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“David is pictured in this psalm as in a faithful miniature. His holy trust, his many conflicts, his great transgression, his bitter repentance, and his deep distresses are all here; so that we see the very heart of ‘the man after God’s own heart.’ It is evidently a composition of David’s later days, for he mentions the sins of his youth, and, from its painful references to the craft and cruelty of his many foes, it will not be too speculative a theory to refer it to the period when Absalom was heading the great rebellion against him. This has been styled the second of the seven penitential psalms. It is the mark of a true saint that his sorrows remind him of his sins, and his sorrow for sin drives him to his God.”—Spurgeon. “The psalm hardly admits of formal division. It is a prayer for instruction and forgiveness. Its prevailing thought is that God is the teacher of the afflicted and the guide of the erring: and this is constantly repeated, either in the way of statement or of prayer.”—Perowne.
INVARIABLE TOPICS FOR PRAYER
I. That all prayer should be addressed to Jehovah. “Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” Psalms 25:1. Do I bear my soul. The bearing of the soul to the Lord signifies the longing of the heart after Him. When in distress, the psalmist does not, like the ungodly, draw his soul at one time in this direction, and at another time in that; does not seek to catch now at this, now at that ignis fatuus of human help; but goes straight with all his desire to God, and rests in His protection.”—Hengstenberg. The call to devotion in the early church was sursum corda, up with your hearts. Some lift up their hearts to vanity, and idolise a creation of man, or the soulless and unresponsive forces of Nature, or an assumptious sacerdotal subordinate. But the only legitimate object of worship, to whom prayer can be acceptably offered, is God. “A carnal man can as little lift up his heart in prayer as a mole can fly. A David finds it a hard task, since the best heart is lumpish, and naturally beareth downwards, as the poise of a clock, as the lead of a net. Let us therefore ‘lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and pray to God to draw us up to Himself, as the loadstone doth the iron,”—Trapp.
II. That prayer should be offered that our enemies may have no ground to taunt us with the failure of our trust in God. “O my God, I trust in Thee; let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me” (Psalms 25:2). The enemies of religion cannot understand the principle of faith, which fastens on the unseen, and confidently looks for the promised good. They have faith in nothing but the demonstrable, and frequently taunt the believer with fanaticism, and prophesy the utter failure of his expectations from God. In a sensitive mind this is hard to bear, and the more so, that the slightest suspicion is cast on the veracity and faithfulness of God. The best of men have enemies: the determination to do the right is quite enough to rouse the opposition of some men; and the discomforture of God’s people would occasion them the most malicious joy.
1. The sincere believer will not suffer failure. “None that wait on Thee shall be ashamed” (Psalms 25:3). The words emphatically express an eternal and unchanging truth. When by prayer we come near to God, by faith we rest upon Him: and to him who prays and believes all things are possible. He can never be put to confusion who humbly seeks Divine guidance; and the faith whose grapnels are firmly fixed in the Divine Righteousness can never be overturned. Trouble widens our sympathies. Though the psalmist had burden enough of his own, he felt for others in similar circumstances, and rejoiced in the assurance of their triumph.
2. Failure is the fate of the perfidious. “Let them be ashamed which transgress without cause” (Psalms 25:3). They shall be ashamed who are faithless without cause. He who transgresses without cause is one who acts treacherously towards God and man. All who trust in their own craftiness and act with wilful dishonesty and perfidiousness shall be disappointed of what they grasped at, and be covered with everlasting shame. Shame shall recoil upon the shameless perpetrator of sin—the disloyal and faithless transgressor.
III. That prayer should be offered for Divine guidance.
1. In the ways of God. “Show me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths.” The ways of God are often dark, mysterious, circuitous, and painful to walk in, but they are safe and lead to peace and happiness. The pride and presumption of man often impel him to shape out a way for himself; and it often terminates in disaster and ruin. (Proverbs 14:12.) The ways of God are always better than our own: it should be our continual anxiety to become acquainted with, and walk in, them. “The ways and stairs of God are known to no creature so well as to Himself; therefore He can give us the best instruction in them. It is not enough to be taught of men; we must go to school to God—that is, resign ourselves obediently to the guidance and training of His Holy Spirit”—Starke.
