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An Imprecatory Psalm
It is not too much to say that, save in the Athanasian Creed itself, nowhere have Christian people found more widespread spiritual difficulty than in what are commonly known as the Imprecatory Psalms, and even among these none is equal to the Psalm whence the text is taken. How are we to understand them; how, especially when we are told to forgive as we would be forgiven, can we, in Christian churches, take them on our lips? The explanations are various. Bishop Hall, in his desire for an explanation, would alter the optative to the future. In the case before us this is undoubtedly the natural conclusion. Whether in accord with a wish or not, the fact was plain: when an office was once forfeited or lost another must take it. Whose office? We are reminded of the election of St. Matthias, by lot after prayer, to the post vacated by the traitor Judas. St. Peter quotes the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, and says with peculiar appropriateness, 'his bishoprick let another take'. And what an occasion it was! Peter applied the ancient words of prophecy in this Psalm to Judas Iscariot.
I. Peter and Judas. Peter speaking of Judas! Was there no inappropriateness in this, think you? For it is an indisputable fact that in one sense Peter and Judas were both in the same category. Both, alas! had greatly sinned; and yet there was a difference and distinction even here. Peter denied Christ, while Judas betrayed Him; but there was this difference: Peter's denial had been an act of sudden impulse, while Judas's betrayal was but the final outcome of a long-cherished secret, deliberate, wicked design. Peter had fallen owing to the fear of man, forgetful of God, Who is alone truly to be feared here and hereafter as well. But Judas was guilty of hypocrisy, lying, and covetousness in their most terrible form; and Christ, recognizing the sad and evil fact of the sinister presence of Judas Iscariot amid the little band said, 'One of you is a devil'. Peter and Judas! There was another difference between them. Not only in their sin but in its results. Judas Iscariot was smitten with remorse, but Peter had a godly sorrow that worked unto repentance.
II. The Temporary Character of Office. And are there no ways in which that prophecy may appeal to us? Let us see. In one sense it must temporariness. We are here but a short time; only One, Jesus Christ, as the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us, abides a priest eternally, having His office unchangeable. That tender Old Testament picture of Aaron, Eleazar, and Moses going up together to Mount Hor and Aaron dying there, and Moses and Eleazar coming down from the mount alone, is a true parable of the succession of office. God buries His workmen, but He carries on His work. Some day your medical practice, or your profession, or your business, or your shop, or your clerkship, or your Church office, or your own particular work will be held by some one else. Another name will be painted up outside. The wind will pass over you, and your place, like that of the flower of the field, shall know you no more. Strangers that know you not, and with different ways, will come. What they do concerns you not. Your duty is with yourself. Make the most of your present opportunity before old Time, with his hour-glass, lays us of the present generation low, like as he has done to the past, and like as he shall do to us as well. The time comes when the door of earthly opportunity shall be shut, and to each of us in turn the inevitable sentence must go forth, 'Let another take his office'.
III. Unfitness for Office. But if this is the common law over which human control is not, there are other senses in which the answer must rest with ourselves. There are offices held by people manifestly unfit the square man, as the old saying goes, in the round hole. Our English Charles I., the French Louis XVI., a succession of Russian Czars; who can assert that nothing but harm was done by deposition, in filling their position by others? How much good would be done if people who are in unsuitable positions everywhere could have the gentle word of release spoken, passing them to suitable spheres and letting others take their office! But more often unfitness lies in deliberate fault rather than in actual misfortune. We are not fit for noble tasks because we make no effort. It is God's inexorable law that office is taken from those who misuse it.
IV. Hold fast that which Thou Hast. Yes, there is one tiny place in God's Church and universe which no one can fill so well as ourselves. Christ's office none can take, yet that office is there for a purpose to save us, to enable us each one to be faithful.
References. CIX. 8. Bishop Woodford, Occasional Sermons, vol. i. p. 67. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, pp. 164, 165. CIX. 40. R. M. Benson, Redemption, p. 221. CIX. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 364. CX. 1. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i. p. 58.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 109". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany