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A PRAYING SPIRIT EXEMPLIFIED
Psalms 86:1-5. Bow down thine ear, O Lord! hear me; for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul; for I am holy O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee! Be merciful unto me, O Lord! for I cry unto thee daily. Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.
TRUE and genuine piety cannot always be certainly known by men’s intercourse with their fellow-creatures. Appearances may be so plausible, that they cannot, except by Him who searcheth the heart, be distinguished from realities. But in their intercourse with the Deity, the truth or falsehood of their profession may be clearly discerned. The most refined hypocrite may, by examining the state of his soul in his private devotions, obtain the certain means of discovering his proper character, provided he have his standard rightly fixed, and his test impartially applied. To furnish such a standard, is our object in the present discourse. We here behold the man after God’s own heart drawing nigh to a throne of grace, and pouring out his soul in supplications before God: and we wish to call your attention especially to the spirit which he manifested in this sacred duty, since it will serve as an excellent criterion whereby to try and judge ourselves.
Let us then consider,
The subject-matter of his prayer—
It should seem that David was now under great affliction, either from the persecutions of Saul, or from the unnatural rebellion of his son Absalom: and his prayers may well be understood, in the first instance, as relating to his temporal trials. But, as it is of his soul that he chiefly speaks, we shall dwell upon his prayer principally in that view. Let us notice then,
[St. Paul, in both his Epistles to Timothy, prays, that “grace, and mercy, and peace” may be multiplied upon him. These three terms comprehend the substance of the Psalmist’s petitions. He desired “grace,” to “preserve and save his soul.” He desired “mercy;” “Be merciful unto me, O Lord!” And he desired “peace;” “Rejoice the soul of thy servant, O Lord!” Now these are such petitions as every sinner in the universe should offer. There are no other that can be compared with them, in point of importance to the souls of men. As for all the objects of time and sense, they sink into perfect insignificance before the things which appertain to our everlasting salvation. To all therefore I would say, Seek what David sought. Cry mightily to God to have mercy upon you, and to preserve and save your soul: and when you have done that, you may fitly pray also for that consolation and joy, which a sense of his pardoning love will produce in the soul.]
[These are taken, partly, from what he experienced in his own soul; and, partly, from the character of God himself.
Observe how he urges, what he experienced in his own soul. The things which God himself requires from us, in order to the acceptance of our prayers, are, a deep sense of our necessities, an entire surrender of our souls to him, a reliance on him for all needful blessings, and a continual application to him in a way of fervent and believing prayer. Behold, these are the very things which David at this time experienced, and which therefore he pleaded before God as evidences of the sincerity of his prayers: “Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me; for I am poor and needy!” And who is there that must not adopt the same acknowledgment? Who that considers, how destitute his soul is of all that is truly good, will not find these words exactly descriptive of his state? Again, the Psalmist prays, “Preserve my soul; for I am holy” We must not imagine that David here meant to boast of his high attainments in holiness: the term “holy” is applied in Scripture to every thing that is dedicated to God, though from its very nature it cannot possess any inherent sanctity: the temple of God, the vessels of the sanctuary, and all the offerings, were holy, because they were set apart for God. So David here speaks of himself as “set apart for God [Note: See Psalms 4:3.]:” and his expression is exactly equivalent to that which he uses in another place; “I am thine; save me [Note: Psalms 119:94.].” This then is another plea which it becomes us all to use. As the Israelites were “a holy nation [Note: Exodus 19:6.],” so are we [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.]: and if we have given up ourselves unreservedly to God, we may well hope, that he will hear and answer our petitions. Once more David says, “Save me; for I trust in Thee.” This also was a most acceptable plea. If we ask with a wavering and doubtful mind, we can never succeed [Note: James 1:6-7.]: but the prayer of faith must of necessity prevail [Note: Matthew 21:22.Mark 11:24; Mark 11:24.]. The suppliant who truly and habitually trusts in God, can never be disappointed. Lastly, David says, “I cry unto thee daily:” “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.” God “will be inquired of, to do for us the things that he has promised.” “If we ask, we shall have; if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, it shall be opened unto us [Note: Matthew 7:7-8.]:” but, if we ask not, we shall not, we cannot, have [Note: James 4:2.].
But David’s chief plea is taken from the character of God himself: and this is, in reality, the most satisfactory to the human mind, and most acceptable to the Divine Majesty, who “will work for his own great Name’s sake,” when all other grounds of hope are subverted and lost. Towards his creatures generally, whether rational or irrational, God is “good;” but towards the children of men he is “ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all that call upon him.” No mother is so tender towards her new-born child, as God is towards his penitent and believing people. He is far more “ready to forgive,” than they are to ask forgiveness; and will multiply his pardons beyond all the multitude of their offences [Note: Isaiah 55:7-9.]. “Where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound [Note: Romans 5:20.].” The freeness and fulness of God’s grace should be clearly seen, and confidently relied upon: but then we must never forget, that this glorious perfection shines only in the face of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ only that God can pardon sinners in consistency with his justice: but in Christ, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: Romans 3:24-25.].” In Christ therefore, and in God as reconciled to us through the blood of his Son, must be all our hope. If we rest solely on Christ’s obedience unto death, all will be well; for “in him all the promises of God are yea, and amen [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.].” But, if we look at God in any way but as in the person of Christ, we shall surely find him “a consuming fire [Note: Hebrews 12:29.].”]
The prayer itself not calling for any farther elucidation, we proceed to notice,
The spirit manifested in it—
Here the subject is peculiarly important, because it exhibits in so striking a view the dispositions of mind which we should invariably exercise in our approaches to the Divine Majesty. In this example of David, then observe,
His meekness and modesty—
[He approaches God, as a sinner ought to do, with reverential awe. He exhibits none of that unhallowed boldness, and indecent familiarity, which are so commonly to be noticed in the prayers of many at this day. It is much to be lamented that many address God almost as if he were an equal. We speak not now of that irreverence with which people, altogether ignorant of religion, conduct themselves in the public services of the church; (though that is deeply to be deplored;) but of the state of mind manifested by many religious people, ministers, as well as others, in their public and social addresses to the throne of Heaven. How different, alas! is it from that which is inculcated, both in the Scriptures [Note: Psalms 89:7. Ecclesiastes 5:2.], and in the Liturgy of our Church! In the Liturgy, the people are exhorted to “accompany their minister with a pure heart and humble voice to the throne of the heavenly grace:” and, in another place, “to make their humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling on their knees.” This is a lovely state of mind, and as opposite to that which many religious people manifest, as light to darkness. Many whose religious principles differ widely from the self-applauding Pharisee, resemble him very nearly in his spirit and conduct: but let us, on the contrary, imitate the publican, who, “not venturing so much as to lift up his eyes to heaven, smote upon his breast, and cried, God be merciful to me a sinner.”]
His humility and contrition—
[He felt himself a guilty and undone creature, deserving of God’s everlasting displeasure: and hence he cried so repeatedly for mercy and salvation, And here again we see how the same views and dispositions are inculcated in the services of our Church. Let any one peruse the confession which is daily offered — — — or that which we are taught to utter at the table of the Lord — — — or let him read the responses after every one of the Ten Commandments — — — or the repeated cries, “Lord, have mercy upon me! Christ, have mercy upon me! Lord, have mercy upon me!” and he will see at once, what a beautiful harmony there is between our Liturgy and the Holy Scriptures; and what distinguished saints all her members would be, if the Spirit of her Liturgy were transfused into their minds. This is the state of mind which, above all, we would recommend to those who desire to find acceptance with God: for “to this man will God look, even to him who is of a broken and contrite spirit [Note: Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 65:2.]:” this is the sacrifice which, above all, God requires, and which he has assured us “he will never despise [Note: Psalms 51:17.].”]
His faith and love—
[David did not so view his own sinfulness as to distrust the mercy of his heavenly Father; but rather took occasion from his own sinfulness to magnify still more the free and supera-bounding grace of God. In this, his example is especially to be followed. Nothing can warrant us to limit the mercy of our God. O how “ready is he to forgive” returning penitents! Of this, the conduct of the father towards the repenting prodigal is a lively and instructive image. In that parable, the compassion of God towards returning sinners is, as it were, exhibited even to the eye of sense. Let us then, whatever be our state, bear this in mind, that unbelief is a sin which binds all our other sins upon us. Never, under any circumstances, should we harbour it for a moment. It is enough to have resisted God’s authority, without proceeding further to rob him of the brightest jewels of his crown—his grace and mercy. The goodness of God, as described in our text, and in another subsequent part of this psalm [Note: ver. 15.], — — — is a sufficient pledge to us, that of those who come to him in his Son’s name, he never did, nor ever will, cast out to much as one.]
His zeal and earnestness—
[The diversified petitions and pleas which we have already considered, together with the renewed urgency of his supplications in the verse following my text [Note: ver. 6.], shew, how determined David was not to rest, till he had obtained favour of the Lord. And thus must we also “continue instant in prayer:” we must “watch unto it with all perseverance;” we must “pray always, and not faint.” Alas! how are we condemned in our own minds for our manifold neglects, and for our lukewarmness in prayer to God! But we must not rest satisfied with confessing these neglects: we should remedy them, and break through this supineness, and correct this negligence, and lie at Bethesda’s pool till the angel come for our relief. This is suggested to us in our text. What we translate, “I cry unto thee daily,” is, in the margin, “I cry unto thee all the day.” O that there were in us such a heart! O that our sense of need were so deep, our desire of mercy so ardent, and our faith in God so assured, that we were drawn to God with an irresistible and abiding impulse; and that, like Jacob of old, we “wrestled with him day and night, saying, I will not let thee go except thou bless me [Note: Genesis 32:24; Genesis 32:26; Genesis 32:28. with Hosea 12:3-5.].” Such prayer could not but prevail; and such a suppliant could not but find everlasting acceptance with God, who is so “plenteous in mercy, so ready to forgive [Note: Luke 18:1-8.].”]
HOW TO WALK WITH GOD
Psalms 86:11. Teach me thy way, O Lord! I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
IN mercy, no less than in judgment, does God see fit to afflict his people: he does it “for their profit, that they may in a more abundant measure be partakers of his holiness [Note: Hebrews 12:10.].” And when we are brought nigh to him by means of our afflictions, then have they answered the great end for which they were sent.
David was a man who enjoyed much communion with God; and probably it was to the extraordinary trials with which, for many years, he was visited, that he was indebted, under God, for that sublime piety which shone so conspicuously in him. In the psalm before us, he pours out his soul before God under some great and heavy affliction, probably under the persecutions of Saul: but it had produced the most beneficial effect upon his mind; seeing that it stirred up within him more ardent desires after God, and determined him, through grace, to walk more diligently in the ways of God: “Teach me thy way, O Lord! I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”
In these words we see the two great requisites for an acceptable walk with God; which are,
An illumination of mind, that we may know His ways—
[We know nothing of God or his ways, any farther than he has seen fit to reveal himself to us — — — (How little our unassisted reason can teach us, has abundantly appeared in all the philosophers of Greece and Rome.) Least of all can we know any thing of the way which he has appointed for our reconciliation with him through the blood of his Son: respecting that no finite intelligence could have formed any conception, if it had not been made known to us by a special communication from heaven — — — But we need also, yet further, a special revelation of it to our own souls. The mere report, as contained in the written word, is not of itself sufficient to bring us to a saving knowledge of these sublime truths: Christ must be revealed in us [Note: Galatians 1:16.], as well as to us, or we shall never “know him as we ought.” These great things are, indeed, “freely given to us of God:” yet must we “receive the Spirit of God, in order that we may know them” aright [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:12.]: He must, as “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” open the eyes of our understanding, before we can comprehend [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.] this great mystery, so as really to acquiesce in it, and cordially to come to Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life [Note: John 14:6.]” — — — If the Apostles themselves, after above three years’ attendance on the public and private instructions of our Lord, yet needed to nave “their understandings opened, in order that they might understand the Scriptures [Note: Luke 24:45.],” there can be no doubt but that the same is necessary for us all; and that we all need to cry with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of thy law [Note: Psalms 119:18.];” or, as he speaks more fully in another psalm, “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths; lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation: on thee do I wait all the day [Note: Psalms 25:4-5.].”]
To this must be added,
A concentration of our souls, that we may walk in it—
[Our heart by nature is divided amongst ten thousand vanities, all of which are sought in preference to God. What ever can contribute to the satisfaction of the carnal mind be comes, on that account, an object of desire; and according as our prospects of attaining it are varied, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, are called forth into powerful and successive operation. But the powers of the soul are not to be so abused: they were given by God in order that they might be employed in his service: and in order to an acceptable walk with him, they must all centre in him. He will not accept a divided heart. Whosoever possesses that, “will be found faulty [Note: Hosea 10:2.]. God says, “My son, give me thine heart [Note: Proverbs 23:26.]:” and it must be given to him entire. To him it must be exclusively devoted, in all its faculties: at least, nothing must be an object of hope or fear, joy or sorrow, but in subserviency to his glory, and in obedience to his command. “We cannot serve God and Mammon too [Note: Matthew 6:24.].” There is “a singleness of eye,” and “a singleness of heart,” that is indispensable to a right walking with God [Note: Acts 2:46. Colossians 3:22.]: without that we cannot be “Israelites indeed [Note: John 1:47.]” or approve ourselves to “Him who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins” — — —]
Those who think it an easy thing to serve God—
[Many have an idea that this is so easy a matter, that they may execute it at any time, whenever satiety shall have rendered them less anxious about carnal enjoyments, or the approach of death shall render a preparation for eternity more an object of desire. But supposing it to be so easy, how great must be their guilt in neglecting it! Is it so easy a matter to please, and serve, and honour God: and will they not do it? Then “out of their own mouth shall they be judged:” and the heaviest condemnation shall be awarded to them, because they would rather rebel against their God and “provoke the eyes of his glory” by their impieties, than they would take on them, what they themselves acknowledged to be, his “light and easy yoke.”
But if it be, indeed, so easy, try it; and see if it be so easy to come to God in his appointed “way.” See, if you can come with brokenness of heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Father through him, imploring mercy solely through the blood and righteousness of your adorable Saviour — — — You will soon find that the proud heart of man does not easily stoop to so humiliating a way of approaching God. If you might come in your own name, and in your own righteousness, you would perhaps consent to do it: but to come with penitential sorrow in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in a simple dependence on his atoning sacrifice, is a work to which you are utterly averse, and which none but God can enable you to perform.
Again, if it be so easy to gather in all the affections of the soul, and to fix them exclusively on God, do it. But you will find that this is far beyond the power of man to effect. In order to this, you must have “a new heart given you, and a right spirit renewed within you:” nor can any power short of that which created the world at first form such a new creation within you. Lay aside, then, your vain conceits respecting this matter; and begin, without delay, that work, which a whole life is short enough to accomplish, and which, if not wrought speedily, may soon become a subject of remediless and endless woe — — —]
Those who desire, but find it difficult to serve him—
[You, probably, have depended too much on the resolutions you have formed. I am far from disapproving of resolutions, if formed in dependence upon God. Joshua’s has been the just subject of applause in all ages: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord [Note: Joshua 24:15.].” But Peter has sufficiently shewn how weak all human strength is, when unaided from on high. It is by prayer alone that we can hope to prevail, either for the illumination of our minds, or the concentration of our souls, both of which are so necessary in this good work. David was no novice in the divine life; yet did he cry, “Teach me thy way, O Lord; and unite my heart to fear thee!” And, if he had not so cried to the Lord, in vain would he have said, “I will walk in thy truth.” If then he, notwithstanding his attainments, still had recourse to God in prayer, know, that there is no other way for us to prevail; and that, if you would succeed according to your desire, you must cry day and night to God in prayer, and bring down from him those supplies of grace and strength which are so needful for you — — —]
Those who are really walking with God according to his command—
[Be not discouraged, if you should find that, notwithstanding your good endeavours, you make not all the advance that you could wish. You yet have flesh, as well as spirit; and “if the spirit lust against the flesh, so will the flesh still strive against the spirit [Note: Galatians 5:17.].” You will yet find a law of sin in your members, warring against the law of your minds, and constraining you at times to cry out, “O! wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me [Note: Romans 7:23-24.]?” But go forward, in humble dependence on God. “Continue instant in prayer.” Let not your hands hang down; but let them be stretched forth to God in continual supplications; and he will come to your relief. He will embitter to you the vanities on which you are tempted to set your affections, and will gradually get himself the victory over all the enemies of your souls. It was only “by little and little that he drove out the Canaanites” before his people of old; and it is not to be expected that you should have no difficulties to contend with, no conflicts to sustain. But remember where your strength is; and, “as ye have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so walk ye in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith as ye have been taught, and abounding therein with thanksgiving [Note: Colossians 2:6-7.]:” so will he “preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom,” and “present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 86". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany