O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger.
It is needless to look for a historical occasion of the Psalm; but to an oar that knows the tones of sorrow, or to a heart that has itself uttered them, the supposition that in these pathetic cries we hear only a representative Israelite bewailing the national ruin sounds singularly artificial. If ever the throb of personal anguish found tears and a Voice, it does so in this Psalm. Whoever wrote it wrote with his blood. There are in it no obvious references to events in the recorded life of David, and hence the ascription of it to him must rest on something else than the interpretation of the Psalm. The worth of this little plaintive cry depends on quite other considerations than the discovery of the name of the singer, or the nature of his sorrow. It is a transcript of a perennial experience, a guide fern road which all feet have to travel. Its stream runs turbid and broken at first, but calms and clears as it flows. It has four curves or windings, which can scarcely be called strophes without making too artificial a framework for such a simple and spontaneous gush of feeling.
The strains of this Psalm are two — vers. 1-7, the petition to God for himself; and vers. 8-10, an insultation over his enemies.
I. THE PETITION.
1. A deprecation of evil. He prays God to avert His wrath.
2. A petition of good. He entreats to be partaker of God's favour, both to his body and to his soul. The petition he enforceth upon divers and weighty reasons: from the quantity and degrees of his calamity; from the continuance of it; from the consequences that were like to follow. That he was brought to death's door is seen by three symptoms, sighs and groans, tears, eyes melted away. Moreover, he had many ill-willers.
II. THE INSULTATION. At last, receiving joy and comfort from his penitential tears, he begins to look up, and from his complaint he turns upon his enemies, who gaped after his death, and over them he insults (an old word for "he glories"). He rejects these reprobates from him with scorn and indignation. He assigns the cause in effect, because God had been moved by his prayer to reject them. Then follows his imprecation; made up of three ingredients, which he prays may light on them — shame and confusion, vexation, eversion. These two last he aggravates by the weight and speed. He desires that their vexation should be nor easy, nor mild, but very sore; and that their shame and overthrow linger not, but be present, hasty, and sudden.
Though God will be no example of upbraiding or reproaching repented sins, when God hath so far expressed His love as to bring that sinner to that repentance, and so to mercy, yet, that He may perfect His own care, He exercises that repentant sinner with such medicinal corrections as may enable him to stand upright for the future.
I. THE PERSON UPON WHOM DAVID TURNED FOR SUCCOUR. His first access is to God only. It is to God by name, not to any universal God. That name in which he comes to Him here is the name Jehovah, His radical, fundamental, primary, essential name.
II. FOR WHAT HE SUPPLICATES. His prayer is but deprecatory; he does but pray that God would forbear him. He pretends no error, he enterprises no reversing of judgment; at first he dares not sue for pardon, he only desires a reprieve, a respite of execution, and that not absolutely either; but he would not be executed in hot blood, not in God's anger, not in His hot displeasure. To be rebuked was but to be chidden, to be chastened, to be beaten; and yet David was heartily afraid of the first, of the least of them, when it was done to him in anger. "Rebuke" here means reprove, convince by way of argument and disputation. What David deprecates is not the disputing, impleading, correcting, but that anger which might change the nature of all and make the physic poison. When there was no anger in the case David was a forward scholar to hearken to God's reasoning. Both these words "chasten" and "hot displeasure" are words of a heavy, vehement significance. David foresees that if God rebuke in anger it will come to chastening in hot displeasure.
In our afflictions we must look to God, and not to secondary causes.
2. To go to God for help in our distresses. When, then, we are wounded, we must go to one who can cure us, even Him who hath heaved us up, and cast us down again, and will again raise us up.
3. Prayer is our wings to fly to God in our affliction.
4. Means by which God brings us to obedience.
(2)His rod. If we refuse to be ruled by God's Word, then God will not fail to correct us with His rod.
As I deserve it for my sin, so I need it for my amendment, for without rebuking what amending? — what amending, indeed, without Thy rebuking? for, alas! the flesh flatters me, the world abuseth me, Satan deludes me; and now, O God, if Thou also shouldst hold Thy peace and wink at my follies, whom should I have — alas I whom could I have — to make me sensible of their foulness? If Thou shouldst not tell me, and tell me roundly, I went astray, how should I ever — alas I how could I ever — be brought to return into the right way? To Thy rebuking, therefore, I humbly submit myself. I know Thou intendest it for my amendment, and not for my confusion; for my conversion, and not for my subversion. It may be bitter in the tasting, but is most comfortable in the working; hard, perhaps, to digest, but most sovereign being digested. Yet I cannot endure Thou shouldst rebuke me in anger; I cannot endure it in affection, but I can less endure it in ability. When I consider with myself the many favours — undeserved favours — Thou hast vouchsafed unto me, and consider withal how little use, how ill use I have made of them all, though I know I have justly deserved Thy rebuking, yet my hope is still Thou wilt add this favour also, not to rebuke me in Thine anger.
