Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Chronicles 20.). We see from the narrative of the Chronicles that the children of the Korahites sang a song of praise on the occasion of that signal interposition of God, although it is not likely that the song then sang was the forty-eighth psalm; for the reference in ver. 7 is against that; and at first it is not easy to see how "ships of Tarshish" should come to be mentioned in this song, if prepared with reference to the event of which we have made mention. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:25, 26) makes mention of ships of Tarshish which belonged to Tyro, being "broken" by the east wind; and it is possible that the psalm may have an allusion thereto. But, singularly enough, the chapter that records Jehoshaphat's prayer and deliverance records also his defection and its punishment; and we are told that his ships were broken so that they were not able to go to Tarshish (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). If this be the reference in the song before us, its significance would be very striking; in that case, it would mean that Jehovah, Israel's God, who put the heathen to flight for Israel's sake, put even Israel to shame when her people or her kings left the straight path of reliance on and obedience to God alone; and that this was among the "judgments" of him whose right hand is full of righteousness; showing us that God's care for his Church is just as marked when he rebukes her for her sins as when he delivers her from her foes; and that both for his faithful chastisement as for his mighty interposition, his loving-kindness is rehearsed in his temple with gratitude and song. And there is a holy pride in rehearsing the privileges of Zion as far outweighing those of the nations around - a pride, however, which refers all the honour and glory of Zion to God, and to God alone. Interesting, however, as these historic allusions are to the student, the higher spiritual bearing of the psalm is far more interesting, and far more important, as it sets before us this theme - the privilege and honour of the Church of God. We need not here argue the point that the Christian Church is the successor to the honours and privileges of the Jewish Church. A comparison of Exodus 19:6 with 1 Peter 2:9 will show this. The Christian Church, in its largest sense, is made up of all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. The organization of distinct and definite communities as Churches is a necessity for the time now present, but no such organizations include all believers; many believers, moreover, are in no such organization at all; only "the Lord knoweth them that are his;" and over all such his care is exercised: in their totality as including all regenerated souls, they make up the Church of God. Of this Church as a unity we have now to speak.
I. GOD'S DWELLING-PLACE IS IN HIS CHURCH, (Vers. 1, 2.) It is quite possible that, after what we have just said about the Church in its entirety and vastness, and about the impossibility of its being scanned by any human eye, that it may be said, "But if the Church is thus undefinable by us as to its limits, we cannot conceive of it as a dwelling-place." This we can easily understand. But the demur has, in reality, no force. For it is quite clear from the New Testament that as there is "the Church" in the highest spiritual sense, so there are local and organized Churches in the geographical sense. Of this the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia are immediate and sufficient proof. And wherever a Church is faithful to its Lord, since whatever is true of the whole Church is true of any part of it, the believers in Jesus who belong to any local and faithful Church may apply to themselves that which Paul declared of the Ephesian converts when he wrote, "Ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Thus no Christian need hesitate to apply the words to the fellowship of believers to which he belongs; he may say," God is known in our palaces for a Refuge. This Church is a city of the great King. And the real presence of a living Saviour among us is our honour, our joy, our life (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20).
II. GOD HIMSELF IS THE REFUGE OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 3.) It is the privilege of the individual believer, in all times of trial, sorrow, and care, to betake himself to his God and Saviour as to an unfailing Friend. But this privilege rises to sublimity when a whole company of believers, encompassed with peril and threatened by foes from without, can all rush to their Saviour in faith and prayer, as to a Refuge from the gathering storm!
III. GOD'S LOVING-KINDNESS IS THE THEME OF THE CHURCH. (Ver. 9.) How much fuller and sweeter is this theme for meditation now than of old! Then it was gained through prophets; now from him before whose presence lawgiver and prophet retire, as stars are concealed in the brightness of the sun! How incomparably does Romans 8. surpass aught in the Old Testament! And what was there in the olden time so tender as Luke 15.? Verily such a theme lifts the soul heavenward, tunes the lips to song, and speeds the feet to run the race set before us.
IV. GOD'S DELIVERANCES MARK THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 4-8.) The effect of this vivid description is pictorial. We can almost see the kings eyeing Jerusalem with envy, plotting her capture, seized with panic and hurrying away as for very life. The psalmist says that he had heard of such deliverances in times past, and now had seen them. And any student of Church history who has been withal for fifty years a close observer of Church life, can say the same. That God is the perpetual Deliverer of his Church is the story of the past and the testimony of the present. Nor may we forget the double kind of deliverance:
(1) from foes without;
(2) from mischief within.
If the view given above of ver. 7 is correct, the verse suggests that the Church owes quite as much to God's chastening love in correcting her for her sins, as to his rescuing power in spoiling her foes. That he will do this is part of the covenant (Psalm 89:28-33).
V. THE HONOUR OF GOD'S NAME IS HIS OWN PLEDGE TO THE CHURCH. (Vers. 10,11.) In the attribute of God's righteousness is the Church's repose and glory. Through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, faithfulness, justice, righteousness, can be the supports of sinful men. This is the supreme wonder of redeeming grace. Think of it! Sinful people rejoicing that God's right hand is full of righteousness!
VI. GOD'S GRACIOUS RELATIONS ARE THE GUARANTEE OF THE PERPETUITY OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 12-14.) We omit the italic "it in ver. 13 (Authorized Version), and translate the first word in ver. 14 that." The psalmist incites to a study of Zion's towers, bulwarks, palaces, privileges, that it may be declared to the generation following, that "this God is our God for ever and ever." And when we study the redemption in Christ which has founded the Church, the spiritual power which is building up the Church, the watchful providence which has for eighteen centuries guarded the Church, the story which we have to hand down to the coming generation is the same, but told with vaster emphasis, surer faith, and more rapturous joy. "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our Guide above death, and beyond it!" "Happy is the people that is in such a case! yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord!" - C.
I. THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH. The outward is the symbol of the inward. The glory of the Church is not material, but moral. Mind is of all things the greatest. One soul is infinitely more precious than the richest domains. Think of some great man - Newton, Bacon, or Shakespeare. If all the wealth in that one mind could be yours, would you not choose it rather than the grandest of earthly inheritances? And how rich is the Church in mind! "The glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs," are here; and here also are thousands and tens of thousands whose names have been unknown on earth, but are written in heaven. The Church, like Jerusalem, is set on high, but. her beauty is not in "situation," but in character; her "elevation" is not in outward advantages, but in nearness to God. She has the "righteousness which exalteth."
1. The glory of the Church is not limited, but universal. Jerusalem was for a single people, but the Church is for all nations and kindreds and tongues. The light that dwells in her is to shine forth to all lands. The moral power that centres in her is to radiate its gracious influences to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem had her daughters - in the towns and villages of Judah; but the Church's daughters are to be found in every land under the sun.
2. The glory of the Church is not transitory, but eternal. It is not like the passing shows of earthly kings; nor is it short-lived and disappointing, like the glory of Jerusalem. It derives its being from God, and will endure while God endureth. Love and goodness can never die. Much of the glory of the Church is as yet hidden. There were mysteries in the days of Paul, and there are mysteries still. But the light will shine more and more to the perfect day. The past - "what we have heard," the present - "what we have seen," alike bear witness, and combine to raise our hopes of the coming glory.
II. THE GREATNESS OF THE CHURCH'S HEAD. "Great." (Ver. 1.) The measure of the glory of the Church is the greatness of the Church's Head. The certainty of the glory of the Church in all its transcendent developments, is to be found in the greatness of the Church's Head (Ephesians 1:17-23).
1. In the might of his power. His enemies shall lick the dust (vers. 4-8). Sooner or later, either with the joy of love or the torments of fear, the confession must be made - that "he is Lord" (Philippians 2:10, 11).
2. In the sweetness of his loving-kindness. (Ver. 9.) There is a fitness of place ("temple") and a fitness of method (" wait"). As we keep our ears open, truth will come to us. As we bend our minds in eager thought upon Divine things, more and more of the Lord's goodness will be revealed to us. It is the "loving-kindness" of God that has blessed the past, and it will, in like manner, but in larger measure, bless the future. God's loving-kindness culminated in the cross. There could be nothing higher. And the cross is the best help to our faith, and the surest guarantee of our hopes (Romans 5:8-10).
3. In the righteousness of his judgments. (Vers. 10-13.) The heathen fabled that Jove's hands were full of thunderbolts; but our God's "right hand is full of righteousness." Let us praise God for freedom. There were terrors, but they have passed. We have the glad sense of escape. We are free. It is God who has done it. Let us give thanks for Divine protection. Jerusalem had her towers and bulwarks. Round about her stood the everlasting hills. She seemed impregnable. But in the evil day of unbelief she fell. But the defences of God's people are better far, and can never be overthrown. Our "bulwarks" are not rampart and tower, but God's love and faithfulness. There will be assaults in the future as in the past, but the foundation standeth sure. There will be many a sore fight and struggle, but the powers against us can never prevail over the omnipotence of God. Let us rejoice in the everlasting love of God (vers. 13, 14). We should think of others as well as ourselves. We have a duty to our children and those who come after us. Musing on what God has done for us, our hearts will burn within us, and we shall be able to "tell" the generation following "the wonderful works of God." It is with exulting faith that we claim "this God" as "our God," and commend his love and his truth to others. What he has been to us he can be to them, and more. For ourselves we "know whom we have believed." He will keep us all our days. Our Guide into death, he will be our Portion and our Joy for ever. - W.F.
what army. Let it be taken as suggesting some things which may be said of the true eternal city of God, what it is, and what it will become through everlasting ages, exhibiting the greatest glory of man and the highest glory of God.
I. SOCIETY FOUNDED AND BUILT UP IN HOLINESS. (Ver. 1.) Nothing unclean can permanently dwell in it. The heavenly Jerusalem.
II. FILLED THROUGHOUT WITH DIVINE JOY. (Ver. 2.) "God shall wipe away all tears." No permanent sorrow.
III. ETERNALLY SAFE FROM DANGER OF OVERTHROW. (Ver. 3.) Often threatened during her earthly history by the combined forces of evil which have been arrayed against her.
IV. GOD HAS EXPENDED THE GRANDEST POWERS OF HIS NATURE IN BUILDING IT UP.
1. Moral omnipotence. (Vers. 4-8.) The history of past times and personal experience testify to this. He breaks the forces of evil as he broke the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.
2. It has been and is the theatre for the display of the infinite love. (Ver. 9.) "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."
3. Also for the fullest display of the Divine righteousness. (Vers. 10, 11.) "Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne."
4. He is the everlasting Guide and Light of the city. (Ver. 14.) Because he is its King and Father and Lawgiver. Here is a theme for grateful thanksgiving and joy and worship. - S.