"This Psalm is an evidence of the truth and depth of the religious life in individuals after the return from the Exile.… It reminds us of earlier Psalms, and especially of the Psalms of David. His words must have laid hold in no common degree of the hearts of those who were heirs of his faith, and have sustained them in times of sorrow and suffering; and nothing would be more natural than that later poets would echo his strains, and mingle his words with their own, when they poured forth their prayers and praises before God."—Perowne.
PRAYER: ITS OBJECT AND ITS VALUE
The exact rendering would be, "I love, because the Lord heareth my voice," &c., and brings before us the proper object and the ethical value of prayer.
I. Characteristics of prayer.
1. "My voice." Prayer should, as far as possible, be vocal. The conditions of prayer are hardly fulfilled when it is merely a current of devotional thought passing through the mind. True, there are circumstances under which sighs, unexpressed desires, are acceptable to God; but expression
(1) gives definiteness, prevents the mind from wandering;
(2) gives completeness; the sacrifice of the heart is then accompanied by the sacrifice of the lips.
2. "My supplications." Which teaches us that prayer should be
(1) humble. We are simply beggars at the throne of grace, and are absolutely dependent for every gift on God's free bounty.
(2) Full. One supplication is not enough. We must multiply our supplications, as showing our need, and our confidence in God's infinite resources. We fail because we do not ask enough, or for enough.
(3) Earnest. Cold formalities never reach the ear of God.
II. The object of prayer. "The Lord heareth."
1. God can hear prayer. "He that planted the ear shall He not hear?" God made man for communion with Himself, which would be impossible unless God could hear when man prays.
2. God is willing to hear prayer.
(1.) His commandments prove it. "Make your requests known unto God."
(2.) His promises prove it. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble," &c.
(3.) Direct revelations to this effect prove it. (Jer ., Zec 13:9.)
3. God does hear prayer. (Isa .) All the Bible proves it; all Christian experience has proved it. "This poor man cried," &c.
III. The value of prayer.
1. Prayer secures the object for which it asks. "The Lord heareth." For God to hear is for God to answer, and His all comprehending answer is Himself.
2. In securing this grand object it secures all that it wants. To answer some petitions would be harmful. The promise is, "My God shall supply all your need."
3. The effect of prayer "is to put the affections in motion. Its object is the uncreated love, the eternal beauty; He of whose beauty all that moves love and admiration here is at best a pale reflection. To be in His presence is to be conscious of an expansion of the heart, and of the pleasure which accompanies it, which we feel in another sense, when speaking to an intimate and loved friend or relative. And this movement of the affections is sustained throughout the act of prayer. It is invigorated by the spiritual sight of God; but it is also the original impulse which leads us to draw near to Him. (Mat, 1Jn 3:21-22.) In true prayer: ‘Out of the abundance of the heart," &c.—Liddon.
IN CONCLUSION.—"How vain and foolish is the talk ‘To love God for His benefits is mercenary, and cannot be pure love!' Whether pure or impure, no other lore can flow out of the heart of the creature towards its creator. ‘We love Him,' said Christ's holiest apostle, ‘because He first loved us;' and the increase of our love and filial obedience is in proportion to the increased sense of our obligation to Him."—Dr. A. Clarke.
THE MOTIVE FOR PERSEVERING PRAYER
There can be no reasonable objection to motives as long as they are pure, and so long as they are adequate for the purpose for which they are employed. The motives in God's Word are worthy and sufficient. We have a very beautiful one in the text. God has heard the particular request of the Psalmist, and he takes that as a guarantee of His willingness to hear and answer in all time to come. In the strength of this he vows to pray without ceasing. Notice—
I. This motive reveals God's condescension and anxiety to hear. "The Psalmist represents himself as so sick and weak that he could scarcely speak. The Lord is here considered as bowing down His ear to the mouth of the feeble suppliant, that He may catch every word of His prayer."—Dr. A. Clarke.
II. The determination that is based upon this motive, "I will call," &c.
1. What? "I will call," implying
(1) Resolution: "I will." Prayer requires effort. "No man is likely to do much good in prayer who does not begin by looking upon it in the light of a work, to be prepared for, and to be persevered in with all the earnestness which we bring to bear upon subjects which are, in our opinion, at once most interesting and most necessary."—Bishop Hamilton.
(2) Confidence. Unless there is an expectation of being heard the voice will falter.
(3) Earnestness. Not a feeble whisper, but a loud cry.
2. When? "As long as I live." Heb.: "In my days."
(1.) Whenever opportunities occur. These occur constantly.
(2.) As long as life lasts. Not by fits and starts.
(3.) In the hour of death.
(4.) In eternity.
III. The divine intention that is suggested by the ground of this motive, and the warrant for this determination. God answers prayer—
1. That we should believe that He hears and answers it.
2. That we may have "boldness of access with confidence."
3. That He may surround Himself with a royal priesthood, who shall "show forth the praises of Him who hath called them," &c. Learn—(i.) For our encouragement that God desires our prayers, and is anxious to hear them. (ii.) For our warning. Unless we call, God will not hear. A prayerless people are a godless people.
