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Lord, I cry unto Thee.
An invocation for the truly desirable in human life: -
I. Divine attention to human aspirations (verses 1, 2).
1. For immediate attention.
2. For favourable attention.
II. A complete guardianship from wrong in life (verses 3, 4).
1. He prays against Wrong in words. Who shall tell the evils that flow in the world every day from unguarded speech? “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.”
2. He prays against wrong in practice.
(1) Let my heart not be inclined to practise wicked works with wicked men.
(2) Let it not be inclined to participate in the pleasures of wicked men.
III. A readiness to receive righteous reproofs (verse 5). What greater necessity have all than the society of men who shall reprove, rebuke, exhort?
IV. The maintenance of a devout and believing soul in the midst of our enemies (verses 6, 7).
(1) In the success of his teaching.
(2) In the subjugation of his enemies.
V. Ultimate deliverance from all enemies (Psalms 141:8-10). (Homilist.)
Let my prayer be . . . as incense.
The incense of prayer
Throughout the Old Testament you find side by side these two trends of thought--a scrupulous carefulness for the observance of all the requirements of ritual worship, and a clear-eyed recognition that it was all external and symbolical and prophetic.
I. The incense of prayer. The temple was divided into three courts, the outer court, the holy place, and the holiest of all. The altar of incense stood in the second of these, the holy place; the altar of burnt offering stood in the court without. It was not until that altar, with its expiatory sacrifice, had been passed that one could enter into the holy place, where the altar of incense stood. There were three pieces of furniture in that place, the altar of incense, the golden candlestick, and the table of the shewbread. Of these three, the altar of incense stood in the centre. Twice a day the incense was kindled upon it by a priest, by means of live coals brought from the altar of burnt offering in the outer court. And, thus kindled, the wreaths of fragrant smoke ascended on high. All day long the incense smouldered upon the altar; twice a day it was kindled into a bright flame. I need not dwell upon the careful and sedulous preparation from pure spices which went to the making of the incense. So we have to prepare ourselves by sedulous purity if there is to be any life or power in our devotions. But I pass from that, and ask you to think of the lovely picture of true devoutness given in that inflamed incense, wreathing in coils of fragrance up to the heavens. Prayer is more than petition. It is the going up of the whole soul towards God. Do you realize that, just in the measure in which we set our minds as well as our affections, and our affections as well as our minds, on the things which are above, just to that extent, and not one hair’s breadth further, have we the right to call ourselves Christians at all? Remember, too, that the incense lay dead, unfragrant, and with no capacity of soaring, till it was kindled; that is to say, unless there is a flame in my heart there will be no rising of my aspirations to God. Cold prayers do not go up more than a foot or two above the ground; they have no power to soar. There must be the inflaming before there can be the mounting of the aspiration. It is because we are habitually such tepid Christians that we are so tongue-tied in prayer. Where was the incense kindled from? From coals brought from the altar of burnt offering in the outer court; that is to say, light the fire in your heart with a coal brought from Christ’s sacrifice, and then it will flame; and only then will love well upwards and desires be set on the things above.
II. The sacrifice of the empty-handed. What is implied in likening the uplifted empty hands to the evening sacrifice? First, it is a confession of impotent emptiness, a lifting up of expectant hands to be filled with the gift from God. And, says this psalmist, “because I bring nothing in my hand, Thou dost accept that, as if I came laden with offerings.” That is just a picturesque way of putting a familiar, threadbare truth, which, threadbare as it is, needs to be laid to heart a great deal more by us, that our true worship, and truest honour of God, lies not in giving but in taking. In our service we do not need to bring any merit of our own. This great principle destroys not only the gross externalities of heathen sacrifice, and the notion that worship is a duty, but it destroys the other notion of our having to bring anything to deserve God’s gifts. And so it is an encouragement to us when we feel ourselves what we are, and what we should always feel ourselves to be, empty-handed, coming to Him not only with hearts that aspire like incense, but with petitions that confess our need, and cast ourselves upon His grace. See that you desire what God wishes to give; see that you go to Him for what He does give. See that you give to Him the only thing that He does wish, or that it lies in your power to give, and that is yourself. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The twofold aspect of prayer
Prayer is designed not only to be serviceable to man, but honourable God. It is a tax (redounding indeed with unspeakable benefits to the tax-payer, but still a tax) laid upon our time; just as almsgiving is a tax laid upon our substance; and if we would render unto God the things that are God’s, the tribute-money must be faithfully and punctually paid.
1. Think of yourself before you kneel down, not simply as a suppliant for help, but as a priest addressing himself to offer sacrifice and to burn incense. The time of the morning or evening oblation is come; the altar is ready; the incense is at hand; the sacerdotal robe of Christ’s righteousness waits to be put on; array thyself in it; and go into the sanctuary of thy heart, and do the priestly ministration.
2. It was the quaint but excellent saying of an old saint that a man should deal with distractions in prayer as he would deal with dogs who run out and bark at him when he goes along the street,--walk on fast and straightforward, and take no notice of them. Persevere in presenting yourself to God during the period for which the prayer ought to last, and would last under happier circumstances. He loves to draw out perseverance in prayer, loves the indication thus given that, amidst all discouragements, the soul clings obstinately to Himself; and very early in the world’s history He signified His approval of this temper of mind by rewarding and crowning, as He did, Jacob’s struggle with the Jehovah-Angel. It must be remembered that this quiet, resolute patience, even amidst the disorders and distractions of our own spirit, is probably the most acceptable offering which can be made to the Most High.
3. But definite practical rules may be given, which will not be long acted upon without giving a better tone to our devotions. There are parts of prayer which cannot be selfish, which directly seek either the interests of others, or the glory of God; see that these parts be not absent from your prayers.
(1) Intercede for others, and acquire the habit of interceding. Consider their wants, trials, and difficulties, and bear them upon your heart as you bear your own before the throne of grace. Intercession is a priestly service. Christ, the great High Priest, intercedes for us all above. And we, if we would prove ourselves members of God’s royal priesthood upon earth, and perform with fidelity those spiritual sacrifices which we were consecrated in baptism to present, must intercede for others.
(2) Let praise--not merely thanksgiving, but praise--always form an ingredient of thy prayers. We thank God for what He is to us; for the benefits which He confers, and the blessings with which He visits us. But we praise Him for what He is in Himself, for His glorious excellences and perfections, independently of their bearing on the welfare of the creature. In praise the thought of self vanishes from, and is extinguished in, the mind; and therefore to be large and fervent in praise counteracts the natural tendency to selfishness which is found in mere prayer. (Dean Goulburn.)
The incense of prayer
Doubtless the Jews felt, when they saw the soft white clouds of fragrant smoke rising slowly from the altar of incense, as if the voice of the priest were silently but eloquently pleading in that expressive emblem on their behalf. The association of sound was lost on that of smell, and the two senses were blended in one. And this symbolical mode of supplication, as Dr. George Wilson has remarked, has this one advantage over spoken or written prayer, that it appealed to those who were both blind and deaf, a class that are usually shut out from social worship by their affliction. Those who could not hear the prayers of the priest could join in devotional exercises symbolized by incense through the medium of their sense of smell; and the hallowed impressions shut out by one avenue were admitted to the mind and heart by another.
As the evening sacrifice.--
On evening prayer
1. As God hath sanctified the morning and evening to His service by positive laws, so He has made the face of nature, in those seasons, to invite religious sentiments, and rendered them, peculiarly, fit for devotion; for, in the evening the hurry of the world ceases, its noise is hushed, and nature itself seems to pause in a delightful calm, that man may recollect himself after the hurry of the day, that his agitated passions may subside, and his mind, without distraction, offer its grateful homage to its Maker. The evening and the morning, as it were, turn the leaf, and invite us to read the existence, the wisdom, the power, and goodness of God, engraven in different characters, and displayed in a new scene of wonders. The greatness of the stars, their number, the regularity of their motions, the swiftness of their course, the exactness of their periods, the immensity of their bulk, the profoundness of their silence, at once humble and exalt the heart, lay it in the dust, and raise it to heaven.
2. And as the Creator made the face of nature to inspire evening devotion, so it is strongly recommended by the example of our blessed Saviour; for when the crowds were dismissed, and the business of the day done, He generally retired to offer the evening sacrifice of prayer and praise.
