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As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God.
The Korachite psalms
The second book of the Psalter, characterized by the use of the Divine name “Elohim” instead of “Jehovah,” begins with a cluster of seven psalms (reckoning Psalms 43:1-5, as one), of which the superscription is most probably regarded as ascribing their authorship to “the sons of Korach.” These were Levites, and (1 Chronicles 9:19, etc.) the office of keepers of the door of the sanctuary had been hereditary in their family from the time of Moses. Some of them were among the faithful adherents of David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:6), and in the new model of worship inaugurated by him the Korachites were doorkeepers and musicians. They retained the former office in the second Temple (Nell. 11:19). The ascription of authorship to a group is remarkable, and has led to the suggestion that the superscription does not specify the authors, but the persons for whose use the psalms in question were composed. The Hebrew would bear either meaning; but if the later is adopted, all these psalms are anonymous. The same construction is found in Book I. in Psalms 25:1-22; Psalms 26:1-12; Psalms 27:1-14; Psalms 28:1-9; Psalms 35:1-28; Psalms 37:1-40., where it is obviously the designation of authorship, and it is naturally taken to have the same force in these Korachite psahns. It has been conjectured by Delitzsch that the Korachite Psalms originally formed a separate collection entitled “Songs of the Sons of Korach,” and that this title afterwards passed over into the superscriptions when they were incorporated in the Psalter. The supposition is unnecessary. It was not literary fame which psalmists hungered for. The actual author, as one of a band of kinsmen who worked and sang together, would, not unnaturally, be content to sink his individuality and let his songs go forth as that of the band. Clearly the superscriptions rested upon some tradition or knowledge, else defective information would not have been acknowledged as it is in this one; but some name would have been coined to fill the gap. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Over the aqueducts of water
The Hebrew term is apheek; and in the original the clause reads, al apheekaiyrnayim, which may be translated, “over the aqueducts of water.” “Aqueducts are, and always must have been, very common in Palestine, not only for bringing water to waterless towns, but also for the purpose of irrigating gardens. Ruined remains of these structures are to be found everywhere throughout the country. It seems certain that there must have been a familiar technical term for them in Hebrew, and that the writers of the Bible, who draw their imagery so largely from the features of garden culture, must have referred to these precious water-channels. One word in Hebrew, the sense of which seems to have been entirely overlooked, must plainly have borne this meaning, the word “apheek,” which occurs eighteen times in the Old Testament, and also in some names of places, as Aphaik, near Beth-boron. The translators of our Authorized Version have been able to make but little of it, rendering it by seven different words, most frequently by “river,” which it cannot possibly mean. The word comes from “Aphak, restrained,” or “forced,” and this is the main idea of an aqueduct, which is a structure formed for the purpose of constraining or forcing a stream of water to flow in a desired direction. So strongly were the Palestine aqueducts made, that their ruins, probably in some places two thousand years old, remain to this day. In rare instances (there is one at Jerusalem) they are fashioned of bored stones. Sometimes for a short distance they are cut as open grooves in the hard limestone of the hills, or as small channels bored through their sides. When the level required it, they are built up stone structures above ground. But the aqueducts of Palestine mostly consist of earthenware pipes, laid on or underground in a casing of strong cement. “Apheek,” I contend, in its technical sense stands for an ordinary covered Palestine aqueduct, but it is also poetically applied to the natural underground channels, which supply springs and to the gorge-like, rocky beds of some mountain streams which appear like huge, open aqueducts . . . The psalmist thirsts for God, and longs to taste again the joy of His house, like the parched and weary hind who comes to a covered channel conveying the living waters of some far-off spring across the intervening desert. She scents the precious current in its bed of adamantine cement, or hears its rippling flow close beneath her feet, or, perchance, sees it deep down through one of the narrow air holes; and as she agonises for the inaccessible draught, she “pants over the aqueducts of water.” (James Nell, M. A.)
The soul compared to a hind
The “soul” is feminine in Hebrew, and is here compared to the female deer, for “pants” is the feminine form of the verb, though its noun is masculine. It is better, therefore, to translate “hind” than “hart.” The “soul” is the seat of emotions and desires. It “pants” and “thirsts,” is “cast down” and disquieted; it is “poured out”; it can be bidden to “hope.” Thus tremulous, timid, mobile, it is beautifully compared to a hind. The true object of its longings is always God, however little it knows for what it is thirsting. But they are happy in their very yearnings who are conscious of the true direction of these, and can say that it is God for whom they are athirst. The correspondence between man’s needs and their true object is involved in that name “the living God”; for a heart can rest only in one all-sufficient Person, and must have a heart to throb against. But no finite being can still them; and after all sweetnesses of human loves and helps of human strengths, the soul’s thirst remains unslaked, and the Person who is enough must be the living God. The difference between the devout and the worldly man is just that the one can only say, “My soul pants and thirsts,” and the other can add “after Thee, O God.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The religious aspects of a soul in earnest
I. Intensely thirsting after God. This craving for “the living God”--
1. Renders all logical arguments for a Supreme Being unnecessary.
2. Indicates the only method for elevating the race.
II. Greatly distressed on account of the wicked.
1. Taunted on account of his religion.
2. Deprived of the public privileges of his religion.
III. Anxiously expostulating with self on account of despondency.
1. He inquired into the reason.
2. He resolved upon the remedy. (Homilist.)
I. The causes of David’s despondency.
1. The thirst for God.
2. The temporary loss of the sense of God’s personality.
Let us search our own experience. What we want is, we shall find, not infinitude, but a boundless One; not to feel that love is the law of this universe, but to feel One whose name is Love. For else, if in this world of order there be no One in whose bosom that order is centred, and of whose Being it is the expression: in this world of manifold contrivance, no Personal Affection which gave to the skies their trembling tenderness, and to the snow its purity: then order, affection, contrivance, wisdom, are only horrible abstractions, and we are in the dreary universe alone. Foremost in the declaration of this truth was the Jewish religion. It proclaimed--not “Let us meditate on the Adorable light, it shall guide our intellects”--which is the most sacred verse of the Hindoo sacred books: but “Thus saith the Lord, I am, that I am.” In that word “I am,” is declared Personality; and it contains, too, in the expression, “Thus saith,” the real idea of a revelation, viz., the voluntary approach of the Creator to the creature. Accordingly, these Jewish psalms are remarkable for that personal tenderness towards God--those outbursts of passionate individual attachment which are in every page. How different this from the God of the theologian--a God that was, but scarcely is: and from the God of the philosopher--a mere abstraction, a law into which all other laws are resolved. Quite differently speaks the Bible of God. Not as a Law: but as the Life of all that is--the Being who feels and is felt--is loved and loves again--counts the hairs of my head: feeds the ravens, and clothes the lilies: hears my prayers, and interprets them through a Spirit which has affinity with my spirit. It is a dark moment when the sense of that personality is lost: more terrible than the doubt of immortality. For of the two--eternity without a personal God, or God for seventy years without immortality no one after David’s heart would hesitate, “Give me God for life, to know and be known by Him.” No thought is more hideous than that of an eternity without Him. “My soul is athirst for God.” The desire for immortality is second to the desire for God.
3. The taunts of scoffers. “Where is now thy God?” (Psalms 42:3). This is ever the way in religious perplexity: the unsympathizing world taunts or misunderstands. In spiritual grief they ask, why is he not like others? In bereavement they call your deep sorrow unbelief. In misfortune they comfort you, like Job’s friends, by calling it a visitation. Or like the barbarians at Melita, when the viper fastened on Paul’s hand: no doubt they call you an infidel, though your soul be crying after God. Specially in that dark and awful hour, when He called on God, “Eloi, Eloi:” they said, “Let be: let us see whether Elias will come to save Him.”
II. David’s consolation.
1. And first, in hope (verse 5): distinguish between the feelings of faith that God is present, and the hope of faith that He will be so. There are hours in which physical derangement darkens the windows of the soul; days in which shattered nerves make life simply endurance; months and years in which intellectual difficulties, pressing for solution, shut out God. Then faith must be replaced by hope. “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Clouds and darkness are round about Him: but righteousness and truth are the habitation of His throne.
2. This hope was in God. The mistake we make is to look for a source of comfort in ourselves: self-contemplation instead of gazing upon God. In other words, we look for comfort precisely where comfort never can be. For first, it is impossible to derive consolation from our own feelings, because of their mutability. Nor can we gain comfort from our own acts, because in a low state we cannot justly judge them. And we lose time in remorse. In God alone is our hope. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
This language is that of the true Christian believer. The strength that he feels is not the strength of a transient passion of the heart, but the thirst of an enlightened, sanctified, and believing soul. The object of that thirst is God. Its object indicates its origin; for a thirst that stretches upwards to God originates with the inspiration of God, and, like true religion, must have had its origin in God. This thirst is caused by admiration of God; by love of God; by desire after His holiness and His presence, and His promised restoration of all things. But how does the Christian reach the element that will satisfy this the thirst of his soul?
1. First, by thinking upon Him. A Christian in solitude and in silence can think of God. The literary man can think of literature, and hold communion with the spirits of departed “literati” through the medium of the writings they have left behind them. The statesman can think of great political questions, and his mind can be absorbed with them. Now, communion with God, thinking of Him, what He is, what He has done what He has promised to do, what He will give, and what He has given, is really letting the water pot descend into that better than Jacob’s well, to bring from its cool depths that which will satisfy our thirst for God, for the living God.
2. A Christian will try to satisfy his thirst for God by reading His holy Word. What is the Bible? Just a description of what God is. It is poetry, and oratory, and history, and all the resources of human thought, of human genius, inspired by the Spirit of God, designed to stimulate your thirst for Him, and to bring you into closer contact with the inexhaustible Fountain out of which you may drink freely.
3. In the next place, you gratify this thirst, and you deepen it also while you do so, in the exercises of public prayer and praise, and public worship.
4. And we gratify this thirst, as well as excite it, by appearing from time to time at the table of our blessed Lord. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
Thirsting for God
I. The causes of this spiritual thirst.
1. Admiration of the Divine attributes.
2. Love for the Divine Being,
3. A lively sense of Divine goodness in the dispensation of both temporal and spiritual benefits.
4. A deep sense of his wants as a sinner.
5. A conviction of the inadequacy of his inward sources of happiness, and of the unsatisfying nature of all sublunary enjoyments.
6. The afflictions which he is called to endure.
II. The means by which the Christian seeks to gratify this spiritual thirst.
1. The studious reading of God’s Word.
2. The exercise of devout and holy contemplation.
3. Prayer and praise.
4. Avoidance of sin.
5. Eye fixed on heaven. (G. Thacker.)
Panting after God
Genuine piety is the tendency of the soul towards God; the aspiration of the immortal spirit after the great Father of spirits, in a desire to know Him and to be like Him.
I. How Is A desire to know God and to be like him implanted and cherished in the heart of man? All true piety, all genuine devotion in fallen man, has a near and intimate connection with the Lord Jesus, and is dependent on Him. It is by His mediation that the devout soul aspires towards the blessed God; it thirsts for fuller and clearer discoveries of His glories, as they shine with a mild effulgence in the person of His incarnate Son; it longs to attain that conformity to Him of which it sees in Jesus Christ the perfect model.
II. The excellence of this panting of the soul after God, this vital principle of all genuine piety.
1. It is a most ennobling principle; it elevates and purifies the soul, and produces in the character all that is lovely and of good report.
2. It is a most active principle. From a world groaning under the ruins of the apostasy, where darkness, and pollution, and misery prevail, and death reigns, the child of God looks up to that glorious Being whose essence pervades the universe, and whose perfections and blessedness are immense, unchanging, and eternal, and he longs to know and resemble Him.
3. It is a permanent and unfailing principle. Each changing scene of his earthly pilgrimage affords the devout man opportunity of growing in the knowledge and the likeness of God, and the touch of death at which his material frame returns to its native dust, does but release his spirit from every clog, that she may rise unencumbered to see Him as He is and know even as she is known. (Bishop Armstrong.)
The panting hart
In this state of mind there is something sad. But something commendable also. For the next best thing to having close communion with God is to be wretched until we find Him.
I. The object of the desire which is here described. It was for God. Probably this psalm belongs to the time of the revolt of Absalom. But David’s desire is not for lost royalties, wealth, palaces, children: no, nor the temple, nor his country, but God. He longed to appear again before God, so that--
1. He might unite in the worship of the people.
2. Gain restored confidence as to his interest in the love of God, and to have it shed abroad in his heart. May such desires be ours.
II. The characteristics of this desire.
1. Directness. The hart panteth, there can be no doubt what for. So with David, he goes straight to the point. He knew what he needed.
2. Unity. As the hart longs for nothing but the water brooks, so David for God only. Have you ever seen a little child that has lost its way crying in the streets for “mother”? Now, you shall give that child what you will, but it will not stay crying for “mother.” I know it is thus with all the family of God in regard to an absent God.
3. The intensity of this desire. How awful is thirst. In a long and weary march soldiers have been able to endure much want of solid food, but--as in the marches of Alexander--they have died by hundreds from thirst.
4. Its vitality. Thirst is connected with the very springs of life. Men must drink or die.
5. And it is an expressive desire. The Scotch version reads--“Like as the hart for water brooks, In thirst doth pant and bray.” And in the margin of our Bibles it reads, “As the hart brayeth,” etc. The hart, usually so silent, now begins to bray in its agony. So the believer hath a desire which forceth itself into expression. It may be inarticulate, “groanings which cannot be uttered,” but they are all the more sincere and deep. In all ways will he express before God his great desire.
III. Its exciting causes.
1. Something inward, the secret life within. A camel does not pant after water brooks, because it carries its own supplies of water within it; but the hart does because it has no such resources.
2. But also something outward. The hart because of the heat, the distance, the dogs. So the believer. The source of David’s longings lay partly in the past. We remember delightful seasons gone by. Also from the present, lie was at that moment in eminent distress. And the future. “Hope thou in God,” saith he, “for I shall yet praise Him.”
IV. Comfortable encouragements. There is no thirst like the thirst of the man who has once known what the sweetness of the wine of heaven is. A poor king must be poor indeed. Yet out of our strong desires after God there come these comforts.
1. The thought--whence come they? This desire is a gift from God.
2. If He has given it me, will He not fulfil it?
3. And if I have wandered from my God, tie is willing to forgive. Let us return to Him, then, and let us recollect that when we return we shall soon be uplifted into the light. It does not take long for the Lord to make summer-time in the wintry heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thirsting for God
I. The object of the psalmist’s desire--God. By which he means--
1. A sense of God’s favour.
2. A sight of God’s glory, so that he might not merely know that God was glorious, but that he might feel it.
3. The enjoyment of God’s presence. Hence it was that he longed after God’s house, for it was there that so often God had met him and had satisfied this thirst of his soul.
II. The strength of his desire. “My soul panteth, yea,” etc. This was his soul’s deep yearning. Hence we learn--
1. That a soul really desiring God can be satisfied with nothing else. Nor--
2. With but a little of Him. It is not a drop or a taste of the water brook that quiets the panting deer. He plunges into it and drinks eagerly of it. And so with our souls. The more these blessed waters are drunk the more they are relished and desired.
3. The cause which made David thus earnestly desire God. It was his affliction, and his inward distress and darkness. And this is God’s gracious purpose in letting such things come upon us. Do not be dismayed if you can only say, “I wish I did thus thirst.” We are saved not for our thirst, but for Christ’s sake. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The longing for God
I. What this longing of David was. It was not, observe, his lost crown that he most longed for; nor the broken peace of his kingdom; nor even Absalom his son; he had deeper longings than these; he had a deeper need than they could supply. What he did long for was God Himself; for God, he knew, was the strength of his heart, and the only portion which could satisfy him for ever.
II. This longing is common to God’s saints (2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 3:12; Revelation 22:20). A great part of our nature is made for feeling; a great portion of our life is made up of it; every moment is full of love, and hope, and desire, and fear; and Christ who claims the whole man will not pass over these levers of action, these moving powers of the whole man, as of no importance. Let us give them their proper place; and if David, and Paul, and Peter, and John, mark out a longing after God as the healthy state of the soul, let us not be satisfied if we are strangers to such a longing.
III. How the presence of this longing is an earnest of complete blessedness. God’s Holy Spirit is Himself the water brook for man’s consolation; and He comes, as the Nile when it overflows its banks, and wherever there is a channel, or an aperture, or even a crack in the dry and thirsty soil, there He pours in the life-giving streams of comfort and of love, as one who knows not how to give and to bless enough. Your mourning heart is opened by its very grief, and He is come to bless it. Doubt Him not. Doubt not but that the same Spirit will restore you to peace and joy; will fill you with the assurance of fresh hope; will strengthen you to bear meekly the yoke which He shall lay upon you; will make you to overflow with love, and give you even upon earth a foretaste of heaven. (Canon Morse.)
Desire after God
I. Divine in its source. Desires are the pulses of the soul. We are that in the sight of God which we habitually desire and aim to be. Archbishop Leighton said, “I should utterly despair of my own religion, were it not for that text, ‘Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness.’”
II. Intense in its degree. Thirst is the strongest feeling we know. It is the established order of nature, and an original law in the constitution of the mind, that love should create love; and if this obtain in the measures and intercourse of human kindness, much more might we expect it to prevail in the sacred converse which is held between earth and heaven--“spirits are not thus finely touched, but to fine issues.”
III. Practical in its tendency, and ennobling in its influence. A pure affection towards an earthly object exalts the soul in which it dwells, by associating another’s happiness with our own; according to Wordsworth’s fine line--“Love betters that is best,” by strengthening those fine ties which ally us to the side of virtue. How much more must this be the case with our religious emotions, where the object is infinite and the benefactor is Divine.
