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“The first of the seven Penitential Psalms. It has been said that there is much of grief in it, but nothing of penitence. This, however, is an error. The tears shed by David over Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33) came, we are sure, from the fountain of a penitent heart. He knew well that Absalom’s rebellion was permitted by God as a penal consequence of his sin.”—Kay.
(The whole Psalm.)
I. The twofold character of the Divine chastisements.
Psalms 6:1. “Only in love, not in wrath.”—Kay. There is the chastisement of anger, and the chastisement of grace; the punitive and the loving chastisement. “There is a chastisement which proceeds from God’s love to the man as being pardoned, and which is designed to purify or to prove him; and a chastisement which proceeds from God’s wrath against the man, as striving obstinately against, or as fallen away from, favour, and which satisfies Divine justice.”—Delitzsch.
1. The one is measured, the other overwhelming.
2. The one destroys, the other perfects.
3. The one is temporal, the other eternal.
II. The grounds of appeal to the Divine clemency.
On what grounds can we entreat for the milder chastisement? The Psalmist
1. Recognises the justice of the sufferings under which he bows. He sees his sin, and feels it just that that sin should be punished. “David does not pray for the removal of the chastisement, but of the chastisement in wrath, or, what is the same thing, of the judgment proceeding from wrath.”—Delitzsch. “I indeed confess that I deserve nothing but destruction; but because I could not endure the severity of Thy judgment, deal not with me after my deserts; yea, rather forgive the sins whereby I have provoked Thine anger against me.”—Calvin. God’s hand can only cease when we are brought to acknowledge the justice of the stroke.
2. He is utterly broken down by his sufferings. All his ideas of pride and power are gone, and he is broken down in body and soul.
(1.) In body. “Have pity on me, O Lord, for I am withered away. Drooping as a blighted plant.”—Kay. “My bones are vexed.” “The Hindoos, in extreme grief or joy, declare: ‘Our bones are melted;’ that is, like boiling lead, they are completely dissolved.”—Roberts.
(2.) In soul. “My soul is also sore vexed” (Psalms 6:3). “His soul is still more shaken than his body. The affliction is therefore not a merely bodily ailment, in which only a timorous man loses heart. God’s love is hidden from him. God’s wrath seems as though it would wear him completely away. It is an affliction beyond all other afflictions.”—Delitzsch. “To the man of God the bitterest drop in the cup of trouble is the sense of the wrath of God which he experiences in the chastisement of God.”—Tholuck. “Soul-trouble is the very soul of trouble.”—Spurgeon.
If we despise the chastisements of the Lord—that is, if we resent them, and rise up defiantly against them—they must continue punitive and destructive; but if our strength, pride, self-will, are utterly broken down, and we lie emptied of self at God’s feet, then we may look for the punitive chastisements of the just God to change into the loving chastisements of the Merciful One. A “broken and contrite heart,” &c.
3. He appeals to the mercy of God (Psalms 6:4). “Oh, save me for Thy mercies’ sake.” He does not look upon himself as an ill-used man, but knowing himself as a great sinner, he casts himself on the sovereign mercy of Heaven.
4. He desires to live to glorify God (Psalms 6:5). “Men who sink down to the grave unforgiven, unredeemed, they cannot celebrate the glories of Thy mercy.”—Kay. In the midst of his sin and sorrow a sincere and passionate desire awakens in his soul for the honour and praise of God. He passes beyond mere selfishness into sympathy with the Divine rights and glory. “The petition has as its motive the fact that the Divine interest itself is concerned in the deliverance of the man who can render thanks well-pleasing to God, only as living, and not as one lost in death and swallowed up in Hades. Yet this is only one side of the thought. The other side is likewise brought into view, namely, that the petitioner has at heart to render thanks and praise to the glory of God. The relation is therefore in no respect a selfish one, in which the interests of selfishness prevail, but a moral and religious one.”—Moll.
5. He is overwhelmed with sorrow on account of his sin (Psalms 6:6-7). “My eye is eaten away with grief; eaten away, as by a moth fretting a garment.”—Phillips. The great deeps of his nature were broken up, and he would have been drowned in overmuch sorrow had it not been that hope bore him up God-ward, as the ark rose with the flood. There is power indeed in true tears. “As music upon the waters soundeth farther and more harmoniously than upon the land, so do prayers joined with tears.”—Trapp. “Even when the gates of prayer are shut in heaven, those of tears are open.”—Hebrew proverb.
