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Superscription: “To the Chief Musician, a Psalm of David.”
The psalm is addressed to “the Chief Musician,” that he might set it to music for use in public worship. We have no means of determining on what occasion the psalm was written. It does not come within our province to enter into the disputed question of the Messianic character of the psalm. The different opinions which are held on this question are stated by Barnes in loco, and by Professor Stuart in his “Commentary on Hebrews” (Excursus xx.). Both these writers advocate their own view at considerable length. See also Hengstenberg’s Introduction to this psalm. One thing, perhaps, we ought to say, viz., that on the theory adopted by Barnes, “that the psalm had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah,” it seems to us impossible legitimately and satisfactorily to interpret it.
Homiletically, we shall view the psalm thus:—The Lord’s doings for His servant (Psalms 40:1-6); The servant’s offering to his Lord (Psalms 40:6-10); and, The servant’s prayer to his Lord (Psalms 40:11-17).
THE LORD’S DOINGS FOR HIS SERVANT
In these verses, we have—
I. A sad situation. The Psalmist represents himself as having been in “an horrible pit,” and in “miry clay.” The situation was one of
1. Darkness. בּוֹר = a pit, a prison, a dungeon, a grave, a deep well. It implies darkness. The sun may be flooding the world with his beams, but in the pit all is midnight darkness. The figure may be used to set forth a state of sin or a state of deep sorrow. Both these states are frequently represented in Scripture by “darkness.” “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,” &c. “When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.” To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light,” &c “The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” Et al.
2. Distress. “An horrible pit.” “The word rendered horrible, שָׁאוֹן means properly noise, uproar, tumult, as of waters: of a crowd of men; of war. De Wette understands it here of a pit, a cavern, or an abyss that roars and is tumultuous; that is, that is impassable. Perhaps this is the idea,—a cavern, deep and dark, where the waters roar, and which seems to be filled with horrors.”—Barnes. Hengstenberg takes it to mean, “a deep of raging waters,” “a roaring deep.” In any case, the figure indicates distress. The poet was not only in darkness, but in misery also. Sin is wretchedness. Sin is hell.
3. Helplessness. The Psalmist was in the “miry clay,” the “slimy mud,” where there was no firm footing. He was totally unable to do anything to effect his own deliverance, for he was “sinking in deep mire, and could not stand.” The unrenewed sinner Is helpless in effecting his own deliverance from sin and its consequences. If some strong arm do not come to his rescue, he must continue to sink in the miry clay until he is hopelessly lost. Such is the sad situation of the sinner; his state is one of darkness, distress, helplessness.
II. A great salvation. “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry,” &c. Of this salvation the poet points out that—
1. It was granted in answer to prayer. The Psalmist prayed. “He heard my cry.” In his darkness, wretchedness, and helplessness, David betook himself to prayer; and though the pit was deep—“a roaring deep”—yet the Lord heard his cry. From the deepest depth the faintest whisper of true prayer will reach to the throne of God, and receive audience of Him. The Psalmist waited. “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Margin: “In waiting I waited.” He continued to wait for the interposition of God. Many prayers are not answered because the suppliant does not wait for the answer—does not expect an answer. David persevered in prayer; he waited expecting the succour and salvation of God. That salvation did not come quickly; but he patiently waited, believing, hoping, praying, expecting its coming.
2. It was complete. “He brought me up also out of,” &c. We have here—
(1) Deliverance. The Psalmist was rescued from his wretched and perilous state. God delivers both from sin and misery all who sincerely seek Him.
(2) Elevation. “Set my feet upon a rock,” far above the waters of the roaring deep. God raises souls from darkness into light, from deep despair into exalted hope, &c.
(3) Establishment. “Set my feet upon a rock,” where I may find firm footing. “Established my goings.” Made my steps firm. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the rock on which the sinner may securely stand. On Him we may build our character, our hopes, &c.
(4) Invigoration. “Established my goings.” The Divine life is not stationary, but progressive. God delivers man from sin, and starts him on the road to holiness and heaven, and invigorates him to tread that road. “They go from strength to strength.” “We follow on to know the Lord.” God bids us “Go forward,” and gives us strength to do so,
3. It was joy-inspiring. “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.” The Lord had given a new occasion for praise, and by filling the Psalmist’s heart with grateful gladness, had given him the disposition to offer fresh praises unto Him. Salvation is a joyous, a blessed thing. It tunes a man’s life to music. It fills his heart with music, and the world with beauty and song.
4. It was influential. “Many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”
(1) God’s doings on behalf of His people are manifest. “Many shall see.” When a man is converted the change is visible in his life.
(2) God’s doings on behalf of His people command reverence. “And fear.” The fear is reverential. Not dread, but veneration.
(3) God’s doings on behalf of His people encourage others to trust in Him. “And shall trust in the Lord.” As men mark the doings of God on behalf of His people, they have such exhibitions of His faithfulness and goodness and power as lead them in faith to seek His salvation. They see the workings of His grace in their lives, and are led to seek that grace for themselves. “They glorified God in me.” Do our lives testify to the power of Divine grace so that men through us are led to trust in Him?
III. A hearty celebration. The Psalmist celebrates—
1. The blessedness of the man who trusts in the Lord.
(1) He rejects every other object of confidence. “He respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.” Literally: “he looks not to the proud,” he does not expect help or blessing from them. Man, however strong and proud, is not an adequate object of confidence for any creature. He is liable to err, and may be deceived, and may be deceitful himself, and is therefore not sufficient as an object of trust. Neither as regards faithfulness and truth, nor as regards ability and strength, is man an adequate object of trust.
(2) He places his sole confidence in God. “Maketh the Lord his trust.” The Lord is ever mighty to save, and is faithful amid all changes. We may safely trust in Him. Trust in Him is blessed. He who trusts in Him shall never be put to shame, shall realise the most blessed security, shall find his highest expectations more than fulfilled, &c.
2. The wonderful doings of God for man (Psalms 40:5). Matthew Henry’s notes on this verse are excellent “Many, Lord my God! are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done both for me and others; this is but one of many. Many are the benefits with which we are daily loaded, both by the providence and by the grace of God.
(1) They are His works, not only the gifts of His bounty, but the operations of His power. He works for us, He works in us, and thus He favours us with matter, not only for thanks, but for praise.
(2) They are His wonderful works, the contrivance of them admirable, His condescension to us in bestowing them upon us admirable; eternity itself will be short enough to be spent in the admiration of them.
(3) All His wonderful works are the product of His thoughts to us-ward. He does all according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11), the purposes of His grace which He purposed in Himself (Ephesians 3:11). They are the projects of infinite wisdom, the designs of everlasting love (1 Corinthians 2:7; Jeremiah 31:3), thoughts of good, and not of evil (Jeremiah 29:11). His gifts and callings will therefore be without repentance, because they are not sudden resolves, but the result of His thoughts, His many thoughts, to us-ward.
(4) They are innumerable; they cannot be methodised, or ‘reckoned up in order.’ There is an order in all God’s works, but there are so many that present themselves to our view at once that we know not where to begin nor which to name next; the order of them and their natural references and dependencies, and how the links of the golden chain are joined, are a mystery to us, and what we shall not be able to account for till the veil be rent and the mystery of God finished. Nor can they be counted, not the very heads of them. When we have said the most we can of the wonders of Divine love to us, we must conclude with an et cœtera—and such like, and adore the depth, despairing to find the bottom.”
1. To those who have experienced this great salvation. Praise God in a new song, celebrate His glorious deeds, trust Him unfalteringly and fully, and let your life show forth His praise, that “many may see, and fear, and trust in the Lord.”
2. To those who are in the sad state of unrenewed sinners. Your condition is indeed deplorable and dangerous, Do you realise it as such? The Lord waits to rescue you from it. Cry unto Him, wait patiently for Him, and He will incline His ear and save you.
HOPE IN THE SADDEST SITUATION
If some parts of this psalm are more applicable to the Messiah, other parts, undoubtedly, are more applicable to David. Of himself the Psalmist seems here more immediately to be speaking. Observe—
I. The situation he was in. This was sad indeed.
1. He was fallen low—in a “pit.” How sunk in guilt and corruption is man by nature!
2. He was besmeared, having stuck fast in mire or clay. Sin renders our whole persons the very reverse of comeliness and beauty in the sight of God.
3. He was an outcast—in a “pit,” without communion with society. Thus, too, are all naturally far off from God, separated from His favour and protection.
4. He was miserable—in “an horrible pit.” Oh! what horrors our iniquities bring upon us.”
5. He was in great danger. In a “pit” he could devise no way of escape, so that, to human appearance, his case was hopeless. And no less dangerous is our condition. Ah! what dismal forebodings we have.
II. The devout exercise of his mind. Distressing as the condition of David was, it will be instructive to us if we consider how he acted.
1. He betook himself to prayer. This was a certain mean of succeeding. It is the mean which God expects every weary and heavy-laden sinner to use. Nor can the wisdom of such an appointment be doubted, as constituting a test of our humility and of our obedience.
2. He hoped in His mercy. The Lord, not immediately vouchsafing him an answer, he became more and more urgent, trusting ultimately to find acceptance. He waited for the Lord patiently. Thus, then, it is good to wait, without murmuring, for answers of peace, on carrying our troubles to a throne of grace.
III. The deliverance he obtained. God inclined His ear to Him and heard his cry, and his deliverance was—
1. Elevating. Though before in a pit, in the miry clay of which he found himself sinking yet further, he is now brought up out of it; and not only so, but his feet are set upon a rock. And all who stand upon the Rock Christ Jesus are exalted far above this world, and are brought already to the confines of glory.
2. Establishing. “Established my goings.” Oh! the stability we have by trusting in Christ. We may then defy all the powers of darkness (Matthew 16:18).
3. Joyous. “He hath put a new song in my mouth,” &c. This is surely applicable to the believer, who, in fact, has not only cause to rejoice, but a disposition likewise to do so.
4. Encouraging. “Many shall see, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Yes, all may expect the same mercy as David in a diligent use of the same means. For this glorious example is intended by God to give us hope, however low our state may be, He being always able and always near to deliver us (Jonah 2:2-6, et al.)—W. Sleigh.
THE SERVANT’S OFFERING TO HIS LORD
In this section we pass from the great and gracious doings of God on behalf of the Psalmist to the Psalmist’s expression of his gratitude to God. What offering will he present to his Lord? In what way will he express his gratitude to Him?
I. By obedience to God (Psalms 40:6-8).
1. He will not sacrifice material sacrifices instead of obedience. “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; burnt-offering and sin-offering hast Thou not required.” “The four words employed in this verse—sacrifice, offering, burnt-offering, sin-offering—embrace all the species of sacrifice and offerings known among the Hebrews.”—Barnes. “In what respect it is said here, that God did not wish sacrifices, since He had expressly commanded them, appears from the contrast. Obedience, the willing performance of the Divine command, is set over against presentation of offerings. Offerings, therefore, are rejected in so far as they form a compensation for that, in so far as they would in a manner satisfy, put off God.”—Hengstenberg. Our outward services, offerings of prayer, praise, and material gifts, are of no value in the sight of God, unless they are the expression of the homage of the heart, and are accompanied by obedience of life. (Comp. 1 Samuel 15:22, and Psalms 51:16-17) on the letter passage Dr. Parker says: “We have been led to believe that God does desire sacrifice; that sacrifice is the basis of all atonement, and that without sacrifice approach to God is an impossibility. Were we to pause at this verse
(16), however, and to accept the words in their literal signification, we should come to the conclusion that sacrifice was entirely unnecessary as a condition of communion with the Most High on the part of sinful man. The next verse explains the Psalmist’s meaning. He says, ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.’ This shows that all sacrifice is worthless which is not vitalised by the moral element Where the sacrifice represents a broken spirit, where it sets forth the operations of a contrite heart, it becomes acceptable to God, and useful as a basis of negotiation with Heaven. Where the moral element is present, the physical element will not be forgotten; this is beautifully brought out in the last expression in the psalm. ‘Then shalt Thou be’ ” pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,’ &c. From this it is clear that though sacrifice in itself, without the presence of spiritual feeling, is absolutely worthless in the sight of God, yet where the moral element is present in the form of a broken spirit and a contrite heart, sacrifice will be presented even in its material forms. Thereby the penitent man expresses his love, and fosters his faith, and testifies his gratitude. Blessed be God, in our case it is unnecessary that we provide bullock or burnt-offering. The one final sacrifice has been offered in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
2. He will render the obedience which God requires. “Then I said: Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is prescribed to me. To do Thy will, my God, I delight, and Thy law is in my inner part.”—(Hengstenberg’s trans.) “The volume or roll-book, is the Pentateuch, which from the first was written on parchment. In the time of David, when no other sacred book existed, every one would at once understand what was meant by the roll-book.” As confirming this interpretation comp. Joshua 1:7; 1 Kings 2:3; and 2 Kings 22:13. David was left in no uncertainty as to what the will of God was. In the Pentateuch God had made known His will, and clearly unfolded His requirements; and the Psalmist resolves that he will obey that will.
3. He will render that obedience heartily. “I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart.” On the law of God in the heart of His people comp. Deuteronomy 6:6; Psalms 37:31; Proverbs 7:1-3; and Isaiah 51:7. “Where matters are as they should be, there the law is not merely prescribed, but inscribed.” “When the law of God is written in our hearts, our duty will be our delight”
4. God had disposed him to render that obedience. Such we take to be the meaning of the words translated, “Mine ears hast Thou opened.” Margin: “digged.” Hengstenberg: “Ears hast Thou dug through for me.” “An indisposition to obey the will of God is often expressed by the fact that the ears are stopped: Zechariah 7:11; Psalms 58:4-5; Proverbs 21:13. The essential idea is, that this truth has been communicated to him—that God preferred obedience to sacrifice; and that he had been made attentive to that truth, as if he had been before deaf, and his ears had been opened.”—Barnes. Hengstenberg paraphrases the clause: “Thou hast made me hearing, obedient” He says, “The LXX. have rendered the words by σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι, but a body hast Thou prepared for me; and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has adopted them, because the thought is not altered by this translation. The contrast there also is the presentation of thanks through the whole life and conduct, in opposition to single and merely external offerings: Thou hast given me a body, so that I willingly serve Thee in the execution of Thy will.” If we render hearty obedience to the will of God, if obedience be pleasurable to us, it is because He has “inclined our heart unto His testimonies.” This hearty, grateful obedience the servant offers to his Lord.
II. By publication of the perfections of God. “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation,” &c., (Psalms 40:9-10). Notice—
1. What it is that he announces.
(1) Righteousness. “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation,” i.e., the righteousness which God prescribes for man, and requires from him. “I have not hid Thy righteousness within my heart,” i.e., the righteousness which God displays in His dealings with man. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.”
(2) Faithfulness. “I have declared Thy faithfulness; I have not concealed Thy truth.” Amid all the mutations of His universe, He changes not. What He hath promised He will perform. He is worthy of the supreme confidence of all His creatures.
(3) Lovingkindness. “I have not concealed Thy lovingkindness.” He had announced God’s mercy towards sinners, His pity towards the wretched, His goodness to all.
(4) Salvation. “I have declared Thy salvation.” He related the deliverances which God had wrought on behalf of His people. He told of His gracious doings on his own behalf.
2. Where he makes his announcement. “In the great congregation.” Barnes objects: “It would be difficult to see how this could be applied to David himself, or on what occasion of his life this could be said of him.” But the word translated “preach” is not to be understood in the limited sense in which that word is now used. Fuerst, in his Lexicon, gives as its meaning in this place—“to announce, to relate, to tell of.” Now David is conspicuous above all the men of his age for having announced in these immortal Psalms the perfections of the character, and the greatness and glory of the works of God. And many of these Psalms, as the superscriptions show, were intended for use “in the great congregation.” So David “preached,” i.e., announced, “righteousness in the great congregation,” &c He made known the glory of the Divine Being, and of His works and ways, in the most public manner, and to the largest audience that he could secure.
CONCLUSION.—What a worthy offering was this which David presented to the Lord! The excellence of this method of expressing his gratitude is seen in this, that:
1. It reveals his appreciation of the Giver as well as of the Gift. He rejoiced not only in the greatness of the benefits he had received, but also in the goodness of the Benefactor. He celebrated not only the gracious dealings of God with him, but also the glory of God in His own character and perfections.
2. It was calculated to confer great benefits on men. He who imparts to man true ideas of the Divine Being is rendering the highest service to his race. David did this in two ways: by celebrating the character and doings of God in sacred song, and by expressing the will of God in a life heartily conformed thereto. The manifestation of God in the life of a good man is of unspeakable value to our world.
For us also the Lord hath done great things. What offering shall we make Him in return? We cannot do better than imitate the Psalmist in this respect
NOTE.—For an exposition of Psalms 40:6-10 as applied to the Messiah, see Barnes or Matthew Henry in loco. The exposition of the latter is well arranged and suggestive homiletically.
