|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Warnings from Heaven|
|Text||Psalm 50 vv.1-23 |
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"The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me: those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah. Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burn offerings, to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God" (Psalm 50).
I should like to look at the entire Psalm. So on this occasion, unusually, we shall not select one single isolated text. The theme of the Psalm as a whole is simple to follow and easy to pick up. The subject is that of God the Judge. You can see that very easily: "The mighty God, even the LORD, hath spoken" (v.1); "Our God shall come" (v.3); "He shall call to the heavens" (v.4); "Gather my saints together" (v.5); "For God is judge himself" (v.6).
Here we have a Psalm dealing with God as the Judge. Understand that this is a very common, very frequent teaching of the Bible: that God is going to judge all men in the end. I want to point out to you at the very outset that here we have a case of God doing the talking. Most of the Psalm consists of God speaking to us, and that of course is so different from the way things normally are in this life. When you consider how much talking is being done from day to day in the world, you will realise that most of it is done by men and women, and that we hear little of the voice of God or reference to Him. It is as though God never speaks. I am sad to have to tell you that even the other day the Archbishop of Canterbury was announcing that the foot and mouth disease, according to him, is not in any sense a judgement from God - it is just one of those things that we have to get used to reckoning with in life. Even Archbishops, it appears, are incapable now of recognising when God is speaking.
God speaks in various ways. He speaks, in a sense, in the very creation of heaven and earth. The heavens were made as they are, to be the theatre of God's glory. We live in a world where sun, moon and stars, not to say the earth itself, is shouting out to us in all parts of the earth and in every language men should recognise; for the heavens are a testimony to the being and existence of God. But God also speaks in Providence, that is to say, He speaks in the events and circumstances of life. He speaks in tragedy, in accident, in judgement, in death - all these things should have a voice. God speaks supremely of course in the Bible which is His Word. The great question is: Are we listening to the voice of God? Do we hear the voice of God? There are many people who are so busy talking, they never stop to listen, even to one another, never mind to God. But this Psalm, Psalm 50, reminds us - if reminder is needed - that in the end, every mouth will be stopped. The talking of men will eventually stop, and we men and women will be compelled to listen to what God has to say. Men have a great deal to say about God, but in the end God will have something to say about us. If we are wise we shall listen for the voice of God by attending to what He has to say in such a Psalm as this. Here God is giving a sort of preview of how He judges.
Let me take you through the Psalm. There are really four simple divisions of the Psalm, quite natural ones and quite easy for us to make. The first division is found in verses 1 - 6: "The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me: those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah." That 'Selah' is a difficult word to understand, but it seems to mean, many times in the Psalms, that that's the end of a division, and that something different will come after that word - not always but often.
There we have the first section of the Psalm, and what does it tell us? It talks about God coming. God is coming to judge the earth. It is perfectly true that God is going to judge every one of us. I hope we are all wise enough to understand that, whoever we are. God will certainly judge us all, and all the rest of mankind. It doesn't matter what nation we come from, it doesn't matter the colour of our skin, the language we speak, our background. It is true concerning you and me, and all; we are to be judged by God in the end. Will you notice here that it is no light thing to be judged by God. It is easy for me to say the words, but do we realise what an immensely serious subject this is, that God will judge every one? God intends us to be silenced by this. God intends us to be made afraid by this. He intends us to tremble.
Notice what he says about fire in verse 3, "A fire shall devour before him and be very tempestuous." This is a picture of God coming to judge, and it is especially a picture of God coming to judge the Church. It is true that in the end God will judge the wicked and the unrighteous, and those who never go to church and never read the Bible; God will judge them too. But I can show you very easily that this Psalm is particularly concerned about the judgement of men and women who go to church. How do I know? Well I will show you. He says in verse 4 at the end, "that he may judge his people". That is not everybody, is it? It is those who make some profession of religion. Verse 5, "Together let my saints be gathered unto me, those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice." These people are churchgoing people. These are religious people. These are men and women and young people who have been brought up under the influence of the Word of God, and they are offering sacrifice, which in the old days they did, before Christ came, with animal sacrifice and bird sacrifice; but in the New Testament they do it by faith in Christ who was the ultimate sacrifice.
What then are we to say about God judging the Church, and God judging His people? God judges the Church now, in this life; but He will judge the sinners in the end, in eternity. The Church is being judged now, in this life; but the wicked will be judged right at the end. The New Testament has this information. It says: "Judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Peter 4, 17). It begins now, in this life. In other words, as you and I come to a building like this to listen to the Word of God and to sing, we are not on our own; there is somebody here, unseen and watching. The eye of the Lord is especially upon us. And so, in the New Testament, Paul speaking on the subject says it's for this reason that we must observe the decorum and the good order which belongs to the Church. We are in the presence of angels, he says; and not only in the presence of angels, but in the presence of the Head of the Church - Christ. When you look at the early chapters of the Book of Revelation, you see that Christ stands in the midst of the candlesticks, and he is watching us all. Are we listening to the Word of God? Are we taking to heart the message of the truth, or not? God here is said to be holding a court. He is coming like a great judge, can you see Him? He sweeps into the room, He is about to take his seat, here, and we are the people to be judged. He has His angels with Him. These angels associate with Him as the witnesses to the truth of His judgement - those who can corroborate the truth of what He says concerning us. God is going to pass sentence upon us as those who profess some kind of interest or other in the things that belong to Him. Well, it does remind us that when we come to the house of God we are to observe the sense of the presence of God; we are to remember that in a special sense He is here, and that He is seeing into our very innermost being.
That is the first section. I want now to point you to the second section (v.7-15): "Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burn offerings, to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me". The Lord is addressing His true worshippers, those who are really His people. He is addressing the godly among them. In this life, you understand, all our church meetings are mixed assemblies. They are mixed of those who are true saints, and those who are not true saints. There is a mixture of those who are born of the Spirit, and those who are not. Of course, they are all welcome. It is a gathering of men and women in this life for the purposes of worship. But as long as we are in this world, everything is going to be imperfect. In this section, v.7-15, God is addressing the worshippers throughout His Church in the world who are genuinely His. He describes them that way, "Oh my people," He says.
What is God saying to His own people in this section? It is possible in a few words to summarise the main thrust and the main thought, and it is this: God is saying He will not blame us for the shortcomings of our worship. There are many things about our worship which are worthy to be criticised, and even condemned. Think how poor our words are in prayer; how incapable we are of expressing ourselves on spiritual subjects; how poor much of our worship is - our preaching, our reading, our praying, our singing, our communions and so on. How limited we are in all our expressions of devotion to God. Well now, the Lord is aware of that, and yet He tells us here in His great generosity and kindness, He will not reprove us for us shortcomings in these respects. But there is something that God does warn us about; there is something here that God does teach us, and this is the burden of these verses 7-15, and here it is: It is the continual danger that worshipping people are in, of merely routine in what we do. You can understand that this is a danger. We come into the house of God, and we sit and we sing at certain points, and we read and we listen, and then the benediction, and away we go. There is a kind of a familiarity with this; we know what's coming next after a few times of doing it. We become habituated, and accustomed, and acclimatised to certain things happening and other things not happening, and then going away and going home. The danger, I say, is routine; the danger that we become, as it were, mechanical; and that we treat the things of God as though they were merely automatic. We pray without thought; we sit and don't listen; we sing with our mouth but not with our soul. We are all guilty. I am just as guilty as anyone else. We are all guilty. We have all done it, many times. Sometimes we have slept in church; sometimes our minds have been far away.
This is what God is warning His people against in this section. He is saying to us, in language suitable for that Old Testament period, that there is a danger that His people should think that what they were doing in offering up sacrifices was really feeding God, as it were; that when they were offering their bulls and their goats, the idea might get into their minds that they were really doing God a great favour, just as we do when we have a guest at home. We set before Him, or her, a nice meal, and we know that we have benefited them and done something helpful to them. The danger is that that may creep into our thinking when we come to the house of God, and that we may think that by offering up our sacrifices of praise that really what we are doing is we're giving God a good time, and that really we are gaining on His favour by our own merits. Well that is a very subtle, false form of thinking. The true way to think is to realise that we are guests in the house of God; that our best efforts in worship are utterly unworthy of Him; and that when we are in our true state of mind, we always think of God as being so great and glorious that our very best is but too poor and unworthy for Him. So, God is warning us here, as those who are His true worshippers and His true people, and He is saying to us, "Realise, understand, if I were hungry, I wouldn't ask you for food; the cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I don't require anything from the hand of man to make me satisfied." God is in need of nothing. We can't give anything to God but what He has first given to us. What do we have but what we have received and receive also from Him?
The Lord is showing us what the true spirit of worship is. I put it to you, and I put it to myself, dear friends, is it true of us that we worship God with a humble spirit and with a contrite heart? Is that true of us? Do we have what we call an evangelical spirit and state of mind when we come to the house of God; that it is a privilege to come; it is an honour to be in the presence of God; it is our supreme privilege to be called by the name of Christ? To be called a Christian is the highest honour in the universe. It's higher even than to be an angel, or to be a cherub or a seraph. To be a Christian - to be a Christian - is to be raised to the highest possible level that any created being could be raised to, because of what a Christian is: someone who is a child of God; someone who is washed in the blood of Christ; someone in whom God dwells and lives through his Holy Spirit; one of those who is called to be a witness in this world for righteousness, and for truth, and for Christ. I say you could not have a higher calling than that. To be a Christian is the greatest honour you can have. But isn't it also so very true of us, we sometimes forget, and our sense of privilege somehow occasionally evaporates into thin air, and we forget that God has done so much for us? Then we develop an un-evangelical spirit; we develop a spirit of - shall I say - medieval merit mongering.
It is a great sorrow, I tell you, that Roman Catholicism is the very embodiment of a non-evangelical spirit. Their attitude is that they are doing what they are doing to curry favour with God. The money they give, and the worship they offer, it is all with this in mind - to earn something from God, to gain something from God. There was a case when a Roman Catholic priest, many years ago now, called Martin Boaz, was visiting a woman in (I think) Switzerland. Martin Boaz was the priest of the Roman Catholic Church, and he came to a woman who, it so happened, was both dying and truly converted. Martin said to the lady, "Well Madam," he said, "you have nothing to fear; you have lived a very devout life in the Church, and you can rest assured that your merits will gain you eternal life." She was a true Christian and she turned to the priest with these words, "Oh, sir," she said, "I am not resting on any merits of mine; I am a sinner," she said, "saved by the mere grace of God. All my hope is upon Christ and His finished sacrifice. I don't dream for a moment of contributing any merit to what Christ has done." Martin Boaz had never heard a woman speak in those words before. She spoke with evangelical love of Christ. He came with the very attitude, in this Psalm, which Christ rebukes. He came with a sense of the importance of the creature; she came with a sense of the unworthiness of the creature. It led to his conversion, I should tell you.
But I bring that illustration in to show you that God tells us what he requires of us in verses 14 and 15. This is what God says: "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." In other words, friends, we cannot give anything to God that He hasn't already got. What can we give Him? Can we give Him money? The gold and the silver is all His. Can we give Him some merit of ours? We have none. What can we do? Well God says, "This is what you will do if you want to glorify me: offer praise," says God, "offer thanksgiving, pay thy vows." That means to say, work out your own salvation. If you are a church member then behave like one, live like one, be consistent in your life. If you have taken vows and promises, keep those vows and promises to the utmost of your strength. "When you come into trouble, call upon me," says God, "I will deliver you and you will glorify me." Incidentally, those words should be written upon the tables of our heart. Verse 15 is well worth committing to memory,: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."
My dear friends, is that the way we think? Is that the way we treat God? Is that our attitude to God? Do we acknowledge Him to be Lord over all our lives? Are we living with thanksgiving for everything? Do we thank Him for all that we have, and thank Him for all that He is? That's what we should be; that is real Christianity - praising God, blessing God, thanking God for all things, and living a humble, consistent, Christian life.
That is the second section and I come now to the third section which is found, as you see, at verse 16. Let me read it: "But" - notice 'but'; it introduces a change of subject - "But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee. When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes" (v.16-21).
Here is a different section, and it raises a question in this judgement scene, Who is God addressing now? He was addressing His own people in the Church a moment ago. He has been addressing those that really do love Him. In spite of their weaknesses and their infirmities, they are His people - "My people". They have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice; that is to say, Christ is their Saviour; the blood of Christ is their hope. At verse 16, we have the word 'but', and God talks to another class of men, unto the wicked. God is turning from one class of churchgoer to another class of churchgoer. From the genuine Christian, God now turns to the false Christian, to the hypocrite, to the one who is merely an apparent Christian who has no grace in his heart - the one who makes a profession which is in vain.
You know that the Bible does, all throughout, take account of this. Our Lord Jesus Christ does so, when He comes into the flesh in the Gospels, we see Him there. Many, many times he addresses the most religious people of His day in these very scalding terms. He says, "Ye hypocrites, ye hypocrites." And a hypocrite is an actor, one who puts on a mask, one who pretends to be what he is not, one who makes out by his lips that he is pious and devout and religious; and yet all the time his heart is unclean. Christ describes these people. He says, "They draw near to me with their lips but their heart is far from me." Or again He puts it like this. He compares them to 'whited sepulchres'. We may not know what whited sepulchres are because the term is not a very common one any longer. It used to be but perhaps it is no more so. A sepulchre is a grave, and in Old Testament times the laws of God said that if you went onto a grave and touched a grave, which was associated with death, that you became ceremonially unclean. You can whitewash a grave so that it doesn't really look like a grave at all it looks like something else. People may touch this monument not realising it's part of a grave, and they become defiled but don't realise it. Christ says about these hypocrites... He says they are 'whited sepulchres', or whitewashed graves. They appear outwardly to men to be beautiful, but inwardly they are full of ravening and of corruption.
So, this is the class of person He is now speaking to, and what does He have to say to these? To those who are in churches but they are not his people; to the wicked who are among His people; to those who are godless and yet associate with His people. He has various things to say, and in doing so he exposes them by saying that they have a double life. "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?" It's very clear isn't it? No unconverted man should ever presume to preach the Gospel. No unconverted man should teach the Word of God in pulpits or in school. No godless man should ever presume to be a preacher and a teacher of the Word of God - God is saying that, "What have you to do to take my word upon your lips?" And then, says God in verse 17, "You hate instruction, and cast my words behind you." Instruction of course means the Word of God; it is the teaching of the Christian faith, and it's a word for us all. It's possible to hear many good things preached and taught to us, but the great question is: are they in the heart? Listen: "You hate instruction," says God. "You hate it. You hate to be told that you are a sinner," says God. "You don't take it well when I come to you," says God, "and through my servants I remind you that the wages of sin is death. You secretly resent it; you reject these things; you cast these things from you instead of embracing them and repenting."
Then God goes on at verse 18, "When you saw a thief, you consented with him, [more than that] you have been partaker with the adulterers." It's a sad and terrible thought that it is possible to go to church, to give the appearance of being religious, and yet all the time to live a double life; to be one thing before the eyes of men, and to be something different in the darkness and secrecy of your own home - double standards - one thing one minute, and another thing another minute. You know that famous book which is written called Jekyl and Hyde? One minute he was Jekyl and at night he was Hyde. He looked a respectable man in the daytime but at night he was a criminal. That's the condition of people who pretend to be religious, and all the time in their secret lives they have this robbery, and even adultery, He says. It's the word of God. It is a word to us all, because of course we can do these things mentally as well as physically, and we can love these things secretly with our minds, even without our bodies necessarily being involved. It's the heart that matters. Is our heart secretly enticed by these temptations? Or do we truly and genuinely love Christ, and heaven, and God, and grace, and truth? Is the cause of God our true delight? Or do we just make a pretence of these things? Well, that is what God is talking about.
At verse 20 He says, "You sit and speak against your brother, you slander your own mother's son." There is another thing. It's possible to be a religious person and secretly to speak terrible evil against other churchgoers, to be a sort of a professional judge of other people. It's possible to appear to be so friendly and kind, but all the time you have this evil spirit of malignancy. Well, sadly, we are all guilty up to a point, are we not? Our own consciences tell us there have been times when we have forgotten ourselves, and we have been unkind in our thoughts of others, and God says to us here, "I know all about it. I have seen your hearts. I know your lives. I know what you secretly think." Gossip and slander do infinite harm in religious circles, and God is pointing to this terrible vice which is the vice to which we can so readily fall. God is not doing this with any bad motive; He is calling these people to repentance. It's an expression of His love, that we might be brought low in humiliation and recognise our need of forgiveness from God.
God goes on speaking as the Judge at verse 21: "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes." Here God is telling us He kept silence. Isn't that interesting? You know, God doesn't always punish sin at once. Sometimes when people do outrageous things, terrible things, sometimes God keeps quiet for months and years. He sees it all, but sometimes He keeps quiet; He doesn't judge it all at once. There are times when God judges all at once. I think you may remember the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. They had sinned, and you remember that they were put to death the very same day that they committed their sin - man and wife. They died for their lies and for their hypocrisy. There are other cases in Scripture where men die almost immediately for their sins. Achan in the Book of Joshua did so; he stole what he was told not to steal; he hid it under his tent; God saw it though nobody else did, and he was stoned to death for his sin. These and other cases are in the Bible. Sometimes God immediately judges.
Indeed there was a famous case in England of a woman who, years ago, went with some other women to the market in, I think, Devizes in Wiltshire, to buy some corn. This was in the days when you could buy a sack of corn for a shilling, and people were poor so they all put a few pence in together. When the sack of corn was purchased, the woman who paid for it was receiving the pennies back from the other women, and one of them said, "Oh, I've paid you my pence." But she hadn't, she had told a lie. The lady who was receiving the money said, "No, no, you didn't pay me at all, I want those pence from you." The woman did this - it is quite true, it is perfectly true - the woman said, "I take God to witness that I am telling the truth and not telling a lie." She fell down dead on the spot. She called on the Almighty to witness to a lie and a falsehood of which she was conscious, and if you go to that market in Devizes you will see, I am told, to this very day, a plaque which points to the spot where this woman told her lie and suffered the consequence, on the spot, immediately. God sometimes does that, but not always. Sometimes God keeps silence and there's a danger, you know - which God is well aware of, of course - but when God keeps silence, sinners get bold. Because God does not immediately judge sin sometimes, sinners get very confident and notice the way God puts it. He says, "Because I kept silence, you thought that I was altogether such an one as yourself." That's what sinners do. They think sometimes that because God is patient, and merciful, and slow to anger, and long suffering, they think that God must be like us: that He turns a blind eye to evil; that He winks at their wicked dealings. But notice what the Lord says, "But I will reprove thee and set them in order before thine eyes."
This section three is reminder to us, my friends, that we had better be the real thing. You and I had better be the real thing. We had better be truly converted; we had better have the real grace of God in our hearts. Woe be to you, and woe be to me, if we are false Christians; if we are hypocrites. Woe be to me, and woe be to you, if we are pretending to be Christians; if we are play acting; if we are treating the things of God lightly and carelessly. Then I say: Woe be to me, and woe be to you. God sees it all, He sees your heart and mind, and, if not tomorrow, in the Day of Judgement He will certainly tell the whole world what we really were like if we are not what we profess to be - genuine Christians. It's a call to us all, to be consistent and sincere, and honest and upright before God, and to live our lives as in his sight.
I have left a few minutes in which to look finally at the last two verses, which is the fourth section. I have just got a word for this. In this last section, 22 and 23, God speaks to two classes of people. First of all he speaks to the hypocrite, and then he speaks to His own dear people. With this, in a moment, I shall close. Notice verse 22, "Now," He says, "consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." There are some people who want to tame God, and there are some people who want to treat God as though He was like a Father Christmas figure. But look at the way God talks to sinners. If you and I don't repent, He will tear us in pieces - tear us in pieces, like a lion. He will tear us to pieces. That's what God says, and nobody can deliver us. My dear friend, if you are not converted, think of this: God taking hold of your arms and legs, and head and body, and tearing you to pieces, and casting the pieces in hell - what a terrible thought! We therefore must ask for the mercy of God, each one, and for his forgiveness. He will readily give it, and wash us in the blood of Christ.
Finally, He has a word here to Christians, His true people, at verse 23: "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God." We can't do very much for God, can we? What have we ever done? What have I ever done? Nothing worth mentioning - a few prayers, a few sermons, and how poor they all were, even the best, not worthy of God. My friend, what hope have we got of being taken to heaven when we die? Our only hope is the kindness, the love, the grace of God, in the Gospel. The Lord says, "Whoso offers praise glorifies me." "It's enough," He says, "it's enough if you truly worship Me, and it's enough if you live a consistent, godly, holy life. Order your life aright."
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