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This Psalm is written under feelings of affliction and deep heaviness of spirit. But its peculiarity is not that it is written under these feelings, but that these feelings are never once interrupted or relieved throughout it. Other psalms are expressions of grief, but they rise to joy eventually. This Psalm never rises to joy. What is the reason of this peculiarity? The Psalm is designed to express one particular stage of consolation; viz., the earliest one of all, that which consists in the simple expression of the sorrow itself, only with this addition, that it expresses it as in the presence of God, and as an address to Him. All its expression indeed is that of grief; but that very expression is only one stage of consolation. The grief is relieved by giving due and reverential vent to it. A surface of evil is accompanied by a reserve and undercurrent of hope, and a grief externally unchecked proceeds upon an understanding that it is seen and compassionated by One who is able to remove it.
I. Such a psalm is wanted, as being the representation of one particular stage and form of consolation in affliction.
II. This stage of consolation has its own peculiar and characteristic graces, which entitle it to such recognition. The earlier stages of consolation are nearer the beginning of things, closer to the fountain-head. In them the simple voice of Divine love speaks before man has yet added anything of his own strength and effort to it. The greatest victories of reason or of faith do not point so directly or so immediately to the one source of all consolation as that first stage and beginning of it which consists in the soul's simple expression of its grief, and no more.
III. This Psalm reminds us of a great truth respecting this dispensation of things. The world does not contain much positive and pure happiness, and the satisfactions it does supply are rather of a secondary sort, remedial to dissatisfaction. Let us be content with moderate, with secondary, satisfactions. A remedial system, if it is solid and effective, is not to be underrated, as if it were not worth enjoying. Let us bear affliction with a single view to greater self-control, more resignation, more humility, ever strongly impressed with the great utility and serviceableness of it, the impossibility of growing in grace without it.
J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 52.
References: Psalms 88:1 , Psalms 88:3 . Bishop Alexander, Bampton Lectures, 1876, p. 133.Psalms 88:7 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1090.
The freedom of which the author of this Psalm writes so despairingly must have been, for him at least, a freedom of isolation, of solitariness, of exile and expulsion, rather than of release, independence, and joy.
I. We are all conscious of the possibility of a freedom which should have nothing in it either of comfort or honour. (1) "Free among the dead" will have no cheerful sound if it be taken to mean, as probably the psalmist meant it, cast out of the sight of God, forsaken by the Divine superintendence, left to shift for himself in a world of shadowy forms and unsubstantial existences. Such freedom would be worse than any bondage. (2) There is a freedom, akin to the former, which is the loss of all employment and society, some one else filling your place and discharging your duties because an incurable sickness has stricken you, and that idleness which is the paradise of the dunce or the fool is put upon you, without and against your will, for the welfare of others, by the visitation of God. If this was the freedom of the dead as nature or fancy painted it to the psalmist, can we wonder that he used it as the synonym rather of misery than of repose?
II. Read now in the light of Jesus Christ, what shall the text become? (1) "He that is dead is freed from sin." Free among the dead is, first and above all, free from sin. (2) Jesus Christ said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." The word "straitened" is the direct opposite of this "free among the dead." Freedom among the dead was His emancipation from the "straitness" of earth. We, too, may make the words our comfort as we think of the departed, and our hope in the anticipation of a state which shall be our own.
C. J. Vaughan, Temple Sermons, p. 288.
What is it that the psalmist declares of himself in these words but that God's judgments have always and habitually possessed his mind; that the fear of them has hung like a weight upon him; that even from his youth it has been present with him? If we look into any books of prayers or meditations of good men, the same feeling presents itself; we meet with expressions of sorrow and uneasiness under the consciousness of sin, as if sin were an evil no less real to them than we would conceive of some severe and continued bodily pain. It is this feeling which appears to me to be so commonly wanting amongst us.
I. The feeling of thinking lightly of sin is one of the evils which seem to accompany naturally what is called a state of high civilisation. As all things about us are softened, so are our judgments of our own souls.
II. We all fancy that if we were to commit any great crime, we should feel it very deeply, that we should be at once ashamed and afraid and should be dreading God's judgments. As it is our faults are mostly in what we call little things; that is, in things which human law would scarcely punish at all, and which do not produce serious worldly loss or suffering to any one. We seem to fancy that in God's sight the actions of our lives are blank; that they are things altogether too trifling for Him to notice; that He does not regard them at all.
III. St. Paul says, "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." It is no exaggeration, then, but the simple truth, that our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head; and it might well be the case that, looking at all this vast number, and remembering God's judgments, our hearts, as the psalmist says of himself, should fail us for fear. Remember that so many waking hours as we have in each day, so many hours have we of sin or of holiness; every hour delivers in, and must deliver, its record: and everything so recorded is placed either on one side of the fatal line or on the other; it is charged to our great account of good or of evil.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 106.
I. Look at the threefold loss bewailed in the text. There are, or ought to be, three circles round every man like the belts or rings round a planet: love, friendship, and acquaintanceship. Love is the nearest, while, at the same time, it lends its value to the other two. Friendship and acquaintanceship have no real pith, or substance, or value in them except as they are permeated by the spirit of the nearest circle. The three circles are needed by every man for the proper health and balance of his nature. No man suffices for himself. He needs others, as they need him. In proportion to the number and closeness of the ties in life is the pain in reserve for men. Strange life this, in which our best is the most subject to suffering, and pays a penalty as if it were the worst!
II. Reflections. (1) The thinking of departed friends will help us to realise our own death. It is of the highest moment that we should realise death, for without this we do not realise eternity, sin, or God. (2) Thinking of our departed will help to take away the bitterness of death. Death is but going as they have gone; it is just sharing with them. Death gets identified with the thought of father, or mother, or wife, or child; and we feel that we dare not and cannot shrink from going to them. (3) Thinking of the departed will enable us to realise immortality. One of the most effectual ways of bringing the unseen world before us as solid reality is to think of some loved and familiar one who has gone into the eternal state. They live, these departed ones; if truth and love are real, they live. Death can no more touch their souls than the stormy waves can quench the stars. (4) Thinking of the departed will take away the besetting feeling of solitude connected with death. What a glow it sheds over the future! How rich and full it makes it to think of meeting again some who have gone before. Their horizon is wide now. They have had experience of which we cannot form even a conception; but we know that no distance of time, no range of knowledge, no height or depth of experience, can ever alter their love to us. (5) Thinking of the departed cannot but fill us with regret and penitence. The place of death may be the birthplace of eternal life. Hearts that have been hard to every other plea may be conquered and melted here, and from this spot rise to heaven.
J. Leckie, Sermons Preached at Ibrox, p. 118.
References: Psalms 88:0 S. Cox, Expositions, 3rd series, p. 123.Psalms 89:1 , Psalms 89:2 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1565; S. Cox, Expositions, 3rd series, p. 166. Psalms 89:2 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 217; J. P. Gledstone, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 99. Psalms 89:13 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 674, and vol. xxii., No.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 88". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Seventh Sunday after Easter