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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 42

Verses 1-11

The Thirst for the Living God

Psalms 42:2

There is scarcely a phase of philosophy about us, or a really profound experience which we observe, which does not illustrate the increasing thirst of the human soul for the living God.

I. Take, in the first place, the philosophy of the time, and consider the outcome of those forms of philosophy which, to the religious mind, are most unpromising and repelling. For the last twenty years philosophical unbelief has been taking shape among English-speaking people under two types. One we call positivism, the other agnosticism. Now, whatever these two types of thought had to debate about, they seemed to have this one point of agreement that each of them expressly withheld the thoughts of men from any sense of a living God. Yet, strangely enough, nothing which the history of the times presents seems to illustrate so strongly as do these very schools of thought the increasing thirst of philosophy for a genuine religious life.

II. This ferment of the philosophers is but a suggestion of the spiritual restlessness which possesses multitudes about us, whether they study philosophy or not. It is this eager, receptive, waiting mood, found in every community, which gives the chief human impulse to the life of a modern minister. It fills the preacher's work with a new exhilaration, for he is not dealing with a controversy against other forms of faith, but with a positively constructive work. It does not much matter for this end precisely wherein the confidence of his faith may lie. Let him believe anything concerning the ways of God supremely and announce his faith rationally and he is satisfying the thirst of many souls.

III. This is the natural basis of the authority of Jesus. To come in the course of one's experiences upon one towering personality to whom the sense of God is meat and drink, and in whom duty becomes grace through this illuminating of his way, to be taken out of one's solitude and feel this life touching one's own through all its experiences, yet sustained and disciplined throughout by this transfiguring faith that is a recognition of authority which is healthful and scientific and invigorating and humbling all at once. The more one is set free from false and external authority the more he needs the authority of a master soul. The more the problem of the time is seen to be the preaching of a living God, the more unlikely shall we be to outgrow the mediating force of Christian loyalty.

Francis G. Peabody, Homiletic Review, 1906, vol. LII. p. 301.

References. XLII. 2. Bishop Maclagan, Penny Pulpit, No. 731. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 129. W. J. Knox-Little, Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 267. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 36. A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, p. 135. S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 13. XLII. 4. W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 101.

To the Disheartened

Psalms 42:5

I. The common causes for disheartening.

( a ) The long and monotonous stretches of our life. It is a dreary business walking in the country when the dusty road without a turn or a bend stretches ahead of you for miles. It is the sameness that disheartens us.

( b ) Bitter disappointment.

( c ) The apparent uselessness of all we do. It is the partial failure, it is the lack of progress, it is the fact that I strive and never seem to attain, that lies at the root of spiritual despondency. I am disheartened because I am something better than a beast, and have been made to crave, to strive, to yearn, to hope, unsatisfied, till the day break and the shadows flee away.

II. Counsels against disheartenment.

( a ) Disheartenment can often be dispelled by action.

( b ) Remember what others have to suffer. When you are quite despondent, says Mr. Keble, 'the best way is to go out and do something kind to somebody'.

( c ) In your hours of disheartening just ask if there was ever a man on earth who had such cause to be disheartened as our Lord.

G. H. Morrison, Flood-Tide, p. 43.

Psalms 42:5

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?' The narrative of the death of the Bohemian martyrs, who suffered at Prague in 1621, says, 'John Schultis was the next, who on the scaffold said, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him". "The righteous seem in the eyes of men to die, but indeed they go to their rest." Then kneeling down, he said, "Come, come, Lord Jesus, and do not tarry"; and so he was beheaded.'

John Ker.

References. XLII. 6. H. P. Wright, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 515. A. Rowland, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 135. XLII. 6. R. Roberts, My Jewels, p. 22. J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 287.

The Correspondence of the Deeps

Psalms 42:7

It is very probable that this Psalm was written by some one who was with David when he fled from Absalom. The title says it was for the sons of Korah: it would be better to read it, by the sons of Korah. These sons of Korah were doorkeepers of the sanctuary; they had also some charge of sanctuary music; and when David fled from his rebellious son, these loyal servants would accompany him. It was one of these, I think, who wrote this Psalm, with its passionate yearning for the house of God. It is filled with the imagery of that mountain region where the king had gone in peril of his life. And the writer, true poet that he was, finds in the scenery the picture of his mood; reads in the face of universal nature the anguish that was gnawing at his heart. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts. He could hear the cataracts as he lay sleepless. Now they were thunderous, now they were faint, as the breeze rose and fell among the hills. And as he listened to them in their varying tones, now loud and clamorous, now dying away again, it seemed to him as if the mountain torrents were calling to one another through the night. Had the man been a Celt he would have said, 'It is the spirit of the waters that is crying'. Being a Jew, those echoings and answerings were the broken syllables of the one God. But being a poet, whether Celt or Jew, this reached him as the message of that midnight, that between deep and solemn and majestic voices there is a certain call and correspondence. On that then shall we dwell for a few moments? on the call and correspondence of deep things? I shall run rapidly over some tracts of life, and use this text for their illumination.

