By J.R. Miller
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits!"
Every part of our being should join in praising God. The song of praise we sing--should not be a solo, a duet, or even a quartet--but a full chorus, the feelings, the affections, the mental powers, the tastes, the desires--all mingling in harmony and praise. There are some who praise with their voices--but not with their hearts. Others give intellectual worship, while their affections are not engaged. Others give emotional praise--but their wills and consciences do not join in the song; they have good feelings--but lack in practical obediences and in devotion to duty. Some sing missionary hymns with zest--but give nothing to missionary work Some sing consecration hymns--and then live selfishly and worldly. There is no heavenly music in such singing. The true way--is to arouse every faculty and energy and power and affection--to hearty, enthusiastic, practical praise.
"Forget not all his benefits." Many people have excellent memories for troubles, adversities, losses, and sorrows--but cannot remember the mercies and blessings of their lives. It is very unfortunate to have such defective memories. Suppose God would forget us for a time, and fail to provide for our daily needs, and fail to send us His ordinary gifts for a whole day, or even for an hour--how sore a misfortune it would be! Yet we forget continually that our blessings come from Him. We take them for granted, and never think of the Giver!
Sometimes we do not think of God for hours together. Yet there is never a moment when God is not thinking of us, and providing for us. Perhaps if there were some break in the flow of blessings--we would learn to be more thankful. The very unbroken continuity of God's gifts makes us oblivious to them. Someone kept a book for a daily record of blessings. It would be a good thing for all of us to do. Surely this matter is important. We think others are very ungrateful, who forget our little kindnesses to them. Must we not judge ourselves by the same judgment, in relation to God's goodness!
"Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases." What an enumeration of divine blessings; and what blessings they are, too--in this and the following verses! They are all blessings, too, which the world cannot give. Any one of them is worth more than all earth's treasures combined! If we are not forgiven--we must rest forever under the curse of sin, a weight greater than all the Alps; but God forgives, and forgives all our sins, and forgives fully and forever! If we are not healed--we must be sick forever, sick with the plague and leprosy of sin; but God heals, and heals all our diseases, heals completely. If we are not saved from the destructive dangers of this world--we never can reach heaven; but God keeps, rescues, redeems our life.
Earth's crowns are made of thorns, and at the best, are only what the children call "play-crowns," for they are only made of leaves that wither, or of gold and gems that fire will destroy; but God crowns His people with crowns of loving-kindness and tender mercies, which are real and radiant, which shall never fade--but shall shine forever, becoming crowns of eternal life and glory in heaven. This world cannot satisfy a heart's cravings! Its possessions only make the hunger more intense; but God satisfies the souls of His people, meets all their cravings and hungers. These are some of the things for which we have to praise God.
"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." The prodigal's father waited years in love--how slow to anger! and then ran to meet his returning son--how quick in mercy! Is this not a true picture of God's treatment of us? He is slow to anger--but quick to show mercy.
"He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever." These are wonderful pictures of the way God forgives. The best human forgiveness is very imperfect. Men forgive--but they often "chide" and "harbor resentment." They say that they "forgive, but cannot forget;" they keep the memory of the wrong always in their hearts, never forgetting, even while showing us favors, that once we injured them. The old memories of wrongs block up the channel of love--as old wrecks block up a river, arresting its flow. But God does not chide nor harbor anger. His heart is like the smooth lake which the driving keel cleaves--but which soon becomes calm and placid again, retaining no mark or trace of the crude furrowing. He puts away our sins--as far as the east is from the west, that is, infinitely.
This was taught in the ancient ceremony of the scapegoat. One goat was killed and its blood sprinkled before God; this meant the atonement of Christ by which our forgiveness is procured. The other goat then, after the priest had confessed over its head the people's sins, was led away out of sight, into the wilderness, and let loose, never to return again; thus bearing away sins to an infinite distance, so that they could never come back again to disturb those who had been forgiven. There is a wonderful passage in Jeremiah which reads: "In those days, at that time," declares the LORD, "search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare."
"Like as a father pities his children--so the Lord pities those who fear him." This is one of the most wonderful verses in the Bible. It brings God very near to us. It shows us His heart. He is not cold and far removed from us in feeling, indifferent to our sufferings, stern and severe in His judgment upon us. Rather, He is full of pity, like a human father in his pity toward his children. The best commentary on these words is Christ's own life. See Him moved with compassion for the sick, the lepers, the sorrowing, the sinful, the fallen; weeping by a grave at Bethany, deeply touched at Nain as He saw the widowed mother following her only son to the grave; weeping again over Jerusalem because the people would not repent and receive Him. All this is commentary on this precious verse.
"For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." God does not treat us as if we were strong and perfect and unfallen. He does not forget that we are weak, that it is hard for us in our fallen condition to live right, that we are easily tempted and overcome. Therefore, He is very patient and gentle with us when we have sinned--binding up the wounds, restoring the soul. We ought to get a great deal of comfort out of these words.
You say you are so weak--that you cannot resist temptation. Yes, and God knows all about it. You are weary and worn out through trouble or burden-bearing--but God knows all about it. You find your work very hard, and cannot see how you are ever to get through with it; but God knows. He knows your frailty; He remembers that you are only dust. He is pitiful and compassionate, and always gives needed help. There is immeasurable comfort in the knowledge that Christ lived through the whole gamut of human life and experience. He knows all about temptation, for He was tempted in all points like as we are. He knows all about sorrow, for He was acquainted with grief. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, for He was tried in every way in which we are tried.
"As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more." A dear young friend has just brought to my table a cluster of beautiful flowers. They charm my eye, and their fragrance fills my room. But tomorrow they will be withered and dead, and I shall be compelled to put them out of my sight. So it is with human lives. They may be very lovely and sweet--but soon they are gone, and there is only a memory left behind. As we think of this we grow sad, and ask, "What is there that is abiding!"
Above our heads is the blue sky, and when night comes the brilliant stars look down and say, "We do not fade." We have shone upon all the passing generations of men, and still are bright as ever." There is comfort in that--there is something at least which does not pass away in a day. But here is something better still: "But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him!" The love of God is from everlasting to everlasting. Here is a bosom, then, on which we may lean and know that our repose shall never be disturbed. Would you be safe eternally! Rest your hopes on God's everlasting love, and not on any frail thing of earth!
"To those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts." All God's promises and blessings have conditions. We have something to do--to get them. Here the condition is obedience. There is a covenant, and it has two sides. There is not the slightest doubt about God's faithfulness. He will do His part. But we have a part to do, too. It is to those who obey His commandments, that the love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. It is important to remember the commandments--but this is not enough. A great many people remember them and can repeat them verbatim--who do not obey them. The stress of emphasis is on the word "obey." So if we want to claim and secure the blessings here promised--we must be sure that we do our part and fulfill the conditions of God's covenant of grace. If this Psalm is a palace of love, here in this verse is the beautiful gate by which all must enter in, who would enjoy its rich gladness and blessedness.