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Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
The Psalmist’s affliction
The central mass of this psalm describes the singer as suffering from two evils: sickness and treacherous friends. This situation naturally leads up to the prayer and confidence of the closing strophe (Psalms 41:10-12). But its connection with the introductory verses (1-3) is less plain. A statement of the blessings ensured to the compassionate seems a singular introduction to the psalmist’s pathetic exhibition of his sorrows. It is to be observed, however, that the two points of the psalmist’s affliction are the two from which escape is assured to the compassionate, who shall not be “delivered to the desire of his enemies,” and shall be supported and healed in sickness. Probably, therefore, the general promises of Psalms 41:1-3 are silently applied by the psalmist to himself; and he is comforting his own sorrow with the assurance which in his humility he casts into impersonal form. He has been merciful, and believes, though things look dark, that he will obtain mercy. There is probably also an intentional contrast with the cruel exacerbation of his sufferings by uncompassionate companions, which has rubbed salt into his wounds. He has a double consciousness in these opening verses, inasmuch as he partly thinks of himself as the compassionate man and partly as the “weak” one who is compassionated. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The right and wrong treatment of the afflicted
I. The right treatment of the afflicted.
1. Its nature. To consider the poor, in a scriptural and true sense, is--
(1) To honour their nature as men.
(2) To promote their rights as citizens.
(3) To alleviate their woes as sufferers.
(4) To appreciate their work as servants.
Poor though they be, they are children of the same great Father, and endowed with the high attribute of moral intelligence. Poor though they be, they have their rights as citizens of the same state, and they have done more to help on the world than any other class of men. They work our mines, construct our fleets, build our cities, fight our battles, write some of our best books, and invent many of the most useful and ornamental arts.
2. The happiness of the right treatment.
(1) “Blessed is he that considereth the poor.” Such a man is blessed in the service he renders. The exercise of benevolence is the source of our chiefest joy. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
(2) But the writer specifies certain advantages which are bestowed in addition to this (Psalms 41:1-3).
II. The wrong treatment of the afflicted (Psalms 41:4-13). Under this ill-treatment--
1. He had a consciousness of his own sins (Psalms 41:4).
(1) Great afflictions often awakes a sense of sin.
(2) Under a consciousness of his own sins he appeals for mercy. “Lord, be merciful unto me.”
2. He deeply felt the wicked conduct of his enemies (Psalms 41:5-9).
(1) They desired his death.
(2) They plot his ruin.
3. He directs his heart to the great God (Psalms 41:10-13).
(1) He prays.
(2) He confesses.
(3) He worships. It is well when all our trials and varied experiences end thus. (Homilist.)
The blessedness of considering the case of the poor
There is an evident want of congeniality between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the Christian. Now, so long as this wisdom has for its object some secular advantage, I yield it an unqualified reverence. If in private life a man be wise in the management of his farm, or his fortune, or his family; or if in public life he have wisdom to steer an empire through all its difficulties, and to carry it to aggrandizement and renown--the respect which I feel for such wisdom as this is most cordial and entire, and supported by the universal acknowledgment of all whom I call to attend to it. Let me now suppose that this wisdom has changed its object--that the man whom I am representing go exemplify this respectable attribute, instead of being wise for time, is wise for eternity--that he labours by the faith and sanctification of the Gospel for unperishable honours--what becomes of your respect for him now? Are there not some of you who are quite sensible that this respect is greatly impaired, since the wisdom of the man has taken so unaccountable a change in its object and in its direction? Men do not respect a wisdom which they-do not comprehend. They may love the innocence of a decidedly religious character, but they do not much, if at all, venerate its wisdom. The things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. And all that has now been said of wisdom is applicable, with almost no variation, to another attribute of the human character, and which I would call “lovely.” I mean--benevolence. But that which the world admires, and that which is truly Christian, are vastly different. The benevolence of the world--with its poetical sentiment--the Christian may not understand; that of the Christian, with its self-denial and enduring of “hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” the world does not understand. It is positively nauseated by the poetical amateur. And the contrast does not stop here. The benevolence of the Gospel is not only at antipodes with that of the visionary sons and daughters of poetry, but it even varies in some of its most distinguishing features from the experimental benevolence of real and familiar life. The fantastic benevolence of poetry is now indeed pretty well exploded; and in the more popular works of the age there is a benevolence of a far truer and more substantial kind substituted in its place--the benevolence which you meet with among men of business and observation--the benevolence which bustles and finds employment among the most public and ordinary scenes; and which seeks for objects, not where the flower blows loveliest, and the stream, with its gentle murmurs, falls sweetest on the ear; but finds them in its every-day walks, goes in quest of them through the heart of the great city, and is not afraid to meet them in its most putrid lanes and loathsome receptacles. Now, it must be acknowledged that this benevolence is of a far more respectable kind than poetic sensibility, which is of no use because it admits of no application. Yet I am not afraid to say, that, respectable as it is, it does not come up to the benevolence of the Christian; and is at variance, in some of its most capital ingredients, with the morality of the Gospel. For time, and the accommodations of time, form all its subject, and all its exercise, lit labours, and often with success, to provide for its object a warm and a well-sheltered tenement; but it looks not beyond