“For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation. Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand.”— Psalm cxlix. 4 — 6.
I THINK I have read that, once, when the seraphic Samuel Rutherford was preaching, he came ere long to speak on the high praises of the Lord Jesus Christ. That was a theme upon which he was at home, and when he reached that point, and had spoken a little upon it, the Duke of Argyle, who was in the congregation, cried out, “Now you are on the right strain, man; hold on to that.” I thought that, this morning, we also struck the right key. We were trying to extol our God, our King, and to magnify his holy name; and something seemed to say to me, “Hold on to that strain. Let us have the same note again to-night, and still let us laud and praise and magnify the name of the Most High.”
So, without further preface, I remark, first, that our text contains some reasons for praise. We had a great many this morning; but here are some more: “For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.” Then our text gives special phases of praise. It shows us how, in a peculiar manner, we may praise the Lord: “Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand.” There is plenty of sea-room for a preacher here; but as we have not much time we will make for the nearest port, and our words shall be as few as possible.
I. First, here are SOME REASONS FOR PRAISE.
The first of these reasons is, the delight of God in his people: “The Lord taketh pleasure in his people.” Therefore let us praise him. It is delightful that God takes pleasure in us who are his people. We feel that this is a great stoop of condescending grace. What is there in us in which the Lord can take pleasure? Nothing, unless he has put it there. If he sees any beauty in us, it must be the reflection of his own face. Yet still the text says so, and therefore it must be true: “The Lord taketh pleasure in his people.” In the 147th Psalm, we read, “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him.” You who tremble at his Word, you who stand in awe of him, you who trust him and seek to obey him, you are those that fear him, and he takes pleasure in you. He that is infinitely blessed,— can he take pleasure in us? He that has the harps of angels to make music for him, he that has the host of cherubim and seraphim to be his attendants, he that can make a world with a wish, does he deign to take pleasure in us?
I am sure this is true, not only because it is stated here that the Lord taketh pleasure in his people, but because we see this truth in action. The Lord takes pleasure in his people’s prayers. What poor imperfect things they are! Yet he opens his ear to hear them. He would sooner miss the song of a cherub than miss the prayer of a broken heart. He is charmed with the prayers of his people; they hold him, they prevail with him, he will do anything for those who know how to pray. “Prayer moves the arm that moves the world.” He must take great delight in his people, or else he would not listen to their prayers, and he is pleased with their praises, too. There is never a hymn that is sung by a true heart but God accepts it. No one may hear it on earth; it may not be worth the hearing, for the sound may be discordant; but when a true heart seeketh to praise God, he careth not for the vocal sounds, but he hath regard to the voice of the spirit’s thanksgiving. Must he not take great pleasure in us to notice our praises and our prayers? Yet he doth so. This will be still more clear to us, dear friends, if we remember that while he delights to hear us praise and pray, he also speaks to us. The Lord hath a wonderful way of revealing himself to his people. You who are spiritually blind can go through this world and never see him; but there are others who have had their eyes opened, and they have seen the King in his beauty. You who are spiritually deaf can go through the world and never hear his voice; but they whose ears have been unstopped have heard him say to them, “Seek ye my face,” and many a blessed word of promise has he spoken home to their hearts, making them glad. Jehovah does not shut himself up within his palaces. The Lord Jesus comes forth out of the ivory palaces wherein they make him glad, for his delights are with the sons of men, and he loves to commune with his own people as he does not with the world. Does not this show what pleasure he must take in us,— first to hear us speak, and then to speak to us himself?
Beloved, you who know the Lord must feel that he never would have dealt with you as he has done if he had not taken great pleasure in you. Why, you are his children! I saw just now, from the What is there in window, a man playing with a child, and he seemed so happy as he tossed the little one about. It was but a baby, but I suppose the charm to him was that it was his own, and it seemed to give the father great delight. When I see a father playing and toying thus with his child, and finding joy in his offspring, I understand a little how it is that the Lord takes pleasure in his people. Are we not born of him? Has he not carried and nursed us many a day? And does he not daily feed and supply us with all necessary things? Therefore, we marvel not that he takes pleasure in us.
But why is this? Surely it is his own grace that makes him take pleasure in us. If you want a person to love you, be kind to him. Yet you may fail even then. To be certain of his love, let him be kind to you. A child may forget the mother; it receives much from her, and gratitude does not always come to her in return. But the mother never forgets the child to whom she has given so much; what she has given is a firmer bond between her and the child than ever gratitude is from the child to the mother. Now, God has done so much for us already that this is why he continues to love us. Jesus remembers that he died for us, the Holy Ghost remembers that he strove with us, the great Father remembers how he has preserved us, and because of all this goodness in the past he takes pleasure in us.
“With joy the father doth approve
The fruit of his eternal love;
The Son with joy looks down, and sees
The purchase of his agonies.”
Moreover, I think that the Lord takes pleasure in us not only because of all that he has done, but because he sees something in us that pleases him, something which is his own work. A sculptor, when he commences on the marble, has only a rough block; but, after days and weeks of hard working, he begins to see something like the image he is aiming at producing. So I believe that God is pleased when he sees in any of us some grace, some repentance, some faith, some beginnings of that sanctification which will one day be perfect. You know how pleased you are with your children when they begin to talk; yet it is poor talk, is it not? It is baby-talk, but you like to hear the sound of it. The first little sentiment that drops from the child’s lip is nothing very remarkable, yet you tell it to others, and brothers and sisters quote it as an instance of opening intelligence. So does God take pleasure in the tears of penitence, in the broken confession, in the first evidences of faith, in the tremblings of hope, because he has wrought all this, and he is pleased with what he has done, pleased to see that, so far, his handiwork has been successful.
Besides, I believe that every true sculptor can see in the block of marble the statue that he means to make. I doubt not that the artist could see the Laocoon of the Vatican after he had chipped for a little time, the figure of the serpent, and the father, and the sons all standing out in that wondrous group, long before anybody else could see it. And the Lord takes pleasure in his people because he can see us as we shall be. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” but it does appear to him. In the cast of his mind and the shaping of his eternal purpose he knows, dear sister, though you are now struggling with your fears, what you will be when you shall stand before the blazing lamps of the eternal throne. He knows, young man, though you have but a few days turned from sin, and begun to struggle with vice, what you will be when, with all the blood-washed host, you shall cast your crown before his throne. Yes, the Lord takes delight in his people as knowing what they are yet to be.
As I talk to you about God’s delight in his people, I feel as if I must take delight in him. I think that, if the Queen were to send for you all to come and see her, and if you went in and out of the palace, arid she was very pleased with you all, and showed great affection for you, you would be sure to have the like esteem for her. It would so completely win your heart that you would not be able to help it, and you would not wish to do so. Now, the great King has made us his creatures, his favourites, ay, his sons and daughters, and he has said that we shall shortly be with him enthroned above the skies; and therefore we must praise him. God forbid that we should be silent when we receive such love from him! Praise him, praise him, “for the Lord taketh pleasure in his people.”
The next reason for praising God is found in the beauty he puts upon his people. The second part of this verse says, “He will beautify the meek with salvation.” Great kings and princes have often tried to magnify themselves by beautifying their courtiers. They that stand nearest to thrones are expected to be bedizened after an extraordinary rate. Well now, our King takes the meek and lowly, and he beautifies them with salvation. They have no beauty of their own; they do not think themselves beautiful, they often mourn their own deformities and imperfections; but the Lord is to be praised because “he will beautify the meek with salvation.”
I find that, according to different interpreters, this text may be read in three different ways. First, as in our version, “He will beautify the meek with salvation!” Next, “He will beautify the afflicted with deliverance.” Hear that, you afflicted ones; jot it down for your comfort. And, next, “He will beautify the meek with victory.” The men that cannot fight shall be beautified with victory. The men that will not fight, the men that resist not evil, the men that yield and suffer in patience, the Lord will beautify them with victory. When the fighting men and those that stood up for their own rights will find themselves covered with shame, “He will beautify the meek with victory.”
How does God beautify those who are meek? In the Scriptures, you will find that the most beautiful persons were the meek persons. I remember only three people whose faces are said to have shone; you recollect those three, do you not? There was, first, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose face shone when he came down from the Mount of Transfiguration so that the people came running together unto him. How meek and lowly of heart was he! Another person whose face shone was Moses, when he came down from the mount of communion with God, and of him we read, “Now the man Moses was very meek.” The third man whose face shone was Stephen, when he stood before the council, and in the meekest manner pleaded for his Lord and Master. If ever your face is to shine, dear friend, you must get rid of a high and haughty spirit; you must be meek, for the brightness of the divine light will never rest on the forehead that flashes with anger. Be gentle, quiet, yielding, like your Lord, and he will then beautify you.
