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“This Psalm,” says Barnes, “is without a title. It is impossible to determine on what occasion it was composed. There is some plausibility in the supposition that Psalms 70:0 might have been placed before it, or in connection with it, as a kind of introduction, or as indicating the character of the Psalms among which it is found; but nothing of certainty can be ascertained on this point. It evidently belongs to the class of Psalms which refer to the trials of the righteous; but it was rather in view of past troubles than of those which were then existing. There is no certain evidence that the Psalm was composed by David. If so, it was when he was advanced in life. There is, indeed, much in the Psalm which would be appropriate to David—much which he might have written; but there is no way now of ascertaining with certainty who was the author.… All that is known respecting the occasion on which the Psalm was composed, whoever was the author, is, that it was composed when old age was drawing near, and in view of the trials and blessings of life, as considered from the contemplation of its approaching close.
“It is a Psalm of great value, as describing the feelings of a good man when he is growing old, and is an illustration of what there has been occasion so often to remark in this exposition of the Book of Psalms, that the Bible is adapted to all the conditions of human life. In a book professing to be a revelation from God, and in a world where old age, with its trials, its infirmities, its recollections, and its hopes, must be so prominent in the actual state of things existing, it would have been unaccountable if there had been nothing to illustrate the feelings of those in advancing or advanced years—nothing to suggest the kind of reflections appropriate to that period of life—nothing to cheer the heart of the aged man, and to inspire him with hope—nothing to prompt him to recall the lessons of the past, and to make use of those lessons to prepare him for the future; even as, in a world so full of trial, it would have been strange if there had been nothing to comfort the mind in affliction, and to enable men to derive proper lessons from the experiences of life. This Psalm, therefore, is one of the most valuable portions of the Bible to a certain class of mankind, and may be to any of the living, as suggesting the proper reflections of a good man as the infirmities of age draw on, and as he reviews the mercies and the trials of the past.”
Homiletically we view the Psalm as presenting—Trust and prayer, Psalms 71:1-3; The precious recollections, present trials, and glorious resource of an aged saint, Psalms 71:4-13; and The triumphant faith of an aged saint, Psalms 71:14-24.
TRUST AND PRAYER
These verses, which form the introduction to the Psalm, are borrowed, with slight changes, from Psalms 31:1-3; and as they have been expounded in that place, our remarks on them will be brief. We have here—
I. The good man’s trust. “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.” He confides—
1. In a Divine Person. “In Thee, O Lord,” &c. Not in mere law, or order, or fate, or force. The things which these terms set forth satisfy neither the demands of the intellect nor the cravings of the heart. They are cold, heartless abstractions. We cannot confide in them. But the Psalmist trusts in the personal God—a Being of infinite power, wisdom, righteousness, love, &c. In Him both the intellect and the heart may repose.
2. In a Divine Person sustaining personal relations to His creatures. “Thou art my rock and my fortress.” The Most High is not far removed from His creatures, or indifferent to their needs and interests. He guards their interests, supplies their needs, and graciously cares for them individually. He encourages every man to claim a personal interest in Him, and in His protection and provision. Without presumption we may say, “Thou art my rock,” &c.
3. In a Divine Person who has given gracious assurances of salvation to His people. “Thou has given commandment to save me.” Hengstenberg: “Who hast ordained to help me.” God has given many gracious and faithful promises of salvation to all those who trust in Him. Such, then, is the object of the good man’s trust as presented to us by the Psalmist.
II. The good man’s prayer. “Let me never be put to confusion,” &c. He supplicates—-
1. Divine audience. “Incline Thine ear unto me.” It is a request that God would bestow upon him His gracious attention. The lisping prayer of the little child, the broken sob of the penitent, the sigh of the sorely burdened spirit, and the faint whisper of the dying, each and all are heard by Him. No uprising of holy desire or utterance of need escapes His notice, or fails to secure His regard.
2. Divine deliverance. “Deliver me in Thy righteousness, and cause me to escape, … and save me.” He was in great danger by reason of the malicious schemes and enterprises of his enemies. They were seeking his life. He looks to God for deliverance from their subtlety and strength, feeling that He was too righteous a Being to fail in delivering one who trusted Him so fully, seeing that He had promised salvation to all who confide in Him. When trusting in God we may plead His righteousness for salvation.
3. Divine protection. “Be Thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort.” Hengstenberg: “Be to me a rock of salvation, to which I may come continually.” This seems to us a very comprehensive petition. He asks that he may find in God
(1) His home. “My habitation.” God Himself is the true home of the soul. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.”