If Thy chastening be intended for reforming or for polishing, what wouldst Thou do with indignation, that tends to abolishing?
Thy rebuking, O God, is to me as thunder, but Thine anger is as lightning; and is it not enough that Thou terrify my soul with the thunder of Thy rebuking, but Thou wilt also set this flax of my flesh on fire with the lightning of Thine anger? Thy rebuking of itself is a precious balm, but mixed with anger turns to a corrosive.
A certain king, being once very sad, his brother asked what ailed him. "Oh, brother," he said, "I have been a great sinner, and am afraid to die and appear before God in judgment." His brother only laughed at him for his melancholy thoughts. The king said nothing, but in the dead of night sent the executioner to sound his trumpet before his brother's door, that being the signal for a man to be led out to execution. Pale and trembling, his brother came in haste to the king and asked to know his crime. "Oh, brother," said the king, "you have never offended against me; but if the sight of the executioner be so dreadful, shall not I, who have grievously offended God, fear to be brought before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ?"
There was a boy at Norfolk Island who had been brought from one of the rougher and wilder islands, and was consequently rebellious and difficult to manage. One day Mr. Selwyn spoke to him about something he had refused to do, and the lad, flying into a passion, struck him in the face. This was an unheard of thing for a Melanesian to do. Mr. Selwyn, not trusting himself to speak, turned on his heel and walked away. The boy was punished for the offence; and, being still unsatisfactory, was sent back to his own island without being baptized, and there relapsed into heathen ways. Many years afterwards Mr. Bice, the missionary who worked on that island, was sent for to a sick person who wanted him. He found this very man in a dying state, and begging to be baptized. He told Mr. Bice how often he thought of the teaching on Norfolk Island; and when the latter asked him by what name he should baptize him, he said, "Call me John Selwyn, because he taught me what Christ was like that day when I struck him; and I saw the colour mount in his face, but he never said a word except of love afterwards." Mr. Bice then baptized him, and he died soon after.
David deprecates not God's rebukes or corrections, but that He would not rebuke him in His anger. It is tree there is a great similitude between a curse and a cross, and oftentimes God's children have been deceived thereby, and through His hard handling of them have judged Him to have become their enemy; but indeed there is a great difference. And to the end ye may know whether they come from the hands of a loving God or no, consider these marks and tokens.
1. If they lead thee to a consideration of thy sin, which is the ground and cause of them, so that thou lookest not to the instrumental or second cause, but to thyself, the cause of all, they come from the hand of a loving God.
2. If they make thee leave off to sin and reject it, they come from a loving God.
3. If under thy cross thou run unto God, whom thou hast pierced, that He may deliver thee, and not say with that godless King Jehoram, Why should I attend any more upon the Lord? they come from a loving God.
4. The Cross worketh in the godly a wonderful humility and patience, so that they submit themselves under the hand of the living God, that they under it may be tamed, and from lions be made lambs. The wicked either howl (as do dogs that are beaten) through sense of their present stroke, or if they be humbled and seem patient, it is perforce as a lion which is caged and cannot stir.
But alas, those persons did not consider the difference betwixt the qualities that are in our sinful nature, and the essential properties which are in God; for He is angry and sins not. His anger is as pure as His mercy, for His justice is His anger, but our anger is mixed with sin, and therefore evil.
God will be angry at nothing in His creatures, but only sin, which bringeth man to destruction; for as if a father saw a serpent in his child's bosom, he would hate the serpent notwithstanding his love to the boy: so we are God's children, He loves that which He made of us, our body and soul, and hates that which the devil hath put in us, our sin.
Neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.
There are two knowledges of God; the one is the absolute, the other is the relative. The former comprehends God as He is, embraces the Infinite; the other comprehends only glances of Him, as He appears to the mind of the observer. There is but one being in the universe who has the former knowledge, and that is Christ. "No man hath seen God at any time; the Only Begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared Him." David's idea of God here was relative. He represents the Eternal as He appeared to him in the particular state of mind which he experienced. We make two remarks on his idea of God's "hot displeasure."
I. IT WAS GENERATED IN A GUILTY CONSCIENCE BY GREAT SUFFERING. The writer of this Psalm was involved in the greatest distress both in body and in mind.
1. That he was conscious of having wronged his Maker. His conscience robes infinite love with vengeance.
2. He was conscious of having deserved God's displeasure. He felt that the sufferings he was enduring were penal inflictions, and he justly deserved them. Had his conscience been appeased by atoning love, the very sufferings he was enduring would have led him to regard the great God as a loving Father disciplining him for a higher life, and not as a wrathful God visiting him in His hot displeasure. God is to you according to your moral state.