Meekness is itself a beauty. We read of “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” There is many a Christian woman who has been all but divinely beautiful in her gentleness, bearing all sorts of provocations, going about her domestic duties with great quietude. I am sure that I have known one or two good old Quaker ladies who looked to me as nearly like angels as ever mortals could be. There was about them a quietude of manner, a gentleness, a sort of unworldliness or unearthliness of beauty, though they wore no jewels, and were decorated with no adornments that might have commended them to the taste of fashionable folk. The Lord does give great beauty to his people who are very quiet and submissive. If you can bear and forbear, if you will not be provoked to speak a hasty word, that meekness of yours is itself a beauty.
Beside that, God beautifies meek people with peace. They have not to go and beg pardon, and make up quarrels, as others have, for they have had no quarrel. They have not to think at night, “I really said what I ought not to have said,” for they have not done so. There is a great beauty about the peace that comes of meekness.
Another beauty which God puts on the meek is contentment. They that are of a quiet and gentle spirit through the grace of God are satisfied with their lot. They thank God for little; they are of the mind of the godly woman who ate the crust of bread and drank a little water, and said, “What! all this, and Jesus Christ, too?” There is a great charm about contentment, while envy and greed are ugly things in the eyes of those who have anything like spiritual perception. So meekness, through bringing contentment, beautifies us.
Out of meekness also comes holiness; and who has not heard of “the beauty of holiness”? When one is made to subdue his temper, and curb his will, and yield his mind sweetly up to Christ, then obedience to God’s will follows, and the whole life becomes lovely. Let us praise the Lord that ever he put any beauty upon any of us, and let us bless God for the holiness of his people whenever we see it. It is a pity that there should be so little of it; but what a comfort it is that the Lord has some among his people who are of a meek and gentle spirit, whom he beautifies with salvation!
Here I cannot help even breaking away from my subject to tell you what happened to me this morning after the service was over. When I went into the vestry, there was a number of American friends and others waiting to shake hands with me, and I was glad to shake hands with them. But there was one person present who did me more good than all the other brethren and sisters put together; he was a father, and he said to me, “If my emotions will permit me, I would like to tell you something that is on my heart; I feel that I must tell it to you.” This friend came from a distant city. He continued, “My son left my house well clothed and well stored with money, but for a long, long while I never heard of him. He plunged into all kinds of sin till he reduced himself by disease to beggary and want, and he had not even shoes to his feet.” As he passed by the front of the Tabernacle,— (you young people here, listen to this story, and take home the lesson of it,)— all in rags, on the Sunday afternoon, a young man asked him to come into one of the classes here, and gave him a tract. He uttered an oath, threw the tract on the pavement, and trampled on it. After a few seconds, some sort of compunction seized him, and he turned back and picked up the tract, whereupon this young brother, quick and alert,— (as I hope you young men and women always will be in looking after poor sinners,)— spoke to him, and said, “ Oh, you have picked it up; now will you read it? “Yes,” he answered, “I will read it.” The young man then said, “Come into our class;” but the poor fellow replied, “Look at me.” “Yes,” said he, “but we will not look at you if you will come in. They will all be glad to see you. Perhaps it may be a turn in your life.” The young man did come into the class, and he came in the evening to hear the sermon. They put him away somewhere where people would not stare at him, and God blessed him. He sought out some friends in London, who at first could not believe that he was the son of this person. They had seen him before in better days, so they questioned him, and they found that he knew so much about the father that they said, “Yes, no doubt you are his son.” His feet were bleeding, and he himself was sick, so they cared for him, and clothed him, and he came in and out of this house, his father told me, for many months serving God. His father saw him, and rejoiced over him. Now this story was told, with many tears, in the vestry behind,— told as I cannot tell it, and the good man invoked every blessing on me and upon that young brother, whoever he may be, that brought his son in. “And then, sir,” said the father, “he could not find any work to do, so he enlisted in the army, and was killed at Tel-el-Kebir.” He left in his knapsack a letter to his father to say that he died in perfect peace, and that he had found the Saviour at the Tabernacle. Our friend was so glad, and I could not help putting this story in here because that brother outside, I hope, was one of the meek ones, and God has beautified him by bringing that soul to Christ. And we who try to preach very plainly, and never aim at adorning our discourses with the flowers of eloquence, but try to talk to people from our hearts, may God give us great beauty in the eyes of many when we bring their children or themselves to the Saviour’s feet! I only wish that somebody, like that young man, might be converted, by the grace of God, through this sermon.
