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Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 142

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-7

Psalms 142:1-7

I cried unto the Lord with my voice.

Religion in the trials of life: -

The trials here represented. He speaks of himself as--

1. Overwhelmed (verse 3).

2. Walking in snares (verse 3).

3. Destitute of friends (verse 4).

4. Greatly reduced (verse 6).

5. Greatly persecuted (verse 6).

6. Imprisoned (verse 7). Ignorance, poverty, affliction, all these imprison.

The religion here displayed.

1. Religion manifesting itself in prayer to God. A practical realization of our dependence on our Maker is true prayer, and this is the essence of religion. Prayer is not language, but life: it is the soul turned ever to the Almighty, as the flower to the sun, as the river to the sea.

2. Religion manifesting itself in practical confidence in God.

(1) Confidence in His personal superintendence. “Thou knowest;” not merely the path of material universes and spiritual hierarchies, but “my path.”

(2) Confidence in His protection (verse 5).

(1) “My refuge.” What a refuge, vaster than the universe, strong as Omnipotence.

(2) “My portion.” Everything without Him is nothing worth, nothing with Him is everything, satisfying, glorious.

3. Religion manifesting itself in unbounded trust in His goodness (verse 7). (Homilist.)

David’s prayer in the cave

“A prayer when he was in the cave.” The caves have heard the best prayers. Some birds sing best in cages. I have heard that some of God’s people shine brightest in the dark. There is many an heir of heaven who never prays so well as when he is driven by necessity to pray.

The condition of a soul under a deep sense of sin. A little while ago you were out in the open field of the world, sinning with a high hand, plucking the flowers which grow in those poisoned vales, and enjoying their deadly perfume. To-night you feel like one who has come out of the bright sunshine and balmy air into a dark, noisome cavern, where you can see but little, where there is no comfort, and where there appears to you to be no hope of escape.

1. Well, now, your first business should be to appeal unto God. Get to your knees, you who feel yourselves guilty; get to your knees, if your hearts are sighing on account of sin.

2. Make a full confession unto the Lord.

3. Acknowledge to God that there is no hope for you but in His mercy. In the cave of your doubts and fears, with the clinging damp of your despair about you, chilled and numbed by the dread of the wrath to come, yet venture to make God in Christ your sole confidence, and you shall yet have perfect peace.

4. Then, further, if you are still in the cave of doubt and sin, venture to plead with God to set you free. You cannot present a better prayer than this one of David’s (verse 7). My old friend, Dr. Alexander Fletcher, seems to rise before me now, for I remember hearing him say to the children that, when men came out of prison, they did praise him who had set them free. He said that he was going down the Old Bailey one day, and he saw a boy standing on his head, turning Catherine wheels, dancing hornpipes, and jumping about in all manner of ways, and he said to him, “What are you at? You seem to be tremendously happy”; and the boy replied, “Ah, old gentlemen, if you had been locked up six months, and had just got out, you would be happy, tool” I have no doubt that is very true. When a soul gets out of a far worse prison than there ever was at Newgate, then he must praise “free grace and dying love,” and “ring those charming bells” again, and again, and again, and make his whole life musical with the praise of the emancipating Christ.

The condition of a persecuted believer. Here is a godly man who works in a factory, or a Christian girl who is occupied in book-folding, or-some other work where there is a large number employed; such persons will have a sad tale to tell of now they have been hunted about, ridiculed, and scoffed at by ungodly companions. Now you are in the cave.

1. It may be that you are in the condition described here; you hardly know what to do. You are as David was when he wrote ver.

3. You are like a lamb in the midst of wolves; you know not which way to turn. Well, then, say to the Lord, as David did, “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.” Have confidence that, when you know not what to do, He can and will direct your way if you trust Him.

2. In addition to that, it may be that you are greatly tempted. David said, “They privily laid a snare for me.” It is often so with young men in a warehouse, or with a number of clerks in an establishment. Young Christian soldiers often have a very rough time of it in the barracks; but I hope that they will prove themselves true soldiers, and not yield an inch to those who would lead them astray.

3. It will be very painful if, in addition to that, your friends turn against you. David said, “There was no man that would know me.” Is it so with you? Are your father and mother against you? Cultivate great love to those who, having come into the army of Christ, are much beset by adversaries. They are in the cave. Do not disown them; they are trying to do their best; stand side by Side with them.

4. It may be that the worst point about you is that you feel very feeble. You say, “I should not mind the persecution if I felt strong; but I am so feeble.” Well, now, always distinguish between feeling strong and being strong. The man who feels strong is weak; the man who feels weak is the man who is strong.

The condition of a believer who is being prepared for greater honour and wider service. Is it not a curious thing that, whenever God means to make a man great, He always breaks him in pieces first? David was to be king over all Israel. What was the way to Jerusalem for David? What was the way to the throne? Well, it was round by the cave of Adullam, He must go there and be an outlaw and an outcast, for that was the way by which he would be made king. Have none of you ever noticed, in your own lives, that whenever God is going to give you an enlargement, and bring you out to a larger sphere of service, or a higher platform of spiritual life, you always get thrown down? Why is that?

1. If God would make you greatly useful, He must teach you how to pray.

2. The man whom God would greatly honour must always believe in God when he is at his wit’s end (verse 3). Oh, it is easy to trust when you can trust yourself; but when you cannot trust yourself, when you are dead beat, when your spirit sinks below zero in the chili of utter despair, then is the time to trust in God. If that is your case, you have the marks of a man who can lead God’s people, and be a comforter of others.

3. In order to greater usefulness many a man of God must be taught to stand quite alone (verse 4).

4. The man whom God will bless must be the man who delights in God alone (verse 5). Oh, to have God as our refuge, and to make God our portion!

5. He whom God would use must be taught sympathy with God’s poor people (verse 6). If the Lord means to bless you, and to make you very useful in His Church, depend upon it He will try you.

