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´╗┐Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture: Psalms
Author: Maclaren, Alexander, 1826-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

PSALMS

by

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.



VOLUME I: PSALMS _I to XLIX_


CONTENTS


BLESSEDNESS AND PRAISE (Psalm i. 1, 2; cl. 6)

A STAIRCASE OF THREE STEPS (Psalm v. 11, 12)

ONE SAYING FROM THREE MEN (Psalm x. 6; xvi. 8; xxx. 6)

MAN'S TRUE TREASURE IN GOD (Psalm xvi. 5, 6)

GOD WITH US, AND WE WITH GOD (Psalm xvi. 8, 11)

THE TWO AWAKINGS (Psalm xvii. 15; lxxiii. 20)

SECRET FAULTS (Psalm xix. 12)

OPEN SINS (Psalm xix. 13)

FEASTING ON THE SACRIFICE (Psalm xxii. 26)

THE SHEPHERD KING OF ISRAEL (Psalm xxiii. 1-6)

A GREAT QUESTION AND ITS ANSWER (Psalm xxiv. 3)

THE GOD WHO DWELLS WITH MEN (Psalm xxiv. 7-10)

GUIDANCE IN JUDGMENT (Psalm xxv. 8, 9)

A PRAYER FOR PARDON AND ITS PLEA (Psalm xxv. 11)

GOD'S GUESTS (Psalm xxvii. 4)

'SEEK YE'--'I WILL SEEK' (Psalm xxvii. 8, 9)

THE TWO GUESTS (Psalm xxx. 5)

'BE ... FOR THOU ART' (Psalm xxxi. 2, 3, R.V.)

'INTO THY HANDS' (Psalm xxxi. 5)

GOODNESS WROUGHT AND GOODNESS LAID UP (Psalm xxxi. 19)

HID IN LIGHT (Psalm xxxi. 20)

A THREEFOLD THOUGHT OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS (Psalm xxxii. 1, 2)

THE ENCAMPING ANGEL (Psalm xxxiv. 7)

STRUGGLING AND SEEKING (Psalm xxxiv. 10)

NO CONDEMNATION (Psalm xxxiv. 22)

SKY, EARTH, AND SEA: A PARABLE OF GOD (Psalm xxxvi. 5-7)

WHAT MEN FIND BENEATH THE WINGS OF GOD (Psalm xxxvi. 8, 9)

THE SECRET OF TRANQUILLITY (Psalm xxxvii. 4, 5, 7)

THE BITTERNESS AND BLESSEDNESS OF THE BREVITY OF LIFE (Psalm xxxix. 6,
12)

TWO INNUMERABLE SERIES (Psalm xl. 5, 12)

THIRSTING FOR GOD (Psalm xlii. 2)

THE PSALMIST'S REMONSTRANCE WITH HIS SOUL (Psalm xliii. 5)

THE KING IN HIS BEAUTY (Psalm xlv. 2-7, R.V.)

THE PORTRAIT OF THE BRIDE (Psalm xlv. 10-15, R.V.)

THE CITY AND RIVER OF GOD (Psalm xlvi. 4-7)

THE LORD OF HOSTS, THE GOD OF JACOB (Psalm xlvi. 11)

A SONG OF DELIVERANCE (Psalm xlviii. 1-14)

TWO SHEPHERDS AND TWO FLOCKS (Psalm xlix. 14; Rev. vii. 17)



BLESSEDNESS AND PRAISE


    'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the
    scornful.  2. But his delight is in the law of the Lord.'
    --PSALM i. 1, 2.

    'Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the
    Lord.'--PSALM cl. 6.

The Psalter is the echo in devout hearts of the other portions of divine
revelation. There are in it, indeed, further disclosures of God's mind
and purposes, but its especial characteristic is--the reflection of the
light of God from brightened faces and believing hearts. As we hold it
to be inspired, we cannot simply say that it is man's response to God's
voice. But if the rest of Scripture may be called the speech of the
Spirit of God _to_ men, this book is the answer of the Spirit of God
_in_ men.

These two verses which I venture to lay side by side present in a very
remarkable way this characteristic. It is not by accident that they
stand where they do, the first and last verses of the whole collection,
enclosing all, as it were, within a golden ring, and bending round to
meet each other. They are the summing up of the whole purpose and issue
of God's revelation to men.

The first and second psalms echo the two main portions of the old
revelation--the Law and the Prophets. The first of them is taken up with
the celebration of the blessedness and fruitful, stable being of the man
who loves the Law of the Lord, as contrasted with the rootless and
barren life of the ungodly, who is like the chaff. The second is
occupied with the contemplation of the divine 'decree' by which the
coming King is set in God's 'holy hill of Zion,' and of the blessedness
of 'all they who put their trust in Him,' as contrasted with the swift
destruction that shall fall on the vain imaginations of the rebellious
heathen and banded kings of earth.

The words of our first text, then, may well stand at the beginning of
the Psalter. They express the great purpose for which God has given His
Law. They are the witness of human experience to the substantial, though
partial, accomplishment of that purpose. They rise in buoyant triumph
over that which is painful and apparently opposed to it; and in spite of
sorrow and sin, proclaim the blessedness of the life which is rooted in
the Law of the Lord.

The last words of the book are as significant as its first. The closing
psalms are one long call to praise--they probably date from the time of
the restoration under Ezra and Nehemiah, when, as we know, 'the service
of song' was carefully re-established, and the harps which had hung
silent upon the willows by the rivers of Babylon woke again their
ancient melodies. These psalms climb higher and higher in their
rapturous call to all creatures, animate and inanimate, on earth and in
heaven, to praise Him. The golden waves of music and song pour out ever
faster and fuller. At last we hear this invocation to every instrument
of music to praise Him, responded to, as we may suppose, by each, in
turn as summoned, adding its tributary notes to the broadening river of
harmony--until all, with gathered might of glad sound blended with the
crash of many voices, unite in the final words, 'Let every thing that
hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.'

I. We have here a twofold declaration of God's great purpose in all His
self-revelation, and especially in the Gospel of His Son.

Our first text may be translated as a joyful exclamation, 'Oh! the
blessedness of the man--whose delight is in the law of the Lord.' Our
second is an invocation or a command. The one then expresses the purpose
which God secures by His gift of the Law; the other the purpose which He
summons us to fulfil by the tribute of our hearts and songs--man's
happiness and God's glory.

His purpose is Man's blessedness.

That is but another way of saying, God is love. For love, as we know it,
is eminently the desire for the happiness of the person on whom it is
fixed. And unless the love of God be like ours, however it may transcend
it, there is no revelation of Him to our hearts at all. If He be love,
then He 'delights in the prosperity' of His children.

And that purpose runs through all His acts. For perfect love is
all-pervasive, and even with us men, it rules the whole being; nor does
he love at all who seeks the welfare of the heart he clings to by fits
and starts, by some of his acts and not by others. When God comes forth
from the unvisioned light, which is thick darkness, of His own eternal,
self-adequate Being, and flashes into energy in Creation, Providence, or
Grace, the Law of His Working and His Purpose are one, in all regions.
The unity of the divine acts depends on this--that all flow from one
deep source, and all move to one mighty end. Standing on the height to
which His own declarations of His own nature lift our feebleness, we can
see how the 'river of God that waters the garden' and 'parts' into many
'heads,' gushes from one fountain. One of the psalms puts what people
call the 'philosophy' of creation and of providence very clearly, in
accordance with this thought--that the love of God is the source, and
the blessedness of man the end, of all His work: 'To Him that made great
lights; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that slew mighty kings;
for His mercy endureth for ever.'

Creation, then, is the effluence of the loving heart of God. Though the
sacred characters be but partially legible to us now, what He wrote, on
stars and flowers, on the infinitely great and the infinitely small, on
the infinitely near and the infinitely far off, with His creating hand,
was the one inscription--God is love. And as in nature, so in
providence. The origination, and the support, and the direction of all
things, are the works and the heralds of the same love. It is printed in
starry letters on the sky. It is graven on the rocks, and breathed by
the flowers. It is spoken as a dark saying even by sorrow and pain. The
mysteries of destructive and crushing providences have come from the
same source. And he who can see with the Psalmist the ever-during mercy
of the Lord, as the reason of creation and of judgments, has in his
hands the golden key which opens all the locks in the palace chambers of
the great King. He only hath penetrated to the secret of things
material, and stands in the light at the centre, who understands that
all comes from the one source--God's endless desire for the blessedness
of His creatures.

But while all God's works do thus praise Him by testifying that He seeks
to bless His creatures, the loftiest example of that desire is, of
course, found in His revelation of Himself to men's hearts and
consciences, to men's spirits and wills. That mightiest act of love,
beginning in the long-past generations, has culminated in Him in whom
'dwelleth the whole fulness of the Godhead bodily,' and in whose work is
all the love--the perfect, inconceivable, patient, omnipotent love of
our redeeming God.

And then, remember that this is not inconsistent with or contradicted by
the sterner aspects of that revelation, which cannot be denied, and
ought not to be minimised or softened. _Here_, on the right hand, are
the flowery slopes of the Mount of Blessing; _there_, on the left, the
barren, stern, thunder-riven, lightning-splintered pinnacles of the
Mount of Cursing. Every clear note of benediction hath its low minor of
imprecation from the other side. Between the two, overhung by the hopes
of the one, and frowned upon and dominated by the threatenings of the
other, is pitched the little camp of our human life, and the path of our
pilgrimage runs in the trough of the valley between. And yet--might we
not go a step farther, and say that above the parted summits stretches
the one overarching blue, uniting them both, and their roots deep down
below the surface interlace and twine together? That is to say, the
threatenings and rebukes, the acts of retributive judgment, which are
contained in the revelation of God, are no limitation nor disturbance of
the clear and happy faith that all which we behold is full of blessing,
and that all comes from the Father's hand. They are the garb in which
His Love needs to array itself when it comes in contact with man's sin
and man's evil. The love of God appears no less when it teaches us in
grave sad tones that 'the wages of sin is death,' than when it proclaims
that 'the gift of God is eternal life.'

Love threatens that it may never have to execute its threats. Love warns
that we may be wise in time. Love prophesies that its sad forebodings
may not be fulfilled. And love smites with lighter strokes of
premonitory chastisements, that we may never need to feel the whips of
scorpions.

Remember, too, that these sterner aspects both of Law and of Gospel
point this lesson--that we shall very much misunderstand God's purpose
if we suppose it to be blessedness for us men _anyhow_, irrespective
altogether of character. Some people seem to think that God loves us so
much, as they would say--so little, so ignobly, as I would say--as that
He only desires us to be happy. They seem to think that the divine love
is tarnished unless it provides for men's felicity, whether they are
God-loving and God-like or no. Thus the solemn and majestic love of the
Father in heaven is to be brought down to a weak good nature, which only
desires that the child shall cease crying and be happy, and does not
mind by what means that end is reached. God's purpose _is_ blessedness;
but, as this very text tells us, not blessedness anyhow, but one which
will not and cannot be given by God to those who walk in the way of
sinners. His love desires that we should be holy, and 'followers of God
as dear children'--and the blessedness which it bestows comes from
pardon and growing fellowship with Him. It can no more fall on
rebellious hearts than the pure crystals of the snow can lie and sparkle
on the hot, black cone of a volcano.

The other text that I have read sets forth another view of God's
purpose. God seeks our praise. The glory of God is the end of all the
divine actions. Now, that is a statement which no doubt is irrefragable,
and a plain deduction from the very conception of an infinite Being. But
it may be held in such connections, and spoken with such erroneous
application, and so divorced from other truths, that instead of being
what it is in the Bible, good news, it shall become a curse and a lie.
It may be so understood as to describe not our Father in heaven, but an
almighty devil! But, when the thought that God's purpose in all His acts
is His own glory, is firmly united with that other, that His purpose in
all His acts is our blessing, then we begin to understand how full of
joy it may be for us. His glory is sought by Him in the manifestation of
His loving heart, mirrored in our illuminated and gladdened hearts. Such
a glory is not unworthy of infinite love. It has nothing in common with
the ambitious and hungry greed of men for reputation or self-display.
That desire is altogether ignoble and selfish when it is found in human
hearts; and it would be none the less ignoble and selfish if it were
magnified into infinitude, and transferred to the divine. But to say
that God's glory is His great end, is surely but another way of saying
that He is love. The love that seeks to bless us desires, as all love
does, that it should be known for what it is, that it should be
recognised in our glad hearts, and smiled back again from our brightened
faces. God desires that we should know Him, and so have Eternal Life; He
desires that knowing Him, we should love Him, and loving should praise,
and so should glorify Him. He desires that there should be an
interchange of love bestowing and love receiving, of gifts showered down
and of praise ascending, of fire falling from the heavens and sweet
incense, from grateful hearts, going up in fragrant clouds acceptable
unto God. It is a sign of a Fatherly heart that He '_seeketh_ such to
worship Him'. He desires to be glorified by our praise, because He loves
us so much. He commences with an offer, He advances to a command. He
gives first, and then (not till then) He comes seeking fruit from the
'trees' which are 'the planting of the Lord, that He might be
glorified.' His plea is not 'the vineyard belongs to Me, and I have a
right to its fruits,' but 'what could have been done more to My
vineyard, that I have not done in it?--judge between Me and My
vineyard.' First, He showers down blessings; then, He looks for the
revenue of praise!

II. We may also take these passages as giving us a twofold expression of
the actual effects of God's revelation, especially in the Gospel, even
here upon earth.

The one text is the joyful exclamation built upon experience and
observation. The other is a call which is answered in some measure even
by voices that are often dumb in unthankfulness, often broken by sobs,
often murmuring in penitence.

God does actually, though not completely, make men blessed here. Our
text sums up the experience of all the devout hearts and lives whose
emotions are expressed in the Psalms. He who wrote this psalm would
preface the whole book by words into which the spirit of the book is
distilled. It will have much to say of sorrow and pain. It will touch
many a low note of wailing and of grief. There will be complaints and
penitence, and sighs almost of despair before it closes. But this which
he puts first is the note of the whole. So it is in our histories.
They will run through many a dark and desert place. We shall have
bitterness and trials in abundance, there will be many an hour of
sadness caused by my own evil, and many a hard struggle with it. But
high above all these mists and clouds will rise the hope that seeks the
skies, and deep beneath all the surface agitations of storms and
currents there will be the unmoved stillness of the central ocean of
peace in our hearts. In the 'valley of weeping' we may still be
'blessed' if 'the ways' are in our hearts, and if we make of the very
tears 'a well,' drawing refreshment from the very trials. With all its
sorrows and pains, its fightings and fears, its tribulations in the
world, and its chastenings from a Father's hand, the life of a Christian
is a happy life, and 'the joy of the Lord' remains with His servants.

More than twenty centuries have passed since that psalm was written. As
many stretched dim behind the Psalmist as he sang. He was gathering up
in one sentence the spirit of the past, and confirming it by his own
life's history. And has any one that has lived since then stood up and
said--'Behold! I have found it otherwise. I have waited on God, and He
has not heard my cry. I have served Him, and that for nought. I have
trusted in Him, and been disappointed. I have sought His face--in vain.
And I say, from my own experience, that the man who trusts in Him is
_not_ blessed'? Not one, thank God! The history of the past, so far as
this matter is concerned, may be put in one sentence 'They looked unto
Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed,' and as for
the present, are there not some of us who can say, 'This poor man cried,
and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles'?

Brethren! make the experiment for yourselves. Test this experience by
your own simple affiance and living trust in Jesus Christ. We have the
experience of all generations to encourage us. What has blessed them is
enough for you and me. Like the meal and the oil, which were the
Prophet's resource in famine, yesterday's supply does not diminish
to-morrow's store. We, too, may have all that gladdened the hearts and
stayed the spirits of the saints of old. 'Oh! taste and see that God is
good.' 'Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.'

So, too, God's gift produces man's praise.

What is it that He desires from us? Nothing but our thankful recognition
and reception of His benefits. We honour God by taking the full cup of
salvation which He commends to our lips, and by calling, while we drink,
upon the name of the Lord. Our true response to His Word, which is
essentially a proffer of blessing to us, is to open our hearts to
receive, and, receiving, to render grateful acknowledgment. The echo of
love which gives and forgives, is love which accepts and thanks. We have
but to lift up our empty and impure hands, opened wide to receive the
gift which He lays in them--and though they be empty and impure, yet
'the lifting up of our hands' is 'as the evening sacrifice'; our sense
of need stands in the place of all offerings. The stained thankfulness
of our poor hearts is accepted by Him who inhabits the praises of
eternity, and yet delights in the praises of Israel. He bends from
heaven to give, and all He asks is that we should take. He only seeks
our thankfulness--but He does seek it. And wherever His grace is
discerned, and His love is welcomed, there praise breaks forth, as
surely as streams pour from the cave of the glacier when the sun of
summer melts it, or earth answers the touch of spring with flowers.

And that effect is produced, notwithstanding all the complaints and
sighs and tears which sometimes choke our praise. It _is_ produced even
while these last; the psalms of thanksgiving are not all reserved for
the end of the book. But even in those which read like the very sobs of
a broken heart, there is ever present some tone of grateful
acknowledgment of God's mercy. He sends us sorrow, and He wills that we
should weep--but they should be tears like David's, who, at the lowest
point of his fortunes, when he plaintively besought God, 'Put Thou my
tears into Thy bottle'--could say in the same breath, 'Thy vows are upon
me, O God: I will render praises unto Thee.' God works on our souls that
we may have the consciousness of sin, and He wills that we should come
with broken and contrite hearts, and like the king of Israel wail out
our confessions and supplications--'Have mercy upon me, O God! according
to Thy loving-kindness.' But, like him, we should even in our lowliest
abasement, when our hearts are bruised, be able to say along with our
contrition, 'Open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy
praise.' Our sorrows are never so great that they hide our mercies. The
sky is never so covered with clouds that neither sun nor stars appear
for many days. And in every Christian heart the low tones of lamentation
and confession are blended with grateful praise. So it is even in the
darkest moments, whilst the blast of misfortune and misery is as a storm
against the wall.

But a brighter hope even for our life here rises from these words, if we
think of the place which they hold in the whole book. They are the last
words. Whatever other notes have been sounded in its course, all ends in
this. The winter's day has had its melancholy grey sky, with many a
bitter dash of snow and rain--but it has stormed itself out, and at
eventide, a rent in the clouds reveals the sun, and it closes in
peaceful clearness of light.

The note of gladness heard at the beginning, 'Oh! the blessedness of the
man that delights in the law of the Lord,' holds on persistently, like a
subdued and almost bewildered undercurrent of sweet sound amid all the
movements of some colossal symphony, through tears and sobs, confession
and complaint, and it springs up at the close triumphant, like the ruddy
spires of a flame long smothered, and swells and broadens, and draws all
the intricate harmonies into its own rushing tide. Some of you remember
the great musical work which has these very words for its theme. It
begins with the call, 'All that hath life and breath, praise ye the
Lord,' and although the gladness saddens into the plaintive cry of a
soul sick with hope deferred, 'Will the night soon pass?' yet, ere the
close, all discords are reconciled, and at last, with assurance firmer
for the experience of passing sorrows, loud as the voice of many waters
and sweet as harpers harping with their harps, the joyful invocation
peals forth again, and all ends, as it does in a Christian man's life,
and as it does in this book, with 'Praise ye the Lord.'

III. We have here also a twofold prophecy of the perfection of Heaven.

Whilst it is true that both of these purposes are accomplished here and
now, it is also true that their accomplishment is but partial, and that
therefore for their fulfilment we have to lift our eyes beyond this
world of imperfect faith, of incomplete blessedness, of interrupted
praise. Whether the Psalmist looked forward thus we do not know. But for
us, the very shortcomings of our joys and of our songs are prophetic of
the perfect and perpetual rapture of the one, and the perfect and
perpetual music of the other. We know that He who has given us so much
will not stay His hand until He has perfected that which concerns us. We
know that He who has taught our dumb hearts to magnify His name will not
cease till 'out of the lips of babes and sucklings, He has perfected
praise.' We know that the pilgrims in whose hearts are the ways are
blessed, and we are sure that a fuller blessedness must belong to those
who have reached the journey's end.

And so these words give us a twofold aspect of that future on which our
longing hopes may well fix.

It is the perfection of man's blessedness. Then the joyous exclamation
of our first text, which we have often had to strive hard not to
disbelieve, will be no more a truth of faith but a truth of experience.
Here we have had to trust that it was so, even when we could scarce
cleave to the confidence. There, memory will look back on our wanderings
through this great wilderness, and, enlightened by the issue of them
all, will speak only of Mercy and Goodness as our angel guides all our
lives. The end will crown the work. Pure unmingled consciousness of
bliss will fill all hearts, and break into the old exclamation, which we
had sometimes to stifle sobs ere we could speak on earth. When He says,
'Come in! ye blessed of My Father,' all our tears and fears, and pains
and sins, will be forgotten, and we shall but have to say, in wonder and
joy, 'Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; they will be still
praising Thee.'

It is the perfection of God's praise. We may possibly venture to see in
these wonderful words of our text a dim and far-off hint of a
possibility that seems to be pointed at in many parts of Scripture--that
the blessings of Christ's mighty work shall, in some measure and manner,
pass through man to his dwelling-place and its creatures. Dark shadows
of evil--the mystery of pain and sorrow--lie over earth and all its
tribes. 'We look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth
righteousness.' And the statements of Scripture which represent creation
as suffering by man's sin, and participant in its degree in man's
redemption, seem too emphatic and precise, as well as too frequent, and
in too didactic connections, to be lightly brushed aside as poetic
imagery. May it not be that man's transgression

  'Broke the fair music that all creatures made
   To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed,'

and that man's restoration may, indeed, bring back all that hath life
and breath to a harmonious blessedness--according to the deep and
enigmatical words, which declare that 'the creature itself also shall be
delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory
of the children of God'? Be that as it may, at all events our second
text opens to us the gates of the heavenly temple, and shows us there
the saintly ranks and angel companies gathered in the city whose walls
are salvation and its gates praise. They harmonise with that other later
vision of heaven which the Seer in Patmos beheld, not only in setting
before us worship as the glad work of all who are there, but in teaching
the connection between the praises of men, and the answering hymns of
angels. The harps of heaven are hushed to hear _their_ praise who can
sing, 'Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood,' and, in answer to
that hymn of thanksgiving for unexampled deliverance and resorting
grace, the angels around the throne break forth into new songs to the
Lamb that was slain--while still wider spread the broadening circles of
harmonious praise, till at last 'every creature which is in heaven, and
on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all
that are in them,' join in the mighty hymn of 'Blessing, and honour, and
glory, and power, unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb
for ever and ever.' Then the rapturous exclamation from human souls
redeemed,--'Oh! the blessedness of the men whom Thou hast loved and
saved,' shall be answered by choral praise from everything that hath
breath.

And are you dumb, my friend, in these universal bursts of praise? Is
that because you have not chosen to take the universal blessing which
God gives? You have nothing to do but to receive the things that are
freely given to you of God--the forgiveness, the cleansing, the life,
that come from Christ by faith. Take them, and call upon the name of the
Lord, And can you refuse His gifts and withhold your praise? You can be
eloquent in thanks to those who do you kindnesses, and in praise of
those whom you admire and love, but your best Friend receives none of
your gratitude and none of your praise. Ignoble silence and dull
unthankfulness--with these you requite your Saviour! 'I tell you that,
if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out!'



A STAIRCASE OF THREE STEPS


    'All those that put their trust in Thee ... them also that love Thy
    name ... the righteous.'--PSALM v. 11, 12.

I have ventured to isolate these three clauses from their context,
because, if taken in their sequence, they are very significant of the
true path by which men draw nigh to God and become righteous. They are
all three designations of the same people, but regarded under different
aspects and at different stages. There is a distinct order in them, and
whether the Psalmist was fully conscious of it or not, he was
anticipating and stating, with wonderful distinctness, the Christian
sequence--faith, love, righteousness.

These three are the three flights of stairs, as it were, which lead men
up to God and to perfection, or if you like to take another metaphor,
meaning the same thing, they are respectively the root, the stalk, and
the fruit of religion. 'They that put their trust in Thee ... them also
that love Thy Name ... the righteous.'

I. So, then, the first thought here is that the foundation of all is
trust.

Now, the word that is employed here is very significant. In its literal
force it really means to 'flee to a refuge.' And that the literal
signification has not altogether been lost in the spiritual and
metaphorical use of it, as a term expressive of religious experience, is
quite plain from many of the cases in which it occurs. Let me just
repeat one of them to you. 'Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful to
me, for my soul trusteth in Thee; yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I
make my refuge.' There the picture that is in the words is distinctly
before the Psalmist's mind, and he is thinking not only of the act of
mind and heart by which he casts himself in confidence upon God, but
upon that which represents it in symbol, the act by which a man flees
into some hiding-place. The psalm is said in the superscription to have
been written when David hid in a cave from his persecutor. Though no
weight be given to that statement, it suggests the impression made by
the psalm. In imagination we can see the rough sides of the cavern that
sheltered him arching over the fugitive, like the wings of some great
bird, and just as he has fled thither with eager feet and is safely
hidden from his pursuers there, so he has betaken himself to the
everlasting Rock, in the cleft of which he is at rest and secure. To
trust in God is neither more nor less than to flee to Him for refuge,
and there to be at peace. The same presence of the original metaphor,
colouring the same religious thought, is found in the beautiful words
with which Boaz welcomes Ruth, when he prays for her that the God of
Israel may reward her, 'under the shadow of whose wings thou hast come
to trust.'

So, as a man in peril runs into a hiding-place or fortress, as the
chickens beneath the outspread wing of the mother bird nestle close in
the warm feathers and are safe and well, the soul that trusts takes its
flight straight to God, and in Him reposes and is secure.

Now, it seems to me that such a figure as that is worth tons of
theological lectures about the true nature of faith, and that it tells
us, by means of a picture that says a great deal more than many a
treatise, that faith is something very different from a cold-blooded act
of believing in the truth of certain propositions; that it is the flight
of the soul--knowing itself to be in peril, and naked, and unarmed--into
the strong Fortress.

What is it that keeps a man safe when he thus has around him the walls
of some citadel? Is it himself, is it the act by which he took refuge,
or is it the battlements behind which he crouches? So in faith--which is
more than a process of a man's understanding, and is not merely the
saying, 'Yes, I believe all that is in the Bible is true; at any rate,
it is not for me to contradict it,' but is the running of the man, when
he knows himself to be in danger, into the very arms of God--it is not
the running that makes him safe, but it is the arms to which he runs.

If we would only lay to heart that the very essence of religion lies in
this 'flight of the lonely soul to the only God,' we should understand
better than we do what He asks from us in order that He may defend us,
and how blessed and certain His defence is. So let us clear our minds
from the thought that anything is worth calling trust which is not thus
taking refuge in God Himself.

Now, I need not remind you, I suppose, that all this is just as true
about us as it was about David, and that the emotion or the act of his
will and heart which he expresses in these words of my text is neither
more nor less than the Christian act of faith. There is no difference
except a difference of development; there is no difference between the
road to God marked out in the Psalms, and the road to God laid down in
the Gospels. The Psalmist who said, 'Trust ye in the Lord for ever,' and
the Apostle who said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt
be saved,' were preaching identically the same doctrine. One of them
could speak more fully than the other could of the Person on whom trust
was to be rested, but the trust itself was the same, and the Person on
whom it rested was the same, though His Name of old was Jehovah, and His
Name to-day is 'Immanuel, God with us.'

Nor need I do more than point out how the context of the words that I
have ventured to detach from their surroundings is instructive: 'Let all
those that put their trust in Thee rejoice because Thou defendest them.'
The word for defending there continues the metaphor that lies in the
word for 'trust,' for it means literally to cover over and so to
protect. Thus, when a man runs to God for His refuge, God

  'Covers his defenceless head
   With the shadow of His wings.'

And the joy of trust is, first, that it brings round me the whole
omnipotence of God for my defence, and the whole tenderness of God for
my consolation, and next, that in the very exercise of trust in such
defence, so fortified and vindicated by experience, there is great
reward. All who thus flee into the refuge shall find refuge whither they
flee, and shall be glad.

II. Then the next thought of my texts, which I do not force into them,
but which results, as it seems to me, distinctly from the order in which
they occur in the context, is that love follows trust.

'All those that put their trust in Thee--they also that love Thee.' If I
am to love God, I must be quite sure that God loves me. My love can
never be anything else than an answer to His. It can only be secondary
and derived, or I would rather say reflected and flashed back from His.
And so, very significantly, the Psalmist says, 'Those that love Thy
Name,' meaning by 'Name,' as is always meant by it, the revealed
character of God. If I am to love God, He must not hide in the darkness
behind His infinity, but must come out and give me something about Him
that I know. The three letters G O D mean nothing, and there is no power
in them to stir a man's heart. It must be the knowledge of the acts of
God that brings men to love Him. And there is no way of getting that
knowledge but through the faith which, as I said, must precede love. For
faith realises the fact that God loves. 'We have known and believed the
love that God hath to us.' The first step is to grasp the great truth of
the loving God, and through that truth to grasp the God that loves. And
then, and not till then, does there spring up in a man's heart love
towards Him. But it is only the faith that is set on Him who hath
declared the Father unto us that gives us for our very own the grasp of
the facts, which facts are the only possible fuel that can kindle love
in a human heart. 'We love Him because He first loved us,' and we shall
never know that He loves us unless we come to the knowledge through the
road of faith. So John himself tells us when he says, in the words that
I have already quoted, 'We have known and believed.' He puts the
foundation last, 'We have known,' because 'we have believed' 'the love
that God hath to us.'

And so faith is the only possible means by which any of us can ever
experience, as well as realise, the love that kindles ours. It is the
possession of the fact of redemption for my very own and of the
blessings which accompany it, and that alone, that binds a man to God in
the bonds of love that cannot be broken, and that subdues and unites all
vagrant emotions, affections, and desires in the mighty tide of a love
that ever sets towards Him. As surely as the silvery moon in the sky
draws after it the heaped waters of the ocean all round the world, so
God's love draws ours. They that believe contemplate, and they that
believe experience the effects of that divine love, which must be
experienced ere our answering love can be flashed back to heaven.

Students of acoustics tell us that if you have two stringed instruments
in adjacent apartments, tuned to the same pitch, a note sounded on one
of them will be feebly vibrated upon the other as soon as the waves of
sound have reached the sensitive string. In like manner a man's heart
gives off a faint, but musical, little tinkle of answering love to God
when the deep note of God's love to him, struck on the chords of heaven
up yonder, reaches his poor heart.

Love follows trust. So, brethren, if we desire to be warmed, let us get
into the sunshine and abide there. If we desire to have our hearts
filled with love to God, do not let us waste our time in trying to pump
up artificial emotions or to persuade ourselves that we love Him better
than we do, but let us fix our thoughts and fasten our refuge-seeking
trust on Him, and then that shall kindle ours.

III. Lastly, righteousness follows trust and love.

The last description here of the man who begins as a believer and then
advances to being a lover is _righteous_. That is the evangelical order.
That is the great blessing and beauty of Christianity, that it goes an
altogether different way to work to make men good from that which any
other system has ever dreamed of. It says, first of all, trust, and that
will create love and that will ensure obedience. Faith leads to
righteousness because, in the very act of trusting God, I come out of
myself, and going out of myself and ceasing from all self-admiration and
self-dependence and self-centred life is the beginning of all good and
has in it the germ of all righteousness, even as to live for self is the
mother tincture out of which we can make all sins.

And faith leads to righteousness in another way. Open the heart and
Christ comes in. Trust Him and He fills our poor nature with 'the law of
the Spirit of life that was in Christ Jesus,' and that 'makes me free
from the law of sin and death.' Righteousness, meaning thereby just what
irreligious men mean by it--viz. good living, plain obedience to the
ordinary recognised dictates of morality, going straight--that is most
surely attained when we cease from our own works and say to Jesus
Christ, 'Lord, I cannot walk in the narrow path. Do Thou Thyself come to
me and fill my heart and keep my feet.' They that trust and love are
'found in Him, not having their own righteousness, but that which is of
God by faith.'

And love leads to righteousness because it brings the one motive into
play in our hearts which turns duty into delight, toil into joy, and
makes us love better to do what will please our beloved Lover than
anything besides. Why did Jesus Christ say,'My yoke is easy and My
burden is light'? Was it because He diminished the weight of duties or
laid down an easier slipshod morality than had been enjoined before? No!
He intensified it all, and His Commandment is far harder to flesh and
blood than any commandments that were ever given. But for all that, the
yoke that He lays upon our necks is, if I may so say, padded with
velvet; and the burden that we have to draw behind us is laid upon
wheels that will turn so easily that the load is diminished, inasmuch as
for Duty He substitutes Himself and says to us, 'If ye love Me, keep My
Commandments.'

So, dear brethren! here is a very easily applied, and a very
far-reaching test for us who call ourselves Christians: Does our love
and does our trust culminate in practical righteousness? We are all
tempted to make too much of the emotions of the religious life, and too
little of its persistent, dogged obedience. We are all too apt to think
that a Christian is a man that believes in Jesus Christ. 'Justification
by faith alone without the works of the law' used to be the watchword of
the Evangelical Church. It might be so held as to be either a blessed
truth or a great error, and many of us make it an error instead of a
blessing.

On the other hand, there is only one way by which righteousness can be
attained, and that is: first by faith and then by love. Here are three
steps: 'we have known and believed the love that God hath to us'; that
is the broad, bottom step. And above it 'we love Him because He first
loved us,' that is the central one. And on the top of all, 'herein is
our love made perfect that we keep His Commandments.' They that trust
are they also who love Thy Name, and they who trust through love are,
and only they are, the righteous.



ONE SAYING FROM THREE MEN


    'The wicked hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved.'
    --PSALM x. 6.

    'Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.'
    --PSALM xvi. 8.

    'And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.'
    --PSALM xxx. 6.

How differently the same things sound when said by different men! Here
are three people giving utterance to almost the same sentiment of
confidence. A wicked man says it, and it is insane presumption and
defiance. A good man says it, having been lulled into false security by
easy times, and it is a mistake that needs chastisement. A humble
believing soul says it, and it is the expression of a certain and
blessed truth. 'The wicked saith in his heart, I shall not be moved.' A
good man, led astray by his prosperity, said, 'I shall not be moved,'
and the last of the three put a little clause in which makes all the
difference, '_because He is at my right hand_, I shall never be moved.'
So, then, we have the mad arrogance of godless confidence, the mistake
of a good man that needs correction, and the warranted confidence of a
believing soul.

I. The mad arrogance of godless confidence.

The 'wicked' man, in the psalm from which our first text comes, said a
good many wrong things 'in his heart.' The tacit assumptions on which a
life is based, though they may never come to consciousness, and still
less to utterance, are the really important things. I dare say this
'wicked man' was a good Jew with his lips, and said his prayers all
properly, but in his heart he had two working beliefs. One is thus
expressed: 'As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He hath said in
his heart, I shall not be moved.' The other is put into words thus: 'He
hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten, He hideth His face. He will
never see it.'

That is to say, the only explanation of a godless life, unless the man
is an idiot, is that there lie beneath it, as formative principles and
unspoken assumptions, guiding and shaping it, one or both of these two
thoughts: either 'There is no God,' or 'He does not care what I do, and
I am safe to go on for evermore in the present fashion.' It might seem
as if a man with the facts of human life before him, could not, even in
the insanest arrogance, say, 'I shall not be moved, for I shall never be
in adversity.' But we have an awful power--and the fact that we
exercise, and choose to exercise, it is one of the strange riddles of
our enigmatical existence and characters--of ignoring unwelcome facts,
and going cheerily on as though we had annihilated them, because we do
not reflect upon them. So this man, in the midst of a world in which
there is no stay, and whilst he saw all round him the most startling and
tragical instances of sudden change and complete collapse, stands
quietly and says, 'Ah! _I_ shall never be moved'; 'God doth not require
it.'

That absurdity is the basis of every life that is not a life of
consecration and devotion--so far as it has a basis of conviction at
all. The 'wicked' man's true faith is this, absurd as it may sound when
you drag it out into clear, distinct utterance, whatever may be his
professions. I wonder if there are any of us whose life can only be
acquitted of being utterly unreasonable and ridiculous by the
assumption, 'I shall never be moved'?

Have you a lease of your goods? Do you think you are tenants at will or
owners? Which? Is there any reason why any of us should escape, as some
of us live as if we believed we should escape, the certain fate of all
others? If there is not, what about the sanity of the man whose whole
life is built upon a blunder? He is convicted of the grossest folly,
unless he be assured that either there is no God, or that He does not
care one rush about what we do, and that consequently we are certain of
a continuance in our present state.

Do you say in your heart, 'I shall never be moved'? Then you must be
strong enough to resist every tempest that beats against you. Is that
so? 'I shall never be moved'--then nothing that contributes to your
well-being will ever slip from your grasp, but you will be able to hold
it tight. Is that so? 'I shall never be moved'--then there is no grave
waiting for you. Is that so? Unless these three assumptions be
warranted, every godless man is making a hideous blunder, and his
character is the sentence pronounced by the loving lips of Incarnate
Truth on the rich man who thought that he had 'much goods laid up for
many years,' and had only to be merry--'Thou fool! Thou fool!'

If an engineer builds a bridge across a river without due calculation of
the force of the winds that blow down the gorge, the bridge will be at
the bottom of the stream some stormy night, and the train piled on the
fragments of it in hideous ruin. And with equal certainty the end of the
first utterer of this speech can be calculated, and is foretold in the
psalm, 'The Lord is King for ever and ever.... The godless are perished
out of the land.'

II. We have in our second text the mistake of a good man who has been
lulled into false confidence.

The Psalmist admits his error by the acknowledgment that he spoke 'in my
prosperity'; or, as the word might be rendered, 'in my _security_.' This
suggests to us the mistake into which even good men, lulled by the quiet
continuance of peaceful days, are certain to fall, unless there be
continual watchfulness exercised by them.

It is a very significant fact that the word which is translated in our
Authorised Version 'prosperity' is often rendered 'security,' meaning
thereby, not safety, but a belief that I am safe. A man who is
prosperous, or at ease, is sure to drop into the notion that 'to-morrow
will be as this day, and much more abundant,' unless he keeps up
unslumbering watchfulness against the insidious illusion of permanence.
If he yields to the temptation, in his foolish security, forgetting how
fragile are its foundations, and what a host of enemies surround him
threatening it, then there is nothing for it but that the merciful
discipline, which this Psalmist goes on to tell us he had to pass
through by reason of his fall, shall be brought to bear upon him. The
writer gives us a page of his own autobiography. 'In my security I said,
I shall never be moved.' 'Lord! by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain
to stand strong. Thou didst hide Thy face.' What about the security
then? What about 'I shall never be moved' then? 'I was troubled. I cried
to Thee, O Lord!'--and then it was all right, his prayer was heard, and
he was in 'security'--that is, safety--far more really when he was
'troubled' and sore beset than when he had been, as he fancied, sure of
not being moved.

Long peace rusts the cannon, and is apt to make it unfit for war. Our
lack of imagination, and our present sense of comfort and well-being,
tend to make us fancy that we shall go on for ever in the quiet jog-trot
of settled life without any very great calamities or changes. But there
was once a village at the bottom of the crater of Vesuvius, and great
trees, that had grown undisturbed there for a hundred years, and green
pastures, and happy homes and flocks. And then, one day, a rumble and a
rush, and what became of the village? It went up in smoke-clouds. The
quiescence of the volcano is no sign of its extinction. And as surely as
we live, so sure is it that there will come a 'to-morrow' to us all
which shall _not_ be as this day. No man has any right to calculate upon
anything beyond the present moment, and there is no basis whatever,
either for the philosophical assertion that the order of nature is
fixed, and that therefore there are no miracles, or for the practical
translation of the assertion into our daily lives, that we may
reasonably expect to go on as we are without changes or calamities.
There is no reason capable of being put into logical shape for believing
that, because the sun has risen ever since the beginning of things, it
will rise to-morrow, for there will come a to-morrow when it will _not_
rise. In like manner, the longest possession of our mercies is no reason
for forgetting the precarious tenure on which we hold them all.

So, Christian men and women! let us try to keep vivid that consciousness
which is so apt to get dull, that nothing continueth in one stay, and
that we _shall_ be moved, as far as the outward life and its
circumstances are concerned. If we forget it, we shall need, and we
shall get, the loving Fatherly discipline, which my second text tells us
followed the false security of this good man. The sea is kept from
putrefying by storms. Wine poured from vessel to vessel is purified
thereby. It is an old truth and a wholesome one, to be always
remembered, 'because they have no changes therefore they fear not God .'

III. Lastly, we have the same thing said by another man in another key.
'Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.' The prelude to
the assertion makes all the difference. Here is the warranted confidence
of a simple faith.

The man who clasps God's hand, and has Him standing by his side, as his
Ally, his Companion, his Guide, his Defence--that man does not need to
fear change. For all the things which convict the arrogant or mistaken
confidences of the other men as being insanity or a lapse from faith
prove the confidence of the trustful soul to be the very perfection of
reason and common sense.

We may be confident of our power to resist anything that can come
against us, if He be at our side. The man that stands with his back
against an oak-tree is held firm, not because of his own strength, but
because of that on which he leans. There is a beautiful story of some
heathen convert who said to a missionary's wife, who had felt faint and
asked that she might lean for a space on her stronger arm, 'If you love
me, lean hard.' That is what God says to us, 'If you love Me, lean
hard.' And if you do, because He is at your right hand, you will not be
moved. It is not insanity; it is not arrogance; it is simple faith, to
look our enemies in the eyes, and to feel sure that they cannot touch
us, 'Trust in Jehovah; so shall ye be established.' Rest on the Lord,
and ye shall rest indeed.

In like manner the man who has God at his right hand may be sure of the
unalterable continuance of all his proper good. Outward things may come
or go, as it pleases Him, but that which makes the life of our life will
never depart from us as long as He stands there. And whilst He is there,
if only our hearts are knit to Him, we can say, 'My heart and my flesh
faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. I
shall not be moved. Though all that can go goes, He abides; and in Him I
have all riches.' Trust not in the uncertainty of outward good, but in
the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.

The wicked man was defiantly arrogant, and the forgetful good man was
criminally self-confident, when they each said, 'I shall not be moved.'
We are only taking up the privileges that belong to us if, exercising
faith in Him, we venture to say, 'Take what Thou wilt; leave me Thyself;
I have enough.' And the man who says, 'Because God is at my right hand,
I shall not be moved,' has the right to anticipate an unbroken
continuance of personal being, and an unchanged continuance of the very
life of his life. That which breaks off all other lives abruptly is no
breach in the continuity, either of the consciousness or of the
avocations of a devout man. For, on the other side of the flood, he does
what he does on this side, only more perfectly and more continually. 'He
that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,' and it makes comparatively
little difference to him whether his place be on this or on the other
side of Jordan. We 'shall not be moved,' even when we change our station
from earth to heaven, and the sublime fulfilment of the warranted
confidence of the trustful soul comes when the 'to-morrow' of the skies
is as the 'to-day' of earth, only 'much more abundant.'



MAN'S TRUE TREASURE IN GOD


    'The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; Thou
    maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places;
    yea, I have a goodly heritage.'--PSALM xvi. 5, 6.

We read, in the law which created the priesthood in Israel, that 'the
Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land,
neither shalt thou have any part among them. I am thy part and thine
inheritance among the children of Israel' (Numbers xvii. 20). Now there
is an evident allusion to that remarkable provision in this text. The
Psalmist feels that in the deepest sense he has no possession amongst
the men who have only possessions upon earth, but that God is the
treasure which he grasps in a rapture of devotion and self-abandonment.
The priest's duty is his choice. He will 'walk by faith and not by
sight.'

Are not all Christians priests? and is not the very essence and
innermost secret of the religious life this--that the heart turns away
from earthly things and deliberately accepts God as its supreme good,
and its only portion? These first words of my text contain the essence
of all true religion.

The connection between the first clause and the others is closer than
many readers perceive. The 'lot' which 'Thou maintainest,' the 'pleasant
places,' the 'goodly heritage,' all carry on the metaphor, and all refer
to God as Himself the portion of the heart that chooses and trusts Him.
'Thou maintainest my lot'--He who is our inheritance also guards our
inheritance, and whosoever has taken God for his possession has a
possession as sure as God can make it. 'The lines are fallen to me in
pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage'--the heritage that is
goodly is God Himself. When a man chooses God for his portion, then, and
then only, is he satisfied--'satisfied with favour, and full of the
goodness of the Lord.' Let me try to expand and enforce these thoughts,
with the hope that we may catch something of their fervour and their
glow.

I. The first thought, then, that comes out of the words before us is
this: all true religion has its very heart in deliberately choosing God
as my supreme good.

'The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup.' The two words
which are translated in our version 'portion' and 'inheritance' are
substantially synonymous. The latter of them is used continually in
reference to the share of each individual, or family, or tribe in the
partition of the land of Canaan. There is a distinct allusion,
therefore, to that partition in the language of our text; and the two
expressions, part or 'portion,' and 'inheritance,' are substantially
identical, and really mean just the same as if the single expression had
stood--'The Lord is my Portion.'

I may just notice in passing that these words are evidently alluded to
in the New Testament, in the Epistle to the Colossians, where Paul
speaks of God 'having made us meet for our portion of the inheritance of
the saints in light.'

And then the 'portion of my cup' is a somewhat strange expression. It is
found in one of the other Psalms, with the meaning 'fortune,' or
'destiny,' or 'sum of circumstances which make up a man's life.' There
may be, of course, an allusion to the metaphor of a feast here, and God
may be set forth as 'the portion of my cup,' in the sense of being the
refreshment and sustenance of a man's soul. But I should rather be
disposed to consider that there is merely a prolongation of the earlier
metaphor, and that the same thought as is contained in the figure of the
'inheritance' is expressed here (as in common conversation it is often
expressed) by the word 'cup,' namely, 'that which makes up a man's
portion in this life.' It is used with such a meaning in the well-known
words, 'My cup runneth over,' and in another shape in 'The cup which My
Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?' It is the sum of
circumstances which make up a man's 'fortune.' So the double metaphor
presents the one thought of God as the true possession of the devout
soul.

Now, how do we possess God? We possess things in one fashion and persons
in another. The lowest and most imperfect form of possession is that by
which a man simply keeps other people off material good, and asserts the
right of disposal of it as he thinks proper. A blind man may have the
finest picture that ever was painted; he may call it his, that is to
say, nobody else can sell it, but what good is it to him? A lunatic may
own a library as big as the Bodleian, but what use is it to him? Does
the man who collects the rents of a mountain-side, or the poet or
painter to whom its cliffs and heather speak far-reaching thoughts, most
truly possess it? The highest form of possession, even of things, is
when they minister to our thought, to our emotion, to our moral and
intellectual growth. We possess even them really, according as we know
them and hold communion with them. But when we get up into the region of
persons, we possess them in the measure in which we understand them, and
sympathise with them, and love them. Knowledge, intercourse, sympathy,
affection--these are the ways by which men can possess men, and spirits,
spirits. A disciple who gets the thoughts of a great teacher into his
mind, and has his whole being saturated by them, may be said to have
made the teacher his own. A friend or a lover owns the heart that he or
she loves, and which loves back again; and not otherwise do we possess
God.

Such ownership must be, from its very nature, reciprocal. There must be
the two sides to it. And so we read in the Bible, with equal frequency:
the Lord is the inheritance of His people, and His people are the
inheritance of the Lord. He possesses me, and I possess Him--with
reverence be it spoken--by the very same tenure; for whoso loves God has
Him, and whom He loves He owns. There is deep and blessed mystery
involved in this wonderful prerogative, that the loving, believing heart
has God for its possession and indwelling Guest; and people are apt to
brush such thoughts aside as mystical. But, like all true Christian
mysticism, it is intensely practical.

We have God for ours, first, in the measure in which our minds are
actively occupied with thoughts of Him. We have no merely mystical or
emotional possession of God to preach. There is a real, adequate
knowledge of Him in Jesus Christ. We know God, His character, His heart,
His relations to us, His thoughts of good concerning us, sufficiently
for all intellectual and for all practical purposes.

I wish to ask you a plain question: Do you ever think about Him? There
is only one way of getting God for yours, and that is by bringing Him
into your life by frequent meditation upon His sweetness, and upon the
truths that you know about Him. There is no other way by which a spirit
can possess a spirit, that is not cognisable by sense, except only by
the way of thinking about him, to begin with. All else follows that.
That is how you hold your dear ones when they go to the other side of
the world. That is how you hold God, who dwells on the other side of the
stars. There is no way to 'have' Him, but through the understanding
accepting Him, and keeping firm hold of Him. Men and women that from
Monday morning to Saturday night never think of His name--how do they
possess God? And professing Christians that never remember Him all the
day long--what absurd hypocrisy it is for them to say that God is
theirs!

Yours, and never in your mind! When your husband, or your wife, or your
child, goes away from home for a week, do you forget them as utterly as
you forget God? Do you have them in any sense if they never dwell in the
'study of your imagination,' and never fill your thoughts with sweetness
and with light?

And so again when the heart turns to Him, and when all the faculties of
our being, will, hope, and imagination, and all our affections and all
our practical powers, when they all touch Him, each in its proper
fashion, then and then only can we in any reasonable and true sense be
said to possess God.

Thought, communion, sympathy, affection, moral likeness, practical
obedience, these are the way--and not by mystical raptures only--by
which, in simple prose fact, it is possible for the finite to grasp the
infinite, and for a man to be the _owner_ of God.

Now there is another consideration very necessary to be remembered, and
that is that this possession of God involves, and is possible only by, a
deliberate act of renunciation. The Levite's example, that is glanced at
in my text, is always our law. You must have no part or inheritance
amongst the sons of earth if God is to be your inheritance. Or, to put
it into plain words, there must be a giving up of the material and the
created if there is to be a possession of the divine and the heavenly.
There cannot be _two_ supreme, any more than there can be two
pole-stars, one in the north and the other in the south, to both of
which a man can be steering. You cannot stand with

  'One foot on land, and one on sea,
   To one thing constant never.'

If you are to have God as your supreme good, you must empty your heart
of earth and worldly things, or your possession of Him will be all
words, and imagination, and hypocrisy. Brethren! I wish to bring that
message to your consciences to-day.

And what is this renunciation? There must be, first of all, a fixed,
deliberate, intelligent conviction lying at the foundation of my life
that God is best, and that He and He only is my true delight and desire.
Then there must be built upon that intelligent conviction that God is
best, the deliberate turning away of the heart from these material
treasures. Then there must be the willingness to abandon the outward
possession of them, if they come in between us and Him. Just as
travellers in old days, that went out looking for treasures in the
western hemisphere, were glad to empty their ships of their less
precious cargo in order to load them with gold, you must get rid of the
trifles, and fling these away if ever they so take up your heart that
God has no room there. Or rather, perhaps, if the love of God in any
real measure, howsoever imperfectly, once gets into a man's soul, it
will work there to expel and edge out the love and regard for earthly
things. Just as when the chemist collects oxygen in a vessel filled with
water, as it passes into the jar it drives out the water before it; the
love of God, if it come into a man's heart in any real sense, in the
measure in which it comes, will deliver him from the love of the world.
But between the two there is warfare so internecine and endless that
they cannot co-exist: and here, to-day, it is as true as ever it was
that if you want to have God for your portion and your inheritance you
must be content to have no inheritance amongst your brethren, nor part
amongst the sons of earth.

Men and women! are you ready for that renunciation? Are you prepared to
say, 'I know that the sweetness of Thy presence is the truest sweetness
that I can taste; and lo! I give up all besides and my own self'?


  'O God of good, the unfathomed Sea!
   Who would not yield himself to Thee?'


And remember, that nothing less than these is Christianity--the
conviction that the world is second and not first; that God is best,
love is best, truth is best, knowledge of Him is best, likeness to Him
is best, the willingness to surrender all if it come in contest with His
supreme sweetness. He that turns his back upon earth by reason of the
drawing power of the glory that excelleth, is a Christian. The
Christianity that only trusts to Christ for deliverance from the
punishment of sin, and so makes religion a kind of fire insurance, is a
very poor affair. We need the lesson pealed into our ears as much as any
generation has ever done, 'Ye cannot serve God and mammon.' A man's real
working religion consists in his loving God most and counting His love
the sweetest of all things.

II. Now let me turn to the next point that is here, viz. that this
possession is as sure as God can make it. 'Thou maintainest my lot.'
Thou art Thyself both my heritage and the guardian of my heritage. He
that possesses God, says the text, by implication, is lifted above all
fear and chance of change.

The land, the partition of which amongst the tribes lies at the bottom
of the allusive metaphor of my text, was given to them under the
sanction of a supernatural defence; and the law of their continuance in
it was that they should trust and serve the unseen King. It was He,
according to the theocratic theory of the Old Testament, and not
chariots and horses, their own arm and their own sword, that kept them
safe, though the enemies on the north and the enemies on the south were
big enough to swallow up the little kingdom at a mouthful.

And so, says the Psalmist allusively, in a similar manner, the Divine
Power surrounds the man who chooses God for his heritage, and nothing
shall take that heritage from him.

The lower forms of possession, by which men are called the owners of
material goods, are imperfect, because they are all precarious and
temporary. Nothing really belongs to a man if it can be taken from him.
What we may lose we can scarcely be said to have. They _are_ mine, they
_were_ yours, they _will be_ somebody else's to-morrow. Whilst we have
them we do not have them in any deep sense; we cannot retain them, they
are not really ours at all. The only thing that is worth calling mine is
something that so passes into and saturates the very substance of my
soul that, like a piece of cloth dyed in the grain, as long as two
threads hold together the tint will be there. That is how God gives us
Himself, and nothing can take Him out of a man's soul. He, in the
sweetness of His grace, bestows Himself upon man, and guards His own
gift in the heart, which is Himself. He who dwells in God and God in him
lives as in the inmost keep and citadel. The noise of battle may roar
around the walls, but deep silence and peace are within. The storm may
rage upon the coasts, but he who has God for his portion dwells in a
quiet inland valley where tempests never come. No outer changes can
touch our possession of God. They belong to another region altogether.
Other goods may go, but this is held by a different tenure. The life of
a Christian is lived in two regions: in the one his life has its roots,
and its branches extend to the other. In the one there may be whirling
storms and branches may toss and snap, whilst in the other, to which the
roots go down, may be peace. Root yourselves in God, making Him your
truest treasure, and nothing can rob you of your wealth.

We here in this commercial community see many examples of great fortunes
and great businesses melting away like yesterday's snow. And surely the
certain alternations of 'booms' and bad times might preach to some of
you this lesson: Set not your hearts on that which can pass, but make
your treasure that which no man can take from you.

Then, too, there is the other thought. God will help us so that no
temptations shall have power to make us rob _ourselves_ of our treasure.
None can take it from us but ourselves, but we are so weak and
surrounded by temptations so strong that we need Him to aid us if we are
not to be beguiled by our own treacherous hearts into parting with our
highest good. A handful of feeble Jews were nothing against the gigantic
might of Assyria, or against the compacted strength of civilised Egypt;
but there they stood, on their rocky mountains, defended, not by their
own strength, but by the might of a present God. And so, unfit to cope
with the temptations round us as we are, if we cast ourselves upon His
power and make Him our supreme delight, nothing shall be able to rob us
of that possession and that sweetness.

And there is just one last point that I would refer to here on this
matter of our stable possession of God. It is very beautiful to observe
that this psalm, which, in the language of my text, rises to the very
height of spiritual and, in a good sense, mystical devotion, recognising
God as the One Good for souls, is also one of the psalms which has the
clearest utterance of the faith in immortality. Just after the words of
my text we read these others, in which the Old Testament confidence in a
life beyond the grave reaches its very climax: 'Thou wilt not leave my
soul in Sheol, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy one to see
corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is
fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.'

That connection teaches us that the measure in which a man feels his
true possession of God here and now, is the measure in which his faith
rises triumphant over the darkness of the grave, and grasps, with
unfaltering confidence, the conviction of an immortal life. The more we
know that God is our portion and our treasure, the more sure, and calmly
sure, we shall be that a thing like death cannot touch a thing like
that, that the mere physical fact is far too small and insignificant a
fact to have any power in such a region as that; that death can no more
affect a man's relation to God, whom he has learned to love and trust,
than you can cut thought or feeling with a knife. The two belong to two
different regions. Thus we have here the Old Testament faith in
immortality shaping itself out of the Old Testament enjoyment of
communion with God, with a present God. And you will find the very same
process of thought in that seventy-third psalm, which stands in some
respects side by side with this one as attaining the height of mystical
devotion, joined with a very clear utterance of the faith in
immortality: 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none upon
earth that I desire beside Thee! Thou wilt guide me with Thy counsel,
and afterwards receive me to glory.'

So Death himself cannot touch the heritage of the man whose heritage is
the Lord. And his ministry is not to rob us of our treasures as he robs
men of all treasures besides (for 'their glory shall not descend after
them'), but to give us instead of the 'earnest of the inheritance'--the
bit of turf by which we take possession of the estate--the broad land in
all the amplitude of its sweep, into our perpetual possession. 'Thou
maintainest my lot.' Neither death nor life 'shall separate us from the
love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

III. And then the last thought here is that he who thus elects to find
his treasure and delight in God is satisfied with his choice. 'The
lines'--the measuring-cord by which the estate was parted off and
determined--'are fallen in pleasant places; yea!'--not as our Bible has
it, merely 'I have a _goodly_ heritage,' putting emphasis on the fact of
possession, but--'the heritage is goodly to _me_,' putting emphasis on
the fact of subjective satisfaction with it.

I have no time to dwell upon the thoughts that spring from these words.
Take them in the barest outline. No man that makes the worse choice of
earth instead of God, ever, in the retrospect, said: 'I have a goodly
heritage.' One of the later Roman Emperors, who was among the best of
them, said, when he was dying: 'I have been everything, and it profits
me nothing.' No creature can satisfy your whole nature. Portions of it
may be fed with their appropriate satisfaction, but as long as we feed
on the things of earth there will always be part of our being like an
unfed tiger in a menagerie, growling for its prey, whilst its fellows
are satisfied for the moment. You can no more give your heart rest and
blessedness by pitching worldly things into it, than they could fill up
Chat Moss, when they made the first Liverpool and Manchester Railway, by
throwing in cartloads of earth. The bog swallowed them and was none the
nearer being filled.

No man who takes the world for his portion ever said, 'The lines are
fallen to me in pleasant places.' For the make of your soul as plainly
cries out 'God!' as a fish's fins declare that the sea is its element,
or a bird's wings mark it out as meant to soar. Man and God fit each
other like the two halves of a tally. You will never get rest nor
satisfaction, and you will never be able to look at the past with
thankfulness, nor at the present with repose, nor into the future with
hope, unless you can say, 'God is the strength of my heart, and my
portion for ever.' But oh! if you do, then you have a goodly heritage, a
heritage of still satisfaction, a heritage which suits, and gratifies,
and expands all the powers of a man's nature, and makes him ever capable
of larger and larger possession of a God who ever gives more than we can
receive, that the overplus may draw us to further desire, and the
further desire may more fully be satisfied.

The one true, pure, abiding joy is to hold fellowship with God and to
live in His love. The secret of all our unrest is the going out of our
desires after earthly things. They fly forth from our hearts like Noah's
raven, and nowhere amid all the weltering flood can find a
resting-place. The secret of satisfied repose is to set our affections
thoroughly on God. Then our wearied hearts, like Noah's dove returning
to its rest, will fold their wings and nestle fast by the throne of God.
'All the happiness of this life,' said William Law, 'is but trying to
quench thirst out of golden _empty_ cups.' But if we will take the Lord
for 'the portion of our cup,' we shall never thirst.

Let me beseech you to choose God in Christ for your supreme good and
highest portion; and having chosen, to cleave to your choice. So shall
you enter on possession of good that truly shall be yours, even 'that
good part, which shall not be taken away from' you.

And, lastly, remember that if you would have God, you must take Christ.
He is the true Joshua, who puts us in possession of the inheritance. He
brings God to you--to your knowledge, to your love, to your will. He
brings you to God, making it possible for your poor sinful souls to
enter His presence by His blood; and for your spirits to possess that
divine Guest. 'He that hath the Son, hath the Father'; and if you trust
your souls to Him who died for you, and cling to Him as your delight and
your joy, you will find that both the Father and the Son come to you and
make their home in you. Through Christ the Son you will receive power to
become sons of God, and 'if children, then heirs, heirs of God,' because
'joint heirs with Christ.'



GOD WITH US, AND WE WITH GOD


    'I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right
    hand, I shall not be moved.... 11. In Thy presence is fulness of
    joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.'
    --PSALM xvi. 8, 11.


There are, unquestionably, large tracts of the Old Testament in which
the anticipation of immortality does not appear, and there are others in
which its presence may be doubtful. But here there can be no hesitation,
I think, as to the meaning of these words. If we regard them carefully,
we shall not only see clearly the Psalmist's hope of immortal life, but
shall discern the process by which he came to it, and almost his very
act of grasping at it; for the first verse of our text is manifestly the
foundation of the second; and the facts of the one are the basis of the
hopes of the other. That is made plain by the 'therefore' which, in one
of the intervening verses, links the concluding rapturous anticipations
with the previous expressions.

If, then, we observe that here, in these two verses which I have read,
there is a very remarkable parallelism, we shall get still more
strikingly the connection between the devout life here and the
perfecting of the same hereafter. Note how, even in our translation, the
latter verse is largely an echo of the former, and how much more
distinctly that is the case if we make a little variation in the
rendering, which brings it closer to the original. 'I have set the Lord
always _before me_,' says the one,--that is the present. 'In Thy
_presence_ is fulness of joy,' says the other,--that is the consequent
future. And the two words, which are rendered in the one case 'before
me' and in the other case 'in Thy presence,' are, though not identical,
so precisely synonymous that we may take them as meaning the same thing.
So we might render 'I have set the Lord always before _my_ face':
'Before _Thy_ face is fulness of joy.' The other clause is, to an
English reader, more obviously parallel: 'Because He is at _my right
hand_ I shall not be moved'--shall be steadied here. 'At _Thy right_
hand are pleasures for evermore'--the steadfastness here merges into
eternal delights hereafter.

So then, we have two conditions set before us, and the link between them
made very plain. And I gather all that I have to say about these words
into two statements. First, life here may be God's presence with us, to
make us steadfast. And secondly, if so, life hereafter will be our
presence with God to make us glad. That is the Psalmist's teaching, and
I will try to enforce it.

I. First, then, life here may be God's presence with us, to make us
steadfast.

Mark the Psalmist's language. 'I have set the Lord always _in front of_
me--before my face.' Emphasis is placed on 'set' and 'always.' God is
ever by our sides, but we may be very far away from Him, 'though He be
not far off from every one of us,' and if we are to have Him blazing,
clear and unobscured above and beyond all the mists and hubbub of earth,
we shall need continual effort in order to keep Him in our sight. 'I
have set the Lord'--He permits me to put out my hand, as it were, and
station Him where I want Him, that I may always have Him in my sight,
and be able to look at Him and be calm and blessed.

You cannot do that, if you let the world, and wealth, and business, and
anxieties, and ambitions, and cares, and sorrows, and duties, and family
responsibilities, jostle and hustle Him out of your minds and hearts.
You cannot do it if, like John Bunyan's man with the muckrake, you keep
your eyes always down on the straw at your feet, and never lift them to
the crown above. How many men in Manchester walk its streets from year's
end to year's end, and never look up to the sky except to see whether
they must take their umbrellas with them or not? And so all the
magnificence and beauty of the daily heavens, and the nightly gemming of
the empty places with perpetually burning stars, are lost to them! So,
God is blazing there in front of us, but unless we set ourselves to it,
we shall never see Him. You have to look, by a conscious effort, over
and away from the things that are 'seen and temporal' if you want to see
the things that are 'unseen and eternal.'

But if you disturb the whole tenor of your being by agitations and
distractions and petty cares, or if you defile it by sensual and fleshly
lusts, and animal propensities gratified, and poor, miserable, worldly
ambitions and longings filling up your souls, then God can no more be
visible before your face than the blessed sun can mirror himself in a
storm-tossed sea or in a muddy puddle. The heart must be pure, and the
heart must be still, and the mind must be detached from earth, and glued
to Heaven, and the glasses of the telescope must be sedulously cleansed
from dust, if we are to be blessed with the vision of God continuously
before our face.

Then note, still further, that if thus we have made God present with us,
by realising the fact of His presence, when He comes, He comes with His
hands full. 'I have set the Lord always before me,' says the Psalmist.
And then he goes on to say, 'Because He is at my right hand.' Not only
in front of you, then, David, to be looked at, but at your side! What
for? What do we summon some one to come and stand beside us for? In
order that from his presence there may come help and succour and courage
and confidence. And so God comes to the right hand of the man who
honestly endeavours through all the confusions and bustles of life to
realise His sweet and calming presence. Where He comes He comes to help;
not to be a spectator, but an ally in the warfare; and whoever sets the
Lord before him will have the Lord at his right hand.

And then, note, still further, the steadfastness which God brings. I
have spoken of the effort which brings God. I speak now of the
steadfastness which He brings by His coming. The Psalmist's anticipation
is a singularly modest one. 'Because He is at my right hand I
shall'--What? Be triumphant? No! Escape sorrows? No! Have my life filled
with serenity? No! 'I shall not be moved.' That is the best I can hope
for. To be able to stand on the spot, with steadfast convictions, with
steadfast purposes, with steadfast actions--continuously in one
direction; 'having overcome all, to stand'--that is as much as the best
of us can desire or expect, in this poor struggling life of ours.

What a profound consciousness of inward weakness and of outward
antagonism there breathes in that humble and modest hope, as being the
loftiest result of the presence of Omnipotence for our aid: 'I shall not
be moved'! When we think of our inner weakness, when we remember the
fluctuations of our feelings and emotions, when we compare the ups and
downs of our daily life, or when we think of the larger changes covering
years, which affect all our outlooks, our thoughts, our plans; and how

  'We all are changed by still degrees,
   All but the basis of the soul,'

it is much to say, 'I shall not be moved.' And when we think of the
obstacles that surround us, of the storms that dash against us, how we
are swept by surges of emotion that wash away everything before their
imperious onrush, or swayed by blasts of temptation that break down the
strongest defences, or smitten by the shocks of change and sorrow that
crush the firmest hearts, it is much to say, in the face of a world
pressing upon us with the force of the wind in a cyclone, that our poor,
feeble reed shall stand upright and 'not be moved' in the fiercest
blast. 'What went ye out for to see?' 'A reed shaken with the
wind'--that is humanity. 'Behold! I have made thee an iron pillar and
brazen walls, and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not
prevail'--that is weak man, stiffened into uprightness, and rooted in
steadfastness by the touch of the hand of a present God.

And, brother! there is nothing else that will stay a man's soul. The
holdfast cannot be a part of the chain. It must be fastened to a fixed
point. The anchor that is to keep the ship of your life from dragging
and finding itself, when the morning breaks, a ghastly wreck upon the
reef, must be outside of yourself, and the cable of it must be wrapped
round the throne of God. The anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast,
which will neither break nor drag, can only be firm when it 'enters into
that within the veil.' God, and God only, can thus make us strong! So,
dear friends, let us see to it that we fasten our aims and purposes, our
faith and love, our submission and obedience, upon that mighty Helper
who will be with us and make us strong, that we may 'stand fast in the
Lord and in the power of His might.'

II. Now, secondly, notice how, if so, life hereafter will be our
presence with God, to make us glad.

I have already pointed out briefly the connection between these two
portions of my text, and I need only remark here that the link which
holds them together is very obvious. If a man loves God, and trusts Him,
and 'walks with Him,' after the fashion described in our former verse,
then there will spring up, irrepressible and unconquerable, a conviction
in that man's soul that this sweet and strong communion, which makes so
much of the blessedness of life, must last after death. Anything is
conceivable rather than that a man who walks with God shall cease to be!
Rather, when he 'is not' any more 'found' among men, it is only because
'God took him.' Thus the emotions and experiences of a truly devout soul
are (apart from the great revelation in Jesus Christ which hath brought
'life and immortality to light') the best evidence and confirmation of
the anticipation of immortal life. It cannot be, unless our whole
intellectual faculties are to be put into utter confusion, that such an
experience as that of the man who loves God, and tries to trust Him, and
walk before Him, is destined to be brought to nothingness with the mere
dissolution of this earthly frame. The greatness and the smallness, the
achievements and the failures, of the religious life as we see it here,
all bear upon their front the mark of imperfection, and in their
imperfection prophesy and proclaim a future completion. Because it is so
great in itself, and because, being so great, its developments and
influence are so strangely and sadly checked, the faith that knits a man
to Christ demands eternity for its duration, and infinitude for its
perfection. Thus, he that says 'I have set the Lord always before me,'
goes on to say, with an undeniable accuracy of inference, 'Therefore
Thou wilt not leave my soul in the under world.' God is not going to
forget the soul that clave to Him, and anything is believable sooner
than that.

Our texts not only assert this connection and base the confidence of
immortality on the present experiences of the spirit that trusts in God,
but also give the outline, at least, of the correspondences between the
imperfections of the present and the perfectnesses of the future. And I
cast this into two or three words before I close.

This is the first of them. If you will turn your faces to God, amidst
all the flaunting splendours and vain shows and fleeting possessions of
this present, His face will dawn on you yonder. We can say but little of
what is meant by such a hope as that. But only this we can say, that
there will be, as yet unimaginable, new wealths of revelation of the
Father, and to match them, as yet unimaginable new inlets of
apprehension and perception upon our parts, so that the sweetest,
clearest, closest, most satisfying vision of God that has ever dawned on
sad souls here, shall be but 'as in a glass darkly' compared with that
face to face sight. We live away out on the far-off outskirts of the
system where those great planets plough along their slow orbits, and
turn their languid rotations at distances that imagination faints in
contemplating, and the light and the heat and the life that reach them
are infinitesimally small. We shall be shifted into the orb that is
nearest the sun; and oh! what a rapture of light and life and heat will
come to our amazed spirits: 'I have set the Lord always before me.'
Twilight though the light has been, I have tried to keep it. I shall be
of the sons of light close to the Throne and shall see Thy face. I shall
be satisfied when I wake out of this sleep of life into Thy likeness.

Then, again, if you will keep God at your right hand here, He will set
you on His hereafter. Keep Him here for your Companion, for your Ally,
for your Advocate, to breathe strength into you by the touch of His
hand, as some feeble man, leaning upon a stronger arm, may be upheld. If
you will do that, then the place where the favoured servants stand will
be yours; the place where trusted counsellors stand will be yours; the
place where the sheep stand will be yours; the place where the Shepherd
sits will be yours; for He to whom it is said, 'Sit Thou at My right
hand till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool,' says to us, 'Where I am
there shall also My servant be.' Keep God by your sides, and you will be
lifted to Christ's place at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Lastly, if we let ourselves be stayed by God amidst the struggle and
difficulty, we shall be gladdened by Him with perpetual joys. The
emphasis of the last words of my text is rather on the adjectives than
on the nouns--_full_ joy, _eternal_ pleasure. And how both
characteristics contradict the experiences of earth, even the gladdest,
which we fain would make permanent! For I suppose that no earthly joy is
either central, reaching the deepest self, or circumferential, embracing
the whole being of a man, but that only God can so go into the depths of
my soul as that from His throne there He can flood the whole of my
nature with felicity and peace. In all other gladnesses there is always
in the landscape one bit of sullen shadow somewhere or other,
unparticipant of the light, while all around is blazing. And we need
that He should come to make us blessed.

Joys here are no more lasting than they are complete. As one who only
too sadly proved the truth of his own words, burning out his life before
he was six-and-thirty, has said--

  'Pleasures are like poppies spread,
   You seize the flower, its bloom is shed!
   Or like the snowflake in the river.
   A moment white--then gone for ever.'

Oh! my friend, 'why do ye spend your money for that which is not bread?'
The life of faith on earth is the beginning, and only the beginning, of
that life of calm and complete felicity in the heavenly places.

I have shown you the ladder's foot, 'I have set the Lord always before
me.' The top round reaches the throne of God, and whoever begins at the
bottom, and holds fast the beginning of his confidence firm unto the
end, for him the great promise of the Master will come true, and
Christ's 'joy will remain in him and his joy shall be full.'



THE TWO AWAKINGS


    'I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.'
    --PSALM xvii. 15.

    'As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when Thou awakest, Thou
    shalt despise their image.'--PSALM lxxiii. 20.

Both of these Psalms are occupied with that standing puzzle to Old
Testament worthies--the good fortune of bad men, and the bad fortune of
good ones. The former recounts the personal calamities of David, its
author. The latter gives us the picture of the perplexity of Asaph its
writer, when he 'saw the prosperity of the wicked.'

And as the problem in both is substantially the same, the solution also
is the same. David and Asaph both point onwards to a period when this
confusing distribution of earthly good shall have ceased, though the one
regards that period chiefly in its bearing upon himself as the time when
he shall see God and be at rest, while the other thinks of it rather
with reference to the godless rich as the time of their destruction.

In the details of this common expectation, also, there is a remarkable
parallelism. Both describe the future to which they look as an awaking,
and both connect with it, though in different ways and using different
words, the metaphor of an image or likeness. In the one case, the future
is conceived as the Psalmist's awaking, and losing all the vain show of
this dreamland of life, while he is at rest in beholding the appearance,
and perhaps in receiving the likeness, of the one enduring Substance,
God. In the other, it is thought of as God's awaking, and putting to
shame the fleeting shadow of well-being with which godless men befool
themselves.

What this period of twofold awaking may be is a question on which good
men and thoughtful students of Scripture differ. Without entering on the
wide subject of the Jewish knowledge of a future state, it may be enough
for the present purpose to say that the language of both these Psalms
seems much too emphatic and high-pitched, to be fully satisfied by a
reference to anything in this life. It certainly looks as if the great
awaking which David puts in immediate contrast with the death of 'men of
this world,' and which solaced his heart with the confident expectation
of beholding God, of full satisfaction of all his being, and possibly
even of wearing the divine likeness, pointed onwards, however dimly, to
that 'within the veil.' And as for the other psalm, though the awaking
of God is, no doubt, a Scriptural phrase for His ending of any period of
probation and indulgence by an act of judgment, yet the strong words in
which the context describes this awaking, as the 'destruction' and the
'end' of the godless, make it most natural to take it as here referring
to the final close of the probation of life. That conclusion appears to
be strengthened by the contrast which in subsequent verses is drawn
between this 'end' of the worldling, and the poet's hopes for himself of
divine guidance in life, and afterwards of being taken (the same word as
is used in the account of Enoch's translation) by God into His presence
and glory--hopes whose exuberance it is hard to confine within the
limits of any changes possible for earth.

The doctrine of a future state never assumed the same prominence, nor
possessed the same clearness in Israel as with us. There are great
tracts of the Old Testament where it does not appear at all. This very
difficulty, about the strange disproportion between character and
circumstances, shows that the belief had not the same place with them as
with us. But it gradually emerged into comparative distinctness.
Revelation is progressive, and the appropriation of revelation is
progressive too. There is a history of God's self-manifestation, and
there is a history of man's reception of the manifestation. It seems to
me that in these two psalms, as in other places of Old Testament
Scripture, we see inspired men in the very course of being taught by
God, on occasion of their earthly sorrows, the clearer hopes which alone
could sustain them. They stood not where we stand, to whom Christ has
'brought life and immortality to light'; but to their devout and
perplexed souls, the dim regions beyond were partially opened, and
though they beheld there a great darkness, they also 'saw a great
light.' They saw all this solid world fade and melt, and behind its
vanishing splendours they saw the glory of the God whom they loved, in
the midst of which they felt that there _must_ be a place for them,
where eternal realities should fill their vision, and a stable
inheritance satisfy their hearts.

The period, then, to which both David and Asaph look, in these two
verses, is the end of life. The words of both, taken in combination,
open out a series of aspects of that period which carry weighty lessons,
and to which we turn now.

I. The first of these is that to all men the end of Life is an awaking.

The representation of death most widely diffused among all nations is
that it is a sleep. The reasons for that emblem are easily found. We
always try to veil the terror and deformity of the ugly thing by the
thin robe of language. As with reverential awe, so with fear and
disgust, the tendency is to wrap their objects in the folds of metaphor.
Men prefer not to name plainly their god or their dread, but find
roundabout phrases for the one, and coaxing, flattering titles for the
other. The furies and the fates of heathenism, the supernatural beings
of modern superstition, must not be spoken of by their own appellations.
The recoil of men's hearts from the thing is testified by the aversion
of their languages to the bald name--death. And the employment of this
special euphemism of sleep is a wonderful witness to our weariness of
life, and to its endless toil and trouble. Everywhere that has seemed to
be a comforting and almost an attractive name, which has promised full
rest from all the agitations of this changeful scene. The prosperous and
the wretched alike have owned the fatigue of living, and been conscious
of a soothing expectance which became almost a hope, as they thought of
lying still at last with folded hands and shut eyes. The wearied workers
have bent over their dead, and felt that they are blest in this at all
events, that they rest from their labours; and as they saw them absolved
from all their tasks, have sought to propitiate the power that had made
this ease for them, as well as to express their sense of its merciful
aspect, by calling it not death, but sleep.

But that emblem, true and sweet as it is, is but half the truth. Taken
as the whole, as indeed men are ever tempted to take it, it is a
cheerless lie. It is truth for the senses--'the foolish senses,' who
'crown' Death, as 'Omega,' the last, 'the Lord,' because '_they_ find no
_motion_ in the dead.' Rest, cessation of consciousness of the outer
world, and of action upon it, are set forth by the figure. But even the
figure might teach us that the consciousness of life, and the vivid
exercise of thought and feeling, are not denied by it. Death is sleep.
Be it so. But does not that suggest the doubt--'in that sleep, what
dreams may come?' Do we not all know that, when the chains of slumber
bind sense, and the disturbance of the outer world is hushed, there are
faculties of our souls which work more strongly than in our waking
hours? We are all poets, 'makers' in our sleep. Memory and imagination
open their eyes when flesh closes it. We can live through years in the
dreams of a night; so swiftly can spirit move when even partially freed
from 'this muddy vesture of decay.' That very phrase, then, which at
first sight seems the opposite of the representation of our text, in
reality is preparatory to and confirmatory of it. That very
representation which has lent itself to cheerless and heathenish
thoughts of death as the cessation not only of toil but of activity, is
the basis of the deeper and truer representation, the truth for the
spirit, that death is an awaking. If, on the one hand, we have to say,
as we anticipate the approaching end of life, 'The night cometh, when no
man can work'; on the other the converse is true, 'The night is far
spent; the day is at hand.'

We shall sleep. Yes; but we shall wake too. We shall wake just because
we sleep. For flesh and all its weakness, and all its disturbing
strength, and craving importunities--for the outer world, and all its
dissipating garish shows, and all its sullen resistance to our hand--for
weariness, and fevered activity and toil against the grain of our
tastes, too great for our strength, disappointing in its results, the
end is blessed, calm sleep. And precisely because it is so, therefore
for our true selves, for heart and mind, for powers that lie dormant in
the lowest, and are not stirred into full action in the highest, souls;
for all that universe of realities which encompass us undisclosed, and
known only by faint murmurs which pierce through the opiate sleep of
life, the end shall be an awaking.

The truth which corresponds to this metaphor, and which David felt when
he said, 'I shall be satisfied when I awake,' is that the spirit,
because emancipated from the body, shall spring into greater intensity
of action, shall put forth powers that have been held down here and
shall come into contact with an order of things which here it has but
indirectly known. To our true selves and to God we shall wake. Here we
are like men asleep in some chamber that looks towards the eastern sky.
Morning by morning comes the sunrise, with the tender glory of its rosy
light and blushing heavens, and the heavy eyes are closed to it all.
Here and there some lighter sleeper, with thinner eyelids or face turned
to the sun, is half conscious of a vague brightness, and feels the
light, though he sees not the colours of the sky nor the forms of the
filmy clouds. Such souls are our saints and prophets, but most of us
sleep on unconscious. To us all the moment comes when we shall wake and
see for ourselves the bright and terrible world which we have so often
forgotten, and so often been tempted to think was itself a dream.
Brethren, see to it that that awaking be for you the beholding of what
you have loved, the finding, in the sober certainty of waking bliss, of
all the objects which have been your visions of delight in the sleep of
earth.

This life of ours hides more than it reveals. The day shows the sky as
solitary but for wandering clouds that cover its blue emptiness. But the
night peoples its waste places with stars, and fills all its abysses
with blazing glories. 'If light so much conceals, wherefore not life?'
Let us hold fast by a deeper wisdom than is born of sense; and though
men, nowadays, seem to be willing to go back to the 'eternal sleep' of
the most unspiritual heathenism, and to cast away all that Christ has
brought us concerning that world where He has been and whence He has
returned, because positive science and the anatomist's scalpel preach no
gospel of a future, let us try to feel as well as to believe that it is
life, with all its stunted capacities and idle occupation with baseless
fabrics, which is the sleep, and that for us all the end of it is--to
awake.

II. The second principle contained in our text is that death is to some
men the awaking of God.

'When Thou awakest, Thou shalt despise their image.' Closely rendered,
the former clause would read simply 'in awaking,' without any specifying
of the person, which is left to be gathered from the succeeding words.
But there is no doubt that the English version fills the blank correctly
by referring the awaking to God.

The metaphor is not infrequent in the Old Testament, and, like many
others applying to the divine nature, is saved from any possibility of
misapprehension by the very boldness of its materialism. It has a
well-marked and uniform meaning. God 'awakes' when He ends an epoch of
probation and long-suffering mercy by an act or period of judgment. So
far, then, as the mere expression is concerned, there may be nothing
more meant here than the termination by a judicial act in this life, of
the transient 'prosperity of the wicked.' Any divinely-sent catastrophe
which casts the worldly rich man down from his slippery eminence would
satisfy the words. But the emphatic context seems, as already pointed
out, to require that they should be referred to that final crash which
irrevocably separates him who has 'his portion in this life,' from all
which he calls his 'goods.'

If so, then the whole period of earthly existence is regarded as the
time of God's gracious forbearance and mercy; and the time of death is
set forth as the instant when sterner elements of the divine dealings
start into greater prominence. Life here is predominantly, though not
exclusively, the field for the manifestation of patient love, not
willing that any should perish. To the godless soul, immersed in
material things, and blind to the light of God's wooing love, the
transition to that other form of existence is likewise the transition to
the field for the manifestation of the retributive energy of God's
righteousness. Here and now His judgment on the whole slumbers. The
consequences of our deeds are inherited, indeed, in many a merciful
sorrow, in many a paternal chastisement, in many a partial
exemplification of the wages of sin as death. But the harvest is not
fully grown nor ripened yet; it is not reaped in all its extent; the
bitter bread is not baked and eaten as it will have to be. Nor are men's
consciences so awakened that they connect the retribution, which does
befall them, with its causes in their own actions, as closely as they
will do when they are removed from the excitement of life and the deceit
of its dreams. 'Sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.'
For the long years of our stay here, God's seeking love lingers round
every one of us, yearning over us, besetting us behind and before,
courting us with kindnesses, lavishing on us its treasures, seeking to
win our poor love. It is sometimes said that this is a state of
probation. But that phrase suggests far too cold an idea. God does not
set us here as on a knife edge, with abysses on either side ready to
swallow us if we stumble, while He stands apart watching for our
halting, and unhelpful to our tottering feebleness. He compasses us with
His love and its gifts, He draws us to Himself, and desires that we
should stand. He offers all the help of His angels to hold us up. 'He
will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not
slumber.' The judgment sleeps; the loving forbearance, the gracious aid
wake. Shall we not yield to His perpetual pleadings, and, moved by the
mercies of God, let His conquering love thaw our cold hearts into
streams of thankfulness and self-devotion?

But remember, that that predominantly merciful and long-suffering
character of God's present dealing affords no guarantee that there will
not come a time when His slumbering judgment will stir to waking. The
same chapter which tells us that 'He is long-suffering to us-ward, not
willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,'
goes on immediately to repel the inference that therefore a period of
which retribution shall be the characteristic is impossible, by the
solemn declaration, '_But_ the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in
the night.' His character remains ever the same, the principles of His
government are unalterable, but there may be variations in the
prominence given in His acts, to the several principles of the one, and
the various though harmonious phases of the other. The method may be
changed, the purpose may remain unchanged. And the Bible, which is our
only source of knowledge on the subject, tells us that the method _is_
changed, in so far as to intensify the vigour of the operation of
retributive justice after death, so that men who have been compassed
with 'the loving-kindness of the Lord,' and who die leaving worldly
things, and keeping worldly hearts, will have to confront 'the terror of
the Lord.'

The alternation of epochs of tolerance and destruction is in accordance
with the workings of God's providence here and now. For though the
characteristic of that providence as we see it is merciful forbearance,
yet we are not left without many a premonition of the mighty final 'day
of the Lord.' For long years or centuries a nation or an institution
goes on slowly departing from truth, forgetting the principles on which
it rests, or the purposes for which it exists. Patiently God pleads with
the evil-doers, lavishes gifts and warnings upon them. He holds back the
inevitable avenging as long as restoration is yet possible--and _His_
eye and heart see it to be possible long after men conclude that the
corruption is hopeless. But at last comes a period when He says, 'I have
long still holden My peace, and refrained Myself, now will I destroy';
and with a crash one more hoary iniquity disappears from the earth which
it has burdened so long. For sixty times sixty slow, throbbing seconds,
the silent hand creeps unnoticed round the dial and then, with whirr and
clang, the bell rings out, and another hour of the world's secular day
is gone. The billows of the thunder-cloud slowly gather into vague form,
and slowly deepen in lurid tints, and slowly roll across the fainting
blue; they touch--and then the fierce flash, like the swift hand on the
palace-wall of Babylon, writes its message of destruction over all the
heaven at once. We know enough from the history of men and nations since
Sodom till to-day, to recognise it as God's plan to alternate long
patience and 'sudden destruction':--

  'The mills of God grind slowly,
   But they grind exceeding small';

and every such instance confirms the expectation of the coming of that
great and terrible day of the Lord, whereof all epochs of convulsion and
ruin, all falls of Jerusalem, and Roman empires, Reformations, and
French Revolutions, and American wars, all private and personal
calamities which come from private wrong-doing, are but feeble
precursors. 'When Thou awakest, Thou wilt despise their image.'

Brethren, do we use aright this goodness of God which is the
characteristic of the present? Are we ready for that judgment which is
the mark of the future?

III. Death is the annihilation of the vain show of worldly life.

The word rendered _image_ is properly shadow, and hence copy or
likeness, and hence image. Here, however, the simpler meaning is the
better. 'Thou shalt despise their shadow.' The men are shadows, and all
their goods are not what they are called, their 'substance,' but their
_shadow_, a mere appearance, not a reality. That show of good which
seems but is not, is withered up by the light of the awaking God. What
He despises cannot live.

So there are the two old commonplaces of moralists set forth in these
grand words--the unsatisfying character of all merely external delights
and possessions, and also their transitory character. They are
non-substantial and non-permanent.

Nothing that is without a man can make him rich or restful. The
treasures which are kept in coffers are not real, but only those which
are kept in the soul. Nothing which cannot enter into the substance of
the life and character can satisfy us. That which we are makes us rich
or poor, that which we own is a trifle.

There is no congruity between any outward thing and man's soul, of such
a kind as that satisfaction can come from its possession. 'Cisterns that
can hold no water,' 'that which is not bread,' 'husks that the swine did
eat'--these are not exaggerated phrases for the good gifts which God
gives for our delight, and which become profitless and delusive by our
exclusive attachment to them. There is no need for exaggeration. These
worldly possessions have a good in them, they contribute to ease and
grace in life, they save from carking cares and mean anxieties, they add
many a comfort and many a source of culture. But, after all, a true,
lofty life may be lived with a very small modicum. There is no
proportion between wealth and happiness, nor between wealth and
nobleness. The fairest life that ever lived on earth was that of a poor
Man, and with all its beauty it moved within the limits of narrow
resources. The loveliest blossoms do not grow on plants that plunge
their greedy roots into the fattest soil. A little light earth in the
crack of a hard rock will do. We need enough for the physical being to
root itself in; we need no more.

Young men! especially you who are plunged into the busy life of our
great commercial centres, and are tempted by everything you see, and by
most that you hear, to believe that a prosperous trade and hard cash are
the realities, and all else mist and dreams, fix this in your mind to
begin life with--God is the reality, all else is shadow. Do not make it
your ambition to get _on_, but to get _up_. 'Having food and raiment,
let us be content.' Seek for your life's delight and treasure in
thought, in truth, in pure affections, in moderate desires, in a spirit
set on God. These are the realities of our possessions. As for all the
rest, it is sham and show.

And while thus all without is unreal, it is also fleeting as the shadows
of the flying clouds; and when God awakes, it disappears as they before
the noonlight that clears the heavens. All things that are, are on
condition of perpetual flux and change. The cloud-rack has the likeness
of bastions and towers, but they are mist, not granite, and the wind is
every moment sweeping away their outlines, till the phantom fortress
topples into red ruin while we gaze. The tiniest stream eats out its
little valley and rounds the pebble in its widening bed, rain washes
down the soil, and frost cracks the cliffs above. So silently and yet
mightily does the law of change work that to a meditative eye the solid
earth seems almost molten and fluid, and the everlasting mountains
tremble to decay.

'Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?' Are we going to be
such fools as to fix our hopes and efforts upon this fleeting order of
things, which can give no delight more lasting than itself? Even whilst
we are in it, it continueth not in one stay, and we are in it for such a
little while! Then comes what our text calls God's awaking, and where is
it all then? Gone like a ghost at cockcrow. Why! a drop of blood on your
brain or a crumb of bread in your windpipe, and as far as you are
concerned the outward heavens and earth 'pass away with a great'
silence, as the impalpable shadows that sweep over some lone hillside.

  'The glories of our birth and state
     Are shadows, not substantial things;
   There is no armour against fate,
     Death lays his icy hand on kings.'

What an awaking to a worldly man that awaking of God will be! 'As when a
hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth, but he awaketh and his soul
is empty.' He has thought he fed full, and was rich and safe, but in one
moment he is dragged from it all, and finds himself a starving pauper,
in an order of things for which he has made no provision. 'When he
dieth, he shall carry nothing away.' Let us see to it that not in utter
nakedness do we go hence, but clothed with that immortal robe, and rich
in those possessions that cannot be taken away from us, which they have
who have lived on earth as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Let
us pierce, for the foundation of our life's house, beneath the shifting
sands of time down to the Rock of Ages, and build there.

IV. Finally, death is for some men the annihilation of the vain shows in
order to reveal the great reality.

'I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.'

'Likeness' is properly 'form,' and is the same word which is employed in
reference to Moses, who saw 'the similitude of the Lord.' If there be,
as is most probable, an allusion to that ancient vision in these words,
then the 'likeness' is not that conformity to the divine character which
it is the goal of our hopes to possess, but the beholding of His
self-manifestation. The parallelism of the verse also points to such an
interpretation.

If so, then, we have here the blessed confidence that when all the
baseless fabric of the dream of life has faded from our opening eyes, we
shall see the face of our ever-loving God. Here the distracting whirl of
earthly things obscures Him from even the devoutest souls, and His own
mighty works which reveal do also conceal. In them is the hiding as well
as the showing of His power. But there the veil which draped the perfect
likeness, and gave but dim hints through its heavy swathings of the
outline of immortal beauty that lay beneath, shall fall away. No longer
befooled by shadows, we shall possess the true substance; no longer
bedazzled by shows, we shall behold the reality.

And seeing God we shall be satisfied. With all lesser joys the eye is
not satisfied with seeing, but to look on Him will be enough. Enough for
mind and heart, wearied and perplexed with partial knowledge and
imperfect love; enough for eager desires, which thirst, after all
draughts from other streams; enough for will, chafing against lower
lords and yet longing for authoritative control; enough for all my
being--to see God. Here we can rest after all wanderings, and say, 'I
travel no further; here will I dwell for ever--_I shall be satisfied_.'

And may these dim hopes not suggest to us too some presentiment of the
full Christian truth of assimilation dependent on vision, and of vision
reciprocally dependent on likeness? 'We shall be like Him, for we shall
see Him as He is,'--words which reach a height that David but partially
discerned through the mist. This much he knew, that he should in some
transcendent sense behold the manifested God; and this much more, that
it must be 'in righteousness' that he should gaze upon that face. The
condition of beholding the Holy One was holiness. We know that the
condition of holiness is trust in Christ. And as we reckon up the rich
treasure of our immortal hopes, our faith grows bold, and pauses not
even at the lofty certainty of God without us, known directly and
adequately, but climbs to the higher assurance of God within us,
flooding our darkness with His great light, and changing us into the
perfect copies of His express Image, His only-begotten Son. 'I shall be
satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness,' cries the prophet Psalmist.
'It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master,' responds the
Christian hope.

Brethren! take heed that the process of dissipating the vain shows of
earth be begun betimes in your souls. It must either be done by Faith,
whose rod disenchants them into their native nothingness, and then it is
blessed; or it must be done by death, whose mace smites them to dust,
and then it is pure, irrevocable loss and woe. Look away from, or rather
look through, things that are seen to the King eternal, invisible. Let
your hearts seek Christ, and your souls cleave to Him. Then death will
take away nothing from you that you would care to keep, but will bring
you your true joy. It will but trample to fragments the 'dome of
many-coloured glass' that 'stains the white radiance of eternity.'
Looking forward calmly to that supreme hour, you will be able to say, 'I
will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, only makest me
dwell in safety.' Looking back upon it from beyond, and wondering to
find how brief it was, and how close to Him whom you love it has brought
you, your now immortal lips touched by the rising Sun of the heavenly
morning will thankfully exclaim, 'When I awake, I am still with Thee.'



SECRET FAULTS


    'Who can understand his errors? cleanse Thou me from secret faults.'
         PSALM xix. 12.

The contemplation of the 'perfect law, enlightening the eyes,' sends the
Psalmist to his knees. He is appalled by his own shortcomings, and feels
that, beside all those of which he is aware, there is a region, as yet
unilluminated by that law, where evil things nestle and breed.

The Jewish ritual drew a broad distinction between inadvertent--whether
involuntary or ignorant--and deliberate sins; providing atonement for
the former, not for the latter. The word in my text rendered 'errors' is
closely connected with that which in the Levitical system designates the
former class of transgressions; and the connection between the two
clauses of the text, as well as that with the subsequent verse,
distinctly shows that the 'secret faults' of the one clause are
substantially synonymous with the 'errors' of the other.

They are, then, not sins hidden from men, whether because they have been
done quietly in a corner, and remain undetected, or because they have
only been in thought, never passing into act. Both of these pages are
dark in every man's memory. Who is there that could reveal himself to
men? who is there that could bear the sight of a naked soul? But the
Psalmist is thinking of a still more solemn fact, that, beyond the range
of conscience and consciousness, there are evils in us all. It may do us
good to ponder his discovery that he had undiscovered sins, and to take
for ours his prayer, 'Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.'

I. So I ask you to look with me, briefly, first, at the solemn fact
here, that there are in every man sins of which the doer is unaware.

It is with our characters as with our faces. Few of us are familiar with
our own appearance, and most of us, if we have looked at our portraits,
have felt a little shock of surprise, and been ready to say to
ourselves, 'Well! I did not know that I looked like that!' And the bulk
even of good men are almost as much strangers to their inward
physiognomy as to their outward. They see themselves in their
looking-glasses every morning, although they 'go away and forget what
manner of men' they were. But they do not see their true selves in the
same fashion in any other mirror. It is the very characteristic of all
evil that it has a strange power of deceiving a man as to its real
character; like the cuttle-fish, that squirts out a cloud of ink and so
escapes in the darkness and the dirt. The more a man goes wrong the less
he knows it. Conscience is loudest when it is least needed, and most
silent when most required.

Then, besides that, there is a great part of every one's life which is
mechanical, instinctive, and all but involuntary. Habits and emotions
and passing impulses very seldom come into men's consciousness, and an
enormously large proportion of everybody's life is done with the minimum
of attention, and is as little remembered as it is observed.

Then, besides that, conscience wants educating. You see that on a large
scale, for instance, in the history of the slow progress which Christian
principle has made in leavening the world's thinkings. It took eighteen
centuries to teach the Church that slavery was unchristian. The Church
has not yet learned that war is unchristian, and it is only beginning to
surmise that possibly Christian principle may have something to say in
social questions, and in the determination, for example, of the
relations of capital and labour, and of wealth and poverty. The very
same slowness of apprehension and gradual growth in the education of
conscience, and in the perception of the application of Christian
principles to duty, applies to the individual as to the Church.

Then, besides that, we are all biassed in our own favour, and what, when
another man says it, is 'flat blasphemy,' we think, when we say it, is
only 'a choleric word.' We have fine names for our own vices, and ugly
ones for the very same vices in other people. David will flare up into
generous and sincere indignation about the man that stole the poor man's
ewe lamb, but he has not the ghost of a notion that he has been doing
the very same thing himself. And so we bribe our consciences as well as
neglect them, and they need to be educated.

Thus, down below every life there lies a great dim region of habits and
impulses and fleeting emotions, into which it is the rarest thing for a
man to go with a candle in his hand to see what it is like.

But I can imagine a man saying, 'Well, if I do not know that I am doing
wrong, how can it be a sin?' In answer to that, I would say that, thank
God! ignorance diminishes criminality, but ignorance does not alter the
nature of the deed. Take a simple illustration. Here is a man who, all
unconsciously to himself, is allowing worldly prosperity to sap his
Christian character. He does not know that the great current of his life
has been turned aside, as it were, by that sluice, and is taken to drive
the wheels of his mill, and that there is only a miserable little
trickle coming down the river bed. Is he any less guilty because he does
not know? Is he not the more so, because he might and would have known
if he had thought and felt right? Or, here is another man who has the
habit of letting his temper get the better of him. He calls it 'stern
adherence to principle,' or 'righteous indignation'; and he thinks
himself very badly used when other people 'drive him' so often into a
temper. Other people know, and _he_ might know, if he would be honest
with himself, that, for all his fine names, it is nothing else than
passion. Is he any the less guilty because of his ignorance? It is plain
enough that, whilst ignorance, if it is absolute and inevitable, does
diminish criminality to the vanishing point, the ignorance of our own
faults which most of us display is neither absolute nor inevitable; and
therefore, though it may, thank God! diminish, it does not destroy our
guilt. 'She wipeth her mouth and saith, I have done no harm': was she,
therefore, chaste and pure? In all our hearts there are many vermin
lurking beneath the stones, and they are none the less poisonous because
they live and multiply in the dark. 'I know nothing against myself, yet
am I not hereby justified. But he that judgeth me is the Lord.'

II. Now, secondly, let me ask you to look at the special perilousness of
these hidden faults.

As with a blight upon a rose-tree, the little green creatures lurk on
the underside of the leaves, and in all the folds of the buds, and
because unseen, they increase with alarming rapidity. The very fact that
we have faults in our characters, which everybody sees but ourselves,
makes it certain that they will grow unchecked, and so will prove
terribly perilous. The small things of life are the great things of
life. For a man's character is made up of them, and of their results,
striking inwards upon himself. A wine-glassful of water with one drop of
mud in it may not be much obscured, but if you come to multiply it into
a lakeful, you will have muddy waves that reflect no heavens, and show
no gleaming stars.

These secret faults are like a fungus that has grown in a wine-cask,
whose presence nobody suspected. It sucks up all the generous liquor to
feed its own filthiness, and when the staves are broken, there is no
wine left, nothing but the foul growth. Many a Christian man and woman
has the whole Christian life arrested, and all but annihilated, by the
unsuspected influence of a secret sin. I do not believe it would be
exaggeration to say that, for one man who has made shipwreck of his
faith and lost his peace by reason of some gross transgression, there
are twenty who have fallen into the same condition by reason of the
multitude of small ones. 'He that despiseth little things shall fall by
little and little'; and whilst the deeds which the Ten Commandments
rebuke are damning to a Christian character, still more perilous,
because unseen, and permitted to grow without check or restraint, are
these unconscious sins. 'Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that
thing which he alloweth.'

III. Notice the discipline, or practical issues, to which such
considerations should lead.

To begin with, they ought to take down our self-complacency, if we have
any, and to make us feel that, after all, our characters are very poor
things. If men praise us, let us try to remember what it will be good
for us to remember, too, when we are tempted to praise ourselves--the
underworld of darkness which each of us carries about within us.

Further, let me press upon you two practical points. This whole set of
contemplations should make us practise a very rigid and close
self-inspection. There will always be much that will escape our
observation--we shall gradually grow to know more and more of it--but
there can be no excuse for that which I fear is a terribly common
characteristic of the professing Christianity of this day--the all but
entire absence of close inspection of one's own character and conduct. I
know very well that it is not a wholesome thing for a man to be always
poking in his own feelings and emotions. I know also that, in a former
generation, there was far too much introspection, instead of looking to
Jesus Christ and forgetting self. I do not believe that
self-examination, directed to the discovery of reasons for trusting the
sincerity of my own faith, is a good thing. But I do believe that,
without the practice of careful weighing of ourselves, there will be
very little growth in anything that is noble and good.

The old Greeks used to preach, 'Know thyself.' It was a high behest, and
very often a very vain-glorious one. A man's best means of knowing what
he is, is to take stock of what he does. If you will put your conduct
through the sieve, you will come to a pretty good understanding of your
character. 'He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city
broken down, without walls,' into which all enemies can leap unhindered,
and out from which all things that will may pass. Do you set guards at
the gates and watch yourselves with all carefulness.

Then, again, I would say we must try to diminish as much as possible the
mere instinctive and habitual and mechanical part of our lives, and to
bring, as far as we can, every action under the conscious dominion of
principle. The less we live by impulse, and the more we live by
intelligent reflection, the better it will be for us. The more we can
get habit on the side of goodness, the better; but the more we break up
our habits, and make each individual action the result of a special
volition of the spirit guided by reason and conscience, the better for
us all.

Then, again, I would say, set yourselves to educate your consciences.
They need that. One of the surest ways of making conscience more
sensitive is always to consult it and always to obey it. If you neglect
it, and let it prophesy to the wind, it will stop speaking before long.
Herod could not get a word out of Christ when he 'asked Him many
questions' because for years he had not cared to hear His voice. And
conscience, like the Lord of conscience, will hold its peace after men
have neglected its speech. You can pull the clapper out of the bell upon
the rock, and then, though the waves may dash, there will not be a
sound, and the vessel will drive straight on to the black teeth that are
waiting for it. Educate your conscience by obeying it, and by getting
into the habit of bringing everything to its bar.

And, still further, compare yourselves constantly with your model. Do as
the art students do in a gallery, take your poor daub right into the
presence of the masterpiece, and go over it line by line and tint by
tint. Get near Jesus Christ that you may learn your duty from Him, and
you will find out many of the secret sins.

And, lastly, let us ask God to cleanse us.

My text, as translated in the Revised Version, says, '_Clear_ Thou me
from secret faults.' And there is present in that word, if not
exclusively, at least predominantly, the idea of a judicial acquittal,
so that the thought of the first clause of this verse seems rather to be
that of pronouncing guiltless, or forgiving, than that of delivering
from the power of. But both, no doubt, are included in the idea, as
both, in fact, come from the same source and in response to the same
cry.

And so we may be sure that, though our eye does not go down into the
dark depths, God's eye goes, and that where He looks He looks to pardon,
if we come to Him through Jesus Christ our Lord.

He will deliver us from the power of these secret faults, giving to us
that divine Spirit which is 'the candle of the Lord,' to search us, and
to convince of our sins, and to drag our evil into the light; and giving
us the help without which we can never overcome. The only way for us to
be delivered from the dominion of our unconscious faults is to increase
the depth and closeness and constancy of our communion with Jesus
Christ; and then they will drop away from us. Mosquitoes and malaria,
the one unseen in their minuteness, and the other, 'the pestilence that
walketh in darkness,' haunt the swamps. Go up on the hilltop, and
neither of them are found. So if we live more and more on the high
levels, in communion with our Master, there will be fewer and fewer of
these unconscious sins buzzing and stinging and poisoning our lives, and
more and more will His grace conquer and cleanse.

They will all be manifested some day. The time comes when He shall bring
to light the hidden things and darkness and the counsels of men's
hearts. There will be surprises on both hands of the Judge. Some on the
right, astonished, will say, 'Lord, when saw we Thee?' and some on the
left, smitten to confusion and surprise, will say, 'Lord, Lord, have we
not prophesied in Thy name?'

Let us go to Him with the prayer, 'Search me, O God! and try me; and see
if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.'



OPEN SINS


    'Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not
    have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be
    innocent from the great transgression.'--PSALM xix. 13.

Another psalmist promises to the man who dwells 'in the secret place of
the Most High' that' he shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor
for the arrow that flieth by day, nor for the pestilence that walketh at
noonday,' but shall 'tread upon the lion and adder.' These promises
divide the dangers that beset us into the same two classes as our
Psalmist does--the one secret; the other palpable and open. The former,
which, as I explained in my last sermon, are sins hidden, not from
others, but from the doer, may fairly be likened to the pestilence that
stalks slaying in the dark, or to the stealthy, gliding serpent, which
strikes and poisons before the naked foot is aware. The other resembles
the 'destruction that wasteth at noonday,' or the lion with its roar and
its spring, as, disclosed from its covert, it leaps upon the prey.

Our present text deals with the latter of these two classes.
'Presumptuous sins' does not, perhaps, convey to an ordinary reader the
whole significance of the phrase, for it may be taken to define a single
class of sins--namely, those of pride or insolence. What is really meant
is just the opposite of 'secret sins'--all sorts of evil which, whatever
may be their motives and other qualities, have this in common, that the
doer, when he does them, knows them to be wrong.

The Psalmist gets this further glimpse into the terrible possibilities
which attach even to a servant of God, and we have in our text these
three things--a danger discerned, a help sought, and a daring hope
cherished.

I. Note, then, the first of these, the dreaded and discerned
danger--'presumptuous sins,' which may 'have dominion over' us, and lead
us at last to a 'great transgression.'

Now the word which is translated 'presumptuous' literally means _that
which boils or bubbles_; and it sets very picturesquely before us the
movement of hot desires--the agitation of excited impulses or
inclinations which hurry men into sin in spite of their consciences. It
is also to be noticed that the prayer of my text, with singular pathos
and lowly self-consciousness, is the prayer of 'Thy servant,' who knows
himself to be a servant, and who therefore knows that these glaring
transgressions, done in the teeth of conscience and consciousness, are
all inconsistent with his standing and his profession, but yet are
perfectly possible for him.

An old mediaeval mystic once said, 'There is nothing weaker than the
devil stripped naked.' Would it were true! For there is one thing that
is weaker than a discovered devil, and that is my own heart. For we all
know that sometimes, with our eyes open, and the most unmistakable
consciousness that what we are doing was wrong, we have set our teeth
and done it, Christian men though we may profess to be, and may really
be. All such conduct is inconsistent with Christianity; but we are not
to say, therefore, that it is incompatible with Christianity. Thank God!
that is a very different matter. But as long as you and I have two
things--viz. strong and hot desires, and weak and flabby wills--so long
shall we, in this world full of combustibles, not be beyond the
possibility of a dreadful conflagration being kindled by some
devil-blown sparks. There are plenty of dry sticks lying about to put
under the caldron of our hearts, to make them boil and bubble over! And
we have, alas! but weak wills, which do not always keep the reins in
their hands as they ought to do, nor coerce these lower parts of our
nature into their proper subordination. Fire is a good servant, but a
bad master; and we are all of us too apt to let it become master, and
then the whole 'course of nature' is 'set on fire of hell.' The servant
of God may yet, with open eyes and obstinate disregard of his better
self and of all its remonstrances, go straight into 'presumptuous sin.'

Another step is here taken by the Psalmist. He looks shrinkingly and
shudderingly into a possible depth, and he sees, going down into the
abyss, a ladder with three rungs on it. The topmost one is wilful,
self-conscious transgression. But that is not the lowest stage; there is
another step. Presumptuous sin tends to become despotic sin. 'Let them
not _have dominion_ over me.' A man may do a very bad thing once, and
get so wholesomely frightened, and so keenly conscious of the disastrous
issues, that he will never go near it again. The prodigal would not be
in a hurry, you may depend upon it, to try the swine trough and the far
country, and the rags, and the fever, and the famine any more. David got
a lesson that he never forgot in that matter of Bathsheba. The bitter
fruit of his sin kept growing up all his life, and he had to eat it, and
that kept him right. They tell us that broken bones are stronger at the
point of fracture than they were before. And it is possible for a man's
sin--if I might use a paradox which you will not misunderstand--to
become the instrument of his salvation.

But there is another possibility quite as probable, and very often
recurring, and that is that the disease, like some other morbid states
of the human frame, shall leave a tendency to recurrence. A pin-point
hole in a dyke will be widened into a gap as big as a church-door in ten
minutes, by the pressure of the flood behind it. And so every act which
we do in contradiction of our standing as professing Christians, and in
the face of the protests, all unavailing, of that conscience which is
only a voice, and has no power to enforce its behests, will tend to
recurrence once and again. The single acts become habits, with awful
rapidity. Just as the separate gas jets from a multitude of minute
apertures coalesce into a continuous ring of light, so deeds become
habits, and get dominion over us. 'He sold himself to do evil.' He made
himself a bond-slave of iniquity. It is an awful and a miserable thing
to think that professing Christians do often come into that position of
being, by their inflamed passions and enfeebled wills, servants of the
evil that they do. Alas! how many of us, if we were honest with
ourselves, would have to say. 'I am carnal, sold unto sin.'

That is not the lowest rung of the slippery ladder. Despotic sin ends in
utter departure.

The word translated here, quite correctly, 'transgression,' and
intensified by that strong adjective attached, 'a _great_
transgression,' literally means _rebellion_, _revolt_, or some such
idea; and expresses, as the ultimate issue of conscious transgression
prolonged and perpetuated into habit, an entire casting off of
allegiance to God. 'No man can serve two masters.' 'His servants ye are
whom ye obey,' whomsoever ye may call your master. The Psalmist feels
that the end of indulged evil is going over altogether to the other
camp. I suppose all of us have known instances of that sort. Men in my
position, with a long life of ministry behind them, can naturally
remember many such instances. And this is the outline history of the
suicide of a Christian. First secret sin, unsuspected, because the
conscience is torpid; then open sin, known to be such, but done
nevertheless; then dominant sin, with an enfeebled will and power of
resistance; then the abandonment of all pretence or profession of
religion. The ladder goes down into the pit, but not to the bottom of
the pit. And the man that is going down it has a descending impulse
after he has reached the bottom step and he falls--Where? The first step
down is tampering with conscience. It is neither safe nor wise to do
anything, howsoever small, against that voice. All the rest will come
afterward, unless God restrains--'first the blade, then the ear, then
the full corn in the ear,' and then the bitter harvest of the poisonous
grain.

II. So, secondly, note the help sought.

The Psalmist is like a man standing on the edge of some precipice, and
peeping over the brink to the profound beneath, and feeling his head
beginning to swim. He clutches at the strong, steady hand of his guide,
knowing that unless he is restrained, over he will go. 'Keep Thou back
Thy servant from presumptuous sins.'

So, then, the first lesson we have to take is, to cherish a lowly
consciousness of our own tendency to light-headedness and giddiness.
'Blessed is the man that feareth always.' That fear has nothing cowardly
about it. It will not abate in the least the buoyancy and bravery of our
work. It will not tend to make us shirk duty because there is temptation
in it, but it will make us go into all circumstances realising that
without that divine help we cannot stand, and that with it we cannot
fall. 'Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.' The same Peter that said,
'Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I,' was wiser and braver
when he said, in later days, being taught by former presumption, 'Pass
the time of your sojourning here in fear.'

Let me remind you, too, that the temper which we ought to cherish is
that of a confident belief in the reality of a divine support. The
prayer of my text has no meaning at all, unless the actual supernatural
communication by God's own Holy Spirit breathed into men's hearts be a
simple truth. 'Hold Thou me up,' 'Keep Thou me back,' means, if it means
anything, 'Give me in my heart a mightier strength than mine own, which
shall curb all this evil nature of mine, and bring it into conformity
with Thy holy will.'

How is that restraining influence to be exercised? There are many ways
by which God, in His providence, can fulfil the prayer. But the way
above all others is by the actual operation upon heart and will and
desires of a divine Spirit, who uses for His weapon the Word of God,
revealed by Jesus Christ, and in the Scriptures. 'The sword of the
Spirit is the Word of God,' and God's answer to the prayer of my text is
the gift to every man who seeks it of that indwelling Power to sustain
and to restrain.

That will keep our passions down. The bubbling water is lowered in its
temperature, and ceases to bubble, when cold is added to it. When God's
Spirit comes into a man's heart, that will deaden his desires after
earth and forbidden ways. He will bring blessed higher objects for all
his affections. He who has been fed on 'the hidden manna' will not be
likely to hanker after the leeks and onions, however strong their smell
and pungent their taste, that grew in the Nile mud in Egypt. He who has
tasted the higher sweetnesses of God will have his heart's desires after
lower delights strangely deadened and cooled. Get near God, and open
your hearts for the entrance of that divine Spirit, and then it will not
seem foolish to empty your hands of the trash that they carry in order
to grasp the precious things that He gives. A bit of scrap-iron
magnetised turns to the pole. My heart, touched by the Spirit of God
dwelling in me, will turn to Him, and I shall find little sweetness in
the else tempting delicacies that earth can supply. 'Keep Thy servant
back from,' by depriving him of the taste for, 'presumptuous sins.'

That Spirit will strengthen our wills. For when God comes into a heart,
He restores the due subordination which has been broken into discord and
anarchy by sin. He dismounts the servant riding on horseback, and
carrying the horse to the devil, according to the proverb, and gives the
reins into the right hands. Now, if the gift of God's Spirit, working
through the Word of God, and the principles and the motives therein
unfolded, and therefrom deducible, be the great means by which we are to
be kept from open and conscious transgression, it follows very plainly
that our task is twofold. One part of it is to see that we cultivate
that spirit of lowly dependence, of self-conscious weakness, of
triumphant confidence, which will issue in the perpetual prayer for
God's restraint. When we enter upon tasks which may be dangerous, and
into regions of temptation which cannot but be so, though they be duty,
we should ever have the desire in our hearts and upon our lips that God
would keep us from, and in, the evil.

The other part of our duty is to make it a matter of conscience and
careful cultivation, to use honestly and faithfully the power which, in
response to our desires, has been granted to us. All of you, Christian
men and women, have access to an absolute security against every
transgression; and the cause lies wholly at your own doors in each case
of failure, deficiency, or transgression, for at every moment it was
open to you to clasp the Hand that holds you up, and at every moment, if
you failed, it was because your careless fingers had relaxed their
grasp.

III. Lastly, observe the daring hope here cherished.

'Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great
transgression.' That is the upshot of the divine answer to both the
petitions which have been occupying us in these two successive sermons.
It is connected with the former of them by the recurrence of the same
word, which in the first petition was rendered 'cleanse'--or, more
accurately, 'clear'--and in this final clause is to be rendered
accurately, 'I shall be _clear_ from the great transgression.' And it
obviously connects in sense with both these petitions, because, in order
to be upright and clear, there must, first of all, be divine cleansing,
and then divine restraint.

So, then, nothing short of absolute deliverance from the power of sin in
all its forms should content the servant of God. Nothing short of it
contents the Master for the servant. Nothing short of it corresponds to
the power which Christ puts in operation in every heart that believes in
Him. And nothing else should be our aim in our daily conflict with evil
and growth in grace. Ah! I fear me that, for an immense number of
professing Christians in this generation, the hope of--and, still more,
the aim towards--anything approximating to entire deliverance from sin,
have faded from their consciences and their lives. Aim at the stars,
brother! and if you do not hit them, your arrow will go higher than if
it were shot along the lower levels.

Note that an indefinite approximation to this condition is possible. I
am not going to discuss, at this stage of my discourse, controversial
questions which may be involved here. It will be time enough to discuss
with you whether you can be absolutely free from sin in this world when
you are a great deal freer from it than you are at present. At all
events, you can get far nearer to the ideal, and the ideal must always
be perfect. And I lay it on your hearts, dear friends! that you have in
your possession, if you are Christian people, possibilities in the way
of conformity to the Master's will, and entire emancipation from all
corruption, that you have not yet dreamed of, not to say applied to your
lives. 'I pray God that He would sanctify you wholly, and that your
whole body, soul, and spirit be preserved blameless unto the coming.'

That daring hope will be fulfilled one day; for nothing short of it will
exhaust the possibilities of Christ's work or satisfy the desires of
Christ's heart.

The Gospel knows nothing of irreclaimable outcasts. To it there is but
one unpardonable sin, and that is the sin of refusing the cleansing of
Christ's blood and the sanctifying of Christ's Spirit. Whoever you are,
whatever you are, go to God with this prayer of our text, and realise
that it is answered in Jesus Christ, and you will not ask in vain. If
you will put yourself into His hands, and let Him cleanse and restrain,
He will give you new powers to detect the serpents in the flowers, and
new resolution to shake off the vipers into the fire. For there is
nothing that God wants half so much as that we, His wandering children,
should come back to Him, and He will cleanse us from the filth of the
swine trough and the rags of our exile, and clothe us in 'fine linen
clean and white.' We may each be sinless and guiltless. We can be so in
one way only. If we look to Jesus Christ, and live near Him, He 'will be
made of God unto us wisdom,' by which we shall detect our secret sins;
'righteousness,' whereby we shall be cleansed from guilt;
'sanctification,' which shall restrain us from open transgression; 'and
redemption,' by which we shall be wholly delivered from evil and
'presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding
joy.'



FEASTING ON THE SACRIFICE


    'The meek shall eat and be satisfied.'--PSALM xxii. 26.

'The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace-offering for thanksgiving shall
be offered in the day of his oblation.' Such was the law for Israel. And
the custom of sacrificial feasts, which it embodies, was common to many
lands. To such a custom my text alludes; for the Psalmist has just been
speaking of 'paying his vows' (that is, sacrifices which he had vowed in
the time of his trouble), and to partake of these he invites the meek.
The sacrificial dress is only a covering for high and spiritual
thoughts. In some way or other the singer of this psalm anticipates that
his experiences shall be the nourishment and gladness of a wide circle;
and if we observe that in the context that circle is supposed to include
the whole world, and that one of the results of partaking of this
sacrificial feast is 'your heart shall live for ever,' we may well say
with the Ethiopian eunuch, 'Of whom speaketh the Psalmist thus?'

The early part of the psalm answers the question. Jesus Christ laid His
hand on this wonderful psalm of desolation, despair, and deliverance
when on the Cross He took its first words as expressing His emotion
then: 'My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?' Whatever may be our
views as to its authorship, and as to the connection between the
Psalmist's utterances and his own personal experiences, none to whom
that voice that rang through the darkness on Calvary is the voice of the
Son of God, can hesitate as to who it is whose very griefs and sorrows
are thus the spiritual food that gives life to the whole world.

From this, the true point of view, then, from which to look at the whole
of this wonderful psalm, I desire to deal with the words of my text now.

I. We have, first, then, the world's sacrificial feast.

The Jewish ritual, and that of many other nations, as I have remarked,
provided for a festal meal following on, and consisting of the material
of, the sacrifice. A generation which studies comparative mythology, and
spares no pains to get at the meaning underlying the barbarous worship
of the rudest nations, ought to be interested in the question of the
ideas that formed and were expressed by that elaborate Jewish ritual. In
the present case, the signification is plain enough. That which, in one
aspect, is a peace-offering reconciling to God, in another aspect is the
nourishment and the joy of the hearts that accept it. And so the work of
Jesus Christ has two distinct phases of application, according as we
think of it as being offered to God or appropriated by men. In the one
case it is our peace; in the other it is our food and our life. If we
glance for a moment at the marvellous picture of suffering and
desolation in the previous portion of this psalm, which sounds the very
depths of both, we shall understand more touchingly what it is on which
Christian hearts are to feed. The desolation that spoke in 'Why hast
Thou forsaken Me?' the consciousness of rejection and reproach, of
mockery and contempt, which wailed, 'All that see Me laugh Me to scorn;
they shoot out the lip; they shake the head, saying, "He trusted on the
Lord that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, seeing He
delighteth in Him"'; the physical sufferings which are the very picture
of crucifixion, so as that the whole reads liker history than prophecy,
in 'All My bones are out of joint; My strength is dried up like a
potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws'; the actual passing into
the darkness of the grave, which is expressed in 'Thou hast brought Me
into the dust of death'; and even the minute correspondence, so
inexplicable upon any hypothesis except that it is direct prophecy,
which is found in 'They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon
My vesture'--these be the viands, not without bitter herbs, that are
laid on the table which Christ spreads for us. They are parts of the
sacrifice that reconciles to God. Offered to Him they make our peace.
They are parts and elements of the food of our spirits. Appropriated and
partaken of by us they make our strength and our life.

Brethren! there is little food, there is little impulse, little strength
for obedience, little gladness or peace of heart to be got from a Christ
who is _not_ a Sacrifice. If we would know how much He may be to us, as
the nourishment of our best life, and as the source of our purest and
permanent gladness, we must, first of all, look upon Him as the Offering
for the world's sin, and then as the very Life and Bread of our souls.
The Christ that feeds the world is the Christ that died for the world.

Hence our Lord Himself, most eminently in one great and profound
discourse, has set forth, not only that He is the Bread of God which
'came down from heaven,' but that His flesh and His blood are such, and
the separation between the two in the discourse, as in the memorial
rite, indicates that there has come the violent separation of death, and
that thereby He becomes the life of humanity.

So my text, and the whole series of Old Testament representations in
which the blessings of the Kingdom are set forth as a feast, and the
parables of the New Testament in which a similar representation is
contained, do all converge upon, and receive their deepest meaning from,
that one central thought that the peace-offering for the world is the
food of the world.

We see, hence, the connection between these great spiritual ideas and
the central act of Christian worship. The Lord's Supper simply says by
act what my text says in words. I know no difference between the rite
and the parable, except that the one is addressed to the eye and the
other to the ear. The rite is an acted parable; the parable is a spoken
rite. And when Jesus Christ, in the great discourse to which I have
referred, dilates at length upon the 'eating of His flesh and the
drinking of His blood' as being the condition of spiritual life, He is
not referring to the Lord's Supper, but the discourse and the rite refer
both to the same spiritual truth. One is a symbol; the other is a
saying; and symbol and saying mean just the same thing. The saying does
not refer to the symbol, but to that to which the symbol refers. It
seems to me that one of the greatest dangers which now threaten
Evangelical Christianity is the strange and almost inexplicable
recrudescence of Sacramentarianism in this generation to which those
Christian communities are contributing, however reluctantly and
unconsciously, who say there is something more than commemorative
symbols in the bread and wine of the Lord's table. If once you admit
that, it seems, in my humble judgment, that you open the door to the
whole flood of evils which the history of the Church declares have come
with the Sacramentarian hypothesis. And we must take our stand, as I
believe, upon the plain, intelligible thoughts--Baptism is a declaratory
symbol, and nothing more; the Lord's Supper is a commemorative symbol,
and nothing more; except that both are acts of obedience to the
enjoining Lord. When we stand there we can face all priestly
superstitions, and say, 'Jesus I know; and Paul I know; but who are ye?'
'The meek shall eat and be satisfied,' and the food of the world is the
suffering Messiah.

But what have we to say about the act expressed in the text? 'The meek
shall eat.' I do not desire to dwell at any length upon the thought of
the process by which this food of the world becomes ours, in this
sermon. But there are two points which perhaps may be regarded as
various aspects of one, on which I would like to say just a sentence or
two. Of course, the translation of the 'eating' of my text into
spiritual reality is simply that we partake of the food of our spirits
by the act of faith in Jesus Christ. But whilst that is so, let me put
emphasis, in a sentence, upon the thought that personal appropriation,
and making the world's food mine, by my own individual act, is the
condition on which alone I get any good from it. It is possible to die
of starvation at the door of a granary. It is possible to have a table
spread with all that is needful, and yet to set one's teeth, and lock
one's lips, and receive no strength and no gladness from the rich
provision. 'Eat' means, at any rate, incorporate with myself, take into
my very own lips, masticate with my very own teeth, swallow down by my
very own act, and so make part of my physical frame. And that is what we
have to do with Jesus Christ, or He is nothing to us. 'Eat'; claim your
part in the universal blessing; see that it becomes yours by your own
taking of it into the very depths of your heart. And then, and then
only, will it become your food.

And how are we to do that if, day in and day out, and week in and week
out, and year in and year out, with some of us, there be scarce a
thought turned to Him; scarce a desire winging its way to Him; scarce
one moment of quiet contemplation of these great truths. We have to
ruminate, we have to meditate; we have to make conscious and frequent
efforts to bring before the mind, in the first place, and then before
the heart and all the sensitive, emotional, and voluntary nature, the
great truths on which our salvation rests. In so far as we do that we
get good out of them; in so far as we fail to do it, we may call
ourselves Christians, and attend to religious observances, and be
members of churches, and diligent in good works, and all the rest of it,
but nothing passes from Him to us, and we starve even whilst we call
ourselves guests at His table.

Oh! the average Christian life of this day is a strange thing; very,
very little of it has the depth that comes from quiet communion with
Jesus Christ; and very little of it has the joyful consciousness of
strength that comes from habitual reception into the heart of the grace
that He brings. What is the good of all your profession unless it brings
you to that? If a coroner's jury were to sit upon many of us--and we are
dead enough to deserve it--the verdict would be, 'Died of starvation.'
'The meek shall eat,' but what about the professing Christians that feed
their souls upon anything, everything rather than upon the Christ whom
they say they trust and serve?

II. And now let me say a word, in the second place, about the rich
fruition of this feast.

'The meek shall be satisfied.' 'Satisfied!' Who in the world is? And if
we are not, why are we not? Jesus Christ, in the facts of His death and
resurrection--for His resurrection as well as His death are included in
the psalm--brings to us all that our circumstances, relationships, and
inward condition can require.

Think of what that death, as the sacrifice for the world's sin, does. It
sets all right in regard to our relation to God. It reveals to us a God
of infinite love. It provides a motive, an impulse, and a Pattern for
all life. It abolishes death, and it gives ample scope for the loftiest
and most exuberant hopes that a man can cherish. And surely these are
enough to satisfy the seeking spirit.

But go to the other end, and think, not of what Christ's work does for
us, but of what we need to have done for us. What do you and I want to
be satisfied? It would take a long time to go over the catalogue; let me
briefly run through some of the salient points of it. We want, for the
intellect, which is the regal part of man, though it be not the highest,
truth which is certain, comprehensive, and inexhaustible; the first, to
provide anchorage; the second, to meet and regulate and unify all
thought and life; and the last, to allow room for endless research and
ceaseless progress. And in that fact that the Eternal Son of the Eternal
Father took upon Himself human nature, lived, died, rose, and reigns at
God's right hand, I believe there lie the seeds of all truth, except the
purely physical and material, which men need. Everything is there; every
truth about God, about man, about duty, about a future, about society;
everything that the world needs is laid up in germ in that great gospel
of our salvation. If a man will take it for the foundation of his
beliefs and the guide of his thinkings, he will find his understanding
is satisfied, because it grasps the personal Truth who liveth, and is
with us for ever.

Our hearts crave, however imperfect their love may be, a perfect love;
and a perfect love means one untinged by any dash of selfishness,
incapable of any variation or eclipse, all-knowing, all-pitying,
all-powerful. We have made experience of precious loves that die. We
know of loves that change, that grow cold, that misconstrue, that may
have tears but have no hands. We know of 'loves' that are only a fine
name for animal passions, and are twice cursed, cursing them that give
and them that take. The happiest will admit, and the lonely will
achingly feel, how we all want for satisfaction a love that cannot fail,
that can help, that beareth all things, and that can do all things. We
have it in Jesus Christ, and the Cross is the pledge thereof.

Conscience wants pacifying, cleansing, enlightening, directing, and we
get all these in the good news of One that has died for us, and that
lives to be our Lord. The will needs authority which is not force. And
where is there an authority so constraining in its sweetness and so
sweet in its constraint as in those silken bonds which are stronger than
iron fetters? Hope, imagination, and all other of our powers or
weaknesses, our gifts or needs, are satisfied when they feed on Christ.
If we feed upon anything else it turns to ashes that break our teeth and
make our palates gritty, and have no nourishment in them. We shall be
'for ever roaming with a hungry heart' unless we take our places at the
feast on the one sacrifice for the world's peace.

III. I can say but a word as to the guests.

It is 'the meek' who eat. The word translated 'meek' has a wider and
deeper meaning than that. 'Meek' refers, in our common language, mainly
to men's demeanour to one another; but the expression here goes deeper.
It means both 'afflicted' and 'lowly'--the right use of affliction being
to bow men, and they that bow themselves are those who are fit to come
to Christ's feast. There is a very remarkable contrast between the words
of my text and those that follow a verse or two afterwards. 'The meek
shall eat and be satisfied,' says the text. And then close upon its
heels comes, 'All those that be fat upon earth shall eat.' That is to
say, the lofty and proud have to come down to the level of the lowly,
and take indiscriminate places at the table with the poor and the
starving, which, being turned into plain English is just this--the one
thing that hinders a man from partaking of the fulness of Christ's
feeding grace is self-sufficiency, and the absence of a sense of need.
They that 'hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled'; and
they that come, knowing themselves to be poor and needy, and humbly
consenting to accept a gratuitous feast of charity--they, and only they,
do get the rich provisions.

You are shut out because you shut yourselves out. They that do not know
themselves to be hungry have no ears for the dinner-bell. They that feel
the pangs of starvation and know that their own cupboards are empty,
they are those who will turn to the table that is spread in the
wilderness, and there find a 'feast of fat things.'

And so, dear friends! when He calls, do not let us make excuses, but
rather listen to that voice that says to us, 'Why do you spend your
money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which
satisfieth not.... Incline your ear unto Me; hear, and your soul shall
live.'



THE SHEPHERD KING OF ISRAEL


    'The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want. 2. He maketh me to lie
    down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. 3. He
    restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for
    His name's sake. 4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
    shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod
    and Thy staff, they comfort me. 5. Thou preparest a table before me
    in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my
    cup runneth over. 6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all
    the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for
    ever.'--PSALM xxiii. 1-6.

The king who had been the shepherd-boy, and had been taken from the
quiet sheep-cotes to rule over Israel, sings this little psalm of Him
who is the true Shepherd and King of men. We do not know at what period
of David's life it was written, but it sounds as if it were the work of
his later years. There is a fulness of experience about it, and a tone
of subdued, quiet confidence which speaks of a heart mellowed by years,
and of a faith made sober by many a trial. A young man would not write
so calmly, and a life which was just opening would not afford material
for such a record of God's guardianship in all changing circumstances.

If, then, we think of the psalm as the work of David's later years, is
it not very beautiful to see the old king looking back with such vivid
and loving remembrance to his childhood's occupation, and bringing up
again to memory in his palace the green valleys, the gentle streams, the
dark glens where he had led his flocks in the old days; very beautiful
to see him traversing all the stormy years of warfare and rebellion, of
crime and sorrow, which lay between, and finding in all God's guardian
presence and gracious guidance? The faith which looks back and says, 'It
is all very good,' is not less than that which looks forward and says,
'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.'

There is nothing difficult of understanding in the psalm. The train of
thought is clear and obvious. The experiences which it details are
common, the emotions it expresses simple and familiar. The tears that
have been dried, the fears that have been dissipated, by this old song;
the love and thankfulness which have found in them their best
expression, prove the worth of its simple words. It lives in most of our
memories. Let us try to vivify it in our hearts, by pondering it for a
little while together now.

The psalm falls into two halves, in both of which the same general
thought of God's guardian care is presented, though under different
illustrations, and with some variety of detail. The first half sets Him
forth as a shepherd, and us as the sheep of His pasture. The second
gives Him as the Host, and us as the guests at His table, and the
dwellers in His house.

First, then, consider that picture of the divine Shepherd and His
leading of His flock.

It occupies the first four verses of the psalm. There is a double
progress of thought in it. It rises, from memories of the past, and
experiences of the present care of God, to hope for the future. 'The
Lord is my Shepherd'--'I will fear no evil.' Then besides this progress
from what was and is, to what will be, there is another string, so to
speak, on which the gems are threaded. The various methods of God's
leading of His flock, or rather, we should say, the various regions into
which He leads them, are described in order. These are Rest, Work,
Sorrow--and this series is so combined with the order of time already
adverted to, as that the past and the present are considered as the
regions of rest and of work, while the future is anticipated as having
in it the valley of the shadow of death.

First, God leads His sheep into rest. 'He maketh me to lie down in green
pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.' It is the hot
noontide, and the desert lies baking in the awful glare, and every stone
on the hills of Judaea burns the foot that touches it. But in that
panting, breathless hour, here is a little green glen, with a quiet
brooklet, and moist lush herb-age all along its course, and great stones
that fling a black shadow over the dewy grass at their base; and there
would the shepherd lead his flock, while the sunbeams, like swords,' are
piercing everything beyond that hidden covert. Sweet silence broods
there, The sheep feed and drink, and couch in cool lairs till he calls
them forth again. So God leads His children.

The psalm puts the rest and refreshment _first_, as being the most
marked characteristic of God's dealings. After all, it is so. The years
are years of unbroken continuity of outward blessings. The reign of
afflictions is ordinarily measured by days. 'Weeping endures for a
night.' It is a rainy climate where half the days have rain in them; and
that is an unusually troubled life of which it can with any truth be
affirmed that there has been as much darkness as sunshine in it.

But it is not mainly of outward blessings that the Psalmist is thinking.
They are precious chiefly as emblems of the better spiritual gifts; and
it is not an accommodation of his words, but is the appreciation of
their truest spirit, when we look upon them, as the instinct of devout
hearts has ever done, as expressing both God's gift of temporal mercies,
and His gift of spiritual good, of which higher gift all the lower are
meant to be significant and symbolic. Thus regarded, the image describes
the sweet rest of the soul in communion with God, in whom alone the
hungry heart finds food that satisfies, and from whom alone the thirsty
soul drinks draughts deep and limpid enough.

This rest and refreshment has for its consequence the restoration of the
soul, which includes in it both the invigoration of the natural life by
the outward sort of these blessings, and the quickening and restoration
of the spiritual life by the inward feeding upon God and repose in Him.

The soul thus restored is then led on another stage; 'He leadeth me in
the paths of righteousness for His name's sake,'--that is to say, God
guides us into work.

The quiet mercies of the preceding verse are not in themselves the end
of our Shepherd's guidance; they are means to an end, and that is--work.
Life is not a fold for the sheep to lie down in, but a road for them to
walk on. All our blessings of every sort are indeed given us for our
delight. They will never fit us for the duties for which they are
intended to prepare us, unless they first be thoroughly enjoyed. The
highest good they yield is only reached through the lower one. But,
then, when joy fills the heart, and life is bounding in the veins, we
have to learn that these are granted, not for pleasure only, but for
pleasure in order to power. We get them, not to let them pass away like
waste steam puffed into empty air, but that we may use them to drive the
wheels of life. The waters of happiness are not for a luxurious bath
where a man may lie, till, like flax steeped too long, the very fibre be
rotted out of him; a quick plunge will brace him, and he will come out
refreshed for work. Rest is to fit for work, work is to sweeten rest.

All this is emphatically true of the spiritual life. Its seasons of
communion, its hours on the mount, are to prepare for the sore sad work
in the plain; and he is not the wisest disciple who tries to make the
Mount of Transfiguration the abiding place for himself and his Lord.

It is not well that our chief object should be to enjoy the consolations
of religion; it is better to seek first to do the duties enjoined by
religion. Our first question should be, not, How may I enjoy God? but,
How may I glorify Him? 'A single eye to His glory' means that even our
comfort and joy in religious exercises shall be subordinated, and (if
need were) postponed, to the doing of His will. While, on the one hand,
there is no more certain means of enjoying Him than that of humbly
seeking to walk in the ways of His commandments, on the other hand,
there is nothing more evanescent in its nature than a mere emotion, even
though it be that of joy in God, unless it be turned into a spring of
action for God. Such emotions, like photographs, vanish from the heart
unless they be fixed. Work for God is the way to fix them. Joy in God is
the strength of work for God, but work for God is the perpetuation of
joy in God.

Here is the figurative expression of the great evangelical principle,
that works of righteousness must follow, not precede, the restoration of
the soul. We are justified not by works, but for works, or, as the
Apostle puts it in a passage which sounds like an echo of this psalm, we
are 'created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before
ordained _that we should walk in them_.' The basis of obedience is the
sense of salvation. We work not _for_ the assurance of acceptance and
forgiveness, but _from_ it. First the restored soul, then the paths of
righteousness for _His_ name's sake who has restored me, and restored me
that I may be like Him.

But there is yet another region through which the varied experience of
the Christian carries him, besides those of rest and of work. God leads
His people through sorrow. 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, I will fear no evil.'

The 'valley of the shadow of death' does not only mean the dark approach
to the dark dissolution of soul and body, but any and every gloomy
valley of weeping through which we have to pass. Such sunless gorges we
have all to traverse at some time or other. It is striking that the
Psalmist puts the sorrow, which is as certainly characteristic of our
lot as the rest or the work, into the future. Looking back he sees none.
Memory has softened down all the past into one uniform tone, as the
mellowing distance wraps in one solemn purple the mountains which, when
close to them, have many a barren rock and gloomy rift, All behind is
good. And, building on this hope, he looks forward with calmness, and
feels that no evil shall befall.

But it is never given to human heart to meditate of the future without
some foreboding. And when 'Hope enchanted smiles,' with the light of the
future in her blue eyes, there is ever something awful in their depths,
as if they saw some dark visions behind the beauty. Some evils may come;
some will probably come; one at least is sure to come. However bright
may be the path, somewhere on it, perhaps just round that turning, sits
the 'shadow feared of man.' So there is never hope only in any heart
that wisely considers the future. But to the Christian heart there may
be this--the conviction that sorrow, when it comes, will not harm,
because God will be with us; and the conviction that the Hand which
guides us into the dark valley, will guide us through it and up out of
it. Yes, strange as it may sound, the presence of Him who sends the
sorrow is the best help to bear it. The assurance that the Hand which
strikes is the Hand which binds up, makes the stroke a blessing, sucks
the poison out of the wound of sorrow, and turns the rod which smites
into the staff to lean on.

The second portion of this psalm gives us substantially the same
thoughts under a different image. It considers God as the host, and us
as the guests at His table and the dwellers in His house.

In this illustration, which includes the remaining verses, we have, as
before, the food and rest, the journey and the suffering. We have also,
as before, memory and present experience issuing in hope. But it is all
intensified. The necessity and the mercy are alike presented in brighter
colours; the want is greater, the supply greater, the hope for the
future on earth brighter; and, above all, while the former set of images
stopped at the side of the grave, and simply refused to fear, here the
vision goes on beyond the earthly end; and as the hope comes brightly
out, that all the weary wanderings will end in the peace of the Father's
house, the absence of fear is changed into the presence of triumphant
confidence, and the resignation which, at the most, simply bore to look
unfaltering into the depth of the narrow house, becomes the faith which
plainly sees the open gate of the everlasting home.

God supplies our wants in the very midst of strife. 'Thou preparest a
table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head
with oil. My cup runneth over.' Before, it was food and rest first, work
afterwards. Now it Is more than work--it is conflict. And the mercy is
more strikingly portrayed, as being granted not only _before toil_, but
_in warfare_. Life is a sore fight; but to the Christian man, in spite
of all the tumult, life is a festal banquet. There stand the enemies,
ringing him round with cruel eyes, waiting to be let slip upon him like
eager dogs round the poor beast of the chase. But for all that, here is
spread a table in the wilderness, made ready by invisible hands; and the
grim-eyed foe is held back in the leash till the servant of God has fed
and been strengthened. This is our condition--always the foe, always the
table.

What sort of a meal should that be? The soldiers who eat and drink, and
are drunken in the presence of the enemy, like the Saxons before
Hastings, what will become of them? Drink the cup of gladness, as men do
when their foe is at their side, looking askance over the rim, and with
one hand on the sword, 'ready, aye ready,' against treachery and
surprise. But the presence of the danger should make the feast more
enjoyable too, by the moderation it enforces, and by the contrast it
affords--as to sailors on shore, or soldiers in a truce. Joy may grow on
the very face of danger, as a slender rose-bush flings its bright sprays
and fragrant blossoms over the lip of a cataract; and that not the wild
mirth of men in a pestilence, with their 'Let us eat and drink, for
to-morrow we die,' but the simple-hearted gladness of those who have
preserved the invaluable childhood gift of living in the present moment,
because they know that to-morrow will bring God, whatever it brings, and
not take away His care and love, whatever it takes away.

This, then, is the form under which the experience of the past is
presented in the second portion,--joy in conflict, rest and food even in
the strife. Upon that there is built a hope which transcends that in the
previous portion of the psalm. As to this life, 'Goodness and mercy
shall follow us.' This is more than 'I will fear no evil.' That said,
sorrow is not evil if God be with us. This says, sorrow is mercy. The
one is hope looking mainly at outward circumstances, the other is hope
learning the spirit and meaning of them all. These two angels of
God--Goodness and Mercy--shall follow and encamp around the pilgrim. The
enemies whom God held back while he feasted, may pursue, but will not
overtake him. They will be distanced sooner or later; but the white
wings of these messengers of the covenant will never be far away from
the journeying child, and the air will often be filled with the music of
their comings, and their celestial weapons will glance around him in all
the fight, and their soft arms will bear him up over all the rough ways,
and up higher at last to the throne.

So much for the earthly future. But higher than all that rises the
confidence of the closing words, 'I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever.' This should be at once the crown of all our hopes for the
future, and the one great lesson taught us by all the vicissitudes of
life. The sorrows and the joys, the journeying and the rest, the
temporary repose and the frequent struggles, all these should make us
_sure_ that there is an end which will interpret them all, to which they
all point, for which they may all prepare. We get the table in the
wilderness here. It is as when the son of some great king comes back
from foreign soil to his father's dominions, and is welcomed at every
stage in his journey to the capital with pomp of festival, and
messengers from the throne, until he enters at last his palace home,
where the travel-stained robe is laid aside, and he sits down with his
father at his table. God provides for us here in the presence of our
enemies; it is wilderness food we get, manna from heaven, and water from
the rock. We eat in haste, staff in hand, and standing round the meal.
But yonder we sit down with the Shepherd, the Master of the house, at
His table in His kingdom. We put off the pilgrim-dress, and put on the
royal robe; we lay aside the sword, and clasp the palm. Far off, and
lost to sight, are all the enemies. We fear no change. We 'go no more
out.'

The sheep are led by many a way, sometimes through sweet meadows,
sometimes limping along sharp-flinted, dusty highways, sometimes high up
over rough, rocky mountain-passes, sometimes down through deep gorges,
with no sunshine in their gloom; but they are ever being led to one
place, and when the hot day is over they are gathered into one fold, and
the sinking sun sees them safe, where no wolf can come, nor any robber
climb up any more, but all shall rest for ever under the Shepherd's eye.

Brethren! can you take this psalm for yours? Have you returned unto
Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls? Oh! let Him, the Shepherd
of Israel, and the Lamb of God, one of the fold and yet the Guide and
Defender of it, human and divine, bear you away from the dreary
wilderness whither He has come seeking you. He will carry you rejoicing
to the fold, if only you will trust yourselves to His gentle arm. He
will restore your soul. He will lead you and keep you from all dangers,
guard you from every sin, strengthen you when you come to die, and bring
you to the fair plains beyond that narrow gorge of frowning rock. Then
this sweet psalm shall receive its highest fulfilment, for then 'they
shall hunger no more, neither shall they thirst any more, neither shall
the sun light on them, nor any heat, for the Lamb which is in the midst
of the Throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains
of waters, and God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.'



A GREAT QUESTION AND ITS ANSWER


    'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in
    His holy place?'--PSALM xxiv. 3.

The psalm from which these words are taken flashes up into new beauty,
if we suppose it to have been composed in connection with the bringing
of the Ark into the Temple, or for some similar occasion. Whether it is
David's or not is a matter of very small consequence. But if we look at
the psalm as a whole, we can scarcely fail to see that some such
occasion underlies it. So just exercise your imaginations for a moment,
and think of the long procession of white-robed priests bearing the Ark,
and followed by the joyous multitude chanting as they ascended, 'Who
shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy
place?' They are bethinking themselves of the qualifications needed for
that which they are now doing. They reach the gates, which we must
suppose to have been closed that they might be opened, and from the
half-chorus outside there peals out the summons, 'Lift up your heads, O
ye gates! and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory
shall come in.' Then from within another band of singers answers with
the question, 'Who is this King of Glory' who thus demands entrance? And
triumphantly the reply rings out, 'The Lord, strong and mighty; the
Lord, mighty in battle.' Still reluctant, the question is put again,
'Who is this King of Glory?' and the answer is given once more, 'The
Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.' There is no reference in the
second answer to 'battle.' The conflicts are over, and the dominion is
established, and at the reiterated summons the ancient gates roll back
on their hinges, burst as by a strong blow, and Jehovah enters into His
rest, He and the Ark of His strength. If that is the general connection
of the psalm--and I think you will admit that it adds to its beauty and
dramatic force if we suppose it so--then this introductory question,
sung as the procession climbed the steep, had realised what was needed
for those who should get the entrance that they sought, and comes to be
a very significant and important one. I deal now with the question and
its answer.

I. The question of questions.

That question lies deep in all men's hearts, and underlies sacrifices
and priesthoods and asceticisms and tortures of all sorts, and is the
inner meaning of Hindoos swinging with hooks in their backs, and others
of them measuring the road to the temple by prostrating themselves every
yard or two as they advance. These self-torturers are all asking the
same question: 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?' It
sometimes rises in the thoughts of the most degraded, and it is present
always with some of the better and nobler of men.

Now, there are three places in the Old Testament where substantially the
same question is asked. There is this psalm of ours; there is another
psalm which is all but a duplicate, which begins with 'Lord, who shall
abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?' And there is
another shape into which the question is cast by the fervent and
somewhat gloomy imagination of one of the prophets, who puts it thus:
'Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who shall dwell with
the everlasting burnings?' There never was a more disastrous
misapplication of Scripture than the popular idea that these two last
questions suggest the possibility of a creature being exposed to the
torments of future punishment. They have nothing to do with that. 'Who
among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?' If you want a commentary,
remember the words, 'Our God is a consuming fire.' That puts us on the
right track, if we needed any putting on it, for answering this
question, not in the gruesome and ghastly sense in which some people
take it, but in all the grandeur of Isaiah's thought. He sees God as
'the everlasting burnings.' Fire is the emblem of life as well as of
death; fire is the means of quickening as well as of destroying; and
when we speak of Him as 'the everlasting burnings' we are reminded of
the bush in the desert, where His own signature was set, 'burning and
not consumed.'

So the question in all the three places referred to is substantially the
same--and what does it indicate? It indicates the deep consciousness
that men have that they need to be in that home, that for life and peace
and blessedness, they must get somehow to the side of God, and be quiet
there, as children in their Father's house. We all know that this is
true, whether our life is regulated by it or not. Very deep in every
man's conscience, if he will attend to its voice, there is that which
says, 'You are a pilgrim and a sojourner, and homeless and desolate
until you nestle beneath the outspread wings in the Holy Place, and are
a denizen of God's house.'

The question further suggests another. The universal
consciousness--which is, I believe, universal--though it is overlain and
stifled by many of us, and neglected and set at nought by others--is
that this fellowship with God, which is indispensable to a man's peace,
is impossible to a man's impurity. So the question raises the thought of
the consciousness of sin which comes creeping over a man when he is
sometimes feeling after God, and seems to batter him in the face, and
fling him back into the outer darkness, 'How can I enter in there?' and
conscience has no answer, and the world has none, and as I shall have to
say presently, the answer which the Old Testament, as Law, gives is
almost as hopeless as the answer which conscience gives. But at all
events that this question should rise and insist upon being answered as
it does proves these three things--man's need of God, man's sense of
God's purity, man's consciousness of his own sin.

And what does that ascent to the hill of the Lord include? All the
present life, for, unless we are 'dwelling in the house of the Lord all
the days of our lives beholding His beauty and inquiring in His Temple,'
then we have little in life that is worth the having. The old Arab right
of claiming hospitality of the Sheikh into whose tent the fugitive ran
is used in Scripture over and over again to express the relation in
which alone it is blessed for a man to live--namely, as a guest of
God's. That is peace. That is all that we require, to sit at His
fireside, if I may so say, to claim the rites of hospitality, which the
Arab chief would not refuse to the veriest tatterdemalion, or the
greatest enemy that he knew, if he came into his tent and sought it. God
sits in the door of His tent, and is ready to welcome us.

The ascent to the hill of the Lord means more than that. It includes
also the future. I suppose that when men think about another
world--which I am afraid none of us think about as often as we ought to
do, in order to make the best of this one--the question, in some shape
or other, which this band of singers lifted up, rises to their lips,
'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His
Holy Place' beyond the stars? Well, brethren! that is the question which
concerns us all, more than anything else in the world, to have clearly
and rightly answered.

II. Note the answer to this great question.

The psalm answers it in an instructive fashion, which we take as it
stands. 'He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.' Let me measure
myself by the side of that requirement. 'Clean hands?'--are mine clean?
'And a pure heart?'--what about mine? 'Who hath not lifted up his soul
unto vanity'--and where have my desires and thoughts so often gone? 'Nor
sworn deceitfully.' These are the qualifications that our psalm dashes
down in front of us when we ask the question.

The other two occasions to which I have referred, where the same
question is put, give substantially the same answer. It might be
interesting, if one had time, or this was the place, to look at the
differences in the replies, as suggesting the slight differences in the
ideal of a good man as presented by the various writers, but that must
be left untouched now. Taking these four conditions that are laid down
here, we come to this, that psalmist and prophet with one voice say that
same solemn thing: 'Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.'
There is no faltering in the answer, and it is an answer to which the
depths of conscience say 'Yes.' We all admit, when we are wise, that for
communion with God on earth, and for treading the golden pavements of
that city into which nothing that is unclean shall enter, absolute
holiness is necessary. Let no man deceive himself--that stands the
irreversible, necessary condition.

Well, then, is anybody to go in? Let us read on in our psalm. An
impossible requirement is laid down, broad and stern and unmistakable.
But is that all? 'He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and
righteousness from the God of his salvation.' So, then, the impossible
requirement is made possible as a gift to be received. And although I do
not know that this psalmist, in the twilight of revelation, saw all that
was involved in what he sang, he had caught a glimpse of this great
thought, that what God required, God would give, and that our way to get
the necessary, impossible condition realised in ourselves is to
'receive' it. 'He shall receive ... righteousness from the God of his
salvation.' Now, do you not see how, like some great star, trembling
into the field of the telescope, and sending arrowy beams before it to
announce its approach, the great central Christian truth is here
dawning, germinant, prophesying its full rising? And the truth is this,
'that I might be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, but that
which is of God through Christ.' Ah, brethren! impossibilities become
possible when God comes and says, 'I give thee that which thou canst not
have.' The old prophet asked the question, 'What doth God require of
thee?' and his answer was, 'That thou shouldst do justice, and love
mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.' If he had gone on to ask a better
question, 'What does God give thee?' he would have said what all the New
Testament says, 'He gives what He commands, and He bestows before He
requires.' And so in Jesus Christ there is the forgiveness that blots
out the past, and there is the new life bestowed that will develop the
righteousness far beyond our reach. And thus the question which evoked
first the answer that might drive us to despair, evokes next a response
that commands us to hope.

But that is not all, for the psalm goes on: 'This is the generation of
them that seek Him, that seek Thy face.' Yes; couched in germ there lies
in that last word the great truth which is expanded in the New
Testament, like a beech-leaf folded up in its little brown sheath
through all the winter, and ready to break and give out its green
plumelets as soon as the warm rains and sunshine of spring come. 'They
that seek Him'--'if thou seek Him He will be found of thee.' The
requirement of righteousness, as I have said, is not abolished by the
Gospel, as some people seem to think that it substitutes faith for
righteousness; but it is made possible by the Gospel which through faith
gives righteousness. And what the Psalmist meant by 'seeking' we
Christian people mean by 'faith.' Earnest desire and confident
application to Him are sure to obtain righteousness. To these there will
never be returned a refusing answer. 'I have never said to any of the
seed of Jacob, seek ye Me in vain.' So, brethren! if we seek we shall
receive; if we receive we shall be holy, if we are holy we shall dwell
with God, in sweet and blessed communion, and be denizens of His house,
and sit together in heavenly places with Him all the days of our lives,
and then shall pass, when 'goodness and mercy have followed us all the
days of our lives,' and 'dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.'



THE GOD WHO DWELLS WITH MEN


    'Lift up your heads, O ye gates: and be ye lift up, ye everlasting
    doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 8. Who is this King of
    glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9.
    Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting
    doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 10. Who is this King of
    glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.'
    --PSALM xxiv. 7-10.

This whole psalm was probably composed at the time of the bringing of
the ark into the city of Zion. The former half was chanted as the
procession wound its way up the hillside. It mainly consists of the
answer to the question 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?' and
describes the kind of men that dwell with God, and the way by which they
obtain their purity.

This second half of our psalm is probably to be thought of as being
chanted when the procession had reached the summit of the hill and stood
before the barred gates of the ancient Jebusite city. It is mainly in
answer to the question, 'Who is this King of Glory?' and is the
description of the God that dwells with men, and the meaning of His
dwelling with them.

We are to conceive of a couple of half choirs, the one within, the other
without the mountain hold. The advancing choir summons the gates to open
in the grand words: 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates! even lift them up,
ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.' Their lofty
lintels are too low for His head to pass beneath; so they have to be
lifted that He may find entrance. They are 'everlasting doors,' grey
with antiquity, hoary with age. They have looked down, perhaps, upon
Melchizedek, King of Salem, as he went forth in the morning twilight of
history to greet the patriarch. But in all the centuries they have never
seen such a King as this King of Glory, the true King of Israel who now
desires entrance.

The answer to the summons comes from the choir within. 'Who is this King
of Glory?' the question represents ignorance and possible hesitation, as
if the pagan inhabitants of the recently conquered city knew nothing of
the God of Israel, and recognised no authority in His name. Of course,
the dramatic form of question and answer is intended to give additional
force to the proclamation as by God Himself of the Covenant name, the
proper name of Israel's God, as Baal was the name of the Canaanite's
God, 'the Lord strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle,' by whose
warrior power David had conquered the city, which now was summoned to
receive its conqueror. Therefore the summons is again rung out, 'Lift up
your heads, O ye gates! and the King of Glory shall come in.' And once
more, to express the lingering reluctance, ignorance not yet dispelled,
suspicion and unwilling surrender, the dramatic question is repeated,
'Who is this King of Glory?' The answer is sharp and authoritative in
its brevity, and we may fancy it shouted with a full-throated
burst--'The Lord of Hosts,' who, as Captain, commands all the embattled
energies of earth and heaven conceived as a disciplined army. That great
name, like a charge of dynamite, bursts the gates of brass asunder, and
with triumphant music the procession sweeps into the conquered city.

Now these great words, throbbing with the enthusiasm at once of poetry
and of devotion, may, I think, teach us a great deal if we ponder them.

I. Notice, first, their application, their historical and original
application, to the King who dwelt with Israel.

We must never forget that in the Old Testament we have to do with an
incomplete and a progressive revelation, and that if we would understand
its significance, we must ever endeavour to ascertain to what point in
that progress the words before us belong. We are not to read into these
words New Testament depth and fulness of meaning; we are to take them
and try to find out what they meant to David and to his people; and so
we shall get a firm basis for any deeper significance which we may
hereafter see in them. The thought of God, then, in these words is
mainly that of a God of strong and victorious energy, a warrior-God, a
conquering King, one whose word is power, who rules amidst the armies of
heaven, and amidst the inhabitants of earth.

A brief consideration of each expression is all which can be attempted
here. 'Who is this King of Glory?' The first idea, then, is that of
sovereign rule; the idea which had become more and more plain and clear
to the national consciousness of the Hebrew with the installation of
monarchy amongst them. And it is very beautiful to see how David lays
hold of that thought of God being Himself the King of Israel; and dwells
so often in his psalms on the idea that he, poor, pale, earthly shadow,
is but a representative and a viceroy of the true King who sits in the
heavens. He takes off his crown and lays it before His throne and says:
'Thou art the King of Israel, the King of Glory.'

The Old Testament meaning of that word 'glory' is a great deal more
definite than the ordinary religious use of it amongst us. The 'glory of
God' in the Old Testament is, first and foremost, the supernatural light
that dwelt between the cherubim and was the manifestation and symbol of
the divine Presence. And next it is the sum total of all the impression
made upon the world by God's manifestation of Himself, the Light, of
which the material and supernatural light between the cherubs was but
the emblem; all by which God flames and flashes Himself upon the
trembling and thankful heart; that glory which is substantially the same
as the Name of the Lord. And in this brightness, lustrous and dark with
excess of light, this King dwells. The splendour of His regalia is the
brightness that emanates from Himself. He is the King of Glory.

Next, we have the great Name, 'the Lord,' Jehovah, which speaks of
timeless, independent, unchanging, self-sufficing being. It declares
that He is His own cause, His own law, His own impulse, the staple from
which all the links of the chain of being depend, and not Himself a
link, the fontal Source of all which is.

We say: 'I am that which I have become; I am that which I have been
made; I am that which I have inherited; I am that which circumstances
and example and training have shaped me to be.' God says: 'I AM THAT I
AM.' This name is also significant, not only because it proclaims
absolute, independent, underived, timeless being, but because it is the
Covenant name, and speaks of the God who has come into fellowship with
men, and has bound Himself to a certain course of action for their
blessing, and is thus the Lord of Israel, and the God, in a special
manner, of His people.

'The Lord mighty in battle.' A true warrior-God, who went out in no
metaphorical sense, but in prose reality, fought for His people and
subdued the nations under them, in order that His name might be spread
and His glory be known in the earth.

And then, still further, 'the Lord of Hosts,' the Captain of all the
armies of heaven and earth. In that name is the thought to which the
modern world is coming so slowly by scientific paths, that all being is
one ordered whole, subject to the authority of one Lord. And in addition
to that, the grander thought, that the unity of nature is the will of
God; and that as the Commander issues His orders over all the field, so
He speaks and it is done. The hosts are the angels of whom it is said:
'Bless the Lord all ye His hosts; ye ministers of His that do His
pleasure.' The hosts are the stars that fill the nightly heavens, of
whom it is said, 'He bringeth out their host by number.' The hosts are
all creatures that live and are; and all are the soldiers and servants
of this conquering King. Such is the name of the Lord that dwelt with
Israel, the great conception that rises before this Psalmist.

II. Now turn to the second application of these great words, that speak
to us not only of the God that dwelt in Zion in outward and symbolical
form, by means of a material Presence which was an emblem of the true
nearness of Israel's God, but yet more distinctly, as I take it, of the
Christ that dwells with men.

The devout hearts in Israel felt that there was something more needed
than this dwelling of Jehovah within an earthly Temple, and the process
of revelation familiarised them with the thought that there was to be in
the future a 'coming of the Lord' in some special manner unknown to
them. So that the whole anticipation and forward look of the Old
Testament system is gathered into and expressed by almost its last
words, which prophesy that 'the Lord shall suddenly come to His Temple,'
and that once again this King of Glory shall stand before the
everlasting gates and summon them to open.

And when was that fulfilled? Fulfilled in a fashion that at first sight
seems the greatest contrast to all this vision of grandeur, of warlike
strength, of imperial power and rule with which we have been dealing;
but which yet was not the contrast to these ideas so much as the highest
embodiment of them. For, although at first sight it seems as if there
could be no greater contrast than between the lion might of the Jehovah
of the Old Testament, and the lamb gentleness of the Jesus of the New,
if we look more closely we shall see that it is not a relation of
contrast that exists between the two. Christ is all, and more than all,
that this psalm proclaimed the Jehovah of the Old Covenant to be. Let us
look again from that point of view at the particulars already referred
to.

He is the highest manifestation of the divine rule and authority. There
is no dominion like the dominion of the loving Christ, a kingdom based
upon suffering and wielded in gentleness, a kingdom of which the crown
is a wreath of thorns, and the sceptre a rod of reed; a dominion which
is all exercised for the blessing of its subjects, and which, therefore,
is an everlasting dominion. There is no rule like that; no height of
divine authority towers so high as the authority of Him who rules us so
absolutely because He gave Himself for us utterly. This is the King, the
Prince of the kings of the earth, because this is the Incarnate God who
died for us.

Christ is the highest raying out of the divine Light, or, as the Epistle
to the Hebrews calls it, 'the effulgence of His glory.' The true glory
of God lies in His love, and of that love Christ is the noblest and most
wondrous example. So all other beams of the divine character, bright as
their light is, are but dim as compared with the sevenfold lustre of the
light that shines from the gentle loving-kindness of the heart of
Christ. He has glorified God because He shows us that the divinest thing
in God is love.

For the same reason, He is the mightiest exhibition of the divine
power--'the Lord strong and mighty.' There is no work of God's hand, no
work of God's will so great as that by which we are turned from darkness
to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. The Cross is God's
noblest revelation of power; and in Him, His weakness, His surrender,
His death, with all the wonderful energies that flow from that death for
man's salvation, we see the divine strength made perfect in the human
weakness of Jesus. The Gospel of Christ 'is the power of God unto
salvation to everyone that believeth.' _There_ is divine power in its
noblest form, in the paradoxical shape of a dying man; in its noblest
effect, salvation; in its widest sweep to all who believe.

  ''Twas great to speak a world from nought,
    'Tis greater to redeem.'

This 'strong Son of God' is the arm of the Lord in whom live and act the
energies of omnipotence.

Christ is 'the Lord mighty in battle.' True, He is the Prince of peace,
but He is also the better Joshua, the victorious Captain, in whom dwells
the conquering divine might. Through all the gentleness of His life
there winds a martial strain, and it is not in vain that the Evangelist
who was most deeply penetrated by the sweetness of His love, is the one
who most often speaks of Him as overcoming, and who has preserved as His
last words to His timid followers, that triumphant command, 'Be of good
cheer! I have overcome the world.' He has conquered for us, binding the
strong man, and so He will spoil his house. Sin, hell, death, the devil,
law, fear, our own foolish hearts, all temptations that hover around
us--they are all vanquished foes of a 'Lord' that is 'mighty in battle.'
And as He overcame, so shall we if we will trust Him.

Christ is the Commander and Wielder of all the forces of the universe.
As one said to Him in the days of His flesh, 'I am a man under
authority, and I say to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. So do Thou
speak and Thy word shall be sovereign.' And so it was. He spake to
diseases and they vanished. He spake to the winds and the seas and there
was a great calm. He spake to demons, and murmuring, but yet obedient,
they came out of their victims. He flung His word into the recesses of
the grave, and Lazarus came forth, fumbling with the knots on his
grave-clothes, and stumbling into the light. 'He spake and it was done.'
Who is He, the utterance of whose will is sovereign amongst all the
regions of being? 'Who is the King of Glory?' 'Thou art the King of
Glory, O Christ!' 'Thou art the Everlasting Son of the Father.'

III. And now, lastly, let me ask you to look, and that for a moment, at
the application of these words to the Christ who will dwell in our
hearts.

His historical manifestation here upon earth and His Incarnation, which
is the true dwelling of Deity amongst men, are not enough. They have
left something more than a memory to the world. He is as ready to abide
as really within our spirits as He was to tabernacle upon earth amongst
men. And the very central message of that Gospel which Is proclaimed to
us all is this, that if we will open the gates of our hearts He will
come in, in all the plenitude of His victorious power, and dwell in our
hearts, their Conqueror and their King.

What a strange contrast, and yet what a close analogy there is between
the victorious tones and martial air of this summons of my text. 'Lift
up your heads, O ye gates! that the King of Glory may come in,' and the
gentle words of the Apocalypse: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock;
if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him.' But
He that in the Old Covenant arrayed in warrior arms, summoned the rebels
to surrender, is the same as He who, in the New, with the night-dews in
His hair, and patience on His face, and gentleness in the touch of His
hand upon the door, waits to enter in. Brethren! open your hearts, 'and
the King of Glory shall come in.'

And He will come in as a king that might seek to enter some city far
away on the outposts of his kingdom, besieged by his enemies. If the
King comes in, the city will be impregnable. If you open your hearts for
Him He will come and keep you from all your foes and give you the
victory over them all. So, to every hard-pressed heart, waging an
unequal contest with toils and temptations, and sorrows and sins, this
great hope is given, that Christ the Victor will come in His power to
garrison heart and mind. As of old the encouragement was given to
Hezekiah in his hour of peril, when the might of Sennacherib insolently
threatened Jerusalem, so the same stirring assurances are given to each
who admits Christ's succours to his heart--'He shall not come into this
city, for I will defend this city to save it for Mine own sake' Open
your hearts and the conquering King will come in.

And do not forget that there is another possible application of these
words lying in the future, to the conquering Christ who shall come
again. The whole history of the past points onwards to yet a last time
when 'the Lord shall suddenly come to His temple,' and predicts that
Christ shall so come in like manner as He went up to heaven. Again will
the summons ring out. Again will He come arrayed in flashing brightness,
and the visible robes of His imperial majesty. Again will He appear,
mighty in battle, when 'in righteousness He shall judge and make war.'
For a Christian, one great memory fills the past--Christ has come; and
one great hope brightens the else waste future--Christ will come. That
hope has been far too much left to be cherished only by those who hold a
particular opinion as to the chronology of unfulfilled prophecy. But it
should be to every Christian heart 'the blessed hope,' even the
appearing of the glory of Him who has come in the past. He is with and
in us, in the present. He will come in the future 'in His glory, and
shall sit upon the throne of His glory.' All our pardon and hope of
God's love depend upon that great fact in the past, that 'the Lord was
made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.' Our purity
which will fit us to dwell with God, our present blessedness, all our
power for daily strife, and our companionship in daily loneliness,
depend on the present fact that He dwells in our hearts by faith, the
seed of all good, and the conquering Antagonist of every evil. And the
one light which fills the future with hope, peaceful because assured,
streams from that most sure promise that He will come again, sweeping
from the highest heavens, on His head the many crowns of universal
monarchy, in His hand the weapons of all-conquering power, and none
shall need to ask, 'Who is this King of Glory?' for every eye shall know
Him, the Judge upon His throne, to be the Christ of the Cross. Open the
doors of your hearts to Him, as He sues for entrance now in the meekness
of His patient love, that on you may fall in that day of the coming of
the King, the blessing of the servants who wait for their returning
Lord, that 'when He cometh and knocketh, they may open unto Him
immediately.'



GUIDANCE IN JUDGMENT


    'Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will He teach sinners in
    the way. 9. The meek will He guide in judgment; and the meek will He
    teach His way.'--PSALM xxv. 8, 9.

The Psalmist prays in this psalm for three things: deliverance,
guidance, and forgiveness. Of these three petitions the central one is
that for guidance. 'Show me Thy ways, O Lord,' he asks in a previous
verse; where he means by 'Thy ways,' not God's dealings with men, but
men's conduct as prescribed by God. In my text he exchanges petition for
contemplation; and gazes on the character of God, in order thereby to be
helped to confidence in an answer to his prayer. Such alternations of
petition and contemplation are the very heartbeats of devotion, now
expanding in desire, now closing on its treasure in fruition. Either
attitude is incomplete without the other. Do _our_ prayers pass into
such still contemplation of the face of God? Do _our_ thoughts of His
character break into such confident petition? My text contains a
striking view of the divine character, a grand confidence built
thereupon, and a condition appended on which the fulfilment of that
confidence depends. Let us look at these in turn.

I. First, then, we have here the Psalmist's thought of God. 'Good and
upright is the Lord.'

Now it is clear that the former of these two epithets is here employed,
not in its widest sense of moral perfectness, or else 'upright,' which
follows, would be mere tautology, but in the narrower sense, which is
familiar too, to us, in our common speech, in which _good_ is tantamount
to _kind_, _beneficent_, or to say all in a word, _loving_. _Upright_
needs no explanation; but the point to notice is the decisiveness with
which the Psalmist binds together, in one thought, the two aspects of
the divine nature which so many people find it hard to reconcile, and
the separation of which has been the parent of unnumbered misconceptions
and errors as to Him and to His dealings. 'Good _and_ upright, loving
_and_ righteous is the Lord,' says the Psalmist. He puts in no
qualifying word such as, loving _though_ righteous, righteous and _yet_
loving. Such phrases express the general notions of the relation of
these two attributes. But the Psalmist employs no such expressions. He
binds the two qualities together, in the feeling of their profoundest
harmony.

Now let me remind you that neither of these two resplendent aspects of
the divine nature reaches its highest beauty and supremest power, except
it be associated with the other. In the spectrum analysis of that great
light there are the two lines; the one purest white of righteousness,
and the other tinged with a ruddier glow, the line of love. The one
adorns and sets off the other. Love without righteousness is flaccid, a
mere gush of good-natured sentiment, impotent to confer blessing,
powerless to evoke reverence. Righteousness without love is as white as
snow, and as cold as ice; repellent, howsoever it may excite the
sentiment of awe-struck distance. But we need that the righteousness
shall be loving, and that the love shall be righteous, in order that the
one may be apprehended in its tenderest tenderness and the other may be
adored in its loftiest loftiness.

And yet we are always tempted to wrench the two apart, and to think that
the operation of the one must sometimes, at all events on the outermost
circumference of the spheres, impinge upon, and collide with, the
operations of the other. Hence you get types of religion--yes! and two
types of Christianity--in which the one or the other of these two
harmonious attributes is emphasised to such a degree as almost to blot
out the other. You get forms of religion in which the righteousness has
swallowed up the love, and others in which the love has destroyed the
righteousness. The effect is disastrous. In old days our fathers fell
into the extreme on the one hand; and the pendulum has swung with a
vengeance as far from the vertical line, to the other extreme, in these
days as it ever did in the past. The religion which found its
centre-point and its loftiest conception of the divine nature in the
thought of His absolute righteousness made strong, if it made somewhat
stern, men. And now we see renderings of the truth that God is love
which degrade the lofty, noble, sovereign conception of the righteous
God that loveth, into mere Indulgence on the throne of the universe. And
what is the consequence? All the stern teachings of Scripture men recoil
from, and try to explain away. The ill desert of sin, and the necessary
iron nexus between sin and suffering--and as a consequence the
sacrificial work of Jesus Christ, and the supreme glory of His mission
in that He is the Redeemer of mankind--are all become unfashionable to
preach and unfashionable to believe. God is Love. We cannot make too
much of His love, unless by reason of it we make too little of His
righteousness.

The Psalmist, in his childlike faith, saw deeper and more truly than
many would-be theologians and thinkers of this day, when he proclaimed
in one breath 'Good _and_ upright is the Lord.' Let us not forget that
the Apostle, whose great message to the world was, as the last utterance
completing the process of revelation, 'God is Love,' had it also in
charge to 'declare unto us that God is Light, and in Him is no darkness
at all.'

II. And so, secondly, mark the calm confidence builded on this
conception of the divine character.

What a wonderful 'therefore' that is!--the logic of faith and not of
sense. 'Good and upright is the Lord; _therefore_ will He teach sinners
in the way.' The coexistence of these two aspects in the perfect divine
character is for us a guarantee that He cannot leave men, however guilty
they may be, to grope in the dark, or keep His lips locked in silence.
The Psalmist does not mean guidance as to practical advantages and
worldly prosperity. That may also be looked for, in a modified degree.
But what he means is guidance as to the one important thing, the
sovereign conception of duty, the eternal law of right and wrong. God
will not leave a man without adequate teaching as to that, just because
He is loving and righteous.

For what _is_ love, in its loftiest, purest, and therefore in its divine
aspect? What is it except an infinite desire to impart, and that the
object on which it falls shall be blessed. So because 'the Lord is good,
and His tender mercies are over all His works,' certainly He must
desire, if one may so say, as His deepest desire, the blessedness of His
creatures. He is a God whose nature and property it is to love, and His
love is the infinite and ceaseless welling out of Himself, in all forms
of beauty and blessedness, according to the capacity and contents of His
recipient creatures. He is 'the giving God,' as James in his epistle
eloquently and wonderfully calls Him, whose very nature it is to give.
And that is only to say, in other words, 'good _is the Lord_.'

But then 'good _and_ upright'--that combination determines the form
which His blessings shall assume, the channel in which by preference
they will flow. If we had only to say, 'good is the Lord,' then our
happiness, as we call it, the satisfaction of our physical needs and of
lower cravings, might be the adequate expression of His love. But if God
be righteous, then because Himself is so, it must be His deepest desire
for us that we should be like Him. Not our happiness but our rectitude
is God's end in all that He does with us. It is worth His while to make
us, in the lower sense of the word, 'happy,' but the purpose of joy as
of sorrow is to make us pure and righteous. We shall never come to
understand the meaning of our own lives, and will always be blindly
puzzling over the mysteries of the providences that beset us, until we
learn that not enjoyment and not sorrow is His ultimate end concerning
us, but that we may be partakers of His holiness. Since He is righteous,
the dearest desire of His loving heart, and that to which all His
dealings with us are directed; and that, therefore, to which all our
desires and efforts should be directed likewise, is to make us righteous
also.

'Therefore will He teach sinners in the way.' If the righteousness
existed without the love it must 'come with a rod,' and the sinners who
are out of the way must incontinently be crushed where they have
wandered. But since righteousness is blended with love, therefore He
comes, and must desire to bring all wanderers back into the paths which
are His own.

I need not do more than in a word remind you how strong a presumption
there lies in this combination of aspects of the divine nature, in
favour of an actual revelation. It seems to me that, notwithstanding all
the objections that are made to a supernatural and objective revelation,
there is nothing half so monstrous as it would be to believe, with the
pure deist or theist, that God, being what He is, righteous and loving,
had never rent His heavens to say one word to man to lead him in the
paths of righteousness. I can understand Atheism, and I can understand a
revealing God, but not a God that dwells in the thick darkness, and is
yet Love and Righteousness, and looks down upon this world and never
puts out a finger to point the path of duty. A silent God seems to me no
God but an Almighty Devil. Revelation is the plain conclusion from the
premisses that 'good and upright is the Lord!'

I speak not, for there is no time to do so, of the various manners in
which this divine desire to bring sinners into the way fulfils itself.
There are our consciences; there are His providences; there is the
objective revelation of His word; there are the whispers of His Spirit
in men's hearts. I do not know what you believe, but I believe that God
can find His way to my heart and infuse there illumination, and move
affections, and make my eye clear to discern what is right. 'He that
formed the eye, shall He not see?' He that formed the eye, shall He not
send light to it? Are we to shut out God, in obedience to the dictates
of an arbitrary psychology, from access to His own creature; and to say,
'Thou hast made me, and Thou canst not speak to me. My soul is Thine by
creation, but its doors are close barred against Thee; and Thou canst
not lay Thy hand upon it?' 'Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will
He teach sinners in the way.'

III. Now notice, again, the condition on which the fulfilment of this
confidence depends.

'The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His
way.' The fact of our being sinful only makes it the more imperative
that God should speak to us. But the condition of our hearing and
profiting by the guidance is meekness. By meekness the Psalmist means, I
suppose, little else than what we might call docility, of which the
prime element is the submission of my own will to God's. The reason why
we go wrong about our duties is mainly that we do not supremely want to
go right, but rather to gratify inclinations, tastes, or passions. God
is speaking to us, but if we make such a riot with the yelpings of our
own kennelled desires and lusts, and listen to the rattle and noise of
the street and the babble of tongues, He

  'Can but listen at the gate,
   And hear the household jar within.'

'The meek will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way.'
Some of us put our heads down like bulls charging a gate. Some of us
drive on full speed, and will not shut off steam though the signals are
against us, and the end of that can only be one thing. Some of us do not
wish to know what God wishes us to do. Some of us cannot bear suspense
of judgment, or of decision, and are always in a hurry to be in action,
and think the time lost that is spent in waiting to know what God the
Lord will speak. If you do not clearly see what to do, then clearly you
may see that you are to do _nothing_.

The ark was to go half a mile in front of the camp before the foremost
files lifted a foot to follow, in order that there should be no mistake
as to the road. Wait till God points the path, and wish Him to point it,
and hush the noises that prevent your hearing His voice, and keep your
wills in absolute submission; and above all, be sure that you act out
your convictions, and that you have no knowledge of duty which is not
expressed in your practice, and you will get all the light which you
need; sometimes being taught by errors no doubt, often being left to
make mistakes as to what is expedient in regard to worldly prosperity,
but being infallibly guided as to the path of duty, and the path of
peace and righteousness.

And now, before I close, let me just remind you of the great fact which
transcends the Psalmist's confidence whilst it warrants it.

Because God is Love, and God is Righteousness, He cannot but speak. But
this Psalmist did not know how wonderfully God was going to speak by
that Word who has called Himself the Light of men; and who has said, 'He
that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light
of life.' He 'teaches sinners in the way,' by Jesus Christ; for we have
Him for our Pattern and Example. We have His love for our impelling
motive. We have His Spirit to speak in our hearts, and to 'guide us into
all truth.' And this Shepherd, 'when He putteth forth His own sheep,
goeth before them; and the sheep follow Him and know His voice.' The
Psalmist's confidence, bright as it is, is but the glow of the morning
twilight. The full sunshine of the transcendent fact to which God's
righteous love impelled and bound Him is Christ, who makes us know the
will of the Father. But we want more than knowledge. For we all know our
duty a great deal better than any of us do it. What is the use of a
guide to a lame man? But our Guide says to us, 'Arise and walk,' and if
we clasp His hand we receive strength, and 'the lame man leaps as a
hart.'

So, dear brethren! let us all cleave to Him, the Guide, the Way, and the
Life which enables us to walk in the way. If we thus cleave, then be
sure that He will lead us in the paths of righteousness, which are paths
of peace. He is the Way; He is the Leader of the march; He gives power
to walk in the light, and His one command, 'Follow Me,' unfolds into all
duty and includes all direction, companionship, perfection, and
blessedness.



A PRAYER FOR PARDON AND ITS PLEA


    'For Thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is
    great.'--PSALM xxv. 11.

The context shows us that this is the prayer of a man who had long loved
and served God. He says that 'on God' he 'waits all the day,' that his
'eyes are ever toward the Lord,' that he has 'integrity and uprightness'
which will 'preserve him, for he waits upon God,' and yet side by side
with this consciousness of devotion and service there lie the profound
sense of sin and of the need of pardon. The better a man is, the more
clearly he sees, and the more deeply he feels, his own badness. If a
shoe is all covered with mud, a splash or two more or less will make no
difference, but if it be polished and clean, one speck shows. A black
feather on a swan's breast is conspicuous. And so the less sin a man has
the more obvious it is, and the more he has the less he generally knows
it. But whilst this consciousness of transgression and cry for pardon
are inseparable and permanent accompaniments of a devout life all along
its course, they are the roots and beginning of all true godliness. And
as a rule, the first step which a man takes to knit himself consciously
to God is through the gate of recognised and repeated and confessed sin
and imploring the divine mercy.

I. Notice, first, here the cry for pardon.

'I believe in the forgiveness of sins' hundreds of thousands of
Englishmen have said twice to-day. Most of us, when we pray at all, push
in somewhere or other the petition, 'Forgive us our sins.' And how many
of us understand what we mean when we ask for that? And how many of us
feel that we need the thing which we seem to be requesting? Let me dwell
for a moment or two upon the Scriptural idea of forgiveness. Of course
we may say that when we ask forgiveness from God we are transferring
ideas and images drawn from human relations to the divine. Be it so.
That does not show that there is not a basis of reality and of truth in
the ideas thus transferred. But there are two elements in forgiveness as
we know it, both of which it seems to me to be very important that we
should carry in our minds in interpreting the Scriptural doctrine. There
is the forgiveness known to law and practised by the lawgiver. There is
the forgiveness known to love and practised by the friend, or parent, or
lover. The one consists in the remission of external penalties. A
criminal is forgiven, or, as we say (with an unconscious restriction of
the word _forgiven_ to the deeper thing), _pardoned_, when, the
remainder of his sentence being remitted, he is let out of gaol, and
allowed to go about his business without any legal penalties. But there
is a forgiveness deeper than that legal pardon. A parent and a child
both of them know that parental pardon does not consist in the waiving
of punishment. The averted look, the cold voice, the absence of signs of
love are far harder to bear than so-called punishment. And the
forgiveness, which belongs to love only, comes when the film between the
two is swept away, and both the offended and the offender feel that
there is no barrier to the free, unchecked flow of love from the heart
of the aggrieved to the heart of the aggressor.

We must carry both of these ideas into our thoughts of God's pardon in
order to see the whole fulness of it. And perhaps we may have to add yet
another illustration, drawn from another region, and which is enshrined
in one of the versions of the Lord's Prayer, where we read, 'Forgive us
our _debts_.' When a debt is forgiven it is cancelled, and the payment
of it no longer required. But the two elements that I have pointed out,
the remission of the penalty and the uninterrupted flow of God's love,
are inseparably united in the full Scriptural notion of forgiveness.

Scripture recognises as equally real and valid, in our relations to God,
the judicial and the fatherly side of the relationship. And it declares
as plainly that the wages of sin is death as it declares that God's love
cannot come in its fulness and its sweetness, upon a heart that indulges
in unconfessed and unrepented sin. They are poor friends of men who, for
the sake of smoothing away the terrible side of the Gospel, minimise or
hide the reality of the awful penalties which attach to every
transgression and disobedience, because they thereby maim the notion of
the divine forgiveness, and lull into a fatal slumber the consciences of
many men.

Dear brethren! I have to stand here saying, 'Knowing, therefore, the
terrors of the Lord, we persuade men.' This is sure and certain, that
over and above the forcing back upon itself of the love of God by my
sin, that sin by necessary consequence will work out awful results for
the doer in the present and in the future. I do not wish to dwell upon
that thought, only remember that God is a Judge and God is the Father,
and that the divine forgiveness includes both of these elements, the
sweeping away of the penal consequences of men's sin, wholly in the
future, and to some extent in the present; and the unchecked flow of the
love of God to a man's heart.

There are awful words in Scripture--which are not to be ruled out of it
by any easy-going, optimistic, rose-water system of a mutilated
Christianity--there are awful words in Scripture, concerning what you
and I must come to if we live and die in our sins, and there would be no
message of forgiveness worth the proclaiming to men, if it had nothing
to say about the removal of that which a man's own unsophisticated
conscience tells him is certain, the fatal and the damnable effects of
his departure from God.

But let us not forget that these two aspects do to a large extent
coincide, when we come to remember that the worst of all the penal
consequences of sin is that it separates from God, and exposes to 'the
wrath of God,' a terrible expression by which the Bible means the
necessary disapprobation and aversion of the divine nature, being such
as it is, from man's sin.

Experimentalists will sometimes cut off one or other of the triple rays
of which sunlight is composed by passing the beam through some medium
which intercepts the red, or the violet, or the yellow, as may chance.
And my sin makes an atmosphere which cuts off the gentler rays of that
divine nature, and lets the fiery ones of retribution come through. It
is not that a sinful man, howsoever drenched overhead in the foul pool
of his own unrepented iniquity, is shut out from the love of God, which
lingers about him and woos him, and lavishes upon him all the gifts of
which he is capable, but that he has made himself incapable of receiving
the sweetest of these influences, and that so long as he continues thus,
his life and his character cannot but be odious and hateful in the pure
eyes of perfect love.

But whilst thus there are external consequences which are swept away by
forgiveness, and whilst the real hell of hells and death of deaths is
the separation from God, and the misery that must necessarily ensue
thereupon, there are consequences of man's sin which forgiveness is not
intended to remove, and will not remove, just because God loves us. He
loves us too well to take away the issues in the natural sphere, in the
social sphere, the issues perhaps in bodily health, reputation,
position, and the like, which flow from our transgression. 'Thou wast a
God that forgavest them, and Thou didst inflict retribution for their
inventions.' He does leave much of these outward issues unswept away by
His forgiveness, and the great law stands, 'Whatsoever a man soweth that
shall he also reap.' And yet the pardon that you and I need, and which
we can all have for the asking, flows to us unchecked and full--the
great stream of the love of God, to whom we are reconciled, when we turn
to Him in penitent dependence on the blood and righteousness of Jesus
Christ, our Lord.

This consciousness of sin and cry for pardon lie at the foundation of
vigorous practical religion. It seems to me that the differences between
different types of Christianity, insipid elegance and fiery earnestness,
between coldness and fervour, the difference between a sapless and a
living ministry and between a formal and a real Christianity, are very
largely due to the differences in realising the fact and the gravity of
the fact of transgression. The prominence which we give to that in our
thoughts will largely determine our notions of ourselves, and of
Christ's work, and to a great extent settle what we think Christianity
is for, and what in itself it is. If a man has no deep consciousness of
sin he will be satisfied with a very superficial kind of religion.
'Every man his own redeemer' will be his motto. And not knowing the
necessity for a Saviour, he will not recognise that Christianity is
fundamentally and before anything else, a system of redemption. A moral
agent? Yes! A large revelation of great truth? Yes! A power to make
men's lives, individually and in the community, nobler and loftier? By
all means. But before all these, and all these consequentially on its
being a system by which sinful men, else hopeless and condemned, are
delivered and set free. So, dear brethren! let me press upon you
this,--unless my Christianity gives large prominence to the fact of my
own transgression, and is full of a penitent cry for pardon, it lacks
the one thing needful, I was going to say--it lacks, at all events, that
which will make it a living power blessedly ruling my heart and life.

II. Note in the next place the plea for pardon.

'For Thy name's sake.' The Psalmist does not come with any carefully
elaborated plea, grounded upon anything in himself, either on the
excuses and palliations of his evil, his corrupt nature, his many
temptations, and the like, or on the depth and reality of his
repentance. He does not say, 'Forgive me, for I weep for my evil and
loathe myself.' Nor does he say, 'Forgive me, for I could not help doing
it, or because I was tempted; or because the thing that I have done is a
very little thing after all.' He comes empty-handed, and says, 'For Thy
name's sake, O Lord!'

That means, first, the great thought that God's mercy flows from the
infinite depths of His own character. He is His own motive. The fountain
of His forgiving love wells up of itself, drawn forth by nothing that we
do, but propelled from within by the inmost nature of God. As surely as
it is the property of light to radiate and of fire to spread, so surely
is it His nature and property to have mercy. He forgives, says our text,
because He is God, and cannot but do so. Therefore our mightiest plea is
to lay hold of His own strength, and to grasp the fact of the unmotived,
uncompelled, unpurchased, and therefore unalterable and eternal
pardoning love of God.

Scientists tell us that the sun is fed and kept in splendour by the
constant impact of bodies from without falling in upon it, and that if
that supply were to cease, the furnace of the heavens would go out. But
God, who is light in Himself, needs no accession of supplies from
without to maintain His light, and no force of motives from without to
sway His will. We do not need to seek to bend Him to mercy, for He is
mercy in Himself. We do not need to stir His purpose into action, for it
has been working from of old and 'its goings forth are from
everlasting.' He is His own motive, He forgives because of what He is.
So let us dig down to that deepest of all rock foundations on which to
build our confidence, and be sure that, if I may use such an expression,
the necessity of the divine nature compels Him to pardon iniquity,
transgression, and sin.

Then there is another thought here, that the past of God is a plea with
God for present forgiveness. 'Thy name' in Scripture means the whole
revelation of the divine character, and thus the Psalmist looks back
into the past, and sees there how God has, all through the ages, been
plenteous in mercy and ready to forgive all that called upon Him; and he
pleads that past as a reason for the present and for the future.
Thousands of years have passed since David, if he was the Psalmist,
offered this prayer; and you and I can look back to the blessed old
story of _his_ forgiveness, so swift, so absolute and free, which
followed upon confession so lowly, and can remember that infinitely
pathetic and wonderful word which puts the whole history of the
resurrection and restoration of a soul into two clauses. 'David said
unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord: and Nathan said unto
David'--finishing the sentence--'And the Lord hath made to pass the
iniquity of thy sin.' What He was He is; what He is He will be. 'For Thy
name's sake, pardon mine iniquity.'

There is yet another thought that may be suggested. The divine
forgiveness is in order that men may know Him better. That is
represented in Scripture as being the great motive of the divine
actions--'for the glory of Thine own name.' That may be so put as to be
positively atrocious, or so as to be perfectly divine and lovely. It has
often been put, by hard and narrow dogmatists, in such a way as to make
God simply an Almighty selfishness, but it ought to be put as the Bible
puts it, so as to show Him as an Almighty love. For why does He desire
that His name should be known by us but for our sakes, that the light of
that great Name may come to us, 'sitting in darkness and in the shadow
of death,' and that, knowing Him for what He is, we may have peace, and
rest, and joy, and love, and purity? It is pure benevolence that makes
Him act, 'for the glory of His great name'; sweeping away the clouds
that a darkened earth may expand and rejoice, and all the leaves unfold
themselves, and every bird sing, in the restored sunshine.

And there is nothing that reveals the inmost hived sweetness and honey
of the name of God like the assurance of His pardon. 'There is
forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.' Oh, dear brethren!
unless you know God as the God that has forgiven you, your knowledge of
Him is but shallow and incomplete, and you know not the deepest
blessings that flow to them who find that this is life eternal to know
the only true God as the all-forgiving Father.

Note the connection between the Psalmist's plea and the New Testament
plea. David said, 'For Thy name's sake, pardon,' we say, 'For Christ's
sake, forgive.' Are the two diverse? Is the fruit diverse from the bud?
Is the complete noonday diverse from the blessed morning twilight?
Christ _is_ the Name of God, the Revealer of the divine heart and mind.
When Christian men pray 'For the sake of Christ,' they are not bringing
a motive, which is to move the divine love which else lies passive and
inert, because God's love was the cause of Christ's work not Christ's
work the cause of God's love, but they are expressing their own
dependence on the Great Mediator and His work, and solemnly offering, as
the ground of all their hope, that perfect sacrifice which is the medium
by which forgiveness reaches men, and without which it is impossible
that the government of the righteous God could exist with pardon. Christ
has died; Christ, in dying, has borne the sins of the world; that is,
yours and mine. And therefore the pardon of God comes to us through that
channel, without, in the slightest degree, trenching on the awfulness of
the divine holiness or weakening the sanctities of God's righteous
retributive law. 'For Christ's sake hath forgiven us' is the daylight
which the Psalmist saw as morning dawn when he cried, 'For Thy name's
sake, pardon mine iniquity.'

III. Lastly, note the reason for the earnest cry, 'For it is great.'

That may be a reason for the pardon; more probably it is a reason for
the prayer. The fact is true in regard to us all. There is no need to
suppose any special heinous sin in the Psalmist's mind. I would fain
press upon all consciences that listen to me now that these lowly words
of confession are true about every one of us, whether we know it or not.
For if you consider how much of self-will, how much of indifference, of
alienation from, if not of antagonism against, the law of God, go to
every trifling transgression, you will think twice before you call it
small. And if it be small, a microscopic viper, the length of a cutting
from your finger nail, has got the viper's nature in it, and its poison,
and its sting, and it will grow. A very little quantity of mud held in
solution in a continuously flowing river will make a tremendous delta at
the mouth of it in the course of years. And however small may have been
the amount of evil and deflection from God's law in that flowing river
of my past life, what a filthy, foul bank of slime must be piled up down
yonder at the mouth!

If the fact be so, then is not that a reason for our all going to the
only One who can dredge it away, and get rid of it? 'Pardon me; for it
is great.' That is to say, 'There is no one else who can deal with it
but Thyself, O Lord! It is too large for me to cart away; it is too
great for any inferior hand to deal with. I am so bad that I can come
only to Thyself to be made better.' It is blessed and wise when the
consciousness of our deep transgression drives us to the only Hand that
can heal, to the only Heart that can forgive.

So, dear friends! in a blessed desperation of otherwise being unable to
get rid of this burden which has grown on our backs ounce by ounce for
long years, let us go to Him. He and He alone can deal with it. 'Against
Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,' and to Thee, Thee only, will I come.

Only remember that, before you ask, God has given. He is 'like the dew
upon the grass, that waiteth not for man.' Instead of praying for pardon
which is already bestowed, do you see to it that you take the pardon
which God is praying you to receive. Swallow the bitter pill of
acknowledging your own transgression; and then one look at the crucified
Christ and one motion of believing desire towards Him; 'and the Lord
hath made to pass the iniquity of thy sin.'



GOD'S GUESTS


    'One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that
    I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.'
    --PSALM xxvii. 4.

We shall do great injustice to this mystical aspiration of the Psalmist,
if we degrade it to be the mere expression of a desire for unbroken
residence in a material Temple. He was no sickly, sentimental seeker
after cloistered seclusion. He knew the necessities and duties of life
far better than in a cowardly way to wish to shirk them, in order that
he might loiter in the temple, idle under the pretence of worship. Nor
would the saying fit into the facts of the case if we gave it that low
meaning, for no person had his residence in the temple. And what follows
in the next verse would, on that hypothesis, be entirely inappropriate.
'In the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me.' No one went into the
secret place of the Most High, in the visible, material structure,
except the high priest once a year. But this singer expects that his
abode will be there always; and that, in the time of trouble, he can
find refuge there.

Apart altogether from any wider considerations as to the relation
between form and spirit under the Old Covenant, I think that such
observations compel us to see in these words a desire a great deal
nobler and deeper than any such wish.

I. Let us, then, note the true meaning of this aspiration of the
Psalmist.

Its fulfilment depends not on where we are, but on what we think and
feel; for every place is God's house, and what the Psalmist desires is
that he should be able to keep up unbroken consciousness of being in
God's presence and should be always in touch with Him.

That seems hard, and people say, 'Impossible! how can I get above my
daily work, and be perpetually thinking of God and His will, and
consciously realising communion with Him?' But there is such a thing as
having an undercurrent of consciousness running all through a man's life
and mind; such a thing as having a melody sounding in our ears
perpetually, 'so sweet we know not we are listening to it' until it
stops, and then, by the poverty of the naked and silent atmosphere, we
know how musical were the sounds that we scarcely knew that we heard,
and yet did hear so well high above all the din of earth's noises.

Every man that has ever cherished such an aspiration as this knows the
difficulties all too well. And yet, without entering upon thorny and
unprofitable questions as to whether the absolute, unbroken continuity
of consciousness of being in God's presence is possible for men here
below, let us look at the question, which has a great deal more bearing
upon our present condition--viz. whether a greater continuity of that
consciousness is not possible than we attain to to-day. It does seem to
me to be a foolish and miserable waste of time and temper and energy for
good people to be quarrelling about whether they can come to the
absolute realisation of this desire in this world, when there is not one
of them who is not leagues below the possible realisation of it, and
knows that he is. At all events, whether or not the line can be drawn
without a break at all, the breaks might be a great deal shorter and a
great deal less frequent than they are. An unbroken line of conscious
communion with God is the ideal; and that is what this singer desired
and worked for. How many of my feelings and thoughts to-day, or of the
things that I have said or done since I woke this morning, would have
been done and said and felt exactly the same, if there were not a God at
all, or if it did not matter in the least whether I ever came into touch
with Him or not? Oh, dear friends! it is no vain effort to bring our
lives a little nearer that unbroken continuity of communion with Him of
which this text speaks. And God knows, and we each for ourselves know,
how much and how sore our need is of such a union. 'One thing have I
desired, that will I seek after; that I, in my study; I, in my shop; I,
in my parlour, kitchen, or nursery; I, in my studio; I, in my
lecture-hall--'may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my
life.' In our 'Father's house are many mansions.' The room that we spend
most of our lives in, each of us, at our tasks or our work-tables may be
in our Father's house, too; and it is only we that can secure that it
shall be.

The inmost meaning of this Psalmist's desire is that the consciousness
of God shall be diffused throughout the whole of a man's days, instead
of being coagulated here and there at points. The Australian rivers in a
drought present a picture of the Christian life of far too many of us--a
stagnant, stinking pool here, a stretch of blinding gravel there;
another little drop of water a mile away, then a long line of
foul-smelling mud, and then another shallow pond. Why! it ought to run
in a clear stream that has a scour in it and that will take all filth
off the surface.

The Psalmist longed to break down the distinction between sacred and
secular; to consecrate work, of whatsoever sort it was. He had learned
what so many of us need to learn far more thoroughly, that if our
religion does not drive the wheels of our daily business, it is of
little use; and that if the field in which our religion has power to
control and impel is not that of the trivialities and secularities of
our ordinary life, there is no field for it at all.

'All the days of my life.' Not only on Wednesday nights, while Tuesday
and Thursday are given to the world and self; not only on Sundays; not
for five minutes in the morning, when I am eager to get to my daily
work, and less than five minutes at night, when I am half asleep, but
through the long day, doing this, that, and the other thing for God and
by God and with God, and making Him the motive and the power of my
course, and my Companion to heaven. And if we have, in our lives, things
over which we cannot make the sign of the cross, the sooner we get rid
of them the better; and if there is anything in our daily work, or in
our characters, about which we are doubtful, here is a good test: does
it seem to check our continual communion with God, as a ligature round
the wrist might do the continual flow of the blood, or does it help us
to realise His presence? If the former, let us have no more to do with
it; if the latter, let us seek to increase it.

II. And now let me say a word about the Psalmist's reason for this
aspiration.

The word which he employs carries with it a picture which is even more
vividly given us by a synonymous word employed in the same connection in
some of the other psalms. 'That I may dwell in the house of the
Lord'--now, that is an allusion, not only, as I think, to the Temple,
but also to the Oriental habit of giving a man who took refuge in the
tent of the sheikh, guest-rites of protection and provision and
friendship. The habit exists to this day, and travellers among the
Bedouins tell us lovely stories of how even an enemy with the blood of
the closest relative of the owner of the tent on his hands, if he can
once get in there and partake of the salt of the host, is safe, and the
first obligation of the owner of the tent is to watch over the life of
the fugitive as over his own. So the Psalmist says, 'I desire to have
guest-rites in Thy tent; to lift up its fold, and shelter there from the
heat of the desert. And although I be dark and stained with many evils
and transgressions against Thee, yet I come to claim the hospitality and
provision and protection and friendship which the laws of the house do
bestow upon a guest.' Carrying out substantially the same idea, Paul
tells the Ephesians, as if it were the very highest privilege that the
Gospel brought to the Gentiles: 'Ye are no more strangers, but
fellow-citizens with the saints, and _of the household of God_';
incorporated into His family, and dwelling safely in His pavilion as
their home.

That is to say, the blessedness of keeping up such a continual
consciousness of touch with God is, first and foremost, the certainty of
infallible protection. Oh! how it minimises all trouble and brightens
all joys, and calms amidst all distractions, and steadies and sobers in
all circumstances, to feel ever the hand of God upon us! He who goes
through life, finding that, when he has trouble to meet, it throws him
back on God, and that when bright mornings of joy drive away nights of
weeping, these wake morning songs of praise, and are brightest because
they shine with the light of a Father's love, will never be unduly moved
by any vicissitudes of fortune. Like some inland and sheltered valley,
with great mountains shutting it in, that 'heareth not the loud winds
when they call' beyond the barriers that enclose it, our lives may be
tranquilly free from distraction, and may be full of peace, of
nobleness, and of strength, on condition of our keeping in God's house
all the days of our lives.

There is another blessing that will come to the dweller in God's house,
and that not a small one. It is that, by the power of this one satisfied
longing, driven like an iron rod through all the tortuosities of my
life, there will come into it a unity which otherwise few lives are ever
able to attain, and the want of which is no small cause of the misery
that is great upon men. Most of us seem, to our own consciousness, to
live amidst endless distractions all our days, and our lives to be a
heap of links parted from each other rather than a chain. But if we have
that one constant thought with us, and if we are, through all the
variety of occupations, true to the one purpose of serving and keeping
near God, then we have a charm against the frittering away of our lives
in distractions, and the misery of multiplicity; and we enter into the
blessedness of unity and singleness of purpose; and our lives become,
like the starry heavens in all the variety of their motions, obedient to
one impulse. For unity in a life does not depend upon the monotony of
its tasks, but upon the simplicity of the motive which impels to all
varieties of work. So it is possible for a man harassed by multitudinous
avocations, and drawn hither and thither by sometimes apparently
conflicting and always bewildering, rapidly-following duties, to say,
'This one thing I do,' if all his doings are equally acts of obedience
to God.

III. So, lastly, note the method by which this desire is realised.

'One thing have I desired, ... that will I seek after' There are two
points to be kept in view to that end. A great many people say, 'One
thing have I desired,' and fail in persistent continuousness of the
desire. No man gets rights of residence in God's house for a longer time
than he continues to seek for them. The most advanced of us, and those
that have longest been like Anna, who 'departed not from the Temple,'
day nor night, will certainly eject ourselves unless, like the Psalmist,
we use the verbs in both tenses, and say, 'One thing _have_ I desired
... that _will_ I seek after.' John Bunyan saw that there was a back
door to the lower regions close by the gates of the Celestial City.
There may be men who have long lived beneath the shadow of the
sanctuary, and at the last will be found outside the gates.

But the words of the text not only suggest, by the two tenses of the
verbs, the continuity of the desire which is destined to be granted, but
also by the two verbs themselves--desire and seek after--the necessity
of uniting prayer and work. Many desires are unsatisfied because conduct
does not correspond to desires. Many a prayer remains unanswered because
its pray-ers never do anything to fulfil their prayers. I do not say
they are hypocrites; certainly they are not consciously so, but I do say
that there is a large measure of conventionality that means nothing, in
the prayers of average Christian people for more holiness and likeness
to Jesus Christ.

Dear friends! if we truly wish this desire of dwelling in the house of
the Lord to be fulfilled, the day's work must run in the same direction
as the morning's petition, and we must, like the Psalmist, say, 'I _have
desired_ it of the Lord, so I, for my part, _will seek after it_.' Then,
whether or not we reach absolutely to the standard, which is none the
less to be aimed at, though it seems beyond reach, we shall arrive
nearer and nearer to it; and, God helping our weakness and increasing
our strength, quickening us to 'desire,' and upholding us to 'seek
after,' we may hope that, when the days of our life are past, we shall
but remove into an upper chamber, more open to the sunrise and flooded
with light; and shall go no more out, but 'dwell in the house of the
Lord for ever.'



'SEEK YE'--'I WILL SEEK'


    'When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face; My heart said unto Thee, Thy
    face, Lord, will I seek. 9. Hide not Thy face far from me.'
    --PSALM xxvii. 8, 9.

We have here a report of a brief dialogue between God and a devout soul.
The Psalmist tells us of God's invitation and of his acceptance, and on
both he builds the prayer that the face which he had been bidden to
seek, and had sought, may not be hid from him. The correspondence
between what God said to him and what he said to God is even more
emphatically expressed in the original than in our version. In the
Hebrew the sentence is dislocated, at the risk of being obscure, for the
sake of bringing together the two voices. It runs thus, 'My heart said
to Thee,' and then, instead of going on with his answer, the Psalmist
interjects God's invitation 'Seek ye My face,' and then, side by side
with that, he lays his response, 'Thy face, Lord, will I seek.' The
completeness and swiftness of his answer could not be more vividly
expressed. To hear was to obey: as soon as God's merciful call sounded,
the Psalmist's heart responded, like a harp-string thrilled into music
by the vibration of another tuned to the same note. Without hesitation,
and in entire correspondence with the call, was his response. So
swiftly, completely, resolutely should we respond to God's voice, and
our ready 'I will' should answer His commandment, as the man at the
wheel repeats the captain's orders whilst he carries them out. Upon such
acceptance of such an invitation we, too, may build the prayer, 'Hide
not Thy face far from me.'

Now, there are three things here that I desire to look at--God's
merciful call to us all; the response of the devout soul to that call;
and the prayer which is built upon both.

I. We have God's merciful call to us all.

'Thou saidst, Seek ye My face.' Now, that expression, 'the face of God,'
though highly metaphorical, is perfectly clear and defined in its
meaning. It corresponds substantially to what the Apostle Paul calls, in
speaking of the knowledge of God beyond the limits of revelation, 'that
which may be known of God'; or, in more modern language, the side of the
divine nature which is turned to man; or, in plainer words still, God,
in so far as He is revealed. It means substantially the same thing as
the other Scriptural expression, 'the name of the Lord.' Both phrases
draw a broad distinction between what God is, in the infinite fulness of
His incomprehensible being, and what He is as revealed to man; and both
imply that what is revealed is knowledge, real and valid, though it may
be imperfect.

This, then, being the meaning of the phrase, what is the meaning of the
invitation: 'Seek ye My face'? Have we to search for that, as if it were
something hidden, far off, lost, and only to be recovered by our effort?
No: a thousand times no! For the seeking, to which God mercifully
invites us, is but the turning of the direction of our desires to Him,
the recognition of the fact that His face is more than all else to men,
the recognition that whilst there are many that say, 'Who will show us
any good?' and put the question impatiently, despairingly, vainly, they
that turn the seeking into a prayer, and ask, 'Lord! lift Thou the light
of Thy countenance upon us,' will never ask in vain. To seek is to
desire, to turn the direction of thought and will and affection to Him
and to take heed that the ordering of our daily lives is such as that no
mist rising from them shall come between us and that brightness of
light, or hide from us the vision splendid. They who seek God by desire,
by the direction of thought and will and love, and by the regulation of
their daily lives in accordance with that desire, are they who obey this
commandment.

Next we come to that great thought that God is ever sounding out to all
mankind this invitation to seek His face. By the revelation of Himself
He bids us all sun ourselves in the brightness of His countenance. One
of the New Testament writers, in a passage which is mistranslated in our
Authorised Version, says that God 'calls us by His own glory and
virtue.' That is to say, the very manifestation of the divine Being is
such that there lies in it a summons to behold Him, and an attraction to
Himself. So fair is He, that He but needs to withdraw the veil, and
men's hearts rejoice in that countenance, which is as the sun shining in
his strength; 'nor know we anything more fair than is the smile upon His
face.' If we see Him as He really is, we cannot choose but love. By all
His works He calls us to seek Him, not only because the intellect
demands that there shall be a personal Will behind all these phenomena,
but because they in themselves proclaim His name, and the proclamation
of His name is the summons to behold.

By the very make of our own spirits He calls us to Himself. Our
restlessness, our yearnings, our movings about as aliens in the midst of
things seen and visible, all these bid us turn to Him in whom alone our
capacities can be satisfied, and the hunger of our souls appeased. You
remember the old story of the Saracen woman who came to England seeking
her lover, and passed through these foreign cities, with no word upon
her tongue that could be understood of those that heard her except his
name whom she sought. Ah! that is how men wander through the earth,
strangers in the midst of it. They cannot translate the cry of their own
hearts, but it means, 'God--my soul thirsteth for Thee'; and the thirst
bids us seek His face.

He summons us by all the providences and events of our changeful lives.
Our sorrows by their poignancy, our joys by their incompleteness and
their transiency, alike call us to Him in whom alone the sorrows can be
soothed and the joys made full and remain. Our duties, by their
heaviness, call us to turn ourselves to Him, in whom alone we can find
the strength to fill the _role_ that is laid upon us, and to discharge
our daily tasks.

But, most of all, He summons us to Himself by Him who is the Angel of
His Face, 'the effulgence of His glory, and the express image of His
person.' In the face of Jesus Christ, 'the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God' beams out upon us, as it never shone on this Psalmist of
old. He saw but a portion of that countenance, through a thick veil
which thinned as faith gazed, but was never wholly withdrawn. The voice
that he heard calling him was less penetrating and less laden with love
than the voice that calls us. He caught some tones of invitation
sounding in providences and prophecies, in ceremonies and in law; we
hear them more full and clear from the lips of a Brother. They sound to
us from the cradle and the cross, and they are wafted down to us from
the throne. God's merciful invitation to us poor men never has taken,
nor will, nor can, take a sweeter and more attractive form than in
Christ's version of it: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest.' Friend! that summons comes to us; may
we deal with it as the Psalmist did!

II. That brings me to note, secondly, the devout soul's response to the
loving call from God.

I have already pointed out how beautifully and vividly the contrast
between the two is expressed in our text: 'Seek ye My face'--'Thy face
will I seek.' The Psalmist takes the general invitation and converts it
into an individual one, to which he responds. God's 'ye' is met by his
'I.' The Psalmist makes no hesitation or delay--'_When_ Thou saidst ...
my heart said to Thee.' The Psalmist gathers himself together in a
concentrated resolve of a fixed determination--'Thy face _will_ I seek.'
That is how we ought to respond.

Make the general invitation thy very own. God summons all, because He
summons each. He does not cast His invitations out at random over the
heads of a crowd, as some rich man might fling coins to a mob, but He
addresses every one of us singly and separately, as if there were not
another soul in the universe to hear His voice but our very own selves.
It is for us not to lose ourselves in the crowd, since He has not lost
us in it; but to appropriate, to individualise, to make our very own,
the universality of His call to the world. It matters nothing to you
what other men may do; it matters not to you how many others may be
invited, and whether they may accept or may refuse. When that 'Seek ye'
comes to my heart, life or death depends on my answering, 'Whatsoever
others may do, as for me I will seek Thy face.' We preachers that have
to stand and address a multitude sound out the invitation, and it loses
in power, the more there are to listen to us. If I could get you one by
one, the poorest words would have more weight with you than the
strongest have when spoken to a crowd. Brother! God individualises us,
and God speaks to Thee, 'Wilt thou behold My face?' Answer, 'As for me,
I will.'

Again, the Psalmist 'made haste, and delayed not, but made haste' to
respond to the merciful summons. Ah! how many of us, in how many
different ways, fall into the snare 'by-and-by'! 'not now'; and all
these days, that slip away whilst we hesitate, gather themselves
together to be our accusers hereafter. Friend! why should you limit the
blessedness that may come into your life to the fag end of it when you
have got tired and satiated, or tired and disappointed with the world
and its good? 'Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him
while He is near.' It is poor courtesy to show to a merciful invitation
from a bountiful host if I say; 'After I have looked to the oxen I have
bought, and tested them, and measured the field that I have acquired;
after I have drunk the sweetness of wedded life with the wife that I
have married, then I will come. But, for the present, I pray thee, have
me excused.' And that is what many are doing, more or less.

The Psalmist gathered himself together in a fixed resolve, and said, 'I
_will_.' That is what we have to do. A languid seeker will not find; an
earnest one will not fail to find. But if half-heartedly, now and then,
when we are at leisure in the intervals of more important and pressing
daily business, we spasmodically bethink ourselves, and for a little
while seek for the light of God's felt presence to shine upon us, we
shall not get it. But if we lay a masterful hand, as we ought to do, on
these divergent desires that draw us asunder, and bind ourselves, as it
were, together, by the strong cord of a resolved purpose carried out
throughout our lives, then we shall certainly not seek in vain.

Alas! how strange and how sad is the reception which this merciful
invitation receives from so many of us! Some of you never hear it at
all. Standing in the very focus where the sounds converge, you are deaf,
as if a man behind the veil of the falling water of Niagara, on that
rocky shelf there, should hear nothing. From every corner of the
universe that voice comes; from all the providences and events of our
lives that voice comes; from the life and death of Jesus Christ that
voice comes; and not a sound reaches your ears. 'Having ears, they hear
not,' and some of us might take the Psalmist's answer, with one sad word
added, as ours--'When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face, my heart said unto
Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I _not_ seek.'

Brethren! it is heaven on earth to say, 'Thou dost call, and I answer.
Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.' Yet you shut yourselves up to,
and with, misery and vanity, if you so deal with God's merciful summons
as some of us are dealing with it, so that He has to say, 'I called, and
ye refused; I stretched out My hand, and no man regarded.'

III. Lastly, we have here a prayer built upon both the invitation and
the acceptance.

'Hide not Thy face far from me.' That prayer implies that God will not
contradict Himself. His promises are commandments. If He bids us seek He
binds Himself to show. His veracity, His unchangeableness, are pledged
to this, that no man who yields to His invitation will be balked of his
desire. He does not hold out the gift in His hand, and then twitch it
away when we put out encouraged and stimulated hands to grasp it. You
have seen children flashing bright reflections from a mirror on to a
wall, and delighting to direct them away to another spot, when a hand
has been put out to touch them. That is not how God does. The light that
He reveals is steady, and whosoever turns his face to it will be
irradiated by its brightness.

The prayer builds itself on the assurance that, because God will not
contradict Himself, therefore every heart seeking is sure to issue in a
heart finding. There is only one region where that is true, brethren!
there is only one tract of human experience in which the promise is
always and absolutely fulfilled:--'Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and
ye shall find.' We hunt after all other good, and at the best we get it
in part or for a time, and when possessed, it is not as bright as when
it shone in the delusive colours of hope and desire. If you follow other
good, and are drawn after the elusive lights that dance before you, and
only show how great is the darkness, you will not reach them, but will
be mired in the bog. If you follow after God's face, it will make a
sunshine in the shadiest places of life here. You will be blessed
because you walk all the day long in the light of His countenance, and
when you pass hence it will irradiate the darkness of death, and
thereafter, 'His servants shall serve Him, and shall see His face,' and,
seeing, shall be made like Him, for 'His name shall be in their
foreheads.'

Brethren! we have to make our choice whether we shall see His face here
on earth, and so meet it hereafter as that of a long-separated and
long-desired friend; or whether we shall see it first when He is on His
throne, and we at His bar, and so shall have to 'call on the rocks and
the hills to fall on us, and cover us from the face of Him who is our
Judge.'



THE TWO GUESTS

    'His anger endureth but a moment; in His favour is life: weeping may
    endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.'--PSALM xxx. 5.

A word or two of exposition is necessary in order to bring out the force
of this verse. There is an obvious antithesis in the first part of it,
between 'His anger' and 'His favour.' Probably there is a similar
antithesis between a 'moment' and 'life.' For, although the word
rendered 'life' does not unusually mean a _lifetime_ it _may_ have that
signification, and the evident intention of contrast seems to require it
here. So, then, the meaning of the first part of my text is, 'the anger
lasts for a moment; the favour lasts for a lifetime.' The perpetuity of
the one, and the brevity of the other, are the Psalmist's thought.

Then, if we pass to the second part of the text, you will observe that
there is there also a double antithesis. 'Weeping' is set over against
'joy'; the 'night' against the 'morning.' And the first of these two
contrasts is the more striking if we observe that the word 'joy' means,
literally, 'a joyful shout,' so that the voice which was lifted in
weeping is conceived of as now being heard in exultant praise. Then,
still further, the expression 'may endure' literally means 'may come to
lodge.' So that Weeping and Joy are personified. Two guests come; one,
dark-robed and approaching at the fitting season for such, 'the night.'
The other bright, coming with all things fresh and sunny, in the dewy
morn. The guest of the night is Weeping; the guest that takes its place
in the morning is Gladness.

The two clauses, then, of my text suggest substantially the same
thought, and that is the persistence of joy and the transitoriness of
sorrow. The one speaks of the succession of emotions in the man; the
other, of the successive aspects of the divine dealings which occasion
these. The whole is a leaf out of the Psalmist's own experience. The
psalm commemorates his deliverance from some affliction, probably a
sickness. That is long gone past; and the tears that it caused have long
since dried up. But this shout of joy of his has lasted all these
centuries, and is like to be immortal. Well for us if we can read our
life's story with the same cheery confidence as he did his, and have
learned like him to discern what is the temporary and what the permanent
element in our experience!

I. Note, first, the proportion of joy and sorrow in an ordinary life.

The Psalmist expresses, as I have said, the same idea in both clauses.
In the former the 'anger' is contemplated not so much as an element in
the divine mind, as in its manifestations in the divine dealings. I
shall have a word or two, presently, to say about the Scriptural
conception of the 'anger' of God and its relation to the 'favour' of
God; but for the present I take the two clauses as being substantially
equivalent.

Now is it true--is it not true?--that if a man rightly regards the
proportionate duration of these two diverse elements in his life, he
must come to the conclusion that the one is continuous and the other is
but transitory? A thunderstorm is very short when measured against the
long summer day in which it crashes; and very few days have them. It
must be a bad climate where half the days are rainy. If we were to take
the chart and prick out upon it the line of our sailing, we should find
that the spaces in which the weather was tempestuous were brief and few
indeed as compared with those in which it was sunny and calm.

But then, man looks before and after, and has the terrible gift that by
anticipation and by memory he can prolong the sadness. The proportion of
solid matter needed to colour the Irwell is very little in comparison
with the whole of the stream. But the current carries it, and half an
ounce will stain miles of the turbid stream. Memory and anticipation
beat the metal thin, and make it cover an enormous space. And the misery
is that, somehow, we have better memories for sad hours than for joyful
ones, and it is easier to get accustomed to 'blessings,' as we call
them, and to lose the poignancy of their sweetness because they become
familiar, than it is to apply the same process to our sorrows, and thus
to take the edge off them. The rose's prickles are felt in the flesh
longer than its fragrance lives in the nostrils, or its hue in the eye.
Men have long memories for their pains as compared with their
remembrance of their sorrows.

So it comes to be a piece of very homely, well-worn, and yet always
needful, practical counsel to try not to magnify and prolong grief, nor
to minimise and abbreviate gladness. We can make our lives, to our own
thinking, very much what we will. We cannot directly regulate our
emotions, but we can regulate them, because it is in our own power to
determine which aspect of our life we shall by preference contemplate.

Here is a room, for instance, papered with a paper with a dark
background and a light pattern on it. Well, you can manoeuvre your eye
about so as either to look at the black background--and then it is all
black, with only a little accidental white or gilt to relieve it here
and there; or you can focus your eye on the white and gold, and then
that is the main thing, and the other is background. We can choose, to a
large extent, what we shall conceive our lives to be; and so we can very
largely modify their real character.

  'There's nothing either good or bad
     But thinking makes it so.'

They who will can surround themselves with persistent gladness, and they
who will can gather about them the thick folds of an everbrooding and
enveloping sorrow. Courage, cheerfulness, thankfulness, buoyancy,
resolution, are all closely connected with a sane estimate of the
relative proportions of the bright and the dark in a human life.

II. And now consider, secondly, the inclusion of the 'moment' in the
'life.'

I do not know that the Psalmist thought of that when he gave utterance
to my text, but whether he did it or not, it is true that the 'moment'
spent in 'anger' is a part of the 'life' that is spent in the 'favour.'
Just as within the circle of a life lies each of its moments, the same
principle of inclusion may be applied to the other contrast presented
here. For as the 'moment' is a part of the 'life,' the 'danger' is a
part of the love. The 'favour' holds the 'anger' within itself, for the
true Scriptural idea of that terrible expression and terrible fact, the
'wrath of God,' is that it is the necessary aversion of a perfectly pure
and holy love from that which does not correspond to itself. So, though
sometimes the two may be set against each other, yet at bottom, and in
reality, they are one, and the 'anger' is but a mode in which the
'favour' manifests itself. God's love is plastic, and if thrown back
upon itself, grieved and wounded and rejected, becomes the 'anger' which
ignorant men sometimes seem to think it contradicts. There is no more
antagonism between these two ideas when they are applied to God than
when they are applied to you parents in your relations to a disobedient
child. You know, and it knows, that if there were no love there would be
little 'anger.' Neither of you suppose that an irate parent is an
unloving parent. 'If ye, being evil, know how,' in dealing with your
children, to blend wrath and love, 'how much more shall your Father
which is in heaven' be one and the same Father when His love manifests
itself in chastisement and when it expands itself in blessings!

Thus we come to the truth which breathes uniformity and simplicity
through all the various methods of the divine hand, that howsoever He
changes and reverses His dealings with us, they are one and the same.
You may get two diametrically opposite motions out of the same machine.
The same power will send one wheel revolving from right to left, and
another from left to right, but they are co-operant to grind out at the
far end the one product. It is the same revolution of the earth that
brings blessed lengthening days and growing summer, and that cuts short
the sun's course and brings declining days and increasing cold. It is
the same motion which hurls a comet close to the burning sun, and sends
it wandering away out into fields of astronomical space, beyond the ken
of telescope, and almost beyond the reach of thought. And so one uniform
divine purpose, the 'favour' which uses the 'anger,' fills the life, and
there are no interruptions, howsoever brief, to the steady continuous
flow of His outpoured blessings. All is love and favour. Anger is masked
love, and sorrow has the same source and mission as joy. It takes all
sorts of weathers to make a year, and all tend to the same issue, of
ripened harvests and full barns. O brethren! if we understand that God
means something better for us than happiness, even likeness to Himself,
we should understand better how our deepest sorrows and bitterest tears,
and the wounds that penetrate deepest into our bleeding hearts, all come
from the same motive, and are directed to the same end as their most
joyful contraries. One thing the Lord desires, that we may be partakers
of His holiness, and so we may venture to give an even deeper meaning to
the Psalmist's words than he intended, and recognise that the 'moment'
is an integral part of the 'life,' and the 'anger' a mode of the
manifestation of the 'favour.'

III. Lastly, notice the conversion of the sorrow into joy.

I have already explained the picturesque image of the last part of my
text, which demands a little further consideration. There are two
figures presented before us, one dark robed and one bright garmented.
The one is the guest of the night, the other is the guest of the
morning. The verb which occurs in the first clause of the second half of
my text is not repeated in the second, and so the words may be taken in
two ways. They may either express how Joy, the morning guest, comes, and
turns out the evening visitant, or they may suggest how we took Sorrow
in when the night fell, to sit by the fireside, but when morning
dawned--who is this, sitting in her place, smiling as we look at her? It
is Sorrow transfigured, and her name is changed into Joy. Either the
substitution or the transformation may be supposed to be in the
Psalmist's mind.

Both are true. No human heart, however wounded, continues always to
bleed. Some gracious vegetation creeps over the wildest ruin. The
roughest edges are smoothed by time. Vitality asserts itself; other
interests have a right to be entertained and are entertained. The
recuperative powers come into play, and the pang departs and poignancy
is softened. The cutting edge gets blunt on even poisoned spears by the
gracious influences of time. The nightly guest, Sorrow, slips away, and
ere we know, another sits in her place. Some of us try to fight against
that merciful process and seem to think that it is a merit to continue,
by half artificial means, the first moment of pain, and that it is
treason to some dear remembrances to let life have its way, and to-day
have its rights. That is to set ourselves against the dealings of God,
and to refuse to forgive Him for what His love has done for us.

But the other thought seems to me to be even more beautiful, and
probably to be what was in the Psalmist's mind--viz. the transformation
of the evil, Sorrow itself, into the radiant form of Joy. A prince in
rags comes to a poor man's hovel, is hospitably received in the
darkness, and being received and welcomed, in the morning slips off his
rags and appears as he is. Sorrow is Joy disguised.

If it be accepted, if the will submit, if the heart let itself be
untwined, that its tendrils may be coiled closer round the heart of God,
then the transformation is sure to come, and joy will dawn on those who
have done rightly--that is, submissively and thankfully--by their
sorrows. It will not be a joy like what the world calls
joy--loud-voiced, boisterous, ringing with idiot laughter; but it will
be pure, and deep, and sacred, and permanent. A white lily is fairer
than a flaunting peony, and the joy into which sorrow accepted turns is
pure and refining and good.

So, brethren! remember that the richest vintages are grown on the rough
slopes of the volcano, and lovely flowers blow at the glacier's edge;
and all our troubles, big and little, may be converted into gladnesses
if we accept them as God meant them. Only they must be so accepted if
they are to be thus changed.

But there may be some hearts recoiling from much that I have said in
this sermon, and thinking to themselves, 'Ah! there are two kinds of
sorrows. There are those that _can_ be cured, and there are those that
_cannot_. What have you got to say to me who have to bleed from an
immedicable wound till the end of my life?' Well, I have to say
this--look beyond earth's dim dawns to that morning when 'the Sun of
Righteousness shall arise, to them that love His name, with healing in
His wings.' If we have to carry a load on an aching back till the end,
be sure that when the night, which is far spent, is over, and the day
which is at hand hath broken, every raindrop will be turned into a
flashing rainbow when it is smitten by the level light, and every sorrow
rightly borne be represented by a special and particular joy.

Only, brother! if a life is to be spent in His favour, it must be spent
in His fear. And if our cares and troubles and sorrows and losses are to
be transfigured hereafter, then we must keep very near Jesus Christ, who
has promised to us that His joy will remain with us, and that our
sorrows shall be turned into joys. If we trust to Him, the voices that
have been raised in weeping will be heard in gladness, and earth's minor
will be transposed by the great Master of the music into the key of
Heaven's jubilant praise. If only 'we look not at the things seen, but
at the things which are not seen,' then 'our light affliction, which is
but for a moment, will work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal
weight of glory'; and the weight will be no burden, but will bear up
those who are privileged to bear it.



'BE ... FOR THOU ART'


    'Be Thou to me a strong Rock, an house of defence to save me. 3. For
    Thou art my Rock and my Fortress.'--PSALM xxxi. 2, 3 (R.V.).

It sounds strange logic, 'Be ... for Thou art,' and yet it _is_ the
logic of prayer, and goes very deep, pointing out both its limits and
its encouragements. The parallelism between these two clauses is even
stronger in the original than in our Version, for whilst the two words
which designate the 'Rock' are not identical, their meaning is
identical, and the difference between them is insignificant; one being a
rock of any shape or size, the other being a perpendicular cliff or
elevated promontory. And in the other clause, 'for a house of defence to
save me,' the word rendered 'defence' is the same as that which is
translated in the next clause 'fortress.' So that if we were to read
thus: 'Be Thou a strong Rock to me, for a house, a fortress, for Thou
art my Rock and my Fortress,' we should get the whole force of the
parallelism. Of course the main idea in that of the 'Rock,' and
'Fortress' is only an exposition of one phase of the meaning of that
metaphor.

I. So let us look first at what God is.

'A rock, a fortress-house.' Now, what is the force of that metaphor?
Stable being, as it seems to me, is the first thought in it, for there
is nothing that is more absolutely the type of unchangeableness and
steadfast continuance. The great cliffs rise up, and the river glides at
their base--it is a type of mutability, and of the fleeting generations
of men, who are as the drops and ripples in its course--it eddies round
the foot of the rocks to which the old man looks up, and sees the same
dints and streaks and fissures in it that he saw when he was a child.
The river runs onwards, the trees that root themselves in the clefts of
the rock bear their spring foliage, and drop their leaves like the
generations of men, and the Rock is 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and
for ever.' And God the Unchangeable rises, if I may so say, like some
majestic cliff, round the foot of which rolls for ever the tide of human
life, and round which are littered the successive layers of the leaves
of many summers.

Then besides this stable being, and the consequences of it, is the other
thought which is attached to the emblem in a hundred places in
Scripture, and that is defence. 'His place of defence shall be the
munitions of rocks.' When the floods are out, and all the plain is being
dissolved into mud, the dwellers on it fly to the cliffs. When the
enemy's banners appear on the horizon, and the open country is being
harried and burned, the peasants hurry to the defence of the hills, and,
sheltered there, are safe. And so for us this Name assures us that in
Him, whatever floods may sweep across the low levels, and whatever foes
may storm over the open land and the unwalled villages, there is always
the fortress up in the hills, and thither no flood can rise, and there
no enemy can come. A defence and a sure abode is his who dwells in God,
and thus folds over himself the warm wings that stretch on either side,
and shelter him from all assault. 'Lead me to the Rock that is higher
than I.'

But the Rock is a defence in another way. If a hard-pressed fugitive is
brought to a stand and can set his back against a rock, he can front his
assailants, secure that no unseen foe shall creep up behind and deal a
stealthy stab and that he will not be surrounded unawares. 'The God of
Israel shall be your rearward,' and he who has 'made the Most High his
habitation' is sheltered from 'the pestilence that walketh in darkness,'
as well as from 'the destruction that wasteth at noon-day,' and will be
cleansed from 'secret faults' if he keeps up unbroken his union with
God, for the 'faults' which are not recognised as faults by his
partially illuminated conscience are known to God. But the Rock is a
defence in yet another way, for it is a sure foundation for our lives.
Whoso builds on God need fear no change. When the floods rise, and the
winds blow, and the rain storms down, the house that is on the Rock will
stand.

And, then, in the Rock there is a spring, and round the spring there is
'the light of laughing flowers,' amidst the stern majesty of the cliff.
Just as the Law-giver of old smote the rock, and there gushed out the
stream that satisfied the thirst of the whole travelling nation, so Paul
would have us Christians repeat the miracle by our faith. Of us, too, it
may be said, they drank 'of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock
was Christ.' Stable being, secure defence, a fountain of refreshment and
satisfaction: all these blessings lie in that great metaphor.

II. Now, note our plea with God, from what He is.

'Be Thou to me a Rock ... for Thou art a Rock.' Is that not illogical?
No, for notice that little word, 'to me'--be Thou _to me_ what Thou art
in Thyself, and hast been to all generations.' That makes all the
difference. It is not merely 'Be what Thou art,' although that would be
much, but it is 'be it to me,' and let _me_ have all which is meant in
that great Name.

But then, beyond that, let me point out to you how this prayer suggests
to us that all true prayer will keep itself within God's revelation of
what He is. We take His promises, and all the elements which make up His
name or manifestation of His character to the world, whether by His acts
or by the utterances of this Book, or by the inferences to be drawn from
the life of Jesus Christ, the great Revealer, or by what we ourselves
have experienced of Him. The ways by which God has revealed Himself to
the world define the legitimate subjects, and lay down the firm
foundation, of our petitions. In all His acts God reveals Himself, and
if I may so say, when we truly pray, we catch these up, and send them
back again to heaven, like arrows from a bow. It is only when our
desires and prayers foot themselves upon God's revelation of Himself,
and in essence are, in various fashions, the repetition of this prayer
of my text: 'Be ... for Thou art,' that we can expect to have them
answered. Much else may call itself prayer, but it is often but petulant
and self-willed endeavour to force our wishes upon Him, and no answer
will come to that. We are to pray about everything; but we are to pray
about nothing, except within the lines which are marked out for us by
what God has told us, in His words and acts, that He Himself is. Catch
these up and fling them back to Him, and for every utterance that He has
made of Himself, 'I am' so-and-so, let us go to Him and say 'Be Thou
that to me,' and then we may be sure of an answer.

So then two things follow. If we pray after the pattern of this prayer,
'Be Thou to me what Thou art,' then a great many foolish and
presumptuous wishes will be stifled in the birth, and, on the other
hand, a great many feeble desires will be strengthened and made
confident, and we shall be encouraged to expect great things of God.
Have you widened your prayers, dear friend!--and I do not mean by that
only your outward ones, but the habitual aspiration and expectation of
your minds--have you widened these to be as wide as what God has shown
us that He is? Have you taken all God's revelation of Himself, and
translated it into petition? And do you expect Him to be to you all that
He has ever been to any soul of man upon earth? Oh! how such a prayer as
this, if we rightly understand it and feel it, puts to shame the
narrowness and the poverty of our prayers, the falterings of our faith,
and the absence of expectation in ourselves that we shall receive the
fulness of God.

God owns that plea: 'Be ... what Thou art.' He cannot resist that. That
is what the Apostle meant when he said, 'He abideth faithful, He cannot
deny Himself.' He must be true to His character. He can never be other
than He always has been. And that is what the Psalmist meant when he
goes on, after the words that I have taken for my text, and says, 'For
Thy Name's sake lead me and guide me,' What is God's Name? The
collocation of letters by which we designate Him? Certainly not. The
Name of God is the sum total of what God has revealed Himself as being.
And 'for the sake of the Name,' that He may be true to that which He has
shown Himself to be, He will always endorse this bill that you draw upon
Him when you present Him with His own character, and say 'Be to me what
Thou art.'

III. Lastly, we have here the plea with God drawn from what we have
taken Him to be to us.

That is somewhat different from what I have already been dwelling upon.
Mark the words: 'Be Thou to me a strong Rock, for Thou art _my_ Rock and
_my_ Fortress.' What does that mean? It means that the suppliant has, by
his own act of faith, taken God for his; that he has appropriated the
great divine revelation, and made it his own. Now it seems to me that
that appropriation is, if not _the_ point, at least one of the points,
in which real faith is distinguished from the sham thing which goes by
that name amongst so many people. A man by faith encloses a bit of the
common for his very own. When God says that He 'so loved the world that
He gave His ... Son,' I should say, 'He loved _me_, and gave Himself for
_me_.' When the great revelation is made that He is the Rock of Ages, my
faith says: '_My_ Rock and _my_ Fortress.' Having said that, and claimed
Him for mine, I can then turn round to Him and say, 'Be to me what I
have taken Thee to be.'

And that faith is expressed very beautifully and strikingly in one of
the Old Testament metaphors, which frequently goes along with this one
of the Rock. For instance, in a great chapter in Isaiah we find the
original of that phrase 'the Rock of Ages.' It runs thus, 'Trust ye in
the Lord for ever, for in the Lord JEHOVAH is the _Rock of Ages_.' Now
the word for trust there literally means, to flee into a refuge, and so
the true idea of faith is 'to fly for refuge,' as the Epistle to the
Hebrews has it, 'to the Hope set before us,'--that is (keeping to the
metaphor), to the cleft in the Rock.

That act of trust or flight will make it certain that God will be to us
for a house of defence, a fortress to save us. Other rock-shelters may
crumble. They may be carried by assault; they may be riven by
earthquakes. 'The mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be
removed,' but this Rock is impregnable, and all who take refuge in it
are safe for ever.

And so the upshot of the whole matter is that God will be to us what we
have faith to believe that He is, and our faith will be the measure of
our possession of the fulness of God. If we can only say in the fulness
of our hearts--and keep to the saying: 'Be Thou to me a Rock, for Thou
art my Rock,' then nothing shall ever hurt us; and 'dwelling in the
secret place of the Most High' we shall be kept in safety; our 'abode
shall be the munitions of rocks, our bread shall be given us, and our
water shall be made sure.'



'INTO THY HANDS'


    'Into Thine hand I commit my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord
    God of truth.'--PSALM xxxi. 5.

The first part of this verse is consecrated for ever by our Lord's use
of it on the Cross. Is it not wonderful that, at that supreme hour, He
deigned to take an unknown singer's words as His words? What an honour
to that old saint that Jesus Christ, dying, should find nothing that
more fully corresponded to His inmost heart at that moment than the
utterance of the Psalmist long ago! How His mind must have been
saturated with the Old Testament and with these songs of Israel! And do
you not think it would be better for us if ours were completely steeped
in those heart-utterances of ancient devotion?

But, of course, the Psalmist was not thinking about his death. It was an
act for his life that he expressed in these words:--'Into Thine hands I
commit my spirit.' If you will glance over the psalm at your leisure,
you will see that it is the heart-cry of a man in great trouble,
surrounded by all sorts of difficulties, with his very life threatened.
He was down in the very depths of darkness, and ringed about by all
sorts of enemies at that moment, not sitting comfortably, as you and I
are here, but in the midst of the hurly-burly and the strife, when by a
dead lift of faith he flung himself clean out of his disasters, and, if
I might so say, pitched himself into the arms of God. 'Into Thine hands
I commit my spirit,' as a man standing in the midst of enemies, and
bearing some precious treasure in his hand might, with one strong cast
of his arm, fling it into the open hand of some mighty helper, and so
baulk the enemies of their prey. That is the figure.

I. Now, let me say a word as to where to lodge a soul for safe keeping.

'Into Thine hands'--a banker has a strong room, and a wise man sends his
securities and his valuables to the bank and takes an acknowledgment,
and goes to bed at night, quite sure that no harm will come to them, and
that he will get them when he wants them. And that is exactly what the
Psalmist does here. He deposits his most precious treasure in the safe
custody of One who will take care of it. The great Hand is stretched
out, and the little soul is put into it. It closes, and 'no man is able
to pluck them out of My Father's hand.'

Now that is only a picturesque way of putting the most threadbare, bald,
commonplace of religious teaching. The word faith, when it has any
meaning at all in people's minds when they hear it from the pulpit, is
extremely apt, I fear, to create a kind of, if not disgust, at least a
revulsion of feeling, as if people said, 'Ah, there he is at the old
story again!' But will you freshen up your notions of what faith it
means by taking that picture of my text as I have tried to expand and
illuminate it a little by my metaphor? That is what is meant by 'Into
Thy hands I commit my spirit.' There are two or three ways in which that
is to be done, and one or two ways in which it is not to be done.

We do it when we trust Him for the salvation of our souls. There are a
great many good Christian people who go mourning all their days, or, at
least, sometimes mourning and sometimes indifferent. The most that they
venture to say is, 'But I cannot be sure.' Our grandfathers used to
sing:--

  ''Tis a point I long to know,
   Oft it causes anxious thought.'

Why should it cause anxious thought? Take your own personal salvation
for granted, and work from that. Do not work _towards_ it. If you have
gone to Christ and said, 'Lord, I cannot save myself; save me. I am
willing to be saved,' be sure that you have the salvation that you ask,
and that if you have put your soul in that fashion into God's hands, any
incredible thing is credible, and any impossible thing is possible,
rather than that you should fail of the salvation which, in the bottom
of your hearts, you desire. Take the burden off your backs and put it on
His. Do not be for ever questioning yourselves, 'Am I a saved man?' You
will get sick of that soon, and you will be very apt to give up all
thought about the matter at all. But take your stand on the fact, and
with emancipated and buoyant hearts, and grateful ones, work from it,
and because of it. And when sin rises up in your soul, and you say to
yourselves, 'If I were a Christian I could not have done that,' or, 'If
I were a Christian I could not be so-and-so'; remember that all sin is
inconsistent with being a Christian, but no sin is incompatible with it;
and that after all the consciousness of shortcomings and failure, we
have just to come back to the old point, and throw ourselves on God's
love. His arms are open to clasp us round. 'Into Thy hands I commit my
spirit.'

Further, the Psalmist meant, by committing himself to God, trusting Him
in reference to daily life, and all its difficulties and duties. Our act
of trust is to run through everything that we undertake and everything
that we have to fight with. Self-will wrenches our souls out of God's
hands. A man who sends his securities to the banker can get them back
when he likes. And if we undertake to manage our own affairs, or fling
ourselves into our work without recognition of our dependence upon Him,
or if we choose our work without seeking to know what His will is, that
is recalling our deposit. Then you _will_ get it back again, because God
does not keep anybody's securities against his will--you will get it
back again, and much good it will do you when you have got it!
Self-will, self-reliance, self-determination--these are the opposites of
committing the keeping of our souls to God. And, as I say, if you
withdraw the deposit, you take all the burden and trouble of it on your
own shoulders again. Do not fancy that you are 'living lives of faith in
the Son of God,' if you are not looking to Him to settle what you are to
do. You cannot expect that He will watch over you, if you do not ask Him
where you are to go.

But now there is another thing that I would suggest, this committing of
ourselves to God which begins with the initial act of trust in Him for
the salvation of our souls, and is continued throughout life by the
continual surrender of ourselves to Him, is to be accompanied with
corresponding work. The Apostle Peter's memory is evidently hovering
round this verse, whether he is consciously quoting it or not, when he
says, 'Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the
keeping of their souls to Him _in welldoing_,' which has to go along
with the act of trust and dependence. There must come the continual
ordering of the life in accordance with His will; for 'well-doing' does
not mean merely some works of beneficence and 'charity,' of the sort
that have monopolised to themselves the name in latter days, but it
means the whole of righteous conduct in accordance with the will of God.

So Peter tells us that it is vain for us to talk about committing the
keeping of our soul to God unless we back up the committing with
consistent, Christlike lives. Of course it is vain. How can a man expect
God to take care of him when he plunges himself into something that is
contrary to God's laws? There are many people who say, 'God will take
care of me; He will save me from the consequences.' Not a bit of it--He
loves us a great deal too well for that. If you take the bit between
your teeth, you will be allowed to go over the precipice and be smashed
to pieces. If you wish to be taken care of, keep within the prescribed
limits, and consult Him before you act, and do not act till you are sure
of His approval. God has never promised to rescue man when he has got
into trouble by his own sin. Suppose a servant had embezzled his
master's money through gambling, and then expected God to help him to
get the money to pay back into the till. Do you think that would be
likely to work? And how dare you anticipate that God will keep your
feet, if you are walking in ways of your own choosing? All sin takes a
man out from the shelter of the divine protection, and the shape the
protection has to take then is chastisement. And all sin makes it
impossible for a man to exercise that trust which is the committing of
his soul to God. So it has to be 'in welldoing,' and the two things are
to go together. 'What God hath joined let not man put asunder.' You do
not become a Christian by the simple exercise of trust unless it is
trust that worketh by love.

But let me remind you, further, that this committing of our souls into
God's hands does not mean that we are absolved from taking care of them
ourselves. There is a very false kind of religious faith, which seems to
think that it shuffles off all responsibility upon God. Not at all; you
lighten the responsibility, but you do not get rid of it. And no man has
a right to say 'He will keep me, and so I may neglect diligent custody
of myself.' He keeps us very largely by helping us to keep our hearts
with all diligence, and to keep our feet in the way of truth.

So let me now just say a word in regard to the blessedness of thus
living in an atmosphere of continual dependence on, and reference to,
God, about great things and little things. Whenever a man is living by
trust, even when the trust is mistaken, or when it is resting upon some
mere human, fallible creature like himself, the measure of his
confidence is the measure of his tranquillity. You know that when a
child says, 'I do not need to mind, father will look after that,' he may
be right or wrong in his estimate of his father's ability and
inclination; but as long as he says it, he has no kind of trouble or
anxiety, and the little face is scarred by no deep lines of care or
thought. So when we turn to Him and say, 'Why should I the burden bear?'
then there comes--I was going to say 'surging,' but 'trickling' is a
better word--into my heart a settled peacefulness which nothing else can
give. Look at this psalm. It begins, and for the first half continues,
in a very minor key. The singer was not a poet posing as in affliction,
but his words were wrung out of him by anguish. 'Mine eyes are consumed
with grief; my life is spent with grief'; 'I am ... as a dead man out of
mind'; 'I am in trouble.' And then with a quick wheel about, 'But I
trusted in Thee, O Lord! I said, Thou art my God.' And what comes of
that? This--'O how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast laid up for
them that fear Thee!' 'Blessed be the Lord, for He hath showed me His
marvellous kindness in a strong city.' And then, at the end of all, his
peacefulness is so triumphant that he calls upon 'all His saints' to
help him to praise. And the last words are 'Be of good courage, and He
shall strengthen your heart.' That is what you will get if you commit
your soul to God. There was no change in the Psalmist's circumstances.
The same enemy was round about him. The same 'net was privily laid for
him.' All that had seemed to him half an hour before as wellnigh
desperate, continued utterly unaltered. But what _had_ altered? God had
come into the place, and that altered the whole aspect of matters.
Instead of looking with shrinking and tremulous heart along the level of
earth, where miseries were, he was looking up into the heavens, where
God was; and so everything was beautiful. That will be our experience if
we will commit the keeping of our souls to Him in well doing. You can
bring June flowers and autumn fruits into snowy January days by the
exercise of this trust in God. It does not need that our circumstances
should alter, but only that our attitude should alter. Look up, and cast
your souls into God's hands, and all that is round you, of disasters and
difficulties and perplexities, will suffer transformation; and for
sorrow there will come joy because there has come trust.

I need not say a word about the other application of this verse, which,
as I have said, is consecrated to us by our Lord's own use of it at the
last. But is it not beautiful to think that the very same act of mind
and heart by which a man commits his spirit to God in life may be his
when he comes to die, and that death may become a voluntary act, and the
spirit may not be dragged out of us, reluctant, and as far as we can,
resisting, but that we may offer it up as a libation, to use one
metaphor of St. Paul's, or may surrender it willingly as an act of
faith? It is wonderful to think that life and death, so unlike each
other, may be made absolutely identical in the spirit in which they are
met. You remember how the first martyr caught up the words from the
Cross, and kneeling down outside the wall of Jerusalem, with the blood
running from the wounds that the stones had made, said, 'Lord Jesus!
receive my spirit.' That is the way to die, and that is the way to live.

One word is all that time permits about the ground upon which this great
venture of faith may be made. 'Thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of
Truth.' The Psalmist, I think, uses that word 'redeemed' here, not in
its wider spiritual New Testament sense, but in its frequent Old
Testament sense, of deliverance from temporal difficulties and
calamities. And what he says is, in effect, this: 'I have had experience
in the past which makes me believe that Thou wilt extricate me from this
trouble too, because Thou art the God of Truth.' He thinks of what God
has done, and of what God is. And Peter, whom we have already found
echoing this text, echoes that part of it too, for he says, 'Let them
commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as _unto a
faithful Creator_,' which is all but parallel to 'Lord God of Truth.' So
God will continue as He has begun, and finish what He has begun.

'A faithful Creator--' He made us to need what we do need, and He is not
going to forget the wants that He Himself has incorporated with our
human nature. He is bound to help us because He made us. He is the God
of Truth, and He will help us. But if we take 'redeemed' in its highest
sense, the Psalmist, arguing from God's past mercy and eternal
faithfulness, is saying substantially what the Apostle said in the
triumphant words, 'Whom He did foreknow, them He also did predestinate
to be conformed to the image of His Son ... and whom He did predestinate
them He also ... justified, and whom He justified them He also
glorified.' 'Thou hast redeemed me.' 'Thou art the God of Truth; Thou
wilt not lift Thy hand away from Thy work until Thou hast made me all
that Thou didst bind Thyself to make me in that initial act of redeeming
me.'

So we can say, 'He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for
us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?' You
have experiences, I have no doubt, in your past, on which you may well
build confidence for the future. Let each of us consult our own hearts,
and our own memories. Cannot _we_ say, 'Thou hast been my Help,' and
ought we not therefore to be sure that He will not 'leave us nor forsake
us' until He manifests Himself as the God of our salvation?

It is a blessed thing to lay ourselves in the hands of God, but the New
Testament tells us, 'It is a fearful thing to _fall into_ the hands of
the living God.' The alternative is one that we all have to
face,--either 'into Thy hands I commit my spirit,' or into those hands
to fall. Settle which of the two is to be your fate.



GOODNESS WROUGHT AND GOODNESS LAID UP


    'Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that
    fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee
    before the sons of men!'--PSALM xxxi. 19.

The Psalmist has been describing, with the eloquence of misery, his own
desperate condition, in all manner of metaphors which he heaps
together--'sickness,' 'captivity,' 'like a broken vessel,' 'as a dead
man out of mind.' But in the depth of desolation he grasps at God's
hand, and that lifts him up out of the pit. 'I trusted in Thee, O Lord!
Thou art my God.' So he struggles up on to the green earth again, and he
feels the sunshine; and then he breaks out--'Oh! how great is Thy
goodness which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee.' So the psalm
that began with such grief, ends with the ringing call, 'Be of good
courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the
Lord.'

Now these great words which I have read for my text, and which derive
even additional lustre from their setting, do not convey to the hasty
English reader the precise force of the antithesis which lies in them.
The contrast in the two clauses is between goodness laid up and goodness
wrought; and that would come out a little more clearly if we transposed
the last words of the text, and instead of reading, as our Authorised
Version does, 'which Thou hast wrought for them that trusted in Thee
before the sons of men,' read 'which Thou hast wrought before the sons
of men for them that trusted in Thee.'

So I think there are, as it were, two great masses of what the Psalmist
calls 'goodness'; one of them which has been plainly manifested 'before
the sons of men,' the other which is 'laid up' in store. There are a
great many notes in circulation, but there is far more bullion in the
strong-room. Much 'goodness' has been exhibited; far more lies
concealed.

If we take that antithesis, then, I think we may turn it in two or three
directions, like a light in a man's hand; and look at it as suggesting--

I. First, the goodness already disposed--'wrought before the sons of
men'; and that 'laid up,' yet to be manifested.

Now, that distinction just points to the old familiar but yet
never-to-be-exhausted thought of the inexhaustibleness of the divine
nature. That inexhaustibleness comes out most wondrously and beautifully
in the fundamental manifestation of God on which the Old Testament
revelation is built--I mean the vision given to Moses prior to his call,
and as the basis of his message, of the bush that burned and was not
consumed. That lowly shrub flaming and not burning out was not, as has
often been supposed, the symbol of Israel which in the furnace of
affliction was not destroyed. It meant the same as the divine name, then
proclaimed; 'I AM THAT I AM,' which is but a way of saying that God's
Being is absolute, dependent upon none, determined by Himself, infinite,
and eternal, burns and is not burned up, lives and has no proclivity
towards death, works and is unwearied, 'operates unspent,' is revealed
and yet hidden, gives and is none the poorer.

And as we look upon our daily lives, and travel back in thought, some of
us over the many years which have all been crowded with instances and
illustrations of divine faithfulness and favouring care, we have to
grasp both these exclamations of our text, 'Oh! how great is Thy
goodness which Thou hast wrought,' how much greater 'is Thy goodness
which is laid up!' The table has been spread in the wilderness, and the
verities of Christian experience more than surpass the legends of hungry
knights finding banquets prepared by unseen hands in desert places. It
is as when Jesus made the multitude sit down on the green grass and
feast to the full, and yet abundance remained undiminished after
satisfying all the hungry applicants. The bread that was broken yielded
more basketfuls for to-morrow than the original quantity in the lad's
hands. The fountain rises, and the whole camp, 'themselves and their
children and their cattle,' slake their thirst at it, and yet it is full
as ever. The goodness wrought is but the fringe and first beginnings of
the mass that is laid up. All the gold that has been coined and put into
circulation is as nothing compared with the wedges and ingots of massive
bullion that lie in the strong room. God's riches are not like the
world's wealth. You very soon get to the bottom of its purse. Its
'goodness,' is very soon run dry; and nothing will yield an
unintermittent stream of satisfaction and blessing to a poor soul except
the 'river of the water of life that proceedeth out of the Throne of God
and of the Lamb.'

So, dear brethren! that contrast may suggest to us how quietly and
peacefully we may look forward to all the unknown future; and hold up to
it so as to enable us to scan its general outlines, the light of the
known and experienced past. Let our trustful prayer be; 'Thou hast been
my help: leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation!' and
the answer will certainly be: 'I will not leave thee, till I have done
unto thee that which I have spoken to thee of.' Our Memory ought to be
the mother of our Hope; and we should paint the future in the hues of
the past. Thou hast goodness 'laid up,' more than enough to match 'the
goodness Thou hast wrought.' God's past is the prophecy of God's future;
and my past, if I understand it aright, ought to rebuke every fear and
calm every anxiety. We, and only we, have the right to say, 'To-morrow
shall be as this day, and much more abundant.' That is delusion if said
by any but by those that fear and trust in the Inexhaustible God.

II. Now let us turn our light in a somewhat different direction. The
contrast here suggests the goodness that is publicly given and that
which is experienced in secret.

If you will notice, in the immediate neighbourhood of my text there come
other words which evidently link themselves with the thought of the
goodness laid up: 'Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence.'
That is where also the 'goodness' is. 'Thou shalt keep them secretly in
a pavilion ... blessed be the Lord! for He hath shewed me His marvellous
kindness in a strong city.' So, then, the goodness which is wrought, and
which can be seen by the sons of men, dwindles in comparison with the
goodness which lies in that secret place, and can only be enjoyed and
possessed by those who dwell there, and whose feet are familiar with the
way that leads to it. That is to say, if you wish the Psalmist's thought
in plain prose, all these visible blessings of ours are but pale shadows
and suggestions of the real wealth that we can have only if we live in
continual communion with God. The spiritual blessings of quiet minds and
strength for work, the joys of communion with God, the sweetness of the
hopes that are full of immortality, and all these delights and
manifestations of God's inmost love and sweetness which are granted only
to waiting hearts that shut themselves off from the tumultuous delights
of earth as the bases of their trust or the sources of their
gladness--these are fuller, better than the selectest and richest of the
joys that God's world can give. God does not put His best gifts, so to
speak, in the shop-windows; He keeps these in the inner chambers. He
does not arrange His gifts as dishonest traders do their wares, putting
the finest outside or on the top, and the less good beneath. 'Thou hast
kept the good wine until now.' It is they who inhabit 'the secret place
of the Most High,' and whose lives are filled with communion with Him,
realising His presence, seeking to know His will, reaching out the
tendrils of their hearts to twine round Him, and diligently, for His
dear sake, doing the tasks of life; who taste the selected dainties from
God's gracious hands.

How foolish, then, to order life on the principle upon which we are all
tempted to do it, and to yield to the temptation to which some of us
have yielded far too much, of fancying that the best good is the good
that we can touch and taste and handle and that men can see! No! no!
Deep down in our hearts a joy that strangers never intermeddle with nor
know, a peace that passes understanding, a present Christ and a Heaven
all but present, because Christ is present--these are the good things
for men, and these are the things which God does not, because He cannot,
fling broadcast into the world, but which He keeps, because He must, for
those that desire them, and are fit for them. 'He causeth His sun to
shine, and His rain to fall on the unthankful and on the disobedient,'
but the goodness laid up is better than the sunshine, and more
refreshing and fertilising and cleansing than the rain, and it comes,
and comes only, to them that trust Him, and live near Him.

III. And so, lastly, we may turn our light in yet another direction, and
take this contrast as suggesting the goodness wrought on earth, and the
goodness laid up in heaven.

Here we see, sometimes, the messengers coming with the one cluster of
grapes on the pole. There we shall live in the vineyard. Here we drink
from the river as it flows; there we shall be at the fountain-head. Here
we are in the vestibule of the King's house, there we shall be in the
throne room, and each chamber as we pass through it is richer and fairer
than the one preceding. Heaven's least goodness is more than earth's
greatest blessedness. All that life to come, all its conditions and
everything about it, are so strange to us, so incapable of being bodied
forth or conceived by us, and the thought of Eternity is, it seems to
me, so overwhelmingly awful that I do not wonder at even good people
finding little stimulus, or much that cheers, in the thought of passing
thither. But if we do not know anything more--and we know very little
more--let us be sure of this, that when God begins to compare His
adjectives He does not stop till He gets to the superlative degree and
that _good_ begets _better_, and the better of earth ensures the _best_
of Heaven. And so out of our poor little experience here, we may gather
grounds of confidence that will carry our thoughts peacefully even into
the great darkness, and may say, 'What Thou didst work is much, what
Thou hast laid up is more.' And the contrast will continue for ever and
ever; for all through that strange Eternity that which is wrought will
be less than that which is laid up, and we shall never get to the end of
God, nor to the end of His goodness.

Only let us take heed to the conditions--'them that fear Him, them that
trust in Him.' If we will do these things through each moment of the
experiences of a growing Christian life, and at the moment of the
experience of a Christian death, and through the eternities of the
experience of a Christian heaven, Jesus Christ will whisper to us, 'Thou
shalt see greater things than these.'



HID IN LIGHT


    'Thou shall hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride
    of man; Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife
    of tongues.'--PSALM xxxi. 20.

The word rendered 'presence' is literally 'face,' and the force of this
very remarkable expression of confidence is considerably marred unless
that rendering be retained. There are other analogous expressions in
Scripture, setting forth, under various metaphors, God's protection of
them that love Him. But I know not that there is any so noble and
striking as this. For instance, we read of His hiding His children 'in
the secret of His tabernacle,' or tent; as an Arab chief might do a
fugitive who had eaten of his salt, secreting him in the recesses of his
tent whilst the pursuers scoured the desert in vain for their prey.
Again, we read of His hiding them 'beneath the shadow of His wing';
where the divine love is softened into the likeness of the maternal
instinct which leads a hen to gather her chickens beneath the shelter of
her own warm and outspread feathers. But the metaphor of my text is more
vivid and beautiful still. 'Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy
face.' The light that streams from that countenance is the hiding-place
for a poor man. These other metaphors may refer, perhaps, the one to the
temple, and the other to the outstretched wings of the cherubim that
shadowed the Mercy-seat. And, if so, this metaphor carries us still more
near to the central blaze of the Shekinah, the glory that hovered above
the Mercy-seat, and glowed in the dark sanctuary, unseen but once a year
by one trembling high priest, who had to bear with him blood of
sacrifice, lest the sight should slay. The Psalmist says, into that
fierce light a man may go, and stand in it, bathed, hid, secure. 'Thou
shalt hide them in the secret of Thy face.'

I. Now, then, let us notice, first, this hiding-place.

The 'face' of God is so strongly figurative an expression that its
metaphorical character cannot but be obvious to the most cursory reader.
The very frankness, and, we may say, the grossness of the image, saves
it from all misconception, and as with other similar expressions in the
Old Testament, at once suggests its meaning. We read, for example, of
the 'arm,' the 'hand,' the 'finger' of God, and everybody feels that
these mean His power. We read of the 'eye' of God, and everybody knows
that that means His omniscience. We read of the 'ear' of God, and we all
understand that that holds forth the blessed thought that He hears and
answers the cry of such as be sorrowful. And, in like manner, the 'face'
of God is the apprehensible part of the divine nature which turns to
men, and by which He makes Himself known. It is roughly equivalent to
the other Old and New Testament expression, the 'name of the Lord,' the
manifested and revealed side of the divine nature. And that is the
hiding-place into which men may go.

We have the other expression also in Scripture, 'the light of Thy
countenance,' and that helps us to apprehend the Psalmist's meaning.
'The light of Thy face' is 'secret.' What a paradox! Can light conceal?
Look at the daily heavens--filled with blazing stars, all invisible till
the night falls. The effulgence of the face is such that they that stand
in it are lost and hid, like the lark in the blue sky. 'A glorious
privacy of light is Thine.' There is a wonderful metaphor in the New
Testament of a woman 'clothed with the sun,' and caught up into it from
her enemies to be safe there. And that is just an expansion of the
Psalmist's grand paradox, 'Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy
face.' Light conceals when the light is so bright as to dazzle. They who
are surrounded by God are lost in the glory, and safe in that seclusion,
'the secret of Thy face.'

A thought may be suggested, although it is somewhat of a digression from
the main purpose of my text, but it springs naturally out of this
paradox, and may just deserve a word. Revelation is real, but revelation
has its limits. That which is revealed is 'the face of God,' but we
read, 'no man can see My face.' After all revelation He remains hidden.
After all pouring forth of His beams He remains 'the God that dwelleth
in the thick darkness,' and the light which is inaccessible is also a
darkness that can be felt. Apprehension is possible; comprehension is
impossible. What we know of God is valid and true, but we never shall
know all the depths that lie in that which we do know of Him. His face
is 'the secret'; and though men may malign Him when they say, 'Verily,
Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel!' and He answers
them, 'I have not spoken in secret' in a dark 'place of the earth,' it
still remains true that revelation has its mysteries born of the
greatness of its effulgence, and that all which we know of God is 'dark
with excess of light.'

But that is aside from our main purpose. Let me rather remind you of how
the thought of the secret of God's face being the secure hiding-place of
them that love Him points to this truth--that that brightness of light
has a repellent power which keeps far away from all intermingling with
it everything that is evil. The old Greek mythologies tell us that the
radiant arrows of Apollo shot forth from his far-reaching bow, wounded
to death the monsters of the slime and unclean creatures that crawled
and revelled in darkness. And the myth has a great truth in it. The
light of God's face slays evil, of whatsoever kind it is; and just as
the unlovely, loathsome creatures that live in the dark and find
themselves at ease there writhe and wriggle in torment, and die when
their shelter is taken away and they are exposed to the light beating on
their soft bodies, so the light of God's face turned upon evil things
smites them into nothingness. Thus 'the secret of His countenance' is
the shelter of all that is good.

Nor need I remind you how, in another aspect of the phrase, the 'light
of His face,' is the expression for His favour and loving regard, and
how true it is that in that favour and loving regard is the impregnable
fortress into which, entering, any man is safe. I said that the
expression the 'face of the Lord' roughly corresponded to the other one,
'the name of the Lord,' inasmuch as both meant the revealed aspect of
the divine nature. You may remember how we read, 'The name of the Lord
is a strong tower into which the righteous runneth and is safe.' The
'light' of the face of the Lord is His favour and loving regard falling
upon men. And who can be harmed with that lambent light--like sunshine
upon water, or upon a glittering shield--playing around Him?

Only let us remember that for us 'the face of God' is Jesus Christ. He
is the 'arm' of the Lord; He is the 'name' of the Lord; He is the
'face.' All that we know of God we know through and in Him; all that we
see of God we see by the shining upon us of Him who is 'the eradiation
of His glory and the express image of His person.' So the open secret of
the 'face' of God is Jesus, the hiding-place of our souls.

II. Secondly, notice God's hidden ones.

My text carries us back, by that word 'them,' to the previous verse,
where we have a double description of those who are thus hidden in the
inaccessible light of His countenance. They are 'such as fear Thee,' and
'such as trust in Thee.' Now, that latter expression is congruous with
the metaphor of my text, in so far as the words on which we are now
engaged speak about a 'hiding-place,' and the word which is translated
'trust' literally means 'to flee to a refuge.' So they that flee to God
for refuge are those whom God hides in the 'secret of His face.' Let us
think of that for a moment.

I said, in the beginning of these remarks, that there was here an
allusion, possibly, to the Temple. All temples in ancient times were
asylums. Whosoever could flee to grasp the horns of the altar, or to
sit, veiled and suppliant, before the image of the god, was secure from
his foes, who could not pass within the limits of the Temple grounds, in
which strife and murder were not permissible. We too often flee to other
gods and other temples for our refuges. Ay! and when we get there we
find that the deity whom we have invoked is only a marble image that
sits deaf, dumb, motionless, whilst we cling to its unconscious skirts.
As one of the saddest of our modern cynics once said, looking up at that
lovely impersonation of Greek beauty, the Venus de Milo, 'Ah! she is
fair; but she has no arms,' so we may say of all false refuges to which
men betake themselves. The goddess is powerless to help, however
beautiful the presentment of her may have seemed to our eyes. The evils
from which we have fled to these false deities and shelterless
sanctuaries will pursue us across the threshold; and as Elijah did with
the priests of Baal upon Carmel, will slay us at the very foot of the
altar to which we have clung, and vexed with our vain prayers. There is
only one shrine where there is a sanctuary, and that is the shrine above
which shines 'the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ'; into the
brightness of which poor men may pass and therein may hide themselves.
God hides us, and His hiding is effectual, in the secret of the light
and splendour of His face.

I said, too, that there was an allusion, as there is in all the psalms
that deal with men as God's guests, to the ancient customs of
hospitality, by which a man who has once entered the tent of the chief,
and partaken of food there, is safe, not only from his pursuers, but
from his host himself, even though that host should be the
kinsman-avenger. The red-handed murderer, who has eaten the salt of the
man whose duty it otherwise would have been to slay him where he stood,
is safe from his vengeance. And thus they who cast themselves upon God
have nothing to fear. No other hand can pluck them from the sanctuary of
His tent. He Himself, having admitted them to share His hospitality,
cannot and will not lift a hand against them. We are safe _from_ God
only when we are safe _in_ God.

But remember the condition on which this security comes. 'Thou shalt
hide _them_ in the secret of Thy face.' Whom? Those that flee for refuge
to Thee. The act of simple faith is set forth there, by which a poor
man, with all his imperfections on his head, may yet venture to put his
foot across the boundary line that separates the outer darkness from the
beam of light that comes from God's face. 'Who among us shall dwell with
the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?'
That question does not mean, as it is often taken to mean--What mortal
can endure the punishments of a future life? but, Who can venture to be
God's guests? and it is equivalent to the other interrogation, 'Who
shall ascend to the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy
place?' The answer is, If you go to Him for refuge, knowing your danger,
feeling your impurity, _you_ may walk amidst all that light softened
into lambent beauty, as those Hebrew children did in the furnace of
fire, being at ease there, and feeling it well with themselves, and
having nothing about them consumed except the bonds that bound them.

Remember that Jesus Christ is the Hiding-place, and that to flee to Him
for refuge is the condition of security, and all they who thus, from the
snares of life, from its miseries, disappointments, and burdens, from
the agitation of their own hearts, from the ebullition of their own
passions, from the stings of their own conscience, or from other of the
ills that flesh is heir to, make their hiding-place--by the simple act
of faith in Jesus Christ--in the light of God's face, are thereby safe
for evermore.

But the initial act of fleeing to the refuge must be continued by
abiding in the refuge. It is of no use to take shelter in the light
unless we abide in the light. It is of no use to go to the Temple for
sanctuary unless we continue in it for sacrifice and worship. We must
'walk in the light as God is in the light.' That is to say, the
condition of being hid in God is, first of all, to take refuge in Jesus
Christ, and then to abide in Him by continual communion. 'Your life is
hid with Christ in God.' Unless we have a hidden life, deep beneath, and
high above, and far beyond the life of sense, we have no right to think
that the shelter of the Face will be security for us. The very essence
of Christianity is the habitual communion of heart, mind, and will with
God in Christ. Do you live in the light, or have you only gone there to
escape what you are afraid of? Do you live in the light by the continual
direction of thought and heart to Him, cultivating the habit of daily
and hourly communion with Him amidst the distractions of necessary duty,
care, and changing circumstances?

But not only by communion, but also by conduct, must we keep in the
light. The fugitive found outside the city of refuge was fair game for
the avenger, and if he strayed beyond its bounds there was a sword in
his back before he knew where he was. Every Christian, by each sin,
whether it be acted or only thought, casts himself out of the light into
the darkness that rings it round, and out there he is a victim to the
beasts of prey that hunt in darkness. An eclipse of the sun is not
caused by any change in the sun, but by an opaque body, the offspring
and satellite of the earth, coming between the earth and sun. And so,
when Christian men lose the light of God's face, it is not because there
is any 'variableness or shadow of turning' in Him, but because between
Him and them has come the blackness--their own offspring--of their own
sin. You are not safe if you are outside the light of His countenance.
These are the conditions of security.

III. Lastly, note what the hidden ones find in the light.

This burst of confidence in my text comes from the Psalmist immediately
after plaintively pouring out his soul under the pressure of
afflictions. His experience may teach us the interpretation of his glad
assurance.

God will keep all real evil from us if we keep near Him; but He will not
keep the externals that men call evil from us. I do not know whether
there is such a thing as filtering any poisons or malaria by means of
light, but I am sure that the light of God filters our atmosphere for
us. Though it may leave the external form of evil it takes all the
poison out of it and turns it into a harmless minister for our good. The
arrows that are launched at us may be tipped with venom when they leave
the bow, but if they pass through the radiant envelope of divine
protection that surrounds us--and they must have passed through that if
they reach us--it cleanses all the venom from the points though it
leaves the sharpness there. The evil is not an evil if it has got our
length; and its having touched us shows that He who lets it pass into
the light where His children safely dwell, knows that it cannot harm
them.

But, again, we shall find if we live in continual communion with the
revealed Face of God, that we are elevated high above all the strife of
tongues and the noise of earth. We shall 'outsoar the shadow of the
night,' and be lifted to an elevation from which all the clamours of
earth will sound faint and poor, like the noises of the city to the
dwellers on the mountain peak. Nor do we find only security there, for
the word in the second clause of my text, 'Thou shalt _keep_ them
_secretly_,' is the same as is employed in the previous verse in
reference to the treasures which God _lays up_ for them that fear Him.
The poor men that trust in God, and the wealth which He has to lavish
upon them, are both hid, and they are hid in the same place. The
'goodness wrought before the sons of men' has not emptied the reservoir.
After all expenditure the massy ingots of gold in God's storehouse are
undiminished. The mercy still to come is greater than that already
received. 'To-morrow shall be as this day and much more abundant.' This
river broadens as we mount towards its source.

Brethren! the Face of God must be either our dearest joy or our greatest
dread. There comes a time when you and I must front it, and look into
His eyes. It is for us to settle whether at that day we shall 'call upon
the rocks and the hills to hide us' from it, or whether we shall say
with rapture, 'Thou hast made us most blessed with Thy countenance'!
Which is it to be? It must be one or other. When He says, 'Seek ye My
Face,' may our hearts answer, 'Thy Face, Lord, will I seek,' that when
we see it hereafter, shining as the sun in his strength, its light may
not be darkness to our impure and horror-struck eyes.



A THREEFOLD THOUGHT OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS


    'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is
    covered. 2. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not
    iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.'
    --PSALM xxxii. 1, 2.

This psalm, which has given healing to many a wounded conscience, comes
from the depths of a conscience which itself has been wounded and
healed. One must be very dull of hearing not to feel how it throbs with
emotion, and is, in fact, a gush of rapture from a heart experiencing in
its freshness the new joy of forgiveness. It matters very little who
wrote it. If we accept the superscription, which many of those who
usually reject these ancient Jewish notes do in the present case, the
psalm is David's, and it fits into some of the specific details of his
great sin and penitence. But that is of very small moment. Whoever wrote
it, he sings because he must.

The psalm begins with an exclamation, for the clause would be better
translated, 'Oh! the blessedness of the man.' Then note the remarkable
accumulation of clauses, all expressing substantially the same thing,
but expressing it with a difference. The Psalmist's heart is too full to
be emptied by one utterance. He turns his jewel, as it were, round and
round, and at each turn it reflects the light from a different angle.
There are three clauses in my text, each substantially having the same
meaning, but which yet present that substantially identical meaning with
different shades. And that is true both in regard to the three words
which are employed to describe the fact of transgression, and to the
three which are employed to describe the fact of forgiveness. It is
mainly to these, and the large lessons which lie in observing the shades
of significance in them, that I wish to turn now.

I. Note the solemn picture which is here drawn of various phases of sin.

There are three words employed--'transgression,' 'sin,' 'iniquity.' They
all mean the same thing, but they mean it with a different association
of ideas and suggestions of its foulness. Let me take them in order. The
word translated 'transgression' seems literally to signify separation,
or rending apart, or departure, and hence comes to express the notion of
apostasy and rebellion.

So, then, here is this thought; all sin is a going away. From what?
Rather the question should be--from _whom_? All sin is a departure from
God. And that is its deepest and darkest characteristic. And it is the
one that needs to be most urged, for it is the one that we are most apt
to forget. We are all ready enough to acknowledge faults; none of us
have any hesitation in saying that we have done wrong, and have gone
wrong. We are ready to recognise that we have transgressed the law; but
what about the Lawgiver? The personal element in every sin, great or
small, is that it is a voluntary rending of a union which exists, a
departure from God who is with us in the deepest recesses of our being,
unless we drag ourselves away from the support of His enclosing arm, and
from the illumination of His indwelling grace.

So, dear brethren! this was the first and the gravest aspect under which
the penitent and the forgiven man in my text thought of his past, that
in it, when he was wildly and eagerly rushing after the low and sensuous
gratification of his worst desires, he was rebelling against, and
wandering far away from, the ever-present Friend, the all-encircling
support and joy, the Lord, his life. You do not understand the gravity
of the most trivial wrong act when you think of it as a sin against the
order of Nature, or against the law written on your heart, or as the
breach of the constitution of your own nature, or as a crime against
your fellows. You have not got to the bottom of the blackness until you
see that it is flat rebellion against God Himself. This is the true
devilish element in all our transgression, and this element is in it
all. Oh! if once we do get the habit formed and continued until it
becomes almost instinctive and spontaneous, of looking at each action of
our lives in immediate and direct relation to God, there would come such
an apocalypse as would startle some of us into salutary dread, and make
us all feel that 'it is an evil and a bitter thing' (and the two
characteristics must always go together), 'to depart from the living
God.' The great type of all wrongdoers is in that figure of the Prodigal
Son, and the essence of his fault was, first, that he selfishly demanded
for his own his father's goods; and, second, that he went away into a
far country. Your sins have separated between you and God. And when you
do those little acts of selfish indulgence which you do twenty times a
day, without a prick of conscience, each of them, trivial as it is, like
some newly-hatched poisonous serpent, a finger-length long, has in it
the serpent nature, it is rebellion and separation from God.

Then another aspect of the same foul thing rises before the Psalmist's
mind. This evil which he has done, which I suppose was the sin in the
matter of Bathsheba, was not only rebellion against God, but it was,
according to this text, in the second clause, 'a sin,' by which is meant
literally _missing an aim_. So this word, in its pregnant meaning,
corresponds with the signification of the ordinary New Testament word
for sin, which also implies error, or missing that which ought to be the
goal of our lives. That is to say, whilst the former word regarded the
evil deed mainly in its relation to God, this word regards it mainly in
its relation to ourselves, and that which before Him is rebellion, the
assertion of my own individuality and my own will, and therefore in
separation from His will, is, considered in reference to myself, my
fatally missing the mark to which my whole energy and effort ought to be
directed. All sin, big or little, is a blunder. It never hits what it
aims at, and if it did, it is aiming at the wrong thing. So doubly, all
transgression is folly, and the true name for the doer is 'Thou fool!'
For every evil misses the mark which, regard being had to the man's
obvious destiny, he ought to aim at. 'Man's chief end is to glorify God
and to enjoy Him for ever'; and whosoever in all his successes fails to
realise that end is a failure through and through, in whatever smaller
matters he may seem to himself and to others to succeed. He only strikes
the target in the bull's eye who lets his arrows be deflected by no
gusts of passion, nor aimed wrong by any obliquity of vision; but with
firm hand and clear eye seeks and secures the absolute conformity of his
will to the Father's will, and makes God his aim and end in all things.
'Thou hast created us for Thyself, and only in Thee can we find rest.' O
brother! whatever be your aims and ends in life, take this for the
surest verity, that you have fatally misunderstood the purpose of your
being, and the object to which you should strain, if there is anything
except God, who is the supreme desire of your heart and the goal of your
life. All sin is missing the mark which God has set up for man.

Therefore let us press to the mark where hangs the prize which whoso
possesses succeeds, whatsoever other trophies may have escaped his
grasp.

But there is another aspect of this same thought, and that is that every
piece of evil misses its own shabby mark. 'A rogue is a round-about
fool.' No man ever gets, in doing wrong, the thing he did the wrong for,
or if he gets it, he gets something else along with it that takes all
the sweet taste out of it. The thief secures the booty, but he gets
penal servitude besides. Sin tempts us with glowing tales of the delight
to be found in drinking stolen waters and eating her bread in secret;
but sin lies by suppression of the truth, if not by suggestions of the
false, because she says never a word about the sickness and the headache
that come after the debauch, nor about the poison that we drink down
along with her sugared draughts. The paltering fiend keeps the word of
promise to the ear, and breaks it to the hope. All sin, great or little,
is a blunder, and missing of the mark.

And lastly, yet another aspect of the ugly thing rises before the
Psalmist's eye. In reference to God, evil is separation and rebellion;
in reference to myself, it is an error and missing of my true goal; and
in reference to the straight standard and law of duty, it is, according
to the last of the three words for sin in the text, 'iniquity,' or,
literally, _something twisted_ or distorted. It is thus brought into
contrast with the right line of the plain, straight path in which we
ought to walk. We have the same metaphor in our own language. We talk
about things being right and wrong, by which we mean, in the one case,
parallel with the rigid law of duty, and in the other case, 'wrung,' or
wavering, crooked and divergent from it. There is a standard as well as
a Judge, and we have not only to think of evil as being rebellion
against God and separation from Him, and as, for ourselves, issuing in
fatal missing of the mark, but also as being divergent from the one
manifest law to which we ought to be conformed. The path to God is a
right line; the shortest road from earth to Heaven is absolutely
straight. The Czar of Russia, when railways were introduced into that
country, was asked to determine the line between St. Petersburg and
Moscow. He took a ruler and drew a straight line across the map, and
said, 'There!' Our Autocrat has drawn a line as straight as the road
from earth to Heaven, and by the side of it are 'the crooked, wandering
ways in which we live.'

Take these three thoughts then--as for law, divergence; as for the aim
of my life, a fatal miss; as for God, my Friend and my Life, rebellion
and separation--and you have, if not the complete physiognomy of evil,
at least grave thoughts concerning it, which become all the graver when
we think that they are true about us and about our deeds.

II. And so let me ask you to look secondly at the blessed picture drawn
here of the removal of the sin.

There are three words here for forgiveness, each of which adds its quota
to the general thought. It is 'forgiven,' 'covered,' 'not imputed.' The
accumulation of synonyms not only sets forth various aspects of pardon,
but triumphantly celebrates the completeness and certainty of the gift.

As to the first, it means literally to lift and bear away a load or
burden. As to the second, it means, plainly enough, to cover over, as
one might do some foul thing, that it may no longer offend the eye or
smell rank to Heaven. Bees in their hives, when there is anything
corrupt and too large for them to remove, fling a covering of wax over
it, and hermetically seal it, and no foul odour comes from it. And so a
man's sin is covered over and ceases to be _in evidence_, as it were
before the divine Eye that sees all things. He Himself casts a merciful
veil over it and hides it from Himself. A similar idea, though with a
modification in metaphor, is included in that last word, the sin is not
reckoned. God does not write it down in His Great Book on the debit side
of the man's account. And these three things, the lifting up and
carrying away of the load, the covering over of the obscene and ugly
thing, the non-reckoning in the account of the evil deed; these three
things taken together do set forth before us the great and blessed truth
that a man's transgressions may become, in so far as the divine heart
and the divine dealings with him are concerned, as if nonexistent.

Men tell us that that is not possible and that it is immoral to preach a
doctrine of forgiveness. O dear brethren! there is no gospel to preach
that will touch a man's heart except the gospel that begins with
this--God bears away, covers over, does not reckon to a man, his
rebellions, his errors, his departures from the law of right. Sin _is_
capable of forgiveness, and, blessed be God! every sin He is ready to
forgive. I should be ashamed of myself to stand here, and not preach a
gospel of pardon. I know not anything else that will touch consciences
and draw hearts except this gospel, which I am trying in my poor way to
lay upon your hearts.

Notice how my text includes also a glance at the condition on our part
on which this absolute and utter annihilation of our wicked past is
possible. That last clause of my text, 'In whose spirit there is no
guile,' seems to me to refer to the frank sincerity of a confession,
which does not try to tell lies to God, and, attempting to deceive Him,
really deceives only the self-righteous sinner. Whosoever opens his
heart to God, makes a clean breast of it, and without equivocation or
self-deception or the palliations which self-love teaches, says, 'I have
played the fool and erred exceedingly,' to that man the Psalmist thinks
pardon is sure to come.

Now remember that the very heart and centre of that Jewish system was an
altar, and that on that altar was sacrificed the expiatory victim. I am
not going to insist upon any theory of an atonement, but I do want to
urge this, that Christianity is nothing, if it have not explained and
taken up into itself that which was symbolised in that old ritual. The
very first words from human lips which proclaimed Christ's advent to man
were, 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,'
and amongst the last words which Christ spoke upon earth, in the way of
teaching His disciples, were these, 'This is My blood, shed for many for
the remission of sins.' The Cross of Christ explains my psalm, the Cross
of Christ answers the confidence of the Psalmist, which was fed upon the
shadow of the good things to come. He has died, the Just for the unjust,
that the sins which were laid upon Him might be taken away, covered, and
not reckoned to us.

Brethren! unless my sins are taken away by the Lamb of God they remain.
Unless they are laid upon Christ, they crush me. Unless they are covered
by His expiation, they lie there before the Throne of God, and cry for
punishment. Unless His blood has wiped out the record that is against
us, the black page stands for ever. And to you and me there will be said
one day, in a voice which we dare not dispute, 'Pay Me that thou owest!'
The blacker the sin the brighter the Christ. I would that I could lay
upon all your hearts this belief, 'the blood of Jesus Christ,' and
nothing else, 'cleanses from all sin!'

III. I will touch in a word only upon the last thought suggested by the
text, and that is the blessedness of this removal of sin.

As I said, my text is really an exclamation, a gush of rapture from a
heart that is tasting the fresh-drawn blessedness of pardon. And the
rest of the psalm is little more than an explanation of the various
aspects and phases of that blessedness. Let me just run over them in the
briefest possible manner.

If we receive this forgiveness through Jesus Christ and our faith in
Him, then we have manifold blessedness in one. There is the blessedness
of deliverance from sullen remorse and of the dreadful pangs of an
accusing conscience. How vividly, and evidently as a transcript from a
page in his own autobiography, the Psalmist describes that condition,
'When I kept silence my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day
long'! When a man's heart is locked against confession he hears a tumult
of accusing voices within himself, and remorse and dread creep over his
heart. The pains of sullen remorse were never described more truly and
more dreadfully than in this context. 'Day and night Thy hand was heavy
upon me, my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.' Some of us
may know something of that. But there is a worse state than that, and
one or other of the two states belongs to us. If we have not found our
way into the liberty of confession and forgiveness, we have but a choice
between the pains of an awakened conscience and the desolation of a dead
one. It is worse to have no voice within than to have an accusing one.
It is worse to feel no pressure of a divine Hand than to feel it. And
they whose consciences are seared as with a hot iron have sounded the
lowest depths. They are perfectly comfortable, quite happy; they say all
these feelings that I am trying to suggest to you seem to them to be
folly. 'They make a solitude and call it peace.' It is an awful thing
when a man has come to this point, that he has got past the accusations
of conscience, and can swallow down the fiercest draughts without
feeling them burn. Dear brethren! there is only one deliverance from an
accusing conscience which does not murder the conscience, and that is
that we should find our way into the peace of God which is through
Christ Jesus and His atoning death.

Then, again, my psalm goes on to speak about the blessedness of a close
clinging to God in peaceful trust, which will ensure security in the
midst of all trials, and a hiding-place against every storm. The
Psalmist uses a magnificent figure. God is to him as some rocky island,
steadfast and dry, in the midst of a widespread inundation; and taking
refuge there in the clefts of the rock, he looks down upon the tossing,
shoreless sea of troubles and sorrows that breaks upon the rocky
barriers of his Patmos, and stands safe and dry. Only through
forgiveness do we come into that close communion with God which ensures
safety in all disasters.

And then there follows the blessedness of a gentle guidance and of a
loving obedience. 'Thou shalt guide me with Thine eye.' No need for
force, no need for bit and bridle, no need for anything but the glance
of the Father, which the child delights to obey. Docility, glad
obedience unprompted by fear, based upon love, are the fruits of pardon
through the blood of Christ.

And, lastly, there is the blessedness of exuberant gladness; the joy
that comes from the sorrow according to God is a joy that will last. All
other delights, in their nature, are perishable; all other raptures, by
the very necessity of their being and of ours, die down, sometimes into
vanity, always into commonplace or indifference. But the joy that
springs in the pardoned heart, and is fed by closeness of communion with
God, and by continual obedience to His blessed guidance, has in it
nothing that can fade, nothing that can burn out, nothing that can be
disturbed. The deeper the penitence the surer the rebound into gladness.
The more a man goes down into the depths of his own heart and learns his
own evil, the more will he, trusting in Christ, rise into the serene
heights of thankfulness, and live, if not in rapture, at least in the
calm joy of conscious communion and unending fellowship. Every tear may
be crystallised into a diamond that shall flash in the light. And they,
and only they, who begin in the valley of weeping, confessing their sins
and imploring forgiveness through the merits and mediation of Jesus
Christ our Lord, will rise to heights of a joy that remains, and
remaining, is full.



THE ENCAMPING ANGEL


    'The Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and
    delivereth them.'--PSALM xxxiv. 7.

If we accept the statement in the superscription of this psalm, it dates
from one of the darkest hours in David's life. His fortunes were never
lower than when he fled from Gath, the city of Goliath, to Adullam. He
never appears in a less noble light than when he feigned madness to
avert the dangers which he might well dread there. How unlike the terror
and self-degradation of the man who 'scrabbled on the doors,' and let
'the spittle run down his beard,' is the heroic and saintly constancy of
this noble psalm! And yet the contrast is not so violent as to make the
superscription improbable, and the tone of the whole well corresponds to
what we should expect from a man delivered from some great peril, but
still surrounded with dangers. There, in the safety of his retreat among
the rocks, with the bit of level ground where he had fought Goliath just
at his feet in the valley, and Gath, from which he had escaped, away
down at the mouth of the glen (if Conder's identification of Adullam be
correct), he sings his song of trust and praise; he hears the lions roar
among the rocks where Samson had found them in his day; he teaches his
'children,' the band of broken men who there began to gather around him,
the fear of the Lord; and calls upon them to help him in his praise.
What a picture of the outlaw and his wild followers tamed into something
like order, and lifted into something like worship, rises before us, if
we follow the guidance of that old commentary contained in the
superscription!

The words of our text gain especial force and vividness by thus
localising the psalm. Not only 'the clefts of the rock' but the presence
of God's Angel is his defence; and round him is flung, not only the
strength of the hills, but the garrison and guard of heaven.

It is generally supposed that the 'Angel of the Lord' here is to be
taken collectively, and that the meaning is--the 'bright-harnessed'
hosts of these divine messengers are as an army of protectors round them
who fear God. But I see no reason for departing from the simpler and
certainly grander meaning which results from taking the word in its
proper force of a singular. True, Scripture does speak of the legions of
ministering spirits, who in their chariots of fire were once seen by
suddenly opened eyes 'round about' a prophet in peril, and are ever
ministering to the heirs of salvation. But Scripture also speaks of One,
who is in an eminent sense 'the Angel of the Lord'; in whom, as in none
other, God sets His 'Name'; whose form, dimly seen, towers above even
the ranks of the angels that 'excel in strength'; whose offices and
attributes blend in mysterious fashion with those of God Himself. There
may be some little incongruity in thinking of the single Person as
'encamping round about' us; but that does not seem a sufficient reason
for obliterating the reference to that remarkable Old Testament
doctrine, the retention of which seems to me to add immensely to the
power of the words.

Remember some of the places in which the 'Angel of the Lord' appears, in
order to appreciate more fully the grandeur of this promised protection.
At that supreme moment when Abraham 'took the knife to slay his son,'
the voice that 'called to him out of heaven' was 'the voice of the Angel
of the Lord.' He assumes the power of reversing a divine command. He
says, 'Thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from _Me_,' and
then pronounces a blessing, in the utterance of which one cannot
distinguish His voice from the voice of Jehovah. In like manner it is
the Angel of the Lord that speaks to Jacob, and says, 'I am the God of
Bethel.' The dying patriarch invokes in the same breath 'the God which
fed me all my life long,' 'the Angel which redeemed me from all evil,'
to bless the boys that stand before him, with their wondering eyes
gazing in awe on his blind face. It was that Angel's glory that appeared
to the outcast, flaming in the bush that burned unconsumed. It was He
who stood before the warrior leader of Israel, sword in hand, and
proclaimed Himself to be the Captain of the Lord's host, the Leader of
the armies of heaven, and the true Leader of the armies of Israel; and
His commands to Joshua, His lieutenant, are the commands of 'the Lord.'
And, to pass over other instances, Isaiah correctly sums up the spirit
of the whole earlier history in words which go far to lift the
conception of this Angel of the Lord out of the region of created
beings--'In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His
face saved them,'

It is this lofty and mysterious Messenger, and not the hosts whom He
commands, that our Psalmist sees standing ready to help, as He once
stood, sword-bearing by the side of Joshua. To the warrior leader, to
the warrior Psalmist, He appears, as their needs required, armoured and
militant. The last of the prophets saw that dim, mysterious Figure, and
proclaimed, 'The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple;
even the Angel of the Covenant, whom ye delight in'; and to his gaze it
was wrapped in obscure majesty and terror of purifying flame. But for us
the true Messenger of the Lord is His Son, whom He has sent, in whom He
has put His name; who is the Angel of His face, in that we behold the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; who is the Angel of the
Covenant, in that He has sealed the new and everlasting covenant with
His blood; and whose own parting promise, 'Lo! I am with you always,' is
the highest fulfilment to us Christians of that ancient confidence: 'The
Angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him.'

Whatever view we adopt of the significance of the first part of the
text, the force and beauty of the metaphor in the second remain the
same. If this psalm were indeed the work of the fugitive in his rocky
hold at Adullam, how appropriate the thought becomes that his little
encampment has such a guard. It reminds one of the incident in Jacob's
life, when his timid and pacific nature was trembling at the prospect of
meeting Esau, and when, as he travelled along, encumbered with his
pastoral wealth, and scantily provided with means of defence, 'the
angels of God met him, and he named the place Mahanaim,' that is, two
camps--his own feeble company, mostly made up of women and children, and
that heavenly host that hovered above them. David's faith sees the same
defence encircling his weakness, and though sense saw no protection for
him and his men but their own strong arms and their mountain fastness,
his opened eyes beheld the mountain full of the chariots of fire, and
the flashing of armour and light in the darkness of his cave.

The vision of the divine presence ever takes the form which our
circumstances most require. David's then need was safety and protection.
Therefore he saw the Encamping Angel; even as to Joshua the leader He
appeared as the Captain of the Lord's host; and as to Isaiah, in the
year that the throne of Judah was emptied by the death of the earthly
king, was given the vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, the King
Eternal and Immortal. So to us all His grace shapes its expression
according to our wants, and the same gift is Protean in its power of
transformation; being to one man wisdom, to another strength, to the
solitary companionship, to the sorrowful consolation, to the glad
sobering, to the thinker truth, to the worker practical force--to each
his heart's desire, if the heart's delight be God. So manifold are the
aspects of God's infinite sufficiency, that every soul, in every
possible variety of circumstance, will find there just what will suit
it. That armour fits every man who puts it on. That deep fountain is
like some of those fabled springs which give forth whatsoever precious
draught any thirsty lip asked. He takes the shape that our circumstances
most need. Let us see that we, on our parts, use our circumstances to
help us in anticipating the shapes in which God will draw near for our
help.

Learn, too, from this image, in which the Psalmist appropriates to
himself the experience of a past generation, how we ought to feed our
confidence and enlarge our hopes by all God's past dealings with men.
David looks back to Jacob, and believes that the old fact is repeated in
his own day. So every old story is true for us; though outward form may
alter, inward substance remains the same. Mahanaim is still the name of
every place where a man who loves God pitches his tent. We may be
wandering, solitary, defenceless, but we are not alone. Our feeble
encampment may lie open to assault, and we be all unfit to guard it, but
the other camp is there too, and our enemies must force their way
through it before they get at us. We are in its centre--as they put the
cattle and the sick in the midst of the encampment on the prairies when
they fear an assault from the Indians--because we are so weak. Jacob's
experience may be ours: 'The Lord of Hosts is with us: the God of Jacob
is our refuge.'

Only remember that the eye of faith alone can see that guard, and that
therefore we must labour to keep our consciousness of its reality fresh
and vivid. Many a man in David's little band saw nothing but cold gray
stone where David saw the flashing armour of the heavenly Warrior. To
the one all the mountain blazed with fiery chariots, to the other it was
a lone hillside, with the wind moaning among the rocks. We shall lose
the joy and the strength of that divine protection unless we honestly
and constantly try to keep our sense of it bright. Eyes that have been
gazing on earthly joys, or perhaps gloating on evil sights, cannot see
the Angel presence. A Christian man, on a road which he cannot travel
with a clear conscience, will see no angel, not even the Angel with the
drawn sword in His hand, that barred Balaam's path among the vineyards.
A man coming out of some room blazing with light cannot all at once see
into the violet depths of the mighty heavens, that lie above him with
all their shimmering stars. So this truth of our text is a truth of
faith, and the believing eye alone beholds the Angel of the Lord.

Notice, too, that final word of deliverance. This psalm is continually
recurring to that idea. The word occurs four times in it, and the
thought still oftener. Whether the date is rightly given, as we have
assumed it to be, or not, at all events that harping upon this one
phrase indicates that some season of great trial was its birth-time,
when all the writer's thoughts were engrossed and his prayers summed up
in the one thing--deliverance. He is quite sure that such deliverance
must follow if the Angel presence be there. But he knows too that the
encampment of the Angel of the Lord will not keep away sorrows, and
trial, and sharp need. So his highest hope is not of immunity from
these, but of rescue out of them. And his ground of hope is that his
heavenly Ally cannot let him be overcome. That He will let him be
troubled and put in peril he has found; that He will not let him be
crushed he believes. Shadowed and modest hopes are the brightest we can
venture to cherish. The protection which we have is protection in, and
not protection from, strife and danger. It is a filter which lets the
icy cold water of sorrow drop numbing upon us, but keeps back the poison
that was in it. We have to fight, but He will fight with us; to sorrow,
but not alone nor without hope; to pass through many a peril, but we
shall get through them. Deliverance, which implies danger, need, and
woe, is the best we can hope for.

It is the least we are entitled to expect if we love Him. It is the
certain issue of His encamping round about us. Always with us, He will
strike for us at the best moment. The Lord God is in the midst of her
always; 'the Lord will help her, and that right early.' So like the
hunted fugitive in Adullam we may lift up our confident voices even when
the stress of strife and sorrow is upon us; and though Gath be in sight
and Saul just over the hills, and we have no better refuge than a cave
in a hillside; yet in prophecy built upon our consciousness that the
Angel of the Covenant is with us now, we may antedate the deliverance
that shall be, and think of it as even now accomplished. So the Apostle,
when within sight of the block and the headsman's axe, broke into the
rapture of his last words: 'The Lord shall deliver me from every evil
work, and will preserve me to His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for
ever and ever. Amen.' Was he wrong?



STRUGGLING AND SEEKING


    'The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the
    Lord shall not want any good thing.'--PSALM xxxiv. 10.

If we may trust the superscription of this psalm, it was written by
David at one of the very darkest days of his wanderings, probably in the
Cave of Adullam, where he had gathered around him a band of outlaws, and
was living, to all appearance, a life uncommonly like that of a brigand
chief, in the hills. One might have pardoned him if, at such a moment,
some cloud of doubt or despondency had crept over his soul. But instead
of that his words are running over with gladness, and the psalm begins
'I will bless the Lord at all times, and His praise shall continually be
in my mouth.' Similarly here he avers, even at a moment when he wanted a
great deal of what the world calls 'good,' that 'they that seek the Lord
shall not want any good thing.' There were lions in Palestine in David's
time. He had had a fight with one of them, as you may remember, and his
lurking place was probably not far off the scene of Samson's exploits.
Very likely they were prowling about the rocky mouth of the cave, and he
weaves their howls into his psalm: 'The young lions do lack, and suffer
hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good.'

So, then, here are the two thoughts--the struggle that always fails and
the seeking that always finds.

I. The struggle that always fails.

'The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger.' They are taken as the type
of violent effort and struggle, as well as of supreme strength, but for
all their teeth and claws, and lithe spring, 'they lack, and suffer
hunger.' The suggestion is, that the men whose lives are one long fight
to appropriate to themselves more and more of outward good, are living a
kind of life that is fitter for beasts than for men. A fierce struggle
for material good is the true description of the sort of life that hosts
of us live. What is the meaning of all this cry that we hear about the
murderous competition going on round us? What is the true character of
the lives of, I am afraid, the majority of people in a city like
Manchester, but a fight and a struggle, a desire to have, and a failure
to obtain? Let us remember that that sort of existence is for the
brutes, and that there is a better way of getting what is good; the only
fit way for man. Beasts of prey, naturalists tell us, are always lean.
It is the graminivorous order that meekly and peacefully crop the
pastures that are well fed and in good condition--'which things are an
allegory.'

'The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger'--and that, being
interpreted, just states the fact to which every man's experience, and
the observation of every man that has an eye in his head, distinctly
say, 'Amen, it is so.' For there is no satisfaction or success ever to
be won by this way of fighting and struggling and scheming and springing
at the prey. For if we do not utterly fail, which is the lot of so many
of us, still partial success has little power of bringing perfect
satisfaction to a human spirit. One loss counterbalances any number of
gains. No matter how soft is the mattress, if there is one tiny thorn
sticking up through it all the softness goes for nothing. There is
always a Mordecai sitting at the gate when Haman goes prancing through
it on his white horse; and the presence of the unsympathetic and
stiff-backed Jew, sitting stolid at the gate, takes the gilt off the
gingerbread, and embitters the enjoyment. So men count up their
disappointments, and forget all their fulfilled hopes, count up their
losses and forget their gains. They think less of the thousands that
they have gained than of the half-crown that they were cheated of.

In every way it is true that the little annoyances, like a grain of dust
in the sensitive eye, take all the sweetness out of mere material good,
and I suppose that there are no more bitterly disappointed men in this
world than the perfectly 'successful men,' as the world counts them.
They have been disillusionised in the process of acquisition. When they
were young and lusted after earthly good things, these seemed to be all
that they needed. When they are old, and have them, they find that they
are feeding on ashes, and the grit breaks their teeth, and irritates
their tongues. The 'young lions do lack' even when their roar and their
spring 'have secured the prey,' and 'they suffer hunger' even when they
have fed full. Ay! for if the utmost possible measure of success were
granted us, in any department in which the way of getting the thing is
this fighting and effort, we should be as far away from being at rest as
ever we were.

You remember the old story of the _Arabian Nights_, about the wonderful
palace that was built by magic, and all whose windows were set in
precious stones, but there was one window that remained unadorned, and
that spoiled all for the owner. His palace was full of treasures, but an
enemy looked on all the wealth and suggested a previously unnoticed
defect by saying, 'You have not a roc's egg.' He had never thought about
getting a roc's egg, and did not know what it was. But the consciousness
of something lacking had been roused, and it marred his enjoyment of
what he had and drove him to set out on his travels to secure the
missing thing. There is always something lacking, for our desires grow
far faster than their satisfactions, and the more we have, the wider our
longing reaches out, so that as the wise old Book has it, 'He that
loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth
abundance with increase.' You cannot fill a soul with the whole
universe, if you do not put God in it. One of the greatest works of
fiction of modern times ends, or all but ends, with a sentence something
like this, 'Ah! who of us has what he wanted, or having it, is
satisfied?' 'The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger'--and the
struggle always fails--'but they that seek the Lord shall not want any
good thing.'

II. The seeking which always finds.

Now, how do we 'seek the Lord'? It is a metaphorical expression, of
course, which needs to be carefully interpreted in order not to lead us
into a great mistake. We do not seek Him as if He had not sought us, or
was hiding from us. But our search of Him is search after one who is
near every one of us, and who delights in nothing so much as in pouring
Himself into every heart and mind, and will and life, if only heart,
mind, will, life, are willing to accept Him. It is a short search that
the child by her mother's skirts, or her father's side, has to make for
mother or father. It is a shorter search that we have to make for God.

We seek Him by desire. Do you want Him? A great many of us do not. We
seek Him by communion, by turning our thoughts to Him, amidst all the
rush of daily life, and such a turning of thought to Him, which is quite
possible, will prevent our most earnest working upon things material
from descending to the likeness of the lions' fighting for it. We seek
Him by desire, by communion, by obedience. And they who thus seek Him
find Him in the act of seeking Him, just as certainly as if I open my
eye I see the sun, or as if I dilate my lungs the atmosphere rushes into
them. For He is always seeking us. That is a beautiful word of our
Lord's to which we do not always attach all its value, 'The Father
_seeketh_ such to worship Him.' Why put the emphasis upon the 'such,' as
if it was a definition of the only kind of acceptable worship? It is
that. But we might put more emphasis upon the 'seeketh' without spoiling
the logic of the sentence; and thereby we should come nearer the truth
of what God's heart to us is, so that if we do seek Him, we shall surely
find. In this region, and in this region only, there is no search that
is vain, there is no effort that is foiled, there is no desire
unaccomplished, there is no failure possible. We each of us have,
accurately and precisely, as much of God as we desire to have. If there
is only a very little of the Water of Life in our vessels, it is because
we did not care to possess any more. 'Seek, and ye shall find.'

We shall be sure to find everything in God. Look at the grand
confidence, and the utterance of a life's experience in these great
words: 'Shall not want any good.' For God is everything to us, and
everything else is nothing; and it is the presence of God in anything
that makes it truly able to satisfy our desires. Human love, sweet and
precious, dearest and best of all earthly possessions as it is, fails to
fill a heart unless the love grasps God as well as the beloved dying
creature. And so with regard to all other things. They are good when God
is in them, and when they are ours in God. They are nought when wrenched
away from Him. We are sure to find everything in Him, for this is the
very property of that infinite divine nature that is waiting to impart
itself to us, that, like water poured into a vessel, it will take the
shape of the vessel into which it is poured. Whatever is my need, the
one God will supply it all.

You remember the old Rabbinical tradition which speaks a deep truth,
dressed in a fanciful shape. It says that the manna in the wilderness
tasted to every man just what he desired, whatever dainty or nutriment
he most wished; that the manna became like the magic cup in the old
fairy legends, out of which could be poured any precious liquor at the
pleasure of the man who was to drink it. The one God is everything to us
all, anything that we desire, and the thing that we need; Protean in His
manifestations, one in His sufficiency. With Him, as well as in Him, we
are sure to have all that we require. 'Seek ye first the Kingdom ... and
all these things shall be added unto you.'

Let us begin, dear brethren! with seeking, and then our struggling will
not be violent, nor self-willed, nor will it fail. If we begin with
seeking, and have God, be sure that all we need we shall get, and that
what we do not get we do not need. It is hard to believe it when our
vehement wishes go out to something that His serene wisdom does not
send. It is hard to believe it when our bleeding hearts are being
wrenched away from something around which they have clung. But it is
true for all that. And he that can say, 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee,
and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee,' will find that
the things which he enjoys in subordination to his one supreme good are
a thousand times more precious when they are regarded as second than
they ever could be when our folly tried to make them first. 'Seek first
the Kingdom,' and be contented that the 'other things' shall be
appendices, additions, over and above the one thing that is needful.

Now, all that is very old-fashioned, threadbare truth. Dear brethren! if
we believed it, and lived by it, 'the peace of God which passes
understanding' would 'keep our hearts and minds.' And, instead of
fighting and losing, and desiring to have and howling out because we
cannot obtain, we should patiently wait before Him, submissively ask,
earnestly seek, immediately find, and always possess and be satisfied
with, the one good for body, soul, and spirit, which is God Himself.

'There be many that cry, Oh! that one would show as any good.' The wise
do not cry to men, but pray to God. 'Lord! lift Thou the light of Thy
countenance upon us.'



NO CONDEMNATION


    'None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.'
    --PSALM xxxiv. 22.

These words are very inadequately represented in the translation of the
Authorised Version. The Psalmist's closing declaration is something very
much deeper than that they who trust in God 'shall not be desolate.' If
you look at the previous clause, you will see that we must expect
something more than such a particular blessing as that:--'The Lord
redeemeth the soul of His servants.' It is a great drop from that
thought, instead of being a climax, to follow it with nothing more than,
'None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.' But the Revised
Version accurately renders the words: 'None of them that trust in Him
shall be _condemned_.' There we have something that is worthy to follow
'The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants,' and we have a most
striking anticipation of the clearest and most Evangelical teaching of
the New Testament.

The entirely New Testament tone of these words of the psalm comes out
still more clearly, if we recognise that, not only in the latter, but in
the former, part of the clause, we have one of the very keynotes of New
Testament teaching. When we read in the New Testament that 'we are
justified by faith,' the meaning is precisely the same as that of our
text. Thus, however it came about, here is this Psalmist, David or
another, standing away back amidst the shadows and symbols and
ritualisms of that Old Covenant, and rising at once above all the mists,
right up into the sunshine, and seeing, as clearly as we see it nineteen
centuries after Jesus Christ, that the way to escape condemnation is
simple faith. Let us look at both of the parts of these great words. We
consider--

I. The people that are spoken of here.

'None of them that trust in Him'--I need not, I suppose, further dwell
upon the absolute identity shown by this phrase between the Old and the
New Testament conceptions; but I should like to make a remark, which I
dare say I have often made before--it cannot be made too often--that,
whatever be the differences between the Old and the New, this is not the
difference, that they present two different ways of approaching God.
There are a great many differences; the conception of the divine nature
is no doubt infinitely deepened, made more tender and more lofty, by the
thought of the Fatherhood of God. The contents of the revelation which
our faith is to grasp are brought out far more definitely and
articulately and fully in the New Testament. But in the Old, the road to
God was the same as it is to-day; and from the beginning there has only
been, and through all Eternity there will only be, one path by which men
can have access to the Father, and that is by faith. 'Trust' is the Old
Testament word, 'faith' is the New. They are absolutely identical, and
there would have been a flood of light--sorely needed by a great many
good people--cast upon the relations between those two complementary and
harmonious halves of a consistent whole, if our translators had not been
influenced by their unfortunate love for varying translations of the
same word, but had contented themselves with choosing one of these two
words 'trust' or 'faith,' and had used that one consistently and
uniformly throughout the Old and New books. Then we should have
understood, what anybody who will open his eyes can see now, that what
the New Testament magnifies as 'faith' is identical with what the Old
Testament sets forth as 'trust.' 'None of them that trust in Him shall
be condemned.'

But there is one more remark to make on this matter, and that is that a
great flood of light, and of more than light, of encouragement and of
stimulus, is cast upon that saving exercise of trust by noticing the
literal meaning of the word that is rightly so rendered here. All those
words, especially in the Old Testament, that express emotions or acts of
the mind, originally applied to corporeal acts or material things. I
suppose that is so in all language. It is very conspicuously so in the
Hebrew. And the word that is here translated, rightly, 'trust,' means
literally to fly to a refuge, or to betake oneself to some defence in
order to get shelter there.

There is a trace of both meanings, the literal and the metaphorical, in
another psalm, where we read, amidst the Psalmist's rapturous heaping
together of great names for God: 'My Rock, in whom I will trust.' Now
keep to the literal meaning there, and you see how it flashes up the
whole into beauty: 'My Rock, to whom I will flee for refuge,' and put my
back against it, and stand as impregnable as it; or get myself well into
the clefts of it, and then nothing can touch me.

  'Rock of Ages! cleft for me,
   Let me hide myself in Thee.'

Then we find the same words, with the picture of flight and the reality
of faith, used with another set of associations in another psalm, which
says: 'He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt
thou trust.' That grates, one gets away from the metaphor too quickly;
but if we preserve the literal meaning, and read, 'under His wings shalt
thou flee for refuge,' we have the picture of the chicken flying to the
mother-bird when kites are in the sky, and huddling close to the warm
breast and the soft downy feathers, and so with the spread of the great
wing being sheltered from all possibility of harm. This psalm is
ascribed to David when he was in hiding. The superscription says that it
is 'a psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech;
who drove him away, and he departed.' And where did he go? To the cave
in the rock. And as he sat in the mouth of it, with the rude arch
stretching above him, like the wings of some great bird, feeling himself
absolutely safe, he said, 'None of them that take refuge in Thee shall
be condemned.'

Does not that metaphor teach us a great deal more of what faith is, and
encourage us far more to exercise it, than much theological
hair-splitting? What lies in the metaphor? Two things, the earnest
eagerness of the act of flight, and the absolute security which comes
when we have reached the shadow of the great Rock in a weary land.

But there is one thing more that I would notice, and that is that this
designation of the persons as 'them that trust in Him' follows last of
all in a somewhat lengthened series of designations for good people.
They are these: 'the righteous'--'them that are of a broken
heart'--'such as be of a contrite spirit'--'His servants,' and then,
lastly, comes, as basis of all, as, so to speak, the keynote of all,
'none of them that _trust_ in Him.' That is to say--righteousness, true
and blessed pulverising of the obstinate insensibility of self alienated
from God, true and blessed consciousness of sin, joyful surrender of
self to loving and grateful submission to God's will, are all connected
with or flow from that act of trust in Him. And if you are trusting in
Him, in anything more than the mere formal, dead way in which multitudes
of nominal Christians in all our congregations are doing so, your trust
will produce all these various fruits of righteousness, and lowliness,
and joyful service. 'Faith' or 'trust' is the mother of all graces and
virtues, and it produces them all because it directly kindles the
creative flame of an answering love to Him in whom we trust. So much,
then, for the first part of my remarks. Consider, next--

II. The blessing here promised.

'None of them that trust in Him shall be condemned.' The word which is
inadequately rendered 'desolate,' and more accurately 'condemned,'
includes the following varying shades of meaning, which, although they
are various, are all closely connected, as you will see--to incur guilt,
to feel guilty, to be condemned, to be punished. All these four are
inextricably blended together. And the fact that the one word in the Old
Testament covers all that ground suggests some very solemn thoughts.

First of all, it suggests this, that guilt, or sin, and condemnation and
punishment, are, if not absolutely identical, inseparable. To be guilty
is to be condemned. That is to say, since we live, as we do, under the
continual grip of an infinitely wise and all-knowing law, and in the
presence of a Judge who not only sees us as we are, but treats us as He
sees us--sin and guilt go together, as every man knows that has a
conscience. And sin and guilt and condemnation and punishment go
together, as every man may see in the world, and experience in himself.
To be separated from God, which is the immediate effect of sin, is to
pass into hell here. 'Every transgression and disobedience,' not only
'shall receive its just recompense,' away out yonder, in some misty,
far-off, hypothetical future, but down here to-day. All sin works
automatically, and to do wrong is to be punished for doing it.

Then my text suggests another solemn thought, and that is that this
judgment, this condemnation, is not only present, according to our
Lord's own great words, which perhaps are an allusion to these: 'He that
believeth not is condemned already'; but it also suggests the
universality of that condemnation. Our Psalmist says that only through
trusting Him can a man be taken and lifted away, as it were, from the
descent of the thundercloud, and its bolt that lies above his head.
'They that trust Him are not condemned,' every one else is; not 'shall
be,' but is, to-day, here and now. If there is a man or woman in my
audience now who is not exercising trust in God through Jesus Christ, on
that man or woman, young or old, cultivated or uncultivated, professing
Christian or not, there is bound the burden of their sin, which is the
crushing weight of their condemnation.

So my text suggests, that the sole deliverance from this universal
pressure of the condemnatory influence of universal sin lies in that
fleeing for refuge to God. And then comes in the Christian addition, 'to
God, as manifested in Jesus Christ.' The Psalmist did not know that. All
the more wonderful is it that without the knowledge he should have risen
to the great thought of our text--all the more inexplicable unless you
believe that 'holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy
Ghost.'

Wonderful it is still, but not unintelligible, if you believe that. But
you and I know more than this singer did; for we can listen to the
Master, who says, 'He that believeth on Him is not condemned'; and to
the servant who echoes--and perhaps both of them are alluding to our
psalm--'There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in
Christ Jesus.' My faith, if it knits me to Jesus Christ, unties the
bonds by which my sin is bound upon me, for it makes me to share in His
Spirit, in His righteousness, in His glory.

And so, dear brethren! the Psalmist, though he did not know it, may
point us away to the truth hidden from him, but sunlight clear for us,
that by simple trust we may receive the Saviour through whom all our
condemnation will pass away, and may be found in Him having the
'righteousness which is of God by faith.'

'Not condemned'--Is that all? Are the blessings of the Gospel all to be
reduced to this mere negative expression? Certainly not. The Psalmist
could have said a great deal more, and in the previous context he does
say a great deal more. But to that restrained and moderate statement of
the case, which is far less than the facts of the case, 'he that
trusteth is not condemned,' let us add Paul's expansion, 'whom He called
them He also justified, and whom He justified them He also glorified.'



SKY, EARTH, AND SEA: A PARABLE OF GOD


    'Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and Thy faithfulness reacheth
    unto the clouds. 6. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains;
    Thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, Thou preservest man and
    beast. 7. How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the
    children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings.'
    --PSALM xxxvi. 5-7.

This wonderful description of the manifold brightness of the divine
nature is introduced in this psalm with singular abruptness. It is set
side by side with a vivid picture of an evildoer, a man who mutters in
his own heart his godlessness, and with obstinate determination plans
and plots in forgetfulness of God. Without a word to break the violence
of the transition, side by side with that picture, the Psalmist sets
before us these thoughts of the character of God. He seems to feel that
that character was the only relief in the contemplation of the miserable
sights of which the earth is only too full. We should go mad when we
think of man's wickedness unless we could look up and see, with one
quick turn of the eye, the heaven opened and the throned Love that sits
up there gazing on all the chaos, and working to soothe sorrow, and to
purify evil.

Perhaps there is another reason for this dramatic and striking swiftness
of contrast between the godless man and the revealed God. The true test
of a life is its power to bear the light of God being suddenly let in
upon it. How would yours look, my friend! if all at once a window in
heaven was opened, and God glared in upon you? Set your lives side by
side with Him. They always are side by side with Him whether you know it
or not; but you had better bring your 'deeds to the light that they may
be made manifest' now, than to have to do it as suddenly, and a great
deal more sorrowfully, when you are dragged out of the shows and
illusions of time, and He meets you on the threshold of another world.
Would a beam of light from God, coming in upon your life, be like a
light falling upon a gang of conspirators, that would make them huddle
all their implements under their cloaks, and scuttle out of the way as
fast as possible? Or would it be like a gleam of sunshine upon the
flowers, opening out their petals and wooing from them fragrance? Which?

But I turn from such considerations as these to the more immediate
subject of my contemplations in this discourse. I have ventured to take
so great words for my text, though each clause would be more than enough
for many a sermon, because my aim now is a very modest one. I desire
simply to give, in the briefest way, the connection and mutual relation
of these wonderful words; not to attempt any adequate treatment of the
great thoughts which they contain, but only to set forth the meaning and
interdependence of these manifold names for the beams of the divine
light, which are presented here. The chief part of our text sets before
us God in the variety and boundlessness of His loving nature, and the
close of it shows us man sheltering beneath God's wings. These are the
two main themes for our present consideration.

I. We have, first, God in the boundlessness of His loving nature.

The one pure light of the divine nature is broken up, in the prism of
the psalm, into various rays, which theologians call, in their hard,
abstract way, divine attributes. These are 'mercy, faithfulness,
righteousness.' Then we have two sets of divine acts--'judgments,' and
the 'preservation' of man and beast; and finally we have again
'lovingkindness,' as our version has unfortunately been misled, by its
love for varying its translation, to render the same word which begins
the series and is there called 'mercy.'

Now that 'mercy' or 'lovingkindness' of which my text thus speaks, is
very nearly equivalent to the New Testament 'love'; or, perhaps, still
more nearly equivalent to the New Testament 'grace.' Both the one and
the other mean substantially this--active love communicating itself to
creatures that are inferior and that might have expected something else
to befall them. Mercy is a modification of love, inasmuch as it is love
to an inferior. The hand is laid gently upon the man, because if it were
laid with all its weight it would crush him. It is the stooping goodness
of a king to a beggar. And mercy is likewise love in its exercise to
persons that might expect something else, being guilty. As a general
coming to a body of mutineers with pardon and favour upon his lips,
instead of with condemnation and death; so God comes to us forgiving and
blessing. All His goodness is forbearance, and His love is mercy,
because of the weakness, the lowliness, and the ill desert of us on whom
the love falls.

Now notice that this same 'quality of mercy' stands here at the
beginning and at the end. All the attributes of the divine nature, all
the operations of the divine hand lie within the circle of His
mercy--like diamonds set in a golden ring. Mercy, or love flowing out in
blessings to inferior and guilty creatures, is the root and ground of
all God's character; it is the foundation and impulse of all His acts.
Modern science reduces all modes of physical energy to one, for which it
has no name but--energy. We are taught by God's own revelation of
Himself--and most especially by His final and perfect revelation of
Himself in Jesus Christ--to trace all forms of divine energy back to one
which David calls 'mercy,' which John calls 'love.'

It is last as well as first, the final upshot of all revelation. The
last voice that speaks from Scripture has for its special message 'God
is Love.' The last voice that sounds from the completed history of the
world will have the same message, and the ultimate word of all
revelation, the end of the whole of the majestic unfolding of God's
purposes will be the proclamation to the four corners of the universe,
as from the trump of the Archangel, of the name of God as Love. The
northern and the southern poles of the great sphere are one and the
same, a straight axle through the very heart of it, from which the
bounding lines swell out to the equator, and towards which they converge
again on the opposite side of the world. So mercy is the strong
axletree, the northern pole and the southern, on which the whole world
of the divine perfections revolves and moves. The first and last, the
Alpha and Omega of God, beginning and crowning and summing up all His
being and His work, is His mercy, His lovingkindness.

But next to mercy comes faithfulness. 'Thy faithfulness reacheth unto
the clouds.' God's faithfulness is in its narrowest sense His adherence
to His promises. It implies, in that sense, a verbal revelation, and
definite words from Him pledging Him to a certain line of action. 'He
hath said, and shall He not do it?' 'He will not alter the thing that is
gone out of His lips.' It is only a God who has actually spoken to men
who can be a 'faithful God.' He will not palter with a double sense,
'keeping His word of promise to the ear, and breaking it to the hope.'

But not only His articulate promises, but also His own past actions,
bind Him. He is always true to these; and not only continues to do as He
has done, but discharges every obligation which His past imposes on Him.
The ostrich was said to leave its eggs to be hatched in the sand. Men
bring men into positions of dependence, and then lightly shake
responsibility from careless shoulders. But God accepts the cares laid
upon Him by His own acts, and discharges them to the last jot. He is a
'faithful Creator.' Creation brings obligations with it; obligations for
the creature; obligations for the Creator. If God makes a being, God is
bound to take care of the being that He has made. If He makes a being in
a given fashion, He is bound to provide for the necessities that He has
created. According to the old proverb, if He makes mouths it is His
business to feed them. And He recognises the obligation. His past binds
Him to certain conduct in His future. We can lay hold on the former
manifestation, and we can plead it with Him. 'Thou hast been, and
therefore Thou must be.' 'Thou hast taught me to trust in Thee;
vindicate and warrant my trust by Thy unchangeableness.' So His word,
His acts, and His own nature, bind God to bless and help. His
faithfulness is the expression of His unchangeableness. 'Because He
could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.'

Take, then, these two thoughts of God's lovingkindness and of God's
faithfulness and weave them together, and see what a strong cord they
are to which a man may cling, and in all His weakness be sure that it
will never give nor break. Mercy might be transient and arbitrary, but
when you braid in 'faithfulness' along with it, it becomes fixed as the
pillars of heaven, and immutable as the throne of God. Only when we are
sure of God's faithfulness can we lift up thankful voices to Him,
'because His mercy endureth for ever.' A despotic monarch may be all
full of tenderness at this moment, and all full of wrath and sternness
the next. He may have a whim of favour to-day, and a whim of severity
to-morrow, and no man can say, 'What doest thou?' But God is not a
despot. He has, so to speak, 'decreed a constitution.' He has limited
Himself. He has marked out His path across the great wide region of
possibilities of the divine action; He has buoyed out His channel on
that ocean, and declared to us His purposes. So we can reckon on God, as
astronomers can foretell the motions of the stars. We can plead His
faithfulness along with His love, and feel that the one makes sure that
the other shall be from everlasting to everlasting.

The next beam of the divine brightness is righteousness. 'Thy
righteousness is like the great mountains.' Righteousness is not to be
taken here in its narrow sense of stern retribution which gives to the
evildoer the punishment that he deserves. There is no thought here,
whatever there may be in other places in Scripture, of any opposition
between mercy and righteousness, but the notion of righteousness here is
a broader and greater one. It is just this, to put it into other words,
that God has a law for His being to which He conforms; and that
whatsoever things are fair and lovely, and good, and pure down here,
those things are fair, and lovely, and good, and pure up there; that He
is the Archetype of all excellence, the Ideal of all moral completeness:
that we can know enough of Him to be sure of this that what we call
right He loves, and what we call right He practises.

Brethren! unless we have that for the very foundation of our thoughts of
God, we have no foundation to rest on. Unless we feel and know that 'the
Judge of all the earth doeth right,' and is right, and law and
righteousness have their home and seat in His bosom, and are the
expression of His inmost being, then I know not where our confidence can
be built. Unless 'Thy righteousness, like the great mountains,'
surrounds and guards the low plain of our lives, they will lie open to
all foes.

Then, next, we pass from the divine character to the divine acts. Mercy,
faithfulness, and righteousness all converge and flow into the great
river of the divine 'judgments.'

By judgments are not meant merely the acts of God's punitive
righteousness, the retributions that destroy evildoers, but all God's
decisions and acts in regard to man. Or, to put it into other and
briefer words, God's judgments are the whole of the 'ways,' the methods
of the divine government. So Paul, alluding to this very passage when he
says 'How unsearchable are Thy judgments!' adds, as a parallel clause,
meaning the same thing, 'and Thy ways past finding out.' That includes
all which men call, in a narrower sense, judgments, but it includes,
too, all acts of kindness and loving gifts. God's judgments are the
expressions of His thoughts, and these thoughts are thoughts of good and
not of evil.

But notice, in the next place, the boundlessness of all these
characteristics of the divine nature.

'Thy mercy is in the heavens,' towering up above the stars, and dwelling
there, like some divine ether filling all space. The heavens are the
home of light, the source of every blessing, arching over every head,
rimming every horizon, holding all the stars, opening into abysses as we
gaze, with us by night and by day, undimmed by the mist and smoke of
earth, unchanged by the lapse of centuries; ever seen, never reached,
bending over us always, always far above us. So the mercy of God towers
above us, and stoops down towards us, rims us all about and arches over
us all, sheds down its dewy benedictions by night and by day; is filled
with a million stars and light-points of duty and of splendour; is near
us ever to bless and succour and help, and holds us all in its blue
round.

'Thy faithfulness reacheth to the clouds.' Strange that God's fixed
faithfulness should be compared to the very emblems of mutation. The
clouds are unstable, they whirl and melt and change. Strange to think of
the unalterable faithfulness as reaching to them! May it not be that the
very mutability of the mutable may be the means of manifesting the
unalterable sameness of God's faithful purpose, of His unchangeable
love, and of His ever consistent dealings? May not the apparent
incongruity be a part of the felicity of the bold words? Is it not true
that earthly things, as they change their forms and melt away, leaving
no track behind, phantomlike as they are, do still obey the behests of
that divine faithfulness, and gather and dissolve and break in brief
showers of blessing, or short, sharp crashes of storm, at the bidding of
that steadfast purpose which works out one unalterable design by a
thousand instruments, and changeth all things, being in itself
unchanged? The thing that is eternal, even the faithfulness of God,
dwells amid, and shows itself through, the things that are temporal, the
flying clouds of change.

Again, 'Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.' Like these, its
roots are fast and stable; like these, it stands firm for ever; like
these, its summits touch the fleeting clouds of human circumstance; like
these, it is a shelter and a refuge, inaccessible in its steepest peaks,
but affording many a cleft in its rocks, where a man may hide and be
safe. But, unlike these, it knew no beginning, and shall know no end.
Emblems of permanence as they are, though Olivet looks down on Jerusalem
as it did when Melchizedek was its king, and Tabor and Hermon stand as
they did before human lips had named them, they are wearing away by
winter storms and summer heats. But, as Isaiah has taught us, when the
earth is old, God's might and mercy are young; for 'the mountains shall
depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from
thee.' 'The earth shall wax old like a garment, but My righteousness
shall not be abolished.' It is more stable than the mountains, and
firmer than the firmest things upon earth.

Then, with wonderful poetical beauty and vividness of contrast, there
follows upon the emblem of the great mountains of God's righteousness
the emblem of the 'mighty deep' of His judgments. Here towers Vesuvius;
there at its feet lie the waters of the bay. So the righteousness
springs up like some great cliff, rising sheer from the water's edge,
while its feet are laved by the sea of the divine judgments,
unfathomable and shoreless. The mountains and the sea are the two
grandest things in nature, and in their combination sublime; the one the
home of calm and silence, the other in perpetual motion. But the
mountain's roots are deeper than the depths of the sea, and though the
judgments are a mighty deep, the righteousness is deeper, and is the bed
of the ocean.

The metaphor, of course, implies obscurity, but what sort of obscurity?
The obscurity of the sea. And what sort of obscurity is that? Not that
which comes from mud, or anything added, but that which comes from
depth. As far as a man can see down into its blue-green depths they are
clear and translucent; but where the light fails and the eye fails,
there comes what we call obscurity. The sea is clear, but our sight is
limited.

And so there is no arbitrary obscurity in God's dealings, and we know as
much about them as it is possible for us to know; but we cannot see to
the bottom. A man on the cliff can look much deeper into the ocean than
a man on the level beach. The higher you climb the further you will see
down into the 'sea of glass mingled with fire' that lies placid before
God's throne. Let us remember that it is a hazardous thing to judge of a
picture before it is finished; of a building before the scaffolding is
pulled down, and it is as hazardous for us to say about any deed or any
revealed truth that it is inconsistent with the divine character. Wait a
bit; wait a bit! 'Thy judgments are a great deep.' The deep will be
drained off one day, and you will see the bottom of it. 'Judge nothing
before the time.'

But as an aid to patience and faith hearken how the Psalmist finishes up
his contemplations: 'O Lord! Thou preservest man and beast.' Very well
then, all this mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, judgment, high as the
heavens, deep as the ocean, firm as the hills, it is all working for
this--to keep the millions of living creatures round about us, and
ourselves, in life and well-being. The mountain is high, the deep is
profound. Between the mountain and the sea there is a strip of level
land. God's righteousness towers above us; God's judgments go down
beneath us; we can scarcely measure adequately the one or the other. But
upon the level where we live there are the green fields where the cattle
browse, and the birds sing, and men live and till and reap and are fed.
That is to say, we all have enough in the plain, patent facts of
creation and preservation of man and animal life in this world to make
us quite sure of what is the principle that prevails up to the very top
of the inaccessible mountains, and down to the very bottom of the
unfathomable deep. What we know of Him, in the blessings of His love and
providence, ought to interpret for us all that is perplexing. What we
understand is good and loving. Let us be sure that what we do not yet
understand is good and loving too. The web is of one texture throughout.
The least educated ear can catch the music of the simpler melodies which
run through the Great Composer's work. We shall one day be able to
appreciate the yet fuller music of the more recondite parts, which to us
at present seem only jangling and discord. It is not His melody but our
ears that are at fault. But we may well accept the obscurity of the
mighty deep of God's judgment, when we can see plainly that, after all,
the earth is full of His mercy, and that 'the eyes of all things wait on
God, and He giveth them their meat in due season.'

II. So much, then, for the great picture here of these boundless
characteristics of the divine nature. Now let us look for a moment at
the picture of man sheltering beneath God's wings.

'How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of
men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings.' God's
lovingkindness, or mercy, as I explained the word might be rendered, is
_precious_, for that is the true meaning of the word translated
'excellent.' We are rich when we have that for ours; we are poor without
it. Our true wealth is to possess God's love, and to know in thought and
realise in feeling and reciprocate in affection His grace and goodness,
the beauty and perfectness of His wondrous character. That man is
wealthy who has God on his side; that man is a pauper who has not God
for his.

'How precious is Thy lovingkindness, _therefore_ the children of men put
their trust.' There is only one thing that will ever win a man's heart
to love God, and that is that God should love him first, and let him see
it. 'We love Him because He first loved us,' is the New Testament
teaching. Is it not all adumbrated and foretold in these words: 'How
precious is Thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men
put their trust'?

We may be driven to worship after a sort by power; we may be smitten
into some cold admiration, into some kind of reluctant subjection and
trembling reverence, by the manifestation of divine perfections. But
there is only one thing that wins a man's heart, and that is the sight
of God's heart; and it is only when we know how precious His
lovingkindness is that we shall be drawn towards Him.

And then this last verse tells us how we can make God our own: 'They put
their trust under the shadow of Thy wings.' The word here rendered, and
accurately rendered, 'put their trust,' has a very beautiful literal
meaning. It means to flee for refuge, as the manslayer might flee into
the strong city, or as Lot did out of Sodom to the little city on the
hill, or as David did into the cave from his enemies. So, with such
haste, with such intensity, staying for nothing, and with the effort of
your whole will and nature, flee to God. That is trust. Go to Him for
refuge from all evil, from all harm, from your own souls, from all sin,
from hell, and death, and the devil.

Put your trust under 'the shadow of His wings.' That is a beautiful
image, drawn, probably, from the grand words of Deuteronomy, where God
is likened to the 'eagle stirring up her nest, fluttering over her
young,' with tenderness in her fierce eye, and protecting strength in
the sweep of her mighty pinion. So God spreads the covert of His wing,
strong and tender, beneath which we may all gather ourselves and nestle.

And how can we do that? By the simple process of fleeing unto Him, as
made known to us in Christ our Saviour; to hide ourselves there. For let
us not forget how even the tenderness of this metaphor was increased by
its shape on the tender lips of the Lord: 'How often would I have
gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under
her wings!' The Old Testament took the emblem of the eagle, sovereign,
and strong, and fierce; the New Testament took the emblem of the
domestic fowl, peaceable, and gentle, and affectionate. Let us flee to
that Christ, by humble faith with the plea on our lips--

  'Cover my defenceless head
   With the shadow of Thy wing';

and then all the Godhead in its mercy, its faithfulness, its
righteousness, and its judgments will be on our side; and we shall know
how precious is the lovingkindness of the Lord, and find in Him the home
and hiding-place of our hearts for ever.



WHAT MEN FIND BENEATH THE WINGS OF GOD


    'They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house;
    and Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures. 9. For
    with Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light.'
    --PSALM xxxvi. 8, 9.

In the preceding verses we saw a wonderful picture of the boundless
perfections of God; His lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness, and
of His twofold act, the depths of His judgments and the plainness of His
merciful preservation of man and beast. In these verses we have an
equally wonderful picture of the blessedness of the godly, the elements
of which consist in four things: satisfaction, represented under the
emblem of a feast; joy, represented under the imagery of full draughts
from a flowing river of delight; life, pouring from God as a fountain;
light, streaming from Him as source.

And this picture is connected with the previous one by a very simple
link. Who are they who 'shall be abundantly satisfied'? The men 'who put
their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings.' That is to say, the simple
exercise of confidence in God is the channel through which all the
fulness of divinity passes into and fills our emptiness.

Observe, too, that the whole of the blessings here promised are to be
regarded as present and not future. 'They shall be abundantly satisfied'
would be far more truly rendered in consonance with the Hebrew: 'They
_are_ satisfied'; and so also we should read 'Thou _dost_ make them
drink of the river of Thy pleasures; in Thy light _do_ we see light.'
The Psalmist is not speaking of any future blessedness, to be realised
in some far-off, indefinite day to come, but of what is possible even in
this cloudy and sorrowful life. My text was true on the hills of
Palestine, on the day when it was spoken; it may be true amongst the
alleys of Manchester to-day. My purpose at this time is simply to deal
with the four elements in which this blessedness consists--satisfaction,
joy, life, light.

I. Satisfaction: 'They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of
Thy house.'

Now, I suppose, there is a double metaphor in that. There is an
allusion, no doubt, to the festal meal of priests and worshippers in the
Temple, on occasion of the peace-offering, and there is also the simpler
metaphor of God as the Host at His table, at which we are guests. 'Thy
house' may either be, in the narrower sense, the Temple; and then all
life is represented as being a glad sacrificial meal in His presence, of
which 'the meek shall eat and be satisfied,' or Thy 'house' may be taken
in a more general sense; and then all life is represented as the
gathering of children round the abundant board which their Father's
providence spreads for them, and as glad feasting in the 'mansions' of
the Father's house.

In either case the plain teaching of the text is, that by the might of a
calm trust in God the whole mass of a man's desires are filled and
satisfied. What do we want to satisfy us? It is something almost awful
to think of the multiplicity, and the variety, and the imperativeness of
the raging desires which every human soul carries about within it. The
heart is like a nest of callow fledglings, every one of them a great,
wide open, gaping beak, that ever needs to have food put into it. Heart,
mind, will, appetites, tastes, inclinations, weaknesses, bodily
wants--the whole crowd of these are crying for their meat. The Book of
Proverbs says there are three things that are never satisfied: the
grave, the earth that is not filled with water, and the fire that never
says, 'It is enough.' And we may add a fourth, the human heart,
insatiable as the grave; thirsty as the sands, on which you may pour
Niagara, and it will drink it all up and be ready for more; fierce as
the fire that licks up everything within reach and still hungers.

So, though we be poor and weak creatures, we want much to make us
restful. We want no less than that every appetite, desire, need,
inclination shall be filled to the full; that all shall be filled to the
full at once, and that by one thing; that all shall be filled to the
full at once, by one thing that shall last for ever. Else we shall be
like men whose store of provision gives out before they are half-way
across the desert. And we need that all our desires shall be filled at
once by one thing that is so much greater than ourselves that we shall
grow up towards it, and towards it, and towards it, and yet never be
able to exhaust or surpass it.

Where are you going to get that? There is only one answer, dear
brethren! to the question, and that is--God, and God alone is the food
of the heart; God, and God alone, will satisfy your need. Let us bring
the full Christian truth to bear upon the illustration of these words.
Who was it that said, 'I am the Bread of Life. He that cometh unto Me
shall never hunger'? Christ will feed my mind with truth if I will
accept His revelation of Himself, of God, and of all things. Christ will
feed my heart with love if I will open my heart for the entrance of His
love. Christ will feed my will with blessed commands if I will submit
myself to His sweet and gentle, and yet imperative, authority. Christ
will satisfy all my longings and desires with His own great fulness.
Other food palls upon man's appetite, and we wish for change; and
physiologists tell us that a less wholesome and nutritious diet, if
varied, is better for a man's health than a more nutritious one if
uniform and monotonous. But in Christ there are all constituents that
are needed for the building up of the human spirit, and so we never
weary of Him if we only know His sweetness. After a world of hungry men
have fed upon Him, He remains inexhaustible as at the beginning; like
the bread in His own miracles, of which the pieces that were broken and
ready to be given to the eaters were more than the original stock, as it
appeared when the meal began, or like the fabled feast in the Norse
Walhalla, to which the gods sit down to-day, and to-morrow it is all
there on the board, as abundant and full as ever. So if we have Christ
to live upon, we shall know no hunger; and 'in the days of famine we
shall be satisfied.'

O brethren! have you ever known what it is to feel that your hungry
heart is at rest? Did you ever know what it is to say, 'It is enough'?
Have you anything that satisfies your appetite and makes you blessed?
Surely, men's eager haste to get more of the world's dainties shows that
there is no satisfaction at its table. Why will you 'spend your money
for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth
not,' as Indians in famine eat clay which fills their stomachs, but
neither stays hunger, nor ministers strength? Eat and your soul shall
live.

II. Now, turn to the next of the elements of blessedness here--Joy.
'Thou makest them drink of the river of Thy pleasures.'

There may be a possible reference here, couched in the word 'pleasures,'
to the Garden of Eden, with the river that watered it parting into four
heads; for 'Eden' is the singular of the word which is here translated
'pleasures' or 'delight.' If we take that reference, which is very
questionable, there would be suggested the thought that amidst all the
pain and weariness of this desert life of ours, though the gates of
Paradise are shut against us, they who dwell beneath the shadow of the
divine wing really have a paradise blooming around them; and have
flowing ever by their side, with tinkling music, the paradisaical river
of delights, in which they may bathe and swim, and of which they may
drink. Certainly the joys of communion with God surpass any which
unfallen Eden could have boasted.

But, at all events, the plain teaching of the text is that the simple
act of trusting beneath the shadow of God's wings brings to us an ever
fresh and flowing river of gladness, of which we may drink. The whole
conception of religion in the Bible is gladsome. There is no puritanical
gloom about it. True, a Christian man has sources of sadness which other
men have not. There is the consciousness of his own sin, and the contest
that he has daily to wage; and all things take a soberer colouring to
the eye that has been accustomed to look, however dimly, upon God. Many
of the sources of earthly felicity are dammed up and shut off from us if
we are living beneath the shadow of God's wings. Life will seem to be
sterner, and graver, and sadder than the lives 'that ring with idiot
laughter solely,' and have no music because they have no melancholy in
them. That cannot be helped. But what does it matter though two or three
surface streams, which are little better than drains for sewage, be
stopped up, if the 'pure river of the water of life' is turned into your
hearts? Surely it will be a gain if the sadness which has joy for its
very foundation is yours, instead of the laughter which is only a
mocking mask for a death's head, and of which it is true that even 'in
laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is
heaviness.' Better to be 'sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,' than to be
glad on the surface, with a perpetual sorrow and unrest gnawing at the
root of your life.

And if it be true that the whole Biblical conception of religion is of a
glad thing, then, my brother! it is your duty, if you are a Christian
man, to be glad, whatever temptations there may be in your way to be
sorrowful. It is a hard lesson, and one which is not always insisted
upon. We hear a great deal about other Christian duties. We do not hear
so much as we ought about the Christian duty of gladness. It takes a
very robust faith to say, 'Though the fig-tree shall not blossom,
neither shall fruit be in the vine, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I
will joy in the God of my salvation,' but unless we can say it, there is
an attainment of Christian life yet unreached, to which we have to
aspire.

But be that as it may, my point is simply this--that all real and
profound possession of, and communion with, God in Christ will make us
glad; glad with a gladness altogether unlike that of the world round
about us, far deeper, far quieter, far nobler, the sister and the ally
of all great things, of all pure life, of all generous and lofty
thought. And where is it to be found? Only in fellowship with Him. 'The
river of Thy pleasures' may mean something yet more solemn and wonderful
than pleasures of which He is the Author. It may mean pleasures _which
He shares_, the very delights of the divine nature itself. The more we
come into fellowship with Him, the more shall we share in the very joy
of God Himself. And what is His joy? He delights in mercy; He delights
in self-communication: He is the blessed, the happy God, because He is
the giving God. He delights in His love. He 'rejoices over' His penitent
child 'with singing,'

In that blessedness we may share; or if that be too high and mystical a
thought, may we not remember who it was that said: 'These things speak I
unto you that My joy may remain in you'; and who it is that will one day
say to the faithful servant: 'Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'?
Christ makes us drink of the river of His pleasures. The Shepherd and
the sheep drink from the same stream, and the gladness which filled the
heart of the Man of Sorrows, and lay deeper than all His sorrows, He
imparts to all them that put their trust in Him.

So, dear brethren! what a blessing it is for us to have, as we may have,
a source of joy, frozen by no winter, dried up by no summer, muddied and
corrupted by no iridescent scum of putrefaction which ever mantles over
the stagnant ponds of earthly joys! Like some citadel that has an
unfailing well in its courtyard, we may have a fountain of gladness
within ourselves which nothing that touches the outside can cut off. We
have but to lap a hasty mouthful of earthly joys as we run, but we
cannot drink too full draughts of this pure river of water which makes
glad the city of God.

III. We have the third element of the blessedness of the godly
represented under the metaphor of Life, pouring from the fountain, which
is God. 'With Thee is the fountain of life.'

The words are true in regard to the lowest meaning of 'life'--physical
existence--and they give a wonderful idea of the connection between God
and all living creatures. The fountain rises, the spray on the summit
catches the sunlight for a moment, and then falls into the basin, jet
after jet springing up into the light, and in its turn recoiling into
the darkness. The water in the fountain, the water in the spray, the
water in the basin, are all one. Wherever there is life there is God.
The creature is bound to the Creator by a mystic bond and tie of
kinship, by the fact of life. The mystery of life knits all living
things with God. It is a spark, wherever it burns, from the central
flame. It is a drop, wherever it is found, from the great fountain. It
is in man the breath of God's nostrils. It is not a gift given by a
Creator who dwells apart, having made living things, as a watchmaker
might a watch, and then 'seeing them go.' But there is a deep mystic
union between the God who has life in Himself and all the living
creatures who draw their life from Him, which we cannot express better
than by that image of our text, 'With Thee is the fountain of life.'

But my text speaks about a blessing belonging to the men who put their
trust under the shadow of God's wing, and therefore it does not refer
merely to physical existence, but to something higher than that, namely,
to that life of the spirit in communion with God, which is the true and
the proper sense of 'life'; the one, namely, in which the word is almost
always used in the Bible.

There is such a thing as death in life; living men may be 'dead in
trespasses and sins,' 'dead in pleasure,' dead in selfishness. The awful
vision of Coleridge in the _Ancient Mariner_, of dead men standing up
and pulling at the ropes, is only a picture of the realities of life;
where, as on some Witches' Sabbath, corpses move about and take part in
the activities of this dead world. There are people full of energy in
regard of worldly things, who yet are all dead to that higher region,
the realities of which they have never seen, the actions of which they
have never done, the emotions of which they have never felt. Am I
speaking to such living corpses now? There are some of my audience alive
to the world, alive to animalism, alive to lust, alive to passion, alive
to earth, alive perhaps to thought, alive to duty, alive to conduct of a
high and noble kind, but yet dead to God, and, therefore, dead to the
highest and noblest of all realities. Answer for yourselves the
question--do you belong to this class?

There is life for you in Jesus Christ, who '_is_ the Life.' Like the
great aqueducts that stretch from the hills across the Roman Campagna,
His Incarnation brings the waters of the fountain from the mountains of
God into the lower levels of our nature, and the fetid alleys of our
sins. The cool, sparkling treasure is carried near to every lip. If we
drink, we live. If we will not, we die in our sins, and are dead whilst
we live. Stop the fountain, and what becomes of the stream? It fades
there between its banks, and is no more. You cannot even live the animal
life except that life were joined to Him. If it could be broken away
from God it would disappear as the clouds melt in the sky, and there
would be nobody, and you would be nowhere. You cannot break yourself
away from God _physically_ so completely as to annihilate yourself. You
can do so _spiritually_, and some of you do it, and the consequence is
that you are dead, _dead_, DEAD! You can be made 'alive from the dead,'
if you will lay hold on Jesus Christ, and get His life-giving Spirit
into your hearts.

IV. Light. 'In Thy light shall we see light.'

God is 'the Father of lights.' The sun and all the stars are only lights
kindled by Him. It is the very crown of revelation that 'God is light,
and in Him is no darkness at all.' Light seems to the unscientific eye,
which knows nothing about undulations of a luminiferous ether, to be the
least material of material things. All joyous things come with it. It
brings warmth and fruit, fulness and life. Purity, and gladness, and
knowledge have been symbolised by it in all tongues. The Scripture uses
light, and the sun, which is its source, as an emblem for God in His
holiness, and blessedness, and omniscience. This great word here seems
to point chiefly to light as knowledge.

This saying is true, as the former clause was, in relation to all the
light which men have. 'The inspiration of the Almighty giveth him
understanding.' The faculties by which men know, and all the exercise of
those faculties, are His gift. It is in the measure in which God's light
comes to the eye that the eye beholds. 'Light' may mean not only the
faculty, but the medium of vision. It is in the measure in which God's
light comes, and because His light comes, that all light of reason in
human nature sees the truth which is its light. God is the Author of all
true thoughts in all mankind. The spirit of man is a candle kindled by
the Lord.

But as I said about life, so I say about light. The material or
intellectual aspects of the word are not the main ones here. The
reference is to the spiritual gift which belongs to the men 'who put
their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings.' In communion with Him who
is the Light as well as the Life of men, we see a whole universe of
glories, realities, and brightnesses. Where other eyes see only
darkness, we behold 'the King in His beauty, and the land that is very
far off.' Where other men see only cloudland and mists, our vision will
pierce into the unseen, and there behold 'the things which are,' the
only real things, of which all that the eye of sense sees are only the
fleeting shadows, seen as in a dream, while these are the true, and the
sight of them is sight indeed. They who see by the light of God, and see
light therein, have a vision which is more than imagination, more than
opinion, more than belief. It is certitude. Communication with God does
not bring with it superior intellectual perspicuity, but it does bring a
perception of spiritual realities and relations, which, in respect of
clearness and certainty, may be called sight. Many of us walk in
darkness, who, if we were but in communion with God, would see the lone
hillside blazing with chariots and horses of fire. Many of us grope in
perplexity, who, if we were but hiding under the shadow of God's wings,
would see the truth and walk at liberty in the light, which is knowledge
and purity and joy.

In communication with God, we see light upon all the paths of duty. It
is wonderful how, when a man lives near God, he gets to know what he
ought to do. That great Light, which is Christ, is like the star that
hung over the Magi, blazing in the heavens, and yet stooping to the
lowly task of guiding three wayfaring men along a muddy road upon earth.
So the highest Light of God comes down to be 'a lantern for our paths
and a light for our feet.'

And in the same communion with God, we get light in all seasons of
darkness and of sorrow. 'To the upright there ariseth light in the
darkness'; and the darkest hours of earthly fortune will be like a
Greenland summer night, when the sun scarcely dips below the horizon,
and even when it is absent, all the heaven is aglow with a calm
twilight.

All these great blessings belong to-day to those who take refuge under
the shadow of His wings. But blessed as the present experience is, we
have to look for the perfecting of it when we pass from the forecourt to
the inner sanctuary, and in that higher house sit with Christ at His
table and feast at 'the marriage supper of the Lamb.' Here we drink from
the river, but there we shall be carried up to the source. The life of
God in the soul is here often feeble in its flow, 'a fountain sealed'
and all but shut up in our hearts, but there it will pour through all
our being, a fountain springing up into everlasting life. The darkness
is scattered even here by beams of the true light, but here we are only
in the morning twilight, and many clouds still fill the sky, and many a
deep gorge lies in sunless shadow, but there the light shall be a broad
universal blaze, and there shall be 'nothing hid from the heat thereof.'

Now, dear brethren! the sum of the whole matter is, that all this
fourfold blessing of satisfaction, joy, life, light, is given to you, if
you will take Christ. He will feed you with the bread of God; He will
give you His own joy to drink; He will be in you the life of your lives,
and 'the master-light of all your seeing.' And if you will not have Him,
you will starve, and your lips will be cracked with thirst; and you will
live a life which is death, and you will sink at last into outer
darkness.

Is that the fate which you are going to choose? Choose Christ, and He
will give you satisfaction, and joy, and life, and light.



THE SECRET OF TRANQUILLITY


    'Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the
    desires of thine heart 5. Commit thy way unto the Lord.... 7. Rest
    in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.'--PSALM xxxvii. 4, 5, 7.

'I have been young, and now am old,' says the writer of this psalm. Its
whole tone speaks the ripened wisdom and autumnal calm of age. The dim
eyes have seen and survived so much, that it seems scarcely worth while
to be agitated by what ceases so soon. He has known so many bad men
blasted in all their leafy verdure, and so many languishing good men
revived, that--

  'Old experience doth attain
   To something of prophetic strain';

and is sure that 'to trust in the Lord and do good' ever brings peace
and happiness. Life with its changes has not soured but quieted him. It
does not seem to him an endless maze, nor has he learned to despise it.
He has learned to see God in it all, and that has cleared its confusion,
as the movements of the planets, irregular and apparently opposite, when
viewed from the earth, are turned into an ordered whole, when the sun is
taken for the centre. What a contrast between the bitter cynicism put
into the lips of the son, and the calm cheerful godliness taught,
according to our psalm, by the father! To Solomon, old age is
represented as bringing the melancholy creed, 'All is vanity'; David
believes, 'Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the
desires of thine heart.' Which style of old age is the nobler? what kind
of life will lead to each?

These clauses, which I have ventured to isolate from their context,
contain the elements which secure peace even in storms and troubles. I
think that, if we consider them carefully, we shall see that there is a
well-marked progress in them. They do not cover the same ground by any
means; but each of the later flows from the former. Nobody can 'commit
his way unto the Lord' who has not begun by 'delighting in the Lord';
and nobody can 'rest in the Lord' who has not 'committed his way to the
Lord.' These three precepts, then, the condensed result of the old man's
lifelong experience, open up for our consideration the secret of
tranquillity. Let us think of them in order.

I. Here is the secret of tranquillity in freedom from eager, earthly
desires--'Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the
desires of thine heart.'

The great reason why life is troubled and restless lies not without, but
within. It is not our changing circumstances, but our unregulated
desires, that rob us of peace. We are feverish, not because of the
external temperature, but because of the state of our own blood. The
very emotion of desire disturbs us; wishes make us unquiet; and when a
whole heart, full of varying, sometimes contradictory longings, is
boiling within a man, how can he but tremble and quiver? One desire
unfulfilled is enough to banish tranquillity; but how can it survive a
dozen dragging different ways? A deep lesson lies in that word
_distraction_, which has come to be so closely attached to _desires_;
the lesson that all eager longing tears the heart asunder. Unbridled and
varying wishes, then, are the worst enemies of our repose.

And, still further, they destroy tranquillity by putting us at the mercy
of externals. Whatsoever we make necessary for our contentment, we make
lord of our happiness. By our eager desires we give perishable things
supreme power over us, and so intertwine our being with theirs, that the
blow which destroys them lets out our life-blood. And, therefore, we are
ever disturbed by apprehensions and shaken by fears. We tie ourselves to
these outward possessions, as Alpine travellers to their guides, and so,
when they slip on the icy slopes, their fall is our death. If we were
not eager to stand on the giddy top of fortune's rolling wheel, we
should not heed its idle whirl; but we let our foolish hearts set our
feet there, and thenceforward every lurch of the glittering instability
threatens to lame or kill us. He who desires fleeting joys is sure to be
restless always, and to be disappointed at the last. For, even at the
best, the heart which depends for peace on the continuance of things
subjected to a thousand accidents, can only know quietness by forcibly
closing its eyes against the inevitable; and, even at the best, such a
course must end on the whole in failure. Disappointment is the law for
all earthly desires; for appetite increases with indulgence, and as it
increases, satisfaction decreases. The food remains the same, but its
power to appease hunger diminishes. Possession bring indifference. The
dose that lulls into delicious dreams to-day must be doubled to-morrow,
if it is to do anything; and there is soon an end of that. Each of your
earthly joys fills but a part of your being, and all the other ravenous
longings either come shrieking at the gate of the soul's palace, like a
mob yelling for bread, or are starved into silence; but either way there
is disquiet. And then, if a man has fixed his happiness on anything
lower than the stars, less stable than the heavens, less sufficient than
God, there does come, sooner or later, a time when it passes from him,
or he from it. Do not venture the rich freightage of your happiness in
crazy vessels. If you do, be sure that, somewhere or other, before your
life is ended, the poor frail craft will strike on some black rock
rising sheer from the depths, and will grind itself to chips there. If
your life twines round any prop but God your strength, be sure that,
some time or other, the stay to which its tendrils cling will be plucked
up, and the poor vine will be lacerated, its clusters crushed, and its
sap will bleed out of it.

If, then, our desires are, in their very exercise, a disturbance, and in
their very fruition prophesy disappointment, and if that certain
disappointment is irrevocable and crushing when it comes, what shall we
do for rest? Dear brethren! there is but one answer--'Delight thyself in
the Lord.' These eager desires, transfer to Him; on Him let the
affections fix and fasten; make Him the end of your longings, the food
of your spirits. This is the purest, highest form of religious
emotion--when we can say, 'Whom have I but Thee? possessing Thee I
desire none beside.' And this glad longing for God is the cure for all
the feverish unrest of desires unfulfilled, as well as for the ague fear
of loss and sorrow. Quietness fills the soul which delights in the Lord,
and its hunger is as blessed and as peaceful as its satisfaction.

Think how surely rest comes with delighting in God. For that soul must
needs be calm which is freed from the distraction of various desires by
the one master-attraction. Such a soul is still as the great river above
the falls, when all the side currents and dimpling eddies and backwaters
are effaced by the attraction that draws every drop in the one
direction; or like the same stream as it nears its end, and, forgetting
how it brawled among rocks and flowers in the mountain glens, flows with
a calm and equable motion to its rest in the central sea. Let the
current of your being set towards God, then your life will be filled and
calmed by one master-passion which unites and stills the soul.

And for another reason there will be peace: because in such a case
desire and fruition go together. 'He shall give thee the desires of
thine heart.' Only do not vulgarise that great promise by making it out
to mean that, if we will be good, He will give us the earthly blessings
which we wish. Sometimes we shall get them, and sometimes not; but our
text goes far deeper than that. God Himself is the heart's desire of
those who delight in Him; and the blessedness of longing fixed on Him is
that it ever fulfils itself. They who want God have Him. Your truest joy
is in His fellowship and His grace. If, set free from creatural
delights, our wills reach out towards God, as a plant growing in
darkness to the light--then we shall wish for nothing contrary to Him,
and the wishes which run parallel to His purposes, and embrace Himself
as their only good, cannot be vain. The sunshine flows into the opened
eye, the breath of life into the expanding lung--so surely, so
immediately the fulness of God fills the waiting, wishing soul. To
delight in God is to possess our delight. Heart! lift up thy gates: open
and raise the narrow, low portals, and the King of Glory will stoop to
enter.

Once more: desire after God will bring peace by putting all other wishes
in their right place. The counsel in our text does not enjoin the
extinction, but the subordination, of other needs and appetites--'Seek
ye _first_ the kingdom of God.' Let that be the dominant desire which
controls and underlies all the rest. Seek for God in everything, and for
everything in God. Only thus will you be able to bridle those cravings
which else tear the heart. The presence of the king awes the crowd into
silence. When the full moon is in the nightly sky, it sweeps the heavens
bare of flying cloud-rack, and all the twinkling stars are lost in the
peaceful, solitary splendour. So let delight in God rise in our souls,
and lesser lights pale before it--do not cease to be, but add their
feebleness, unnoticed, to its radiance. The more we have our affections
set on God, the more shall we enjoy, because we subordinate, His gifts.
The less, too, shall we dread their loss, the less be at the mercy of
their fluctuations. The capitalist does not think so much of the year's
gains as does the needy adventurer, to whom they make the difference
between bankruptcy and competence. If you have God for your 'enduring
substance,' you can face all varieties of condition, and be calm,
saying--

  'Give what Thou canst, without Thee I am poor,
   And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.'

The amulet that charms away disquiet lies here. Still thine eager
desires, arm thyself against feverish hopes, and shivering fears, and
certain disappointment, and cynical contempt of all things; make sure of
fulfilled wishes and abiding joys. 'Delight thyself in the Lord, and He
shall give thee the desires of thine heart.'

II. But this is not all. The secret of tranquillity is found, secondly,
in freedom from the perplexity of choosing our path.

'Commit thy way unto the Lord'--or, as the margin says, 'roll' it upon
God; leave to Him the guidance of thy life, and thou shalt be at peace
on the road.

This is a word for all life, not only for its great occasions. Twice, or
thrice, perhaps in a lifetime, a man's road leads him up to a high
dividing point, a watershed as it were, whence the rain runs from the
one side of the ridge to the Pacific, and from the other to the
Atlantic. His whole future may depend on his bearing the least bit to
the right hand or to the left, and all the slopes below, on either side,
are wreathed in mist. Powerless as he is to see before him, he has yet
to choose, and his choice determines the rest of his days. Certainly he
needs some guidance then. But he needs it not less in the small
decisions of every hour. Our histories are made up of a series of
trifles, in each of which a separate act of will and choice is involved.
Looking to the way in which character is made, as coral reefs are built
up, by a multitude of tiny creatures whose united labours are strong
enough to breast the ocean; looking to the mysterious way in which the
greatest events in our lives have the knack of growing out of the
smallest; looking to the power of habit to make any action of the mind
almost instinctive: it is of far more importance that we should become
accustomed to apply this precept of seeking guidance from God to the
million trifles than to the two or three decisions which, at the time of
making them, we know to be weighty. Depend upon it that, if we have not
learned the habit of committing the daily-recurring monotonous steps to
Him, we shall find it very, very hard to seek His help, when we come to
a fork in the road. So this is a command for all life, not only for its
turning-points.

What does it prescribe? First, the subordination--not the extinction--of
our own _inclinations_. We must begin by ceasing from self. Not that we
are to cast out of consideration our own wishes. These are an element in
every decision, and often are our best helps to the knowledge of our
powers and of our duties. But we have to take special care that they
never in themselves settle the question. They are second, not first.
'Thus I will, and therefore thus I decide; my wish is enough for a
reason,' is the language of a tyrant over others, but of a slave to
himself. Our first question is to be, not 'What should I like?' but
'What does God will, if I can by any means discover it?' Wishes are to
be held in subordination to Him. Our will is to be master of our
passions, and desires, and whims, and habits, but to be servant of God.
It should silence all their cries, and itself be silent, that God may
speak. Like the lawgiver-captain in the wilderness, it should stand
still at the head of the ordered rank, ready for the march, but
motionless, till the Pillar lifts from above the sanctuary. Yes! 'Commit
thy way'--unto whom? Conscience? No: unto Duty? No: but 'unto
God'--which includes all these lower laws, and a whole universe besides.
Hold the will in equilibrium, that His finger may incline the balance.

Then the counsel of our text prescribes the submission of our _judgment_
to God, in the confidence that His wisdom will guide us. Committing our
way unto the Lord does not mean shifting the trouble of patient thought
about our duty off our own shoulders. It is no cowardly abnegation of
the responsibility of choice which is here enjoined; nor is there any
sanction of lazily taking the first vagrant impulse, wafted we know not
whence, that rises in the mind, for the voice of God. But, just because
we are to commit our way to Him, we are bound to the careful exercise of
the best power of our own brains, that we may discover what the will of
God is. He does not reveal that will to people who do not care to know
it. I suppose the precursor of all visions of Him, which have calmed His
servants' souls with the peace of a clearly recognised duty, has been
their cry, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' God counsels men who
use their own wits to find out His counsel. He speaks to us through our
judgments when they take all the ordinary means of ascertaining our
course. The law is: Do your best to find out your duty; suppress
inclination, and desire to do God's will, and He will certainly tell you
what it is. I, for my part, believe that the Psalmist spoke a truth when
he said, 'In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy
steps.' Only let the eye be fixed on Him, and He will guide us in the
way. If we chiefly desire, and with patient impartiality try, to be
directed by Him, we shall never want for direction.

But all this is possible only if we 'delight in the Lord.' Nothing else
will still our desires--the voice within, and the invitations without,
which hinder us from hearing the directions of our Guide. Nothing else
will so fasten up and muzzle the wild passions and lusts that a little
child may lead them. To delight in Him is the condition of all wise
judgment. For the most part, it is not hard to discover God's will
concerning us, if we supremely desire to know and do it; and such
supreme desire is but the expression of this supreme delight in Him.
Such a disposition wonderfully clears away mists and perplexities; and
though there will still remain ample scope for the exercise of our best
judgment, and for reliance on Him to lead us, yet he whose single object
is to walk in the way that God points, will seldom have to stand still
in uncertainty as to what that way is. 'If thine eye be single, thy
whole body shall be full of light.'

Thus, dear brethren! these two keys--joy in God, and trust in His
guidance--open for us the double doors of 'the secret place of the Most
High'; where all the roar of the busy world dies upon the ear, and the
still small voice of the present God deepens the silence, and hushes the
heart. Be quiet, and you will hear Him speak--delight in Him, that you
may be quiet. Let the affections feed on Him, the will wait mute before
Him, till His command inclines it to decision, and quickens it into
action; let the desires fix upon His all-sufficiency; and then the
wilderness will be no more trackless, but the ruddy blaze of the guiding
pillar will brighten on the sand a path which men's hands have never
made, nor human feet trodden into a road. He will 'guide us with His
eye,' if our eyes be fixed on Him, and be swift to discern and eager to
obey the lightest glance that love can interpret. Shall we be 'like the
horse or the mule, which have no understanding,' and need to be pulled
with bridles and beaten with whips before they know how to go; or shall
we be like some trained creature that is guided by the unseen cord of
docile submission, and has learned to read the duty, which is its joy,
in the glance of its master's eye, or the wave of his hand? 'Delight
thyself in the Lord: commit thy way unto Him.'

III. Our text takes one more step. The secret of tranquillity is found,
thirdly, in freedom from the anxiety of an unknown future. 'Best in the
Lord, and wait patiently for Him.'

Such an addition to these previous counsels is needful, if all the
sources of our disquiet are to be dealt with. The future is dim, after
all our straining to see into its depths. The future is threatening,
after all our efforts to prepare for its coming storms. A rolling vapour
veils it all; here and there a mountain peak seems to stand out; but in
a moment another swirl of the fog hides it from us. We know so little,
and what we do know is so sad, that the ignorance of what may be, and
the certainty of what must be, equally disturb us with hopes which melt
into fears, and forebodings which consolidate into certainties. We are
sure that in that future are losses, and sorrows, and death; thank God!
we are sure too, that He is in it. That certainty alone, and what comes
of it, makes it possible for a thoughtful man to face to-morrow without
fear or tumult. The only rest from apprehensions which are but too
reasonable is 'rest in the Lord.' If we are sure that He will be there,
and if we delight in Him, then we can afford to say, 'As for all the
rest, let it be as He wills, it will be well.' That thought alone, dear
friends! will give calmness. What else is there, brethren! for a man
fronting that vague future, from whose weltering sea such black,
sharp-toothed rocks protrude? Shall we bow before some stern Fate, as
its lord, and try to be as stern as It? Shall we think of some frivolous
Chance, as tossing its unguided waves, and try to be as frivolous as It?
Shall we try to be content with an animal limitation to the present, and
heighten the bright colour of the little to-day by the black background
that surrounds it, saying, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die'?
Is it not better, happier, nobler, every way truer, to look into that
perilous uncertain future, or rather to look past it to the loving
Father who is its Lord and ours, and to wait patiently for Him?
Confidence that the future will but evolve God's purposes, and that all
these are enlisted on our side, will give peace and power. Without it
all is chaos, and we flying atoms in the anarchic mass; or else all is
coldblooded impersonal law, and we crushed beneath its chariot-wheels.
Here, and here alone, is the secret of tranquillity.

But remember, brethren! that the peaceful confidence of this final
counsel is legitimate only when we have obeyed the other two. I have no
business, for instance, to expect God to save me from the natural
consequences of my own worldliness or folly. If I have taken up a course
from eager desires for earthly good, or from obedience to any
inclination of my own without due regard to His will, I have no right,
when things begin to go awry, to turn round to God and say, 'Lord! I
wait upon Thee to save me.' And though repentance, and forsaking of our
evil ways at any point in a man's course, do ensure, through Jesus
Christ, God's loving forgiveness, yet the evil consequences of past
folly are often mercifully suffered to remain with us all our days. He
who has delighted in the Lord, and committed his way unto Him, can
venture to front whatever may be coming; and though not without much
consciousness of sin and weakness, can yet cast upon God the burden of
taking care of him, and claim from his faithful Father the protection
and the peace which He has bound Himself to give.

And O dear friends! what a calm will enter our souls then, solid,
substantial, 'the peace of God,' gift and effluence from the 'God of
peace'! How blessed then to leave all the possible to-morrow with a very
quiet heart in His hands! How easy then to bear the ignorance, how
possible then to face the certainties, of that solemn future! Change and
death can only thin away and finally remove the film that separates us
from our delight. Whatever comes here or yonder can but bring us
blessing; for we must be glad if we have God, and if our wills are
parallel with His, whose Will all things serve. Our way is traced by
Him, and runs alongside of His. It leads to Himself. Then rest in the
Lord, and 'judge nothing before the time.' We cannot criticise the Great
Artist when we stand before His unfinished masterpiece, and see dim
outlines here, a patch of crude colour there. But wait patiently for
Him, and so, in calm expectation of a blessed future and a finished
work, which will explain the past, in honest submission of our way to
God, in supreme delight in Him who is the gladness of our joy, the
secret of tranquillity will be ours.



THE BITTERNESS AND BLESSEDNESS OF THE BREVITY OF LIFE

    'Surely every man walketh in a vain shew.... 12. I am a stranger
    with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.'
    --PSALM xxxix. 6, 12.

These two sayings are two different ways of putting the same thing.
There is a common thought underlying both, but the associations with
which that common thought is connected in these two verses are
distinctly different. The one is bitter and sad--a gloomy half truth.
The other, out of the very same fact, draws blessedness and hope. The
one may come from no higher point of view than the level of worldly
experience; the other is a truth of faith. The former is at best
partial, and without the other may be harmful; the latter completes,
explains, and hallows it.

And that this progress and variety in the thought is the key to the
whole psalm is, I think, obvious to any one who will examine it with
care. I cannot here enter on that task but in the hastiest fashion, by
way of vindicating the connection which I trace between the two verses
of our text. The Psalmist begins, then, with telling how at some time
recently passed--in consequence of personal calamity not very clearly
defined, but apparently some bodily sickness aggravated by mental sorrow
and anxiety--he was struck dumb with silence, so that he 'held his peace
even from good.' In that state there rose within him many sad and
miserable thoughts, which at last forced their way through his locked
lips. They shape themselves into a prayer, which is more complaint than
petition--and which is absorbed in the contemplation of the manifest
melancholy facts of human life--'Thou hast made my days as an
handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before Thee.' And then, as that
thought dilates and sinks deeper into his soul, he looks out upon the
whole race of man--and in tones of bitterness and hopelessness, affirms
that all are vanity, shadows, disquieted in vain. The blank hopelessness
of such a view brings him to a standstill. It is true--but taken alone
is too dreadful to think of. 'That way madness lies,'--so he breaks
short off his almost despairing thoughts, and with a swift turning away
of his mind from the downward gaze into blackness that was beginning to
make him reel, he fixes his eyes on the throne above--'And now, Lord!
what wait I for? my hope is in Thee.' These words form the turning-point
of the psalm. After them, the former thoughts are repeated, but with
what a difference--made by looking at all the blackness and sorrow, both
personal and universal, in the bright light of that hope which streams
upon the most lurid masses of opaque cloud, till their gloom begins to
glow with an inward lustre, and softens into solemn purples and reds. He
had said, 'I was dumb with silence--even from good.' But when his hope
is in God, the silence changes its character and becomes resignation and
submission. 'I opened not my mouth; because Thou didst it.' The variety
of human life and its transiency is not less plainly seen than before;
but in the light of that hope it is regarded in relation to God's
paternal correction, and is seen to be the consequence, not of a defect
in His creative wisdom or love, but of man's sin. 'Thou with rebukes
dost correct man for iniquity.' That, to him who waits on the Lord, is
the reason and the alleviation of the reiterated conviction, 'Every man
is vanity.' Not any more does he say every man 'at his best state,' or,
as it might be more accurately expressed, 'even when most firmly
established,'--for the man who is established in the Lord is not vanity,
but only the man who founds his being on the fleeting present. Then,
things being so, life being thus in itself and apart from God so
fleeting and so sad, and yet with a hope that brightens it like sunshine
through an April shower--the Psalmist rises to prayer, in which that
formerly expressed conviction of the brevity of life is reiterated, with
the addition of two words which changes its whole aspect, 'I am a
stranger _with Thee_.' He is God's guest in his transient life. It is
short, like the stay of a foreigner in a strange land; but he is under
the care of the King of the Land--therefore he need not fear nor sorrow.
Past generations, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--whose names God 'is not
ashamed' to appeal to in His own solemn designation of Himself--have
held the same relation, and their experience has sealed His faithful
care of those who dwell with Him. Therefore, the sadness is soothed, and
the vain and fleeting life of earth assumes a new appearance, and the
most blessed and wisest issue of our consciousness of frailty and
insufficiency is the fixing of our desires and hopes on Him in whose
house we may dwell even while we wander to and fro, and in whom our life
being rooted and established shall not be vain, howsoever it may be
brief.

If, then, we follow the course of contemplation thus traced in the
psalm, we have these three points brought before us--first, the thought
of life common to both clauses; second, the gloomy, aimless hollowness
which that thought breathes into life apart from God; third, the
blessedness which springs from the same thought when we look at it in
connection with our Father in heaven.

I. Observe the very forcible expression which is given here to the
thought of life common to both verses.

'Every man walketh in a vain show.' The original is even more striking
and strong. And although one does not like altering words so familiar as
those of our translation, which have sacredness from association and a
melancholy music in their rhythm--still it is worth while to note that
the force of the expression which the Psalmist employs is correctly
given in the margin, 'in an image'--or 'in a shadow.' The phrase sounds
singular to us, but is an instance of a common enough Hebrew idiom, and
is equivalent to saying--he walks in the character or likeness of a
shadow, or, as we should say, he walks as a shadow. That is to say, the
whole outward life and activity of every man is represented as fleeting
and unsubstantial, like the reflection of a cloud which darkens leagues
of the mountains' side in a moment, and ere a man can say, 'Behold!' is
gone again for ever.

Then, look at the other image employed in the other clause of our text
to express the same idea, 'I am a stranger and a sojourner, as all my
fathers.' The phrase has a history. In that most pathetic narrative of
an old-world sorrow long since calmed and consoled, when 'Abraham stood
up from before his dead,' and craved a burying-place for his Sarah from
the sons of Heth, his first plea was, 'I am a stranger and a sojourner
with you.' In his lips it was no metaphor. He was a stranger, a visitor
for a brief time to an alien land; he was a sojourner, having no rights
of inheritance, but settled among them for a while, and though dwelling
among them, not adopted into their community. He was a foreigner, not
naturalised. And such is our relation to all this visible frame of
things in which we dwell. It is alien to us; though we be in it, our
true affinities are elsewhere; though we be in it, our stay is brief, as
that of 'a wayfaring man that turns aside to tarry for a night.'

And there is given in the context still another metaphor setting forth
the same fact in that dreary generalisation which precedes my text,
'Every man at his best state'--or as the word means, 'established,'--with
his roots most firmly struck in the material and visible--'is
only a breath.' It appears for a moment, curling from lip and nostril
into the cold morning air, and vanishes away, so thus vaporous, filmy,
is the seeming solid fact of the most stable life.

These have been the commonplaces of poets and rhetoricians and moralists
in all time. But threadbare as the thought is, I may venture to dwell on
it for a moment. I know I am only repeating what we all believe--and all
forget. It is never too late to preach commonplaces, until everybody
acts on them as well as admits them--and this old familiar truth has not
yet got so wrought into the structure of our lives that we can afford to
say no more about it.

'Surely every man walketh in a shadow.' Did you ever stand upon the
shore on some day of that 'uncertain weather, when gloom and glory meet
together,' and notice how swiftly there went, racing over miles of
billows, a darkening that quenched all the play of colour in the waves,
as if all suddenly the angel of the waters had spread his broad wings
between sun and sea, and then how in another moment as swiftly it flits
away, and with a burst the light blazes out again, and leagues of ocean
flash into green and violet and blue. So fleeting, so utterly perishable
are our lives for all their seeming solid permanency. 'Shadows in a
career, as George Herbert has it--breath going out of the nostrils. We
think of ourselves as ever to continue in our present posture. We are
deceived by illusions. Mental indolence, a secret dislike of the
thought, and the impostures of sense, all conspire to make us blind to,
or at least oblivious of, the plain fact which every beat of our pulses
might preach, and the slow creeping hands of every parish clock confirm.
How awful that silent, unceasing footfall of receding days is when once
we begin to watch it! Inexorable, passionless--though hope and fear may
pray, 'Sun! stand thou still on Gibeon; and thou moon! in the valley of
Ajalon,'--the tramp of the hours goes on. The poets paint them as a
linked chorus of rosy forms, garlanded, and clasping hands as they dance
onwards. So they may be to some of us at some moments. So they may seem
as they approach; but those who come hold the hands of those who go, and
that troop has no rosy light upon their limbs, their garlands are faded,
the sunshine falls not upon the grey and shrouded shapes, as they steal
ghostlike through the gloom--and ever and ever the bright and laughing
sisters pass on into that funereal band which grows and moves away from
us unceasing. Alas! for many of us it bears away with it our lost
treasures, our shattered hopes, our joys from which all the bright
petals have dropped! Alas! for many of us there is nothing but sorrow in
watching how all things become 'part and parcel of the dreadful past.'

And how strangely sometimes even a material association may give new
emphasis to that old threadbare truth. Some more permanent _thing_ may
help us to feel more profoundly the shadowy fleetness of _man_. The
trifles are so much more lasting than their owners. Or, as 'the
Preacher' puts it, with such wailing pathos, 'One generation passeth
away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever.'
This material is perishable--but yet how much more enduring than we are!
The pavements we walk upon, the coals in our grates--how many
millenniums old are they? The pebble you kick aside with your foot--how
many generations will it outlast? Go into a museum and you will see
hanging there, little the worse for centuries, battered shields, notched
swords, and gaping helmets--aye, but what has become of the bright eyes
that once flashed the light of battle through the bars, what has become
of the strong hands that once gripped the hilts? 'The knights are dust,'
and 'their good swords are' _not_ 'rust.' The material lasts after its
owner. Seed corn is found in a mummy case. The poor form beneath the
painted lid is brown and hard, and more than half of it gone to pungent
powder, and the man that once lived has faded utterly: but the handful
of seed has its mysterious life in it, and when it is sown, in due time
the green blade pushes above English soil, as it would have done under
the shadow of the pyramids four thousand years ago--and its produce
waves in a hundred harvest fields to-day. The money in your purses now,
will some of it bear the head of a king that died half a century ago. It
is bright and useful--where are all the people that in turn said they
'owned' it? Other men will live in our houses, will preach from this
pulpit, and sit in these pews, when you and I are far away. And other
June days will come, and the old rose-trees will flower round houses
where unborn men will then be living, when the present possessor is gone
to nourish the roots of the roses in the graveyard!

'Our days are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.' So said David on
other occasions. We know, dear brethren! how true it is, whether we
consider the ceaseless flux and change of things, the mystic march of
the silent-footed hours, or the greater permanence which attaches to the
'things which perish,' than to our abode among them. We know it, and yet
how hard it is not to yield to the inducement to act and feel as if all
this painted scenery were solid rock and mountain. By our own
inconsiderateness and sensuousness, we live in a lie, in a false dream
of permanence, and so in a sadder sense we walk in 'a vain
show,'--deluding ourselves with the conceit of durability, and refusing
to see that the apparent is the shadowy, and the one enduring reality
God. It is hard to get even the general conviction vivified in men's
minds, hardest of all to get any man to reflect upon it as applying to
himself. Do not think that you have said enough to vindicate neglect of
my words now, when you call them commonplace. So they are. But did you
ever take that well-worn old story, and press it on your own
consciousness--as a man might press a common little plant, whose juice
is healing, against his dim eye-ball--by saying to yourself, 'It is true
of _me_. _I_ walk as a shadow. _I_ am gliding onwards to my doom.
Through _my_ slack hands the golden sands are flowing, and soon _my_
hour-glass will run out, and _I_ shall have to stop and go away.' Let me
beseech you for one half-hour's meditation on that fact before this day
closes. You will forget my words then, when with your own eyes you have
looked upon that truth, and felt that it is not merely a toothless
commonplace, but belongs to and works in _thy_ life, as it ebbs away
silently and incessantly from _thee_.

II. Let me point, in the second place, to the gloomy, aimless hollowness
which that thought, apart from God, infuses into life.

There is, no doubt, a double idea in the metaphor which the Psalmist
employs. He desires to set forth, by his image of a shadow, not only the
transiency, but the unsubstantialness of life. Shadow is opposed to
substance, to that which is real, as well as to that which is enduring.
And we may further say that the one of these characteristics is in great
part the occasion of the other. Because life is fleeting, therefore, in
part, it is so hollow and unsatisfying. The fact that men are dragged
away from their pursuits so inexorably makes these pursuits seem, to any
one who cannot see beyond that fact, trivial and not worth the
following. Why should we fret and toil and break our hearts, 'and scorn
delights, and live laborious days' for purposes which will last so short
a time, and things which we shall so soon have to leave? What is all our
bustle and business, when the sad light of that thought falls on it, but
'labouring for the wind'? 'Were it not better to lie still?' Such
thoughts have at least a partial truth in them, and are difficult to
meet as long as we think only of the facts and results of man's life
that we can see with our eyes, and our psalm gives emphatic utterance to
them. The word rendered 'walketh' in our text is not merely a synonym
for passing through life, but has a very striking meaning. It is an
intensive frequentative form of the word--that is, it represents the
action as being repeated over and over again. For instance, it might be
used to describe the restless motion of a wild beast in a cage, raging
from side to side, never still, and never getting any farther for all
the racing backward and forward. So here it signifies 'walketh to and
fro,' and implies hurry and bustle, continuous effort, habitual unrest.
It thus comes to be parallel with the stronger words which follow,--'Surely
they are _disquieted_ in vain'; and one reason why all this
effort and agitation are purposeless and sad, is because the man who is
straining his nerves and wearying his legs is but a shadow in regard to
duration--'He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.'

Yes! if we have said all, when we have said that men pass as a fleeting
shadow--if my life has no roots in the Eternal, nor any consciousness of
a life that does not pass, and a light that never perishes, if it is
derived from, directed to, 'cribbed, cabined, and confined' within this
visible diurnal sphere, then it is all flat and unprofitable, an
illusion while it seems to last, and all its pursuits are folly, its
hopes dreams, its substances vapours, its years a lie. For, if life be
thus short, I who live it am conscious of, and possess whether I be
conscious of them or no, capacities and requirements which, though they
were to be annihilated to-morrow, could be satisfied while they lasted
by nothing short of the absolute ideal, the all-perfect, the
infinite--or, to put away abstractions, 'My soul thirsteth for God, the
living God!' 'He hath put eternity in their heart,' as the book of
Ecclesiastes says. Longings and aspirations, weaknesses and woes, the
limits of creature helps and loves, the disproportion between us and the
objects around us--all these facts of familiar experience do witness,
alike by blank misgivings and by bright hopes, by many disappointments
and by indestructible expectations surviving them all, that nothing
which has a date, a beginning, or an end, can fill our souls or give us
rest. Can you fill up the swamps of the Mississippi with any cartloads
of faggots you can fling in? Can you fill your souls with anything which
belongs to this fleeting life? Has a flying shadow an appreciable
thickness, or will a million of them pressed together occupy a space in
your empty, hungry heart?

And so, dear brethren! I come to you with a message which may sound
gloomy, and beseech you to give heed to it. No matter how you may get on
in the world--though you may fulfil every dream with which you began in
your youth--you will certainly find that without Christ for your Brother
and Saviour, God for your Friend, and heaven for your hope, life, with
all its fulness, is empty. It lasts long, too long as it sometimes seems
for work, too long for hope, too long for endurance; long enough to let
love die, and joys wither and fade, and companions drop away, but
without God and Christ, you will find it but 'as a watch in the night.'
At no moment through the long weary years will it satisfy your whole
being; and when the weary years are all past, they will seem to have
been but as one troubled moment breaking the eternal silence. At every
point _so_ profitless, and all the points making so thin and short a
line! The crested waves seem heaped together as they recede from the eye
till they reach the horizon, where miles of storm are seen but as a line
of spray. So when a man looks back upon his life, if it have been a
godless one, be sure of this, that he will have a dark and cheerless
retrospect over a tossing waste, with a white rim of wandering barren
foam vexed by tempest, and then, if not before, he will sadly learn how
he has been living amidst shadows, and, with a nature that needs God,
has wasted himself upon the world. 'O life! as futile then as frail';
'surely,' in such a case, 'every man walketh in a vain show.'

III. But note, finally, how our other text in its significant words
gives us the blessedness which springs from this same thought of life,
when it is looked at in connection with God.

The mere conviction of the brevity and hollowness of life is not in
itself a religious or a helpful thought. Its power depends upon the
other ideas which are associated with it. It is susceptible of the most
opposite applications, and may tend to impel conduct in exactly opposite
directions. It may be the language of despair or of bright hope. It may
be the bitter creed of a worn-out debauchee, who has wasted his life in
hunting shadows, and is left with a cynical spirit and a barbed tongue.
It may be the passionless belief of a retired student, or the fanatical
faith of a religious ascetic. It may be an argument for sensuous excess,
'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die'; or it may be the stimulus
for noble and holy living, 'I must work the works of Him that sent me
while it is day. The night cometh.' The other accompanying beliefs
determine whether it shall be a blight or a blessing to a man.

And the one addition which is needed to incline the whole weight of that
conviction to the better side, and to light up all its blackness, is
that little phrase in this text, 'I am a stranger _with Thee_, and a
sojourner.' There seems to be an allusion here to remarkable words
connected with the singular Jewish institution of the Jubilee. You
remember that by the Mosaic law, there was no absolute sale of land in
Israel, but that every half century the whole returned to the
descendants of the original occupiers. Important economical and social
purposes were contemplated in this arrangement, as well as the
preservation of the relative position of the tribes as settled at the
Conquest. But the law itself assigns a purely religious purpose--the
preservation of the distinct consciousness of the tenure on which the
people held their territory, namely, obedience to and dependence on God.
'The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine, for ye are
_strangers and sojourners with Me_.' Of course, there was a special
sense in which that was true with regard to Israel, but David thought
that the words were as true in regard to his whole relation to God, as
in regard to Israel's possession of its national inheritance.

If we grasp these words as completing all that we have already said, how
different this transient and unsubstantial life looks! You must have the
light from both sides to stereoscope and make solid the flat surface
picture. Transient! yes--but it is passed in the presence of God.
Whether we know it or no, our brief days hang upon Him, and we walk, all
of us, in the light of His countenance. That makes the transient
eternal, the shadowy substantial, the trivial heavy with solemn meaning
and awful yet vast possibilities. 'In our embers is something that doth
live.' If we had said all, when we say 'We are as a shadow,' it would
matter very little, though even then it _would_ matter something, how we
spent our shadowy days; but if these poor brief hours are spent 'in the
great Taskmaster's eye,'--if the shadow cast on earth proclaims a light
in the heavens--if from this point there hangs an unending chain of
conscious being--Oh! then, with what awful solemnity is the brevity,
with what tremendous magnitude is the minuteness, of our earthly days
invested! 'With Thee'--then I am constantly in the presence of a
sovereign Law and its Giver; 'with Thee'--then all my actions are
registered and weighed yonder; 'with Thee'--then 'Thou, God, seest me.'
Brethren! it is the prismatic halo and ring of eternity round this poor
glass of time that gives it all its dignity, all its meaning. The lives
that are lived before God cannot be trifles.

And if this relation to time be recognised and accepted and held fast by
our hearts and minds, then what calm blessedness will flow into our
souls!

'A stranger with Thee,'--then we are the guests of the King. The Lord of
the land charges Himself with our protection and provision; we journey
under His safe conduct. It is for His honour and faithfulness that no
harm shall come to us travelling in His territory, and relying on His
word. Like Abraham with the sons of Heth, we may claim the protection
and help which a stranger needs. He recognises the bond and will fulfil
it. We have eaten of His salt, and He will answer for our safety.--'He
that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye.'

'A stranger with Thee,'--then we have a constant Companion and an
abiding Presence. We may be solitary and necessarily remote from the
polity of the land. We may feel amid all the visible things of earth as
if foreigners. We may not have a foot of soil, not even a grave for our
dead. Companionships may dissolve and warm hands grow cold and their
close clasp relax--what then? He is with us still. He will join us as we
journey, even when our hearts are sore with loss. He will walk with us
by the way, and make our chill hearts glow. He will sit with us at the
table--however humble the meal, and He will not leave us when we discern
Him. Strangers we are indeed here--but not solitary, for we are
'strangers with Thee.' As in some ancestral home in which a family has
lived for centuries--son after father has rested in its great chambers,
and been safe behind its strong walls--so, age after age, they who love
Him abide in God.--'Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all
generations.'

'Strangers with Thee,'--then we may carry our thoughts forward to the
time when we shall go to our true home, nor wander any longer in a land
that is not ours. If even here we come into such blessed relationships
with God, that fact is in itself a prophecy of a more perfect communion
and a heavenly house. They who are strangers with Him will one day be
'at home with the Lord,' and in the light of that blessed hope the
transiency of this life changes its whole aspect, loses the last trace
of sadness, and becomes a solemn joy. Why should we be pensive and
wistful when we think how near our end is? Is the sentry sad as the hour
for relieving guard comes nigh? Is the wanderer in far-off lands sad
when he turns his face homewards? And why should not we rejoice at the
thought that we, strangers and foreigners here, shall soon depart to the
true metropolis, the mother-country of our souls? I do not know why a
man should be either regretful or afraid, as he watches the hungry sea
eating away this 'bank and shoal of time' upon which he stands--even
though the tide has all but reached his feet--if he knows that God's
strong hand will be stretched forth to him at the moment when the sand
dissolves from under him, and will draw him out of many waters, and
place him high above the floods in that stable land where there is 'no
more sea.'

Lives rooted in God through faith in Jesus Christ are not vanity. Let us
lay hold of Him with a loving grasp--and 'we shall live also' _because_
He lives, _as_ He lives, _so long_ as He lives. The brief days of earth
will be blessed while they last, and fruitful of what shall never pass.
We shall have Him with us while we journey, and all our journeyings will
lead to rest in Him. True, men walk in a vain show; true, 'the world
passeth away and the lust thereof,' but, blessed be God! true, also, 'He
that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.'



TWO INNUMERABLE SERIES


    'Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done,
    and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in
    order unto Thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more
    than can be numbered ... 12. Innumerable evils have compassed me
    about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not
    able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head;
    therefore my heart faileth me.'--PSALMS xl. 5, 12.

So then, there are two series of things which cannot be numbered, God's
mercies, man's sins. This psalm has for its burden a cry for
deliverance; but the Psalmist begins where it is very hard for a
struggling man to begin, but where we always should begin, with grateful
remembrance of God's mercy. His wondrous dealings seem to the Psalmist's
thankful heart as numberless as the blades of grass which carpet the
fields, or as the wavelets which glance in the moonlight and break in
silver upon the sand. They come pouring out continuously, like the
innumerable undulations of the ether which make upon the eyeballs the
single sensation of light. He thinks not only of God's wonderful works,
His realised purposes of mercy, but of 'His thoughts which are to
us-ward,' the purposes, still more wonderful, of a yet greater mercy
which wait to be realised. He thinks not only of God's lovingkindness to
Him, but his contemplations embrace God's goodness to his brethren--'Thy
thoughts which are to us-ward.' And as he thinks of all this 'multitude
of His tender mercies,' his lips break into this rapturous exclamation
of my text.

But there is a wonderful change in tone, in the two halves of the psalm.
The deliverance that seems so complete in the earlier part is but
partial. The triumph and the trust seem both to be clouded over. A
frowning mass lifts itself up against the immense mass of God's mercies.
The Psalmist sees himself ringed about by numberless evils, as a man
tied to a stake might be by a circle of fire. 'Innumerable evils have
compassed me about.' His conscience tells him that the evils are
deserved; they are his iniquities transformed which have come back to
him in another shape, and have laid their hands upon him as a constable
does upon a thief. 'Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me'--they hem
him in so that his vision is interrupted, the smoke from the circle of
flame blinds his eyes--'I cannot see.' His roused conscience and his
quivering heart conceive of them as 'more than the hairs of his head,'
and so courage and confidence have ebbed away from him. 'My heart
faileth me----,' and there is nothing left for him but to fling himself
in his misery out of himself and on to God.

Now what I wish to do in this sermon is not so much to deal with these
two verses separately as to draw some of the lessons from the very
remarkable juxtaposition of these two innumerable things--God's tender
mercies, and man's iniquity and evil.

I. To begin with, let me remind you how, if we keep these two things
both together in our contemplations, they suggest for us very forcibly
the greatest mystery in the universe, and throw a little light upon it.

The difficulty of difficulties, the one insoluble problem is----, given
a good and perfect God, where does sorrow come from, and why is there
any pain? Men have fumbled at that knot for all the years that there
have been men in the world, and they have not untied it yet. They have
tried to cut it and it has resisted all their knives and all their
ingenuity. And there the question stands before us, grim, insoluble, the
despair of all thinkers and often the torture of our own hearts, in the
hours of our personal experience. Is it true that 'God's mercies are
innumerable'? If it be, what is the meaning of all this that makes me
writhe and weep? Nobody has answered that question, and nobody ever
will.

Only let us beware of the temptation of blinking half of the facts by
reason of the clearness of our confidence or the depth of our feeling of
the other half. That is always our temptation. You must have had a
singularly unruffled life if there has never come to you some moment
when, in the depth of your agony, you have ground your teeth together,
as you said to yourself, 'Is there a God then at all? And does He care
for me at all? And can He help me at all? And if there is, why in the
name of pity does He not?'

Well, my brother! when such moments come to us, and they come to us all
sooner or later--and I was going to add a parenthesis, which you will
think strange, and say that they come to us all sooner or later, blessed
be God!--when such moments come to us, do not let the black mass hide
the light one from you, but copy this Psalmist, and in the energy of
your faith, even though it be the extremity of your pain, grasp and grip
them both; and though you have to say and to wail: 'Innumerable evils
have compassed me about,' be sure that you do not let that prevent you
from saying, 'Many, O Lord my God! are Thy wonderful works which are to
us-ward. They are more than can be numbered.'

I do not enter upon this as a mere matter of philosophical speculation.
It is far too serious and important a matter to be so dealt with, in a
pulpit at any rate, but I would also add in one sentence that the mere
thinker, who looks at the question solely from an intellectual point of
view, has need to take the lesson of my two texts, and to be sure that
he keeps clear before him both halves of the facts--though they seem to
be as unlike each other as the eclipsed and the uneclipsed silver half
of the moon--with which he has to deal.

Remember, the one does not contradict the other; but let us ask
ourselves if the one does not _explain_ the other. If it be that these
mercies are so innumerable as my first text says, may it not be that
they go deep down beneath, and include in their number, the experience
that seems most opposite to them, even the sorrow that afflicts our
lives? Must it not be, that the innumerable sum of God's mercies has not
to have subtracted from it, but has to have added to it, the sum which
also at intervals appears to us innumerable, of our sorrows and our
burdens? Perhaps the explanation does not go to the bottom of the
bottomless, but it goes a long way down towards it. 'Whom the Lord
loveth, He chasteneth' makes a bridge across the gulf which seems to
part the opposing cliffs, these two sets effect, and turn the darker
into a form in which the brighter reveals itself. 'All things work
together for good.' And God's innumerable mercies include the whole sum
total of my sorrows.

II. So, again, notice how the blending of these two thoughts together
heightens the impression of each.

All artists, and all other people know the power of contrast. White
never looks so white as when it is relieved against black; black never
so intense as when it is relieved against white. A white flower in the
twilight gleams out in spectral distinctness, paler and fairer than it
looked in the blazing sunshine. So, if we take and put these two things
together--the dark mass of man's miseries and the radiant brightness of
God's mercies, each heightens the colour of the other.

Only, let me observe, as I have already suggested that, in the second of
my two texts, whilst the Psalmist starts from the 'innumerable evils'
that have compassed him about, he passes from these to the earlier evils
which he had done. It is pain that says, 'Innumerable evils have
compassed me about.' It is conscience that says, 'Mine iniquities have
taken hold upon me.' His wrong-doing has come back to him like the
boomerang that the Australian savage throws, which may strike its aim
but returns to the hand that flung it. It has come back in the shape of
a sorrow. And so 'Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me' is the
deepening of the earliest word of my text. Therefore, I am not reading a
double meaning into it, but the double meaning is in it when I see here
a reference both to a man's manifold sorrows and to a man's multiplied
transgressions. Taking the latter into consideration, the contrast
between these two heightens both of them.

God's mercies never seem so fair, so wonderful, as when they are looked
at in conjunction with man's sin. Man's sin never seems so foul and
hideous as when it is looked at close against God's mercies. You cannot
estimate the conduct of one of two parties to a transaction unless you
have the conduct of the other before you. You cannot understand a
father's love unless you take into account the prodigal son's sullen
unthankfulness, or his unthankfulness without remembering his father's
love. You cannot estimate the clemency of a patient monarch unless you
know the blackness and persistency of the treason of his rebellious
subjects, nor their treason, except when seen in connection with his
clemency. You cannot estimate the long-suffering of a friend unless you
know the crimes against friendship of which his friend has been guilty,
nor the blackness of his treachery without the knowledge of the other's
loyalty to him. So we do not see the radiant brightness of God's
loving-kindness to us until we look at it from the depth of the darkness
of our own sin. The stars are seen from the bottom of the well. The
loving-kindness of God becomes wonderful when we think of the sort of
people on whom it has been lavished. And my evil is never apprehended in
its true hideousness until I have set it black and ugly, but searched
through and through, and revealed in every deformed outline, and in
every hideous lineament, by the light against which I see it. You must
take both in order to understand either.

And not only so, but actually these two opposites, which are ever
warring with one another in a duel, most merciful, patient, and
long-suffering on His part--these two elements do intensify one another,
not only in our estimation but in reality. For it is man's sin that has
drawn out the deepest and most wonderful tenderness of the divine heart;
and it is God's love partly recognised and rejected, which leads men to
the darkest evil. Man's sin has heightened God's love to this climax and
consummation of all tenderness, that He has sent us His Son. And God's
love thus heightened has darkened and deepened man's sin. God's chiefest
gift is His Son. Man's darkest sin is the rejection of Christ. The
clearest light makes the blackest shadow, the tenderer the love, the
more criminal the apathy and selfishness which oppose it.

My brother! let us put these two great things together, and learn how
the sin heightens the love, and how the love aggravates the sin.

III. That leads me to another point, that the keeping of these two
thoughts together should lead us all to conscious penitence.

The Psalmist's words are not the mere complaint of a soul in affliction,
they are also the acknowledgment of a conscience repenting. The
contemplation of these two numberless series should affect us all in a
like manner.

Now there is a superficial kind of popular religion which has a great
deal to say about the first of these texts; and very little or next to
nothing about the second. It is a very defective kind of religion that
says:--'Many, O Lord my God! are Thy thoughts which are to us-ward,' but
has never been down on its knees with the confession 'Mine iniquities
have taken hold upon me.' But defective as it is, it is all the religion
which many people have, and I doubt not, some of my hearers have no
more. I would press on you all this truth, that there is no deep
personal religion without a deep consciousness of personal
transgression. Have you got that, my brother? Have you ever had it? Have
you ever known what it is so to look at God's love that it smites you
into tears of repentance when you think of the way you have requited
Him? If you have not, I do not think the sense of God's love has gone
very deeply into you, notwithstanding all that you say; and sure I am
that you have never got to the point where you can understand it most
clearly and most deeply. The sense of sin, the consciousness of personal
demerit, the feeling that I have gone against Him and His loving
law,--that is as important and as essential an element in all deep
personal religion as the clear and thankful apprehension of the love of
God. Nay, more; there never has been and there never will be in a man's
heart, a worthy adequate apprehension of, and response to, the wonderful
love of God, except it be accompanied with a sense of sin. I, therefore,
urge this upon you that, for the vigour of your own personal religion,
you must keep these two things well together. Beware of such a shallow,
easy-going, matter-of-course, taking for granted God's infinite love,
that it makes you think very little of your own sins against that love.

And remember, on the other hand, that the only way, or at least by far
the surest way, to learn the depth and the darkness of my own
transgression is by bringing my heart under the influence of that great
love of God in Jesus Christ. It is not preaching hell that will break a
man's heart down into true repentance. It is not thundering over him
with the terrors of law and trying to prick his conscience that will
bring him to a deep real knowledge of his sin. These may be subordinate
and auxiliary, but the real power that convinces of sin is the love of
God. The one light which illuminates the dark recesses of one's own
heart, and makes us feel how dark they are, and how full of creeping
unclean things, is the light of the love of God that shines in Jesus
Christ, the light that shines from the Cross of Calvary. Oh, dear
friends! if we are ever to know the greatness of God's love we must feel
our personal sin which that great love has forgiven and purged away, and
if we are ever to know the depth of our own evil, we must measure it by
His wonderful tenderness. We must set our 'sins in the light of His
countenance,' and contrast that supreme sacrifice with our own selfish
loveless lives, that the contrast may subdue us to penitence and melt us
to tears.

IV. Lastly, looking at these two numberless series together will bring
into the deepest penitence a joyful confidence.

There are regions of experience the very opposite of that error of which
I have just been speaking. There are some of us, perhaps, who have so
profound a sense of their own shortcomings and sins that the mists
rising from these have blurred the sky to us and shut out the sun. Some
of you, perhaps, may be saying to yourselves that you cannot get hold of
God's love because your sin seems to you to be so great, or may be
saying to yourselves that it is impossible that you should ever get the
victory over this evil of yours, because it has laid hold upon you with
so tight a grasp. If there be in any heart listening to me now any
inclination to doubt the infinite love of God, or the infinite
possibility of cleansing from all sin, let me come with the simple word,
Bind these two texts together, and never so look at your own evil as to
lose sight of the infinite mercy of God. It is safe to say--ay! it is
blessed to say--'Mine iniquities are more than the hairs of mine head,'
when we can also say, 'Thy thoughts to me are more than can be
numbered.'

There are not two innumerable series, there is only one. There is a
limit and a number to my sins and to yours, but God's mercies are
properly numberless. They overlap all our sins, they stretch beyond our
sins in all dimensions. They go beneath them, they encompass them, and
they will thin them away and cause them to disappear. My sins may be
many, God's mercies are more. My sins may be inveterate, God's mercy is
from everlasting. My sins may be strong, God's mercy is omnipotent. My
sins may seem to 'have laid upon me,' God can rescue me from their grip.
They are a film on the surface of the deep ocean of His love. My sins
may be as the sand which is by the seashore, innumerable, the love of
God in Jesus Christ is like the great sea which rolls over the sands and
buries them. My sins may rise mountains high, but His mercies are a
great deep which will cover the mountains to their very summit. Ah! my
sin is enormous, God's mercy is inexhaustible. 'With Thee is plenteous
redemption, and He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.'



THIRSTING FOR GOD


    'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.'--PSALM xiii. 2.

This whole psalm reads like the sob of a wounded heart. The writer of it
is shut out from the Temple of his God, from the holy soil of his native
land. One can see him sitting solitary yonder in the lonely wilderness
(for the geographical details that occur in one part of the psalm point
to his situation as being on the other side of the Jordan, in the
mountains of Moab)--can see him sitting there with long wistful gaze
yearning across the narrow valley and the rushing stream that lay
between him and the land of God's chosen people, and his eye resting
perhaps on the mountaintop that looked down upon Jerusalem. He felt shut
out from the presence of God. We need not suppose that he believed all
the rest of the world to be profane and God-forsaken, except only the
Temple. Nor need we wonder, on the other hand, that his faith did cling
to form, and that he thought the sparrows beneath the eaves of the
Temple blessed birds! He was depressed, because he was shut out from the
tokens of God's presence; and because he _was_ depressed, he shut
himself out from the reality of the presence. And so he cried with a cry
which never is in vain, 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God!'

Taken, then, in its original sense, the words of our text apply only to
that strange phenomenon which we call religious depression. But I have
ventured to take them in a wider sense than that. It is not only
Christian men who are cast down, whose souls 'thirst for God.' It is not
only men upon earth whose souls thirst for God. All men, everywhere, may
take this text for theirs. Every human heart may breathe it out, if it
understands itself. The longing for 'the living God' belongs to all men.
Thwarted, stifled, it still survives. Unconscious, it is our deepest
misery. Recognised, yielded to, accepted, it is the foundation of our
highest blessings. Filled to the full, it still survives unsatiated and
expectant. For all men upon earth, Christian or not Christian, for
Christians here below, whether in times of depression or in times of
gladness, and for the blessed and calm spirits that in ecstasy of
longing, full of fruition, stand around God's throne--it is equally true
that their souls 'thirst for God, for the living God.' Only with this
difference, that to some the desire is misery and death, and to some the
desire is life and perfect blessedness. So that the first thought I
would suggest to you now is, that there is an unconscious and
unsatisfied longing after God, which is what we call the state of
nature; secondly, that there is an imperfect longing after God, fully
satisfied, which is what we call the state of grace; and lastly, that
there is a perfect longing, perfectly satisfied, which is what we call
the state of glory. Nature; religion upon earth; blessedness in
heaven--my text is the expression, in divers senses, of them all.

I. In the first place, then, there is in every man an unconscious and
unsatisfied longing after God, and that is the state of nature.

Experience is the test of that assertion. And the most superficial
examination of the facts of daily life, as well as the questioning of
our own souls, will tell us that _this_ is the leading feature of
them--a state of unrest. What is it that one of those deistic poets of
our own land says, about 'Man never _is_, but always _to be_ blest'?
What is the meaning of the fact that all round about us, and we
partaking of it, there is ceaseless, gigantic activity going on? The
very fact that men work, the very fact of activity in the mind and life,
noble as it is, and root of all that is good, and beautiful as it is, is
still the testimony of nature to this fact that I by myself am full of
passionate longings, of earnest desires, of unsupplied wants. 'I
thirst,' is the voice of the whole world.

No man is made to be satisfied from himself. For the stilling of our own
hearts, for the satisfying of our own nature, for the strengthening and
joy of our being, we need to go beyond ourselves, and to fix upon
something external to ourselves. We are not independent. None of us can
stand by himself. No man carries within him the fountain from which he
can draw. If a heart is to be blessed, it must go out of the narrow
circle of its own individuality; and if a man's life is to be strong and
happy, he must get the foundation of his strength somewhere else than in
his own soul. And, my friends! especially you young men, all that modern
doctrine of self-reliance, though it has a true side to it, has also a
frightfully false side. Though it may he quite true that a man ought to
be, in one sense, sufficient for himself, and that there is no real
blessedness of which the root does not lie within the nature and heart
of the man; though all that be quite true, yet, if the doctrine means
(as on the lips of many a modern eloquent and powerful teacher of it, it
does mean) that we can do without God, that we may be self-reliant and
self-sufficient, and proudly neglectful of all the divine forces that
come down into life to brighten and gladden it, it is a lie, false and
fatal; and of all the falsehoods that are going about this world at
present, I know not one that is varnished over with more apparent truth,
that is smeared over with more of the honey that catches young, ardent,
ingenuous hearts, than that half-truth, and therefore most deceptive
error, which preaches independence, and self-reliance, and which
_means_--a man's soul does not 'thirst for the living God.' Take care of
it! We are made _not_ to be independent.

We are made, next, to need, not _things_, but _living beings_. 'My soul
thirsteth'--for what? An abstraction, a possession, riches, a thing? No!
'my soul thirsteth for God, for _the living God_.' Yes, hearts want
hearts. The converse of Christ's saying is equally true; He said, 'God
is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit'; man
has a spirit, and man must have Spirit to worship, to lean upon, to live
by, or all will be inefficient and unsatisfactory. Oh, lay this to
heart, my brother!--no _things_ can satisfy a living soul. No
accumulation of dead matter can become the life of an immortal being.
The two classes are separated by the whole diameter of the
universe--matter and spirit, thing and person; and _you_ cannot feed
yourself upon the dead husks that lie there round about you--wealth,
position, honour. Books, thoughts, though they are nobler than these
other, are still inefficient. Principles, 'causes,' emotions springing
from truth, these are not enough. I want more than that, I want
something to love, something to lay a hand upon, that shall return the
grasp of the hand. A living man must have a living God, or his soul will
perish in the midst of earthly plenty, and will thirst and die whilst
the water of earthly delights is running all around him. We are made to
need _persons_, not _things_.

Then again, we need _one_ Being who shall be all-sufficient. There is no
greater misery than that which may ensue from the attempt to satisfy our
souls by the accumulation of objects, each of them imperfect and finite,
which yet we fancy, woven together, will make an adequate whole. When a
heart is diverted from its one central purpose, when a life is split up
in a hundred different directions and into a hundred different emotions,
it is like a beam of light passed through some broken surface where it
is all refracted and shivered into fragments; there is no clear vision,
there is no perfect light. If a man is to be blessed, he must have one
source to which he can go. The merchantman that seeks for many goodly
pearls, may find the many; but until he has bartered them all for the
one, there is something lacking. Not only does the understanding require
to pass through the manifold, up and up in ever higher generalisations,
till it reaches the One from whom all things come; but the heart
requires to soar, if it would be at rest, through all the diverse
regions where its love may legitimately tarry for a while, until it
reaches the sole and central throne of the universe, and there it may
cease its flight, and fold its weary wings, and sleep like a bird within
its nest. We want a _Being_, and we want _one Being_ in whom shall be
sphered all perfection, in whom shall abide all power and blessedness;
beyond whom thought cannot pass, out of whose infinite circumference
love does not need to wander; besides whose boundless treasures no other
riches can be required; who is light for the understanding, power for
the will, authority for the practical life, purpose for the efforts,
motive for the doings, end and object for the feelings, home of the
affections, light of our seeing, life of our life, the love of our
heart, the one living God, infinite in wisdom, power, holiness, justice,
goodness and truth; who is all in all, and without whom everything else
is misery. 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.'

Brother! let me ask you the question, before I pass on--the question for
the sake of which I am preaching this sermon: Do _you_ know that Father?
I know this much, that every heart here now answers an 'Amen' (if it
will be honest) to what I have been saying. Unrest; panting, desperate
thirst, deceiving itself as to where it should go; slaking itself 'at
the gilded puddles that the beasts would cough at,' instead of coming to
the water of life!--that is the state of man without God. That is
nature. That is irreligion. The condition in which every man is that is
not trusting in Jesus Christ, is this--thirsting for God, and not
knowing _whom_ he is thirsting for, and so not getting the supply that
he wants.