2. In the truth of God. “Lead me in Thy truth and teach me; for Thou art the God of my salvation” (Psalms 25:5). The truth specially desired is that which reveals salvation. The whole plan of redemption, from its first dim promise to its fullest development in later times, is an imposing manifestation of the truthfulness of Jehovah. The way to know truth is to feel it: experience is a test impossible to ignore. All moral precepts are based on Divine truths. To be well versed in the truth of God, and to experience its power in the government of life, will save us from the fate of the faithless ones who are put to shame.
3. Prayer must be persistent. “On Thee do I wait all the day.” The more we realise our dependence and need, the more tenaciously do we cling to God. Many rich blessings have been lost for want of perseverance in prayer. Not to persevere in prayer is to risk the loss of all we ever gained. Patience is an important element of success. “To patient faith the prize is sure.”
IV. That prayer should be offered for Divine mercy.
1. Divine mercy is unfailing. “Remember, O Lord, Thy tender mercies and Thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old” (Psalms 25:6). They are from eternity. Mercy has ever been an attribute of Jehovah; and He cannot be unlike Himself: He cannot deny His character. If He were at any time to cease revealing Himself to man as a God of mercy, it would be tantamount to His proving untrue to Himself. The mercies and love of God are indeed infinite and everlasting; but it needs infinite mercy and everlasting love to pardon our uncounted sins. The greatest blessings of life are, like mercy, very ancient—as light, air, water, and earth fruits. “Divine love is an eternal fountain that never leaves off running while a vessel is empty or capable of holding more. It stands open to all comers: therefore come; and if you have not sufficient of your own, go and borrow vessels, empty vessels not a few; pay your debts out of it, and live on the rest (2 Kings 4:7) to eternity.”—Elisha Coles (1678).
2. Divine mercy is invoked for the pardon of sin, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Thy mercy remember Thou me, for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalms 25:7). How many would like to return to the happy time of youth! There is an exquisite pathos in those lines of Goethe:—
“Give me, oh! give me back the days of youth,
Poor, yet how rich!—my glad inheritance,
The inextinguishable love of truth,
While life’s realities were all romance.
Give me, oh! give youth’s passions unconfined,
The rush of joy that felt almost like pain,
Its hate, its love, its own tumultuous mind;
Give me my youth again!”
But it may not, it cannot be. We are young but once. And oh! how much of that past youth-time would we like to live over again! How many of its wild, mad, sinful actions could we wish undone! How many are there of the sins of our younger days we can ourselves remember; and, alas! how many more which are now unknown to ourselves, and forgotten by all but God! “The world winks at the sins of young men; and yet they are none so little after all: the bones of our youthful feastings at Satan’s table will stick painfully in our throats when we are old men. He who presumes upon his youth is poisoning his old age. How large a tear may wet this page as some of us reflect upon the past!”—Spurgeon. The recollection of our transgressions shows the need of mercy, and prompts the prayer for it. If we forget our sins, we shall never appreciate the grace which provides for their removal. The cry of the penitent should be—O Lord, remember not my sins, but remember me!
1. A sinful soul is never in want of a topic for prayer.
2. The soul finds its true safety by trusting in God.
3. To hear and answer prayer are both acts of Divine mercy.
THE HIDDEN WAYS OF GOD MADE PLAIN
I. That the character of God is a guarantee of infallible direction. “Good and upright is the Lord. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Psalms 25:8; Psalms 25:10). Because God is good, therefore He will give His children His Spirit for their direction; and because He is upright, it must of necessity be a good and most certain one.—Diodati. We value promises of help according to the character of the person who makes them. All the promises of God are based on His infinite perfections. There can never be any real disagreement between the nature and the actions of Jehovah: His paths, like Himself, are mercy and truth. “Paths signify the tracks or ruts made by the wheels of waggons by often passing over the same ground. Mercy and truth are the paths in which God constantly walks in reference to the children of men; and so frequently does He show them mercy, and so frequently does He fulfil His truth, that His paths are easily discerned. How frequent, how deeply indented, and how multiplied are those tracks to every family and individual! Wherever we go, we see that God’s mercy and truth have been there by the deep tracks they have left behind them.”—Clarke. “These paths—the ways in which He leads His people—are mercy (loving-kindness), for the salvation of men is the end thereof; and truth, for they give proof at every step of the certainty of His promises. Grace is their Alpha and truth their Omega.”—Delitzsch. As coals feed the fire, so the remembrance of the truths of our faith should keep alive the flame of our prayers.
II. The ways of God are made known to the morally needy. These are alluded to under varied phases of character.
1. Sinners. “Therefore will He teach sinners in the way” (Psalms 25:8)—those who have erred and strayed from the way—those whose sins have assumed gigantic proportions. “Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great” (Psalms 25:11). Nothing is so blinding and misleading as sin, and it is never so dangerously deceptive as when it wears the semblance of virtue. Naturalists tell us that certain birds and insects have the curious faculty of assuming a likeness to the vegetation among which they sport themselves—that the South American heron can assume a perpendicular position, so as to look exactly like the reeds of its native district, that the leaf-butterfly of Sumatra is readily mistaken for one of the leaves among which it alights, and that the walking-stick insect of New Zealand can closely resemble an upright twig. So sin has the dangerous power of assuming a tone and attitude of certain virtues. But the Divine eye detects the fallacy, and the Divine hand graciously guides into the right way.
2. The humble. “The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way” (Psalms 25:9). Those who are afflicted and distressed about sin, who desire to be delivered from it and led in the right way. The proud despise instruction, and are left to the hardness of their hearts. “Pride and auger have no place in the school of Christ. The Master Himself is ‘meek and lowly in heart;’ much more, surely, ought the scholars to be so. He who hath no sense of his ignorance can have no desire or capability of knowledge, human or Divine.”—G. Horne.
3. The perplexed. “For He shall pluck my feet out of the net” (Psalms 25:15). A time comes in the mental history of most when the mind is harassed with doubts, and is like a restless, fluttering bird caught in the snare of the fowler. Or, it may be, we are suddenly overtaken with calamity and plunged into the darkness of despair. At these times God comes to our rescue, allays our fears, and lifts us out of our entanglements. The greatest distresses of life are only temporary.
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud.
It is but for a time: I press God’s lamp
Close to my breast: its splendours, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge ere long.”
III. That the deeper revelations of God are reserved for the morally good.
1. For the obedient. “Unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalms 25:10). Obedience is the organ of spiritual enlightenment (John 7:17). The ways and commandments of God cannot be fairly and accurately judged as simply apprehended by the understanding. To see their Godlike beauty and feel their holiest force, they must be obeyed. “Keepers of the covenant shall be kept by the covenant; those who follow the Lord’s commands shall find the Lord’s mercy following them.”
2. For the God-fearing. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant” (Psalms 25:14). The great secret of all truth is hid in God. He is Himself the embodiment and ultimate end of truth, and He alone can impart it, and He will impart it only to them who fear Him. “What man is he that feareth the Lord? him shall He teach in the way that he shall choose” (Psalms 25:12). The God-fearing are lowered in the depths of the heavenly mysteries, and discover the unsearchable. “Saints have the key of heaven’s hieroglyphics; they can unriddle celestial enigmas; they are initiated into the fellowship of the skies; they have heard words which it is not possible for them to repeat to their fellows. He who does not know the meaning of this verse (Psalms 25:14), will never learn it from a commentary: let him look to the cross, for the secret lies there.”—Spurgeon.
3. For the earnest and persevering inquirer. “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord” (Psalms 25:15). The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth, wandering over a thousand different objects, but fastening on none, and learning nothing. But the humble and patient inquirer carefully investigates the minutest phenomena that promises to lead to the interpretation of truth, and conduct the mind up to the great source of truth. There are some things that need no inquiry about; they are vile on the face of them; and every year of our lives we grow more convinced that it is wisest and best to fix our attention on the beautiful and the good, and dwell as little as possible on the evil and the false. The eye that turns its inquiring gaze towards God will make the grandest discoveries and see the most entrancing visions. The true attitude of humble and reverential confidence consists in directing the eyes of the soul “ever toward the Lord.”