the few little years when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, when the soul shall be driven from its perishable tenement, and the only benevolence it will need will be that of those who have directed it heavenwards. The one minds earthly things, the other has its conversation in heaven. That which is the chief motive in the heart of the worldly philanthropist are but mere accessories in the heart of the Christian. All will applaud the benevolence of a Howard, but only the Christian will feel enthusiasm for the apostleship of Paul, who in the sublimer sense accomplished the liberty of the captive and brought them that sat in darkness out of the prison house. And hence it is that notwithstanding missionary zeal has ever been the pioneer for civilization, yet because the missionary labours for the eternal salvation of the heathen, the cry of fanaticism is raised against them, and they are regarded by men of the world with prejudice and disgust. Therefore we are to note the way in which the Bible enjoins us to consider the poor. Our text does not say, Commiserate the poor, for if it said only this it would leave them to the precarious provision of mere impulsive sympathy. Feeling is but a faint and fluctuating security. Fancy may mislead it. The sober realities of life may disgust it. Disappointment may extinguish it. Ingratitude may embitter it. Deceit, with its counterfeit representations, may allure it to the wrong object. The Bible, then, instead of leaving the relief of the poor to the mere instinct of sympathy, makes it a subject for consideration--Blessed is he that considereth the poor--a grave and prosaic exercise I do allow, and which makes no figure in those high-wrought descriptions, where the exquisite tale of benevolence is made up of all the sensibilities of tenderness on the one hand, and of all the ecstasies of gratitude on the other. But the poor have souls and need to be saved, and all benevolence, however necessary and praiseworthy, that ignores this deepest need, is but partial and incomplete. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The duty of considering the poor
It requires wisdom to understand the constitution of things, but the more a man understands the more he will approve. The inequalities of mankind, and the consequent state and condition of the poor, is one of those subjects which most of all perplex the mind. Such inequality is an undoubted fact, and has ever and everywhere been so. But when a good man beholds this, and sees his own affluence and the other’s indigence, he will reason that the Divine intent was that he should supply his brother’s need. The inequality of nature should be rectified by religion. Now, let the rich think that what they give to the poor is thrown away, or given to them who can make no return. For to the poor, under God, the rich owe all their wealth. They are the workers and producers of the wealth which the rich only consume. Is society composed only of the noble and opulent? Did you ever hear, or read, of one that was so composed? It could not subsist for a week. As the members of it would not work, they could not eat. Of what value were your estates in the country, if the poor did not cultivate them? Of what account the riches of the nobleman, or the gentleman, if they must want the comforts, the conveniences, and even the necessaries of life? “The king himself is served by the field;” and, without the labours of the husbandman, must starve in his palace, surrounded by his courtiers and guards. The world depends, for subsistence, on the plough, the sickle, and the flail! Mankind, in short, constitute one vast body, to the support of which every member contributes his share; and by all of them together, as by so many greater and lesser wheels in a machine, the business of the public is carried on, its necessities are served, and its very existence is upholden. From hence it appears that the inequality of mankind is not the effect of chance, but the ordinance of Heaven, by whose appointment, as manifested in the constitution of the universe, some must command, while others obey; some must labour, while others direct their labours; some must be rich, while others are poor. The Scripture inculcates the same important truth, and the inference to be deduced from it--“The poor shall never cease,” etc. (Deuteronomy 15:11). Such is the method directed by Heaven of balancing the account between the different orders of men. What, then, will be the first consideration of a rich man when he sees a poor man? If he have a clear head, and a good heart, will he not reason in some such manner as this?” God has given the earth for the support of all. While I abound, why does this man want? Plainly, that we may bear one another’s burdens; that my abundance may supply his need, may alleviate his distress, may help to sustain the affliction under which he groans: that I may take off his load of woe, and he take off the superfluity of my wealth; that so the stream, now broken and turbid, may again find its level, and flow pure and tranquil. If I do not act thus, may not the poor justly complain, and would not the fault be mine?” And if the rich man refuse to help the poor, it is but natural to ask whence came this inequality? It was not from the rich man’s merit or the poet’s demerit. It has been permitted that the poor may learn resignation, and the rich be taught charity, and the right employment of the good things vouchsafed to them. “It is more blessed to give than to receive;” let the rich remember this, and the end of their being made rich is answered. And let the rich man remember, too, that had it pleased God, he would have been poor, and it may please Him that he shall he so. He then will need that which now he is recommended to give. Such changes do occur. But whether in your case they do or not, if your riches do not leave you, yet in a little while you must leave them. Death waits to strip you of them all. They wilt only avail you then as you have employed them well now. In the Gospel we must seek full information as to this duty. Our blessed Lord became poor to make us rich, and has thus for ever obliged us to consider the poor. But how are we to obey these precepts? Let charity rule in the heart, and it will not need to be told how much it should give. But for rules take these:--
1. Let each lay aside a due proportion of his income for charities.
2. Practise economy with a view to charity; retrench expenditure on luxury and indulgence for this end.
3. Then, in giving, give work rather than money where the poor would work if they could. Where they would not, let them be made to work. Such is true kindness to them. (G. Horns.)
Considering the poor
When God commends us, or encourages us to consider the poor and needy, He commands and encourages us to do that for our fellow-creatures which we, as poor and needy dependants on His bounty, ask Him to do for us. He was not satisfied with death and the cross only, but He took up with becoming poor also, and a stranger, and a beggar, and naked, and with being thrown into prison, and undergoing sickness, that so, at least, He might call thee off [from covetousness]. If thou wilt not requite Me (He says) as having suffered for thee, show mercy on Me for My poverty; and if thou art not minded to pity Me for My poverty, do for My disease be moved, and for My imprisonment be softened. And if even these things make thee not charitable, for the easiness of the request comply with Me; for it is no costly gift I ask, but bread and lodging, and words of comfort. But if even after this thou still continuest unsubdued, still, for the kingdom’s sake, be improved for the rewards which I have promised. Hast thou, then, no regard even for these? Yet still, for very nature’s sake, be softened at seeing Me naked; and remember that nakedness wherewith I was naked on the cross for thee; or if not this, yet that wherewith I am now naked through the poor . . . I fasted for thee; again I am hungry for thee . . . of thee, that owest Me the requital of benefits without number, I make not request as of one that oweth, but crown thee as one that favoureth Me, and a kingdom do I give thee for these small things . . . I delivered thee from most galling bonds; but for me it is quite enough if thou wilt but visit me when in prison. (Chrysostom.)
They, then, who even in out poor, low way, are conformed, or beginning to be conformed, to God’s mind in considering--that is, in searching out, compassionating, and relieving--distress have that in them which must be the source of blessedness, because they have that in them which is the source of happiness (I speak, of course, after the manner of men) to the Divine Mind; for God rejoices over His works. He rejoices in diffusing life and happiness; and when one province of His fair creation became marred and ruined by sin, and He extended mercy to it, then He delighted in that mercy. We then when, notwithstanding miserable deficiencies and shortcomings, we compassionate those in distress, and relieve their wants, even here enter somewhat into the very joy of God. And there is no Christian grace to the exercise of which God has in His Word so frequently or so emphatically promised a reward in the world to come. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
On Christian care for the poor
Judaism stood alone among ancient religions, Christianity stands alone among modern, in the inculcation of earnest, solemn, anxious consideration for the poor. And for the same reason. They both try to look on the world as the God who made it looks on it, and to share the burden of its want and its woe which is pressing on His heart. In nothing is the unity of Scripture more beautiful, more conspicuous, than in this great thought about the poor. Perhaps it is the grandest evidence of its inspiration. Christ deemed it the crowning glory of His kingdom (Matthew 11:5).
I. The motive to consideration of the poor. I do not mean the reasons--they are abundant, but the motive. For the reasons and the motive power are, alas! widely different. The reasons are abundant for upright, godly conduct. A man is tempted to selfish, sensual, knavish action. There are ten thousand reasons why he should forbear, not one why he should yield. Every drop of his blood, every beat of his heart, every fibre of his nerve, could it speak, would cry out against it. His whole being, body, soul, and spirit, is against it. The whole structure of the universe is against it. God’s face, God’s hand, are against it. But he does it and faces it all. So here the reason is one thing; the power which makes the reason effective, which touches, moves, compels the conduct, is from a yet deeper spring. The fundamental element in the motive to care for the poor, is the revelation that the poor are the care of God. However man came to it, he has come to a god-like nature. The strongest influence which you can bring to bear on him is the revelation of the mind of God. There is something in him which moves him to imitation. The child’s nature and passion, the cry of his spirit, Father, Father, tends to take shape in acts sympathetic with God.
II. The kind of consideration demanded.
1. Set plainly before the mind’s eye the terrible inequalities of gifts, possessions, culture, advantages, and all that makes the outward joy of life. We like to escape from it. The blessing is for the man who faces it; who in his comfortable home, with art, music, dress, amusement, luxurious appliances, carriages, and food, will set before his face the life of the millions to whom all this is as far off as the stars. Who will think of the laundress shut up in a hot, fetid room, standing over a tub or an ironing-board, four or five young children clinging round her, and one ill up-stairs; but who dares not stop, who must work on lest they starve. Or poor parents watching a fair child dear to them as yours to you, and pining daily for the nourishing food and sea air, but which they are utterly unable to give. The man who considers the poor will keep this in sight while he enjoys God’s blessings.
