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PSALMS AND LESSONS.
PSALM cl. 6.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord.
THE first part of the Morning Service, we have seen, is a service of contrition and humiliation, in which we humble ourselves before God, confessing our many sins against him, entreating his pardon for the past, and beseeching him for the sake of Jesus Christ to help us to live better lives in future. Its key-note, as I have already said, is penitence. In the sentences at the beginning we are required to repent. In the Exhortation you are told to confess your sins with a humble, penitent heart. In the Confession we pray God to spare those who confess, and to restore them that are
penitent. Lastly, in the Absolution forgiveness of sins is declared to all christian people who are truly penitent. The second part of the Morning Service on the other hand, the Psalms and Lessons, is a service of praise and instruction. Its purpose is to teach the people what they should believe and do, and to enable them to join the minister in praising God for all his mercies. Its key-note is praise. It begins with a short prayer on the part of the minister, that God will open our lips, our lips, so that we may be able to praise him; and this is followed by a promise on the part of the people, that, if their lips are thus opened, they will shew forth his praise. When we confess our sins, we are to fall on our knees as though we were sinking under the burthen of them but now the nobleness of the subject lifts us up, and we rise to give glory to the eternal Trinity, through all time, past, present, and to come. Hereupon the minister exhorts the people to praise the Lord, and the people reply, "The Lord's name be praised." And praised the Lord is through this whole part of the service, in many various ways, by our praising him, by our giving thanks to him, by our glorifying him, by our telling out his works with gladness, by our setting forth the wonders of his providence, and the still greater wonders of his grace.
In the first place the minister and the people stir up one another, as the Jews did of old, by the 95th Psalm, to lift up their voices in the praise of the Lord, and to shew forth their joy "in the strength of their salvation." And who is that? Who can it be but Christ? Christ is our Saviour and our strength: through him we are forgiven and made whole. Therefore, as the lame man, spoken of in the Acts, who had been lying asking alms at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, when his ancle-bones had received strength through the name of Jesus, stood up and praised God, so do we, when we are raised up from our knees, on which we have been craving the alms of God's forgiveness, stand and praise Jesus, the strength of our salvation, in acknowledgement that through him alone can we resist the temptations of the devil in this world, or his malicious accusations at the last day. We are to praise him, and to come before his presence with thanksgiving. The presence of Jehovah among the Jews dwelt between the cherubim in the Temple. The same presence, though invisible, still dwells in Christ's church. For so our Lord expressly promised (Matt. xviii. 20): “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Does any one wish to be in the presence of Christ? Let him come to church. Only when we are here, let
us be duly grateful to God for his great lovingkindness in deigning to dwell amongst us, and to hearken to our praises and prayers. "Let us
come before his presence with thanksgiving, and shew ourselves glad in him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hands are all the corners of the earth; and the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands prepared the dry land." Here is the reason for our thanksgiving and rejoicing. Our God is not like the idol gods of the heathens, who have eyes, yet see not, and ears, yet hear not, and in whose nostrils there is no breath. These are all false gods, gods of man's making: but our Lord is the true God, the great God, the only God, the God who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in heaven, and all that is in the earth, and all that is in the sea and all these things are still in his hand: as his breath in the beginning called them into being, so but for his upholding word they would crumble away into nothingness.
But it is not enough to praise God, and to rejoice in him; we must also worship and fall down and kneel before him. For "he is the Lord our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." He is our God, not merely as he is the God of all the rest of the world, but in a
more especial manner: for he has graciously entered into a covenant with us, that he should be our God, and that we should be his people. Nor are we his people only, but his sheep; a beautiful image to shew how he watches over us and tends us. We are Christ's flock: he has purchased us with his blood; he feeds us with his word; he refreshes us with his Holy Spirit in the fair and pleasant pastures of godliness. Thus the prophet Isaiah foretold of him, (xl. 11), " that he should feed his flock like a shepherd, and should gather the lambs with his arm, and should carry them in his bosom, and should gently lead those that were with young." This leading and gathering with his arm, this carrying the young in his bosom, this gentle leading of the feeble, this constant succour and support which our Lord affords to his people, to each according to his need, is exprest in the declaration that we are the sheep of his hand.
Hitherto all in this Psalm has been gladness and thankful rejoicing. But God knows how apt unmixt joy is to get into men's heads: he knows how ready we all are to feed ourselves with hopes, and to take the promises of the Bible to ourselves, without considering whether they belong to us. Yet we have no share in them, so long as we continue in sin. Therefore, at the end of the Psalm,