As when one plows and breaks up the soil, so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol.
I. AN UTTERLY HOPELESS CONDITION.
1. The psalmist seems to be contemplating the mournful state of the people of God, of whom he rejoices to be one. He represents them as being not merely a defeated company, but large numbers of them destroyed, and their bodies in long furrow-like heaps left in dishonored and horrible neglect to be the prey of the vultures and the wolves. Overwhelming destruction has come upon them; they seem fallen, to rise no more. It is a piteous sight for the survivor to contemplate; for they are his own people, he identifies himself with them. "Our bones," he says, "are scattered," etc. He might well cast himself down in despair.
2. And how often in the history of the Church of God, and in the lives of individual men, such seemingly sad and hopeless conditions are met with! The Bible gives us instances not a few. See Abraham when called on to offer Isaac as a burnt offering; how dark the prospect seemed then! Moses, when sent to deliver Israel from Egypt. Gideon, when the Midianites were ravaging the land. David before Goliath. How reasonable it had been if despair had fastened upon them and upon many other such tried souls! And many a child of God is today brought into like circumstances, his soul smitten down to the gates of death, even as our Lord in Gethsemane.
II. A VIRTUOUS FAITH NOTWITHSTANDING. (Ver. 8.) True, there lay his hopes, scattered, overwhelmed, destroyed, like the bones of a defeated, destroyed, dead but unburied army. Nevertheless, the soul of the psalmist is up unto God. "Mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord." The more hopeless the state of things seemed, the more steadfastly was his gaze fixed on God, the more emphatically was his confession given. "In thee is my trust;" and the more confidently ascended his prayer. It is a beautiful spectacle, the soul holding on to God in spite of all the buffetings of disastrous circumstances, and all "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," in spite, too, of the apparent abandonment of his career by God. O glorious faith, what hast thou not done? what canst thou not and wilt thou not do?
III. SOME REASONS WHEREFORE THESE THINGS ARE SO.
1. As to the sad and seemingly hopeless conditions in which God's people often find themselves. They are terrible trials to a man's faith; often men have utterly broken down under them, and fallen into the depths of atheism and irreligion. Faith is not universally victorious, sometimes far otherwise. Wherefore, then, are such trials sent? Well, sometimes to give opportunity for bearing the most emphatic testimony for God that a human soul can give. One chief reason of the cross of Christ was that he might there, as, blessed be his Name! he did, give such mighty testimony to the all-sustaining power of the love of God. Those whom he came to save had fearful sorrows to bear, and on the cross he showed them that God was the great Burden-bearer, the never-failing Solace and Stay of the soul. And for like reason his people now are often called upon to bear burdens heavy indeed. Then another reason is that there is no other way whereby the innate and inveterate earthliness of the human heart can be overcome. God has to let men see that this world will not satisfy them, no, not even when its pleasures are of the fairest and most innocent kind. We are so apt, so certain, to think they will, that God has not seldom to "scatter our bones at the grave's mouth," ere we will see our mistake. The earthly cords that hold the soul down have to be cut. And also to compel men to take refuge in God, to drive them to the shelter and shadow of his wings. And God deals thus with individual souls, that others through them may learn that this is not our rest, but that God is.
2. Then as to the blessed victorious faith, its explanation is:
(1) The grace of God. Bunyan tells of the picture seen by Christian of the fire which would burn on in spite of water perpetually and profusely poured upon it, and when he wondered how this could be, he says that he saw a man, unseen by others, continually pouring oil on the fire, and so it burnt on in spite of the water. That is ever the explanation of victorious faith - the grace of God secretly keeps it alive.
(2) The power of prayer. "Mine eyes," etc. His soul looked to God continually.
(3) The habit of trust. "In thee is my trust." The will more than the reason is needed. "I will trust, and not be afraid." This blessed habit can and should be zealously cultivated.
