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Psalm 11:3

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 3. It was equally correct that the very foundations of law and justice were destroyed under Saul's unrighteous government: but what were all these things to the man whose trust was in God alone? He could brave the dangers, could escape the enemies, and defy the injustice which surrounded him. His answer to the question, "What can the righteous do?" would be the counter question, "What cannot they do?" When prayer engages God on our side, and when faith secures the fulfilment of the promise, what cause can there be for flight, however cruel and mighty our enemies? With a sling and a stone, David had smitten a giant before whom the whole hosts of Israel were trembling, and the Lord, who delivered him from the uncircumcised Philistine, could surely deliver him from King Saul and his myrmidons. There is no such word as "impossibility" in the language of faith; that martial grace knows how to fight and conquer, but she knows not how to flee.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 3. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? But now we are met with a giant objection, which with Goliath must be removed, or else it will obstruct our present proceedings. Is it possible that the foundations of religion should be destroyed? Can God be in so long a sleep, yea, so long a lethargy, as patiently to permit the ruins thereof? If he looks on, and yet doth not see these foundations when destroyed, where then is his omniscience? If he seeth it, and cannot help it, where then is his omnipotence? If he seeth it, can help it, and will not, where then is his goodness and mercy? Martha said to Jesus ( John 11:21 ), "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." But many will say, Were God effectually present in the world with his aforesaid attributes, surely the foundations had not died, had not been destroyed. We answer negatively, that it is impossible that the foundations of religion should ever be totally and finally destroyed, either in relation to the church in general, or in reference to every true and lively member thereof. For the first, we have an express promise of Christ. Matthew 16:18 . "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Fundamenta tamen stant inconcussa Sionis. And as for every particular Christian ( 2 Timothy 2:19 ), "Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his." However, though for the reasons aforementioned in the objections (the inconsistency thereof with the attributes of God's omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness), the foundations can never totally and finally, yet may they partially be destroyed, quoad gradum, in a fourfold degree, as followeth. First, in the desires and utmost endeavours of wicked men,

  1. Hoc velle, They bring their --
  2. Hoc agere,
  3. Totum posse.

If they destroy not the foundations, it is no thanks to them, seeing all the world will bear them witness they have done their best (that is, their worst), what their might and malice could perform. Secondly, in their own vainglorious imaginations: they may not only vainly boast, but also verily believe that they have destroyed the foundations. Applicable to this purpose, is that high rant of the Roman emperor ( Luke 2:1 ): "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." All the world! whereas he had, though much, not all in Europe, little in Asia, less in Africa, none in America, which was so far from being conquered, it was not so much as known to the Romans. But hyperbole is not a figure, but the ordinary language of pride; because indeed Augustus had very much he proclaimeth himself to have all the world... Thirdly, the foundations may be destroyed as to all outward visible illustrious apparition. The church in persecution is like unto a ship in a tempest; down go all their masts, yea, sometimes for the more speed they are forced to cut them down: not a piece of canvas to play with the winds, no sails to be seen; they lie close knotted to the very keel, that the tempest may have the less power upon them, though when the storm is over, they can hoist up their sails as high, and spread their canvas as broad as ever before. So the church in the time of persecution feared, but especially felt, loseth all gayness and gallantry which may attract and allure the eyes of beholders, and contents itself with its own secrecy. In a word, on the work days of affliction she weareth her worst clothes, whilst her best are laid up in her wardrobe, in sure and certain hope that God will give her a holy and happy day, when with joy she shall wear her best garments. Lastly, they may be destroyed in the jealous apprehensions of the best saints and servants of God, especially in their melancholy fits. I will instance in no puny, but in a star of the first magnitude and greatest eminency, even Elijah himself complaining ( 1 Kings 19:10 ): "And I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." Thomas Fuller.

Verse 3. If. It is the only word of comfort in the text, that what is said is not positive, but suppositive; not thetical, but hypothetical. And yet this comfort which is but a spark (at which we would willingly kindle our hopes), is quickly saddened with a double consideration. First, impossible suppositions produce impossible consequences, "As is the mother, so is the daughter." Therefore, surely God's Holy Spirit would not suppose such a thing but what was feasible and possible, but what either had, did, or might come to pass. Secondly, the Hebrew word is not the conditional im, si, si forte, but chi, quia, quoniam, because, and (although here it be favourably rendered if), seemeth to import, more therein, that the sad case had already happened in David's days. I see, therefore, that this if, our only hope in the text, is likely to prove with Job's friends, but a miserable comforter. Well, it is good to know the worst of things, that we may provide ourselves accordingly; and therefore let us behold this doleful case, not as doubtful, but as done; not as feared, but felt; not as suspected, but at this time really come to pass. Thomas Fuller.

Verse 3. If the foundations, etc. My text is an answer to a tacit objection which some may raise; namely, that the righteous are wanting to themselves, and by their own easiness and inactivity (not daring and doing so much as they might and ought), betray themselves to that bad condition. In whose defence David shows, that if God in his wise will and pleasure seeth it fitting, for reasons best known to himself, to suffer religion to be reduced to terms of extremity, it is not placed in the power of the best man alive to remedy and redress the same. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" My text is hung about with mourning, as for a funeral sermon, and contains: First, a sad case supposed, "If the foundations be destroyed." Secondly, a sad question propounded, "What can the righteous do?" Thirdly, a sad answer implied, namely, that they can do just nothing, as to that point of reestablishing the destroyed foundation. Thomas Fuller.

Verse 3. If the foundations be destroyed, etc. The civil foundation of a nation or people, is their laws and constitutions. The order and power that's among them, that's the foundation of a people; and when once this foundation is destroyed, What can the righteous do? What can the best, the wisest in the world, do in such a case? What can any man do, if there be not a foundation of government left among men? There is no help nor answer in such a case but that which follows in the fourth verse of the Psalm, "The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men;" as if he had said, in the midst of these confusions, when as it is said ( Psalms 82:5 ), "All the foundations of the earth are out of course;" yet God keeps his course still, he is where he was and as he was, without variableness or shadow of turning. Joseph Caryl.

Verse 3. The righteous. The righteous indefinitely, equivalent to the righteous universally; not only the righteous as a single arrow, but in the whole sheaf; not only the righteous in their personal, but in their diffusive capacity. Were they all collected into one body, were all the righteous living in the same age wherein the foundations are destroyed, summoned up and modelled into one corporation, all their joint endeavours would prove ineffectual to the reestablishing of the fallen foundations, as not being man's work, but only God's work to perform. Thomas Fuller.

Verse 3. The foundations. Positions, the things formerly fixed, placed, and settled. It is not said, if the roof be ruinous, or if the side walls be shattered, but if the foundations.

Verse 3. Foundations be destroyed. In the plural. Here I will not warrant my skill in architecture, but conceive this may pass for an undoubted truth: it is possible that a building settled on several entire foundations (suppose them pillars) close one to another, if one of them fall, yet the structure may still stand, or rather hang (at the least for a short time) by virtue of the complicative, which it receiveth from such foundations which still stand secure. But in case there be a total rout, and an utter ruin of all the foundations, none can fancy to themselves a possibility of that building's subsistence. Thomas Fuller.

Verse 3. What CAN the righteous? The can of the righteous is a limited can, confined to the rule of God's word; they can do nothing but what they can lawfully do. 2 Corinthians 13:8 . "For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth:" Illud possumus, quod jure possumus. Wicked men can do anything; their conscience, which is so wide that it is none at all, will bear them out to act anything how unlawful soever, to stab, poison, massacre, by any means, at any time, in any place, whosoever standeth betwixt them and the effecting of their desires. Not so the righteous; they have a rule whereby to walk, which they will not, they must not, they dare not, cross. If therefore a righteous man were assured, that by the breach of one of God's commandments he might restore decayed religion, and resettle it statu quo prius, his hands, head, and heart are tied up, he can do nothing, because their damnation is just who say ( Romans 3:8 ), "Let us do evil that good may come thereof."

Verse 3. Do. It is not said, What can they think? It is a great blessing which God hath allowed injured people, that though otherwise oppressed and straitened, they may freely enlarge themselves in their thoughts. Thomas Fuller.

Verse 3. Sinning times have ever been the saints' praying times: this sent Ezra with a heavy heart to confess the sin of his people, and to bewail their abominations before the Lord. Ezra 9:1-15 . And Jeremiah tells the wicked of his degenerate age, that "his soul should weep in secret places for their pride." Jeremiah 13:17 . Indeed, sometimes sin comes to such a height, that this is almost all the godly can do, to get into a corner, and bewail the general pollutions of the age. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Such dismal days of national confusion our eyes have seen, when foundations of government were destroyed, and all hurled into military confusion. When it is thus with a people, "What can the righteous do?" Yes, this they may, and should do, "fast and pray." There is yet a God in heaven to be sought to, when a people's deliverance is thrown beyond the help of human policy or power. Now is the fit time to make their appeal to God, as the words following hint: "The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven;" in which words God is presented sitting in heaven as a temple, for their encouragement, I conceive, in such a desperate state of affairs, to direct their prayers thither for deliverance. And certainly this hath been the engine that hath been instrumental, above any, to restore this poor nation again, and set it upon the foundation of that lawful government from which it had so dangerously departed. William Gurnall.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 3. This may furnish a double discourse.

  1. If God's oath and promise could remove, what could we do? Here the answer is easy.
  2. If all earthly things fail, and the very State fall to pieces, what can we do? We can suffer joyfully, hope cheerfully, wait patiently, pray earnestly, believe confidently, and triumph finally.

Verse 3. Necessity of holding and preaching foundation truths.

Read Psalm 11:3