Psalm 37
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
A Psalm of David. Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
Unto All Nations

Psalm 37:2

A Church which is in no sense a Missionary Church is really dead.

I. The spiritual prosperity of the Church at home becomes a fountain to feed missions abroad. The Gospel in its essence is remedial. It claims to be the one means of healing for the common malady of human nature. We may say that all missions are medical missions. The Gospel contemplates the whole world as one vast hospital full of sick souls and wounded hearts, and warped and diseased wills.

II. And therefore this Catholic evangel claims all nations and kindreds and people and tongues for its inheritance. Too often indeed, we hamper its energies and retard its conquests because we assume that pure Christianity necessarily involves any of the external features of our own civilization. Yet surely Asiatics and Africans can find 'saving health' in the New Testament, without being inoculated with the restless fever which we call 'progress'.

III. Those who look forward in faith to the fulfilment of God's missionary promises and the victory of Christ's Cross, anticipate a Church of the future which will certainly be no mere copy of the Church of the present. It is a strange and marvellous thing that 'Christianity has for so long a period been confined mainly to the white people, but its mission is to mankind, and mankind is not in any large proportion white. And surely there are great neglected Christian ideas, ignored and forgotten truths and graces which will be recovered and come to their own in the fullness of time, when Hindu theologies and Chinese mystics and saints bring their own characteristic gifts to the Church's common treasury.

—T. H. Darlow, The Upward Galling, p. 321.

References.—LXVII. 3.—H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 334. LXVII. 5, 6.—G. A. Sowter, Sowing and Reaping, p. 49. LXVII. 6.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 118. LXVII.—International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 92.

Remedies for Despondency

Psalm 37:3

One of the many dangers that we have to guard against in the spiritual life is the danger of despondency. We look out into the world around us and it would seem that those people who live their lives without any thought of God are getting on just as well as, and perhaps better than, we ourselves. This depression of soul is no new thing in the history of man. We find it in Holy Scripture. In this 37th Psalm the Psalmist tells us that he himself has seen the ungodly in great power, and moreover flourishing like a green bay-tree. And you will remember that even so strong a character as the prophet Elijah, just because he was threatened by an angry woman, throws himself down under a juniper-tree and requests that he may die. To the devout Jew this problem of the prosperity of the ungodly was one of the unsolved difficulties of life, and of course the problem was all the more difficult for him because there was no revelation of a future state of rewards and punishments. But for us the future life is no longer a dream. We know that God will in His own good time, if not here, at any rate hereafter, see that all wrongs are righted and all injustices redressed.

I. Faith.—Surely we can 'trust in the Lord'. In the old Catechism, which most of us probably learnt once and may have forgotten since, we are reminded that our duty towards God is to put our whole trust in Him. That surely means to stake everything upon Him; not merely to trust Him when all our life seems to be bathed in sunshine, not to trust Him merely when everything we do seems to turn out successfully, but also in those dark and gloomy days when the horizon becomes clouded and the sky is black with failure or sorrow.

II. Patience.—And this means that great demands will be made upon our patience. Because we cannot do what we want to do at once, we give up through impatience. We sympathize with the servants in the parable who wanted to pull up the tares at once. We are all too apt to lose sight of the fact that evil has a place in this world and in some mysterious way a work to do.

III. Works.—But not only does the Psalmist tell us that we are to trust in the Lord, but he says also that we are to do good. Go out into the pathway of duty and do that which lies right to thy hand—and do it with all thy might. Surely it is exactly what God told Elijah to do. 'Return on thy way'—it is no use hiding under a juniper-tree and bemoaning your failure. Is it not true that many of us regard our religion as something almost entirely negative? We think that if we can abstain from the grosser forms of sin we are doing all that can be expected of us. We are content if we can go through the world without, as we say, 'doing any harm'. But we are not put in this world simply not to do harm. We are put into this world to do good. Is anyone in this world a little better for our having been here? It is very interesting to know that our Lord summed up all the commandments in a form no longer negative, but strictly positive—'Thou shalt love'.

IV. Leave Results to God.—Then to come to the closing words of the text. God is not asking from us anything in the nature of success; only faithfulness. 'Be ye faithful unto death,' not 'be successful'. God in His great mercy is asking from His children something that is within grasp of all. Do not let us get into the habit of thinking that God is a hard taskmaster. He is just asking of us that each in his position in life will do his best. There is nothing that appeals to us like success, but that is not what God wants. God looks deeper than that. He looks into the heart. He does not trouble Himself about the outward result; He scrutinizes the motives. He marks the efforts, even though they are crowned with failure again and again. Is there any text more full of comfort, more stimulating to effort, than this, spoken of a poor simple woman at whom the world pointed the finger of scorn, 'Let her alone; she hath done what she could'? If you and I do what we can, never mind the failure; we can leave results in God's hands.

No sermons, nor books, nor arguments can strengthen the doubting heart so deeply as just to come into touch with a soul that is founded upon a rock, and has proved the truth of that plain religion whose highest philosophy is 'Trust in the Lord, and do good?'

—Henry van Dyke, Little Rivers, p. 107.

The Secret of Tranquillity

Psalm 37:4-7

I. Here is the secret of tranquillity in freedom from eager, earthly desire—'Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desire 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. Unbridled and varying wishes 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 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. If then our desires are, in their very exercise, a disturbance, and in their very fruition prophesy disappointment, and if their certain disappointment is irrevocable and crushing when it comes, what shall we do for rest? There is but one answer—'Delight thyself in the Lord'. This glad longing for God is the cure for all the feverish unrest of desires unfulfilled, as well as for the ague of fear, of loss and sorrow.

II. But this is not all, the secret of tranquillity is found, secondly, in freedom from the perplexity of choosing our path. What does it prescribe? First the subordination—not the extinction—of our own inclinations. Our will is to be master of our passions, and desires, and whims, and habits, but to be the servant of God. Then the counsel of our text prescribes the submission of our judgment to God, in the confidence that His wisdom will guide us: The law is: you do your best to find out your duty; you suppress inclinations, and desire to do God's will, and He will certainly tell you what it is. Only let the eye be fixed on Him, and He will guide us in the way.

III. One more step. The secret of tranquillity is found, thirdly, in freedom from the anxiety of an unknown future. 'Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.' Such an addition to these previous is needful, if all the sources of our disquiet are to be dealt with. We are sure that in the 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 tomorrow 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'.

—A. Maclaren.

Reference.—XXXVII. 5.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes (1st Series), p. 18.

Psalm 37:5

This verse was the frequent promise with which David Livingstone, the African missionary and traveller, encouraged himself in the midst of his wanderings and perils.

Psalms 37

This Psalm was the basis of the hymn of Paul Gerhardt, Befiehl du deine Wege, which has taken national rank in Germany, next to Luther's Ein' feste Burg. It has become well known in the English language through John Wesley's translation:—

Commit thou all thy griefs

And ways into His hands,

To His sure truth and tender care,

Who heaven and earth commands.

The story told of its origin is well known. When Paul Gerhardt was banished from Berlin by the Elector of Brandenburg, because he conscientiously refused some conditions attached to his ministry, he turned in with wife and children to a small wayside hostelry, not knowing where to betake himself. Seeing his wife deeply depressed, he quoted to her Psalm 37:5 : 'Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass'; and then went out into the garden. There, sitting under an apple-tree, he composed the hymn, and read it to his wife for her comfort. That same evening two messengers arrived from Duke Christian of Merseburg to offer him an honourable place in his dominions. When the first Lutheran Church was opened in Philadelphia in 1743 it was with Gerhardt's song.

—John Ker.

'Be Still, My Soul'

Psalm 37:7

A favourite subject with the Psalmist is the seeming injustice of God's dealings with men as witnessed in the frequent prosperity of the wicked, and the as frequent adversity of the righteous.

I. The assurance that all is not in reality well with the wicked is valuable in so far as it saves us from unbelief and despair. Sorrow in some shape or other, in greater or less measure, is the common lot; danger is the common lot; and death comes at last to all. There is no exemption in favour of youth, or beauty, or blood.

II. God often delays, and for this reason, that He is eternal. It is oftentimes more difficult patiently to wait than to be actively engaged in some enterprise. And yet God rewards us for the fidelity with which we serve Him, and for that alone.

III. 'For Him.' The addition of these two words makes the nature of true resignation quite clear. Our Heavenly Father demands more of us than mere passive submission to His will. We must hope on, unfaltering in faith, unswerving in purpose, faithful to God even unto death.

IV. The sweet and invigorating consolation which flows from patiently awaiting God's time is the subject of Catharina von Schlegel's fine hymn, familiar to us all in Jane Borthwick's admirable translation, 'Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side'.

—W. Taylor, Twelve Favourite Hymns, p. 153.

References.—XXXVII. 7.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons. (10th Series), p. 174. D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 2998. A. W. Momerie, Defects of Modern Christianity, p. 242. E. S. Gange, Penny Pulpit, No. 1009. M. R. Vincent, Gates Into the Psalm Country, p. 127. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1333. S. Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 225. J. Martineau, Hows of Thought, vol. i. p. 329. XXXVII. 11.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2257. XXXVII. 21.—J. M. Neale, Passages of the Psalms, p. 89. XXXVII. 23, 24.—M. R. Vincent, God and Bread, p. 97. XXXVII. 25.—J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 247.

Obedience the Remedy for Religious Perplexity

Psalm 37:34

Let every beginner make up his mind to suffer disquiet and perplexity. He cannot complain that it should be so; and though he should be deeply ashamed of himself that it is so (for had he followed God from a child, his condition would have been far different, though even then perhaps, not without some perplexities), still he has no cause to be surprised or discouraged. The more he makes up his mind manfully to bear doubt, struggle against it, and meekly to do God's will all through it, the sooner this unsettled state of mind will cease, and order will rise out of confusion. 'Wait on the Lord,' this is the rule; 'keep His way,' this is the manner of waiting. Go about your duty; mind little things as well as great. Do not pause, and say, 'I am as I was; day after day passes, and still no light'; go on.

—J. H. Newman.

References.—XXXVII. 34.—J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i. p. 228. XXXVII. 37.—G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 414. J. Baldwin Brown, Aids to the Development of the Divine Life, vol. i. p. 111. XXXVII. 38.—C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons (2nd Series), p. 384. XXXVII. 39.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes, p. 151. XXXVIII.—International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 335. XXXVIII. 1.—J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. i. XXXVIII. 2.—Bishop Goodwin, Parish Sermons (4th Series), p. 162. XXXVIII. 9.—J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 114. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1564.

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.
The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.
They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.
For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.
The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.
The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.
The LORD will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.
But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
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