HE THAT KNOWS GOD WILL CONFESS HIM
I propose to speak of—
The necessary openness of a holy experience; or, in other words, the impossibility that the inward revelation of God in the soul could be shut up in it, and remain hid or unacknowledged.
I shall have in view especially two classes of hearers that are widely distinguished one from the other: first, the class who hide the grace of God in their heart undesignedly, or by reason of some undue modesty; and, secondly, the class who, pretending to have it, or consciously having it not, take a pleasure in throwing discredit on all the appropriate expressions of it, such as are made by the open testimony and formal profession of Christ before men.
Where there is a true grace of experience in the heart, it ought to be, must, and will be manifest.
1. A true inward experience or discovery of God in the heart is itself an impulse also of self-manifestation, as all love and gratitude are, wants to speak and declare itself, and will as naturally do it, when it is born, as a child will utter its first cry.
2. The change implied in a true Christian experience, or the revelation of God in the heart, is in its very nature the soul and root of an outward change that is correspondent. It is the righteousness of God revealed within, to be henceforth the actuating spring and power of a righteous and devoted life.
3. If any one purposes beforehand, in his religious endeavours, or in seeking after God, to come into a secret experience and keep it a secret, his endeavour is plainly one that falsifies the very notion of Christian piety, and if he succeeds, or seems to succeed, he only practises a fraud in which he imposes on himself.
4. The grace of God in the heart, unmanifested or kept secret, as many propose that it shall be, even for their whole life, will be certainly stifled and extinguished. Nothing can live that is not permitted to show the signs of life. “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”
5. This is the express teaching of the gospel, which everywhere and in every possible way calls out the souls renewed in Christ to live an open life of sacrifice and duty, and so to witness a good confession (Matthew 19:21; Luke 9:23; Luke 9:26; John 15:16; John 15:19-20).
6. There is no shade of encouragement given to this notion of salvation by a secret piety in any of the Scripture examples or teachings. The nearest approach to such encouragement anywhere given is that which is afforded by the case of the two senators, Joseph and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21; John 19:38). They were good as disciples to bury Jesus, but not to save His life or serve Him while living. The most fragrant spices are those that honour one’s life, and not the posthumous odours that embalm His body (Matthew 5:14-16).
1. The very absurd pretence of those who congratulate themselves on having so much of secret merit, which they even count the more meritorious because they keep it secret. It is not the righteousness of God which they have hidden so carefully, but it is their own—which, after all, is not hid. They do not break out and confess the Lord, simply because He is not in them.
2. The significance of the profession of Christ, when and why, and with what views it should be made. It should be made, because where there is anything to be professed it cannot but be made.… There is no option here, save as all duties are optional, and eternity hangs on the option we make.
3. What value there may be in the discoveries of Christian experience, and the legitimate use they may have in Christian society. Some of the best and holiest impulses ever given to the cause of God in men’s hearts are given by testimonies of Christian experience (Malachi 3:16).
4. The true wisdom, in all these matters of holy experience, is to act naturally. If you seem to yourself to have really passed from death unto life, and to have come into God’s peace, interpose no affectations of modesty, no restrictions of mock-prudence, but in true natural modesty and a sound natural discretion testify the grace you have received (Matthew 10:32-33).—H. Bushnell, D.D., from” The New Life,” abridged.
THE SERVANT’S PRAYER TO HIS LORD
This prayer of the poet suggests the following observations—
I. The most assured confidence in God is not regarded by His servant as a substitute for prayer. In the previous portion of the psalm, David has expressed unshaken and unlimited confidence in God, yet here we find him confessing his sins, complaining of his troubles, and seeking relief from God. Thankfulness and trust are foundations for prayer. Hengstenberg points out that the relation of the” withhold not Thou Thy tender mercies” to the “I have not refrained,” in Psalms 40:9, suggests “the doctrine that the measure of the further salvation proceeds according to the measure of thankfulness for the earlier.” And “the words ‘Let Thy loving-kindness and Thy truth continually preserve me’ point back to ‘I will not conceal Thy lovingkindness and Thy truth,’ with which the Psalmist had closed his promise of thanksgiving. That we will not conceal God’s lovingkindness and truth, is the sure means, but also the indispensable condition of its further manifestation in our experience.” Thankfulness and trust, so far from precluding the necessity of prayer, are incentives and encouragements to its exercise. The man of assured faith will be a man of frequent prayer.