2. He will not believe that God meant life to be anything like this. The heathen says that this is God’s ordinance, and it is impious to interfere. But the Christian is quite sure God meant nothing like this.
3. He will say, It is a solemn part of my duty to mend it. God leaves it with us, not because He does not care, but because He cares so intensely. He will have us see to it. It is society’s most pressing, most sacred, most blessed work, to consider the poor; to be always meditating, planning, and working at what aims at the extinction of the bitterness of poverty from the world. It is not mere giving. Some do most who give nothing, who have nothing to give. It is the mind and the heart to think and to care which first need to be cultivated; the feeling that it is base and selfish to enjoy our advantages, comforts, and luxuries, while we abstain from systematic thoughtful effort to bridge over the chasm which separates the classes, and to make less bitter the lot of the poor.
III. The blessing in which it fruits. “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.” Many may feel that this is a far-away matter--The Lord will repay. They see nothing tangible here; brave words, no more. To me it seems the reality of realities. I see something very intangible in the best of worldly securities; who is to secure them? While this is real, solid, enduring, as the order of the world.
1. The blessing lies hid in the order of the world. God has made man and the world so that this mind shall be blessed. All men honour, love, and cherish it. It draws forth the best elements of every nature, the sunny side of every heart.
2. The blessing lies deeper and closer, in a warm glow of living joy in his own heart. It is the soul’s health, this care for need. There is the glow of health in the soul of the man who cherishes it, which is incomparable with any other sensation; it is the pure joy of life.
3. Deeper still, it lies in the heart and the hand of God. God loves that man, and counts him His friend. God watches that man, and assures his life. In moments of crisis and strain it is as if a Hand came out of the invisible to clasp and upbear him--the Hand which will one day lift him out of the shades of death to that world where he shall hear the welcome, “Come, thou blessed of my Father,” etc. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
This the most prominent characteristic of our religion.
I. The duty of considering the poor. It must be performed on Christian principles. Not as did the Pharisees, “to be seen of men.” There are several kinds of poor. Inquire, therefore, what it is to consider the poor. It implies sympathy with them; that we should, if possible, visit them; that we should relieve them; that we should seek to do good to their souls.
II. The privilege of considering the poor. All duty is privilege, for all God requires us to do is for our advantage. God’s blessing attends the considering of the poor. “The Lord will preserve him in the day of trouble.” See this in the history of Job. (Joseph Entwistle.)
Considering the poor
Poverty is a large word, and requires a large definition. Sickness, weakness, fear, sense of helplessness, sense of desolation--all these may be brought under the definition of poverty. Some men are poor mentally, needing continual suggestion, direction, and recruital of mind. Want of money is the most superficial kind of poverty. It is by no means to be neglected either by the individual or by the state, because through want of money men often perish through lack of other things. When money is taken thus typically, then pennilessness becomes a manifold disorder and weakness. The word rendered “considereth” implies a kindliness of consideration. It is not only a statistical or economical view of social circumstances, it is also a direct and earnest exercise of the heart. The word may also be rendered “he that understands.” We cannot understand the poor simply as an intellectual study. No man understands hunger who has not been hungry. There are dictionary interpretations of words which help us but a short way towards their true comprehension. Think of turning to the dictionary to find the meaning of poverty, hunger, sorrow, death! All the words may be neatly and clearly defined in terms, but to understand any one of them we must pass through the experience which it indicates. The blessings of the Bible are always poured upon good-doing. (J. Parker.)
The sick and needy (for Hospital Sunday)
1. It is urged that free hospitals for the sick poor are not an unmixed good. The same may be said of every existing human institution. Were we to wait for perfection before we would give our support to any philanthropic scheme, philanthropy would die out entirely from the hearts of men from lack of worthy objects. While occasional and substantial help is a great blessing, and one which neither the receiver nor the giver can well spare without loss of pure emotion and without poverty of soul, too much help, or help too readily obtainable, is a great injury, inasmuch as it undermines manliness and self-reliance, destroys that vigour of independence which all toilers in every rank ought to cultivate, and often creates the poverty and misery it is intended to cure. The change cannot be wrought in a day or a year, or in hardly less than a score of years. It must be gradual. Many of the present generation are incurable, their inveterate pauperism cannot be shaken off. It is to the next generation that we must look for a better state of things. The sick and needy will still be at our doors, for many a year to come; men, women and children will still be helpless and perish if we withhold our pity and relief. While poverty lasts we must keep our manhood, our brotherly sympathy, our tender compassion, and by the agency of our splendid hospitals earn the cheap honour of helping to provide for the sick and needy.
2. The second objection is that the money raised is not distributed as equitably as it should be. Still, assuming this, I ask on what reasonable, just, or humane, grounds will you withhold your help from the fund because some of it is misappropriated? Is it reasonable to cripple the healing resources of ten persons who need your help, simply because one person has received help which he did not so much need? Is it just to punish the deserving hospitals for the undeserving?
3. The third objection is that persons avail themselves of hospital relief who have no right to the benefit. Of this deplorable fact there can be no doubt. The out-patients’ room at the hospital is crowded by persons who can well afford to pay for medical and surgical attendance. Is this abuse of the hospitals a valid objection to our giving them all our support? I venture to say it is not. To destroy a precious and useful thing because some one puts it to a wrong use, or because it has fallen into illegitimate hands, is a manifest folly. If the liberal subscribers to the Hospital Fund were to hand in along with their subscriptions a vigorous protest against the indiscriminate reception of applicants for relief, the abuse would soon be abated, and in time altogether disappear. But not to give is to forfeit your right to be heard; not to support the hospitals is to put yourself out of court and disqualify you from giving evidence. (C. Voysey.)
Practical sympathy: pity shown more by deeds than words
A respectable merchant of London having become embarrassed in his circumstances, and his misfortunes being one day the subject of conversation in the Royal Exchange, several persons expressed the great sympathy they felt for him; whereupon a Quaker who was present said, “I feel five hundred pounds for him, what do you feel?”
The blessedness of the benevolent
“Where is heaven?” asked a wealthy Christian of his minister. “I will tell you where it is,” was the quick reply: “if you will go to the store, and buy £10 worth of provisions and necessaries, and take them to that poor widow on the hillside, who has three of her children sick. She is poor, and a member of the Church. Take a nurse and some one to cook the food. When you get there, read the twenty-third Psalm, and kneel by her side and pray. Then you will find out where heaven is.”
A despiser of the poor reproved
An eminent surgeon was one day sent for by the Cardinal du Bois, Prime Minister of France, to perform a very serious operation upon him. The Cardinal, on seeing him enter the room, said to him, “You must not expect to treat me in the same rough manner that you treat the more miserable wretches at your hospital.” “My lord,” replied the surgeon, with great dignity, “every one of those miserable wretches, as your eminence is pleased to call them, is a Prime Minister in my eyes, for each is one of God’s poor.”
The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.
No one who has not felt the pains of sickness can fully appreciate the blessing of health. The lassitude and sufferings of sickness are hard to bear; and yet it is a wholesome discipline, which all of us greatly need. The design of sickness may be threefold. Sometimes it is sent to punish the wicked (1 Samuel 5:6). Or to try the patience and constancy of the righteous. Or to show forth God’s glory (John 9:3; John 11:4).
I. Our duty toward the sick, who may need assistance, Those who are well off in life, can have things arranged to suit themselves. The large and well-ventilated room, the comfortable bed with its clean and wholesome linen, the varied delicacies to suit the morbid appetite, the gentle and unwearied attentions of kindred and friends--all this, and more, money may readily command. But there are many who can have no such alleviation to their suffering. The kind physician comes--may God reward at the last day the many visits of mercy which he makes to the afflicted poor. But he leaves directions that the sick man should be kept quiet. Quiet indeed! He may as well command the mill dam to stop its ceaseless roar, or the hard hailstones not to rattle upon the roof. The minister of God arrives he asks of the welfare of the sick. He prays for his recovery. His petition in such a case is nothing more nor less than asking God to work a miracle in the sufferer’s behalf, because he must be left in “a condition much more likely to make a well man sick, than a sick man well.”
II. Think seriously of the time when all will be called to lie down upon the bed of languishing. There will be some morning of your lives, when business will be going on in the shops, and on the streets, but you will be far otherwise engaged. And suppose you that the bed of sickness is a convenient or suitable place to arrange your long-neglected account with God? (A. M. Sadleir.)
The sick man healed
The precise meaning of this verse is questioned, some regarding both clauses as descriptive of tender nursing, which sustains the drooping head and smooths the crumpled bedding, while others, noting that the word rendered “bed” in the second clause means properly “lying down,” take that clause as descriptive of turning sickness into convalescence. The latter meaning gives it a more appropriate ending to the strophe, as it leaves the sick man healed, not tossing on a disordered bed, as the other explanation does. Jehovah does not half cure. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I said, Lord be merciful to me: heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee.
An excellent prayer
I. He confesses that he is a sinner. The law brings the conviction of sin, but the greatest sin of all is unbelief.
II. He counts sin the disease of the soul--“heal my soul.” Sin affects the soul as disease the body.
III. He views God as the only physician--Lord, heal my soul We cannot heal our own soul; nor can any creatures. The sooner we see and feel this the better. But the Lord heals: “by His stripes we are healed.”
IV. He is also persuaded that nothing but mercy in God will induce him to heal his soul. Here is the only source of our hope. (W. Jay.)
A singular plea in prayer
I. A prayer.
1. “Lord, be merciful unto me.”
(1) It may--I dare say did--mean, at least in part, “Mitigate my pains.” When grieved with sore physical pain, you will find that the quiet resignation, holy patience, and childlike submissiveness which enable you just to pray, “Lord, be merciful unto me,” will often bring a better relief to you than anything that the most skilled physician can prescribe.
(2) He must have meant also, “Forgive my sins.” It is a blessed prayer, and I charge you never to cease from using it in the sense that our Lord taught it to His disciples,!” Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.”
(3) I think that David also meant, “Fulfil thy promises.” “Thou hast said of the man who considers the poor, ‘The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.’ Lord, be merciful unto me, and deliver me in the time of my trouble, Thou hast said, ‘The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive.’ Lord, be merciful unto me, preserve me, and keep me alive. Thou hast said that Thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies; Lord, be merciful unto me, and guard me from my foes. Thou wilt strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; Lord, be merciful unto me, and strengthen me. Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness; Lord, make my bed.”
2. “Heal my soul.” David does not pray, “Heal my eye; heal my foot; heal my heart; heal me, whatever my disease may be”; but he goes at once to the root of the whole matter, and prays, “Heal my soul.”
(1) “Heal me, Lord, of the distress of my soul.”
(2) “Lord, heal my soul of the effect of sin.”
(3) “Heal me of my tendency to sin.”
II. A confession. “I have sinned against Thee.”
1. It is a confession without an excuse.
2. It is a confession without any qualification. He does not say, “Lord, I have sinned to a certain extent; but, still, I have partly balanced my sins by my virtues, and I hope to wipe out my faults with my tears.” No; he says, “I have sinned against Thee,” as if that were a full description of his whole life.
3. It is without affectation. I like a man, when he makes a confession of sin, not to be carried away into the use of proud expressions without meaning, but to speak with judgment, and to acknowledge and confess only what is true. This is the excellence of David’s confession, that he owns to what no sinner will ever admit till the grace of God makes him do it: “I have sinned against Thee.”
III. A plea. “I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul.” Why? “For I have sinned against Thee.” That is a very remarkable way of pleading, but it is the only right one.
1. It is such a plea as no self-righteous man would urge. The Pharisee keeps to this strain, “Lord, be merciful unto me, for I have been obedient, I have kept thy law.” O foolish, self-righteous man, do you not see that you are shutting the door in your own face? You say, in effect, “Be merciful unto me, for I do not need any mercy.”
2. This is such a plea as a carnal reasoner could not urge, for he could not spy out any reason or argument in it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Sin is a soul disease.
1. Of the understanding.
2. Of the affections.
3. Of the conscience.
4. Of the will.
II. God alone can heal it.
1. We must feel our malady, and--
2. Our impotence.
3. We must recognize His power, and--
4. Trust His mercy. (W. W. Whyte.)
The inveterateness of sin
Sin, we are told, is a survival; and that reverses and explodes all the traditional Christian theology. It is, they say, the effort of some past condition to assert itself when its day is over. It may be even a belated virtue which was once a true formula, under which we succeeded in securing our existence. For it has become a vice, in that it would hold us down at a lower level than that which lies open to us. It haunts us with strange and awful memories, it imprisons us with instinctive hopes which we should have forgotten and overgrown; it strikes against its own institution. It has old refuges in the blood and tissue, from out of which it refuses to be wrung. It has a dim, end-of-the-world impulse to appeal to. No wonder it is hard to beat it under. It carries on its subterranean war like the pagan deities of old, beneath the surface triumphant still. That is sin, according to this interpretation. Sin is the shadow cast out of the past; it reveals the law, out of which we have climbed to the new day. Still it sucks us down, and menaces, and defiles; but its death is sure; the future is against it; its sentence has gone out. There may be many a disloyal recrudescence of its ancient mischief; there will be strange moments when a sort of atavism will enable it to occupy lost ground; there may be even partial degradations, in which the higher will succumb to the lower. But the whole trend of life is upward, and under this sin will sink and disappear, for life is not a fail, but a rise, sin is that which is for ever being left behind. Now, of course, if this is the true account of sin, we had better wipe out the entire Bible story. Let us consider what that would mean. It would not be merely an abandonment of some obsolete dogma, nor would it be to realize all real living facts over against some blind authority. Rather it would mean the surrender of the widest, and deepest and most prolonged accumulation of human experience in the things of the living spirit that the world has ever known. Is there any statement more completely falsified by every scrap that we know of our own inward life than the one which pronounces that sin is the merest survival? That is just the sort of illusion with which we all begin, and which all further experience explodes. We fancy at first that sin is a misfortune, an accident, a weak surrender, to some invading and hostile attack. We never lived it, we are not of that sort, we know our own rightness of intention, our innate goodness in our best self. We will face and wipe off this wrong which has besmirched us. It is so unworthy of us and so unlike us. And now we have confessed and repented and we are ourselves again. We shall be stronger when next assailed. These will die away of themselves. How futile! how ignorant! how wrong! The old, old story repeats itself; the relapse recurs with strange regularity; the moral strength just breaks at the crisis when it ought to stand. Always the thing, somehow, is too much for it; always we do again that very thing that we had forsworn for ever. Why the strange persistent failure? Why this tremor at the heart? Why is the hand still put out to pluck that which we know to be forbidden? Why do the feet turn again down the paths which lead to death? Again it is the old cause--the thing that I ought to do I do not; the thing that I would not, that I do. And does this mean that we have not got at the root of the matter, that it is not the outside accident which we hope, that it is a monotonous revelation of a wrong that works by a regular law? It is I and not something that is upon me that is responsible for this disorder. Why cannot I do what I want? I, who seem to myself so inherently good, so thoroughly well-meaning, so far above these degradations, so resolute in my determination? I am somehow guilty. O miserable man that I am! O my God, it is I that have sinned against Thee and done this evil in Thy sight. Your sin will not disappear of itself. You will never grow out of it; it is too deep, too intimate, too personal for that. It will reappear within when you have expelled it from without. You are powerless. But you have the witness in yourself that sin and you can never agree. Sin is not your true life, but your death, and in the strength of that inner weakness you have force and right to appeal to; that invincible love that only waits for your appeal to find its entry. “Have mercy upon me, O God, heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.” Lift that cry, and the answer is in your ears in the Person of Jesus Christ our Saviour: “I will, be thou clean.” (Canon Scott Holland.)