IV. WHAT ENSUES.
1. God is glorified by such faith. How could it be otherwise?
2. Our suffering brethren are greatly helped by the testimony we give.
3. The peace of God fills our own soul. - S.C.
Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth.: — The text presents in a very vivid way an aspect of death most familiar, but most striking, and it also expresses the thoughts and the earnest prayer that rise in a soul at such a sight. You have walked in an old graveyard and seen the bones scattered at the grave's mouth. There are few whom this sight does not make to think. You remember Hamlet in the graveyard with the skull of Yorick, the king's jester. What a pathos and tenderness are there. With that text in his hand, how touchingly he discourses on our poor fleeting human life. "The flashes of merriment that set the table in a roar" — "the infinite jest" — all come to this. The bones that were so carefully nurtured, that cost so much, are knocked and tossed about and thrown into a heap. Every man who contemplates such a spectacle — bones strewn about as if they were but chips and sticks where men had been chopping wood, must either go away with a dangerous sense of the vanity and worthlessness of human life, or with a spirit made intense, and raised in prayer to the infinite God.
I. OUR UNION WITS PAST GENERATIONS AND THE INTENSE REALITY OF OUR PRESENT LIFE. Observe the use of the word "our." He looks at the bones and speaks as if they were partly his own, as if they belonged partly to living men. He identifies himself with those past generations. This human life that we are living now is not a new thing. It is old, very old. I understand all the struggles and wide experience of the past, for it is all in me. That history is mine. It seems as if I had lived then and been a part of all this. It is good for us go look back over the past and feel our identity with our race. It makes us humble. It makes us tender and kindly. It fills us with compassion for the human family. We are ashamed at times and vexed and grieved; but we are also elevated and enlarged as we look back over the generations that are gone. They are gone, and how fleeting they have all been. It is like a dream to think of all these past generations of men. Their existence seems a shadow. But let us not think our present life shadowy. No; that is not the lesson which the writer of the psalm learnt from the scattered bones. He learnt intensity. "But mine eyes are toward Thee, O God the Lord. In Thee is my trust. Leave not my soul destitute." Life is new and momentous to us. It is as momentous as if it had never been lived before and would never be lived again. When you think steadily of God, it seems as if there were none but God and you standing over against each other. The man who keeps his eyes directed toward God feels life new and fresh, although the bones of many generations are scattered around him.
II. IN THE TEXT WE SEE THE LITTLENESS AND THE GREATNESS OF MAN.
1. The scattered bones proclaim the littleness of man. These are the remains of thinkers, poets, kings, lovers of men, great inventors, famous disputers.
2. Yet, when I think of man in his weakness turning his eyes to the infinite God; when I reflect that man can think of a boundless and perfect One, that man looks to Him, that he has an eye that sees the invisible God: that he claims the society of the Maker of all worlds, and is restless till he finds it; when I reflect on man as putting his trust in the living God amidst all the mysteries of time; when I think of man standing over the grave where his dearest ones lie, where the ruins of his hopes are, and saying there, "I believe in God; I trust in God; He will not leave my soul destitute"; then I see the greatness of man.
III. A MELANCHOLY PROSPECT AND A RISING ABOVE IT.
1. The prospect before us all is this: by and by our bones will be scattered about the grave's mouth. By and by you are forgotten, and the white relics that are thrown up by the shovel of the grave-digger are quite unknown. They have no name. Does it not seem like a horrid dream that we should be all coming to this? Surely it cannot be true. We all know too well that it is true and no dream.
2. There is just one remedy, one antidote, one means of conquering all thoughts of this kind; and the text presents it. "Mine eyes are unto Thee, O God the Lord." I see a glorious Being, infinite, eternal, everywhere present, absolute love and truth and holiness. The fact that I can think of this Being of itself inspires hope and courage. It cannot be that the eyes that look to Him can moulder into dust. Eyes that cannot but look to Him are not doomed to grow dim. He Himself has invited me to look to Him, and the sight of His face gives me joy.
(J. Leckie, D. D.)
Mine eyes are unto Thee, O God.: — The determination to do a certain thing involves the possibility and sometimes the probability of not doing it. The regal faculty of will controls the use of other faculties, which may be exercised in different ways and in different degrees according to its resolve. The desires and aspirations of the soul, like the organs of the body, may be employed in this direction or in that, and of all created beings on earth man has most freedom. Some creatures have eyes adapted for a use which is special and limited. The beast or bird of prey, for example, has for the pupil of its eye a vertical slit, in order that it may look up and down for its victims. The ruminants — oxen, horses, and the like — have a horizontal slit, in order that without special effort they may look for the succulent grass which spreads on each side of them in a fertile meadow. But we have circular pupils — in other words, we have no bias in one direction more than in another, and thus even in these lower capacities God gives us a hint of our responsibility for choice and of our power of will which makes our life a moral probation. Hence you may resolve as the psalmist did, "I will look up," or you may not so resolve.
(A. Rowland, B. A.).
I cried unto the Lord with my voice.
Homilist.I. THE TRIALS HERE REPRESENTED. He speaks of himself as —
1. Overwhelmed (ver. 3).
2. Walking in snares (ver. 3).
3. Destitute of friends (ver. 4).
4. Greatly reduced (ver. 6).
5. Greatly persecuted (ver. 6).
6. Imprisoned (ver. 7). Ignorance, poverty, affliction, all these imprison.
II. THE RELIGION HERE DISPLAYED.
1. Religion manifesting itself in prayer to God. A practical realization of our dependence on our Maker is true prayer, and this is the essence of religion. Prayer is not language, but life: it is the soul turned ever to the Almighty, as the flower to the sun, as the river to the sea.
2. Religion manifesting itself in practical confidence in God.
(1) (2) (1) (2) 3. Religion manifesting itself in unbounded trust in His goodness (ver. 7). (Homilist.)
(2) (1) (2) 3. Religion manifesting itself in unbounded trust in His goodness (ver. 7). (Homilist.)
(1) (2) 3. Religion manifesting itself in unbounded trust in His goodness (ver. 7). (Homilist.)
3. Religion manifesting itself in unbounded trust in His goodness (ver. 7). (Homilist.)
3. Religion manifesting itself in unbounded trust in His goodness (ver. 7).
I. THE CONDITION OF A SOUL UNDER A DEEP SENSE OF SIN. A little while ago you were out in the open field of the world, sinning with a high hand, plucking the flowers which grow in those poisoned vales, and enjoying their deadly perfume. To-night you feel like one who has come out of the bright sunshine and balmy air into a dark, noisome cavern, where you can see but little, where there is no comfort, and where there appears to you to be no hope of escape.
1. Well, now, your first business should be to appeal unto God. Get to your knees, you who feel yourselves guilty; get to your knees, if your hearts are sighing on account of sin.
2. Make a full confession unto the Lord.
3. Acknowledge to God that there is no hope for you but in His mercy. In the cave of your doubts and fears, with the clinging damp of your despair about you, chilled and numbed by the dread of the wrath to come, yet venture to make God in Christ your sole confidence, and you shall yet have perfect peace.
4. Then, further, if you are still in the cave of doubt and sin, venture to plead with God to set you free. You cannot present a better prayer than this one of David's (ver. 7). My old friend, Dr. Alexander Fletcher, seems to rise before me now, for I remember hearing him say to the children that, when men came out of prison, they did praise him who had set them free. He said that he was going down the Old Bailey one day, and he saw a boy standing on his head, turning Catherine wheels, dancing hornpipes, and jumping about in all manner of ways, and he said to him, "What are you at? You seem to be tremendously happy"; and the boy replied, "Ah, old gentlemen, if you had been locked up six months, and had just got out, you would be happy, tool" I have no doubt that is very true. When a soul gets out of a far worse prison than there ever was at Newgate, then he must praise "free grace and dying love," and "ring those charming bells" again, and again, and again, and make his whole life musical with the praise of the emancipating Christ.
II. THE CONDITION OF A PERSECUTED BELIEVER. Here is a godly man who works in a factory, or a Christian girl who is occupied in book-folding, or-some other work where there is a large number employed; such persons will have a sad tale to tell of now they have been hunted about, ridiculed, and scoffed at by ungodly companions. Now you are in the cave.
1. It may be that you are in the condition described here; you hardly know what to do. You are as David was when he wrote ver.
