For the director of music. A psalm of David.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring for ever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
This extraordinary psalm of David, written 3,000 years ago, demonstrates not only what a profound thinker, and theologian, and poet he was but how he adored the Lord and his word. Its view of God is served by its majestic inspiring poetry. It challenges our intellect and our affections. Its presence in the world (as its words address you now) is a proof of the existence of God. How bereft the church would have been having to survive for 3,000 years without this glorious psalm, never having heard a sermon on it. How immediate this psalm is, how existential, and dynamic, and relevant. Tonight, as you go home, and see the sun setting over the Bay the colours different because of the dust in the air from the Iceland volcano, the heavens will be telling you of the glory of God. That will be God following you, God speaking to you; the God of the Bible. How much does our age and our community needs the reminder of this psalm at so many different levels. David was surrounded by nations that actually worshipped the sun, moon and stars. They kissed their hand to the host of heaven. Little has changed in 3,000 years. In the last six months Jyoti wrote to me from Calcutta saying, “Do not come to India and speak at our meetings in January. It is the same time as the Kumbh Mela festival and this year is especially important to the Hindus because of a certain alignment of the sun, moon and stars. 30 million people are going to immerse themselves in the Ganges river near Lucknow where two other rivers flow into it. They believe that washing in the freezing Ganges on this occasion will remove their sins. Hindu feelings run very high during these weeks and Christian gatherings can be attacked and special meetings are considered provocative, all because of how millions of people read the stars.”
It is different in the secular west; here people look at the cosmos and they say, “Aren’t we ‘lucky’ to be surrounded by such beauty.” They think that the glory that surrounds us is there only because of chance! Yet they are utterly inconsistent. They also long for some overall principle to guide them. Chance itself cannot satisfy, and so numbers of them will turn to their horoscopes and check their star signs. They will read their favourite astrologer in the belief that the position of a distant sun and the ambit of some of the planets of our solar system will tell them what choices they should make in big decisions this week – whether they should marry this person or not. Deciding by horoscope!
The Christian also looks at the sun, moon and stars, but he does not hold any of those views. He does not worship the stars; he doesn’t believe luck made the heavens, he doesn’t get guidance from the stars. He worships the Maker of the heavens and the earth who was David’s God. Through faith in Jesus Christ the Christian knows the Creator as his own heavenly Father and Saviour. He is moved to wonder that he can cry ‘Abba Father’ to the Maker of our planet earth, our solar system of planets, our galaxy called the Milky Way and the entire cosmos.
- THE HEAVENS ARE TELLING THE GLORY OF GOD (vv.1-6).
David is telling us that the world around and above us is the media by which God is speaking to mankind and speaking very forcefully. He is not whispering or hinting to people on this planet that he is glorious. God’s media declare and proclaim this message lucidly, “God’s own hands made this world and he is glorious” (v.1). David says that the heavens “pour forth” this message, and they display this knowledge. The words “pour forth” (v.3) speak of an artesian well, or a geyser that unfailingly sends a cascade of hot water shooting into the air, or a fresh spring bubbling forth, never running dry. They are flooding the whole world day by day. This is not a local flood; they pour forth everywhere, God’s words, in every season of the year, whatever the weather might be, both daytime and night time, winds, rain, sunshine, snow, hail, rainbows, storms and deep calm all declare this message, “Isn’t God glorious?” There is no ‘spin’ about this message at all. The message from the creation cannot be gagged. It is not that one day there is some freak meteorological condition and on that day the heavens fail to speak this message, or they are saying something else about another god, or no god. There is always this speech; it is never silenced, and its language and its voice is heard going out into all the earth, to its very ends (v.4), and it is saying one thing always, night and day, that our God is glorious and he has made everything we see.
When we talk of ‘media’ then generally we are referring to TV and radio, newspapers and magazines, film, recordings and so on. Media are the ways and means by which a message with a cert
ain content comes to us. All the politicians are using all the media they can at this moment to reach us with their messages. So David is telling us that God uses means to communicate with the people who live on this planet. God speaks through his creation; it has been made with such skill and beauty that it has one utterly clear and consistent message. It is the divine media by which his word gets through to the human race. It is a declaration of himself via nature; it is a natural revelation. It is available to everyone, to a banker in the City of London, or a tribe in the remotest spot on earth which has hardly any conduct with anyone else. They too are receiving this revelation because it is a general revelation through creation to every single person on this planet. It is saying, “God is glorious and God’s hands made this world,” and it is saying this constantly and clearly. Just think of that, that no one is ignorant of God. Simply by opening your eyes and ears and seeing the creation you are looking at divinely created and sustained media which are bringing their message that God is, and that he is powerful and glorious.
Consider the sun. Do you see at the end of verse four that the sun is introduced quite abruptly? David wants us to be aware that he is not talking vaguely about ‘nature’ whatever that may be. ‘Nature’ is some sort of classical concept. David is talking of the sun and the moon and the stars. The sun dominates everything above us. It keeps all mankind and everything that lives and moves alive. There would be nothing without the sun. It dominates the world, exultant, magnificent, and yet it is not a law unto itself. It cannot say, “I don’t feel like rising in the east this morning . . . I don’t think I will ascend today. I will zigzag across the heavens and then take a little rest and go down for a while and then pop up again . . .” No, the sun obeys its Maker and operates by his laws. God has pitched a tent for the sun, and that tent is the sky, stretching from one horizon to the other. Maybe you have been out in the prairies of Canada where the land is flat for hundreds of miles and there is a big sky. All that vast expanse is God’s marquee for the sun. God has set it in its place, and then he summons the sun, “Now come forth sun; you know what you are to do and when you are to rise, and when and where to set today. Go to it!” Then this great, red, burning ball of light and heat appears – oh how magnificent he is! – and then day breaks, the morning of his rising. Off he goes on his course, and how we welcome the sun after the long dark night. “It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat” (v.6). What total panic there would be if he did not appear! The sun, so glorious, but all his glory is the glory of God its Creator. As John Milton says,
“Thou sun, of this great world both eye and soul,
Acknowledge Him thy greater; sound His praise
Both when thou climb’st, and when high noon hast gained,
To what can we compare the sun? David says, “Think of some great monarch, a Tsar, a Maharajah, or the most important man in the world resplendent in his wedding-day finery, wearing the dress uniform of a major-general. He steps down from the state coach and he faces the eyes of all the world – the most powerful and handsome of all bridegrooms making his long anticipated appearance on this day. Or again David has another simile, that of a champion athlete; the sun is like a fabulous gold medal winner at all dozen individual races in the Olympics, 100 metres, 110 metres hurdles, 200 metres, 400 metres, 400 metres hurdles, 800 metres, 1500 metres, 3000 metres, 3,000 metres steeplechase, 5000 metres, 10,000 metres, and the marathon. This champion has left the blocks, starting each race and won them all! He has enjoyed every race and each victory. There has never been anyone like him – “a champion rejoicing to run his course” (v.5) – what a champion is our Lord. Without him was not anything made that was made. It is a glorious sight, the sun setting forth each day and sending out light and warmth and health and energy as year succeeds year. It was God who thought of creating a sun. He designed it and the whole solar system. He made the earth, and he placed the sun 93 million miles away from it. Further, and we would be freezing always; nearer and we would have been fried to a frazzle. The next nearest sun to our earth is 25 trillion miles away, a little twinkling star. None of these details is a matter of luck. The hands of God did it. He can hold the sun and not get burned. So the heavens are telling his glory and power.
Thus I have said to you that there is a revelation of God in this world and it leaves you without excuse for disbelieving in him. Earlier this month Professor Anthony Flew of Reading University died. Students who took philosophy here in the 60s and 70s were regaled with his approach to reality. He was quoted as the great authority on philosophy –Anthony Flew. As a man he was tall, angular and energetic; he had been one of the most well known atheists of his generation, but a couple of years ago he repudiated his atheism. He became an apostate atheist. What had persuaded him that God exists was the testimony of God in creation, particularly the findings of 50 years of DNA research which he believed had given us materials for a new and enormously powerful argument that the world had been designed; the cosmos had not come about by a lucky accident. Arguments for a God of power and intelligence were now much stronger than ever before, he said. He wrote a book in 2007 entitled, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. So in the example of his change we have another little indication that the knowledge of God is displayed in the earth.
Now how can I use the revelation of God in his creation? Let me turn it two ways, firstly as Paul used it in when he had gone with Barnabas to Lystra. There he appealed to the Greek idol-worshippers of that city, dismissing their bankrupt religion and telling them of the living Creator. “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:15-17). This is our message to you that God made the world and everything in it. He has been the same God showing personal kindness to you, though you have been ignoring him for years, blessing you with prosperity and with this beautiful spring weather, full refrigerators, cupboards packed with food and drink, shelves lined with books, walls hung with paintings, music centres full of CDs of the best compositions of the ages. He is the one who has given you your joyful hearts on all the many happy days you have known. You are in debt to the God who has blessed you richly; his testimony is in the heavens above you and the gifts you have received from him.” That is Paul’s invariable message to the Greeks. Later in Athens he told them, “What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 18:23&24).
Paul also wrote a similar message
to the Romans but also with warning:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Roms. 1: 18-23).
God speaks to our town, “You have the Bible but you refuse to read it. You will not come to have the Bible explained to you but God will still tell you about himself. The heavens are telling you that God is infinitely powerful, wise and glorious. They are a majestic witness to you of God’s glory. God has made that plain to you. In other words you do actually know God even though you protest you don’t, but you’re not honouring him as God or giving thanks to him as your powerful glorious Creator, the author of all the good things you’ve enjoyed in life. You’re not going to him for mercy. You see men and women who are made in God’s image and likeness actually laying down their lives for other people. Your own mothers sacrificed themselves, their time and efforts, giving you the best food, so that you could be strong and get on in life. You have been the beneficiary of the sacrifice of others who loved you. They acted like that because God made them in his own image. Yet you will not come to hear the Bible preached, and you will not read it. Yet through what you see out there, in the heavens and in the earth, and also in the lives of Christian people you know there is this mighty testimony speaking to you of the reality of the living God. You are without excuse when you clamp down on that voice that is speaking to you from your parents and friends but especially from the creation. Professor Anthony Flew had a far greater intellect than me. He opposed the existence of God for sixty years, and yet he was an honest man, and he in the end had to acknowledge a God who made this world. Please do not stay where he remained until his death, believing in God but not in the God who has made himself known in his Son, Jesus Christ. To discover this Saviour you must read the Bible! Please go to a Bible preaching church. Search for one. Listen to your friends in your family and in your workplace and university whom you know to be real professing Christians. This revelation of God that you have in creation is powerful. Please do not ignore it. It is personal to you because God is a personal God.”
Now I’ve not even mentioned the inner voice of that conscience that God has given to you all. It commends you when you restrain yourself and show kindness and love to others, and it rebukes you when you hurt the ones you love and when you break God’s laws – the things of which he has written in your hearts. You are without excuse. You know what God expects of you. You know what standards God is going to judge you by. But alas, that revelation, rich as it is, does not bring you to eternal life with God. Today you know him only as a mighty glorious Creator, one who rebukes you for your sin, who is angry with you every day. He is your enemy not your friend. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against you. In other words, what God says in nature tells you much, but it does not tell you how to be saved from the wrath to come. Creation and conscience gives you law, but it does not give you gospel. For that you need the Bible. So from the heavens telling the glory of God we turn to this, that . . .
- THE SCRIPTURES ARE TELLING THE REWARDS OF GOD. (vv.7-11)
This passage about the Scriptures concludes with these words; “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (v.11). Now there are a couple of things we need to point out first of all about this section of the psalm.
Firstly that in the first six verses of Psalm 19 the name for God that has been used is the world El. In other words it is the word for God the Creator, the God of mighty power, that he in the beginning all by himself created the heavens and the earth. What moral attributes of love and mercy and grace he might also have we’re not made aware of in that name El, simply that he is the maker and sustainer of the cosmos and his power and Godhood is everywhere apparent. But now from the seventh verse onwards his covenant name of Jehovah or Yahweh is referred to. You see it? The name the LORD in capitals is found in verse after verse in this section.
The other feature I want you to notice is very obvious, how David makes a series of observations about the Bible, and how he structures them, that he uses six different titles to describe Scripture. They all supply something a little different to the nature of what Scripture is; they all make a slightly different contribution to our understanding of this miraculous book that almost each of us has before us. That book is another revelation of God; it is a redemptive revelation. Then notice something further, that each of the six descriptions of Scripture has a balancing adjective that describes the qualities of the Bible, that it is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure and sure. But David has not finished; notice that six divine effects are stated, the Bible revives the soul . . . the Bible makes wise the simple . . . the Bible gives joy to the heart . . . the Bible gives light to the eyes . . . the Bible endures for ever . . . the Bible is altogether righteous. Can you imagine me offering you some product today and telling you – absolutely truthfully – what this produce would do for you if you took it into your life, that it would revive your soul, make you wise, give joy to your heart, give light to your eyes, would last for ever and be altogether dependable? Would I have any difficulty in getting rid of boxes of the stuff? If you should say, “How much is it?” and that you would be prepared to pay big bucks for something guaranteed to revive your soul, make you wise, give joy to your heart, give light to your eyes, would last for ever, and be altogether reliable? You cry, “Twenty thousand pounds if that can be mine and do all that for me! Cheap at the price!”
I tell you it is free. It is the message of God. In this world with all its darkness and confusion there exists such an entity as the word of God, infallible, inerrant, enduring for ever, saying exactly what God want it to say. Jesus spoke of it; “Your word is truth. The word of the Lord endures for ever. It is written . . .” All this breathless delight in the Bible prepares us for its great conclusion, just how precious the Scriptures are and how profound are their achievements: “They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (vv.10&11). I would like to give you six reasons why you should be Bible boys and girls and men and women.
i] The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The Word ‘law’ means divine instruction. God himself training and telling us how we shou
ld live, that it matters to him how we behave in his world, that he is angry at cruelty and theft and torture, that he loves goodness and meekness and patience. God’s law is like himself. It is perfect, and one feature of its perfection is its simplicity. The ten commandments are amongst the simplest parts of the Scriptures. Even in the 21st century they’re not laughable; they’re not extreme; they’re not babyish. They are just magnificent. They can be summed them up like this, to love Almighty God with all our beings, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Isn’t that a perfect law? The Ten Commandments consist of 173 words in the Hebrew. You compare that to the European Union’s regulations for the importing of cauliflowers which consists of 30,000 words.
The proponents of what are called ‘situational ethics’ say that there are no absolute standards for right and wrong. All such laws are imperfect. Each action has to be worked out by itself. Joseph Fletcher, one of its spokesmen, said, “Only love is a constant; everything else is a variable.” That is not so very far from saying, “If it feels good to you or to you both, then go ahead and do it.” The Bible says, “The law of the Lord is perfect.” Once a student came to see me thinking he was being haunted. He had no idea of what was right or wrong and so he’d made some big mistakes hurting the people who loved him. He had two great needs, to know the law of the Lord, and to know the mercy of the God in Jesus Christ our Saviour, and when he understood and entrusted himself to our great Redeemer then his soul – which had been as defiled and weak as a rotting cabbage – was revived. He had new life from God. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” That is one reason you ought to be a Bible person.
ii] The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The word ‘statute’ is another word for law, but it reminds us that it is official, and that breaking it carries with it a penalty. I don’t think that every religious book is trustworthy. In fact very few are. Most of them claim to be what they are not. Their claims don’t bind my conscience to believe them. I don’t find the book of Mormon trustworthy. I don’t believe that papal encyclicals are trustworthy. I don’t accept that the Koran is trustworthy. I reject the Tibetan Book of the Dead as totally untrustworthy in all its versions. I warn you that the writings of Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy are not to be trusted. I don’t trust the Watchtower publications. Would you trust yourself to live in an Islamic theocracy where women are stoned to death for adultery, and where thieves get their hands chopped off? Would you entrust your children to go and work in those places? They are untrustworthy lands to live in because the laws that govern the inhabitants of those nations are harsh and extreme statutes. But the Lord’s statutes are all completely trustworthy.
The Son of God believed them all and quoted from every part of them. He said to God, “Your word is truth.” The Lord’s statutes say things like, “You do to others as you would have them do to you.” They say, “Love your neighbour as yourself . . . love your enemy . . . forgive seventy times seven.” These laws bring wisdom to simple people (v.7), to lecturer’s wives, and colliers, and window-cleaners, and check-out girls. Peter was a fisherman, John Bunyan was a tinker, William Carey was a cobbler, Gladys Aylward was a serving woman, and yet through the influence of Scripture simple people just like that have become very wise people. Through the impact upon their lives of the statutes of the Lord they have grown and changed the destiny of the human race. That is why you can trust the Bible. You can hardly read it too much, or hear it too much, or apply it too much, or obey it too much, or love it too much because it is utterly trustworthy. That is why you ought to be Bible boys or girls, because then you would grow up to become Bible men and women, utterly trustworthy people.
iii] The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. There are some teachings in the Old Testament that are perplexing, some of its laws and prohibitions are puzzling, but they were right during the time of the theocracy under the Old Testament covenant. That dispensation has now passed and its civil legislation, but they were right at that time. There are also some New Testament teachings that you might want to question, for example, that certain offices of leadership and teaching are closed to women in the church, nevertheless they are right. Then God tells us that he has chosen a vast number of people before the foundation of the world to be saved, and that they alone will be saved and so that must be right if God has done that. Yet God also tells us that it is not his will that any should perish and that he sincerely desires all men and women to turn from their sins and follow him and if God has said that then that must be right too. I know that it is impossible to reconcile two such apparently conflicting teachings as those, but they are both clearly found in the Bible and so both are right.
The Bible also tells us that once, long ago, in the presence of God in heaven where there was no sin at all an angel rebelled against him and many spirits joined with that angel and they were cast out of heaven, and that was the origin of the devil. I cannot understand how that could possibly have happened in heaven, but it is taught in the Bible and so it is right. You might think that a sexual relationship between two men or two women cannot be wrong as it seems so beautiful to them both, but while God commends their friendship he does not commend genital activity, and if God has said that then it is right. The precepts of the Lord are right.
But they are not only right, they give joy to the heart. You might think that you enjoy doing some things that God’s word doesn’t find right, but the end of all those things is death. Joy in your hearts, that is, what the Bible calls blessedness, is only found in taking up your cross and denying self and keeping the precepts of God. That is the only way to have joy in your heart. Without that your life will be one of guilt and misery, and all the alcohol and nicotine and drugs in the world are not going to inject joy into your hearts. That is why you must be a Bible man or woman
iv] The commands of the Lord are radiant giving light to the eyes. Here is a command from the Lord that radiates light and peace: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt.11:28-30). Do your eyes light up at the sound of that command? Here is another command, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:1-3). Such a command of the Lord is radiant. It makes your eyes light up. The eyes of so many people you meet are dead. Only by heeding the commands of the Lord will you find light and life.
v] The fear of the Lord is pure enduring for ever. We feared our headmaster in school
but that fear did not make us pure schoolboys. Privates will fear their sergeant-majors, but that fear does not make them pure soldiers. Russians feared Stalin, and the Chinese feared Mao but that fear did not make those nations pure. But the holy angels bright who wait at God’s right hand remain pure just as long as they fear God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; should we not fear God? He is light and in him is no darkness at all; should we not fear him? He will cast the wicked into hell; should we not fear him? But our fear is one of holy reverence and it is full of love. This holy, sin-hating God loved us so much that he judged and condemned his Son on Golgotha that we might be forgiven and go at last to heaven. So we love him, but our love never becomes sentimental; we never take him for granted. We always reverence him; we never stop reverencing him; that endures for ever. Bible boys and girls and men and women sing
“Oh how I fear Thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope and penitential tears.” (Frederick W. Faber)
vi] The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. We have seen fad after fad enter the Welsh pulpit and briefly reign before becoming unpopular and discarded. Then we have seen another usurper climbing up for another brief ascendancy. We have seen education, and socialism, and pacifism, and nationalism, and internationalism, and feminism, and ecology rise, attempt to replace the gospel and fall. All have appeared, taken their bow, swiftly declined and they are now no more. The pulpits that entertained them any longer are now closing each week. The messages they all spoke were not the solid rock of the gospel; they saw some truths but not all the truth. They made some useful points but none was altogether righteous. But the word of God is sure, and it is altogether righteous. So boys and girls and men and women who believe and do the ordinances of God become sure men and women in their choices and loves and relationships and careers and in their personal life and family life and church life. As young Bible boys and girls and then, decades later, when they’re dying they are sure and righteous people, and that has come to them through the word of God.
Those six reasons are why the Bible is more precious than gold, than much fine gold. That is why it is honey sweet to belong to a church that believes and obeys the Bible week by week, a congregation of the servants of God that receives the warnings of the Lord humbly, and knows that if it keeps the word of God it will be rewarded in this life and in the life to come. How blessed are we to have the words of God; “They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
25th April 2010 GEOFF THOMAS