And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it.
An unsympathetic visitor
The picture drawn by the poet is a very common one. He has unfortunately sent for a man who does not understand his ease. The man is full of words; he can dilate upon the events of the time; he can ask many questions; he can be ostentatiously officious and meddlesome; but all is vanity, a veering wind, a mere noise in the air. The person sent for was destitute of the quality of sympathy. He did not know the ministry of silence. He did not understand that by a mere look, tender, lingering, and sympathetic, he could heal a human heart. Being a newsmonger he brought in the news of the day, which is a sure proof that he would carry the news of the day away with him. “When he goeth abroad, he telleth it:” there is nothing sacred to the mere talker; there is a disease of words, a gossip which could pry and prattle about the most mysterious and tragical experiences of the heart. The text teaches us how important it is to entrust ourselves in trying moments only to those who are rich in Christian wisdom and sympathy. Few men know how to visit the sick. Those who are in Christ Jesus ought to be able to take rich Christian sympathy to sick-chambers, and to make houses beautiful with instances of Divine revelation and promise and comfort. It should not be beneath the greatest to visit the humblest. The temptation is to over-ride the poor; to make a false use of strength in the presence of the poor; to bear down upon and discourage the poor; such persons should never be sent to minister to souls that are in distress. The piety of Christ’s Church is not to be roughshod. The saints are to study the gentlest courtesy and grace of manner. They are to act “as becometh saints.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Yea, mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.
The evil of Christ’s friends lifting up their heel against Him
The psalmist doth in the text show the cope-stone laid on the maltreatment with which he met in the world by his particular friends turning abusive to him. They who did this were his intimates, his confidants, in whom he trusted; and his dependents, also, for they did eat of his bread. He describes their treatment under the metaphor of a horse that kicks against the man that lays meat before him. “Confidence in an unfaithful man in the time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” Now, it is evident that what the text speaks of was a typical event. Hence, consider it as it relates to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, all bread that we eat is the Lord’s bread: it is He who supplies us with all the necessaries and conveniences of life. But there is a sacred and sacramental bread which we eat at the Lord’s table for the nourishment of our souls. This is peculiarly His bread.
I. It is a grievous thing that they who eat of the Lord’s common dread should lift up their heel against him.
1. But they thus lift up their heel when--
(1) They do not serve Him by whom they are maintained. If we live by Him we should surely live for Him.
(2) When their lusts are fed and fattened by God’s good benefits bestowed on them, so that instead of being led to repentance thereby, they are led farther away from God (“Jeshurun” and Ezekiel 16:49-50). And
(3) when the good things God gives are wasted on our lusts to satisfy their cravings.
(4) When in any manner of way they live to the dishonour of God (Romans 2:3-6).
2. Now, the causes of such evil conduct are--
(1) The corruption of man’s nature, which tends to make an ill use of everything.
(2) Our forgetting our dependence upon God.
3. The evil of this practice.
(1) It is monstrous ingratitude. Of. Isaiah.
(2) It has dismal effects, provoking God to take away His bread from men. Therefore let us be humbled on account of this sin, and resolve to reform and amend our ways.
II. It is a very grievous thing that they who eat of the Lord’s sacramental bread should lift up their heel against him. Note--
1. How His professed friends may do this.
(1) By unsteadiness in their walk. We are bidden “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.”
(2) By returning to their openly profane courses (2 Peter 2:20-22).
(3) By carnality and worldliness in the ordinary frame of their hearts.
(4) By formality and listlessness in the duties of religion.
(5) By secret dalliance with some bosom idol, to the slighting of Christ.
(6) By neglecting opportunities of communion with God, as Sabbaths and public ordinances.
(7) By the heart losing the esteem it once had for Christ.
(8) By wearying of converse with God.
(9) By habitual neglect of the duties of practical godliness (Galatians 2:20). As the life of faith; the acknowledging of God in all our ways; self-examination; mourning for our own sins, and the sins of the land; commending Christ and religion to others who are strangers to Him. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The treachery of Ahithophel
at once occurs to mind. No doubt many treacherous friends have wounded many trustful hearts, but the correspondence of David’s history with this detail is not to be got rid of by the observation that treachery is common. Still less is it sufficient to quote Obadiah 1:7, where substantially the same language is employed in reference to the enemies of Edom, as supporting the national reference of the present passage. No one denies that false allies may be described by such a figure, or that nations may be personified; but is there any event in the post-exilic history which shows Israel deceived and spurned by trusted allies? The Davidic authorship and the personal reference of the psalm are separable. But if the latter is adopted, it will be hard to find any circumstances answering so fully to the details of the psalm as the Absalomic rebellion and Abithophel’s treason. Our Lord’s quotation of part of verse 9, with the significant omission of “in whom I trusted,” does not imply the Messianic character of the psalm, but is an instance of an event, and a saying which were not meant as prophetic, finding fuller realization in the life of the perfect type of suffering godliness than in the original sufferer. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Sophocles says that, a faithless friend is the sorest bile that can be touched. Methinks as Jonathan laid aside his bow and arrows approaching to embrace David, so the name of friend should disarm the heart of man, that no instrument of malice should be left to give offence. It is like God’s rainbow in the clouds, a sure token of reconcilement, and preservation: it is the uniting of more souls in one, like the rod of Moses, and the rod of the Egyptians, which were united into one rod (Exodus 7:1-25.); that as Joseph said of Pharaoh’s dreams, the dreams are two, hut the interpretation is but one; so among friends the hearts are two, yet there is but one joy, one desire, and but one affection between them both. O what an accursed crime it is to cancel such a bond, much more to falsify and corrupt it! more unnatural than to divide one living child into two dead parts like the uncompassionate harlot. St. Basil did so cleave to the familiarity of holy Nazianzen, whom he called his necessary friend, that he thought not his knowledge solid, or his study profitable, or the daylight to be clear without him. Xenophon was so inflamed with the love of Proxenus, dear to him as his own soul, that he changed his bookish life, and entered into a dangerous war, as he confesseth, that he might follow him as the shadow did the body. Perfect lawgivers, says Aristotle, have had more careful regard to settle friendship in their polities, than to settle justice; for there is a recompense and satisfaction for any fault that infringeth justice, but it is past our value and exceeds all estimation how to salve up an injury which abuseth friendship: besides, there is prevention in all points of justice that an innocent may sustain no hurt, but the wounds of a false friend, how is it possible to avoid them? such an Ahithophel is like hot iron taken out of the fire which neither glows nor shines, but burns more violently than the flame that threatens. We have a test to try gold, says Euripides, a touchstone to betray deceit in counterfeit metals; but to know the mischief of a dissembler’s heart, there’s no mark or character to discern it. Moreover, every man hath a share in his whole friend, in all his estate and faculties, but every single man hath but his part in that commonwealth whereof he is a citizen: then reason within yourselves, can he that wrongs a friend, who is all and every whit his own, be true to that kingdom wherein he hath but a share and moiety? As the poet warned the sparrow not to build a nest in Medaea’s statue, for she spared not to kill her own young ones, and could the little birds, who were but inmates, expect succour from her? So believe him not that he will be just to others, who was unjust to his other self: let him be rooted out, let him be cut off like unprofitable ivy that undermines the building upon which it creeps. (Bishop Hacker.)
By this I know that Thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.
Present favour and boundless hope
The last words of the psalm are sunny with the assurance of present favour and with boundless hope. The man is still lying on his sick-bed, ringed by whispering foes. There is no change without, but this change has passed: that he has tightened his hold of God, and therefore can feel that his enemies’ whispers will never rise or swell into a shout of victory over him. He can speak of the future deliverance as if present; and lie can look ahead over an indefinite stretch of sunlit country, scarcely knowing whether the furthest point is earth or no. His integrity is not sinless, nor does lie plead it as a reason for Jehovah’s upholding, but hopes for it as the consequence of His sustaining hand. He knows that he will have close approach to Jehovah; and though, no doubt, “for ever” on his lips meant less than it does on ours, his assurance of continuous communion with God reached, if not to actual, clear consciousness of immortality, at all events to assurance of a future so indefinitely extended, and so brightened by the sunlight of God’s face, that it wanted but little additional extension or brightening to be the full assurance of life immortal. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 41". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28