Uphold me according to your word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.
In the first clause there is the language of a man in great distress; nevertheless he is not in despair, for when you proceed to the second clause you find the psalmist speaking of his hope; he had not let go his hope. Though visited with so much calamity, and encircled with so much of peril, he still keeps down the rising fear, that after all he may be disappointed, and earnestly beseeches of God not to suffer him to be "ashamed of his hope." It is very beautiful and instructive to observe how hope thus triumphs over trouble. We may go further, and declare that hope is nurtured by trouble. The text may be thought to indicate this; for David evidently speaks as if, having been carried through his trouble, he was yet to find his hope in all the beauty of its vigour. Now, there is no better way of interpreting Scripture than that of using one part as a commentary on another. We wish to show you from our text that hope may spring from tribulation; but this which is only hinted at by the psalmist is largely asserted by St. Paul, when he says, "tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." Here we have the stops which are missing in our text, and we may therefore supply them. We need hardly premise that the apostle speaks only of those who bear tribulation as Christians should bear it — who receive it as appointed of God, and desire to be improved by the fatherly chastisement. It is far enough from true, as a general proposition, that tribulation worketh patience; for how often do you observe in people of the world that they grow more fretful and irritable as their sorrows are multiplied; the chief effect of continued affliction being to sour the temper, and strengthen in them a habit of repining and murmuring. But let us take the ease of those in whom a work of grace is going forward, who are striving to submit themselves to the operations of God's Spirit; and how true it is of them that "tribulation worketh patience!" The soul reasons with itself — "Is not God the best Judge of what is good for me? Shall I be unwilling to suffer, when the Captain of my salvation was 'made perfect through suffering?' So long as I withstand God, does it not prove that I need the chastening rod? Does it not provoke Him to chastise me yet again?" And thus is patience wrought out by tribulation; not by tribulation in itself, by the mere onset of trouble, but by tribulation bringing (as it will bring) the Christian to reflection and to prayer. Let us proceed to the second step in what we may call the apostle's commentary on the words of the psalmist, and let us see whether patience will not further work experience. The word "experience" properly denotes the putting something to the proof, making the sort of trial which is made of metals, by placing them in the fire, in order to the detecting and disentangling the dross. Hence the experience here mentioned by St. Paul must be the ascertaining the precise worth, veracity, and power of the consolations and promises of God. "Tribulation worketh patience," in that suffering brings the Christian into an attitude of submission and acquiescence; but when he has been schooled into resignation, and made to wait meekly on the Lord, he is not left without heavenly visitations. Amid the pains of sickness, the infirmities of age, the corrodings of grief, what support is communicated! what strength! what joy! And from experience how natural, how easy the transition to hope. It is next alleged by St. Paul, which the psalmist held fast in the hour of his affliction, that tribulation worketh patience, patience experience, experience hope. He in whom patience has wrought experience is one who, having put to the proof those Scriptural promises which have reference to circumstances such as those in which he has been placed, has found them made good, accomplished in himself, and thereby proved to be of God; but what now can be such a reason for expecting the fulfilment of promises which have respect to future things, as the having experienced the fulfilment of other promises, both made by the same Being, which have respect to present things? Surely he who has tried the chart and found it correct, so far as he had the power of trying it, has the best ground for confidence in that chart with regard to ports which he has never yet entered. With how immediate, then, and direct a succession does hope follow on experience! Experience is a book in which there should be daily entries, and to which there should be daily reference. If we do not register our mercies, or if we never recount them, they are not likely to throw light upon coming events. But what a precious volume is our experience, if we record it with accuracy, and then do not let it lie idly on the shelf! the dust on the covers attesting how little it is used! Answers to prayer, what encouragements to pray: Promises fulfilled, what arguments for expecting their fulfilment! Mercies bestowed, what grounds for confidence that mercies will not be withheld! But if patience lead to experience, shall not experience yield some richer fruity Yes, verily, he who has "tasted that the Lord is gracious" is the last to doubt that the Lord will be gracious; he to whom promises have been fulfilled should be the last to suspect that promises may fail; and if every mercy received whilst patiently enduring may serve as a pledge, or earnest of future bestowment, oh l how true that as "tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience," so doth experience generate hope! And, therefore, though David was in trouble — trouble which almost made him despair of life — he would not let go his hope; he had been in too many troubles beforetime for this; he had been too well disciplined; he had had too great experience of the faithfulness and lovingkindness of God; and if he, in his first prayer, exclaims, like one almost disheartened — "Uphold me according to Thy Word," in the next, like one who takes courage from the past, he gives utterance to the bolder words — "let me not be ashamed of my hope." Christian "hope maketh not ashamed." It paints no vision which shall not be more than realized; it points to no inheritance which shall not be reached. How should it make ashamed, when it altogether rests itself upon Christ, who is not "ashamed to call us brethren"? This is the secret of its difference from every other hope; Christ is the source and the centre of our hope — Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yea, and in Him amen; and if Christ can deceive us, if Christ can fail His people in their extremity, if Christ can want either the will or the power to save those who commit themselves to Him, then, but not otherwise, may the believer be ashamed of his hope.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.