troubles He will surely bring thee, and in thy deepest distress He will not forsake thee.
2. And now I turn to the poor troubled heart, and although I accuse of sin, yet I doubt not the Spirit shall bear witness with the conscience, and leading to Christ, shall this morning deliver from its galling yoke. Poor troubled one, thou hast said in thy heart, "My sins are too many to be forgiven." What hast thou done? Repent thee, and let the tear roll down thy cheek. Thou hast limited the Holy One of Israel. Thou hast put thy sins above His grace. Thou hast considered that thy guilt is more omnipotent than omnipotence itself. He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Christ. Thou canst not have exceeded the boundlessness of His grace. Be thy sins ever so many, the blood of Christ can put them all away; and if thou doubtest this, thou art limiting the Holy One of Israel. Another says, I do not doubt His power to save, but what I doubt is His willingness. What hast thou done in this? Thou hast limited the love, the boundless love of the Holy One of Israel.
3. If you will now consider how faithful God has been to His children, and how true He has been to all His promises, I think that saint and sinner may stand together and make a common confession and utter a common prayer: "Lord, we have been guilty of doubting Thee; we pray that we may limit Thee no longer."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Homilist.I. Men do it in their INTELLECTUAL THEORIES. In their theories they limit Him —
1. In the sphere of His agency.
2. In the range of His mercy.
3. In the sovereignty of His action.
II. Men do it in their RELIGIOUS FORMALITIES.
1. In their prostration before material representations of Him.
2. In stereotyped forms of worship of Him.
3. In specially identifying Him with certain places of worship.
III. Men do it in their MORAL HABITUDES.
1. By their sins they exclude Him from the temple of their nature.
2. By their sins they obstruct His influence upon their sphere.
1. In the extent and freeness of His mercy. The Jews could not conceive of publicans and sinners being interested in Messiah's regards.
2. The penitent sinner often does this as to the ability and willingness of God to save.
3. The believer in trouble often does this in confining God to a certain mode of deliverance.
4. We often do this in the contractedness of our prayers.
II. THE EVIL OF LIMITING THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. To limit the Holy One of Israel is —
1. To bring down the Creator to the standard of the creature.
2. Disbelieving His Holy Word.
3. Ungrateful reflection upon Him for past mercies.
4. To limit our mercies and enjoyments. He says, "Be it unto you according unto your faith."
(J. Burns, D. D.)
II. Idolatry is the growth of a seed deeper than itself, and that seed is SIN. Sin limits the Holy One of Israel: the corrupt influence in the mind — in the heart, the perverted imagination, the perverted will. Sin closes the avenues by which God enters the human soul, and narrows the Divine Being in the conception. How dreadful does it seem, that man should build for himself a prison in which he shelters himself from the Almighty! Here at least the Almighty cannot come, hither He cannot penetrate; into the malignity of this heart, into the impurity of the world, He cannot descend.
III. By UNBELIEF, OR DOUBT, we limit the Holy One of Israel. Doubt is constantly taking the circumference of God with the compasses of man, and measuring His movements by earthly moths. rustics, and estimating His force and His ages by our notations and mechanics. How frequently men, Christian men, walk amidst the very mysteries and eternities of Godhead only to limit the Holy One of Israel. You talk of the boundlessness of His being — they run to and fro with a measuring line to take the dimensions of it. They limit the Holy One of Israel.
IV. There is a disposition in some philosophers to limit the Holy One of Israel even in the OPERATIONS OF NATURE. "Night," it has been eloquently said, "has had three daughters, Religion, Superstition, and Atheism." The firstborn, the eldest and loveliest, is Religion; it is through her guiding that all the "stars are heard to sing together," and it is her voice which proclaims, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments show His handiwork." But Superstition was early born of the visions of the night; she named the Zodiac — she named the longest known of the planets — she hung over them the veil of fate, and made them the arbitrary mistresses and ministers of Destiny. But these latter ages have given birth to the third daughter of the dark hours — Atheism.
(E. P. Hood.)I. THE BEING AGAINST WHOM THE SIN IS COMMITTED. It is no one less than God Himself. He is here called "the Holy One." God is essentially holy. He is holy in His law — as poor thoughtless sinners, that trifle with His law and disregarding all the claims of conscience, shall find either in this world or the next. He is still more manifestly holy in the Gospel; in which every doctrine, every promise, every precept, is but one glorious manifestation of His holiness. Now, that there should be even in the true Israel a proneness to "limit the Holy One" — that when they come into some new trial, into some new emergency, into some untried state — when they come to that stage in their journey that they have never travelled before, then there should be a proneness to "limit the Holy One" — oh! it marketh out that which should cause you and me to lay our mouths in the lowest dust.
II. THE SIN (vers. 19, 20).
1. To limit God is to limit His power; and He is omnipotent. There is nothing difficult with God; alike easy were it, to utter a promise or create a world. To limit the Omnipotent is another word for denying Him to be God.
2. To limit Jehovah is to limit His wisdom; and He is omniscient. He knows every thought, every desire, every misgiving, every infirmity, every sinking of heart; He knows it all. But this is to deny Him, as such.
3. We limit Him when we have misgivings as to His faithfulness. He has given a promise; and how seldom can you and I say, "I believe it simply because God says it; I do not take it now on the testimony of saints, I take it simply because God says it; God declares it, and I believe it!" But when we do not so, how is there a secret limiting of the faithfulness that is truth! — for "He cannot deny Himself"; He not only does not, but He cannot.
4. We limit Him when we mark out a line for His sovereignty, whereas "He gives no account of any of His matters."
5. And if we are brought into the region of a dark Providence, when everything seems against us, when our most favourite desires seem to be blasted, when we are touched the most sensibly where we the least desired it — because the Lord seems to thwart one, one seems to limit His goodness. As if there could be an unkind thought in God; as if there could be any want of willingness in God to bless His child; as if He could withhold any good thing.
III. The CAUSE. "They remembered not His hand." The immediate cause of their "limiting the Holy One of Israel" was, no doubt, their unbelief; but this their unbelief seemed to have a cause, and that cause was their forgetfulness of God's mercies. "They remembered not His hand" — the outstretched hand. What! when the poor soul first felt its weight and burden of sin — when the secrets within were developed — when the man began to see himself a sinner — and when there was the outstretched hand, and "Come unto me," and "Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out!" — the hand that still sustains I that tender hand, that gentle hand, that strong hand, that broad hand, enough to cover us amidst the storm and the tempest. Oh! it is no small sin "not to remember the hand of our God." We thereby "grieve the Spirit"; we thereby strengthen unbelief; we thereby weaken faith; we thereby displease our Heavenly Father.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
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