6. If God means to use you, you must get to be full of praise (verse 7). If thou art of a cheerful spirit, glad in the Lord, and joyous after all thy trials and afflictions, and if thou dost but rejoice the more because thou hast been brought so low, then God is making something of thee, and He will yet use thee to lead His people to greater works of grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

David’s prayer in the cave

Life and liberty are sweet; but we may pay too dear a price even for the sweetest things. David is now at liberty; he has escaped out of the prison-house of Gath; but he has made his escape and obtained his liberty at much too great a price. For years past the name of Gath had been the proudest name that David’s flatterers could speak in his willing ears. But after his disgraceful escape from that city to David’s old age, it brought a cloud to his brow and a blush to his cheek to hear the name of Gath. We all have our Gaths. There are people and there are places in our own past life the very name of which, the very neighbourhood of which, throws a bolt into conscience and brings a blush upon the cheek. If we purchase a name, or a place, or an office, or wealth, or even a home, if we purchase any of them at the cost of truth or of justice, or of honour, or self-respect, or fair play to our competitor, we will find, when it is too late, that we have sold ourselves for naught, and have poisoned the very wells of life. So David discovered it to be when, for his liberty, he degraded himself in Gath, deceived Achish, and was hurried out of the land and escaped--a free, indeed, but a dishonoured man--to the Cave of Adullam. But then, it is out of such degradation and shame that weak and evil men rise on stepping-stones of their own transgressions to true honour and wisdom, to stable godliness and exercised virtue. “I will take sentry myself to-night,” said David to his captains one Sabbath evening. Wrapping around him the cloak that Michal had worked for him in happier days, and taking in his hand Goliath’s sword, David paced the rocky shelves, and poured out his full heart to God all that Sabbath night. All in the great cave did not sleep, or all at once; and it was nights like these--when their captain shared their dangers and assured their fears, as they heard his step and listened to his deep sweet voice--it was nights like these that did more to turn the rough and ill-used men into heroes and saints than all their sufferings and all their other discipline. David says: “I cried that night unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication.” I went out alone, and “I poured out my complaint before Him,” and “I showed Him” that night all “my trouble.” We are never content. What would we have given for a full report of all that David said about himself and his cause to God that night? We are thankful for this dramatic 142nd psalm; but it would have been a grand piece of devotional literature, aye, of national history, had we had all that David said to God that sentinel night; but what he did say was not fitted or intended for any human ear. We know that from ourselves, from our own sentinel Sabbaths. We too have troubles and complaints that our ministers do not touch upon in all their most searching Sabbath Day exercises, any more than God touched upon David’s here in the cave. But David seems only to have one “complaint,” and yet it was so blessed to him that it compelled him to spend the hours of the night alone with God, Keep your complaints for God, my afflicted brethren; keep your complaints for God, and for the silence of the night. No one will listen to your trouble but God; no one has time, no one has attention to give to your sorrow but God. You will only expose yourself, and weaken yourself, and humble yourself, if you take your complaints to preoccupied men. Like David, some of you may to-night be labouring and anxious under some complaint against your master, or against some of your relatives; or some of you may have received an insulting, threatening, blackmailing letter, like Hezekiah. I do not say you are not to show that letter to a lawyer; but you must show it first to God, and then, if possible, to a lawyer who knows God. Send all your house to bed to-night before you answer that letter, and again show it to God in the morning before you post it. “I poured out my complaint before God; I showed Him all my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.” “The Lord,” says Newton, “is not withdrawn to a great distance from you, His eye is upon you all the time, He sees your case, and does not behold it with indifference, but observes it with attention. He knows and considers your path, and not only so, but He appointed it and all the outs and ins of it. Your trouble began at the hour He appointed; it could not begin before, and He has marked the degree of it to a hair’s breadth, and its duration to a moment. He knows, likewise, just how your spirit is affected to-night under the trouble, and He will supply you, if you will take it--He will supply grace and strength in due season, and as He sees they are needful. Therefore, hope in God; for you, like David, shall yet praise Him.” To be imprisoned by God was better to David than to be set free by man. In David’s best moments, as sometimes when sentinel in Adullam, David felt that God’s prison-house was a very hermitage, sanctuary, a grand pavilion, as he signifies elsewhere, into which God takes the soul to show it His “marvellous lovingkindness.” David had broken out of God’s prison in Gath before the time, but he has never ceased to repent of that insane act. And if at any time he felt the banishment of Adullam--and he had a thousand thoughts during these lonely hours--he soon recollected who held the keys; and, though the door had been opened, he would not have escaped. God Himself conspicuously delivered David henceforth. God is David’s jailor, and whatever time David feels his close detention, he betakes himself anew, in all his guilt, and lies, and playing the madman and the fool to earnest, believing, and waiting prayer: “Bring my soul out of prison that I may praise Thy name”; and then, as the new day broke in the east, and the shades of the night fled away, the day-star of hope arose in David’s heart, and the present prayer seems almost to be prophetic. He foresaw the Lord not only as his refuge in every future time of trouble, but also as his alone “portion in the land of the living”; he saw himself set free from every prison and from every persecutor, with his “righteousness brought forth as the light, and his judgment as the noonday.” “Bring my soul out of prison” was his last word to God, as the day broke in the east, “that I may praise Thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for Thou shalt deal bountifully with me.” And how well was that hope fulfilled to David, how bountifully did God deal with David, and how hath the righteous compassed David about, as rapt listeners compass round the sweetest music, as rejoicing fellow-worshippers compass round a miracle of Divine grace. “There was no man that would know me,” complained David in the day of his deep dejection. But all men whose knowledge is worth the having know David now. All righteous men compass him about now, and rejoice over him that his God, and their God, brought “his soul out of prison,” and dealt so bountifully with him. (A. Whyte, D. D.)

Verse 3

Psalms 142:3

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then Thou knewest my path.

Affliction and consolation

The dejection which he felt.

1. A painful consciousness of past guilt.

2. An oppressive endurance of present trouble.

3. A keen anticipation of future ills.

The refuge that he sought. “Then Thou knewest my path.” It supposes that God was consulted about his path, that the case was distinctly brought before God in prayer, and that the case was one which would bear to be submitted to the Divine inspection.

The mercy that he found. God did bring his soul out of prison. Every wish was accomplished (Psalms 18:1-50.).

1. By the kindness of friends (1 Samuel 23:16).

2. By promises of His Word.

3. By events in Providence.

4. By consolations of His Spirit.

5. By translating from earth to heaven. (S. Thodey.)

A memorial of past troubles

A humble appeal. “Thou knewest my path,”--Thou knewest that my cause was just, and the steps which I took for obtaining redress were holy.

1. The path of prayer (verse 1).

2. The way of faith,--choosing God for his portion, trusting Him as his refuge, expecting bountiful treatment at His hands (verses 5, 7). Without this choice of God as our portion, and confidence in Him, prayer is mere selfishness, and has nothing to distinguish it from the cries of the lost.

A contrite confession. Thou knewest how impatient I was even when professing meek submission. I could bear the great trial of Saul’s persecution, but not the lighter one of Nabal’s churlish insolence. Thou knewest the crookedness of my path, when by false pretences I evaded an enemy and deceived a friend; using sinful artifice where I should have relied in truth upon the God of truth.

A thankful acknowledgment of the Lord’s gracious conduct towards David when his spirit was overwhelmed. “Then Thou knewest my path:” Thou didst approve my course; and therefore didst support and comfort me under my trials. But how much greater occasion has the believer in Christ to make this thankful acknowledgment! Conclusion--

1. Let the children of God lay their account for sufferings and sorrows here below: heavy sorrows and dreadful sufferings, it may be. Such things are appointed for us, because needful, as is the furnace to separate the dross from the pure ore.

2. All trouble should lead us to God--not from Him. There is in the blessed God health and cure for all diseases of the mind; balm in Gilead, and a never-failing Physician there.

3. Let us all cherish the thought that God knows our path; in the fullest sense of the words knows our every step. To the sincere Christian, to the upright soul this truth is full of comfort. (C. Hodgson, M. A.)

In the way where I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.--

The dangers of youth

I see before me a class of young men about to go forth into the world. I know their way will be strewed with dangers. By all the love I bear them I am constrained to point out to them some of their perils.

The dangers of youth.

1. A- general exposedness to temptation. Full of passions easily excited, and warm as the current of their youthful blood; led on by an imagination as active as their youthful limbs and mostly unchecked by experience,--forming images which are constantly mistaken for realities,--which inflame and mislead the passions and bewilder the judgment; set down as strangers in the midst of a world whose objects and inhabitants present destructive blandishments to their inexperience,-whose beauties and amusements, in the absence of the love of God, are fat, ally adapted to their youthful tastes; how can they escape? at least, how dreadfully exposed are they.

2. Under all these exposures they are constantly forming habits, as uncontrollable and despotic as an Eastern sultan, and harder to be dethroned. Through inexperience and incaution, and the impetuosity of their youthful passions, they are liable to become petrified in evil habits, as fixed as the coral reefs of the ocean.

3. Young men, as they enter into business, are in danger of settling down into the love of the world, into views and aims confined to themselves and their own circle, separating them from the great republic of man, and keeping them from employing their powers and their property in promoting the happiness of the human family.

4. Another danger to which young men are exposed is indolence in action; betaking themselves to no profession, or pursuing it saunteringly, unsteadily, and to little effect; wasting life in idleness or in pleasure; in either case enervating the man in both body and soul, and making him a burden to himself and a disgraceful cumberer of the ground.

5. Young men are exposed to theological errors of every form and every degree of criminality and danger, from the slightest obliquity respecting a positive institution, up to blaspheming infidelity.

The defences to be set up against them.

1. In regard to the last-mentioned danger my advice to you is, first of all, settle your minds on the question whether the Bible is a revelation from God, and such a revelation as will guide believers into all truth unmixed with error; in order that your faith may rest on the testimony of God and not on the authority of men, you ought to find the fullest evidence that God has spoken, and spoken in a way to furnish a safe and sure rule of faith and practice. All this being settled in the affirmative, you ought to lose no time in grounding yourselves on a system of doctrines drawn from the obvious meaning of that book, supported by the general analogy of faith. Subject your reason to the Divine teachings. Put it to school to Christ as a humble pupil.

2. Avoid all kinds of professional business arid all occasions which are specifically fraught with temptation.

3. Avoid all connections with bad men, and, as far as possible, with men whose influence would tend to warp you from the truth, or from a correct course of judging or of acting.

4. Vigilantly guard against the beginning of every evil habit, in heart, intellect, or conduct. By watchfulness it is easy to prevent the first irregularity; but who can vanquish an evil habit?

5. Let your reading be safe. Not many novels, not u perpetual round of angry politics, not a constant poring upon theological errors.

6. Let it be a settled rule to make some advance in knowledge every day, and every day to bring to pass something for the good of mankind.

7. Establish the settled habit of prayer. Without prayer you have no security against one of these dangers. Without Christ you can do nothing. These rules you will find it hard to keep with a fallen nature, and impossible unless you observe another; which leads me to say--

8. That in the outset you must devote your hearts and souls and lives to the service of God. Without doing this you will not pray effectually, and of course will have no security against one of these dangers. Without this you will be the enemies of God: and what security against any evil can an enemy of God Have in a world which He governs? (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)

Hidden snares

Recently it was announced, as one of the latest discoveries, that a kind of telescope had been constructed which would enable any one looking through it to see far away down into quiet seas, and gaze on the wrecked and sunken ships that lie there. If only we had such an instrument in the spirit realm which we could put into the hands of men and women infatuated with sin, and so show them the moral wrecks of even last year! What a gift for a young man or woman as a permanent warning against the perils of life--the opening of their eyes to the devices of the destroyer! (H. O. Mackey.)

Verse 4

Psalms 142:4

No man cared for my soul

God’s care for each life

With normal natures happiness begins with the thought that God has time to care for each life.