It is when we plead as the Psalmist here pleads, that God’s anger is softened, and the chastisement of wrath is changed into the discipline of grace. “Let us pray, with our whole hearts, for mercy; and if the answer to our prayers be tardy, because we have deeply transgressed, let us knock; for to him that knocketh it shall be opened when prayers, groans, and tears beat at the door.”—St. Cyprian.
III. The Divine response to the prayer of penitence.
Psalms 6:8-9. “They that sow in tears,” &c. “The Psalmist always contends with the Lord before he dares to contend with his foes.”—Sutcliffe. But having contended with the Lord, and found forgiveness, he boldly challenges, gloriously triumphs over, all his enemies. When God has delivered him from his sins, he feels that God will deliver him from his enemies. So if God pardon our sin, we need fear neither men nor devils. They have power over us only as long as our sins have hold of us, but when God pardons our sins they must fly.
SORROW FOR SIN
I. The necessity for such sorrow.
Some speak slightingly of repentance and sorrow for sin, but such sorrow is required from saints and sinners. It is natural and evangelical. “In respect to the Penitential Psalms, it is recorded of St. Augustine that in his last sickness he ordered these psalms to be inscribed in a visible place on a wall of his chamber, where he might fix his eyes and heart upon them, and make their words his own in the breathing out of his soul to God.”—Wordsworth.
II. Mistakes concerning this sorrow.
Many true penitents perplex themselves touching this matter of sorrow for sin. They think that they do not feel enough, feel long enough, &c., &c.
Let us be concerned:
1. About the quality of our sorrow, not its quantity. “Showers be better than dews, yet it is sufficient if God at least hath bedewed our hearts, and hath given us some sign of a penitent heart. If we have not rivers of water to pour forth with David, neither fountains flowing with Mary Magdalene, nor as Jeremiah desire to have a fountain in our head to weep day and night, nor with Peter weep bitterly; yet if we lament that we cannot lament, and mourn that we cannot mourn: yea, if we have the smallest sobs of sorrow and tears of compunction, if they be true and not counterfeit, they will make us acceptable to God; for as the woman with the bloody issue that touched the hem of Christ’s garment was no less welcome to Christ than Thomas who put his fingers in the print of the nails, so God looketh not at the quantity, but the sincerity of our repentance.”—Symson, quoted by Spurgeon.
2. About the reality, not the manifestation of our sorrow. “Some may say, ‘My constitution is such that I cannot weep; I may as well go to squeeze a rock as think to get a tear.’ But if thou canst not weep for sin, canst thou grieve? Intellectual mourning is best; there may be sorrow where there are no tears; the vessel may be full though it wants vent; it is not so much the weeping eye God respects as the broken heart.”—Watson, quoted by Spurgeon.
3. About the sincerity of our sorrow, not its duration. Some mourn long on account of sin, but let us not doubt forgiveness because it comes the sooner to us.
III. The efficacy of this sorrow.
There is a “sorrow of the world which worketh death,” and there is a “godly sorrow,” which is unto life and salvation. “Sin draws after it punishment, and the judgment of an angry God is terrible; but only the impenitent sinner is lost, not the penitent. It is true, in bitter, heartfelt grief over his sins he experiences a sorrow, which not only grieves the soul, but also withers the body; but he feels at the same time that he is mightily drawn towards God by this godly sorrow. He confesses his guilt and the justice of the punishment with which the holy God visits him, and makes known that he is well aware how richly he deserves the disfavour and wrath of God, and how he has forfeited his life with his sins. But he perceives in this very punishment that God is still interested in him, and he himself has still a longing after God. He can still believe in grace, and therefore pray for life; and in this consists the saving change which takes place in his condition.”—Moll. There is a Mohammedan legend respecting David, which says that after the treachery of which he had been guilty towards Uriah, the king was seized with the bitterest remorse. For forty days and forty nights he lay in the dust and wept; two rivulets gushed from his eyes, and the weeping willow and the incense-tree sprang up upon the spot. Is there not a great truth veiled in this wild fable? Whilst the weeping willow stands as a sign of that sorrow which bowed David’s spirit to the earth, does not the incense-tree symbolise that faith and love of his which trembled up to heaven? When our sorrow for sin bows us down, let us still look up, and offering God the incense of a penitent, worshipping spirit, He shall not turn away our prayer.
THE NIGHT OF REPENTANCE
(The whole Psalm.)
Night is about the Psalmist, and the night about him is an emblem of the night within him. He cannot sleep; all the night he waters his couch with his tears. The fact is, his sins have found him out, and he walks in darkness and in the shadow of death—the night of repentance.
Let us observe:
I. Its darkness.
There is darkness in the Psalmist’s soul, the felt absence of God. “Return, O Lord” (Psalms 6:4). God is away, the sun of the soul.
(1.) Darkness means misery. How great the sorrow here pictured! “Weak.” “Bones vexed.” “Soul also sore vexed” Sinner, be sure some day or other sin will make your soul weep and bleed.
(2.) Darkness means guilt and fear (Psalms 6:1). Here the Psalmist feels his guilt, and dreads the unknown terrors of God’s wrath.
(3.) Darkness means death. The Psalmist here dreads lest he should sink lower than the grave (Psalms 6:5). He feels that his sin has brought him to the verge of everlasting destruction.
This is what sin brings us to. It robs the soul of light, of life. It leaves the sinner trembling within the shadows of hell.
II. Its duration.
“O Lord, how long?” (Psalms 6:3). How swiftly time goes when we are living joyfully! How long the hours, the months of suffering and unhappiness! Seven years are not long to a man with health, innocence, and freedom; but think of that period spent in a jail upon a treadmill! So to a man who lives in the love of God, the hours pass with “down upon their feet;” but how dreary and leaden-footed are the hours to a guilty soul! Sin takes all the glory and joy out of life, and makes us “curse the day that we were born.” “The pleasures of sin are but for a season;” the pangs and penalties of sin embitter many days.
III. Its spectres.
“All mine enemies” (Psalms 6:7). The Psalmist felt circumvented by enemies, and in his enemies he saw his sins. Men commit sins, and pass on as if they were to know those sins no more, but the day comes when they all live again. “God requireth that which is past,” and conscience throws open the doors of memory, and out rushes a crowd of spectres. Little sins; old sins; quiet sins; forgotten sins; white-washed sins; all come from their graves. Ghosts of falsehoods; guilty recollections of envyings and hatreds; soiled apparitions of dead lusts; all return to accuse and condemn. Be sure that some day or other your sin will find you out; and a thousand spectres will people the darkness, and fill you with agony and fear.
IV. Its stars.
“Oh, save me for Thy mercies’ sake” (Psalms 6:4). The Psalmist seizes upon the idea of the Divine mercy, and out of this grand truth springs the bright constellations which cheer the penitent in his night of sorrow. The penitent remembers;
(1.) The mercifulness of the Divine nature. There is that grand star which arose out of the blackness of Sinai (Numbers 34:6-7). He “is plenteous in mercy.” “He delighteth in mercy.” “His tender mercy.” “Rich in mercy.” “Abundant mercy.” “His mercy endureth for ever.” Here are stars of light for the weeping eyes of penitence.
(2.) The promises of the Divine mercy. These are “more than the sands of the sea-shore.” Grand promises on every page of the Book!
(3.) The acts of the Divine mercy. God forgave David, Noah, Saul, &c., &c. Which of them did He not forgive?
“Millions of transgressors poor,
Thou hast for Jesus’ sake forgiven;
Made them of Thy favour sure,
And snatched from hell to heaven.”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of mercy. When the sinner is harassed by ghost and ghoul, he looks towards the Gospel, and beholds great stripes of stars, which, in the sinner’s ear, utter forth a glorious voice of consolation and hope. “I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
V. Its sunrise.
Psalms 6:8-9. “Mark the sudden change, as of sunrise upon night. Already the prayer and the weeping have been heard. Already faith has triumphed.”—Perowne “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Sinner, watch for God more than they that watch for the morning, and He shall rise upon you with healing in His wings, and there shall be to you “no more night.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13