(2) His secure home. “My strong habitation.” “A rock of habitation.” A rock against which the tumultuous waves of persecution shall spend themselves in vain. He that dwells in God has omnipotence for his defence.
(3) His secure home always accessible. “Whereunto I may continually resort.” At all times and in all circumstances we may take refuge in God, feeling assured of protection and welcome.
4. Divine vindication. “Let me never be put to confusion.” It is a prayer that God would vindicate the confidence which he had reposed in Him. If the Psalmist failed to find salvation in God, his highest hopes would be wrecked, his most sacred and precious interests would be lost; he would be covered with confusion and shame. If it be reposed in God, our confidence will never become our confusion. “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”
CONCLUSION.—Mark the relation between trust and prayer. There can be no true prayer without faith. Prayer is not the cry of despair, but the aspiration or entreaty of hope. And wherever there is genuine trust in God it will find expression in prayer to him.
THE PRECIOUS RECOLLECTIONS, PRESENT TRIALS, AND GLORIOUS RESOURCE OF AN AGED SAINT
In this section of the Psalm three things require notice:
I. The precious recollections of an aged saint.
1. Of a life of trust in God. “Thou art my trust from my youth.” From his earliest years God had been the object of his hope. The Psalmist does not boast of this. He “does not in the least praise his own faith, hut the grace of God, which he had experienced from his childhood.” We know that in early life David exercised strong confidence in God. Blessed are they whose old age is soothed and brightened by memories of early trust in God, and consecration to Him.
2. Of a life sustained by God. “By Thee have I been holden up from the womb; Thou art He that took me out of my mother’s bowels.” On נִסְמַךְ (Niph. of סָמַךְ, to support, to lean) Perowne says: “This is an expression wonderfully descriptive of what faith is, and of what God is to those who trust in Him. He is a father who bears them in His arms and carries them in His bosom; they are as children who lean all their weight upon Him, and find their sweetest rest in His supporting hand. This is the very idea of faith, according to its Hebrew signification. When it is said in Genesis 15:6, that ‘Abraham believed God,’ it means literally, ‘he leaned upon God.’ ” Looking back upon his life the Psalmist could say,
“Thy mercy heard my infant prayer,
Thy love, with all a mother’s care,
Sustained my childish days:
Thy goodness watched my ripening youth,
And formed my heart to love Thy truth,
And filled my lips with praise.”
David had recollections of the gentle and strong hand of God supporting him through all his life. His age was sustained and cheered by memories of the rich and constant goodness of God to him. The stream of the Divine blessing had never ceased to flow for his refreshment and support. Whatever or whosoever had disappointed him, God had never failed him. Blessed are they who in old age have a retrospect like unto this.
II. The present trials of an aged saint. Even the old age of the good is not always exempt from trial. We are never beyond the reach of the storm while we are in this world. The old age of David was darkened by trouble by reason of the great sins which stain and mar one period of his life. See 2 Samuel 12:10-11. In his old age he “was tried by great and sore troubles, by debility of body (1 Kings 1:1-4), and by the rebellion of Adonijah, his son usurping his throne and endeavouring to supplant Solomon (1 Kings 1:5-10), and by the treachery of Abiathar and Joab” (1 Kings 1:18-19). The trials which he mentions in this Psalm arose from his enemies. He sets before us—
1. Their character. “The wicked, the unrighteous and cruel man.” His foes were unjust, malignant, and violent men. Against foes of such a character he might well appeal unto God.
2. Their aim. “They lay wait for my soul.” They watched and waited to take away his life; they sought to destroy him. An illustration of the spiritual foes of the good.
3. Their method. This comprised
(1) Slander. “Mine enemies speak against me; … saying, God hath forsaken him.” “The tongue of slander is never tired. In one way or another it manages to keep itself in constant employment. Sometimes it drops honey and sometimes gall. It is bitter now, and then sweet. It insinuates or assails directly according to the circumstances. It will hide a curse under a smooth word, and administer poison in the phrase of love. Like death it ‘loves a shining mark.’ And it is never so voluble and eloquent as when it can blight the hopes of the noble, soil the reputation of the pure, and break down the character of the brave and strong. And how much of this vile work is done in one way and another in society!… It is done to the hurt and agony of many a soul. It is done by a look sometimes, by the curl of a lip, by the wink of an eye, by an insinuation, a phrase of suspicion, by the dexterous and malicious handling of a rumour—in a thousand ways are men and women stung by the poisoned arrow shot from the devil’s tongue of slander.” David suffered most acutely and often from the calumnies of his enemies. See our remarks on Psalms 41:5-8; Psalms 42:3.
