PSALM CIV. 16.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which He hath planted.
Let me say a few words this afternoon about the noble 104th Psalm, which was read this afternoon, as it is now in many churches, and most wisely and rightly, as the Harvest Psalm. It is a fit psalm for a service in which we thank God for such harvest as He has thought best to send us, whether it be above or below the average. But it is also a fit psalm to be thought earnestly over just now, considering the turn which men's minds are taking more and more in these times in which it has pleased God that we should live. For we have lost, all of us, unlearned as well as learned, the old superstitious notions about this world around us which our forefathers held for many hundred years. No rational person now believes that witches can blight crops or cattle, or that evil spirits cause storms. No one now believes that nymphs and fairies live in fountains or in trees; or that the spirits of the planets rule the fates of men. That old belief is gone, for good and for evil, and it was good that it should go; for it was false: and falsehoods can do no good, but only harm, to any man, in body and in soul alike. It has died out quickly and strangely. Some say that modern science has destroyed it. I can hardly agree to that: for it has died out--and that almost since my own recollection and under my own eyes--in the minds of country people, who know nothing of science. I had rather say--as I presume the man who wrote the 104th Psalm would have said--The Lord has taken the belief out of men's hearts and minds. And I cannot but hope that He has taken it away, and allows us to believe no more in demons and fairies ruling the world around us, in order that we may believe in Him, and nothing but Him, the true Ruler of the world; in Him of whom it is written, "Him shalt thou worship, and Him only shalt thou serve;" even God the Father, of whom are all things, and God the Son, by whom are all things, and God the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of life, alike to sun and stars over our heads, and to the meanest weed and insect under our feet; the Lord and Giver of life alike to matter and spirit, soul and body, worm and man, and angel and archangel before the throne of God. I hope it is so. I trust it is so. For we never had more need than now to believe with all our hearts in the living God; to take into all our hearts the teaching of the 104th Psalm. For now that we have given up believing in superstitions, we are in danger of going to the other extreme, and believing in nothing at all which we cannot see with our eyes, and handle with our hands. Now that we have given up believing in the fabled supernatural; in ghosts, fairies, demons, witches, and such- like: we are in danger of giving up believing in the true and eternal supernatural, which is the Holy Spirit of God, by whom the whole creation is kept alive and sound. We are in danger of falling into a low, stupid, brutish view of this wonderful world of God in which we live; in danger of thinking of nature--that is, of the things which we can see and handle--only as something of which we can make use--till we fall as low as that poor ruffian, of whom the poet says:
A primrose on the river's brim A yellow primrose was to him, And it was nothing more.
Lower, that is, than even our own children, whom God has at least taught to admire and love the primroses for their beauty--as something precious and divine, quite independent of their own emotions about them. Men in these days are but too likely to fall into the humour of those poor savages, of whom one who knows them well said to me once--bitterly but truly--that when a savage sees anything new, however wonderful or beautiful, he has but two thoughts about it; first--Will it hurt me? and next--Can I eat it? And from that truly brutish view of God's world, we shall be delivered, I believe, only by taking in with our whole hearts the teaching of the 104th Psalm; which is indeed the teaching of all Holy Scripture throughout.
The Psalmist, in the passage which I have chosen, is talking of the circulation of water on the earth; how wisely and well it is ordered; how the vapours rise off the sea, till the waters stand above the mountain- tops, to be brought down in thunder-storms--for in his country, as in many hot ones, thunder was generally needed, at the end of the dry season, to bring down the rain; how it forms springs in the highland, and flows down from thence in brooks and rivers, making the whole lowland green and fertile. Well--all very true, you may say. But that is simply a matter of science, or indeed of common observation and common sense. It is not a subject for a psalm or for a sermon.
True: in the words in which I have purposely put it. But not in the words in which the Psalmist puts it; and which I purposely left out, to shew you just the difference between even the soundest science, and faith. He brings in another element, which is the true cause of the circulation of water; and that is, none other but Almighty God.
