i By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion!
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
And they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4 How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; Who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
Happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the
stones. Psalm Cxxxv11.
THIS is a song of spiritual 'home-sickness,' the burden of which is the love of Zion: not of our Zion—as sometimes, by a strange mis-application, a particular branch of the Church is called—but of Zion. For Zion is neither mine nor thine; 'but Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all! There is only one Zion to which we owe undivided allegiance, next to and because of the Lord, 'of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.' Here are the characteristics of its citizens: Family adoption, family nearness, family likeness, family privileges, family union, and family inheritance. 'There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.' This Zion is the object of our most intense affection, for ' this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever.' Moreover—with holy reverence be it said—in virtue of His identification with the Church, whatever affects Zion affecteth its King; 'for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.' Again, the inmost recesses and the deepest springs of our hearts are identified with it. 'All my springs are in Thee.' So affectingly true is this, that 'if I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning' (ver. 5). All my doing and my life is connected with it; nor would I lift my right hand with strength or with cunning, were its connexion with Zion severed. 'If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth' (ver. 6). I have nothing more to say, far less to sing; 'if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy;' then, let my heart cease to beat, for its life-blood no longer circulates through it. Accordingly, in all her afflictions we are afflicted. They concern us most personally. If we sit down 'by the rivers of Babylon,' we weep 'when we remember Zion.' No event comes with a feeling of more bitter desolation and loneliness over the heart of the child of God, than sitting by the rivers of Babylon—finding one'sself on strange soil, in uncongenial company. To be 'in the midst thereof (ver. 2)—either so far as society or the ministry is concerned—is and should be cause for mourning, though not for murmuring. Look upwards, not downwards. Even in our ordinary business avocations, the heart of a child of Zion feels as 'in a strange land'—not there, but at home. 'I have set my affection to the house of my God' (see also Col. iii. 1-4). We have, indeed, still 'our harps,' but they are Zion's harps, and 'we hanged' them 'upon the willows;' we are ready to sing, but not to sing there. Spiritual joy cannot co-exist with worldly fellowship, nor with the indulgence of any sin—of thought, or of tongue, or of deed. And yet the world cannot understand why we should not be able to hold our religion in the midst of its atmosphere. 'They that carried us away captive required of us a song;' or rather, as it should be rendered, ' the words of a song.' They see no inconsistency in a religion which freely mixes with the world. In their ignorance, they only require ' the words of a song;' its heavenly strain they have never caught. 'They that wasted us required of us mirth.' Remember, it is this worldly element which wasteth, or lays on heaps, whether so far as our own hearts or the Church of God is concerned. But, true to his spiritual instincts, the child of God replies, ' How shall we sing Jehovalis song in the land of a stranger V (ver. 4); and then, so far from being utterly cast down or overcome, rises with fresh outburst of resolution and intenseness of new vigour, to utter the vows of vers. 5 and 6. For, after having passed through such a spiritual conflict, we come forth, not wearied but refreshed, not weaker, but stronger. It is one of the seeming contradictions of the gospel, that the cure of weariness, and the
relief of heavy-ladenness, lies in this—to take the cross upon ourselves. After the night-long conflict of Israel, 'as he passed over Peniel, the sun rose upon him', and that though 'he halted upon his thigh.'
But while this experience holds good at all times, there are seasons to which it is specially applicable. Such was the case when Israel was carried 'beyond the river'—at least so far as regarded the believing hearts, the singers of Zion, among them. Such is it still, in a spiritual sense, to Israel. Here, then, we have the true representation of Judcea capta, full of the most intense pathos; and we seem to hear the sighing of a wind which moves all the trees of the field, even 'the willows,' on which, by the water-courses of Babylon, Zion's harps are hanged. Again, one might well conceive that, of all others, this was the Psalm most suitable for John and his companions on the Friday of the crucifixion, as they returned from Calvary, to be oft repeated during the days of the entombment. It is also the song of the widowed Church, and of the Church in the wilderness ; and it will become so with increasing appropriateness during the troubles of the last days. And what a glorious wakening of the new morning, when Israel shall finally take it up audibly, in the hearing of all nations! Surely' the night cometh, and also the morning.' There is a 'day of Jerusalem' (ver. 7) in the bright future as well as in the dark past, and 'the daughter of Babylon' (her legitimate daughter, even in a literal sense) is 'to be destroyed.' The bounds are set—hitherto, and no farther; and when the vial is full, it shall pour forth His wrath, even 'of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.' Nor is there any personal vindictiveness in these predictions, however fearful the judgments which they announce (vers. 8, 9); for, in fact, there is nothing of a personal or individual character in them. It was not as individuals that we suffered; Zion was 'rased;' and if they could have done what they 'said,' it would have been 'even to the foundation thereof (ver. 7). 'Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure,' in the case of individual believers, of the Church of God, and of His precious truth. Nor, on the other hand, are we, in our individual capacity, now vindicated, but Zion. Therefore, 'Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets.' 'And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia: Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God : for true and righteous are His judgments!
1. Identified with Christ, with His cause and people—is that my case? How painfully does it ever come back upon us, in our weary disappointments with the world, and even in some measure, with the Church: 'They all seek their own!' Do /, then, only seek 'the things which are Jesus Christ's?' Am I quite identified with Him, so that what affects Him or His cause affects me? Am I not looking to anything that is my own, but to the things that are His? Do I prefer Christ's Church to my church, the Vine to the branch? I am tempted to say, 'All men are liars.' When I see how concern for their worldly good, or a desire for anything of this world— be it not its money, but the favour, and influence, or good opinion of men—sways, or keeps, or influences them, I am prone to feel myself alone and sad—to hang up my harp on the willow, and to weep. 'When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.' I may, perhaps, even be tempted to feel like Elijah in the wilderness, by the mount of God, or like Jonah under his withered gourd. 'This is my infirmity, but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High; I will remember the works of the Lord.' This is 'my haste;' but I will go 'into the sanctuary of God.' If all men be liars, all the more let me be true. Besides, I am not my brother's judge or keeper. I know not his case, far less his temptations or difficulties. And the Lord is able to deliver him. Therefore let me be zealous, but only for God ; jealous, but only over myself.
2. This is a very solemn and testing Psalm for ministers of the gospel, and for all workers in His vineyard, however employed. The question brought to issue is that of our feelings towards His cause and work, which is 'honourable and glorious.' Do 'I prefer''Jerusalem above my chief joy?' Ami unconcerned about my own name, honour, advantage, and party, so that His cause prosper; content to be nothing and to have nothing; to prove merely as the instrument in His hand, and do I rejoice if the gospel is preached, were it even 'of envy and strife?' A servant of Christ is wholly absorbed in His work, and has neither time, leisure, nor heart to think of anything else. And have we not all a work for Him? Let me, then, seek it out and follow it, this day and evermore, humbly but believingly.
3. Beware, O my soul, of the dangerous confusion of Church and world, of light and darkness, of truth and error. I cannot breathe a poisoned atmosphere; I cannot sing the Lord's song in a strange land. Keep thyself ever fresh and warm by thoughts of Zion. Wait for the deliverance of the Lord, and prayerfully look upwards. Rest assured that the time, 'the set time,' shall come—the new 'day of Jerusalem,' which, at the same time, will be that when 'the daughter of Babylon' is 'to be destroyed.' 'Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!'
Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation
Sink heart and voice oppressed:
I know not, oh, I know not,
What social joys are there;
What radiancy of glory,
What light beyond compare!
They stand, those halls of Syon,
Conjubilant with song,
And bright with many an angel
And all the martyr throng:
The Prince is ever in them;
The daylight is serene;
The pastures of the blessed
Are decked in glorious sheen.
There is the Throne of David;
And there, from care released,
The song of them that triumph,
The shout of them that feast;
And they who, with their Leader,
Have conquered in the fight,
For ever and for ever
Are clad in robes of white!
Rhythm Of S. Bernard.
EDINBURGH: T. CONSTABLE,
PRINTER TO THE QUEEN, AND TO THE UNIVERSITY.