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Judge me, O God, and plead my cause.
The soul’s double appeal
I. An appeal to God.
1. For Divine vindication.
2. For Divine deliverance.
3. For Divine information.
4. For Divine guidance.
II. An appeal to self. He was conscious of--
1. The personality of his soul.
2. The sorrow of his soul.
3. The interests of his son! (Homilist.)
I. The exile’s prayer.
1. For judgment against the accusations of an ungodly nation. Nothing uncommon for the Christian to be the target of wrong charges.
2. For deliverance from the deceitful and unjust man.
3. For light and truth to lead him back to Zion.
II. The exile’s promise.
1. To go to the altar, i.e. for sacrifice, consecration, worship.
2. To seize the harp for thanksgiving and praise.
Religious services should be gladsome; those in the home as well as those in the sanctuary. Our hearts too often like “muffled drums beating funeral marches,” rather than like well-tuned harps sending forth strains of sweetest harmony and gladdest adoration, etc.
III. The exile’s soliloquy.
1. A question.
2. A response.
“Cast down!”--“Hope.” “Disquieted!”--“Praise.” “Praise Him who is the health,” the beauty, the ruddy glow, the youth, “of thy countenance, and thy God.” (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
The secret of sadness
I. Is it because I am not really fighting against him? Am I doing my best, or only allowing religion to be a sentiment, a dream, and not a real stern battle?
II. Is it because I am only fighting a part of the enemy? Prince Rupert, at the battles of Edgehill and Marston Moor, was utterly defeated because he concentrated all his strength on one wing of the enemy, heedless of the other. So is it often with Christians.
III. Is it because I am fighting too exclusively my own battle? When cholera threatens, men look to the sanitary conditions, not of their own house merely, but of the neighbourhood round. Christians, too, often think only of their own souls and not of others.
IV. Is it because I am fighting too much in my own strength? The late Isaac Taylor, the engraver, was a very holy but a very poor man, and had much to try him; it was his wont to retire for an hour each day for communion with God. So he won, and so must we win, spiritual victory. (Joseph Ogle.)
O send out Thy light and Thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacles.
The sending out of light and truth
I. The feelings here expressed.
1. A deep sense of darkness.
2. Belief in God as the source of spiritual life.
3. Earnest desire after Him. His soul wanted light-God’s light; he knew that it must be sent out; also he desired God’s truth.
II. The purpose of his desire--“Let them lead me;” he knew his own helplessness.
III. The place to which he desired to be led.
God’s tabernacles, God’s holy hill. He would be led to holiness and to the knowledge of God in Christ which the tabernacle set forth. This alone would satisfy his soul. (J. C. Philpot)
The obscurities of Divine revelation
(with Psalms 36:9):Perhaps no one ever studied the Bible as a professed revelation from God who has not had such questions cross his mind as the following:--Why is there so much in this book that is obscure and unintelligible? Why is not more information given on great and important questions about which the human mind has always been perplexed? Why are so many subjects left in total darkness in a professed revelation, and others left with only such a feeble glimmering of light as almost to make us wish that there had been none? And this perplexity is increased when we reflect--
1. That it would have been so easy for God to have given us the light we crave for.
2. It seems so needful to vindicate His own character.
3. And mere benevolence on His part seems to demand it in order to relieve our distress of mind. And--
4. There is so much in the Bible--histories, names, genealogies, etc.--which have lost all interest for us now, and instead of which we should be glad, indeed, to have some explanations of the dark mysteries which oppress us. To obtain a rational view of this matter there are two inquiries.
