Here, I. The duty of praise is recommended to us. It is not without reason that we are thus called to it again and again: Praise you the Lord (Ps. 147:1), and again (Ps. 147:7), Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving, sing praise upon the harp to our God (let all our praises be directed to him and centre in him), for it is good to do so; it is our duty, and therefore good in itself; it is our interest, and therefore good for us. It is acceptable to our Creator and it answers the end of our creation. The law for it is holy, just, and good; the practice of it will turn to a good account. It is good, for 1. It is pleasant. Holy joy or delight are required as the principle of it, and that is pleasant to us as men; giving glory to God is the design and business of it, and that is pleasant to us as saints that are devoted to his honour. Praising God is work that is its own wages; it is heaven upon earth; it is what we should be in as in our element. 2. It is comely; it is that which becomes us as reasonable creatures, much more as people in covenant with God. In giving honour to God we really do ourselves a great deal of honour.
II. God is recommended to us as the proper object of our most exalted and enlarged praises, upon several accounts.
1. The care he takes of his chosen people, Ps. 147:2. Isa. Jerusalem to be raised out of small beginnings? Isa. it to be recovered out of its ruins? In both cases, The Lord builds up Jerusalem. The gospel-church, the Jerusalem that is from above, is of this building. He framed the model of it in his own counsels; he founded it by the preaching of his gospel; he adds to it daily such as shall be saved, and so increases it. He will build it up unto perfection, build it up as high as heaven. Are any of his people outcasts? Have they made themselves so by their own folly? He gathers them by giving them repentance and bringing them again into the communion of saints. Have they been forced out by war, famine, or persecution? He opens a door for their return; many that were missing, and thought to be lost, are brought back, and those that were scattered in the cloudy and dark day are gathered together again.
2. The comforts he has laid up for true penitents, Ps. 147:3. They are broken in heart, and wounded, humbled, and troubled, for sin, inwardly pained at the remembrance of it, as a man is that is sorely wounded. Their very hearts are not only pricked, but rent, under the sense of the dishonour they have done to God and the injury they have done to themselves by sin. To those whom God heals with the consolations of his Spirit he speaks peace, assures them that their sins are pardoned and that he is reconciled to them, and so makes them easy, pours the balm of Gilead into the bleeding wounds, and then binds them up, and makes them to rejoice. Those who have had experience of this need not be called upon to praise the Lord; for when he brought them out of the horrible pit, and set their feet upon a rock, he put a new song into their mouths, Ps. 40:2, 3. And for this let others praise him also.
3. The sovereign dominion he has over the lights of heaven, Ps. 147:4, 5. The stars are innumerable, many of them being scarcely discernible with the naked eye, and yet he counts them, and knows the exact number of them, for they are all the work of his hands and the instruments of his providence. Their bulk and power are very great; but he calleth them all by their names, which shows his dominion over them and the command he has them at, to make what use of them he pleases. They are his servants, his soldiers; he musters them, he marshals them; they come and go at his bidding, and all their motions are under his direction. He mentions this as one instance of many, to show that great is our Lord and of great power (he can do what he pleases), and of his understanding there is no computation, so that he can contrive every thing for the best. Man’s knowledge is soon drained, and you have his utmost length; hitherto his wisdom can reach and no further. But God’s knowledge is a depth that can never be fathomed.
4. The pleasure he takes in humbling the proud and exalting those of low degree (Ps. 147:6): The Lord lifts up the meek, who abase themselves before him, and whom men trample on; but the wicked, who conduct themselves insolently towards God and scornfully towards all mankind, who lift up themselves in pride and folly, he casteth down to the ground, sometimes by very humbling providences in this world, at furthest in the day when their faces shall be filled with everlasting shame. God proves himself to be God by looking on the proud and abasing them, Job 40:12.
5. The provision he makes for the inferior creatures. Though he is so great as to command the stars, he is so good as not to forget even the fowls, Ps. 147:8, 9. Observe in what method he feeds man and beast. (1.) He covereth the heaven with clouds, which darken the air and intercept the beams of the sun, and yet in them he prepareth that rain for the earth which is necessary to its fruitfulness. Clouds look melancholy, and yet without them we could have no rain and consequently no fruit. Thus afflictions, for the present, look black, and dark, and unpleasant, and we are in heaviness because of them, as sometimes when the sky is overcast it makes us dull; but they are necessary, for from these clouds of affliction come those showers that make the harvest to yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness (Heb. 12:11), which should help to reconcile us to them. Observe the necessary dependence which the earth has upon the heavens, which directs us on earth to depend on God in heaven. All the rain with which the earth is watered is of God’s preparing. (2.) By the rain which distils on the earth he makes grass to grow upon the mountains, even the high mountains, which man neither takes care of nor reaps the benefit of. The mountains, which are not watered with the springs and rivers, as the valleys are, are yet watered so that they are not barren. (3.) This grass he gives to the beast for his food, the beast of the mountains which runs wild, which man makes no provision for. And even the young ravens, which, being forsaken by their old ones, cry, are heard by him, and ways are found to feed them, so that they are kept from perishing in the nest.
6. The complacency he takes in his people, Ps. 147:10, 11. In times when great things are doing, and there are great expectations of the success of them, it concerns us to know (since the issue proceeds from the Lord) whom, and what, God will delight to honour and crown with victory. It is not the strength of armies, but the strength of grace, that God is pleased to own. (1.) Not the strength of armies—not in the cavalry, for he delighteth not in the strength of the horse, the war-horse, noted for his courage (Job 39:19)--nor in the infantry, for he taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man; he does not mean the swiftness of them for flight, to quit the field, but the steadiness of them for charging, to stand the ground. If one king, making war with another king, goes to God to pray for success, it will not avail him to plead, “Lord, I have a gallant army, the horse and foot in good order; it is a pity that they should suffer any disgrace;” for that is no argument with God, Ps. 20:7. Jehoshaphat’s was much better: Lord, we have no might, 2 Chron. 20:12. But, (2.) God is pleased to own the strength of grace. A serious and suitable regard to God is that which is, in the sight of God, of great price in such a case. The Lord accepts and takes pleasure in those that fear him and that hope in his mercy. Observe, [1.] A holy fear of God and hope in God not only may consist, but must concur. In the same heart, at the same time, there must be both a reverence of his majesty and a complacency in his goodness, both a believing dread of his wrath and a believing expectation of his favour; not that we must hang in suspense between hope and fear, but we must act under the gracious influences of hope and fear. Our fear must save our hope from swelling into presumption, and our hope must save our fear from sinking into despair; thus must we take our work before us. [2.] We must hope in God’s mercy, his general mercy, even when we cannot find a particular promise to stay ourselves upon. A humble confidence in the goodness of God’s nature is very pleasing to him, as that which turns to the glory of that attribute in which he most glories. Every man of honour loves to be trusted.