3. Gratitude should prompt us to acknowledge the goodness of God through the day; to thank Him for that food and raiment which He bestowed; for guarding us from the open violence and hidden snares of our temporal and spiritual enemies; for shielding us from accidents and infectious diseases; and, above all, for keeping us from ignominy and atrocious crimes, from the pangs and shame and punishment of notorious sins.
4. Evening devotion is extremely useful, and very effectual, for wearing off those ill impressions that our minds receive during our intercourse with the world. There is nothing, next to the grace of God, more likely to preserve us unspotted from the world than beginning and ending every day with the fear of God and the exercises of fervent devotion.
5. Evening devotion is still further necessary, in order to make our peace with God. In many things we offend all; and besides those flagrant crimes for which our consciences reproach us, there are many sins of thought, word, and deed that escape our observation. Can we, then, with a quiet mind, lie down under this load of guilt without so much as supplicating with our families the forgiveness and mercy of our God?
6. As evening devotion is necessary to obtain pardon of the sins we committed through the day, so is it also to obtain the preservation of our lives through the night. A sleeping man is a prey to every accident: if a fire surround him, he is insensible of his danger, and may be stifled or burnt before he recover from a state of insensibility; if an enemy approach him, he can neither resist nor flee; the decays Of time, or an earthquake, make his habitation totter over his head; he is unable to retire, and may be buried in its ruins; the very animals that lodge under his roof may take away his life; nay, a wrong position in his bed may make soul and body part. Can we then sink down into this helpless state without putting ourselves under the wings of Divine providence, and soliciting the protection of Omnipotence? (J. Riddoch.)
Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
The regulation of the tongue
I. Importance of the subject. The use of speech is seldom considered morally. Unless on some very particular occasions, people imagine that it is perfectly optional with them what they speak and how they speak--saying, with those in the time of David, “Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?” Hence numberless words are daily uttered with indifference, and never thought of again; and if ever people confess or pray, speech never makes an article either in their confessions or prayers
II. Danger of transgression.
1. From the depravity of our nature. The stream will always resemble the fountain.
2. From the contagion of example.
3. From the frequency of speech.
4. From the extent of our obligation.
(1) There is the law of prudence. This condemns silliness and folly--for no one has a licence to talk nonsense. This condemns all that is impertinent and unsuited to the place, the company, and the season.
(2) There is the law of purity. This forbids all ribaldry: and not only everything that is grossly offensive, but all indecent allusions and insinuations, however artfully veiled.
(3) There is the law of veracity. This condemns everything spoken with a view to deceive; or spoken so as to occasion deception; and which may be done by a confusion of circumstances; by an omission of circumstances; by an addition of circumstances.
(4) There is the law of kindness. This condemns all calumny and tale-bearing; the circulation of whatever may be injurious to the reputation of another. This requires, that if you must speak--if you must speak--of another’s fault, you do it without aggravation; that you do it, not with pleasure, but pain; and that if you censure, you do it as a judge would pass sentence upon his son.
(5) There is the law of utility. This requires that we should not scandalize another by anything in our speech; but contribute to his benefit by rendering our discourse instructive, or reproving, or consolatory.
(6) There is the law of piety. This requires that we should never take God’s name in vain; never speak lightly of His Word, nor His worship; never charge Him foolishly; never murmur under any of His dispensations. It requires that we extol His perfections, and recommend His service.
III. Inability to preserve himself.
1. This conviction is well founded. “Without Me ye can do nothing.”
2. This conviction is continually increasing. As the Christian, in the course of his experience, is learning to cease from man, so is be also taught to cease from himself.
3. It is a conviction the most happy. You need not be afraid of it. This self-acquaintance will only reduce you to the proper condition of a creature, and prepare you for the reception of Divine supplies. Our misery is from our self-sufficiency; it is pride that ruins us.
IV. The wisdom of applying to God for the assistance we need.
1. God is equal to our preservation. However great our danger, He can keep us from falling. Whatever difficulties we have to encounter, or duties to perform, His grace is sufficient for us.
2. His succours are not to be obtained without prayer. He has a right to determine in what way He will communicate His own favours; he is infinitely capable of knowing what method is most consistent with His own glory and conducive to our good--and He has revealed it; and however freely He has promised His influences, He has said (Ezekiel 36:37).