In a world where no grain of sand escapes Nature’s notice, where there are no runaway stars or suns, where a Divine Ruler leads a beautiful world out of darkness, fire-mist, and chaos, man cannot support the thought that there is no place for him in God’s loving providence. So momentous are those events named a betrothal, a marriage, the death of babe, or mother, or statesman, that men wish to associate them with a Divine Friend. Indeed, the most bitter cry that ever arises from human lips is this one: “No man cared for my soul.” In a world full of conflict, full of labour, whose fruitage is often sorrow, man fulfils his journey across the wilderness towards the promised land, supported by the thought that the angels of God’s providence go before him. Standing under the midnight sky, looking into the realm where stars twinkled and suns blazed, Job found it easy to believe that man moves forward under the convoy of an intimate Friend. From the thought that the millions of orbs making up the community of the sky are Divinely controlled, the mind passes easily to the larger thought that God is carrying individual men and nations upward toward a sublime culmination. But if the scholar finds a unifying power in the heavens, the historian finds a providence in the history of nations, in that each country has its special task, each generation its own contribution. For multitudes this great truth of God’s overruling cars has been eclipsed by reason of the vastness of the universe. At one time the East stood close beside the West. Now the telescope has crowded back the horizon. In Newton’s day the sun was known to be ninety millions of miles away. To-day, in comparison, the distance to the fixed stars, the distance to our sun is like the distance to the threshold of one’s next door neighbour. Science has enlarged the universe in space, but it has enlarged the soul of man a thousandfold more. The new science has caused the mind to rise up, clothed with infinite majesty and beauty. Earth knows only one thing vast enough and precious enough to justify an overruling providence and care--the human soul. Can a human mind shape the innumerable threads into one beautiful whole, and the infinite God be unable to control fifteen hundred millions of men, leading them toward one great purpose of happiness and righteousness? The laws of light and heat, the laws of gravity and soil are so delicately related as to encourage the thought that all the mechanism of the starry world is arranged for the embroidering of violets upon the lap of spring. The vastness of Nature does but enlarge the scope of God’s providential purpose. The thought, God cares for man, has also suffered injury through the over-emphasis of the reign of law. Science exhibits man as moving forward enmeshed in laws of heat and light and gravity. By law the winter recedes, by law the summer advances, by law the harvests are ripened, by law the clouds are lifted, by law the rivers are filled. Soon men began to spell the word Law with a capital “L,” and Force with a capital “F.” Gently law and force led the Infinite Being to the edge of the universe, and bowed Him out of existence. Men decided that law could build the world if it was spelled with large letters instead of small. But nothing could have been more foolish than this over-emphasis of law. Merchants do, indeed, have one law, by which the office opens at eight, and another law by which it is closed at six, but if some foolish person should think that these rules which the merchant has enacted have built up his trade so that it is no longer necessary to have a merchant or an inventor, and all the businesses get along by the rules and need no presiding mind, we should have that which would answer precisely with the amazing thought that the laws of nature have done away with the necessity of God. Man has certain habits that are the rules of his life. God’s habits are Nature’s laws. And but for their stability the universe would be without flexibility. Thus science, that once threatened to do away with Providence, has now, through the reign of law, established providence. For laws are flexible, not alone for God, but for man, who, through them, makes this world a fruitful and beautiful paradise. Now, for the individual life, how unspeakably precious this declaration of God’s loving care! In hours of weakness, when baffled and beaten, when man perceives how vast is the sphere in which he is moving, how mighty are the forces whirling about him, he yearns for some power strong enough and wise enough to overrule events, and from defeat lead forth to victory. It is not enough that there is a providence over summer and winter, by which the barn and storehouse are made to overflow. In the midst of the fierce strife man cries out, “No one cares for my soul.” Nature has no personal friends. On the battlefield a thousand men may lie in the orchards and thickets, weltering in their life blood, but the boughs heed not the prayers, the trees shed no tears. In the olden times, when the knight went into battle, he carried with him the name and face of his beloved one. One look upon that face armed him for his conflict. Dying, upon that face his last look fell. It is said that man’s name is written upon God’s hand. With the coming of each sun comes the loving providence, and after each day’s going the great God remains. Happy is the man who feels that God cares for him, that he journeys forward under Divine convoy, that his Father is Regent of universal wisdom and represents the whole commonwealth of love, and commands all nature to serve His child. Such a man is weaponed against every enemy, and is invincible. He who ever carries with him this sense of God’s loving providence is fitted to pass through fire, through flood, through all the thunder of life’s battle. God cares for you--then you cannot live too long, and you cannot die too soon, for heaven ever lies all about you. God cares for man--then from every storm there is a harbour. (N. D. Hillis.)

A bad social state

A wrong social state. Each taken up with himself, and none concerned for his neighbours, is manifestly wrong.

1. It is unnatural. The constitution of our nature,--endowed as we are with social longings and sympathies, and with faculties suited to render service one to another,--proves the unnaturalness of social indifference. What is morally abnormal is morally wrong.

2. It is unrelational. We are all the offspring of the same common Father, all united by the bonds of consanguinity. Indifference, therefore, is manifestly wrong.

3. It is un-Christian. Christ lived and died for our race, and His apostles exhorted us to care for others rather than ourselves.

A miserable social state. Though there may be much in a man’s temperament, character, and procedure to alienate him from others,--he may be unsocial, irascible, and grossly immoral,--all this does not justify his fellows for utterly disregarding him. In truth it forms a strong reason why they should be interested in him. (David Thomas, D. D.)

The care of souls

This psalm is the last one of eight which are, not unreasonably, associated with the persecution of David by Saul in the south country of Judah (see the heading). It was an anxious, lonely, wearisome time; all the harder to bear because David knew he was innocent of any evil intentions concerning the Lord’s anointed. But it was, in some respects, a best time for David. Then there was a great crying after God. In his despondency, when everything seemed to be going wrong with him, David took up the idea that nobody really eared for him. And when a man gets into that mood and mind he is in grave danger of becoming reckless. If David had gone on to say, “And even God does not care for me,” he would have become altogether desperate, and would have said, “Then why should I care for myself? Why should I any longer try to be true, and good, and faithful? Why not let things go? Nobody cares for my soul.” By his “soul” David would mean his bodily life; and the history tells us that, just matching the exclamation of this psalm, towards the end of the persecution spoken of, David bitterly and hopelessly exclaimed, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.” He was wrong in that. Some one did care for his soul, both in the lower sense of his “life,” and in the higher sense of “his spiritual welfare.” Taking the word “soul” in its higher sense, there are many around us who may use the words of the text.

Caring for souls is not the work of the world. Caring for one another in all the ranges of the material and the moral is the world’s work. Our interest in each other as worldly men and women is limited to physical well-being, social comfort, educational progress, and moral goodness. Not until man is quickened himself with the higher spiritual life is he in the least likely to concern himself about the possibilities of the higher spiritual life for others. There is such a thing as seeking the welfare of the race. There have always been philanthropists moved by “the enthusiasm of humanity.” But their efforts do not go beyond the removal of disabilities, and reformation of abuses, and uplifting in the social and intellectual planes. But man is no mere body with a material environment. God has “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Man has become a “living soul.” He is a spirit, and we must find spirit forces if we would deal with his most real necessities.

Caring for souls is the proper work of the Church. From the Church’s point of view men are perishing; they are dying in their sins, and she, and she alone, has the evangel that can save the perishing and quicken the dead. The Church of Christ may do, and ought to do, all that the philanthropist would do; but it must do more. The Church exists to do just what its Divine Lord did, seek and save the lost. Its work is to devise and carry through schemes for the salvation of souls, and whatever form its agencies and efforts may take, this, and nothing less than this, must be at the heart of them. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)

The reproachful outcry

We are all sympathetic with physical disaster, but how little sympathy for spiritual woes! There are men in this house who have come to mid-life who have never yet been once personally accosted about their eternal welfare.

Unsatisfied longings. You feel as you go out day by day in the tug and jostle of life that it is every man for himself. You can endure the pressure of commercial affairs, and would consider it almost impertinent for any one to ask you whether you are making or losing money. But there have been times when you would have drawn your cheque for thousands of dollars if some one would only help your soul out of its perplexities. There are questions about your higher destiny that ache, and distract, and agonize you at times. You sometimes think till your head aches about great religious subjects. You wonder if the Bible is true, how much of it is literal and how much is figurative law, if Christ be God, if there is anything like retribution, if you are immortal, if a resurrection will ever bake place, what the occupation of your departed kindred is, what you will be 10,000 years from now. With a cultured placidity of countenance you are on fire with agitations of soul. Oh, this solitary anxiety of your whole lifetime. You have passed up and down the aisles of churches with men who knew that you had no hope of heaven, and talked about the weather and about your physical health, and about everything but that concerning which you most wanted to hear them speak--viz. your everlasting spirit. Times without number you have felt in your heart, if you have not uttered it with your lips, “No man cares for my soul.”

Man’s extremity. There have been times when you were especially pliable on the great subject of religion. It was so, for instance, after you had lost your property. Everything seems to be against you. The bank against you. Your creditors against you. Your friends suddenly become critical against you. All the past against you. All the future against you. You make reproachful outcry: “No man cares for my scull” There was another occasion when all the doors of your heart swung open for sacred influences. A bright light went out in your household. Within three or four days there were compassed sickness, death obsequies. A few formal, perfunctory words of consolation were uttered on the stairs before you went to the grave; but you wanted some one to come and talk over the whole matter, and recite the alleviations, and decipher the lessons of the dark bereavement. No one came. Many a time you could not sleep until two or three o’clock in the morning, and then your sleep was a troubled dream, in which were re-enacted all the scene of sickness, and parting, and dissolution. Oh, what days and nights they were! No man seemed to care for your soul. There was another occasion when your heart was very susceptible. There was a great awakening. There were hundreds of people who pressed into the Kingdom of God; some of them acquaintances, some business associates, yes, perhaps some members of your own family were baptized by sprinkling or immersion. Christian people thought of you, and they called at your store, but you were out on business. They stopped at your house; you had gone around to spend the evening. They sent a kindly message to you; somehow, by accident, you did not get it. The lifeboat of the Gospel swept through the surf, and everybody seemed to get in but you. Everything seemed to escape you. One touch of personal sympathy would have pushed you into the Kingdom of God.

A startling revelation. Instead of this total indifference all about you in regard to your soul, I have to tell you that heaven, earth, and hell are after your immortal spirit--earth to cheat it, hell to destroy it, heaven to redeem it. Although you may be a stranger to the Christians in this house, their faces would glow and their hearts would bound if they saw you make one step heavenward. No one cares for your scull Why, in all the ages there have been men whose entire business was soul saving. In this work Munson went down under the knives of the cannibals whom he had come to save, and Robert McCheyne preached himself to death by thirty years of age, and John Bunyan was thrown into a dungeon in Bedfordshire, and Jehudi Ashman endured all the malarias of the African jungle; and there are hundreds and thousands of Christian men and women now who are praying, preaching, living, dying to save souls.

A stupendous intervention. No one cares for your scull Have you heard how Christ feels about it? I know it was only five or six miles from Bethlehem to Calvary, the birthplace and the deathplace of Christ; but who can tell how many miles it was from the throne to the manger? From the first infant step to the last step of manhood on the sharp spike of Calvary a journey for you. Oh, how He cared for your scull

The Father’s patience. A young man might as well go off from home and give his father and mother no intimation as to where he has gone, and, crossing the seas, sitting down in some foreign country, cold, sick, and hungry, and lonely, saying: “My father and mother don’t care anything about me.” Do not care anything about him! Why, that father’s hair has turned grey since his son went off. He has written to all the consuls in the foreign ports, asking about that son. Does not the mother care anything about him? He has broken her heart. She has never smiled since he went away. All day long, and almost all night, she keeps asking: “Where is he? Where can he be?” Oh, do not his father and mother care for him? You go away from your heavenly Father, and you think He does not care for you because you will not even read the letters by which He invites you to come back, while all heaven is waiting, and waiting, and waiting for you to return. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The duty of caring for souls: -

What it is to care for the souls of others.

1. A deep and heartfelt conviction of its worth. The soul is spiritual in its nature, noble in its capacities, and eternal in its duration.

2. A deep and thorough sense of the danger to which it is exposed.

3. Tender solicitude for its welfare.

4. Zealous exertion for their salvation.

On whom this duty devolves.

1. On the heads of families.

2. On all the members of the Church.

3. Pre-eminently on ministers.

The great evil of neglecting this duty.

1. It is cruel. A man would be considered cruel who saw one of the “beasts that perish” in danger, and did not attempt its rescue. He is cruel who, having it in his power to relieve the necessitous, or save the perishing, does not do it. But the cruelty of the man who, knowing the danger of souls, does not care for them, is beyond expression.

2. It is ungrateful. If others had not cared for us, we must have perished.

3. It is criminal.

4. It is fatal. Fatal to those who are perishing, and fatal to those who have a name to live; fatal to all genuine piety, fatal to all ardent love to the Saviour’s cause, fatal to zealous exertions for ethers, but especially fatal to our own souls. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

A cry from the depths

A striking testimony.

1. Man has a soul.

2. Man’s soul is of priceless worth (Matthew 16:26).

3. Man’s soul requires to be cared for. It needs--

(1) Light (Proverbs 19:2; Hosea 4:6; John 3:16-21; 1 John 1:5-7).

(2) Freedom (John 8:32; Romans 6:12-18; Psalms 119:32).

(3) Holy nurture (John 6:51; Hebrews 6:1-2; 2 Peter 1:5-8).

(4) Christian help and companionship (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10; Galatians 6:1-2; Romans 12:10; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

A mournful complaint.

1. Want of sympathy (Matthew 27:4; Psalms 69:20; Amos 1:11; Matthew 18:33; Ephesians 4:32).

2. Unbrotherly neglect (Deuteronomy 20:1-20; Deuteronomy 3:7; Genesis 4:9; Isaiah 58:7-12; Galatians 6:2; Exodus 3:18).

3. Heart-killing repulse.

A heart-touching appeal.

1. To man. Pity. Sympathy. Brotherly help (Acts 16:9).

2. To God. No one cries to God in vain. The poor may look to the rich in vain, but God is the helper of the poor (Psalms 10:14). (W. Forsyth, M. A.)

Carelessness for the soul reproved: -

How the soul is usually regarded.

1. How many a child may say, “My parents cared not for my soul. They were attentive to my body, and to my bodily health and preservation. They sought my temporal comfort; they got me bread to eat and raiment to put on. They felt for me when I lay sick upon my bed; they spared no trouble to do me service and to get me well again: but they cared not for my soul.”

2. How many a servant may say this? A servant is as capable of knowledge, of holiness, and of happiness as a master. “God is no respecter of persons.”

3. How many a neighbour may say this. If a neighbour meet with some sad accident, or what we usually call a misfortune, what a concern do we all feel for him but who cares for his soul? who feels concerned for that?

Why especially it should be cared for.

1. Because it is the noblest part of the creation. It is in what regards the soul that “man is but a little lower than the angels.” It is the soul that reasons, hopes, fears, recollects, anticipates. It is the soul that is imperishable: the body returns to the dust again; the spirit to Him who gave it.

2. On account of its vast capabilities.

3. Because of the price paid for its redemption--the blood of Christ.

4. Because if lost it will remain lost and unredeemed for ever. (W. Mudge.)

Isolation of soul: -

When this complaint may be made.

1. When they are at a loss with respect to soul concerns, and have none to instruct them in difficulties nor advise them (Isaiah 41:28).

2. When they have wandered out of the way, and have none to reprove them.

3. When they are visited with affliction, either in their persons or families, and have none to pray with or for them. As secret, so social prayer is a duty; and intercession is a necessary part of both.

4. When they are under distress and anguish of mind, and have none to comfort them.


1. In passing this censure, let us take care that we be not mistaken. Let us not give way to groundless jealousies, or be suspicious of our friends without a cause.

2. If none care for our welfare, what a mercy is it that God has excited in us a care of our own souls; that we are not in that stupid, insensible state in which we once were, and perhaps continued for many years! If others neglect our souls, it should more and more awaken our serious concern and anxious solicitude about them.

3. What a still greater mercy it is that God cares for our souls.

4. In order to avoid the charge in our text, let us not fall into the contrary extreme; and whilst we are busily concerned about others’ souls, let us not neglect our own. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Caring for the souls of others

If we think only of ourselves, of our own comfort, or convenience, or safety, our selfish-Hess is most inexcusable. It is not only vast regions, dark and dead, through the debasing influences of heathenism which beckon onward the philanthropist and the Christian to help, but there is an important work to be done at our very doors.

1. Take the case of some poor child that you know of; a child left to the tender mercies of an ignorant, heartless parent; a child suffered to run at large without even the appearance of control. This neglected child might be brought to Sunday-school and church; might be taught to shun even petty dishonesty as a sin; might be kept from speaking the language of demons; might at least be shielded from the more alluring forms of temptation.

2. You are on friendly and familiar terms with many irreligious people, over whom you might easily exercise some influence for good. They visit often at your.houses, and you chat with them daily on the street. If all of us who claim to be Christians would show by our conduct that we really eared for the souls of those who are living unmindful of their obligations to God, our labour of love would be wonderfully blessed.

3. Even when people have become members of God’s family, the Church, they need and long for the kindly sympathy of those who belong to the household of faith.

4. There are those who, having learned by sad experience the folly and wretchedness of a life of sin, would gladly return into better ways if they only knew how to accomplish it. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