II. A true servant of God may fall into many sins. “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me,” &c. There is great force in the expressions used by the Psalmist in this verse. He seems to have had a deep and painful impression of his sins. He makes mention of
1. Their number. “They are more than the hairs of mine head. “When we think of sins of infirmity and imperfection, and sins of omission, and secret sins of thought and feeling, to the awakened conscience they appear altogether innumerable.
2. Their grasp. “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me”. His sins had seized him, arrested him, “as the bailiff does the poor debtor.” Sin with its dark memories and in its dire consequences frequently holds a man as with an iron grip.
3. Their effect. “I am not able to look up, … my heart faileth me.” “The idea here is not that he was unable to look up, but that the calamities which came upon him were so heavy and severe as to make his sight dim or deprive him of vision.”—Barnes. Luther: “My sight gives way under great sorrow.” Hengstenberg: “The heart is here not exactly the feeling, spirit, but is rather considered as the seat of the powers of life. ‘My strength faileth me,’ in Psalms 38:10, is parallel.”
If this confession of sin and its results seem exaggerated, let it be remembered that an awakened and sensitive conscience detects and grieves for sins when the hardened conscience would not discover any sin at all.
“That the Psalmist speaks here of his numerous offences, and treats of his suffering as the righteous punishment of these, forms an irrefragable proof against the direct Messianic exposition.”—Hengstenberg.
III. If a true servant of God fall into sin, the penalty of his sin will surely come upon him. “Innumerable evils have compassed me about.” God’s laws, with the penalties annexed to every breach of them, are universal in their operation. They are not respecters of persons. In the case of no one is this more conspicuous than in the life of David. His sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, in their consequences, never ceased to darken and trouble his life even to its very close. “Whoso” (saint or sinner) “breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.”
IV. A servant of God suffering the penalty of his sin may seek deliverance from God. “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” An essential condition of deliverance is that he who seeks it shall have come to feel the heinousness of the sin for which suffers.
Where the sinfulness of the sin is deeply realised, the penalty has in great part, at least, accomplished its end. But when any one seeks to be rid of the suffering without loathing the sin, it is clear that in him suffering has not yet accomplished its end. But in what way does God deliver His people from the evils of their sins?
1. By removing the guilt and the consciousness of it. That we have grieved a holy and generous Father is the sorest part of our suffering. God takes that away by the assurance of forgiveness.
2. By removing the penalty. Sometimes in answer to prayer God sees fit to remove or to mitigate the sufferings which have come upon his people as the result of their sins.
3. By imparting grace and patience to bear the penalty. If He remove not the penalty, He will take the bitterness out of it, and give us strength to bear it.
It is a great thing to be able to go to Him and seek relief and deliverance. The approach to Him in itself is helpful And He will certainly grant to us an answer,—wise, gracious, and satisfactory.
The Psalmist’s prayer for help is marked by great urgency. “O Lord, make haste to help me.” “Make no tarrying, O my God.” Great suffering and a deep sense of need make us earnest and urgent in prayer. They do not utter themselves in long, rhetorical petitions, but in brief, expressive, heaven-reaching cries.
V. In his prayer the servant of God has reference not to himself alone, but to others also.
1. Here is a reference to his enemies. “Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it,” &c. (Psalms 40:14; Psalms 40:16). The enemies of the Psalmist seem to have been many, and to have manifested their animosity in different ways. Here are—
(1) The actively hostile; “them that seek after my soul to destroy it.”
(2) The evil disposed; “them that wish me evil.”
(3) The mockers; “them that say unto me, Aha, Aha.” He prays for the discomfiture of all these. “There is no sin in the wish that the wicked may not be successful in their plans, and may not be suffered to injure us.”—Barnes.
2. Here is a reference to the godly. “Let all those that seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; let such as love Thy salvation say continually, “The Lord be magnified.” There is a beautiful connection between the character indicated and the blessing sought. They that seek the Lord shall find Him, and finding Him shall rejoice and be glad in Him. For the seeker the joy of becoming the finder. They that love His salvation shall realise it so fully as to be filled with praise and to cry, “The Lord be magnified.” May they so continuously realise His saving grace as to have cause for continually exalting and glorifying God.