3. Prayer always brings the assistance it implores (Isaiah 45:19; Matthew 7:7). (W. Jay.)
Sins of the tongue
I. Foolish talking (Ephesians 5:4).
1. Some persons are so indisposed to sobriety of thought, and have so long accustomed themselves to regard seriousness as bordering upon stupidity or gloom, that the gravest concerns lose in their conversation every symptom of importance. The wisest reflections are encountered with unmeaning laughter; and conclusions of the highest moment are repelled by a paltry effort at a jest.
2. Of another class, more numerous, and, if it be possible, equally thoughtless, the conversation is altogether and uniformly idle. Day after day, at home and abroad, you hear nothing drop from their lips which manifests a cultivated mind, or a desire of mental improvement. Everything is trifling.
II. Those which arise from impatience and discontent.
1. Of this description is hasty and peevish language in common life. Thus domestic comfort is perpetually invaded by little uneasinesses, little bickerings, little disagreements; and at length perhaps falls a sacrifice to the multiplication of inconsiderable wounds. Is this to be kindly affectioned, tender-hearted one towards another? Is this to walk in love? Is this to imitate the gentleness of Christ?
2. But some men advance to bolder manifestations of impatience and discontent. Not only is their fretfulness querulous, vehement, and acrimonious in domestic and in social life; but, after tormenting man, it shrinks not from insulting God. They repine at His dispensations: they murmur against His providence. Having received so much is this your gratitude, to be indignant that you have not obtained more? Does not He who knows all things discern whether it is better that you should enjoy a greater or a less portion of His gifts?
III. Those which may be regarded as the offspring of contention. “Be ye angry, and sin not” If anger in its lowest degree overtake you, beware of transgression. Sin after sin is the usual consequence of anger; and among the first sins which arise from anger are sins of the tongue. The irritated mind unburdens itself in passionate language. When the heart glows with resentment, heat and vehemence of language betray the inward flame. The tongue of rage blazes fiercer and fiercer; and abstains from no injury towards man or towards God. Is this to be the disciple of the meek and holy Jesus? Is this to imitate Him who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, etc.? Wily does the Almighty permit provocations to assail thee, but to prove thee, to know what is in thine heart, whether thou wilt keep His commandments or no; whether thou wilt obey the headlong impulse of wrath; or strive through the grace of thy God, and for the sake of pleasing Him, to remain unmoved?
IV. Those sins of the tongue which owe their origin to vanity and pride. The boastful man speaketh of himself and seeketh his own glory. His heart is lifted up; his mouth uttereth proud things; he giveth not the honour unto God; he vaunteth himself against the Most High. Not unfrequently wickedness itself becomes his boast. He openly triumphs in the violence with which he has borne down an opponent. Solicitous in every circumstance of life to magnify himself, he speaks contemptuously and degradingly of others; and the more contemptuously and degradingly in proportion as he apprehends that they may be advantageously compared with him, or may stand in the way of his enterprises and projects.
V. Censoriousness. Some persons are censorious through carelessness; some through selfishness; some through anger; some through malice; some through envy. According to the difference of the sources from which censoriousness springs, its guilt is more or less flagrant. But even when it arises from carelessness, deem it not a trifling sin. You are not careless concerning your own character, your own welfare. Are you not to love your neighbour as yourself?
VI. Those sins of the lips which originate in a busy and meddling spirit; sins which, if not in themselves of a deeper hue than some which have already been mentioned, often prove more extensively destructive to the peace of society (Ecclesiastes 10:11; Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 17:9; Proverbs 18:18; Proverbs 26:20; Lev 19:16; 1 Peter 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:11).
VII. Those offences which fall under the general description of deceit. Of these the most prominent is open falsehood. The liar destroys the foundation of all confidence, whether in the public dealings of men one with another, or in the retirement of domestic life. The falsehood, however, of the lips frequently shows itself in the form of slander, which is but a more refined, and therefore more mischievous, mode of lying. What were the engines of sin by which ruin was brought upon mankind? An open falsehood and a disguised slander. As the imitators, the slaves, the children of the devil, all liars, whether they deal in open falsehood or in lurking slander, are objects of detestation to Almighty God (Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 12:22; Revelation 21:8).
VIII. Violations of modesty (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 5:3-4). There is no sin which is more odious in its nature, more expressive of a depraved and polluted heart. Christ hath called you unto holiness. You are required to be holy, as He was holy; pure, as He was pure.