II. IT WAS REMOVED FROM HIS GUILTY CONSCIENCE BY EARNEST PRAYER. His prayer for mercy is intensely importunate. "O Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger," etc. "Have mercy upon me, O Lord." "O Lord, heal me." "O Lord, deliver soul," etc. What is the result of his prayer? "Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity, for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping," etc. True prayer does two things.
1. Modifies for the better the mind of the suppliant. It tends to quicken, to calm, to elevate the soul.
2. Secures the necessary assistance of the God of love. One great truth that comes up from the whole of these remarks is that man's destiny depends upon his moral state, and that no system can effectually help him, that does not bring his heart into a right relation with God. So long as God appears to him burning with hot displeasure he must be in an agony like that which the Psalmist here describes. The mission of Christianity is to bring men into this happy relation.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak.
There is a very immediate connection between soul sickness and bodily ailments. The material affects the mental, and presently the mental affects the soul. When David was weak in body he became more than ever conscious of his sinful condition before God. And the enemy took advantage of his weakness and oppressed him when his heart was sore sick. The saint's extremity becomes the devil's opportunity to annoy and to distress him. But he was by no means forsaken of his God.
I. THE COMPLAINT — Soul weakness. It is not a disease exactly, and yet there are points about it which make it very much like a disease. Many persons cannot say they are ill, but there is a lack of physical force, a lack of stamina. They are the weaklings of the flock; and it is so in Christian experience. There are Christians lacking that power which makes a man act like a man, and speak like a man, and think with vigour and purpose, Next to listlessness, there is with these invalids a sort of fretfulness. Everything — even the grasshopper — becomes a burden to them. Then there comes to these poor sick souls a sort of fearfulness, their nervous force has gone. These people are very retiring in disposition — nervous, and bashful, and hesitating, very timid and timorous. What are the causes of this spiritual disease? Some are born frail. But the weakness is often due to the disease of harbouring unkind thoughts about anybody. An unhealthy climate is often the reason, physically speaking, for weakness of health. Weakness may be due to unwholesomeness of food.
II. THE PRESCRIPTION. "Have mercy upon me, O Lord." God's mercy must be the antidote for my misery. This is the only remedy for spiritual weakness. If I go to the physician and complain of weakness he will probably give me some medicine which may not be very palatable. Well, then, take the medicine.
To fly and escape the anger of God, he sees no means in heaven or in earth, and therefore he retires himself to God, even to Him who wounded him, that He might heal him. He flies not with Adam to the bush, nor with Saul to the witch, nor with Jonas to Tarshish, but he appeals from an angry and just God to a merciful God. Next, observe what David craves — mercy; whereby we may perceive that he was brought to a consideration of his own misery, or else he needed not to have asked for mercy. Then it is necessary, that to the end we may more effectually crave pardon, every one of us first have a sense and feeling of our own sin and misery. Moreover, see that David doth not present his merits, whereby to redeem the filthiness of his sins, neither yet prayers, praises, almsdeeds, victory over God's foes, wherein he was frequent, but he leaveth them all as a broken reed, to the which he could not well lean in the day of his spiritual temptation, and hath his only refuge in God's mercy. The merits of men (alas!) what are they? The best works we do are so full of imperfections that there is more dross than gold in them. What man would be content for good gold to receive such coin as is nearby altogether dross? And think ye God for His perfect law, which He gave us to observe and do, will receive our imperfect works? David, under the name of mercy, includeth all things, according to that of Jacob to his brother Esau, "I have gotten mercy, and therefore I have gotten all things." Desirest thou anything at God's hands? Cry for mercy, out of which fountain all good things will spring to thee. The blind men, seeking their sight, cried, "Have mercy upon us, Thou Son of David." The Canaanite, who had her daughter possessed, cried, "Have mercy upon me." If ye have purchased the King's pardon, then ye may enjoy the privileges of His kingdom; if ye have mercy, ye have all that God can give you, ye have title to Christ, to heaven, to all the creatures, ye are freed and delivered from the prison of hell.
But is this not a weak plea, to allege weakness for a plea? weak indeed with men who commonly tread hardest upon the weakest, and are ever going over where the hedge is lowest; but no weak plea with God, whose mercy is ever ready upon all occasions, and then most when there is most need; and seeing there is greatest need where there is greatest weakness, therefore no plea with God so strong as this, Have mercy upon me, O God, for I am weak. But why should David pray for mercy to help his weakness? for what can mercy do? Mercy can but pity his weakness; it is strength that must relieve it. But is it not that mercy, I may say; is as the steward of God's house, and hath the command of all He hath; that if wisdom be wanting for direction, mercy can procure it; if justice be wanting for defence, mercy can obtain it; if strength be wanting for support, mercy can command it; and therefore no plea so perfect to be urged with God as this, Have mercy upon me, O God, for I am weak? But why should David make his weakness a motive to God for mercy? for is not weakness an effect of sin? and can God love the effect when He hates the cause? But it is not the weakness in David that God loves, but the acknowledging of his weakness; for what is this but the true humility? and who knows not in how high account such humility is with God, seeing it is indeed of this wonderful condition, that though nothing be so low, yet nothing reacheth so high, and therefore no motive so fit to move God as this, Have mercy upon me, O God, for I am weak. Mercy, indeed, looks down upon no object so directly as upon weakness, and weakness looks up to no object so directly as to mercy; and therefore they cannot choose but meet, and meeting, not choose but embrace each other: mercy, weakness as her client; weakness, mercy as her patron; that no plea can be so strong with God as this, Have mercy upon me, O God, for I am weak.
But behold what rhetoric he trieth to move God to cure him: "I am weak"; an argument taken from his weakness; which indeed were a weak argument to move any man to show his favour, but is a strong argument to prevail with God. If a diseased person would come to a physician, and only lament the heaviness of his sickness, he would say, "God help thee"; or an oppressed person come to a lawyer, and show him the estate of his action and ask his advice, he would answer, "That is a golden question"; or to a merchant to crave raiment, he will either have present money or a surety; or a courtier for favour, you must have your reward ready in your hand. But coming before God, the most forcible argument ye can use is your necessity, poverty, tears, misery, unworthiness, and confessing them to Him, it shall be an open door to furnish you with all things that He hath.
The tears of our misery are forcible arrows to pierce the heart of our heavenly Father, to deliver us and pity our hard case. The beggars lay open their sores to the view of the world, that the more they may move men to pity them. So let us deplore our miseries to God, that He, with the pitiful Samaritan, at the sight of our wounds may help us in due time.
O Lord, heal me.
There is something very soothing, very beautiful in that word "Heal." It seems so full of beneficence, so full of restoration, so full of balm. "Heal," so near "Health" — it is a beautiful word. The healing is found in Him. There are some medicines which are called polychrists, they heal so many diseases. Heaven knows but one Polychrist. It is one to heal not only many diseases, but all, and that one is the touch of Christ.
My soul is sore vexed.
Yoke fellows in sin are yoke fellows in pain; the soul is punished for informing, the body for performing, and as both the informer and performer, the cause and the instrument, so shall the stirrer up of sin and executor be punished.
But Thou, O Lord, how long?1.
That there is an appointed time, which God hath measured, for the crosses of all His children, before which time they shall not be delivered, and for which they must patiently attend, not thinking to prescribe time to God for their delivery or limit the Holy One of Israel. The Israelites remained in Egypt till the complete number of 430 years were accomplished. Joseph was three years and more in the prison till the appointed time of his delivery came. The Jews remained 70 years in Babylon. So that as the physician appointeth certain times to the patient, both wherein he must fast and be dieted, and wherein he must take recreation: so God knoweth the convenient times both of our humiliation and exaltation.
2. See the impatiency of our natures in our miseries, our flesh still rebelling against the Spirit, which oftentimes forgetteth itself so far that it will enter into reasoning with God, and quarrelling with Him, as we may read of Job, Jonas, etc., and here also of David.
3. Albeit the Lord delay His coming to relieve His saints, yet He hath great cause if we ponder it; for, when we were in the heat of our sins, many times He cried by the mouth of His prophets, "O fools, how long will you continue in your folly?" and we would not hear. And therefore, when we are in the heat of our pains, thinking long, yea, every day a year till we are delivered, no wonder it is if God will not hear. Let us consider with ourselves the just dealing of God with us, that. as He cried, and we would not hear; so now we cry, and He will not hear.
AN INSTANCE OF WHAT MAY BE CALLED A BROKEN PRAYER. Dr. Maclaren calls it "daring and pregnant in its incompleteness." Is it not natural that prayer should often be incomplete? The man who has never broken down in his prayer has hardly yet learned to pray.
1. Prayer must be broken at times, because some petitions we would offer we may not. Prayer has sometimes to be restrained.
2. Because we cannot tell how to pray. True piety has its dilemmas. What may precisely meet our need cannot always be defined.
3. Because words cannot compass our desires. The intensest feelings of our hearts cannot find adequate expression.
II. BROKEN PRAYERS MAY BE THE MOST EARNEST EXPRESSIONS OF THE SOUL. The Psalmist's very earnestness brings him to a standstill. Such a break is the safety valve of the impassioned soul. Prayer is often most sincere when it is least eloquent. A sob may be a real prayer.
III. THAT PRAYERS ARE BROKEN DOES NOT PREVENT THEM FROM BEING HEARD AND ANSWERED. If this Psalm opens amid the thick gloom of troublous misgiving, it does not close till a new light has chased these shadows away. However poor and faltering our own words, we shall not be disappointed about an answer. God can interpret the prayer that has never even found utterance. When a man begins to pray, however brokenly, light is not far off.
Return, O Lord, deliver my soul.
"O Lord, return" implies a former presence, a present absence, and a confidence for the future. This is God's return to us, in a general apprehension. After He hath made us, and blest us in our nature and by His natural means, He returns to make us again, to make us better, first by His preventing grace and then by a succession of His particular graces. In Scripture there are three significations of the word translated "return."
1. To return to that place to which a thing is naturally affected. So heavy things return to the centre, and light things to the expansion. The Church is God's place, God's centre, to which He is naturally affected.
2. The word is also referred to the passion of God, to the anger of God; and so the returning of God — that is, of God's anger — is the allaying, the becalming, the departing of His anger. When God returns, God stays; His anger is returned from us, but God is still with us.
3. The word applies to our returning to Him. There goes no more to salvation but such a turning. So that this returning of the Lord is an operative, an effectual returning, that tunes our hearts, and eyes, and hands, and feet to the ways of God, and produces in us repentance and obedience; for these be the two legs which our conversion to God stands upon. When the Lord comes to us by any way, though He come in corrections, in chastisements, not to turn to Him is an irreverent and unrespective negligence We come now to the reasons of these petitions in David's prayer. His first reason is grounded on God Himself. "Do it for Thy mercy's sake." And in his second reason, though David himself and all men with him seem to have a part, yet at last we shall see the reason itself to determine wholly or entirely in God, too, and in His glory. "Do it, Lord, for in death there is no remembrance of Thee."
As the sun goeth not out of Thee, though it may be obscured by overcasting clouds, or some other natural impediments, so, albeit the clouds of our sins and miseries hide the fair, shining face of God from us, yet He will pierce through and dissipate those clouds, and, shine clearly upon us in His own appointed time. God is said to "return to us," not by change of place, for He is in all places, but by the dispensation of His gracious providence, and declaration of His new mercies and benefits to us.
Indeed, this motive, for His mercy's sake, is the first mover of all motives to God for showing His favour. He had never delivered the Israelites out of Egypt but for His mercy's sake; He had never saved Noah in the ark but for His mercy's sake; but, above all, He had never sent His Son to save the world but for His mercy's sake. And how, then, can I doubt, and not rather be confident, that for His mercy's sake He will also deliver my soul and save me? Never, therefore, my soul, look after any further motives; for upon this motive will I set up my rest. His mercy shall be both my anchor and my harbour; it shall be both my armour and my fortress; it shall be both my ransom and my garland; it shall be both my deliverance and my salvation.
In death there is no remembrance of Thee.
? — There is some obscurity in these words, literally understood. They at least seem to teach that all thought and consciousness ceased with man at his death. If that be their meaning, they certainly show that David's views of a future life were quite defective. If that be their meaning, we may well say, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. We can hardly believe, however, that David meant to teach that thought and consciousness ceased with man at death. The death here intended is probably the second death, and the grave intended the prison of the lost: that is the "death," and that the "grave," from which David prays to be saved — the death and the grave of "both body and soul in hell." And surely there is no grateful remembrance of, and giving thanks to, God there. On the contrary, all who have experienced that death, and descended into that grave, gnaw their tongues for pain, and blaspheme the God of heaven. In view of such an issue, well might David pray, "Return, O Lord, deliver my soul; O save me for Thy mercies' sake." For surely a more terrific thought cannot be presented to the human soul, than the thought that it must remain a pining and suffering creature forever, a moral blot on every part of the universe to which it may flee; hateful in its own eyes, and hateful in the eyes of God.
In the grave who shall give Thee thanks?
This Psalm is the first of those called penitential, and composed in confession of sin. From consideration of birth sin the writer turns to the littleness of man, and the shortness of life compared with God's greatness and goodness. As references to the silence of the grave and the departure of the dead occur frequently, we may ask in what sense we are to take such words. David evidently understood that this life is our only period of probation. He had apprehensions of a judgment day. David felt that, whatever he was to be, to become, to receive, or to suffer, in the state beyond the grave, was all to be begun while he was in the flesh. David felt how essential to his happiness it was to obtain God's favour, and that at once, without delay. All our hopes beyond the grave rest on our few years' passage through this life. There is no preparation after it. We are hastening on to the unalterable state, where we shall praise God for over, or never. We are like the sculptor, chiselling an inscription upon marble. Well done or badly done, clearly engraved or badly formed, or wrongly spelt, still those letters remain in imperishable characters. The sculptor's success, or his mistakes, both remain; no time will fade, no water will wash away, what is engraved in stone. So with our heavenly and eternal work, "the time is short"; but its records and its effects are lasting; they endure from generation to generation. Let us be stirred up by such thoughts to engrave for ourselves in the imperishable records of the Book of Life the record of a life spent by us, through God's grace, to His honour and in His service.