VI. The servant of God in his deepest distress confides in the Lord God. “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me,” &c. (For an exposition of this verse see the homiletic sketch on it given below.)
CONCLUSION.—Amid both the sins and the sufferings of life, let the servants of God have recourse to Him in prayer.
THE HOLD OF SIN
A course of sin is a course of lawlessness. Certain liberty may be enjoyed, but penal consequences are sure to follow. “Innumerable evils have compassed me about.” Sin takes hold upon the sinner by violence and force. Justice arrests and brings him before the tribunal.
Sin takes hold upon men—
I. By its power. It overcomes them, subdues them by habits, and keeps them bound in captivity and degradation. “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.”
II. By an accusing conscience. All men have a conscience, speaking in stillness, or thundering in power—watching and weighing all they do,—a monitor in their bosom—a witness for God. “The candle of the Lord searching all their inward parts.”
III. By its evil consequences. Fear, shame, and liability to punishment—the curse and condemnation of a broken law. The sinner carries within his bosom a prediction, a foretaste of the judgment to come. The terrors of hell get hold upon him, and there is no deliverance but in Christ. “He Himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree—redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” He can save from sin and its consequences.—J. W. in “The Study.”
MAN’S NEED AND GOD’S THOUGHT
“I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me.”
We regard these words as the expression of a humble, trustful heart under a sense of need. We have here,
I. An acknowledgment of human need. “I am poor and needy.” In the world there is much physical poverty and need. That is bad. Much mental poverty: that is worse. Much spiritual poverty: that is worst of all. Better to be Lazarus at the gate than the rich man in the palace. Some who are spiritually impoverished are quite unconscious of it They are paupers, yet they imagine themselves millionaires. They say that they are “rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Most deplorable!
1. This need is an evidence of sin. A loving Creator, having “unsearchable riches,” would not make His creatures poor and needy. Some disarrangement of His order must have taken place. Spiritual bankruptcy cannot be a result of the plans of the Infinite and all-generous Spirit.
2. The consciousness of this need is a condition of its removal. When men fall asleep in the frost and snow by reason of cold, and become insensible unto the cold, they sleep the sleep of death. While they feel the cold they will strive to preserve vital heat, and so repel the cold. The sense of this poverty is the first step to its removal. Until we feel our hunger we shall never seek the living bread.
3. The confession of this need is well-pleasing to God. It indicates a true estimate of ourselves, and humility before God. When we think of our low attainments, and those to which we are called, how poor are we! When we consider our mean acquisitions, and the “unsearchable riches,” how poor are we!
II. An expression of confidence in God. “The Lord thinketh upon me. “There is something very cheering and strengthening in this. I am lonely and sad and weary; but I think of some loving one, perhaps hundreds of miles away, who is thinking kindly of me, and I am refreshed, comforted, strengthened.
God thinks of me, of all men, of every man. We think and speak of the particular and the general, of the individual and the collective body. We cannot at once think of many particulars, or of many individuals, as such; so we think of persons collectively, and of particulars as classified. But the Infinite Mind has no such limitations. Amid the millions of creatures that depend upon His care and are the recipients of His bounty, not one escapes His notice. Superintending the universe, He also numbers the very hairs of the head of every one of His people.
“The Lord thinketh upon me.” He cares for every individual; for thee, as though in all His universe He had no other to care for. “Ah! that may be true,” say you, “of David, a king, and sacred poet, and man highly favoured of God; but does He so think of me, a poor, low, unworthy one?” To doubt it is to “limit the Holy One of Israel.” “The Lord thinketh upon me;” then, He knows my need. He sees our exact circumstances and condition, and consequent need. He knows the precise character of my poverty, and will remove it by communicating the precise treasures which I lack.
“The Lord thinketh upon me;” then, He will supply my need. His thought is neither purposeless nor resultless. His thoughts receive embodiment. His thought of us indicates care for us, and results in provision for us. Wherever the sense of poverty and need is, there may the assurance of the Divine thought and care also be. If we are hungering after Him, most assuredly He is thinking of us individually.
Examples of His care for individuals abound. Daniel in the lions’ den, Joseph in prison, Peter in prison, and our own experience.
In this thought of God of us and for us we have:—
1. What a solace in loneliness!
2. What a comfort in the day of sorrow!
3. What an inspiration for Christian work!
4. What an assurance of victory in death!
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 40". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany