David had just spoken of his fear, joy, hatred, and love. He now expresses his love in praise. And indeed it is the mixture of praise with prayer, that makes this Psalm so complete an exhibition of Christian experience. Early and late, and habitually throughout the day, have we seen this man of God "give himself to prayer." But his "spirit of supplication," in strict conformity with the Apostolic rule, was ever mingled "with thanksgiving." Indeed, self-love—the sense of want—may prompt us to pray. But love to God is the spirit of praise. The neglect, therefore, of this service is robbing God, no less than ourselves. Not that He needs it, but that He deserves and desires it. Not that it brings any merit to us, but that it strengthens our dependence, and elevates our love. If then we feel it to be "good, lovely, and pleasant," it will be as needless to define its frequency, as to prescribe the limit of our service to a beloved friend, to whom our obligations were daily increasing. The casuistry of love would answer all the entangling scruples of a bondage system. We should aim at living in praise, as the element of our souls, the atmosphere of our enjoyment, our reward more than our duty—that which identifies our interest with heaven, and forms our fitness for it.
Young Christians indeed sometimes unwarily bring themselves into "bondage," in forcing their consciences to a frequency of set times for duty, interfering with present obligations, or pressing unduly upon the weakness of the flesh. Our rule of service, though not measured by our indolence, yet should be accommodated to those legitimate daily engagements, which, when "done as to the Lord," form as real and necessary a part of our religion, as the more spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise. To observe any particular time (beyond the Sabbath, and the "morning and evening sacrifice") because it is the time—however wearied our spirits may be, or however immediate obligations may interfere—is to forget the weighty instruction of one well qualified to speak, "Bodily exercise profits little." Rather let us "go, and learn what that means—I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Growth in grace will, however, gradually mold our profession into habitual communion with God. As our views become more solid and settled, each duty of the day will find its proper place, our services will become more free, and our obedience more evangelical.
But the formalist considers seven times a-day—to be an infringement of the sacred canon, "Be not righteous overmuch." He pays his customary service twice a-day; he says his prayers and his praises too; and his conscience slumbers again. And alas! there are times of slumber, when we little differ from him. Oh! let us be alarmed at every symptom of such a state, and "find no rest to our spirit," until we have regained, some measure of this frame of hearty and overflowing praise. If there be a heavenly nature, there must be a heavenly work. Tongue and heart should be set on fire by love. Thus we will go to our work, whatever it may be, and sing at it.
But the Christian sometimes feels, that he has no heart, and—he almost fears—no right to praise. Having no sensible token of love to call him forth, his harp "hangs upon the willows;" nor does he care to take it down, even to "sing one of the Lord's songs in this strange land." But how many have found with Bunyan—'When I believe and sing, my doubting ceases!' "Meat comes out of the eater,"—cheering rays out of the darkest cloud. Endeavor therefore to bring to mind some spiritual, or even temporal, mercies. Or, if recollection fails you, open your Bible; turn to some subject of praise, such as the song of the Angels at the birth of our Savior, or the song of the Redeemed to the honor of the Lamb. Have you no part or interest in it? Do you not need the Savior? Can you be happy without Him? Then inquire, and feel, and try, whether you cannot give "thanks unto God for His unspeakable gift." Perhaps, your notes may rise into praise, and in the excitement of praise, prayer will again mingle itself with its customary enjoyment. It is your sinful folly to yield to that continual depression, which unfits you for the exercise of your duties and your privileges. How fully do our Liturgical services elevate and sustain the ascent of the soul heavenward! Language better adapted for strengthening its feeble aspiration will not readily be found; consecrated as it is in the remembrance of its acceptable use by a throng of the Lord's favored people during successive generations, now united to the general assembly above, and worshiping with everlasting acceptance "before the throne of God and the Lamb."
The Lord's righteous judgments in His word are a constant matter for praise. Such light, food, and comfort! Such a stronghold of God! Such a firm hope to anchor on! Such a clear rule to walk by! Truly the distinguishing favor of this gracious gift stirs up the song, "Praise the Lord." Add to which—the righteous judgments—His decrees and declarations respecting His Church—occupied the Psalmist's "midnight," as well as his daily, song. "O Lord, You are my God"—said the enraptured prophet in the name of the Church, "I will exalt You, I will praise Your name; for You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth." Inscrutable indeed they may sometimes appear; and opposed to our best prospects of happiness; yet the language of faith in the darkest hour will be, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." But neither seven times a-day, nor "seventy times seven," will satisfy us in heaven. Then our song—even "the song of Moses and the Lamb"—will still be "the Lord's righteous judgments;" and for this ever "new song" the harps of God will never be unstrung, and never out of tune, throughout an eternity of praise. But a moment, and we shall be engaged in this heavenly employ—no reluctancy of the spirit—no weariness of the flesh. Every moment is hastening on this near, this cheering, this overwhelming glorious—prospect. Blessed be God!
He labored perfectly to praise his perfect God, and therefore fulfilled the perfect number of songs—that number being seven. He reached a Sabbath in his praise, and before he rested on his bed he found sweet rest in the joyful adoration of Jehovah. Seven may also intend notable frequency. Frequently he lifted up his heart in thanksgiving to God for his divine teachings in the word, and for his divine actions in providence. With his voice he extolled the righteousness of the Judge of all the earth. As often as he thought of God's ways a song leaped to his lips. At the sight of the oppressive princes, and at the hearing of the abounding falsehood around him, he felt all the more bound to adore and magnify God, who in all things is truth and righteousness. When others slander us, or in any other way rob us of our just meed of praise, it should be a warning to us not to fall into the same conduct towards our God, who is so much more worthy of honor. If we praise God when we are persecuted, our music will be all the sweeter to him because of our constancy in suffering. If we keep clear of all lying, our song will be the more acceptable because it comes out of honest lips. If we never flatter men, we shall be in the better condition for honoring the Lord. Do we praise God seven times a day? Alas! the question needs altering—Do we praise him once in seven days? O shameful fraud, which deprives the Ever Blessed of the music of this lower sphere!
The pre-eminent holiness of Jehovah's laws and acts should bring forth from us continued praise. Happy are holy men to be ruled by a righteous governor who never errs! Each lover of righteousness will say in his heart—
"Just are your laws; I daily raise
The sevenfold tribute of my praise."