Who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies:
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle.—Psa_103:1-5.
This psalm, with which we are all familiar from our childhood, shines in the firmament of Scripture as a star of the first magnitude. It is a song of praise, yet not the praise of an angel, but the praise of one who has been redeemed from sin and from destruction, and who has experienced that grace which, although sin abounds unto death, doth much more abound unto eternal life. It is the song of a saint, yet not of a glorified saint, but of one who is still working in the lowly valley of this our earthly pilgrimage, and who has to contend with suffering, with sin, and to experience the chastening hand of his Heavenly Father. And therefore it is that this psalm, after beginning upon the lofty mountain heights of God’s greatness and goodness, in which all is bright and strong and eternal, descends into the valley where the path is always narrow and often full of darkness and danger and sadness. But as the Psalmist lives by faith, and as he is saved by faith, so he is also saved by hope; and after having described all the sadness and all the afflictions and conflicts of this our earthly pilgrimage, he shows that even at this present time he is a member of that heavenly and everlasting Kingdom of which the throne of God is the centre, and where the angels, who are bright and strong, are his fellow-worshippers, and in which all the works which God has made will finally be subservient to His glory and be irradiated with His beauty. And thus he rises again, praising and magnifying the Lord and knowing that his own individual soul shall, in that vast and comprehensive Kingdom, for evermore be conscious of the life and of the glory of the Most High.
Bless the Lord
1. To praise God, to bless God, is only the response to the blessing which God has given us. God speaks, and the echo is praise. God blesses us and the response is that we bless God. And those five verses of praise in Psalms 103 are nothing but the answer of the believing heart to the benediction of Aaron, which God commanded should be continually laid upon the people. The Lord who is the God of salvation; the Lord, who has revealed His Holy Name as Redeemer; the Lord who, by His Spirit, imparts what the Father of love gives, what the filial love reveals—this is the Lord who is the object of the believer’s praise. For to praise God means nothing else than to behold God and to delight in Him as the God of our salvation. Singing may be the expression of praise, may be the helpful accompaniment of praise, but praise is in the spirit who dwells upon God, who sees the wonderful manifestation of God in His Son Jesus Christ, and the wonderful salvation and treasures of good things stored up in His beloved Son.
We commonly begin our prayers with a request that God will bless us; the Psalmist begins his prayer by calling on his soul to bless God! The eye of the heart is generally directed first to its own desires; the eye of the Psalmist’s heart is directed first to the desires of God! It is a startling feature of prayer, a feature seldom looked at. We think of prayer as a mount where man stands to receive the Divine blessing. We do not often think of it as also a mount where God stands to receive the human blessing. Yet this latter is the thought here. Nay, is it not the thought of our Lord Himself? I have often meditated on these words of Jesus, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”! I take them to mean: Seek ye first the welfare of God, the establishment of His Kingdom, the reign of His righteousness! Before you yield to self-pity, before you count the number of the things you want, consider what things are still wanting to Him! Consider the spheres of life to which His Kingdom has not yet spread, consider the human hearts to which His righteousness has not yet penetrated! Let your spirit say, “Bless the Lord.” Let the blessing upon God be your morning wish. It is not your power He asks, but your wish. Your benediction cannot sway the forces of the Universe; your Father can do that without prayer. But it is the prayer itself that is dear to Him, the desire of your heart for His heart’s joy, the cry of your spirit for His crowning, the longing of your soul for the triumph of His love. Evermore give Him this bread!1 [Note: G. Matheson, Leaves for Quiet Hours, 213.]
If we want to know what it is to praise God, let us remember such a chapter as the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, where Paul blesses God who has blessed him with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, and where he sees before him the whole counsel and purpose of the Divine election, of the wonderful, perfect, and complete channel of the purposes of God in the redemption which is in the blood of Jesus, and the wonderful object and purpose of the Divine grace, that we, united with Christ, should through all ages show forth the wonderful love of God. That is to praise God, when we see God and when we appropriate God as He has manifested Himself to us in Christ Jesus. And it is only by the light which comes from above, and by the wonderful operation of the Holy Ghost, that it is so wrought in the heart of the Christian, although it may be in silence, that his soul magnifieth the Lord and his spirit rejoiceth in God his Saviour.2 [Note: A. Saphir.]
2. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” The Psalmist desires to bless God with all that is within him. He who succeeds in doing this offers to God an eloquent worship. Eloquence means speaking out, letting the whole soul find utterance. And the Psalm before us supplies us with a choice sample of the kind of worship made by David. In this Psalm, mind, heart, conscience, imagination, all come into play. The whole inner man speaks rightfully, thoughtfully, devoutly, musically, pathetically; and, as was to be expected, God is praised to some purpose.
The metrical version of the Psalm puts us in possession of the fuller meaning of this verse:
O thou my soul, bless God the Lord;
And all that in me is
Be stirred up his holy name
To magnify and bless.
How truly and with what fine knowledge of the soul of every spiritual man has this rendering caught the real point of that verse! And it is not this once only that the metrical psalm selects and emphasizes some word which we did not quite realize in the prose version. Here and there it may be that to our modish and sophisticated ears the psalms in metre may fail as poetry; but they never fail in spiritual discernment. They always take hold of the point, of the real business of the prose text. They always recognize the matters which really concern our souls; so that again and again the metrical psalm serves as a kind of commentary upon the prose, developing the finer sentiments, bringing out of the text certain beauties which we might never have become aware of, though we recognize them at once the moment they are set out for us. You see what I mean in this particular instance. The prose reads: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” We might read those words again and again, feeling in each case that it is merely a devout utterance of the soul, having nothing individual or characteristic about it. But how the metrical version cuts down to the root of the idea! What a distinction, what a precise meaning, the metrical form gives to the prayer!
O thou my soul, bless God the Lord;
And all that in me is
Be stirred up his holy name
To magnify and bless.
It was pure spiritual genius to bring out that idea of “stirring up” all that is within our souls.1 [Note: J. A. Hutton, The Soul’s Triumphant Way, 23.]
If we would rightly praise God, we must keep ourselves from forgetfulness. Moses warns against this vice when he says: “Beware lest thou forget the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments and his statutes, which I command thee this day, lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” In the Prophets the sad complaint re-echoes from the Lord’s mouth: “Ye are they that forget my holy mountain.”
One of the first stories I recall from my childhood was a story of the evil of forgetting God. I remember the very spot on which it was told to me. I feel the warm grasp of the hand which had hold of mine at the time. I see once more the little seaport town stretching up from the river mouth, with its straggling “fisher town” at one extremity, and at the other its rows of well-built streets and its town hall and academy. On this occasion we were standing on a high bank looking down on the beautiful shore at our feet. Across the tiny harbour, and along the shore on the other side of the river, is a very different scene. What one sees there is a dreary waste of sand. No grass grows there, no trees shadow it, no house stands upon it. It is a place forsaken and desolate. It has been a desolation longer than the oldest inhabitant can remember. But it was not always desolate. It was once a fair estate, rich in cornfields and orchards. A stately mansion stood in the midst of it, and children played in the orchards, and reapers reaped the corn. But the lords of that fair estate were an evil race. They oppressed the poor, they despised religion, they did not remember God. They loved pleasure more than God, and the pleasures they loved were evil. To make an open show of their evil ways they turned the day of the Lord into a day of rioting and drunkenness. And this evil went on a long while. It went on till the long-suffering of God came to an end. And then upon a Sunday evening, and in the harvest-time, when the corn was whitening for the reaper, the riot and wickedness had come to a height. The evil lord and his evil guests were feasting in the hall of the splendid house. And on that very evening there came a sudden darkness and stillness into the heavens, and out of the darkness a wind, and out of the wind a tempest; and, as if that tempest had been a living creature, it lifted the sand from the shore in great whirls and clouds and filled the air with it, and dropped it down in blinding, suffocating showers on all those fields of corn, and on that mansion, and on the evil-doers within. And the fair estate, with all its beautiful gardens and fields, became a widespread heap of sand and a desolation, as it is to this day.1 [Note: Alexander McLeod.]