IV. Prophetic of its own fulfilment.
Panting after God
I. The believing pant after the favour of God. The most luxurious pasture, or the securest shade and retreat of the forest has no attraction for the hart panting in the agony of thirst for the water brook; and what were honour, power, or wealth to trembling sinners, if that which alone can meet their necessities be withheld?
II. The believing pant after resemblance to God. This is a part of salvation as well as the former, and the two are inseparably connected. No man has the favour of God that does not aspire to be like Him, and no man who is like God is without His favour and complacential regard.
III. The believing pant after spiritual intercourse and communion with God.
IV. The believing pant after the presence and enjoyment of God in heaven. This is the final and glorious issue to which their hopes and desires are habitually directed; all that they pant after in God on earth shall in that better country be possessed fully and for ever. (J. Kirkwood.)
The soul’s thirst for God
Such psalms as this and the sixty-third are as important items in the history of man as the hieroglyphics of Egypt, or the cuneiform inscriptions of Assyria, or the stone implements of prehistoric times: if you are to have a complete system of anthropology, to investigate and know what man really is, it is manifest that you must take account of the aspirations of his soul, as well as of the power of his intellect or the skill of his hands. Conceive an investigation as to the nature of man being made by some one quite fresh to the subject--say an inhabitant of Jupiter or Saturn: conceive such an investigator to have examined our ships and our steam engines and our agriculture, our books of science, our treatises on law and medicine and what not: and suppose that when all this was done, and our distant visitor was forming his opinion about man, he suddenly stumbled upon a book containing such words as these. “My soul is athirst for God,” etc.; suppose this, and what would be the result? “Certainly this at least,” our investigator would say, “this is quite a new view of man: ‘thirst for the living God’ And that is something very different in kind from agriculture and commerce and steam engines and law and medicine--all these things might exist, and be the things upon which the mind of man fully occupied itself--but a soul thirsting for the living God--that is something totally different in kind from what I had hitherto imagined man to be: I must begin my examination of man all over again.” And surely, if we consider the manner in which the different parts of this wonderful universe fit one into another, and exhibit consistency and order and unity, the thirst of the human soul for God is a good argument that there is a God to be thirsted for. When the hart seeks the water brooks, it is no speculative voyage of discovery upon which the poor creature goes. The living creature and the water are close akin to each other: if you analyze the animal’s substance you will find that water constitutes a large proportion of it: and though this does not prove that every hart that is thirsty will at once be fortunate enough to find a water brook, it is a good proof that water is what the animal must find if it is not to die, and it gives a strong reason to believe that the water brooks will somehow be found. And this gives us a rough suggestion of the argument for the Being of God, arising from the thirst for God which the human soul is undoubtedly capable of feeling: men would not thirst for that with which their own nature has no affinity: it is the unseen presence of the Spirit of God--that Spirit which was breathed into man when he became a living soul it is this presence which makes him thirst for God Himself, and which assures him that there is a God without whom he cannot live, “in whose presence there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand there is pleasure for evermore.” One might have fancied or even hoped that the truth of God’s being, which was evidently the support of human souls three thousand years ago, would not have been questioned now, but as there were persons in those days who were ready at once to turn upon a believer in trouble and ask him scornfully, Where is thy God now? and as there were others who were prepared to assert dogmatically, There is no God, so it has been true ever since that the being of God has been liable to be denied. Of course that which you cannot see it is always easy to deny. Who can contradict you? Is not one man’s No as good as another man’s Aye? (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)
Man’s craving for God
Both these psalms are by “the Sons of Koraeh,” a family of Levites whose inheritance lay on the eastern side of Jordan. They were appointed doorkeepers of the Tabernacle. They possessed the Hebrew faculty for music in a high degree; and some of them possessed the closely allied faculty of poetical conception and utterance, and became “singers” in both senses of that word, composing the psalms which they afterwards set to music and chanted in the Temple. Dwelling on the other side of Jordan, it was often impossible for them to reach Jerusalem. Many of the Korachite psalms were composed when they were thus kept from their loved work. They abound in expressions of intense passionate desire to appear before the Lord. If we ask, Why this intense craving for the Temple and its services, the sons of Koraeh reply: “It is because we want Him, the Living God.” Do these words express one of the primitive intuitions, one of the profoundest yearnings and desires of every human heart, a yearning which no words can adequately utter, much more over-state? Is this the secret of the restlessness which underlies all our rest--that we want God, and cannot be at peace until He lift up upon us the light of His countenance? We are denizens of two worlds, the natural and the spiritual, and these two, opposed as they may seem, are really one, since the natural world is but the “body,” the complex phenomenon and organ of the spiritual. So manifold are the ways in which the sense of a Divine Presence is quickened within us, and our need of that Presence, that it is hard to select those which are most suggestive and impressive Only as we trust, love and reverence God, can the cry of our heart be stilled, and the infinite hunger of the soul be satisfied. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
Religious affections attended with increase of spiritual longing
The higher the gracious affections are raised, observes Edwards, the more is a spiritual appetite after spiritual attainments increased; but the false affections rest satisfied in themselves.
I. Marks of the true affection.
1. The more a true Christian loves God, the more he desires to love Him.
2. The greatest eminency has no tendency to satiety.
3. Spiritual enjoyments are soul-satisfying.
II. Marks of the false affections.
1. As the false affections arise, the desire for more grace is abated.
2. As soon as the soul is convinced that its title to heaven is sure, all its desires are satisfied.
III. If hypocrites profess to have the true affections, all their desires are for by-ends.
1. They long after clearer discoveries, but it is that they may be the better satisfied with themselves.
2. Or their longings are forced, because they think they must have them.
IV. Good signs of grace.
1. A longing after a more holy heart.
2. A longing after a more holy life. (Lewis O. Thompson.)
Thirsting for God
I. Man needs God.
1. Think how helpless we are in the presence of all the mysteries of life without God.
2. Think of the far greater mysteries of a moral and spiritual kind by which we are surrounded; how the wicked appear to triumph over the righteous, how the kingdom of darkness seems likely to gain the victory over the kingdom of light; and then ask what rest we can find, unless we believe and know that God ruleth over all, and that He will yet bring all things into subjection unto Him.
3. Think of the awful power of sin, how it enslaves the soul and oppresses the heart and troubles the conscience; how it spreads like fire and like pestilence, carrying death and desolation wherever it goes; and then ask how we are to be delivered from this terrible destroyer, except by the power of the living God.
4. Think how we need God in all the temptations and trials, the perplexities and cares, the business and toil and responsibility.
II. God gives himself to man. Just as He gives light and beauty for the eye, sound and music for the ear, bread for the hunger and water for the thirst of the body, so He gives Himself, for the satisfaction of the soul. It remains for us to abide in fellowship with Him, to walk all the day in the light of His countenance, and to make our life on earth a pledge and earnest of the nobler and diviner life of heaven. (G. Hunsworth, M. A.)
I. As A personality.
1. That He is as distinct from the universe as the architect from the building, the author from his book, admits of no rational doubt.
2. We believe in His personality
(1) Because we have it. Could He give what He has not?
(2) Because we instinctively believe it, and
(3)Because the Bible declares it.
II. As a living personality. “The living God.” The world abounds with dead gods, but the God is living, consciously, independently, actively, ubiquitously. The God of modern Christendom is rather the God that was living in Old Testament times, and in the days of Christ, than the God that is living here, and with every man.
III. As a living personality craved after by the human soul. “My soul thirsteth for the living God.”
1. The soul is constitutionally theistic. It believes in God.
2. The soul is immensely great. Nothing but God can satisfy it. It will not be satisfied with His works, however vast and lovely, it must have Him Himself. (Homilist.)
Thirsting for God
As the hunted hart; as the hart flying from the enemy, more dead than living; as the overrun, overborne, imperilled hart pants and cries for the water brooks, so . . . then we fill in our human experience; for if we are living any life at all we are hunted, persecuted, threatened. Until we are sensible of being hunted we cannot pray much. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so . . . ” The “so” is balanced by the “as.” These words of manner must be equal the one to the other; the hart will be ashamed of them if it should ever come to know that so quiet, tame speech addressed to heaven is supposed to represent its earnestness when it is hunted by furious hounds. “As the hart . . . ” Then this soul-panting after God is natural. Whatever is natural admits of legitimate satisfaction; whatever is acquired grows by what it feeds on until it works out the ruin of its devotee. No hart ever panted after wine; no bird in the air ever fluttered because of a desire to be intoxicated. When we lose or leave the line of nature we become weak, infatuated, lost. Tertullian says the natural response of the human heart is Christian. “So panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” Yea, for nothing less. Man needs all God. Every sinner needs the whole Cross. Every flower needs the whole solar system. Herein is the mystery of Divine passion and love, that we can all have a whole--a mystery, mayhap a contradiction in words, but a sweet reality in experience. “For Thee, O God.” Then for nothing strange. As the water brooks were made for the chased or panting hart, so God lives to satisfy the soul of man. Herein see the greatness of the soul of man. What does that soul need to fill it and satisfy it, and quiet it, and give it all it’s possible consciousness of glory? It needs the living God. Atheists themselves are intermittently religious. Even God-deniers are in some degree in an unconscious sense God-seekers. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The feelings and sentiments of a renewed soul
I. From whence does this vehement breathing after God arise? It evidently arises from a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and the insufficiency of any creature, however accomplished or perfect, to render the soul happy. The soul, brought to feel its own indigence, is encouraged to look forward with hope, and made to thirst after God, the living God,
II. What is implied in this thirsting for God?
1. An experimental feeling of the love of God.
2. Delight in every means, in every duty, in every ordinance of Divine appointment, where He hath promised to meet with His humble worshippers, and to bless them.
3. A heart disposed to wrestle with every difficulty that obstructs our access to God, and stands in the way of the full enjoyment of Him, as reconciled to us, and at peace with us.
4. This thirsting for God never fails to be accompanied with longing desires to be with the Lord, and to behold His glory. Sooner may iron cease to be attracted by the lodestone, or the sparks cease to fly upwards, or the rivers to roll towards the ocean, than a soul thirsting for God should sit down satisfied with any attainments at which it can arrive in this mixed and imperfect state. (T. Gordon.)
The soul of man has no resource independent of God
A camel does not pant after water brooks, because it carries its own water within it; but the hart does, because it has no inward resources. After being hunted on a hot day, it has no inward supplies; it is drained of its moisture. So are we. We do not carry a store of grace within of our own upon which we can rely; we need to come again, and again, and again, to the Divine fountain, and drink again from the eternal spring. Hence it is because we have a new life, and that life is dependent upon God, and has all its fresh springs in Him, that therefore we pant and thirst after Him. O Christian, if you had a sacred life which could be maintained by its own energies within, you might do without your God, but since you are naked, and poor, and miserable, apart from Him, you must come and drink day by day of the living springs, or else you faint and die. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
Let us, that we may realize this thirst of the soul, dwell upon the contrast. There are at least four forms of attraction presented to the soul.
I. That of natural beauty. You find a delight as you gaze upon nature. But you are not satisfied.
II. Nor are you, either, with all the forms of men’s ceaseless activity, in which art, genius, or political achievement have expressed themselves--none of these things will ever, can ever, satisfy the soul.
III. Pure intellect, also, notwithstanding the power of delight there is in it, has its limits in this respect. It does not satisfy. Then there is--
IV. The region of the affections, where suns are always glorious, and sunsets only speak of brighter dawn. We have all known it in friend, sweetheart, wife, child, which have called forth the dear expressions of that strong heart that beats in Englishmen. But these dear ones pass away, and we find, as life goes on, that after all in the world of the affections, that old, strange law that pervades one branch of the contrast prevails: affection can stimulate, it can support, it can console, it can delight, it can lead to delirium at moments, but it does not satisfy. And because we are born for eternity, not for a moment, therefore, never, only by the satisfaction of the moral instincts, can this thirst be assuaged. The Ten Commandments, and especially the Gospel, are for this end. Accept a personal Christ, God in Christ, and so may you quench your otherwise unquenchable thirst. (Canon Knox Little.)
God the object of religion
There is scarcely in the Psalter a more touching psalm than this. The writer is probably an exile of the early Assyrian period. He thinks of the blessed past when he worshipped in the Temple, and had his share in “the voice of joy and praise.” But now the cruel heathen taunt him with the insulting question, “Where is thy God?” Hence, he yearns for the presence of God. He is like the thirsty stag panting after the distant water brooks; his inmost being is “athirst for God; yea, even for the living God.” What a strange phrase, the living God. It points to deities who are not alive. The Hebrews thus distinguish the true God from the false gods of the heathen (Psalms 96:5). Heathenism, according to Scripture, is a lie, and the psalmist’s soul thirsted for the living God. And still the soul of man is restless for God. Again and again the human heart has protested against all endeavours to crush the noblest of its aspirations. It wants net pleasures which may degrade, nor philosophies which may disappoint, but “the living God.” And now let us see how this thirst has been dealt with by the great speculative systems which more particularly challenge attention in the present day. And--
I. Materialism. This stands high in the world of thought. It bids us believe only what we can see and smell and taste and touch. It does not concern itself with the origin of the universe, “if it ever had one,” or with what happens to living beings after death. Chemistry can account for all things. Man’s intelligence is as the mass of his brain: this thought is “but the expression of molecular changes in the physical matter of his life, and is impossible without phosphorus; his consciousness is only a property of matter: his virtue, the result of a current of electricity, and it and vice are “products in the same sense as are sugar and vitriol.” Science, it is said, does not need such an hypothesis as God, who does not exist apart from the mind and imagination of man.
2. But where is there anything in all this to satisfy the thirst for God of which in his highest moments man is so conscious? How can that which is purely physical touch the sense which appreciates a moral world? It is a merit of Auguste Comte to have recognized the necessity of some answer; and he tells us that it is our privilege and our business to love, reverence, and worship “a Being, immense and eternal--Humanity.” Not, mark you, a sinless and Divine representative of the race, such as we Christians adore Jesus. Not even an idealized abstraction, which, in the pure realms of thought, might conceivably be separated from the weaknesses inseparable from humanity. But men know man too well to worship him. All history shows that materialism cannot silence the religious yearnings of the soul of man. Robespierre tried, but failed, as all such endeavours must. A nation of Atheists is yet to be discovered. Man is ever feeling after God.
II. Deism: this likewise fails because it reduces God to a mere force: and--
III. Pantheism also, because if God be in everything He is in human crimes as well as in human virtues. To assert God’s presence in His works is one thing; to identify Him with them is another. His omnipresence is a necessary attribute of His Deity; while if He could be identified with nature He would cease to be. If the mystery of life, which attests God’s presence in the natural world, was ever felt in all its awe and its beauty by any human soul, it was felt by the great Augustine. Witness the often quoted passage of the Confessions in which he tells us why nature was in his eyes so beautiful, by telling us how nature had led him up to God. “I asked the earth, and it said: ‘I am not He’; and all that is upon it made the same confession. I asked the sea and the depths, and the creeping things that have life, and they answered: ‘We are not thy God; look thou above us.’ I asked the breezes and the gales; and the whole air, with its inhabitants, said to me: ‘Anaximenes is in error, I am not God.’ I asked the heaven, the sun, the moon, the stars: ‘We too,’ said they, ‘are not the God whom thou seekest.’ And I said to all the creatures that surrounded the doors of my fleshly senses, ‘Ye have said to me of my God that ye are not He; tell me somewhat of Him.’ And with a great voice, they exclaimed, ‘He made us.’ . . . God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” What could He do more in order to convince us that He is not merely a Force or an Intelligence, but a Heart? At the feet of Him who could say, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” we understand, and rest upon the certainty, that God is moral as well as intellectual “light, and that in Him is no darkness at all.” When a man’s hold upon this creed is gone, his thoughts fall back, at best, upon the more rudimentary and less adequate ideas of the Godhead; the darker mysteries of the world’s history present themselves with more painful force; and the mind tends inevitably, in the last resort, either to Deism or to Pantheism; to a Deism which just permits God to create, and then dismisses Him from His creation; or to a Pantheism which identifies Him with all the moral evil in the universe, and ends by propagating the worship of new Baals and Ashteroths. But God being really alive, His existence is a fact with which no other fact that the human mind can come to recognize will possibly compare. For nothing that can occupy our thoughts can really compare with it in point of absorbing and momentous-import. Beyond everything else, it must have imperious claims upon the time and thought and working power of every human being who has ever felt, in any serious degree, the unspeakable solemnity of life and death. (Canon Liddon.)
The thirst after God
It has been often said that the Psalms are out of place in our common daily service. Numbers come to church, at least on Sundays, whose minds cannot be especially devout. Yet language is provided for their use which expressed the most fervent longings of the most devout men. Such language may meet, now and then, the aspirations of the private suppliant. Even he must often find the Psalms far above the measure of his thoughts, so high that he cannot attain to them. How, then, can we offer them month after month to an ordinary English congregation, as if they could possibly speak what it was feeling? Complaints of this kind are never to be lightly dismissed. They indicate a sense of the sacredness of words, which we should honour in others and Cry by all means to cultivate in ourselves. Others will say that only believers should use such words: they are false of all others. The unbeliever will only thirst for some portion that will make him forget God. But do not those who call themselves believers know that that estrangement from God, which they know so well how to describe, was once their own experience, and they are liable to its repetition? The feeling, the thirst after God, may then co-exist with another feeling of the very opposite kind. Then deadly enemies dwell very near to each other, and carry on their conflict within him. Do they give themselves credit for anything but being aware of the strife, and knowing where the strength is which may make the better side victorious? If they are calling themselves believers upon some other ground, in some other sense than this, I should wholly dispute the claim which they put forward to be in sympathy with those who trusted in God and thirsted for Him in other days. But if this is the nature and character of their belief, then I do not see how they can possibly exclude any from participation in these prayers and hymns; how they can find fault with the Church for adopting them Into her worship, and giving them, with the most utter indiscrimination, to all her children. In so far as we are occupied with our own special interests, in so far the psalm is alien to us. But where the minister is in union with his congregation, and the members feel that they have relations with each other; it is then that David’s harp gives out its music, and we in this distant land and age can accompany it. It has been the solace of many on sick-beds, because they are longing for fellowship with the Church of God.
I. When he says, as here, “My soul is athirst,” he describes no rare or peculiar state of feeling. It is as common as the thirst of the body. All men have it because they are men. For all seek happiness, though they know not what they mean.
II. The psalmist said, “My soul is athirst for God.” He knew that all men in the nations round him were pursuing gods. Pleasure was a god, wealth was a god, fame was a god. Just what the Jew had been taught was that the Lord his God was one Lord. He was not to pursue a god of pleasure or wealth or fame, nor any work of his own hands or conception of his own mind. For he was made in the image of the God, who was not far from him. Often it seemed as if there were no such God, and the Israelite was met with the taunt, “Where is thy God?” He does not pretend that he is not disturbed by these taunts. All he can do is to ask that if He is, He will reveal Himself. And that he does ask courageously. “I will say unto the God of my strength, Why hast Thou forgotten me? Why go I thus heavily, while the enemy oppresseth me?” And then he was able to say to his vexed soul, “O put thy trust in ,God, for I will yet thank Him, which is the help of my countenance and my God.” What a baptism of fire was this! What a loss of all the privileges of an Israelite, that he might find the ground upon which Israel was standing! For thus he learnt that the thirst for God is the thirst of man. The thirst for happiness means this, ends in this. The thirst of his soul could not be satisfied with anything but Him who both kindles and satisfies the thirst of all human souls.
III. “even for the living God”--so the psalmist goes on. It is no idle addition to the former words. The gods of the heathen were dead gods. They were unable to perform any of the acts of men; could neither see nor feel nor walk. There is a thirst of the soul to create something in its likeness; but the first and deepest thirst is to find in what likeness it is itself created: whence all its living powers are derived. Here, too, the psalmist is, in the strictest sense, the man. The heart and flesh of all human beings, whether they know it or not, are crying out for the living God. And they do give a thousand indications everywhere, that they cannot be contented with dead gods, or with any religious notions and forms which try to put themselves in the place of a living God.
IV. “when shall I come and appear before God?”--so the psalmist ends. It is a bold petition. Should it not rather have been, “O God, prepare me for the day when I must appear before Thee”? So we modify such words. But they uttered them in their plain and simple meaning. It meant, not that they thought there was less need than we think there is, of preparation for meeting God, but that they felt they could not prepare themselves, and that God Himself was preparing them. They held that He prepared them for His appearing by teaching them to hope for it. Oh! why not say to the cities of England, as the prophets of old said to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God”? Why not answer the calumny that we worship a tyrant on the throne of heaven by saying: “This Jesus, the deliverer of captives, the opener of sight to the blind, the friend of the poor, is He in whom we see the Father. For such a Being we know that there is an infinite thirst in your souls, because we have it in our own, and we are even such as you are. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The religious faculty
I. Its reality. “My soul thirsteth for God.” Do human beings desire God in that intense way? We are all acquainted with some physical sensations of that intensity. We have all felt thirst, or at least we can imagine thirst, which is almost delirious in its desire for water. But is there anything in the human mind in connection with God that is as intense as that? I dare say most of us have had feelings to some fellow-creature that this would hardly be too strong to describe. The absence or the loss of somebody has made us sick with desire, almost sick unto death, whereas the return or the presence of the same person has made us indescribably happy. But are there any feelings in the human heart towards God comparable to these? Is there in human nature a thirst for God to be compared with the thirst for knowledge or the thirst for beauty? Open a book like St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” or “The Imitation of Christ,” and on every page you will find it.
II. Its universality. Wherever men are found they are religious beings. Religion is an element of human life everywhere, and everywhere it is an ideal and a refining element. In fact it is now generally acknowledged that the blossom and flower of every civilization is its religion, and even the most sceptical of men will now sometimes allow that the rational satisfaction of man’s religious nature is, and always will be, the greatest desideratum of the human race.
III. Its manifestations.
1. It is often an intellectual thirst, a thirst for an explanation of the tangle and mystery of existence. You have a classical illustration of that in the Book of Job, where the hero, blinded with the whirl and confusion of things, cries out for a sight of Him who rides upon the storm.
2. Still oftener, perhaps, the thirst for God is a thirst of the heart. All men, especially all women, know in some degree what it is to wish to be loved, to be thought about and cared for. These sentiments, as a rule, find their satisfaction in the domestic affections, and sometimes these are so satisfying as to fill up the whole desire. But this satisfaction is not conceded to all; and from some who have had it, it is taken away; and I rather think that all sometimes feel that they require love larger, more sympathetic, more intelligent and enduring than any human love. In fact it is only the love of God that can thoroughly satisfy the heart.
3. The thirst for God is still oftener, and more conspicuously, a thirst of the conscience. The conscience, although generally a very quiet element in our nature, may become a very clamorous one. It cries out for deliverance from guilt. It cries out for deliverance from temptation and sin. And the reason why Christianity has been such a consolation to mankind is because it has so thoroughly answered. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” Under the lashes of conscience, man cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But Christianity answers, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
IV. Its culture. The religions faculty requires constant exercise, if there is to be any comprehensiveness and certainty of religious experience. Are you cultivating your religious faculty, or are you neglecting it, and allowing it to atrophy?
1. The first thing that is needed for the culture of the religious faculty is the careful observance of the Sabbath. The cessation from toil, the preaching of the Gospel, the atmosphere of peace, the influence of united worship, tend to call the religious nature out, encouraging it to revel in its native element.
2. The other opportunity for this kind of culture is prayer. That brings the religious nature nearer to its object than anything else. I remember, when a boy, hearing some one say, “backsliding always begins at the closet door.” (J. Stalker, D. D.)
This psalm is one of those said to be composed for, or by, the Sons of Korach. They are known to have been a family of Levites, whose inheritance lay in the wild country, on the eastern side of Jordan.
I. What did this Levite find that he wanted? Man is a composite being, body, mind, and soul. Presently we discover that body and mind are but the agents of the soul, which is the real self; and the soul’s cry is for God, the living God. This Levite thought that he wanted Jerusalem, and the Temple, and the sacrifices, and the feasts, and the music. But a self-revealing time came, and he found that his soul was really craving for God. His love was athirst for God. Its natural dependence was athirst for God. But the point of the self-discovery is put into the expression, “for the living God.” It was no mere rain-pool, still and stagnant, round which he saw those gazelles gathering. It was the fresh, living stream. As they drank, it flowed fast, cool and refreshing. They were living waters. He found he could satisfy his cravings with no mere knowledge of God, no mere teachings about God. He craved for personal contact. He wanted personal relations. To be sure that God lived, in the sense of being active, interested, really concerned in his concerns.
II. When did this Levite find out that he wanted God? It was not brought home to him while engaged in the Temple services. In some sense God’s service stood in front of God. It came to him when he was away from his usual scones, and when he was placed in unusual circumstances. Everything around him was suggestive of peaceful, religious meditation. It was all so wild, so free, so open. It was all so quiet. The routine of life prevents our troubling about the thirsting of the soul, but the routine of life never allays the thirst.
III. How this Levite responded to the awakened thirst for God. That thirst drove him to the hill-top. It always urges a man to seek loneliness, privacy, the silences of nature. The quenchings of the thirst come in the soul-communion with God, in openness to God, in conscious kindness with God, in holy joy in Him. And then awakens a new and intenser interest in all the means of peace. God waits to meet our thirst. “He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with good.” (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
Thirsting for God
Taken in its original sense, the words of our text apply only to that strange phenomenon which we call religious depression. But I venture to take them in a wider sense than that. It is not only Christian men who are east down, whoso souls “thirst for God.” It is not only men upon earth whose souls thirst for God. All men, everywhere, may take this text for theirs.
I. There is in every man an unconscious and unsatisfied longing after God, and that is the state of nature. Experience is the test of that principle. And the most superficial examination of the facts of daily life, as well as the questioning of our own souls, will tell us that this is the leading feature of them--a state of unrest.
II. There is A conscious longing, imperfect, but answered; and that is the state of grace--the beginning of religion in a man’s soul. If it be true that there are, as part of the universal human experience, however overlaid and stifled, these necessities, the very existence of the necessities affords a presumption, before all evidence, that, somehow and somewhere, they shall be supplied. If I, made by God who knew what He was doing when He made me, am formed with these deep necessities, with these passionate longings,--then it cannot but be that it is intended that they should be to me a means of leading me to Him, and that there they should be satisfied.
III. There is a perfect longing perfectly satisfied; and that is heaven. We shall not there be independent, of course, of constant supplies from the great central Fulness, any more than we are here. Thirst, as longing, is eternal; thirst, as aspiration after God, is the glory of heaven; thirst, as desire for more of Him, is the very condition of the celestial world, and the element of all its blessedness. Let me put two sayings of Scripture side by side, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God”--“Father Abraham, send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue.” There be two thirsts, one, the longing for God, which, satisfied, is heaven; one, the longing for cessation of the self-lit fires, and for one drop of the lost delights of earth to cool the thirsty throat, which, unsatisfied, is hell. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The soul’s need and God’s nature
Men like Homer and Dante in secular literature, men like the psalmists in the Bible, take a single image, choose a forcible metaphor, and by their use of these, teach some bold scheme of human life and character, or unveil some hidden fact of human destiny. Now such a scheme of human character, involving at least a hint of human destiny, with abundant and fruitful consequences, is to be found in the text.
I. A characteristic need of the soul. We all sufficiently know what is meant by “the soul.” What, then, are its necessities?
1. The desire to know. See the curiosity of the child, so keen, so active, so simple, that you and I, in the enervating languor of later life, might well wish we had it back again. What is that desire to know concerned about? Surely the enigma of our being, of the world, of that which is around us, in us, so beautiful, so strange, so startling, yet so real; surely the meaning of this extraordinary, this self-contradictory life--the explanation of this changing scene. It is a clamorous cry which comes from, which proclaims abroad, a need of man.
2. But close upon the heels of curiosity there treads an eager thrilling sense of aspiration, not unmixed with awe. Who has not stood upon the hills at sunset and longed with a vague, wild, passionate longing to pass beyond the bounding clouds.
3. And how, as years go on, we are conscious of the passion of regret which rises as we gaze behind, athwart the receding years? Why is it that, in spite of all our reasoning, we still persist in clothing those early days of earliest childhood with a life which is not all their own? That field, that flower, that corner of the street, that dear old house, that well-known room--how much gladder, sweeter, better, as we say, than such things, such places howl Why is it, this sweet, this sad regret? You will agree with me, whatever else it may be, at least it is a clamorous cry. And all these cries of the creature--this curiosity, so strong, so keen--this awful aspiration, soaring beyond the stars--and this regret so deep, so passionate--they gather up in one wild wail of need. Oh, cynic though you be, careless though you be--nay, indifferent or hostile though you be to serious thought--tell me what need finds utterance in their voices? Is it not the same, the world-wide, world-old thought of the poor Judaean exile on the wild Abarim hills?--“My soul is athirst for God, for the living God.” Ah! this eager, unsatisfied humanity, what cries it for but Him!
II. Can that cry be answered? IS it heard? does any answer come? I am told in Revelation that there is a God, supreme in power, of essential spotless holiness, the Absolute of Perfection, the Changeless in Beauty, comprehending thus in Himself, it would seem, all imagined or imaginable objects of the desiring mind. Is not that enough? Strange creatures that we are, it is not. You and I want to know, nearer, more precisely His nature and His character. For you and I are each possessors of a mysterious gift. We want to know, and till we know we cannot rest. That gift is the mystery of life, and it makes the little lad whom you and I met wandering half-clothed and ill-fed and uncared-for an object of more arresting interest than the savage mystery of the wild Atlantic. “Is there a further cry?” I think there is. If there be one thing with which you surely must be, with which I certainly am impressed, it is our own, our astonishing individuality. To each, every truth of the Christian creed has its own abiding import thence. “What matters it to me”--so every one of you may say--“if though all in this congregation each find the satisfaction of his wants, I yet miss mine?” Whatever be the special facts of your life and mine, we are all met, the paths of all are traversed, by one ghastly spectre, and that spectre is our individual sin. Sin! You have your own, not mine, not another’s. Does one sin hold me down? Then the longing of my better self is to be delivered. Who can do it? Who? I ask who? I open the pages of the Gospel story, and straight I come across Jesus Christ. A startling figure! An unrivalled picture! None other like that in history. Julius Caesar? They wrote a powerful monograph about him the other day, and at the close drew a parallel between him and Christ. It is difficult surely for any one to avoid disliking in it the bad taste, even should he not shrink from it as a kind of blasphemy. The conqueror of Gaul was indeed a striking figure. But how unlike that other! “Athirst for God.” If so, thank God the Father for His love, for indeed He loves you; honour the bleeding wounds whence flowed the precious blood; praise the eternal Spirit, through whom the sacrifice was offered, and by whom you are sanctified. Yes, glory be to the God who was, and is, and is to come, who hath loved us with eternal love, who gives us--the way-worn, the weary--peace in believing. (Canon Knox Little.)
From man to God
Contrast this with a passage in Miss Martineau’s autobiography, where she tells us that, having got rid of the last remnants of her old beliefs, she felt as if a weight were removed: to use her own figure, as the faded rose recovers its freshness when relieved of the pressure of the atmosphere by being placed under the bell glass of an air-pump, so did her spirits open out when no longer oppressed by the overshadowing presence of a higher Power. With all thought of God gone, she could breathe freely, and find herself at home in the vast universe. The contrast is striking, suggestive, affecting. In the one case, yearning for God; in the other, relief through being able to say, “There is no God.” Can it be, then, that the modern Atheists are shaking off a nightmare, and that the psalmist’s thirst for God was simply a disease incidental to the childhood of the human race? Our answer is that whatever difficulties may lie on the Theistic side, those on the Atheistic are immeasurably greater. Let us begin with a definition. We mean by God, no misty abstraction, no attenuated personality, but the Will which purposes and performs, the Fountain and Administrator of law; also the Love within which all life is embraced. He is the God with whom Enoch walked, of whom David sang, before whom Elijah stood. Now we remark--
I. Moments of atheism are known by most men. Who has not neared that bottomless gulf and breathed the malaria which hangs over it? But this was temporary, a passing phase, which we met and mastered. The clouds broke, the light of morning dawned. Now, which condition was the state of health? That of Atheism or Faith? In the one did we feel as she did whose sad words we have quoted; or was it in the other that we felt that soundness and sanity were come to us again? Can, then, that which acts thus healthfully be nothing but a baneful poison? The Truth which seems so essential to the soul’s health, has it no basis in reality? Is it a lie? And, if so, are lies so medicable? Who can believe it?
II. Moments of moral weakness--these, too, we all have known. But experience says that, in the very greatest emergency, let the thought of God come in, and virtue in her utmost peril is secure. Can that thought, then, be false? Or it may be duty distresses us. Failure takes the heart out of us. But the assurance, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” heartens us again. But if there be no God, this belief is a falsehood. True, we are greatly blessed by this belief in mind, in heart, in spirit, and yet, on the Atheistic creed, we owe all to a cheat. And we may ask, What is virtue when it is not fed from this root? How apt it is to degenerate into a cold calculation of profit and loss, and to have for soul Pride instead of Self-surrender. Only belief in the living God can give to it its real beauty and charm. Whence, without such belief, could come the light and warmth under whose quickening influence its blossoms open, and its fruit grows mellow? Does virtue, indeed, owe all her choicest comeliness to the arctic darkness of a lie? And what would become of duty to our fellows were faith in the living God gone? What would become of charity and all her tender ministries? who will promise her continuance in well-doing in spite of ingratitude, and scorn and persecution? Is, then, that which does preserve her and make her such a blessing due to some strange delusion only?
III. Moments of inspiration. For there are times when we are uplifted beyond ourselves, and reverence and trust and love kindle into a consuming fire. Would that such moments were oftener and more abiding. But whenever they come they are always associated with God. Are we, then, duped during these seasons of exalted enjoyment? Are we believing a lie? A harmonious life, also, such as those live “with whom abide the melodies of the everlasting chimes,” seems impossible without vigorous belief in God. The just live by faith. But what if that be false?
IV. There are moments of trial and calamity. At such times have we not been saved by trust in Him who is “a very present help in trouble”? Is this, too, a dream? Was there no heart to respond, no hand to bind up?” Nothing”--so says one” but the infinite Pity is sufficient for the infinite Pathos of human life.” But is there no such Pity? It is the age of Pessimism, and men are asking, “Is life worth living?” But who are they who ask? Not the poor, decent, hard-working, God-fearing man, but lounging cynics at West End Clubs. No, we believe in God the Father. If that be dream, let me dream. (Thomas G. Rose.)
