"What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?
"I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord."—Psalm cxvi. 12, 13.
This rapid question and answer of a devout soul conversing with itself goes very deep. Perhaps there is a reference to the "cup of blessing" in the Passover ceremonial, which was drunk with invocation of the divine name; but, more probably, the metaphor is simply the natural, self-explanatory one common to many languages, which picturesquely sums up the aggregate of each man's circumstances and experiences as a cup of which he has to drink. The Psalmist thought of his as a "cup of salvations," many choice wines being, as it were, mingled in it, and many single acts of deliverance and mercy making up the heart-quickening draught which God commended to his lips.
But the main point to be noted is the strong antithesis of "render" and "take." Taking from God is our truest rendering to God.
That is an illuminative thought as to God. Another Psalm takes up the same conception of God in His relation to men, but from a very different point of view, when it represents Him as saying, "If I were hungry I would not tell thee, for all the beasts of the forest are mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills." That crushes into dust any thought of our worship recompensing or profiting God, by the consideration of His infinite elevation and full self-sufficiency and ownership of all things. Therefore whatsoever a man brings, he has to say, "Of thine own have we given Thee. It was Thine ere it was ours, and being ours it was still Thine, and it was no more Thine when we had offered it, than before our bringing it to Thee." So Paul, when he sought to set forth the loftiest conception of God, in contrast with the unworthy thoughts of the divine nature which underlay Athenian religion, proclaimed the same truth when he said, " He is not worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything, seeing that He giveth to all life and breath and all things."
But great as are these utterances of Psalmist and Apostle, the question and answer of this devout singer penetrate even more deeply into the divine nature, and cast a tenderer light upon the deep things of God. For the proclamation of God's ownership of all things, and of His all-sufficiency and elevation above need and supply from without, may be felt to open a great gulf between Him and us, across which the voice of thanksgiving cannot travel, nor a hand laden with sacrifices ever stretch. But the possibly chilling loftiness of the thought of Psalmist and Apostle is changed into attractive glow when the truth involved in this question and answer falls on it, as the snowy peaks, so cold and high, are softened by the blush of sunrise. For the Giver, who is best repaid by taking His gifts, must have been moved by love only in bestowing them, and must delight in His act of giving, and in our act of receiving. We too often are tempted to think that the giving God shares the expectations of the publicans and sinners, whom Jesus pointed to as beneath the ideal of even human beneficence, and gives to receive as much again. If we habitually felt that He has no motive but His own nature, which, because it is Love, must needs delight in selfimpartation, and seeks for no return but that we should truly take His gifts, a dread would be lifted off some hearts, and some of us would be drawn nearer to Him.
Surely this is an emancipating word about religion. "What shall I render? . . . Take." The whole essence of Christianity lies in that question and answer. What does salvation by faith mean if it does not mean that all we have to do is to accept what God has given? And the same attitude of reception has to be maintained throughout the Christian life, which is healthy and progressive in the measure in which it draws from the life of God in Christ. To take His gift is first; to use His gift and apply it by our own efforts is second. "On these two commandments hang" all growth in Christ-likeness and blessedness.
God does not wait to be asked to give; He has given once for all, and continuously as the result of that once-for-all giving, just as preservation is but the prolongation of the act of creation. He has given, once for all, and continuously, all that every man, and all men, need for their being made perfectly like Himself. We hear people praying for "larger bestowments of grace." Let them take the bestowments that they have, and they will find them enough for their need. God communicated His whole fulness to the Church for ever, when He sent His Son, and when His Son sent His Spirit. "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." If we take what we have, we shall find that we have all that we need. What a sin it is that, with such abundance lying close to us, we Christian people should live such low and surface lives as we do! The whole fulness of ocean is pouring past us, and yet our lips are often chapped with thirst. All God's grace is streaming out evermore around us, and yet we are impoverished and crippled for want of it. A man plunged into the sea of God, and yet empty of God, is like a flask corked and waxed and waterproofed, and sunk into the depths of ocean, with leagues of water on either side, and fathoms below it, and yet dry within. "What shall I render ?"..." I will take the cup of salvation."
If we take what God has given, we shall have all we need. We do not need to ask for larger gifts; we do need to ask to be helped to take the gifts already given us. The understanding of this question and answer of the Psalmist transforms our conceptions of our relations to God and resulting duties. Away goes the religion of fear. Away goes the religion of slavish obedience to unwelcome commands. Away goes the religion of barter and recompense. Away goes everything but the religion of a heart turned to love by its reception of God's love. Such a heart has a faint likeness to the Divine; inasmuch as into it, too, though it has nothing which it has not received, comes the power to give itself to God. The light flashes from source to mirror, and from mirror to source. The giving God loves and gives: the recipient man takes and loves and gives.
This is a guiding word about plain duties of common life. How few of us recognise and receive into our hearts all the lesser daily blessings which God pours down upon us! How many of us are like Haman, to whom the Persian king's favour, and the real sovereignty over his empire, and everything that gratified ambition could expect, all turned to ashes in his mouth, because one poor Jew sat there, and would not get up when he passed. "All this availeth me nothing as long as Mordecai sits at the gate." We all have our Mordecais. There are some of us who, if there is the faintest suspicion of a cloud away down on the horizon, shiver and complain as if there were no sunshine. One sorrow can blot out a thousand joys. One disappointment can more than cancel a whole series of fulfilled expectations. Alas! that it should be so. Let us be sure that we take all the blessings of our daily life that God bestows upon us, and are not one of God's fractious children who care for none of His gifts, because they are whimpering for the moon, and nothing else will satisfy them. If we take what is given, we find that it is far more than we expected, and our hands and our hearts will be full. But let us be sure that the cups which we grasp, and from which we drink, are such as that we can call upon the name of the Lord while we quaff their contents. Venetian glass was said to shiver into fragments if poison was poured into it. There are cups which sparkle and attract, over which, if "the name of the Lord" were invoked, they would fly asunder, and the deadly, deceitful wine be spilled. That is no " cup of salvation " which we cannot "take and call on the name of the Lord."