All His Benefits
Of the benefits that David enumerates the first three are all negative: He forgives our sin, He heals the consequences of our sin, our diseases, He delivers us from destruction, the wages of our sin. But in the forgiveness of sin and in the healing of our diseases, in the deliverance from the devil and from everlasting hell, God gives Himself, He gives the whole fulness of His love, He elevates the soul into the very highest spiritual life; and therefore, the Psalmist continues, he who has been thus delivered out of destruction is a king, he is crowned with lovingkindness and with tender mercies, he is enriched and satisfied with good things; and not merely outwardly enriched, but there is a life given him which is unfading, the youth of which is perennial, continually renewing itself by the very strength of God.
1. The Psalmist sets himself to count up the benefits he has received from God. He has not proceeded very far when he finds himself to be engaged in an impossible task. He finds he cannot count the blessings he has received in a single day, how then can he number the blessings of a week, of a month, of a year, of the years of his life? He might as well try to count the number of the stars or the grains of sand on the seashore. It cannot be done.
St. Francis, dining one day on broken bread, with a large stone for table, cried out to his companion: “O brother Masseo, we are not worthy so great a treasure.” When he had repeated these words several times, his companion answered: “Father, how can you talk of treasure where there is so much poverty, and indeed a lack of all things? For we have neither cloth nor knife, nor dish, nor table, nor house; neither have we servant nor maid to wait upon us.” Then said St. Francis: “And this is why I look upon it as a great treasure, because man has no hand in it, but all has been given us by Divine Providence, as we clearly see in this bread of charity, in this beautiful table of stone, in this clear fountain.”1 [Note: E. Meynell, The Life of Francis Thompson (1913), 283.]
I was walking along one winter’s night, hurrying towards home, with my little maiden at my side. Said she, “Father, I am going to count the stars.” “Very well,” I said; “go on.” By and by I heard her counting—“Two hundred and twenty-three, two hundred and twenty-four, two hundred and twenty-five. Oh! dear,” she said, “I had no idea there were so many.” Ah! dear friends, I sometimes say in my soul, “Now, Master, I am going to count Thy benefits.” I am like the little maiden. Soon my heart sighs—sighs not with sorrow, but burdened with such goodness, and I say within myself, “Ah! I had no idea that there were so many.”2 [Note: M. G. Pearse.]
2. But if he cannot remember them all, he may at least try not to forget them all. He may try to remember some of them. But this also is a hard task. For memory is weak, and the blessings are many and manifold. How can he help himself not to forget? How shall he help himself to remember those benefits which he values most highly? He sets himself to find helps to memory, helps not to forget. So he falls upon a plan which he finds to be most helpful, and which others ever since have found to be so. He takes those benefits which he desires not to forget, and he ties them up in bundles. And then, to make sure that he will not forget them, the Psalmist shapes the bundles of God’s benefits into a song. A song is the easiest thing of all to remember. So he shapes them into a song, which people can sing by the wayside as they journey, can carry with them to their work, and brood over in their hours of leisure.
By tying the benefits up in bundles, and by shaping them into a song, the Psalmist earned for himself the undying gratitude of future generations. Specially has he earned for himself our gratitude, for he gave us a song which we sing in Scotland to-day, and have sung for more than three hundred years, when our religious emotions are at their highest and their best. We sing this song when the feeling of consecration has been renewed, widened, and deepened by communion with God at His table. I never was at a communion-time at which this song has not been sung, and no other song could do justice to the feelings of gratitude of the Lord’s people. So we sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth, who healeth, who redeemeth, who crowneth, and who satisfieth.”1 [Note: James Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, 121.]
“Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.”
