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Sermons from the Psalms, 1 - He Shall Prosper

By Clovis G. Chappell


      "In whatsoever he doeth, he shall prosper." (Psalm 1:3)

      I

      Clovis G. Chappell: "HE shall prosper" - surely here is a word to bring us to our feet at eager attention. This psalmist is undertaking to point us to the path of prosperity. He is offering us a recipe for success. His message is, therefore, of vital interest. Everybody desires to succeed; nobody wishes to fail. In fact, we have very little time or patience for failures. But we are ever ready to honor those who have made good. Ours is, in a peculiar sense, a generation of success worshipers. Nor are our ideas of success always the highest. We do not always give first place to those whose prosperity is in the realm of the spiritual. We rather give it to those whose success is purely of the earth, earthly. Worse still, we often do this regardless of the price that these may have paid for their success. It may have been won at the price of their own honor. But caught under the spell of their winnings, we pass over these ugly facts as matters of minor importance. The big thing for us is success.

      Now, the good news that this poet has for us is just this: Everybody may prosper. Everybody may be in the truest and highest sense successful. This may be so regardless of whether we succeed or fail as the world counts success and failure. We may invest wisely and have everything we touch turn to gold. We may have a palatial home in the city and a mansion in the mountains or down by the sea. Or we may trust the wrong enterprise or the wrong man and lose the pitiful little pittance that we have been years in piling up. We may have to live in a very humble cottage. Disease may lay its weakening hand upon us and steal away our health. Death may come and rob us of those we love. But in spite of all circumstances, whether good or bad, whether fraught with laughter or with tears, every one who meets the conditions will be in the truest sense successful.

      II

      What, then, are the conditions of success?

      1. The first fact that the psalmist points out is that the road to prosperity is one that is shut within limits. There are certain things that the man who would make a success simply cannot do. This will be disappointing to some. We of to-day are especially impatient of restraints of any kind. We seem to have a veritable passion for doing as we please. But resent it how we may, the way to real success can only be traveled by those who are willing to make certain very definite refusals. The vessel sailing from New York to Liverpool must do this or it will never arrive. It will only become a derelict. The train going from station to station must do this or it will miss its destination and become a worthless wreck. Man must do this or life for him ends in disaster.

      Esau is a pathetic illustration of this truth. He did not fail for lack of ability. His tragedy was that he was a profane man - that is, his life had no fence round it. He allowed his soul to become a common [i.e., open public area]. Any cloven-footed devil could romp across it at his pleasure. Every prosperous life is circumscribed by certain great refusals.

      (1) The man who would make a real success must refuse to walk in the counsel of the ungodly. (Psa. 1:1) Who are the ungodly? They are the folks who reckon without God. They do not have to be dishonest or in any way crooked in their dealings. They do not have to be rakes or libertines. They may be as decent as decency. They may be as respectable as respectability. All they have to do is to ignore God, shut him out of their thoughts and out of their lives. The ungodly are the practical atheists, who, though they may recite creeds, live as if God were only a myth and a dream. To walk in their counsel is to take their advice and pattern our lives by theirs. To take this course, says the poet, is surely to miss success. No one can truly prosper who stubbornly ignores the facts of life. Certainly no man can hope for success who ignores the supreme fact which is God.

      (2) The man who would hope for success must refuse to stand in the way of sinners. Standing in the way of sinners marks a lower step than walking in the counsel of the ungodly. The man who is walking may pass beyond the confines of the dominion of the evil in which he finds himself. But to stand denotes a decaying sensitiveness to sin. It indicates that the wrongdoer is losing his antagonism to evil, that on the contrary, he is being brought under its spell. Sin is always progressive. "From what kind of plant would you say those seed came?" said a friend one day to Dr. Chapman as he showed him, in the palm of his hand, some very small seed. "I should think they came from one that was very small, indeed," was the natural answer. "No, you are mistaken," was the reply. "Those seed came from a plant that is three hundred feet in height, thirty-five feet in diameter, and one hundred and five feet in circumference. They came from one of the giant redwood trees of California." Now, the most impressive fact about those little seed was their tremendous growing power. It is ever so with sin. How easily we pass from a thought to a practice, from walking to standing! But in so doing we are surely killing our chances of winning success.

      (3) He who would find prosperity must refuse to sit in the seat or assembly of the scornful. To take the scorner's seat is to take the lowest place possible. What is wrong with the scorner? First, he chooses to sit in stead of to serve. He persistently refuses to take any part in the game. He is content to stand on the side lines and watch the struggles of his fellows. The fact that some are losing the fight is no business of his. The fact that some are being sorely wounded, that others are falling under the weight of heavy burdens, concerns him not in the least. The high task of helping to heal the world's open sore is not of the slightest interest to him. "Is not this a needy world?" I ask. "Are there not those to whom you might stretch a steadying hand as they blunderingly walk their weary way?" "Doubtless," he answers. But having answered, he keeps his seat till the day is done and the night is on, and his one big chance has forever slipped through his fingers.

      But the fact that the scorner sits does not mean that he is entirely idle. There is one job that he can carry on without ever taking the trouble to rise to his feet. He can play the cynic. He can sneer and snarl and growl. He can bark contemptuously at everything and everybody. And this he does. He laughs at the faith of his childhood. He sneers at the dreams of his young and tender years. He curls his lips at ideals that were once the very jewels of his soul. He smiles upon what would once have filled him with disgust. He looks with lazy tolerance upon wrongs that once would have brought his soul to its feet fire-eyed and eager for battle. Upon all fine enthusiasms, even the holiest and the best, he pours the hot acid of his scorn and contempt.

