Psalm 86:11

I. THE ESSENCE OF ALL TRUE RELIGION IS THE FEAR OF GOD. "To fear thy Name," says the psalmist, and so saying he sets forth the central nature of real religion. But this fear

(1) is not the fear which has torment; or

(2) that which is simply the reasonable dread of penalty, - the fear of the law-abiding citizen; but it is

(3) the fear begotten of love, - the fear of an affectionate child, which makes it careful to obey. Whatever we love we are careful to obey the laws of - whether it be art, science, parents. And so with the fear of God. It is seen in all saints.

II. THERE CAN BE NO SUCH RELIGION UNLESS THE HEART BE IN IT. Intellect may be there, Reason give her assent. Approval may be expressed - it often is. Deep feeling experienced, this not unusual; but unless the heart, the will - for this is the real meaning of the word "heart" - be in our religion, we practically have none.

III. NOR THEN UNLESS THE HEART BE UNITED IN IT, Some minds are not fixed on anything; they are perpetual waverers. Others are fixed, set, wrongly but "steadfastly to do evil." But they are blessed who are described in our text. Oh to be able to say, "O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is fixed"! - S.C.







Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth.
Homilist.
I. Moral light sought FROM THE TRUE SOURCE.

1. God has a "way" for man. He has a course, a mission for every man.

2. Of this "way" man is ignorant. He is in darkness. Errors as to the chief good have abounded in all times.

3. God alone can teach that "way." "Teach me Thy way, O Lord." Philosophers, poets, and priests have failed to throw light on this way.

II. Moral light sought for a RIGHT REASON.

1. It is sought, not for mental speculation, but for life regulation.

2. Walking in this path is a walk of —

(1)Safety;

(2)Invigoration; and

(3)True progress.

(Homilist.)

In the expressions "teach," "fear," "walk," we have religion presented to us in the three aspects of knowledge, feeling, and conduct. In other words, religion in the head, in the heart, and in the feet. The several forms of human activity may be described by three phrases — I think, I feel, I do.

I. RELIGION AS A MATTER OF KNOWLEDGE, A PROCESS OF INSTRUCTION. "Teach me Thy way, O Lord."

1. The teacher is the Lord. Men are both blind and in darkness in relation to spiritual matters; there is an objective and a subjective disability in regard to these things. The Bible is calculated to meet both these conditions; it not only dispels the darkness — that is, removes the historical ignorance of men regarding God's plans and methods for saving them — but it goes further; it removes their blindness by conferring the faculty of spiritual vision. "The entrance of Thy word giveth light." There is not only the word, but the word secures an entrance into the mind, illuminating it with the light of God. Divine truth not only reveals objectively, but is by its very nature, as the mind of the spirit, instinct with a convincing force, enabling it often to overcome the most ingrained prejudices, to arouse the most callous indifference, conquer even the fiercest hostility, and secure for it the most cordial reception by the mind.

2. The learner. He displays the first essential of a true learner, a keen desire for his lesson. He craves it even on his knees, for he prays that he might be taught. How essential an attitude is this in all who would truly learn of God. It is the teachable disposition — the true receptive mood. The Divine Teacher will not withhold the waters of knowledge from a soul thus panting for them. How emphatically is Divine instruction promised to such as manifest this docile disposition (Psalm 25:9, 14). Meekness and fear, that is, docility and reverence, are qualities in the pupil which unlock the secrets of the Divine heart.

II. RELIGION IN THE HEART, OR RELIGION AS A MATTER OF FEELING. "Unite my heart to fear Thy name."

1. The "fear" is not that of terror or dismay, but love. It is the childlike disposition, sweet, trustful, and penetrated with holy, subduing reverence.

2. The essential condition of this beautiful disposition is a heart at peace with all its passions, in thorough harmony with God. This consecrates all its aims. God becomes henceforth the great end of every act, thought, ambition, etc.