Neglected souls

Vedius Pollio was a wealthy and luxurious Roman patrician. In his magnificent villa at Puteoli there reclined one day at the epicure’s sumptuous table, with many other distinguished guests, the Emperor Augustus. A slave, waiting upon the company, let fall a costly crystal vase, shattering it in fragments upon the mosaic pavement. Instantly the unfortunate wretch fell at the imperial feet, piteously pleading for his life. “Why?” exclaimed the master of the world; “what danger to thy life?” The trembling supplicant replied that he expected, according to his lord’s custom in such cases, to be east into his fish-pond as food for his lampreys. A cloud of wrath darkened the monarch’s brow; and, fixing his keen eye sternly upon his host, Augustus arose, seized a staff, and dashed to pieces all the crystal ware before him, in a terrific tone exclaiming--“Know thou, O miscreant and murderer! that one human life is worth more than all the crystal vases in the world!” This must have happened while One was walking the hills and vales of Palestine, who, had He been present, might have told the haughty Roman of something far more valuable even than human life. He teaches us that the soul is worth more than the earth and all its material contents, and that there is nothing in all the Creator’s visible works to be named as its approximate equivalent in value. In creation the body was first constructed, and then tenanted by the “living.” The soul is the life of the body, and the body is the servant of the soul. The soul uses the body as its vehicle of thought and feeling, its means of communication with the outer world; while the body ministers to the soul with all its members and organs, bringing it intelligence from all quarters, and enlarging and multiplying its joys. This, then, is the primary excellence of the soul--its spirituality; to which we must add its splendid intellectual faculties, which render it so far superior to all mere animal existences, and capable of indefinite progress and improvement. Its powers of reasoning, comparing, combining, abstracting, analyzing, classifying, imagining the unseen, forecasting the future, recalling the past with all the vividness of present reality, creating for itself ideal scenes amidst which it moves as in a fairy realm--these are strictly human faculties in which it is approximated by no other order of creatures within the range of our observation. And to the growth of these faculties we can assign no limits, and none to the knowledge which the soul may acquire by their exercise. ‘But far loftier than its intellectual are its moral capabilities and capacities. It has a living conscience, and is responsible to a divine law. There are voices within which proclaim its immortality. There are hopes and longings which reach into other worlds. There are instincts which earth cannot satisfy, and faculties which time cannot mature. Will Jehovah cut short the career of a creature capable of eternal progress? Does He delight in such abortive creations? Man is at present but in embryo, at best but in chrysalis, and death is only a change in the mode and the circumstances of his being. For this glorious truth we are indebted to the Holy Book. All Divine revelation proceeds upon the principle of man’s admitted immortality. What wonder that God cares for it, Christ dies for it, angels watch over it, and demons strive to control its destin! And how ought you and I to estimate its value, tremble for its danger, labour for its rescue, and rejoice in its salvation! And what a fearful accusation against us is the voice of a world’s sins and sorrows continually crying in the car of God--“No man careth for my soul”! May no accusing voice in judgment, no wail from the ranks of the reprobate and the ruined ever reach our ears--“No man cared for my soul!” (J. Cross, D. D.)

“No man cared for my soul”

What an amount of pathos is contained in this expression! How sad that any human being should ever have occasion to utter it! As long as any Christianity is left in the world, as long as common humanity even has not wholly deserted it, no one, we should think, would be so utterly forlorn as to be obliged to say, “No man cared for my soul.” That the sensual and the worldly should not care for the souls of their brethren might not indeed surprise us; but that Christians should not is truly wonderful. If we feel it a duty to feed the hunger and clothe the nakedness of the body, much more should we endeavour to feed moral hunger. But there will be other voices heard on that day uttering expressions of gratitude to those who have cared for their souls; for the word spoken in season which determined the undecided will in favour of right; for the wise counsel, the pure precepts of love, the faithful rebuke, the cordial sympathy, the kind encouragement which have turned many to righteousness. They will say, “We were without hope, and you gave it to us. We were living in godlessness and sin, and your affectionate warnings opened our eyes to the perils of our condition. You came to us in our doubts with cheerful encouragement, in our despair to lead us to look to God. You have taught us the true value of life; you have set us in the right way. Others have done much for our outward prosperity, and we thank them; but you have made our souls alive, and you are the greatest of our benefactors.” Why, then, do we not have more care for souls? It is partly because the god of this world has blinded our hearts; because, not being spiritual, we do not feel the reality of spiritual things; because we do not feel the infinite value of souls, the terrible evil of sin; because we have not faith in ourselves, in our own power of doing good by anything we can say; because we have not faith that God will help us to say what we ought; and because, moreover, we sometimes say as Cain did, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” though in a different spirit from that in which he said it. We carry independence in religion too far, till it becomes mere individualism; and we neglect the great law of love, which binds soul to soul, and ordains that no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. There is still another feeling which prevents us from direct attempts to help each other’s soul,--the feeling that more can be done indirectly than directly; that we can do more for others by the influence of a good life and good example than by direct exhortation or advice. There is, indeed, great weight in this consideration. Certainly one way, and perhaps the most important way, in which we can help the souls of others is by manifesting good principles, living convictions, faithfulness to right, a tender and loving humanity in our own lives. Yet I cannot but think that direct influence might often with advantage be added to indirect; and that, without urging upon reluctant minds spiritual considerations, without prematurely pulling open the folded end of the spiritual life, without violating the sacred retirement and holy privacy of the interior soul, we may yet, if we are watchful, find many opportunities of saying words of direct counsel, which shall come at the right time, shall fall into the right place, and be like seed, to bear thirty, fifty, and a hundredfold. But though Christians are not faithful to this duty, though their love grows cold, and though many are obliged to say, “No man cares for my soul,” yet there is One who always cares for the souls of all His children. God cares for souls evermore. All souls are His, and He will not let them go without many an effort to draw them up to Himself. He sends many blessed influences, He sends many holy providences ever to those who are neglected and forsaken by man. (J. Freeman Clarke.)

The soul neglected

“Two things a master commits to his servant’s care,” saith one, “the child and the child’s clothes.” It will be but a poor excuse for the servant to say at his master’s return, “Sir, here are all the child’s clothes neat and clean, but the child is lost!” Much so will be the account that many will give to God of their souls and bodies at the great day. “Lord, here is my body; I was very careful for it. I neglected nothing that belonged to its content and welfare; but for my soul, that is lost and cast away for ever. I took little thought and care about it.” (J. Flavel.)

Verse 5

Psalms 142:5

Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.

God in Christ, the believer’s refuge and portion

Concerning the refuge.

1. God in Christ is the refuge itself (Isaiah 4:6; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; John 1:14; Isaiah 32:2; Deuteronomy 33:27).

2. This refuge is by a legal destination a refuge for lost mankind (2 Corinthians 5:19; John 3:14-16; Titus 3:4).

(1) For the oppressed (Psalms 9:9; Psalms 72:4; Romans 16:20).

(2) For outcasts (Psalms 142:4-5).

(3) For debtors (Isaiah 25:4).

(4) For criminals liable to death by the law (Hebrews 6:18).

3. The gate of this refuge through which sinners enter is the vail of the flesh of Christ, rent, torn, and opened to let in the guilty creature unto Jehovah as a refuge (Hebrews 10:19-20).

4. The covert in this refuge is the righteousness of Christ (Jeremiah 23:6; Philippians 3:9).

(1) The satisfaction of Christ’s death and sufferings (1 John 2:2).

(2) The righteousness of Christ’s life and conversation, who obeyed the commands of the law as a public person, as well as He suffered the penalty of it in that capacity (Romans 5:19).

(3) The holiness of His birth and nature (Hebrews 7:26).

5. The several apartments in this refuge for the various cases of the refugees are all the attributes and perfections of God the Lord Jehovah (Proverbs 18:10).

6. The boundaries of this refuge are the everlasting covenant (Psalms 46:7).

7. The sinner’s entering into the refuge is by faith.

Concerning the portion.

1. The same God in Christ, who is the refuge for poor sinners, is also the portion for them to live by.

2. God in Christ is what one may live on (Psalms 16:5-6). In Him man has a dwelling-place (Psalms 90:1); raiment (Revelation 3:18); meat and drink (John 6:55); and all in a word (Philippians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 6:10). And hereto belongs the sanctification of the soul in the beginning, progress, and consummation of it, as that which is for the perfecting of the soul (1 Corinthians 1:30). (T. Boston, D. D.)

Verse 7

Psalms 142:7

Bring my soul out of prison.

The soul in prison

The prison into which so many souls are cast. David said, “In the way wherein I walked, the hunters laid a snare for me.” No one had better intentions than David; and I believe that nobody has better intentions than ourselves. But the best of wishes will do us little benefit unless we have brave resolves. To intend well is one thing; but if the intention stop short of action, it is worth nothing. When we intend well without practical resolution, it seems as if a trap were laid for us. We are oftenest caught in what seems our strongest point because we do not guard and watch ourselves where we are unconscious of weakness. Therefore, we all need to take heed lest we also be caught tripping. David further said, “The hunters are stonger than I.” What makes our enemies strong? It is one’s own weakness, the result of sin. David again cries, “Bring my soul out of prison!” It is a blessed thing when a man feels that his inclination to sin is like having his soul in prison. What man who is worthy of the name would not prefer liberty to bondage?

The way to get one’s soul out of prison. We read in Bunyan’s marvellous parable that when Christian had been beaten sore by a giant and thrust into Doubting Castle, he gave himself up to misery and despair. But one day he said, “Why, what a fool am I to stay here in all this wretchedness, when I have in my breast a key to unlock the gates of Doubting Castle.” And taking out the key he found it fitted the lock, and he escaped. It was, says Bunyan, a key called Promise. This should teach us that when we seek in God’s Word and find His promises, they are to us as a key to open the door of the prison into which our sins have thrust us. Would you have this priceless, this wonderful key always within your reach? Then hold on to God’s promises, which apply to every individual case. (W. Birch.)

Man, morally considered

Man’s moral imprisonment. All sinners are in a state of bondage. They are “spirits in prison.” Like fallen angels they are in “chains of darkness.”

1. A state of darkness. Justice shuts out the light from the prisoner in the cell. How morally benighted is the unregenerate soul l Having “the understanding darkened.”

2. A state of confinement. Materialism--intemperance--avarice--prejudice--unholy associations and habits manacle his faculties.

3. A state of criminality. A prisoner is under sentence of condemnation. So every sinner is a moral criminal, condemned alike by God and by his own conscience.

Man’s moral liberation. “Bring my soul out of prison.”

1. A consciousness of its wretched condition. “O wretched man that I am,” etc. How can I become free? Who can level those massive walls, who can break those fetters?

2. A consciousness that God alone can deliver. “Bring my soul.” He feels he cannot emancipate himself, nor can his fellow-men effect his deliverance. Hence to Him he looks who came “to preach deliverance to the captive,” etc.

Man’s moral mission. “That I may praise Thy name.”

1. Deep in the heart of all men is the feeling of obligation to worship God.

2. Moral misery consists in this, the soul feeling its obligation to worship, and yet unable to do so through the enthralling influence of its corruptions. Hence the text may be regarded as the prayer of every sin-convicted soul.

(1) I must worship Thee; my conscience urges this as an essential condition of my peace.

(2) I cannot worship Thee in my state of moral captivity.

(3) Come Thou, therefore, to my deliverance and set me free. (Homilist.)

A cry from prison

A wretched condition. Some of the prisons in which we sometimes find ourselves confined. Fearfulness.

(1) Lest our conversion is only a sham.

(2) Lest we may not be finally saved.

(3) Dread of death.

2. Carelessness.

(1) About our soul’s prosperity.

(2) As to the use of our privileges.

3. Discontentedness.

4. Selfishness.

(1) In belief.

(2) In prayers.

(3) In efforts.

A suitable petition. It is expressive of--

1. Consciousness. The spiritual dead feel not their awful condition.

2. Helplessness. We can do nothing; but He is faithful who has promised.

3. Tenderness. “Bring.” The invalid cannot bear harsh treatment. And our compassionate Lord deals gently with us. Doubtless David had former proof of this, hence his present cry. Further, this would necessitate God’s coming Himself, not even trusting His loved ones to His ministering spirits. “Come Lord Thyself, and bring my soul out of prison.” Then it was a petition of--

4. Completeness. “Bring my soul out.” It is well for our souls, when we get so dissatisfied with our prisons as to want to leave them entirely.

A justifying reason. How could David praise God’s name?

1. By making known His wondrous power.

2. By living near to God.

3. By warning others of their danger. (A. H. Stote.)

“Bring my soul out of prison”

The mercy implored. Consider it as the language of

1. An awakened sinner.

2. A disconsolate Christian, when oppressed or persecuted, or under trouble.

The end for which this mercy was desired. Mercy wanted calls for prayer; and the earnestness of the prayer should correspond with the magnitude of the blessing we implore. Mercy received requires praise; and the more importunate the prayer, the more animated will be the praise in return.

1. Praise may be considered as mental.

2. Vocal.

3. Practical. (B. Beddome, M. A.)


Psalms 143:1-12

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 142". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-142.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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