(2) Subtlety. “They take counsel together.” They were combined and designing; and endeavoured to form such plans and adopt such methods as would enable them with the greatest certainty to accomplish their cruel and malicious designs. They were crafty as well as calumnious.
(3) Violence. “Persecute and take him, for there is none to deliver him.” They imagined that the Psalmist was abandoned by God, that his defence was withdrawn, and that they might, therefore, pursue and seize him. They employed force against him, as well as subtlety and slander. The good have their enemies now. These enemies are malicious, cunning, and strong. They aim at their spiritual destruction. “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary,” &c.
III. The glorious resource of an aged saint. The aged Psalmist, in his trials, turned to the Lord God.
1. His confidence. “Thou art my hope, O Lord God; Thou art my trust from my youth.… Thou art my strong refuge.” His confidence was
(1) Of long continuance. From his youth he had reposed his trust in God. His faith amid the trials of old age was sustained by a long, diversified, and rich experience. Present confidence was encouraged and strengthened by past experience of great fulness and preciousness. His confidence was
(2) Exultant. “My praise is continually of Thee.… Let my mouth be filled with Thy praise and with thy honour all the day.” His trust in God enabled him to triumph over his enemies. Faith made him songful even in the midst of his trials.
2. His prayer.
(1) As regards his enemies. “Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul, let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt.” Musculus: “His desire is, that they may be confounded and fail, that they may be covered with disgrace and shame. He seeks nothing beyond the frustration of their attempts, that they may begin to be ashamed, and have no cause for boasting that they came off victorious.” Caryl: “Shame ariseth from utter disappointments. If hope deferred causeth shame, then much more hope destroyed. When a man sees his hopes quite cut off, so that he can no way reach the thing he looked for, shame takes hold of him strongly.” Spurgeon: “How confounded must Pharaoh have been when Israel multiplied, despite his endeavours to exterminate the race; and how consumed with rage must the scribes and Pharisees have become when they saw the Gospel spreading from land to land by the very means which they used for its destruction.” Satan and all the enemies of the good shall be thus confounded. Their designs shall be utterly defeated, &c.
(2) As regards himself. He seeks for (α) Deliverance from his enemies. “Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.” He prays to be rescued from the strong grip of his wicked foes. (β) The continued presence and help of God. “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.… O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste for my help.” The kindness and faithfulness of God to the Psalmist in youth and maturity encourage him to seek His presence and aid in the time of old age and failing strength. “He is a Master that is not wont to cast off old servants.” David feels that if God be near unto him all will be well with him. “Nearness to God is our conscious security. A child in the dark is comforted by grasping its father’s hand.”
1. Let the young learn the importance of early piety. It is the best preparation for the trials of declining years.
2. Let the aged, with failing faculties and growing infirmities, seek help and comfort in God. “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all ye the remnant of the house of Israel; ye that have been borne by Me from the birth, that have been carried from the womb: And even to your old age, I am the same; and even to grey hairs, I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry, and will deliver you.”
THE AGED SAINT AND HIS GOD
I. What the Psalmist said of himself. “I am as a wonder unto many.” He was led to say this from the review which he had taken of his own history. The history of David was singular. He had been raised from being a shepherd to be the king of Israel. The deliverances which had been wrought for him showed that the hand of God had been with him. And in his old age, having reigned over the people for many years, in reviewing his life, he said, “I am as a wonder unto many.”
1. It is proper to review past experiences.
(1) As to the methods of grace. Every good man is the subject of grace, and has been preserved in his course by supplies of grace; and it is proper for him to review what God has done for him.
(2) As to the conduct of Providence. This is proper in every stage of life, but especially in old age. Reflect upon the many blessings which a kind Providence has bestowed, the many deliverances which you have experienced, &c.
2. It is profitable to review past experiences.
(1) It produces humility, because of the little improvement we have made, &c.
(2) It inspires gratitude, because of many mercies, many kind interpositions of Providence, &c. See Genesis 32:10; 2 Samuel 7:18.
(3) It encourages us to trust in God. Reflecting upon the past had this effect upon David, as we see in this Psalm (Psalms 71:1; Psalms 71:14-24).
II. What the Psalmist said of his God. “Thou art my strong refuge.”
1. The manner in which David speaks of God. “Thou art my strong refuge.”
(1) If we think of the perfections of God we shall see that we may view Him as a “strong refuge.” His power is almighty; His wisdom is infinite, to guide, &c. He is always present, faithful, unchangeable, &c.
(2) His people in all ages have found him to be their “strong refuge.”
2. In all circumstances His people may make Him their refuge.
(1) In troubles. These are different in their kind with different persons. Some have poverty, others losses, others family trials, others bereavements, others unfaithful friends, &c. But there is no trouble but the believer may bring it to his God.
(2) In spiritual trials, e.g., wounded conscience, Satanic temptations, painful conflicts, &c.
(3) In old age. The increasing infirmities of old age, the loss of many friends who cheered and strengthened us in former years, the certainty that the days of labour and usefulness are drawing to a close, render it of the greatest importance to have God for our refuge.
(4) In death itself. When the powers of nature fail, when the last enemy comes, God will be the refuge of His people. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
1. How important to live so as to enjoy the privilege of having God for a refuge! If we are walking in the way of holiness we shall enjoy this privilege.
2. To enjoy this privilege we must exercise faith. In the trials of life the promises of God are a source of encouragement and comfort, but we can enjoy the consolation which they afford only by faith.
3. How great is the importance of true religion! If we neglect religion we shall have our trials, but we shall have no adequate refuge. Seek an interest in Christ, and the Lord will be your God.—Abridged from an unpublished MS.
THE CRY OF THE AGED
This is the cry of trembling, tottering age to man, as well as to God. Among the very saddest of human experiences is the decay which is the harbinger of death. Decay is the first bitterness of death. I believe that, at last, in the act of dying the bitterness of death is already past. There is a great physical preparation for dying, when the moment has at length come. The worn-out body, weary with its long struggle, sinks at last into the arms of death without a tremor; it is tired, it longs to be at rest. It is the long struggle of the vital power, while its vigour is still capable of the effort, which is so hard to endure, so sad to behold. The strong man worsted, but yielding slowly, and fighting every inch against the sure, inevitable progress of decay. The eye daily a little dimmer, the limbs a little feebler, &c.… It is a dark, sad theme, the sufferings and miseries of the long decline. That God should suffer it must have deep reasons.… Consider—
I. The phenomena of human decay. “The outer man decayeth.” At both ends of life man is the most helpless and the weakest of the creatures. For nearly one-third of his pilgrimage, law and fact hold man to be an infant, dependent on elders, that is, cast upon the care and guidance of his fellows; and if he lives out his span, and fulfils the natural course, he is certain of years of the same dependence before his death. With this grand difference, that the great moving ing principle of the one ministry is memory, the inspiration of the other is hope. The aged have memory chiefly to look to, the young have hope. Among the finer spirits, the men and women of high culture and Christian feeling, there is a beautiful sacredness about the hoary head which wins for it abundant care and honour; but alas! for the old and weary among the great mass of mankind.… Take infirmity in its best condition, where it is regarded most reverently and handled, most tenderly, and there is a very sad side to it. How much more when the surroundings are hard and selfish, and the poor worn-out pilgrim is made to see very plainly that his life is a burden to those for whose nurture the strength of it was spent; and that declining strength will be but the signal for new hardships, insults, and wrongs. When circumstance is all that is happy, the thing remains—the most painful of spectacles, the most bitter of experiences—the strong frame grown weak as an infant’s, and dropping piecemeal to dust. The brain that was once regal in power wandering wearily after lost thoughts, and failing to grasp them, looking forth from perplexed and bewildered eyes with that look which is so hard to meet without tears—the look of a mind conscious that it is losing the power to hold its own. The lips babbling idle, incoherent words, the hands groping vaguely after familiar objects, the limbs bending beneath the weight of the shrivelled form whose lusty manhood they bore so joyously about its work. The eyes growing dim, as though a thick veil were dropped over the creation; the cheerful and courageous spirit querulous and suspicious; all the noble moral qualities, the self-denial, the wisdom, the tenderness, the courage, the hope, that rendered in their prime such noble ministry to others, seeming to share the body’s decay, and passing slowly under utter eclipse. The mind, the soul, to the eye dying with the body, becoming puling, feeble, fretful as a child’s. It is “a sair sight” to those who have to watch it, a bitter experience to those who have to pass through it.
II. The reasons of this law of physical decay as far as we can explore it. Why should such a law reign in a world which is under the wise rule of a merciful and loving God?
1. To drive home the lessons which God is ever seeking to teach us about sin. Death as it reigns on earth is not translation—the calm passage of a spirit from an inferior to a superior sphere. Nor is it intended to look like translation. It is a curse which sin has inflicted on the world. It is the devil’s work, not God’s. Death, as we know it now, though it is God’s judgment, is the cursed work of evil. And God intends that it shall look like it. There is no hiding of any of its black features. Sin is corruption of the spirit, paralysis of every faculty of the being. God shows us the corruption, the paralysis of force, in the phenomena of bodily decay. It is God’s solemn sermon upon sin. What you see the devil do for a body, that believe the devil is doing for a soul.
2. To develop the noblest qualities of the human spirit by the ministries which sickness, suffering, and decay call forth. Abolish suffering and decay God will not. He maintains it while this sinful world endures, as His strong witness against sin. But he seeks to make it the occasion of a higher, richer blessing than would be found even in its abolition. The stern law grows beautiful as it calls forth tender and unselfish ministry. There is something higher and more blessed than not to suffer. It is to suffer surrounded by exquisite ministries of love.… God has made us so weak in birth and in death, because we have men and women and not beasts around us. And it is in caring for the helpless, nursing the weak, tending the sick, and bearing the burdens of the sad, that men and women are to grow like God.
3. That He may strengthen faith and hope in immortality. Death is terrible that life may be beautiful. The destroyer is suffered to ravage that the deliverer may be welcomed and blessed. God’s judgment is not unto death, but unto life. But it is always through the judgment, and not by escaping it or turning it aside, that He saves. So through death the great Captain of deliverance destroyed death.… The long weary decay of age, the declining strength of which the Psalmist speaks so touchingly, has but one alleviation, the tender, devoted ministry of our loved ones; it has but one consolation, the hope of immortality. As we watch it, as we suffer it, that hope becomes the soul’s sheet anchor. When death wears his ghastliest dress of terror, we cling but the more closely to Him who has taught us to triumph—yea, to exult over death. Don’t moan like a trembling dove when death has his grip on you, after Hezekiah’s fashion. Lift up your voice and sing a pæan like Paul inspired by Christ. “For which cause we faint not; but though our natural man perish,” &c. (2 Corinthians 4:16 to 2 Corinthians 5:4.)
III. The duties which spring out of the facts and considerations on which we have dwelt.
1. The tender care of the old and grey-headed. God commits them to our ministry. He makes us responsible for their charge. If we will not joyfully bear that burden, it is His counsel, His charge, His gift which we despise.… There is nothing so noble, nothing so beautiful, as the ministry of vigour to weakness, health to sickness, growth to decay, youth to age. There is nothing that God marks more earnestly, nothing that will bear richer fruit in heaven. Let the plea of grey hairs be all-powerful. Bear brightly the mistrust, the fretfulness, the dulness. Let the whisper of the aged lips, and the sign of the aged hand, be like royal commands to you.
2. Let us press home on the hearts of the aged with double earnestness the Gospel which brings to light life and immortality. Blot out that Gospel, and it is all pure agony and misery. Life is a curse, death is a curse, all is a curse; and there is no hope. “But now is Christ risen from the dead,” &c. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 2 Corinthians 4:17).—J. Baldwin Brown, B.A. Abridged from “The Christian World Pulpit.”
THE TRIUMPHANT FAITH OF AN AGED SAINT
The tone of the Psalm changes remarkably. For despondency and fear we have cheerfulness and hope; and the hymn closes with an outburst of exultant praise. Consider—
I. The prayer of faith. (Psalms 71:17-18.) Notice—
1. The blessing sought in the prayer. “Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.” Margin—“Unto old age and grey hairs.” A correct rendering is—“And even to old age and grey hairs, O God, forsake me not.” The Psalmist seeks that the gracious and helpful presence of God should be continued unto him, to the very close of a long life.
2. The ground from which the prayer rises. “O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; and hitherto have I declared Thy wondrous works.” In his prayer the Psalmist is encouraged by
(1) God’s doings for him in the past. From his youth God had instructed and guided him.
(2) His celebration of those doings. He had made known to others the wondrous doings of God on his behalf.
3. The reason by which the prayer is urged. “Forsake me not, until I have showed Thy strength unto this generation, and Thy power to every one that is to come.” Margin—“Thine arm.” “The arm of the Lord is the symbol of His executive power and works. (Comp. Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 53:1; Ezekiel 4:7.) The generation that has come up in the place of his own generation, which is passing away, first comes before his mind, and then his vision deepens and widens, taking in all the coming generations to whom he would publish the mighty deeds of God.” He sought for the continuance of the Divine presence and help that he might still be able to edify his fellow-men and honour his God. (See these verses more fully treated in two sketches given below.)
II. The anticipation of faith. The Psalmist confidently looks forward to—
1. Complete deliverance from severe trials. “Thou which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” Conant: “Thou, who hast made us see troubles great and sore, wilt again revive us, and from the abysses of the earth wilt bring us up again.” Notice—
(1) The best of men may suffer severest trials. The Psalmist represents himself and others as dead and buried, or sinking in the deep abysses of the earth. Their troubles seemed overwhelming and ruinous.
(2) Good men in their trials must recognise the hand of God. He had caused them to see those great and sore trials. No trial can befal us without His permission.
(3) Good men in their trials may cherish an assurance of deliverance. He is able to bring even the dead to life, and to raise from the deepest and most dreadful abyss all who call upon Him. He will not forsake those who trust in Him. The trouble of the good shall pass away like clouds, and leave their heavens serene and beautiful.
2. The realisation of the Divine exaltation and comfort. “Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” Hengstenberg: “And shalt turn Thyself and comfort me.” This is more than complete deliverance from trial. It is the assurance that through trial the people of God rise to greater elevation and joy. “Sometimes God makes His people’s troubles contribute to the increase of their greatness, and their sun shines the brighter for having been under a cloud.” Through much tribulation lies the path of the good to greatness and glory. We must bear the bitter suffering and fight the stern battle; and, by the blessing of God, the struggle and pain shall contribute to our strength and joy. God will “make us glad according to the days wherein He has afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.” Such was the confident anticipation of the Psalmist.
III. The resolution of faith. David declares His purpose—
1. To continually hope in God. “But I will hope continually.” “Hope,” says Dr. Punshon, “is a marvellous inspiration, which every heart confesses in some season of extremest peril. It can put nerve into the languid, and fleetness into the feet of exhaustion. Let the slim and feathery palm-grove be dimly descried, though ever so remotely, and the caravan will on, spite of the fatigue of the traveller and the simoom’s blinding, to where, by the fringy rootlets, the desert waters flow. Let there glimmer one star through the murky waste of night, and though the spars be shattered, and the sails be riven, and the hurricane howls for its prey, the brave sailor will be lashed to the helm, and see already, through the tempest’s breaking, calm waters and a spotless sky. Oh! who is there, however hapless his lot or forlorn his surroundings, who is beyond the influence of this choicest of earth’s comforters—this faithful friend which survives the flight of riches, and the wreck of reputation, and break of health, and even the loss of dear and cherished friends?” The Psalmist resolved that, however painful his circumstances and condition, and whatever the number and power and malice of his enemies, he would hope in God. While God lives, His people have every encouragement to hope in Him.
2. To continually praise God. Notice—
(1) The object of the Psalmist’s praise. “I will praise Thee, O my God—Thou Holy One of Israel.” Here are four points—(α) The personality of God. “Thee, O my God.” (β) The unity of God. “One.” “The Lord our God is one Lord.” (γ) The perfection of God. “Thou holy One.” Holiness in man has been well defined as “the symmetry of the soul;” and by holiness as attributed to God we understand the summation of His perfections. (δ) The relation of God to His people. “O my God, Thou Holy One of Israel.” He is in covenant relations with His people. All who trust in Him are interested in Him and related to Him.
(2) The subjects of His praise. These are (α) The mighty deeds of God. “I will go in the strength of the Lord God.” Conant: “I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord Jehovah.” Hengstenberg: “I will come with the deeds of the Lord.” Alexander: “The common version—‘I will go in the strength of the Lord God,’ is at variance with the usage both of the verb and noun, as the former does not mean to go absolutely, but either to enter or to come to a particular place, expressed or understood. The ellipsis here may be supplied from Psalms 5:7; Psalms 66:13, in both which places the same verb denotes the act of coming to God’s house for the purpose of solemn praise, and in the second passage cited is followed by the same preposition, ‘I will come into Thy house with burnt offerings,’ i.e., I will bring them thither. This sense agrees with the vow to praise God in the two preceding verses, and with the promise of commemoration in the other clause of the verse. It also enables us to give the noun its usual sense of God’s exploits or mighty deeds” (see Psalms 106:2, and Deuteronomy 3:24). God had done great things for the poet and the people, he was confidently anticipating that He would still achieve mighty and glorious deeds for them, and he resolves to publicly and thankfully celebrate these exploits. (β) The righteousness of God. “My mouth shall show forth Thy righteousness.… I will make mention of Thy righteousness, of Thine only.” He speaks of the righteousness of God’s doings. His deeds were as just as they were mighty, as equitable as they were wonderful. The Psalmist resolves to praise the righteousness only of God: not his own righteousness, or strength, or skill, but the perfect righteousness of the Lord his God. (γ) The salvation of God. “My mouth shall show forth Thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers.” God’s great might is exerted for the salvation of His people. His saving acts are innumerable. (Comp. Psalms 40:5.) “God’s righteousness and His salvation are here joined together; let no man think to put them asunder, or expect salvation without righteousness.” This is an inexhaustible theme of praise to the godly man. (δ) The faithfulness of God. “I will praise Thee, even Thy truth, O my God.” By the “truth” we understand especially the truth of the Divine promises. “He is faithful that promised.” Such are the high and fruitful topics which the poet resolved to celebrate.