Note how the Psalmist begins. He begins with iniquity. Where else could a sinful man begin? The most needful of all things for a sinful man is to get rid of his sin. So the Psalmist begins here. This beginning is not peculiar to him, it is the common note of the Bible. In fact, we here come across one of the distinctive peculiarities of the Bible. We may read other literatures and never come across the notion of sin in them. Crimes, blunders, mistakes, miseries enough one may find, but sin as estrangement from a holy personal God who loves man and would serve him one never finds. But in the Bible we are face to face with sin from first to last. One chapter and a bit of another are given to the story of the making of the world and the making of man, and then the story of the entrance of sin is told, and the reader is kept face to face with sin in every part of it. In the gospel story we read at the outset: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins”; and in John almost the first word about Him is, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” It is characteristic of the Bible to keep its reader face to face with sin and its consequences, till he is stirred up to the effort to get rid of it.
Sometimes in business a man will say: “There is a limit to everything. I have trusted such an one, and he has deceived me. I have forgiven him much, but now he has crossed the score, and I will have no more dealings with him.” But it is only when men, in their own estimation, have got over that score that the heavenly business begins. Some minister comes from somewhere, to preach some day, and preaches the forgiveness of sins, and that is the beginning of the business; and at length the man finds Heaven for himself, and can say: “He forgiveth all mine iniquities.”2 [Note: A. Whyte.]
“Who healeth all thy diseases.”
Once a prophet said, “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores.” When we read these words, we are inclined to say they are Oriental figures of speech, exaggerated metaphors. If our spiritual vision were as keen as that of the prophet, we should find that he was speaking what he knew. Sin then makes disease, and God’s relation to disease is described as that of healing. In the Scriptures this relation is described so fully that it gives a distinctive name for God—Jehovah the Healer. He not only forgives sin, He also so deals with the results of sin that He removes every trace of sin. He heals all our diseases.
The nineteenth century produced three famous persons in this country who contributed more than any of their contemporaries to the relief of human suffering in disease: Simpson, the introducer of chloroform; Lister, the inventor of antiseptic surgery; and Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. The second of the great discoveries completed the beneficent work of the first. The third development—the creation of nursing as a trained profession—has co-operated powerfully with the other two, and would have been beneficent even if the use of anæsthetics and antiseptics had not been discovered. The contribution of Florence Nightingale to the healing art was less than that of either Simpson or Lister; but perhaps, from its wider range, it has saved as many lives, and relieved as much, if not so acute, suffering as either of the other two.1 [Note: Sir Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, i. 439.]
“Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.”
That is, God preserves the life that He saves. Here is first a life forfeited. That life is then saved by forgiveness. Then there is a life imperilled by disease, and saved by God’s healing. But that life is in a thousand dangers. Many seek after the young child—the Christ within us—to destroy it. But God “redeemeth thy life from destruction.” How often God has saved some of us from impending ruin, He alone knows.
In my native town of Stirling workmen were blasting the castle rock near where it abuts upon a wall that lies open to the street. The train was laid and lit, and an explosion was momentarily expected. Suddenly, trotting round the great wall of cliff, came a little child going straight to where the match burned. The men shouted. That was mercy. But by their very shouting they alarmed and bewildered the poor little thing. By this time the mother also had come round. In a moment she saw the danger, opened wide her arms, and cried from her very heart, “Come to me, my darling.” That was Render mercy; and instantly, with eager, pattering feet, the little thing ran back and away, and stopped not until she was clasped in her mother’s bosom. Not a moment too soon, as the roar of the shattered rock told.1 [Note: A. Grosart.]
I remember one who had been for a long time drifting towards an evil act which was certain to do more harm to others than to himself, but who had not as yet determined on flinging friends, society, work, good repute, his past and future, and God Himself, to the winds. The one thing that kept him back was a remnant of belief in God, in One beyond humanity, beyond the world’s laws of convention and morality. Nothing else was left, for he had, in the desire for this wrong thing, passed beyond caring whether the whole world went against him, whether he injured others or not. He was as ready to destroy all the use of his own life as he was careless of the use of the lives of others. But he felt a slow and steady pull against him. He said to himself, “This is God, though I know Him not.” At last, however, he determined to have his way. One day the loneliness and longing had been too great to be borne, and when night came he went down his garden resolved on the evil thing. “This night,” he said, “I will take the plunge.” But as he went he heard the distant barking of a dog in the village; the moon rose above a dark yew tree at the end of the garden, and he was abruptly stopped in the midst of the pathway. Something seemed to touch him as with a finger, and to push him back. It was not till afterwards that he analysed the feeling, and knew that the rising of the moon over the yew tree and the barking of the dog in the distance had brought back to him an hour in his childhood, when in the dusk he had sat with his mother, after his father’s death, in the same garden, and had heard her say—“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” It was this slight touch that saved him from wrong which would have broken more lives than his own. It was God speaking; but it would have been as nothing to him, had he not kept his little grain of faith in God alive, the dim consciousness that there was One who cared for him, who had interest that he should conquer righteousness. Next day, he left his home, travelled and won his battle; and his action redeemed not only his own but another’s life.1 [Note: S. A. Brooke, The Ship of the Soul, 23.]
There is an old poem which bears the curious title of “Strife in Heaven,” the idea of which is something like this. The poet supposes himself to be walking in the streets of the New Jerusalem, when he comes to a crowd of saints engaged in a very earnest discussion. He draws near and listens. The question they are discussing is which of them is the greatest monument of God’s saving grace. After a long debate, in which each states his case separately, and each claims to have been by far the most wonderful trophy of God’s love in all the multitude of the redeemed, it is finally agreed to settle the matter by a vote. Vote after vote is taken, and the list of competition is gradually reduced until only two remain. These are allowed to state their case again, and the company stand ready to join in the final vote. The first to speak is a very old man. He begins by saying that it is a mere waste of time to go any further; it is absolutely impossible that God’s grace could have done more for any man in heaven than for him. He tells again how he had led a most wicked and vicious life—a life filled up with every conceivable indulgence, and marred with every crime. He has been a thief, a liar, a blasphemer, a drunkard, and a murderer. On his death-bed, at the eleventh hour, Christ came to him and he was forgiven. The other is also an old man, who says, in a few words, that he was brought to Christ when he was a boy. He had led a quiet and uneventful life, and had looked forward to heaven as long as he could remember. The vote is taken; and, of course, you would say it results in favour of the first. But no, the votes are all given to the last. We might have thought, perhaps, that the one who led the reckless, godless life—he who had lied, thieved, blasphemed, murdered; he who was saved by the skin of his teeth, just a moment before it might have been too late—had the most to thank God for. But the old poet knew the deeper truth. It required great grace verily to pluck that withered brand from the burning. It required depths, absolutely fathomless depths, of mercy to forgive that veteran in sin at the close of all those guilty years. But it required more grace to keep that other life from guilt through all those tempted years. It required more grace to save him from the sins of his youth and keep his Christian boyhood pure, to steer him scathless through the tempted years of riper manhood, to crown his days with usefulness, and his old age with patience and hope. Both started in life together; to one grace came at the end, to the other at the beginning. The first was saved from the guilt of sin, the second from the power of sin as well. The first was saved from dying in sin. But he who became a Christian in his boyhood was saved from living in sin. The one required just one great act of love at the close of life; the other had a life full of love—it was a greater salvation by far. His soul was forgiven like the other, but his life was redeemed from destruction.1 [Note: H. Drummond, The Ideal Life, 149.]
“Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.”
So far the Psalmist has been thinking of God’s action as it is defined in relation to sin. Now his thoughts take a grander flight, and he thinks of the Divine action when sin is taken out of the way, and no longer presents a barrier to the fellowship between God and His people. His words take on a finer meaning, and mould themselves into a more musical form. For he tries to represent the intercourse between God and the children of God, when sin is removed from between them. “Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies.” These words are about the most musical and pathetic in the whole Bible, and they are as fine in meaning as they are in form.
