CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.
1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful:
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate
day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season:
His leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the
ungodly shall perish. —Psalm I.
A MOST suitable prologue this to the songs of Zion. For tliey are the dwellers in Zion, members of the congregation of the righteous, and of the true Church, who, having through grace received the new law into their hearts, bring forth fruit unto eternal life. Accordingly, the Book of Psalms, which even in its fivefold division corresponds to the Pentateuch (Ps. i.-xlii.; xlii.-lxxiii.; lxxiii.-xc.; xc.-cvii.; cvii.-cl.), presents the experience—the faith, hope, and love—of those who, having been made members of Christ's Church, 'delight in the law of God after the inward man.' Hence, also, the Psalms
are the hymnal of the Church to Him who brought us out of darkness into His marvellous light. They correspond to, and are the embodiment in song of, the ' Beatitudes,' with which our Lord commenced His teaching of the new law—and like that law they open with an emphatic ' Beatitude.'
Truly this Psalm is of Christ, the second Adam, and of all His people. It alike discloses the secret of all real happiness and explains the cause of all felt misery. True happiness must be sought, and comes, from above. On the other hand, all misery springs from and has its being in sin. For consider, what could harm us were it not for the prevalence of sin, or else for our inability to realize God as our Father in Christ? It were not in pain, nor in bereavement, nor in poverty, nor in calumny, nor in persecution, nor in desertion, to make us really unhappy, if all the time our hearts were set on God, and we retained an absolute and childlike trust in Him. Nay, in all these things we should be more than conquerors through Him that loved us, could we but cherish unbroken confidence in Him. And this holds true not only of our future victory, but of our present peace. It is not the burden which weighs us down; it is when we have to bear it alone, and so long as we bear it alone. The fire of the furnace, though heated seven times, could not scorch the three children while the Son of Man was with them. The pang shoots to the heart while we feel not His hand in the stroke; sickness and distress are sore so long as we hear not His voice, and the light of His countenance is withdrawn. Therefore the secret of joy, at all times, is the presence of Christ; and it still holds absolutely true of all men and under all circumstances: 'Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.'
It deserves notice that the characteristics of God's people are first treated negatively, as if to indicate the proneness of our natural hearts. For, as Luther has it, on reading this let us not apply it to others, to Jews or to heathens, but think of ourselves. At the very outset, also, let us remember that there is indeed a great difference between happiness in the common and in the scriptural sense. The former is of the earth, earthy; the latter is 'from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.' Our happiness is blessedness; it comes down to us from heaven. Even our earthly happiness, to be real, must come to us from God. What matters it about our particular rivulet, so long as the spring itself is open and flowing to us? Then, let us ever see to it that all our happiness be blessedness, and it will prove both true and lasting. The best portraiture of the child of God is that which presents his state of heart and mind as one of 'delight in the law of Jehovah,' and his lifeengagement as meditation (literally, still, silent meditation) upon it 'day and night' (ver. 2). So to rejoice in His Word, and to feed upon it, is vastly different from merely intellectual study. Then His Word and Spirit prove to us 'rivers of water'—many rivers, yet issuing from one spring, the love of God in Christ, keeping our leaf, the life of faith, ever fresh upon us, and causing us to bring forth 'fruit unto holiness,' 'the fruit of the Spirit in all goodness and righteousness and truth.' There is never disappointment here; no fig-tree like that which Jesus cursed; but gladsome it stands by the sweet murmuring of those rivers, in all the beauty of holiness and in all the riches of goodness. 'In his season' you look not in vain for refreshing fruit, for we have not received the grace of God in vain. Yet all this holiness and happiness not in ourselves but in Christ, and as branches of the Vine. In close union with Him lies the secret of our life and of our blessedness. And here also is the road to spiritual success. For, watered by His grace, and in the strength of His might, whatever our calling may be, we prosper, in the scriptural sense of the term. Truly 'in Him we live, and move, and have our being.' I never can be lonely with God; I never can be poor with God; I never can be desponding with God; I never can be bereaved with God. Introduce the spiritual element, give me the blessed sense of His presence, and all is right. I am unhappy until I emerge into His presence; weak until I grasp His arm. After that I know neither want nor difficulty. 'Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.' I ofttimes wonder at others, still oftener at myself, when I consider these things. 'O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you?' 'Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?' The children of God pierce themselves with many sorrows when they walk 'in the counsel of the ungodly,'—consulting flesh and blood, and sense and sight; or when they 'stand in the way of sinners,'—associating themselves with their habits, pursuits, ideas, and pleasures; or when they 'sit in the seat of the scornful,'—taking up their language, maxims, and practical atheism. The mode of securing permanent happiness is to delight ourselves in the law of Jehovah—in the twofold sense of having this spiritual object and cherishing a spiritual apprehension of it.
This, then, is God's panacea for the ills of life; and this is the victory over the world, even our faith. Faith removes not trials nor afflictions, but gives us a higher and truer delight in the constant realization of Jehovah, as presented in His Word. We can not only wait patiently and endure affliction, but we learn, in our nearness to Christ, and in our sense of being shut up to Him, the truth of this experience: 'Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.' The sunlight dispels the thickest darkness, and clears away the most threatening clouds. Then, when patience has had her perfect work, will it also be found literally true: 'Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.' 'For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love,' and He graciously owns the faith which Himself hath implanted. The end of that man is perfect peace; 'for Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous,' —of those whom He hath chosen, called, justified, and sanctified. This knowledge is, as ancient divines express it, 'cum affectu et effectu! For He prepareth their way, which indeed is His way, and watcheth over them, and giveth His angels charge by the way. 'He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.' 'They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.'
Though the children of God need not the example and end of the wicked in order to keep them true to their vows, it is well to note the contrast, to take the warning, and to adore the eternal holiness and justice of our God (vers. 4, 5, 6). Mark the sad classification of sin: 'The ungodly,' who seek their joy in wild tumultuousness (the root of the Hebrew word pointing to the latter); 'sinners,' who go astray, or (literally) miss the mark; and 'the scornful,' whose history, alas! is as old as revelation itself (as old writers express it: impii corde, peccatores opere, illusores ore). This is closely followed by corresponding judgment, commencing often even here, but fully manifested in the day when He shall appear with His 'fan in His hand, and will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' Yet our motive is not fear, but the constraining love of Christ, which, blessed be God, has cast out our slavish and guilty fears.
1. This Psalm holds perfectly true only in its application to 'the Apostle and High Priest of our profession,' who said, 'I delight to do Thy will, O my Go"d: Thy law is within my heart.' Yet must this ever be my ideal—that for which my soul longs and seeks. If thou hast discovered the secret of happiness,—that for which the world vainly seeks in so many perverse ways, which only end in disappointment and destruction,—if thou hast found the pearl of great price, well mayest thou sell all thou hast to possess it. How precious is Christ! 'Thou art my portion, O Lord;' 'Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup.' 'The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.' Ever let me hold fast by Christ; let me seek happiness in blessed
ness. 'When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.' I have seen and felt much misery, but never real misery allied with faith. Then, straight to Christ; and, when the streams are cut off, all the more ardently repair to the fountain itself.
2. Mark, my soul, the contrast; and while thou ascribest all the praise to sovereign grace, learn from this very fact the solidity and strength of thy hope. Thou—through grace— a tree, a palm-tree whose roots are watered by the river of life, whose fruit never faileth, each in its own season, and whose leaf never fadeth,—nay, thou and all thou doest must ever prosper. They, by nature like thyself, but having in vain received the sunshine of His word and the rain of His near promise,—at last, like empty chaff driven before the autumn wind, unsanctified here (' chaff,' 'sinners ') and unglorified hereafter (' which the wind driveth away,' 'ungodly in the judgment'). If by grace such blessings have been freely extended to me, let me beware how I associate myself with the world. 'O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united!'
3. In all my wanderings and musings let me bear in mind the special Providence which watcheth over the people of God. 'Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous.' Let me not concern myself about, nor be enticed into, the way of the ungodly, which 'shall perish.' Remember: the opposite of righteous is ungodly—no holiness without faith; and again, the opposite of ungodly is righteous—no faith without holiness. 'Jehovah knoweth the way,' and the end of the way; but it is 'the way of the righteous! Is mine a ' righteous' way? Oh, let me ever seek it in heart, life, and speech!