(3) The reason of his praise. This is to a great extent contained in the object and subjects of his praise. He who is mighty, righteous, faithful, and holy, and who works for the salvation and exaltation and joy of his people, is worthy of all praise. But the Psalmist praises God because He delivers him from sore distresses, and from the enemies who sought to kill him. Faith enables him to realise his salvation as though it were already wrought out for him. “For they are confounded, for they are brought unto shame, that seek my hurt.” To the poet this is so certain that he speaks of it as a thing already accomplished. He praises God for it. His praise is the expression of his gratitude.
(4) The manner of his praise. He resolves to praise God. (α) Publicly (Psalms 71:16). “I will come” into Thy house “with the mighty deeds of the Lord Jehovah; I will make mention,” &c. In the public congregation the Psalmist would thankfully recount the glorious deeds of God, and celebrate His praise. (β) Songfully. “Unto Thee will I sing.” (See remarks on Psalms 59:16.) (γ) With instrumental accompaniment. “I will praise Thee with the psaltery; unto Thee will I sing with the harp.” (See remarks on Psalms 57:8.)
(5) The spirit of his praise. “My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto Thee; and my soul, which Thou hast redeemed.” His praise was not formal and cold, but warm and hearty; not merely with his “lips,” but also with his “soul.” His spirit was exultant. To him worship was an inspiration and joy.
(6) The continuousness of his praise. “My month shall show forth Thy righteousness and Thy salvation all the day.… My tongue also shall talk of Thy righteousness all the day long.” True praise is not an occasional act, but an abiding habitude; not the service of the lips, but the spirit of the life. He worships God truly who worships Him constantly.
CONCLUSION.—How wonderful and divine is the power of true godliness! It enables man to triumph over the infirmities of declining years, the sharp sorrows of life, and the bitter persecutions of mighty and malignant foes. It makes man victorious in the very midst of his enemies. It lifts him in spirit above the storm and the clouds into serene and sunny regions. The true Christian surveying the most adverse circumstances and the most hostile forces can shout in triumph, “in all these things we are more than conquerors.” Is this spirit—this trustful, victorious, Divine spirit—ours!
AN OLD MAN’S RETROSPECT
I. The Psalmist’s scholarship. David was an instructed believer, and more of the kind are needed. Converted people should be learners. Some seem to jump into salvation on a sudden; but they who have not first learned should have the sense not to teach. Ritualism and scepticism would not have spread had there been a wider diffusion of knowledge, for error and ignorance go hand in hand. David went to school from his youth; he was mighty in the Scriptures as they then existed. Let us, then, read our Bibles. In the old days, there was nothing the Romanists so much dreaded as the Catechism. Then let the experienced be teachers of others. As regarded David, the Lord taught him; he was taught by the prophets, and also by Providence. He learned lessons in the camp and in the world. It is a blessed thing when God is our teacher, and His school-room is large enough for all. Further, David began early. It is necessary to be taught early; for the sooner we come to Christ, the less we have to unlearn. We grow like early planted trees, and have none of those horrid remembrances which are a cross to many who are reclaimed late in life. Hence the young promote their own happiness by entering the Church early to grow up in it. If they would preserve a bright eye and an elastic step, they must cleave to Christ in youth.
II. The Believer’s occupation. David’s occupation was to declare God’s works. This was the kernel; all else was but the shell. Some appear scarcely to think of this—the duty of acquainting others with the blessings they themselves have found. Is there such a thing as a secret Christian? Who knows of one? “I do!” you say. Well, the fact that you know him is a proof that he is not a secret Christian. Are such deserters, or are they merely persons of retiring habits? That soldier was of retiring habits who ran away from the field on the day of battle. David, however, proclaimed God’s works. Let us have a theology full of God and not of man. This is the grandest theme one can take up, and it was the Psalmist’s theme. Let them keep to the atonement and all the blessed doctrines of grace. Bring out the old, well-tried guns now that such enemies as Ritualism and Popery confronted them. Note, further, that David’s style was commendable. He spoke positively, and his object was to win sinners. What are we doing? All should do something; no man should keep his gift to himself; we must not play at being Christians. It is a poor, miserable thing to be half-and-half. Some can sit in a pew-corner, and when they have heard a good sermon they say, “Bless the Lord!” or they are passengers in the gospel coach who can do no more than find fault with the horses, coachman, guard, and all about them.
III. David’s prayer. “Forsake me not.” Is it not remarkable that so many of the people mentioned in the Bible as having fallen into sin are old people? Experienced coachmen tell us that the homes are more likely to fall at the bottom of a hill than anywhere else. Old age may be over-confident, or it may be harassed by many fears. They have need of sustaining grace to the last; and, on the other hand, God never forsakes His old servants.
IV. David’s wish. He desired to bear one more testimony to his God. The aged and the weak show forth God’s strength, and they are often the best “evidences” of the truth of religion.—C. H. Spurgeon. From Twelve Realistic Sketches.
COMPARATIVE BLESSEDNESS OF THE CHRISTIAN’S OLD AGE
“Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.”
Though sin is often anticipated with pleasure, it is never remembered but with self-reproach. Though duty is often looked forward to with trembling, it is never looked back upon as performed but with emotions of gladness. The memory of a life spent in wickedness is a garner of evil, ever pouring out its hoard of bitterness on the soul, and yet ever full; while that of a life devoted to the service of God is a treasure of bliss, as abundant as the wants of the soul, and as enduring as its immortality. If this be true—
I. The aged Christian must be happy in the contemplation of his past conduct and influence. While there is here and there a page of sorrow in his history, it is contemplated, as a whole, with gladness. It contains the record of long years of allegiance and service, rendered in the spirit of obedience and love to his ever loved and glorious Master; of many an earnest conflict with temptation, and of many a victory won, through grace, over its utmost power. It contains the record of many a purpose which had its origin in a love that embraced both God and man; of many a scheme of usefulness, &c. Happy the man who, from amid the feebleness of declining years, may look back over the pathway of such a history, and recognise it as his own!
II. He is happy in the contemplation of the blessings which have marked his history. The kindness of his Heavenly Father has not only strewn his path with rich gifts of grace and providence, but so constituted him, that every present blessing sends forward its light and joy to the end of his being. If a peculiar bliss is mine to-day, it is mine not to-day alone, but so long as the memory of to-day shall endure. The thoughts of the Christian in his old age are often sent back over the pathway of his life, and made to mark the points at which Heaven’s gifts were most abundant and rich.… How striking, when contrasted with the experience of the aged sinner, appears the blessedness of the Christian, as, from amid the infirmities of his old age, he looks back upon the blessings included in his experience of the past!
III. He is happy in the contemplation of his life’s history, because of the lessons it has served to teach. Life is a school, and experience a teacher. The Christian whose presence in this school has been continued during a long course of years, cannot but be indebted to its teacher for rich stores of truth and wisdom.
IV. The aged disciple is happy in the continued possession of his life’s chief good. Not so is it with the man whom the grey hairs and the tottering steps of age find still in his sins. He has outlived even the meagre enjoyments embraced in the experience of the worldling.… The aged disciple of Jesus has not thus survived his life’s chief good. That which was years ago chosen as the chief portion of his soul is still the light and joy of his being. Though his hold on earthly pleasures was long ago relinquished, those connected with the smiles of a Saviour’s countenance, and the experience of a Saviour’s love, are his in the fullest measure. Who, then, would not desire the old age of the Christian?
V. The aged disciple is happy in the near prospect of realising his life’s brightest hopes. In this respect also his experience is very different from that of the aged transgressor. He who has pursued the pathway of sin until he stands with the white locks, wrinkled features, and bowed form of an old man on the brink of the grave, has survived the death of all his hopes.… Turn your thoughts now to the aged follower of the Lamb. The present, instead of being the darkest and saddest period in his history, is the brightest and happiest. He is weary with his long journeying, but happy in the thought that the next tottering step may introduce him to a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Verily the old age of the Christian, marked by infirmity and weakness though it be, is a bright and happy period in his history. “When I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not.”
Aged disciple of Jesus! you have reason for the profoundest gratitude that yours is the old age of the Christian!—Jesse Guernsey. Abridged from The Preacher’s Treasury.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 71". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20