Psalm cxix.89-96. For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants. Unless thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. I am thine, save me; for I have sought thy precepts. The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I will consider thy testimonies. I have seen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.
The Psalmist is in great trouble. He does not know whom to trust, what to expect next, whom to look to. Everything seems failing and changing round him. His psalm was most probably written during the Babylonish captivity, at a time when all the countries and kingdoms of the east were being destroyed by the Chaldean armies.
Then, he says, Be it so. If everything else changes, God cannot. If everything else fails, God's plans cannot. He can rest on the thought of God; of his goodness, his faithfulness, order, providence. God is governing the world righteously and orderly. Whatever disorder there is on earth, there is none in heaven. God's word endures for ever there.
Then he looks on the world round him; all is well ordered -- seasons, animals, sun, and stars abide. They continue this day according to God's ordinances. The unchangeableness of nature is a comfort to him; for it is a token of the unchangeablenes of God who made it.
Now, I do beg you to think carefully over this verse; because it is quite against the very common notion that, because the earth was cursed for Adam's sake, therefore it is cursed now; that because it was said to him, Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, therefore that holds good now. It is not so, my friends; neither is there, as far as I know, in any part whatsoever of Scripture, any mention of Adam's curse continuing to our day. St. John, in the Revelations, certainly says, 'And there shall be no more curse.' But if you will read the Revelation, you will find that what he plainly refers to is to the fearful curses, the plagues, the vials of wrath, as he calls them, which were to be poured out on the earth; and then to cease when the New Jerusalem came down from heaven.
St. Paul, again, knows nothing about any such curse upon the earth. He says that death came into the world by Adam's sin: but that must be understood only of man, and the world of man; and for this simple reason, that we know, without the possibility of doubt, that animals died in this world just as they do now, not only thousands, but hundreds of thousands of years before man appeared on earth.
What St. Paul says of the creation, in one of his most glorious passages, is this -- not that it is cursed, but that it groans and travails continually in the pangs of labour, trying to bring forth; trying to bring forth something better than itself; to develop, and rise from good to better, and from that to better still; till all things become perfect in a way which we cannot conceive, but which God has ordained before the foundation of the world.
Besides, as a fact, the earth does not bring forth thorns and thistles to us, but good grain, and fruitful crops, and an abundant return for our labour, if we choose to till the ground.
And wise men, who study God's works, can find no curse at all upon the earth, nor sign of a curse, neither in plants nor beasts, no, nor in the smallest gnat in the air. The more they look into the wonders of God's world, the more they find it true that there is order everywhere, beauty everywhere, fruitfulness everywhere, usefulness everywhere -- that all things continue as at the beginning; that, as the psalmist says in another place, God has made them fast for ever and ever, and given them a law which cannot be broken. And if you will look at Genesis viii.21, 22, you will find from the plain words of Scripture itself, that Adam's curse, whatever it was, was taken off after the flood, 'And the Lord smelled a sweet savour: and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.'
Therefore, my friends, open your eyes and your hearts freely to the message which God is sending you, in summer and winter, in seed-time and in harvest, in sunshine and in storm; that God is not a hard God, a revengeful God, a God of curses, who is extreme to mark what is done amiss, and keepeth his anger for ever. No: but that he is your Father in heaven, who hateth nothing that he has made, and whose mercy is over all his works; who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is; who keepeth truth for ever; who helpeth them to right that suffer wrong; who feedeth the hungry; a God who feeds the birds of the air, though they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and who clothes the grass of the field, which toils not, neither doth it spin; and who will much much more clothe and feed you, to whom he has given reason, understanding, and the power of learning his laws, the rules by which this world of his is made and works, and of turning them to your own profit in rational and honest labour.
And think, my friends, if the old Psalmist, before Christ came, could believe all this, and find comfort in it, much more ought we. Shame to us if we do not. I had almost said, we deny Christ, if we do not. For who said those last words concerning the birds of the air, and the grass of the field? Who told us that we have not merely a Master or a Judge in heaven, but a Father in heaven? Who but that very Word of God, whom the Psalmist saw dimly and afar off? He knew that the Word of God abode for ever in heaven: but he knew not, as far as we can tell, that that same Word would condescend to be made flesh, and dwell among men that we might see his glory, full of grace and truth. The old Psalmist knew that God's word was full of truth, and that gave him comfort in the wild and sad times in which he lived; but he did not know -- none of the Old Testament prophets knew, -- how full God's word was of grace also. That he was so full of love, condescension, pity, generosity, so full of longing to seek and save all that was lost, to set right all that was wrong, in one word again, so full of grace, that he would condescend to be born of the Virgin Mary, suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, dead and buried, that he might become a faithful High Priest for us, full of understanding, fellow-feeling, pity, love, because he has been tempted in all things like as we are, yet without sin.
My friends, was not the old Psalmist a Jew, and are not we Christian men? Then, if the old Psalmist could trust God, how much more should we? If he could find comfort in the thought of God's order, how much more should we? If he could find comfort in the thought of his justice, how much more should we? If he could find comfort in the thought of his love, how much more should we? Yes; let us be full of troubles, doubts, sorrows; let times be uncertain, dark, and dangerous; let strange new truths be discovered, which we cannot, at first sight, fit into what we know to be true already: we can still say, 'I will not fear, though the earth be moved, and the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.' For the word of God abideth for ever in heaven, even Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world and the Life of men. To him all power is given in heaven and earth. He is set on the throne, judging right, and ministering true judgment among the people. All things, as the Psalmist says, come to an end. All men's plans, men's notions, men's systems, men's doctrines, grow old, wear out, and perish.
The old order changes, giving place to the new:
But God fulfils himself in many ways.
For men are not ruling the world. Christ is ruling the world, and his commandment is exceeding broad. His laws are broad enough for all people, all countries, all ages; and strangely as they may seem to work, in the eyes of us short-sighted timorous human beings, still all is going well, and all will go well; for Christ reigns, and will reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet, and God be all in all.