IV. That the revelation of the hidden ways of God is morally satisfying. “His soul shall dwell at ease, and his seed shall inherit the earth” (Psalms 25:13). The soul of the pious shall pitch her tent and lodge in goodness as in a fruitful land,—shall reach her home and possess it for ever. Moses made the promise “to possess the land” (to inherit the earth) in a literal sense to his people (Deuteronomy 4:22; Deu. 40:5, Deu. 36:6; Deu. 36:18); but since his days it has been used to denote perfect peace, as is apparent from Proverbs 2:21; Psalms 37:8-9.—Tholuck. The posterity of the good are blessed, though the inheritance they possess as the result of many prayers is often abused. Parents should not only pray for but with their children; and it will be strange indeed if those prayers do not bear gracious fruit in the future career of their offspring. There is nothing so satisfying to the soul as a sight of God.
1. Trust in God when life is involved in darkness and mystery.
2. God only can reveal the secret of happiness.
3. A moral fitness is necessary to understand the hidden ways of God.
TROUBLE AND THE WAY OUT OF IT
I. That sin is the prolific source of all trouble.
1. A sense of personal sin is an intensified form of trouble (Psalms 25:16-18). The language of these three verses is pathetically expressive of conscious sin. “Have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: look upon mine affliction and my pain.” What words can more graphically depict the sorrow, the loneliness, the anguish, the utter wretchedness of a soul pressed down under the burden of its sins! There is an inseparable connection between sin and sorrow; and yet how slow men are to see it. Only the soul smitten with a genuine penitence understands the true nature of sin, and the enormous evils of which it is the cause. Often when the spirit is most deeply troubled, when the pain is sharpest, when our self-reproach is bitterest,—then God is nearest to strengthen and deliver. Our greatest blessings have sprung out of the vortex of our greatest troubles.
2. Trouble is increased by the number and ferocity of our enemies. “Consider mine enemies, for they are many; and they hate me with a cruel hatred” (Psalms 25:19). The enemies of a good man multiply with his misfortunes, and the more helpless he is, the more furiously they assail him. “No hate so cruel as that which is unreasonable and unjust. A man can forgive one who has injured him, but one whom he has injured he hates implacably.” The madness of cruelty raves the more violently when it feels its impotency to inflict all the injury it designs.
II. That trouble shall not be permitted to overwhelm the good. “Oh, keep my soul and deliver me: let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in Thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait on Thee” (Psalms 25:20-21). In this world of contradictions and suffering, the best of men are not free from trouble; but they have the assurance of help which shall render them invincible and exultant in the fiercest trial. Their God-given virtues form an impassable cordon around them, and their faith in the unseen Protector constitutes an all-encompassing shield. The presence of Christ in trouble banishes fear. Alone, Dante feared to enter the dismal Inferno; but with Virgil, the great and good, to guide his steps and support his hand, he descended fearlessly into the abode of woe. So, relying on our own strength, we enter the valley of darkness, and, beset with fears, we find it the valley of sorrow and of death. But, trusting the Almighty arm, our dismay vanishes; we see it to be only the valley of the shadow, and even the shadow He has turned for us into the morning. Our trust is founded on the certainty of God’s righteousness; and though encompassed with floods and beaten with storms, it stands, for it is founded on a rock. There is ever a shelter for us in God, and our souls are safe in His hands.
III. That prayer to God is the infallible method of deliverance from the greatest trouble (Psalms 25:22). Personal trouble deepens and widens our sympathy for others. Observe, the cry is not simply, “Oh, keep my soul, and deliver me” (Psalms 25:20); but the prayer takes a more generous and comprehensive sweep, “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles” (Psalms 25:22). “If Thou wilt not pity and help me, yet spare Thy people who suffer for my sake and in my sufferings.”—M.Pool. They who have thus struggled with their own doubts and sins, and by God’s grace have conquered them, must ever feel they have an interest in the conflicts of the church militant. They who pray for themselves are taught to pray for others: they, again and again, commend their suffering brethren of the true Israel to that Almighty Father and all-gracious God who has deigned to deliver them from all their troubles. True prayer is the precursor and lever of redeeming power.
1. The cure of sin is the cure of trouble.
2. The potency of prayer is never so thoroughly tested and triumphantly vindicated as in time of trouble.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34