It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
Although the elegist has prepared us for brighter scenes by the more hopeful tone of an intermediate triplet, the transition from the gloom and bitterness of the first part of the poem to the glowing rapture of the second is among the most startling effects in literature. How could a man entertain two such conflicting currents of thought in closest juxtaposition? In their very form and structure these touching elegies reflect the mental calibre of their author. A wooden soul could never have invented their movements. They reveal a most sensitive spirit, a spirit that resembles a finely strung instrument of music, quivering in response to impulses from all directions. The author composes the first part in an exceptionally gloomy mood, and leaves the poem unfinished, perhaps for some time. When he returns to it on a subsequent occasion he is in a totally different frame of mind, and this is reflected in the next stage of his work. Still the point of importance is the possibility of the very diverse views here recorded. Nor is this wholly a matter of temperament. Is it not more or less the case with all of us, that since absorption with one class of ideas entirely excludes their opposites, when the latter are allowed to enter the mind they will rush in with the force of a pent-up flood? Then we are astonished that we could ever have forgotten them. Still it may seem to us a strange thing that this most perfect expression of a joyous assurance of the mercy and compassion of God should be found in the Book of Lamentations of all places. It may well give heart to those who have not sounded the depth of sorrow, as the author of these sad poems had done, to learn that even he had been able to recognise the merciful kindness of God in the largest possible measure. A little reflection, however, should teach us that it is not so unnatural a thing for this gem of grateful appreciation to appear where it is. We do not find, as a rule, that the most prosperous people are the foremost to recognise the love of God. The reverse is very frequently the case. The softening influence of sorrow seems to have a more direct effect upon our sense of Divine goodness. Perhaps, too, it is some compensation for melancholy, that persons who are afflicted with it are most responsive to sympathy. The morbid, despondent poet Cowper has written most exquisitely about the love of God. Watts is enthusiastic in his praise of the Divine grace; but a deeper note is sounded in the Olney hymns, as, for example, in that beginning with the line —Hark, my soul, it is the Lord.In his new consciousness of the love of God, the elegist is first struck by its amazing persistence. Probably we should render the twenty-second verse thus —The Lord's mercies, verily they cease not, etc.There are two masons for this emendation. First, the momentary transition to the plural "we" is harsh and improbable. Second — and this is the principal consideration — the balance of the phrases, which is so carefully observed throughout this elegy, is upset by the common rendering, but restored by the emendation. The topic of the triplet in which the disputed passage occurs is the amazing persistence of God's goodness to His suffering children. The proposed alteration is in harmony with this. The thought here presented to us rests on the truth of the eternity and essential changelessness of God. We cannot think of Him as either fickle or failing; to do so would be to cease to think of Him as God. If He is merciful at all He cannot be merciful only spasmodically, erratically, or temporarily. The elegist declares that the reason why God's mercies are not consumed is that His compassions do not fail. Thus he goes behind the kind actions of God to their originating motives. To a man in the condition of the writer of this poem of personal confidences the Divine sympathy is the one fact in the universe of supreme importance. So will it be to every sufferer who can assure himself of the truth of it. But is this only a consolation for the sorrowing? The pathos, the very tragedy of human life on earth, should make the sympathy of God the most precious fact of existence to all mankind. Portia rightly reminds Shylock that "we all do look for mercy"; but if so, the spring of mercy, the Divine compassion, must be the one source of true hope for every soul of man. Further, the elegist declares that the special form taken by these unceasing mercies of God is daily renewal The love of God is constant — one changeless Divine attribute; but the manifestations of that love are necessarily successive and various, according to the successive and various needs of His children. The living God is an active God, who works in the present as effectually as He worked in the past. There is another side to this truth. It is not sufficient to have received the grace of God once for all. If "He giveth more grace," it is because we need more grace. This is a stream that must be ever flowing into the soul, not the storage of a tank filled once for all and left to serve for a lifetime. Therefore the channel must be kept constantly clear, or the grace will fall to reach us, although in itself it never runs dry. There is something cheering in the poet's idea of the morning as the time when these mercies of God are renewed. God's mercies do not fail, are not interrupted. The emphasis is on the thought that no day is without God's new mercies, not even the day of darkest trouble; and further, there is the suggestion that God is never dilatory in coming to our aid. He does not keep us waiting and wearying while He tarries. He is prompt and early with His grace. The idea may be compared with that of the promise to those who seek God "early," literally, "in the morning" (Proverbs 8:17). Or we may think of the night as the time of repose, when we are oblivious of God's goodness, although even through the hours of darkness He who neither slumbers nor sleeps is constantly watching over His unconscious children. Then in the morning there dawns on us a fresh perception of His goodness. To the notion of the morning renewal of the mercies of God the poet appends a recognition of His great faithfulness. This is an additional thought. Faithfulness is more than compassion. There is a strength and a stability about the idea that goes further to insure confidence. The conclusion drawn from these considerations is given in an echo from the Psalms —The Lord is my portion.The words are old and well worn; but they obtain a new meaning when adopted as the expression of a new experience. The lips have often chanted them in the worship of the sanctuary. Now they are the voice of the soul, of the very life.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.