Psalm 19:3

There is enough in this psalm for twenty discourses. But in this department of the 'Pulpit Commentary' it is not our province to dwell on specific texts, however attractive, but to indicate how by a homiletic exposition of the psalm as a whole, it may be brought home to us for everyday life in the continuous unfolding of the Scripture. At the same time, the two divisions of the psalm are so entirely distinct that they call for separate treatment, as they open up to the preacher entirely different branches of thought and instruction. There is no reason to question the Davidic authorship of the psalm, but it is so couched that from its contents there is nothing by which we can infer either its authorship or date; and it so speaks to man as man, that it is of equal value by whomsoever or whensoever it was penned. We have in its first six verses a rehearsal of the voices of God in the firmament above. And we gather from the forms of expression that the writer was accustomed to speak of natural phenomena in the language of his day. In his view the firmament of heaven spread out as a hemisphere above the earth, like a splendid and pellucid sapphire, in which the stars were supposed to be fixed, and over which the Hebrews believed there was a heavenly ocean. The Bible was not meant to teach science, but to teach God. Science has to do with the matter, order, and laws of the creation. In religion we have to do with the great Author of all. And while we find the writer far enough away from our present conceptions of what the heavens are, we find he is one to whom God had spoken as Jehovah, the great I AM - and who had been taught God's Law to man as well as God's utterances in nature. And as God's voices to us have become clearer than they were in the psalmist's time, by his revelation in Christ Jesus, so the glory of his works has become amazingly clearer through the discoveries man has made therein; and he will fall very far short of a suitable setting forth of the truths of this first half of the psalm, who does not utilize the recent discoveries of science as a pedestal on which to set, in clearer and fuller ways, Jehovah's glory! The expositor is bound to show how gloriously science helps religion, in furnishing him with new material for setting forth the greatness of God l An unfolding of the verses before us will lead us along several lines of thought, with which we propose to deal cumulatively.

I. THERE ARE NATURAL OBJECTS AND FACTS HERE SPECIFIED. The heavens. The firmament. The sun. The orderly succession of day and night. In regard to each of these, science helps religion. And grand as was the scene in olden time to the natural eye, and with all the imperfections of ancient knowledge, the grandeur is unspeakably vaster now, owing to discoveries which have since been and are still being made (The expositor of this psalm needs to read up to date in astronomical researches.)

II. AMONG THEM THERE IS INCESSANT ACTIVITY. "The heavens declare," etc. Their activity is not conscious on their part, but it is nevertheless real. Light is ever acting on the vegetable world, and helps to open the petals of the flower, to give blossom its colour, and fruit its sweetness. Thus there is a reciprocal relation established between the sunbeam and the plant. So also is there between the stars above us and the mind of man. And though they utter not a word (ver. 3, Hebrew), they are sounding forth a message to the soul of man. "Their line is gone out," etc. (ver. 4). The word "line" is one of much interest. It meant, first, any cord or string; then a string stretched out so as to emit a musical sound; then the sound emitted by the string; then a full musical chord.

"For ever singing, as they shine,
The hand that made us is Divine!'"

III. THESE ACTIVITIES ARE WONDROUSLY VARIED. The four verbs used here are all of them exceedingly expressive. The heavens are falling the glory of God, recounting it to us as in the pages of a book; the firmament is showing his handiwork, setting it before our eyes as in a picture; day unto day welleth forth speech, pouring it out as from a fountain; night unto night breatheth out knowledge, breathing it out gently so that the attentive listener may hear. "During the French Revolution, it was said to a peasant, ' I will have all your steeples pulled down, that you may no longer have any object by which you may be reminded of your old superstitions.' 'But,' replied the peasant, 'you cannot help leaving us the stars.'"

IV. WITH ALL THIS VARIETY OF EXPRESSION, THEY TELL OF A CREATING POWER. "The glory of God;" "The firmament showeth his handiwork." When this is said, there are two points involved - one implied, the other expressed. It is implied that man has the faculty of understanding these varied forms of expression. Surely a perceived object implies a perceiving subject, and a message addressed implies the existence of those by whom it can be understood. The question of the origin of things will, must, come up; quite irrespectively of method, there will be the question of cause. The old design argument is valid as ever, though it may need to be thrown into a different form. That which it requires mind to understand, must a fortiori require the equivalent of mind to bring into being. From nature's framework, power, wisdom, benevolent adaptation, order, etc., are manifest. Even the objection raised from the existence of wasted seeds, abortive organs, rudimentary and undeveloped possibilities, comes to nought when it is remembered that no atom of matter is wasted, but, if unused at one moment, is worked up again in other collocations. The advance of the most cultured thought at the present time is remarkable. The old atheism is now out of date; and so, intellectually, is even the old agnosticism. It is behind the times. The latest developments of Darwinism honour God. But while on the ground of knowledge and culture, intellect must admit the existence of "a Power above us," it is only the lowly, devout, and loyal spirit that will see God in all things, and enjoy all things in God.

V. GOD'S MESSAGE FROM THE HEAVENS IS RESPONDED TO IN HOLY SONG. Whoso forgets the title of the psalm will miss much of its beauty and glory. It is meant for the choirmaster. It is to be set to music, and uttered in song. Poetry, music, song, are the audible response of man to the inaudible voices of the day and of the night. Through the stars, God speaks to man without words; with his voice man speaks to God. Thus the universe is one grand antiphony. God's music delighting man; man's music adoring God. The heavens speak to us of God; we respond to the God of heaven. Note: Although we do not wish here to anticipate unduly the teaching of the second half of this psalm, yet we may be permitted to remark that, glorious as the music of the heavens is to those who have ears to hear, yet there is another message from the eternal throne, which alone tells us the thoughts God has towards us, and which, when understood and received, does touch our hearts and move our tongues to louder, sweeter, tenderer song than ever nature's glory could inspire. - C.

No speech nor language; their voice cannot be heard.
The Psalmist, like a true poet, had a keen eye and ear. He saw in the firmament the glory of God, and he heard, around him and beneath, a chorus of praise to the Most High. Two interpretations have been put upon this verse. The first, that there is no country or clime, "no speech or language," where the voice of the firmament, etc., is not heard, seeing their "line" or instruction "is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." The other is, that there is no audible voice, no sound that falls upon the ear. Addison writes, "What though in solemn silence," etc.


1. They may move a man more than uttered words. The voices of nature, the music of the spheres, as it is called, is silence. Lectures have their place, but audible voices are not so soul-stirring as voices inaudible.

2. The spring, and every season of the year, brings many lessons, and yet "there is no speech or language, its voice is not heard." No man ever heard, with his bodily ear, the language of either day or night, yet every day speaks of God's infinite resources — of His goodness, of His power and glory — more articulate than any man could speak.

3. Solitude speaks to the soul. The mountain top, the dense forest, the restless sea; but their "voice is not heard." The expression of human feeling is often more powerful when inarticulate.

II. IN ORDER TO APPREHEND SILENT VOICES WE MUST OURSELVES BE SILENT. Put away distracting thoughts, and humbly listen only to God as He speaks to the soul and conscience. Men cannot even hear music unless they are still, silent, and undistracted. With the soul men hear God, and not with the physical ear, unless they are still and undistracted. It is very desirable that men should commune with God in their work, and be still before Him with their souls, and not with their intellects only. The active intellect is more often used against God than for Him. But God cannot be reached by intellectual processes any more than love, or than the beauties of a landscape can be explained by argument, or than music can be brought home to the soul by logical syllogism.

(James S. Swan.)

Language is always a difficulty, a snare, a temptation, an inconvenient convenience. It brings us into all our troubles; it is when we speak that we create heterodoxies; could we but be silently dumbly good — could we look our prayers, and cause our face to shine with our benevolence, and our hand do a quiet work of beneficence, how happy would the world be! Words do not mean the same thing to any two men; they may be accepted for momentary uses and for commercial purposes, but when it becomes a matter of life and death, time and eternity, truth and error, words are base counterfeits, that should be nailed to the counter of creation, as things by which a false commerce has been kept up amongst earnest and ardent men. Blessed be God for the silent testimony, for the radiant character, for the eloquent service. All history is silent; it is only the immediate day that chatters and talks and fusses about its little affairs. Yet the dead centuries are eloquent: the characters are all gone; the warriors are dead and buried, the orators have culminated their eloquence in the silence of death, the great solemn past is like a banquet hall deserted, but it is eloquent, instructive, silently monitorial. Silent history — great, sad, melancholy, impartial history — the spirit of the past should govern the unrest and the tumult of the present.

(Joseph Parker, D. D.)

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