II. There is a conscious longing, imperfect, but answered; and that is
the state of grace--the beginning of religion in a man's soul.

If it be true that there are, as part of the universal human experience,
however overlaid and stifled, these necessities of which I have been
speaking, the very existence of the necessities affords a presumption,
before all evidence, that, somehow and somewhere, they shall be
supplied. There can be no deeper truth--none, I think, that ought to
have more power in shaping some parts of our Christian creed, than this,
that God is a faithful Creator; and where He makes men with longings, it
is a prophecy that those longings are going to be supplied. The same
ground which avails to defend doctrines that cannot be so well defended
by any other argument--the same ground on which we say that there is an
immortality, because men long for it and believe in it; that there is a
God because men cannot get rid of the instinctive conviction that there
is; that there is a retribution, because men's consciences do ask for
it, and cry out for it--the very same process which may be applied to
the buttressing and defending of all the grandest truths of the Gospel,
applies also in this practical matter. If I, made by God who knew what
He was doing when He made me, am formed with these deep necessities,
with these passionate longings--then it cannot but be that it is
intended that they should be to me a means of leading me to Him, and
that there they should be satisfied. For He is 'the faithful Creator,'
and He remembers the conditions under which His making of us has placed
us. 'He knoweth our frame,' and He remembereth what He has implanted
within us. And the presumption is, of course, turned into an actual
certainty when we let in the light of the Gospel upon the thing. Then we
can say to every man that thus is yearning after a goodness dimly
perceived, and does not know what it is that he wants, and we say to you
now, Brother! betake yourself to the cross of Christ go with those wants
of yours to 'the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world': He
will interpret them to you. He will explain to you, as you do not now
know, what they mean; and, better than that, He will supply them all.
Your souls are thirsting; and you look about, here and there, and
everywhere, for springs of water. _There_ is the fountain--go to Christ.
Your souls are thirsting for God. The unfathomed ocean of the Godhead
lies far beyond my lip; but here is the channel through which there
flows that river of water of life. Here is the manifested God, here is
the granted God, here is the Godhead coming into connection and union
with man, his wants and his sins--the 'living God' and His living Son,
His everlasting Word. 'He that believeth upon Him shall never hunger,
and he that cometh unto Him shall never thirst.' God is the divine and
unfathomable ocean; Christ the Son is the stream that brings salvation
to every man's lips. All wants are supplied there. Take it as a piece of
the simplest prose, with no rhetorical exaggeration about it, that
Christ is _everything_, everything that a man can want. We are made to
require, and to be restless until we possess, perfect truth--there it
is! We are made to want, and to be restless until we get, perfect,
infinite unchangeable love--there it is! We must have, or the burden of
our own self-will will be a misery to us, a hand laid upon the springs
of our conduct, authoritative and purifying, and have the blessedness of
some voice to say to us, 'I bid thee, and that is enough'--there it is!
We must have rest, purity, hope, gladness, life in our souls--there they
all are! Whatever form of human nature and character be yours, my
brother!--whatever exigencies of life you may be lying under the
pressure of--man or woman, adult or child, father or son, man of
business or man of thought, struggling with difficulties or bright with
joy--Oh! believe us, the perfecting of your character may be got in the
Lamb of God, and without Him it never can be possessed. Christ is
everything, and 'out of His fulness all we receive grace for grace.'

Not only in Christ is there the perfect supply of all these necessities,
but also that fulness _becomes ours_ on the simple condition of desiring
it. The thirst for the living God in a man who has faith in Christ
Jesus, is not a thirst which amounts to pain, or arises from a sense of
non-possession. But in this divine region the principle of the giving is
this--to desire is to have; to long for is to possess. There is no wide
interval between the sense of thirst and the trickling of the stream
over the parched lip; but ever it is flowing, flowing past us, and the
desire is but the opening of the lips to receive the limpid and
life-giving waters. No one ever desired the grace of God, really and
truly desired it; but just in proportion as he desired it, he got
it--just in proportion as he thirsted, he was satisfied. Therefore we
have to preach that grand gospel that faith, simple, conscious longing,
turned to Christ, avails to bring down the full and perfect supply.

But some Christian people here may reply, 'Ah! I wish it were so: what
was that you were saying at the beginning of your sermon, about men
having religious depression, about Christians longing and not
possessing?' Well, I have only this to say about that matter. Wherever
in a heart that really believes on God in Christ, there is a thirst that
amounts to pain, and that has with it a sense of non-possession, that is
not because Christ's fulness has become shrunken; that is not because
there is a change in God's law, that the measure of the desire is the
measure of the reception; but it is only because, for some reason or
other that belongs to the man alone, the desire is not deep, genuine,
simple, but is troubled and darkened. What we ask, we get. If I am a
Christian, however feeble I may be, the feebleness of my faith and the
feebleness of my desire may make my supplies of grace feeble; but if I
am a Christian, there is no such thing as an earnest longing
unsatisfied, no such thing as a thirst accompanied with a pain and sense
of want, except in consequence of my own transgression.

And thus there _is_ a longing imperfect in this life, but fully supplied
according to the measure of its intensity, a longing after 'the living
God'; and that is the state of a Christian man. And O my friend! that is
a widely different desire from the other that I have been speaking
about. It is blessed thus to say, 'My soul thirsteth for God.' It is
blessed to feel the passionate wish for more light, more grace, more
peace, more wisdom, more of God. That _is_ joy, that _is_ peace! Is that
_your_ experience in this present life?

III. Lastly, there is a perfect longing perfectly satisfied; and that is
heaven.

We shall not there be independent, of course, of constant supplies from
the great central Fulness, any more than we are here. One may see in one
aspect, that just as the Christian life here on earth is in a very true
sense a state of never thirsting any more, because we have Christ, and
yet in another sense is a state of continual longing and desire--so the
Christian and glorified life in heaven, in one view of it, is the
removal of all that thirst which marked the condition of man upon earth,
and in another is the perfecting of all those aspirations and desires.
Thirst, as longing, is eternal; thirst, as aspiration after God, is the
glory of heaven; thirst, as desire for more of Him, is the very
condition of the celestial world, and the element of all its
blessedness.

That future life gives us two elements, an infinite God, and an
indefinitely expansible human spirit: an infinite God to fill, and a
soul to be filled, the measure and the capacity of which has no limit
set to it that we can see. What will be the consequence of the contact
of these two? Why this, for the first thing, that always, at every
moment of that blessed life, there shall be a perpetual fruition, a
perpetual satisfaction, a deep and full fountain filling the whole soul
with the refreshment of its waves and the music of its flow. And yet,
and yet--though at every moment in heaven we shall be satisfied, filled
full of God, full to overflowing in all our powers--yet the very fact
that the God who dwells in us, and fills our whole natures with
unsullied and perfect blessedness, is an infinite God; and that we in
whom the infinite Father dwells, are men with souls that can grow, and
can grow for ever--will result in this, that at every moment our
capacities will expand; that at every moment, therefore, the desire will
grow and spring afresh; that at every moment God will be seen unveiling
undreamed-of beauties, and revealing hitherto unknown heights of
blessedness before us; and that the sight of that transcendent,
unapproached, unapproachable, and yet attracting and transforming glory,
will draw us onward as by an impulse from above, and the possession of
some portion of it will bear us upward as by a power from within; and
so, nearer, nearer, ever nearer to the throne of light, the centre of
blessedness, the growing, and glorifying, and greatening souls of the
perfectly and increasingly blessed shall 'mount up with wings as
eagles.' Heaven _is_ endless longing, accompanied with an endless
fruition--a longing which is blessedness, a longing which is life!

My brother! let me put two sayings of Scripture side by side, 'My soul
thirsteth for God, for the living God,'--'Father Abraham! send Lazarus,
that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue.'
There be two thirsts, one, the longing for God, which, satisfied, is
heaven; one, the longing for quenching of self-lit fires, and for one
drop of the lost delights of earth to cool the thirsty throat, which,
unsatisfied, is hell. Then hearken to the final vision on the page of
Scripture, 'He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as
crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.' To us it
is showed, and to us the whole revelation of God converges to that last
mighty call, 'Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him
take the water of life freely!'



THE PSALMIST'S REMONSTRANCE WITH HIS SOUL


    'Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted
    within me? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him, the health of my
    countenance, and my God.'--PSALM xliii. 5.

This verse, which closes this psalm, occurs twice in the previous one.
It is a kind of refrain. Obviously this little psalm, of which my text
is a part, was originally united with the preceding one. That the two
made one is clear to anybody that will read them, by reason of
structure, and tone, and similarity of the singer's situation, and the
recurrence of many phrases, and especially of these significant words of
my text.

The Psalmist is in circumstances of trouble and sorrow. We need not
enter upon them particularly, but the thing that I desire to point out
is that three times does the Psalmist take himself to task and question
himself as to the reasonableness of the emotions that are surging in his
soul, and checks these by higher considerations. Thrice he does it;
twice in vain, for the trouble and anxiety come rolling back upon him in
spite of the moment's respite, but the third time he triumphs.

I. We note, then, first, that moods and emotions should be examined and
governed by a higher self.

In the Psalmist's case, his gloom and despondency, which could plead
good reasons for their existence, had everything their own way at first,
and swept over his soul like the first rush of waters which have burst
their bounds. But, presently, the ruling part of his nature wakes, and
brings the feebler lower soul to its tribunal, and says, in effect,
'Now! now that I am here, what hast thou to say about these sorrows that
thou hast been complaining about? _Why_ art thou cast down, O my soul?
Why art thou disquieted? ... Hope in God!'

I shall have a word or two to say presently about the details of this
remonstrance, but the main point that I make, to begin with, is just
this, that however strong and reasonably occasioned by circumstances a
man's emotions and feelings, either of the bright or the dark kind, may
be, they are not to be indulged, unless they have passed muster and
examination by that higher and better self. It is necessary to keep a
very tight hand upon _all_ our feelings, whether they be the natural
desires of the sensuous part of our nature, or whether they be the
sentiments of sadness, or doubt, or anxiety, or perplexity, which are
the natural results of outward circumstances of trial; or whether, on
the contrary, they be the bright and buoyant ones which come, like
angels, along with prosperous hours. But that necessity, commonplace as
it is of all morals and all religion, is yet a thing which, day by day,
we so forget that we need to be ever and anon reminded of it.

There are hosts of people who, making profession of being Christians, do
not habitually put the brake on their moods and tempers, and who seem to
think that it is a sufficient vindication of gloom and sadness to say
that things are going badly with them in the outer world, and who act as
if they supposed that no joy can be too exuberant and no elation too
lofty if, on the other hand, things are going rightly. It is a miserable
travesty of the Christian faith to suppose that its prime purpose is
anything else than to put into our hands the power of ruling ourselves
because we let Christ rule us.

And so, dear brethren! though it be the A B C of Christian teaching,
suffer this word of exhortation. It is only 'milk for babes,' but it is
milk that the babes are very unwilling to take. Learn from this verse
before us the solemn duty of rigid control, by the higher self, of the
tremulous, emotional lower self which responds so completely to every
change of temperature or circumstances in the world without. And
remember that there should be a central heat which keeps the temperature
substantially the same, whatever be the weather outside. As the
wheel-house, and the steering gear, and the rudder of the ship proclaim
their purpose of guidance and direction, so eloquently and unmistakably
does the make of our inward selves tell us that emotions and moods and
tempers are meant to be governed, often to be crushed, always to be
moderated, by sovereign will and reason. In the Psalmist's language, 'My
soul' has to give account of its tremors and flutterings to 'Me,' the
ruling Self, who should be Lord of temperament, and control the
fluctuations of feeling.

II. Note that there are two ways of looking at causes of dejection and
disquiet.

The whole preceding parts of both the psalms, before this refrain, are
an answer to the question which my text puts. 'Why art thou cast down, O
my soul?' 'My soul' has been talking two whole psalms, to explain why it
is cast down. And after all the eloquent torrent of words to vindicate
and explain its reasons for sadness--separation from the sanctuary,
bitter remembrances of bright days, which the poet tells us are 'a
sorrow's crown of sorrow,' taunts of enemies and the like--after all
these have been said over and over again, the Psalmist says to himself:
'Come now, let us hear it all once more. _Why_ art thou cast down? Why
art thou disquieted within me? Thou hast been telling the reasons
abundantly. Speak them once again, and let us have a look at them.'

There is a court of appeal in each man, which tests and tries his
reasons for his moods; and these, which look very sufficient to the
flesh, turn out to be very insufficient when investigated and tested by
the higher spirit or self. We should 'appeal from Philip drunk to Philip
sober.' And if a man will be honest with himself, and tell himself why
he is in such a pucker of terror, or why he is in such a rapture of joy,
nine times out of ten the attempt to tell the reasons will be the
condemnation of the mood which they are supposed to justify. If men
would only bring the causes or occasions of the tempers and feelings
which they allow to direct them, to the bar of common sense, to say
nothing of religious faith, half the furious boilings in their hearts
would stop their ebullition. It would be like pouring cold water into a
kettle on the fire. It would end its bubbling. Everything has two
handles. The aspect of any event depends largely on the beholder's point
of view. 'There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.'
'Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within
me?' The answer is often very hard to give; the question is always very
salutary to ask.

III. Note that no reasons for being cast down are so strong as those for
elation and calm hope.

'Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my
countenance and my God.' I need not deal here with the fact that the
first of the three occurrences of this refrain is, in our Bible, a
little different from the other two. That is probably a mistake in the
text. In all three cases the words ought to stand the same.

Try to realise what God is to yourselves--'My God' and 'the health of my
countenance.' That will stimulate sluggish feeling; that will calm
disturbed emotion. He that can say 'My God!' and in that possession can
repose, will not be easily moved, by the trivialities and
transitorinesses of this life, to excessive disquiet, whether of the
exuberant or of the woful sort. There is a wonderful calming power in
realising our possession of God as our portion--not stagnating, but
quieting. I am quite sure that the troubles of our lives, and the
gladnesses of our lives, which often distract, would be far less
operative in disturbing, if we felt more that God was ours and that we
were God's.

Brethren! 'there is no joy but calm.' To be at rest is better than
rapture. And there is no way of getting and keeping a fixed temper of
still tranquillity unless we go into that deep and hidden chamber, in
the secret place of the Most High, where we cannot 'hear the loud winds
when they call,' but dwell in security, whatever storms harass the land.
'Why art thou cast down,' or lifted 'up,' and, in either case,
'disquieted'? 'Hope in God,' and be at rest.

IV. Note that the effort to lay hold on the truth which calms is to be
repeated in spite of failures.

The words of our text are thrice repeated in these two psalms. In the
two former instances they are followed by a fresh burst of pained
feeling. A moment of tranquillity interrupts the agitation of the
Psalmist's soul, but is soon followed by the recurrence of 'the horrible
storm' that 'begins afresh.' A tiny island of blue appears in his sky,
and then the pale, ugly, grey rack drives across it once more. But the
guiding self keeps the hand firm on the tiller, notwithstanding the wash
of the water and the rolling of the ship, and the dominant will conquers
at last, and at the third time the yielding soul obeys and is quiet,
because the Psalmist's will resolved that it should be quiet, and it
hopes in God because He, by a dead lift of effort, lifts it up to hope.

No effort at tranquillising our hearts is wholly lost; and no attempt to
lay hold upon God is wholly in vain. Men build a dam to keep out the
sea, and the winter storms make a breach in it, but it is not washed
away altogether, and next season they will not need to begin to build
from quite so low down; but there will be a bit of the former left, to
put the new structure upon, and so by degrees it will rise above the
tide, and at last will keep it out.

Did you ever see a child upon a swing, or a gymnast upon a trapeze? Each
oscillation goes a little higher; each starts from the same lowest
point, but the elevation on either side increases with each renewed
effort, until at last the destined height is reached and the daring
athlete leaps on to a solid platform. So we may, if I might say so, by
degrees, by reiterated efforts, swing ourselves up to that steadfast
floor on which we may stand high above all that breeds agitation and
gloom. It is possible, in the midst of change and circumstances that
excite sad emotions, anxieties, and fears--it is possible to have this
calmness of hope in God. The rainbow that spans the cataract rises
steadfast above the white, tortured water beneath, and persists whilst
all is hurrying change below, and there are flowers on the grim black
rocks by the side of the fall, whose verdure is made greener and whose
brightness is made brighter, by the freshening of the spray of the
waterfall. So we may be 'as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,' and may
bid dejected and disquieted souls to hope in God and be still.



THE KING IN HIS BEAUTY


    'Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy
    lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee forever. 3. Gird Thy sword
    upon Thy thigh, O mighty one, Thy glory and Thy majesty. 4. And in
    Thy majesty ride on prosperously, because of truth and meekness and
    righteousness: and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things.
    5. Thine arrows are sharp; the peoples fall under Thee; they are in
    the heart of the King's enemies. 6. Thy throne, O God, is for ever
    and ever: a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. 7. Thou
    hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness: therefore God, Thy
    God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.'
    --PSALM xlv. 2-7 (R.V.).

There is no doubt that this psalm was originally the marriage hymn of
some Jewish king. All attempts to settle who that was have failed, for
the very obvious reason that neither the history nor the character of
any of them correspond to the psalm. Its language is a world too wide
for the diminutive stature and stained virtues of the greatest and best
of them, and it is almost ludicrous to attempt to fit its glowing
sentences even to a Solomon. They all look like little David in Saul's
armour. So, then, we must admit one of two things. Either we have here a
piece of poetical exaggeration far beyond the limits of poetic license,
or 'a greater than Solomon is here.' Every Jewish king, by virtue of his
descent and of his office, was a living prophecy of the greatest of the
sons of David, the future King of Israel. And the Psalmist sees the
ideal Person who, as he knew, was one day to be real, shining through
the shadowy form of the earthly king, whose very limitations and
defects, no less than his excellences and his glories, forced the devout
Israelite to think of the coming King in whom 'the sure mercies'
promised to David should be facts at last. In plainer words, the psalm
celebrates Christ, not only although, but because, it had its origin and
partial application in a forgotten festival at the marriage of some
unknown king. It sees Him in the light of the Messianic hope, and so it
prophesies of Christ. My object is to study the features of this
portrait of the King, partly in order that we may better understand the
psalm, and partly in order that we may with the more reverence crown Him
as Lord of all.

I. The Person of the King.

The old-world ideal of a monarch put special emphasis upon two
things--personal beauty and courtesy of address and speech. The psalm
ascribes both of these to the King of Israel, and from both of them
draws the conclusion that one so richly endowed with the most eminent of
royal graces is the object of the special favour of God. 'Thou art
fairer than the children of men, grace is poured into Thy lips:
therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever.'

Here, at the very outset, we have the keynote struck of superhuman
excellence; and though the reference is, on the surface, only to
physical perfection, yet beneath that there lies the deeper reference to
a character which spoke through the eloquent frame, and in which all
possible beauties and sovereign graces were united in fullest
development, in most harmonious co-operation and unstained purity.

'Thou art fairer than the children of men.' Put side by side with that,
words which possibly refer to, and seem to contradict it. A later
prophet, speaking of the same Person, said: 'His visage was so marred,
more than any man, and His form than the sons of men.... There is no
form nor comeliness, and when we shall see Him there is no beauty that
we should desire Him.' We have to think, not of the outward form,
howsoever lovely with the loveliness of meekness and transfigured with
the refining patience of suffering it may have been, but of the beauty
of a soul that was all radiant with a lustre of loveliness that shames
the fragmentary and marred virtues of the best of us, and stands before
the world for ever as the supreme type and high-water mark of the grace
that is possible to a human spirit. God has lodged in men's nature the
apprehension of Himself, and of all that flows from Him, as true, as
good, as beautiful; and to these three there correspond wisdom,
morality, and art. The latter, divorced from the other two, becomes
earthly and devilish. This generation needs the lesson that beauty
wrenched from truth and goodness, and pursued for its own sake, by
artist or by poet or by _dilettante_, leads by a straight descent to
ugliness and to evil, and that the only true satisfying of the deep
longing for 'whatsoever things are lovely' is to be found when we turn
to Christ and find in Him, not only wisdom that enlightens the
understanding, and righteousness that fills the conscience, but beauty
that satisfies the heart. He is 'altogether lovely.' Nor let us forget
that once on earth 'the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His
raiment did shine as the light,' as indicative of the possibilities that
lay slumbering in His lowly Manhood, and as prophetic of that to which
we believe that the ascended Christ hath now attained--viz. the body of
His glory, wherein He reigns, filled with light and undecaying
loveliness on the Throne of the Heaven. Thus He is fairer in external
reality now, as He is, by the confession of an admiring, though not
always believing, world, fairer in inward character than the children of
men.

Another personal characteristic is 'Grace is poured into Thy lips.'
Kingly courtesy, and kingly graciousness of word, must be the
characteristic of the Sovereign of men. The abundance of that bestowment
is expressed by that word, 'poured.' We need only remember, 'All
wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth,' or how
even the rough instruments of authority were touched and diverted from
their appointed purpose, and came back and said, 'Never man spake like
this Man.' To the music of Christ's words all other eloquence is harsh,
poor, shallow--like the piping of a shepherd boy upon some wretched
oaten straw as compared with the full thunder of the organ. Words of
unmingled graciousness came from His lips. That fountain never sent
forth 'sweet waters and bitter.' He satisfies the canon of St. James:
'If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.' Words of
wisdom, of love, of pity, of gentleness, of pardon, of bestowment, and
only such, came from Him. 'Daughter! be of good cheer.' 'Son! thy sins
be forgiven thee.' 'Come unto Me all ye that labour and are
heavy-laden.'

'Grace is poured into Thy lips'; and, withal, it is the grace of a King.
For His language is authoritative even when it is most tender, and regal
when it is most gentle. His lips, sweet as honey and the honeycomb, are
the lips of an Autocrat. 'He speaks, and it is done: He commands, and it
stands fast.' He says to the tempest, 'Be still!' and it is quiet; and
to the demons, 'Come out of him!' and they disappear; and to the dead,
'Come forth!' and he stumbles from the tomb.

Another personal characteristic is--'God hath blessed Thee for ever.' By
which we are to understand, not that the two preceding graces are the
reasons for the divine benediction, but that the divine benediction is
the cause of them; and therefore they are the signs of it. It is not
that because He is lovely and gracious therefore God hath blessed Him;
but it is that we may know that God has blessed Him, since He is lovely
and gracious. These endowments are the results, not the causes; the
signs or the proofs, not the reasons of the divine benediction. That is
to say, the humanity so fair and unique shows by its beauty that it is
the result of the continual and unique operation and benediction of a
present God. We understand Him when we say, 'On Him rests the Spirit of
God without measure or interruption.' The explanation of the perfect
humanity is the abiding Divinity.

II. We pass from the person of the King, in the next place, to His
warfare.

The Psalmist breaks out in a burst of invocation, calling upon the King
to array Himself in His weapons of warfare, and then in broken clauses
vividly pictures the conflict. The Invocation runs thus: 'Gird on thy
sword upon thy thigh, O mighty hero! gird on thy glory and thy majesty,
and ride on prosperously on behalf (or, in the cause) of truth and
meekness and righteousness.' The King, then, is the perfection of
warrior strength as well as of beauty and gentleness--a combination of
qualities that speaks of old days when kings _were_ kings, and reminds
us of many a figure in ancient song, as well as of a Saul and a David in
Jewish history.

The singer calls upon Him to bind on His side His glittering sword, and
to put on, as His armour, 'glory and majesty.' These two words, in the
usage of the psalms, belong to Divinity, and they are applied to the
monarch here as being the earthly representative of the divine
supremacy, on whom there falls some reflection of the glory and the
majesty of which He is the vice-regent and representative. Thus arrayed,
with His weapon by His side and glittering armour on His limbs, He is
called upon to mount His chariot or His warhorse and ride forth.

But for what? 'On behalf of truth, meekness, righteousness.' If He be a
warrior, these are the purposes for which the true King of men must draw
His sword, and these only. No vulgar ambition or cruel lust of conquest,
earth-hunger, or 'glory' actuates Him. Nothing but the spread through
the world of the gracious beauties which are His own can be the end of
the King's warfare. He fights for truth; He fights--strange paradox--for
meekness; He fights for righteousness. And He not only fights _for_ them,
but _with_ them, for they are His own, and by _reason_ of them He 'rides
prosperously,' as well as 'rides prosperously' in order to establish
them.

In two or three swift touches the Psalmist next paints the tumult and
hurry of the fight. 'Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things.'
There are no armies or allies, none to stand beside Him. The one mighty
figure of the Kingly Warrior stands forth, as in the Assyrian sculptures
of conquerors, erect and solitary in His chariot, crashing through the
ranks of the enemy, and owing victory to His own strong arm alone.

Then follow three short, abrupt clauses, which, in their hurry and
fragmentary character, reflect the confusion and swiftness of battle.
'Thine arrows are sharp.... The people fall under Thee.' ... 'In the
heart of the King's enemies.' The Psalmist sees the bright arrow on the
string; it flies; he looks--the plain is strewed with prostrate forms,
the King's arrow in the heart of each.

Put side by side with that this picture:--A rocky road; a great city
shining in the morning sunlight across a narrow valley; a crowd of
shouting peasants waving palm branches in their rustic hands; in the
centre the meek carpenter's Son, sitting upon the poor robes which alone
draped the ass's colt, the tears upon His cheeks, and His lamenting
heard above the Hosannahs, as He looked across the glen and said, 'If
thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace!' That is the
fulfilment, or part of the fulfilment, of this prophecy. The
slow-pacing, peaceful beast and the meek, weeping Christ are the reality
of the vision which, in such strangely contrasted and yet true form,
floated before the prophetic eye of this ancient singer, for Christ's
humiliation is His majesty, and His sharpest weapon is His
all-penetrating love, and His cross is His chariot of victory and throne
of dominion.

But not only in His earthly life of meek suffering does Christ fight as
a King, but all through the ages the world-wide conflict for truth and
meekness and righteousness is His conflict; and wherever that is being
waged, the power which wages it is His, and the help which is done upon
earth He doeth it all Himself. True, He has His army, willing in the day
of His power, and clad in priestly purity and armour of light, but all
their strength, courage, and victory are from Him; and when they fight
and conquer, it is not they, but He in them who struggles and overcomes.
We have a better hope than that built on 'a stream of tendency that
makes for righteousness.' We know a Christ crucified and crowned, who
fights for it, and what He fights for will hold the field.

This prophecy of our psalm is not exhausted yet. I have set side by side
with it one picture--the Christ on the ass's colt. Put side by side with
it this other. 'I beheld the heaven opened; and lo! a white horse. And
He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True; and in righteousness
He doth judge and make war.' The psalm waits for its completion still,
and shall be fulfilled on that day of the true marriage supper of the
Lamb, when the festivities of the marriage chamber shall be preceded by
the last battle and crowning victory of the King of kings, the Conqueror
of the world.

III. Lastly, we have the royalty of the King.

'Thy throne, O God! is for ever and ever.' This is not the place nor
time to enter on the discussion of the difficulties of these words. I
must run the risk of appearing to state confident opinions without
assigning reasons, when I venture to say that the translation in the
Authorised Version is the natural one. I do not say that others have
been adopted by reason of doctrinal prepossessions; I know nothing about
that; but I do say that they are not by any means so natural a
translation as that which stands before us. What it may mean is another
matter; but the plain rendering of the words, I venture to assert, is
what our English Bible makes it--'Thy throne, O God! is for ever and
ever.'

Then it is to be remembered that, throughout the Old Testament, we have
occasional instances of the use of that great and solemn designation in
reference to persons in such place and authority as that they are
representatives of God. So kings and judges and lawyers and the like are
spoken of more than once. Therefore there is not, in the language,
translated as in our English Bible, necessarily the implication of the
unique divinity of the persons so addressed. But I take it that this is
an instance in which the prophet was 'wiser than he knew,' and in which
you and I understand him better than he understood himself, and know
what God, who spoke through him, meant, whatsoever the prophet, through
whom He spoke, did mean. That is to say, I take the words before us as
directly referring to Jesus Christ, and as directly declaring the
divinity of His person, and therefore the eternity of His kingdom.

We live in days when that perpetual sovereignty is being questioned. In
a revolutionary time like this it is well for Christian people, seeing
so many venerable things going, to tighten their grasp upon the
conviction that, whatever goes, Christ's kingdom will not go; and that,
whatever may be shaken by any storms, the foundation of His Throne
stands fast. For our personal lives, and for the great hopes of the
future beyond the grave, it is all-important that we should grasp, as an
elementary conviction of our faith, the belief in the perpetual rule of
that Saviour whose rule is life and peace. In the great mosque of
Damascus, which was a Christian church once, there may still be read,
deeply cut in the stone, high above the pavement where now Mohammedans
bow, these words, 'Thy kingdom, O Christ! is an everlasting kingdom.' It
is true, and it shall yet be known that He is for ever and ever the
Monarch of the world.

Then, again, this royalty is a royalty of righteousness. 'The sceptre of
Thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness and hatest
wickedness.' His rule is no arbitrary sway, His rod is no rod of iron
and tyrannical oppression, His own personal character is righteousness.
Righteousness is the very life-blood and animating principle of His
rule. He loves righteousness, and, therefore, puts His broad shield of
protection over all who love it and seek after it. He hates wickedness,
and therefore He wars against it wherever it is, and seeks to draw men
out of it. And thus His kingdom is the hope of the world.

And, lastly, this dominion of perennial righteousness is the dominion of
unparalleled gladness. 'Therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee
with the oil of joy above Thy fellows.' Set side by side with that the
other words, 'A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' And remember
how, near the very darkest hour of the Lord's earthly experiences, He
said:--'These things have I spoken unto you that My joy may remain in
you, and that your joy may be full.' Christ's gladness flowed from
Christ's righteousness. Because His pure humanity was ever in touch with
God, and in conscious obedience to Him, therefore, though darkness was
around, there was light within. He was 'sorrowful, yet always
rejoicing,' and the saddest of men was likewise the gladdest, and
possessed 'the oil of joy above His fellows.'

Brother! that kingdom is offered to us; participation in that joy of our
Lord may belong to each of us. He rules that He may make us like
Himself, lovers of righteousness, and so, like Himself, possessors of
unfading joy. Make Him your King, let His arrow reach your heart, bow in
submission to His power, take for your very life His words of
graciousness, lovingly gaze upon His beauty till some reflection of it
shall shine from you, fight by His side with strength drawn from Him
alone, own and adore Him as the enthroned God-man, Jesus Christ, the Son
of God. Crown Him with the many crowns of supreme trust, heart-whole
love, and glad obedience. So shall you be honoured to share in His
warfare and triumph. So shall you have a throne close to His and eternal
as it. So shall His sceptre be graciously stretched out to you to give
you access with boldness to the presence-chamber of the King. So shall
He give you too, 'the oil of joy for mourning,' even in the 'valley of
weeping,' and the fulness of His gladness for evermore, when He sets you
at His right hand.



THE PORTRAIT OF THE BRIDE

    'Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget
    also thine own people, and thy father's house; 11. So shall the King
    desire thy beauty: for He is thy Lord; and worship thou Him. 12. And
    the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among
    the people shall entreat thy favour. 13. The King's daughter within
    the palace is all glorious: her clothing is inwrought with gold. 14.
    She shall be led unto the King in broidered work: the virgins, her
    companions, that follow her shall be brought unto thee. 15. With
    gladness and rejoicing shall they be led; they shall enter into the
    King's palace.'--PSALM xlv. 10-15 (R.V.).

The relation between God and Israel is constantly represented in the Old
Testament under the emblem of a marriage. The tenderest promises of
protection and the sharpest rebukes of unfaithfulness are based upon
this foundation. 'Thy Maker is thy Husband'; or, 'I am married unto
thee, saith the Lord.' The emblem is transferred in the New Testament to
Christ and His Church. Beginning with John the Baptist's designation of
Him as the Bridegroom, it reappears in many of our Lord's sayings and
parables, is frequent in the writings of the Apostle Paul, and reaches
its height of poetic splendour and terror in that magnificent
description in Revelation of 'the Bride, the Lamb's wife,' and 'the
marriage supper of the Lamb.'

Seeing, then, the continual occurrence of this metaphor, it is unnatural
and almost impossible to deny its presence in this psalm. In a former
sermon I have directed attention to the earlier portion of it, which
presents us, in its portraiture of the King, a shadowy and prophetic
outline of Jesus Christ. I desire, in a similar fashion, to deal now
with the latter portion, which, in its portrait of the bride, presents
us with truths having their real fulfilment in the Church collectively
and in the individual soul.

Of course, inasmuch as the consort of a Jewish monarch was not an
incarnate prophecy as her husband was, the transference of the
historical features of this wedding-song to a spiritual purpose is not
so satisfactory, or easy, in the latter part as in the former. There is
a thicker rind of prose fact, as it were, to cut through, and certain of
the features cannot be applied to the relation between Christ and His
Church without undue violence. But, whilst we admit that, it is also
clear that the main, broad outlines of this picture do require as well
as permit its higher application. Therefore I turn to them to try to
bring out what they teach us so eloquently and vividly of Christ's gifts
to, and requirements from, the souls that are wedded to Him.

I. Now the first point is this--the all-surrendering Love that must mark
the Bride.

The language of the tenth verse is the voice of prophecy or inspiration;
speaking words of fatherly counsel to the princess--'Forget also thine
own people and thy father's house.' Historically I suppose it points to
the foreign birth of the queen, who is called upon to abandon all old
ties, and to give herself with wholehearted consecration to her new
duties and relations.

In all real wedded life, as those who have tasted it know, there comes,
by sweet necessity, the subordination, in the presence of a purer and
more absorbing love, brought close by a will itself ablaze with the
sacred glow.

Therefore, while giving all due honour to other forms of Christian
opposition to the prevailing unbelief, I urge the cultivation of a
quickened spiritual life as by far the most potent. Does not history
bear me out in that view? What, for instance, was it that finished the
infidelity of the eighteenth century? Whether had Butler's _Analogy_ or
Charles Wesley's hymns, Paley's _Evidences_ or Whitefield's sermons,
most to do with it? A languid Church breeds unbelief as surely as a
decaying oak does fungus. In a condition of depressed vitality, the
seeds of disease, which a full vigour would shake off, are fatal. Raise
the temperature, and you kill the insect germs. A warmer tone of
spiritual life would change the atmosphere which unbelief needs for its
growth. It belongs to the fauna of the glacial epoch, and when the
rigours of that wintry time begin to melt, and warmer days to set in,
the creatures of the ice have to retreat to arctic wildernesses, and
leave a land no longer suited for their life. A diffused unbelief, such
as we see around us to-day, does not really arise from the logical basis
on which it seems to repose. It comes from something much deeper,--a
certain habit and set of mind which gives these arguments their force.
For want of a better name, we call it the spirit of the age. It is the
result of very subtle and complicated forces, which I do not pretend to
analyse. It spreads through society, and forms the congenial soil in
which these seeds of evil, as we believe them to be, take root. Does
anybody suppose that the growth of popular unbelief is owing to the
logical force of certain arguments? It is in the air; a wave of it is
passing over us. We are in a condition in which it becomes shall drop
the toys of earth as easily and naturally as a child will some trinket
or plaything, when it stretches out its little hand to get a better gift
from its loving mother. Love will sweep the heart clean of its
antagonists; and there is no real union between Jesus Christ and us
except in the measure in which we joyfully, and not as a reluctant
giving up of things that we would much rather keep if we durst, 'count
all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus
our Lord.'

Have the terms of wedded life changed since my psalm was written? Is
there less need now than there used to be that, if we are to possess a
heart, we should give a whole heart? And have the terms of Christian
living altered since the old days, when He said, 'Whosoever he be of you
that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple'? Ah! I
fear me that it is no uncharitable judgment to say that the bulk of
so-called Christians are playing at being Christians, and have never
penetrated into the depths either of the sweet all-sufficiency of the
love which they say that they possess, or the constraining necessity
that is in it for the surrender of all besides. Many happy husbands and
wives, if they would only treat Jesus Christ as they treat one another,
would find out a power and a blessedness in the Christian life that they
know nothing about at present. 'Daughter! forget thine own people and
thy father's house!'

II. Again, the second point here is that which directly follows--the
King's love and the Bride's reverence. 'So shall the King greatly desire
thy beauty: for He is thy Lord; and worship thou Him.'

The King is drawn, in the outgoings of His affection, by the sweet trust
and perfect love which has surrendered everything for him and happily
followed him from the far-off land. And then, in accordance with
Oriental ideas, and with His royal rank, the bride is exhorted, in the
midst of the utter trust and equality born of love, to remember, 'He is
thy Lord, and reverence thou Him.' So, then, here are two thoughts that
go, as I take it, very deep into the realities of the Christian life.
The first is that, in simple literal fact, Jesus Christ is affected, in
His relation to us, by the completeness of our dependence upon Him, and
surrender of all else for Him. We do not believe that half vividly
enough. We have surrounded Jesus Christ with a halo of mystery and of
remoteness which neither lets us think of Him as being really man or
really God. And I press on you this as a plain fact, no piece of pulpit
rhetoric, that His relation to us as Christians hinges upon our
surrender to Him. Of course, there is a love with which He pours Himself
out over the unworthy and the sinful--blessed be His name!--and the more
sinful and the more unworthy, the deeper the tenderness and the more
yearning the pity and pathos of invitation which He lavishes upon us.
But that is a different thing from this other, which is that He is
pleased or displeased, actually drawn to or repelled from us, in the
measure of the completeness and gladness of our surrender of ourselves
to Him. That is what Paul means when he says that he labours that
'whether present or absent he may be pleasing to Christ.' And this is
the highest and strongest motive that I know for all holy and noble
living, that we shall bring a smile into our Master's face and draw Him
nearer to ourselves thereby. '_So_ shall the King greatly desire thy
beauty.'

Again, in the measure in which we live out our Christianity, in
whole-hearted and thorough surrender, in that measure shall we be
_conscious_ of His nearness and feel His love.

There are many Christian people that have only religion enough to make
them uncomfortable, only enough to make religion to them a system of
regulations, negative and positive, the reasonableness and sweetness of
which they but partially apprehend. They must not do _this_ because it
is forbidden; they ought to do _that_ because it is commanded. They
would much rather do the forbidden thing, and they have no wish to do
the commanded thing, and so they live in twilight, and when they come
beside a man who really has been walking in the light of Christ's face,
the language of his experience, though it be but a transcript of facts,
sounds to them all unreal and fanatical. They miss the blessing that is
waiting for them, just because they have not really given up themselves.
If by resolute and continual opening of our hearts to Christ's real love
and presence, and by consequent casting off of our false and foolish
self-dependence, we were to blow away the clouds that come between us
and Him, we should feel the sunshine. But as it is, a miserable
multitude of professing Christians 'walk in the darkness, and have no
light,' or, at the most, but some wintry sunshine that struggles through
the thick mist, and does little more than reveal the barrenness that
lies around. Brethren! if you want to be happy Christians, be
out-and-out ones; and if you would have your hands and your hearts
filled with Christ, empty them of the trash that they grip so closely
now.

Then, on the other side, there is the reminder and exhortation: 'He is
thy Lord, worship thou Him.' The beggar-maid that, in the old ballad,
married the king, in all her love was filled with reverence; and the
ragged, filthy souls, whom Jesus Christ stoops to love, and wash, and
make His own, are never to forget, in the highest rapture of their joy,
their lowly adoration, nor in the glad familiarity of their loving
approach to Him, cease to remember that the test of love is, 'Keep My
commandments.'

There are types of emotional and sentimental religion that have a great
deal more to say about love than about obedience; that are full of half
wholesome apostrophes to a 'dear Lord,' and almost forget the '_Lord_'
in the emphasis which they put on the '_dear_.' And I want you to
remember this, as by no means an unnecessary caution, and of especial
value in some quarters to-day, that the test of the reality of Christian
love is its lowliness, and that all that which indulges in heated
emotion, and forgets practical service, is rotten and spurious. Though
the King desire her beauty, still, when He stretches out the golden
sceptre, Esther must come to Him with lowly guise and a reverent heart.
'He is thy Lord, worship thou Him.'

III. The next point in this portraiture is the reflected honour and
influence of the bride.

There are difficulties about the translation of the 12th verse of our
psalm with which I do not need to trouble you. We may take it for our
purpose as it stands before us. 'The daughter of Tyre' (representing the
wealthy, outside nations) 'shall be there with a gift; even the rich
among the people shall entreat thy favour.'

The bride being thus beloved by the King, thus standing by His side,
those around recognise her dignity and honour, and draw near to secure
her intercession. Translate that out of the emblem into plain words, and
it comes to this--if Christian people, and communities of such, are to
have influence in the world, they must be thorough-going Christians. If
they are, they will get hatred sometimes; but men know honest people and
religious people when they see them, and such Christians will win
respect and be a power in the world. If Christian men and Christian
communities are despised by outsiders, they very generally earn the
contempt and deserve it, both from men and from heaven. The true
evangelist is Christian character. They that manifestly live with the
sunshine of the Lord's love on their faces, and whose hands are plainly
clear from worldly and selfish graspings, will have the world
recognising the fact and honouring them accordingly. 'The sons of them
that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee, and all they that
despised thee shall bow themselves down to the soles of thy feet.' When
the Church has cast the world out of its heart, it will conquer the
world--and not till then.

IV. The next point in this picture is the fair adornment of the bride.
The language is in part ambiguous; and if this were the place for
commenting would require a good deal of comment. But we take it as it
stands in our Bible, 'The King's daughter is all glorious within'--not
within her nature, but within the innermost recesses of the palace--'her
clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the King in
raiment of needlework.'

It is an easy and well-worn metaphor to talk about people's character as
their dress. We speak about the 'habits' of a man, and we use that word
to express both his customary manners and his costume. Custom and
costume, again, are the same word. So here, without any departure from
the well-trodden path of Scriptural emblem, we cannot but see in the
glorious apparel the figure of the pure character with which the bride
is clothed. The Book of the Revelation dresses her in the fine linen
clean and white, which symbolises the lustrous radiance and snowy purity
of righteousness. The psalm describes her dress as partly consisting in
garments gleaming with gold, which suggests splendour and glory, and
partly in robes of careful and many-coloured embroidery, which suggests
the patience with which the slow needle has been worked through the
stuff, and the variegated and manifold graces and beauties with which
she is adorned.

So, putting all the metaphors together, the true Christian character,
which will be ours if we really are the subjects of that divine love,
will be lustrous and snowy as the snows on Hermon, or as was the garment
whose whiteness outshone the neighbouring snows when He was
'transfigured before them.' Our characters will be splendid with a
splendour far above the tawdry beauties and vulgar conspicuousness of
the 'heroic' and worldly ideals, and will be endowed with a purity and
harmony of colouring in richly various graces, such as no earthly looms
can ever weave.

We are not told here how the garment is attained. It is no part of the
purpose of the psalm to tell us that, but it is part of its purpose to
insist that there is no marriage between Christ and the soul except that
soul be pure, none except it be robed in the beauty of righteousness and
the splendour of consecration, and the various gifts of an all-giving
Spirit. The man that came into the wedding-feast, with his dirty,
every-day clothes on, was turned out as a rude insulter. But what of the
queen that should come foully dressed? There would be no place for her
amidst its solemnities. You will never stand at the right hand of
Christ, unless jour souls here are clothed in the fine linen clean and
white, and over it the flashing wealth and the harmonised splendour of
the gold and embroidery of Christlike graces. We know how to get the
garment. Faith strips the rags and puts the best robe on us; and effort
based upon faith enables us day by day to put off the old man with his
deeds and to put on the new man. The bride 'made _herself_ ready,' and
'to her was _granted_ that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean
and white.'

V. Lastly, we have the picture of the homecoming of the bride. 'She
shall be brought unto the King.... with gladness and rejoicing shall
they be brought; they shall enter into the King's palace.'

The presence of virgin companions waiting on the bride is no more
difficult to understand here than it is in Christ's parable of the Ten
Virgins. It is a characteristic of all parabolical representation to be
elastic, and sometimes to duplicate its emblems for the same thing; and
that is the case here. But the main point to be insisted upon is this,
that, according to the perspective of Scripture, the life of the
Christian Church here on earth is, if I may so say, a betrothal in
righteousness and loving-kindness; and that the betrothal waits for its
consummation in that great future when the bride shall pass into the
presence of the King. The whole collective body of sinful souls redeemed
by His blood, and who know the sweetness of His partially received love,
shall be drawn within the curtains of that upper house, and enter into a
union with Christ Jesus ineffable, incomprehensible till experienced;
and of which the closest union of loving souls on earth is but a dim
shadow. 'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit'; and the reality
of our union with Him rises above the emblem of a marriage, as high as
spirit rises above flesh.

The psalm stops at the palace-gate. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath
prepared for them that love Him.' But there is a solemn prelude to that
completed union and its deep rapture. Before it there comes the last
campaign of the conquering King on the white horse, who wars in
righteousness. Dear friends! you must choose now whether you will be of
the company of the Bride or of the company of the enemy. 'They that were
ready went in with Him unto the marriage, and the door was shut.'

Which side of the door do _you_ mean to be on?



THE CITY AND RIVER OF GOD


    'There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of
    God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. 5. God is
    in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and
    that right early. 6. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He
    uttered His voice, the earth melted. 7. The Lord of hosts is with
    us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.'--PSALM xlvi 4-7.

There are two remarkable events in the history of Israel, one or other
of which most probably supplied the historical basis upon which this
psalm rests. One is that wonderful deliverance of the armies of
Jehoshaphat from the attacking forces of the bordering nations, which is
recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Chronicles. There you
will find that, by a singular arrangement, the sons of Korah, members of
the priestly order, were not only in the van of the battle, but
celebrated the victory by hymns of gladness. It is possible that this
may be one of those hymns; but I think rather that the more ordinary
reference is the correct one, which sees in this psalm and in the two
succeeding ones, echoes of that supernatural deliverance of Israel in
the time of Hezekiah, when

  'The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,'

and Sennacherib and all his army were, by the blast of the breath of His
nostrils, swept into swift destruction.

The reasons for that historical reference may be briefly stated. We
find, for instance, a number of remarkable correspondences between these
three psalms and portions of the Book of the prophet Isaiah, who, as we
know, lived in the period of that deliverance. The comparison, for
example, which is here drawn with such lofty, poetic force between the
quiet river which 'makes glad the city of God,' and the tumultuous
billows of the troubled sea, which shakes the mountain and moves the
earth, is drawn by Isaiah in regard to the Assyrian invasion, when he
speaks of Israel refusing 'the waters of Shiloah, which go softly,' and,
therefore, having brought upon them the waters of the river--the power
of Assyria--'which shall fill the breadth of Thy land, O Immanuel!'
Notice, too, that the very same consolation which was given to Isaiah,
by the revelation of that significant appellation, 'Immanuel, God with
us,' appears in this psalm as a kind of refrain, and is the foundation
of all its confident gladness, 'The Lord of Hosts is with us.' Besides
these obvious parallelisms, there are others to which I need not refer,
which, taken together, seem to render it at least probable that we have
in this psalm the devotional echo of the great deliverance of Israel
from Assyria in the time of Hezekiah.

Now, these verses are the cardinal central portion of the song. We may
call them The Hymn of the Defence and Deliverance of the City of God. We
cannot expect to find in poetry the same kind of logical accuracy in the
process of thought which we require in treatises; but the lofty emotion
of devout song obeys laws of its own: and it is well to surrender
ourselves to the flow, and to try to see with the Psalmist's eyes for a
moment his sources of consolation and strength.

I take the four points which seem to be the main turning-points of these
verses--first, the gladdening river; second, the indwelling Helper;
third, the conquering voice; and fourth, the alliance of ourselves by
faith with the safe dwellers in the city of God.

I. First, we have the gladdening river--an emblem of many great and
joyous truths.

The figure is occasioned by, or at all events derives much of its
significance from, a geographical peculiarity of Jerusalem. Alone among
the great cities and historical centres of the world, it stood upon no
broad river. One little perennial stream, or rather rill of living
water, was all which it had; but Siloam was mightier and more blessed
for the dwellers in the rocky fortress of the Jebusites than the
Euphrates, Nile, or Tiber for the historical cities which stood upon
their banks. One can see the Psalmist looking over the plain eastward,
and beholding in vision the mighty forces which came against them,
symbolised and expressed by the breadth and depth and swiftness of the
great river upon which Nineveh sat as a queen, and then thinking upon
the little tiny thread of living water that flowed past the base of the
rock upon which the temple was perched. It seems small and
unconspicuous--nothing compared to the dash of the waves and the rise of
the floods of those mighty secular empires, still, 'There is a river the
streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.' Its waters shall never
fail, and thirst shall flee whithersoever this river comes.

It is also to be remembered that the psalm is running in the track of a
certain constant symbolism that pervades all Scripture. From the first
book of Genesis down to the last chapter of Revelation, you can hear the
dashing of the waters of the river. 'It went out from the garden and
parted into four heads.' 'Thou makest them drink of the river of Thy
pleasures.' 'Behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the
house eastward,' and 'everything shall live whithersoever the river
cometh.' 'He that believeth on me, out of His belly shall flow rivers of
living water.' 'And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as
crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.' Isaiah,
who has already afforded some remarkable parallels to the words of our
psalm, gives another very striking one to the image now under
consideration, when he says, 'The glorious Lord will be unto us a place
of broad rivers and streams, wherein shall go no galley with oars.' The
picture in that metaphor is of a stream lying round Jerusalem, like the
moated rivers which girdle some of the cities in the plains of Italy,
and are the defence of those who dwell enclosed in their flashing links.

Guided, then, by the physical peculiarity of situation which I have
referred to, and by the constant meaning of Scriptural symbolism, I
think we must conclude that this river, 'the streams whereof make glad
the city of God,' is God Himself in the outflow and self-communication
of His own grace to the soul. The stream is the fountain in flow. The
gift of God, which is living water, is God Himself, considered as the
ever-imparting Source of all refreshment, of all strength, of all
blessedness. 'This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe
should receive.'

We must dwell for a moment or two still further upon these words, and
mark how this metaphor, in a most simple and natural way, sets forth
very grand and blessed spiritual truths with regard to this
communication of God's grace to them that love Him and trust Him. First,
I think we may see here a very beautiful suggestion of the manner, and
then of the variety, and then of the effects of that communication of
the divine love and grace.

We have only to read the previous verses to see what I mean. 'God is our
refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not
we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be
carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be
troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.' There
you can hear the wild waves dashing round the base of the firm hills,
sapping their strength, and toppling their crests down in the bubbling,
yeasty foam. Remember how, not only in Scripture but in all poetry, the
sea has been the emblem of endless unrest. Its waters, those barren,
wandering fields of foam, going moaning round the world with
unprofitable labour, how they have been the emblem of unbridled power,
of tumult and strife, and anarchy and rebellion! Then mark how our text
brings into sharpest contrast with all that hurly-burly of the tempest,
and the dash and roar of the troubled waters, the gentle, quiet flow of
the river, 'the streams whereof make glad the city of God'; the
translucent little ripples purling along beds of golden pebbles, and the
enamelled meadows drinking the pure stream as it steals by them. Thus,
says our psalm, not with noise, not with tumult, not with conspicuous
and destructive energy, but in silent, secret underground communication,
God's grace, God's love, His peace, His power, His almighty and gentle
Self flow into men's souls. Quietness and confidence on our sides
correspond to the quietness and serenity with which He glides into the
heart. Instead of all the noise of the sea you have within the quiet
impartations of the voice that is still and small, wherein God dwells.
The extremest power is silent. The mightiest force in all the universe
is the force which has neither speech nor language. The parent of all
physical force, as astronomers seem to be more and more teaching us, is
the great central sun which moveth all things, which operates all
physical changes, whose beams are all but omnipotent, and yet fall so
quietly that they do not disturb the motes that dance in their path.
Thunder and lightning are child's play compared with the energy that
goes to make the falling dews and quiet rains. The power of the sunshine
is the root power of all force which works in material things. And so we
turn, with the symbol in our hands, to the throne of God, and when He
says, 'Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,' we are aware of an
energy, the signature of whose might is its quietness, which is
omnipotent because it is gentle and silent. The seas may roar and be
troubled, the tiny thread of the river is mightier than them all.

And then, still further, in this first part of our text there is also
set forth very distinctly the number and the variety of the gifts of
God. 'The streams whereof,' literally, 'the divisions whereof,'--that is
to say, going back to Eastern ideas, the broad river is broken up into
canals that are led off into every man's little bit of garden ground;
coming down to modern ideas, the water is carried by pipes into every
man's household and chamber. The stream has its divisions; listen to
words that are a commentary upon the meaning of this verse, 'All these
worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing unto every man
severally as He will'--an infinite variety, an endless diversity,
according to all the petty wants of each that is supplied thereby. As
you can divide water all but infinitely, and it will take the shape of
every containing vessel, so into every soul according to its capacities,
according to its shape, according to its needs, this great gift, this
blessed presence of the God of our strength, will come. The varieties of
His gifts are as much the mark of His omnipotence as the gentleness and
stillness of them.

And then I need only touch upon the last thought, the effects of this
communicated God. 'The streams make glad'--with the gladness which comes
from refreshment, with the gladness which comes from the satisfying of
all thirsty desires, with the gladness which comes from the contact of
the spirit with absolute completeness; of the will, with perfect
authority; of the heart, with changeless love; of the understanding,
with pure incarnate truth; of the conscience, with infinite peace; of
the child, with the Father; of my emptiness, with His fulness; of my
changeableness, with His immutability; of my incompleteness, with His
perfectness. They to whom this stream passes shall know no thirst; they
who possess it from them it shall come. Out of him 'shall flow rivers of
living water.' That all-sufficient Spirit not only becomes to its
possessor the source of individual refreshment, and slakes his own
thirst, but flows out from him for the gladdening of others.

  'The least flower with a brimming cup may stand,
     And share its dew-drop with another near.'

The city thus supplied may laugh at besieging hosts. With the deep
reservoir in its central fortress, the foe may do as they list to all
surface streams, its water shall be sure, and no raging thirst shall
ever drive it to surrender. The river breaks from the threshold of the
Temple, within its walls, and when all beyond that safe enclosure is
cracked and parched in the fierce heat, and no green thing can be seen
in the dry and thirsty land, that stream shall 'make glad the city of
our God,' and 'everything shall live whithersoever the river cometh.'
'Thou shalt be as a well-watered garden, and as a river whose streams
fail not.'

II. Then notice, secondly, substantially the same general thought, but
modified and put in plain words--the indwelling Helper.

'God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved: God shall help her,
_and that_ right early,' or, as the latter clause had better be
translated, as it is given in the margin of some of our Bibles, 'God
shall help her at the appearance of the morning.' There are two promises
here: first of all, the constant presence; and second, help at the right
time. Whether there be actual help or no, there is always with us the
potential help of God, and it flashes into energy at the moment that He
knows to be the right one. The 'appearing of the morning' He determines;
not you or I. Therefore, we may be confident that we have God ever by
our sides. Not that that Presence is meant to avert outward or inward
trouble and trial, and painfulness and weariness; but in the midst of
these, and while they last, here is the assurance, 'She shall not be
moved'; and that it will not always last, here is the ground of the
confidence, 'God shall help her when the morning dawns.'

I need not point out to you the contrast here between the tranquillity
of the city which has for its central Inhabitant and Governor the
omnipotent God, and the tumult of all that turbulent earth. The waves of
the troubled waters break everywhere,--they run over the flat plains and
sweep over the mountains of secular strength and outward might, and
worldly kingdoms, and human polities and earthly institutions, acting on
them all either by slow corrosive action at the base, or by the tossing
floods swirling against them, until they shall be lost in the ocean of
time. For 'the history of the world is the judgment of the world.' When
He wills the plains are covered and mountains disappear, but one rock
stands fast--'The mountain of the Lord's house is exalted above the top
of the mountains'; and when everything is rocking and swaying in the
tempests, here is fixity and tranquillity. 'She shall not be moved.'
Why? Because of her citizens? No. Because of her guards and gates? No!
Because of her polity? No! Because of her orthodoxy? No! But because God
is in her, and she is safe, and where He dwells no evil can come. 'Thou
carriest Caesar and his fortunes.' The ship of Christ carries the Lord
and His fortunes; and, therefore, whatsoever becomes of the other little
ships in the wild dash of the tempest, this with the Lord on board
arrives at its desired haven--'God is in the midst of her, she shall not
be moved.'

Then, still further, that Presence which is always the pledge of
stability, and unmoved calm, even while causes of agitation are storming
around, will, as I said, flash into energy, and be a Helper and a
Deliverer at the right moment. And when will that right moment be? At
the appearing of the morning. 'And when they arose early in the morning,
they were all dead corpses'; in the hour of greatest extremity, but ere
the foe has executed his purposes; not too soon for fear and faith, not
too late for hope and help; when the morning dawns, when the appointed
hour of deliverance, which He alone determines, has struck. 'It is not
for you to know the times and seasons'; but this we may know, that He
who is the Lord of time will ever save at the best possible moment. He
will not come so quickly as to prevent us from feeling our need; He will
not tarry so long as to make us sick with hope deferred, or so long as
to let the enemy fulfil his purposes of destruction. 'Lord, behold! he
whom Thou lovest is sick. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and
Lazarus. When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days
still in the same place where He was.... Lord, if Thou hadst been here,
my brother had not died. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise
again.... And he that was dead came forth.'

The Lord may seem to sleep on His hard wooden pillow in the stern of the
little fishing boat, and even while the frail craft begins to fill may
show no sign of help. But ere the waves have rolled over her, the cry of
fear that yet trusts, and of trust that yet fears, wakes Him who knew
the need, even while He seemed to slumber, and one mighty word, as of a
master to some petulant slave, 'Peace! be still,' hushes the confusion,
and rebukes the fear, and rewards the faith.

'The Lord is in the midst of her'--that is the perennial fact. 'The Lord
shall help her, and that right early'--that is the 'grace for seasonable
help.'

III. The psalm having set forth these broad grounds of confidence, goes
on to tell the story of actual deliverance which confirms them, and of
which they are indeed but the generalised expression.

The condensed narrative moves to its end by a series of short crashing
sentences like the ring of the destructive axe at the roots of trees. We
see the whole sequence of events as by lightning flashes, which give
brief glimpses and are quenched. The grand graphic words seem to pant
with haste, as they record Israel's deliverance. That deliverance comes
from the Conquering Voice. 'The heathen raged' (the same word, we may
note, as is found a verse or two back, 'Though the waters thereof
_roar_'), 'the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth
melted.' With what vigour these hurried sentences describe, first, the
wild wrath and formidable movements of the foe, and then the One
Sovereign Word which quells them all, as well as the instantaneous
weakness that dissolves the seeming solid substance when the breath of
His lips smites it!

And where will you find a grander or loftier thought than this, that the
simple word--the utterance of the pure will of God conquers all
opposition, and tells at once in the sphere of material things? He
speaks, and it is done. At the sound of that thunder-voice, hushed
stillness and a pause of dread fall upon all the wide earth, deeper and
more awe-struck than the silence of the woods with their huddling
leaves, when the feebler peals roll through the sky. 'The depths are
congealed in the heart of the sea'--as if you were to lay hold of
Niagara in its wildest plunge, and were with a word to freeze all its
descending waters and stiffen them into immovableness in fetters of
eternal ice. So He utters His voice, and all meaner noises are hushed.
'The lion hath roared, who shall not fear?'

He speaks--no weapon, no material vehicle is needed. The point of
contact between the pure divine will and the material creatures which
obey its behests is ever wrapped in darkness, whether these be the
settled ordinances which men call nature, or the less common which the
Bible calls miracle. In all alike there is, to every believer in a God
at all, an incomprehensible action of the spiritual upon the material,
which allows of no explanations to bridge over the gulf recognised in
the broken utterances of our psalm, 'He uttered His voice: the earth
melted.'

How grandly, too, these last words give the impression of immediate and
utter dissolution of all opposition! All the Titanic brute forces are,
at His voice, disintegrated, and lose their organisation and solidity.
'The hills melted like wax'; 'The mountains flowed down at Thy
presence.' The hardness and obstinacy is all liquefied and enfeebled,
and parts with its consistency and is lost in a fluid mass. As two
carbon points when the electric stream is poured upon them are gnawed to
nothingness by the fierce heat, and you can see them wasting before your
eyes, so the concentrated ardour of His breath falls upon the hostile
evil, and lo! it is not.

The Psalmist is generalising the historical fact of the sudden and utter
destruction of Sennacherib's host into a universal law. And it _is_ a
universal law--true for us as for Hezekiah and the sons of Korah, true
for all generations. Martin Luther might well make this psalm the battle
cry of the Reformation, and we may well make our own the rugged music
and dauntless hope of his rendering of these words:--

  And let the Prince of Ill
  Look grim as e'er he will,
  He harms us not a whit.
  For why? His doom is writ.
  A word shall quickly slay him.'

IV. Then note, finally, how the psalm shows us the act by which we enter
the City of God.

'The Lord of Hosts is with _us_; the God of Jacob is _our_ refuge.' It
is not enough to lay down general truths, however true and however
blessed, about the safe and sacred city of God--not enough to be
theoretically convinced of the truth of the supreme governance and
ever-present aid of God. We must take a further step that will lead us
far beyond the regions of barren intellectual apprehension of the great
truths of God's love and care. These truths are nothing to us, brethren!
unless, like the Psalmist here, we make them our own, and losing the
burden of self in the very act of grasping them by faith, unite
ourselves with the great multitude who are joined together in Him, and
say, 'He is _my_ God: He is _our_ refuge.' That living act of
'appropriating faith' presupposes, indeed, the presence of these truths
in our understandings, but in the very act they are changed into powers
in our lives. They pass into the affections and the will. They are no
more empty generalities. Bread nourishes, not when it is looked at, but
when it is eaten. 'He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.' We feed
on Christ when we make Him ours by faith, and each of us is sustained
and blessed by Him when we can say, 'My Lord and my God!'

Mark, too, how there is here set forth the twofold ground for our
calmest confidence in these two mighty names of God.

'The Lord of Hosts is with us.' That majestic name includes all the
deepest and most blessed thoughts of God which the earlier revelation
imparted. That name of 'Jehovah' proclaims at once His Eternal Being and
His covenant relation--manifesting Him by its mysterious meaning as He
who dwells above time, the tideless sea of absolute unchanging
existence, from whom all the stream of creatural life flows forth
many-coloured and transient, to whom it all returns, who, Himself
unchanging, changeth all things, and declaring Him, by the historical
associations connected with it, as having unveiled His purposes in firm
words, to which men may trust, and as having entered into that solemn
league with Israel which underlay their whole national life. He is _the
Lord_ the Eternal,--the covenant name.

He is the Lord of Hosts, the 'Imperator,' absolute Master and Commander,
Captain and King of all the combined forces of the universe, whether
they be personal or impersonal, spiritual or material, who, in serried
ranks, wait on Him, and move harmonious, obedient to His will. And this
Eternal Master of the legions of the universe is with us, weak and poor,
and troubled and sinful as we are. Therefore, we will not fear: what can
man do unto us?

Again, when we say, 'The God of Jacob is our refuge,' we reach back into
the past, and lay hold of the mercies promised to, and received by, the
long vanished generations who trusted in Him and were lightened. As, by
the one name, we appeal to His own Being and uttered pledge, so, by the
other, we appeal to His ancient deeds--past as we call them, but present
with Him, who lives and loves in the undivided eternity above the low
fences of time. All that He has been, He is; all that He has done, He is
doing. We on whom the ends of the earth are come have the same Helper,
the same Friend that 'the world's grey fathers' had. They that go before
do not prevent them that come after. The river is full still. The van of
the pilgrim host did, indeed, long, long ago drink and were satisfied,
but the bright waters are still as pellucid, still as near, still as
refreshing, still as abundant as they ever were. Nay, rather, they are
fuller and more accessible to us than to patriarch and Psalmist, 'God
having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should
not be made perfect.'

For we, brethren! have a fuller revelation of that mighty name, and a
more wondrous and closer divine presence by our sides. The psalm
rejoices in that 'The Lord of Hosts is with us'; and the choral answer
of the Gospel swells into loftier music, as it tells of the fulfilment
of psalmists' hopes and prophets' visions in Him who is called
'Immanuel,' which is, being interpreted, 'God with us.' The psalm is
confident in that God dwelt in Zion, and our confidence has the more
wondrous fact to lay hold of, that even now the Word who dwelt among us
makes His abode in every believing heart, and gathers them all together
at last in that great city, round whose flashing foundations no tumult
of ocean beats, whose gates of pearl need not be closed against any
foes, with whose happy citizens 'God will dwell, and they shall be His
people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.'



THE LORD OF HOSTS, THE GOD OF JACOB


    'The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge.'
    --PSALM xlvi. 11.

Some great deliverance, the details of which we do not know, had been
wrought for Israel, and this psalmist comes forth, like Miriam with her
choir of maidens, to hymn the victory. The psalm throbs with exultation,
but no human victor's name degrades the singer's lips. There is only one
Conqueror whom he celebrates. The deliverance has been 'the work of the
Lord'; the 'desolations' that have been made on the 'earth' 'He has
made.' This great refrain of the song, which I have chosen for my text,
takes the experience of deliverance as a proof in act of an astounding
truth, and as a hope for the future. 'The Lord of hosts is with us; the
God of Jacob is our Refuge.'

There is in these words a significant duplication of idea, both in
regard to the names which are given to God, and to that which He is
conceived as being to us; and I desire now simply to try to bring out
the force of the consolation and strength which lie in these two
epithets of His, and in the double wonder of His relation to us men.

I. First, then, I ask you to look at the twin thoughts of God that are
here. 'The Lord of hosts ... The God of Jacob.'

Now, with regard to the former of these grand names, it may be observed
that it does not occur in the earliest stages of Revelation as recorded
in the Old Testament. The first instance in which we find it is in the
song of Hannah in the beginning of the first Book of Samuel; and it
re-appears in the Davidic psalms and in psalms and prophecies of later
date.

What 'hosts' are they of which God is the Lord? Is that great title a
mere synonym for the half-heathenish idea of the 'God of battles'? By no
means. True! He is the Lord of the armies of Israel, but the hosts which
the Psalmist sees ranged in embattled array, and obedient to the command
of the great Captain, are far other and grander than any earthly armies.
If we would understand the whole depth and magnificent sweep of the idea
enshrined in this name, we cannot do better than recall one or two other
Scripture phrases. For instance, the account of the Creation in the Book
of Genesis is ended by, 'Thus the heavens and the earth were finished,
and all the host of them.' Then, remember that, throughout the Old
Testament, we meet constantly with the idea of the celestial bodies as
being 'the hosts of heaven.' And, still further, remember how, in one of
the psalms, we hear the invocation to 'all ye His hosts, ye ministers of
His that do His pleasure,' 'the angels that excel in strength,' to
praise and bless Him. If we take account of all these and a number of
similar passages, I think we shall come to this conclusion, that by that
title, 'the Lord of hosts,' the prophets and psalmists meant to express
the universal dominion of God over the whole universe in all its
battalions and sections, which they conceived of as one ranked army,
obedient to the voice of the great General and Ruler of them all.

So the idea contained in the name is precisely parallel with that to
which the heathen centurion in the Gospels had come, by reflecting upon
the teaching of the legion in which he himself commanded, when he said,
'I am a man under authority, having servants under me; and I say to this
one, Go, and he goeth; to another, Come, and he cometh; to another, Do
this, and he doeth it--speak Thou the word!' To him Jesus Christ was
Captain of the Lord's hosts, and Ruler of all the ordered forces of the
universe. The Old Testament name enshrines the same idea. The universe
is an ordered whole. Science tells us that. Modern thought emphasises
it. But how cruel, relentless, crushing, that conception may be unless
we grasp the further thought which is presented in this great Name, and
see, behind all the play of phenomena, the one Will which is the only
power in the universe, and sways and orders all besides! The armies of
heaven and every creature in the great _Cosmos_ are the servants of this
Lord. Then we can stand before the dreadful mysteries and the all but
infinite complications of this mighty Whole, and say, 'These are His
soldiers, and He is their Captain, the Lord of hosts.'

Next we turn, by one quick bound, from the wide sweep of that mighty
Name to the other, 'The God of Jacob.' The one carries us out among the
glories of the universe, and shows us, behind them all, the personal
Will of which they are the servants, and the Character of which they are
the expressions. The other brings us down to the tent of the solitary
wanderer, and shows us that that mighty Commander and Emperor enters
into close, living, tender, personal relations with one poor soul, and
binds Himself by that great covenant, which is rooted in His love alone,
to be the God who cares for and keeps and blesses the man in all his
wanderings. Neither does the command of the mighty Whole hinder the
closest relation to the individual, nor does the care of the individual
interfere with the direction of the Whole. The single soul stands out
clear and isolated, as if there were none in the universe but God and
himself; and the whole fulness of the divine power, and all the
tenderness of the God-heart, are lavished upon the individual, even
though the armies of the skies wait upon His nod.

So, if we put the two names together, we get the completion of the great
idea; and whilst the one speaks to us of infinite power, of absolute
supremacy, of universal rule, and so delivers us from the fear of
nature, and from the blindness which sees only the material operations
and not the working Hand that underlies them, the other speaks to us of
gentle and loving and specific care, and holds out the hope that,
between man and God, there may be a bond of friendship and of mutual
possession so sweet and sacred that nothing else can compare with it.
The God of Jacob is the Lord of hosts. More wondrous still, the Lord of
hosts is the God of Jacob.

II. Note, secondly, the double wonder of our relation to this great God.

There is almost a tone of glad surprise, as well as of triumphant
confidence, in this refrain of our psalm, which comes twice in it, and
possibly ought to have come three times--at the end of each of its
sections. The emphasis is to be laid on the 'us' and the 'our,' as if
that was the miracle, and the fact which startled the Psalmist into the
highest rapture of astonished thankfulness.

'The Lord of hosts is with _us_.' What does that say? It proclaims that
wondrous truth that no gulf between the mighty Ruler of all and us, the
insignificant little creatures that creep upon the face of this tiny
planet, has any power of separating us from Him. It is always hard to
believe that. It is harder to-day than it was when our Psalmist's heart
beat high at the thought. It is hard by reason of our sense-bound
blindness, by reason of our superficial way of looking at things, which
only shows us the nearest, and veils with their insignificances the
magnitude of the furthest. Jupiter is blazing in our skies every night
now; he is not one-thousandth part as great or bright as any one of the
little needle-points of light, the fixed stars, that are so much further
away; but he is nearer, and the intrusive brightness of the planet hides
the modest glories of the distant and shrouded suns. Just so it is hard
for us ever to realise, and to walk in the light of the realisation of,
the fact that the Lord of hosts, the Emperor of all things, is of a
truth with each of us.

It is harder to-day than ever it was; for we have learned to think
rightly--or at least more rightly and approximately rightly--of the
position and age of man upon this earth. The Psalmist's ancient question
of devout thankfulness is too often travestied to-day into a question of
scoffing or of melancholy unbelief: 'When I consider the heavens, the
work of Thy hands; what is man? Art Thou mindful of him?' This psalm
comes to answer that. 'The Lord of hosts is with us.' True, we are but
of yesterday, and know nothing. True, earth is but a pin-point amidst
the universe's glories. True, we are crushed down by sorrow and by care;
and in some moods it seems supremely incredible that we should be of
such worth in the scale of Creation as that the Lord of all things
should, in a deeper sense than the Psalmist knew, have dwelt with us and
be with us still. But bigness is not greatness, and there is nothing
incredible in the belief that men, lower than the angels, and needing
God more because of their sin, do receive His visitations in an
altogether special sense, and that, passing by the lofty and the great
that may inhabit His universe, His chariot wheels stoop to us, and that,
because we are sinners, God is with us.

Let me remind you, dear brethren! of how this great thought of my text
is heightened and transcended by the New Testament teaching. We believe
in One whose name is 'Immanuel, _God with us_.' Jesus Christ has come to
be with men, not only during the brief years of His earthly ministry, in
corporeal reality, but to be with all who love Him and trust Him, in a
far closer, more real, more deep, more precious, more operative Presence
than when He dwelt here. Through all the ages Christ Himself is with
every soul that loves Him; and He will dwell beside _us_ and bless _us_
and keep _us_. God's presence means God's sympathy, God's knowledge,
God's actual help, and these are ours if we will. Instead of staggering
at the apparent improbability that so transcendent and mighty a Being
should stoop from His throne, where He lords it over the universe, and
enter into the narrow room of our hearts, let us rather try to rise to
the rapture of the astonished Psalmist when, looking upon the
deliverance that had been wrought, this was the leading conviction that
was written in flame upon his heart, 'The Lord of hosts is with _us_.'

And then the second of the wonders that are here set forth in regard to
our relations to Him is, 'the God of Jacob is _our_ Refuge.'

That carries for us the great truth that, just as the distance between
us and God makes no separation, and the gulf is one that is bridged over
by His love, so distance in time leads to no exhaustion of the divine
faithfulness and care, nor any diminution of the resources of His grace.
'The God of Jacob is _our_ Refuge.' The story of the past is the
prophecy of the future. What God has been to any man He will be to every
man, if the man will let Him. There is nothing in any of these grand
narratives of ancient days which is not capable of being reproduced in
our lives. God drew near to Jacob when he was lying on the stony ground,
and showed him the ladder set upon earth, with its top in the heavens,
and the bright-winged soldiers and messengers of His will ascending and
descending upon it, and His own face at the top. God shows you and me
that vision to-day. It was no vanishing splendour, no transient
illumination, no hallucination of the man's own thoughts seeking after a
helper, and the wish being father to the vision. But it was the
unveiling for a moment, in supernatural fashion, of the abiding reality.
'The God of Jacob is _our_ Refuge'; and whatever He was to His servant
of old He is to-day to you and me.

We say that miracle has ceased. Yes. But that which the miracle effected
has not ceased; and that from which the miracle came has not ceased. The
realities of a divine protection, of a divine supply, of a divine
guidance, of a divine deliverance, of a divine discipline, and of a
divine reward at the last, are as real to-day as when they were mediated
by signs and wonders, by an open heaven and by an outstretched hand.
They who went before have not emptied the treasures of the Father's
house, nor eaten all the bread that He spreads upon the table. God has
no stepchildren, and no favourite and spoiled ones. All that the elder
brethren have had, we, on whom the ends of the dispensation are come,
may have just as really; and whatever God has been to the patriarch He
is to us to-day.

Remember the experience of the man of whom our text speaks. The God of
Jacob manifested Himself to him as being a God who would draw near to,
and care for, and help, a very unworthy and poor creature. Jacob was no
saint at the beginning. Selfishness and cunning and many a vice clung
very close to his character; but for all that, God drew near to him and
cared for him and guided him, and promised that He would not leave him
till He had done that which He had spoken to him of. And He will do the
same for us--blessed be His name!--with all our faults and weaknesses
and craftiness and worldliness and sins. If He cared for that
huckstering Jew, as He did, even in his earlier days, He will not put us
away because He finds faults in us. 'The God of Jacob,' the supplanter,
the trickster, 'is our Refuge.'

But remember how the divine Presence with that man had to be, because of
his faults, a Presence that wrought him sorrows and forced him to
undergo discipline. So it will be with us. He will not suffer sin upon
us; He will pass us through the fire and the water; and do anything with
us short of destroying us, in order to destroy the sin that is in us. He
does not spare His rod for His child's crying, but smites with judgment,
and sends us sorrows 'for our profit, that we should be partakers of His
holiness.' We may write this as the explanation over most of our
griefs--'the God of Jacob is our Refuge,' and He is disciplining us as
He did him.

And remember what the end of the man was. 'Thy name shall no more be
called Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince thou hast power with God, and
hast prevailed.' So if we have God, who out of such a sow's ear made a
silk purse, out of such a stone raised up a servant for Himself, we may
be sure that His purpose in all discipline will be effected on us
submissive, and we shall end where His ancient servant ended, and shall
be in our turn princes with God.

Let me recall to you also the meaning which Jesus Christ found in this
name. He quoted 'the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob' as being
the great guarantee and proof to us of immortality. 'The God of Jacob is
our Refuge.' If so, what can the grim and ghastly phantom of death do to
us? He may smite upon the gate, but he cannot enter the fortress. The
man who has knit himself to God by saying to God, 'Lo! I am Thine, and
Thou art mine,' in that communion has a proof and a pledge that nothing
shall ever break it, and that death is powerless. The fact of
religion--true, heartfelt religion, with its communion, its prayer, its
consciousness of possessing and of being possessed, makes the idea that
death ends a man's conscious existence an absurdity and an
impossibility.

'The God of Jacob is our Refuge,' and so we may say to the storms of
life, and after them to the last howling tornado of death--Blow winds
and crack your cheeks, and do your worst, you cannot touch me in the
fortress where I dwell. The wind will hurtle around the stronghold, but
within there shall be calm.

Dear brethren! make sure that you are in the refuge. Make sure that you
have fled for 'Refuge to the hope set before you in the Gospel.' The
Lord of hosts is with us,' but you may be parted from Him. He is our
Refuge, but you may be standing outside the sanctuary, and so be exposed
to all the storms. Flee thither, cast yourselves on Him, trust in that
great Saviour who has given Himself for us, and who says to us, 'Lo! I
am with you always.' Take Christ for your hiding-place by simple faith
in Him and loving obedience born of faith, and then the experience of
our Psalmist will be yours. Your life will not want for deliverances
which will thrill your heart with thankfulness, and turn the truth of
faith into a truth of experience. So you may set to your seals the great
saying of our psalm, which is fresh to-day, though centuries have passed
since it came glowing fiery from the lips of the ancient seer, and may
take up as yours the great words in which Luther has translated it for
our times, the 'Marseillaise' of the Reformation--

  'A safe stronghold our God is still;
     A trusty shield and weapon;
   He'll help us clear from all the ill
     That hath us now o'ertaken.'



A SONG OF DELIVERANCE


    'Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our
    God, in the mountain of His holiness. 2. Beautiful for situation,
    the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the
    north, the city of the great King. 3. God is known in her palaces
    for a refuge. 4. For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by
    together. 5. They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled,
    and hasted away. 6. Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of
    a woman in travail. 7. Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an
    east wind. 8. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the
    Lord of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for
    ever. 9. We have thought of Thy loving-kindness, O God, in the midst
    of Thy temple. 10. According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise
    unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of righteousness.
    11. Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad,
    because of Thy judgments. 12. Walk about Zion, and go round about
    her: tell the towers thereof. 13. Mark ye well her bulwarks,
    consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation
    following. 14. For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be
    our guide even unto death.'--PSALM xlviii. 1-14.

The enthusiastic triumph which throbs in this psalm, and the specific
details of a great act of deliverance from a great peril which it
contains, sufficiently indicate that it must have had some historical
event as its basis. Can we identify the fact which is here embalmed?

The psalm gives these points--a formidable muster before Jerusalem of
hostile people under confederate kings, with the purpose of laying siege
to the city; some mysterious check which arrests them before a sword is
drawn, as if some panic fear had shot from its towers and shaken their
hearts; and a flight in wild confusion from the impregnable
dwelling-place of the Lord of hosts. The occasion of the terror is
vaguely hinted at, as if some solemn mystery brooded over it. All that
is clear about it is that it was purely the work of the divine
hand--'Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind'; and that
in this deliverance, in their own time, the Levite minstrels recognised
the working of the same protecting grace which, from of old, had
'commanded deliverances for Jacob.'

Now there is one event, and only one, in Jewish history, which
corresponds, point for point, to these details--the crushing destruction
of the Assyrian army under Sennacherib. There, there was the same
mustering of various nations, compelled by the conqueror to march in his
train, and headed by their tributary kings. There, there was the same
arrest before an arrow had been shot, or a mound raised against the
city. There, there was the same purely divine agency coming in to
destroy the invading army.

I think, then, that from the correspondence of the history with the
requirements of the psalm, as well as from several similarities of
expression and allusion between the latter and the prophecies of Isaiah,
who has recorded that destruction of the invader, we may, with
considerable probability, regard this psalm as the hymn of triumph over
the baffled Assyrian, and the marvellous deliverance of Israel by the
arm of God.

Whatever may be thought, however, of that allocation of it to a place in
the history, the great truths that it contains depend upon no such
identification. They are truths for all time; gladness and consolation
for all generations. Let us read it over together now, if, perchance,
some echo of the confidence and praise that is found in it may be called
forth from our hearts! If you will look at your Bibles you will find
that it falls into three portions. There is the glory of Zion, the
deliverance of Zion, and the consequent grateful praise and glad trust
of Zion.

I. There is the glory of Zion.

Hearken with what triumph the Psalmist breaks out: 'Great is the Lord,
and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His
holiness. Beautiful for situation (or rather elevation), the joy of the
whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the
great King.' Now these words are something more than mere patriotic
feeling. The Jew's glory in Jerusalem was a different thing altogether
from the Roman's pride in Rome. To the devout men amongst them, of whom
the writer of this psalm was one, there was one thing, and one only,
that made Zion glorious. It was beautiful indeed in its elevation,
lifted high upon its rocky mountain. It was safe indeed, isolated from
the invader by the precipitous ravines which enclosed and guarded the
angle of the mountain plateau on which it stood; but _the one_ thing
that gave it glory was that in _it_ God abode. The name even of that
earthly Zion was 'Jehovah-Shammah, the Lord is there.' And the emphasis
of these words is entirely pointed in that direction. What they
celebrate concerning _Him_ is not merely the general thought that the
Lord is great, but that the Lord is _great in Zion_. What they celebrate
concerning _it_ is that it is His city, the mountain of His holiness,
where He dwells, where He manifests Himself. Because there is His
self-manifestation, therefore He is there greatly to be praised. And
because the clear voice of His praise rings out from Zion, therefore is
she 'the joy of the whole earth.' The glory of Zion, then, is that it is
the dwelling-place of God.

Now, remember, that when the Old Testament Scripture speaks about God
abiding in Jerusalem, it means no heathenish or material localising of
the Deity, nor does it imply any depriving of the rest of the earth of
the sanctity of His presence. The very psalm which most distinctly
embodies the thought of God's abode protests against that narrowness,
for it begins, 'The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: the
world and they that dwell therein.' The very ark which was the symbol of
His presence, protests by its name against all such localising, for the
name of it was 'the ark of the covenant of the God of the whole earth.'
When the Bible speaks of Zion as the dwelling-place of God, it is but
the expression of the fact that there, between the cherubim, was the
visible sign of His presence--that there, in the Temple, as from the
centre of the whole land, He ruled, and 'out of Zion, the perfection of
beauty, God shone.'

We are, then, not 'spiritualising,' or forcing a New Testament meaning
into these words, when we see in them an Eternal Truth. We are but
following in the steps of history and prophecy, and of Christ and His
Apostles, and of that last vision of the Apocalypse. We are but
distinguishing between an idea and the fact which more or less perfectly
embodies it. An idea may have many garments, may transmigrate into many
different material forms. The idea of the dwelling of God with men had
its less perfect embodiment, has its more perfect embodiment, will have
its absolutely perfect embodiment. It had its less perfect in that
ancient time. It has its real but partial embodiment in this present
time, when, in the midst of the whole community of believing and loving
souls, which stretches wider than any society that calls itself a
Church, the living God abides and energises by His Spirit and by His Son
in the souls of them that believe upon Him. 'Ye are come unto Mount Zion
and unto the city of the living God.' And we wait for the time when,
filling all the air with its light, there shall come down from God a
perfect and permanent form of that dwelling; and that great city, the
New Jerusalem, 'having the glory of God,' shall appear, and He will
dwell with men and be their God.

But in all these stages of the embodiment of that great truth the glory
of Zion rests in this, that in it God abides, that from it He flames in
the greatness of His manifestations, which are 'His praise in all the
earth.' It is that presence which makes her fair, as it is that presence
which keeps her safe. It is that light shining within her palaces--not
their own opaque darkness, which streams out far into the waste night
with ruddy glow of hospitable invitation. It is God in her, not anything
of her own, that constitutes her 'the joy of the whole earth.' 'Thy
beauty was perfect, through My comeliness, which I had put upon thee,
saith the Lord.' Zion is where hearts love and trust and follow Christ.
The 'city of the great King' is a permanent reality in a partial form
upon earth--and that partial form is itself a prophecy of the perfection
of the heavens.

II. Still further, there is a second portion of this psalm which,
passing beyond these introductory thoughts of the glory of Zion,
recounts with wonderful power and vigour the process of the deliverance
of Zion.

It extends from the fourth to the eighth verses. Mark the dramatic
vigour of the description of the deliverance. There is, first, the
mustering of the armies--'The kings were assembled.' Some light is
thrown upon that phrase by the proud boast which the prophet Isaiah puts
into the lips of the Assyrian invader, 'Are not my princes altogether
kings?' The subject-monarchs of the subdued nationalities that were
gathered round the tyrant's standard were used, with the wicked craft of
conquerors in all ages, to bring still other lands under the same iron
dominion. 'The kings were assembled'--we see them gathering their
far-reaching and motley army, mustered from all corners of that gigantic
empire. They advance together against the rocky fortress that towers
above its girdling valleys. 'They saw it, they marvelled'--in wonder,
perhaps, at its beauty, as they first catch sight of its glittering
whiteness from some hill crest on their march; or, perhaps, stricken by
some strange amazement, as if, basilisk-like, its beauty were deadly,
and a beam from the Shechinah had shot a nameless awe into their
souls--'they were troubled, they hasted away.'

I need not dilate on the power of this description, nor do more than
notice how the abruptness of the language, huddled together, as it were,
without connecting particles, conveys the impression of hurry and
confusion, culminating in the rush of fugitives fleeing under the
influence of panic-terror. They are like the well-known words, 'I came,
I saw, I conquered,' only that here we have to do with swift
defeat--they came, they saw, they were conquered. They are, in regard to
vivid picturesqueness, arising from the broken construction, singularly
like other words which refer to the same event in the forty-sixth psalm,
'The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the
earth melted.' In their scornful emphasis of triumph they remind us of
Isaiah's description of the end of the same invasion--'So Sennacherib,
king of Assyria, departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.'

Mark, still further, the eloquent silence as to the cause of the panic
and the flight. There is no appearance of armed resistance. This is no
'battle of the warrior with garments rolled in blood,' and the shock of
contending hosts. But an unseen Hand smites once--'and when the morning
dawned they were all dead corpses.' The impression of terror produced by
such a blow is increased by the veiled allusion to it here. The silence
magnifies the deliverance. If we might apply the grand words of Milton
to that night of fear--

  'The trumpet spake not to the armed throng,
   But kings sat still, with awful eye,
   As if they surely knew their sovereign Lord was by.'

The process of the deliverance is not told here, as there was no need it
should be in a hymn which is not history, but the lyrical echo of what
is told in history; one image explains it all--'Thou breakest the ships
of Tarshish with an east wind.' The metaphor--one that does not need
expansion here--is that of a ship like a great unwieldy galleon, caught
in a tempest. However strong for fight, it is not fit for sailing. It is
like some of those turret ships of ours, if they venture out from the
coast and get into a storm, their very strength is their destruction,
their armour wherein they trusted ensures that they shall sink. And so,
this huge assailant of Israel, this great 'galley with oars,' washing
about there in the trough of the sea, as it were--God broke it in two
with the tempest, which is His breath. You remember how on the medal
that commemorated the destruction of the Spanish Armada--our English
deliverance--there were written the words of Scripture: 'God blew upon
them and they were scattered.' What was there true, literally, is here
true in figure. The Psalmist is not thinking of any actual scattering of
hostile fleets--from which Jerusalem was never in danger; but is using
the shipwreck of 'the ship of Tarshish' as a picture of the utter,
swift, God-inflicted destruction which ground that invading army to
pieces, as the savage rocks and wild seas will do the strongest craft
that is mangled between them.

And then, mark how from this dramatic description there rises a loftier
thought still. The deliverance thus described links the present with the
past. 'As we have heard so have we seen in the city of the Lord of
hosts, in the city of our God.' Yes, brethren! God's merciful
manifestation for ourselves, as for those Israelitish people of old, has
this blessed effect, that it changes hearsay and tradition into living
experience;--this blessed effect, that it teaches us, or ought to teach
us, the inexhaustibleness of the divine power, the constant repetition
in every age of the same works of love. Taught by it, we learn that all
these old narratives of His grace and help are ever new, not past and
gone, but ready to be reproduced in their essential characteristics in
our lives too. 'We have heard with our ears, O Lord, our fathers have
told us what work Thou didst in their days.' But is the record only a
melancholy contrast with our own experience? Nay, truly. 'As we have
heard so have we seen.' We are ever tempted to think of the present as
commonplace. The sky right above our heads is always farthest from
earth. It is at the horizon behind and the horizon in front, where earth
and heaven seem to blend. We think of miracles in the past, we think of
a manifest presence of God in the future, but the present ever seems to
our sense-bound understandings as beggared and empty of Him, devoid of
His light. But this verse suggests to us how, if we mark the daily
dealings of that loving Hand with us, we have every occasion to say, Thy
loving-kindness of old lives still. Still, as of old, the hosts of the
Lord encamp round about them that fear Him to deliver them. Still, as of
old, the voice of guidance comes from between the cherubim. Still, as of
old, the pillar of cloud and fire moves before us. Still, as of old,
angels walk with men. Still, as of old, His hand is stretched forth, to
bless, to feed, to guard. Nothing in the past of God's dealings with men
has passed away. The eternal present embraces what we call the past,
present, and future. They that went before do not prevent us on whom the
ends of the ages are come. The table that was spread for them is as
fully furnished for the latest guests. The light, which was so magical
and lustrous in the morning beauty, for us has not faded away into the
light of common day. The river which flowed in these past ages has not
been drunk up by the thirsty sands. The fire that once blazed so clear
has not died down into grey ashes. 'The God of _Jacob_ is _our_ refuge.'
'As we have heard so have we seen.'

And then, still further, the deliverance here is suggested as not only
linking most blessedly the present with the past, but also linking it
for our confidence with all the _future_. 'God will establish it for
ever.'

  'Old experience doth attain
   To something of prophetic strain.'

In the strength of what that moment had taught of God and His power, the
singer looks onward, and whatever may be the future he knows that the
divine arm will be outstretched. God will establish Zion; or, as the
word might be translated, God will hold it erect, as if with a strong
hand grasping some pole or banner-staff that else would totter and
fall--He will keep it up, standing there firm and steadfast.

It would lead us too far to discuss the bearing of such a prophecy upon
the future history and restoration of Israel, but the bearing of it upon
the security and perpetuity of the Church is unquestionable. The city is
immortal because God dwells in it. For the individual and for the
community, for the great society and for each of the single souls that
make it up, the history of the past may seal the pledge which He gives
for the future. If it had been possible to destroy the Church of the
living God, it had been gone long, long ago. Its own weakness and sin,
the ever-new corruptions of its belief and paring of its creed, the
imperfections of its life and the worldliness of its heart, the
abounding evils that lie around it and the actual hostility of many that
look upon it and say, Raze it, even to the ground, would have smitten it
to the dust long since. It lives, it has lived in spite of all, and
therefore it shall live. 'God will establish it for ever.'

In almost every land there is some fortress or other, which the pride of
the inhabitants calls 'the maiden fortress,' and whereof the legend is,
that it has never been taken, and is inexpugnable by any foe. It is true
about the tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion.
The grand words of Isaiah about this very Assyrian invader are our
answer to all fears within and foes without: 'Say unto him, the virgin,
the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the
daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.... I will defend
this city to save it for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake.'
'God will establish it for ever,' and the pledges of that eternal
stability are the deliverances of the past and of the present.

III. Then, finally, there is still another section of this psalm to be
looked at for a moment, which deals with the consequent grateful praise
and glad trust of Zion.

I must condense what few things I have to say about these closing
verses. The deliverance, first of all, deepens the glad meditation on
God's favour and defence. 'We have thought,' say the ransomed people, as
with a sigh of rejoicing, 'we have thought of Thy loving-kindness in the
midst of Thy temple.' The scene of the manifestation of His power is the
scene of their thankfulness, and the first issue of His mercy is His
servants' praise.

Then, the deliverance spreads His fame throughout the world. 'According
to Thy name, O God! so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth. Thy
right hand is full of righteousness.' The name of God is God's own
making known of His character, and the thought of these words is double.
They most beautifully express the profoundest trust in that blessed name
that it only needs to be known in order to be loved. There is nothing
wanted but His manifestation of Himself for His praise and glory to
spread. Why is the Psalmist so sure that according to the revelation of
His character will be the revenue of His praise? Because the Psalmist is
so sure that that character is purely, perfectly, simply good--nothing
else but good and blessing--and that He cannot act but in such a way as
to magnify Himself. That great sea will cast up nothing on the shores of
the world but pearls and precious things. He is all 'light, and in Him
is no darkness at all.' There needs but the shining forth in order that
the light of His character shall bring gladness and joy, and the song of
birds, and opening flowers wheresoever it falls.

Still further, there is the other truth in the words, that we
misapprehend the purpose of our own deliverances, and the purpose of
God's mercy to Zion, if we confine these to any personal objects or lose
sight of the loftier end of them all--that men may learn to know and
love Him. Brethren! we neither rightly thank Him for His gifts to us nor
rightly apprehend the meaning of His dealings, unless the sweetest
thought to us, even in the midst of our own personal joy for
deliverance, is not 'we are saved,' but 'God is exalted.'

And then, beyond that, the deliverance produces in Zion, the mother city
and her daughter villages, a triumph of rapture and gladness. 'Let mount
Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad because of Thy
judgments.' Yes, even though an hundred and four score and five thousand
dead men lay there, they were to be glad. Solemn and awful as is the
baring of His righteous sword, it is an occasion for praise. It is right
to be glad when men and systems that hinder and fight against God are
swept away as with the besom of destruction. 'When the wicked perish
there is shouting,' and the fitting epitaph for the oppressors to whom
the surges of the Red Sea are shroud and gravestone is, 'Sing ye to the
Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously.'

The last verses set forth, more fully than even the preceding ones, the
height and perfectness of the confidence which the manifold mercies of
God ought to produce in men's hearts. The citizens who have been cooped
up during the invasion, and who, in the temple, as we have seen, have
been rendering the tribute of their meditation and thankful gratitude to
God for His loving-kindness, are now called upon to come forth from the
enclosure of the besieged city, and free from all fear of the invading
army, to 'walk about Zion, and go round about her and tell the towers,'
and 'mark her bulwarks and palaces.'

They look first at the defences, on which no trace of assault appears,
and then at the palaces guarded by them, that stand shining and
unharmed. The deliverance has been so complete that there is not a sign
of the peril or the danger left. It is not like a city besieged, and the
siege raised when the thing over which contending hosts have been
quarrelling has become a ruin, but not one stone has been smitten from
the walls, nor one agate chipped in the windows of the palaces. It is
unharmed as well as uncaptured.

Thus, we may say, no matter what tempests assail us, the wind will but
sweep the rotten branches out of the tree. Though war should arise,
nothing will be touched that belongs to Thee. We have a city which
cannot be moved; and the removal of the things which can be shaken but
makes more manifest its impregnable security, its inexpugnable peace. As
in war they will clear away the houses and the flower gardens that have
been allowed to come and cluster about the walls and fill up the moat,
yet the walls will stand; so in all the conflicts that befall God's
church and God's truth, the calming thought ought to be ours that if
anything perishes it is a sign that it is not His, but man's excrescence
on His building. Whatever is His will stand for ever.

And then, with wonderful tenderness and beauty, the psalm in its last
words drops, as one might say, in one aspect, and in another, _rises_
from its contemplations of the immortal city and the community to the
thought of the individuals that make it up: 'For this God is our God for
ever and ever; He will be our guide _even_ unto death.' Prosaic
commentators have often said that these last two words are an
interpolation, that they do not fit into the strain of the psalm, and
have troubled themselves to find out what meaning to attach to them,
because it seemed to them so unlikely that, in a hymn that had only to
do with the community, we should find this expression of individual
confidence in anticipation of that most purely personal of all evils.
That seems to me the very reason for holding fast by the words as being
a genuine part of the psalm, because they express a truth, without which
the confident hope of the psalm, grand as it is, is but poor consolation
for each heart. It is not enough for passing, perishing men to say,
'Never mind your own individual fate: the society, the community, will
stand fast and firm.'

I want something more than to know that God will establish Zion for
ever. What about _me_, my own individual self? And these last words
answer that question. Not merely the city abides, but 'He will be our
guide even unto death.' And surely, if so--if His loving hand will lead
the citizens of His eternal kingdom even to the edge of that great
darkness--He will not lose them even in its gloom. Surely there is here
the veiled hope that if the city be eternal and the gates of the grave
cannot prevail against _it_, the community cannot be eternal unless the
individuals be immortal.

Such a hope is vindicated by the blessed words of a newer revelation:
'God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for
them a city.'

Dear brethren! remember the last words, or all but the last words of
Scripture which, in their true text and reading, tell us how, instead of
aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, we may become fellow-citizens
with the saints. 'Blessed are they that wash their robes that they may
have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gate into
the city!'



TWO SHEPHERDS AND TWO FLOCKS


    'Like sheep they are laid in the grave; Death shall feed on them.'
    --PSALM xlix. 14.

    'The Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall feed them.'
    --REV. vii. 17.

These two verses have a much closer parallelism in expression than
appears in our Authorised Version. If you turn to the Revised Version
you will find that it rightly renders the former of my texts, 'Death
shall be their shepherd,' and the latter, 'The Lamb which is in the
midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd.' The Old Testament Psalmist
and the New Testament Seer have fallen upon the same image to describe
death and the future, but with how different a use! The one paints a
grim picture, all sunless and full of shadow; the other dips his pencil
in brilliant colours, and suffuses his canvas with a glow as of molten
sunlight. The difference between the two is partly due to the progress
of revelation and the light cast on life and immortality by Christ
through the Gospel. But it is much more due to the fact that the two
writers have different classes in view. The one is speaking of men whose
portion is in this life, the other of men who have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. And it is the characters
of the persons concerned, much more than the degree of enlightenment
possessed by the writers, that makes the difference between these two
pictures. Life and death and the future are what each man makes of them
for himself. We shall best deal with these two pictures if we take them
separately, and let the gloom of the one enhance the glory of the other.
They hang side by side, like a Rembrandt beside a Claude or a Turner,
each intensifying by contrast the characteristics of the other. So let
us look at the two--first, the grim picture drawn by the Psalmist;
second, the sunny one drawn by the Seer. Now, with regard to the former,

I. The grim picture drawn by the Psalmist.

We too often forget that a psalmist is a poet, and misunderstand his
spirit by treating his words as matter-of-fact prose. His imagination is
at work, and our sympathetic imagination must be at work too, if we
would enter into his meaning. Death a shepherd--what a grim and bold
inversion of a familiar metaphor! If this psalm is, as is probable, of a
comparatively late date, then its author was familiar with many sweet
and tender strains of early singers, in which the blessed relation
between a loving God and an obedient people was set forth under that
metaphor. 'The Lord is _my_ Shepherd' may have been ringing in his ears
when he said, 'Death is _their_ shepherd.' He lays hold of the familiar
metaphor, and if I may so speak, turns it upside down, stripping it of
all that is beautiful, tender, and gracious, and draping it in all that
is harsh and terrible. And the very contrast between the sweet relation
which it was originally used to express, and the opposite kind of one
which he uses it to set forth, gives its tremendous force to the daring
metaphor.

'Death is their shepherd.' Yes, but what manner of shepherd? Not one
that gently leads his flock, but one that stalks behind the huddled
sheep, and drives them fiercely, club in hand, on a path on which they
would not willingly go. The unwelcome necessity, by which men that have
their portion in this world are hounded and herded out of all their
sunny pastures and abundant feeding, is the thought that underlies the
image. It is accentuated, if we notice that in the former clause, 'like
sheep they are laid in the grave,' the word rendered in the Authorised
Version 'laid,' and in the Revised Version 'appointed,' is perhaps more
properly read by many, 'like sheep they are _thrust down_.' There you
have the picture--the shepherd stalking behind the helpless creatures,
and coercing them on an unwelcome path.

Now that is the first thought that I suggest, that to one type of man,
Death is an unwelcome necessity. It is, indeed, a necessity to us all,
but necessities accepted cease to be painful; and necessities
resisted--what do they become? Here is a man being swept down a river,
the sound of the falls is in his ears, and he grasps at anything on the
bank to hold by, but in vain. That is how some of us feel when we face
the thought, and will feel more when we front the reality, of that awful
'must.' 'Death shall be their shepherd,' and coerce them into darkness.
Ask yourself the question, Is the course of my life such as that the end
of it cannot but be a grim necessity which I would do anything to avoid?

This first text suggests not only a shepherd but a fold: 'Like sheep
they are thrust down to the grave.' Now I am not going to enter upon
what would be quite out of place here: a critical discussion of the Old
Testament conception of a future life. That conception varies, and is
not the same in all parts of the book. But I may, just in a word, say
that 'the grave' is by no means the adequate rendering of the thought of
the Psalmist, and that 'Hell' is a still more inadequate rendering of
it. He does not mean either the place where the body is deposited, or a
place where there is punitive retribution for the wicked, but he means a
dim region, or, if I might so say, a localised condition, in which all
that have passed through this life are gathered, where personality and
consciousness continue, but where life is faint, stripped of all that
characterises it here, shadowy, unsubstantial, and where there is
inactivity, absolute cessation of all the occupations to which men were
accustomed. But there may be restlessness along with inactivity; may
there not? And there is no such restlessness as the restlessness of
compulsory idleness. That is the main idea that is in the Psalmist's
mind. He knows little about retribution, he knows still less about
transmutation into a glorious likeness to that which is most glorious
and divine. But he conceives a great, dim, lonely land, wherein are
prisoned and penned all the lives that have been foamed away vainly on
earth, and are now settled into a dreary monotony and a restless
idleness. As one of the other books of the Old Testament puts it, it is
a 'land of the shadow of death, without order, and in which the light is
as darkness.'

I know, of course, that all that is but the imperfect presentation of
partially apprehended, and partially revealed, and partially revealable
truth. But what I desire to fix upon is that one dreary thought of this
fold, into which the grim shepherd has driven his flock, and where they
lie cribbed and huddled together in utter inactivity. Carry that with
you as a true, though incomplete thought.

Let me remind you, in the next place, with regard to this part of my
subject, of the kind of men whom the grim shepherd drives into that grim
fold. The psalm tells us that plainly enough. It is speaking of men who
have their portion in this life, who 'trust in their wealth, and boast
themselves in the multitude of their riches ... whose inward thought is
that their house shall continue for ever ... who call their lands after
their own names.' Of every such man it says: 'when he dieth he shall
carry nothing away'--none of the possessions, none of the forms of
activity which were familiar to him here on earth. He will go into a
state where he finds nothing which interests him, and nothing for him to
do.

Must it not be so? If we let ourselves be absorbed and entangled by the
affairs of this life, and permit our whole spirits to be bent in the
direction of these transient things, what is to become of us when the
things that must pass have passed, and when we come into a region where
there are none of them to occupy us any more? What would some Manchester
men do if they were in a condition of life where they could not go on
'Change on Tuesdays and Fridays? What would some of us do if the
professions and forms of mental activity in which we have been occupied
as students and scholars were swept away? 'Whether there be knowledge it
shall cease; whether there be tongues they shall vanish away,' and what
are you going to do then, you men that have only lived for intellectual
pursuits connected with this transient state? We are going to a world
where there are no books, no pens nor ink, no trade, no dress, no
fashion, no amusements; where there is nothing but things in which some
of us have no interest, and a God who 'is not in all our thoughts.'
Surely we shall be 'fish out of water' there. Surely we shall feel that
we have been banned and banished from everything that we care about.
Surely men that boasted themselves in their riches, and in the multitude
of their wealth, will be necessarily condemned to inactivity. Life is
continuous, and all on one plane. Surely if a man knows that he must
some day, and may any day, be summoned to the other side of the world,
he would be a wise man if he got his outfit ready, and made some effort
to acquire the customs and the arts of the land to which he was going.
Surely life here is mainly given to us that we may develop powers which
will find their field of exercise yonder, and acquire characters which
shall be in conformity with the conditions of that future life. Surely
there can be no more tragic folly than the folly of letting myself be so
absorbed and entangled by this present world, as that when the transient
has passed, I shall feel homeless and desolate, and have nothing that I
can do or care about amidst the activities of Eternity. Dear friend,
should _you_ feel homeless if you were taken, as you will be taken, into
that world?

Turn now to

II. The sunny landscape drawn by the Seer.

Note the contrast presented by the shepherds. 'Death shall be their
shepherd.' 'The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their
Shepherd.' I need not occupy your time in trying to show, what has
sometimes been doubted, that the radiant picture of the Apocalyptic Seer
is dealing with nothing in the present, but with the future condition of
certain men. I would just remind you that the words in which it is
couched are to a large extent a quotation from ancient prophecy, a
description of the divine watchfulness over the pilgrim's return from
captivity to the Land of Promise. But the quotation is wonderfully
elevated and spiritualised in the New Testament vision; for instead of
reading, as the Original does: 'He that hath mercy on them shall lead
them,' we have here, 'the Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall
be their Shepherd,' and instead of their being led merely to 'the
springs of water,' here we read that He 'leads them to the fountains of
the water of life.'

We have to think, first, of that most striking, most significant and
profound modification of the Old Testament words, which presents the
Lamb as 'the Shepherd.' All Christ's shepherding on earth and in heaven
depends, as do all our hopes for heaven and earth, upon the fact of His
sacrificial death. It is only because He is the 'Lamb that was slain'
that He is either the 'Lamb in the midst of the Throne,' or the Shepherd
of the flock. And we must make acquaintance with Him first in the
character of 'the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,'
before we can either follow in His footsteps as our Guide, or be
compassed by His protection as our Shepherd.

He is the Lamb, and He is the Shepherd--that suggests not only that the
sacrificial work of Jesus Christ is the basis of all His work for us on
earth and in heaven, but the very incongruity of making One, who bears
the same nature as the flock to be the Shepherd of the flock, is part of
the beauty of the metaphor. It is His humanity that is our guide. It is
His continual manhood, all through eternity and its glories, that makes
Him the Shepherd of perfected souls. They follow Him because He is one
of themselves, and He could not be the Shepherd unless he were the Lamb.

But then this Shepherd is not only gracious, sympathetic, kin to us by
participation in a common nature, and fit to be our Guide because He has
been our Sacrifice and the propitiation of our sins, but He is the Lamb
'in the midst of the throne,' wielding therefore all divine power, and
standing--not as the rendering in our Bible leads an English reader to
suppose, on the throne, but--in the middle point between it and the ring
of worshippers, and so the Communicator to the outer circumference of
all the blessings that dwell in the divine centre. He shall be their
Shepherd, not coercing, not driving by violence, but leading to the
fountains of the waters of life, gently and graciously. It is not
compulsory energy which He exercises upon us, either on earth or in
heaven, but it is the drawing of a divine attraction, sweet to put forth
and sweet to yield to.

There is still another contrast. Death huddled and herded his reluctant
sheep into a fold where they lay inactive but struggling and restless.
Christ leads His flock into a pasture. He shall guide them 'to the
fountains of waters of life.' I need not dwell at any length on the
blessed particulars of that future, set forth here and in the context.
But let me suggest them briefly. There is joyous activity. There is
constant progression. He goeth before; they follow. The perfection of
heaven begins at entrance into it, but it is a perfection which can be
perfected, and is being perfected, through the ages of Eternity, and the
picture of the Shepherd in front and the flock behind, is the true
conception of all the progress of that future life. 'They shall follow
the Lamb whithersoever He goeth'--a sweet guidance, a glad following, a
progressive conformity! 'In the long years liker must they grow.'

Further, there is the communication of life more and more abundantly.
Therefore there is the satisfaction of all desire, so that 'they shall
hunger no more, neither thirst any more.' The pain of desire ceases
because desire is no sooner felt than it is satisfied, the joy of desire
continues, because its satisfaction enables us to desire more, and so,
appetite and eating, desire and fruition, alternate in ceaseless
reciprocity. To us, being every moment capable of more, more will be
given; and 'to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.'

There is one point more in regard to that pasture into which the Lamb
leads the happy flock, and that is, the cessation of all pains and
sorrows. Not only shall they 'hunger no more, neither thirst any more';
but 'the sun shall not smite them, nor any heat, and God shall wipe away
all tears from their eyes.' Here the Shepherd carried rod and staff, and
sometimes had to strike the wandering sheep hard: there these are needed
no more. Here He had sometimes to move them out of green pastures, and
away from still waters, into valleys of the shadow of death; but
'there,' as one of the prophets has it: 'they shall lie in a good fold,
and in a fat pasture shall they feed.'

But now, we must note, finally, the other kind of men whom this other
Shepherd leads into His pastures, 'They have washed their robes and made
them white in the blood of the Lamb.' Aye! that is it. That is why He
can lead them where He does lead them. Strange alchemy which out of two
crimsons, the crimson of our sins and the crimson of His blood, makes
one white! But it is so, and the only way by which we can ever be
cleansed, either with the initial cleansing of forgiveness, or with the
daily cleansing of continual purifying and approximation to the divine
holiness, is by our bringing the foul garment of our stained personality
and character into contact with the blood which, 'shed for many,' takes
away their sins, and infused into their veins, cleanses them from all
sin.

You have yourselves to bring about that contact. '_They_ have washed
their robes.' And how did they do it? By faith in the Sacrifice first,
by following the Example next. For it is not merely a forgiveness for
the past, but a perfecting, progressive and gradual, for the future,
that lies in that thought of washing their robes and making them white
in the blood of the Lamb.

Dear brethren, life here and life hereafter are continuous. They are
homogeneous, on one plane though an ascending one. The differences there
are great--I was going to say, and it would be true, that the
resemblances are greater. As we have been, we shall be. If we take
Christ for our Shepherd here, and follow Him, though from afar and with
faltering steps, amidst all the struggles and windings and rough ways of
life, then and only then, will He be our Shepherd, to go with us through
the darkness of death, to make it no reluctant expulsion from a place in
which we would fain continue to be, but a tranquil and willing following
of Him by the road which He has consecrated for ever, and deprived for
ever of its solitude, because Himself has trod it.

Those two possibilities are before each of us. Either of them may be
yours. One of them must be. Look on this picture and on this; and
choose--God help you to choose aright--which of the two will describe
your experience. Will you have Christ for your Shepherd, or will you
have Death for your shepherd? The answer to that question lies in the
answer to the other--have you washed your robes, and made them white in
the blood of the Lamb; and are you following Him? You can settle the
question which lot is to be yours, and only you can settle it. See that
you settle it aright, and that you settle it soon.

END OF VOL. I.



VOLUME II: PSALMS _LI to CXLV_


CONTENTS


DAVID'S CRY FOR PARDON (Psalm li. 1, 2)

DAVID'S CRY FOR PURITY (Psalm li. 10-12)

FEAR AND FAITH (Psalm lvi. 3, 4)

A SONG OF DELIVERANCE (Psalm lvi. 13, R.V.)

THE FIXED HEART (Psalm lvii. 7)

WAITING AND SINGING (Psalm lix. 9, 17)

SILENCE TO GOD (Psalm lxii, 1-5)

THIRST AND SATISFACTION (Psalm lxiii. 1, 5, 8)

SIN OVERCOMING AND OVERCOME (Psalm lxv. 8)

THE BURDEN-BEARING GOD (Psalm lxviii. 19, A.V. and R.V.)

REASONABLE RAPTURE (Psalm lxxiii. 25, 26)

NEARNESS TO GOD THE KEY TO LIFE'S PUZZLE (Psalm lxxiii. 28)

MEMORY, HOPE, AND EFFORT (Psalm lxxviii. 7)

SPARROWS AND ALTARS (Psalm lxxxiv. 3)

HAPPY PILGRIMS (Psalm lxxxiv. 5-7)

BLESSED TRUST (Psalm lxxxiv. 12)

'THE BRIDAL OF THE EARTH AND SKY' (Psalm lxxxv. 10-13)

A SHEAF OF PRAYER ARROWS (Psalm lxxxvi. 1-5)

CONTINUAL SUNSHINE (Psalm lxxxix. 15)

THE CRY OF THE MORTAL TO THE UNDYING (Psalm xc. 17)

THE SHELTERING WING (Psalm xci. 4)

THE HABITATION OF THE SOUL (Psalm xci. 9, 10)

THE ANSWER TO TRUST (Psalm xci. 14)

WHAT GOD WILL DO FOR US (Psalm xci. 15, 16)

FORGIVENESS AND RETRIBUTION (Psalm xcix. 8)

INVIOLABLE MESSIAHS AND PROPHETS (Psalm cv. 14, 15)

GOD'S PROMISES TESTS (Psalm cv. 19)

SOLDIER PRIESTS (Psalm cx. 3)

GOD AND THE GODLY (Psalms cxi. 3; cxii. 3)

EXPERIENCE, RESOLVE, AND HOPE (Psalm cxvi. 8, 9)

REQUITING GOD (Psalm cxvi. 12, 13)

A CLEANSED WAY (Psalm cxix. 9)

LIFE HID AND NOT HID (Psalm cxix. 11; xl. 10)

A STRANGER IN THE EARTH (Psalm cxix. 19, 64)

'TIME FOR THEE TO WORK' (Psalm cxix. 126-128)

SUBMISSION AND PEACE (Psalm cxix. 165)

LOOKING TO THE HILLS (Psalm cxxi. 1, 2)

MOUNTAINS ROUND MOUNT ZION (Psalm cxxv. 1, 2)

THE CHARGE OF THE WATCHERS IN THE TEMPLE (Psalm cxxxiv. 1-3)

GOD'S SCRUTINY LONGED FOR (Psalm cxxxix. 23, 24)

THE INCENSE OF PRAYER (Psalm cxli. 2)

THE PRAYER OF PRAYERS (Psalm cxliii. 10)

THE SATISFIER OF ALL DESIRES (Psalm cxlv. 16, 19)



DAVID'S CRY FOR PARDON


    '... Blot out my transgressions. 2. Wash me throughly from mine
    iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.'--PSALM li. 1, 2.

A whole year had elapsed between David's crime and David's penitence. It
had been a year of guilty satisfaction not worth the having; of sullen
hardening of heart against God and all His appeals. The thirty-second
Psalm tells us how _happy_ David had been during that twelvemonth, of
which he says, 'My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
For day and night Thy hand was heavy on me.' Then came Nathan with his
apologue, and with that dark threatening that 'the sword should never
depart from his house,' the fulfilment of which became a well-head of
sorrow to the king for the rest of his days, and gave a yet deeper
poignancy of anguish to the crime of his spoiled favourite Absalom. The
stern words had their effect. The frost that had bound his soul melted
all away, and he confessed his sin, and was forgiven then and there. 'I
have sinned against the Lord' is the confession as recorded in the
historical books; and, says Nathan, 'The Lord hath made to pass from
thee the iniquity of thy sin.' Immediately, as would appear from the
narrative, that very same day, the child of Bathsheba and David was
smitten with fatal disease, and died in a week. And it is _after_ all
these events--the threatening, the penitence, the pardon, the
punishment--that he comes to God, who had so freely forgiven, and
likewise so sorely smitten him, and wails out these prayers: 'Blot out
my transgressions, wash me from mine iniquity, cleanse me from my sin.'

One almost shrinks from taking as the text of a sermon words like these,
in which a broken and contrite spirit groans for deliverance, and which
are, besides, hallowed by the thought of the thousands who have since
found them the best expression of their sacredest emotions. But I would
fain try not to lose the feeling that breathes through the words, while
seeking for the thoughts which are in them, and hope that the light
which they throw upon the solemn subjects of guilt and forgiveness may
not be for any of us a mere cold light.

I. Looking then at this triad of petitions, they teach us first how
David thought of his sin.

You will observe the reiteration of the same earnest cry in all these
clauses, and if you glance over the remainder of this psalm, you will
find that he asks for the gifts of God's Spirit, with a similar
threefold repetition. Now this characteristic of the whole psalm is
worth notice in the outset. It is not a mere piece of Hebrew
parallelism. The requirements of poetical form but partially explain it.
It is much more the earnestness of a soul that cannot be content with
once asking for the blessings and then passing on, but dwells upon them
with repeated supplication, not because it thinks that it shall be heard
for its 'much speaking,' but because it longs for them so eagerly.

And besides that, though the three clauses do express the same general
idea, they express it under various modifications, and must be all taken
together before we get the whole of the Psalmist's thought of sin.

Notice again that he speaks of his evil as 'transgressions' and as
'sin,' first using the plural and then the singular. He regards it first
as being broken up into a multitude of isolated acts, and then as being
all gathered together into one knot, as it were, so that it is one
thing. In one aspect it is 'my transgressions'--'that thing that I did
about Uriah, that thing that I did about Bathsheba, those other things
that these dragged after them.' One by one the acts of wrongdoing pass
before him. But he does not stop there. They are not merely a number of
deeds, but they have, deep down below, a common root from which they all
came--a centre in which they all inhere. And so he says, not only 'Blot
out my _transgressions_,' but 'Wash me from mine _iniquity_.' He does
not merely generalise, but he sees and he feels what you and I have to
feel, if we judge rightly of our evil actions, that we cannot take them
only in their plurality as so many separate deeds, but that we must
recognise them as coming from a common source, and we must lament before
God not only our 'sins' but our 'sin'--not only the outward acts of
transgression, but that alienation of heart from which they all come;
not only sin in its manifold manifestations as it comes out in the life,
but in its inward roots as it coils round our hearts. You are not to
confess acts alone, but let your contrition embrace the principle from
which they come.

Further, in all the petitions we see that the idea of his own single
responsibility for the whole thing is uppermost in David's mind. It is
_my_ transgression, it is _mine_ iniquity, and _my_ sin. He has not
learned to say with Adam of old, and with some so-called wise thinkers
to-day: 'I was tempted, and I could not help it.' He does not talk about
'circumstances,' and say that they share the blame with him. He takes it
all to himself. 'It was _I_ did it. True, I was tempted, but it was my
soul that made the occasion a temptation. True, the circumstances led me
astray, but they would not have led me astray if I had been right, and
_where_ as well as _what_ I ought to be.' It is a solemn moment when
that thought first rises in its revealing power to throw light into the
dark places of our souls. But it is likewise a blessed moment, and
without it we are scarcely aware of ourselves. Conscience quickens
consciousness. The sense of transgression is the first thing that gives
to many a man the full sense of his own individuality. There is nothing
that makes us feel how awful and incommunicable is that mysterious
personality by which every one of us lives alone after all
companionship, so much as the contemplation of our relations to God's
law. 'Every man shall bear his own burden.' 'Circumstances,' yes;
'bodily organisation,' yes; 'temperament,' yes; 'the maxims of society,'
'the conventionalities of the time,' yes,--all these things have
something to do with shaping our single deeds and with influencing our
character; but after we have made all allowances for these influences
which affect _me_, let us ask the philosophers who bring them forward as
diminishing or perhaps annihilating responsibility, 'And what about that
_me_ which these things influence?' After all, let me remember that the
deed is _mine_, and that every one of us shall, as Paul puts it, give
account of _himself_ unto God.

Passing from that, let me point for one moment to another set of ideas
that are involved in these petitions. The three words which the Psalmist
employs for sin give prominence to different aspects of it.
'Transgression' is not the same as 'iniquity,' and 'iniquity' is not the
same as 'sin.' They are not aimless, useless synonyms, but they have
each a separate thought in them. The word rendered 'transgression'
literally means rebellion, a breaking away from and setting oneself
against lawful authority. That translated 'iniquity' literally means
that which is twisted, bent. The word in the original for 'sin'
literally means missing a mark, an aim. And this threefold view of sin
is no discovery of David's, but is the lesson which the whole Old
Testament system had laboured to print deep on the national
consciousness. That lesson, taught by law and ceremonial, by
denunciation and remonstrance, by chastisement and deliverance, the
penitent king has learned. To all men's wrongdoings these descriptions
apply, but most of all to his. Sin is ever, and his sin especially is,
rebellion, the deflection of the life from the straight line which God's
law draws so clearly and firmly, and hence a missing the aim.

Think how profound and living is the consciousness of sin which lies in
calling it _rebellion_. It is not merely, then, that we go against some
abstract propriety, or break some impersonal law of nature when we do
wrong, but that we rebel against a rightful Sovereign. In a special
sense this was true of the Jew, whose nation stood under the government
of a divine king, so that sin was treason, and breaches of the law acts
of rebellion against God. But it is as true of us all. Our theory of
morals will be miserably defective, and our practice will be still more
defective, unless we have learned that morality is but the garment of
religion, that the definition of virtue is obedience to God, and that
the true sin in sin is not the yielding to impulses that belong to our
nature, but the assertion in the act of yielding, of our independence of
God and of our opposition to His will. And all this has application to
David's sin. He was God's viceroy and representative, and he sets to his
people the example of revolt, and lifts the standard of rebellion. It is
as if the ruler of a province declared war against the central authority
of which he was the creature, and used against it the very magazines and
weapons with which it had intrusted him. He had rebelled, and in an
eminent degree, as Nathan said to him, given to the enemies of God
occasion to blaspheme.

Not less profound and suggestive is that other name for sin, that which
is twisted, or bent, mine 'iniquity.' It is the same metaphor which lies
in our own word 'wrong,' that which is wrung or warped from the straight
line of right. To that line, drawn by God's law, our lives should run
parallel, bending neither to the right hand nor to the left. But instead
of the firm directness of such a line, our lives show wavering
deformity, and are like the tremulous strokes in a child's copy-book.
David had the pattern before him, and by its side his unsteady purpose,
his passionate lust, had traced this wretched scrawl. The path on which
he should have trodden was a straight course to God, unbending like one
of these conquering Roman roads, that will turn aside for neither
mountain nor ravine, nor stream nor bog. If it had been thus straight,
it would have reached its goal. Journeying on that way of holiness, he
would have found, and we shall find, that on it no ravenous beast shall
meet us, but with songs and everlasting joy upon their lips the happy
pilgrims draw ever nearer to God, obtaining joy and gladness in all the
march, until at last 'sorrow and sighing shall flee away.' But instead
of this he had made for himself a crooked path, and had lost his road
and his peace in the mazes of wandering ways. 'The labour of the foolish
wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to come to the
city.'

Another very solemn and terrible thought of what sin is, lies in that
final word for it, which means 'missing an aim.' How strikingly that
puts a truth which siren voices are constantly trying to sing us out of
believing! Every sin is a blunder as well as a crime. And that for two
reasons, because, first, God has made us for Himself, and to take
anything besides for our life's end or our heart's portion is to divert
ourselves from our true destiny; and because, second, that being so,
every attempt to win satisfaction or delight by such a course is and
must be a failure. Sin misses the aim if we think of our proper
destination. Sin misses its own aim of happiness. A man never gets what
he hoped for by doing wrong, or, if he seem to do so, he gets something
more that spoils it all. He pursues after the fleeing form that seems so
fair, and when he reaches her side, and lifts her veil, eager to embrace
the tempter, a hideous skeleton grins and gibbers at him. The siren
voices sing to you from the smiling island, and their white arms and
golden harps and the flowery grass draw you from the wet boat and the
weary oar; but when a man lands he sees the fair form end in a slimy
fish, and she slays him and gnaws his bones. 'He knows not that the dead
are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell.' Yes! every
sin is a mistake, and the epitaph for the sinner is 'Thou fool!'

II. These petitions also show us, in the second place, How David thinks
of forgiveness.

As the words for sin expressed a threefold view of the burden from which
the Psalmist seeks deliverance, so the triple prayer, in like manner,
sets forth that blessing under three aspects. It is not merely pardon
for which he asks. He is making no sharp dogmatic distinction between
forgiveness and cleansing.

The two things run into each other in his prayer, as they do, thank God!
in our own experience, the one being inseparable, in fact, from the
other. It is absolute deliverance from the power of sin, in all forms of
that power, whether as guilt or as habit, for which he cries so
piteously; and his accumulative petitions are so exhaustive, not because
he is coldly examining his sin, but because he is intensely feeling the
manifold burden of his great evil.

That first petition conceives of the divine dealing with sin as being
the erasure of a writing, perhaps of an indictment. There is a special
significance in the use of the word here, because it is also employed in
the description of the Levitical ceremonial of the ordeal, where a curse
was written on a scroll and blotted out by the priest. But apart from
that the metaphor is a natural and suggestive one. Our sin stands
written against us. The long gloomy indictment has been penned by our
own hands. Our past is a blurred manuscript, full of false things and
bad things. We have to spread the writing before God, and ask Him to
remove the stained characters from its surface, that once was fair and
unsoiled.

Ah, brethren! some people tell us that the past is irrevocable, that the
thing once done can never be undone, that the life's diary written by
our own hands can never be cancelled. The melancholy theory of some
thinkers and teachers is summed up in the words, infinitely sad and
despairing when so used, 'What I have written I have written.' Thank
God! we know better than that. We know who blots out the handwriting
'that is against us, nailing it to His Cross.' We know that of God's
great mercy our future may 'copy fair our past,' and the past may be all
obliterated and removed. And as sometimes you will find in an old
monkish library the fair vellum that once bore lascivious stories of
ancient heathens and pagan deities turned into the manuscript in which a
saint has penned his Contemplations, an Augustine his Confessions, or a
Jerome his Translations, so our souls may become palimpsests. The old
wicked heathen characters that we have traced there may be blotted out,
and covered over by the writing of that divine Spirit who has said, 'I
will put My laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts.' As
you run your pen through the finished pages of your last year's diaries,
as you seal them up and pack them away, and begin a new page in a clean
book on the first of January, so it is possible for every one of us to
do with our lives. Notwithstanding all the influence of habit,
notwithstanding all the obstinacy of long-indulged modes of thought and
action, notwithstanding all the depressing effect of frequent attempts
and frequent failures, we may break ourselves off from all that is
sinful in our past lives, and begin afresh, saying, 'God helping me! I
will write another sort of biography for myself for the days that are to
come.'

We cannot erase these sad records from our past. The ink is indelible;
and besides all that we have visibly written in these terrible
autobiographies of ours, there is much that has sunk into the page,
there is many a 'secret fault,' the record of which will need the fire
of that last day to make it legible, Alas for those who learn the black
story of their own lives for the first time then! Learn it now, my
brother! and learn likewise that Christ can wipe it all clean off the
page, clean out of your nature, clean out of God's book. Cry to Him,
with the Psalmist, 'Blot out my transgressions!' and He will calm and
bless you with the ancient answer, 'I have blotted out as a thick cloud
thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.'

Then there is another idea in the second of these prayers for
forgiveness: '_Wash me throughly_ from mine iniquity.' That phrase does
not need any explanation, except that the word expresses the antique way
of cleansing garments by treading and beating. David, then, here uses
the familiar symbol of a robe, to express the 'habit' of the soul, or,
as we say, the character. That robe is all splashed and stained. He
cries to God to make it a robe of righteousness and a garment of purity.

And mark that he thinks the method by which this will be accomplished is
a protracted and probably a painful one. He is not praying for a mere
declaration of pardon, he is not asking only for the one complete,
instantaneous act of forgiveness, but he is asking for a process of
purifying which will be long and hard. 'I am ready,' says he, in effect,
'to submit to any sort of discipline, if only I may be clean. Wash me,
beat me, tread me down, hammer me with mallets, dash me against stones,
rub me with smarting soap and caustic nitre--do anything, anything with
me, if only those foul spots melt away from the texture of my soul!' A
solemn prayer, my brethren! if we pray it aright, which will be answered
by many a sharp application of God's Spirit, by many a sorrow, by much
very painful work, both within our own souls and in our outward lives,
but which will be fulfilled at last in our being clothed like our Lord,
in garments which shine as the light.

We know, dear brethren! who has said, 'I counsel thee to buy of Me white
raiment, that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear.' And we know
well who were the great company before the throne of God, that had
'washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' 'Wash me throughly
from mine iniquity.'

The deliverance from sin is still further expressed by that third
supplication, 'Cleanse me from my sin.' That is the technical word for
the priestly act of declaring ceremonial cleanness--the cessation of
ceremonial pollution, and for the other priestly act of making, as well
as declaring, clean from the stains of leprosy. And with allusion to
both of these uses, the Psalmist employs it here. That is to say, he
thinks of his guilt not only as a blotted past record which he has
written, not only as a garment spotted by the flesh which his spirit
wears, but he thinks of it too as inhering in himself, as a leprosy and
disease of his own personal nature. He thinks of it as being, like that,
incurable, fatal, twin sister to and precursor of death; and he thinks
of it as capable of being cleansed only by a sacerdotal act, only by the
great High Priest and by His finger being laid upon it. And we know who
it was that--when the leper, whom no man in Israel was allowed to touch
on pain of uncleanness, came to His feet--put out His hand in triumphant
consciousness of power, and touched him, and said, 'I _will_! be thou
clean.' Let this be thy prayer, 'Cleanse me from my sin'; and Christ
will answer, 'Thy leprosy hath departed from thee.'

III. These petitions likewise show us whence the Psalmist draws his
confidence for such a prayer.

'According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my
transgressions.' His whole hope rests upon God's own character, as
revealed in the endless continuance of His acts of love. He knows the
number and the greatness of his sins, and the very depth of his
consciousness of sin helps him to a corresponding greatness in his
apprehension of God's mercy. As he says in another of his psalms,
'Innumerable evils have compassed me about; they are more than the hairs
of my head.... Many, O Lord my God! are Thy wonderful works.... They are
more than can be numbered.' This is the blessedness of all true
penitence, that the more profoundly it feels its own sore need and great
sinfulness, in that very proportion does it recognise the yet greater
mercy and all-sufficient grace of our loving God, and from the lowest
depths beholds the stars in the sky, which they who dwell amid the
surface-brightness of the noonday cannot discern.

God's own revealed character, His faithfulness and persistency,
notwithstanding all our sins, in that mode of dealing with men which has
blessed all generations with His tender mercies--these were David's
pleas. And for us who have the perfect love of God perfectly expressed
in His Son, that same plea is incalculably strengthened, for we can say,
'According to Thy tender mercy in Thy dear Son, for the sake of Christ,
blot out my transgressions.' Is the depth of our desire, and is the
firmness of our confidence, proportioned to the increased clearness of
our knowledge of the love of our God? Does the Cross of Christ lead us
to as trustful a penitence as David had, to whom meditation on God's
providences and the shadows of the ancient covenant were chiefest
teachers of the multitude of His tender mercies?

Remember further that a comparison of the narrative in the historical
books seems to show, as I said, that this psalm followed Nathan's
declaration of the divine forgiveness, and that therefore these
petitions of our text are the echo and response to that declaration.

Thus we see that the revelation of God's love precedes, and is the cause
of, the truest penitence; that our prayer for forgiveness is properly
the appropriating, or the effort to appropriate, the divine promise of
forgiveness; and that the assurance of pardon, so far from making a man
think lightly of his sin, is the thing that drives it home to his
conscience, and first of all teaches him what it really is. As long as
you are tortured with thoughts of a possible hell because of guilt, as
long as you are troubled by the contemplation of consequences affecting
your happiness as ensuing upon your wrongdoing, so long there is a
foreign and disturbing element in even your deepest and truest
penitence. But when you know that God has forgiven--when you come to see
the 'multitude of Thy tender mercies,' when the fear of punishment has
passed out of your apprehension, then you are left with a heart at
leisure from dread, to look the fact and not the consequences in the
face, and to think of the moral nature, and not of the personal results,
of your sin. And so one of the old prophets, with profound truth, says,
'Thou shalt be ashamed and confounded, and never open thy mouth any more
because of thy sin, when I am pacified towards thee for all thou hast
done.'

Dear friends! the wheels of God's great mill may grind us small, without
our coming to know or to hate our sin. About His chastisements, about
the revelation of His wrath, that old saying is true to a great extent:
'If you bray a fool in a mortar, his folly will not depart from him.'
You may smite a man down, crush him, make his bones to creep with the
preaching of vengeance and of hell, and the result of it will often be,
if it be anything at all, what it was in the case of that poor wretched
Judas, who, because he only saw wrath, flung _himself_ into despair, and
was lost, not because he had betrayed Christ, but because he believed
that there was no forgiveness for the man that had betrayed.

But Love comes, and 'Love is Lord of all.' God's assurance, 'I have
forgiven,' the assurance that we do not need to plead with Him, to bribe
Him, to buy pardon by tears and amendment, but that it is already
provided for us--the blessed vision of an all-mighty love treasured in a
dying Saviour, the proclamation 'God was in Christ, reconciling the
world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them'--Oh! these
are the powers that break, or rather that melt, our hearts; these are
the keen weapons that wound to heal our hearts; these are the teachers
that teach a 'godly sorrow that needeth not to be repented of.' Think of
all the patient, pitying mercy of our Father, with which He has lingered
about our lives, and softly knocked at the door of our hearts! Think of
that unspeakable gift in which are wrapped up all His tender
mercies--the gift of Christ who died for us all! Let it smite upon your
heart with a rebuke mightier than all the thunders of law or terrors of
judgment. Let it unveil for you not only the depths of the love of God,
but the darkness of your own selfish rebellion from Him. Measure your
crooked lives by the perfect rightness of Christ's. Learn how you have
missed the aim which He reached, who could say, 'I delight to do Thy
will, O my God!' And let that same infinite love that teaches sin
announce frank forgiveness and prophesy perfect purity. Then, with heart
fixed upon Christ's Cross, let your cry for pardon be the echo of the
most sure promise of pardon which sounds from His dying lips; and as you
gaze on Him who died that we might be freed from all iniquity, ask Him
to blot out your transgressions, to wash you throughly from your
iniquity, and to cleanse you from your sins. Ask, for you cannot ask in
vain; ask earnestly, for you need it sorely; ask confidently, for He has
promised before you ask; but ask, for unless you do, you will not
receive. Ask, and the answer is sent already--'The blood of Jesus Christ
cleanseth from all sin.'



DAVID'S CRY FOR PURITY


    '... Renew a right spirit within me. 11. ... And take not Thy Holy
    Spirit from me. 12. ... And uphold me with Thy free Spirit.'
    --PSALM li. 10-12.

We ought to be very thankful that the Bible never conceals the faults of
its noblest men. David stands high among the highest of these. His words
have been for ages the chosen expression for the devotions of the
holiest souls; and whoever has wished to speak longings after purity,
lowly trust in God, the aspirations of love, or the raptures of
devotion, has found no words of his own more natural than those of the
poet-king of Israel. And this man sins, black, grievous sin.
Self-indulgent, he stays at home while his army is in the field. His
moral nature, relaxed by this shrinking from duty, is tempted, and
easily conquered. The sensitive poet nature, to which all delights of
eye and sense appeal so strongly, is for a time too strong for the
devout soul. One sin drags on another. As self-indulgence opened the
door for lust, so lust, which dwells hard by hate, draws after it
murder. The king is a traitor to his subjects, the soldier untrue to the
chivalry of arms, the friend the betrayer of the friend. Nothing can be
blacker than the whole story, and the Bible tells the shameful history
in all its naked ugliness.

Many a precious lesson is contained in it. For instance, It is not
innocence which makes men good. 'This is your man after God's own heart,
is it?' runs the common, shallow sneer. Yes; not that God thought little
of his foul sin, nor that 'saints' make up for adultery and murder by
making or singing psalms; not that 'righteousness' as a standard of
conduct is lower than 'morality'; but that, having fallen, he learned to
abhor his sin, and with deepened trust in God's mercy, and many tears,
struggled out of the mire, and with unconquered resolve and strength
drawn from a divine source, sought still to press towards the mark. It
is not the attainment of purity, not the absence of sin, but the
presence and operation, though it be partial, of an energy which is at
war with all impurity, that makes a man righteous. That is a lesson
worth learning.

Again, David was not a hypocrite because of this fall of his. All sin is
inconsistent with a religious character. But it is not for us to say
what sin is incompatible with a religious character.

Again, the worst sin is not some outburst of gross transgression,
forming an exception to the ordinary tenor of a life, bad and dismal as
such a sin is; but the worst and most fatal are the small continuous
vices, which root underground and honeycomb the soul. Many a man who
thinks himself a Christian, is in more danger from the daily commission,
for example, of small pieces of sharp practice in his business, than
ever was David at his worst. White ants pick a carcase clean sooner than
a lion will.

Most precious of all is the lesson as to the possibility of all sin
being effaced, and of the high hopes which even a man sunk in
transgression has a right to cherish, as to the purity and beauty of
character to which he may come. What a prayer these clauses contain to
be offered by one who has so sinned! What a marvellous faith in God's
pardoning love, and what a boldness of hope in his own future, they
disclose! They set forth a profound ideal of a noble character; they
make of that ideal a prayer; they are the prayer of a great
transgressor, who is also a true penitent. In all these aspects they are
very remarkable, and lead to valuable lessons. Let us look at them from
these points of view successively.

I. Observe that here is a remarkable outline of a holy character.

It is to be observed that of these three gifts--a right spirit, Thy Holy
Spirit, a free spirit--the central one alone is in the original spoken
of as God's; the 'Thy' of the last clause of the English Bible being an
unnecessary supplement. And I suppose that this central petition stands
in the middle, because the gift which it asks is the essential and
fundamental one, from which there flow, and as it were, diverge on the
right hand and on the left, the other two. God's Holy Spirit given to a
man makes the human spirit holy, and then makes it 'right' and 'free.'
Look then at the petitions, not in the order in which they stand in the
text, but in the order which the text indicates as the natural one.

Now as to that fundamental petition, 'Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me,'
one thing to notice is that David regards himself as possessing that
Spirit. We are not to read into this psalm the fully developed New
Testament teaching of a personal Paraclete, the Spirit whom Christ
reveals and sends. To do that would be a gross anachronism. But we are
to remember that it is an anointed king who speaks, on whose head there
has been poured the oil that designated him to his office, and in its
gentle flow and sweet fragrance, symbolised from of old the inspiration
of a divine influence that accompanied every divine call. We are to
remember, too, how it had fared with David's predecessor. Saul had been
chosen by God; had been for a while guided and upheld by God. But he
fell into sin, and--not because he fell into it, but because he
continued in it; not because he did wrong, but because he did not
repent--the solemn words are recorded concerning him, that 'the Spirit
of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord
troubled him.' The divine influence which came on the towering head of
the son of Kish, through the anointing oil that Samuel poured upon his
raven hair, left him, and he stood God-forsaken because he stood
God-forsaking. And so David looks back from the 'horrible pit and miry
clay' into which he had fallen, where, stained with blood and lust, he
lies, to that sad gigantic figure, remembered so well and loved by him
so truly--the great king who sinned away his soul, and bled out his life
on the heights of Gilboa. He sees in that blasted pine-tree, towering
above the forest but dead at the top, and barked and scathed all down
the sides by the lightning scars of passion, the picture of what he
himself will come to, if the blessing that was laid upon his ruddy locks
and his young head by the aged Samuel's anointing should pass from him
too as it had done from his predecessor. God had departed from Saul,
because Saul had refused His counsel and departed from Him; and Saul's
successor, trembling as he remembers the fate of the founder of the
monarchy, and of his vanished dynasty, prays with peculiar emphasis of
meaning, 'Take not Thy Holy Spirit from _me_!'

That Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, had descended upon him when he was
anointed king, but it was no mere official consecration which he had
thereby received. He had been fitted for regal functions by personal
cleansing and spiritual gifts. And it is the man as well as the king,
the sinful man much rather than the faulty king, that here wrestles with
God, and stays the heavenly Visitant whom his sin has made to seem as if
He would depart. What he desires most earnestly, next to that pardon
which he has already sought and found, is that his spirit should be made
holy by God's Spirit. That is, as I have said, the central petition of
his threefold prayer, from which the others come as natural
consequences.

And what is this 'holiness' which David so earnestly desires? Without
attempting any lengthened analysis of the various shades of meaning in
the word, our purpose will be served if I point out that in all
probability the primary idea in it is that of separation. God is
holy--that is, separated by all the glory of His perfect nature from His
creatures. Things are holy--that is, separated from common uses, and
appropriated to God's service. Whatever He laid His hand on and claimed
in any especial manner for His, became thereby holy, whether it were a
ceremony, or a place, or a tool. Men are holy when they are set apart
for God's service, whether they be officially consecrated for certain
offices, or have yielded themselves by an inward devotion based on love
to be His.

The ethical signification which is predominant in our use of the word
and has made it little more than a synonym for moral purity is certainly
not the original meaning, as is sufficiently clear from the fact that
the word is applied to material things which could have no moral
qualities, and sometimes to persons who were not pure, but who were in
some sense or other set apart for God's service. But gradually that
meaning becomes more and more completely attached to the word, and
'holiness' is not only separation for God, but separation from sin. That
is what David longs for in this prayer; and the connection of these two
meanings of the word is worth pointing out in a sermon, for the sake of
the great truth which it suggests, that the basis of all rightness and
righteousness in a human spirit is its conscious and glad devotion to
God's service and uses. A reference to God must underlie all that is
good in men, and on the other hand, that consecration to God is a
delusion or a deception which does not issue in separation from evil.

'Holiness' is a loftier and a truer word than 'morality,' 'virtue,' or
the like; it differs from these in that it proclaims that surrender to
God is the very essence of all good, while they seek to construct a
standard for human conduct, and to lay a foundation for human goodness,
without regard to Him. Hence, irreligious moralists dislike the very
word, and fall back upon pale, colourless phrases rather than employ it.
But these are inadequate for the purpose. Man's duties can never be
summed up in any expression which omits man's relation to God. How do I
stand to Him? Do I belong to Him by joyous yielding of myself to be His
instrument? That, my friends! is the question, the answer to which
determines everything about me. Rightly answered, there will come all
fruits of grace and beauty in the character as a natural consequence;
'whatsoever things are lovely and of good report,' every virtue and
every praise grow from the root of consecration to God. Wrongly
answered, there will come only fruits of selfishness and evil, which may
simulate virtue, but the blossom shall go up in dust, and the root in
stubble. Do you seek purity, nobleness, strength, and beauty of soul?
Learn that all these inhere in and flow from the one act of giving up
yourself to God, and in their truest perfection are found only in the
spirit that is His. Holiness considered as moral excellence is the
result of holiness considered as devotion to God. And learn too that
holiness in both aspects comes from the operation and indwelling in our
spirits of a divine Spirit, who draws away our love from self to fix it
on Him, which changes our blindness into sight, and makes us by degrees
like Himself, 'holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.' The
Spirit of the Lord is the energy which produces all righteousness and
purity in human spirits.

Therefore, all our desires after what is good and true should shape
themselves into the desire for that Spirit. Our prayer should be, 'Make
me separate from evil, and that I may be so, claim and keep me for Thine
own. As Thou hast done with the Sabbath amongst the days, with the bare
summit of the hill of the Lord's house among the mountains, with Israel
amidst the nations, so do with me; lay Thine hand upon me for Thine own.
Let my spirit, O God! know its destination for Thee, its union with
Thee. Then being Thine, it will be clean. Dwell in me, that I may know
myself Thine. Seal me with that gracious influence which is the proof
that Thou possessest me, and the pledge that I possess Thee. "Take not
Thy Holy Spirit from me."'

So much for the chief of these petitions, which gives the ideal
character in its deepest relations. There follow two other elements in
the character, which on either side flow from the central source. The
_holy_ spirit in a man will be a _right_ spirit and a _free_ spirit.
Consider these further thoughts in turn.

'A right spirit.' You will observe that our translators have given an
alternative rendering in the margin, and as is not seldom the case, it
is a better one than that adopted in the text. 'A constant or firm
spirit' is the Psalmist's meaning. He sees that a spirit which is
conscious of its relation to God, and set free from the perturbations of
sin, will be a spirit firm and settled, established and immovable in its
obedience and its faith. For Him, the root of all steadfastness is in
consecration to God.

And so this collocation of ideas opens the way for us to important
considerations bearing upon the practical ordering of our natures and of
our lives. For instance, there is no stability and settled persistency
of righteous purpose possible for us, unless we are made strong because
we lay hold on God's strength, and stand firm because we are rooted in
Him. Without that hold-fast, we shall be swept away by storms of
calamity or by gusts of passion. Without that to steady us, our own
boiling lusts and desires will make every fibre of our being quiver and
tremble. Without that armour, there will not be solidity enough in our
character to bear without breaking the steady pressure of the world's
weight, still less the fierce hammering of special temptation. To stand
erect, and in that sense to have a right spirit--one that is upright and
unbent--we must have sure footing in God, and have His energy infused
into our shrinking limbs. If we are to be stable amidst earthquakes and
storms, we must be built on the rock, and build rock-like upon it. Build
thy strength upon God. Let His Holy Spirit be the foundation of thy
life, and then thy tremulous and vagrant soul will be braced and fixed.
The building will become like the foundation, and will grow into 'a
tower of strength that stands four-square to every wind.' Rooted in God,
thou shalt be unmoved by 'the loud winds when they call'; or if still
the tremulous leaves are huddled together before the blast, and the
swaying branches creak and groan, the bole will stand firm and the
gnarled roots will not part from their anchorage, though the storm-giant
drag at them with a hundred hands. The spirit of holiness will be a firm
spirit.

But there is another phase of connection between these two points of the
ideal character--if my spirit is to be holy and to preserve its
holiness, it must be firm. That is to say, you can only get and keep
purity by resistance. A man who has not learned to say 'No!'--who is not
resolved that he _will_ take God's way in spite of every dog that can
bay or bark at him, in spite of every silvery voice that woos him
aside--will be a weak and a wretched man till he dies. In such a world
as this, with such hearts as ours, weakness _is_ wickedness in the long
run. Whoever lets himself be shaped and guided by anything lower than an
inflexible will, fixed in obedience to God, will in the end be shaped
into a deformity and guided to wreck and ruin. Dreams however rapturous,
contemplations however devout, emotions however deep and sacred, make no
man pure and good without hard effort, and that to a large extent in the
direction of resistance. Righteousness is not a mere negative idea, and
Scripture morality is something much deeper than prohibitions. But there
is no law for us without prohibitions, and no righteousness without
casting out evil that is strong in us, and fighting against evil that is
attractive around us. Therefore we need firmness to guard holiness, to
be the hard shell in which the rich fruit matures. We need a wholesome
obstinacy in the right that will neither be bribed nor coaxed nor
bullied, nor anyhow persuaded out of the road in which we know that we
should walk. 'Add to your faith manly vigour.' Learn that an
indispensable requisite of holiness is prescribed in that command, 'Whom
resist, steadfast in the faith.' And remember that the ground of all
successful resistance and the need for it are alike taught in that
series of petitions, which makes a holy spirit the foundation of a
constant spirit, and a constant spirit the guard of a holy spirit.

Then consider, for a moment, the third element in the character which
David longs to possess--a _free_ spirit. He who is holy because full of
God's Spirit, and constant in his holiness, will likewise be 'free.'
That is the same word which is in other places translated 'willing'--and
the scope of the Psalmist's desire is, 'Let my spirit be emancipated
from sin by _willing_ obedience.' This goes very deep into the heart of
all true godliness. The only obedience which God accepts is that which
gladly, and almost as by an instinctive inward impulse, harmonises the
human will with the divine. 'Lo! I come: in the volume of the book it is
written of me, I delight to do Thy will, and Thy law is within my
heart.' That is a blessed thought, that we may come to do Him service
not because we must, but because we like; not as serfs, but as sons; not
thinking of His law as a slave-driver that cracks his whip over our
heads, but as a friend that lets us know how we may please Him whom it
is our delight to obey. And so the Psalmist prays, 'Let my obedience be
so willing that I had rather do what Thou wilt than anything besides.'

'_Then_,' he thinks, 'I shall be free.' Of course--for the correlative
of freedom is lawful authority, and the definition of freedom is willing
submission. If for us duty is joy, and all our soul's desires flow with
an equable motion parallel to the will of God, then there is no sense of
restraint in keeping within the limits beyond which we do not seek to
go. The willing spirit sets us free, free from the 'ancient solitary
reign' of the despot Self, free from the mob rule of passions and
appetites, free from the incubus of evil habits, free from the authority
of men's voices and examples. Obedience is freedom to them that have
learned to love the lips that command. We are set free that we may
serve: 'O Lord! truly I am Thy servant; Thou hast loosed my bonds.' We
are set free in serving: 'I will walk at liberty, for I keep Thy
precepts.' Let a willing, free spirit uphold me.

II. Observe, too, that desires for holiness should become prayers.

David does not merely long for certain spiritual excellences; he goes to
God for them. And his reasons for doing so are plain. If you will look
at the former verses of this psalm, you will see that he had found out
two things about his sin, both of which make him sure that he can only
be what he should be by God's help. He had learned what his crimes were
in relation to God, and he had further learned what they indicated about
himself. The teaching of his bitter experience as to the former of these
two matters lies in that saying which some people have thought strange.
'Against _Thee only_ have I sinned.' What! Had he not committed a crime
against human law? had he not harmed Uriah and Bathsheba? were not his
deeds an offence to his whole kingdom? Yes, he knew all that; but he
felt that over and above all that was black in his deed, considered in
its bearing upon men, it was still blacker when it was referred to God;
and a sadder word than 'crime' or 'fault' had to be used about it. I
have done wrong as against my fellows, but worse than that, I have
_sinned_ against God. The notion of _sin_ implies the notion of God. Sin
is wilful transgression of the law of _God_. An atheist can have no
conception of sin. But bring God into human affairs, and men's faults
immediately assume the darker tint, and become men's sins. Therefore the
need of prayer if these evils are to be blotted out. If I had done crime
against man only, I should not need to ask God for pardon or cleansing;
but I have sinned against Him, and done this evil in His sight,
therefore my desires for deliverance address themselves to Him, and my
longings for purity must needs break into the cry of entreaty to that
God with whom are forgiveness and redemption from all iniquity.

And still further, looking at the one deed, he sees in it something more
than an isolated act. It leads him down to its motive; that motive
carries him to the state of mind in which it could have power; that
state of mind, in which the motive could have power, carries him still
deeper to the bias of his nature as he had received it from his parents.
And thinking of how he had fallen, how upon his terraced palace roof
there the eye had inflamed the heart, and the heart had yielded so
quickly to the temptations of the eye, he finds no profounder
explanation of the disastrous eclipse of goodness than this: 'Behold! I
was shapen in iniquity.'

Is that a confession or a palliation, do you think? Is he trying to
shuffle off guilt from his own shoulders? By no means, for these words
are the motive for the prayer, 'Purge me, and I shall be clean.' That is
to say, he has learned that isolated acts of sin inhere in a common
root, and that root a disposition inherited from generation to
generation to which evil is familiar and easy, to which good, alas! is
but too alien and unwelcome. None the less is the evil done _his_ deed.
None the less has he to wail in full consciousness of his individual
responsibility: 'Against Thee have _I_ sinned.' But the effect of this
second discovery, that sin has become so intertwisted with his being
that he cannot shake off the venomous beast into the fire and feel no
harm, is the same as that of the former--to drive him to God, who alone
can heal the nature and separate the poison from his blood.

Dear friends! there are some of you who are wasting your lives in
paroxysms of fierce struggle with the evil that you have partially
discovered in yourselves, alternating with long languor, fits of
collapse and apathy, and who make no solid advance, just because you
will not lay to heart these two convictions--your sin has to do with
God, and your sins come from a sinful nature. Because of the one fact,
you must go to God for pardon; because of the other, you must go to God
for cleansing. There, in your heart, like some black well-head in a
dismal bog, is the source of all the swampy corruption that fills your
life. You cannot stanch it, you cannot drain it, you cannot sweeten it.
Ask Him, who is above your nature and without it, to change it by His
own new life infused into your spirit. He will heal the bitter waters.
He alone can. Sin is against God; sin comes from an evil heart;
therefore, if your longings for that ideal perfectness are ever to be
fulfilled, you must make prayers of them, and cry to Him who hears,
'Create in me a clean heart, O God! take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.'

III. Finally, observe that prayers for perfect cleansing are permitted
to the lips of the greatest sinners.

Such longings as these might seem audacious, when the atrocity of the
crime is remembered, and by man's standard they are so. Let the criminal
be thankful for escape, and go hide himself, say men's pardons. But here
is a man, with the evil savour of his debauchery still tainting him,
daring to ask for no mere impunity, but for God's choicest gifts. Think
of his crime, think of its aggravations from God's mercies to him, from
his official position, from his past devotion. Remember that this cruel
voluptuary is the sweet singer of Israel, who had taught men songs of
purer piety and subtler emotion than the ruder harps of older singers
had ever flung from their wires. And this man, so placed, so gifted, set
up on high to be the guiding light of the nation, has plunged into the
filth of these sins, and quenched all his light there. When he comes
back penitent, what will he dare to ask? Everything that God can give to
bless and gladden a soul. He asks for God's Spirit, for His presence,
for the joy of His salvation; to be made once again, as he had been, the
instrument that shall show forth His praise, and teach transgressors
God's ways. Ought he to have had more humble desires? Does this great
boldness show that he is leaping very lightly over his sin? Is he
presumptuous in such prayers? God be thanked--no! But, knowing all his
guilt, and broken and contrite in heart (crushed and ground to powder,
as the words mean), utterly loathing himself, aware of all the darkness
of his deserts, he yet cherishes unconquerable confidence in the pitying
love of God, and believes that in spite of all his sin, he may yet be
pure as the angels of heaven--ay, even holy as God is holy.

Thank God we have such an example for our heartening! Lay it to heart,
brethren! You cannot believe too much in God's mercy. You cannot expect
too much at His hands. He is 'able to do exceeding abundantly above all
that we ask or think.' No sin is so great but that, coming straight from
it, a repentant sinner may hope and believe that all God's love will be
lavished upon him, and the richest of God's gifts be granted to his
desires. Even if our transgression is aggravated by a previous life of
godliness, and have given the enemies great occasion to blaspheme, as
David's did, yet David's penitence may in our souls lead on to David's
hope, and the answer will not fail us. Let no sin, however dark, however
repeated, drive us to despair of ourselves, because it hides from us our
loving Saviour. Though beaten back again and again by the surge of our
passions and sins, like some poor shipwrecked sailor sucked back with
every retreating wave and tossed about in the angry surf, yet keep your
face towards the beach, where there is safety, and you will struggle
through it all, and though it were but on some floating boards and
broken pieces of the ship, will come safe to land. He will uphold you
with His Spirit, and take away the weight of sin that would sink you, by
His forgiving mercy, and bring you out of all the weltering waste of
waters to the solid shore.

So whatever thy evil behaviour, come with it all, and cast thyself
before Him, with whom is plenteous redemption. Embrace in one act the
two truths, of thine own sin and of God's infinite mercy in Jesus
Christ. Let not the one blind you to the other; let not the one lead you
to a morbid despondency, which is blind to Christ, nor the other to a
superficial estimate of the deadliness of sin, which is blind to thine
own self. Let the Cross teach thee what sin is, and let the dark
background of thy sin bring into clear prominence the Cross that
bringeth salvation. Know that thou art utterly black and sinful. Believe
that God is eternally, utterly, inconceivably, merciful. Learn both, in
Him who is the Standard by which we can estimate our sin, and the Proof
and Medium of God's mercy. Trust thyself and all thy foulness to Jesus
Christ; and, so doing, look up from whatsoever horrible pit and miry
clay thou mayest have fallen into, with this prayer, 'Create in me a
clean heart, O God! and renew a right spirit within me, take not Thy
Holy Spirit from me, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.' Then the
answer shall come to you from Him who ever puts the best robe upon His
returning prodigals, and gives His highest gifts to sinners who repent.
'From all your filthiness will I cleanse you, a new heart also will I
give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will put My
Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes.'



FEAR AND FAITH


    'What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee. 4. ... In God I have
    put my trust: I will not fear.'--PSALM lvi. 3, 4.

It is not given to many men to add new words to the vocabulary of
religious emotion. But so far as an examination of the Old Testament
avails, I find that David was the first that ever employed the word that
is here translated, _I will trust_, with a religious meaning. It is
found occasionally in earlier books of the Bible in different
connections, never in regard to man's relations to God, until the
Poet-Psalmist laid his hand upon it, and consecrated it for all
generations to express one of the deepest relations of man to his Father
in heaven. And it is a favourite word of his. I find it occurs
constantly in his psalms; twice as often, or nearly so, in the psalms
attributed to David as in all the rest of the Psalter put together; and
as I shall have occasion to show you in a moment, it is in itself a most
significant and poetic word.

But, first of all, I ask you to notice how beautifully there comes out
here the _occasion_ of trust. 'What time I am afraid, I will put my
trust in Thee.'

This psalm is one of those belonging to the Sauline persecution. If we
adopt the allocation in the superscription, it was written at one of the
very lowest points of David's fortunes. And there seem to be one or two
of its phrases which acquire new force, if we regard the psalm as drawn
forth by the perils of his wandering, hunted life. For instance--'Thou
tellest my wanderings,' is no mere expression of the feelings with which
he regarded the changes of this early pilgrimage, but is the confidence
of the fugitive that in the doublings and windings of his flight God's
eye marked him. 'Put thou my tears into Thy _bottle_'--one of the few
indispensable articles which he had to carry with him, the water-skin
which hung beside him, perhaps, as he meditated. So read in the light of
his probable circumstances, how pathetic and eloquent does that saying
become--'What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.' That goes deep
down into the realities of life. It is when we are 'afraid' that we
trust in God; not in easy times, when things are going smoothly with us.
Not when the sun shines, but when the tempest blows and the wind howls
about his ears, a man gathers his cloak round him, and cleaves fast to
his supporter. The midnight sea lies all black; but when it is cut into
by the oar, or divided and churned by the paddle, it flashes up into
phosphorescence, and so it is from the tumults and agitation of man's
spirit that there is struck out the light of man's faith. There is the
bit of flint and the steel that comes hammering against it; and it is
the contact of these two that brings out the spark. The man never knew
confidence who does not know how the occasion that evoked and preceded
it was terror and need. 'What time I am _afraid_, I will trust.' That is
no trust which is only fair weather trust. This principle--first fear,
and only then, faith--applies all round the circle of our necessities,
weaknesses, sorrows, and sins.

There must, first of all, be the deep sense of need, of exposedness to
danger, of weakness, of sorrow, and only then will there come the
calmness of confidence. A victorious faith will

    'rise large and slow
  From out the fluctuations of our souls,
  As from the dim and tumbling sea
  Starts the completed moon.'

And then, if so, notice how there is involved in that the other
consideration, that a man's confidence is not the product of outward
circumstances, but of his own fixed resolves. 'I _will_ put my trust in
Thee.' Nature says, 'Be afraid!' and the recoil from that natural fear,
which comes from a discernment of threatening evil, is only possible by
a strong effort of the will. Foolish confidence opposes to natural fear
a groundless resolve not to be afraid, as if heedlessness were security,
or facts could be altered by resolving not to think about them. True
faith, by a mighty effort of the will, fixes its gaze on the divine
Helper, and there finds it possible and wise to lose its fears. It is
madness to say, 'I will not to be afraid!' it is wisdom and peace to
say, 'I will trust, and not be afraid.' But it is no easy matter to fix
the eye on God when threatening enemies within arm's-length compel our
gaze; and there must be a fixed resolve, not indeed to coerce our
emotions or to ignore our perils, but to set the Lord before us, that we
may not be moved. When war desolates a land, the peasants fly from their
undefended huts to the shelter of the castle on the hilltop, but they
cannot reach the safety of the strong walls without climbing the steep
road. So when calamity darkens round us, or our sense of sin and sorrow
shakes our hearts, we need effort to resolve and to carry into practice
the resolution, 'I flee unto Thee to hide me.' Fear, then, is the
occasion of faith, and faith is fear transformed by the act of our own
will, calling to mind the strength of God, and betaking ourselves
thereto. Therefore, do not wonder if the two things lie in your hearts
together, and do not say, 'I have no faith because I have some fear,'
but rather feel that if there be the least spark of the former it will
turn all the rest into its own bright substance. Here is the stifling
smoke, coming up from some newly-lighted fire of green wood, black and
choking, and solid in its coils; but as the fire burns up, all the
smoke-wreaths will be turned into one flaming spire, full of light and
warmth. Do you turn your smoke into fire, your fear into faith. Do not
be down-hearted if it takes a while to convert the whole of the lower
and baser into the nobler and higher. Faith and fear do blend, thank
God! They are as oil and water in a man's soul, and the oil will float
above, and quiet the waves. 'What time I am afraid'--there speak nature
and the heart; 'I will trust in Thee'--there speaks the better man
within, lifting himself above nature and circumstances, and casting
himself into the extended arms of God, who catches him and keeps him
safe.

Then, still further, these words, or rather one portion of them, give us
a bright light and a beautiful thought as to the _essence_ and inmost
centre of this faith or trust. Scholars tell us that the word here
translated 'trust' has a graphic, pictorial meaning for its root idea.
It signifies literally to cling to or hold fast anything, expressing
thus both the notion of a good tight grip and of intimate union. Now, is
not that metaphor vivid and full of teaching as well as of impulse? 'I
will trust in Thee.' 'And he exhorted them all, that with purpose of
heart they should _cleave_ unto the Lord.' We may follow out the
metaphor of the word in many illustrations. For instance, here is a
strong prop, and here is the trailing, lithe feebleness of the vine.
Gather up the leaves that are creeping all along the ground, and coil
them around that support, and up they go straight towards the heavens.
Here is a limpet in some pond or other, left by the tide, and it has
relaxed its grasp a little. Touch it with your finger and it grips fast
to the rock, and you will want a hammer before you can dislodge it.
There is a traveller groping along some narrow broken path, where the
chamois would tread cautiously, his guide in front of him. His head
reels, and his limbs tremble, and he is all but over, but he grasps the
strong hand of the man in front of him, or lashes himself to him by the
rope, and he can walk steadily. Or, take that story in the Acts of the
Apostles, about the lame man healed by Peter and John. All his life long
he had been lame, and when at last healing comes, one can fancy with
what a tight grasp 'the lame man held Peter and John.' The timidity and
helplessness of a lifetime made him hold fast, even while, walking and
leaping, he tried how the unaccustomed 'feet and ankle bones' could do
their work. How he would clutch the arms of his two supporters, and feel
himself firm and safe only as long as he grasped them! That is faith,
cleaving to Christ, twining round Him with all the tendrils of our
heart, as the vine does round its pole; holding to Him by His hand, as a
tottering man does by the strong hand that upholds.

And there is one more application of the metaphor, which perhaps may be
best brought out by referring to a passage of Scripture. We find this
same expression used in that wonderfully dramatic scene in the Book of
Kings, where the supercilious messengers from the king of Assyria came
up and taunted the king and his people on the wall. 'What confidence is
this wherein thou trustest? Now, on whom dost thou trust, that thou
rebellest against me? Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this
bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which, if a man lean, it will go into
his hand and pierce it: so is Pharaoh, king of Egypt, unto all that
trust on him,' The word of our text is employed there, and as the phrase
shows, with a distinct trace of its primary sense. Hezekiah was leaning
upon that poor paper reed on the Nile banks, that has no substance, or
strength, or pith in it. A man leans upon it, and it runs into the palm
of his hand, and makes an ugly festering wound. Such rotten stays are
all our earthly confidences. The act of trust, and the miserable issues
of placing it on man, are excellently described there. The act is the
same when directed to God, but how different the issues. Lean all your
weight on God as on some strong staff, and depend upon it that your
support will never yield nor crack and no splinters will run into your
palms from it.

If I am to cling with my hand I must first empty my hand. Fancy a man
saying, 'I cannot stand unless you hold me up; but I have to hold my
bank book, and this thing, and that thing, and the other thing; I cannot
put them down, so I have not a hand free to lay hold with, you must do
the holding.' That is what some of us are saying in effect. Now the
prayer, 'Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe,' is a right one; but not
from a man who will not put his possessions out of his hands that he may
lay hold of the God who lays hold of him.

  'Nothing in my hand I bring.'

Then, of course, and only then, when we are empty-handed, shall we be
free to grip and lay hold; and only then shall we be able to go on with
the grand words--

  'Simply to Thy Cross I cling,'

as some half-drowned, shipwrecked sailor, flung up on the beach, clasps
a point of rock, and is safe from the power of the waves that beat
around him.

And then one word more. These two clauses that I have put together give
us not only the occasion of faith in fear, and the essence of faith in
this clinging, but they also give us very beautifully the _victory_ of
faith. You see with what poetic art--if we may use such words about the
breathings of such a soul--he repeats the two main words of the former
verse in the latter, only in inverted order--'What time I am afraid, I
will trust in Thee.' He is possessed by the lower emotion, and resolves
to escape from its sway into the light and liberty of faith. And then
the next words still keep up the contrast of faith and fear, only that
now he is possessed by the more blessed mood, and determines that he
will not fall back into the bondage and darkness of the baser. 'In God I
have put my trust; I will not fear.' He has confidence, and in the
strength of that he resolves that he will not yield to fear. If we put
that thought into a more abstract form it comes to this: that the one
true antagonist and triumphant rival of all fear is faith, and faith
alone. There is no reason why any man should be emancipated from his
fears either about this world or about the next, except in proportion as
he has faith. Nay, rather it is far away more rational to be afraid than
not to be afraid, unless I have this faith in Christ. There are plenty
of reasons for dread in the dark possibilities and not less dark
certainties of life. Disasters, losses, partings, disappointments,
sicknesses, death, may any of them come at any moment, and some of them
will certainly come sooner or later. Temptations lurk around us like
serpents in the grass, they beset us in open ferocity like lions in our
path. Is it not wise to fear unless our faith has hold of that great
promise, 'Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; there shall no evil
befall thee'? But if we have a firm hold of God, then it is wise not to
be afraid, and terror is folly and sin. For trust brings not only
tranquillity, but security, and so takes away fear by taking away
danger.

That double operation of faith in quieting and in defending is very
strikingly set forth by an Old Testament word, formed from the verb here
employed, which means properly _confidence_, and then in one form comes
to signify both _in security_ and _in safety_, secure as being free from
anxiety, safe as being sheltered from peril. So, for instance, the
people of that secluded little town of Laish, whose peaceful existence
amidst warlike neighbours is described with such singular beauty in the
Book of Judges, are said to 'dwell _careless_, quiet, and _secure_.' The
former phrase is literally 'in trust,' and the latter is 'trusting.' The
idea sought to be conveyed by both seems to be that double one of quiet
freedom from fear and from danger. So again, in Moses' blessing, 'The
beloved of the Lord shall dwell _in safety_ by Him,' we have the same
phrase to express the same twofold benediction of shelter, by dwelling
in God, from all alarm and from all attack:

  'As far from danger as from fear,
   While love, Almighty love is near.'

This thought of the victory of faith over fear is very forcibly set
forth in a verse from the Book of Proverbs, which in our version runs
'The righteous is bold as a lion.' The word rendered 'is bold' is that
of our text, and would literally be 'trusts,' but obviously the metaphor
requires such a translation as that of the English Bible. The word that
properly describes the act of faith has come to mean the courage which
is the consequence of the act, just as our own word _confidence_
properly signifies trust, but has come to mean the boldness which is
born of trust. So, then, the true way to become brave is to lean on God.
That, and that alone, delivers from otherwise reasonable fear, and Faith
bears in her one hand the gift of outward safety, and in her other that
of inward peace.

Peter is sinking in the water; the tempest runs high. He looks upon the
waves, and is ready to fancy that he is going to be swallowed up
immediately. His fear is reasonable if he has only the tempest and
himself to draw his conclusions from. His helplessness and the scowling
storm together strike out a little spark of faith, which the wind cannot
blow out, nor the floods quench. Like our Psalmist here, when Peter is
afraid, he trusts. 'Save, Lord! or I perish.' Immediately the
outstretched hand of his Lord grasps his, and brings him safety, while
the gentle rebuke, 'O thou of little faith! wherefore didst thou doubt?'
infuses courage into his beating heart. The storm runs as high as ever,
and the waves beat about his limbs, and the spray blinds his eyes. If he
leaves his hold for one moment down he will go. But, as long as he
clasps Christ's hand, he is as safe on that heaving floor as if his feet
were on a rock; and as long as he looks in Christ's face and leans upon
His upholding arm, he does _not_ 'see the waves boisterous,' nor tremble
at all as they break around him. His fear and his danger are both gone,
because he holds Christ and is upheld by Him. In this sense, too, as in
many others, 'this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our
faith.'



A SONG OF DELIVERANCE


    'For Thou hast delivered my soul from death: hast Thou not delivered
    my feet from falling? that I may walk before God in the light of the
    living.'--PSALM lvi. 13 (R.V.).

According to the ancient Jewish tradition preserved in the
superscription of this psalm, it was written at the lowest ebb of
David's fortunes, 'when the Philistines took him in Gath,' and as you
may remember, he saved himself by adding the fox's hide to the lion's
skin, and by pretending to be an idiot, degraded as well as delivered
himself. Yet immediately after, if we accept the date given by the
superscription, the triumphant confidence and devout hope of this psalm
animated his mind. How unlike the true man was to what he appeared to be
to Achish and his Philistines! It is strange that the inside and the
outside should correspond so badly; but yet, thank God! it is possible.
We note,

I. The deliverance realised by faith before it is accomplished in fact.

You will observe that I have made a slight alteration in the translation
of the words. In our Authorised Version they stand thus: 'Thou hast
delivered my soul from death; _wilt_ Thou not deliver my feet from
falling?' as if some prior deliverance was the basis upon which the
Psalmist rested his expectation of that which was still to come. But
there is no authority in the original for that variation of tenses, and
both clauses obviously refer to the same period and the same
deliverance. Therefore we must read: 'Thou hast delivered my soul from
death: _hast_ Thou not delivered,' etc.; the question being equivalent
to a strong affirmation, 'Yea, Thou hast delivered my feet from
falling.' This reference of both clauses to the same period and the same
delivering act, is confirmed by the quotation of these words in a very
much later psalm, the 116th, where we read, with an addition, 'Thou hast
delivered my soul from death, _mine eyes from tears_, and my feet from
falling.'

So, then, the Psalmist is so sure of the deliverance that is coming that
he sings of it as past. He is still in the very thick of the trouble and
the fight, and yet he says, 'It is as good as over. Thou _hast_
delivered.'

How does he come to that confidence? Simply because his future is God;
and whoever has God for his future can turn else uncertain hopes into
certain confidences, and make sure of this, that however Achish and his
giant Philistines of Gath, wielding Goliath's arms, spears like a
weaver's beam, and brazen armour, may compass him about, in the name of
the Lord he will destroy them. They are all as good as dead, though they
are alive and hostile at this moment. In the midst of trouble we can
fling ourselves into the future, or rather draw the future into the
present, and say, 'Thou _hast_ delivered my soul from death.' It is safe
to reckon on to-morrow when we reckon on God. We to-day have the same
reasons for the same confidence; and if we will go the right way about
it, we, too, may bring June's sun into November's fogs, and bask in the
warmth of certain deliverance even when the chill mists of trouble
enfold us.

But then note, too, here, the substance of this future intervention
which, to the Psalmist's quiet faith, is present:--'My soul from death,'
and after that he says, 'My feet from falling,' which looks very like an
anticlimax and bathos. But yet, just because to deliver the feet from
falling is so much smaller a thing than delivering a life from death, it
comes here to be a climax and something greater. The storm passes over
the man. What then? After the storm has passed, he is not only alive,
but he is standing upright. It has not killed him. No, it has not even
shaken him. His feet are as firm as ever they were, and just because
that is a smaller thing, it is a greater thing for the deliverance to
have accomplished than the other. God does not deliver by halves; He
does not leave the delivered man maimed, or thrown down, though living.

Remember, too, the expansion of the text in the psalm to which I have
already referred, one of a much later date, which by quoting these words
really comments upon them. The later Psalmist adds a clause. 'Mine eyes
from tears,' and we may follow on in the same direction, and note the
three spheres in which the later poet hymns the delivering hand of God
as spiritualising for us all our deeper Christian experience. 'Thou hast
delivered my soul from death,' in that great redemption by which the Son
has died that we may never know either the intensest bitterness of
physical death, or the true death of which it is the shadow and the
emblem. 'Thou hast delivered mine eyes from tears'; God wipes away tears
here, even before we come to the time when He wipes away all tears from
off all faces, and no eyes are delivered from tears, except eyes that
have looked through tears to God. 'And my feet from falling'--redeeming
grace which saves the soul; comforting grace which lightens sorrow;
upholding grace which keeps us from sins--these are the elements of what
God has done for us all, if our poor feeble trust has rested on Him.

How did David get to this confidence? Why, he prayed himself into it. If
you will read the psalm, you will see very clearly the process by which
a man comes to that serene, triumphant trust that the battle is won even
whilst it is raging around him. The previous portion of the psalm falls
into two parts, on which I need only make this one remark, that in both
we have first of all an obvious disquieting fact, and then a flash of
victorious confidence. Let me just read a word or two to you. The
Psalmist begins in a very minor key. 'Be merciful unto me, O God! for
man would swallow me up'--that is Achish and his Philistines. 'He
fighting daily oppresseth me; mine enemies daily would swallow me up.'
He reiterates the same thought with the dreary monotony of sorrow, 'for
there be many that fight against me, O Thou most High!' But swiftly his
note changes into 'What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee. In God I
will praise His word'; that is to say, His promise of deliverance, 'in
God I have put my trust.' He has climbed to the height, but only for a
moment, for down he drops again, and begins anew the old miserable
complaint. The sorrow is too clinging to be cast off at one struggle. It
has been dammed out for the moment, but the flood rushes too heavily,
and away goes the dam, and back pours the black water. 'Every day they
wrest my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil.' And he goes
on longer on his depressing key this second time than he did the first,
but he rises above it once more in the same fashion, and the refrain
with which he had closed the first part of the psalm closes the second.
'In God will I praise His word; in the Lord will I praise His word.' Now
he has won the height and keeps it, and breaks into a paean of victory in
words of the text.

That is to say, pray yourselves into confidence, and if it does not come
at first, pray again. If the consolation seems to glide away, even
whilst you are laying hold of it, grasp it once more, and close your
fingers more tightly on it. Do not be afraid of going down into the
depths a second time, but be sure that you try to rise out of them at
the same point as before, by grasping the assurance that in God, in His
strength, and by His grace, you will be able to set your seal to the
truth of His great promise. Thus will you rise to this confidence which
calleth things that are not as though they were, and brings the
to-morrow that is sure to dawn with all its brightness and serenity into
the turbulent, tempestuous, and clouded atmosphere of to-day. We shall
one day escape from all that burdens, and tries, and tasks us; and until
then this blessed assurance, the fruit of prayer, is like the food that
the ravens brought to the prophet in the ravine, or the bread and water
that the angel awoke him to partake of when he was faint in the
wilderness. The true answer to David's prayer was the immediate access
of confidence unshaken, though the outward answer was a long time in
coming, and years lay between him and the cessation of his persecutions
and troubles. So we may have brooks by the way, in quiet confidence of
deliverance ere yet the deliverance comes. Then note,

II. The impulse to service which deliverance brings.

'That I may walk before God in the light of the living'; that is God's
purpose in all His deliverances, that we may thereby be impelled to
trustful and grateful service. And David makes that purpose into a vow,
for the words might almost as well be translated, 'I _will_ walk before
Him.' Let us see to it that God's purpose is our resolve, and that we do
not lose the good of any of the troubles or discipline through which He
passes us; for the worst of all sorrows is a wasted sorrow.

'Thou hast delivered my feet that I may walk.' What are feet for?
Walking. Further, notice the precise force of that phrase, 'that I may
walk _before God_.' It is not altogether the same as the cognate one
which is used about Enoch, that 'he walked _with_ God.' That expresses
communion as with a friend; this, the ordering of one's life before His
eye, and in the consciousness of His presence as Judge and as
Taskmaster. So you find the expression used in almost the only other
occasion where it occurs in the Old Testament, where God says to
Abraham, 'Walk before Me, and'--because thou dost order thy life in the
consciousness that I am looking at thee--'be thou perfect.' So, to walk
before God is to live even in all the distracting activities of daily
life, with the clear realisation, and the continued thought burning in
our minds that we are doing them all in His presence. Think of what a
regiment of soldiers on parade does as each file passes in front of the
saluting point where the commanding officer is standing. How each man
dresses up, and they pull themselves together, keeping step, sloping
their rifles rightly. We are not on parade, but about business a great
deal more serious than that. We are doing our fighting with the Captain
looking at us, and that should be a stimulus, a joy and not a terror.
Realise God's eye watching you, and sin, and meanness, and negligence,
and selfishness, and sensuality, and lust, and passion, and all the
other devils that are in you will vanish like ghosts at cockcrow. 'Walk
before Me,' and if you feel that I am beside you, you cannot sin. 'Walk
before Me, and be thou perfect.' Notice,

III. The region in which that observance of the divine eye is to be
carried on.

'In the light of the living,' says the Psalmist. That seems to
correspond to the first clause of his hope; just as the previous word
that I have been commenting upon, 'walking before Him,' corresponds to
the second, where he speaks about his feet. 'Thou hast delivered my soul
from death.... I will walk before Thee in the light of the
living'--where Thou dost still permit my delivered soul to be. And the
phrase seems to mean the sunshine of human life contrasted with the
darkness of _Sheol_.

The expression is varied in the 116th Psalm, which reads 'the land of
the living.' The really living are they who live in Jesus, and the real
light of the living is the sunshine that streams on those who thus live,
because they live in Him who not only pours His light upon their hearts,
but, by pouring it, turns themselves into 'light in the Lord.' We, too,
may have the brightness of His face irradiating our faces and
illuminating our paths, as with the beneficence of a better sunshine.
The Psalmist points us the way thus to walk in light. He vows that,
because his heart is full of the great mercies of his delivering God, he
will order all his active life as under the consciousness of God's eye
upon him, and then it will all be lightened as by a burst of sunshine.
Our brightest light is the radiance from the face of God whom we try to
love and serve, and the Psalmist's confidence is that a life of
observance of His commandments in which gratitude for deliverance is the
impelling motive to continual realisation of His presence, and an
accordant life, will be a bright and sunny career. You will live in the
sunshine if you live before His face, and however wintry the world may
be, it will be like a clear frosty day. There is no frost in the sky, it
does not go above the atmosphere, and high above, in serene and wondrous
blue, is the blaze of the sunshine. Such a life will be a guided life.
There will still remain many occasions for doubt in the region of
belief, and for perplexity as to duty. There will often be need for
patient and earnest thought as to both, and there will be no lack of
calls for strenuous effort of our best faculties in order to apprehend
what our Guide means us to do, and where He would have us go, but
through it all there will be the guiding hand. As the Master, with
perhaps a glance backwards to these words, said, 'He that followeth Me
shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.' If He is
in the light let us walk in the light, and to us it will be purity and
knowledge and joy.



THE FIXED HEART


    'My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give
    praise.'--PSALM lvii. 7.

It is easy to say such things when life goes smoothly with us. But this
Psalmist, whether David or another, says this, and means it, when all
things are dark and frowning around him. The superscription attributes
the words to David himself, fleeing from Saul, and hiding in the cave.
Whether that be so or no, the circumstances under which the Psalmist
sings are obviously those of very great difficulty and oppression. But
he sings himself into confidence and good cheer. In the dark he believes
in the light. There are some flowers that give their perfumes after
sunset and are sweetest when the night dews are falling. The true
religious life is like these. A heart really based upon God, and at rest
in Him, never breathes forth such fragrant and strong perfume as in the
darkness of sorrow. The repetition of 'My heart is fixed' adds emphasis
to the expression of unalterable determination. The fixed heart is
resolved to 'sing and give praise' in spite of everything that might
make sobs and tears choke the song.

I. Note the fixed heart.

The Hebrew uses the metaphor of the 'heart' to cover a great deal more
of the inward self than we are accustomed to do. We mainly mean thereby
that in us which loves. But the Old Testament speaks of the 'thoughts
and intents' as well as the 'affections' of the heart. And so to this
Psalmist his 'heart' was not only that in him which loved, but that
which purposed and which thought. When he says 'My heart is fixed' he
does not merely mean that he is conscious of a steadfast love, but also
and rather of a fixed and settled determination, and of an abiding
communion of thought between himself and God. And he not only makes this
declaration as the expression of his experience for the moment, but he
mortgages the future, and in so far as any man dare, he ventures to say
that this temper of entire consecration, of complete communion, of fixed
resolve to cleave to God, which is his present mood, will be his future
whatever may wait his outward life then. The lesson from that resolve is
that our religion, if it is worth anything, must be a continuous and
uniformly acting force throughout our whole lives, and not merely
sporadic and spasmodic, by fits and starts. The lines that a child's
unsteady and untrained hand draws in its copy-book are too good a
picture of the 'crooked, wandering ways in which we live,' in so far as
our religion is concerned. The line should be firm and straight, uniform
in breadth, unvarying in direction, like a sunbeam, homogeneous and
equally tenacious like an iron rod. Unless it be thus strong and
uniform, it will scarcely sustain the weights that it must bear, or
resist the blows that it must encounter.

For a fixed heart I must have a fixed determination, and not a mere
fluctuating and soon broken intention. I must have a steadfast
affection, and not merely a fluttering love, that, like some butterfly,
lights now on this, now on that, sweet flower, but which has a flight
straight as a carrier pigeon to its cot, which shall bear me direct to
God. And I must have a continuous realisation of my dependence upon God,
and of God's sweet sufficiency, going with me all through the dusty day.
A firm determination, a steadfast love, a constant thought, these at
least are inculcated in the words of my text. 'My heart is fixed, O God!
my heart is fixed.'

Ah, brethren! how unlike the broken, interrupted, divergent lines that
we draw! Our religious moments are not knit together, and touching one
upon the other, but they are like the pools in the bed of a half dried
up Australian stream--a pond here, and a stretch of white, blistering
pebbles there, and then a little drop of water, and then another reach
of dryness. They should all be knit together by one continuous flow of a
fixed love, desire, and thought. Is our average Christianity fairly
represented by such words as these of my text? Do they not rather make
us burn with shame when we think that a man who lived in the twilight of
God's revelation, and was weighed upon by distresses such as wrung this
psalm out of him, should have poured out this resolve, which we who live
in the sunlight and are flooded with blessings find it hard to echo with
sincerity and truth? Fixed hearts are rare amongst the Christians of
this day.

II. Notice the manifold hindrances to such a uniformity of our religious
life.

They are formidable enough, God knows, we all know it, and I do not need
to dwell upon them. There is, for example, the tendency to fluctuation
which besets all our feelings, and especially our religious emotions.
What would happen to a steam-engine if the stoker now piled on coals and
then fell asleep by the furnace door? One moment the boiler would be
ready to burst; at another moment there would be no steam to drive
anything. That is the sort of alternation that goes on amongst hosts of
Christians to-day. Their springtime and summer are followed certainly by
an autumn and a bitter winter. Every moment of elevation has a
corresponding moment of depression. They never catch a glimpse of God
and of His love brighter and more sweet than ordinary without its being
followed by long weariness and depression and darkness. That is the kind
of life that many of you are contented to live as Christian people.

But is there any necessity for such alternations? Some degree of
fluctuation there will always be. The very exercise of emotion tends to
its extinction. Varying conditions of health and other externals will
affect the buoyancy and clear-sightedness and vivacity of the spiritual
life. Only a barometer that is out of order will always stand at set
fair. The vane which never points but to south is rusty and means
nothing.

But while there cannot be absolute uniformity, there might and should be
a far nearer approach to an equable temperature of a much higher range
than the readings of most professing Christians give. There is, indeed,
a dismally uniform arctic temperature in many of them. Their hearts are
fixed, truly, but fixed on earth. Their frost is broken by no thaw,
their tepid formalism interrupted by no disturbing enthusiasm. We do not
now speak of these, but of those who have moments of illumination, of
communion, of submission of will, which fade all too soon. To such we
would earnestly say that these moments may be prolonged and made more
continuous. We  need not be at the mercy of our own unregulated
feelings. We can control our hearts, and keep them fixed, even if they
should wish to wander. If we would possess the blessing of an
approximately uniform religious life, we must assert the control of
ourselves and use both bridle and spur. A great many religious people
seem to think that 'good times' come and go, and that they can do
nothing to bring or keep or banish them. But that is not so. If the fire
is burning low, there is such a thing on the hearth as a poker, and
coals are at hand. If we feel our faith falling asleep, are we powerless
to rouse it? Cannot we say 'I _will_ trust'? Let us learn that the
variations in our religious emotions are largely subject to our own
control, and may, if we will govern ourselves, be brought far nearer to
uniformity than they ordinarily are.

Besides the fluctuations due to our own changes of mood, there are also
the distracting influences of even the duties which God lays upon us. It
is hard for a man with the material task of the moment that takes all
his powers, to keep a little corner of his heart clear, and to feel that
God is there. It is difficult in the clatter of the mill or in the
crowds on 'Change, to do our work as for and in remembrance of Christ.
It _is_ difficult; but it is possible. Distractions are made
distractions by our own folly and weakness. There is nothing that it is
our duty to do which an honest attempt to do from the right motive could
not convert into a positive help to getting nearer God. It is for us to
determine whether the tasks of life, and this intrusive external and
material world, shall veil Him from us, or shall reveal Him to us. It is
for us to determine whether we shall make our secular avocation and its
trials, little and great, a means to get nearer to God, or a means to
shut Him out from us, and us from Him. There is nothing but sin
incompatible with the fixed heart, the resolved will, the continual
communion, nothing incompatible though there may be much that makes it
difficult to realise and preserve these.

And then, of course, the trials and sorrows which strike us all make
this fixed heart hard to keep. It is easy, as I said, to vow, 'I will
sing and give praise,' when flesh is comfortable and prosperity is
spreading its bright sky over our heads. It is harder to say it when
disappointment and bitterness are in the heart, and an empty place there
that aches and will never be filled. It is harder for a man to say it
when, like this Psalmist, his soul is 'amongst lions' and he 'lies
amongst them that are set on fire.' But still, rightly taken, sorrow is
the best ladder to God; and there is no such praise as comes from the
lips that, if they did not praise, must sob, and that praise because
they are beginning to learn that evil, as the world calls it, is the
stepping-stone to the highest good. 'My heart is fixed. I will sing and
give praise' may be the voice of the mourner as well as of the
prosperous and happy.

III. Lastly, let me say just a word as to the means by which such a
uniform character may be impressed upon our religious experience.

There is another psalm where this same phrase is employed with a very
important and illuminating addition, in which we read, 'His heart is
fixed, trusting in the Lord.' That is the secret of a fixed
heart--continuous faith rooted and grounded in Him. This fluttering,
changeful, unreliable, emotional nature of mine will be made calm and
steadfast by faith, and duties done in the faith of God will bind me to
Him; and sorrows borne and joys accepted in the faith of God will be
links in the chain that knits Him to me.

But then the question comes, how to get this continuous faith? Brethren!
I know no answer except the simple one, by continually making efforts
after it, and adopting the means which Christ enjoins to secure it. A
man climbing a hill, though he has to look to his feet when in the
slippery places, and all his energies are expended in hoisting himself
upwards by every projection and crag, will do all the better if he lifts
his eye often to the summit that gleams above him. So we, in our upward
course, shall make the best progress when we consciously and honestly
try to look beyond the things seen and temporal, even whilst we are
working in the midst of them, and to keep clear before us the summit to
which our faith tends. If we lived in the endeavour to realise that
great white throne, and Him that sits upon it, we should find it easier
to say, 'My heart is fixed, O God! my heart is fixed.'

But be sure of this, there will be no such uniformity of religious
experience throughout our lives unless there be frequent times in them
in which we go into our chambers and shut our doors about us, and hold
communion with our Father in secret. Everything noble and great in the
Christian life is fed by solitude, and everything poor and mean and
hypocritical and low-toned is nourished by continual absence from the
secret place of the Most High. There must be moments of solitary
communion, if there are to be hours of strenuous service and a life of
continual consecration.

We need not ask ourselves the question whether the realisation of the
ideal of this fixedness in its perfect completeness is possible for us
here on earth or not. You and I are a long way on this side of that
realisation yet, and we need not trouble ourselves about the final
stages until we have got on a stage or two more.

What would you think of a boy if, when he had just been taught to draw
with a pencil, he said to his master, 'Do you think I shall ever be able
to draw as well as Raphael?' His teacher would say to him, 'Whether you
will or not, you will be able to draw a good deal better than now, if
you try.' We need not trouble ourselves with the questions that disturb
some people until we are very much nearer to perfection than any of us
yet are. At any rate, we can approach indefinitely to that ideal, and
whether it is possible for us in this life ever to have hearts so
continuously fixed as that no attraction shall draw the needle aside one
point from the pole or not, it is possible for us all to have them a
great deal steadier than in that wavering, fluctuating vacillation which
now rules them.

So let us pray the prayer, 'Unite my heart to fear Thy name,' make the
resolve, 'My heart is fixed,' and listen obediently to the command, 'He
exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the
Lord.'



WAITING AND SINGING


    'Because of his strength will I wait upon Thee: for God is my
    defence.... 17. Unto Thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my
    defence, and the God of my mercy.'--PSALM lix. 9, 17.

There is an obvious correspondence between these two verses even as they
stand in our translation, and still more obviously in the Hebrew. You
observe that in the former verse the words 'because of' are a supplement
inserted by our translators, because they did not exactly know what to
make of the bare words as they stood. 'His strength, I will wait upon
Thee,' is, of course, nonsense; but a very slight alteration of a single
letter, which has the sanction of several good authorities, both in
manuscripts and translations, gives an appropriate and beautiful
meaning, and brings the two verses into complete verbal correspondence.
Suppose we read, 'My strength,' instead of 'His strength.' The change is
only making the limb of one letter a little shorter, and as you will
perceive, we thereby get the same expressions in both verses.

We may then read our two texts thus: 'Upon Thee, O my Strength! I will
wait.... Unto Thee, O my Strength, I will sing!' They are, word for
word, parallel, with the significant difference that the waiting in the
one passes into song, in the other, the silent expectation breaks into
music of praise. And these two words--_wait_ and _sing_--are in the
Hebrew the same in every letter but one, thus strengthening the
impression of likeness as well as emphasising, with poetic art, that of
difference. The parallel, too, obviously extends to the second half of
each verse, where the reason for both the waiting and the praise is the
same--'For God is my defence'--with the further eloquent variation that
the song is built not only on the thought that 'God is my defence,' but
also on this, that He is 'the God of my mercy.'

These two parallel verses, then, are a kind of refrain, coming in at the
close of each division of the psalm; and if you examine its structure
and general course of thought, you will see that the first stands at the
end of a picture of the Psalmist's trouble and danger, and makes the
transition to the second part, which is mainly a prayer for deliverance,
and finishes with the refrain altered and enlarged, as I have pointed
out.

The heading of the psalm tells us that its date is the very beginning of
Saul's persecution, when 'they watched the house to kill' David, and he
fled by night from the city. There is a certain correspondence between
the circumstances and some part of the picture of his foes here which
makes the date probable. If so, this is one of David's oldest psalms,
and is interesting as showing his faith and courage, even in the first
burst of danger. But whether that be so or not, we have here, at any
rate, the voice of a devout soul in sore sorrow, and we may well learn
the lesson of its twofold utterance. The man, overwhelmed by calamity,
betakes himself to God. 'Upon Thee, O my Strength! will I wait, for God
is my defence.' Then, by dint of _waiting_, although the outward
circumstances keep just the same, his temper and feelings change. He
began with, 'Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! for they lie in wait
for my soul.' He passes through 'My Strength! I will wait upon Thee,'
and so ends with 'My Strength! I will sing unto Thee.' We may then throw
our remarks into two groups, and deal for a few moments with these two
points--the waiting on God, and the change of waiting into praise.

Now, with regard to the first of these--the waiting on God--I must
notice that the expression here, 'I will _wait_,' is a somewhat
remarkable one. It means accurately, 'I will watch Thee,' and it is the
word that is generally employed, not about our looking up to Him, but
about His looking down to us. It would describe the action of a shepherd
guarding his flock; of a sentry keeping a city; of the watchers that
watch for the morning, and the like. By using it, the Psalmist seems as
if he would say--There are two kinds of watching. There is God's
watching over me, and there is my watching for God. I look up to Him
that He may bless; He looks down upon me that He may take care of me. As
He guards me, so I stand expectant before Him, as one in a besieged
town, upon the ramparts there, looks eagerly out across the plain to see
the coming of the long-expected succours. God 'waits to be
gracious'--wonderful words, painting for us His watchfulness of fitting
times and ways to bless us, and His patient attendance on our unwilling,
careless spirits. We may well take a lesson from His attitude in
bestowing, and on our parts, wait on Him to be helped. For these two
things--vigilance and patience--are the main elements in the scriptural
idea of waiting on God. Let me enforce each of them in a word or two.

There is no waiting on God for help, and there is no help from God,
without watchful expectation on our parts. If ever we fail to receive
strength and defence from Him, it is because we are not on the outlook
for it. Many a proffered succour from heaven goes past us, because we
are not standing on our watch-tower to catch the far-off indications of
its approach, and to fling open the gates of our heart for its entrance.
He who expects no help will get none; he whose expectation does not lead
him to be on the alert for its coming will get but little. How the
beleaguered garrison, that knows a relieving force is on the march,
strain their eyes to catch the first glint of the sunshine on their
spears as they top the pass! But how unlike such tension of watchfulness
is the languid anticipation and fitful look, with more of distrust than
hope in it, which we turn to heaven in our need! No wonder we have so
little living experience that God is our 'strength' and our 'defence,'
when we so partially believe that He is, and so little expect that He
will be either. The homely old proverb says, 'They that watch for
providences will never want a providence to watch for,' and you may turn
it the other way and say, 'They that do _not_ watch for providence will
never _have_ a providence to watch for.' Unless you put out your
water-jars when it rains you will catch no water; if you do not watch
for God coming to help you, God's watching to be gracious will be of no
good at all to you. His waiting is not a substitute for ours, but
because He watches therefore we should watch. We say, we expect Him to
comfort and help us--well, are we standing, as it were, on tiptoe, with
empty hands upraised to bring them a little nearer the gifts we look
for? Are our 'eyes ever towards the Lord'? Do we pore over His gifts,
scrutinising them as eagerly as a gold-seeker does the quartz in his
pan, to detect every shining speck of the precious metal? Do we go to
our work and our daily battle with the confident expectation that He
will surely come when our need is the sorest and scatter our enemies? Is
there any clear outlook kept by us for the help which we know must come,
lest it should pass us unobserved, and like the dove from the ark,
finding no footing in our hearts drowned in a flood of troubles, be fain
to return to the calm refuge from which it came on its vain errand?
Alas, how many gentle messengers of God flutter homeless about our
hearts, unrecognised and unwelcomed, because we have not been watching
for them! Of what avail is it that a strong hand from the beach should
fling the safety-line with true aim to the wreck, if no eye on the deck
is watching for it? It hangs there, useless and unseen, and then it
drops into the sea, and every soul on board is drowned. It is our own
fault--and very largely the fault of our want of watchfulness for the
coming of God's help--if we are ever overwhelmed by the tasks, or
difficulties, or sorrows of life. We wonder that we are left to fight
out the battle ourselves. But are we? Is it not rather, that while God's
succours are hastening to our side we will not open our eyes to see, nor
our hearts to receive them? If we go through the world with our hands
hanging listlessly down instead of lifted to heaven, or full of the
trifles and toys of this present, as so many of us do, what wonder is it
if heavenly gifts of strength do not come into our grasp?

That attitude of watchful expectation is vividly described for us in the
graphic words of another psalm, 'My soul waiteth for the Lord more than
they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for
the morning.' What a picture that is! Think of a wakeful, sick man,
tossing restless all the night on his tumbled bed, racked with pain made
harder to bear by the darkness. How often his heavy eye is lifted to the
window-pane, to see if the dawn has not yet begun to tint it with a grey
glimmer! How he groans, 'Would God it were morning!' Or think of some
unarmed and solitary man, benighted in the forest, and hearing the wild
beasts growl and scream and bark all round, while his fire dies down,
and he knows that his life depends on the morning breaking soon. With
yet more eager expectation are we to look for God, whose coming is a
better morning for our sick and defenceless spirits. If we are not so
looking for His help, we need never be surprised that we do not get it.
There is no promise and no probability that it will come to men in their
sleep, who neither desire it nor wait for it. And such vigilant
expectation will be accompanied with patience. There is no impatience in
it, but the very opposite. 'If we hope for that we see not, then do we
with patience wait for it.' If we know that He will surely come, then if
He tarry we can wait for Him. The measure of our confidence is ever the
measure of our patience. Being sure that He is always 'in the midst of'
Zion, we may be sure that at the right time He will flame out into
delivering might, helping her, and that right early. So waiting means
watchfulness and patience, both of which have their roots in trust.

Further, we have here set forth not only the nature, but also the object
of this waiting. 'Upon Thee, O _my Strength_! will I wait, for God is
_my Defence_.'

The object to which faith is directed, and the ground on which it is
based, are both set forth in these two names here applied to God. The
name of the Lord is Strength, therefore I wait on Him in the confident
expectation of receiving of His power. The Lord is 'my Defence,'
therefore I wait on Him in the confident expectation of safety. The one
name has respect to our condition of feebleness and inadequacy for our
tasks, and points to God as infusing strength into us. The other points
to our exposedness to danger and to enemies, and points to God as
casting His shelter around us. The word translated 'defence' is
literally 'a high fortress,' and is the same as closes the rapturous
accumulation of the names of his delivering God, which the Psalmist
gives us when he vows to love Jehovah, who has been his Rock, and
Fortress, and Deliverer; his God in whom he will trust, his Buckler, and
the Horn of his salvation, and his _High Tower_. The first name speaks
of God dwelling in us, and His strength made perfect in our weakness;
the second speaks of our dwelling in God, and our defencelessness
sheltered in Him. 'The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous
runneth into it, and is safe.' As some outnumbered army, unable to make
head against its enemies in the open, flees to the shelter of some hill
fortress, perched upon a crag, and taking up the drawbridge, cannot be
reached by anything that has not wings, so this man, hard pressed by his
foes, flees into God to hide him, and feels secure behind these strong
walls.

That is the God on whom we wait. The recognition of His character as
thus mighty and ready to help is the only thing that will evoke our
expectant confidence, and His character thus discerned is the only
object which our confidence can grasp aright. Trust Him as what He is,
and trust Him because of what He is, and see to it that your faith lays
hold on the living God Himself, and on nothing beside.

But waiting on God is not only the recognition of His character as
revealed, but it involves, too, the act of laying hold on all the power
and blessing of that character for myself. '_My_ strength, _my_
defence,' says the Psalmist. Think of what He is, and believe that He is
that for _you_, else there is no true waiting on Him. Make God thy very
own by claiming thine own portion in His might, by betaking thyself to
that strong habitation. We cannot wait on God in crowds, but one by one,
must say, '_My_ strength and _my_ defence.'

And now turn to the second verse of our two texts: 'Unto Thee, O my
Strength! will I sing, for God is my defence and the God of my mercy.'

Here we catch, as it were, waiting expectation and watchfulness in the
very act of passing over into possession and praise. For remember the
aspect of things has not changed a bit between the first verse of our
text and the last. The enemies are all round about David just as they
were, 'making a noise like a dog,' as he says, and 'going round about
the city.' The evil that was threatening him and making him sad remains
entirely unlightened. What has altered? He has altered. And how has he
altered? Because his waiting on God has begun to work an inward change,
and he has climbed, as it were, out of the depths of his sorrow up into
the sunlight. And so it ever is, my friends! There is deliverance in
spirit before there is deliverance in outward fact. If our patient
waiting bring, as it certainly will bring, at the right time, an answer
in the removal of danger, and the lightening of sorrow, it will bring
first the better answer, 'the peace of God, which passeth all
understanding,' to keep your hearts and minds. That is the highest
blessing we have to seek for in our waiting on God, and that is the
blessing which we get as soon as we wait on Him. The outward deliverance
may tarry, but ever there come before it, as heralds of its approach,
the sense of a lightened burden and the calmness of a strengthened
heart. It may be long before the morning breaks, but even while the
darkness lasts, a faint air begins to stir among the sleeping leaves,
the promise of the dawn, and the first notes of half-awakened birds
prelude the full chorus that will hail the sunrise.

It is beautiful, I think, to see how in the compass of this one little
psalm the singer has, as it were, wrought himself clear, and sung
himself out of his fears. The stream of his thought, like some mountain
torrent, turbid at first, has run itself bright and sparkling. How all
the tremor and agitation have gone away, just because he has kept his
mind for a few minutes in the presence of the calm thought of God and
His love. The first courses of his psalm, like those of some great
building, are laid deep down in the darkness, but the shining summit is
away up there in the sunlight, and God's glittering glory is sparklingly
reflected from the highest point. Whoever begins with, 'Deliver me--I
will wait upon Thee,' will pass very quickly, even before the outward
deliverance comes, into--'O my Strength! unto Thee will I sing!' Every
song of true trust, though it may begin with a minor, will end in a
burst of jubilant gladness. No prayer ought ever to deal with
complaints, as we know, without starting with thanksgiving, and, blessed
be God, no prayer need to deal with complaints without ending with
thanksgiving. So, all our cries of sorrow, and all our acknowledgments
of weakness and need, and all our plaintive beseechings, should be
inlaid, as it were, between two layers of brighter and gladder thought,
like dull rock between two veins of gold. The prayer that begins with
thankfulness, and passes on into waiting, even while in sorrow and sore
need, will always end in thankfulness, and triumph, and praise.

If we regard this second verse of our text as the expression of the
Psalmist's emotion at the moment of its utterance, then we see in it a
beautiful illustration of the effect of faithful waiting to turn
complaining into praise. If we regard it rather as an expression of his
confidence, that 'I shall yet praise Him for the help of His
countenance,' we see in it an illustration of the power of patient
waiting to brighten the sure hope of deliverance, and to bring summer
into the heart of winter. As resolve, or as prophecy, it is equally a
witness of the large reward of quiet waiting for the salvation of the
Lord.

In either application of the words their almost precise correspondence
with those of the previous verse is far more than a mere poetic
ornament, or part of the artistic form of the psalm. It teaches us this
happy lesson--that the song of accomplished deliverance, whether on
earth, or in the final joy of heaven, will be but a sweeter, fuller
repetition of the cry that went up in trouble from our waiting hearts.
The object to which we shall turn with our thankfulness is He to whom we
betook ourselves with our prayers. There will be the same turning of the
soul to Him; only instead of wistful waiting in the longing look, joy
will light her lamps in our eyes, and thankfulness beam in our faces as
we turn to His light. We shall look to Him as of old, and name Him what
we used to name Him when we were in weakness and warfare,--our
'Strength' and our 'Defence.' But how different the feelings with which
the delivered soul calls Him so, from those with which the sorrowful
heart tried to grasp the comfort of the names. Then their reality was a
matter of faith, often hard to hold fast. Now it is a matter of memory
and experience. 'I called Thee my strength when I was full of weakness;
I tried to believe Thou wast my defence when I was full of fear; I
thought of Thee as my fortress when I was ringed about with foes; I know
Thee now for that which I then trusted that Thou wast. As I waited upon
Thee that Thou mightest be gracious, I praise Thee now that Thou hast
been more gracious than my hopes.' Blessed are they whose loftiest
expectations were less than their grateful memories and their rich
experience, and who can take up in their song of praise the names by
which they called on God, and feel that they knew not half their depth,
their sweetness, or their power!

But the praise is not merely the waiting transformed. Experience has not
only deepened the conception of the meaning of God's name; it has added
a new name. The cry of the suppliant was to God, his strength and
defence; the song of the saved is to the God who is also the God of his
mercy. The experiences of life have brought out more fully the love and
tender pity of God. While the troubles lasted it was hard to believe
that God was strong enough to brace us against them, and to keep us safe
in them; it was harder still to think of them as coming from Him at all;
it was hardest to feel that they came from His love. But when they are
past, and their meaning is plainer, and we possess their results in the
weight of glory which they have wrought out for us, we shall be able to
look back on them all as the mercies of the God of our mercy, even as
when a man looks down from the mountain-top upon the mists and the
clouds through which he passed, and sees them all smitten by the
sunshine that gleams upon them from above. That which was thick and damp
as he was struggling through it, is irradiated into rosy beauty; the
retrospective and downward glance confirms and surpasses all that faith
dimly discerned, and found it hard to believe. Whilst we are fighting
here, brethren! let us say, 'I will wait for Thee,' and then yonder we
shall, with deeper knowledge of the love that was in all our sorrows,
sing unto Him who was our strength in earth's weakness, our defence in
earth's dangers, and is for ever more the 'God of our mercy,' amidst the
large and undeserved favours of heaven.



SILENCE TO GOD


    'Truly my soul waiteth upon God.... 5. My soul, wait thou only upon
    God.'
        PSALM lxii. 1, 5.

We have here two corresponding clauses, each beginning a section of the
psalm. They resemble each other even more closely than appears from the
English version, for the 'truly' of the first, and the 'only' of the
second clause, are the same word; and in each case it stands in the same
place, namely, at the beginning. So, word for word, the two answer to
each other. The difference is, that the one expresses the Psalmist's
patient stillness of submission, and the other is his self-encouragement
to that very attitude and disposition which he has just professed to be
his. In the one he speaks of, in the other to, his soul. He stirs
himself up to renew and continue the faith and resignation which he has,
and so he sets before us both the temper which we should have, and the
effort which we should make to prolong and deepen it, if it be ours. Let
us look at these two points then--the expression of waiting, and the
self-exhortation to waiting.

'Truly my soul waiteth upon God.' It is difficult to say whether the
opening word is better rendered 'truly,' as here, or 'only,' as in the
other clause. Either meaning is allowable and appropriate. If, with our
version, we adopt the former, we may compare with this text the opening
of another psalm (lxxiii.), 'Truly God is good to Israel,' and there, as
here, we may see in that vehement affirmation a trace of the struggle
through which it had been won. The Psalmist bursts into song with a
word, which tells us plainly enough how much had to be quieted in him
before he came to that quiet waiting, just as in the other psalm he
pours out first the glad, firm certainty which he had reached, and then
recounts the weary seas of doubt and bewilderment through which he had
waded to reach it. That one word is the record of conflict and the
trophy of victory, the sign of the blessed effect of effort and struggle
in a truth more firmly held, and in a submission more perfectly
practised. It is as if he had said, 'Yes! in spite of all its
waywardness and fears, and self-willed struggles, my soul waits upon
God. I have overcome these, and now there is peace within.'

It is to be further observed that literally the words run, 'My soul is
silence unto God.' That forcible form of expression describes the
completeness of the Psalmist's unmurmuring submission and quiet faith.
His whole being is one great stillness, broken by no clamorous passions,
by no loud-voiced desires, by no remonstrating reluctance. There is a
similar phrase in another psalm (cix. 4), which may help to illustrate
this: 'For my love they are my adversaries, but I am prayer'--his soul
is all one supplication. The enemies' wrath awakens no flush of passion
on his cheek, or ripple of vengeance in his heart. He meets it all with
prayer. Wrapped in devotion and heedless of their rage, he is like
Stephen, when he kneeled down among his yelling murderers, and cried
with a loud voice, 'Lord! lay not this sin to their charge.' So here we
have the strongest expression of the perfect consent of the whole inward
nature in submission and quietness of confidence before God.

That silence is first a silence of the will. The plain meaning of this
phrase is resignation; and resignation is just a silent will. Before the
throne of the Great King, His servants are to stand like those long rows
of attendants we see on the walls of Eastern temples, silent, with
folded arms, straining their ears to hear, and bracing their muscles to
execute his whispered commands, or even his gesture and his glance. A
man's will should be an echo, not a voice; the echo of God, not the
voice of self. It should be silent, as some sweet instrument is silent
till the owner's hand touches the keys. Like the boy-prophet in the hush
of the sanctuary, below the quivering light of the dying lamps, we
should wait till the awful voice calls, and then answer, 'Speak, Lord!
for Thy servant heareth.' Do not let the loud utterances of your own
wills anticipate, nor drown, the still, small voice in which God speaks.
Bridle impatience till He does. If you cannot hear His whisper, wait
till you do. Take care of running before you are sent. Keep your wills
in equipoise till God's hand gives the impulse and direction.

Such a silent will is a strong will. It is no feeble passiveness, no
dead indifference, no impossible abnegation that God requires, when He
requires us to put our wills in accord with His. They are not slain, but
vivified, by such surrender; and the true secret of strength lies in
submission. The secret of blessedness is there, too, for our sorrows
come because there is discord between our circumstances and our wills,
and the measure in which these are in harmony with God is the measure in
which we shall feel that all things are blessings to be received with
thanksgiving. But if we will take our own way, and let our own wills
speak before God speaks, or otherwise than God speaks, nothing can come
of that but what always has come of it--blunders, sins, misery, and
manifold ruin.

We must keep our _hearts_ silent too. The sweet voices of pleading
affections, the loud cry of desires and instincts that roar for their
food like beasts of prey, the querulous complaints of disappointed
hopes, the groans and sobs of black-robed sorrows, the loud hubbub and
Babel, like the noise of a great city, that every man carries within,
must be stifled and coerced into silence. We have to take the animal in
us by the throat, and sternly say, 'Lie down there and be quiet.' We
have to silence tastes and inclinations. We have to stop our ears to the
noises around, however sweet the songs, and to close many an avenue
through which the world's music might steal in. He cannot say, 'My soul
is silent unto God,' whose whole being is buzzing with vanities and
noisy with the din of the market-place. Unless we have something, at
least, of that great stillness, our hearts will have no peace, and our
religion no reality.

There must be the silence of the _mind_, as well as of the heart and
will. We must not have our thoughts ever occupied with other things, but
must cultivate the habit of detaching them from earth, and keeping our
minds still before God, that He may pour His light into them. Surely if
ever any generation needed the preaching--'Be still and let God
speak'--we need it. Even religious men are so busy with spreading or
defending Christianity, that they have little time, and many of them
less inclination, for quiet meditation and still communion with God.
Newspapers, and books, and practical philanthropy, and Christian effort,
and business, and amusement, so crowd into our lives now, that it needs
some resolution and some planning to get a clear space where we can be
quiet, and look at God.

But the old law for a noble and devout life is not altered by reason of
any new circumstances. It still remains true that a mind silently
waiting before God is the condition without which such a life is
impossible. As the flowers follow the sun, and silently hold up their
petals to be tinted and enlarged by his shining, so must we, if we would
know the joy of God, hold our souls, wills, hearts, and minds still
before Him, whose voice commands, whose love warms, whose truth makes
fair, our whole being. God speaks for the most part in such silence
only. If the soul be full of tumult and jangling noises, His voice is
little likely to be heard. As in some kinds of deafness, a perpetual
noise in the head prevents hearing any other sounds, the rush of our own
fevered blood, and the throbbing of our own nerves, hinder our catching
His tones. It is the calm lake which mirrors the sun, the least catspaw
wrinkling the surface wipes out all the reflected glories of the
heavens. If we would mirror God our souls must be calm. If we would hear
God our souls must be silence.

Alas, how far from this is our daily life! Who among us dare to take
these words as the expression of our own experience? Is not the troubled
sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, a truer
emblem of our restless, labouring souls than the calm lake? Put your own
selves by the side of this Psalmist, and honestly measure the contrast.
It is like the difference between some crowded market-place all full of
noisy traffickers, ringing with shouts, blazing in sunshine, and the
interior of the quiet cathedral that looks down on it all, where are
coolness and subdued light, and silence and solitude. 'Come, My people!
enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee.' 'Commune
with your own heart and be still.' 'In quietness and confidence shall be
your strength.'

This man's profession of utter resignation is perhaps too high for us;
but we can make his _self-exhortation_ our own. 'My soul! wait thou only
upon God.' Perfect as he ventures to declare his silence towards God, he
yet feels that he has to stir himself up to the effort which is needed
to preserve it in its purity. Just because he can say, 'My soul waits,'
therefore he bids his soul wait.

I need not dwell upon that self-stimulating as involving the great
mystery of our personality, whereby a man exalts himself above himself,
and controls, and guides, and speaks to his soul. But a few words may be
given to that thought illustrated here, of the necessity for conscious
effort and self-encouragement, in order to the preservation of the
highest religious emotion.

We are sometimes apt to forget that no holy thoughts or feelings are in
their own nature permanent, and the illusion that they are so, often
tends to accelerate their fading. It is no wonder if we in our selectest
hours of 'high communion with the living God' should feel as if that
lofty experience would last by virtue of its own sweetness, and need no
effort of ours to retain it. But it is not so. All emotion tends to
exhaustion, as surely as a pendulum to rest, or as an Eastern torrent to
dry up. All our flames burn to their extinction. There is but one fire
that blazes and is not consumed. Action is the destruction of tissue.
Life reaches its term in death. Joy and sorrow, and hope and fear,
cannot be continuous. They must needs wear themselves out and fade into
a grey uniformity like mountain summits when the sun has left them.

Our religious experience too will have its tides, and even those high
and pure emotions and dispositions that bind us to God can only be
preserved by continual effort. Their existence is no guarantee of their
permanence, rather is it a guarantee of their transitoriness, unless we
earnestly stir up ourselves to their renewal. Like the emotions kindled
by lower objects, they perish while they glow, and there must be a
continual recurrence to the one Source of light and heat if the
brilliancy is to be preserved.

Nor is it only from within that their continuance is menaced. Outward
forces are sure to tell upon them The constant wash of the sea of life
undermines the cliffs and wastes the coasts. The tear and wear of
external occupations is ever acting upon our religious life. Travellers
tell us that the constant friction of the sand on Egyptian hieroglyphs
removes every trace of colour, and even effaces the deep-cut characters
from basalt rocks. So the unceasing attrition of multitudinous trifles
will take all the bloom off your religion, and efface the name of the
King cut on the tables of your hearts, if you do not counteract them by
constant earnest effort. Our devotion, our faith, our love are only
preserved by being constantly renewed.

That vigorous effort is expressed here by the very form of the phrase.
The same word which began the first clause begins the second also. As in
the former it represented for us, with an emphatic 'Truly,' the struggle
through which the Psalmist had reached the height of his blessed
experience, so here it represents in like manner the earnestness of the
self-exhortation which he addresses to himself. He calls forth all his
powers to the conflict, which is needed even by the man who has attained
to that height of communion, if he would remain where he has climbed.
And for us, brethren! who shrink from taking these former words upon our
lips, how much greater the need to use our most strenuous efforts to
quiet our souls. If the summit reached can only be held by earnest
endeavour, how much more is needed to struggle up to it from the valleys
below!

The silence of the soul before God is no mere passiveness. It requires
the intensest energy of all our being to keep all our being still and
waiting upon Him. So put all your strength into the task, and be sure
that your soul is never so intensely alive as when in deepest abnegation
it waits hushed before God.

Trust no past emotions. Do not wonder if they should fade even when they
are brightest. Do not let their evanescence tempt you to doubt their
reality. But always when our hearts are fullest of His love, and our
spirits stilled with the sweetest sense of His solemn presence, stir
yourselves up to keep firm hold of the else passing gleam, and in your
consciousness let these two words live in perpetual alternation: 'Truly
my soul waiteth upon God. My soul! wait thou only upon God.'



THIRST AND SATISFACTION


    'My soul thirsteth for Thee.... 5. My soul shall be satisfied.... 8.
    My soul followeth hard after Thee.'--PSALM lxiii. 1, 5, 8.

It is a wise advice which bids us regard rather what is said than who
says it, and there are few regions in which the counsel is more salutary
than at present in the study of the Old Testament, and especially the
Psalms. This authorship has become a burning question which is only too
apt to shut out far more important things. Whoever poured out this sweet
meditation in the psalm before us, his tender longings for, and his
jubilant possession of, God remain the same. It is either the work of a
king in exile, or is written by some one who tries to cast himself into
the mental attitude of such a person, and to reproduce his longing and
his trust. It may be a question of literary interest, but it is of no
sort of spiritual or religious importance whether the author is David or
a singer of later date endeavouring to reproduce his emotions under
certain circumstances.

The three clauses which I have read, and which are so strikingly
identical in form, constitute the three pivots on which the psalm
revolves, the three bends in the stream of its thought and emotion. 'My
soul thirsts; my soul is satisfied; my soul follows hard after Thee.'
The three phases of emotion follow one another so swiftly that they are
all wrapped up in the brief compass of this little song. Unless they in
some degree express our experiences and emotions, there is little
likelihood that our lives will be blessed or noble, and we have little
right to call ourselves Christians. Let us follow the windings of the
stream, and ask ourselves if we can see our own faces in its shining
surface.

I. The soul that knows its own needs will thirst after God.

The Psalmist draws the picture of himself as a thirsty man in a
waterless land. That may be a literally true reproduction of his
condition, if indeed the old idea is correct, that this is a work of
David's; for there is no more appalling desert than that in which he
wandered as an exile. It is a land of arid mountains without a blade of
verdure, blazing in their ghastly whiteness under the fierce sunshine,
and with gaunt ravines in which there are no pools or streams, and
therefore no sweet sound of running waters, no shadow, no songs of
birds, but all is hot, dusty, glaring, pitiless; and men and beasts
faint, and loll out their tongues, and die for want of water. And, says
the Psalmist, such is life, if due regard be had to the deepest wants of
a soul, notwithstanding all the abundant supplies which are spread in
such rich and loving luxuriance around us--we are thirsty men in a
waterless land. I need not remind you how true it is that a man is but a
bundle of appetites, desires, often tyrannous, often painful, always
active. But the misery of it is--the reason why man's misery is great
upon him is--mainly, I suppose, that he does not know what it is that he
wants; that he thirsts, but does not understand what the thirst means,
nor what it is that will slake it. His animal appetites make no
mistakes; he and the beasts know that when they are thirsty they have to
drink, and when they are hungry they have to eat, and when they are
drowsy they have to sleep. But the poor instinct of the animal that
teaches it what to choose and what to avoid fails us in the higher
reaches; and we are conscious of a craving, and do not find that the
craving reveals to us the source from whence its satisfaction can be
derived. Therefore 'broken cisterns that can hold no water' are at a
premium, and 'the fountain of living waters' is turned away from, though
it could slake so many thirsts. Like ignorant explorers in an enemy's
country, we see a stream, and we do not stop to ask whether there is
poison in it or not before we glue our thirsty lips to it. There is a
great old promise in one of the prophets which puts this notion of the
misinterpretation of our thirsts, and the mistakes as to the sources
from which they can be slaked, into one beautiful metaphor which is
obscured in our English version. The prophet Isaiah says, according to
our reading, 'the parched land shall become a pool.' The word which he
uses is that almost technical one which describes the phenomenon known
only in Eastern lands, or at least known in them only in its superlative
degree; the mirage, where the dancing currents of ascending air simulate
the likeness of a cool lake, with palm-trees around it. And, says he,
'the mirage shall become a pool,' the romance shall turn into a reality,
the mistakes shall be rectified, and men shall know what it is that they
want, and shall get it when they know. Brethren! unless we have listened
to the teaching from above, unless we have consulted far more wisely and
far more profoundly than many of us have ever done the meaning of our
own hearts when they cry out, we too shall only be able to take for ours
the plaintive cry of the half of this first utterance of the Psalmist,
and say despairingly, 'My soul thirsteth.' Blessed are they who know
where the fountain is, who know the meaning of the highest unrests in
their own souls, and can go on to say with clear and true
self-revelation, 'My soul thirsteth for God!'

That is religion. There is a great deal more in Christianity than
longing, but there is no Christianity worth the name without it. There
is moral stimulus to activity, a pattern for conduct, and so on, in our
religion, and if our religion is only this longing--well then, it is
worth very little; and I fancy it is worth a good deal less if there is
none of this felt need for God, and for more of God, in us.

And so I come to two classes of my hearers; and to the first of them I
say, Dear friends! do not mistake what it is that you 'need,' and see to
it that you turn the current of your longings from earth to God; and to
the second of them I say, Dear friends! if you have found out that God
is your supreme good, see to it that you live in the good, see to it
that you live in the constant attitude of longing for more of that good
which alone will slake your appetite.

  'The thirst that from the soul doth rise
     Doth ask a drink divine,'

and unless we know what it is to be drawn outwards and upwards, in
strong aspirations after something--'afar from the sphere of our
sorrow,' I know not why we should call ourselves Christians at all.

But, dear friends! let us not forget that these higher aspirations after
the uncreated and personal good which is God have to be cultivated very
sedulously and with great persistence, throughout all our changing
lives, or they will soon die out, and leave us. There has to be the
clear recognition, habitual to us, of what is our good. There has to be
a continual meditation, if I may so say, upon the all-sufficiency of
that divine Lord and Lover of our souls, and there has to be a vigilant
and a continual suppression, and often excision and ejection, of other
desires after transient and partial satisfactions. A man who lets all
his longings go unchecked and untamed after earthly good has none left
towards heaven. If you break up a river into a multitude of channels,
and lead off much of it to irrigate many little gardens, there will be
no force in its current, its bed will become dry, and it will never
reach the great ocean where it loses its individuality and becomes part
of a mightier whole. So, if we fritter away and divide up our desires
among all the clamant and partial blessings of earth, then we shall but
feebly long, and feebly longing, shall but faintly enjoy, the cool,
clear, exhaustless gush from the fountain of life--'My soul thirsteth
for God!'--in the measure in which that is true of us, and not one
hairsbreadth beyond it, in spite of orthodoxy, and professions, and
activities, are we Christian people.

II. The soul that thirsts after God is satisfied.

The Psalmist, by the magic might of his desire, changes, as in a sudden
transformation scene in a theatre, all the dreariness about him. One
moment it is a 'dry and barren land where no water is'; the next moment
a flash of verdure has come over the yellow sand, and the ghastly
silence is broken by the song of merry birds. The one moment he is
hungering there in the desert; the next, he sees spread before him a
table in the wilderness, and his soul is 'satisfied as with marrow and
with fatness,' and his mouth praises God, whom he possesses, who has
come unto him swift, immediate, in full response to his cry. Now, all
that is but a picturesque way of putting a very plain truth, which we
should all be the happier and better if we believed and lived by, that
we can have as much of God as we desire, and that what we have of Him
will be enough.

We can have as much of God as we desire. There is a quest which finds
its object with absolute certainty, and which finds its object
simultaneously with the quest. And these two things, the certainty and
the immediateness with which the thirst of the soul after God passes
into a satisfied fruition of the soul in God, are what are taught us
here in our text; and what you and I, if we comply with the conditions,
may have as our own blessed experience. There is one search about which
it is true that it never fails to find. The certainty that the soul
thirsting after God shall be satisfied with God results at once from His
nearness to us, and His infinite willingness to give Himself, which He
is only prevented from carrying into act by our obstinate refusal to
open our hearts by desire. It takes all a man's indifference to keep God
out of his heart, 'for in Him we live, and move, and have our being,'
and that divine love, which Christianity teaches us to see on the throne
of the universe, is but infinite longing for self-communication. That is
the definition of true love always, and they fearfully mistake its
essence, and take the lower and spurious forms of it for the higher and
nobler, who think of love as being what, alas! it often is, in our
imperfect lives, a fierce desire to have for our very own the thing or
person beloved. But that is a second-rate kind of love. God's love is an
infinite desire to give Himself. If only we open our hearts--and nothing
opens them so wide as longing--He will pour in, as surely as the
atmosphere streams in through every chink and cranny, as surely as if
some great black rock that stands on the margin of the sea is blasted
away, the waters will flood over the sands behind it. So unless we keep
God out, by not wishing Him in, in He will come.

The certitude that we possess Him when we desire Him is as absolute. As
swift as Marconi's wireless message across the Atlantic and its answer;
so immediate is the response from Heaven to the desire from earth. What
a contrast that is to all our experiences! Is there anything else about
which we can say 'I am quite sure that if I want it I shall have it. I
am quite sure that when I want it I have it'? Nothing! There may be
wells to which a man has to go, as the Bedouin in the desert has to go,
with empty water-skins, many a day's journey, and it comes to be a fight
between the physical endurance of the man and the weary distance between
him and the spring. Many a man's bones, and many a camel's, lie on the
track to the wells, who lay down gasping and black-lipped, and died
before they reached them. We all know what it is to have longing desires
which have cost us many an effort, and efforts and desires have both
been in vain. Is it not blessed to be sure that there is One whom to
long for is immediately to possess?

Then there is the other thought here, too, that when we have God we have
enough. That is not true about anything else. God forbid that one should
depreciate the wise adaptation of earthly goods to human needs which
runs all through every life! but all that recognised, still we come back
to this, that there is nothing here, nothing except God Himself, that
will fill all the corners of a human heart. There is always something
lacking in all other satisfactions. They address themselves to sides,
and angles, and facets of our complex nature; they leave all the others
unsatisfied. The table that is spread in the world, at which, if I might
use so violent a figure, our various longings and capacities seat
themselves as guests, always fails to provide for some of them, and
whilst some, and those especially of the lower type, are feasting full,
there sits by their side another guest, who finds nothing on the table
to satisfy his hunger. But if my soul thirsts for God, my soul will be
satisfied when I get Him. The prophet Isaiah modifies this figure in the
great word of invitation which pealed out from him, where he says, 'Ho!
everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.' But that figure is not
enough for him, that metaphor, blessed as it is, does not exhaust the
facts; and so he goes on, 'yea, come, buy wine'--and that is not enough
for him, that does not exhaust the facts, therefore he adds, 'and milk.'
Water, wine, and milk; all forms of the draughts that slake the thirsts
of humanity, are found in God Himself, and he who has Him needs seek
nowhere besides.

Lastly--

III. The soul that is satisfied with God immediately renews its quest.

'My soul followeth hard after Thee.' The two things come together,
longing and fruition, as I have said. Fruition begets longing, and there
is swift and blessed alternation, or rather co-existence of the two.
Joyful consciousness of possession and eager anticipation of larger
bestowments are blended still more closely, if we adhere to the original
meaning of the words of this last clause, than they are in our
translation, for the psalm really reads, 'My soul cleaveth after Thee.'
In the one word 'cleaveth,' is expressed adhesion, like that of the
limpet to the rock, conscious union, blessed possession; and in the
other word 'after Thee' is expressed the pressing onwards for more and
yet more. But now contrast that with the issue of all other methods of
satisfying human appetites, be they lower or be they higher. They result
either in satiety or in a tyrannical, diseased appetite which increases
faster than the power of satisfying it increases. The man who follows
after other good than God, has at the end to say, 'I am sick, tired of
it, and it has lost all power to draw me,' or he has to say, 'I
ravenously long for more of it, and I cannot get any more.' 'He that
loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth
abundance with increase.' You have to increase the dose of the narcotic,
and as you increase the dose, it loses its power, and the less you can
do without it the less it does for you. But to drink into the one God
slakes all thirsts, and because He is infinite, and our capacity for
receiving Him may be indefinitely expanded; therefore,

  'Age cannot wither, nor custom stale
   His infinite variety';

but the more we have of God, the more we long for Him, and the more we
long for Him the more we possess Him.

Brethren! these are the possibilities of the Christian life; being its
possibilities they are our obligations. The Psalmist's words may well be
turned by us into self-examining interrogations and we may--God grant
that we do!--all ask ourselves; 'Do I thus thirst after God?' 'Have I
learned that, notwithstanding all supplies, this world without Him is a
waterless desert? Have I experienced that whilst I call He answers, and
that the water flows in as soon as I open my heart? And do I know the
happy birth of fresh longings out of every fruition, and how to go
further and further into the blessed land, and into my elastic heart
receive more and more of the ever blessed God?'

These texts of mine not only set forth the ideal for the Christian life
here, but they carry in themselves the foreshadowing of the life
hereafter. For surely such a merely physical accident as death cannot be
supposed to break this golden sequence which runs through life. Surely
this partial and progressive possession of an infinite good, by a nature
capable of indefinitely increasing appropriation of, and approximation
to it is the prophecy of its own eternal continuance. So long as the
fountain springs, the thirsty lips will drink. God's servants will live
till God dies. The Christian life will go on, here and hereafter, till
it has reached the limits of its own capacity of expansion, and has
exhausted God. 'The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well
of water, springing up into everlasting life.'



SIN OVERCOMING AND OVERCOME


    'Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, Thou
    shalt purge them away.'--PSALM. lxv. 3.

There is an intended contrast in these two clauses more pointed and
emphatic in the original than in our Bible, between man's impotence and
God's power in the face of the fact of sin. The words of the first
clause might be translated, with perhaps a little increase of vividness,
'iniquities are too strong for me'; and the 'Thou' of the next clause is
emphatically expressed in the original, 'as for our transgressions'
(which we cannot touch), '_Thou_ shalt purge them away.' Despair of self
is the mother of confidence in God; and no man has learned the
blessedness and the sweetness of God's power to cleanse, who has not
learned the impotence of his own feeble attempts to overcome his
transgression. The very heart of Christianity is redemption. There are a
great many ways of looking at Christ's mission and Christ's work, but I
venture to say that they are all inadequate unless they start with this
as the fundamental thought, and that only he who has learned by serious
reflection and bitter personal experience the gravity and the
hopelessness of the fact of the bondage of sin, rightly understands the
meaning and the brightness of the Gospel of Christ. The angel voice that
told us His name, and based His name upon His characteristic work, went
deeper into the 'philosophy' of Christianity than many a modern thinker,
when it said, 'Thou shalt call His name Jesus, because He shall save His
people from their sins.' So here we have the hopelessness and misery of
man's vain struggles, and side by side with these the joyful confidence
in the divine victory. We have the problem and the solution, the barrier
and the overleaping of it; man's impotence and the omnipotence of God's
mercy. My iniquities are too strong for me, but Thou art too strong for
them. As for our transgressions, of which I cannot purge the stain, with
all my tears and with all my work, 'Thou shalt purge them away.' Note,
then, these two--first, the cry of despair; second, the ringing note of
confidence.

I. The cry of despair.

'Too strong for me,' and yet they _are_ me. Me, and _not_ me; mine, and
yet, somehow or other, my enemies, although my children--too strong for
me, yet I give them their strength by my own cowardly and feeble
compliance with their temptations; too strong for me and overmastering
me, though I pride myself often on my freedom and spirit when I am
yielding to them. Mine iniquities are mine, and yet they are not mine;
me and yet, blessed be God! they can be separated from me.

The picture suggested by the words is that of some usurping power that
has mastered a man, and laid its grip upon him so that all efforts to
get away from the grasp are hopeless. Now, I dare say, that some of you
are half consciously thinking that this is a piece of ordinary pulpit
exaggeration, and has no kind of application to the respectable and
decent lives that most of you live, and that you are ready to say, with
as much promptitude and as much falsehood as the old Jews did, even
whilst the Roman eagles, lifted above the walls of the castle, were
giving them the lie: 'We were never in bondage to any man.' You do not
know or feel that anything has got hold of you which is stronger than
you. Well, let us see.

Consider for a moment. You are powerless to master your evil, considered
as habits. You do not know the tyranny of the usurper until a rebellion
is got up against him. As long as you are gliding with the stream you
have no notion of its force. Turn your boat and try to pull against it,
and when the sweat-drops come on your brow, and you are sliding
backwards, in spite of all your effort, you will begin to find out what
a tremendous down-sucking energy there is in that quiet, silent flow. So
the ready compliance of the worst part of my nature masks for me the
tremendous force with which my evil tyrannises over me, and it is only
when I face round and try to go the other way, that I find out what a
power there is in its invisible grasp.

Did you ever try to cure some trivial bad habit, some trick of your
fingers, for instance? You know what infinite pains and patience and
time it took you to do that, and do you think that you would find it
easier if you once set yourself to cure that lust, say, or that
petulance, pride, passion, dishonesty, or whatsoever form of selfish
living in forgetfulness of God may be your besetting sin? If you will
try to pull the poison fang up, you will find how deep its roots are. It
is like the yellow charlock in a field, which seems only to spread in
consequence of attempts to get rid of it--as the rough rhyme says; 'One
year's seeding, seven years' weeding'--and more at the end of the time
than at the beginning. Any honest attempt at mending character drives a
man to this--'My iniquities are too strong for me.'

I do not for a moment deny that there may be, and occasionally is, a
magnificent force of will and persistency of purpose in efforts at
self-improvement on the part of perfectly irreligious men. But, if by
the occasional success of such effort, a man conquers one form of evil,
that does not deliver him from evil. You have the usurping dominion deep
in your nature, and what does it matter in essence which part of your
being is most conspicuously under its control? It may be some animal
passion, and you may conquer that. A man, for instance, when he is
young, lives in the sphere of sensuous excitement; and when he gets old
he turns a miser, and laughs at the pleasures that he used to get from
the flesh, and thinks himself ever so much wiser. Is he any better? He
has changed, so to speak, the kind of sin. That is all. The devil has
put a new viceroy in authority, but it is the old government, though
with fresh officials. The house which is cleared of the seven devils
without getting into it the all-filling and sanctifying grace of God and
love of Jesus Christ will stand empty. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so
does Satan, and the empty house invites the seven ill-tenants, and back
they come in their diabolical completeness.

So, dear friends! though you may do a great deal--thank God!--in
subduing evil habits and inclinations, you cannot touch, so as to
master, the central fact of sin unless you get God to help you to do it,
and you have to go down on your knees before you can do that work.
'Iniquities are too strong for me.'

Then, again, consider our utter impotence in dealing with our own evil
regarded as guilt. When we do wrong, the judge within, which we call
conscience, says to us two things, or perhaps three. It says first,
'That is wrong'; it says secondly, 'You have got to answer for it'; and
I think it says thirdly, 'And you will be punished for it.' That is to
say, there is a sense of demerit that goes side by side with our evil,
as certainly as the shadow travels with the substance. And though,
sometimes, when the sun goes behind a cloud, there is no shadow, and
sometimes, when the light within us is darkened, conscience does not
cast the black shade of demerit across the mind; yet conscience is
there, though silent. When it does speak it says, 'You have done wrong,
and you are answerable.' Answerable to whom? To it? No! To society? No!
To law? No! You can only be answerable to a person, and that is God.
Against Him we have sinned. We do wrong; and if wrong were all that we
had to charge ourselves with, it would be because there was nothing but
law that we were answerable to. We do unkind things, and if unkindness
and inhumanity were all that we had to charge ourselves with, it would
be because we were only answerable to one another. We do suicidal
things, and if self-inflicted injury were all our definition of evil, it
would be because we were only answerable to our conscience and
ourselves. But we _sin_, and that means that every wrong thing, big or
little, which we do, whether we think about God in the doing of it or
no, is, in its deepest essence, an offence against Him.

The judgment of conscience carries with it the solemn looking for of
future judgment. It says, 'I am only a herald: _He_ is coming.' No man
feels the burden of guilt without an anticipation of judgment. What are
you going to do with these two feelings? Do you think that _you_ can
deal with them? It is no use saying, 'I am not responsible for what I
did; I inherited such-and-such tendencies; circumstances are so-and-so.
I could not help it; environment, and evolution, and all the rest of it
diminish, if they do not destroy, responsibility.' Be it so! And yet,
after all, this is left--the certainty in my own convictions that I had
the power to do or not to do. That is a fundamental part of a man's
consciousness. If it is a delusion, what is to be trusted, and how can
we be sure of anything? So that we are responsible for our action, and
can no more elude the guilt that follows sin than we can jump off our
own shadow. And I want you to consider what you are going to do about
your guilt.

One thing you cannot do--you cannot remove it. Men have tried to do so
by sacrifices, and false religions. They have swung in the air by means
of hooks fastened into their bodies, and I do not know what besides, and
they have not managed it. You can no more get rid of your guilt by being
sorry for your sin than you could bring a dead man to life again by
being sorry for his murder. What is done is done. 'What I have written I
have written!' Nothing will ever 'wash that little lily hand white
again,' as the magnificent murderess in Shakespeare's great creation
found out. You can forget your guilt; you can ignore it. You can adopt
some of the easily-learned-by-rote and fashionable theories that will
enable you to minimise it, and to laugh at us old-fashioned believers in
guilt and punishment. You do not take away the rock because you blow out
the lamps of the lighthouse, and you do not alter an ugly fact by
ignoring it. I beseech you, as reasonable men and women, to open your
eyes to these plain facts about yourselves, that you have an element of
demerit and of liability to consequent evil and suffering which you are
perfectly powerless to touch or to lighten in the slightest degree.

Consider, again, our utter impotence in regard to our evil, looked upon
as a barrier between us and God. That is the force of the context here.
The Psalmist has just been saying, 'O Thou that hearest prayer! unto
Thee shall all flesh come.' And then he bethinks himself how flesh
compassed with infirmities can come. And he staggers back bewildered.
There can be no question but that the plain dictate of common sense is,
'We know that God heareth not sinners.' My evil not only lies like a
great black weight of guilt and of habit on my consciousness and on my
activity, but it actually stands like a frowning cliff, barring my path
and making a barrier between me and God. 'Your hands are full of blood;
I hate your vain oblations,' says the solemn Voice through the prophet.
And this stands for ever true--'The prayer of the wicked is an
abomination.' There frowns the barrier. Thank God! mercies come through
it, howsoever close-knit and impenetrable it may seem. Thank God! no sin
can shut Him out from us, but it can shut us out from Him. And though we
cannot separate God from ourselves, and He is nearer us than our
consciousness and the very basis of our being, yet by a mysterious power
we can separate ourselves from Him. We may build up, of the black blocks
of our sins flung up from the inner fires, and cemented with the
bituminous mortar of our lusts and passions, a black wall between us and
our Father. You and I have done it. We can build it--we cannot throw it
down; we can rear it--we cannot tunnel it. Our iniquities are too strong
for us.

Now notice that this great cry of despair in my text is the cry of a
single soul. This is the only place in the psalm in which the singular
person is used. 'Iniquities are too strong for us,' is not sufficient.
Each man must take guilt to himself. The recognition and confession of
evil must be an intensely personal and individual act. My question to
you, dear friend! is, Did you ever know it by experience? Going apart by
yourself, away from everybody else, with no companions or confederates
to lighten the load of your felt evil, forgetting tempters and
associates and all other people, did you ever stand, you and God,
face to face, with nobody to listen to the conference? And did you
ever feel in that awful presence that whether the world was full of
men, or deserted and you the only survivor, would make no difference
to the personal responsibility and weight and guilt of your individual
sin? Have you ever felt, 'Against Thee, Thee only, have
I'--solitary--'sinned,' and confessed that iniquities are 'too strong
for me'?

II. Now, let me say a word or two about the second clause of this great
verse, the ringing cry of confident hope.

The confidence is, as I said, the child of despair. You will never go
into that large place of assured trust in God's effacing finger passed
over all your evil until you have come through the narrow pass, where
the black rocks all but bar the traveller's foot, of conscious impotence
to deal with your sin. You must, first of all, dear friends! go down
into the depths, and learn to have no trust in yourselves before you can
rise to the heights, and rejoice in the hope of the glory and of the
mercy of God. Begin with 'too strong for me,' and the impotent 'me'
leads on to the almighty 'Thou.'

Then, do not forget that what was confidence on the Psalmist's part is
knowledge on ours. 'As for our transgressions, Thou wilt purge them
away.' You and I know why, and know how. Jesus Christ in His great work
for us has vindicated the Psalmist's confidence, and has laid bare for
the world's faith the grounds upon which that divine power proceeds in
its cleansing mercy. 'Thou wilt purge them away,' said he. 'Christ hath
borne our sins in His own body on the tree,' says the New Testament. I
have spoken about our impotence in regard to our own evil, considered
under three aspects. I meant to have said more about Christ's work upon
our sins, considered under the same three aspects. But let me just, very
briefly, touch upon them.

Jesus Christ, when trusted, will do for sin, as habit, what cannot be
done without Him. He will give the  motive to resist, which is lacking
in the majority of cases. He will give the power to resist, which is
lacking in all cases. He will put a new life and spirit into our nature
which will strengthen and transform our feeble wills, will elevate and
glorify our earthward trailing affections, will make us love that which
He loves, and aspire to that which He is, until we become, in the change
from glory to glory, reflections of the image of the Lord. As habit and
as dominant power within us, nothing will cast out the evil that we have
entertained in our hearts except the power of the life of Christ Jesus,
in His Spirit dwelling within us and making us clean. When 'a strong man
keeps his house, his goods are in peace, but when a stronger than he
cometh he taketh from him all his implements in which he trusteth, and
divideth his spoil.' And so Christ has bound the strong man, in that one
great sacrifice on the Cross. And now He comes to each of us, if we will
trust Him, and gives motives, power, pattern, hopes, which enable us to
cast out the tyrant that has held dominion over us. 'If the Son make you
free, ye shall be free indeed.'

And I tell all of you, especially you young men and women, who
presumably have noble aspirations and desires, that the only way to
conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil, is to let Christ clothe you
with His armour; and let Him lay His hand on your feeble hands whilst
you aim the arrows and draw the bow, as the prophet did in the old
story, and then you will shoot, and not miss. Christ, and Christ alone,
within us will make us powerful to cast out the evil.

In like manner, He, and He only, deals with sin, considered as guilt.
Here is the living secret and centre of all Christ's preciousness and
power--that He died on the Cross; and in His spirit, which knew the
drear desolation of being forsaken by God, and in His flesh, which bore
the outward consequences of sin, in death as a sinful world knows it,
'bare our sins and carried our sorrows,' so that 'by His stripes we are
healed.'

If you will trust yourselves to the mighty Sacrifice, and with no
reservation, as if you could do anything, will cast your whole weight
and burden upon Him, then the guilt will pass away, and the power of sin
will be broken. Transgressions will be buried--'covered,' as the
original of my text has it--as with a great mound piled upon them, so
that they shall never offend or smell rank to heaven any more, but be
lost to sight for ever.

Christ can take away the barrier reared by sin between God and the human
spirit. Solid and black as it stands, His blood dropped upon it melts
away. Then it disappears like the black bastions of the aerial
structures in the clouds before the sunshine. He hath opened for us a
new and living way, that we might 'have access and confidence,' and,
sinners as we are, that we might dwell for ever more at the side of our
Lord.

So, dear brother! whilst humanity cries--and I pray that all of us may
cry like the Apostle, 'Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?'--Faith lifts up, swift and clear, her
ringing note of triumph, which I pray God or rather, which I beseech you
that you will make your own, 'I thank God! I through Jesus Christ our
Lord.'



THE BURDEN-BEARING GOD


    'Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits.'--(A.V.).

    'Blessed be the Lord, who daily beareth our burden.'
    --PSALM lxviii. 19 (R.V.).

The difference between these two renderings seems to be remarkable, and
a person ignorant of any language but our own might find it hard to
understand how any one sentence was susceptible of both. But the
explanation is extremely simple. The important words in the Authorised
Version, 'with benefits,' are a supplement, having nothing to represent
them in the original. The word translated '_loadeth_' in the one
rendering and '_beareth_' in the other admits of both these meanings
with equal ease, and is, in fact, employed in both of them in other
places in Scripture. It is clear, I think, that, in this case, at all
events, the Revision is an improvement. For the great objection to the
rendering which has become familiar to us all, 'Who daily loadeth us
_with benefits_,' is that these essential words are not in the original,
and need to be supplied in order to make out the sense. Whereas, on the
other hand, if we adopt the suggested emendation, 'Who daily beareth our
burdens,' we get a still more beautiful meaning, which requires no
forced addition in order to bring it out. So, then, I accept that varied
form of our text as the one on which I desire to say a few words now.

I. The first thing that strikes me in looking at it is the remarkable
and eloquent blending of majesty and condescension.

It is not without significance that the Psalmist employs that name for
God in this clause, which most strongly expresses the idea of supremacy
and dominion. Rule and dignity are the predominant ideas in the word
'Lord,' as, indeed, the English reader feels in hearing it; and then,
side by side with that, there lies this thought, that the Highest, the
Ruler of all, whose absolute authority stretches over all mankind,
stoops to this low and servile office, and becomes the burden-bearer for
all the pilgrims who will put their trust in Him. This blending together
of the two ideas of dignity and condescension to lowly offices of help
and furtherance is made even more emphatic if we glance back at the
context of the psalm. For there is no place in Scripture in which there
is flashed before the mind of the singer a grander picture of the
magnificence and the glory of God, than that which glitters and flames
in the previous verses. We read in them of God 'riding through the
heavens by His name Jehovah'; of Him as marching at the head of the
people, through the wilderness, and of the earth quivering at His tread,
and the heavens dropping at His presence. We read of Zion itself being
moved at the presence of the Lord. We read of His word going forth so
mightily as to scatter armies and their kings. We read of the chariots
of God as 'twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.' All is gathered
together in the great verse, 'Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led
captivity captive.' And then, before he has taken breath almost, the
Psalmist turns, with most striking and dramatic abruptness, from the
contemplation, awe-struck and yet jubilant, of all that tremendous,
magnificent, and earth-shaking power to this wonderful thought, 'Blessed
be the Lord! who daily beareth our burdens.' Not only does He march at
the head of the congregation through the wilderness, but He comes, if I
might so say, behind the caravan, amongst the carriers and the porters,
and will bear anything that any of the weary pilgrims intrusts to His
care.

Oh, dear brethren! if familiarity did not dull the glory of it, what a
thought that is--a God that carries men's loads! People talk much
rubbish about the 'stern Old Testament Deity'; is there anything
sweeter, greater, more heart-compelling and heart-softening, than such a
thought as this? How all the majesty bows itself, and declares itself to
be enlisted on our side, when we think that 'He that sitteth on the
circle of the heavens, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers'
is the God that 'daily beareth our burdens'!

And that is the tone of the Old Testament throughout, for you will
always find braided together in the closest vital unity the
representation of these two aspects of the divine nature; and if ever we
hear set forth a more than ordinarily magnificent conception of His
power and majesty be sure that, if you look, you will find side by side
with it a more than ordinarily tender representation of His gentleness
and His grace. And if we look deeper, this is not a case of contrast, it
is not that there are sharply opposed to each other these two things,
the gentleness and the greatness, the condescension and the
magnificence, but that the former is the direct result of the latter;
and it is just because He is Lord, and has dominion over all, that,
therefore, He bears the burdens of all. For the responsibilities of the
Creator are in proportion to His greatness, and He that has made man has
thereby made it necessary that He should, if they will let Him, be their
Burden-bearer and their Servant. The highest must be the lowest, and
just because God is high over all, blessed for ever, therefore is He the
Supporter and Sustainer of all. So we may learn the true meaning of
elevation of all sorts, and from the example of loftiest, may draw the
lesson for our more insignificant varieties of height, that the higher
we are, the more we are bound to stoop, and that men are then likest
God, when their elevation suggests to them responsibility, and when he
that is chiefest becomes the servant.

II. So, then, notice next the deep insight into the heart and ways of
God here.

'He daily beareth our burdens.' If there is any meaning in this word at
all, it means that He so knits Himself with us as that all which touches
us touches Him, that He takes a share in all our pressing duties, and
feels the reflection from all our sorrows and pains. We have no
impassive God in the heavens, careless of mankind, nor is His settled
and changeless and unshaded blessedness of such a sort as that there
cannot pass across it--if I may not say a shadow, I may at least say--a
ripple from men's pangs and troubles and cares. Love is the
identification of oneself with the beloved object. We call it sympathy,
when we are speaking about the fellow feeling between man and man that
is kindled of love. But there is something deeper than sympathy in that
great Heart, which gathers into itself all hearts, and in that great
Being, whose being underlies all our beings, and is the root from which
we all live and grow. God, in all our afflictions, is afflicted; and in
simple though profound verity, has that which is most truly represented
to men, by calling it a fellow feeling with our infirmities and our
sorrows.


  'Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
   And thy Maker is not nigh;
   Think not thou canst weep a tear,
   And thy Maker is not near.'

For want of a better word, we speak of the sympathy of God: but we need
something far more intimate and unwearied than we understand by that
word, to express the community of feeling between all who trust Him and
His own infinite heart. If this bearing of our burden means anything, it
gives us a deep insight, too, into His workings, as well as into His
heart. For it covers over this great truth that He Himself comes to us,
and by the communication of His own power to us, makes us able to bear
the burdens which we roll upon Him. The meaning of His 'lifting our
load,' in so far as that expression refers to the divine act rather than
the divine heart, is that He breathes into us the strength by which we
can carry the heavy task of duties, and can endure the crushing pressure
of our sorrows. All the endurance of the saints is God in them bearing
their burdens.

Notice, too, '_daily_ beareth,' or, as the Hebrew has it yet more
emphatically because more simply, 'day by day beareth.' He travels with
us, in the greatness of His might and the long-suffering of His
unwearied patience, through all our tribulation, and as He has 'borne
and carried' His people 'all the days of old,' so, at each new
recurrence of new weights, He is with us still. Like some river that
runs by the wayside and ever cheers the traveller on the dusty path with
its music, and offers its waters to cool his thirsty lips, so, day by
day, in the slow iteration of our lingering sorrows, and in the
monotonous recurrence of our habitual duties, there is with us the
ever-present help of the Ancient of Days, who measures out daily
strength for the daily load, and never sends the one without proffering
the other.

III. So, again, notice here the remarkable anticipation of the very
heart of the Gospel.

'The God who daily beareth our burdens,' says the Psalmist. He spoke
deeper things than he knew, and was wiser than he understood. For the
hope that gleams in these words comes to fulfilment, in Him of whom it
was written in prophetic anticipation, so clear and definite that it
reads like historical narrative--'He bare our grief and carried our
sorrows. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. The Lord hath laid
on Him the iniquity of us all.'

Ah! it were of small avail to know a God that bore the burden of our
sorrows and the load of our duties, if we did not know a God who bore
the weight of our sins. For that is the real crushing weight that breaks
men's hearts and bows them to the earth. So the New Testament, with its
message of a Christ on whom is laid the whole pressure of the world's
sin, is the deepest fulfilment of the great words of my text.

IV. Note, lastly, what we should therefore do with our burdens.

First, we should cast them on God, and _let_ Him carry them. He cannot
unless we do. One sometimes sees a petulant and self-confident little
child staggering along with some heavy burden by the parent's side, but
pushing away the hand that is put out to help it to carry its load. And
that is what too many of us do when God says to us, 'Here, My child! let
Me help you, I will take the heavy end of it, and do you take the light
one.' 'Cast thy burden upon the Lord'--and do it by faith, by simple
trust in Him, by making real to yourselves the fact of His divine
sympathy, and His sure presence, to aid and to sustain.

Having thus let Him carry the weight, do not you try to carry it too. As
our good old hymn has it--

  'Why should I the burden bear?'

It is a great deal more God's affair than yours. We have, indeed, in a
sense, to carry it. 'Every man shall bear his own burden.' The weight of
duty is not to be indolently shoved off our shoulders on to His, saying,
'Let Him do the work.' We have indeed to carry the weight of sorrow.
There is no use in trying to deny its bitterness and its burden, and it
would not be well for us that it should be less bitter and less heavy.
In many lands the habit prevails, especially amongst the women, of
carrying heavy loads on their heads; and all travellers tell us that the
practice gives a dignity and a grace to the carriage, and a freedom and
a swing to the gait, which nothing else will do. Depend upon it, that so
much of our burdens of work and weariness as is left to us, after we
have cast them upon Him, is intended to strengthen and ennoble us. But
do not let there be the gnawings of anxiety. Do not let there be the
self-torment of aimless prognostications of evil. Do not let there be
the chewing of the bitter morsel of irrevocable sorrows; but fling all
upon God. And remember what the Master has said, and His servant has
repeated: 'Take no anxious care ... for your heavenly Father knoweth';
'Cast your anxiety upon Him, for He careth for you.'

And the last advice that comes from my text is, to see that your tongues
are not silent in that great hymn of praise which ought to go up to 'the
Lord that daily beareth our burdens.' He wants only our trust and our
thanks, and is best paid by the praise of our love, and of our heaping
still more upon His ever strong and ready arm. Bless the Lord! who
beareth our burdens, and see that you give Him yours to bear. Listen to
Him who hath said, 'Come unto Me all ye that ... are heavy laden, and I
will give you rest.'



REASONABLE RAPTURE


    'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I
    desire besides Thee. 26. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is
    the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.'
    --PSALM lxxiii. 25, 26.

We have in this psalm the record of the Psalmist's struggle with the
great standing difficulty of how to reconcile the unequal distribution
of worldly prosperity with the wisdom and providence of God. That
difficulty pressed more acutely upon men of the Old Dispensation than
even upon us, because the very promise of that stage of revelation was
that Godliness brought with it outward well-being. Our Psalmist reaches
a solution, not exactly by the same path by which the writers of the
Books of Job and Ecclesiastes find an answer to the problem. This man
gives up the endeavour to solve the question by reflection and thought,
and as he says, 'goes into the sanctuary of God,' gets into communion
with his Father in heaven, and by reason of that communion reaches a
conclusion which is, at all events, an approximate solution of his
difficulty, viz. the belief of a future life, 'Then understood I their
end.' The solemn vision of a life beyond the present, which should be
the outcome and retribution of this, rises before him from out of his
agitated thoughts, like the moon, pale and phantom-like, from a stormy
sea. That truth, if revealed at all to the Psalmist's contemporaries,
certainly did not occupy the same position of clearness or of prominence
as it does in our religious beliefs. But here we see a soul led up by
its wrestlings to apprehend it, and as was said of a statesman, 'calling
a new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.' So we get
here a soul taught by God, and filled with Him by communion, therefore
lifted to the height of a faith in a future life, and so made able to
look out upon all the perplexities and staggering mysteries of earth's
mingled ill and good, if not with distinct understanding, at least with
patient faith.

The words of my text indicate for us the very high-water mark of
religious experience, the very apex and climax of what some people would
call mystical religion to which this man has climbed, because he fought
with his doubts, and by God's grace was able to lay them. To him the
world's uncertain ill or good becomes infinitely insignificant, because
for the future he has a clear vision of a continued life with God, and
because for the present he knows that to have God in his heart is all
that he really needs.

I. We have here, first, a necessity which, misdirected, is the source of
man's misery.

'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? there is none upon earth that I desire
besides Thee.' If men would interpret the deepest voices of their own
souls that is what they would all say, because, from the very make of
our human nature there is not one of us, howsoever weak and sinful and
small, but is great enough to be too great to be filled with anything
smaller than God. Our thoughts, even the thoughts of the least
enlightened amongst us, go wandering through eternity; and as the writer
of the Book of Ecclesiastes says:--'He hath set eternity in men's
hearts.' We all of us need, though, alas! so few of us know that we
need, a living possession of a living perfect Person, for mind, for
heart, for will. Nothing short of the 'fulness of God' is enough for the
smallest amongst us. So, because we do not believe this, because
hundreds of you do not know what it is for which your souls are crying
out, 'the misery of man is great upon him.' You try to fill that deep
and aching void in your hearts, which is a sign of your possible
nobleness, and a pledge of your possible blessedness, with all manner of
minute rubbish, which can never fill up the gap that is there. Cartload
after cartload may be tilted into the bottomless bog, and there is no
more solid ground on the surface than there was at the beginning. Oh, my
brother! consult thine own deepest need; listen to that voice, often
stifled, often neglected, and by some of you always misunderstood, which
speaks in your wills, minds, consciences, hopes, desires, hearts; and is
it not this: 'My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God'?

There is none in the heaven, with all its stars and angels, enough for
thee but Him. There is none upon earth, with all its flowers, and
treasures, and loves, that will calm and still thy soul but only God.
The words of my text spring from a necessity felt by every man,
misdirected by a tragical majority of men, and therefore the source of
restlessness and misery.

II. Secondly, we see here the longing which, rightly directed and
cherished, is the very spirit of religion.

He, and only he, is the religious man, who can take these words of my
text for the inmost words of his conscious effort and life. Only in the
measure in which you and I recognise that God is our sole and
all-sufficient good, in that measure have we any business to call
ourselves devout or Christian people. That is a sharp test, is it not?
Is it not a valid and an accurate one? Is that not what really makes a
religious man, namely, the supreme admiration of, and aspiration after,
and possession of God, and God alone? What a contrast that forms to our
ordinary notions of what religion is! High above all creeds which are
valuable as leading up to this enthusiasm of longing and rapture of
possession, high above all preliminaries and preparations in the way of
outward services and ceremonial or united acts of worship, which are
only helps to this inward possession, rises such a thought of religion
as this. You are not a Christian because you believe a creed. The very
death of Jesus Christ is a means to this end. In order that we might
come into personal, rapturous, and hallowing possession of God, His very
Self in our hearts and spirits, Jesus Christ died and rose again. Do not
mistake the staircase for the presence-chamber. Do not fancy that you
are Christian people because you hold certain opinions or beliefs in
regard of certain doctrines. Do not fancy that religion consists in
either the mere outward practice of, or abstinence from, certain forms
of conduct. Such things are the means to, or the outcome of, this inward
devotion, but the true essence of our religion is that we recognise God
as our only good, and that in Him we find absolute rest and perfect
sufficiency.

Is that your religion, my brother? What a contrast these words of my
text present not only to our notions of what constitutes religion, but
to our practice! What is the thing that you and I crave most to have?
What is the thing that we lament most of all when we lose? Where do our
desires go when we take the guiding hand off them, and let them run as
they will? For some of us there are dearer hearts on earth than His,
Perhaps for some of us there are more dearly loved faces in heaven than
His. Taking the two extreme possible cases, and supposing at the one end
of the scale a man that had everything but God, and at the other end a
man that had nothing but God, do we live as if we believed that the man
that had everything _minus_ God is a pauper; and the other who has God
_minus_ everything is 'rich to all the intents of bliss'? Let us shape
our desires, aspirations, efforts, according to that certain truth.

I do not need to remind you that this lofty height of conscious longing,
not unblest with contemporaneous fruition, is above the height to which
we habitually rise. But what I would now insist upon is only this, that
whilst there will be variations, whilst there will be ups and downs, the
periods in our lives when we do not consciously recognise Him as our
supreme and single good are the periods that drop below duty and
blessedness. Acknowledge the imperfections, but Oh, my friends! you
Christian men and women, who know that these hours of high communion
with a loving God are not diffused through your whole life, do not sit
down contented, and say that it must be so; but confess them as being
imperfections which are your own fault, and remember that just as much,
and not one hairsbreadth more than, we can take these words of my text
for ours, so much and no more, have we a right to call ourselves
religious men and women.

III. Again, we have here the blessed possession, which deadens earthly
desires.

That clause, 'There is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee,'
might, I think, be rendered more accurately 'With Thee'--that is to say,
'possessing Thee,'--I desire none 'upon earth.' If we thus have been
longing after God, and fuller possession of Him, and if in some measure,
in answer to the desire, as is always the case, we have received into
mind and heart and will more of His preciousness and sweetness, then
that will kill the desires that otherwise would conflict with it. Our
great poet, speaking about a supreme earthly love, says--

    'That rich golden shaft
  Hath killed the flock of all affections else,
  That lived in her.'

And the same thing is true about this higher life. This new affection
will deaden, and in some sense destroy, the desires that turn to lower
and to earthly things. The sun when it rises quenches the brightest
stars that can but fade in his light and die. And so when, in answer to
our longing, God lifts the light of His countenance--a better
sunrise--upon us, that new affection dims and quenches the brightness of
these little, though they be lustrous points, that shed a fragmentary
and manifold twinkling over the darkness of our former night. 'Walk in
the light,' and your heaven will be naked of all competing brightness.

Only remember that this supreme, and in some sense exclusive, love and
longing does not destroy the sweetness of lower possessions and
blessings. A new deep love in a man or a woman's heart does not make
their former affections less, but more, sweet and noble and strong. And
so when we get to love God best, and to love all other persons and
things in Him, and Him in them, then they become sources of dignity and
nobleness, of sweetness and strength, in our lives, which they otherwise
never would be. If you want to make all your family affections, for
instance, more permanent, more lofty, and more blessed, let them be all
in God:

  'I trust he lives in God, and there
   I find him worthier to be loved,'

says the poet about one that had been carried into the other life. It is
true about us in our relations to one another, even whilst we remain
here. Let God be first, and the second rises higher in the scale than
when we thought it first. The more our hearts are knit to Him and all
other desires are subordinated to Him, the more do they become precious,
and powers for good in our lives.

IV. And so, lastly, we have here the possession which is the pledge of
perpetuity.

The Psalmist, in the last verse of my text, supposes an extreme, and in
some sense, an impossible case. 'My flesh'--my bodily frame--'and my
heart'--some portion of my immaterial being--'faileth.' The clause
should probably be taken as hypothetical. 'Even supposing that it has
come to this,' says he, 'that I had been separated from my body, and
that along with the body there had also been "consumed" (as is the
meaning of the original word) some portion of my spiritual being, even
then, though there were only a thin thread of personality left, enough
to call "me" and no more, so to speak, I should cling with that to God,
and I know that then I should have enough, for "God is the Rock of my
heart, and my Portion for ever."'

These two last words are obviously here to be taken in their widest
extension. The whole context requires us to suppose that the Psalmist's
eye is looking across the black gorge of death to the shining table-land
beyond. So here we are admitted to see faith in the future life in the
very act of growth. The singer soars to that sunlit height of confidence
in the endless blessedness of union with God, just because he feels so
deeply the sacredness and the blessedness of his present communion with
God.

Next to the resurrection of Jesus Christ the best proof of immortality
lies in the present experience of communion with God. Anything is more
reasonable than to believe that a soul which can grasp God for its good,
which can turn itself to, and be united with, an infinite Being; and
itself is capable of indefinite approximation towards that Being, should
have its course and career cut short by such a surface thing as death.
If there be a God at all, anything is more reasonable than to believe
that the union, formed between Him and me by faith here, can ever come
to an end until I have exhausted Him, and drawn all His fulness into
myself. This communion, by its 'very sweetness yieldeth proof that it
was born for immortality.' And the Psalmist here, just because to-day
God is the Rock of his heart, is sure that that relation must last on,
through life, through death, ay! and for ever, 'when all that seems
shall suffer shock.'

So, my brethren! here is the choice and alternative presented before us.
And I ask you which is the wise man, he who clutches at external
possessions which cannot abide, or he who hungers for that indwelling
God, who sinks into the very substance of his soul, and is more
inseparable from him than his very body? Which is the wise man, he of
whom it shall one day be said, 'This night thy soul shall be required of
thee,' and 'His glory shall not descend after him,' or the man who knows
for what his heart hungers, and knowing it turns to God in Christ, by
simple faith and lowly aspiration, as his enduring Treasure; and then,
and therefore, can look out with a calm smile of security over all the
tumbling sea of change, and beyond the dark horizon there where sight
fails; and can say, 'I am persuaded that neither things present, nor
things to come, nor life, nor death, nor any other creature, shall be
able to separate me from the God who is my Treasure, and the Life of my
very self'?



NEARNESS TO GOD THE KEY TO LIFE'S PUZZLE


    'It is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the
    Lord God, that I may declare all Thy works.'--PSALM lxxiii. 28.

The old perplexity as to how it comes, if God is good and wise and
strong, that bad men should prosper and good men should suffer, has been
making the Psalmist's faith reel. He does not answer the question
exactly as the New Testament would have done, but he does find a
solution sufficient for himself in two thoughts, the transiency of that
outward prosperity, and the eternal sufficiency of God. 'It was too
painful for me until I went into the Sanctuary, then understood I their
end'; and on the other hand: 'Thou art the Strength of my life, and my
Portion for ever.' So he climbs at last to the calm height where he
learns that, whatever be a man's outward prosperity, if he is separated
from God he ceases to be. As the context says: 'They that are far from
Thee shall perish.' 'Thou hast destroyed'--already, before they
die--'all them that go a-whoring from Thee.' And on the other hand,
whatever be the outward condition, God is enough. 'It is good for me,'
rich or poor harassed or at rest, afflicted or prosperous, in health or
sickness, solitary or compassed about with loving friends, 'it is good
for me to draw near to God'; and nothing else is good. Thus the river
that has had to fight its way through rocks, and has been chafed in the
conflict, and has twisted its path through many a deep, dark, sunless
gorge, comes out at last into the open, and flows with a broad sunlit
breast, peaceable and full, into the great ocean--'It is good for me to
draw near to God.'

But that is not all. The Psalmist goes on to tell how we are to draw
near to God: 'I have put my trust in Him.' And that is not all, for he
further goes on to tell how, drawing near to God through faith, all
these puzzles and mysteries about men's condition cease to perplex, and
a beam of light falls upon the whole of them. 'I have put my trust in
God, that I may declare all Thy works.' There are no knots in the thread
now.

I. So here we have, first the truth of experience that nearness to God
is the one good.

Of course, it is so in the Psalmist's view, since he believes, as we
profess to believe, that, to quote the words of another Psalmist, 'With
Thee is the fountain of life'; and therefore that to 'draw near to Thee'
is to carry our little empty pitchers to that great spring that is
always flowing with waters ever sweet and clear. Union with God is life,
in all senses of the word, according as the creature is capable of union
with Him. Why! there is no life in a plant except God's power is
vitalising it. 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow' because
God makes them grow. There is no bodily life in a man, unless He
continually breathes into the nostrils the breath of life. If you stop
the flow of the fountain, then all the pools are dry. There is no life
intellectual in a man, except by the 'inspiration of the Almighty,' from
whom 'all just thoughts do proceed.' Above all these forms of life the
real life of a spirit is the life derived from the union with God
Himself, whereby He pours Himself into it, and in the deepest sense of
the words it is true: 'Because I live ye shall live also.' 'It is good
for me to draw near to God,' because, unless I do, and if I am separated
from Him, my true self is dead, even whilst I seem to live. All that are
parted from Him perish; all that are joined to Him, and only they, do
live what is worth calling life. Cut off the sunbeam from the sun, and
what becomes of it? It vanishes. Separate a soul from God, and it is
dead. What is all the good of the world to you if your true self is
dead? And what an absurdity it is to deck a corpse with riches and pomp
of various kinds! That is what the men of the world are doing, who have
chained themselves to earth, and cut themselves off from God. 'For me it
is good to draw near to God.' Do you draw near? Because if you do not,
no matter what prosperity you have, you do not know anything about the
true life and real good for heart and spirit.

I suppose I need scarcely go on pointing out other aspects of this
supreme--or more truly, this solitary--good. For instance, nothing is
really good to me unless I have it within me, so as that it can never be
wrenched away from me. The blessings that we cannot incorporate with the
very substance of our being are only partial blessings after all; and
all these things round us that do minister to our necessities, tastes,
affections, and sometimes to our weaknesses, these good things fail just
in this, that they stand outside us, and there is no real union between
us and  them. So, changes come, and we have to unclasp hands, and the
footsteps that used to be planted by the side of ours cease, and our
track across the sands is lonely; and losses come, and death comes, and
all the glory and the good that were only externally possessed by us we
leave behind us. As this psalm says: 'I considered their end ... how
they are brought into desolation, as in a moment!' What is the good of a
good that is not incorporated into any being? What is the good of a good
about which I cannot say, with a smile of confidence, 'I know that
where-ever I may go, and whatever may befall me, that can never pass
from me'? There is but one good of that sort. 'I am persuaded that ...
neither life nor death ... nor any other creature, shall separate us
from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' 'It is good
for me,' amidst the morasses and quicksands and bogs of life's uncertain
and shifting ill and good, to set my feet upon the rock, and to say:
'Here I stand, and my footing will never give way.' Do you, brother!
possess a changeless, imperishable, inwrought good like that? You may if
you like.

But remember, too, that in regard to this Christian good, it is not only
the possession of it, but the aspiration after it, that is blessed. The
Psalmist does not only say, 'It is good for me to be near to God,' but
he says, 'It is good for me to draw near.' There is one kind of life in
which the seeking is all but as blessed as the finding. There is one
kind of life in which to desire is all but as full of peace, and power,
and joy as to possess. Therefore, another psalm, which begins by
celebrating the blessedness of the men that dwell in God's house, and
are 'still praising Thee,' goes on to speak of the blessedness, not less
blessed, of the men 'in whose heart are the ways.' They who have reached
the Temple are at rest, and blessed in their repose. They who are
journeying towards it are in action, and blessed in their activity. 'It
is good to draw near'; and the seeking after God is as far above the
possession of all other good as heaven is above earth.

But then, notice further, how our Psalmist comes down to very plain,
practical teaching. He seems to feel that he must explain what he means
by drawing near to God. And here is his explanation. 'I have put my
trust in the Lord.'

II. The way to nearness to God is twofold.

On the one hand the true path is Jesus Christ, on the other hand the
means by which we walk upon that path is our faith. The Apostle puts it
all in a nutshell when he says that his prayer for the Ephesian Church
is that 'Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,' and then, by a
linked chain which we have not now to consider, leads up to the final
issues of that faith in that indwelling Christ--'that ye may be filled
with all the fulness of God.' So to draw near and to possess that good,
that only good which is God, all that is needed is--and it is
needed--that we should turn with the surrender of our hearts, with the
submission of our wills, with the outgoing of our affections, and with
the conformity of our practical life, to Jesus. Seeing Him, we see the
Father, and having Him near us, we feel the touch of the divine hand,
and being joined to the Lord, we are separated from the vanities of
life, and united to the Supreme Good.

Dear brethren! this Psalmist shows us how hard it is for us to keep up
that continual attitude of faith, how many difficulties there are in
daily life, in the way of our continually being true to our deepest
convictions, and seeking after Him amidst all the distracting whirl and
perplexities of our daily lives. But he shows us, too, how possible it
is, even for men constituted as we are, moment by moment, day by day,
task by task, to keep vivid the consciousness of our dependence upon
Him, and the blessed consciousness of our being beside Him, and how, if
we do, strength will come to us for everything. The secret of a joyous
walk lies in this, 'I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is
at my right hand I shall not be moved.' We draw near to God when we
clutch Christ in faith. Our faith manifests itself, not merely by a lazy
reliance upon what He once did, long ago, on the Cross for us; but by
daily, effortful revivifying of our consciousness of His presence, of
our consciousness of our dependence upon Him, and by the continual
reference of thoughts, desires, plans, and actions to Himself.

Keep God beside you so, and then there will follow what this Psalmist
reached at last, a peaceful insight into what else are full of
perplexity and difficulty, the ways of God in the world.

To myself, to my dear ones, to the nation, to the Church, to the world,
there come many perplexing riddles as to God's dealings, that cannot be
solved except by getting close to Him. Just as a little child nestling
on its mother's bosom, with its mother's arm around it, looks out with
peaceful eye and a bright smile, upon everything beyond the safe nest,
so they who are near to God can bear to look at difficulties and
perplexities, and the mysteries of their own sorrows and of the world's
miseries, and say, 'All things work together for good'; 'I have put my
trust in the Lord, that I may declare _all_ Thy works.' Stand in the
sun, and all the planets move around it manifestly in order. Take your
place anywhere else, and there is confusion. Get beside God, and look
out on the world, and you will see it as He saw it when, 'Behold! it was
very good.'

Now, dear friends! my text in its first part may become the description
of our death. One man holds on to the world as it is slipping away from
him. I remember a story about a coast-guardsman that was flung over the
cliffs once, and when they picked up his dead body, all under the nails
was full of chalk that he had scraped off the cliffs in his desperate
attempts to clutch at something to hold by. That is like one kind of
death. But another kind may be: 'It is good for me to draw near to God.'
And when we reach His side, and see all the past from the centre, and in
the light of the Eternal Present, to which it has led, we shall be able
to declare all His works, and to give thanks 'for all the way by which
the Lord our God hath led us' and the world 'these many years in the
wilderness.'



MEMORY, HOPE, AND EFFORT


    'That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of
    God, but keep His commandments.'--PSALM lxxviii. 7.

In its original application this verse is simply a statement of God's
purpose in giving to Israel the Law, and such a history of deliverance.
The intention was that all future generations might remember what He had
done, and be encouraged by the remembrance to hope in Him for the
future; and by both memory and hope, be impelled to the discharge of
present duty.

So, then, the words may permissibly bear the application which I purpose
to make of them in this sermon, re-echoing only (and aspiring to nothing
more) the thoughts which the season has already, I suppose, more or
less, suggested to most of us. Smooth motion is imperceptible; it is the
jolts that tell us that we are advancing. Though every day be a New
Year's Day, still the alteration in our dates and our calendars should
set us all thinking of that continual lapse of the mysterious thing--the
creature of our own minds--which we call time, and which is bearing us
all so steadily and silently onwards.

My text tells us how past, present, and future--memory, hope, and effort
may be ennobled and blessed. In brief, it is by associating them all
with God. It is as the field of His working that our past is best
remembered. It is on Him that our hopes may most wisely be set. It is
keeping His commandments which is the consecration of the present. Let
us, then, take the three thoughts of our text and cast them into New
Year's recommendations.

I. First, then, let us associate God with memory by thankful
remembrance.

Now I suppose that there are very few of the faculties of our nature
which we more seldom try to regulate by Christian principles than that
great power which we have of looking backwards. Did you ever reflect
that you are responsible for what you remember, and for how you remember
it, and that you are bound to train and educate your memory, not merely
in the sense of cultivating it as a means of carrying intellectual
treasures, but for a religious purpose? The one thing that all parts of
our nature need is God, and that is as true about our power of
remembrance as it is about any other part of our being. The past is then
hallowed, noble, and yields its highest results and most blessed fruits
for us when we link it closely with Him, and see in it not only, nor so
much, the play of our own faculties, whether we blame or approve
ourselves, as rather see in it the great field in which God has brought
Himself near to our experience, and has been regulating and shaping all
that has befallen us. The one thing which will consecrate memory,
deliver it from its errors and abuses, raise it to its highest and
noblest power, is that it should be in touch with God, and that the past
should be regarded by each of us as it is, in deed and in truth, one
long record of what God has done for us.

We can see His presence more clearly when we look back over a
long-connected stretch of days, and when the excitement of feeling the
agony or rapture have passed, than we could whilst they were hot, and
life was all hurry and bustle. The men on the deck of a ship see the
beauty of the city that they have left behind, better than when they
were pressing through its narrow streets. And though the view of the
receding houses from the far-off waters may be an illusion, our view of
the past, if we see God brooding over it all, and working in it all, is
no illusion. The meannesses are hidden, the narrow places are invisible,
all the pain and suffering is quieted, and we are able to behold more
truly than when we were in the midst of them, the bearing, the purpose,
and the blessedness alike of our sorrows and of our joys.

Not a few of us are old enough to have had a great many mysteries of our
early days cleared up. We have seen at least the beginnings of the
harvest which the ploughshare of sorrow and the winter winds were
preparing for us, and for the rest we can trust. Brethren! remember your
mercies; remember your losses; and 'for all the way by which the Lord
our God has led us these many years in the wilderness,' let us try to be
thankful, including in our praises the darkness and the storm as well as
the light and the calm. Some of us are like people who, when they get
better of their sicknesses, grudge the doctor's bill. We forget the
mercies as soon as they are past, because we only enjoyed the sensuous
sweetness of them whilst it tickled our palate, and did not think, in
the enjoyment of them, whose love it was that they spoke of to us.
Sorrows and joys, bring them all in your thanksgivings, and 'forget not
the works of God.'

Such a habit of cultivating the remembrance of God's hand as moving in
all our past, will not, in the slightest degree, interfere with lower
and yet precious exercises of that same faculty. We shall still be able
to look back, and learn our limitations, mark our weaknesses, gather
counsels of prudence from our failures, tame our ambitions by
remembering where we broke down. And such an exercise of grateful
God-recognising remembrance will deliver us from the abuses of that
great power, by which so many of us turn our memories into a cause of
weakness, if not of sin. There are people, and we are all tempted to be
of the number, who look back upon the past and see nothing there but
themselves, their own cleverness, their own success; 'burning incense to
their own net, and sacrificing to their own drag.' Another mood leads us
to look back into the past dolefully and disappointedly, to say, 'I have
broken down so often; my resolutions have all gone to water so quickly;
I have tried and failed over and over again. I may as well give it all
up, and accept the inevitable, and grope on as well as I can without
hope of self-advancement or of victory.' Never! If only we will look
back to God we shall be able to look forward to a perfect self.
To-morrow need never be determined by the failures that have been. We
may still conquer where we have often been defeated. There is no worse
use of the power of remembrance than when we use it to bind upon
ourselves, as the permanent limitations of our progress, the failures
and faults of the past. 'Forget the things that are behind.' Your old
fragmentary goodness, your old foiled aspirations, your old frequent
failures--cast them all behind you!

And there are others to whom remembrance is mainly a gloating over old
sins, and a doing again of these--ruminating upon them; bringing up the
chewed food once more to be masticated. Some of us gather only poisonous
weeds, and carry them about in the _hortus siccus_ of our memories.
Alas! for the man whose memory is but the paler portraiture of past
sins. Some of us, I am sure, have our former evils holding us so tight
in their cords that when we look back memory is defiled by the things
which defiled the unforgettable past. Brethren! you may find a refuge
from that curse of remembrance in remembering God.

And some of us, unwisely and ungratefully, live in the light of departed
blessings, so as to have no hearts either for present mercies or for
present duties. There is no more weakening and foolish misdirection of
that great gift of remembrance than when we employ it to tear down the
tender greenery with which healing time has draped the ruins; or to turn
again in the wound which is beginning to heal the sharp and poisoned
point of the sorrow which once pierced it. For all these abuses--the
memory that gloats upon sin; the memory that is proud of success; the
memory that is despondent because of failures; the memory that is
tearful and broken-hearted over losses--for all these the remedy is that
we should not forget the works of God, but see Him everywhere filling
the past.

II. Again, let us live in the future by hope in Him.

Our remembrances and our hopes are closely connected; one might almost
even say that the power by which we look backwards and that by which we
look forwards are one and the same. At all events, Hope owes to Memory
the pigments with which it paints, the canvas on which it paints, and
the objects which it portrays there. But in all our earthly hopes there
is a feeling of uncertainty which brings alarm as well as expectation,
and he whose forward vision runs only along the low levels of earth, and
is fed only by experience and remembrance, will never be able to say, 'I
hope with certitude, and I know that my hope shall be fulfilled.' For
him 'hopes, and fears that kindle hopes,' will be 'an indistinguishable
throng'; and there will be as much of pain as of pleasure in his forward
glance.

But if, according to my text, we set our hopes on God, then we shall
have a certainty absolute. What a blessing it is to be able to look
forward to a future as fixed and sure, as solid and as real, as much our
possession, as the irrevocable past! The Christian man's hope, if it be
set on God, is not a 'may be,' but a 'will be'; and he can be as sure of
to-morrow as he is of yesterday.

They whose hopes are set on God have a certain hope, a sufficient one,
and one that fills all the future. All other expectations are fulfilled,
or disappointed, as the case may be, but are left behind and outgrown.
This one only never palls, and is never accomplished, and yet is never
disappointed. So if we set our hopes on Him, we can face very quietly
the darkness that lies ahead of us. Earthly hopes are only the mirrors
in which the past reflects itself, as in some king's palace you will
find a lighted chamber, with a great sheet of glass at each end, which
perpetuates in shining rows the lights behind the spectator. A curtain
veils the future, and earthly hope can only put a mirror in front of it
that reflects what has been. But the hope that is set on God draws back
the curtain, and lets us see enough of a fixed, eternal future to make
our lives bright and our hearts calm. The darkness remains; what of
that, if

  'I only know I cannot drift
   Beyond His love and care'?

Set your hopes on God, and they will not be ashamed.

III. Lastly, let us live in the present by strenuous obedience.

After all, memory and hope are meant to fit us for work in the flying
moment. Both should impel us to this keeping of the commandments of God;
for both yield motives which should incline us thereto. A past full of
blessing demands the sacrifice of loving hearts and of earnest hands. A
future so fair, so far, so certain, so sovereign, and a hope that grasps
it, and brings some of its sweet fragrance into the else scentless air
of the poor present, ought to impel to service, vigorous and continual.
Both should yield motives which make such service a delight.

If my memory weakens me for present work, either because it depresses my
hope of success, or because it saddens me with the remembrance of
departed blessings, then it is a curse and not a good. And if I dream
myself away in any future, and forget the exigencies of the imperative
and swiftly-passing moment, then the faculty of hope, too, is a curse
and a weakening. But both are delivered from their possible abuses, if
both are made into means of helping us to fill the present with loving
obedience. These two faculties are like the two wings that may lift us
to God, like the two paddles, one on either side of the ship, that may
drive us steadily forward, through all the surges and the tempest. They
find their highest field in fitting us for the grinding tasks and the
heavy burdens that the moment lays upon us.

So, dear friends! we are very different in our circumstances and
positions. For some of us Hope's basket is nearly empty, and Memory's
sack is very full. For us older men the past is long, the earthly future
is short. For you younger people the converse is the case. It is Hope
whose hands are laden with treasures for you, Memory carries but a
little store. Your past is brief; your future is probably long. The
grains of sand in some of our hour-glasses are very heaped and high in
the lower half, and running very low in the upper. But whichever
category we stand in, one thing remains the same for us all, and that is
duty, keeping God's commandments. That is permanent, and that is the one
thing worth living for. 'Whether we live we live unto the Lord; or
whether we die we die unto the Lord.'

So let us front this New Year, with all its hidden possibilities, with
quiet, brave hearts, resolved on present duty, as those ought who have
such a past to remember and such a future to hope for. It will probably
be the last on earth for some of us. It will probably contain great
sorrows for some of us, and great joys for others. It will probably be
comparatively uneventful for others. It may make great outward changes
for us, or it may leave us much as it found us. But, at all events, God
will be in it, and work for Him should be in it. Well for us if, when
its hours have slidden away into the grey past, they continue to witness
to us of His love, even as, while they were wrapped in the mists of the
future, they called on us to hope in Him! Well for us if we fill the
passing moment with deeds of loving obedience! Then a present of keeping
His commandments will glide into a past to be thankfully remembered, and
will bring us nearer to a future in which hope shall not be put to
shame. To him who sees God in all the divisions and particles of his
days, and makes Him the object of memory, hope, and effort, past,
present, and future are but successive calm ripples of that mighty river
of Time which bears him on the great ocean of Eternity, from which the
drops that make its waters rose, and to which its ceaseless flow
returns.



SPARROWS AND ALTARS


    'Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for
    herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of
    Hosts, my King, and my God.'--PSALM lxxxiv. 3.

The well-known saying of the saintly Rutherford, when he was silenced
and exiled from his parish, echoes and expounds these words. 'When I
think,' said he, 'upon the sparrows and swallows that build their nests
in the kirk of Anwoth, and of my dumb Sabbaths, my sorrowful, bleared
eyes look asquint upon Christ, and present Him as angry.' So sighed the
Presbyterian minister in his compelled idleness in a prosaic
seventeenth-century Scotch town, answering his heart's-brother away back
in the far-off time, and in such different circumstances. The Psalmist
was probably a member of the Levitical family of the Sons of Korah, who
were 'doorkeepers in the house of the Lord.' He knew what he was saying
when he preferred his humble office to all honours among the godless. He
was shut out by some unknown circumstances from external participation
in the Temple rites, and longs to be even as one of the swallows or
sparrows that twitter and flit round the sacred courts. No doubt to him
faith was much more inseparably attached to form than it should be for
us. No doubt place and ritual were more to him than they can permissibly
be to those who have heard and understood the great charter of spiritual
worship spoken first to an outcast Samaritan of questionable character:
'Neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall men worship the
Father.' But equally it is true that what he wanted was what the outward
worship brought him, rather than the worship itself. And the psalm,
which begins with 'longing' and 'fainting' for the courts of the Lord,
and pronouncing benedictions on 'those that dwell in Thy house,' works
itself clear, if I might so say, and ends with 'O Lord of Hosts! Blessed
is the man that trusteth in Thee'--for he shall 'dwell in Thy house,'
wherever he is. So this flight of imagination in the words of my text
may suggest to us two or three lessons.

I. I take it first as pointing a bitter and significant contrast.

'The sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself,'
while I! We do not know what the Psalmist's circumstances were, but if
we accept the conjecture that he may have accompanied David in his
flight during Absalom's rebellion, we may fancy him as wandering on the
uplands across Jordan, and sharing the agitations, fears, and sorrows of
those dark hours, and in the midst of all, as the little company hurried
hither and thither for safety, thinking, with a touch of bitter envy, of
the calm restfulness and serene services of the peaceful Temple.

But, pathetic as is the complaint, when regarded as the sigh of a
minister of the sanctuary exiled from the shrine which was as his home,
and from the worship which was his occupation and delight, it sounds a
deeper note and one which awakens echoes in our hearts, when we hear in
it, as we may, the complaint of humanity contrasting its unrest with the
happier lot of lower creatures. Do you remember who it was that
said--and on what occasion He said it--'Foxes have holes, and birds of
the air have roosting-places, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay
His head'? That saying, like our text, has a narrower and a wider
application. In the former it pathetically paints the homeless Christ, a
wanderer in a land peculiarly 'His own,' and warns His enthusiastic
would-be follower of the lot which he was so light-heartedly undertaking
to share. But when Jesus calls Himself 'Son of Man,' He claims to be the
realised ideal of humanity, and when, as in that saying, He contrasts
the condition of 'the Son of Man' with that of the animal creation, we
can scarcely avoid giving to the words their wider application to the
same contrast between man's homelessness and the creatures' repose which
we have found in the Psalmist's sigh.

Yes! There is only one being in this world that does not fit the world
that he is in, and that is man, chief and foremost of all. Other beings
perfectly correspond to what we now call their 'environment.' Just as
the soft mollusc fits every convolution of its shell, and the hard shell
fits every curve of the soft mollusc, so every living thing corresponds
to its place and its place to it, and with them all things go smoothly.
But man, the crown of creation, is an exception to this else universal
complete adaptation. 'The earth, O Lord! is full of Thy mercy,' but the
only creature who sees and says that is the only one who has further to
say, 'I am a stranger on the earth.' He and he alone is stung with
restlessness and conscious of longings and needs which find no
satisfaction here. That sense of homelessness may be an agony or a joy,
a curse or a blessing, according to our interpretation of its meaning,
and our way of stilling it. It is not a sign of inferiority, but of a
higher destiny, that we alone should bear in our spirits the 'blank
misgivings' of those who, amid unsatisfying surroundings, have blind
feelings after 'worlds not realised,' which elude our grasp. It is no
advantage over us that every fly dancing in the treacherous gleams of an
April sun, and every other creature on the earth except ourselves, on
whom the crown is set, is perfectly proportioned to its place, and has
desire and possessions absolutely conterminous.

'The son of man hath not where to lay his head.' Why must he alone
wander homeless on the bleak moorland, whilst the sparrows and the
swallows have their nests and their houses? Why? Because they _are_
sparrows and swallows, and he is man, and 'better than many sparrows.'
So let us lay to heart the sure promises, the blessed hopes, the
stimulating exhortations, which come from that which, at first sight,
seems to be a mystery and half an arraignment of the divine wisdom, in
the contrast between the restlessness of humanity and the reposeful
contentment of those whom we call the lower creatures. Be true to the
unrest, brother! and do not mistake its meaning, nor seek to still it,
until it drives you to God.

II. These words bring to us a plea which we may use, and a pledge on
which we may rest.

'Thine altars, O Lord of hosts! my King and my God.' The Psalmist pleads
with God, and lays hold for his own confidence upon the fact that
creatures which do not understand what the altar means, may build beside
it, and those which have no notion of who the God is to whom the house
is sacred, are yet cared for by Him. And he thinks to himself, 'If I can
say "_My_ King and _my_ God," surely He that takes care of them will not
leave me uncared for.' The unrest of the soul that is capable of
appropriating God is an unrest which has in it, if we understand it
aright, the assurance that it shall be stilled and satisfied. He that is
capable of entering into the close personal relationship with God which
is expressed by that eloquent little pronoun and its reduplication with
the two words, 'King' and 'God'--such a creature cannot cry for rest in
vain, nor in vain grope, as a homeless wanderer, for the door of the
Father's house.

'Doth God care for oxen; or saith He it altogether for our sakes?'
'Consider the fowls of the air; your heavenly Father feedeth them.' And
the same argument which the Apostle used in the one of these sayings,
and our Lord in the other, is valid and full of encouragement when
applied to this matter. He that 'satisfies the desires of every living
thing,' and fills full the maw of the lowest creature; and puts the
worms into the gaping beak of the young ravens when they cry, is not the
King to turn a deaf ear, or the back of His hand, to the man who can
appeal to Him with this word on his lips, 'My King and my God!' We grasp
God when we say that; and all that we see of provident recognition and
supply of wants in dealings with these lower creatures should encourage
us to cherish calm unshakable confidence that every true desire of our
souls after Him is as certain to be satisfied.

And so the glancing swallows around the eaves of the Temple and the
twittering sparrows on its pinnacles may proclaim to us, not only a
contrast which is bitter, but a confidence which is sweet. We may be
sure that we shall not be left uncared for amongst the many pensioners
at His table, and that the deeper our wants the surer we are of their
supply. Our bodies may hunger in vain--bodily hunger has no tendency to
bring meat; but our spirits cannot hunger in vain if they hunger after
God; for that hunger is the sure precursor and infallible prophet of the
coming satisfaction.

These words not only may hearten us with confidence that our desires
will be satisfied if they are set upon Him, but they point us to the one
way by which they are so. Say 'My King and my God!' in the deepest
recesses of a spirit conscious of His presence, of a will submitting to
His authority, of emptiness expectant of His fulness; say that, and you
are in the house of the Lord. For it is not a question of place, it is a
question of disposition and desire. This Psalmist, though, when he began
his song, he was far away from the Temple, and though he finished it
sitting on the same hillside on which he began it, when he had ended it
was within the curtains of the sanctuary and wrapt about with the
presence of his God. He had regained as he sang what for a moment he had
lost the consciousness of when he began--viz. the presence of God with
him on the lone, dreary expanse of alien soil as truly as amidst the
sanctities of what was called His House.

So, brethren! if we want rest, let us clasp God as ours; if we desire a
home warm, safe, sheltered from every wind that blows, and inaccessible
to enemies, let us, like the swallows, nestle under the eaves of the
Temple. Let us take God for our Hope. They that hold communion with
Him--and we can all do that wherever we are and whatever we may be
doing--these, and only these, 'dwell in the house of the Lord all the
days of their lives.' Therefore, with deepest simplicity of expression,
our psalm goes on to describe, as equally recipients of blessedness,
'those that dwell in the house of the Lord,' and those in 'whose heart
are the ways' that lead to it, and to explain at last, as I have already
pointed out, that both the dwellers in, and the pilgrims towards, that
intimacy of abiding with God are included in the benediction showered on
those who cling to Him, 'Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee!'

III. Lastly, we may take this picture of the Psalmist's as a warning.

Sparrows and swallows have very small brains. They build their nests,
and they do not know whose altars they are flitting around. They pursue
the insects on the wing, and they twitter their little songs; and they
do not understand how all their busy, glancing, brief, trivial life is
being lived beneath the shadow of the cherubim, and all but in the
presence of the veiled God of the Shekinah.

There are too many people who live like that. We are all tempted to
build our nests where we may lay our young, or dispose of ourselves or
our treasures in the very sanctuary of God, with blind, crass
indifference to the Presence in which we move. The Father's house has
many mansions, and wherever we go we are in God's Temple. Alas! some of
us have no more sense of the sanctities around us, and no more
consciousness of the divine Eye that looks down upon us, than if we were
so many feathered sparrows flitting about the altar.

Let us take care, brethren! that we give our hearts to be influenced,
and awed, and ennobled, and tranquillised by the sense of ever more
being in the house of the Lord. Let us see to it that we keep in that
house by continual aspiration, cherishing in our hearts the ways that
lead to it; and so making all life worship, and every place what the
pilgrim found the stone of Bethel to be, a house of God and a gate of
heaven. For everywhere, to the eye that sees the things that are, and
not only the things that seem--and to the heart that feels the unseen
presence of the One Reality, God Himself--all places are temples, and
all work may be beholding His beauty and inquiring in His sanctuary; and
everywhere, though our heads rest upon a stone, and there be night and
solitude around us, and doubt and darkness in front of us, and danger
and terror behind us, and weakness within us, as was the case with
Jacob, there will be the ladder with its foot at our side and its top in
the heavens; and above the top of it His face, which when we see it look
down upon us, makes all places and circumstances good and sweet.



HAPPY PILGRIMS


    'Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are
    the highways to Zion. 6. Passing through the valley of Weeping they
    make it a place of springs; yea, the early rain covereth it with
    blessings. 7. They go from strength to strength, every one of them
    appeareth before God in Zion.'--PSALM lxxxiv. 5-7.

Rightly rendered, the first words of these verses are not a calm,
prosaic statement, but an emotional exclamation. The Psalmist's tone
would be more truly represented if we read, 'How blessed is the man,' or
'Oh, the blessednesses!' for that is the literal rendering of the Hebrew
words, 'of the man whose strength is Thee.'

There are three such exclamations in this psalm, the consideration of
which leads us far into the understanding of its deepest meaning. The
first of them is this, 'How blessed are they that dwell in Thy house!'
Of course the direct allusion is to actual presence in the actual Temple
at Jerusalem. But these old psalmists, though they attached more
importance to external forms than we do, were not so bound by them, even
at their stage of development of the religious life, as that they
conceived that no communion with God was possible apart from the form,
or that the form itself was communion with God. We can see gleaming
through all their words, though only gleaming through them, the same
truth which Jesus Christ couched in the immortal phrase--the charter of
the Church's emancipation from all externalisms--'neither in this
mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem, shall men worship the Father.' To 'dwell
in the house of the Lord' is not only to be present in bodily form in
the Temple--the Psalmist did not think that it was _only_ that--but to
possess communion with Him, of which the external presence is but the
symbol, the shadow, and the means.

But there is another blessing. To be there is blessing, to wish to be
there is no less so.--'Blessed are the men in whose heart are the ways.'
The joyous company that went up from every corner of the land to the
feasts in Jerusalem made the paths ring with their songs as they
travelled, and as the prophet says about another matter, 'they went up
to Zion with songs and joy upon their heads,' and so the search after is
only a shade less blessed--if it be even that--than the possession of
communion with God.

But there is a third blessedness in our psalm. 'Oh! the blessedness of
the man that trusteth in Thee.' That includes and explains both the
others. It confirms what I have said, that we do great injustice to the
beauty and the spirituality of the Old Testament religion, if we
conceive of it as slavishly tied to external forms. And it suggests the
thought that in trust there lie both the previous elements, for he that
trusts possesses, and he that trustingly possesses is thereby impelled
as trustingly to seek for, larger gifts.

So, then, I turn to this outline sketch of the happy pilgrims on the
road, and desire to gather from it, as simply as may be, the stimulating
thoughts which it suggests to us.

I. Let me ask you, then, following the words which I have read to you,
to look with me, first at the blessedness of the pilgrims' spirit.

'Blessed are the men in whose heart are the ways.' A singular
expression, and yet a very eloquent and significant one! 'The ways' are,
of course, the various roads which, from every corner of the land, lead
to the Temple, and the thought suggested is that the men whom the
Psalmist pronounces blessed, and in whose blessednesses his longing
heart desires to share, are the men who are restless till they are on
the path, whose eyes are ever travelling to the goal, who have a 'divine
discontent' with distance from God, and who know the impulse and the
sting that sends them ever travelling on the path that leads to Him.

On any lower level it is perfectly true that the very salt of life is
aspiration after an unattained ideal; that there is nothing that so
keeps a man young, strong, buoyant, and fits him for nobilities of
action, as that there shall be gleaming for ever before him in the
beckoning distance a horizon that moves ever as he moves. When we cease
to be the slaves of unattained ideals in any department, it is time for
us to die; indeed, we are dead already. There are men in every civilised
country, with the gipsy strain in their blood, who never can be at rest
until they are in motion, to whom a settled abode is irksome, and to
whom the notion of blessedness is that they shall be out in the free
plains. '_Amplius_,' the dying Xavier's word, '_further afield_,' is the
motto of all noble life--scientist, scholar, artist, man of letters, man
of affairs; all come under the same law, that unless there is something
before them which has dominated their hearts, and draws their whole
being towards it, their lives want salt, want nobility, want freshness,
and a green scum comes over the pool. We all know that. To live is to
aspire; to cease to aspire is to die.

Well then, looking all round our horizon there stands out one path for
aspiration which is clearly blessed to tread--one path, and one path
alone. For, oh brethren! there are needs in all our hearts, deep
longings, terrible wounds, dreary solitudes, which can only be appeased
and healed and companioned when we are pressing nearer and nearer God,
that infinite and divine Source of all blessedness, of all peace and
good. To possess God is life; to feel after God is life, too. For that
aim is sure, as we shall see, to be satisfied. That aim gives, and it is
the only one which does give, adequate occupation for every power of a
man's soul; that aim brings, simultaneously with its being entertained,
its being satisfied; for, as I have already said, in the one act of
faith there lie both these elements of blessedness--the possession of,
and the seeking after, God. The religious life is distinguished from all
others in two respects; one is the contemporaneousness and co-existence
of desire and fruition, and the other is the impossibility that fruition
shall ever be so complete and perfect as that desire shall die. And
because thus all my nature may reach out its yearnings to Him, and in
reaching out may find that after which it feels, and yet, finding it,
must feel after it all the more; therefore, high above all other
delights of search, high above all other blessednesses of pilgrimage,
high above all the buoyancy and concentration of aim and contempt of
hindrances which pour into a soul, before which the unattained ideal
burns beckoning and inviting, there stands the blessedness of the man
'in whose heart are the ways' which lead to God in Zion.

II. And now notice the blessedness of the pilgrims' experience.

If you use the Revised Version you will see the changes upon the
Authorised which it makes, following the stream of modern critics and
commentators, and which may thus be reproduced: 'Passing through the
Valley of Weeping, they make it a _place of springs_, the rain also
_covereth it with blessings_.' No doubt the poet is referring here to
the actual facts of the pilgrimage to Zion, No doubt, on some one of the
roads, there lay a gloomy gorge, the name of which was the Valley of
Weeping; either because it dimly commemorated some half-forgotten
tragedy long ago, or, more probably, because it was arid and frowning
and full of difficulty for the travellers on the march. The Psalmist
uses that name with a lofty imaginative freedom, which itself confirms
the view that I have taken, that there is something deeper in the psalm
than the mere external circumstances of the pilgrimages to the Holy
City. For, he says, 'passing through the Valley of Weeping, they make it
a place of springs.' They, as it were, pour their tears into the wells,
and they become sources of refreshment and fertility.

But there are other kinds of moisture than tears and fountains. And so
he goes on: 'the rain also' from above 'covereth it with blessings'; the
blessings being, I suppose, the waving crops which the poet's
imagination conceives of as springing up all over the else arid ground.
Irrigated thus by the pilgrims' labour, and rained upon thus by God's
gift from heaven, 'the wilderness rejoices and blossoms as the rose.'

Now, translate that--it scarcely needs translation, I suppose, to
anybody who will read the psalm with the least touch of a poetic
imagination--translate that, and it just comes to this. If we have in
our hearts, as our chief aim, the desire to get closer to God, then our
sorrows and our tears will become sources of refreshment and fertility.
Ah! how different all our troubles, large and little, look when we take
as our great aim in life what is God's great purpose in giving us
life--viz. that we should be moulded into His likeness and enriched by
the possession of Himself. That takes the sting out of sorrow, and
although it leaves us in no morbid condition of insensibility, it yet
makes it possible for us to gather our tears into reservoirs which shall
be to us the sources of many a blessing, and many a thankfulness. _He_
puts them into His bottle; we have to put them into our wells. And be
sure of this, that if we understood better the meaning of life, that it
was all intended to be our road to God, and if we judged of things more
from that point of view, we should less frequently be brought to stand
by what we call the mysteries of Providence and more able to wring out
of them all the rich honey which is stored in them all for us. Not the
least of the blessednesses of the pilgrim heart is its power of
transmitting the pilgrim's tears into the pilgrim's wells. Brothers! do
you bring such thoughts to bear on the disappointments, anxieties,
sorrows, losses that befall you, be they great or small? If you do, you
will have learned, better than I can say it, how strangely grief changes
its aspect when it is looked upon as the helper and servant to our
progress towards God.

But that is not all. If, with the pilgrims' hearts, we rightly use our
sorrows, we shall not be left to find refreshment and fertilising power
only in ourselves, but the benediction of the rain from heaven will come
down, and the great Spirit of God will fall upon our hearts, not in a
flood that drowns, but broken up into a beneficent mist that falls
quietly upon us, and brings with itself the assurance of fertility. And
so the secret of turning the desert into abundance, and tears into
blessings, lies in having the pilgrim's heart.

III. Notice the blessedness of the pilgrims' advance.

'They go from strength to strength.' I do not know whether the Psalmist
means to use that word 'strength' in the significance which it also has
in old English, of a fortified place, so that the metaphor would be that
from one camp of security, one fortress to another, they journey safe
always, because of their protection; or whether he means to use it
rather in its plain and simple sense, according to which the
significance would be that these happy pilgrims do not get worn out on
the journey, as is the wont of men that set out, for instance, from some
far corner of India to Mecca, and come in battered and travel-stained,
and half dead with their privations, but that the further they go the
stronger they become; and on the road gain more vigour than they could
ever have gained by ease and indulgence in their homes. But, whichever
of these two meanings we may be disposed to adopt, the great thought
that comes out of both of them is identical--viz. that this is one of
the distinguishing joys of a Christian career of pressing forward to
closer communion and conformity with our Lord and Master, in whom God is
manifested--viz. that we grow day by day in strength, and that effort
does not weaken, but invigorates.

And now I have to put a very plain question. Is that growing strength
anything like the general characteristic of us professing Christians? I
wonder how many people there are listening to me now that have been
members of Christian churches for half a century almost, but are not a
bit better than they were away back in the years that they have almost
forgotten? I wonder in how many of our cases there has been an arrested
development, like that which you will sometimes see in deformed people,
the lower limbs all but atrophied? I wonder how many of us are babes of
forty years old, and from how many of our minds the very conception of
continual growth, as an essential of Christian life, has altogether
vanished? Brother! are you any further than you were ten years ago?

I remember once, long ago, when I was on board a sailing ship, that we
had baffling winds as we tried to run up the coast; and morning after
morning for a week we used to come up on deck, and _there_ were the same
windmill, and the same church-tower that we had seen last night, and the
night before and the night before that. That is the sort of voyage that
a great many of you Christian people are making. There may be motion;
there is no progress. Round and round and round you go. That is not the
way to get to Zion. 'They go from strength to strength,' and unless you
are doing that, you know little about the blessedness of the pilgrim
heart.

IV. Lastly, note the blessedness of the pilgrims' arrival.

'Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.' Then there is one road
on which whosoever travels is sure to reach his goal. On all others
caravans get lost, overwhelmed in a sandstorm, or slain by robbers; and
the bleached bones of men and camels lie there on the sand for
centuries. This caravan always arrives. For no man ever wanted God who
did not possess Him, and the measure of our desire is the prophecy of
our possession. Surely it is worth while, even from the point of view of
self-interest, to forsake all these lower aims in which success is
absolutely problematical, or, while pursuing them as far as duty and
necessity require, in and through them, as well as above and beyond
them, to press towards the one aim in which failure is impossible. You
cannot say about say other course--'Blessed is the man that enters on
it, for he is sure to reach what he desires.' Other goals are elusive;
the golden circlet may never drop upon your locks. But there is one path
on which all that you seek you shall have, and you are on it if 'in your
hearts are the _ways_.'

I need not say a word about the ultimate fulfilment of this great
promise of our text; how that there is not only in our psalm, gleaming
through it, a reference to the communion of earth rather than to the
external Presence in the sanctuary, but there is also hinted, though
less consciously, to the Psalmist himself, yet necessarily from the
nature of the case the perfecting of that earthly communion in the
higher house of the Lord in the heavenly Zion. Are all these desires,
these longings, these efforts after God which make the nobleness and the
blessedness of a life on earth, and which are always satisfied, and yet
never satiated, to be crushed into nothingness by the accident of bodily
dissolution? Then, then, the darkest of all clouds is drawn over the
face of God, and we are brought into a state of absolute intellectual
bewilderment as to what life, futile and frail, has been for at all. No,
brother! God never gives mouths but He sends meat to fill them; and He
has not suffered His children to long after Him, to press after Him,
only in order that the partial fulfilment of their desires and yearnings
which is possible upon earth should be all their experience.

  'He thinks he was not made to die,
   And Thou hast made him; Thou art just.'

Be sure that 'every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.'

So, brethren! let us take the pilgrim scrip and staff; and be sure of
this, that the old blessed word will be fulfilled, that we shall not
be lost in the wilderness, where there is no way, nor grope and
search after elusive and fleeting good; but that 'the ransomed of the
Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy
shall be upon their heads.'



BLESSED TRUST


    'O Lord of Hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee.'
    --PSALM lxxxiv. 12.

In my last sermon from the central portion of this psalm I pointed out
that the Psalmist thrice celebrates the blessedness of certain types of
character, and that these threefold benedictions constitute, as it were,
the keynotes of the portions of the psalm in which they respectively
occur. They are these: 'Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house';
'Blessed is the man in whose heart are the ways'; and this final one,
'Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee.'

Now, this last benediction includes, as I then remarked, both of the
others; both the blessedness belonging to dwelling in, and that realised
by journeying towards, the House of the Lord. For trust is both fruition
and longing; both aspiration and possession. But it not only includes
the other two: it explains and surpasses them. For they bear, deeply
stamped upon them, the impression of the imperfect stage of revelation
to which the psalm belongs, and are tied to form in a manner which we
ought not to be. But here the Psalmist gets behind all the externals of
ceremonial worship, and goes straight to the heart of spiritual religion
when, for dwelling in, and journeying towards, any house of the Lord, he
substitutes that plain expression, 'the man that trusteth in Thee.'

Now, the other two benedictions of which I have spoken do respectively
form the centre of the first and second portions of this psalm; in each
case the remainder of the section being an explanation of that central
utterance. And here the case is the same; for the verses which precede
this final exclamation are various phases of the experience of a man who
trusts in God, and are the ground upon which his faith is pronounced
'blessed.'

So I desire now to view these three preceding verses together, as being
illustrations of the various blessednesses of the life of trust in God.
They are not exhaustive. There are other tints and flashes of glory
sleeping in the jewel which need the rays of light to impinge upon it at
other angles, in order to wake them into scintillation and lustre. But
there is enough in the context to warrant the Psalmist's outburst into
this final rapturous exclamation, and ought to be enough to make us seek
to possess that life as our own.

I. First, then, note here how the heart of religion always has been, and
is, trust in God.

This Psalmist, nourished amidst the externalisms of an elaborate
ceremonial, and compelled, by the stage of revelation at which he stood,
to localise worship in an external Temple, in a fashion that we need not
do, had yet attained to the conviction that, in the desert or in the
Temple, God was near; that no weary pilgrimage was needed to reach His
house, but that with one movement of a trusting heart the man clasped
God wherever he was. And that is the living centre of all religion. I do
not mean merely that our way to be sure of God is not through the
understanding only, but through the outgoing of confidence in Him--but I
mean that the kernel of a devout life is trust in God. The bond that
underlies all the blessedness of human society, the thing that makes the
sweetness of the sweetest ties that can knit men together, the secret of
all the happy loves of husband and wife, friend and friend, parent and
child, is simple confidence. And the more utter the confidence the more
tranquilly blessed is the union and the life that flow from it. Transfer
this, then--which is the bond of perfectness between man and man--to our
relation to God, and you get to the very heart of the mystery. Not by
externalisms of any kind, not by the clear dry light of the
understanding, but by the outgoing of the heart's confidence to God, do
we come within the clasp of His arms and become recipients of His grace.
Trust knits to the unseen, and trust alone.

That has always been the way. This Psalmist is no exception to the
devout souls of his time. For though, as I have said, externalisms and
ritualisms filled a place then, that it is an anachronism and a
retrogression that they should be supposed to fill now, still beneath
all these there lay this one ancient, permanent relation, the relation
of trust. From the day in which the 'father of the faithful' as he is
significantly called Abraham, 'believed God, and it was counted to him
for righteousness,' down all through the ages of that ancient Church,
every man who laid a real hold upon God clasped Him by the outstretched
hand of faith. So the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was fully
warranted in claiming all these ancient heroes, sages, and saints, as
having lived by faith, and as being the foremost files in the same army
in which the Christians of his day marched. The prophets who cried,
'Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting
strength,' were saying the very same thing as the Apostles who preached
'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' The
contents of the faith were expanded; the faith itself was identical.
Like some of those old Roman roads, where to-day the wains of commerce
and the chariots of ease and the toiling pedestrians pass over the lava
blocks that have been worn by the tramp of legions and rutted by the
wheels of their chariots, the way to God that we travel is the way on
which all the saints from the beginning of time have passed in their
pilgrimage. Trust is, always has been, always will be, the bond that
knits men with God.

And trust is blessed, because the very attitude of confident dependence
takes the strain off a man. To feel that I am leaning hard upon a firm
prop, to devolve responsibility, to put the reins into another's hand,
to give the helm into another steersman's grasp, whilst I may lie down
and rest, that is blessedness, though there be a storm. In the story of
frontier warfare we read how, day by day, the battalion that had been in
the post of danger, and therefore of honour, was withdrawn into the
centre; and another one was placed in the position that it had occupied.
So, when we trust we put Him in the front, and we march more quietly,
more blessedly, when we are in the centre, and He has to bear the brunt
of the assailing foe.

Christian people! have you got as far past the outsides of religion as
this Psalmist had? Do you recognise as clearly as he did that all this
outward worship, and a great deal of our theology, is but the
scaffolding; and that the real building lies inside of that; and that it
is of value only as being a means to an end? Church membership is all
very well; coming to church and chapel is all right; the outsides of
worship will be necessary as long as our souls have outsides--their
bodies. But you do not get into the house of the Lord unless you go in
through 'the door of faith,' which is opened to us all. The heart of the
religious life, which makes it blessed, is trust in God.

II. And now, secondly, a life of faith is a blessed life, because it
talks with God.

I have already said that my text is expanded in the preceding verses.
And I now turn to them to catch the various flashes of the diversely
coloured blessedness of this life. The first of them is that which I
have just mentioned. The Psalmist has described for us the happy
pilgrims passing from strength to strength, and in imagination has
landed them in the Temple. And then he goes on to tell us what they did
and found there.

The first thing that they did was to speak to Him who was in the Temple.
'Behold! O God our Shield! and look upon the face of Thine anointed.'
They had, as he has just said, 'Every one of them appeared before God in
Zion.' As they looked up to Him they asked Him to look down upon them.
'Behold! O God our Shield!' 'Shield' here is the designation of God
Himself, and is an exclamation addressed to Him--'Thou who art our God
and Shield, look down upon us!' And then comes a singular clause, about
which much might be said if time permitted: 'Look upon the face of Thine
anointed.' The use of that word 'anointed' seems to suggest that the
psalm is either the outpouring of a king, or that it is spoken by some
one in the train of a king, who feels that the favour bestowed upon the
king will be participated in by his followers. But whilst that, if it be
the explanation, might carry with it a hint as to the great truth of the
mediation of Jesus Christ, our true King, I pass that by altogether, and
fix upon the thought that here one element of the blessedness of the
life of faith lies in the desire that God should look upon us. For that
look means love, and that look secures protection and wise distribution
of gifts. And it is life to have His eye fixed upon me, and to be
conscious that He is looking at me. Dear brethren! if we want a lustre
to be diffused through all our days, depend upon it, the surest and the
only way to secure it is that that Face shall be felt to be turned
toward us, 'as the sun shineth in his strength'; and then all the
landscape will rejoice, and the birds will sing and the waters will
flash. 'Look upon me, and let me sun myself beneath Thine eye'--to have
that desire is blessed; and to feel that the desire is accomplished is
more blessed still.

Dear friends! it seems to me that the ordinary Christian life of this
day is terribly wanting in this experience of frank, free talk with God,
and that that is one reason why so many of us professing Christians know
so little of the blessedness of the man that trusts in God. You have
religion enough to keep you from doing certain gross acts of sin; you
have religion enough to make you uncomfortable in neglected duty. You
have religion enough to impel you to certain acts that you suppose to be
obligatory upon you. But do you know anything about the elasticity and
spring of spirit in getting near God, and pouring out all your hearts to
Him? The life of faith is not blessed unless it is a life of frank
speaking with God.

III. The life of faith is blessed, because it has fixed its desires on
the true good.

The Psalmist goes on--'A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand; I
had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the
tents of wickedness.' 'A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand.'
We all know how strangely elastic time is, and have sometimes been
amazed when we remembered what an infinity of joy or sorrow we had lived
through in one tick of the pendulum. When men are dreaming, they pass
through a long series of events in a moment's space. When we are truly
awake, we live long in a short time, for life is measured, not by the
length of its moments, but by the depth of its experiences. And when
some new truth is flashed upon us, or some new emotion has shaken us as
with an earthquake, or when some new blessing has burst into our lives,
then we know how 'one day' with men may be as it is with God, in a
deeper sense, 'as a thousand years,' so great is the change that it
works upon us. There is nothing that will so fill life to the utmost
bounds of its elastic capacity as strong trust in Him. There is nothing
that will make our lives so blessed. This Psalmist, speaking with the
voice of all them that trust in the Lord, here declares his clear
consciousness that the true good for the human soul is fellowship with
God.

But the clearest knowledge of that fact is not enough to bring the
blessedness. There must be the next step--'I had rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness'--the
definite resolve that I, for my part, will act according to my
conviction, and believing that the best thing in life is to have God in
life, and that that will make life, as it were, an eternity of
blessedness even while it is made up of fleeting days, will put my foot
down and make my choice, and having made it, will stick to it. It is all
very well to say that 'A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand':
have I _chosen_ to dwell in the courts; and do I, not only in estimate
but in feeling and practice, set communion with God high above
everything besides?

This psalm, according to the superscription attached to it, is one 'for
the sons of Korah.' These sons of Korah were a branch of the Levitical
priesthood, to whose charge was committed the keeping of the gates of
the Temple, and hence this phrase is especially appropriate on their
lips. But passing that, let me just ask you to lay to heart, dear
friends! this one plain thought, that the effect of a real life of faith
will be to make us perfectly sure that the true good is in God, and
fixedly determined to pursue that. And you have no right to claim the
name of a believing Christian, unless your faith has purged your eyes,
so that you can see the hollowness of all besides, and has stiffened
your will so that you can determine that, for your part, 'the Lord is
the Strength of your heart, and your Portion for ever.' The secret of
blessedness lies here. 'Seek ye the Kingdom of God and all these things
shall be added unto you.'

IV. Lastly, a life of faith is a life of blessedness, because it draws
from God all necessary good.

I must not dwell, as I had hoped to do, upon the last words preceding my
text, 'The Lord God is a Sun and Shield'--brightness and defence--'the
Lord will give grace and glory': 'grace,' the loving gifts which will
make a man gracious and graceful; 'glory,' not any future lustre of the
transfigured soul and glorified body, but the glory which belongs to the
life of faith here on earth. Link that thought with the preceding one.
'The Lord is a Sun ... the Lord will give glory'; like a little bit of
broken glass lying in the furrows of a ploughed field, when the sun
smites down upon it, it flashes, outshining many a diamond. If a man is
walking upon a road with the sun behind him, his face is dark. He wheels
himself round, and it is suffused with light, as Moses' face shone. 'We
all, with unveiled faces beholding, are changed from glory to glory.' If
we walk in the sunshine we shall shine too. If we 'walk in the light' we
shall be 'light in the Lord.'

'No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.' Trust is
inward, and the outside of trust is an upright walk; and if a man has
these two, which, inasmuch as one is the root and the other is the
fruit, are but one in reality, nothing that is good will be withheld
from Him. For how can the sun but pour its rays upon everything that
lives? 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh
down from the Father of lights.' So the life is blessed that talks with
God; that has fixed its desires on Him as its Supreme Good; that is
irradiated by His light, glorified by the reflection of His brightness,
and ministered to with all necessary appliances by His loving
self-communication.

We come back to the old word, dear friends! 'Trust in the Lord, and do
good, and verily thou shalt be fed.' We come back to the old message
that nothing knits a man to God but faith with its child, righteousness.
If trusting we love, and loving we obey, then in converse with Him, in
fixed desires after Him, in daily and hourly reception from Him of
Himself and His gifts, the life of earth will be full of a blessedness
more real, more deep, more satisfying, more permanent, than can be found
anywhere besides.

Who was it that said, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man
cometh to the Father but by Me'? Tread that path, and you will come into
the house of the Lord, and will dwell there all the days of your life.
'Believe in God, believe also in Me.'



'THE BRIDAL OF THE EARTH AND SKY'


    'Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have
    kissed each other. 11. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and
    righteousness shall look down from heaven. 12. Yea, the Lord shall
    give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase. 13.
    Righteousness shall go before Him, and shall set us in the way of
    His steps.'--PSALM lxxxv. 10-13.

This is a lovely and highly imaginative picture of the reconciliation
and reunion of God and man, 'the bridal of the earth and sky.'

The Poet-Psalmist, who seems to have belonged to the times immediately
after the return from the Exile, in strong faith sees before him a
vision of a perfectly harmonious co-operation and relation between God
and man. He is not prophesying directly of Messianic times. The vision
hangs before him, with no definite note of time upon it. He hopes it may
be fulfilled in his own day; he is sure it will, if only, as he says,
his countrymen 'turn not again to folly.' At all events, it will be
fulfilled in that far-off time to which the heart of every prophet
turned with longing. But, more than that, there is no reason why it
should not be fulfilled with every man, at any moment. It is the ideal,
to use modern language, of the relations between heaven and earth. Only
that the Psalmist believed that, as sure as there was a God in heaven,
who is likewise a God working in the midst of the earth, the ideal might
become, and would become, a reality.

So, then, I take it, these four verses all set forth substantially the
same thought, but with slightly different modifications and
applications. They are a four-fold picture of how heaven and earth ought
to blend and harmonise. This four-fold representation of the one thought
is what I purpose to consider now.

I. To begin with, then, take the first verse:--'Mercy and Truth are met
together, Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other.' We have here
_the heavenly twin-sisters, and the earthly pair that correspond_.

'Mercy and Truth are met together'--that is one personification;
'Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other' is another. It is
difficult to say whether these four great qualities are here regarded as
all belonging to God, or as all belonging to man, or as all common both
to God and man. The first explanation is the most familiar one, but I
confess that, looking at the context, where we find throughout an
interpenetration and play of reciprocal action as between earth and
heaven, I am disposed to think of the first pair as sisters from the
heavens, and the second pair as the earthly sisters that correspond to
them. Mercy and Truth--two radiant angels, like virgins in some solemn
choric dance, linked hand in hand, issue from the sanctuary and move
amongst the dim haunts of men making 'a sunshine in a shady place,' and
to them there come forth, linked in a sweet embrace, another pair,
Righteousness and Peace, whose lives depend on the lives of their elder
and heavenly sisters. And so these four, the pair of heavenly origin,
and the answering pair that have sprung into being at their coming upon
earth;--these four, banded in perfect accord, move together, blessing
and light-giving, amongst the sons of men. Mercy and Truth are the
divine--Righteousness and Peace the earthly.

Let me dwell upon these two couples briefly. 'Mercy and Truth are met
together' means this, that these two qualities are found braided and
linked inseparably in all that God does with mankind; that these two
springs are the double fountains from which the great stream of the
'river of the water of life,' the forthcoming and the manifestation of
God, takes its rise.

'Mercy and Truth.' What are the meanings of the two words? Mercy is love
that stoops, love that departs from the strict lines of desert and
retribution. Mercy is Love that is kind when Justice might make it
otherwise. Mercy is Love that condescends to that which is far beneath.
Thus the 'Mercy' of the Old Testament covers almost the same ground as
the 'Grace' of the New Testament. And Truth blends with Mercy; that is
to say--Truth in a somewhat narrower than its widest sense, meaning
mainly God's fidelity to every obligation under which He has come, God's
faithfulness to promise, God's fidelity to His past, God's fidelity, in
His actions, to His own character, which is meant by that great word,
'He sware by _Himself_!'

Thus the sentiment of mercy, the tender grace and gentleness of that
condescending love, has impressed upon it the seal of permanence when we
say: 'Grace and Truth, Mercy and Faithfulness, are met together.' No
longer is love mere sentiment, which may be capricious and may be
transient. We can reckon on it, we know the law of its being. The love
is lifted up above the suspicion of being arbitrary, or of ever changing
or fluctuating. We do not know all the limits of the orbit, but we know
enough to calculate it for all practical purposes. God has committed
Himself to us, He has limited Himself by the obligations of His own
past. We have a right to turn to Him, and say; 'Be what Thou art, and
continue to be to us what Thou hast been unto past ages,' and He
responds to the appeal. For Mercy and Truth, tender, gracious, stooping,
forgiving love, and inviolable faithfulness that can never be otherwise,
these blend in all His works, 'that by two immutable things, wherein it
was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation.'

Again, dear brethren! let me remind you that these two are the ideal
two, which as far as God's will and wish are concerned, are the only two
that would mark any of His dealings with men. When He is, if I may so
say, left free to do as He would, and is not forced to His 'strange act'
of punishment by my sin and yours, these, and these only, are the
characteristics of His dealings. Nor let us forget--'We beheld His
glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, _full of grace
and truth_.' The Psalmist's vision was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in
whom these sweet twin characteristics, that are linked inseparably in
all the works of God, are welded together into one in the living
personality of Him who is all the Father's grace embodied; and is 'the
Way and the Truth and the Life.'

Turn now to the other side of the first aspect of the union of God and
man, 'Mercy and Truth are met together'; these are the heavenly twins.
'Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other'--these are the earthly
sisters who sprang into being to meet them.

Of course I know that these words are very often applied, by way of
illustration, to the great work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross, which is
supposed to have reconciled, if not contradictory, at least divergently
working sides of the divine character and government. And we all know
how beautifully the phrase has often been employed by eloquent
preachers, and how beautifully it has been often illustrated by devout
painters.

But beautiful as the adaptation is, I think it is an adaptation, and not
the real meaning of the words, for this reason, if for no other, that
Righteousness and Peace are not in the Old Testament regarded as
opposites, but as harmonious and inseparable. And so I take it that here
we have distinctly the picture of what happens upon earth when Mercy and
Truth that come down from Heaven are accepted and recognised--then
Righteousness and Peace kiss each other.

Or, to put away the metaphor, here are two thoughts, first that in men's
experience and life Righteousness and Peace cannot be rent apart. The
only secret of tranquillity is to be good. He who is, first of all,
'King of Righteousness' is 'after that also King of Salem, which is King
of Peace.' 'The effect of righteousness shall be peace,' as Isaiah, the
brother in spirit of this Psalmist, says; and on the other hand, as the
same prophet says, 'The wicked is like a troubled sea that cannot rest,
whose waters cast up mire and dirt; there is no peace, saith my God, to
the wicked,' but where affections are pure, and the life is worthy,
where goodness is loved in the heart, and followed even imperfectly in
the daily practice, there the ocean is quiet, and 'birds of peace sit
brooding on the charmed wave.' The one secret of tranquillity is first
to trust in the Lord and then to do good. Righteousness and Peace kiss
each other.

The other thought here is that Righteousness and her twin sister, Peace,
only come in the measure in which the mercy and the truth of God are
received into thankful hearts. My brother! have you taken that Mercy and
that Truth into your soul, and are you trying to reach peace in the only
way by which any human being can ever reach it--through the path of
righteousness, self-suppression, and consecration to Him?

II. Now, take the next phase of this union and cooperation of earth and
heaven, which is given here in the 11th verse--'Truth shall spring out
of the earth, and Righteousness shall look down from heaven.' That is,
to put it into other words--God responding to man's truth.

Notice that in this verse one member from each of the two pairs that
have been spoken about in the previous verse is detached from its
companion, and they are joined so as to form for a moment a new pair.
Truth is taken from the first couple; Righteousness from the second, and
a third couple is thus formed.

And notice, further, that each takes the place that had belonged to the
other. The heavenly Truth becomes a child of earth; and the earthly
Righteousness ascends 'to look down from heaven.' The process of the
previous verse in effect is reversed. 'Truth shall spring out of the
earth, Righteousness shall look down from heaven'; that is to say--man's
Truth shall begin to grow and blossom in answer, as it were, to God's
Truth that came down upon it. Which being translated into other words is
this: where a man's heart has welcomed the Mercy and the Truth of God
there will spring up in that heart, not only the Righteousness and
Peace, of which the previous verse is speaking, but specifically a
faithfulness not all unlike the faithfulness which it grasps. If we have
a God immutable and unchangeable to build upon, let us build upon Him
immutability and unchangeableness. If we have a Rock on which to build
our confidence, let us see that the confidence which we build upon it is
rocklike too. If we have a God that cannot lie, let us grasp His
faithful word with an affiance that cannot falter. If we have a Truth in
the heavens, absolute and immutable, on which to anchor our hopes, let
us see to it that our hopes, anchored thereon, are sure and steadfast.
What a shame it would be that we should bring the vacillations and
fluctuations of our own insincerities and changeableness to the solemn,
fixed unalterableness of that divine Word! We ought to be faithful, for
we build upon a faithful God.

And then the other side of this second picture is 'Righteousness shall
look down from heaven,' not in its judicial aspect merely, but as the
perfect moral purity that belongs to the divine Nature, which shall bend
down a loving eye upon the men beneath, and mark the springings of any
imperfect good and thankfulness in our hearts; joyous as the husbandman
beholds the springing of his crops in the fields that he has sown.

God delights when He sees the first faint flush of green which marks the
springing of the good seed in the else barren hearts of men. No good, no
beauty of character, no meek rapture of faith, no aspiration Godwards is
ever wasted and lost, for His eye rests upon it. As heaven, with its
myriad stars, bends over the lowly earth, and in the midnight when no
human eye beholds, sees all, so God sees the hidden confidence, the
unseen 'Truth' that springs to meet His faithful Word. The flowers that
grow in the pastures of the wilderness, or away upon the wild prairies,
or that hide in the clefts of the inaccessible mountains, do not 'waste
their sweetness on the desert air,' for God sees them.

It may be an encouragement and quickening to us to remember that
wherever the tiniest little bit of Truth springs upon the earth, the
loving eye--not the eye of a great Taskmaster--but the eye of the
Brother, Christ, which is the eye of God, looks down. 'Wherefore we
labour, that whether present or absent, we may be well-pleasing unto
Him.'

III. And then the third aspect of this ideal relation between earth and
heaven, the converse of the one we have just now been speaking of, is
set forth in the next verse: 'Yea, the Lord shall give that which is
good and our land shall yield her increase.' That is to say, Man is here
responding to God's gift.

You see that the order of things is reversed in this verse, and that it
recurs to the order with which we originally started. 'The Lord shall
give that which is good.' In the figure that refers to all the skyey
influence of dew, rain, sunshine, passing breezes, and still ripening
autumn days; in the reality it refers to all the motives, powers,
impulses, helps, furtherances by which He makes it possible for us to
serve Him and love Him, and bring forth fruits of righteousness.

And so the thought which has already been hinted at is here more fully
developed and dwelt upon, this great truth that earthly fruitfulness is
possible only by the reception of heavenly gifts. As sure as every leaf
that grows is mainly water that the plant has got from the clouds, and
carbon that it has got out of the atmosphere, so surely will all our
good be mainly drawn from heaven and heaven's gifts. As certainly as
every lump of coal that you put upon your fire contains in itself
sunbeams that have been locked up for all these millenniums that have
passed since it waved green in the forest, so certainly does every good
deed embody in itself gifts from above. No man is pure except by
impartation; and every good gift and every perfect gift cometh from the
Father of Lights.

So let us learn the lesson of absolute dependence for all purity,
virtue, and righteousness on His bestowment, and come to Him and ask Him
ever more to fill our emptiness with His own gracious fulness and to
lead us to be what He commands and would have us to be.

And then there is the other lesson out of this phase of the ideal
relation between earth and heaven, the lesson of what we ought to do
with our gifts. 'The earth yields her increase,' by laying hold of the
good which the Lord gives, and by means of that received good quickening
all the germs. Ah, dear brethren! wasted opportunities, neglected
moments, uncultivated talents, gifts that are not stirred up, rain and
dew and sunshine, all poured upon us and no increase--is not that the
story of much of all our lives, and of the whole of some lives? Are we
like Eastern lands where the trees have been felled, and the great
irrigation works and tanks have been allowed to fall into disrepair, and
so when the bountiful treasure of the rains comes, all that it does is
to swell for half a day the discoloured stream that carries away some
more of the arable land; and when the sunshine comes, with its swift,
warm powers, all that it does is to bleach the stones and scorch the
barren sand? 'The earth which _drinketh in the rain_ that cometh oft
upon it, and yieldeth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed,
receiveth the blessing of God.' Is it true about you that the earth
yieldeth her increase, as it is certainly true that 'the Lord giveth
that which is good'?

IV. And now the last thing which is here, the last phase of the fourfold
representation of the ideal relation between earth and heaven is,
'Righteousness shall go before Him and shall set us in the way of His
steps.' That is to say, God teaches man to walk in His footsteps.

There is some difficulty about the meaning of the last clause of this
verse, but I think that having regard to the whole context and to that
idea of the interpenetration of the heavenly with the human which we
have seen running through it, the reading in our English Bible gives
substantially, though somewhat freely, the meaning. The clause might
literally be rendered 'make His footsteps for a way,' which comes to
substantially the same thing as is expressed in our English Bible.
Righteousness, God's moral perfectness, is set forth here in a twofold
phase. First it is a herald going before Him and preparing His path. The
Psalmist in these words draws tighter than ever the bond between God and
man. It is not only that God sends His messengers to the world, nor only
that His loving eye looks down upon it, nor only 'that He gives that
which is good'; but it is that the whole heaven, as it were, lowers
itself to touch earth, that God comes down to dwell and walk among men.
The Psalmist's mind is filled with the thought of a present God who
moves amongst mankind, and has His 'footsteps' on earth. This herald
Righteousness prepares God's path, which is just to say that all His
dealings with mankind--which, as we have seen, have Mercy and
Faithfulness for their signature and stamp--are rooted and based in
perfect Rectitude.

The second phase of the operation of Righteousness is that that majestic
herald, the divine purity which moves before Him, and 'prepares in the
desert a highway for the Lord,'--that that very same Righteousness comes
and takes my feeble hand, and will lead my tottering footsteps into
God's path, and teach me to walk, planting my little foot where He
planted His. The highest of all thoughts of the ideal relation between
earth and heaven, that of likeness between God and man, is trembling on
the Psalmist's lips. Men may walk in God's ways--not only in ways that
please Him, but in ways that are like His. 'Be ye therefore perfect,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'

And the likeness can only be a likeness in moral qualities--a likeness
in goodness, a likeness in purity, a likeness in aversion from evil, for
His other attributes and characteristics are His peculiar property; and
no human brow can wear the crown that He wears. But though His mercy can
but, from afar off, be copied by us, the righteousness that moves before
Him, and engineers God's path through the wilderness of the world, will
come behind Him and nurselike lay hold of our feeble arms and teach us
to go in the way God would have us to walk.

Ah, brethren! that is the crown and climax of the harmony between God
and man, that His mercy and His truth, His gifts and His grace have all
led us up to this: that we take His righteousness as our pattern, and
try in our poor lives to reproduce its wondrous beauty. Do not forget
that a great deal more than the Psalmist dreamed of, you Christian men
and women possess, in the Christ 'who of God is made unto us
Righteousness,' in whom heaven and earth are joined for ever, in whom
man and God are knit in strictest bonds of indissoluble friendship; and
who, having prepared a path for God in His mighty mission and by His
sacrifice on the Cross, comes to us, and as the Incarnate Righteousness,
will lead us in the paths of God, leaving us an Example, that 'we should
follow in His steps.'



A SHEAF OF PRAYER ARROWS


    'Bow down Thine ear, O Lord, hear me; for I am poor and needy. 2.
    Preserve my soul, for I am holy: O Thou my God, save Thy servant
    that trusteth in Thee. 3. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry
    unto Thee daily. 4. Rejoice the soul of Thy servant: for unto Thee,
    O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5. For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready
    to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon
    Thee.'--PSALM lxxxvi. 1-5.

We have here a sheaf of arrows out of a good man's quiver, shot into
heaven. This series of supplications is remarkable in more than one
respect. They all mean substantially the same thing, but the Psalmist
turns the one blessing round in all sorts of ways, so great does it seem
to him, and so earnest is his desire to possess it. They are almost all
quotations from earlier psalms, just as our prayers are often words of
Scripture, hallowed by many associations, and uniting us with the men of
old who cried unto God and were answered.

The structure of the petitions is remarkably uniform. In each there are
a prayer and a plea, and in most of them a direct invocation of God. So
I have thought that, if we put them all together now, we may get some
lessons as to the invocations, the petitions, and the pleas of true
prayer; or, in other words, we may be taught how to lay hold of God,
what to ask from Him, and how to be sure of an answer.

I. First, the lesson as to how to lay hold upon God.

The divine names in this psalm are very frequent and significant, and
the order in which they are used is evidently intentional. We have the
great covenant name of Jehovah set in the very first verse, and in the
last verse; as if to bind the whole together with a golden circlet. And
then, in addition, it appears once in each of the other two sections of
the psalm, with which we have nothing to do at present. Then we have,
further, the name of _God_ employed in each of the sections; and
further, the name of _Lord_, which is not the same as _Jehovah_, but
implies the simple idea of superiority and authority. In each portion of
the psalm, then, we see the writer laying his hand, as it were, upon
these three names--'Jehovah,' 'my God,' 'Lord'--and in all of them
finding grounds for his confidence and reasons for his cry.

Nothing in our prayers is often more hollow and unreal than the formal
repetitions of the syllables of that divine name, often but to fill a
pause in our thoughts. But to 'call upon the Name of the Lord' means,
first and foremost, to bring before our minds the aspects of His great
and infinite character, which are gathered together into the Name by
which we address Him. So when we say 'Jehovah!' 'Lord!' what we ought to
mean is this, that we are gazing upon that majestic, glorious thought of
Being, self-derived, self-motived, self-ruled, the being of Him whose
Name can only be, 'I am that I am.' Of all other creatures the name is,
'I am that I have been made,' or 'I am that I became,' but of Him the
Name is, 'I am that I am.' Nowhere outside of Himself is the reason for
His being, nor the law that shapes it, nor the aim to which it tends.
And this infinite, changeless Rock is laid for our confidence, Jehovah
the Eternal, the Self-subsisting, Self-sufficing One.

There is more than that thought in this wondrous Name, for it not only
expresses the timeless, unlimited, and changeless being of God, but also
the truth that He has entered into what He deigns to call a Covenant
with us men. The name Jehovah is the seal of that ancient Covenant, of
which, though the form has vanished, the essence abides for ever, and
God has thereby bound Himself to us by promises that cannot be
abrogated. So that when we say, 'O Lord!' we summon up before ourselves,
and grasp as the grounds of our confidence, and we humbly present before
Him as the motives, if we may so call them, for His action, His own
infinite being and His covenanted grace.

Then, further, our psalm invokes '_my_ God.' That names implies in
itself, simply, the notion of power to be reverenced. But when we add to
it that little word '_my_,' we rise to the wonderful thought that the
creature can claim an individual relation to Him, and in some profound
sense a possession there. The tiny mica flake claims kindred with the
Alpine peak from which it fell. The poor, puny hand, that can grasp so
little of the material and temporal, can grasp all of God that it needs.

Then, there is the other name, 'Lord,' which simply expresses
illimitable sovereignty, power over all circumstances, creatures, orders
of being, worlds, and cycles of ages. Wherever He is He rules, and
therefore my prayer can be answered by Him. When a child cries 'Mother!'
it is more than all other petitions. A dear name may be a caress when it
comes from loving lips. If we are the kind of Christians that we ought
to be, there will be nothing sweeter to us than to whisper to ourselves,
and to say to Him, 'Abba! Father!' See to it that your calling on the
Name of the Lord is not formal, but the true apprehension, by a
believing mind and a loving heart, of the ineffable and manifold
sweetnesses which are hived in His manifold names.

II. Now, secondly, we have here a lesson as to what we should ask.

The petitions of our text, of course, only cover a part of the whole
field of prayer. The Psalmist is praying in the midst of some unknown
trouble, and his petitions are manifold in form, though in substance, as
I have said, they may all be reduced to one. Let me run over them very
briefly. 'Bow down Thine ear and hear me.' That is not simply the
invocation of the omniscience of a God, but an appeal for loving,
attentive regard to the desires of His poor servant. The hearing is not
merely the perception in the divine mind of what the creature desires,
but it is the answer in fact, or the granting of the petition. The best
illustration of what the Psalmist desires here may be found in another
psalm, where another Psalmist tells us his experience and says, 'My cry
came unto His ears, and the earth shook and trembled.' You put a
spoonful of water into a hydraulic press at the one end, and you get a
force that squeezes tons together at the other. Here there is a poor,
thin stream of the voice of a sorrowful man at the one end, and there is
an earthquake at the other. That is what 'hearing' and 'bowing down the
ear' means.

Then the prayers go on to three petitions, which may be all regarded as
diverse acts of deliverance or of help. 'Preserve my soul.' The word
expresses the guardianship with which a garrison keeps a fortress. It is
the Hebrew equivalent of the word employed by Paul--'The peace of God
shall _keep_ your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' The thought is that
of a defenceless man or thing round which some strong protection is
cast. And the desire expressed by it is that in the midst of sorrow,
whatever it is, the soul may be guarded from evil. Then, the next
petition--'Save Thy servant'--goes a step further, and not only asks to
be kept safe in the midst of sorrows, but to be delivered out of them.
And then the next petition--'Be merciful unto me, O Lord!'--craves that
the favour which comes down to inferiors, and is bestowed upon those who
might deserve something far otherwise, may manifest itself, in such acts
of strengthening, or help, or deliverance, as divine wisdom may see fit.
And then the last petition is--'Rejoice the soul of Thy servant.' The
series begins with 'hearing,' passes through 'preserving,' 'saving,'
showing 'mercy,' and comes at last to 'rejoice the soul' that has been
so harassed and troubled. Gladness is God's purpose for us all; joy we
all have a right to claim from Him. It is the intended issue of every
sorrow, and it can only be had when we cleave to Him, and pass through
the troubles of life with continual dependence on and aspiration towards
Himself.

So these are the petitions massed together, and out of them let me take
two or three lessons. First, then, let us learn to make all wishes and
annoyances material of prayer. This man was harassed by some trouble,
the nature of which we do not know; and although the latter portion of
his psalm rises into loftier regions of spiritual desire, here, in the
first part of it, he is wrestling with his afflicting circumstances,
whatever they were, and he has no hesitation in spreading them all out
before God and asking for His delivering help. Wishes that are not
turned into prayers irritate, disturb, unsettle. Wishes that are turned
into prayers are calmed and made blessed. Stanley and his men lived for
weeks upon a poisonous root, which, if eaten crude, brought all manner
of diseases, but, steeped in running water, had all the acrid juices
washed out of it, and became wholesome food. If you steep your wishes in
the stream of prayer the poison will pass out of them. Some of them will
be suppressed, all of them will be hallowed, and all of them will be
calmed. Troubles, great or small, should be turned into prayers. Breath
spent in sighs is wasted; turned into prayers it will swell our sails.
If a man does not pray 'without ceasing,' there is room for doubt
whether he ever prays at all. What would you think of a traveller who
had a valuable cordial of which he only tasted a drop in the morning and
another in the evening; or who had a sure staff on which to lean which
he only employed at distant intervals on the weary march, and that only
for a short time? Let us turn all that we want into petitions, and all
that annoys us let us spread before God.

Learn, further, that earnest reiteration is not vain repetition. 'Use
not vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think they shall be
heard for their much speaking,' said the Master. But the same Master
'went away from them and prayed the third time, using the same words.'
As long as we have not consciously received the blessing, it is no vain
reiteration if we renew our prayers that it may come upon our heads. The
man who asks for a thing once, and then gets up from his knees and goes
away, and does not notice whether he gets the answer or not, does not
pray. The man who truly desires anything from God cannot be satisfied
with one languid request for it. But as the heart contracts with a sense
of need, and expands with a faith in God's sufficiency, it will drive
the same blood of prayer over and over again through the same veins; and
life will be wholesome and strong.

Then learn, further, to limit wishes and petitions within the bounds of
God's promises. The most of these supplications of our text may be found
in other parts of Scripture, as promises from God. Only so far as an
articulate divine word carries my faith has my faith the right to go. In
the crooked alleys of Venice there is a thin thread of red stone, inlaid
in the pavement or wall, which guides through all the devious turnings
to the Piazza, in the centre, where the great church stands. As long as
we have the red line of promise on our path, faith may follow it and
will come to the Temple. Where the line stops it is presumption, and not
faith, that takes up the running. God's promises are sunbeams flung down
upon us. True prayer catches them on its mirror, and signals them back
to God. We are emboldened to say, 'Bow down Thine ear!' because He has
said, 'I will hear.' We are encouraged to cry, 'Be merciful!' because we
have our foot upon the promise that He will be; and all that we can ask
of Him is, 'Do for us what Thou hast said; be to us what Thou art.'

The final lesson is, Leave God to settle how He answers your prayer. The
Psalmist prayed for preservation, for safety, for joy; but he did not
venture to prescribe to God _how_ these blessings were to be ministered
to him. He does not ask that the trouble may be taken away. That is as
it may be; it may be better that it shall be left. But he asks that in
it he shall not be allowed to sink, and that, however the waves may run
high, they shall not be allowed to swamp his poor little cockle-shell of
a boat. This is the true inmost essence of prayer--not that we should
prescribe to Him how to answer our desires, but that we should leave all
that in His hands. The Apostle Paul said, in his last letter, with
triumphant confidence, that he knew that God would 'deliver him and save
him into His everlasting kingdom.' And he knew, at the same time, that
his course was ended, and that there was nothing for him now but the
crown. How was he 'saved into the kingdom' and 'delivered from the mouth
of the lion'? The sword that struck off the wearied head that had
thought so long for God's Church was the instrument of the deliverance
and the means of the salvation. For us it may be that a sharper sorrow
may be the answer to the prayer, 'Preserve Thy servant.' It may be that
God's 'bowing down His ear' and answering us when we cry shall be to
pass us through a mill that has finer rollers, to crush still more the
bruised corn. But the end and the meaning of it all will be to 'rejoice
the soul of the servant' with a deeper joy at last.

III. Finally, mark the lesson which we have here as to the pleas that
are to be urged, or the conditions on which prayer is answered.

'I am poor and needy,' or, as perhaps the words more accurately mean,
'afflicted and poor.' The first condition is the sense of need. God's
highest blessings cannot be given except to the men who know they want
them. The self-righteous man cannot receive the righteousness of Christ.
The man who has little or no consciousness of sin is not capable of
receiving pardon. God cannot put His fulness into our emptiness if we
conceit ourselves to be filled and in need of nothing. We must know
ourselves to be 'poor and naked and blind and miserable' ere He can make
us rich, and clothe us, and enlighten our eyes, and flood our souls with
His own gladness. Our needs are dumb appeals to Him; and in regard to
all outward and lower things, they bind Him to supply us, because they
themselves have been created by Him. He that hears the raven's croak
satisfies the necessities that He has ordained in man and beast. But,
for all the best blessings of His providence and of His love, the first
steps towards receiving them are the knowledge that we need them and the
desire that we should possess them.

Then the Psalmist goes on to put another class of pleas derived from his
relation to God. These are mainly two--'I am holy,' and 'Thy servant
that trusteth in Thee.' Now, with regard to that first word 'holy,'
according to our modern understanding of the expression it by no means
sets forth the Psalmist's idea. It has an unpleasant smack of
self-righteousness, too, which is by no means to be found in the
original. But the word employed is a very remarkable and pregnant one.
It really carries with it, in germ, the great teaching of the Apostle
John. 'We love Him because He first loved us.' It means one who, being
loved and favoured by God, answers the divine love with his own love.
And the Psalmist is not pleading any righteousness of his own, but
declaring that he, touched by the divine love, answers that love, and
looks up; not as if thereby he deserved the response that he seeks, but
as knowing that it is impossible but that the waiting heart should thus
be blessed. They who love God are sure that the answer to their desires
will come fluttering down upon their heads, and fold its white wings and
nestle in their hearts. Christian people are a great deal too much
afraid of saying, 'I love God.' They rob themselves of much peace and
power thereby. We should be less chary of so saying if we thought more
about God's love to us, and poked less into our own conduct.

Again, the Psalmist brings this plea--'Thy servant that trusteth in
Thee.' He does not say, 'I deserve to be answered because I trust,' but
'because I trust I am sure that I shall be answered'; for it is absurd
to suppose that God will look down from heaven on a soul that is
depending upon Him, and will let that soul's confidence be put to shame.
Dear friend! if your heart is resting upon God, be sure of this, that
anything is possible rather than that you should not get from Him the
blessings that you need.

The Psalmist gathers together all his pleas which refer to himself into
two final clauses--'I cry unto Thee daily,' 'I lift up my soul unto
Thee'--which, taken together, express the constant effort of a devout
heart after communion with God. To withdraw my heart from the low levels
of earth, and to bear it up into communion with God, is the sure way to
get what I desire, because then God Himself will be my chief desire, and
'they who seek the Lord shall not want any good.'

But the true and prevailing plea is not in our needs, desires, or
dispositions, but in God's own character, as revealed by His words and
acts, and grasped by our faith. Therefore the Psalmist ends by passing
from thoughts of self to thoughts of God, and builds at last on the sure
foundation which underlies all his other 'fors' and gives them all their
force--'For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in
mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.'

Brethren! turn all your wishes and all your annoyances into prayers. If
a wish is not fit to be prayed about, it is not fit to be cherished. If
a care is too small to be made a prayer, it is too small to be made a
burden. Be frank with God as God is frank with you, and go to His
throne, keeping back nothing of your desires or of your troubles. To
carry them there will take the poison and the pain out of wasps' stings,
and out of else fatal wounds. We have a Name to trust to, tenderer and
deeper than those which evoked the Psalmist's triumphant confidence. Let
us see to it that, as the basis of our faith is firmer, our faith be
stronger than his. We have a plea to urge, more persuasive and mighty
than those which he pressed on God and gathered to his own heart. 'For
Christ's sake' includes all that he pled, and stretches beyond it. If we
come to God through Him who declares His name to us, we shall not draw
near to the Throne with self-willed desires, nor leave it with empty
hands. 'If ye ask anything in My Name, I will do it.'



CONTINUAL SUNSHINE


    'Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk,
    O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.'--PSALM lxxxix. 15.

The Psalmist has just been setting forth, in sublime language, the
glories of the divine character--God's strength, His universal sway, the
justice and judgment which are the foundation of His Throne, the mercy
and truth which go as heralds before His face. A heathen singing of any
of his gods would have gone on to describe the form and features of the
god or goddess who came behind the heralds, but the Psalmist remembers
'Thou shalt not make unto thyself any ... likeness of God.' A sacred
reverence checks his song. He veils his face in his mantle while He whom
no man can see and live passes by. Then he breaks into rapturous
exclamations which are very prosaically and poorly represented by our
version. For the text is not a mere statement, as it is made to be by
reading 'Blessed is the people,' but it is a burst of adoring wonder,
and should be read, 'Oh! the blessedness of the people that know the
joyful sound.'

Now, the force of this exclamation is increased if we observe that the
word that is rendered 'joyful sound' is the technical word for the
trumpet blast at Jewish feasts. The purpose of these blasts, like those
of the heralds at the coronation of a king, was to proclaim the presence
of God, the King of Israel, in the festival, as well as to express the
gladness of the worshippers. Thus the Psalmist, when he says, 'Blessed
is the people that know the joyful sound,' has no reference, as we
ordinarily take him to have, to the preaching of the Gospel, but to the
trumpet-blasts that proclaimed the present God and throbbed with the
gladness of the waiting worshippers. So that this exclamation is
equivalent to 'Oh! how blessed are the people who are sure that they
have God with them!' and who, being sure, bow before Him in loving
worship. It is to be further noticed that the subsequent words of the
text state the first element which it indicates of that blessedness of a
devout life, 'They shall walk, O Lord! in the light of Thy countenance.'

I. We deal first with the meaning of this phrase.

Of course, 'the light of Thy countenance' is a very obvious and natural
symbol for favour, complacency, goodwill on the part of Him that is
conceived of as looking on any one. We read, for instance, in reference
to a much lower subject in the Book of Proverbs, 'In the light of the
king's countenance is life, and his favour is as a cloud of the latter
rain.' Again we have, in the Levitical benediction, the phrase
accompanied in the parallel clauses by what is really an explanation of
it, 'The Lord cause His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto
thee.' So that the simple and obvious meaning of the words, 'the light
of Thy countenance,' is the favour and lovingkindness of God manifested
in that gracious Face which He turns to His servants. As for the other
chief word in the clause, 'to walk' is the equivalent throughout
Scripture for the conduct of the active life and daily conversation of a
man, and to walk in the light is simply to have the consciousness of the
divine Presence and the experience of the divine lovingkindness and
friendship as a road on which we travel our life's journey, or an
atmosphere round us in which all our activities are done and in which we
ever remain, as a diver in his bell, to keep evil and sin from us.

There is only one more remark in the nature of explanation which I make,
and that is that the expression here for walking is cast in the original
into a form which grammarians call intensive, strengthening the simple
idea expressed by the word. We may express its force if we read, 'They
walk continually in the light of Thy countenance.'

Is not that just a definition of the Christian life as an unbroken
realisation of the divine Presence, and an unbroken experience of the
lovingkindness and favour of God? Is not that religion in its truest,
simplest essence, in its purest expression? The people who are sure that
they have their King in their midst, and who feel that He is looking
down upon them with tender pity, with loving care, with nothing but
friendship and sweetness in His heart, these people, says the Psalmist,
are blessed. So much, then, for the meaning of the word.

II. Consider the possibility of such a condition being ours.

Can such a thing be? Is it possible for a man to go through life
carrying this atmosphere constantly with him? Can the continuity which,
as I remarked, is expressed by the original accurately rendered, be kept
up through an ordinary life that has all manner of work to do, or are we
only to 'hear the joyful sound,' now and then, at rare intervals, on set
occasions, answering to these ancient feasts? Which of the two is it to
be, dear brethren? There is no need whatever why any amount of hard
work, or outward occupations of the most secular character, or any
amount of distractions, should break for us the continuity of that
consciousness and of that experience. We may carry God with us wherever
we go, if only we remember that where we cannot carry Him with us we
ought not to go. We may carry Him with us into all the dusty roads of
life; we may always walk on the sunny side of the street if we like. We
may always bear our own sunshine with us. And although we are bound to
be diligent in business, and some of us have had to take a heavy lift of
a great deal of hard work, and much of it apparently standing in no sort
of relation to our religious life, yet for all that it is possible to
bend all to this one direction, and to make everything a means of
bringing us nearer to God and fuller of the conscious enjoyment of His
presence. And if we have not learned to do that with our daily work,
then our daily work is a curse to us. If we have allowed it to become so
absorbing or distracting as that it dims and darkens our sense of the
divine Presence, then it is time for us to see what is wrong in the
method or in the amount of work which is thus darkening our consciences.
I know it is hard, I know that an absolute attainment of such an ideal
is perhaps beyond us, but I know that we can approach--I was going to
say infinitely, but a better word is indefinitely--nearer it than any of
us have ever yet done. As the psalm goes on to say in the next clause,
it is possible for us to 'rejoice in His Name all the day.' Ay, even at
your tasks, and at your counters, and in your kitchens, and in my study,
it is possible for us; and if our hearts are what and where they ought
to be, the possibility will be realised. Earthly duty has no necessary
effect of veiling the consciousness of God.

Nor is there any reason why our troubles, sorrows, losses, solitude
should darken that sunshine. I know that that is hard, too, perhaps
harder than the other. It is more difficult to have a sense of the
sunshine of the divine Presence shining through the clouds of disaster
and sorrow than even it is to have it shining through the dust that is
raised by traffic and secular occupation. But it _is_ possible. There is
nothing in all the sky so grand as clouds smitten by sunshine, and the
light is never so glorious as when it is flashed back from them and dyes
their piled bosoms with all celestial colours. There is no experience of
God's Presence so blessed as that of a man who, in the midst of sorrow,
has yet with him the assurance of the Father's friendship and favour and
love, and so can say 'as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.' This sunshine
shines in the foulest corners, and the most thunder-laden clouds only
flash back its glories in new forms.

There is only one thing that breaks the continuity of that blessedness,
and that is our own sin. We carry our own weather with us, whether we
will or no, and we can bring winter into the middle of summer by
flinging God away from us, and summer into the midst of winter by
grappling Him to our hearts. There is only one thing that necessarily
breaks our sense of His Presence, and that is that our hearts should
turn away from His face. A man can work hard and yet feel that God is
with him. A man can be weighed upon by many distresses and yet feel that
God is with him and loves him; but a man cannot commit the least tiny
sin and love it, and feel at the same time that God is with him. The
heart is like a sensitive photographic plate, it registers the
variations in the sunshine; and the one hindrance that makes it
impossible for God's light to fall upon my soul with the assurance of
friendship and the sense of sweetness, is that I should be hugging some
evil to my heart. It is not the dusty highway of life nor the dark vales
of weeping and of the shadow of death through which we sometimes have to
pass that make it impossible for this sunlight to pour down upon us, but
it is our gathering round ourselves of the poisonous mists of sin
through which that light cannot pierce; or if it pierce, pierces
transformed and robbed of all its beauty.

III. Let me note next the blessedness which draws out the Psalmist's
rapturous exclamation.

The same phrase is employed in one of the other psalms, which, I think,
bears in its contents the confirmation of the attribution of it to
David. When he was fleeing before his rebellious son, at the very lowest
ebb of his fortunes, away on the uplands of Moab, a discrowned king, a
fugitive in danger of death at every moment, he sang a psalm in which
these words occur: 'There be many that say, Who will show us any good?'
'Lord, lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us'; and then follows,
'Thou hast put gladness into my heart more than when their corn and wine
abound.' The speech of the many, 'Who will show us any good?' is
contrasted with the prayer of the one, 'Lord, lift Thou up the light of
Thy countenance upon us.' That is blessedness. It is the only thing that
makes the heart to be at rest. It is the only thing that makes life
truly worth living, the only thing that brings sweetness which has no
after taint of bitterness and breeds no fear of its passing away. To
have that unsetting sunshine streaming down upon my open heart, and to
carry about with me whithersoever I go, like some melody from hidden
singers sounding in my ears, the Name and the Love of my Father
God--that and that only, brother, is true rest and abiding blessedness.
There are many other joys far more turbulent, more poignant, but they
all pass. Many of them leave a nauseous taste in the mouth when they are
swallowed; all of them leave us the poorer for having had them and
having them no more. For one who is not a Christian I do not know that
it _is_

  'Better to have loved and lost
   Than never to have loved at all.'

But for those to whom God's Face is as a Sun, life in all its
possibilities is blessed; and there is no blessedness besides. So let us
keep near Him, 'walking in the light,' in our changeful days, 'as He is
in the light' in His essential and unalterable being; and that light
will be to us all which it is taken in Scripture to symbolise--knowledge
and joy and purity; and in us, too, there will be 'no darkness at all.'

But there is one last word that I must say, and that is that a possible
terror is intertwined with this blessedness. The next psalm to this
says, with a kind of tremulous awe in the Psalmist's voice: 'Thou hast
set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy
countenance.' In that sense all of us, good and bad, lovers of God and
those that are careless about Him, walk all the day long in the light of
His face, and He sees and marks all our else hidden evil. It needs
something more than any of us can do to make the thought that we do
stand in the full glaring of that great searchlight, not turned
occasionally but focussed steadily on us individually, a joy and a
blessing to us. And what we need is offered us when we read, 'His
countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength, and I fell at His
feet as dead. And He laid His hand upon me and said, Fear not! I am He
that liveth and was dead; and behold! I am alive for ever more.' If we
put our poor trust in the Eternal Light that was manifest in Christ,
then we shall walk in the sunshine of His face on earth, and that lamp
will burn for us in the darkness of the grave and lead us at last into
the ever-blazing centre of the Sun itself.



THE CRY OF THE MORTAL TO THE UNDYING


    'Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish Thou
    the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish
    Thou it.--PSALM xc. 17.

If any reliance is to be placed upon the superscription of this psalm,
it is one of the oldest, as it certainly is of the grandest, pieces of
religious poetry in the world. It is said to be 'A prayer of Moses, the
man of God,' and whether that be historically true or no, the tone of
the psalm naturally suggests the great lawgiver, whose special task it
was to write deep upon the conscience of the Jewish people the thought
of the wages of sin as being death.

Hence the sombre magnificence and sad music of the psalm, which
contemplates a thousand generations in succession as sliding away into
the dreadful past, and sinking as beneath a flood. This thought of the
fleeting years, dashed and troubled by many a sin, and by the righteous
retribution of God, sent the Psalmist to his knees, and he found the
only refuge from it in these prayers. These two petitions of our text,
the closing words of the psalm, are the cry forced from a heart that has
dared to look Death in the eyes, and has discovered that the world after
all is a place of graves.

'Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish Thou the
work of our hands upon us.' There are two thoughts there--the cry of the
mortal for the beauty of the Eternal; and the cry of the worker in a
perishable world for the perpetuity of his work. Look at these two
thoughts briefly.

I. We have here, first, the yearning and longing cry of the mortal for
the beauty of the Eternal.

The word translated 'beauty' in my text is, like the Greek equivalent in
the New Testament, and like the English word 'grace,' which corresponds
to them both susceptible of a double meaning. 'Grace' means both
_kindness_ and _loveliness_, or, as we might distinguish both
graciousness and gracefulness. And that double idea is inherent in the
word, as it is inherent in the attribute of God to which it refers. For
that twofold meaning of the one word suggests the truth that God's
lovingkindness and communicating mercy _is_ His beauty, and that the
fairest thing about Him, notwithstanding the splendours that surround
His character, and the flashing lights that come from His many-sided
glory, is that He loves and pities and gives Himself. God is all fair,
but the central and substantial beauty of the divine nature is that it
is a stooping nature, which bows to weak and unworthy souls, and on them
pours out the full abundance of its manifold gifts. So the 'beauty of
the Lord' means, by no quibble or quirk, but by reason of the essential
loveliness of His lovingkindness, both God's loveliness and God's
goodness; God's graciousness and God's gracefulness (if I may use such a
word).

The prayer of the Psalmist that this beauty may be _upon_ us conceives
of it as given to us from above and as coming floating down from heaven,
like that white Dove that fell upon Christ's head, fair and meek, gentle
and lovely, and resting on our anointed heads, like a diadem and an
aureole of glory.

Now that communicating graciousness, with its large gifts and its
resulting beauty, is the one thing that we need in view of mortality and
sorrow and change and trouble. The psalm speaks about 'all our years'
being 'passed away in Thy wrath,' about the very inmost recesses of our
secret unworthiness being turned inside out, and made to look blacker
than ever when the bright sunshine of His face falls upon them. From
that thought of God's wrath and omniscience the poet turns, as we must
turn, to the other thought of His gentle longsuffering, of His
forbearing love, of His infinite pity, of His communicating mercy. As a
support in view both of our dreary and yet short years, and our certain
mortality, and in the contemplation of the evils within and suffering
from without, that harass us all, there is but one thing for us to
do--namely, to fling ourselves into the arms of God, and in the spirit
of this great petition, to ask that upon us there may fall the dewy
benediction of His gentle beauty.

That longing is meant to be kindled in our hearts by all the discipline
of life. Life is not worth living unless it does that for us; and there
is no value nor meaning either in our joys or in our sorrows, unless
both the one and the other send us to Him. Our gladness and our
disappointments, our hopes fulfilled and our hopes dissipated and
unanswered are but, as it were, the two wings by which, on either side,
our spirits are to be lifted to God. The solemn pathos of the earlier
portion of this psalm--the funeral march of generations--leads up to the
prayerful confidence of these closing petitions, in which the sadness of
the minor key in which it began has passed into a brighter strain. The
thought of the fleeting years swept away as with a flood, and of the
generations that blossom for a day and are mown down and wither when
their swift night falls, is saddening and paralysing unless it suggests
by contrast the thought of Him who, Himself unmoved, moves the rolling
years, and is the dwelling-place of each succeeding generation. Such
contemplations are wholesome and religious only when they drive us to
the eternal God, that in Him we may find the stable foundation which
imparts its own perpetuity to every life built upon it. We have
experienced so many things in vain, and we are of the 'fools' that,
being 'brayed in a mortar,' are only brayed fools after all, unless
life, with its sorrows and its changes, has blown us, as with a
hurricane, right into the centre of rest, and unless its sorrows and
changes have taught us this as the one aspiration of our souls: 'Let the
beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,' and then, let what may come,
come, let what can pass, pass, we shall have all that we need for life
and peace.

And then, note further, that this gracious gentleness and
long-suffering, giving mercy of God, when it comes down upon a man,
makes him, too, beautiful with a reflected beauty. If the beauty of the
Lord our God be upon us, it will cover over our foulness and deformity.
For whosoever possesses in any real fashion God's great mercy will have
his spirit moulded into the likeness of that mercy. We cannot have it
without reflecting it, we cannot possess it without being assimilated to
it. Therefore, to have the grace of God makes us both gracious and
graceful. And the true refining influence for a character is that into
it there shall come the gift of that endless pity and patient love,
which will transfigure us into some faint likeness of itself, so that we
shall walk among men, able, in some poor measure, after the manner of
our Master, to say, 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.' He said
it in a sense and in a measure which we cannot reach, but the
assimilation to and reflection of the divine character is our aim, or
ought to be, if we are Christians. 'Let the beauty of the Lord our God
be upon us,' and 'change us into the same image from glory to glory.'

II. We have here the cry of the worker in a fleeting world for the
perpetuity of his work.

'Establish,' or make firm, 'the work of our hands upon us, yea the work
of our hands establish Thou it.' The thought that everything is passing
away so swiftly and inevitably, as the earlier part of the psalm
suggests, might lead a man to say, 'What is the use of my doing
anything? I may just as well sit down here, and let things slide, if
they are all going to be swallowed up in the black bottomless gulf of
forgetfulness.' The contemplation has actually produced two opposite
effects, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,' is quite as fair
an inference from the fact as is 'Awake to righteousness and sin not,'
if the fact itself only be taken into account. There is nothing
religious in the clearest conviction of mortality, if it stands alone.
It may be the ally of profligate and cynical sensuality quite as easily
as it may be the preacher of asceticism. It may make men inactive, from
their sense of the insignificant and fleeting nature of all human works,
or it may stimulate to intensest effort, from the thought, 'I must work
the works of Him that sent me while it is day. The night cometh.' All
depends on whether we link the conviction of mortality with that of
eternity, and think of our perishable selves as in relationship with the
unchanging God.

This prayer expresses a deep longing, natural to all men, and which yet
seems incompatible with the stern facts of mortality and decay. We
should all like to have our work exempted from the common lot. What
pathetically futile attempts to secure this are pyramids, and
rock-inscriptions, and storied tombs, and posthumous memoirs, and rich
men's wills! Why should any of us expect that the laws of nature should
be suspended for our benefit, and our work made lasting while everything
beside changes like the shadows of the clouds? Is there any way by which
such exceptional permanence can be secured for our poor deeds? Yes,
certainly. Let us commit them to God, praying this prayer, 'Establish
Thou the work of our hands upon us.'

Our work will be established if it is His work. This prayer in our text
follows another prayer (verse 16)--namely, 'Let _Thy_ work appear unto
Thy servants.' That is to say, My work will be perpetual when the work
of my hands is God's work done through me. When you bring your wills
into harmony with God's will, and so all your effort, even about the
little things of daily life, is in consonance with His will, and in the
line of His purpose, then your work will stand. If otherwise, it will be
like some slow-moving and frail carriage going in the one direction and
meeting an express train thundering in the other. When the crash comes,
the opposing motion of the weaker will be stopped, reversed, and the
frail thing will be smashed to atoms. So, all work which is man's and
not God's will sooner or later be reduced to impotence and either
annihilated or reversed, and made to run in the opposite direction. But
if our work runs parallel with God's, then the rushing impetus of His
work will catch up our little deeds into the swiftness of its own
motion, and will carry them along with itself, as a railway train will
lift straws and bits of paper that are lying by the rails, and give them
motion for a while. If my will runs in the line of His, and if the work
of my hands is 'Thy work,' it is not in vain that we shall cry
'Establish it upon us,' for it will last as long as He does.

In like manner, all work will be perpetual that is done with 'the beauty
of the Lord our God' upon the doers of it. Whosoever has that grace in
his heart, whosoever is in contact with the communicating mercy of God,
and has had his character in some measure refined and ennobled and
beautified by possession thereof, will do work that has in it the
element of perpetuity.

And our work will stand if we quietly leave it in His hands. Quietly do
it to Him, never mind about results, but look after motives. You cannot
influence results, let God look after them; you can influence motives.
Be sure that they are right, and if they are, the work will be eternal.

'Eternal? What do you mean by eternal? how can a man's work be that?'
Part of the answer is that it may be made permanent in its issues by
being taken up into the great whole of God's working through His
servants, which results at last in the establishment of His eternal
kingdom. Just as a drop of water that falls upon the moor finds its way
into the brook, and goes down the glen and on into the river, and then
into the sea, and is there, though undistinguishable, so in the great
summing up of everything at the end, the tiniest deed that was done for
God, though it was done far away up amongst the mountain solitudes where
no eye saw, shall live and be represented, in its effects on others and
in its glad issues to the doer.

In the highest fashion the Psalmist's cry for the perpetuity of the
fleeting deeds of dying generations will be answered in that region in
which his dimmer eye saw little but the sullen flood that swept away
youth and strength and wisdom, but in which we can see the solid land
beyond the river, and the happy company who rejoice with the joy of
harvest, and bear with them the sheaves, whereof the seed was sown on
this bank, in tears and fears. 'Blessed are the dead that die in the
Lord. Their works do follow them.' 'The world passeth away, and the
fashion thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.'



THE SHELTERING WING


    'He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt
    thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.'
    --PSALM xci. 4.

We remember the magnificent image in Moses' song, of God's protection
and guidance as that of the eagle who stirred up his nest, and hovered
over the young with his wings, and bore them on his pinions. That
passage may possibly have touched the imagination of this psalmist, when
he here employs the same general metaphor, but with a distinct and
significant difference in its application. In the former image the main
idea is that of training and sustaining. Here the main idea is that of
protection and fostering. _On_ the wing and _under_ the wing suggest
entirely different notions, and both need to be taken into account in
order to get the many-sided beauties and promises of these great
sayings. Now there seems to me here to be a very distinct triad of
thoughts. There is the covering wing; there is the flight to its
protection; and there is the warrant for that flight. 'He shall cover
thee with His pinions'; that is the divine act. 'Under His wings shalt
thou trust'; that is the human condition. 'His truth shall be thy shield
and buckler'; that is the divine manifestation which makes the human
condition possible.

I. A word then, first, about the covering wing.

Now, the main idea in this image is, as I have suggested, that of the
expanded pinion, beneath the shelter of which the callow young lie, and
are guarded. Whatever kites may be in the sky, whatever stoats and
weasels may be in the hedges, the brood are safe there. The image
suggests not only the thought of protection but those of fostering,
downy warmth, peaceful proximity to a heart that throbs with parental
love, and a multitude of other happy privileges realised by those who
nestle beneath that wing. But while these subsidiary ideas are not to be
lost sight of, the promise of protection is to be kept prominent, as
that chiefly intended by the Psalmist.

This psalm rings throughout with the truth that a man who dwells 'in the
secret place of the Most High' has absolute immunity from all sorts of
evil; and there are two regions in which that immunity, secured by being
under the shadow of the Almighty, is exemplified here. The one is that
of outward dangers, the other is that of temptation to sin and of what
we may call spiritual foes. Now, these two regions and departments in
which the Christian man does realise, in the measure of his faith, the
divine protection, exhibit that protection as secured in two entirely
different ways.

The triumphant assurances of this psalm, 'There shall no evil befall
thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling,'--'the pestilence
shall smite thousands and ten thousands beside thee, but not come nigh
thee,'--seem to be entirely contradicted by experience which testifies
that 'there is one event to the evil and the good,' and that, in
epidemics or other widespread disasters, we all, the good and the bad,
God-fearers and God-blasphemers, do fare alike, and that the conditions
of exemption from physical evil are physical and not spiritual. It is of
no use trying to persuade ourselves that that is not so. We shall
understand God's dealings with us, and get to the very throbbing heart
of such promises as these in this psalm far better, if we start from the
certainty that whatever it means it does _not_ mean that, with regard to
external calamities and disasters, we are going to be God's petted
children, or to be saved from the things that fall upon other people.
No! no! we have to go a great deal deeper than that. If we have felt a
difficulty, as I suppose we all have sometimes, and are ready to say
with the half-despondent Psalmist, 'My feet were almost gone, and my
steps had well-nigh slipped,' when we see what we think the complicated
mysteries of divine providence in this world, we have to come to the
belief that the evil that is in the evil will never come near a man
sheltered beneath God's wing. The physical external event may be
entirely the same to him as to another who is not covered with His
feathers. Here are two partners in a business, the one a Christian man,
and the other is not. A common disaster overwhelms them. They become
bankrupts. Is insolvency the same to the one as it is to the other? Here
are two men on board a ship, the one putting his trust in God, the other
thinking it all nonsense to trust anything but himself. They are both
drowned. Is drowning the same to the two? As their corpses lie side by
side among the ooze, with the weeds over them, and the shell-fish at
them, you may say of the one, but only of the one, 'There shall no evil
befall thee, neither any plague come nigh thy dwelling.'

For the protection that is granted to faith is only to be understood by
faith. It is deliverance from the evil in the evil which vindicates as
no exaggeration, nor as merely an experience and a promise peculiar to
the old theocracy of Israel, but not now realised, the grand sayings of
this text. The poison is all wiped off the arrow by that divine
protection. It may still wound but it does not putrefy the flesh. The
sewage water comes down, but it passes into the filtering bed, and is
disinfected and cleansed before it is permitted to flow over our fields.

And so, brethren! if any of you are finding that the psalm is not
outwardly true, and that through the covering wing the storm of hail has
come and beaten you down, do not suppose that that in the slightest
degree impinges upon the reality and truthfulness of this great promise,
'He shall cover thee with His feathers.' Anything that has come through
_them_ is manifestly not an 'evil.' 'Who is he that will harm you if ye
be followers of that which is good?' 'If God be for us who can be
against us?' Not what the world calls, and our wrung hearts feel that it
rightly calls, 'sorrows' and 'afflictions,'--these all work for our
good, and protection consists, not in averting the blows, but in
changing their character.

Then, there is another region far higher, in which this promise of my
text is absolutely true--that is, in the region of spiritual defence.
For no man who lies under the shadow of God, and has his heart filled
with the continual consciousness of that Presence, is likely to fall
before the assaults of evil that tempt him away from God; and the
defence which He gives in that region is yet more magnificently
impregnable than the defence which He gives against external evils. For,
as the New Testament teaches us, we are kept from sin, not by any
outward breastplate or armour, nor even by the divine wing lying above
us to cover us, but by the indwelling Christ in our hearts. His Spirit
within us makes us 'free from the law of sin and death,' and conquerors
over all temptations.

I say not a word about all the other beautiful and pathetic associations
which are connected with this emblem of the covering wing, sweet and
inexhaustible as it is, but I simply leave with you the two thoughts
that I have dwelt upon, of the twofold manner of that divine protection.

II. And now a word, in the second place, about the flight of the
shelterless to the shelter.

The word which is rendered in our Authorised Version, 'shalt thou
trust,' is, like all Hebrew words for mental and spiritual emotions and
actions, strongly metaphorical. It might have been better to retain its
literal meaning here instead of substituting the abstract word 'trust.'
That is to say, it would have been an improvement if we had read with
the Revised Version, not, 'under His wings shalt thou trust,' but 'under
His wings shalt thou take refuge.' For that is the idea which is really
conveyed; and in many of the psalms, if you will remember, the same
metaphor is employed. 'Hide me beneath the shadow of Thy wings';
'Beneath Thy wings will I take refuge until calamities are overpast';
and the like. Many such passages will, no doubt, occur to your memories.

But what I wish to signalise is just this, that in this emblem of flying
into a refuge from impending perils we get a far more vivid conception,
and a far more useful one, as it seems to me, of what Christian faith
really is than we derive from many learned volumes and much theological
hair-splitting. 'Under His wings shalt thou flee for refuge.' Is not
that a vivid, intense, picturesque, but most illuminative way of telling
us what is the very essence, and what is the urgency, and what is the
worth, of what we call faith? The Old Testament is full of the
teaching--which is masked to ordinary readers, but is the same teaching
as the New Testament is confessedly full of--of the necessity of faith
as the one bond that binds men to God. If only our translators had
wisely determined upon a uniform rendering in Old and New Testament of
words that are synonymous, the reader would have seen what is often now
reserved for the student, that all these sayings in the Old Testament
about 'trusting in God' run on all fours with 'Believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ and thou shalt be saved.'

But just mark what comes out of that metaphor; that 'trust,' the faith
which unites with God, and brings a man beneath the shadow of His wings,
is nothing more or less than the flying into the refuge that is provided
for us. Does that not speak to us of the urgency of the case? Does that
not speak to us eloquently of the perils which environ us? Does it not
speak to us of the necessity of swift flight, with all the powers of our
will? Is the faith which is a flying into a refuge fairly described as
an intellectual act of believing in a testimony? Surely it is something
a great deal more than that. A man out in the plain, with the avenger of
blood, hot-breathed and bloody-minded, behind him might believe, as much
as he liked, that there would be safety within the walls of the City of
Refuge, but unless he took to his heels without loss of time, the spear
would be in his back before he knew where he was. There are many men who
know all about the security of the refuge, and believe it utterly, but
never run for it; and so never get into it. Faith is the gathering up of
the whole powers of my nature to fling myself into the asylum, to cast
myself into God's arms, to take shelter beneath the shadow of His wings.
And unless a man does that, and swiftly, he is exposed to every bird of
prey in the sky, and to every beast of prey lurking in wait for him.

The metaphor tells us, too, what are the limits and the worth of faith.
A man is not saved because he believes that he is saved, but because by
believing he lays hold of the salvation. It is not the flight that is
impregnable, and makes those behind its strong bulwarks secure. Not my
outstretched hand, but the Hand that my hand grasps, is what holds me
up. The power of faith is but that it brings me into contact with God,
and sets me behind the seven-fold bastions of the Almighty protection.

So, brethren! another consideration comes out of this clause: 'Under His
wings shalt thou trust.' If you do not flee for refuge to that wing, it
is of no use to you, however expanded it is, however soft and downy its
underside, however sure its protection. You remember the passage where
our Lord uses the same venerable figure with modifications, and says:
'How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen
doth gather her brood under her wings, _and ye would not_.' So our
'would not' thwarts Christ's 'would.' Flight to the refuge is the
condition of being saved. How can a man get shelter by any other way
than by running to the shelter? The wing is expanded; it is for us to
say whether we will 'flee for refuge to the hope set before us.'

III. Now, lastly, the warrant for this flight.

'His truth shall be thy shield.' Now, 'truth' here does not mean the
body of revealed words, which are often called God's truth, but it
describes a certain characteristic of the divine nature. And if, instead
of  'truth,' we read the good old English word 'troth,' we should be a
great deal nearer understanding what the Psalmist meant. Or if 'troth'
is archaic, and conveys little meaning to us; suppose we substitute a
somewhat longer word, of the same meaning, and say, 'His faithfulness
shall be thy shield.' You cannot trust a God that has not given you an
inkling of His character or disposition, but if He has spoken, then you
'know where to have him.' That is just what the Psalmist means. How can
a man be encouraged to fly into a refuge, unless he is absolutely sure
that there is an entrance for him into it, and that, entering, he is
safe? And that security is provided in the great thought of God's troth.
'Thy faithfulness is like the great mountains.' 'Who is like unto Thee,
O Lord! or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?' That faithfulness
shall be our 'shield,' not a tiny targe that a man could bear upon his
left arm; but the word means the large shield, planted in the ground in
front of the soldier, covering him, however hot the fight, and circling
him around, like a wall of iron.

God is 'faithful' to all the obligations under which He has come by
making us. That is what one of the New Testament writers tells us, when
he speaks of Him as 'a faithful Creator.' Then, if He has put desires
into our hearts, be sure that somewhere there is their satisfaction; and
if He has given us needs, be sure that in Him there is the supply; and
if He has lodged in us aspirations which make us restless, be sure that
if we will turn them to Him, they will be satisfied and we shall be at
rest. 'God never sends mouths but He sends meat to fill them.' 'He
remembers our frame,' and measures His dealings accordingly. When He
made me, He bound Himself to make it possible that I should be blessed
for ever; and He has done it.

God is faithful to His word, according to that great saying in the
Epistle to the Hebrews, where the writer tells us that by 'God's
counsel,' and 'God's oath,' 'two immutable things,' we might have
'strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope
set before us.' God is faithful to His own past. The more He has done
the more He will do. 'Thou hast been my Help; leave me not, neither
forsake me.' Therein we present a plea which God Himself will honour.
And He is faithful to His own past in a yet wider sense. For all the
revelations of His love and of His grace in times that are gone, though
they might be miraculous in their form, are permanent in their essence.
So one of the Psalmists, hundreds of years after the time that Israel
was led through the wilderness, sang: 'There did _we_'--of this present
generation--'rejoice in Him.' What has been, is, and will be, for Thou
art 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.' We have not a God
that lurks in darkness, but one that has come into the light. We have to
run, not into a Refuge that is built upon a 'perhaps,' but upon 'Verily,
verily! I say unto thee.' Let us build rock upon Rock, and let our faith
correspond to the faithfulness of Him that has promised.



THE HABITATION OF THE SOUL


    'Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most
    High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall
    any plague come nigh thy dwelling.'--PSALM xci. 9, 10.

It requires a good deal of piecing to make out from the Hebrew the
translation of our Authorised Version here. The simple, literal
rendering of the first words of these verses is, 'Surely, Thou, O Lord!
art my Refuge'; and I do not suppose that any of the expedients which
have been adopted to modify that translation would have been adopted,
but that these words seem to cut in two the long series of rich promises
and blessings which occupy the rest of the psalm. But it is precisely
this interruption of the flow of the promises which puts us on the right
track for understanding the words in question, because it leads us to
take them as the voice of the devout man, to whom the promises are
addressed, responding to them by the expression of his own faith.

The Revised Version is much better here than our Authorised Version, for
it has recognised this breach of continuity of sequence in the promises,
and translated as I have suggested; making the first words of my text,
'Thou, O Lord! art my Refuge,' the voice of one singer, and 'Because
thou hast made the Most High thy habitation, there shall no evil befall
thee, neither shall any evil come nigh thy dwelling,' the voice of
another.

Whether or no it be that in the Liturgical service of the Temple this
psalm was sung by two choirs which answered one another, does not matter
for our purpose. Whether or no we regard the first clause as the voice
of the Psalmist speaking to God, and the other as the same man speaking
to himself, does not matter. The point is that, first, there is an
exclamation of personal faith, and that then that is followed and
answered, as it were, by the further promise of continual blessings. One
voice says, 'Thou, Lord! art my Refuge,' and then another voice--not
God's, because that speaks in majesty at the end of the psalm--replies
to that burst of confidence, 'Thou hast made the Lord thy habitation'
(as thou hast done by this confession of faith), 'there shall no evil
come nigh thy dwelling.'

I. We have here the cry of the devout soul.

I observed that it seems to cut in two the stream of promised blessings,
and that fact is significant. The psalm begins with the deep truth that
'He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under
the shadow of the Almighty.' Then a single voice speaks, 'I will say of
the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God, in Him will I trust.'
Then that voice, which thus responds to the general statement of the
first verse, is answered by a stream of promises. The first part of our
text comes in as the second speech of the same voice, repeating
substantially the same thing as it said at first.

Now, notice that this cry of the soul, recognising God as its Asylum and
Home, comes in response to a revelation of God's blessing, and to large
words of promise. There is no true refuge nor any peace and rest for a
man unless in grasping the articulate word of God, and building his
assurance upon that. Anything else is not confidence, but folly;
anything else is building upon sand, and not upon the Rock. If I trust
my own or my brother's conception of the divine nature, if I build upon
any thoughts of my own, I am building upon what will yield and give. For
all peaceful casting of my soul into the arms of God there must be,
first, a plain stretching out of the hands of God to catch me when I
drop. So the words of my text, 'Thou art my Refuge,' are the best answer
of the devout soul to the plain words of divine promise. How abundant
these are we all know, how full of manifold insight and adaptation to
our circumstances and our nature we may all experience, if we care to
prove them.

But let us be sure that we _are_ hearkening to the voice with which He
speaks through our daily circumstances as well as by the unmistakable
revelation of His will and heart in Jesus Christ. And then let us be
sure that no word of His, that comes fluttering down from the heavens,
meaning a benediction and enclosing a promise, falls at our feet
ungathered and unregarded, or is trodden into the dust by our careless
heels. The manna lies all about us; let us see that we gather it. 'When
Thou saidst, Seek ye My Face, my heart said unto Thee, Thy Face, Lord,
will I seek.' When Thou saidst, 'I will be thy Strength and thy
Righteousness,' have I said, 'Surely, O Jehovah! Thou art my Refuge'?
Turn His promises into your creed, and whatever He has declared in the
sweet thunder of His voice, loud as the voice of many waters, and
melodious as 'harpers harping with their harps,' do you take for your
profession of faith in the faithful promises of your God.

Still further, this cry of the devout soul suggests to me that our
response ought to be the establishment of a close personal relation
between us and God. 'Thou, O Lord! art my Refuge.' The Psalmist did not
content himself with saying 'Lord! Thou hast been _our_ Dwelling-place
in all generations,' or as one of the other psalmists has it, 'God is
_our_ Refuge and _our_ Strength.' That thought was blessed, but it was
not enough for the Psalmist's present need, and it is never enough for
the deepest necessities of any soul. We must isolate ourselves and
stand, God and we, alone together--at heart-grips--we grasping His hand,
and He giving Himself to us--if the promises which are sent down into
the world for all who will make them theirs can become ours. They are
made payable to your order; you must put your name on the back before
you get the proceeds. There must be what our good old Puritan
forefathers used to call, in somewhat hard language, 'the appropriating
act of faith,' in order that God's richest blessings may be of any use
to us. Put out your hand to grasp them, and say, 'Mine,' not 'Ours.' The
thought of others as sharing in them will come afterwards, for he who
has once realised the absolute isolation of the soul and has been alone
with God, and in solitude has taken God's gifts as his very own, is he
who will feel fellowship and brotherhood with all who are partakers of
like precious faith and blessings. The 'ours' will come; but you must
begin with the 'mine'--'_my_ Lord and _my_ God.' 'He loved _me_, and
gave Himself for _me_.'

Just as when the Israelites gathered on the banks of the Red Sea, and
Miriam and the maidens came out with songs and timbrels, though their
hearts throbbed with joy, and music rang from their lips for national
deliverance, their hymn made the whole deliverance the property of each,
and each of the chorus sang, 'The Lord is my Strength and my Song, He
also is become my Salvation,' so we must individualise the common
blessing. Every poor soul has a right to the whole of God, and unless a
man claims all the divine nature as his, he has little chance of
possessing the promised blessings. The response of the individual to the
worldwide promises and revelations of the Father is, 'Thou, O Lord! art
my Refuge.'

Further, note how this cry of the devout soul recognises God as He to
whom we must go because we need a refuge. The word 'refuge' here gives
the picture of some stronghold, or fortified place, in which men may
find security from all sorts of dangers, invasions by surrounding foes,
storm and tempest, rising flood, or anything else that threatens. Only
he who knows himself to be in danger bethinks himself of a refuge. It is
only when we know our danger and defencelessness that God, as the Refuge
of our souls, becomes precious to us. So, underlying, and an essential
part of, all our confidence in God, is the clear recognition of our own
necessity. The sense of our own emptiness must precede our grasp of His
fulness. The conviction of our own insufficiency and sinfulness must
precede our casting ourselves on His mercy and righteousness. In all
regions the consciousness of human want must go before the recognition
of the divine supply.

II. Now, note the still more abundant answer which that cry evokes.

I said that the words on which I have been commenting thus far, seem to
break in two the continuity of the stream of blessings and promises. But
there may be observed a certain distinction of tone between those
promises which precede and those which follow the cry. Those that follow
have a certain elevation and depth, completeness and fulness, beyond
those that precede. This enhancing of the promises, following on the
faithful grasp of previous promises, suggests the thought that, when God
is giving, and His servant thankfully accepts and garners up His gifts,
He opens His hand wider and gives more. When He pours His rain upon the
unthankful and the evil, and they let the precious, fertilising drops
run to waste, there comes after a while a diminution of the blessing;
but they who store in patient and thankful hearts the faithful promises
of God, have taken a sure way to make His gifts still larger and His
promises still sweeter, and their fulfilment more faithful and precious.

But now notice the remarkable language in which this answer is couched.
'Thou hast made the Most High thy Habitation, there shall no evil befall
thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.'

Did you ever notice that there are two dwelling-places spoken of in this
verse? 'Thou hast made the Most High thy Habitation'; 'There shall no
plague come nigh thy dwelling.' The reference of the latter word to the
former one is even more striking if you observe that, literally
translated, as in the Revised Version, it means a particular kind of
abode--namely, a tent. 'Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation.'
The same word is employed in the 90th Psalm: 'Lord, Thou hast been our
Dwelling-place in all generations.' Beside that venerable and ancient
abode, that has stood fresh, strong, incorruptible, and unaffected by
the lapse of millenniums, there stands the little transitory canvas tent
in which our earthly lives are spent. We have two dwelling-places. By
the body we are brought into connection with this frail, evanescent,
illusory outer world, and we try to make our homes out of shifting
cloud-wrack, and dream that we can compel mutability to become
immutable, that we may dwell secure. But fate is too strong for us, and
although we say that we will make our nest in the rocks, and shall never
be moved, the home that is visible and linked with the material passes
and melts as a cloud. We need a better dwelling-place than earth and
that which holds to earth. We have God Himself for our true Home. Never
mind what becomes of the tent, as long as the mansion stands firm. Do
not let us be saddened, though we know that it is canvas, and that the
walls will soon rot and must some day be folded up and borne away, if we
have the Rock of Ages for our dwelling-place.

Let us abide in the Eternal God by the devotion of our hearts, by the
affiance of our faith, by the submission of our wills, by the aspiration
of our yearnings, by the conformity of our conduct to His will. Let us
abide in the Eternal God, that 'when the earthly house of this
tabernacle is dissolved,' we may enter into two buildings 'eternal in
the heavens'--the one the spiritual body which knows no corruption, and
the other the bosom of the Eternal God Himself. 'Because thou hast made
Him thy Habitation,' that Dwelling shall suffer no evil to come near it
or its tenant.

Still further, notice the scope of this great promise. I suppose there
is some reference in the form of it to the old story of Israel's
exemption from the Egyptian plagues, and a hint that that might be taken
as a parable and prophetic picture of what will be true about every man
who puts his trust in God. But the wide scope and the paradoxical
completeness of the promise itself, instead of being a difficulty, point
the way to its true interpretation. 'There shall no plague come nigh thy
dwelling'--and yet we are smitten down by all the woes that afflict
humanity. 'No evil shall befall thee'--and yet 'all the ills that flesh
is heir to' are dealt out sometimes with a more liberal hand to them who
abide in God than to them who dwell only in the tent upon earth. What
then? Is God true, or is He not? Did this psalmist mean to promise the
very questionable blessing of escape from all the good of the discipline
of sorrow? Is it true, in the unconditional sense in which it is often
asserted, that 'prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, and
adversity of the New'? I think not, and I am sure that this psalmist,
when he said, 'there shall no evil befall thee, nor any plague come nigh
thy dwelling,' was thinking exactly the same thing which Paul had in his
mind when he said, 'All things work together for good to them that love
God, to them that are called according to His purpose.' If I make God my
Refuge, I shall get something a great deal better than escape from
outward sorrow--namely, an amulet which will turn the outward sorrow
into joy. The bitter water will still be given me to drink, but it will
be filtered water, out of which God will strain all the poison, though
He leaves plenty of the bitterness in it; for bitterness is a tonic. The
evil that is in the evil will be taken out of it, in the measure in
which we make God our Refuge, and 'all will be right that seems most
wrong' when we recognise it to be 'His sweet will.'

Dear brother! the secret of exemption from every evil lies in no
peculiar Providence, ordering in some special manner our outward
circumstances, but in the submission of our wills to that which the good
hand of the Lord our God sends us for our good; and in cleaving close to
Him as our Refuge. Nothing can be 'evil' which knits me more closely to
God; and whatever tempest drives me to His breast, though all the four
winds of the heavens strive on the surface of the sea, it will be better
for me than calm weather that entices me to stray farther away from Him.

We shall know that some day. Let us be sure of it now, and explain by it
our earthly experience, even as we shall know it when we get up yonder
and 'see all the way by which the Lord our God has led us.'



THE ANSWER TO TRUST


    'Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him:
    I will set him on high, because he hath known My name.'
    --PSALM xci. 14.

There are two voices speaking in the earlier part of this psalm: one
that of a saint who professes his reliance upon the Lord, his Fortress;
and another which answers the former speaker, and declares that he shall
be preserved by God. In this verse, which is the first of the final
portion of the psalm, we have a third voice--the voice of God Himself,
which comes in to seal and confirm, to heighten and transcend, all the
promises that have been made in His name. The first voice said of
himself, '_I_ will trust'; the second voice addresses that speaker, and
says, '_Thou_ shalt not be afraid'; the third voice speaks of him, and
not to him, and says, 'Because _he_ hath set his love upon Me, therefore
will I deliver him.'

Why does this divine voice speak thus indirectly of this blessing of His
servant? I think partly because it heightens the majesty of the
utterance, as if God spake to the whole universe about what He meant to
do for His friend who trusts Him; and partly because, in that general
form of speech, there is really couched an 'whosoever'; and it applies
to us all. If God had said, 'Because thou hast set thy love upon Me, I
will deliver thee,' it had not been so easy for us to put ourselves in
the place of the man concerning whom this great divine voice spoke; but
when He says, 'Because _he_ hath set _his_ love upon Me,' in the 'he'
there lies 'everybody'; and the promise spoken before the universe as to
His servants is spoken universally to His servants.

So, then, these words seem to me to carry two thoughts: the first, what
God delights to find in a man; and the second, what God delights to give
to the man in whom He finds it.

I. Note, first, what God delights to find in man.

There is, if we may reverently say so, a tone of satisfaction in the
words, 'Because he hath set his love upon Me,' and 'because he hath
known My name.' Thus, then, there are two things that the great Father's
heart seeks, and wheresoever it finds them, in however imperfect a
degree, He is glad, and lavishes upon such a one the most precious
things in His possession.

What are these two things? Let us look at each of them. Now the word
rendered 'set his love' includes more than is suggested by that
rendering, beautiful as it is. It implies the binding or knitting
oneself to anything. Now, though love be the true cement by which men
are bound to God, as it is the only real bond which binds men to one
another, yet the word itself covers a somewhat wider area than is
covered by the notion of love. It is not my love only that I am to
fasten upon God, but my whole self that I am to bind to Him. God
delights in us when we cling to Him. There is a threefold kind of
clinging, which I would urge upon you and upon myself.

Let us cling to Him in our thoughts, hour by hour, moment by moment,
amidst all the distractions of daily life. Whilst there are other things
that must legitimately occupy our minds, let us see to it that, ever and
anon, we turn ourselves away from these, and betake ourselves, with a
conscious gathering in of our souls, to Him, and calm and occupy our
hearts and minds with the bright and peaceful thoughts of a present God
ever near us, and ever gracious to us. Life is but a dreary stretch of
wilderness, unless all through it there be dotted, like a chain of ponds
in a desert, these moments in which the mind fixes itself upon God, and
loses sorrows and sins and weakness and all other sadnesses in the calm
and blessed contemplation of His sweetness and sufficiency. The very
heavens are bare and lacking in highest beauty, unless there stretch
across them the long lines of rosy-tinted clouds. And so across our
skies let us cast a continuous chain of thoughts of God, and as we go
about our daily work, let us try to have our minds ever recurring to
Him, like the linked pools that mirror heaven in the midst of the barren
desert, and bring a reflection of life into the midst of its death.
Cleave and cling to God, brother! by frequent thoughts of Him, diffused
throughout the whole continuity of the busy day.

Then again, we might say, let us cleave to Him by our love, which is the
one bond of union, as I said, between man and God, as it is the one bond
of union between man and man. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all
thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all
thy strength,' was from the beginning the Alpha, and until the end will
be the Omega, of all true religion; and within the sphere of that
commandment lie all duty, all Christianity, all blessedness, and all
life. The heart that is divided is wretched; the heart that is
consecrated is at rest. The love that is partial is nought; the love
that is worth calling so is total and continuous. Let us cling to Him
with our thoughts; let us cling to Him with the tendrils of our hearts.

Let us cleave to Him, still further, by the obedient contact of our
wills with His, taking no commandments from men, and no overpowering
impressions from circumstances, and no orders from our own fancies and
inclinations and tastes and lusts, but receiving all our instructions
from our Father in heaven. There is no real contact between us and God,
no real cleaving to Him, howsoever the thought of God may be in our
minds, and some kind of imperfect love to Him may be supposed to be in
our hearts, unless there be the absolute submission of our wills to His
authority; and only in the measure in which we are able to say, What He
commands I do, and what He sends I accept, and my will is in His hands
to be moulded, do we really get close and keep close to our Father in
the heavens. He that hath brought himself into loving touch with God,
and clings to Him in that threefold fashion, by thought, love, and
submission, he, and only he, is so joined to the Lord as to be one
Spirit.

Now that is not a state to be won and kept without much vigorous,
conscious effort. The nuts in a machine work loose; the knots in a rope
'come untied,' as the children say. The hand that clasps anything, by
slow and imperceptible degrees, loses muscular contraction, and the grip
of the fingers becomes slacker. Our minds and affections and wills have
that same tendency to slacken their hold of what they grasp. Unless we
tighten up the machine it will work loose; and unless we make conscious
efforts to keep ourselves in touch with God, His hand will slip out of
ours before we know that it is gone, and we shall fancy that we feel the
impression of the fingers long after they have been taken away from our
negligent palms.

Besides our own vagrancies, and the waywardness and wanderings of our
poor, unreliable natures, there come in, of course, as hindrances, all
the interruptions and distractions of outside things, which work in the
same direction of loosening our hold on God. If the shipwrecked sailor
is not to be washed off the raft he must tie himself on to it, and must
see that the lashings are reliable and the knots tight; and if we do not
mean to be drifted away from God without knowing it, we must make very
sure work of anchor and cable, and of our own hold on both. Effort is
needed, continuous and conscious, lest at any time we should slide away
from Him. And this is what God delights to find: a mind and will that
bind themselves to Him.

There is another thing in the text which, as I take it, is a consequence
of that close union between man in his whole nature and God: 'I will set
him on high because he hath known My name.' Notice that the knowledge of
the name comes after, and not before, the setting of the love or the
fixing of the nature upon God. God's 'name' is the same thing as His
self-revelation or His manifested character. Then, does not every one to
whom that revelation is made know His name? Certainly not. The word
'know' is here used in the same deep sense in which it is employed all
but uniformly in the New Testament--the same sense in which it is used
in the writings of the Apostle John. It describes a knowledge which is a
great deal more than a mere intellectual acquaintance with the facts of
divine revelation. Or, to put the thought into other words, this is a
knowledge which comes after we have set our love upon God, a knowledge
which is the child of love. We forget sometimes that it is a Person, and
not a system of truth, whom the Bible tells us we are to know. And how
do you know people? Only by familiar acquaintance with them. You might
read a description of a man, perfectly accurate, sufficiently full, but
you would not therefore say you knew him. You might know about him, or
fancy you did, but if you knew him, it would be because you had summered
and wintered with him, and lived beside him, and were on terms of
familiar acquaintance with him. As long as it is God and not theology,
the knowledge of whom makes religion, so long it will not be the head,
but the heart or spirit, that is the medium or organ by which we know
Him. You have to become acquainted with Him and be very familiar with
Him--that is to say, to fix your whole self upon Him--before you 'know'
Him; and it is only the knowledge which is born of love and familiarity
that is worth calling knowledge at all. Just as with our earthly
relationships and acquaintances, only they who love a man or a woman
know such a one right down to the very depth of their being, so the one
way to know God's name is to bind myself to Him with mind and heart and
will, as friends cleave to one another. Then I shall know Him and be
known of Him.

Still further, this knowledge which God delights to find in us men, is a
knowledge which is experience. There is all the difference between
reading about a foreign country and going to see it with your own eyes.
The man that has been there knows it; the man that has not knows about
it. And only he knows God to whom the commonplaces of religion have
turned into facts which he verifies by his own experiences.

It is a knowledge, too, which influences life. Obviously the words of my
text look back to what the saint was represented as saying in an earlier
portion of the psalm. Why does God declare that the man has set his love
upon Him, and knows His name? Because the saint professed this, 'I will
say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress.' These are His name.
The man knows it; he has it not only upon his lips, but in his heart,
and feels that it is true, and acts accordingly. 'He is my Refuge and my
Fortress; my God, in Him will I trust.' The knowledge which God regards
as knowledge of Him is one based upon experience and upon familiar
acquaintance, and issuing in joyful recognition of my possession of Him
as mine, and the outgoing of my confidence to Him. These are the things
that God desires and delights to find in men.

II. Note, secondly, what God gives to the man in whom He finds such
things.

'I will deliver him'; 'I will set him on high.' These two clauses are
substantially parallel, and yet there is a difference between them, as
is the nature of the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, where the same ideas
are repeated with a shade of modification, and the second of them
somewhat surpassing the first. 'I will deliver him,' says the promise.
That confirms the view that the promise in the previous verse, 'There
shall no plague come nigh thy dwelling,' does not mean exemption from
sorrow and trial because, if so, there would be no relevancy or
blessedness in the promise of deliverance. He who needs 'deliverance' is
the man who is surrounded by evils, and God's promise is not that no
evil shall come to the man who trusts Him, but that he shall be
delivered out of the evil that does come, and that it will not be truly
evil.

And why is he to be delivered? 'Because he has bound himself to Me,'
says God, 'therefore will I deliver him.' Of course, if I am fastened to
God, nothing that does not hurt Him can hurt me. If I am knit to Him as
closely as this psalm contemplates, it is impossible but that out of His
fulness my emptiness shall be filled, and with His rejoicing strength my
weakness will be made strong. It is just the same idea as is given to us
in the picture of Peter upon the water, when the cold waves are up to
his knees, and the coward heart says, 'I am ready to sink,' but yet,
with the faith that comes with the fear, he puts out his hand and grasps
Christ's hand, and as soon as he does, and the two are united, he is
buoyant, and rises again, and the water is beneath the soles of his
feet. 'He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.'
Whoever is joined to God is lifted above all evil, and the evil that
continues to eddy about him will change its character, and bear him
onwards to his haven. For he who is thus knit to God in the living,
pulsating bond of thought and affection and submission, will be
delivered from sin.

When a boy first learns to skate, he needs some one to go behind him and
hold him up whilst he uses his unaccustomed limbs; and so, when we are
upon the smooth, treacherous ice of this wicked world, it is by leaning
on God that we are kept upright. 'He hath set himself close to Me, I
will deliver him,' says God. 'Yea! he shall not fall, for the Lord is
able to make him stand.'

Still further, we have another great promise, which is the explanation
and extension of the former, 'I will set him on high, because he hath
known My name.' That is more than lifting a man up above the reach of
the storms of life by means of any external deliverance. There is a
better thing than that--namely, that our whole inward life be lived
loftily. If it is true of us that we know His name, then our lives are
'hid with Christ in God,' and far below our feet will be all the riot of
earth and its noise and tumult and change. We shall live serene and
uplifted lives on the mount, if we know His name and have bound
ourselves to Him, and the troubles and cares and changes and duties and
joys of this present will be away down below us, like the lowly cottages
in some poor village, seen from the mountain top, the squalor out of
sight, the magnitude diminished, the noise and tumult dimmed to a mere
murmur that interrupts not the sacred silence of the lofty peak where we
dwell with God. 'I will set him on high because he knows My name.'

Then, perhaps, there is a hint in the words, as there is in subsequent
words of the verse, of an elevation even higher than that, when, life
ended and earth done, He shall receive into His glory those whom He hath
guided by His counsel. 'I will set him on high, because he hath known My
name,' says the Jehovah of the Old Covenant. 'To him that overcometh
will I grant to sit with Me on My throne,' says the Jesus of the New,
who is the Jehovah of the Old.



WHAT GOD WILL DO FOR US


    'He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in
    trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. 16. With long life will
    I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.'--PSALM xci. 15, 16.

When considering the previous verses of this psalm, I pointed out that
at its close we have God's own voice coming in to confirm and expand the
promises which, in the earlier portion of it, have been made in His name
to the devout heart. The words which we have now to consider cover the
whole range of human life and need, and may be regarded as being a
picture of the sure and blessed consequences of keeping our hearts fixed
upon our Father, God. He Himself speaks them, and His word is true.

The verses of the text fall into three portions. There are promises for
the suppliant, promises for the troubled, promises for mortals. 'He
shall call upon Me and I will answer him'; that is for the suppliant. 'I
will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honour him'; that is
for the distressed. 'With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My
salvation'; that is for the mortal. Now let us look at these three.

I. The promise to the suppliant.

'He will call upon Me and I will answer.' We may almost regard the first
of these two clauses as part of the promise. It is not merely a Hebrew
way of putting a supposition, 'If he calls upon Me, then I will answer
him,' nor merely a virtual commandment, 'Call, if you expect an answer,'
but itself is a part of the blessing and privilege of the devout and
faithful heart. 'He shall call upon Me'; the King opens the door of His
chamber and beckons us within.

In these great words we may see set forth both the instinct, as I may
call it, of prayer, and the privilege of access to God. If a man's heart
is set upon God, his very life-breath will be a cry to His Father. He
will experience a need which is not degraded by being likened to an
instinct, for it acts as certainly as do the instincts of the lower
creatures, which guide them by the straightest possible road to the
surest supply of their need. Any man who has learned in any measure to
love God and trust Him will, in the measure in which he has so learned,
live in the exercise and habit  of prayer; and it will be as much his
instinct to cry to God in all changing circumstances as it is for the
swallows to seek the sunny south when the winter comes, or the cold
north when the sunny south becomes torrid and barren. So, then, 'He
shall call upon Me' is the characteristic of the truly God-knowing and
God-loving heart, which was described in the previous verse. 'Because he
has clung to Me in love, therefore will I deliver him; because he has
known My name, therefore will I set him on high,' and because he has
clung and known therefore it is certain that He will 'call upon Me.'

My friend! do you know anything of that instinctive appeal to God? Does
it come to your heart and to your lips without your setting yourself to
pray, just as the thought of dear ones on earth comes stealing into our
minds a hundred times a day, when we do not intend it nor know exactly
how it has come? Does God suggest Himself to you in that fashion, and is
the instinct of your hearts to call upon Him?

Again, we see here not only the unveiling of the very deepest and most
characteristic attribute of the devout soul, but also the assurance of
the privilege of access. God lets us speak to Him. And there is,
further, a wonderful glimpse into the very essence of true prayer. 'He
shall call upon Me.' What for? No particular object is specified as
sought. It is God whom we want, and not merely any things that even He
can give. If asking for these