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Expositions of Holy Scripture - Psalms
by Alexander Maclaren
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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.'

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