3. You are like a lamb in the midst of wolves; you know not which way to turn. Well, then, say to the Lord, as David did, "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path." Have confidence that, when you know not what to do, He can and will direct your way if you trust Him.
2. In addition to that, it may be that you are greatly tempted. David said, "They privily laid a snare for me." It is often so with young men in a warehouse, or with a number of clerks in an establishment. Young Christian soldiers often have a very rough time of it in the barracks; but I hope that they will prove themselves true soldiers, and not yield an inch to those who would lead them astray.
3. It will be very painful if, in addition to that, your friends turn against you. David said, "There was no man that would know me." Is it so with you? Are your father and mother against you? Cultivate great love to those who, having come into the army of Christ, are much beset by adversaries. They are in the cave. Do not disown them; they are trying to do their best; stand side by Side with them.
4. It may be that the worst point about you is that you feel very feeble. You say, "I should not mind the persecution if I felt strong; but I am so feeble." Well, now, always distinguish between feeling strong and being strong. The man who feels strong is weak; the man who feels weak is the man who is strong.
III. THE CONDITION OF A BELIEVER WHO IS BEING PREPARED FOR GREATER HONOUR AND WIDER SERVICE. Is it not a curious thing that, whenever God means to make a man great, He always breaks him in pieces first? David was to be king over all Israel. What was the way to Jerusalem for David? What was the way to the throne? Well, it was round by the cave of Adullam, He must go there and be an outlaw and an outcast, for that was the way by which he would be made king. Have none of you ever noticed, in your own lives, that whenever God is going to give you an enlargement, and bring you out to a larger sphere of service, or a higher platform of spiritual life, you always get thrown down? Why is that?
1. If God would make you greatly useful, He must teach you how to pray.
2. The man whom God would greatly honour must always believe in God when he is at his wit's end (ver. 3). Oh, it is easy to trust when you can trust yourself; but when you cannot trust yourself, when you are dead beat, when your spirit sinks below zero in the chili of utter despair, then is the time to trust in God. If that is your case, you have the marks of a man who can lead God's people, and be a comforter of others.
3. In order to greater usefulness many a man of God must be taught to stand quite alone (ver. 4).
4. The man whom God will bless must be the man who delights in God alone (ver. 5). Oh, to have God as our refuge, and to make God our portion!
5. He whom God would use must be taught sympathy with God's poor people (ver. 6). If the Lord means to bless you, and to make you very useful in His Church, depend upon it He will try you.
6. If God means to use you, you must get to be full of praise (ver. 7). If thou art of a cheerful spirit, glad in the Lord, and joyous after all thy trials and afflictions, and if thou dost but rejoice the more because thou hast been brought so low, then God is making something of thee, and He will yet use thee to lead His people to greater works of grace.
( C. H. Spurgeon.): — Life and liberty are sweet; but we may pay too dear a price even for the sweetest things. David is now at liberty; he has escaped out of the prison-house of Gath; but he has made his escape and obtained his liberty at much too great a price. For years past the name of Gath had been the proudest name that David's flatterers could speak in his willing ears. But after his disgraceful escape from that city to David's old age, it brought a cloud to his brow and a blush to his cheek to hear the name of Gath. We all have our Gaths. There are people and there are places in our own past life the very name of which, the very neighbourhood of which, throws a bolt into conscience and brings a blush upon the cheek. If we purchase a name, or a place, or an office, or wealth, or even a home, if we purchase any of them at the cost of truth or of justice, or of honour, or self-respect, or fair play to our competitor, we will find, when it is too late, that we have sold ourselves for naught, and have poisoned the very wells of life. So David discovered it to be when, for his liberty, he degraded himself in Gath, deceived Achish, and was hurried out of the land and escaped — a free, indeed, but a dishonoured man — to the Cave of Adullam. But then, it is out of such degradation and shame that weak and evil men rise on stepping-stones of their own transgressions to true honour and wisdom, to stable godliness and exercised virtue. "I will take sentry myself to-night," said David to his captains one Sabbath evening. Wrapping around him the cloak that Michal had worked for him in happier days, and taking in his hand Goliath's sword, David paced the rocky shelves, and poured out his full heart to God all that Sabbath night. All in the great cave did not sleep, or all at once; and it was nights like these — when their captain shared their