This is the way in which the inspired Psalmist puts it; and this is the truth of it all; this is the very kernel and marrow and life and soul of it all: while the facts which I told you just now are the mere shell and dead skeleton of it--"Thou sendest the springs into the rivers."
Thou art the Lord of the lightning and of the clouds, the Lord of the highlands and of the lowlands, and the Lord of the rainfall and of the drought, the Lord of good seasons and of bad, of rich harvests and of scanty. They, like all things, obey Thine everlasting laws; and of them, whatever may befal, poor purblind man can say in faith and hope--"It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good."
Yes. He was not of course a man of science, in the modern sense of the word, this old Psalmist. But this I know, that he was a man of science in the soundest and deepest sense; an inspired philosopher, as well as an inspired poet; and had the highest of all sciences, which is the science and knowledge of the living God. For he saw God in everything and everything in God.
But--he says--the trees of the Lord are full of sap; even the cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted. Why should he say that specially of the cedars? Did not God make all trees? Does He not plant all wild trees, and every flower and seed? My dear friends, happy are you if you believe that in spirit and in truth. But let me tell you that I think you would not have believed that, unless the Psalmist, and others who wrote the Holy Scriptures, had told you about trees of God, and rivers of God, and winds of God, and had taught you that the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof. You do not know--none of us can know--how much we owe to the Bible for just and rational, as well as orthodox and Christian, notions of the world around us. We, and--thank God--our forefathers for hundreds of years, have drunk in Bible thoughts, as it were, with our mother's milk; till much that we have really learnt from the Bible we take as a matter of course, as self-evident truths which we have found out for ourselves by common sense.
And yet, so far from that being the case, if it had not been for the Bible, we might be believing at this moment, that one god made one tree, and another another; that one tree was sacred to one god, and another flower to another goddess, as the old Greeks believed; and that the wheat and barley were the gift, and therefore the property, of some special deity; and be crying now in fear and trembling to the sun-god, or the rain-god, or some other deified power of nature, because we fancied that they were angry with us, and had therefore sent us too much rain and a short harvest.
It is difficult, now-a-days, to make even cultivated people understand the follies of those who, like the heathen round the Jews, worshipped many gods: and all the more because our modern folly runs in a different channel; because we are tempted, not to believe in many gods, but in no God at all; to believe not that one god made one thing and another another, but that all things have made themselves.
When Hiram, king of Tyre, sent down timber cut from the cedars of Lebanon, to build the temple of God for Solomon; his heathen workmen, probably, were angry and terrified at what they were doing. They said among themselves--"These cedars belong to Baal, or to Melkart, the gods of Tyre. Our king has no right to send them to build the temple of Jehovah, the God of the Jews. It is a robbery, and a sacrilege; and Baal will be angry with us; and curse us with drought and blight."
But now-a-days men say--"The cedars of Lebanon are not God's trees, nor are any other trees. They belong to nature." Now I believe in nature no more than I do in Baal. Nature is merely things--a great many things it is true, but only things--and when I add them all up together, and call them nature, as if they were one thing, I make an abstraction of them. There is no harm in that: but if I treat that abstraction as if it really existed, and did anything, then I make of it an idol, the which I have no mind to do. I believe, I say, in nature no more than I do in Baal. Both words were at first symbols; and both have become in due course of time mere idols. But those who worship nature and not God, say now--God did not make trees; they were made by the laws of nature and nothing else. Well: I believe that the so-called philosophers who say that, will be proved at last to be no more right, and no more rational, than those heathen workmen of Tyre. But meanwhile, what the Psalmist says, and what the Bible says, is--Those trees belong to God. He made them, He made all things; the sap--the mysterious life in them, by which each grows and seeds according to its kind--is His gift. Their growth is ordered by Him; and so are all things in earth and heaven.
Then why speak of them especially as trees of God? Because, my friends, we can only find out that something is true of many things, by finding out that it is true of one thing; and that we usually find out by some striking instance; some case about which there can be no mistake. And these cedars of Lebanon were, and are still, such a striking instance, which there was no mistaking. Upon the slopes of the great snow-mountain of Lebanon stood those gigantic cedar-trees--whole forests of them then--now only one or two small groups, but awful, travellers tell us, even in their decay. Whence did they come? There are no trees like them for hundreds, I had almost said for thousands, of miles. There are but two other patches of them left now on the whole earth, one in the Atlas, one in the Himalaya. The Jews certainly knew of no trees like them; and no trees either of their size. There were trees among them then, probably, two and three hundred feet in height; trees whose tops were as those minster towers; whose shafts were like yonder pillars; and their branches like yonder vaults. No king, however mighty, could have planted them up there upon the lofty mountain slopes. The Jew, when he entered beneath the awful darkness of these cedars; the cedars with a shadowy shroud--as the Scripture says--the cedars high and lifted up, whose tops were among the thick boughs, and their height exalted above all the trees of the field; fair in their greatness; their boughs multiplied, and their branches long--for it is in such words of awe and admiration that the Bible talks always of the cedars--then the Jew said, "God has planted these, and God alone." And when he thought, not merely of their grandeur and their beauty, but of their use; of their fragrant and incorruptible timber, fit to build the palaces of kings, and the temples of gods; he said--and what could he say better?--"These are trees of God;" wonderful and glorious works of a wonderful and a glorious Creator. If he had not, he would have had less reason in him, and less knowledge of God, than the Hindoos of old; who when they saw the other variety of the cedar growing, in like grandeur, on the slopes of the Himalaya, called them the Deodara--which means, in the old Sanscrit tongue, neither more nor less than "the timber of God," "the lance of God"--and what better could they have said?
My friends, I speak on this matter from the fulness of my heart. It has happened to me--through the bounty of God, for which I shall be ever grateful--to have spent days in primeval forests, as grand, and far stranger and far richer than that of Lebanon and its cedars; amid trees beside which the hugest tree in Britain would be but as a sapling; gorgeous too with flowers, rich with fruits, timbers, precious gums, and all the yet unknown wealth of a tropic wilderness. And as I looked up, awestruck and bewildered, at those minsters not made by hands, I found the words of Scripture rising again and again unawares to my lips, and said--Yes: the Bible words are the best words, the only words for such a sight as this. These too are trees of God which are full of sap. These, too, are trees, which God, not man, has planted. Mind, I do not say that I should have said so, if I had not learnt to say so from the Bible. Without the Bible I should have been, I presume, either an idolater or an atheist. And mind, also, that I do not say that the Psalmist learnt to call the cedars trees of God by his own unassisted reason. I believe the very opposite. I believe that no man can see the truth of a thing unless God shews it him; that no man can find out God, in earth or heaven, unless God condescends to reveal Himself to that man. But I believe that God did reveal Himself to the Psalmist; did enlighten his reason by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit; did teach him, as we teach a child, what to call those cedars; and, as it were, whispered to him, though with no audible voice: "Thou wishest to know what name is most worthy whereby to call those mighty trees: then call them trees of God. Know that there is but one God, of whom are all things; and that they are His trees; and that He planted them, to shew forth His wisdom, His power, and His good will to man."
And do you fancy that because the Jew called the great cedars trees of God, that therefore he thought that the lentiscs and oleanders, by the brook outside, were not God's shrubs; or the lilies and anemones upon the down below were not God's flowers? Some folk have fancied so.--It seems to me most unreasonably. I should have thought that here the rule stood true; that that which is greater contains the less; that if the Psalmist knew God to be mighty enough to make and plant the cedars, he would think Him also mighty enough to make and plant the smallest flower at his feet. I think so. For I know it was so with me. My feeling that those enormous trees over my head were God's trees, did not take away in the least from my feeling of God's wisdom and power in the tiniest herb at their feet. Nay rather, it increased my feeling that God was filling all things with life and beauty; till the whole forest,--if I may so speak in all humility, but in all honesty--from the highest to the lowest, from the hugest to the smallest, and every leaf and bud therein, seemed full of the glory of God. And if I could feel that,--being the thing I am--how much more must the inspired Psalmist have felt it? You see by this very psalm that he did feel it. The grass for the use of cattle, and the green herb for men, and the corn and the wine and the oil, he says, are just as much God's making, and God's gift. The earth is "filled," he says, "with the fruit of God's works." Filled: not dotted over here and there with a few grand and wonderful things which God cares for, while He cares for nothing else: but filled. Let us take the words of Scripture honestly in their whole strength; and believe that if the Psalmist saw God's work in the great cedars, he saw it everywhere else likewise.
Nay, more: I will say this. That I believe it was such teaching as that of this very 104th Psalm--teaching which runs, my friends, throughout the Old Testament, especially through the Psalmists and the Prophets--which enabled the Jews to understand our Lord's homely parables about the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. Those of them at least who were Israelites indeed; those who did understand, and had treasured up in their hearts, the old revelation of Moses, and the Psalmists, and the Prophets; those who did still believe that the cedars were the trees of God, and that God brought forth grass for the cattle, and green herb for the service of men; and who could see God's hand, God's laws, God's love, working in them--those men and women, be sure, were the very ones who understood our Lord, when He said, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not compared unto one of these."
And why should it not be so with you, townsfolk though you are? Every Londoner has now, in the public parks and gardens, the privilege of looking on plants and flowers, more rich, more curious, more varied than meet the eye of any average countryman. Then when you next avail yourselves of that real boon of our modern civilization, let me beg you not to forget the lesson which I have been trying to teach you.
You may feel--you ought to feel--that those strange and stately semitropic forms are indeed plants of God; the work of a creative Spirit who delights to employ His Almighty power in producing ever fresh shapes of beauty--seemingly unnecessary, seemingly superfluous, seemingly created for the sake of their beauty alone--in order that the Lord may delight Himself in His works. Let that sight make you admire and reverence more, not less, the meanest weed beneath your feet. Remember that the very weeds in your own garden are actually more highly organized; have cost--if I may so say, with all reverence, but I can only speak of the infinite in clumsy terms of the finite--the Creator more thought, more pains, than the giant cedars of Lebanon, and the giant cypresses of California. Remember that the smallest moss or lichen which clings upon the wall, is full of wonders and beauties, as inexplicable as unexpected; and that of every flower on your own window-sill the words of Christ stand literally true--that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these: and bow your hearts and souls before the magnificent prodigality, the exquisite perfection of His work, who can be, as often as He will, greatest in that which is least, because to His infinity nothing is great, and nothing small; who hath created all things, and for His pleasure they are, and were created; who rejoices for ever in His own works, because He beholds for ever all that He makes, and it is very good.
And then refresh your hearts as well as your brains--tired it may be, too often, with the drudgery of some mechanical, or merely calculating, occupation--refresh your hearts, I say, by lifting them up unto the Lord, in truly spiritual, truly heavenly thoughts; which bring nobleness, and trust, and peace, to the humblest and the most hardworked man.
For you can say in your hearts--All the things which I see, are God's things. They are thoughts of God. God gives them law, and life, and use. My heavenly Father made them. My Saviour redeemed them with His most precious blood, and rules and orders them for ever. The Holy Spirit of God, which was given me at my baptism, gives them life and power to grow and breed after their kinds. The divine, miraculous, and supernatural power of God Himself is working on them, and for them, perpetually: and how much more on me, and for me, and all my children, and fellow-creatures for whom Christ died. Without my Father in heaven not a sparrow falls to the ground: and am I not of more value than many sparrows? God feeds the birds: and will He not feed me? God clothes the lilies of the field: and will He not clothe me? Ah, me of little faith, who forget daily that in God I live, and move, and have my being, and am, in spite of all my sins, the child of God. Him I can trust in prosperous times, and in disastrous times; in good harvests and in bad harvests; in life and in death, in time and in eternity. For He has given all things a law which cannot be broken. And they continue this day as at the beginning, serving Him. And if I serve Him likewise, then shall I be in harmony with God, and with God's laws, and with God's creatures, great and small. The whole powers of nature as well as of spirit will be arrayed on my side in the struggle for existence; and all things will work together for good to those who love God.
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