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Psalms cxlvi : 5. — Happy is the man that hath the God of Jacob for his help ; whose hope is in the Lord his God. This 146th Psalm has been supposed by some to have been composed, and, in the first instance used, at the dedication of the Temple. Be that as it may, it is manifestly, from beginning to end, the language of a soul happy in its God. Let us trace the course of thought in it, at least as far as the text. The writer begins with a general invitation to all within his reach, to praise the Lord. But upon this topic he does not dwell. Whatever reason there may be, why others should offer worship and thanks to God,, his own obligations seem to him so boundless, that he is impelled to pass at once to self-exhortation : "Praise the Lord, my soul" He needs not, however, to pursue such exhortation far. A word is enough to call forth a quick response. His soul is prompt to do, not only what it is thus specially urged to do, but a great deal more. It is ready not only to praise the Lord, but even to make a vow of perpetual and everlasting praise; therefore, he adds, " While I live I will praise the Lord ; I will sing praises to my God while L have any being." But why, we are led to ask, should the Psalmist declare himself so happy and joyous in his God ? Obviously, the answer is, because that God is so true and gracious in his promises, and so able to perform them. But the faithfulness and power of God, thus brought to mind, naturally suggest by contrast the opposite qualities in man. Therefore he proceeds: "Put not your trust in 'princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help" The most exalted creature is but a frail dependence. He may not have the will to help, and, if he have, still he may lack the ability. For what is his description ? Alas, how perishable ! " His breath" continues the writer, " goeth forth, and he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." Persuaded thus, to use the language of
305 the prophet, that " Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and that maketh flesh his arm," the mind of the Psalmist naturally again reverts to God. Here, he perceives, there is no want of benevolence to suggest, of wisdom to devise, or of power to execute anything that may be necessary to the present or eternal happiness of any creature. Accordingly, he exclaims with rapture, in the words of the text : "Happy is the mun that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his GodP Man needs help, help for the present, and hope for the future. He is in himself utterly dependent. It is impossible to imagine a being more so ; and, to a reflecting person, therefore, the high head which he is often seen to carry, and the self-sufficient air which he is continually putting on, cannot but be most preposterous and revolting. Take the proudest spirit that ever trod this earth, an Alexander, Tamerlane, or apoleon, and, if he will only hearken to reason, his lofty looks may in a moment be brought low. Before fact and truth his boastfulness must vanish, like frostwork before the blazing sun. Or should he, despite of reason, persist in his impious presumption, to bystanders, at least, his conduct may be made to appear as wild and unwarrantable as the hallucination of the inmate of an insane asylum, that fancies himself rich as Croesus and as powerful as Csesar, when, in truth, he is a poor, helpless prisoner, living on the bounty of the benevolent. Let any man among us reflect, even for a few moments, with real earnestness, on his nature and condition, and this conclusion becomes manifest and inevitable. Everyone knows that he is a creature of time ; that he is not from eternity — that he once began to be. And as he is sensible that he received existence at some past point of time, so is he assured that he received it from the Power above. This brief process of thought, indeed, in the judgment of no less a man than Locke, one of the most convincing demonstrations of the divine existence — of the being of that God in and through whom we have life and breath and all things. The same conclusion, however, would seem to be a suggestion
of our consciousness, or an inference immediate upon, and inseparable from, the feeling of the present moment. I ask myself what is the cause of my present existence ; how it comes that I now have being, and live on from moment to moment ? Is it the effect of any volition of mine — any feat of my will ? or the result of any conscious voluntary power that I ever possessed? 20
306 Or, can I suppose, that it comes through the agency of any being of like kind with myself — of any limited and finite creature existence, however his powers may transcend the human standard ? For myself, I can see but one answer to these questions % But why speak thus in the singular number? Is it not the felt persuasion of us all? When we look in upon ourselves and analyze our thoughts and feelings, even for a brief space, we cannot but see that we, and all beings like us, are not self-snstained, any more than a statute that stands upon a pedestal or a tower that is built upon a rock. This moment, brethren, do we not feel that underneath us are the everlasting arms, and that it is because we have this support, and for no other reason, that we continue to be found among the things that are? Do we not feel that, if this support were withdrawn, we must drop into non-existence ? But be it as it may with others, no truth, I repeat, appears to me more directly and certainly suggested, immediately or inferentially, by our consciousness, than that we are sustained by a power without us — that in God, we live, and move, and have our being. If this, then, be so, what idea of dependence and need of help can be formed, more complete and total, than that furnished b} r our own condition ? We could not have been at all, if God had not issued the fiat ; we could not now continue to be but by the exercise of the same almighty power : but for this, even after existence was bestowed, we must immediately have ceased to be, like the flash of minute gun on the midnight darkness. But our necessity does not stop here. We not only need help of the Lord to preserve our being, but also to preserve our happi-
ness. Immortality may become a curse. We need the care of heaven to preserve us from misery, as much as from annihilation — misery here, and misery hereafter. In either world, human help is entirely insufficient. Look at the subject for a moment, in each of these relations. Place a man in the greatest earthly prosperity which is conceivable, how numberless, notwithstanding, the avenues by which sorrow may approach him, and in a moment reverse his condition. Books of medicine enumerate the diseases incident to the body, so far as they have been named by science, and what a long and dreary catalogue it is ! And yet these are only a portion of the ills, which beset this frail tenement of the soul. For who can enumerate the accidents also, to which we are momentarily liable,
307 from causes great and small alike. We are wont to say, of those at sea, that there is but a plank between them and death ; alas, in this respect, we are all voyagers every moment of our lives. Yes, our lives may not inaptly be considered a series of hairbreadth escapes, through the watchful and overruling providence of God. When a man steps over his threshold in the morning, to go to his daily duty, he knows not what will betide him before the evening. Let him set his imagination to work to picture possible accidents, and they will multiply upon him so, that the wonder with him w T ill be, not that evil should betide him, but that so fragile a thing as human life should be preserved an hour. I have spoken only of the body: the mind also, which dwells therein, may be directly assaulted and injured. While the tenement is left untouched, the occupant may become disordered and miserable ; and who that has passed through an insane asylum has not felt more depressed in spirit, than by a visit to the w r ards of a common hospital ? And yet against this awful calamity we have no more protection than against bodily disease. The greatest minds have succumbed to this malady; the best of men have been visited by this affliction. But over and above all these ills,
destroying life or happiness by disordering the body or the mind, think of how many other causes of sorrow there are to be met with everywhere in this vale of tears. ot an object, animate or inanimate, on which the human heart can fasten its affections, but may be made its torment. It may be snatched away, and leave us in darkness and desolation ; or worse than that, it may abide with us, but so changed in its character or condition as to be, as long as we live, a sharp and festering thorn in the flesh. I shall not attempt to classify, much less enumerate, the various kinds of bereavement and other afflictions which checker human life. Like diseases and accidents, they baffle calculation, for they are ever varying in their form ; and every sufferer seems to discover some peculiarity in his own case. And where is the man entirely, and for any length of time, exempt? "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery." And man's trials come to him through three general kinds of agency. The course of nature and providence is one. By these he is buffeted in the voyage of life, as a bark upon the ocean by the winds. The storms and calms come and go in entire inde-
308 pendence of him. " The wind Uoweth where it listeili" He may augur the gust is coming, but canuot prevent it: he may anticipate its cessation, but cannot make it sure. Such is his relation to one class of ills. Another comes through the agency of other persons. The natural and necessary ills of life, which spring from the involuntary operation of the physical and intellectual laws, which are woven into the human constitution and which are at work around, are aggravated and multiplied for each man by his fellows. Aside from every other source of sorrow, " Man's inhumanity to man, makes countless thousands mourn." And we need not confine our attention here to those cases, in which one man designedly does to another some great wrong, which startles the neighborhood or the world by its atrocity. Men are creating evil to one another unceasingly and in every
form. Do murderers, and robbers, and swindlers and such like, at intervals inflict great injuries on a few unhappy victims: ah, by harshness and un charitableness ; by unkind looks and unkinder speeches ; by envy, and jealousy, and petty rivalry ; by misinterpretations of one another's conduct, at the suggestion of selfish or proud or ambitious feeling ; by judging according to mere appearance and not righteously ; by letting the passions burst into a flame, when reason should have ruled ; in a word, by the lack of that mind of simplicity and sincerity, and of bearing, forbearing, beneficent and self-denying love which was in Christ Jesus — by these unnumbered, weak, and low, and little tempers, do the mass of men in society prey upon one another, producing in the aggregate an amount of suffering and sorrow, compared with which the injuries done by the great depredators on human welfare, against which the civil law would guard us, are as nothing. Yet again : it is not the unconscious and mute assaults of nature, nor the designed inflictions of our fellow-men, that alone, or chiefly embitter human life : "we are our own greatest enemies" Indeed, if we had not a foe within us, our foes without could do but little harm. But alas ! how much misery do we create to ourselves by our evil tempers — the very tempers and dispositions, it may be, which we charge others with exercising towards us. These are as a continual dropping, wearing away our peace. They cloud up every sky, put bitterness into every draft, mar every association, stop up, more or less, every natural inlet of joy. I speak now of that accumulation of every-day thoughts
309 and feelings which constitute the staple of every life. But interspersed through these, there are other more prominent acts in the history of most men, which are more enduring and intense in their effect. They not only occasion suffering to them at the time, but also leave a sting after them, which embitters their whole subsequent life. One hasty step, one rash word, one ebullition of feeling, one impulsive resolve, has, in an hour, perhaps, changed the whole complexion of their destiny, and woven their days into a tissue of unavailing and life-long regret.
Such are a few particulars in the inventory of ills, to which we are momentarily exposed in this present world. That no created strength is a full protection against them, is the acknowledgment of every pious and reasonable mind ; and all others are brought sooner or later to the same admission. apoleon Bonaparte's was one of the most iron wills, and his spirit one of the most presumptuous, that was ever seen amongst men ; yet even he was compelled to admit, that he could not thereby protect himself against every evil — that there was a power above him with which even he could not cope. Indeed, he often sought to parry the disgrace, which his own foolish and criminal acts brought upon him, by referring to the irresistible control of Providence — his star, his destiny as he chose to call it. He ought to have sought the protection of Heaven against the blinding influence of ambition, not having done so, when in consequence he became involved in misfortune, he sought to ascribe it and the guilty conduct which occasioned it, to the overruling power of God. In any view of the matter, the spectacle which he presents as a prisoner in St. Helena, and his own recorded observations there, fully prove, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet honour to men of skill ; that the most gifted may blunder like a changeling, the most honoured fall into contempt, and the most mighty be left without power. But alas ! it is not intellectual, or civil, or military greatness alone that needs the stay and support of uncreated power : even moral excellence in this world is but a fragile flower, often most suddenly and unexpectedly withered and prostrated. In no book have we more striking and painful instances of this fact, than in the Bible. With an undisguised simplicity, with an openness and honesty peculiarly its own, it records examples of weakness and defection, in the most disgracetul forms, among men of every
310 rank and condition, showing beyond dispute, to use its own language, that "it is not in man that walketh," whether he be called
great or good, unaided from on high, "to direct his own steps." And all the experience of the world, under the auspices of the Bible and the Christian dispensation since, has confirmed the truth. Did Abraham, and David, and Peter fall and disgrace their calling, as servants of God, in Scripture times 1 So, since then, out of tens of thousands to mention only two, did he, who has, not without much truth been called, " the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind;" and so did Dodd, an eminent minister of religion, who for his crimes (though repented of as we believe,) suffered the highest penalty of the law. But every age has its melancholy instances ; and who in view of them does not feel the force of the martyr Bradford's exclamation, so often quoted, on seeing a convict going to the scaffold, " There goes John Bradford, but for the grace of God." Oh, yes ; we all need the help of the God of Jacob, no matter what our pretensions, in every relation, department and walk of life, from the cradle to the grave. Our needs in this world are manifold and pressing, and none can meet them but the God of Jacob. And if all this be true here, surely it must be so hereafter. However stout-hearted and independent one may be tempted to feel, while in the body and surrounded with the familiar objects of time and sense, when he thinks of launching out into an untried state of being, the temptation must immediately cease. He knows of nothing there, on which to sustain himself. He is ignorant of what nature and form will there be the constituent elements of his life. He is sure of meeting there only God. Beyond this he may conjecture, but cannot know, what his condition will be. There is absolutely no known ground of support to his soul, but his own will, and God. Unless, therefore, the man believes his own will omnipotent, and that he possesses a nature which is absolutely self-sufficing, his need is, so far as we can see, unlimited, his necessity entire, and his dependence upon God complete. There are happiness and misery in this life, and there may be happiness and misery in this life to come ; but what can mortal do in that other world to secure the one, or avoid the other? He may have his hopes and his fears, his desires and aversions, but he has proved in this present life how unavailing these often are. His very death has been to him,
311 not improbably, an earnestly deprecated event. Like a cork floating on the tide, or the gossamer wafted by the wind, he has been carried hence in utter helplessness ; and it is plain, that the power which thus swept him hence, may as readily dispose of him beyond the grave, placing him either in happiness or misery, each final as regards duration, and intense as regards degree. In every stage and place of his existence then, man is a creature of great necessities and needs. So the Psalmist feels; but notwithstanding this, he also feels that existence may be made to us a boundless and incalculable blessing. And there is but one condition necessary to this end — that we enjoy the favour and protection of Heaven. Having this, we may dispense with everything else, and discharge our minds from all anxiety about them. Having this, we are safe from the blind unconscious agencies of nature, from the evil designs of evil creatures, from the indiscretion and folly of our own perverse hearts. Having this, we are perfectly secure for time and for eternity. ow in the text and its context, the Psalmist is manifestly congratulating himself and all others in like situation with himself, on the completeness of the provision thus made for his wants, and the security provided for his protection. It is a subject he loves to study, a theme on which he delights to dwell. And why should he not ? In proportion to the peril should be the joy of escape from it, and as we were horror stricken at the exigency, equally intense should be our admiration of that which completely meets and provides for it. The provision, the protection, the security here, is God. The Psalmist knows of no other ; but counts this all-sufficient. He looks with rapture upon God as the portion of his soul. He rejoices in spirit at the security he has reached ; at the treasure, which through grace he has acquired. Does the man of land and houses and money count himself happy, saying to his soul, "Soul thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Why then should not the servant of God exult in the contemplation of his
inheritance % The possessor of earthly riches, holds them only by a tenure of years, say, three score years and ten, at most ; and perhaps only for a day : before nightfall he may be torn from them, jf not they from him. Besides, be the tenure long or short, precarious or certain, while it lasts even, it does not satisfy ; it cannot satisfy; for the soul was made for something better. There is a
312 conscious want amidst the greatest accumulation of earthly acquisitions — a painful craving, inseparable from the love of such things, which is essentially imcompatible with true peace. But the servant of God, in possessing what he possesses, has no such drawbacks to lament. His tenure of good is an everlasting tenure. The God, who is without beginning of years or end of days, is his portion. Suns may rise and set ; moons may wax and wane ; the heavens pass away ; the earth be burnt up, and time itself "be no more ; " still his treasure remains untouched. And in proportion to the length of this endless lifetime of his covenant God, is the depth of the peace which flows from the enjoyment of his love. o words can describe it : in duration and power and sweetness alike it passes all human understanding. evertheless, in one other particular, let me notice, how superior the portion of the righteous. Earthly goods are esteemed good, are sought and valued as exclusive possessions. The man of station values his honors, the man of money his wealth, the man of talents his gifts, because they are his — his and not another* s. His exclusive proprietorship it is, which makes them precious in his eyes. It is their nature, indeed, thus to belong only to one, and to be thus selfishly enjoyed. But such is not the inheritance of the saints. Their portion is not thus limited and narrow. In God their is an exhaustless fulness. Let the soul go to God in true humility and with longing desire, and in the same proportion will it find its capacity for enjoyment filled. Let another go in the same way and his bliss will be none the less. Let a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, yea, let all God's creatures go to him, and he will open his hand and fill them all with plenteousness.
In view of these considerations, then, pertaining to man's deficiency and God's sufficiency, we see why it is the Psalmist calls upon his own soul and all others to praise the Lord ; vows for himself perpetual praises; pronounces all else as an object of praise and dependence but a broken reed ; and then, in the fulness of a thankful and benevolent heart, declares, in the language of the text, that happy is the man, any man, any number of men — " Happy is the man that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God." In conclusion, let our attention be directed to the fact, that the God in whom all this blessedness is found, is " the God of Jacob" often styled in Scripture " the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
313 Jacob" because he made a covenant with all three, though primarily and specially with Abraham. And who is this God of Abraham % ot certainly the God of nature and providence merely. In the present state of the human race, God, in these aspects, has few attractions for the soul, and gives slight encouragement. Is it not under his auspices and government so considered, that we find ourselves involved in all the ruin of the Fall, and involved without any certain remedy ? Looking up from the guilt and pollution and misery of this state to Jehovah, as merely the maker and righteous ruler of the world, we see scarce a gleam of light : clouds and darkness are around about him, and comparatively, clouds and darkness only. To call on men to praise such a being and to be happy in the contemplation of his character, would be to call upon the offender against law to rejoice in the aspect and accents of the judge who is pronouncing upon him the sentence of death. The God of Abraham, or Jacob, then, is not the God of the constitution and course of nature merely, who made a covenant with Adam before his fall, and with the angels as first created ; but the God of another and better covenant. It is the God who promised to " the father of the faithful," that of him should be descended One, in whom the families of the earth should be blessed in the forgiveness of their
sins. It is the God who promised and sent the Messiah into the world, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In one word, it is not the God of nature or providence merely, but the God of nature, providence and grace. Happy is the man who has this God of all grace for his help ; whose hope is in this the Lord his God ; for this infinite, absolute and merciful God has made a covenant of possible salvation with all mankind, considered as a race, in Him that suffered on the cross for our sins ; and now makes a covenant of actual salvation with each individual soul, the moment that soul believes. Out of what has been said, two general questions arise, which all men should seek to answer distinctly and with a full assurance of hope, each man for himself. One is whether, really and individually they have the God of Jacob for their help and hope in the duties and trials of this life, relying upon him and not upon the creature ; whether they feel and see, that mere justice on the part of God is for them no security against present or future evil, but that grace, long-suffering, mercy and pardoning love must
314 man's need of god's help. direct the powers of Heaven, otherwise sinners cannot be saved ; and whether, being deeply conscious they are sinners, they have in true penitence of heart, fled to this God of nature and revelation, through his Son Jesus Christ, and .putting all their trust in Him, have found joy and peace in believing. This is the first enquiry. And the second is like unto it, namely, whether believing themselves, as they do, reconciled to God, they are proving to themselves and others, the sincerity of the profession and the reality of the change,, by heart-discipline, by benevolent activity, by devotional exercise, by zeal for Christ's spiritual honour and kingdom ; in short, by employing all their active powers, which were once the instruments of selfishness and sin, in glorifying God and doing good to men, and getting ready for the eternal state. These two questions satisfactorily answered ; the ends of life are attained. It is needless, in such case, to wish men happy : according to the testimony of the Psalmist, they are substantially
happy, and must be so, as sure as God is happy. They need fear nothing : they may hope, confidently hope for all real good. The cares and perplexities and sorrows of life may, at times, thicken round them, but the help of the God of Jacob will carry them triumphantly through. Clouds may settle for a moment on their horizon, but the hope which is in the Lord their God, will either dissipate or gild them all ; affording all the light which faith demands during the working hours of the day of this life ; and closing it with an eventide — a sunset, full of glory, through Him that on the cross, in man's behalf, conquered sin and death.
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