The second plea is striking both in its view of the condition of the dead, and in its use of that view as an argument with God. Like many other psalmists, the writer thinks of Sheol as the common gathering place of the departed, a dim region where they live a poor shadowy life, inactive, joyless, and all but godless, inasmuch as praise, fellowship, and service with Him have ceased. That view is equally compatible with the belief in a resurrection, and the denial of it, for it assumes continued individual consciousness. It is the prevailing tone in the Psalter, and in Job and Ecclesiastes. But in some Psalms which embody the highest rapture of inward and musical devotion the sense of present .union with God bears up the Psalmist into the sunlight of the assurance that against such a union death can have no power, and we see the hope of immortality in the very act of dawning on the devout soul. May we not say that the subjective experience of the reality of communion with God now is still the path by which the certainty of its perpetuity in a future life is reached? The objective proof in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is verified by this experience. The psalmists had not the former, but, having the latter, they attained to at all events occasional confidence in a blessed life beyond.
Concerning death, consider first, that there is a necessity of DEATH laid upon all flesh, wise men and fools, king and prophet, etc., neither the grandeur of the king nor holiness of the prophet can exempt them from death.
2. Next, that it interrupts the service and praise of God, as it destroys man's nature, albeit it interrupteth it only for a time, and in a part; the soul in the meantime praising God under the altar, till that both soul and body meet together and praise Him world without end.
3. That it is lawful to crave the continuance of our life, to the end that we may praise God. Would we desire the continuance of our life, that we may continue in sin? God forbid. Likewise we may desire death, not for being weary of temporal pain, or fear of shame; but with the apostle, that we may be dissolved and be with Christ, and be freed of the burthen of sin by our death, yet in both our desires let us submit ourselves to the good pleasure of God, and say with our Saviour, Thy will be done, not as I will, but as thou wilt.
4. We see in his sickness he seeks the continuation of his life at God's hands, who hath the issues of death in His will, thereby teaching us, neither with Asa to put our trust in the physicians, neither with Ahaziah to go ask counsel at Beelzebub; but with good Hezekiah turn to the wall, and with David here beg the prorogation of our lives from God.
5. Observe the difference between the godly and the wicked, in their contrary desires of the continuation of their lives: for the wicked, being tied to the bed of sickness, crave longer life, to the end they may enjoy their riches longer, and use, or rather abuse them; in the meantime never conceiving or nourishing an hope of celestial good things. But the godly, that they may record fruitfully the praises of God in the congregation of the righteous; besides, the fear of death in the reprobate, is because they see by it an end put to all their earthly felicities.
I am weary with my groaning.
The penitent here expresses the effects which his sorrow had upon him in its outward manifestations. His eye was consumed because of grief, and he was weary with his groaning. An impression now seems generally to prevail that outward manifestations of feeling in matters of religion, instead of being proofs that the feeling is sound, are rather proofs that it is otherwise. Certainly, in themselves they are no unequivocal evidence of sincere and deep feeling; and in assemblies of God's people it is better in general that they should be repressed than indulged in. But where such feelings exist they must in some way or other be expressed: "I am weary with my crying," says the Psalmist; "my throat is dried; mine eyes fail, when they waist for my God." They mourn by reason of affliction. I have stretched out my hands daily unto Thee. Tears have been my meat day and night. And we can see no reason in the nature of things why such strong feelings of grief should be absent in religion. Surely, if the prospect of losing an earthly friend — a husband or a brother — causes the eye to run down with tears, the breast to heave and be convulsed with sobs, and the heart to be poured out like water before God — the prospect of losing eternal life may be no less overpowering. Assuredly, if a fall from riches to poverty, from circumstances of comfort to a condition of wretchedness, has shaken men of firm nerves — the prospect of an eternity spent in inconceivable misery, with the worm that dieth not, and in the fire that is not quenched, may appall the stoutest heart. We should therefore be surprised to meet with one who had passed from death to life through the terrors of the law, and yet was wholly a stranger to such feelings. We should regard him as a man of more than mortal mould. But let us observe, that true grief is unobtrusive. It seeks retirement. It is in the night that the Psalmist makes his bed to swim. He speaks not of his tears shed in the assemblies of God's people. The great question is, What are your feelings towards Him in private? Can the watches of the night bear witness to your meditating on His death and atoning sacrifice, and of your vows to be His, and His alone? Such was the Psalmist's experience; and light arose on his darkness. The day spring of hope and gladness broke forth on him. Suddenly be changes the notes of woe for those of exultation, "Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer. Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed. Let them return and be ashamed suddenly.
I water my couch with my tears.
