Psalm 50:4
He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that He may judge His people:
False to CovenantC. Short Psalm 50:1-15
God the Righteous JudgeW. Forsyth Psalm 50:1-23
Preparation to Meet GodPlain Sermons by authors of "Tracts for the Times."Psalm 50:1-23
The First of the Asaph PsalmsA. Maclaren, D. D.Psalm 50:1-23
The Judge, the Judged, and the Eternal JudgmentC. Clemance Psalm 50:1-23
The Religion of ManHomilistPsalm 50:1-23
Nature, a Witness Against the SinnerJohn Caird, D. D.Psalm 50:4-6

A psalm-writer whom we have not met before, appears to have penned this psalm - Asaph. But whether it was by him or for his choir is somewhat uncertain. "Asaph was the leader and superintendent of the Levitic choirs appointed by David (1 Chronicles 16:4, 5; cf. 2 Chronicles 29:30). He and his sons presided over four out of the twenty-four groups, consisting each of twelve Levites, who conducted, in turn, the musical services of the temple." "It is remarkable," says Hengstenberg, "that the voice against the false estimate of the external worship of God proceeded from the quarter which was expressly charged with its administration. Asaph, according to 1 Chronicles 6:24, was of the tribe of Levi." a But let the human penman have been whosoever he may, there is in this psalm so much of the sublime grandeur of a stern and inflexible righteousness, that we have therein, manifestly, the writing of one who was borne along by the Holy Ghost to utter words for God that should be suited for all Churches and all the ages throughout all time; so that it behoves us to listen to them as to the words of the living God, declaring the principles of eternal judgment. "In a magnificent vision the prophet to whom this psalm is due beholds the Almighty denouncing a solemn judgment against the degradation of his Name, and setting forth the requirements of a spiritual religion." In opening up this psalm, therefore, the expositor may well yearn to unfold it, "not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God." In that spirit, and with that aim, we hope to deal with it now. There are some ten questions to be asked and answered concerning this disclosure of judgment which the psalm so sublimely sets before us.

I. TO WHOM DOES THE OFFICE OF JUDGE BELONG? In the sixth verse we read, "God is Judge himself." He allows none but himself to sit in judgment on others; for none else has the authority or the ability to do it. But he, whose great Trinity of names is given here, keeps all in infinite hands. "God," the Supreme Ruler; El-Elohim, the God of gods; Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel; - he it is who is thus enthroned and speaks with his voice, on the eternal principles which are the basis of his throne.

II. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THAT OFFICE? As here indicated, it includes the expression of his mind and will, as to the worship he requires, the conduct he approves or disapproves, the decisions he forms, the sentences he pronounces, the destinies he assigns. For long God may have seemed to keep silence hereon (ver. 21), but he will not be silent always (ver. 3).

III. WHEN DOES THE JUDGMENT TAKE PLACE? It can scarcely be questioned that the remarkable words in ver. 3 point to a specific time when God shall come to judgment, and when attendant on the judgment there will be great signs and wonders in the heaven above and the earth beneath (see vers. 1, 3, 4). But three or four distinctive forms of God's judgment are indicated in Scripture.

1. The judgment at the last day. This is brought before us in Matthew 25:31-46.

2. The judgment expressed in providential dispensations on the Jewish Church (Jeremiah 7:1-20; Ezekiel 9:4-6; 1 Peter 4:17).

3. The judgments that are brought upon Christian Churches that are unfaithful. These are plainly enough shown us in the epistles to the seven Churches

4. The judgment that is ever going on in every visible Church - a judgment by One whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and who walks in the midst of the golden lamps. This is God's "eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:1), the principles of which never, never vary. What they will be seen to be at the last day they are now, seen or unseen.

IV. WHO ARE THE JUDGED? (Ver. 5.) The heavens and the earth are called to be witnesses of God's judgment "of the covenant people" (Cheyne). "This psalm," says Dickson, "is a citing of the visible Church before God... to compear before the tribunal of God, now in time while mercy may be had, timously to consider the Lord's controversy against the sinners in his Church, that they may repent and be saved." "The psalm," says Perowne, "deals with 'the sinners and the hypocrites in Zion,' but it reaches to all men, in all places, to the end of time." It contains the message of Divine indignation to those in Israel who were not of Israel; it specifies:

1. The superstitious - those who brought offerings of slain beasts in sacrifice, thinking that God accepted them as such, or who even, perhaps, stooped to the pagan notion that such sacrifices were "food for the gods." Hence, though there is no rebuke over any offerings withheld (ver. 8), yet there is severe indignation against the low conceptions of God and his worship with which these offerings were brought (vers. 9-13).

2. There were the scribes (see Matthew Poole), who expounded the Law, but kept it not (ver. 16).

3. There were those whose service was but a form - who vowed to God, but did not pay (ver. 14).

4. There were the openly wicked, who sought by profession of religion to cloak their wickedness (vers. 17-20). Think of such a heterogeneous mass being collected together in one visible Church! Is it any wonder that "judgment must begin at the house of God"?

V. WHAT IS THE BASIS OF JUDGMENT? (Ver. 2.) "Out of Zion God hath shined." As from Mount Sinai he declared his will in the legislation of Moses, so from Zion he hath declared his will in the proclamations of prophet, apostle, saint, and seer; and according to those principles of truth and righteousness thus proclaimed is God's judgment ever being exercised; according to them will it finally proceed. And according to the measure of light granted to men, will be the standard by which they will be tried. Fuller light on this theme comes to view in the New Testament. Peter's words (Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 3:18 - 4:6), Paul's words (Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), throw a flood of light hereon, showing us that ere the final judgment comes every soul will come to know its relation to the Lord Jesus, and that according to its response will be its destiny.

VI. WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH JUDGMENT WILL PROCEED? Five of these are indicated in the psalm.

1. That merely formal offerings are offensive to God (vers. 8-13).

2. That no measure of religiousness will be accepted if iniquity has prevailed in the heart and life (ver. 16).

3. That the truly acceptable worship is a life of consecration, fidelity, prayer, and praise (vers. 14, 15).

4. That whosoever has ordered his life after the revealed will of God, will see God's salvation (ver. 23).

5. That wherever the life has been one of forgetfulness and neglect of God, the guilty one will be confounded (ver. 22).

VII. WHAT ARE THE COMPLAINTS MADE BY THE GREAT JUDGE? One is negative, viz. the absence of the worship of the heart; another is positive - hypocrisy and guilt screened under a profession of religion, and the thought being cherished all the while that they would never be detected (ver. 21).


(1) praise (ver. 23);

(2) thanksgiving (ver. 14);

(3) loyalty (ver. 14);

(4) prayer (ver. 15);

(5) glorifying God (ver. 15);

(6) a good and upright conversation (ver. 23).

Who does not see how infinitely such a life rises above that of merely formal lip-service?

IX. WHAT WILL BE THE ISSUE OF THE JUDGMENT? Under varied forms of expression, the results are declared to be twofold, according to the main drifts of character and life.

1. For those in the wrong, rejection, sin set in order, brought home, exposed, condemned (vers. 21, 22).

2. For those who are in the right - the salvation of God (Acts 10:35; Acts 15:8, 9, 11). Thus under every head, though in archaic form, and with light less full, the very same truths are declared by the psalmist that were afterwards brought out more fully by Jesus Christ and his apostles.

X. TO WHOM IS THE CALL ADDRESSED TO HEAR ALL THIS, AND WHY? (Vers. 1, 4.) The whole earth is called on to witness and to watch the severely discriminating judgments of God on his visible Church; and every one is called upon to hearken, because it is God who speaketh. The Apostle Peter raises a momentous question in 1 Peter 4:17, 18. Whether we are ready to face the last judgment depends on how we stand in relation to that judgment which is going on every hour. Mote: After studying such a psalm as this, how vain does the question put by Roman Catholics appear, "Where can I find God's true Church?" For this whole psalm is addressed to God's true Church. Yet whoever, even "in Zion," is at ease, or formal, or corrupt, will find that not even membership in any visible Church will save him. Only those will be saved whose hearts are purified by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. - C.

He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people.
But she seems, oftentimes, utterly insensible. The most bounteous gifts are bestowed on saint and sinner alike. No matter what outrages on all righteousness and goodness men may be guilty of, she takes no notice. No lightning-bolt leaps forth on the impious head, and the solid earth does not yawn to engulf the perpetrator of iniquity. But, nevertheless, Scripture speaks of Nature as if it were a conscious witness of the moral history of man, as here in our text (cf. also Isaiah 1:1; Micah 6:1; Deuteronomy 31:28). What is the import of this appeal, in which heaven and earth are called upon to bear record?

I. THE MATERIAL WORLD MAY BE THUS SUMMONED TO WITNESS, AS CONTAINING THE SCENES OF MAN'S CRIMES. Nature keeps a silent record of them in the associations of the places where they were committed. Bring the sinner to the scene of his past misdeeds, and he will sometimes feel as if all the objects around were endowed with a voice of reproachful reminiscence. How great is the power of local association, whether the deeds done there have boon noble or the reverse. There are places on which we wish never to look again because of that of which they remind us. Thus the whole earth may become full of such reminders, and so may be a faithful record to the eye that can read them.

II. BY ITS FULFILLING, IN CONTRAST WITH MAN, THE END OF ITS EXISTENCE. All things are judged as they answer to the ends for which they were made. How, then, does the material world witness against us.

III. As AFFORDING PROOF OF THE UNERRING CERTAINTY AND STRICTNESS OF THE DIVINE LAWS. Their operation is invisible and uniform; slow, oftentimes, but sure. Only the interposition of a higher law, as in the Redemption of Christ, can save the sinful man.

(John Caird, D. D.)

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