Therefore we will not fear, though the earth is transformed and the mountains are toppled into the depths of the seas,
Psalm 42. It is "a song upon Alamoth," which, according to Furst, is the proper name of a musical choir. As the word "Alamoth" means "virgins," it is supposed that the song was for soprano voices. We have, however, to deal with the contents of the song itself. It has long been a favourite with the people of God. "This is my psalm," said Luther. To this we owe his "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," and many other songs of the sanctuary. It would seem to have been suggested by some one of the many deliverances which the Hebrews had from the onsets of their foes; but to which of those it specially refers, is and must be left an open question. There are phrases in it which remind us of the redemption from Egypt (cf. ver. 5 with Exodus 14:27, Hebrew). There are others which recall the deliverance for which Jehoshaphat prayed (cf. vers. 10, 11 with 2 Chronicles 20:17, 22, 23). Other words vividly set forth the boasting of Sennacherib and the destruction of his army (cf. vers. 3, 6 with 2 Kings 18:29-35; 2 Kings 19:6, 7, 15-19, 28, 35). At each of these crises the four points of this psalm would be
(1) a raging storm;
(2) a commanding voice;
(3) a humbled foe;
(4) a jubilant song.
And how many times this song has been sung by individuals, by families, by Churches, by nations, the closest students of history best can tell. And in setting forth this song for homiletic use, we might show that it records the repeated experience of the Church; that it becomes the grateful song of the family; that it fits the lips of the believer in recounting providential mercy; that it is the constant song of the saints in rehearsing redemption's story. To deal with all these lines of thought would far exceed our space. We will confine ourselves to the last-named use of the words before us, showing that this forty-sixth psalm means far more on the lips of the Christian than it did on the lips of Old Testament believers. It is not the song itself that is our chief joy, but that revelation of God which has made such a song possible for believers - first under the Old Testament, and specially, in Christ, under the New Testament.
I. THE SAINTS NOW HAVE A CLEARER VIEW OF GOD. (Hebrews 1:1, 2.) Of old, God spake through prophets; now he speaks in his Son. And when we hear our Lord say, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father," we know at once to whom to turn for the interpretation of that greatest of all words, "God." To the Hebrews, their covenant God was revealed in words (Exodus 34:6, 7); but to us he is revealed in the living Word, in the Person of the incarnate Son of God. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
II. THE SAINTS NOW CAN RECORD A GREATER DELIVERANCE than Israel of old could boast - an infinitely greater one. Not only was there all the difference between rescues that were local, temporary, national, and one that is for the race for all time, but also the difference between a deliverance from Egypt, Ammon, Moab, and Assyria, and one that is from Satan and from sin; from the curse of a broken Law, and from the wrath to come. The song of Miriam is infinitely outdone by the new song, even the song of Moses and the Lamb.
III. THE SAINTS CAN NOW REJOICE IN A BETTER COVENANT. At the back, so to speak, of the psalm before us there was a recognized covenant between God and the people (Exodus 19:5, 6; Psalm 46:7, 11). In the later days of David "the everlasting covenant" was the aged monarch's hope and rest. But now, in Christ, we have the "better covenant," "the everlasting covenant," sealed and ratified with blood (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 13:20; Matthew 26:28). This covenant assures to the penitent, forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified. It includes all that Christ is and has, as made over to those who rely on him, for ever and for ever. It is not dependent on the accidents of time or sense. No duration can weaken it; no ill designs can mar it; not all the force of earth or hell can touch these who look to "the sure mercies of David."
IV. THE SAINTS NOW MAKE UP A MORE PRIVILEGED CITY. (Ver. 4.) While nations were proudly and angrily raging like the wild waves of the tossing sea, there was a calm, peaceful river, whose branches peacefully flowed through the city of God. Thus beautifully does the psalmist indicate the calm which took possession of believers then, while the nations roared around them. And in "the new Jerusalem," the present "city of God," which Divine love founded, and which Divine power is building up, there still flows the deep, still, calm river of Divine peace and joy and love. Or, if it be preferred, let Dr. Watts tell " That sacred stream, thine Holy Word, That all our raging fear controls; Sweet peace thy promises afford, And give new strength to fainting souls." Through the new city of God, the Holy Catholic Church, made up of all believers, this peaceful stream ever runs, refreshing and fertilizing wherever it flows. No frost congeals it; no heat can dry it up; it will eternally make glad the city of God. Hence -
V. THE SAINTS NOW PEAL FORTH A MORE JUBILANT SONG, We can sing this psalm, especially its first verse, with wider intelligence, larger meaning, deeper peace, and more expansive joy, than were possible to the Hebrews of old. As revelation has advanced, the believer's joy in God has grown likewise. Faith becomes larger as faith's Object becomes clearer. And no Hebrew could sing of the deliverance of his fathers so joyously as we can sing of the redemption of a world - a redemption in which we can rejoice, not only in our days of sadness, but in our days of gladness too. And as the psalmist could think of God as the Lord of hosts, and yet the God of Jacob; as the Leader of the armies of heaven, and yet the Helper of the lonely, wayworn traveller; so the believer, in thinking of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, can say, "He died for all," and also, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
VI. THE SONG IS GRANDEST WHERE TROUBLE HAS BEEN THE GREATEST. "He has been found a Help in trouble exceedingly " - the adverb expressive of intensity may refer to the greatness of the trouble. But however this may be, certain it is that it is in the troubles of life that the believer finds out all that God is to him. And the man who can sing this psalm most jubilantly is the one who has been weighted with care most heavily. This is the glory of our great redeeming God. He is a Friend for life's dark days, as well as for the bright ones. Note:
1. The troubles of life often bring out to us our need of God. It is easy to be serene when trouble is far from us, and to spin fine philosophic webs; but let trouble come upon us, - that will make all the difference. The late beloved Princess Alice was almost led to the dark negations of Straussianism; but when she lost her child, her trouble led her to feel her need of a Refuge, and then she sought and found the Lord. Ellen Watson, the accomplished mathematician, revelled in exact science, and "wanted nothing more," till the death of a friend broke in on her exact science, rent her heart, opened her eyes, and was the means of leading her to Jesus. The experience of a young civil engineer, whom the writer visited in his last illness, was precisely the same.
2. Those who can give us no comfort or rest in the troubles of life are of little use in such a world as this. In a letter of an aged Unitarian minister to a friend of the writer, the expression is used, "I am just battling with the inevitable." "Battling with the inevitable!" So it must be, if men turn away from our God as the Redeemer from sin, the Saviour of the lost.
3. It is the glory of Christ as our Refuge that he can hide us securely in the fiercest troubles of life.
"Should storms of sevenfold thunder roll, And shake the globe from pole to pole No flaming bolt shall daunt my face For Jesus is my Hiding-place." ? C.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed.Charles Wesley preached from this text, I think, in City Road, in the year of the London earthquake. People fled terror-stricken from their homes and crowded City Road Chapel, feeling that if disaster were overtaking the world safety might be found in the company of godly people. The great preacher thundered forth, "Therefore will we not fear," etc. It was a great moment, and yet some of you doubtless will remember that the founder of Methodism himself at a certain crisis in his life passed through an antithetic experience to this. John Wesley records in his Journal that when he was crossing the Atlantic a storm came up which threatened to overwhelm the vessel in which lie was borne, and he cried out for fear. He felt ashamed of his terrors when he came to think of them afterwards. "I, a Christian man, afraid in the presence of death." What brought his shame home to him was the spectacle of a group of people — Moravians they were — men, women and little children — singing, some of them kneeling, some of them standing, in a tiny circle on the deck of the ship — singing as fearlessly as though they were on their own hearthstone; and he thought to himself, "These possess something that I do not possess." And the time came when John Wesley was as remarkable for his absolute fearlessness in the face of overwhelming odds compared with which most religious workers of the present day have a very easy time indeed. The time came when he could not only say but help other people to say, "Therefore will we not fear," etc.; and He was able to make that Old Testament experience his just because he had come into a closer relationship with Him who says, "It is I; be not afraid." Though the Christian may have much to do with pain, there should be in his experience no place for fear. Take three examples — three orders of experience shall I call them? — and describe them. Take one who has a business worry. Alongside of him suppose one who brings a home sorrow; and we ought not to omit the man who knows himself to be guilty of moral transgression. To begin with, then, there may be here a small tradesman who has been overtaken, like many other people, by bad times. Your assets are good enough, but you cannot realize them, add yet you are being pressed to meet claims, perfectly just, but which, If they are pressed to the full, will ruin you. You are working so hard, yet you never have an hour free from worry. Now, what is really the matter with you? Is it not fear of something? It is not just what you passed through yesterday. If you knew every day was to be no worse than yesterday — hard though it was, and extensive as your efforts were, and difficult some of the problems undoubtedly are — if you could be sure that things would be no worse, it would not look so very sad. What is the reason? Those who are near and dear to you are part of your problem. If you could only get rid of all fear concerning their future and your own as bound up with theirs, would it not make a difference? Now, not far from such a person there is another whose heart is full of pain, caused not by one thing merely but by fifty. Perhaps within recent days sickness has invaded your home, and misfortunes never come singly, That sickness means more than the suffering of the loved one whom it has attacked. It means disaster in some other form. It means there is less money coming in; it means perhaps that you are called upon to make sacrifices that you can only make up to a certain point. Then in the train of this there comes, perhaps, the loss of friends, the loss of reputation, or you have to suffer from being misjudged. Somebody is saying something about you. You do not like it — none of us cares about false accusations. Now, you cannot but feel, and imagination helps you a little, that these things one on top of another constitute an immense problem and make life more dark for you. Supposing, now, that I could stretch forth my hand and sweep all the fear out of your experience, you have got none left; supposing things were just as bad as they were yesterday, supposing they were worse to-morrow, but no fear — what a difference that would make to the strength with which you would meet the problems of your life — yes, and to the fashion in which you would overcome the adversary that besets you to-day. Now we come to the third. Years ago you contracted a bad habit.. You thought very lightly about it then, you fancied you could do wrong with impunity, and you knew that while it was wrong you went on till you found you were growing a devil out of your own substance, and he will not leave you now that you want him to go. He has got his steel talons fixed upon your throat and is tearing the manhood out of you. Your friends are beginning to whisper about you, and your own heart is filled with foreboding, and it will only be a matter of time before you are wrecked — wrecked not by what any man has done to you, but by what you have done to yourself. You have trifled with moral questions in the past. You have been a strong man and could afford to give range to your passions, but now you feel a very weak one indeed, and far weaker than you would care to own. Now, how do you feel about your experience? What is most wrong is that you have very little hope of getting free. If you could only see a way out of the moral entanglement, if you could only be perfectly sure that a battle for righteousness, however late it was taken, would be a successful battle. It would lighten your load, and you would go home feeling a far different man. Now, there are more ways than one of getting rid of this enemy, of which we are all sooner or later conscious — fear. Some people take the wrong way. I want you to take the right way. For some natures the way of escape has been to fling oneself into the arms of a greater enemy. That is the reason why so many unlikely men, for instance, take to the wine-cup. Morbid excitement, or some anaesthetic that will dull thinking are the way in which some people try to get rid of the fear that blights and blackens their life. The philosophy of "Let us eat and drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die" has its adherents still, and certain it is that it is a miserable cheeriness, a wretched, cynical sort of happiness which comes by that means. Deliverance from fear under such circumstances is never complete. Observe the hunted looks in the eyes of the man who is trying to forget himself, who leads the laughter in a company, but should not be laughing at all. You know that fear is not gone, it is only waiting outside the door. Very different is the man who cultivates a habit of mind or an order of character which meets hardness with hardness. Sometimes we are almost compelled to admire the dauntlessness of a bad man. He knows he has made the world black. His heart may be very sore, but he does not give way. Sometimes the people upon whom we are hardest in our censures deserve our pity more than our censures. We think them unscrupulous and unrepentant, whereas remorse, which is just next door to repentance, has gripped them. Well, that is one way. I believe it is possible for a man to gradually, as it were, harden his feeling until pain does not make the same inroad upon him as it did at first, and it is possible to expel fear by defying it and keeping on in the old, bad way. But there is a better way than that; that way is a poor sort at the best, and often. times it breaks down completely in the stress of life, and you will see a man become as a little babe, weak as water, when fate has tried him beyond a certain point, and his philosophy all goes for nothing. "Therefore will we not fear," he says, as long as he can, then one day comes the dread spectre before him and overshadows him, and he sinks before it in the darkness of despair. The real way is not to destroy fear, but to expel fear by faith. Watch your own little child, and he can teach you something. The child is troubled with a real trouble. Look upon him with love, and the sunshine breaks over his little soul. He will enjoy life even when it is dark to you; if only you are there. He somehow feels that his father is good for anything. And that trust of his is justified. The more he trusts you the better you like it; the more complete and beautiful the innocent loyalty that he offers to you, and his confidence in your strength, the more willing you are to rise to fulfil his expectation. I wish we could do as our Master taught us to do, and learn that the fatherhood that we see is just that — a corner of the reality. It is the pale glimmer of the light from which it came. "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more your Heavenly Father "Now, that is the simple duty, but expanded it means a great deal. Trust what? Well, I say this — trust in the essential rightness of things; trust that, though life seems to be organized so that hardness is part of your lot; trust, too, that there is such a thing as the peace passing understanding which comes to the soul of the man who is willing to place himself upon the altar for righteousness' sake. Believe this also, that when you trust God it is not yours to dictate, but God. God is master of the issues of your life; what have you got to be afraid of?
(H. J. Campbell, M. A.)
I. THE CONFIDENCE OF THE SAINTS. It is altogether beyond themselves. There is nothing about what is their own, but their confidence is all in God. This confidence is gained by an appropriating faith. "This God is our God." And is greatly sustained by a clear knowledge of God. Pope said, "The proper study of mankind is man." It is a deplorably barren subject. Say, rather, "The proper study of mankind is God." "They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee." All this will be certified to us by our experience. You that know the Lord, can you not say by experience, "God is our refuge"? Look at the little chicks yonder under the hen. See how they bury their little heads in the feathers of her warm bosom! Hear their little chirp of perfect happiness as they nestle beneath the mother's wing! "He shall cover thee with His feathers," etc. We can also say that God has been "our strength," and "a very present help in trouble." We feel something of the mind of Sir Francis Drake who, after he had sailed round the world, was buffeted with a storm in the Thames. "What," said he, "have we sailed round the world safely, and shall we be drowned in a ditch?" So do we say at this day. Helped so long and helped so often! But in order to realize this fearlessness we need an immediate enjoyment of the Divine help. "God is my refuge and strength."
II. THE COURAGE WHICH GROWS OUT OF IT. This courage is very full and complete. "Therefore will not we fear." It does not say, "Therefore will not we run away, or even faint, or swoon in dread," but "we will not fear." And this courage is logically justifiable. The believer's fearlessness is founded upon argument. Hence it says, "Therefore we will not fear." For nothing that happens affects God, the ground of his confidence. Now, this fearlessness is exceedingly profitable. Serenity of spirit, such as was ever in Jesus; no temptation to do wrong. And it brings great glory to God. I knew a youth, near forty years ago, who was staying with relations when a thunderstorm of unusual violence came on at nightfall. A stack was struck by lightning and set on fire within sight of the door. The grown-up people in the house, both men and women, were utterly overcome with fright, the men even more than the women; all sat huddled together: there was a little child up-stairs, and, though anxious about it, the mother had not courage enough to pass the staircase windows to bring the child down. But this youth was quietly happy. The babe cried, and he went up and fetched it down and gave it to its mother. He needed no candle, for the lightning was so continuous that he could clearly see his way. He sat down and read a psalm aloud to his trembling relatives, who looked on the lad with loving wonder. That night he was master of the situation, and all felt there was something in the religion which he had lately professed.
III. THE CONFLICTS TO WHICH THIS FEARLESSNESS WILL BE EXPOSED. It will be tried in ways novel and unusual. "Though the earth be removed." Sometimes mysterious and threatening: "the mountains carried into the midst of the sea." If we saw that we should be at our wits' end to account for it. Some trials also appear to he utterly ungovernable. "Though the waters thereof roar," etc. And sometimes the fear of others affects us. "The mountains shake with," etc. CONCLUSION. If war should come, as it may; or anarchy and a break-up of social order; or trade fail, or persecution come back; or heresy prevail. Fear not. I remember years ago meeting with that blessed servant of God, the late Earl of Shaftesbury. He was at Mentone with a dying daughter, and he happened that day to be very downcast, as, indeed, I have frequently seen him, and as, I am sorry to confess, he has also frequently seen me. That day he was particularly cast down about the general state of society. He thought that the powers of darkness in this country were having it all their own way, and that, before long, the worst elements of society would gain power and trample out all virtue. Looking up into his face, I said to him, "And is God dead? Do you believe that while God lives the devil will conquer Him?" He smiled, and we walked along by the sea, communing together in a far more hopeful tone. In the Book of Revelation tremendous events are foretold, and they will come, but we need not fear.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Homilist.I. THERE MAY BE GREAT TEMPESTS IN THE FUTURE, The annals of the past are filled with records of social earthquakes and raging tempests. "The mountains," the largest things in human life, thrones, governments, fortunes, have been carried into the midst of revolutionary seas, which have roared and heaved, and with their dashing floods made things stable as the "mountains shake." What has been may come again. Into whatever domain we step there is commotion: in the realms of politics party is contending with party and kingdom with kingdom; in the realms of commerce what fierce competitions — every little spirit is striving for the mastery; in the realms of literature opinions battle with opinions and systems with systems; in the realms of religion, in the very heart of the holy city, "the waters roar with the swelling" of acrimonious controversies and sectarian feuds. Of all revolutions, none is greater to the individual man than death, involving the utter disorganizing of the body, the disruption of all material ties, and the launching of the soul into the awful mysteries of retribution. And then, in the future not only of ourselves but of all departed and coming men, there are revolutions more terrible than any that has yet happened.
II. THERE NEED BE NO DREAD FOR OUR FUTURE. "God is our refuge," etc.
1. His protective sufficiency. Infinite in its amplitude, impregnable in its resistance, interminable in its duration. We can be involved in no difficulty from which He cannot extricate, exposed to no danger from which He cannot shelter, assailed by no enemies from which He cannot deliver.
2. His perennial grace. "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God," etc. What is the true "city of God"? Not architecture, not an assemblage of buildings, not a place of habitation; but the community of godly spirits. This is the city of Elohim. A city pure, harmonious, ever-growing. As the stream that issued from Eden to water the whole garden, so the gracious influences of Heaven, like a river, roll through all the parts of this blessed community. This river of grace has never failed, and never will, hence let us trust in Him.
3. His providential interposition. "What desolations He hath made on the earth." Mark them well. Not the desolation of virtue, order, or peace, or aught that ennobles or beautifies human nature. But desolations amongst the desolators of human rights, of human happiness and progress. He destroys the works of the devil. With confidence in such a God as this, we need not fear.
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