Prayer must be the Christian's atmosphere. As long as there is necessity for prayer we must pray. But there are special seasons which require special prayer. Our text indicates some of them.
I. The time for special prayer.
1. In the pangs of disease, either hopeless or apparently so. Heb.: "The cords of death encircled me." In the Old Testament death is represented as a hunter with a cord and net. In consumption or any lingering sickness the cord gets tighter and tighter, and the meshes more and more intricate, until all possibility of escape is cut off. One by one hopes fade, and encouraging symptoms disappear. Step by step does the fell malady march to conquest, and then the time comes when there is but a step between man and death. The Psalmist would appear to have been in the death struggle. Whether the affliction was physical disease, overwhelming trouble, or extreme danger, does not appear, but the expression is suggestive of all.
2. In the painful anticipation of the future. Heb.: "The pangs of the underworld discovered me." "As if they had been searching for me, and had found my hiding-place. Those sorrows ever in pursuit of us will soon find us all. We cannot long escape the pursuit. Death tracks us, and is on our heels"—Barnes.
(1.) The pain of leaving those we love.
(2.) The pain of unfinished work.
(3.) The sorrowful contemplation of sin.
(4.) For some, the fearful apprehension of wrath to come.
3. In bitter disappointment. "Death found me, and I found trouble and sorrow. I did not seek it, but in what I was seeking I found this. Whatever we fail to ‘find' in the pursuits of life, we shall not fail to find troubles and sorrows"—Barnes.
4. In any kind of trial. Whole text.
II. The subjects of special prayer. "O Lord, deliver my soul"
1. The Psalmist's prayer literally was for life. This value of and desire for life runs through the Old Testament. Not that we are warranted in believing that the Jew held that death was the extinction of the soul's life. But life that was spared was ever viewed in the light of consecration to God. The rest of this Psalm, and the conclusion of the previous, bears this out. He wished for life that he might pay his vows.
2. The Psalmist's prayer admits of a spiritual interpretation. Soul deliverance is deliverance from sin. Sin is the soul's death. All other aspects of death are comparatively insignificant. Of all legitimately special subjects this is the sum. If the soul is saved from death, physical dissolution can be apprehended calmly.
3. The Psalmist's prayer suggests that subordinate details should be left in the hands of God. His subsequent path is a matter of unconcern. If God spares his life, he knows that God will support it. "Is not the life more than meat?" All God's larger blessings include the lesser. (Rom .)
III. The manner of special prayer.
1. Earnestly. "Called." The case is urgent.
2. Resignedly. "I beseech Thee," i.e., if it be Thy will.
IN CONCLUSION.—God sometimes allows His servants to approach extreme peril, that they may experience His extreme nearness, and the extreme efficacy of prayer.
ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR PRAYER
Under certain circumstances prayer would be impossible. If its object were unbending, and therefore incapable of hearing it, it would be useless; if capricious, or too easily moved, it would be worthless; if severe and implacable, we should have no heart to pray. The Christian is encouraged by the fact that God is gracious, righteous, and merciful. "He is righteous, He did me no wrong in afflicting me; He is gracious, and was very kind in supporting and delivering me. Let us speak of God as we have found: and have we ever found Him otherwise?"—M. Henry. "Instead of saying, ‘Jehovah answered me,' he magnifies those attributes, which, from the days of His wonderful self-revelation to Moses (Exo ) had been the joy of every tried and trusting heart."—Perowne.
I. Pray because God is "the Lord." Jehovah, the Unchangeable One, who has eternity with its wealth and in its duration, in which and by which to supply all our need.
II. Pray because the Lord is "our God." Our dwelling-place, inheritance, and covenant possession. Hence all He is and has is ours. (Rom, 1Co 3:22-23.)
III. Fray because the Lord is "gracious." חַנּוּן
1. Condescending. God stoops to hear prayer, and comes down to answer it.
2. Favourable to prayer. He has commanded it and promised to bless it. His Son has taught men how to pray, and ever lives to mingle their prayers with His. His Spirit helps men to pray.
3. Kind to those who pray. Does not lay upon them heavy burdens. Does not impose heavy penances or long liturgies. Hears the faintest sighings of the broken and contrite heart.
4. Beneficent is His answers to prayer. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," &c.
IV. Pray because the Lord is "righteous."
1. God is just in all His dealings. Nothing that is right will be withheld; nothing that is wrong, bestowed.
2. God is truthful in all His words. His promises can never fail, because "He is not a man that He should lie," &c.
3. God is reliable in all His ways. We may depend upon the principles of His government as on an unshakable foundation.
4. "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
V. Pray because "our God is merciful." רָחַם.
1. God interests Himself in our case. He is perfectly acquainted with it. "He knoweth our frame," &c.
2. God is tenderly solicitous of our interests. We are His "inheritance;" the "apple of His eye;" the "sheep of His pasture," &c.
3. God is compassionate of our sorrows. "In all our afflictions He was afflicted." Christ is "touched with a feeling of our infirmities."
4. God is friendly towards our persons. We are His "children," His "friends," "loved with an everlasting love," and "loved unto the end."
IN CONCLUSION.—Notice (i.) The crime and folly of unbelieving despondency. (ii.) Let the considerations urge you to earnest and believing prayer.
THE TIMELY HELP OF HELPLESSNESS
I. Who are the helpless? "The simple." פָּתַה has three meanings:—
1. To be open in the sense of being foolish and thus simple. The immature in experience, the weak in understanding or will. God does not despise the poor imbecile, nor those who, through no fault of their own, are peculiarly open to the craft of those who "lie in wait to deceive."
2. To be open in the sense of being frank, trustful, and ingenuous. One who yields readily to truth and duty; without cunning, trickery, or guile. A Nathaniel.
3. To be open, as in the case of little children, which is indeed the rendering of nearly all the versions. Such, being members of the Kingdom of Heaven, are under the special care of its King. "Take heed how ye offend," &c.
4. To be open, as in the weakness of sickness and old age.
II. When are they helped? In their extremity. דָּלַל to wave, to totter, to be loose; to be dried up, drained, to fail; to hang, to swing from side to side, as miners letting themselves down (Job ); lit., they hang, they swing, far from men.
1. In their insecurity. The simple of all kinds are open to crafty and unscrupulous foes. How often are the weak of intellect or will outwitted in trade, opportunity, or health! How often does the guileless honesty and unsuspicion of the man who is determined to do right lay him open to intrigue! How often is the trustfulness of little children, and the semi-imbecility of old age, imposed upon! How often is sickness taken advantage of! But let their foes beware; for the Almighty has pledged Himself to be on their side.
2. In their exhaustion.
(1.) In the exhaustion of their natural resources.
(2.) In the failure of their understanding "God will guide them by His counsel."
(3.) In the abortion of their preventive efforts the Lord will fly to their succour.
(4) In the decrepitude of their physical strength, in the feebleness which harassing anxiety has engendered, and in the failure of power at the hour of death. "His rod and His staff shall comfort" them.
III. How are they helped?
1. "The Lord preserveth." שָמַר. To pierce, to be wakeful and active as a gatekeeper or shepherd, to protect and to attend to strictly. Then
(1) God keeps a vigilant watch over the weakness of the simple and the strength and subtlety of their foes. "He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps."
(2) God throws an omnipotent protection round the simple. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower," &c. "The Lord God is a sun and shield." "Underneath are the eyerlasting arms." But are the weak thus cared for? Notice
(1) Do the weak trust in God, or lean to their own understanding?
(2) Have the TRUE. interests of the weak, in so far as they have trusted in God, been permanently assailed? Have their losses, sufferings, been real? Unsuspecting persons have been robbed of their temporal rights, perhaps, but has not the soul been safe, and is there not treasure in heaven? Children have been slaughtered, but they have passed to their crown without the pain and danger of the conflict.
2. "He helped me" יָשַע
(1.) God will SAVE the simple in their extremity. Let them be assured that if they will trust in Him they are safe.
(2.) God will SUPPORT them in their weakness. "My grace is sufficient for thee."
(3.) God will ultimately give them victory (Eph, Rom 8:35-37).
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." (ii.) The enemies of the simple are the enemies of God. (iii.) Isa .
THE SOUL'S RETURN TO ITS REST
The many afflictions of the Psalmist had agitated his soul and shaken his confidence in God. He had been bound by the cords of death. He had felt the painful straitening of the tomb. Trouble and sorrow were the discovery of his search for good. His enemies had overmatched and exhausted him. In the midst of his affliction miraculous help had been vouchsafed. The Lord saved him, and now he returns to the rest of joyous confidence in God which stills for ever the tumult of his soul.
I. The soul is commanded to return to its rest. Therefore this rest is its rightful heritage. "Thy rest."
1. This rest is not
(1) the rest of mere local habitation. The soul may be in a state of the greatest disquietude on the most comfortable couches, and in the most splendid dwelling-place. It refuses to be stilled by the tenderest caresses, and by the enchantment of the richest music, and is proof against slumber on beds of the softest down. Heaven itself would afford no repose to a soul in certain moral conditions.
(2) Insensibility. When the soul ceases to feel it is not at rest, it is diseased or dead. Better the keenest anguish than this.
(3) Inactivity, if, indeed, that were possible. An inactive soul would be a soul exhausted of its powers.
2. This rest is, the harmony, health, and tranquil action of all the forces of the soul.
(1.) The soul's rest consists in pure affection for a worthy object. The soul was made for love: "Thou shalt love … with all thy soul." There can be no rest where there is no love, where that love is impure, or where it is fixed on unlovely objects. Hell is the state where irregular passions rage and clash with one another and cause agony, because there is no love and no object for love. Unholy love is feverish and insatiable lust. Love of the unlovely is the cause of more unrest than all other causes combined. The soul returns to its rest when it sets its regenerated affections on the things above.
(2.) The soul's rest consists in satisfying faith in an all-sufficient power. Man was made for trust. No man is conscious of independence. He is therefore at unrest until he finds some one on whom his faith can utterly repose itself. He is at unrest if he is trusting to a broken reed; and when that has given way he trembles to trust again. The doubtful mind (Luk, μετεωριζεσθε) is that which is tossed about in the open and stormy sea. The soul can only be at rest when its anchorage is in God. Only as we can say with Paul when the blast of Euroclydon was on the vessel, "I believe God," can we have peace.
(3.) The soul is at rest when its volitions are in harmony with a will higher than its own, and stronger. Self-will is the cause of perpetual unrest. It is constantly thwarted and disappointed, and therefore never at peace. Only as far as the soul is in harmony with Him whose will rules the universe, and cheerfully assists in the fulfilment of the counsel of that will, can it be at rest. Its rest is this, "I delight to do Thy will," &c.
(4.) The soul is at rest when engaged in that work for which it is divinely fitted. Ignoble callings, vulgar ambitions, and immoral pleasures, have no affinity with that which is the image of the great Creator. The soul was made to fight the good fight of faith, to work the works of Him that sent it; and only in such occupations can it be at rest.
(5.) Therefore, only as the soul is free from the perturbations of sin can it be at rest. Sin has destroyed the moral balance of the soul, and introduced discord where all was harmony. That, thank God, can be removed. Peace follows pardon. Purity precedes refreshment. And the soul pardoned and refreshed, with its love fixed on God, its faith reposing on God, its will governed by God, and its work directed by God, it realises the promise to the full: "I will give you rest."
II. The soul is commanded to return to its rest; there is hope for weary man, that his lost rest may be regained, Man has lost his rest. Furrowed brows, blasted hopes, ruined fortunes, early graves, all bear witness to this.
"Art thou weary, art thou languid,
Art thou sore distressed?
Come to Me, saith One, and coming,
Be at rest."
"For the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee." The details of that bounty are specified in the following verses. Those details may be summed up in one word, GOD. Elsewhere the soul may seek rest, but it will find none. God provides the soul with
(1) a lovely object: He is "the King in His beauty;"
(2) a trusty object: "Casting all your cares on Him;"
(3) a governing will: so that the soul can say, "Thy will be done;"
(4) an appropriate work; "Workers together with God;"
(5) purity, harmony, peace.
IN CONCLUSION.—(i.) Seek the true rest, God. (ii.) Seek it in the proper plate, God. (iii.) Seek it by the best means, God. "God is the centre to which all immortal spirits tend, and in connection with whom they can find rest. Everything separated from its centre is in a state of violence; and if intelligent cannot be happy. All human souls, when separated from God by sin, are in a state of violence, agitation, and misery. From God all spirits come; to Him all spirits must return, in order to be finally happy."—A. Clarke.
I. Of "the soul from death." We are warranted in taking this in its most comprehensive sense. Of the life—
1. From physical death. The Psalmist had been brought to death's door and was restored to health and strength. Then are few men who cannot say the same. Most have passed through dangerous sicknesses, or just escaped what might have been fatal accidents but for the interposition of a higher power. And, indeed, subtle perils lurk in the atmosphere we breathe, and the circumstances by which we are surrounded every moment, and yet we are spared.
2. From intellectual death. How near men are to that let our asylums show. The brain has a limit to its power, and excess, the anxieties of life, and the grapple with great intellectual problems, sometimes brings us to the very margin which bounds sanity from madness. But God has interposed His "hitherto shalt thou go," &c.
3. From social death. How near are many men to ostracism from the friends who love them and the homes that cherish them! Many a man has uplifted a hand, which, had it fallen, he would thenceforth have been an outcast from his fellow-men. Many a man has entertained thoughts, which, had he uttered in the feeblest breath, men would have shunned him as a wild beast. Many a man has spoken five words, which, had they been six, the very wife of his bosom and the children of his heart would have spurned him. There have been men whose emotions have risen fifty degrees, and one degree more the brand of Cain would have been written on their forehead for life. God has saved their soul from death. Some men have committed social suicide, and God has given life to the dead.
4. From moral death, the real death of the soul. The soul is now dead in trespasses and sins. Those who live in sin are dead while they live. God can and does raise the soul into newness of life. Sinners, remember that there is a death, which, while it never dies, admits of no resurrection. This is "the second death."
II. Of the "eyes from tears."
1. God sometimes delivers us from the occasions of sorrow. Many things which would have caused us helpless grief, God has mercifully checked. Friends have been spared, losses averted, sharp arrows of pain missed their mark.
2. God sometimes gives us grace to bear our sorrows, so that we can say with more than resignation, more than acquiescence, with adoring gratitude even through our tears, "The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away," &c.
3. God sometimes wipes the tears from our eyes. He "comforts those who mourn," &c., sends the Comforter, whispers the promises, and assures of the time when there will be no more pain, and when "He will wipe all tears from all faces."
III. Of his "feet from falling."
1. Preservation from snares and pitfalls, enabling us so to thread our way as to avoid those dangers which, if encountered, would be perilous to the soul.
2. Firm establishment. On a rock, so that nothing shall shake us. On a broad basis, so that looking down from the lofty pinnacle we shall not be made giddy, and fall.
3. Sudden rescue. The Psalmist's feet, like Asaph's (Psalms 72.), may have well-nigh slipped, one foot over and the other going, but God interposed. We have all had times like this.
IN CONCLUSION.—Notice (i.) This deliverance was personal. "Thou," "My." Not law, chance, providence. (ii.) This deliverance was conscious. It was not a beautiful theory, or a clever speculation. It was a fact. These two ideas, a personal relationship with a personal God, constitute the charm of the Psalms. Let us not break it. Speaking thus the Psalmist speaks for man.
WALKING BEFORE GOD
"We mean by men's ‘walking' their conduct, the mode in which they carry themselves, and the progress they make as men. All men have ‘ways,' all men ‘walk' somehow. The difference between men spiritually is not between walking and not walking, but between walking rightly and wrongly; walking to heaven and to hell. Activity, incessant activity, is impressed upon all. It is the universal law. But some walk after the spirit, and others after the flesh; some in darkness, others in light. True religion is walking with God."—A. J. Morris.
I. What walking before God implies.
1. That man is a social being. Man was made for companionship. Hence marriage. "It is not good for man to be alone." Man seldom cares for a solitary walk. Hence, in the journey of life, some "walk with the wise," others "go with the evil."
2. That man was made for social intercourse. Without this companions are useless or a burden. Man must have fellowship and interchange of thought and feeling. Without this his best life is sapped. His mind will be dwarfed by narrowness. His affections will be consumed in their own fires.
3. That man's social instincts find their full development in intercourse with God. Only by this means can the mind be fully fitted for man who is made in the image of God. His love for God, whom he has not seen, will qualify him for loving his brother, whom he has seen.
4. That this bringing of God and man together in social intercourse is the end of providence and grace. This was man's natural privilege as having affinity with God. By sin he forfeited it. God became offended, and man careless. But in the fulness of time Emmanuel came, and through Him God and man are reconciled and made at one.
II. What walking before God means.
1. Conscious companionship. Not mere intellectual belief in God's existence, nor a consciousness of God's omnipresence, but the nearness of God experienced and enjoyed.
2. Spiritual sympathy. "Two walk together because they are agreed. There must be unity of purpose, of taste, a correspondence of circumstances, and a harmony of will. We can admire a man, converse with him, receive favours from him, confer favours on him, dwell in the same house, exchange the courtesies of life with him, without walking with him. There is a general benevolence or humanity that engenders politeness, i.e., kindness seasonably offered ‘in form or reality.' But the man I walk with is my friend. I have proved his character, and I find it sound. I have noted his conversation, and not only approve his opinions, but imbibe his spirit. I have watched the issues of his heart, and I find their counterpart in my own bosom. He may be separate from me, his profession may be opposite to mine, his attainments, rank, look down upon mine, I still walk with him.… I doubt whether a man or an angel could commune with so entire a union. Then how are we to conceive of a man walking before God?" Genesis 1 supplies the answer.—E. E. Jenkins.
3. Moral progress. Going on to that perfection to which God leads.
4. Careful circumspection. "As ever in the great Taskmaster's eye."
III. Where walking before God takes place. "In the land of the living."
1. Not in the other world.
2. Not in the contemplative sphere. Men have considered this as presenting unusual facilities. Alas! they have found as many hindrances as they have escaped. Men now frequently look forward to the time when, retired from the turmoil and business of the world, they will be enabled to walk before God without distraction. But before that time arrives disinclination sets in, powers are demoralised, and walking before God fully becomes next to impossible.
3. But in the land of the living. In the midst of the living; in the engagements of the living; consecrating living activities to His services.
IN CONCLUSION.—"What a glorious life is this! Who loves not to walk with a dear friend?—and the more if he be very wise and pure and good. Who that had to travel a doubtful road would not rejoice if that friend were a safe guide as well 1 and still more, if there were fear of evil, one of a strong and skilful arm? And further yet, if, being poor himself, that friend were able to meet all the possible charges of the way? We ‘walk with God,' who can supply ‘all our need,' who ‘guides us with His eye,' encompasses us with favour as a shield; and ‘we joy in God.'"—A. J. Morris.
THE NATURE AND POWER OF FAITH
I. The nature of faith. הָאֱמַנְתִּי Hiphil preterite of אָמַן. To make fast or strong; to build. Hence, fig., to maintain, foster, bring up. The Hiphil (text) signifies to hold fast, to stand firm, to trust. "Powerful as is the effect of these words (Gen, where same word is used) when we read them in their first untarnished freshness, they gain immensely in their original language, to which neither Greek nor German, much less Latin or English, can furnish any full equivalent. ‘He supported himself, he built himself up, be reposed as a child in his mother's arms (such seems the force of the root of the Hebrew word) in the strength of God; in God whom he did not see, more than in the giant empires of earth, and the bright lights of heaven, or the claims of kindred or country which were always before Him."—Dean Stanley. Hence the Psalmist's faith was not a mere intellectual assent to certain truths; but the conscious experience and actual realisation of certain facts. "The true living Christian faith … is a sure trust and confidence in God, that through the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God."—Wesley.
II. The power of faith. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." Everywhere faith and speech should be inseparable. The man who speaks what he doesn't believe is a hypocrite; the man who does not speak what he believes is a coward.
1. The power of faith is to find expression for itself. Hence this Psalm becomes a creed, and from this fact springs the vitality of creeds. The three great confessions of the Christian Church are a witness to the heroic faith of those who composed them. May they long continue the same for those who use them.
2. The power of faith is to constrain those who believe to confess their belief. The Psalmist had the burden upon him. He could not help but speak (Act ). And so the Christian who is conscious of the great salvation will not only proclaim it, but do so under an irresistible impulse.
3. The power of faith is to inspire loyalty to the truth we believe. This saves from
(1) narrowness, which contracts the truth and conceals part of it. A sound Christian faith holds "all the truth" and proclaims "all the counsel of God."
(2) From latitudinarianism. The Psalmist's was not only a comprehensive, but a correct faith. Latitudinarianism mixes error with truth, or softens its rigour by a spurious charity. A sound Christian faith takes hold of and proclaims "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
4. The power of faith is to impress us with the necessity of its declaration. He felt his confession to be not only truth, but the only truth. The Lord, and the Lord alone, helped him; the Lord, and the Lord alone, could help others. Mighty is the obligation which rests on Christian men. Christian faith takes the facts of humanity and of God as they stand. Man sinful and helpless. Christ not one Saviour among many, but alone sufficient. It will brook the presence and pretentions of no rival in the work of man's regeneration, and declares again and again that without its efficacy man must perish. Hence the "woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel" which rests on the Christian man.
5. Faith is the power of loyalty to the Lord of faith. The Psalmist believed God, and was thereby strengthened in his submission to God's will. Faith empowered him to declare what God had done for his soul. And if we believe Christ as the Psalmist did God we shall keep that command, "Go ye into all the world," &c., disobedience to which is disloyalty to Christ.
6. Faith is the power of confidence, and confidence is the power of successful enterprise. This faith has moved and still will move the world. Men who have faith in themselves succeed every where. What, then, must that faith be which has as it object the Lord God Omnipotent?
The Cynics were a sect of Greek philosophers founded by Antisthenes, who from his morose and disagreeable proclivities was termed "the dog." He with his more famous disciple, Diogenes, are representatives of a class of men all through the ages who cultivate and exhibit a feeling contemptuous of or hostile towards their fellow-men. All are more or less subject to this, and all should strive against it. The Psalmist fell into it in his trouble, but soon got out of it.
I. The Psalmist's cynicism consisted in a hasty conclusion and an uncharitable verdict. On the spur of the moment, "I was greatly afflicted, and then I said in my haste," &c.; somewhat rashly and inconsiderately in my amazement (so some); when I was in a consternation—in my flight (so others). Observe the faith of the best of saints is not perfect, nor always alike strong and active. When the Psalmist believed he spoke well; but now through unbelief he spoke amiss.—M. Henry. "The Psalmist, on reflection, felt that he had said this without due thought, and that he was now disposed to think better of men than he did on the day of affliction and trouble. The world is much better than what we think it is when our minds are morbid and our nerves unstrung."—Barnes.
II. That the Psalmist's cynicism was natural under the circumstances, although not justifiable. He had been brought low, near to death, and was greatly afflicted. We may suppose that a great deal of his affliction was the result of treachery and bitter disappointment. The words seem to imply the cry of one who fled from men in ambush. But such a hasty generalisation, although natural, was not justifiable, because not true.
III. That the Psalmist's cynicism was only a passing mood. "He does not seem to have cherished this mood; on the contrary, he seems to have been conscious of its wretchedness.… Most of us must have known what it is to have our sympathies and affections temporarily soured in times of vexation and disappointment.… The great danger is lest it should pass into a habit—lest we should nurse it until it becomes a chronic attitude of mind, and take a morbid pleasure in indulging it.… The fully-developed cynic prides himself on his indifferent tone. Like Iago he is ‘nothing if not critical.' It is simply his ‘way' to pick faults and sneer. We find the culmination of cynicism in Mephistopheles; and indeed the word ‘devil' means ‘accuser,' slanderer of God and man."—Finlayson.
IV. That the Psalmist's cynicism was successfully resisted and overcome. The spirit of cynicism is abroad, how shall we resist it?
(i.) By a charitable estimate of human infirmity; (ii.) By a generous recognition of human excellencies; (iii.) By a modest estimate of our own worth. "Wounded vanity and disappointed ambition and trouble coming on an intense egotism are fruitful sources of cynicism.… A humble recognition of our own faults and defects will help to keep us from it;" (iv.) By looking at all men through Christ. "This is the great antidote to the cynical spirit."—Finlayson.
The Psalmist is overwhelmed with a sense of the divine benedictions. He asks what return he can make. He feels that no return is so appropriate as acknowledging them in devout and public thanksgiving, and in asking God for more. A later custom of the feast of Tabernacles was to form a grand procession from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam, and for the high priest to hold aloft a golden goblet full of water from that pool, and pour it out as an oblation to God for His goodness. It was on that occasion, and probably in reference to that ceremony, that our Lord said, "If any man thirst," &c. After the Passover the master of the house lifted up the cup of wine, and blessed God for His mercy, and then passed it round. To this the Apostle referred when he said, "The cup of blessing which we bless," &c.; and the Evangelist when he tells us that Christ took the cup which was the cup of the New Testament in His blood; so typifying to us the sacrifice of thanksgiving, which becomes us until, as His guests, we shall sit down with Him in heaven and drink the cup of full salvation, which He, the Master of the house, shall pass round to all who shall be with Him there. Notice—
I. That God requites His saints for their prayers. "All His benefits towards me." These benefits were the salvations for which he had prayed (Psa ), and the answers he had received (Psa 116:6-7). This requital is based on
1. The goodness of God.
2. The fidelity of God to His promises. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble," &c.
3. God's approbation of the use of divinely-prescribed means (2Ch ).
II. That the divine requital is ample and sufficient. There is not enough in God's benefits to intoxicate; they are not dealt out at random; but they exactly meet, and to the full, the creatures' need.
1. Temporal benefits. God has favoured each one of us with that which is sufficient for our good. The sorrowful and suffering are the first and most earnest in their acknowledgments, that, as their necessities have arisen, God's supplies have been adequate.
2. Spiritual blessings. These have been full and overflowing. God's gift of Himself, by His Son and through His Spirit; the means of grace, the hope of glory, &c. All are as rare and costly as they are rich and full.
3. Mitigated sorrows. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." They are benefits from the beneficent hand of God. They are mitigated by the fact that they are not penal, but disciplinary; that they are shared by the "Man of Sorrows;" that they are the subjects of the ministry of the precious promises and the consoling Spirit.
4. Holy joys. God's benefits are for the purpose of making us happy; they are earnests of our inheritance, and heaven begun below.
III. That the divine requital of man's prayers should be reciprocated by man's requital of God's love.
1. How should man requite God for benefits received?
(1.) By a cheerful reception of what God has given. The cup of salvation is of God's filling. We requite that by drinking it. There is nothing more wounding to a generous heart than to slight his gifts. And to refuse to make our own the things which are freely given us of God is to slight and affront His love. And yet, alas! although God spared not His own Son, and that Son spares not His own Spirit, and that Spirit spares not Himself in providence and the means of grace, yet the great mass, not merely of mankind, but of professing Christians, stand stolidly indifferent, and allow divine blessings to run to waste.
(2.) By a correct appreciation of the contents of our cup. We must recognise that whatever of bitterness there is in it, that it is of God's filling; and that, however nauseating it may be to our depraved palate, its contents are salvations. Let us take care that we know our blessings, or the empty cup will be eloquent of the mercies of which it once was full—
"That which we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost,
Why then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not give us
While it was ours."—Shakespeare.
(3.) By a thankful recognition of the fact that all our benefits are from Him.
"Call upon the name of the Lord." Only he who enjoys life in Him enjoys it at all. This is the true infusion that gives sweetness to the bitter, and more sweetness to the sweet. Without this religion will be but a drudgery, and life an empty void.
2. Why should we requite God in this way, viz., by a thankful reception of His gifts?
(1.) Because we are already so much in debt to His mercy. "One reason why we should never come to a fellow-mortal for a favour is, that we have received so much already. Yet this is the only way in which we can discharge our debts to God; and, strange to tell, every such attempt to discharge the debt only serves to increase it."—A. Clarke.
(2.) Because God delights in no recompense, except "in the payment of a heart won to His love and melted by His mercies. His deep heart is glad when we taste the full cup of His blessings, and as we raise it to our lips and call on the name of the Lord."—Maclaren.
(3.) Because this will test the contents of every cup proffered to us in life. "There is an old legend of a cup full of poison put treacherously into a king's hand. He signed the cross over it, and it shivered in his grasp. Take this name of the Lord as a test. Name Him over many a cup which you are eager to drink, and the poison will be spilled on the ground. What you cannot lift before His pure eyes, and think of Him while you enjoy, is not for you. Friendships, amusements, &c., can you call on the name of the Lord while you put these cups to your lips? If not, fling them behind you; for they are full of poison, which, for all its sweetness, at last will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder."—Maclaren.
IN CONCLUSION.—There is another cup. "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red—it is full of mixture, and He poureth out the same; but the dregs thereof all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out and drink them." Why should you drink of that cup while God offers to you the cup of salvation?
Psa , see Psa 116:16
GOD'S ESTIMATE OF DEATH
I. A high estimate יָקָר is applied to things of
(1) Substantial importance.
(2) Considerable dignity or magnitude.
(3) Rare and costly value.
(4) Majesty, splendour, beauty.
(5) To things held dear, beloved, and precious.
II. An unusual estimate. This value is placed upon death. Death is usually regarded as loss, and with dread. He is called the great robber. It deprives the body of animation.
"Absorbs me quite;
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirit, draws my breath."
Takes ruthlessly that which is most near and dear to the weeping wife, child, husband, friend. Yet, according to our text, "To die is gain."
III. An unexpected estimate. "In the sight of the Lord." One would have thought it otherwise. Death is a blast upon God's fair creation, and blights all on whom it falls. It takes the bloom from the pictures which the divine artist has pencilled, withers the majestic tree which the divine gardener has planted, crumbles the monument which the divine architect has reared, and curses him into whom God breathed the breath of life. Yet God says, "Death is precious."
IV. A specific estimate. Precious is the death of saints. Their death is a thing of
(1) Substantial importance to God, to the final result of the universe, to the deceased himself.
(2) Considerable dignity. "God took him," "With Christ."
(3) Great value. It is a release from the uncertainties, cares, and pains of life.
(4) Majesty. It is the portal of immortality.
(5) To be held dear. It unites us to our friends and to the noblest of our race for ever. And above all, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
IN CONCLUSION.—How precious it is may be seen. Ignatius, Polycarp, Huss, Latimer, Jerome of Prague, Baxter, Scott, Wesley, Halyburton, Payson. "Let me die the death of the righteous," &c.
TWO VIEWS OF DEATH
1. The Psalmist had been snatched from the very jaws of death. He therefore may have meant that it was too costly to be given to the foe.
2. The Psalmist's life had been lengthened that he might fulfil the Divine purposes: death was too costly a thing to be given him till his work was done. Both views are true.
I. Death is very precious, therefore God spares life. No weapon can touch God's people till their appointed time has come.
1. In the family. The great Father sees how far a parent, a child, a friend are necessary, and the reason why so many are spared is because of the preciousness of death.
2. In the nation. The great Governor sees how far, and for how long, princes and citizens are necessary, and the reason why He stays His hand is because of the unspeakable value of death.
3. In the Church. The great Shepherd and Bishop of souls spares as many of His ministers as can be spared, because of the costliness of their death.
II. Death is very precious, therefore God gives it.
1. It is the fitting reward of a saintly life (2Ti ).
2. It is the soul's movement towards perfection.
3. It is a stage in the direction of the completion of God's plans in the universe.
4. It illustrates the triumphs of redeeming grace to those who are left behind.
IN CONCLUSION.—These two views are one theory. Death is too precious to be given without deliberation. Death is so precious, that at the appointed time it must not be withheld. It was Paul's theory, "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." There is another. A precious life makes a precious death, a worthless life a worthless death. If to me to live is self, then death is loss and despair. "Died—as a fool dieth"—is the epitaph on the lost soul.
(Psa ; Psa 116:16-19)
This is the appropriate conclusion of the Psalm. The Psalmist has all along recognised a relationship between himself and God, by which God has given certain benefits and he rendered certain services. This relationship is so close that its termination is too costly to be lightly entertained. God cannot spare him just yet, but when He does it will be to dismiss him to his reward. This relationship is now fully disclosed. He is God's servant, yet God's friend. God's friend, but His servant still. As His servant God spares his life, as His friend God walks with him. And while he feels that God has loosed his bonds, he feels that he must not relax his service.
I. This relationship is one of obedience, yet friendship. "I am thy servant.… Thou hast loosed my bonds."
1. This relationship is characterised by generous devotion. We obey God not as a hireling toils for wages, but as a friend gives himself to promote the interest of his friend.
2. This devotion is based upon an interest in our friend's wishes. Every word of our text displays the Psalmist's interest in what he was doing. And why?
Because he felt that God had taken an interest in him. Could he fail to see that? Can we?
3. This interest is based upon love of our friend. "I will offer Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving."
II. This relationship is one of friendship, yet obedience. Friendship must not degenerate into over familiarity or presumption. Remember—
1. That this relationship ceases with our obedience. The moment we forget the special conditions on which this divine friendship is based, that moment God ceases to be our friend.
2. That this relationship is not merely human choice, but Divine election. "Thou hast loosed my bonds." We have not gained this liberty by our own might and by our own power. God has freed us from the thraldom of sin, that He might bind us by the loving cords of the royal law of liberty.
3. That the power to fulfil the duties of this relationship comes from God. "I will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord." Our divine friend shows Himself friendly in hearing our prayers. He hears them that He may empower us to fulfil our obligations.
III. This relationship must receive a formal and public acknowledgment.
1. In personal consecration. "I will pay." So august a friendship, and so noble a service, must not be passed by with the informalities of our ordinary life and friendship. And yet if a friend is worth having he is worth marking out before all others; and if our worldly occupations deserve our attention at all, they deserve special attention. Much more God and His service.
2. In union with His people. "In the court of the Lord's house." He who is God's friend and servant will associate gladly with God's friends and servants.
(1.) He will gladly unite with them in their public worship.
(2.) He will let not a little hinder him in showing who and what he is by formal membership. A Christian, and yet a member of no church, is an anomaly.
3. Before the world. "In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem!" He is no true friend whose friendship is for private and home consumption.
IV. This relationship should be sought and professed at once. "Now." Every hour's delay is a loss of privilege and a neglect of duty. If not done soon, it will be done never.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 116". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany