Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the path of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.
The first and second Psalms, taken together, are the key to all the Psalms; I may almost say to the whole Bible. I will say a few words on them this morning, especially to those who are coming to the Holy Communion, to shew their allegiance to that Lord, in whose law alone is life, and who sits on the throne of the universe, King of kings, and Lord of lords: but I say it to the whole congregation likewise; nay, if there were an infidel or a heathen in the Church, I should say it to them. For in this case what is true of one man is true of every man, whether he knows it or not.
We all should like to be blessed. We all should like to be, as the Psalm says, like trees planted by the waterside, whose leaves never wither, and who bring forth their fruit in due season. We should all wish to have it said of us--Whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper. Then here is the way to inherit that blessing--"Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who exercises himself in His law day and night." The Psalmist is not speaking of Moses' Law, nor of any other law of forms and ceremonies. He says expressly "The law of the Lord"--that is, the law according to which the Lord has made him and all the world; and according to which the Lord rules him and all the world. The Psalms--you must remember--say very little about Moses' law; and when they do, speak of it almost slightingly, as if to draw men's minds away from it to a deeper, nobler, more eternal law. In one Psalm God asks, "Thinkest thou that I will eat bulls' flesh, and drink the blood of goats?" And in another Psalm some one answers, "Sacrifice and burnt-offering thou wouldest not. Then said I, Lo I come, to do thy will, O God. Thy law is within my heart." This is that true and eternal law of which Solomon speaks in his proverbs, as the Wisdom by which God made the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth; and tells us that that Wisdom is a tree of life to all who can lay hold of her; that in her right hand is length of days, and in her left hand riches and honour; that her ways are ways of pleasantness; and all her paths are peace.
This is that law, of which the Prophet says--that God will put it into men's hearts, and write it in their minds; and they shall be His people, and He will be their God. This is that law, which the inspired Philosopher--for a philosopher he was indeed--who wrote the 119th Psalm, continually prayed and strove to learn, intreating the Lord to teach him His law, and make him remember His everlasting judgments. This is that law, which our Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled, because the law was His Father's law, and therefore His own law, and therefore he perfectly comprehended the law, and perfectly loved the law; and said with His whole heart--I delight to do Thy will, O God.
The will of God. For in one word, this Law, which we have to learn, and by keeping which we shall be blessed, is nothing else than God's Will. God's Will about us. What God has willed and chosen we should be. What God has willed and chosen we should do. The greatest philosopher of the 18th century said that every rational being had to answer four questions--Where am I? What can I know? What must I do? Whither am I going? And he knew well that--as the Bible tells us throughout--the only way to get any answer to those four tremendous questions is--To delight in the law of the Lord; to struggle, think, pray, till we get some understanding of God's will; of God's will about ourselves and about the world; and so be blessed indeed.
But to do that, it is plain that we must heed the warning which the first verse of the Psalm gives us--"Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly." For it is plain that a man will never learn God's will if he takes counsel from ungodly men who care nothing for God's will, and do not believe that God's will governs the world. Neither must he, as the Psalm says, 'stand in the way of sinners'--of profligate and dishonest men who break God's law. For if he follows their ways, and breaks God's law himself, it is plain that he will learn little or nothing about God's law, save in the way of bitter punishment. For let him but break God's law a little too long, and then--as the 2nd Psalm says--'God will rule him with a rod of iron, and break him in pieces like a potter's vessel.' But there is even more hope for him--for he may repent and amend--than if he sits in the seat of the scorners. The scorners; the sneering, the frivolous, the unearnest, the unbelieving, the envious, who laugh down what they call enthusiasm and romance; who delight in finding fault, and in blackening those who seem purer or nobler than themselves. These are the men who cannot by any possibility learn anything of the law of God; for they will not even look for it. They have cast away the likeness of rational men, and have taken upon themselves the likeness of the sneering accusing Satan, who asks in the book of Job--"Doth Job serve God for nought?" When the greatest poet of our days tried to picture his idea of a fiend tempting a man to his ruin, he gave his fiend just such a character as this; a very clever, courteous, agreeable man of the world, and yet a being who could not love any one, could not believe in any one; who mocked not only at man but at God and tempted and ruined man, not out of hatred to him, hardly out of envy; but in mere sport, as a cruel child may torment an insect;--in one word, a scorner. And so true was his conception felt to be, that men of that character are now often called by the very name which he gave to his Satan--Mephistopheles. Beware therefore of the scornful spirit, as well as of the openly sinful or of the ungodly. If you wish to learn the law of the Lord, keep your souls pious, pure, reverent, and earnest; for it is only the pure in heart who shall see God; and only those who do God's will as far as they know it, who will know concerning any doctrine whether it be true or false; in one word, whether it be of God.
And now bear in mind secondly, that this law is the law of the Lord. You cannot have a law without a lawgiver who makes the law, and also without a judge who enforces the law; and the lawgiver and the judge of the law of the Lord is the Lord Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Remembering Him, and that He is King, we can understand the fervour of indignation and pity, with which the writer of the 2nd Psalm bursts out--"Why do the heathen rage, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed--
"Let us break their bonds asunder and cast away their cords from us."
For the great majority of mankind, in every age and country, will not believe that there is a Law of the Lord, to which they must conform themselves. Kings, and governments, and peoples, are too often all alike in that. They must needs have their own way. Their will is to be law. Their voice is to be the voice of God. They are they who ought to speak; who is Lord over them? And because the Lord is patient and long-suffering, and does not punish their presumption on the spot by lightning or earthquake, they fancy that He takes no notice of them, and of their crimes and follies; and say--"Tush, shall God perceive it? Is there knowledge in the most High?" But sooner or later, either by sudden and terrible catastrophes, or by slow decay, brought on sometimes by their own blind presumption, sometimes by their own luxury, they find out their mistake when it is too late. And then--
"He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn. The Lord shall have them in derision. For He has set His King upon the throne" of all the universe.
Yes, Christ the Lord rules, and knows that He rules; whether we know it or not. Christ's law still hangs over our head, ready to lead us to light and life and peace and wealth, or ready to fall on us and grind us to powder, whether we choose to look up and see it or not. The Lord liveth; though we may be too dead to feel Him. The Lord sees us; though we may be too blind to see Him. Man can abolish many things; and does both--wisely and unwisely--in these restless days of change. But let him try as long as he will--for he has often tried, and will try again--he cannot abolish Christ the Lord.
For Christ is set upon the throne of the universe. The Father of all--if we may dare to hint even in Scriptural words at mysteries which are in themselves unspeakable--is eternally saying to Him--Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee. And Christ answers eternally--I come to do Thy will, O God. The nations are Christ's inheritance; and the utmost parts of the earth are His possession, now, already; whether we or they think so or not.
And there are times--there are times, my friends--when the awful words which follow come true likewise--"Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron, and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
For as to this world in which we live, so to the God who created that world, there is a terrible aspect. There is calm: but there is storm also. There is fertilizing sunshine: but there is also the destroying thunderbolt. There is the solid and fruitful earth, where man can till and build; but there is the earthquake and the flood likewise, which destroy in a moment the works of man. So there is in God boundless love, and boundless mercy: but there is, too, a wrath of God, and a fire of God which burns eternally against all evil and falsehood. And woe to those who fall under that wrath; who are even scorched for a moment by that fire.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God."
We are all ready enough to forget this; ready enough to think only of God's goodness, and never of His severity. Ready enough to talk of Christ as gentle and suffering; because we flatter ourselves that if He is gentle, He may be also indulgent; if He be suffering, He may be also weak. We like to forget that He is, and was, and ever will be--Lord of heaven and earth; and to think of Him only in His humiliation in Judaea 1800 years ago, forgetting that during that very humiliation, while He was shewing love, and mercy, and miracles of healing, and sympathy and compassion for every form of human sorrow and weakness, He did not shrink from shewing to men the awful side of His character; did not shrink from saying, "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"--did not shrink from declaring that He was coming again, even before that very generation had passed away, to destroy, unless it repented, the wicked city of Jerusalem, with an utter and horrible destruction.
Think of these things, my friends: for true they are, and true they will remain, whether you think of them or not. And take the warning of the second Psalm, which is needed now as much as it was ever needed--"Be wise now therefore, O ye kings, be learned, ye that are judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice unto Him with reverence. Worship the Son, lest He be angry, and so ye perish from the right way. If His wrath be kindled, yea, but a little, blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."
But you are no kings, you are no judges. Is it so? And yet you boast yourselves to be free men, in a free country. Not so. Every man who is a free man is a king or a judge, whether he knows it or not. Every one who has a duty, is a king over his duty. Every one who has a work to do, is a judge whether he does his work well or not. He who farms, is a king and a judge over his land. He who keeps a shop, a king and a judge over his business. He who has a family, a king and a judge over his household. Let each be wise, and serve the Lord in fear; knowing that according as he obeys the law of the Lord, he will receive for the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil.
Not kings? not judges? Is not each and every human being who is not a madman, a king over his own actions, a judge over his own heart and conscience? Let him govern himself, govern his own thoughts and words, his own life and actions, according to the law of the Lord who created him; and he will be able to say with the poet,
My mind to me a kingdom is; Such perfect joy therein I find As far exceeds all earthly bliss.
But if he governs himself according to his own fancy, which is no law, but lawlessness: then he will find himself rebelling against himself, weakened by passions, torn by vain desires, and miserable by reason of the lusts which war in his members; and so will taste, here in this life, of that anger of the Lord of which it is written; "If His wrath be kindled, yea, but a little, ye shall perish from the right way."
Therefore let each and all of us, high and low, take the warning of the last verse, and worship the Son of God. Bow low before Him--for that is the true meaning of the words--as subjects before an absolute monarch, who can dispose of us, body and soul, according to His will: but who can be trusted to dispose of us well: because His will is a good will, and the only reason why He is angry when we break His laws, is, that His laws are the Eternal Laws of God, wherein alone is life for all rational beings; and to break them is to injure our fellow-creatures, and to ruin ourselves, and perish from that right way, to bring us back to which He condescended, of His boundless love, to die on the Cross for all mankind.