These strong expressions imply a sorrow so deep, unusual, and excessive as to provoke the inquiry, what could possibly occasion and justify them? From vers. 7-10 we conclude that the sufferer is brought into great and grievous peril by the arts of malicious enemies. But we may better seek the origin of his distress in influences of a more inward and spiritual character. While our affairs are prosperous, nothing is so common as a condition of spiritual heedlessness and self-satisfaction. Let God make a breach upon us, so that suddenly riches depart and enemies rejoice and friends begin to look cold, and then not uncommonly our conscience awakes from its long slumber and brings against us grievous, accusations. The feeling that he is suffering God's rebuke, smarting under God's correction, is at once a comfort and a grief to the Psalmist: a comfort when he remembered the loving wisdom that corrected him; a grief when he called to mind the sinful ingratitude that needed correction. How can we wonder at the depth and extent of his grief? It is by the depth and reality, yea, the passion and abandon with which he utters the profoundest feelings of the pious heart, that David has moved so mightily the soul and spirit of the world. It is impossible to withhold our deep respect from the stoic, seeing that his endurance of the ills of life implies a control and self-denial almost, if not altogether, sublime. If sorrow, when viewed in relation to its uses, is a good, how can we best apply it to those uses? By acknowledging its existence. Its right to exist, as long as there is sin in our hearts or suffering in the world. Sorrow is but the normal expression of a holy sensibility when excited by the contemplation of suffering or sin; and it is not therefore sorrow in itself, but only the excess and selfishness of it, that is to be restricted and overcome.
Oh, let my remembering Thee in life supply the place of my forgetting Thee in death; and when I lie in my grave senseless and silent, be pleased to remember how I have lain in my bed sighing and weeping.
First, he sighed and sobbed for his sin, and now he mourneth for the same. Look whereunto our follies tend! The pleasures of sin ever end in displeasure, for which either we must of necessity, mourn in this life, or eternally in the life to come. The measure of his mourning is expressed by the washing and swimming of his bed with tears, which indeed is an hyperbolic speech, and doth express unto the vehemency and greatness of his grief, and that he did not esteem light of his sin, yea, I may affirm never had man greater displeasure for so short a pleasure as had David: neither was he in worse case with God, but rather the multitude of his tears were as many seals of God's favour towards him, and of the remission of his sins: showers be better than dews, yet it is sufficient if God at least hath bedewed our hearts, and hath given us some signs of a penitent heart: if we have not rivers of waters to pour forth with David, neither fountains flowing with Mary Magdalene, nor as Jeremiah, desire to have a fountain in our head to weep day and night, nor with Peter weep bitterly, yet if we lament that we cannot lament; and mourn that we cannot mourn; yea, if we have the smallest sobs of sorrow and tears of compunction, if they be true and not counterfeit, they will make us acceptable to God: for as the woman with the bloody issue that touched the hem of Christ's garment was no less welcome to Christ than Thomas, who put his fingers in the print of the nails, so God looketh not at the quantity, but the sincerity of our repentance. "My bed." The place of his sin is the place of his repentance, and so it should be, yea, when we behold the place where we have offended we should be pricked in the heart, and there again crave Him pardon. Sanctify by tears every place which ye have polluted by sin "Every night" So one hour's sin may bring many nights' pare, and it may be done in one hour which cannot be amended in our life. Learn, therefore, in time to be careful, and fall not into that ditch, out of which hardly can ye be freed. How easy is it for a man to fall into a pit, but with what difficulty is he delivered therefrom! As the night is secret, so should the work of thy repentance be; repent thou secretly, that the Lord may reward thee openly. Mark here that repentance should be constant, not one night, but every night. It is not seemly to a king to weep for his own private calamities, lest he might seem to be cast down from his courage; but nothing more royal than to mourn for the offence committed against the King of kings. Finally, mark what force tears have with God, that they can blot out the multitude of iniquities: be true and not counterfeit, they will make us acceptable to God. God looketh not on the quantity, but the sincerity of our repentance.
The pirates, seeing an empty bark, pass by it; but if she be loaded with precious wares, then they will assault her. So, if a man have no grace within him, Satan passeth by him, as not a convenient prey for him, but being loaded with graces, as the love of God, his fear, and such other spiritual virtues, let him be persuaded that according as he knows what stuff is in him, so will he not fail to rob him of them, if in any case he may.
The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. I.
GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF MERCY. The expressions of the Psalm indicate sorrow of no ordinary kind. Much of this sorrow caused by a sense of the indignation of God against sin (ver. 1). What he pleads for is the pardon of sin, the restoration of the light of the Divine countenance. His plea is God's mercy and God's glory.
II. HOLY DETERMINATION TO FORSAKE SIN. "Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity. Those who have experienced God's pardoning mercy will never be content to continue in sin.
III. HUMBLE CONFIDENCE. The Lord will receive my prayer. When under the pressure of different causes of sorrow the believer may take confidence from former deliverances.
The earlier verses of this Psalm are a wail, but it ends in song. It is like a day of rain which clears at evening.
I. THE ELEMENTS OF THE PSALMIST'S SORROW (1-7). There was the pressure of Divine displeasure on account of sin (1, 2), combined with soul-anguish (3, 4), perhaps accompanied with sickness, brining nigh unto death (4, 5), whilst enemies add their hate (6, 7).
II. THE CERTAINTY OF THE PSALMIST'S DELIVERANCE (8-10). The prayer is no sooner uttered than answered. The consciousness of having been heard steals over the weary soul like a glint of light on to a bed in the hospital ward. Weeping has a voice for the ear of God. The Revised Version reads the imprecations of verse 10 as future tenses — "they shall be ashamed and turn back." When God returns, cur enemies turn back.
The work of sin seems pleasant and gainful; but in the end ye shall find it both unpleasant and painful when you get your wages paid you from your master, the devil, you shall know the truth of the saying of the apostle, "the reward of sin is death."
Let us refuse, therefore, to work any longer task unto Satan, and betake us to a better Master and better service, and work in the Lord's vineyard.
As David's prayers were not dumb, but had a voice, so they are not dry but full of tears: those sappy prayers be acceptable to God, which proceed not from a barren and dry heart, but from a heart well watered with the clouds of heaven, hearts planted at the Rivers of waters which we should all pray for. Think ye not that a mother will discern the voice, but much more the weeping of her own child, and the ewe discern the bleating of her own lamb among a thousand; and will not God regard the prayer of His own child being in affliction?
Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed.
A difficulty is often felt in reading or repeating these imprecations. These denunciations are appalling, withering. Are they not essentially personal, the breathing of a Jewish spirit of revenge, and in no sense Christian and universal?
1. I can find no difficulty in granting that the Old Testament spirit was a harder and a sterner spirit than that of the New. The emblem of the New Testament is the cross, which signifies passive endurance. The emblem of the Old Testament is the sword. As the Spirit of God freely uses individual thought, style and expression, overruling them so as to bring out His own higher meaning, I should not be surprised to find occasional phrases of a fiercer and an angrier complexion than any which occur in the New Testament, and which I should interpret with a different signification from that which their utterer designed. We need not consider these imprecatory Psalms as the utterance of David's longing for personal revenge It is very singular that each of the Psalms in which the strongest imprecatory passages are found contains also gentle undertones, breathings of beneficent love.
2. When under the old covenant, earthly prosperity was the portion of the wicked, and earthly adversity of the pious, the whole moral government of God seemed to be veiled in clouds and darkness. Now, when all seems troubled, we can look up and behold by faith the glory that shall be revealed. "God is patient because He is eternal." Man is impatient when he is not assured of his immortality.
3. We must interpret every book by the mind of the author. If so, we must apply this to the Bible and to the Psalms. The real author is the Holy Spirit. "The prophet seems to speak as if in prayer — when he sees that which will certainly come — showing that the known counsel of God, which He has firmly and immutably fixed, should not displease us." Conceive a created spirit enlarged so as to embrace the will of God in relation to all the children of men — a spirit looking from the margin of an eternal world upon the petty histories of the past, purified from personal hatred, partiality, and prejudice, measuring all things by the counsels of God, such a spirit could say without a taint of personal revenge, "let all mine enemies be ashamed." Turn to two passages of the New Testament (Luke 9:49, and sequel). We think of St. John as a man of angelic, or at least of feminine, gentleness. But in his nature, as in the blue sky of his native Galilee, there were sudden storms and fierce lightning flashes. As yet the brothers knew not Jesus thoroughly. They would build up by force the kingdom whose walls are cemented, not by "blood and iron," but by love. Such is the spirit of intolerance, which would in one age offer to God the hideous thing called by a fearful profanation an auto-da-fe; which in another would rivet the chains of penal laws upon a population; in another, with the cant of toleration upon its lips, stamp out an unpopular minority by rubrics and definitions. Is there any intolerance in the gospel? For answer see 2 John 10. To deny that Jesus was the God-Man was to question His legitimacy and impugn His truth. Pagan toleration has been invidiously compared with Christian intolerance. But pagan toleration is a conclusion drawn from the false premises that all religions are about equally true; while Christian persecution is a conclusion falsely drawn from the true principle of the exclusiveness of true religion. Commend the spirit of tolerance to all whom our Church tolerates. Amidst much that is depressing there is one happy sign of our times. There are tokens that Churches sundered hitherto are yearning to be one. A day is coming, even on the earth, when the inward unity of Christ's redeemed shall manifest itself outwardly; when the prayer of our High priest shall he fulfilled, "that they all may be one."
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