III. RELIGION IN THE LIFE, OR AS A MATTER OF CONDUCT. "I will walk in Thy truth." The process has now reached its final stage, from the head to the heart, from the heart to the conduct — in other words, from knowledge into motive, from motive into action; from an understanding illuminated by Divine instruction to a heart dominated by Divine love (heart-fear), from a heart dominated by Divine love to a life regulated by Divine truth.

(A. J. Parry.)

I. A TWOFOLD PETITION.

1. "Teach me Thy way."(1) Man's need of Divine instruction.(a) This is obvious from the darkness of his understanding. In consequence of this, he does not see things as they really are, and, as a result of this, the estimate he forms of them is false and deceptive. Hence the most pernicious results must necessarily accrue. These are manifest in the wrong objects which he naturally pursues, the sinful pleasures he seeks after, and the forbidden things in which he delights. No change for the better need ever be expected on the part of man's darkened understanding, for it possesses no power of self-rectification. He must receive light from above, just as the sun-dial must receive the sun's rays if it is to be of any practical utility.(b) This is obvious from the hardness of his heart. This state of hardness is one which does not remain stationary, for, just as in the continuance of frost, the ice thickens and the ground hardens, so in like manner, under the operation of his depraved tastes and habits, the heart of the natural man waxes harder and harder.(2) The psalmist doubtless desired instruction, at least, in two important points — viz., in God's way of pardon, and in the way of purity and spiritual progress.(a) Pardon is a blessing of universal need and measureless value. It is God's prerogative to forgive sins, for "who can forgive sins but God only?" The way of pardon being provided, it is indispensable that we know it before the blessing can be enjoyed.(b) A renewal of heart is as essential as a reversal of condition: for how can two walk together except they be agreed? Without holiness, no man can see the Lord.

2. "Unite my heart to fear Thy name."(1) This petition obviously implies the conviction that reverence is due to Jehovah. This reverence for God requires the concentration of the heart's affections.(2) It is plainly implied that God alone can beget in us this reverential spirit. O let us be persuaded that from God alone all holy thoughts and pure desires proceed.

II. THE WISE RESOLUTION. "I will walk in Thy truth." His resolution intimates progress. Whether conscious of it or not, progress is a law of our being — progress in that which is good, or growth in that which is evil. The resolution of the psalmist implies progress in the right direction. "I will walk in Thy truth." The objects to be sought are to possess the sanction of the God of Truth, the life that is to be lived is to be that which is enjoined by the God of Truth, and in prosecuting life's journey he is to take God's truth as a light to his feet, and as a lamp to his path. Religious profession and Christian practice must, therefore, correspond.

(A Brunton.)

A man in David's position needed special light, almost more than we do. He trod a somewhat solitary path in morals and religion, He had no spiritual masters at whose fees he could sit. Our world is made brilliant by guiding lights and example. We have Christ, and Christian influences, and Christian finger-posts everywhere about us. Yet we need to offer this prayer only less, if at all less, than those men of old. We often find ourselves in moral perplexities, riddles are set before us for which we can find no solution. It is very evident, then, that we need this prayer, and cannot offer it too frequently and too earnestly. In truth there is such a strong pull in the wrong direction that we are not likely to take the right way in any doubtful moment unless the light is made clear, unless we feel the drawings of a mightier Power, unless we ask each day, and often more than once a day, in all humility and in all sincerity, that God will make us feel that drawing power, and show us that light, and cause us to know the way wherein we should go. But now, to offer this prayer two things are indispensable. We must first believe that prayer is a real thing, offered to a real Being, offered to One who hears and takes the trouble to answer, and who can answer in ways unknown to us. Further, if this prayer is to be of any value, we must be prepared to go in God's way when He shows it. "Teach me Thy way; I will walk in Thy truth; unite my heart to fear Thy name." Because if the heart is not united, if one part is looking towards God's light and the other pulling away from it strongly to what one likes a great deal better, there is nothing but confusion, indecision, cross purposes, and the guidance is given in vain, even if in that case it is given at all. For we never get light unless we ask for it with the whole heart and are resolved to walk in it if it can be shown Us.

(J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)

Unite my heart to fear Thy name
Homilist.
Unity of heart is essential —

I. TO FORCE OF CHARACTER. Mind, like light, air, water, diffused, is comparatively worthless; compressed, it is mighty. Condense the rays of the sun, and they shall burn up the world; compress the air, and it shall rive the mountains. There are three states in which we find mind in this world.

1. Unconcentrated. Millions of men have no definite object in the world, they are distracted and unstable.

2. Wrongly concentrated. There are minds set upon inferior objects, such as business, polities, literature, science, etc.

3. Rightly concentrated. It is trotted to "fear Thy name." United in God, centred in Omnipotence.

II. TO PEACE OF SOUL. The mind divided is distracted and disharmonious. Peace requires that all the faculties and affections of the soul flow in one direction towards one object, and that object agreeing with our dictates of right and our highest aspirations. God alone is such an object. Our constant prayer should be, "Unite my heart to fear Thy name."

(Homilist.)

I. A good man has not two hearts. David does not pray that God would unite his old and new heart, or his old and new principle, or his old and new disposition, or his old and new taste; but his one, only heart. The new heart destroys the old heart,

II. WHAT HIS ONE HEART IS. A sinner's heart consists in a train of mere selfish affections; but a saint's heart consists in a train of both benevolent and selfish exercises. The best of saints are imperfectly holy in this life; and their imperfection in holiness consists in their sometimes having holy, and sometimes unholy affections. Their holy and unholy affections are always distinct, and never blended together. Their holy exercises are never partly holy and partly unholy, but perfectly holy; and their unholy exercises are never partly holy, but perfectly unholy. A train of holy and unholy affections forms the heart of a saint; but a train of constant, uninterrupted sinful affections forms the heart of a sinner.

III. THE HEART OF THE SAINT NEEDS TO BE UNITED. The perfect holiness of Adam, in his primitive state, wholly consisted in the constant and uninterrupted succession of his holy affections. The perfect holiness of just men in heaven consists in the constant and uninterrupted succession of their holy affections. Nor could there be the least moral imperfection in the hearts of good men in this world, if their affections were constantly holy, without any interruption by affections of an opposite and sinful nature. The reason why the heart of a good man needs to be united is, because it is disunited by a contrariety of affections; and not because his affections are too weak, or low, or languid. The only way to raise the ardour of a holy heart is, to make the succession of holy affections more constant and less interrupted, or, in other words, to unite one holy affection so intimately with another, that there should be no time, nor room, for any sinful affection to intervene, interrupt, or cool the ardour of Divine love.

IV. THERE IS A PROPRIETY IN HIS PRAYING THAT GOD WOULD UNITE HIS HEART.

1. Every Christian finds that his heart is more or less disunited; that not only his love, his fear, his faith, and other gracious affections are sometimes what he calls low and languid, but actually interrupted by directly opposite exercises. He finds opposition instead of submission; unbelief instead of faith; the love of the world instead of love to God; and aversion to duty, instead of delight in it. These are positive exercises of sinful affections, which are diametrically opposed to positive exercises of grace.

2. It is proper for Christians to pray that God would unite their disunited hearts, because no external means or motives will produce this effect without His special influence.Improvement: —

1. If every Christian has but one heart, and that heart consists in moral exercises, then no person is passive in regeneration.

2. If a good heart consists in good affections, which are continually liable to be interrupted by affections of an opposite nature, then it is easy to see wherein the deceitfulness of the heart consists, viz., in its mutability.

3. If the hearts of good men consist in free, voluntary exercises, then they ought to be perfectly holy in this life. For if they ought to have one holy exercise, then they ought to have another and another, in a constant, uninterrupted succession. They have no right to exercise one selfish, sinful affection.

4. If a good heart consists in holy exercises, then the Gospel as really requires perfect holiness as the law. The difference between the law and the Gospel does not lie in their precepts, but in their promises. The law promises eternal life to nothing short of the constant, uninterrupted exercise of holy affections, and-condemns the man who indulges one selfish, sinful affection; but the Gospel promises eternal life to every one who perseveres in holy exercises, though they are interrupted in a thousand instances.

5. If the hearts of saints consist altogether in moral and voluntary exercises, then they never have any more holiness than they have holy exercises.

6. If the hearts of saints consist altogether in free, voluntary exercises, then there is a foundation in their hearts for a spiritual warfare.

7. In the view of this subject Christians may see their great moral imperfection.

(N. Emmons, D. D.)

Who will not recognize the immense importance in every pursuit and employment of having the heart at one, the character consistent? "Methinks," says , "it would be better for my lyre to be out of tune and discordant, and even the chorus of singers whom I lead, — yea, better for the whole world to be at variance with me and contradict me, — than that I in my own person should be out of concord with myself and self-contradicting." Yes, anything is better for a man than a distracted, unharmonized, inconsistent character. Yet with how many is this the case! I speak not now of that progress of gradually ripening opinion and judgment which is the necessary condition of all thoughtful minds: I require not that a man's mature age should be brought to be measured by the unripe words and hasty inferences of his youth: it were better, indeed, and happier for him, if the whole life unfolded itself gradually and consistently; but of this progress, or of the lack of it, I am not speaking now. Few of us, I suppose, can look back many years without being sensible of more than a mere expanding change; few who are not conscious that while they have purchased some experience it has been at the reluctantly paid price of much of their former self-confidence. But what I do reprobate is this, — that the same man, at the same time, should be uncertain, self-counteracting, divided against himself, — in words, in acts, in the influence of his character over others. Anxious to appear like others in society, the young often profess strong opinions, and take decided courses, with regard to matters on which, from their very limited experience, they can know but little; they become strong upholders of this or that side in difficult questions, imitating, and going beyond, the partizanship of their elders. And hence, from this very pertinacity, comes fickleness and self-contradiction. As, by widening experience, the light of truth breaks in here and there, the young heart, if brought up under purifying and hallowing influences, is ever susceptible of just and generous impressions; and these very often clash with the artificial or traditional views before so strongly upheld, and bring about inconsistency and confusion. And these thoughts lead us to one remark; that with the young especially, one of the first conditions of this unity of heart is a humble and conscientious adoption of opinions. And here I say that it is lamentable to see men punctiliously upholding an accredited opinion which we have reason to knew they do not themselves hold. O it is by such men and such lives that mighty systems of wrong have grown up under the semblance of right; by such, that vast fabrics of conventional belief have been upheld for power's sake and for gain's sake, long after their spirit has departed; it is in spite of such men that the God of truth has broken these systems to pieces one after another, and has strewn the history of His world with the wrecks of these fair-seeming fabrics. Let us not be consistent thus. Our prayer does not run after this sort, "unite my acts, that I may make me a name and become great;" but far otherwise — "Unite my heart that I may fear Thy name." Now, it is plain to all that these last words, "to fear Thy name," must have a meaning very far removed from that of mere dread or terror of God. This he may have, and has, whose heart is not united; the inconsistent and the unprincipled, even in his worst moments, has the bitter drop of the terror of God and His judgments abiding at the bottom of his soul. Besides, such a terror is as unreasonable as it is undesirable. A heart at unity with itself cannot be in disunion with the chief object of its being; and that object is to serve and glorify Him who is its Creator and Redeemer. Manifestly then we must seek here for another definition of fear than mere dread; and to that definition our last consideration will guide us. Take that consideration in this form. If our hearts are to be brought into real and wholesome unity, it must be by the objects of their affections being in their right relative places. A united heart, for instance, cannot place Him in a low or secondary position of affection and regard whom nature and reason themselves combine to place first. If it be so, conscience will ever and anon be bearing testimony against the disproportion, — and infinite disunion will be the result. No; if we would be consistent men, God must be first in everything. If this is so, the first consequence will be that our motives will be consistent. We shall not be acting from a selfish desire now, and a generous impulse then; openly and frankly to one man, and covertly and craftily to another; but this fear of God will abide as a purifying influence in the very centre of our springs of action; His eye ever looking on us, His benefits ever constraining us. And union of the heart in God's fear will save you also from grievous or fatal inconsistency in opinion.

(Dean Afford.)

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