I think that I have said enough upon those reasons for praise. Do let us praise God with all our hearts, and bless and magnify his name, because he takes pleasure in his people, and because he beautifies the meek with salvation, and sometimes does it by making them the means of salvation to others.
II. The second portion of my sermon, which is to be concerning SPECIAL PHASES OF PRAISE, shall be delivered with great brevity.
The first way of praising the Lord is by glorying in God: “Let the saints be joyful in glory.” “That means the saints in heaven, does it not?” asks somebody. No, no, no; the psalmist is not writing for them, he is writing for us. “Well, but we are not in glory,” says one. I do not know; I think that we are. First, we are in glory by contrast. Look, dear friends. A little while ago, we were in sin, and we wore condemned under sin; but now we are delivered, we are absolved from guilt. Surely that is like being in glory. A little while ago, we were cast down and troubled, and had not a ray of hope; now we have rest in Christ and perfect peace, is not that like being in glory? Why, years back, when I have been preaching in Wales, I have heard a Welshman cry out, “Gogoniant!” and others have shouted, “Glory,” and I thought it was all right. There is enough to make the saints cry “Glory!” to think that they have been redeemed from death and hell, and that their feet have been taken out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set upon a rock, and their goings established. Why, truly, it is like being in glory; therefore, “let the saints be joyful in glory.”
Next, as we are in glory by contrast, so we are in glory by anticipation. What will glory be? It will be a peace with God; but we have that already. Glory will be rest; and we have that also. “We which. have believed do enter into rest.” Glory will be communion with God; and we have that, too. “Truly, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Glory will be victory; and we have that. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” “But,” asks one, “you do not moan to say that we have glory already?” Yes, I do. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance.” Are not those the words of Scripture? Here is another word of Scripture: “God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” By anticipation and by foretaste we have already obtained the life eternal, therefore, “let the saints be joyful in glory.” Rightly do we sing,—
“The men of grace have found
Glory begun below;
Celestial fruits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow.
“The hill of Sion yields
A thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets.
“Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry:
We’re marching thro’ Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.”
“I cannot get up to that,” says one. Try, dear brother, try. At any rate, get as far as this: wherever there is grace there will be glory. Grace is the egg, and glory is the hatching of it. Grace is the seed, and glory is the plant that comes out of it. Having the egg and the seed, we have practically and virtually the glory; therefore, again I say will the psalmist, “Let the saints be joyful in glory.”
The next special kind of praise is, joy in special circumstances: “Let them sing aloud upon their beds.” This is a message for the time of sickness. Praise the Lord when you are ill; sing to his glory when you cannot sleep; sing when the head aches, for that is the highest kind of praise that comes out of the body that is racked with pain. “Let them sing aloud upon their beds.” There are, sometimes, infirmities of the body that seem to quicken the soul, there are aches and pains that make us more fresh and vigorous of heart; but there are others that paralyze the mind, and reaching the very core of one’s being, seem to freeze up every spring of activity. It is little wonder that, under such infirmities, the brave heart grows faint; and it is especially so when there is mental affliction added to the physical pain. I have known men of God, highly favoured, and sisters in like condition, who have walked in the light as God is in the light, and have had great blessing from him, and by-and-by they have had strong inward temptation, an awful fight within, till sometimes they have had to cry out in their very souls to know whether they were with God, or God was with them at all. Doubts have insinuated themselves into the mind, and there have been grave and solemn questions about matters most vital and important; and at such times the man of God, though he still believes in his God, and is obedient to the divine will, yet feels a chill creeping over his very soul, and he is ready to faint. Then is the time for him to sing aloud upon his bed, for praise to God under such circumstances will be specially acceptable.
Your bed? Why, that is the place of seclusion! There you are alone. Have you never felt so happy that you did not want to sleep? I have sometimes had such joy in the night that I have tried to keep myself from falling asleep again lest I should miss the hallowed fellowship which my heart has had with God. Commune with God upon your beds, and sing his praises, if not aloud with the voice, yet aloud with the heart.