dangers and assured their fears, as they heard his step and listened to his deep sweet voice — it was nights like these that did more to turn the rough and ill-used men into heroes and saints than all their sufferings and all their other discipline. David says: "I cried that night unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication." I went out alone, and "I poured out my complaint before Him," and "I showed Him" that night all "my trouble." We are never content. What would we have given for a full report of all that David said about himself and his cause to God that night? We are thankful for this dramatic 142nd psalm; but it would have been a grand piece of devotional literature, aye, of national history, had we had all that David said to God that sentinel night; but what he did say was not fitted or intended for any human ear. We know that from ourselves, from our own sentinel Sabbaths. We too have troubles and complaints that our ministers do not touch upon in all their most searching Sabbath Day exercises, any more than God touched upon David's here in the cave. But David seems only to have one "complaint," and yet it was so blessed to him that it compelled him to spend the hours of the night alone with God, Keep your complaints for God, my afflicted brethren; keep your complaints for God, and for the silence of the night. No one will listen to your trouble but God; no one has time, no one has attention to give to your sorrow but God. You will only expose yourself, and weaken yourself, and humble yourself, if you take your complaints to preoccupied men. Like David, some of you may to-night be labouring and anxious under some complaint against your master, or against some of your relatives; or some of you may have received an insulting, threatening, blackmailing letter, like Hezekiah. I do not say you are not to show that letter to a lawyer; but you must show it first to God, and then, if possible, to a lawyer who knows God. Send all your house to bed to-night before you answer that letter, and again show it to God in the morning before you post it. "I poured out my complaint before God; I showed Him all my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path." "The Lord," says Newton, "is not withdrawn to a great distance from you, His eye is upon you all the time, He sees your case, and does not behold it with indifference, but observes it with attention. He knows and considers your path, and not only so, but He appointed it and all the outs and ins of it. Your trouble began at the hour He appointed; it could not begin before, and He has marked the degree of it to a hair's breadth, and its duration to a moment. He knows, likewise, just how your spirit is affected to-night under the trouble, and He will supply you, if you will take it — He will supply grace and strength in due season, and as He sees they are needful. Therefore, hope in God; for you, like David, shall yet praise Him." To be imprisoned by God was better to David than to be set free by man. In David's best moments, as sometimes when sentinel in Adullam, David felt that God's prison-house was a very hermitage, sanctuary, a grand pavilion, as he signifies elsewhere, into which God takes the soul to show it His "marvellous lovingkindness." David had broken out of God's prison in Gath before the time, but he has never ceased to repent of that insane act. And if at any time he felt the banishment of Adullam — and he had a thousand thoughts during these lonely hours — he soon recollected who held the keys; and, though the door had been opened, he would not have escaped. God Himself conspicuously delivered David henceforth. God is David's jailor, and whatever time David feels his close detention, he betakes himself anew, in all his guilt, and lies, and playing the madman and the fool to earnest, believing, and waiting prayer: "Bring my soul out of prison that I may praise Thy name"; and then, as the new day broke in the east, and the shades of the night fled away, the day-star of hope arose in David's heart, and the present prayer seems almost to be prophetic. He foresaw the Lord not only as his refuge in every future time of trouble, but also as his alone "portion in the land of the living"; he saw himself set free from every prison and from every persecutor, with his "righteousness brought forth as the light, and his judgment as the noonday." "Bring my soul out of prison" was his last word to God, as the day broke in the east, "that I may praise Thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for Thou shalt deal bountifully with me." And how well was that hope fulfilled to David, how bountifully did God deal with David, and how hath the righteous compassed David about, as rapt listeners compass round the sweetest music, as rejoicing fellow-worshippers compass round a miracle of Divine grace. "There was no man that would know me," complained David in the day of his deep dejection. But all men whose knowledge is worth the having know David now. All righteous men compass him about now, and rejoice over him that his God, and their God, brought "his soul out of prison," and dealt so bountifully with him.
(A. Whyte, D. D.)
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