God puts honour upon the brow of a forgiven man. He does not merely forgive, and that in a formal way, but, when He forgives, He crowns. He crowns me with the title of “son,” and He places the coronet of heirship upon my head, for “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.” Sweet picture this. Observe that it is not a crown of merit, for “He crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” This is the only crown that I can consent to wear.2 [Note: A. G. Brown.]
1. Lovingkindness.—Note how the translators of the Psalm have been constrained to tie two English words together in order to set forth the meaning of the original. These translators of the Bible were poets as well as scholars. They took the two words “love” and “kindness” and tied them together in order to shut out the weaker meanings of both, and from the union of them set forth a higher and better meaning than either alone could express. Love has always been recognized to be the strongest and best thing in the world of life, and in recent years it has come to even larger recognition. It really holds society together, is at the basis of family life, is the motive power of the highest activities of mankind. But while love is so and acts so, it may partake of the weakness or the selfishness of human nature. It may become fierce, jealous, regardless of the interest of the person who is its object. It may look at the person merely as belonging to itself, and fiercely insist on exclusive possession. No doubt ideal love would labour, toil, and spend itself for the good of the person loved. But all love is not ideal, and it may have more ferocity than kindness in it. So this fierce side of love is shut out, and only the ideal side is kept, and kept by uniting it with kindness. But kindness is apt to be weak, injudicious, and foolish. It is the kindness, perhaps, of a fond young mother who gives the baby whatever it desires, cloys it with sweets, or gives it unwholesome food because the child likes it, or, as George MacDonald suggests, gives the child a lighted candle because it cries for it. This foolish side of kindness is shut out by tying it to the firmer, wiser fact of love. So united, kindness becomes lovingkindness, and the two become, in their union, something higher and better than either of the two elements contained in it, when these are taken by themselves.
Another young friend writes: “From such an array of beautiful characteristics as is called up by his name it is hard to choose the greatest, but his ‘loving-kindness’ is the outstanding trait that not only those who knew him best, but those who came only casually into contact with him, will remember with tenderness. How he loved every one, especially ‘those who were of the household of faith’! How eagerly would he seek out, even when on holiday, the brother-minister, superannuated by affliction from active work, to encourage and help him by his sympathy, to cheer him with his humour and his jollity, to stimulate him with his wide and varying interests! And in what good stead that wonderful fund of quiet humour stood him through the days of pain and weakness and weariness through which God’s veteran passed, and from which he is now released! One revered him as a saint, but loved him as a man, a man who radiated such love as compelled a willing love in return.”1 [Note: Love and Life: The Story of J. Denholm Brash (1913), 179.]
It is twenty-five years since I first had my attention drawn to this clause. I went to college then, and one day a minister gave me a tract, and told me, “Take that and read it, and when you bring it back, tell me what you think of it.” He said to me—and he proved a sound prophet—“I may not live to see it, but you will see it. The lad that spoke these words—his name will be heard wherever the English language is spoken,”—the name was Charles Spurgeon. It was a discourse on this word—“He crowneth me with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” He had never been to college, and had taken none of your envied degrees that seem to stamp a man as a Master of Divinity. My friend said: “I may not live to see it, but you will.” A young man in his teens, not far up in the offices yet, Spurgeon was under twenty-one when he preached a sermon that made my old friend prophetic. “When God takes a man’s head out of the dust”—said this young fledgling Puritan preacher—“He crowns it with a crown that is so heavy with His grace and goodness that he could not wear it were it not lined with the sweet velvet of His loving-kindness.” Not a classic figure perhaps, but Spurgeon’s figure is graven on my memory while many a classic figure has faded away. Many a costly gift, given carelessly with lavish abundance, you have nearly forgotten: but one gift, given many years ago, you remember still. It was only a cup of cold water, perhaps, but given with a hand and with a look of loving-kindness. And when God crowns us with such love as this, when He smiles upon us, no wonder that it gladdens the heart so that a man never forgets it.2 [Note: Alexander Whyte.]
2. Tender mercies.—Mercy in itself is one of the grandest things in human nature. It is not mere feeling, it is feeling in action. It is not mere sympathy or pity, it is sympathy made alive and active. It is not pity, it is pity going forth into action, to bind up the broken-hearted, to comfort the sorrowful, to make the widow’s heart to sing for joy. But tender mercy is even more than mercy, great and good though the exercise be. It is mercy exercised in the most tender way. For mercy may be exercised in such a way as to wound the feelings of the person to whom you are merciful. You may intend to help your friend who has fallen into misfortune. He may have been blameworthy, his misfortune may have arisen from his want of thought, from his recklessness, or even from wrong-doing. You intend to help him, but you are annoyed with his conduct; you insist on showing him how foolish he was, how reckless was his conduct, how unprincipled was his motive, until he almost feels that he would be without the help if he could be free from the scolding. Or you are merciful to the person who asks you for help, but you fling the penny to him across the street. It is possible in this way to undo all the effects of a merciful action by the ungracious way in which it is done. Mercy according to our text is exercised tenderly. You help your friend, or come to the assistance of those who are in poverty and need, in such a way as to bind up their wounds, to cheer them, and to give them courage to begin the battle of life anew, though life heretofore has been all a failure. For the mercy which man shows to man interprets for man the tender mercies of God. After that interview with you, during which you entered into the sorrow of your friend sympathetically and tenderly, gave him of your wisdom, of your experience, of your means, he goes forth to the work of life again with a new outlook, with a firmer resolution to do well. He says to himself, “It is a good, kind world after all, and there are good, kind people in it. I must show myself worthy to live in so good a world, and worthy of the help I have received.” So tender mercies help, but they help in such a way as to bind up the broken-hearted, and to open a door of hope for those who have failed, and to give them courage to lift them above the feeling of despair.
Stern and unflinching in his denunciation of drunkenness, Ernest Wilberforce was tenderness itself in his dealings with the individual sinner. Few cases are more distressing or more difficult to deal with than those where a clergyman has fallen into habits of intemperance. The Bishop’s correspondence in one of them is lying before me as I write, marked throughout by the strong sense of justness and fairness which ever characterized him, yet compassionate and considerate, so far as consideration was possible. The facts were clear, and the unfortunate gentleman was induced to vacate his office without the scandal of judicial proceedings. But there were features which induced the Bishop to hope that, under happier auspices, he might yet do good and useful work in his chosen calling. Without any effort at minimizing the sad story, he succeeded in inducing an experienced parish priest in another diocese to give the transgressor a fresh start. The good Samaritan had no cause to regret his charity, and in writing to the Bishop he congratulated the clergy of Northumberland in having one set over them to whom they could appeal with perfect confidence in the hour of need. “If ever,” he wrote, “I should be in a fix, I shall wish for such a friend as your Lordship.”1 [Note: J. B. Atlay, Bishop Ernest Wilberforce, 162.]
“Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle.”
1. The word “crowneth” suggests something external, something coming to us from without, and after the crowning there may conceivably be some wants unsupplied, some needs of man which have not been met. But the note of Christianity is that no human needs are left unsatisfied. “My God shall supply all your need.” Satisfied with good, so that every need shall be met—this is the promise.
The thirst of the mind for truth, the thirst of the will and conscience for guidance, and the thirst of the heart for life are satisfied through Him who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. If there were needs which He could not or would not satisfy, He would have told us of them.2 [Note: James Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, 133.]
2. The Psalmist felt, as we often feel, that he had emerged from the very gulf of destruction; that he had been, as it were against his will, rescued from moral suicide; that all his life had been redeemed by God. Therefore he burst out into joy and thanksgiving! He who had been through grave sorrows; who had known sin, disease, even destruction; who might have cursed life and shrieked at what men call Fate; cries out in unfeigned and mistakable rapture—it is a very outburst of song—“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” And in realizing this joyful victory of the moral and spiritual powers; in the resurrection of his spiritual being into strength; in the leaving behind him in its own grave of all that was dead in his past; in the great cry of his heart as he looked back—“I am not there, I am risen”—his youth was renewed like the eagle’s! It was a great triumph; for his best life came back in a higher and a stronger way, with now but little chance of failure. He could again, like the eagle, look upon the sun, and love the upper ranges of the sky; again soar, but with steadier beat of wing than in youth; again possess the freedom he loved before disease and destruction had enslaved his plumes; again breathe the breath of immortal love; again in conscious union with God hear the great spheres “in measured motion draw after the heavenly tune.” And certainty was now with this victory, for he had known and found the Father of his spirit. The waters of his new life arose out of the fountain Life of God Himself, and he knew whence they came. There was now a source as well as a goal for his ideals, hopes, efforts, for the beauty he loved, and for universal joy. It was the Almighty Love and Life of loveliness Himself who was now in him—a personal friend, redeemer, strengthener, exalter; who crowned him with lovingkindness and tender mercies. This is the true resurrection; this is the triumph of life.
The brilliant Princess Anastasia Malsoff (the Nancy Malsoff of the Russian Court) was one of those led to Christ by the Maréchale, with whom she kept up a close friendship during the rest of her life. One of the Princess’s letters is peculiarly interesting: “I will see the Emperor in these days,” she writes, “and I will seek strength to speak to him. You see, my darling, speaking is not enough, one must in such a case pour out one’s soul and feel that a superior force guides one and speaks for one.” It turned out as she hoped. One night she was at the Palace in St. Petersburg. After dinner the Czar came and seated himself beside her. Soon they were deep in intimate conversation. She began telling him what her new-found friend in Paris had done for her. She talked wisely as he listened attentively. At length he said: “But, Nancy, you have always been good, always right.” “No,” she answered; “till now I have never known the Christ. She has made Him real to me, brought Him near to me, and He has become what He never was before—my personal Friend.”1 [Note: J. Strahan, The Maréchale (1913), 184.]
“I shall be sorry,” says Eckhart, the German mystic, “if I am not younger to-morrow than I am to-day—that is, a step nearer to the source whence I came.” And Swedenborg tells us that when heaven was opened to him he found that the oldest angels seemed to be the youngest.
’Tis said there is a fount in Flower Land,—
De Leon found it,—where Old Age away
Throws weary mind and heart, and fresh as day
Springs from the dark and joins Aurora’s band:
This tale, transformed by some skilled trouvère’s wand
From the old myth in a Greek poet’s lay,
Rests on no truth. Change bodies as Time may,
Souls do not change, though heavy be his hand.
Who of us needs this fount? What soul is old?
Age is a mask,—in heart we grow more young,
For in our winters we talk most of spring;
And as we near, slow-tottering, God’s safe fold,
Youth’s loved ones gather nearer:—though among
The seeming dead, youth’s songs more clear they sing.2 [Note: Maurice Francis Egan.]
Brooke (S. A.), Christ in Modern Life, 351.
Brooke (S. A.), The Gospel of Joy, 67.
Brooke (S. A.), The Ship of the Soul, 16.
Brown (A. G.), in The People’s Pulpit, No. 20.
Brown (C. G.), The Word of Life, 141.
Campbell (J. M.), Grow Old Along with Me, 19.
Cross (J.), Knight-Banneret, 292.
Drummond (H.), The Ideal Life, 145.
Hall (F. O.), Soul and Body, 73.
Hutton (J. A.), The Soul’s Triumphant Way, 23.
Iverach (J.), The Other Side of Greatness, 119.
Macmillan (H.), The Ministry of Nature, 321.
Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Hours, 213.
Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, i. 270.
Morrison (G. H.), The Oldest Trade in the World, 103.