Upon your bed? Why, that is the place of domestic gathering; for the bed here meant is a couch, on which the Orientals reclined when they ate. Sing the Lord’s praises on your couches; that is, when you gather in your families. “Praise ye the Lord: sing aloud upon your couches.” I wish we had more family singing, we ought to have more. Matthew Henry says, with regard to family prayer, “They that pray every night and morning do well. They that pray and read the Scriptures do better. They that pray and read the Scriptures and sing do best of all.” And so say I; that is the best of all family worship. Let us take care in our domestic relationships that we praise this blessed God who is the God of our households as well as the God of our sanctuaries.
Upon their beds? Why, that means the bed of death! We shall go upstairs soon, and gather up our feet in the bed Oh, then, ye dear children of God, praise him aloud upon your beds! I do believe that the sweetest praises ever heard on earth have come from lips that were just closing in the silence of the tomb.
“I will love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
And praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death-dew lies cod on my brow,
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
Always praise him. Always praise him. When nobody hears you, in the silence of your bed-chamber, still sing aloud unto your God.
We must press on, though we have not time for much that ought to be said. The next special phase of praise is, elevation in song. The sixth verse says, “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth.” As I told you when I read the Psalm, it is “in their throat” in the Hebrew, for God ’s people sing from their hearts, and so they are a deep-throated people who do not merely sibilate praise with the lips, but send it up from the depths of their soul.
What does the psalmist say? “Let the high praises of God be in their throat.” Our praises ought to be very high praises, for there is a high object before us. We praise a great God, we should therefore praise him with high feelings, feelings screwed up to the highest point of high delight and high desire. Our praises should climb up to heaven’s gate, running up Jacob’s ladder even as the angels did, till we cast our praises right at the foot of the eternal throne. Let us sound forth the high praises of God with our mouths, let us extol him, and magnify him, and make him great. Say noble things of God wherever you go, for he well deserves it at your hands.
The last phase of praise concerns courage in conflict: “and a two-edged sword in their hand.” Songs in their mouths, and swords in their hands! It is something like the sword and the trowel, the trowel to build with and the sword to smite with. God’s people must sing and fight at the same time; and they fight best who sing best. Not those that growl most, but those that sing most, fight best.
But with whom are we to fight? That depends upon what your sword is. If you had a sword of steel, you would fight with men; but that is no part of your business. You are not called to that cruel work; but, as you have the sword of the Spirit, which is two-edged, which is indeed all edge, for it cuts whichever way you turn it, go forth and praise God by the use of that two-edged sword which is the Word of God.
Let me stir up God’s people here to do this. Go and tell out the gospel, tell out the gospel. I think I have to a large extent attained my wish in this congregation. I miss such a large number of our friends on Sunday nights, and I am delighted to miss them, for they have no business to be here then. They are out preaching, teaching, working in Ragged-schools, mission -halls, and all sorts of holy service. That is what you ought to do if you love the Lord; get a good meal once on the Sabbath, and then go and do a good day’s work in the rest of the Sunday. Praise God with your mouths, and have the two-edged sword in your hands. To war against ignorance, to war against vice, to war against drunkenness, to war against infidelity and sin of every kind, is one of the best ways of praising the Most High. Until the last sinner is saved, see to it that you keep the two-edged sword of God’s Word in your hand, and then for ever let the high praises of God be in your mouth.
I have been talking all this while about praising God, and there are some here who never praised him in all their lives. What wretched creatures you are! God has been blessing you all this while, and you have never praised him. I have seen the hogs under an oak munching the acorns. How they enjoy themselves! They never stop to thank the oak, such a thought never enters into their swinish heads. Do not blame the swine, but think of the numbers of men who are worse than they are. God is to them far more than the oak is to the animals. All things come of him,— their health, their strength, their daily comforts; and yet they never thank him. Have you some little chickens at home? Let them chide you. Whenever the chick stoops down to the saucer to drink a little water, up goes its head as if to thank God for every drop. Oh, begin to praise God, begin to thank God at once! Perhaps, this may be the beginning of something better, for when you have begun to praise him, you may begin to dispraise yourself, and that is next door to feeling your sinfulness, which will lead you to seek the Saviour; and if you seek him, he will be found of you. Seek him now this summer’s night; while all God’s bounty is being poured upon the earth to make it fertile, oh, that he might pour some heavenly beams on you to make you fruitful to his praise! May he do it, and to his name shall be glory, world without end! Amen.