When shall I come and appear before God?--
Appearing before God. Appearance before God here and hereafter
These words express--
I. Firm belief in the especial presence of god in the ordinances of public worship. We are always in God’s sight, but He is especially near in the sanctuary. These ordinances have this for their great end, to bring us near God. And Christians have found it so. Therefore--
1. Guard against hypocrisy in worship. God is there. We are careful how we appear there to our fellow-men. Be so in regard to God.
2. Our hope of good in worship must have the presence of God with us. Of. 2 Samuel 14:32.
3. What thanks are due to the Lord Jesus Christ who hath made way for our appearance before God.
4. What a blessing to have many houses of God in one nation.
II. An earnest longing after divine ordinances.
1. How little of this there is amongst man.
2. How well it is to have such desire.
3. What unhappy clogs these fleshly, sinful bodies are to the mind. But there is a blessed assembly of better worshippers above. Awake our faith and desire to join them. (Isaac Watts, D. D.)
Appearance before God hereafter
There are two such appearances.
I. At the judgment. At the moment of death our souls appear before God for judgment.
1. Let the sinner therefore consider that, though he may be willing to come to the sanctuary now, then it is under terrible constraint.
2. Here they appear in disguise, as saints; there openly as sinners.
3. They must take notice of God then, though they do not now.
4. There God will be on the throne of judgment; here He is on the throne of grace.
5. Here is frequent appearance, there but once, and is for ever driven from His presence. Let the sinner then examine himself as to his state now.
II. In glory in heaven. What a difference for the Christian between then and now.
1. Now he is one of a mixed assembly, then all will be holy.
2. Now he is among a few who worship God, but then amongst millions.
3. Now we worship for preparation, there for enjoyment.
4. Now, imperfectly; there, with complete worship.
5. Now, with many discouragements; then, with everlasting consolations. May we never be missing there. (Isaac Watte, D. D.)
My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
Where is thy God?
Surely a searching, solemn query. Not a question, notice, of having, or not having, a god; not a question as to what, but where? Every man has some kind of god, for the religious instinct is an important part of every man’s constitutional make-up. Every child is born with the germ of conscience. It must be so, else why do we find in our children a chord that vibrates at the touch of religious story or appeal? Upon our idea of God centres our ideas of religion, of sin, of prayer, of consecration, and of service.
I. Your religion will be whatever your idea of God is. Religion has two acts--to know what is true of God, and to express that knowledge in life. It is personal experience that gives life to one’s creed, not cold type. A blind man’s world can be measured with a cane. But to be able to say, “Now I see,” speedily leads on to “I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Experience is the soil out of which the best creeds grow. Conduct must tally with conviction.
II. Your idea of sin will be shaped by your idea of God. They stand or fall together. The exceeding sinfulness of sin will never fill you with shrinking abhorrence until you see God as a God of holiness and purity and righteousness. If your idea of God be that of the Pantheist, or that of the philosopher, or that of the materialist, your standard of holiness will rise no higher than your idea of God. What greater reason can we have for hating sin than to know that it drove the nails into the hands of our blessed Lord?
III. Your idea of the value of prayer will hinge upon your idea of God. Look at David’s prayer: “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” How could David utter a prayer like that if he believed God to be an impersonal force at work in the universe? The value and power of true prayer lies in its reflex action of the man who prays. You cannot say “our Father” to an impersonal force; nor hold sweet communion with a law, nor pour out your soul’s need to a sacred cow. The Pharisee prayed with himself. The Publican talked with God. Penitence is heaven’s latch-key. So, too, prayer becomes a good test of character. To prove it, note the objects for which many people pray; the temper in which they pray; the regularity with which they pray, and the period during which they pray.
IV. Your conception of consecration will rest upon your idea of God. To say, “I do now consecrate myself to the service of Christ,” is the most solemn thing you can say. You remember what “consecration” meant to the high priest of old. That it must mean to you and me; for anything less noble, less sacred, is unworthy the professed follower of the Master.
V. Your idea of christian service will depend upon your idea of God. If every man of us is to be judged according to the light he has, how can any one afford to spend his time picking out flaws in his neighbour’s conduct, instead of improving the little span of life that God has given him by whole-hearted devotion to the service of God. If you believe in the Church as a Divinely-ordained institution, and in the preaching of the Gospel as the Divinely-ordained means of bringing this world back to God; and if you believe that God is able and willing to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from your iniquity, then I call heaven and earth to witness against you that, so long as you hold back your whole-hearted allegiance from Him, you are trifling, you are trifling with God! (C. H. Jones.)
Where is thy God?
This is a question which, in every age, the doubting heart has propounded to itself; and every time it recurs it bespeaks a deeper agony of soul, and demands a profounder answer. The contradictions of our life can neither be ignored nor annihilated. But all depends on how we view the whole--whether in the gloom of despondency, or the shining light of hope. If God is with us anywhere and ever, then everywhere and always. Not only in the height of our exultation, but in the depth of grief and woe. Not only in the glad communion of our sweetest fellowship, but in the chilly isolation of our sheer bereavement. In all the evils of existence--in shame and crime and want--we must believe he is no further from us than in plenty and peace and virtuous delight. There are periods of depression incidental to all flesh, when all around is gloomy, and the outlook drear and blank; when the joys of life appear so few, so fleeting, and so faded: when sin and suffering seem so vast and sure, our lot so hard and burdensome, our whole existence so beset with toil, that the pulse of the spirit beats feeble, faint and low, and the dead weight of sombre misgiving clips the pinions which we spread, and drags us downward to despondency. At such times we learn the value of example. We call to mind the stories we have heard of peaceful death-beds and triumphant departures. We think of Socrates, with the cup of hemlock in his hand, discoursing sweetly--like the dying swan, his noblest strain his last--concerning the immortality of the soul. We think of Christian martyrs and the saints of old. We see them dying for divergent creeds, yet all alike serene. They walked by faith, not by sight; and therefore they were strong. And anon, as we review that noble host, there rises one above the rest, who is the chief among ten thousand, and the leader of an army by Himself. Who was a man of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief, like this our elder brother, the despised and rejected of men? Are our discouragements to be compared to His? If in the midst of a priest-ridden world, a corrupt and worn-out society, even out of the unpromising materials which were all that lay ready to His hand, He never relinquished His sublime idea of building up the kingdom of God, shall we not also rise above our griefs, and lift the drooping head--we in whose cup is mingled that more even measure that God metes out to ordinary men? There is nothing so bad but it may be well, if we wait to see the end. But oh, the good which we discern already! what shall explain that away? The mere refusal of our hearts to acquiesce in despondency--whence comes it, if not from a God in whose embrace we lie secure? The desire which springs spontaneous, like the fountain in the desert, to help and befriend the distressed; the anodyne of sympathy, and the balm of compassion, which gushes in most abundance where sorest need prevails; the love which many waters cannot quench; the devotion of a mother; the attachment of a child; all that makes suffering tender, and sheds beauty upon grief--are these no signs of God? Signs! They are more. They are the beating of a universal pulse, the breathing of a universal soul; they constitute the Godhead of the World. And when we have once discovered the great Father in our hearts, we may go forth courageously to find Him everywhere. (E. M. Geldart, M. A.)
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God.
Remembrance of bygone happiness
I. The happiness of David’s former condition.
1. The store of company and society which he had with him. Good company is a very blessed and comfortable accommodation in sundry respects.
(1) An exercise of men’s faculties and the powers and abilities of the mind.
(2) A fence against danger and a preservative from sadness and various temptations (Ecclesiastes 4:10; Proverbs 11:14).
(3) An opportunity of doing more good.
2. The place of his resort--the house of God.
(1) David’s practice. He went himself. He tool( others along with him. Where others went before him, he followed them, and went with the multitude; where others stayed behind, he drew them on and carried the multitude along with him; and so he did two duties at once, which are both of them observable of ourselves.
(2) His privilege. He speaks of it as a mercy which then he enjoyed, but now was deprived of; and so would hereby signify unto us what a great mercy this indeed is.
(3) The nature and equality of their employment when there.
(1) The proper work of such assemblies--holy and spiritual performances.
(2) We are taught also from hence how to employ ourselves when we come to these assemblies; namely, in such duties and performances as are proper and agreeable hereunto.
As David went to the house of God in regard of the place, so he was employed in icy and praise in regard of the performances: so should we be likewise; we should not come hither to sleep, to gaze, to talk, to disturb both ourselves and others; but we should come as applying ourselves to the work and business of the time and place, with the voice of joy and praise; as the multitude of those that keep holy-day, as it is here expressed.
II. The impression which the recalling hereof had upon him. His grief was increased. There are none who more bewail the want of the ordinances and means of salvation than those who have formerly enjoyed them, and have been made partakers of them.
1. Because these know what they are. That which makes men to be indifferent in their desires to these matters is because they know not the sweetness which is in them; but now those who have formerly enjoyed them are made sensible in this particular.
2. Their desire is inured and habituated to them; use it is a second nature: now they are accustomed to such holy employments, and therefore they cannot tell how to be without them; it is grievous to them.
3. Satan, and sometimes other enemies, they do also take occasion from hence to enlarge and increase their grief to them, as here in the text, “Where is now thy God?” (Thomas Horton, D. D.)
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God.
A prescription for a downcast soul
I. Inquiry. “Why art thou cast down?” Many a man is in great spiritual darkness, without knowing, or being able to discover the reason. He has been trying to live rightly, so far as he knows. He has not neglected prayer nor the house of God, and yet God seems to have hidden His face; his peace is gone; his soul is full of harrowing doubts. Christians sometimes forget that they have bodies; and that the condition of their bodies has a good deal to do with the brightness or darkness of their spiritual moods; and now and then a man, through sheer ignorance, persists in some habit of eating or drinking which, by keeping his body in an unhealthful state, correspondingly lowers the tone of his spiritual life. Often the devil which torments him is one that goeth not out but by fasting.
2. Or the cause may lie deeper, in some mental disease--possibly inherited. Cowper.
3. On the other hand, the distress may arise from estrangement between man and God. Peter, when he went out and wept bitterly, was cast down and disquieted as he deserved to be.
4. If you cannot, on inquiry, discover that sin is at the bottom of your disquietude, it may occur to you that God has sent it. Thou art satisfied that the source of thy trouble is Divine; is that something to be disquieted about? Or dost thou fear it will be more than thou canst bear? O reflect that the Father is the husbandman. He is pruning thee that thou mightest bring forth more fruit. Dost thou forget Him who was made perfect through suffering, and who was in all points tempted and tried like as thou arty Why art thou disquieted? Is it because thou canst not see the end thy God has in view in thy trial, or wilt thou forget that this “light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh out for thee a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”?
1. The psalmist remembers his own experience. Ah, how often we need the psalmist’s admonition to his own soul not to forget all God’s benefits. They will crowd, at the summons of memory, thickly down to the very edge of to-day’s trouble, like the cloud which followed the Israelites down to the merge of the Red Sea; and like that cloud will send light over the troubled waters through which lies the line of march. To-day’s trouble will be lighter, and to-day’s outlook more hopeful through the remembrance of the blessed past.
2. But this remembrance of the psalmist also takes in God’s dealings with His people. No one has such a range of history at his command as the believer who is in trouble; since the history of God’s children is largely made up of trouble, and as largely of God’s deliverances out of trouble. Sometimes a man is so engrossed with the pleasure and business of the present, that memory has no chance to do her work, and he is in danger of forgetting God’s benefits altogether; and so God leads him away alone, whither he does not like to go, but where, cut off from the occupations of the present, he has opportunity to survey the rich and fruitful past, and to grow grateful amid his sorrow. Yea, often the very land of exile is the land of precious memories. Men of old have had their faith, their courage, their patience tried sorely in the very places where our faith and courage and patience are tried; and their experience of God’s saving goodness and power calls on us to remember that the God of salvation is the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
1. This hope is in God. Trouble opens a man’s eyes to the need of a personal God. True hope, the psalmist’s hope, would say, “This loss is God’s work; I am God’s child; this is God’s discipline; through this He may be working out for me something far better than worldly prosperity. The best thing I have left, the thing to which I anchor my present and my future is--God is mine. This matter is all in God’s hands, and whatever he may do with me or with my fortune, whether He give me back my prosperity or not, I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.”
2. This hope is a different thing from faith, while the operations of the two are nevertheless closely allied. When a physician gives to a sick man a remedy which for the time increases his distress, he does not realize nor feel that the work of restoration is going on; and in the dark places of Christian experience through which God causes a man to pass in the course of His discipline, the man does not always realize that God is doing a beneficent work upon him, or how He is doing it. Then hope comes in. “If we hope for what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
I. The unreasonableness and virtual impiety of the over-anxious, foreboding spirit manifested by so many.
1. This spirit is rebuked by your whole experience. The vast preponderance with you has always been on the side of happiness. If you have been long of this foreboding habit, not one in a hundred of the sorrows that you have apprehended has reached you. Those, also, that have overtaken you have been lighter than you feared.
2. What can your anxiety do for you? Can it avert what you dread? No. But it may hasten it. In many respects, our health, our outward well-being, and that of our household, are committed to our own keeping, and can be safely kept only by a self-collected mind and a quiet heart.
3. Sorrow in prospect is much more bitter and grievous than it is in actual experience. Every trial comes with its alleviating circumstances, its mild preparatives, and abounding consolations. Sickness summons sympathy and patience for its ministers. Unmerited disesteem fortifies itself by the testimony of a good conscience. Poverty moves on under the guidance of health and hope. Bereaved affection meets the risen Saviour at the grave-side.
4. Why do you dread aught that can befall you, when none of these things can take place without your Father? Under Him, all things will work together for your good. Lean, then, as children upon His arm, and commit yourselves as children to His keeping.
II. Inculcate the lesson of implicit trust in a wise and paternal providence.
1. An unexplored future is before us. But, as Christians, we have every possible ground for trust and hope; for that unexplored future is in the hands of our Father.
2. We have under God one object of hope continually in view, namely, the growth of our characters; and this is the great end for which, were we wise, we should desire to live. Does He send outward favours and mercies? It is that gratitude may engrave His image on our hearts, and write His law on our lives. Does He remove from us cherished blessings? He takes gifts which we were in danger of loving more than the Giver. He takes wealth that bound our souls to the sordid pathway which He bids us leave.
3. Heaven and eternity, brought to light by Jesus, re-echo the exhortation--“Hope thou in God.” Have we the testimony of His love within? Are we living by the law and in the spirit of Christ? Have we the consciousness of pardoned sin and of souls at peace with God? If so, however heavy our outward burdens or sorrows, we may well ask, in self-rebuke, “Why art thou cast down?” etc. (A. P. Peabody.)
Disquietude and hope
I. David’s disquietude.
1. God’s forgetfulness.
2. His own mourning.
3. Enemy’s oppression.
II. David’s hopefulness.
1. God is.
2. God is mine.
3. God will yet be praised by me. (Homiletic Review.)
O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan.
Soul sorrows and soul reliefs
I. Soul sorrows.
1. Oppressive. “O my God, my soul is cast down within me.” They seemed to rest upon his heart as lead. Beneath their weight he sank down into darkness and despair. How often the soul falls prostrate beneath its load of grief and trials.
2. Tumultuous. “Deep calleth unto deep.” “Trials,” says our dramatist, “come in battalions.” In the hour of deep conviction for sin, there comes a moral inundation.
3. Excruciating. “As with a sword,” etc. As the physical nerves quiver with agony at the entrance of the sword, so his soul writhed at the reproaches of ungodly men.
II. Soul reliefs.
4. Self-fellowship. “David,” says Calvin, “represents himself here as divided into two parts. In so far as he rests through faith in God’s promises, he raises himself, equipped with the spirit of an invincible valour against the feelings of the flesh, and at the same time blames his weakness.” David here--
(1) inquires of his own soul the cause of his own sorrows; and
(2) exhorts it to trust in God. “Hope thou in God.”
God is the “health of my countenance.” He will clear away all the gloom, and make it bright with the sunshine of His love. (Homilist.)
My soul is cast down within me
There are times when the soul is cast down within us like David’s. Strength, courage, hope, are dead. We lose the very sense of freedom, and are as a wreck, borne to and fro helpless on the currents, to be dashed at last on some inhospitable shore. There are inward movements of the spirit, known only to God, which bring us to the same prostration. However it may have been reached, no man of deep human experience is ignorant of David’s meaning in our text.
I. Forgetting God is man’s natural instinct when his soul is cast down within him. Despair is reckless, and deep misery tends strongly to despair. Job’s state of mind, as described in Job 3:1-26., was anything but gracious. He was so unutterably wretched that he cursed his very existence. And this is the peril of souls when east down. They think no one cares for them. I am but a waif on the great moaning ocean; it may drift me as it pleases, and cast me when it has done with me to rot forgotten on the shore. This is the language of many a natural heart in its hour of anguish; and on a broader scale, times of great social or national misery are constantly found to be times of wild, fierce recklessness of truth, honour, dignity, charity, and God.
II. Consider the reason, nature, and fruit of David’s remembrance of God when his “soul was cast down within him.”
1. The reason. I will remember Thee, for I am not my own, but Thine. I am bound to measure myself by the measure of Thy love. What does the Incarnation mean, but that God claims us by a right, and holds us by a bond of infinite strength? Nothing worth in ourselves, in Christ we are precious in His sight.
2. The nature of the remembrance. That the Lord was his portion, of which neither earth nor hell could rob him. God was left if all else was lost. And God was his “rock,” enduring, unchangeable. And God was the health of his countenance, the spring of his everlasting joy.
3. The fruit of his remembrance of God in the depths--perfect peace. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Help in God
I. As appropriation. “O my God.” In proportion as you feel your need of anything, and value it, you are anxious to make it your own.
II. The confession. “O my God, my soul is cast down within me.” “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Observe, here, the speaker himself. David, a great man who had even reached the throne, is the man who says, “My soul is cast down.” Do you imagine that the head never aches that wears a crown? Or that you are more likely to escape the winds and storms by building your house high on the side of the hill? A Christian merchant, some years ago, who had retired from business, and employed his substance in the cause of God, lately said to me, “I have found my troubles increase in life precisely in proportion to the number of my servants, and the growth of my property.” Paul says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed.” This is well. It is not the water without a vessel, if it were as large as the Atlantic, that would sink it; but the water that gets in. While the mind is calm, peaceful, and heavenly, outward distresses are of little importance. But when all is dark without, and gloomy within too, then is he tried. “A man’s spirit may sustain his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear?”--and we may add, who can cure?
III. His resolution. “Therefore I will remember Thee.” At, this is not a natural resolution: we are naturally alienated from the life of God. He destroys every drop of water in our vessels, in order that we may be compelled either to perish of thirst, or to inquire after Him, the fountain of living water. And it is well if we remember Him, and ask, “Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night?” Thus it was with Manasseh: in his affliction he sought the Lord God of his fathers, and He was found of him. It was thus with the prodigal, in the parable; when he began to be in want, he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” How many have done this since!
IV. A specification. “I will remember thee from the land of Jordan,” etc. Are there not spots toward which you can look, where God perhaps freed your mind from a grievous snare and temptation, and made you free indeed--where perhaps God commanded a wonderful deliverance for you--where He turned the valley of death into the morning--where at evening-tide it was made light. These Mizars, these little hills, are worth their weight in gold. (W. Jay.)
The remembrance of God the result of mental depression
I. Devout confidence. “O my God.”
1. Mine by natural right (Job 10:8; Psalms 119:73; Psalms 139:13; Zechariah 12:1; Hebrews 12:9).
2. Mine by personal preference (Psalms 63:1-8; Psa 72:25).
3. Mine by adopting love (Jeremiah 3:19; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
4. Mine by Divine appropriation.
5. Mine by public avowal (Isaiah 44:5).
II. Mental depression. This may result--
1. From bodily infirmities (Isaiah 38:14-15).
2. From backsliding of heart. Defects in love, zeal, diligence.
3. From inward conflicts.
4. From afflictive bereavements.
5. From the state of mankind (Psalms 119:58; Psalms 119:136; Psalms 119:158; Philippians 3:18).
III. A Pious remembrance of God.
1. Wherever we go, God should be in our recollection. His actual presence; His continual agency; what He is in Himself and to His people.
2. The remembrance of God is the most effectual antidote against mental depression (2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:11).
The text may serve to remind us, by way of inference--
1. That man is born to trouble. The best of men may be disquieted and depressed: “without are fightings, and within are fears.”
2. That pious people are accustomed to pour out their complaints to God.
3. That men who have no interest in God have no refuge in the hour of trouble; for vain is the help of man. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
1. The first case is of those who are apt to think that the reformation of their lives hath not proceeded from a sincere love of God, and an unwillingness to displease Him; but from a mere dread of those punishments which He hath threatened.
(1) Fear is one of the passions God has planted in our souls, as well as love; they are both the creatures of His wisdom and power; and whatever He did put in us was for some end, and may have a good use. Wherefore, when the passion of fear doth serve the end for which God grafted it in our minds, there can be no doubt but He will approve the good effects which it doth produce.
(2) God hath enforced all the laws He hath given to the children of men by threatenings as well as by promises; but as promises are to work upon our love, so threats are to excite our fears; God having made the motives to our obedience to answer the different passions with which He hath endued our souls.
(3) Our Saviour and His disciples address themselves not only to the passion of love, but also to that of fear: which they never would have done had they been conscious that the sacrifices of fear would not have ascended up to heaven with a grateful savour.
2. Some serious Christians complain of a want of inclination to holy things, and a coldness in their devotions. They do not come to God’s house, nor address themselves to their prayers, with such an appetite as they do to the business of the world; but want earliest and fervent desires for the success of the petitions. Now, in abatement of their trouble, give me leave to lay the following observations before them.
(1) The difference of degrees of affections with which men serve God often depends upon the difference of their tempers and constitutions. God will measure their obedience by the sincerity of their minds, that lies in their own power; and not by the difference of their constitutions, which was not made by themselves.
(2) They who are not carried by their passions into the service of God, but render worship to Him upon rational motives, because He is the giver of all good things, seem to act upon a higher and more sublime principle: for notwithstanding they are destitute of that pleasing warmth in their passions which provokes others to pray unto God, and to be thankful unto Him, yet they do not cease to celebrate His praise, because it is their duty to do it, and because reason suggests that they ought to make grateful acknowledgments of His infinite mercies.
(3) The most zealous are not always the best men.
(4) The most holy servants of God cannot maintain an equal warmth in their devotions at all times.
(5) What hitherto hath been said about coldness and damps in the minds of men while they are engaged in religious duty has been to comfort those who are exceedingly grieved at it. Now, notwithstanding it is not to be expected, nor necessary, that these innocent persons should meet with a complete cure of their grief, yet I must tell them that nothing will more enliven their spirits in the service of God than deliberate meditations of Him and of themselves before they enter upon any part of Divine worship.
3. I come to the case of those unhappy persons who have naughty and sometimes blasphemous thoughts start in their minds while they are exercised in the worship of God, and to fear that God hath utterly cast them off. That their case is not so dangerous as they apprehend it, I shall endeavour to show by the following considerations.
(1) Because these frightful thoughts do for the most part proceed from the disorder and indisposition of the body.
(2) Because they are mostly good people who are exercised with them.
(3) Because it is not in the power of those disconsolate Christians, whom these bad thoughts so vex and torment, with all their endeavours to stifle and suppress them.
(4) They who labour under the burden of such dismal thoughts are seldom betrayed into any great or deliberate sin. For they, having a very low opinion of the condition of their souls, are jealous of the least temptations. Which is the cause they commonly set a strict guard over their words and actions.
Advice for behaviour under these perplexing disorders of mind, and for recovery from them.
(1) Frequently observe how your thoughts are employed. Men cannot think foolishly and act wisely. Besides, idle thoughts are neighbours to bad ones, and there is a straight and short passage from one to the other.
(2) Endeavour to keep all your passions within due bounds, since storms of passion confound the soul, and make way for evil thoughts.
(3) Do not leave your calling, nor forsake the post wherein Providence has placed you. There is always more melancholy to be found in a cloister than in the market-place.
(4) When you find these thoughts creeping upon you, be not mightily dejected, as if they were certain tokens of your reprobation. For so far as they depend upon the indisposition of the body, which for the most part they chiefly do, I take them no more to be marks of the Divine displeasure than sickness, or losses, or any other calamity you may meet with in the world. When these troublesome thoughts begin to stir, do not fall into any violent passion, which will abate the courage and shatter the resolutions of your soul; but having first commended your miserable case to the tender care and compassions of your Heavenly Father, who will not let you be afflicted above measure, endeavour with a meek and sedate temper quietly to bear them.
(5) Do not think the worse of God for them, or accuse His providence of want of care of you. For He might have permitted such thoughts to have continued perpetually, or at least to have visited you much oftener, and in a more frightful manner, and all this without the least diminution of His justice.
(6) Let not these afflicting thoughts discourage you from the exercise of your devotions; nor tempt you to omit, or negligently discharge any one Christian office or duty. (Bishop Moore.)
Depression of spirits in Christians
I. The causes.
1. In many cases melancholy proceeds from bodily weakness.
2. Another cause is a habit which some have of judging themselves, not from the Word of God, but from the words of men.
3. They who seek God and endeavour to serve Him, in some instances, form too high expectations of assurance and of comfort. They expect clearer revelations of Divine things; brighter evidence of their justification, and greater joy in the Holy Ghost, than is promised them in this present world.
4. Another cause of discouragement, or deep concern in Christians who have been for some time disciples, is the advancement they have made in spiritual knowledge. Every succeeding year they appear to themselves more sinful and less worthy than in years past. They think more, also, of what is at stake, and what it is to lose their souls.
5. There is also a plain distinction between the doubting of unbelief and the doubting which is through infirmity; as there is also between the sins of infidels and of weak believers.
II. Them use. They are profitable--
1. For the trial of your faith. “The Lord would have those who walk in the light never forget what it is to sit in darkness and the shadow of death. A grieved spirit is the best foundation of a faithful heart.”
2. These desponding apprehensions are a powerful remedy for self-righteousness and spiritual pride.
3. By this depression of spirits, to which good men are subject, you are taught how little confidence can be placed in your religious feelings, or the mere state of your passions. In a spiritual sense it is sometimes “better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting.”
III. What is the remedy for this dejection? Do as the psalmist did; put your trust in God. How far religious sorrow may be profitable for you, how far necessary, He only knows. It seems to us more desirable to rejoice in the Lord than to mourn His absence. (Bishop Griswold.)
Sweet stimulants for the fainting soul
I. The complaint.
1. The causes of our being cast down are very numerous. Sometimes it is pain of body; peradventure a wearying pain, which tries the nerves, prevents sleep, distracts our attention, drives away comfort, and hides contentment from our eyes. Often, too, has it been debility of body; some secret disease has been sapping and undermining the very strength of our life.
2. Let us pass now from the most obvious to the more subtle causes of soul-dejection. This complaint is very common among God’s people. When the young believer has first to suffer from it, he thinks that he cannot be a child of God; “for,” saith he, “if I were a child of God, should I be thus?” What fine dreams some of us have when we are just converted! We know not what we are born to in our second birth, and when trouble comes upon us it surprises us.
3. Let me go a step further, and say that the disease mentioned in our text, although it is exceedingly painful, is not at all dangerous. When a man has the toothache it is often very distressing, but it does not kill him. In like manner, God’s children are much vexed with their doubts and fears, but they are never killed by them.
4. I would remark, yet further, that a man may actually be growing in grace while he is cast down; aye, and he may really be standing higher when he is cast down than he did when he stood upright. When we sink the lowest in our own esteem, we rise the highest in fellowship with Christ, and in knowledge of Him. To be cast down is often the best thing that could happen to us. Do you ask, “Why?” Because, when we are cast down, it checks our pride. Were it not for this thorn in the flesh, we should be exalted beyond measure. Besides, when this downcasting comes, it sets us to work at self-examination. Another benefit that we derive from being cast down is that it qualifies us to sympathize with others.
II. The two remedies here mentioned.
1. A reference of ourselves to God. If thou hast a trouble to bear, the best thing for thee to do is not to try to bear it at all, but to cast it upon the shoulders of the Eternal. Often, when I call to see a troubled Christian, do you know what he is almost sure to say? “Oh, sir, I do not feel this--and I do fear that--and I cannot help thinking the other!” That great I is the root of all our sorrows, what I feel, or what I do not feel; that is enough to make any one miserable. It is a wise plan to say to such an one, “Oh yes! I know that all you say about yourself is only too true; but, now, let me hear what you have to say about Christ.” What a change would come over our spirits if we were all to act thus!
2. The grateful remembrance of the past. You have known the sweetness of Jesus’s love, yet you are cast down! Shame upon you! Pluck off those robes of mourning, lay aside that sackcloth and those ashes, down from the willows snatch your harps, and let us together sing praises unto Him whose love and power and faithfulness and goodness shall ever be the same. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Religious depression and its remedy
I. The sigh of religious depression. What has caused it?
1. The faithlessness of friends and kindred. Bitter as it may be to feel the want of respect, of reverence, of obedience, of love from the children that are dear to us, that bitterness is intensified when memory testifies that we ourselves caused the evil by our unwisdom, neglect, or excess of tenderness.
2. The sneer of enemies. To many sensitive natures this is the most painful form of persecution.
3. The hiding of God’s face.
II. The remedy.
1. Faith remembering.
2. Faith hoping. If you turn your back to the sun your shadow will be before you, but if you turn your face to the sun your shadow will be behind you, and you see it not. If you turn your back on God dark shadows will cross your path, thick darkness will be before you; but with your face towards God you will see light in His light, the darkness is past and the true light shineth.
3. Faith triumphing. On the Welsh coast there is a small rocky island with a lighthouse, and in the lighthouse a bell, which on stormy nights rings out its solemn warning to the approaching mariner. When all is calm the bell is not heard, it hangs mute; but when the winds become fierce, and the waves dash high, the bell is set going. It was the storm of trouble that awoke the full harmony of David’s harp. (R. Roberts.)
The path of life is strewed with the fallen blossoms of hope.
I. God often disappoints us to teach us submission to his will. Many and painful experiences are necessary before the natural self-will and self-sufficiency are expelled from the heart.
II. Disappointments are sent us because God means to cite us something better than what we have chosen for ourselves. This is a most familiar experience. We have set our heart upon the attainment of some particular good. God knew better than we did, and in His love He refused to give us what would have been unsuitable to us.
III. God disappoints us at present, to give us what we seek at some better time. Illustrate by Joseph’s disappointment when forgotten by the butler. But, when his hopes were at last realized, how much richer the inheritance! God’s choice of time, as well as God’s choice of gift, will always be found to he the wisest and best.
IV. Our sense of disappointment is unreasonable and foolish. We are ready to forget that there is a law of orderly development by which God works out His plans. Would the husbandman have a right to be disappointed when he discovered that the seed he sowed yesterday had not yet even appeared above the soil? And many of our disappointments are as unreasonable. (Evangelical Advocate.)
Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me.
The call of the universe
I have long wanted some one whose soul hears to write a poem on this subject, the call of the sea. It has for years been a fancy of mine that the great mysterious, multitudinous voice of the sea is just a composite of all the sounds of the world which have been brought down to it by all the rivers in their courses through the lands. You will hear the tinkle and drip of pellucid springs hidden deep in remote hill countries; the rattling laughter of summer streams that have caught up on their way the rustling of leaves and sedges, the piping of birds, the lowing of cattle, the shouts and merry-making of children, the great commingled murmur of manifold labour. All these the vast world-embracing sea has taken in and blended, and harmonized into its own eternal call. It is deep calling unto deep, the soul of the sea to the soul of the man. How wonderful is this interchange, this give and take, in God’s world which binds all things into one common life! We are often tempted to forget that we belong to the universe, that we are part and parcel of its great interchanges, its system of give and take, that the little pulse of our life is quite as essential as the heart-beat of the world or the circulation of the stars. The sea has its countless veins and arteries through all the lands; it is no less true that even our little hidden spring in the lonely old pasture times its small pulse by the heart of the sea. When we leave all these pictures and suggestions of the physical universe and push back into the depths of the unseen and spiritual universe, we may be sure that the same law holds. We will see, first of all, that the spiritual universe is just as vast and complicated in magnitude and structure as is the physical universe. Every smallest, most hidden soul is one with the great central life. It gives and takes with that eternal source. The call of the spiritual universe finds its way into all remotest solitudes.
I. Consider how the soul is called and lured by the universe of thought. I remember well the shock with which I entered the nursery, strewn with toys, and for the first time found its little inmate curled up in the window-seat, lost, absorbed in a book. The same thought came to me as at the spring. What I has this little soul started for the sea? I felt a momentary pang of jealousy that the great invisible powers of thought had sent their irresistible call to the heart of my little child. Then I thought, this young soul is one with that unseen universe. It is only claiming its own. It is simply the deep calling to the deep. After that first call, how we hurry outward, away from things to thoughts. How swiftly are we borne onward into realm after realm in our-unseen universe of thought--poetry, prophecy, vision, religion, science, philosophy, art, government. In our universe of thought we have already entered into life eternal, when “time shall be no more” and where “death is swallowed up in victory.”
II. The same deep, irresistible call draws us into the universe of love. We begin life not only immersed in things, but in self-interest. The little child, like the young bird in the nest, is wholly self-centred, expecting, demanding that all things shall be brought to it. But the kingdom of love lives round about the young child as surely as the kingdom of the air lies round about the young bird in the nest. The one utters as sure a call to the soul as the other to the wing, “Come, come, here is your destiny, your kingdom!” The soul without love in this world is as crippled and helpless as the bird with broken wing. How the kingdom of love opens to us, realm after realm, luring us on! I We say it easily, “love is the greatest thing in the world”; then in the next breath we declare that selfishness is the mainspring of all the practical affairs of life. No, no. The greatest does not so easily give up its kingdom. Gravitation does not let go its hold upon the planet because the thistledown floats in summer heavens. The self-regarding life is self-centred. Its motion is centripetal, inward upon itself, to loneliness, bitterness, despair. The unselfish life, the love-life, is ever centrifugal, outward, outward into constantly widening circles. The activities of the world are under the vital impulsions and inspirations of good-will, good-fellowship, truth, love. You can no more reverse this Divine order of brotherhood among men than you can reverse the movement of the stars. How old is love? Old as the human heart, old as God; “for God is love, and he who loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” How common is love? Common as breathing and heart-beat. “His kingdom ruleth over all.” Consider likewise with what consuming passion men have loved liberty, throwing their lives a willing sacrifice upon her recking altars. How have men loved truth and justice and righteousness! Out of the depths of the human soul has gone a true answer to the deep call of the invisible universe, its destiny and its home.
III. Another call from the spiritual universe is to the realm of sorrow, We are not good for much until our hearts are broken. Sorrow cleanses our vision of misty humours, restores our spiritual myopia, so that we get a clear long-range outlook upon the verities, the imperishable substances of the inner life. He has lived poorly who has come to mature years and has not been touched by world-pain. No debonair, smug, optimistic Christ need come to this world. Unless the deep cry of humanity has found the deeps in His soul, let Him stay in His comfortable heaven.
IV. At last, the voice that sounds the final depth of our being is the call of death. Out of the unseen and eternal the secret message arrives, “Come! Come! Away from all things visible.” Your hour is at hand. You must be away to your destiny and home. Then you will know what it is to be alone with death; alone, yet not alone, for out of the depths of the spirit goes up the cry, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” and out of t,he eternal depths falls the answer, swift and true, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” It is not the answer of the universe. For you, in that hour, there is no universe. It is the answer of the eternal Father-heart to the cry of the child-heart, deep to deep, soul to soul. Oh, friends, believe me, we are not the children of houses and streets and shops and markets and offices. We are the children of our Father’s universe. (J. H. Ecob, D. D.)
Deep calling unto deep
“Deep calleth unto deep.” It is the profound responsiveness of life which those words utter--the responsiveness of the world and the human nature which inhabits it to one another. How clear they are, and how they call and answer to each other--the world and man! It may be in the region of thought or in the region of action; it may be a great problem awakening the profoundest intelligence, and saying, “Come, find my solution,” or it may be a great task summoning the active powers, and saying, “Come, do me”; it may be in an excitement and a tumult which shakes the nature through and through, or it may be in a serene and open calmness which means more than any tumult. The form is nothing; the substance of the experience is everything. “Deep calleth unto deep.” It is a great inspiring spectacle when this is seen taking place in a young man’s life. There is a beautiful exhilaration in it. The mysterious world lifts up its voice and asks its old unanswered questions problems which have puzzled all the generations which have come and gone, lo! they are not dead. They are still alive. All that is most serious and earnest in him tells him that their answers must be somewhere. Perhaps he can find what all who have gone before have failed to find. So the best which the young man is leaps to wrestle with the hardest which the world can show; so deep answereth to deep. At the other end of life the same thing comes, only in another way. When the great shadow of the earth lies on the old man’s soul, and the light of the life beyond is gathering in the western sky--how often then a patience and a faith, a love and trust and spiritual certainty come forth which all the life has been preparing unconsciously; and in the silent days which wait the end, the soul hears the eternity, and “Deep calleth unto deep.” This, then, is what we mean by deep calling unto deep. You see what kind of life it makes. There is another kind of life by contrast with which this kind may perhaps best be understood. There is a life to which the world seems easy, and so in which the strongest powers of the human nature are not stirred. I call that the life in which shallow calleth unto shallow. Like little pools lying in the rock, none of them more than an inch deep, all of them rippling and twinkling in the sunshine and the breeze--so lie the small interests of the world and the small powers of man; and they talk with one another, and one perfectly answers the demand which the other makes. Do you not know all that? The world simply as a place of enjoyment summons man simply as a being capable of enjoyment. It is the invitation of the surface to the surface--of the surface of the world to the surface of the man. What shall we say of this? It is real. It is legitimate. In its degree and its proportion it is good; but made the whole of life and cut off from connection with the deeper converse between the world and the soul, it is dreadful, The world does say to us, “Enjoy”; and it is good for us to hear her invitation. But for the world to say, and for us to hear, nothing better or deeper than “Enjoy” is to turn the relation between the world and man into something hardly better than which exists between the corn-field and the crows. Only when the deeper communion, rich and full and strong, is going on below, between the depths of life and the depths of man--only then is the surface communion healthy and natural and good. I have spoken of deep calling upon deep, which is great and noble; and of shallow calling upon shallow, which is unsatisfactory and weak. The words of David suggest to me also that there is such a thing as deep calling unto shallow--by which I mean, of course, the profound and sacred interests of life crying out and finding nothing but the slight and foolish and selfish parts of a man ready to reply. There are a host of men who will not leave great themes and tasks alone and be content to live trivially among trivial things. They are too enterprising, too alive for that. They have perception enough to hear the great questions and see the great tasks; but they have not earnestness and self-control enough to answer them with serious thought and strong endeavour; so they sing their answer to the thunder, which is not satisfied or answered. Now let us turn and, with another ear, listen to the shallow calling to the deep. When the mere superficial things of life, which are all legitimate enough in their true places and enlisting their own kind of interest, aspire to lay hold of man’s serious anxiety and to enlist his earnest thought, then there is born a sense of disproportion just the opposite of that of which I have been speaking--a disproportion which seems to be rightly described as the shallow calling to the deep. If we are offended when eternity calls to men, and men chatter about it as if it were a trifle, so we also ought to be offended when some trifle speaks to them and they look solemn and burdened and anxious over it, and discuss it as if it were a thing of everlasting import. Have you never stood in the midst of the world of fashion and marvelled how it was possible that men and women should care, as those around you seem to care, about the little conventionalities which made the scenery and problems of its life? There is a noble economy of the deepest life. There is a watchful reserve which keeps guard over the powers of profound anxiety and devoted work, and refuses to give them away to any first applicant who comes and asks. Wealth rolls up to the door and says, “Give me your great anxiety”; and you look up and answer, “No, not for you; here is a little half-indifferent desire which is all that you deserve.” Popularity comes and says, “Work with all your might for me”; and you reply, “No; you are not of consequence enough for that. Here is a small fragment of energy which you may have, if you want it; but that is all.” Even knowledge comes and says, “Give your whole soul to me”; and you must answer once more, “No; great, good, beautiful as you are, you are not worthy of a man’s whole soul.” But then at last comes One far more majestic than them all--God comes with His supreme demand for goodness and for character, and then you open the doors of your whole nature and bid your holiest and profoundest devotion to come trooping forth. Oh, at least do this. If you are not ready to give your deepest affections, your most utter loyalty to God and Christ, at least refuse to give them to any other master. None but God is worthy of the total offering of man! (Bishop Phillips Brooks.)
Deep calleth unto deep
In the grandeur of nature there are awful harmonies. When the storm agitates the ocean below, the heavens above hear the tumult and answer to the clamour. Among the Alps, in the day of tempest, the solemnly silent peaks break through their sacred quiet and speak to each other. The psalmist’s meaning, no doubt, was that the wild ocean of troubles without him when he wrote were answered to by the depth of trouble in his soul. Everything around was like an ocean tossed with tempest: his griefs came wave upon wave. And conscience, as with a lightning flash, lit up the abyss of his own inward evil, made him see the darkness of the sins into which he had fallen, and filled him with despondence and foreboding. But, now, note the truth, that where there is one deep it calls to another, and this everywhere. See this in connection with--
I. The eternal purposes of God and their fulfilment in fact. What a deep these purposes are: that they should have allowed the intrusion of sin; that there should be a Divine decree of election. But all these are answered to by fact. Sin does exist in the world and sorrow also. And all men are not saved. Why is this, when God is good and omnipotent? Are not both the facts and the decrees mysteries, equal mysteries? All that God has ordained has been done; and this not in virtue of His omnipotence, but consistently with man’s free will. The deep of predestination answers to the deep of providence, and both glorify God.
II. Deep affliction. All are not tried alike. Some have little, others much of trial. You that have much, remember the depth of the Divine faithfulness. In proportion to your tribulations shall be your consolations. Shallow sorrows receive but shallow graces; but if you have deep afflictions, you shall obtain deeper proofs of the faithfulness of God. And great deeps of trial bring with them great deeps of promises. When the Lord sets His servants to do extraordinary work He always gives them extraordinary strength.
III. Human wretchedness paralleled by divine grace. Never for a moment attempt to make out the abyss of the fall to be less deep than it is--it is bottomless. The miseries of mankind cannot be exaggerated. But there is a deep which answers to the deep of human ruin, and it is the deep of Divine grace.
IV. The depth of divine love to the saints calls for a deep of consecration in their hearts. He loved you from the beginning. Think what you have thence received. The love of God which has been manifested in you is a very heaven of love. Deeps of the Saviour’s grief, ye call to deeps of spiritual repentance. The agonies of Christ call us to the slaughter of our sins. As for poor sinners, if God saved me, how I ought to lay out my life to try and save them.
V. A depth of divine forbearance answers to another deep, a deep of immeasurable and never-ending wrath in the world to come. The Divine forbearance is certainly very wonderful. Here is a reeking Sodom in the heart of a Christian city. It is a very great mystery that God permits the ungodly to go on as they do. What insults blasphemers perpetrate upon God. But if that forbearance be despised, then as surely as He has shown so great deep thereof, so will He show an equal deep of justice. The deeps of sin are already challenging the deeps of that justice. “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?”
VI. The blessed deep of holy happiness for the saints in heaven--this calls for our deep joy and thankfulness now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
De prefundis clamavi
I. The force of the image which is here employed. In Jonah we have almost the same words (chap. 11.). There is nothing that moves with such mighty, majestic sweep as the ocean. But the sea is pitiless. The waves succeed each other with a certain measured, harmonious mot, ion. It is the music of destruction. Unhasting, unresting, they surge on. The strongest things that man can build are tossed as waifs on their crests or flung as wrecks on the strand. Again, the ocean is profoundly melancholy and restless, yet it aims at and accomplishes nothing, thus adding to the aptness of this image of calamity of which David tells.
II. Let us try to estimate the experience which the image portrays.
1. There are two spheres of pain. The one comprehends the common experience of mankind. God loves not monotonies, and there is none so sad as a monotony, because a satiety, of joy. And hence God has ordained that every life should be chequered. The play of the sunlight and the shadows makes on the whole, for most, a tolerably happy experience of life. Indeed joy and sorrow are very relative terms. “Make up your mind,” says Mr. Carlyle, “that you deserve to be hanged, and it will be a happiness only to be shot.” Very small pleasures to some are intense joys to others.
2. We mean something quite different from this when we speak of calamity, the anguish through which a soul may be called to pass, and the despair in which it may be lost. Few pass far along the path of life without learning how sorrows differ from calamities; without having to breast a shock which threatens the whole framework of their fortunes. But there are those whose sadder lot it is, like young David, to know little else. Storm after storm, rising and raging with brief intervals of sunlight, till the strength is exhausted, and hope even is ready to expire. It is this “wave upon wave” which is so exhausting. One shock we can breast and master, and if it leave us drenched and shivering, no matter; the sunlight comes, and in the haven the sense of dangers faced and conquered makes the heart throb, and the eyes flash with a proud and joyful fire. You say--Never was man so tried! Well, be it so. You are here, the living, to pray and to praise; here with life, God, and an eternal future. “Why should a living man complain,” when he has God, and a future which transcends an archangel’s destiny, and out-soars the most daring dreams? David was not so faithless. Hardly had the moan crossed his lips, when it was drowned in a burst of glorious joy. “Watchman, what of the night?” The night is far spent, the day is at hand; the golden flush is already stealing up in the eastern sky. Cease thy moan, faint heart; tune thy lips to praise. See beyond the sullen tempest and the moaning sea a band of golden light in the far distance. A sure pilot steers thy storm-tossed vessel, and He will not leave the helm till He has landed thee on that blessed shore. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me.
The changes of life and their comforts in God
Psalms 43:1-5, have so close a connection that they must be regarded as one. From external and internal evidence, they belong to David, and to that part of his life when he was fleeing from the face of Absalom his son. It was the Gethsemane of David, and in and up through his heart was throbbing the spiritual life of the Lord Jesus. It is wonderful when we open these ancient books to find the identity of human life. We feel the beatings of the same heart and see the tears which are common to us all.
I. There must be changes in every true life. There is day and there is night, the most opposed conditions. See this especially in the life of our Lord. And these changes are according to a fixed law.
II. To suit these changes in life there are divine provisions. In the day God commands His lovingkindness--His manifold kind providences and grace, and in the night “His song”--the deep, inward realization of His love.
III. There is a constant duty on our part amid all--to pray--“My prayer unto the God of my life. (John Key, D. D.)
God’s carriage unto David, and David’s carriage again unto God
I. The carriage of God to David.
1. The nature of it.
(1) Lovingkindness. There is a common end ordinary kindness which God shows to all sorts of men, upon whom He causes His sun to shine and His rain to fall: but He is peculiar in His favours towards His people, and bears special lovingkindness to them of all others besides (Psalms 25:10). Now, this peculiar lovingkindness is that which David here speaks of (Ephesians 1:4-5). This is the kindness and love of God our Saviour, which does in time appear unto us, as it is (Titus 3:4). And all other kindnesses besides flow from this first kindness to us, whether spiritual or temporal; this is the common and general spring and fountain and source of all the rest. David in his present condition of distress was now in the depths; “deep calleth unto deep,” etc. But yet he does promise to himself an experience of God’s favour: “Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness,” etc.; that is, He will do somewhat which may help me in this my affliction, as a fruit of His lovingkindness towards me. We should be careful to have good thoughts of God in the worst conditions that can happen unto us, and be well persuaded of His favour towards us, as well as we can; not to say, when any evil befalls us, it will always be thus, it will never be otherwise. No, but there will a change come, when God sees fitting and most expedient for us. God hath a spring of lovingkindness in Him, and this it will stream itself forth in answerable expressions from:Him, and that suitable to our occasions, and the conditions in which we are. If we be such as belong to Him, we may assure ourselves of so much from Him, and He will not be wanting to us in it; He never fails those that wait upon Him.
(2) By “His song” we may understand those comfortable expressions of God’s lovingkindness to David’s soul which caused him even to sing for joy (Psalms 32:7; Acts 16:25). It is a thing which cannot be expressed, the great comfort which the people of God find and feel oftentimes from Him at such times as the world looks upon them as in a miserable condition, while He does secretly whisper to their souls many sweet and gracious intimations.
(a) His acceptance of their persons, and of that favour in which they are with Him (Daniel 9:23).
(b) His observations of their condition and the affliction under which they are; He does hint, also, that unto them (Exodus 3:7).
(c) Hope of freedom and deliverance.
2. The conveyance of it.
(1) While it is said here that God will command:His lovingkindness, there are divers things which are implied in this expression; but that which seems principally to be intended is, the efficacy of it; He will command it, therefore it shall take effect.
(2) The second is, “Shall be with me”; which does denote the promptness and readiness of it at hand: When trouble is near to afflict, comfort shall then be near to support, and to uphold against trouble (Psalms 46:1). Because God Himself is with us, therefore His songs shall be with us also, as coming from Him.
3. The time and season. “In the daytime, and in the night.” These two divide our whole time, day and night, and they do both of them still tender us somewhat of God’s goodness; His lovingkindness in the daytime; His song in the night; the one as the time for the performance, the other as the time for considering and meditating upon it.
(1) The businesses of the day are commonly of two sorts, our employments and our refreshments, and in either of these do we partake of the lovingkindness of the Lord.
(a) First, in our employments, by way of assistance, as He does enable us to the performance of them; and by way of success, as He does give a blessing and efficacy to them.
(b) So likewise as to our refreshments, it is He which puts a comfort into them, without which they could not be so refreshing and comfortable unto us.
(2) The night is a time of horror and dreadfulness and fear; yea, but then have the servants of God His songs with them; and He refreshes them with gracious intimations when they lie awake in the night. Look, as that is the time wherein conscience is most stirring, so then, also, are there sweetest impartments and communications of the comforts of God to those also who have communion with Him.
II. The carriage of David to God. “My prayer unto the God of my life.”
1. A duty. David knows that God will do thus and thus for him, that “He will command His lovingkindness,” etc., but yet he will not neglect prayer notwithstanding, but makes use of that as a means which God hath sanctified for the obtaining of favour from Him. God (says he) will do this and this for me, but I will pray to Him for the accomplishment of it.
2. A privilege. David speaks of it here triumphantly, as he did of all the rest, and mentions it as a great relief to him in his present distress. There are two ways in respect whereof prayer is very comfortable, and a very great advantage to God’s servants, which make conscience of it: first, in the act and performance; and, secondly, in the issue and effect. (Thomas Herren, D. D.)
Blessings by day, songs in the night
I. Large anticipations.
1. Night and day should exhibit nothing but seasons for songs. In the best condition there is something over which we may murmur; in the worst something over which we may be thankful. Religion always ministers to hope.
2. Amid outward trials the Christian may calculate on inward peace.
(1) Because of the “lovingkindness” of God. God commands this to rest on the faithful. There is no authority to countermand His decree.
(2) Because He is the “God of our life.”
(3) Because God has promised to bless.
(4) Because personal experience proves that in the past there have been marvellous interventions of God. The remembrance of God’s mercies strengthens faith. “I will remember thee from the land of Jordan.”
II. Determined dedication.
1. To the duty of praise. This is great part of the employ-meet of heaven. It should begin here.
2. To renewed prayer. If we are to have true happiness it must be from God, our God, who shall “command” it. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The song and the prayer
Here this great pleader is in deep distress, both in body and soul. He feels overwhelmed and broken down; and he pathetically explains, in jerky sentences, as though he really were in trouble, he explains to God what is the matter. And then all at once there comes a gleam of hope, and he begins instantly, just as if by the invisible touch of another hand and another power outside himself. As that gleam of hope comes, he begins to blend prayer and praise together, and says, “I will sing, sing in the night, in the quiet and silent darkness I will sing.” Some time ago, during a monsoon, when we were steaming down the Indian Ocean on our way to Australia, the clouds and atmosphere were thick. Sometimes it rained in torrents, and sometimes there was a kind of indescribable mist that wetted the ship and everything and everybody there. And then all at once, as by the strange magic of nature, there would come an aperture in the cloud; and just on one spot, and not so long as the area of this chapel, it seemed to me, just on one spot the sun would shine on the troubled and turbid waters. And everybody rushed on deck the moment that the sun thus glistened, and they got to the spot where they could see it best. And we all of us, with a kind of strange joy, hailed that gleam, that flash of sunlight on the sea. And it seemed to have taken us at once into a new world. And here in this psalm, amid all the storm, did you hear it pelt, as I read it? Here is David talking to God, and David’s soul is disquieted. And then all at once there is a gleam, yea, despite it all, and in the teeth of it all, “And the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.”
I. And, first of all, let me say that every soul has its own prayer--“My prayer unto the God of my life.” Whoever we are, whatever we may be; it must be, specially, exclusively, intensely my own prayer. No man can ever take the place of my soul, and feel its sins, and its sorrows, and its wants. And so he can never breathe my prayer. It must be “My prayer unto the God of my life.” And if we think a minute, we see that it must be so. For prayer springs from different causes; it is uttered in different circumstances and conditions; it is expressed in different words--and must be! The learned and refined man will express his prayer to God in refined and beautiful language. But the unlearned, as Paul calls them, and the unrefined men will express their prayers in quite another way. But we have one common centre; we are every one of us on the main road that leads unto Him who is, and will be for ever, the Light, the Truth, the Way. All along the line that is it: the sinner must pray for himself. Every soul has its own prayer.
II. And now, the next thing that I think there is in the text is this: every true prayer is to “the God of my life.” Brethren, I am deeply thankful for that beautiful definition of God, “The God of my life.” When I went to Mr. Spurgeon’s College, the first theological book put in my hand was Hodge’s Outlines of Theology. There are very many definitions of God there also, but I have forgotten them all. I have not, however, forgotten this, in any change in my life and circumstances: “God of my life.” Yes, every step of the way, all along the dark roads, and all along the sunny days, “the God of my life.” He is the God of all the mysteries, as well as of all the things that are palpable. The things that you and I cannot explain, for which we find no reason, lie is still “the God of my life.” Why that father, who is the bread-winner for a wife and several children, at the most critical time in the family’s life, why should he be smitten down to death? Why is all this? He is “the God of my life” and of yours also. And I am sure, in the face of every enigma, He is “the God of my life.” When Jacob was dying, he wanted to bless the two boys of Joseph. And in doing so he said a most beautiful thing, which is a beautiful description of God. Did you ever dwell on it? “The God which fed me.” Now, I like that. “The God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel that redeemed me, bless the lads.” The poetry of that is to me exquisite. But the description of God comes home to my very heart. “The God who has fed me all my life long unto this day,” you show you have a God of Providence as well as a God of grace. Do let me say to you, it is to that God, “the God of my life,” that the prayer is directed every morning, and at noonday, and at night. He is the God of my life, the God of my joys, the God of my sorrows, the God of my hopes, the God of all my burdens and forgivenesses, the God of the lovingkindness that crystallizes and shines and glitters round the cross. He is the God of an infinite love, of an infinite salvation. (W. Buff.)
I will say unto God my Rock, Why hast Thou forgotten me?
why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
David’s expostulation with God
I. The preface or introduction. “I will say unto God,” etc.
1. The terms upon which David addresses himself to God. “My Rock.” This was an expression suitable to the condition which David was now in, and the metaphor which he had it set forth by, to wit, of being in the “deep”; he had said, the waves and billows went over him, and now, therefore, does he repair to the Rock. The Lord is pleased still in Scripture to represent Himself to us as most agreeable to our present necessities. If we be sick, He is our health; if we be dead, He is our life; if we be pursued, He is our castle; if we be assaulted, He is our shield; if we be ready to sink under dangers and calamities, He is then our Rock (Psalms 18:2; Psalms 89:26; Psalms 94:22). It is a small booty to us, for God to be a rock, except He be ours, and therefore David adds this to the other. Not only the rock which I have right to, but also the rock which I have proof and trial of in former proceedings. I have made Him my rock by faith, He has made Himself my rock by love. Thus the servants of God, as they go confidently where they have interest, so they go more confidently still there where they have experience (Psalms 57:2).
2. His preparation of himself to this address. “I will say.”
(1) A word of premeditation and advice. David being now to come before God, and to address himself unto Him, does not come to Him hand over head, he cares not how; but he thinks first with himself what he will utter and speak before Him when he shall come into His presence.
(2) A word of resolution. David had tried other ways, he had spoken to his own soul already, and that would not do the deed; and now he resolves to go to God Himself, and to fasten his complaints upon Him, or at least to spread them before Him, and to desire His relief of Him in them. And this is what all Christians should resolve on; it is the best course which can be taken.
II. The expostulation itself. “Why hast Thou,” etc.
1. Look upon this complaint as it refers to God. “Why hast Thou forgotten me?” This may be understood either as such which there was causes and ground for indeed, or else as such which was so only according to David’s apprehension.
(1) God does sometimes so carry Himself towards His servants as if He had forgotten them, while He suffers them to continue and abide under sundry evils which they fall into. God forgets them that so they may remember themselves. The servants of God in prosperity, and in the enjoyment of all things to their minds, are apt very often to wander and go astray, and to go out of the way; now desertion it brings them in again and reduces them, and recovers them to themselves (Luk 15:17; 1 Kings 8:47; Psalms 119:67). As God forgets His people that so they may remember themselves, so also sometimes that they may remember Him (Isaiah 17:10). That they may remember others (Amos 6:6).
(2) As we may look upon this forgetting as so indeed, so we may look upon it as being so only in David’s apprehension, and so signifying thus much unto us, that God’s servants are apt to think God forgets them, even then when He is yet mindful of them. From want of due understanding and consideration of the manner of God’s dealings. From impatience and too much haste.
2. As it refers to himself.
(1) He expostulates about the occasion. “Why go I mourning?” The occasions hereof to God’s people are sundry and various: as
(a) their own sins, and the corruptions which do cleave unto them.
(b) The sins of others. God’s children go mourning for these also.
(c) For their own and others’ afflictions.
(2) He expostulates as to the affection. Why go I mourning?” that is, Why do I mourn in this excess, as I now perceive myself to do? This is that which the servants of God are oftentimes troubled withal, even the inordinacy and distemper of their affections, when they go beyond their due measure and bounds; not only as it is painful, but as it is sinful.
(3) This expostulation hath reference to the adversaries and opposites of David, “Because of the oppression of the enemy.” (Thomas Herren, D. D.)
As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me: while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
The sword of the wicked
I. The carriage, disposition and expression of others to David.
1. They were his enemies. God’s children will never want such.
2. They reproached him. Their tongues were tipped from hell, and they did but utter that which was in their hearts. But such reproach is grievous. See Galatians 4:1-31., how Ishmael persecuted Isaac.
3. The specialty of their reproach was, “They say unto me, Where is thy God?” They touch him in his religion. They did not deny that there was any God, but they upbraid him with his singularity, “Where is thy God?” And this is an ordinary reproach to be east at a good man in trouble. They seek to shake his faith. So did Satan try our Lord (Matthew 4:3).
4. And they say out their reproach to his face. They are that impudent. Malice is so, and will always be so.
5. And they say it “daily.” They are unwearied: their malice is fed with a spring; it never wants for words.
6. And that which they say is--Where is now thy God? God does at times hide Himself (Isaiah 45:15; Matthew 27:46). God was never nearer Christ in all His life than then, and yet He thus cries out. But our life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). As in winter the life of a tree is hid in its roots. But God was not gone from David. God was never nearer Moses than when he was sprawling upon the water in that ark they had made for him (Exodus 2:8). David might have said to them, Where are your eyes? For God was not only in heaven, but in his soul.
II. How did this reproach affect David? “As with a sword in my bones.” Now, this was so
1. Because it tended to the reproach of God. It disparaged God, and so touched David, who loved God.
2. And it touched upon religion itself. As if it were vain to serve God. It was a base thought to think that God would do no good to them that serve Him. Even the devil does that.
3. This reproach was for the damping of the spirits of all good men. Words affect strangely; they have a strange force with men, especially in such as are weak (Numbers 13:32).
III. Conclusion. To make some use of all this--how does hearing God reproached affect us? Is it as a sword in our bones? It should be. That which hath no grief when there is cause of grief is to be accounted but as dead flesh. When God’s enemies persecute His people we ought to be stirred. Paul (Acts 13:10). And we may learn here how to enlarge the commandments. The swords spoken of here were but words. He is a murderer in God’s esteem that wounds another with his tongue (Romans 3:13; Proverbs 12:18). (R. Sibbes.)
“Where is thy God?” How God is known
During the prevalence of the disease known as the “Black Death,” in the fourteenth century, the people in some of the European cities, attributing the disorder to poison secretly disseminated by Jews, furiously murdered these Israelites, it is said, by thousands, and then built Christian churches and church belfries out of the houses and estates of the slaughtered victims. See, too, the atrocities of the Inquisition, who tormented mankind in the name of God. Also the malignity of the Jews in John 9:1-41. toward the blind man cured by our Lord. These and other such facts move two questions--What is our knowledge of God? and, What has such knowledge to do with personal character? We speak of God as if there were a common understanding about Him, which is far from being the case. There are as many impressions of God as there are persons, and no uniformity will be attained by any attempts at definitions, for all these will be modified by our own individuality. Still we are told in Scripture that we ought to know God, and that the people that know Him shall be strong. But our apprehensions of God’s character depends, and was meant to depend, very largely on conditions for which we are ourselves responsible. The text implies this. The mere idea of God--however derived--may be said to be natural, but the conception of the Divine character is compounded of many elements. Christians deem the grand essentials of that character to be wisdom, power, goodness. Find these three in perfect degree and balance in a living person, and He will be the Christian’s God--All-wise, Almighty, All-good. But we can only realize these as we possess them in ourselves. If we have no goodness in us we cannot understand goodness. In the measure that we receive God’s Spirit shall we know God, and so only. Slavish peoples crouch before a despotic deity. Given the character of the people, and you may know what their gods will be. As to character, God is what we look to as the best goodness embodied in an unseen person. Even Revelation, in all its many and varied forms, its combined voices and cross lights, will not produce uniformity of conception, for that must depend upon what our minds are. We must long to be better men would we know how good God is. (Bishop Huntington.)
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
David’s malady and David’s medicine
The psalm has a beauty all its own--the beauty of an April morning--full of contrasts and surprises. Extremes meet in a single verse, and are repeated over and over again, brief though the psalm is. The “Kyrie” and the “Gloria” follow each other in quick succession, whilst often there is the “harmony of discord” worthy of a Mendelssohn.
I. Let us examine the patient. That he is far from well there can be no doubt. The whole tenor of his language implies disease, and so distinctly are the symptoms described that we need be at no loss to discover his malady. It is depression. Now, this is--
1. An internal disease--it has to do with his soul. Of all diseases, internal ones are the worst, especially when they are spiritual. Outward trouble will not hurt a man much so long as it keeps to the outward. The sailor cares not because the green waves with crested heads curl over and dash against the vessel, shaking it from stem to stern; or because they, rising in their wrath, leap upon the deck, and with wild glee pour off again through the port holes. But his trouble is that of the sailor when from one to another the whisper passes through the ship, “We have sprung a leak.” The water in the hold is more dreaded than all the ocean without. Such was the case with David. He could say, “The waters have come into my soul.”
2. But notice next that although inward in its nature its effects are to be seen in the countenance. In our text we read that God is the health of our countenance: if, then, His presence be wanting the countenance suffers. It is so with the body: inward disease will show itself on the countenance. And so it is with inward care. The only doctor that some Christians need is their God, and the only medicine they require is hope. Great prostration is one of the signs of this disease.
3. Another sign is that of burning thirst. You get that in the first and second verses. This disease may arise from many different causes. Then there is conformity to the world, that condition so rampant in the Church of our day.
II. Let us now carefully analyze the medicine prescribed. (A. G. Brown.)
The good man’s peace
I. There is such a peace. God’s people ordinarily possess it. Hence, David asks, “Why art thou cast down?” etc. It was not usual for him to be thus disquieted. For--
1. The Father is engaged to give peace unto them.
2. The Son also.
3. The Holy Ghost likewise. For this is He sent as the Comforter. And He is this both in heaven above and in our own bosoms (1 John 1:2; John 14:16).
II. But experience seems to contradict all this, for many of God’s people have not peace, but disquietude. But, remember, general rules have always some exceptions, and in this matter note--
1. There is a fundamental peace which God’s people have, and there is an additional peace: the first arises from their justification, the second from their sense of it.
2. And there is a great difference between peace, comfort and joy. A man may have peace that hath no comfort, and comfort but no joy. One is beyond the other.
3. There is a peace which lies in opposition to what one hath been, and a peace that is in opposition to what one would be. I may be grateful that I am not that sinner I was, but I may be disquieted that I yet am not what I would be.
4. There may be a secret, dormant peace, where there is not an awakened and apparent peace. This latter may be a while absent, but the former is not.
1. Then behold what a blessed condition God’s saints are in. This truth appeals to the ungodly. It did so once to a great man in Germany, that it was the beginning of his conversion he was a papist, a profane person; and coming occasionally to hear Peter Martyr preach, he heard him say, “When ye see men at a distance skipping, leaping and dancing, ye think the men are mad; but when ye draw near to them, hear what music they have, then ye do not wonder; but ye rather wonder at yourselves that ye should wonder at them. So, when you look upon the godly at a distance, and see them running after ordinances, and frequenting the means and rejoicing in the ways of God, you think, and ye say, they are mad; but if you draw near to a godly course, and perceive what music these people have within, you say not they are mad, but you rather wonder at yourselves, that you should wonder at them.” This saying struck the nobleman and led him to look to his condition and to turn to God. Yes, the saints have music within, peace and quiet within, as a rule, though here and there there may be exceptions.
2. But some are in doubt whether their peace be counterfeit. There is such a false peace (Deuteronomy 24:19).
3. But there is a true peace given of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc. And thus it may be known.
4. But one says, “I never had this blessed peace and have it not now. What am I to do?” Meditate much upon the fulness of satisfaction made by the death of Christ. Then go to Christ Himself, seeking peace not merely for the comfort of it, but as a help to your grace: and take His promise along with you. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
True peace may be interrupted
See in text the words, “cast down,” “disquieted”; three times are they repeated. And such is the frequent experience of good men. In considering this note--
I. How far the discouragements of saints may reach. They may reach--
1. To the refusing of the word of consolation brought to you--“My soul refuseth to be comforted.”
2. To the consequent affliction and distress of the body (Psalms 102:4-6; Psalms 102:9; Jeremiah 20:7-9).
II. Why does God permit this? It is always for His people’s good.
1. So only will men come to God. So long as they find fulness in creatures they will not come (1 Timothy 4:5; 1 Samuel 30:6).
2. To make us value peace and quietness of soul.
3. God, as a tender Father, would have all the love of His children, and so removes what intercepts that love, as our earthly comforts often do.
4. Our comforts are sent to bind us to God and to wean us from the world, but sometimes we need to be weaned from these weaners that we may grow up unto more perfection.
5. To prevent over-confidence: the soul grows wanton and secure under its comforts, and then these need to be withdrawn.
6. As a wise and honest chirurgion, though he desire his patient to be soon cured, yet if he see the plaister doth not lie right, he takes it off again: so doth Christ do if He see that the comforts of His people are not laid rightly. Hence a poor soul may ere long be much discouraged, though for the present full of comfort. He will, if he lay his comfort upon internal blessings and measure God’s love by them.
III. But how can all these discouragements stand with grace? Can a man be thus to and fro in his comfort in Christ and yet be holy? Yes, for though there be evil in this, yet there is grace withal. Though they be much cast down, they still mourn after God. They long for His presence. But let such cast-down ones take heed--
1. Not to forget God.
2. Not so to seek comfort that you lose it yet more: there is such a thing as more haste and worse speed. Some seek comfort in a use of reason, and try to argue themselves into comfort. Others give up their common duty and neglect their proper callings, thinking that in their distress here is nothing to be done but prayer. But thus they lay themselves open to yet more temptations.
3. Not so to strain after some outward comfort that you lose that which is inward. I read of Francis Spira that, having denied the truth in order to get a good estate for his wife and children, he could no longer bear the sight of them, his conscience being in such horror of what he had done. They had been his comforts before, but now to see them was to be filled with misery. What comfort had Judas in his thirty pieces of silver? God forbid that we should drink the blood of our own peace and comfort.
IV. Remedies for our discouragements.
1. DO now what you would if now you were to be justified.
2. Find out why God has left you: if for some sin, be humbled for if.
3. Read much in God’s Word, and so fill your mind with thoughts of Christ and with the blessed promises of God.
4. When God restores comforts to you, take care to understand them: if you would be rid of Satan coming into your quarters, fall you upon his. Attack him and do him all the mischief you can: put your comforts into Christ’s hand and use them for His. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
The soul’s conflict with itself
I. General observations.
1. Grief gathered to a head will not be quieted at the first. What bustling there is here before David can get the victory over his own heart.
2. A gracious and living soul is most sensible of the want of spiritual means.
3. A godly soul, by reason of the grace given it, knows when it is well with it and when it is ill, when a good day and when a bad. Now, our text tells us of David’s state wherein he was, and of his carriage in that state. He was much cast down, but he bids himself trust in God. Now, God’s people are often cast down.
II. The discouragements which come to God’s people from without.
1. God Himself. He sometimes hides His face from them (Matthew 27:46). It is with the godly in this case as with vapours drawn up by the sun, which, when the extracting force of the sun leaves them, fall down again to the earth. So when the soul raised up by the beams of God’s countenance is left of God, it presently begins to sink.
2. By Satan. He is all for this; being disquieted himself, he would disquiet others.
3. By Satan’s instruments and servants. Hear them (Psalms 137:7).
4. By ourselves. There is a seminary of causes of discouragement within us. Our flesh is one of them.
III. Those that are from within. There is cause oft in the body of those in whom a melancholy temper prevaileth. But in the soul, too, there are causes of discouragement.
1. Want of knowledge in the understanding.
2. Forgetfulness (Hebrews 12:5).
3. Underrating our comforts (Job 15:11).
4. A childish kind of peevishness. Abraham (Genesis 15:2; John 4:9; Jeremiah 31:15).
5. False reasoning and error in our discourse. Many imagine their failings to be failings, and their fallings to be fallings away.
6. Proceeding by a false method and order in judging of their estate. They will begin with election, which is not the first, but the highest step of the ladder. God descends down unto us from election to calling, and so to sanctification: we must ascend to Him, beginning where He ends.
7. Seeking for their comfort too much in sanctification, neglecting justification, relying too much upon their own performances. This is a natural kind of popery in men. St. Paul was of another mind (Philippians 3:8-9). Still, though the main pillar of our comfort be in the free forgiveness of our sins, yet, if there be a neglect in growing in holiness, the soul will never be soundly quiet. Sin ever raises doubts and fears.
8. The neglect of keeping a clear conscience.
9. Ignorance of Christian liberty, by unnecessary scruples and doubts.
10. Want of employment. An unemployed life is a burden to itself.
11. Omission of duties and offices of love to them to whom they are due.
12. Want of firm resolution in good things. Halting is a deformed and troublesome gesture, and halting in religion is full of disquiet (1 Kings 18:21). God will not speak peace to a staggering spirit that hath always its religion and its way to choose.
IV. But there are positive causes as well as negative ones.
1. When men lay up their comfort too much on outward things. These are ever changing, and to build our hopes upon them is to build castles in the air. Micah is right (Micah 2:10).
2. When we depend too much upon the opinions of other men. Men that seek themselves too much abroad find themselves disquieted at home.
3. When we look too much and too long upon the ill in ourselves and abroad. Now, learn from all this not to be too hasty in censuring others when they are cast down, for there are so many things which cast men down; and to prepare our hearts for trouble, so that when it comes we be not cast down.
V. Casting down ourselves causes many evils.
1. It indisposes a man to all good duties.
2. It is a great wrong to God Himself.
3. It makes a man forgetful of all his former blessings, and--
4. Unfit to receive mercies. Till the Spirit of God meekens the soul, say what you will, it minds nothing.
5. It keeps off beginners from coming in. Hence, we should all labour after a calmed spirit.
1. To do, as here, cite the soul before itself, and, as it were, to reason the case. God hath set up a court in man’s heart, the court of conscience, and its prejudging will prevent future judging. But evil men love not this court; they are afraid of it (1 Kings 22:16; Acts 24:25). Self-love, indolence, pride, are all against it.
2. And we must not merely cite the soul before itself; but it must be pressed to give an account, and if that will not help, then speak to Jesus Christ by prayer, that as He stilled the waves, so He would quiet our hearts.
3. A godly man can cast a restraint upon himself, as David here does. There is an art in bearing troubles as in bearing burdens, and we should seek to learn it.
4. We see here again that a godly man can make good use of privacy. When be is forced to be alone he can talk with his God and himself. The wicked dread being alone. Illustration--Charles IX. of France after the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s day.
5. God hath made every man a governor over himself. (R. Sibbes.)
Now, dejection is so--
1. When the soul is troubled for that it should not be vexed for. As Ahab (1 Kings 21:1-2).
II. When it springs prom self-love.
III. When we trouble ourselves, though not without cause, yet without bounds. We may know when our dejection is excessive.
1. When it hinders us from holy duties. It was not thus with our Lord (John 19:26-27; Luke 23:42).
2. When we forget the grounds of comfort that are given us.
3. When it inclines the soul to evil. Therefore inquire--
IV. What is the sweet and holy temper of soul that we should seek for?
1. The soul must be raised to a right but yet a bounded grief. And to this end we should look at the state of the soul in itself and on what terms it is with God (Leviticus 16:29). And we should look outside of ourselves to note the causes of grief that are there (Jeremiah 9:1).
2. But our grief must be kept within bounds, and it is so, when it is ready to meet God at every turn in obedience and communion; and when reason approves our grief, and when our grief moves us to all duties of love towards others. Our concern for God’s house cannot be excessive (Psalms 69:9; Psalms 119:39; Isaiah 59:19; Exodus 32:19). See, then, the life of a poor Christian in this world. He is in great danger if he be not troubled at all, and, when troubled, lest he be over-troubled. Let him ask the Holy Spirit’s help (John 11:13). (R. Sibbes.)
Means not to be overcharged with sorrow
1. Take heed of building on unfounded confidence of happiness, which makes us when changes come unacquainted with them and unexpectant and unprepared. We gain help by thinking beforehand of what may come (John 16:33). Still, we are not to imagine troubles.
2. Love not overmuch anything in this world lest when we have to give it up we be brokenhearted. The way to prevent this is given in Colossians 3:1; Col 5:3. Take care when trouble comes not to mingle our passions with it. Our hearts are deceitful. Who would have thought that Moses would have murmured, David murdered (2 Samuel 12:9), Peter denied our Lord (Matthew 26:72)? But trouble and temptation draw forth hidden evils. Therefore let us watch over our own souls and examine them continually. Let us not yield to passion; do we not belong to God? Our passions are to serve, not rule us. Man’s curse was to be a servant of servants (Genesis 9:25). Exercise strong self-denial. The gate, the entrance of religion is narrow, and we must strip ourselves of self before we can enter. (R. Sibbes.)
A sick soul
I. The disease.
1. He is depressed. Aspiration has grown faint. We all know these heavier moments, when the spring seems to go out of our being, and we feel as though the tripping step will never return. We feel prematurely old.
2. He is not merely burdened, he is possessed by a feverish uncertainty. He can no longer look at things calmly and therefore truly, and everything appears to him in monstrous and distorted guise. There is no more fatal minister in human life than the disquieted eye. So long as the eye can gaze at things with cool and quiet vision we see things in their true perspective and proportion. But when the eye is shaken into restlessness its focus is perverted, and everything is seen awry. But the disquieted soul is not only possessed of a restless eye, it is the possessor of a nerveless hand.
II. The remedy.
1. The first step in the removal of this spiritual sickness is a realization of the personal relationship of the soul to God. Once postulate God, and all things come within the plane of the credible.
2. The second essential secret of recovery is to believe in the possibility of God’s health being transmitted to us. There is a striking difference between verse five and verse eleven. In the former verse the psalmist speaks of praising God “for the health of His countenance,” and in verse eleven he speaks of praising God, “who is the health of my countenance.” The health of the one can be transmitted to the other. We more frequently speak of the contagion of disease. Perhaps when we know a little more we shall speak with equal assurance of the contagion of health. If evil communications corrupt good man-hers, holy communications refine them. One of the secrets of obtaining a healthy spiritual life is to obtain the fellowship of saintly people. But the transcendently important clue is to obtain the friendship of God. God’s holiness is contagious; to commune with Him is to become a partaker of the Divine nature. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
1. Physical weakness.
2. A constitutional tendency to look on the darker side of things.
3. The misapprehension of certain main spiritual truths, such as the character of God, conversion, etc.
II. Treatment of the disease.
1. If physical weakness be the secret of our spiritual depression, then the only effectual cure is to aim at strengthening that which is really weak, namely, the bodily health; and not to weaken the body still more by fretting over a lowness of spirits which results from our feeble physical condition almost as inevitably as loss of light follows from the setting of the sun.
2. If, again, it is a constitutional tendency to look on the dark side of things generally, that has to answer for the gloomy hue of our religion, the obvious remedy is to look on the brighter aspect.
3. Or if, by unhappy training, or through the bias of temperament, we have come to entertain such views of God, and of spiritual things, as are directly causative of religious despondency, then we must do our best to remedy the evil by acquiring right views. Above all, we must sedulously and prayerfully cherish right views of God, whom we dishonour by regarding as a captious taskmaster--Him whose nature, and whose name, is Love! (T. F. Lockyer, B. A.)
Causes and cure of melancholy
I. The causes of religious melancholy.
1. Sometimes our compassionate Father, who in mercy visits us so often with external afflictions, is pleased, for the same benevolent reasons, to make us suffer internal sorrows. As when the sun is eclipsed, all nature appears to mourn, so everything is gloomy to the believer when anything interposes between his soul and the gracious countenance of his God.
2. Sometimes Satan is permitted to disquiet and distress the children of God.
3. With Satan, wicked men often concur to depress and cast down the pious.
4. But the great causes of our dejections and melancholy are to be found in ourselves.
(1) From the temperament of the body
(2) From ignorance and error.
(3) From sin.
II. Why, like the psalmist, we should endeavour to rise from this state. Your duty to God, as wail as your own happiness, requires this. How imperfectly are all the Christian duties performed by you, when you are thus “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow”: how unfitly do you worship Him who loves a cheerful and a thankful giver?
III. The means whereby we may again obtain peace, comfort, and a calm trust in God.
1. Imitate the psalmist here: instead of yielding to a vague grief, cite your soul; inquire of it the particular cause of your sorrow: different remedies will be requisite, according to the different sources of your distress: and be careful that you trifle not with God, and your comfort, and your salvation, while you inquire of your soul, “why art thou cast down?”
2. Be careful to understand the Gospel-scheme of salvation; especially the nature, the terms, the intent of the covenant of grace.
3. Study also the promises of God; view them in their variety, their extent, their application to you.
4. In your devotions, be much employed in praise and thanksgiving, instead of principally occupying yourselves with lamentations. If you cannot do this with all the joy that you would, do it as well as you can.
5. Be not unacquainted with your own hearts; examine them, to see the marks of conversion, and to “make your calling sure” to yourselves.
6. But do not confine yourselves to this self-examination; be also engaged in active duties. The growing and fruitful Christian will be a comfortable one; a degree of peace and satisfaction will follow every good action; and your graces, acquiring maturity, will shine by their own light. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
The causes and cure of spiritual distress
I. The psalmist’s present condition or state of mind.
1. Good men are often east down; their souls are often disquieted in them, from want, as they imagine, of actual communion with God in duty, or a sense of His gracious presence with them; and if this complaint were as well founded as it is a common and heavy complaint, it would be a just cause, no doubt, of great disquiet. But how are we to judge of our communion with God in duty?
(1) We are to judge by an habitual sense of the Divinity upon our minds, and the devout reverential impressions we feel from His presence with us, and our accountableness to Him.
(2) We are to judge of communion with God in duty, from the sense we have of our need of daily supplies and communications from His fulness and all-sufficiency.
(3) It will be found no unsatisfying evidence of God’s gracious presence with us in duty if we are enabled to deal fairly with our own hearts.
2. The suggestions of Satan assail the minds of good men. But how are we to distinguish such suggestions as may be properly ascribed to the grand enemy, and those that arise from the unsubdued corruption and lusts of our own minds? We are to distinguish by the welcome they meet with, and the free quarters we allow them, on the one hand; or by the pain and distress they give us, on the other, and by our opposition to them, and our endeavours to dismiss them. It is the consent of the will alone that constitutes the moral turpitude of every emotion or action; and while it is our daily struggle to withhold this, and we are, upon the whole, through Divine grace, enabled to withhold it, we have nothing to fear from all the efforts of Satanical machinations to taint and corrupt our affections. And here the disquieted soul may rest.
3. Not a few have been disquieted and cast down from false representations and wrong conceptions of the Divine decrees; as if thereby a certain number were under a sentence of reprobation, and for ever excluded from the Divine mercy. But this ground of disquiet is most unreasonable, and most dishonourable to God.
4. Another cause of much disquietude arises from imperfect or dark views of the ground of our acceptance with God. A cause of disquietude to which bad men are entire strangers, unless under the immediate horror of momentary convictions.
II. The psalmist’s expostulation with himself. “Why art thou cast down?” etc. God doth not leave His people to lie under their spiritual distresses, to pore over them, and sink under them. He leads them home to prove their hearts; he leads them to their hope.
1. He leads them to prove their spirit, and to observe what is amiss about them: to mark this passion as too violent; that affection as wrong directed; that here they have lost the guard over themselves, and spoke unadvisedly with their tongue, and have been led into indiscretions, into excesses; that there their attachment to the world, or worldly connections, have been too strong, and occupied their time and attention too much.
2. He leads them to their hope--to “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling.” It is from this Sun of Righteousness that the first dawn of hope opens upon the trembling, awakened sinner, and, ready to sink under a load of guilt, supports him. And when believers themselves fall, and thereby wound their peace and lose sight of all their evidences, they have no other refuge.
III. The psalmist’s support amidst all his distress. “Still hope in God,” etc. (T. Gordon.)
I. Nothing is so bad as a continued and allowed downheartedness,
1. It magnifies troubles.
2. It drags at and prevents work.
3. It shadows blessings, making the hard things in life prominent rather than the ameliorating things.
4. It bereaves of God and shadows the promises.
II. There are many causes for downheartedness in this strange and disciplinary world,
2. Overstrain of work.
3. Hard environment.
III. How can one defeat downheartedness and lift into and keep himself in cheer?
1. By recognition of the fact that downheartedness is worst for us. A man ought to esteem it as bad for the soul as some corrupting contagion is for the body.
2. By service for others. That is one trouble with downheartedness--it emphasizes self. And a good, and frequently quick, cure for it is the determined emphasizing on our part of other Selves, thus causing, somewhat at least, a forgetfulness of the morbid self.
3. I pray you also, when you are downhearted, make your work a sacrament. By strong and prayerful volition put yourself at the daily duty; do it even more painstakingly than ever, even though you feel so little like it. A high reactive feeling of victory will have large share in scattering your darkness.
4. Last and chiefest, turn to God. Follow the example of the psalmist here. (W. Hoyt, D. D)
I. The state of mind in which the psalmist was and Christians sometimes are.
II. The desirableness of the investigation which the psalmist instituted.
1. It is very often for a want of asking the question that you are in that state at all. Many men allow partly imaginary trials to creep into their souls, that scarcely have a palpable existence if they were only inquired into, and yet when once they are seen they are watched over, and they grow until they expand to such an extent that they seem to fill the man’s whole spirit and all around him; whereas if they were just looked at in the face in the light of Divine presence and in the glory that beams from another world, they would vanish in a moment like mists before the rising sun; the man’s trouble would be turned into triumph, and his saddest sorrows into sweetest song. Let the inquiry be made, for it is for lack of the inquiry very often that the soul is cast down within us, and is disquieted in all it has to pass through.
2. The inquiry should be made because generally, if not entirely, it would be found that in the Divine dealings there really was no cause whatever for the soul to be cast down at all. The very form of the question implies that. “Why art thou cast down?” Really, the psalmist does not know of any reason why it should be, and he speaks to his soul like another man, of whom he was surprised and almost ashamed.
3. Another reason why the question should be asked is because very often the answer to it will be found in the soul itself. “You ask me why I am cast down within you. Remember all the accumulation of worldliness and care and greed and sinful indulgence that you have heaped up upon me till I have been buried under it and could not move.”
III. The counsel the psalmist addresses to his soul. “Hope thou in God.” Look at Martin Luther when his enemies are like raging lions gathered round him, and he is cast into prison and all things look dark and threatening, and a common soul might be disquieted and cast down. “No,” he says, “let us sing the 46th psalm, ‘ God is our refuge and strength, a very present help; therefore will not we fear though the mountains be removed.’” His soul is not cast down. He hopes in God. What say you--the stream is dried up? Well, in all probability it is in mercy it has, for if that had continued you had never gone to the fountain. Hope thou in God, for if you can say, “God is my salvation,” with joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation. What do you say--your strength is exhausted and you are feeble and have no power left? Then hope thou in God, for they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. (J. P. Chown.)
Trust in God our best support in all our troubles and afflictions
I. We have firm grounds for our trust in God from those attributes of God which enable and dispose him to help us. When we place our trust in God we run no risks, because there is nothing which infinite power cannot accomplish; nothing fit and expedient for us which infinite goodness is not disposed to grant; no promises of help can have been made us by a God of truth and holiness which will not be exactly and punctually fulfilled.
II. Have an eye to the examples of those who have thus placed their trust in God, and have found help in the time of need. Wonderful is that instance of an unshaken confidence in God, which is displayed for our instruction, and recorded for our imitation, in the history of the sufferings and of the patience of Job.
III. Endeavour to strengthen our reliance on God from the experience we ourselves have had of his former lovingkindness towards us. To God we owe our being, and those blessings which we either now do, or ever did, enjoy. There are many calamities incident to men which we have, through the goodness of God, escaped. He who hath delivered us from so great dangers, and doth deliver, in Him we may safely trust, that He will yet deliver us. Is the Lord’s hand, that has been so often stretched forth for our help, since shortened, that it can no longer save? Or is His ear, that has been so often opened to our prayers, grown heavy, that it can no more hear? (Bishop Smalridge.)
Whatever God may be, it is no advantage to me if He is not my God. Another man’s health will not make me well. Another man’s wealth will not make me rich. Another man’s knowledge will not make me wise. Another man’s station will not make me dignified. The leaving out of one word from the will may ruin a man’s hopes and blast all his expectations. The want of this one word “My” is the sinner’s loss of heaven, and the dagger that smites him into the second death. That pronoun my is just worth as much to the soul as God and heaven; because without it you can’t have them. That little word is the private cabinet in which all our comfort for time and for eternity is locked up. It is the one string upon which all our joys are hung. (R. Berry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 42". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29