      Then he feels himself especially at home as a critic of his fellows. He knows human nature to perfection. He can see more through a cobwebbed keyhole than others can see through a plate glass window. Therefore he laughs at all high motives, is perfectly sure that every patriot is a demagogue; that every minister, missionary, or Christian worker is either a fool or a hypocrite. Even the love of a mother for her child is only animal instinct and is purely selfish. For him there are no heroes, and the fine gold of goodness is counterfeit and nothing more. So he sits and so he snarls. The longer he sits the more bitter is his snarl, and the more bitterly he snarls, the more firmly he becomes fixed in his seat. The two act and react on each other till he becomes a creature so horrible that we read of him with real approval this stern sentence, "Surely God scorneth the scorner." (Prov. 3:34) No wonder, therefore, that our poet declares that the man who would make a success of life must shun the seat of the scornful as he would shun the very pits of hell.

      2. But there are great positives as well as refusals necessary for him who would find real prosperity. He must not only say no to the wrong, he must say yes to the right. He must not only avoid the seat of the scornful, but his delight must be in the law of the Lord.

      (1) The prosperous man reads his Bible. In no other way could he have an intelligent delight in it. There are to-day certain so-called heresies among us that some feel are threatening the destruction of the Bible. Some fear that it is going to be destroyed by a too liberal interpretation. Others are equally afraid that a too crass and wooden interpretation is going to work its doom. But in my opinion the most dangerous heresy that threatens the Book, for the vast majority, is the heresy of neglect. For the Bible to become a lost book to you and me, it is not necessary that it be discredited and torn into shreds. All that is necessary is for us to lay it carefully, even reverently, upon our center tables and let it alone. This prosperous man refuses to neglect his Bible.

      (2) He not only reads his Bible, he delights in it. This he does for many reasons. He finds it truly great literature. But the supreme reason for his delight is in the fact that he finds in it God's message to his own soul. Of course the Bible of the psalmist was nothing like so rich and full as ours. But even in his, he found the treasured experiences of great spiritual pioneers that had gone questing after God and had found him. The poet's joy in the law of the Lord was, therefore, not simply in the fact that he saw in it something beautiful and interesting upon which to look. It was rather that he found in it something through which to look, not into his own heart only, but into the very heart of God. His delight in the Word was, therefore, born of his delight in him who is the inspirer of the Word.

      (3) Reading the Bible and delighting in it, he read it more and more. And the more he read it the greater became his delight. That is ever the case. This amazing Book is one that does not grow old and stale through being read too often or too constantly. Through all the changing years it remains to those who win their way to its heart as fresh as the first rose of June, and as inexhaustible as a gushing spring from the hills. Our prosperous man found it so. His mind became so richly stored with the precious truth of God's Word that this truth came to his mind as spontaneously as the absent faces of those he loved the best. Thus it came to pass that in his law did he meditate day and night. And out of all this came his prosperity.

      III

      What was the nature of his prosperity?

      It was not necessarily success in the winning of things. The psalmist does not say, "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." That is not always the case. I have known some very good men to make some very poor investments. But what he does say is, "In whatsoever he doeth, he shall prosper." That is, the man who delights in God and in God's Word shall prosper, regardless of whether the enterprises in which he invests succeed or go to the wall.

      We read that Joseph prospered. But his prosperity was not simply in the fact that he went from a nomad's tent to a palace on the Nile. This might have worked his everlasting ruin. His real prosperity was not in what he won, but in what he was. So it is with the man who makes God his choice, whether his purse be full or empty; in the wealth that is wealth indeed, he will surely prosper.

      1. "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water." The word "planted" implies purpose. The tree is not where it is by mere chance. An intelligent agent has planted it there. As it grows it is fulfilling a purpose. So it is with the prosperous man. He will be able to discern in his own life the outworking of a beautiful plan of God. When he reads, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John," (John 1:6) he will not be afraid to substitute his own name for that of the great forerunner. From his task, whether large or small, he will dare to look into God's face and say, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might do this bit of work for thee." (John 18:37) And any man who can do that is a success.

      2. The fact that this man is like a planted tree suggests steadfastness. He is not the plaything of every breeze that blows. He sings with the author of the sixteenth Psalm, "I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved." How we need such staunch men!

      "God give us men. The time demands
      Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands,
      Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
      Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
      Men who possess opinion and a will;
      Men who have honor; men who will not lie."

      3. He is rich in usefulness. He "bringeth forth his fruit in his season." Where he farms the wheat fields grow golden, and the sweet flowers of the spirit (Gal. 5:22), love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, and the rest flourish in rich profusion. Where he walks, tired hearts in some measure forget their aches and losses and find themselves strangely richer in rest and hope. And when he goes home to God at the end of the day, he leaves for those who knew him best "a lonesome place against the sky."

      4. Finally, this prosperous man is rich in the life that abides. "His leaf also shall not wither." What exquisite poetry, yet what sober truth! All the trees of God's planting are evergreens. It was Jerome K. Jerome that taught me to love the evergreen.

      I remember one that grew on the hillside above our home when I was a boy. It was a veritable poem, yet to see it in the springtime when all the hillside was a riot of color and all the other trees were decking themselves in their Easter garments was not to be greatly impressed. No more was it conspicuous in the noontide of midsummer when every other tree was in full dress. In the autumn when the frost came and decked its fellows in gaudy garments of crimson and gold it looked almost commonplace. But when, a little later, the sharp shears of the winter wind clipped the leaves from the other trees and they waved their bare boughs like the ghastly hands of a skeleton, then it was that the evergreen came into its own. Then even the birds learned that it was good to build their nests in the boughs of the evergreen. And there are evergreen lives, says Jerome, and in so saying he is but repeating what this psalmist said many centuries before. To make God our choice is to lay hold on abiding springtime, and that is success, now and evermore.

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