I. I find a suggestion here of the influence of scenery on character. That is a thought which has been largely worked at in late years, how nations are moulded by the scenes among which they dwell.

II. Our text helps us to understand what I might call the appeal of personality. You can never explain on any shallow grounds the way in which the deepest ties are formed. The ways of God are not the ways of man, and friendships, like marriages, are made in heaven, and we flash into recognition of each other just because deep is calling unto deep. I do believe with the American poet that the friends I seek are seeking me. I do believe they are always drawing nearer, led by a hand that knows the way we take. Out of the depths I cried to God. Yes, that is true, and we have found it so. But it seems to me that this is also true: out of the depths I cried unto my friend.

III. Then once again I think our text applies to the responses that we make to our great hours. It applies to those times of national awaking when peril is imminent and all is dark. You can never tell what a nation can achieve till it is faced by one of these decisive seasons. You can never judge the fibre of a people when things are easy and prosperous and peaceful. It takes a time of danger to show that; a time when our blood-bought freedom is in peril; just as it takes the onset of the storm to show the finest features of the ship. There are always people in a time of peace who will tell you that Britain is going to the dogs. They bewail the dying out of heroism; the love of pleasure; the lack of high ideal. God knows it is all true enough, if you take the average of any great community, but I say that a man is a traitor to his country if he really believes that that is all. Let another Napoleon show himself in France, and you shall have another Wellington in England. There is always a Lord Nelson getting ready for the great hour that calls for a Lord Nelson. Not only so, but let the day arrive when the charter of our freedom is imperilled, and you shall have such a spirit in the people as will recall the joy of the heroic time. That is the meaning of the fine enthusiasm which kindles a people in the day of trial. That is the secret of the swift response which follows the appeal to the heroic. There is much that is slumbering in the nation's heart, and so long as the sunshine lasts it will not stir; but it will waken, with triumph in its eyes, when deep is calling unto deep.

G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 56.

References. XLII. 7. J. Baldwin Brown, The Sunday Afternoon, p. 252. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 865.

The Song and the Prayer

Psalms 42:8

I. To each soul its own prayer. First of all, let me say that every soul has its own prayer 'My prayer unto the God of my life'. No man can ever take the place of my soul, and feel its sins, and its sorrows, and its wants. And as he can never breathe my prayer no man can ever drink my cup, or taste either its sweetness or its bitterness; I must drink it myself. No man can see my visions. They may be poor, they may be limited, circumscribed and never peer where the vision of others has gone; but no man can see my vision, no man can see your vision no man can breathe your prayer any more than he can breathe mine. Prayer springs from different causes; it is uttered in different circumstances and conditions; it is expressed in different words and must be. The learned and refined man will express his prayer to God in refined and beautiful language. But the unlearned, as Paul calls them, and the unrefined men will express their prayer in quite another way. But the one man can never express the prayer of the other man, whether it be learned or unlearned.

II. Every true prayer is to 'The God of my life'. He is the God of all the mysteries as well as of all the things that are palpable. The things that you and I cannot explain, for which we find no reason, He is still 'The God of ray life'. Some people seem to revel in mysteries, and to breathe the atmosphere of mysteries. But to me here are the mysteries of life, and with those I am familiar. Why that poor mother, just when her children most needed her love, why 'The God of my life,' should call her to lie down and die? Why that father, who is the breadwinner for a wife and several children, at the most critical time in the family's life should be smitten down to death? That is a mystery to me. There is no answer that I know of, but 'He is the God of my life'. He is the God of an infinite love, of an infinite salvation, that streams from the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and comes to bless us in every change through which we pass.

W. Cuff.

References. XLII. 8. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 204. J. Ker, Sermons, p.. 213. XLII. 10. W. Page-Roberts, Law and God, p. 1. XLII. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. p. 1226. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (4th Series), p. 21.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 42". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.