IX. Profaneness. This sin comprehends every irreverent expression concerning the Deity, His titles, His attributes, His providence, His revelation, His judgments. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)
Let the righteous . . . reprove me.
The reproof of the righteous
I. The character of one who is qualified to give reproof.
1. One whose life is habitually consistent with his profession.
2. One who is influenced by proper motives.
(1) Aversion to sin.
(2) Love to those whom he reproves.
(3) Concern for the happiness and honour of a Christian brother.
(4) Love to God and zeal for His glory.
II. The manner in which reproof should be received, and the effect it should produce.
1. The manner.
(1) It must be esteemed a kindness.
(2) We must be willing to part with every sin.
(3) We must be truly humble.
2. The effect.
(1) It brings to repentance.
(2) It raises the reputation.
III. The manner in which we should requite those who reprove us. As sanctified reproof constrains us to pray for ourselves it will dispose us to pray for reprovers. A spirit of prayer is never a selfish spirit; it embraces all mankind, and enables us to offer fervent supplications in behalf of our enemies; much more will it dispose us to pray for those whom we love, and to whom we are indebted for acts of kindness. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Advantages of Christian reproof
I. The obligation to this duty (Leviticus 19:17; Proverbs 9:8; Proverbs 24:15; Luk 17:3; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2).
III. The character of those who are to administer reproof to others. “Let the righteous smite me.” Let the sincere, humble, constant Christian, who is blameless and harmless, the child of God, without rebuke, let him administer reproof. Let the conscientious man, who endeavours to keep himself always in the love of God, who is a pattern of righteousness and peace, reprove and rebuke others. This is Christian reproof, and has the weight which God designed it to have.
III. The spirit is which it is to be administered.
1. It must be in the spirit of true Christian meekness.
(1) Mingled with a sincere and tender compassion for the offender there must be a humbling conviction of our own frailty and liability to sin, and while we reprove him we must cherish a holy fear of falling ourselves.
(2) All harshness, abruptness, overbearing and censoriousness are utterly opposed to the spirit in which Christian rebuke is to be administered.
2. It must be administered in a spirit of real kindness and brotherly love for the individual reproved, and with a sincere desire to do him good.
3. It is to be administered in a spirit of firmness and fidelity. This is not inconsistent with Christian meekness and gentleness, nor with fraternal kindness and tender benevolent desire to do our offending brother goad.
IV. The happy effects to be realized.
1. It will free the Christian who performs this duty from being partaker of other men’s sins, and will give him a peace of conscience which he cannot otherwise enjoy.
2. It is often the means of breaking the spell and delusions of sin on a brother’s mind which have withstood all other influences.
3. It will prevent the evil of talebearing and backbiting.
4. It will promote amongst Christians a spirit of brotherly love and prayerfulness for each other. (D. L. Carroll, D. D.)
How we may bring our hearts to bear reproofs
I. How reproofs may be duly received.
1. It is desirable on many accounts that he who reproves us be himself a righteous person, and be of us esteemed so to be; for as such an one alone will or can have a due sense of the evil reproved, with a right principle and end in the discharge of his own duty, so the minds of them that are reproved are, by their sense of his integrity, excluded from those insinuations of evasions which prejudices and suggestions of just causes of reflections on their reprover will offer unto them. Especially, without the exercise of singular wisdom and humility, will all the advantages of a just reproof be lost where the allowed practice of greater sins and evils than that reproved is daily chargeable on the reprover.
2. The nature of a reproof is either--
(2) Or fraternal.
(3) Or friendly.
3. The matter of a reproof is duly to be weighed by him who designs any benefit thereby.
II. Why we ought to receive reproofs orderly or regularly given unto us, esteeming them a singular privilege.
1. Mutual reproofs for the curing of evil and preventing of danger in one another are prime dictates of the law of nature and that obligation which our participation in the same being, offspring, original, and end, to seek the good of each other, doth lay upon us.
2. Whereas the light of nature is variously obscured and its directive power debilitated in us, God hath renewed on us an obligation unto this duty by particular institutions, both under the Old Testament and the New.
3. A due consideration of the use, benefit, and advantage of them will give them a ready admission into our minds and affections. Who knows how many souls that are now at rest with God have been prevented by reproofs, as the outward means, from going down into the pit? Unto how many have they been an occasion of conversion and sincere turning unto God!
III. What considerations may further us in their due improvement.
1. If there be not open evidence onto the contrary, it is our duty to judge that every reproof is given us in a way of duty. This will take off offence with respect unto the reprover, which, unjustly taken, is an assured entrance into a way of losing all benefit and advantage by the reproof.
2. Take heed of cherishing habitually such disorders, vices, and distempers of mind as are contrary unto this duty and will frustrate the design of it. Such are--
(1) Hastiness of spirit.
(2) Pride and haughtiness of mind.
3. Reckon assuredly that a fault, a miscarriage which any one is duly reproved for, if the reproof be not received and improved as it ought, is not only aggravated, but accumulated with a new crime, and marked with a dangerous token of an incurable evil (Proverbs 29:1).
4. It is useful unto the same end immediately to compare the reproof with the word of truth. This is the measure, standard, and directory of all duties, whereunto in all dubious cases we should immediately retreat for advice and counsel.
5. The best way to keep our souls in a readiness rightly to receive, and duly to reprove such reproofs, as may regularly be given us by any, is to keep and preserve our souls and spirits in a constant awe and reverence of the reproofs of God, which are recorded in His Word.
6. We shall fail in this duty unless we are always accompanied with a deep sense of our frailty, weakness, readiness to halt, or miscarry, and thereon a necessity of all the ordinances and visitations of God, which are designed to preserve our souls. (J. Owen, D. D.)
A wise reprover
Mr. John Wesley, having to travel some distance in a stage coach, fell in with a pleasant-tempered, well-informed officer. His conversation was sprightly and entertaining, but frequently mingled with oaths. When they were about to take the next stage, Mr. Wesley took the officer aside, and, after expressing the pleasure he had enjoyed in his company, told him he was thereby encouraged to ask of him a very great favour. “I would take a pleasure in obliging you,” said the officer, “and I am sure you will not make an unreasonable request.” “Then,” said Mr. Wesley, “as we have to travel together some time, I beg that, if I should so far forget myself as to swear, you will kindly reprove me.” The officer immediately saw the motive, and felt the force of the request, and, with a smile, said, “None but Mr. Wesley could have conceived a reproof in such a manner.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.--
Passage difficult, but we take the meaning of our Authorized Version, and would speak--
I. Of the duty of intercession for the people of God.
1. Take as our first key-note the word obligation. The new nature in us teaches us this as does the law of the elect household. And our membership of the body of Christ, and our obligation to the intercession of others, urge this.
2. Honour. It is this to be permitted to pray for the saints, for so we are brought into close fellowship with Christ. Especially when we think what we once were--beggars for ourselves at mercy’s door. Avail yourselves of this honour.
3. Excellence. Such intercession benefits those who use it, for it will suggest go you to know your brethren, and will bring love with it; and will lead you to kinder judgments, and to self-watchfulness. Have we not cause to be ashamed on account of our neglect of this duty?
4. Extent. He would pray for those who had displeased him; who had said, perhaps, severe things to him. And especially when they were in trouble. Men of the world leave their companions when they get into trouble as the herd leave the wounded deer. But we should stand by such.
II. For sinners also we should intercede. It is the most essential thing we can do. We cannot change their hearts. Such prayer will fit you to become God’s instrument, and will make you go to work hopefully. It is a very horrible thing to think of persons being buried alive, put underground by their friends in their coffins while yet there was breath in their bodies. Let us mind that we never bury a soul alive; I am afraid we are in the habit of doing it. We judge of such an one that he will never be converted, all effort would be useless. But we have no right thus to seal a soul’s death-warrant or to limit the grace of God. In this prayer all can aid. Some things many of you cannot do, but this all can. And especially when sinners come into calamities. We may win them then. Let us all intercede more. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth.
The scattered bones and the uplifted look
The text presents in a very vivid way an aspect of death most familiar, but most striking, and it also expresses the thoughts and the earnest prayer that rise in a soul at such a sight. You have walked in an old graveyard and seen the bones scattered at the grave’s mouth. There are few whom this sight does not make to think. You remember Hamlet in the graveyard with the skull of Yorick, the king’s jester. What a pathos and tenderness are there. With that text in his hand, how touchingly he discourses on our poor fleeting human life. “The flashes of merriment that set the table in a roar”--“the infinite jest”--all come to this. The bones that were so carefully nurtured, that cost so much, are knocked and tossed about and thrown into a heap. Every man who contemplates such a spectacle--bones strewn about as if they were but chips and sticks where men had been chopping wood, must either go away with a dangerous sense of the vanity and worthlessness of human life, or with a spirit made intense, and raised in prayer to the infinite God.
I. Our union wits past generations and the intense reality of our present life. Observe the use of the word “our.” He looks at the bones and speaks as if they were partly his own, as if they belonged partly to living men. He identifies himself with those past generations. This human life that we are living now is not a new thing. It is old, very old. I understand all the struggles and wide experience of the past, for it is all in me. That history is mine. It seems as if I had lived then and been a part of all this. It is good for us go look back over the past and feel our identity with our race. It makes us humble. It makes us tender and kindly. It fills us with compassion for the human family. We are ashamed at times and vexed and grieved; but we are also elevated and enlarged as we look back over the generations that are gone. They are gone, and how fleeting they have all been. It is like a dream to think of all these past generations of men. Their existence seems a shadow. But let us not think our present life shadowy. No; that is not the lesson which the writer of the psalm learnt from the scattered bones. He learnt intensity. “But mine eyes are toward Thee, O God the Lord. In Thee is my trust. Leave not my soul destitute.” Life is new and momentous to us. It is as momentous as if it had never been lived before and would never be lived again. When you think steadily of God, it seems as if there were none but God and you standing over against each other. The man who keeps his eyes directed toward God feels life new and fresh, although the bones of many generations are scattered around him.
II. In the text we see the littleness and the greatness of man.
1. The scattered bones proclaim the littleness of man. These are the remains of thinkers, poets, kings, lovers of men, great inventors, famous disputers.
2. Yet, when I think of man in his weakness turning his eyes to the infinite God; when I reflect that man can think of a boundless and perfect One, that man looks to Him, that he has an eye that sees the invisible God: that he claims the society of the Maker of all worlds, and is restless till he finds it; when I reflect on man as putting his trust in the living God amidst all the mysteries of time; when I think of man standing over the grave where his dearest ones lie, where the ruins of his hopes are, and saying there, “I believe in God; I trust in God; He will not leave my soul destitute”; then I see the greatness of man.
III. A melancholy prospect and a rising above it.
1. The prospect before us all is this: by and by our bones will be scattered about the grave’s mouth. By and by you are forgotten, and the white relics that are thrown up by the shovel of the grave-digger are quite unknown. They have no name. Does it not seem like a horrid dream that we should be all coming to this? Surely it cannot be true. We all know too well that it is true and no dream.
2. There is just one remedy, one antidote, one means of conquering all thoughts of this kind; and the text presents it. “Mine eyes are unto Thee, O God the Lord.” I see a glorious Being, infinite, eternal, everywhere present, absolute love and truth and holiness. The fact that I can think of this Being of itself inspires hope and courage. It cannot be that the eyes that look to Him can moulder into dust. Eyes that cannot but look to Him are not doomed to grow dim. He Himself has invited me to look to Him, and the sight of His face gives me joy. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
Mine eyes are unto Thee, O God.--
Eyes steadfastly fixed on God
The determination to do a certain thing involves the possibility and sometimes the probability of not doing it. The regal faculty of will controls the use of other faculties, which may be exercised in different ways and in different degrees according to its resolve. The desires and aspirations of the soul, like the organs of the body, may be employed in this direction or in that, and of all created beings on earth man has most freedom. Some creatures have eyes adapted for a use which is special and limited. The beast or bird of prey, for example, has for the pupil of its eye a vertical slit, in order that it may look up and down for its victims. The ruminants--oxen, horses, and the like--have a horizontal slit, in order that without special effort they may look for the succulent grass which spreads on each side of them in a fertile meadow. But we have circular pupils--in other words, we have no bias in one direction more than in another, and thus even in these lower capacities God gives us a hint of our responsibility for choice and of our power of will which makes our life a moral probation. Hence you may resolve as the psalmist did, “I will look up,” or you may not so resolve. (A. Rowland, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 141". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension