Psalm 49:20

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 20. The song ends with the refrain, Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish. Understanding differences men from animals, but if they will not follow the highest wisdom, and like beasts find their all in this life, then their end shall be as mean and dishonourable as that of beasts slain in the chase, or killed in the shambles. From the loftiest elevation of worldly honour to the uttermost depths of death is but a step. Saddest of all is the reflection, that though men are like beasts in all the degradation of perishing, yet not in the rest which animal perishing secures, for, alas! it is written, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." So ends the minstrel's lay. Comforting as the theme is to the righteous, it is full of warning to the worldly. Hear ye it, O ye rich and poor. Give ear to it, ye nations of the earth.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 20. Like the beasts that perish. My lords, it is no wonder at all, if men that affect beastly pleasures, and dote upon perishing honours, become like the beasts that perish. It is no miracle if he that lives like a beast dies like a beast. Take a man that hath lived like the fool in the gospel, and tell me, what hath this man done for his immortal soul more than a beast doth for its perishing soul? Soul, soul, cease from care, eat, drink, and take thine ease; this is the constant ditty of most men in honour: they have studied clothes and victuals, titles and offices, ways of gain and pleasure. Am I not yet at highest? They have, it may be, studied the black art of flattery and treachery; they understand the humour of the times, the compliances and dependences of this and other statesman, the projects of divers princes abroad, and the main design here at home. Is this all? Why, then be it known unto you, that the men of this strain have made no better provision for their precious souls, than if they had the soul, the vanishing soul of a beast within them; and certainly, if we were to judge of the substance of men's souls by their unworthy and sensual conversation, we might easily fall into that heresy, that dangerous dream of some who conceive that their souls are mortal. Francis Cheynell, in a Sermon entitled, "The Man of Honour,"... preached before the Lords of Parliament, 1645.

Verse 20. Like the beasts that perish. Sin is both formaliter and effective vile. As it is so in itself, so it has made man vile. No creature so debased as man, being in this respect become viler than any creature. There is no such depravation in the nature of any creature, except in the diabolical nature. No creature ever razed God's image out of its nature, but only man. There is no aversions to the will of God, no inclination to what offends him, in any creature on earth but man. Man, then, who was once the glory of the creation, is become the vilest of all creatures, for that is vilest which is most contrary to the infinite glory, but so is our nature, "Man being in honour, abideth not," is now like the beast that perish; nay, worse than they, if the greatest evil can make him worse. Man was made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory, advanced to be lord and governor of all the works of his hands; and all creatures in this world were put under his feet. Psalms 8:5-6 . But by this natural corruption he that was but a little lower than the angels is now something below the beasts. He was to have dominion, but is made baser than those over whom he rules. They were put under his feet, but now he is as low as they. This is the sad issue of natural corruption. David Clarkson.

Verse 20. Like the beasts. Man is so much a beast, that he cannot know himself to be one till God teach him. And we never learn to be men till we have learned that we were beasts ... It is not said he is like this or that beast, but he is like the beasts that perish. Take any beast, or all beasts, the worst of beasts, he is the picture of them all, and he daily exemplifies the vilest of their qualities in his own. Joseph Caryl.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 20.

  1. Men of spiritual understanding without worldly honour are higher than the angels of God in heaven.
  2. Men in worldly honour without the true wisdom are worse than the beasts that perish. G. R.