I. What is the measure of light actually imparted in the Bible? Note the principles which seem to have guided the Divine mind in giving a revelation to man. The question of giving light on the matters referred to must have occurred. But God seems to have determined--
1. To leave many subjects perfectly in the dark. It was clearly the design of God to fix an outer limit to human knowledge so far as this world is concerned. Far on the hither side of what we would like to know, the line is drawn, and the whole hook is closed at what may, without irreverence, be called--or which, whether irreverent or not, expresses our natural feelings--a provoking point, just at the point where we would be glad to ask questions, and where we by no means feel our minds satisfied with what we possess. I am, for one, willing to concede that among these points are the questions why moral evil was admitted into the system; why misery ever found its way into the empire of an infinitely benevolent and Almighty Creator and moral Governor; and why the period will never arrive when sin and woe shall everywhere come to an end. On these, and on many kindred topics of great interest to man, I confess I have never seen a ray of light cast by any human speculation; and that though I have been silenced, I have not been convinced. Other men think they see light here: I see none. I admit, therefore, that the whole subject of the introduction and existence of evil is all dark to my mind, and that I struggle in vain for the light.
2. A second principle on which revelation seems to have been given, similar to the one just mentioned, is, to state nothing merely to gratify curiosity. The Bible is for practical purposes only, to tell us what we shall do in our relations to God and our fellow-men.
3. Its vital principle was to furnish knowledge enough to be a safe guide to heaven. This was its essential purpose, and if that were secured it was enough. It is like the lighthouse that gleams on a dark and stormy coast, to reveal the haven to the storm-tossed mariner. “It shines over the stormy ocean, only penetrating a darkness which it was never intended to expel.” So it is in respect to the Gospel. Man, too, is on a stormy ocean--the ocean of life, and the night is very dark. There are tempests that beat around us; undercurrents that would drift us into unknown seas; rocks that make our voyage perilous. The Gospel is a light “standing on the dark shore of eternity, just simply guiding us there.” It reveals to us almost nothing of the land to which we go, but only the way to reach it. It does nothing to answer the thousand questions which we would ask about that world, but it tells how we may see it with our own eyes.
II. Our second inquiry is, why was there no more light gives? Now, all we can do is to show that our duty is not to object to the Bible because it gives no more light, but to be grateful for that which it has given. As the appropriate feeling of our mariner would be gratitude that that bright and clear, though little light, is kept burning on that stormy coast to guide every vessel that may chance to come into those waters, not of complaint that it does not reveal the hills, and vales, and cities, and hamlets of that land.
1. First, our essential condition on earth is one of discipline and probation. Now, if we would search our own minds, we should probably find that the questions in reference to which we are most disposed to complain because they are not solved, are not those which really embarrass us in the matter of salvation, or which, being solved, would aid us, but those in reference to which our salvation may be equally safe and easy whether they are solved or not. When a man finds himself struggling in a stream, it does nothing to facilitate his escape to know how he came there; nor would it aid the matter if he could determine beyond a doubt why God made streams that men could ever fall into them, and did not make every bank so that it would not crumble beneath the feet. In the condition of man, therefore, regarded as in a state of discipline, all that is needed is that a man’s safety shall not be endangered by his lack of light, and that the darkness shall be such as to furnish a healthful exercise of his powers. It is good for man to be stimulated to inquiry, to feel, not as Alexander did, that there were no more worlds to be conquered, but that a boundless field of inquiry is ever open before him. God would not stop the career of noble thought and the path of discovery by pouring down a flood of light on all those regions so that no more was left for the efforts of honourable ambition. The explorer of unknown lands is cheered because a vast and inviting field is before him, which the foot of man has never trod It was this which animated Columbus when his prow first crossed the line beyond which a ship had ever sailed, and plunged into unknown seas. Every wave that was thrown up had a new interest and beauty, from the fact that its repose had never been disturbed before by the keel of a vessel; and when his eyes first saw the land, and he prostrated himself and kissed the earth, his glory was at the highest, for he saw what in old ages was unknown before. And let all inquirers on these great questions remember, however perplexed they may now be, that in a few years, as the result of calm examination and of maturer reflection and observation, most of these difficulties will disappear. Why may I not hope, then, as to the difficulties that remain?
2. It is not absolutely certain, it is not even probable, that we could comprehend any statements which could be made on those points which now perplex us (John 3:12). Remember that it depends on the measure of our faculties and attainments how far we can grasp ideas that are set before us. Much may be said, yet but little be understood. Apply all this to those mysteries of the moral government of God. Are you certain that you could comprehend the high principles of the Divine administration even if they were stated to you?
3. We are in the infancy of our being; we have but just opened our eyes upon this wonderful universe, which in its structure demanded all the wisdom, and goodness, and power of an infinite God! Very few of us have lived through the period of seventy revolving suns; a majority of us not fifty; many not twenty. We have but just learned to speak, to handle things, to talk, to walk. But yesterday we were at our mother’s breasts. We knew not anything. And now, forsooth, we wonder that we do not know all about God, and these worlds, and the moral government of the Most High. We sit in judgment on what our Maker has told us. We are sullen and silent; we repress our gratitude; we throw back His Bible in His face; we have no songs and no thanksgivings, because we are not told all about this earth, and these skies, about heaven and about hell, and about the God that made, and that rules over all! (A. Battles, D. D.)
The confidence and joy of faith in approaching to God
In these verses we may observe--
1. The genuine disposition and desire of a gracious soul, when privileged with an opportunity of attending upon the ordinances of divine appointment. Ordinances themselves will not satisfy, but it will be the desire of that soul to be brought near to God, so as to have real communion with Him in them.
2. How, or in what manner, a believer is enabled to approach unto God in His ordinances, so as to have communion with Him in them. Can he find the way to God himself? No, he must be led; directed by a light from above.
3. In what manner believers are helped to approach unto God when He is pleased to send out His light and truth to lead them, and bring them to His holy hill and to His tabernacles, or to direct them in their approaches to him in duties and ordinances. Then they are enabled to go unto God as “their God,” and “the exceeding joy”; or to appear before Him with becoming confidence and holy joy. From the words we may observe the following doctrine. When the people of God have an opportunity of approaching to Rim in the ordinances of His grace, particularly in solemn ordinances, they ought to draw near to Him with holy confidence and holy joy.
I. Offer a few general remarks for illustrating the subject.
1. Communion with God is sometimes the privilege of His people even while they are here on earth. Nor is this the privilege of a few eminent saints only, but is common to believers.
2. The ordinances of God’s own appointment are the ordinary means of communion and fellowship with Him. When these are despised or neglected, all pretensions to communion with God are vain.
3. Real communion with God in ordinances is a rare attainment. Many read and hear the Word, regularly attend upon the ordinances of God, and even go to a communion table who are utterly unacquainted with it.
4. Sinful men can have no communion with God but by sacrifice. They ask, they expect, they desire no blessing from God, but for the sake of Christ who gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour (Ephesians 5:2).
5. Believers themselves who have formerly been brought near to God, and enjoyed His gracious presence cannot have access to Him anew, or any comfortable communion with Him in ordinances, but under the gracious influence of His Holy Spirit.
6. As communion with God in ordinances is a rare attainment, it is also a precious and valuable attainment. It relieves the believer under all his burdens, and comforts him amidst all his griefs and sorrows. It is a pledge and earnest of future glory; yea, it is, as it were, heaven begun.
II. Speak somewhat concerning that holy confidence and joy with which the people of God ought to approach unto him in the ordinances and duties of his worship, and particularly in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, which is a feast He has made for His friends, in partaking of which they are called to rejoice before Him, as Israel were commanded to do when they kept the feasts of the Lord, during the Mosaic economy.
1. The confidence with which believers are warranted to draw near unto God, when they have an opportunity of waiting upon Him in His ordinances, is not inconsistent with a humbling and self-abasing sense of their own unworthiness and sinfulness, but rather supposes it.
2. The confidence of faith, with which the people of God ought to draw near to Him in the ordinances and duties of His worship, differs greatly from that presumptuous confidence which is to be found with hypocrites and self-righteous persons in their approaches to Him.
3. That holy joy with which believers, imitating David’s example, ought to approach unto God in His ordinances, and particularly in solemn ordinances, is very consistent with deep and great sorrow for sin. Indeed, the one cannot be without the other.
4. The joy of the godly, when brought near unto God in His ordinances, is not a carnal, but a spiritual joy; and therefore no outward troubles or afflictions can hinder the exercise of it under the influence of the Holy Spirit as a Spirit of faith.
5. The confidence and joy with which believers ought to nor make any suitable improvement of His ordinances.
6. Because by approach-various degrees. A strong faith begets strong confidence and great joy; a weak faith is accompanied with little confidence and little joy. A strong faith glorifies God, yet He will accept of a weak faith.
III. Show why the people of God ought to approach unto him in his ordinances with becoming confidence and holy joy.
1. Because He is a God reconciled in Christ.
2. Because the way of access to God, which Christ the glorious Mediator has opened by His blood, was opened just for the benefit of sinners who deserve no favour, but, on the other hand, are obnoxious to the justice and wrath of God.
3. A sure foundation is laid for this confidence and icy in our approaches to God.
4. Because without some degree of this holy confidence and joy persons can have no communion with God, nor make any suitable improvement of His ordinances.
5. Because by approaching unto God with humble confidence and holy joy, they do in an especial manner glorify Him.
6. Confidence and holy joy in our approaches to God are not only warranted, but required in the word of God (Deuteronomy 16:10-11; Psalms 62:8; Psalms 96:2).
IV. Application. Is it SO that the people of God are warranted to approach unto Him in His ordinances with confidence and joy? then hence we may see--
1. The great love of God to sinners of mankind.
2. How much believers are indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is through Him that they have access unto the Father.
3. This text and doctrine serves to inform us of the nature and excellency of true faith. Relying upon the testimony of God in the Gospel concerning the method of reconciliation and ground of acceptance with Him, it inspires the soul with holy confidence, and fills the heart with holy joy in approaching to God.
4. We must not always judge of the privileges of believers by their exercise or the actings of their faith. Though now through the prevalence of unbelief, they frequently cannot take the comfort of these, they shall not lose their interest in them.
5. We may see who will be worthy communicants at the table of the Lord, viz. those who have a real desire to be brought near to God Himself, and whose hope and confidence, in their approaches to Him, are wholly bottomed upon the gracious revelation that He has made of His name as a God in Christ, and upon what Christ has done and suffered, to procure access to God for guilty sinners.
6. Hence see matter of trial and examination. If you are true believers who desire to enjoy communion with God in His ordinances, and none else are warranted to partake of the Gospel-feast in view, David’s petition will be yours, “O send out Thy light.”
(1) You esteem and set a high value upon the ordinances of God. His tabernacles are amiable to you.
(2) Absence and distance from God will be very painful and distressing to you.
(3) Ordinances will not content you. It is a meeting with God Himself that you desire. When this is wanting, ordinances, however excellent in themselves, are to the believer like dry breasts and empty pits, that afford no satisfaction, no comfort, no refreshment.
(4) You dare not approach to God but by a Mediator.
(5) You have seen the need of drawing power in order to your being brought near to God in any ordinance or duty. This you were not only convinced of at first conversion, but you are sensible of it still.
(6) When at any time you are brought near to God in ordinances, no degrees of communion with Him that you attain to will fully satisfy you; but you will desire still to be brought nearer and nearer to Him.
7. Hence we see the duty of all who have an opportunity of approaching to God in His ordinances, and particularly of believers who design to partake of the Gospel-feast in view, but perhaps are labouring under various discouragements. They are called to draw near to God with humble confidence and holy joy.
(1) Consider what a God He is whom you are called to approach unto. Not an absolute, angry God, but a God in Christ, a sin-pardoning, a reconciled God; a God with whom there is mercy and plenteous redemption.
(2) Consider that however unworthy, guilty and vile you are in yourselves, there is a sufficiency of merit in Christ to procure your access to God and acceptance with Him. (D. Wilson.)
Desiring communion with God
I. The psalmist’s earnest petition.
1. The subject of his request.
(1) “Light” is that glorious creature “which maketh manifest” to the sense of sight surrounding objects; and thus enables a person to perceive himself and his situation with its advantages or disadvantages, so as to avail himself of what is favourable and to avoid what is otherwise. Metaphorically, it signifies mental illumination, or the means or instruments of such illumination (John 3:19). Thus the epithet is applied to “believers” (Ephesians 5:8), who are “children of the light,” because illuminated. And to God, word (Psalms 119:105; Hosea 6:5); and to His ministers and people (Matthew 5:14; John 5:35) as the means of illumination. Light is also a cheerful subject, and therefore it is used to denote prosperity, comfort, felicity (Psalms 97:11; Isaiah 58:8, etc.).
(2) The “truth” here requested may mean religious truth in general, as in John 17:17; and, if so, then the prayer is that of every missionary, and of every friend of missions. But it more properly intends the fulfilment of God’s promises to the petitioner; a verifying of those promises in his experience, that he might prove and rejoice in their truth.
2. The intention of his request--a participation in religious enjoyments.
(1) An acknowledgment of need.
(2) Not only a willingness, but anxiety to be led and taught.
(3) A resolution to walk in the light, and to submit to the truth of God.
(4) A humble anticipation of being so instructed as to be enabled to correct past errors, and of coming to worship God in the beauty of holiness (Psalms 42:4; Psalms 122:1).
II. The psalmist’s pious purpose.
1. The object of his devotions” God,” as opposed to the creatures. Not domestic, social or public pleasures or achievements; but God, who is the source of light and truth (James 1:17). “My God,” as opposed to every other, and peculiarly mine. The object of my affection; the object of my trust (Psalms 73:24-28).
2. The fervour of his devotion--“Unto God my exceeding joy,” or, “the gladness of my joy.” How inferior the joy of the sensualist, the worldling, etc. (Psalms 4:7; Isaiah 9:3).
3. The manner of his devotion--“T will go unto the altar,” etc.
(1) He would sacrifice. Is a sin-offering necessary? It shall be offered. Is a thank-offering due? It shall be rendered.
(2) He would praise--“upon the harp,” etc. “We have an altar,” etc. “By him therefore let us offer,” etc. (Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:15).
(3) This was public worship; an open avowal of God’s goodness, and His servant’s obligation. The psalmist was a man of personal piety, which he evinced by practical piety. Are we such?
(4) This was a public dedication: an engagement of himself in God’s service in any post that might be assigned to him. Are you imitating this conduct, thus praying, thus purposing? (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The ascent of man
1. There are five stages in the light of God. The first is simple leading--the guiding of a child. Then comes the height of ecstasy--the holy hill; I stand above the world and laugh at the cares of time. By and by comes a third stage; I descend from the hill to the tabernacles. Ecstasy subsides into peace; the height sinks into the home; love on the wing becomes love in the nest. After this comes the light of sacrifice--“Then shall I go unto the altar of God.” “Then,” not before. Peace alone can sacrifice for others. I cannot sacrifice when I am being led; I am thinking too much about my own steps. I cannot sacrifice when I am in ecstasy; I am too intent on my own joy. But when I get peace, I go out from myself altogether; I go to the altar. At last the climax comes. The altar itself becomes “my exceeding joy”--the rapture of forgetting self in the care of another.
2. It is a spiral stair, but it is golden. Sometimes it seems to make no progress. There are moments when my feet grow weary with their climbing, and the end is not yet. Shine from the topmost height, Thou Divine Joy! Often I am led by a Way which by myself I would not go; I see not the Christ, but only the manger. Shine out, Thou Christ, and the manger shall be luminous. Shine out, and the altar shall glow with the light of coming fires. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
God’s light and truth our only guides
I. What the psalmist here asks of God.
1. Something that he wished to enjoy.
(1) Some think he means but one thing: as if he had said, “Send out the light of Thy truth.”
(2) Others understand it of the Word and Providence of God.
(3) Others, of God’s favour and faithfulness.
(4) Others, of the Word of God and His Holy Spirit; or, of the Spirit working by the Word.
2. The manner in which David desired and expected to have the blessing communicated to him for which he prayed. “Send out.”
(1) This imports that God’s light and His truth were, for the present, withdrawn, in a great measure, from David’s view; and from the view of such as were witnesses of his condition. They were like a person who retires from view, and hides himself in a secret place; so that, if David had been to consult with flesh and blood, he might have doubted of their existence.
(2) It imports that David still believed in God as a God of light and truth, even when these perfections ceased to be manifested in his behalf. He was assured that God knew all that befell him; and, notwithstanding all, he was persuaded that God would fully accomplish all His promises to him, and to his house.
(3) It imports that when God should interpose for His servant’s deliverance, as he confidently expected He would, then he firmly hoped to see the Divine wisdom and faithfulness vindicated from all those aspersions that had been cast upon them.
3. David’s earnestness a fervency in this petition.
II. David’s end in asking that for which he prays so fervently.
1. The more general end. “Let them lead me.” He wanted to be guided and conducted by the wisdom and faithfulness of God, not only in his present difficulty, but in every other step of his journey through the wilderness.
(1) Indirectly, this may be said to take place when the providence of God, under the influence of His infinite wisdom and faithfulness, manages all that concerns the person in such a manner as may tend to his spiritual good, and to the accomplishment of the promises of God to him.
(2) But God’s light and truth may be said to lead His people more directly and sensibly, when, in His infinite wisdom and faithfulness, He gives them such counsel, instruction and direction as enables them to keep the way of duty, and prevents their turning aside after any crooked ways (Psalms 25:8-9; Isaiah 55:4).
2. The more particular end for which David begs a manifestation of God’s light and truth.
(1) A removal of all those obstructions and hindrances that stood in the way of an attendance upon the solemn worship and ordinances of God.
(2) A being directed and enabled to the acceptable performance of all those preparatory duties that are necessary in order to a regular attendance upon God in solemn ordinances.
(3) A being strengthened by the grace of God, and enabled to attend upon God’s ordinances “in a regular and acceptable manner.”
(4) A being admitted to enjoy that spiritual advantage of which ordinances are the means.
(5) A being brought home, at length, to the full and immediate enjoyment of God in heaven.
1. For information.
(1) It informs us of the necessary connection between an attendance upon God in His ordinances here, and the full enjoyment of Him in the most holy place hereafter.
(2) How vain and fruitless it is to pay such an attendance upon ordinances as may be attained without any Divine assistance.
(3) How vain and useless all that light is in religious matters which proceeds not from God Himself.
(4) They who would live as Christians ought to have their dependence upon God for leading in every step of their journey through the wilderness as well as in their attendance upon Divine ordinances.
2. For trial.
(1) Are you sensible that it is a duty, indispensably binding upon you, to ascend the hill of God and to enter His tabernacles as you have an opportunity?
(2) Is it real matter of joy and rejoicing to you that God has given you so near a prospect of another opportunity to ascend His hill, and wait upon Him in solemn ordinances?
(3) Do you see the necessity of being brought by God Himself to His holy hill and to His tabernacles? That it is impossible for you to attend upon any ordinance acceptably without supernatural assistance?
(4) Is it your present exercise; and are you resolved that it shall always be your endeavour to set forward in every act of worship, praying to God, as does the royal psalmist in the text, for the conduct and assistance of His light and truth?
3. For humiliation and mourning.
(1) How many are there among us who are altogether careless about being present on God’s holy hill or in His tabernacles! A sad evidence that they know little about solid happiness, or about where it is to be found.
(2) How many satisfy themselves with such an attendance upon ordinances as may be attained without any supernatural assistance; and how often are we all chargeable with this sin.
(3) How many are left to follow false lights in attempting to ascend God’s hill, and to go into His tabernacle! To what else can it be owing, that “altars are set up against altars” in every corner; and there are so many distinct and opposite societies, all pretending to worship God, and that in His own tabernacles? (John Young, D. D.)
Jesus brought light to the world, and they who follow Him need walk no longer in darkness, for He is the light of life. For--
I. He lights every man to the heart of God. You need to be spiritually minded to perceive this. As a blind man cannot understand colour, so an unspiritual man cannot understand God. But Jesus Christ came to reveal God.
II. He reveals to us the everlasting love of God. We often think that because we are bad the Lord has turned His back upon us; but Jesus, the light of the world, testified by His life and death that instead of turning from you, the Lord, like a good physician, seeks after poor sin-sick souls to heal them and save them. Jesus Christ is the Divine light showing us how much higher and holier than we can conceive is the character of God, that His love is infinite, and that He will seek His lost sheep until He finds them.
III. Jesus Christ is also the light of God and the light of the world in illuminating the grandest of all truths, that God’s charity is universal. Like the blessed sunlight, God’s love is diffused with equal and bounteous hand over the cottage and the palace. God’s great heart is not partial. He loves my poor friend quite as much as the richest man in the land. His charity beams upon all men alike.
IV. Jesus Christ is also a cheering and a transforming light. When the sun’s rays fall upon a diamond, it glistens with intense beauty; but when the light is gone, the diamond can be no more seen in the dark than a stone. So Christ lights up the Christian. And Christ makes him also a light giver as well as a light receiver.
V. Christ brings immortality to light. (W. Birch.)
Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.
The altar of joy
This is the expression of a twofold desire, a desire for communion with God, and for communion with God through public worship. There is a great wail of sorrow in the psalm, but it is not a sorrow without hope; faith struggles with despondence, and gets the victory. The authorship of the psalm we cannot be certain of. Nor of the occasion, whether some event in David’s reign, or in Ahaz’s, or in the captivity, or yet some other. Augustine held that the psalm is the proper expression of the Church while she is an exile in this world. They are unquestionably words for all individual souls who feel that something intervenes between them and God--whether it be exile of the body or of the heart only. Often we are separated from the house of God, from the worship that we love, and which has been so precious because so helpful to us, and we yearn for restoration to our privileges. Or it may be the yearning of the heart for spiritual joy, for delight in worship, for the kindling inspiration, the answering voice, the holy rapture which once we knew but now do not, though all the outward service is still ours. Or it may be the longing of the holy soul for God’s heaven, that presence of God in which there is fulness of joy and of which sometimes in our holiest hours we have visions and foretastes. Thus in different experiences and moods we make these precious words our own. But to the psalmist they told--
I. Of his strong desire for restoration to the public worship of God. It is of the very essence of the religious heart that it should yearn for God. Let a man’s religious life be full and fervent, and the use of what are termed “the means of grace” may be safely left to the instincts of his own soul. But does not every pious heart sympathize with David’s delight in the house of the Lord? Who of us has not realized there a fuller and more fervent feeling of His presence than anywhere else? Who of us neglects or disparages God’s house without coldness and dulness creeping over our whole devotional life? Its services are the festivals of our piety, it is the place where His honour dwelleth. But the psalmist speaks of worship before God’s altar. Why the altar rather than the mercy-seat? It is not enough to say that he spake the language of his dispensation, which was one in which sacrifice was prominent. Why was it so? There is but one satisfactory answer--that it was an institution prophetical and preparatory to the great sacrifice of Christ. By no satisfactory process, at least to minds like my own, can it be explained away or reduced to a mere symbol of self-sacrifice. The facts and instincts of our moral consciousness all agree to the doctrine of sacrifice as it is set forth in the Bible.
II. The psalmist’s superlative joy in such worship. Why have we not more joy? It is absent almost everywhere. In all churches and services, in hymns and prayers. It is because we fail of the personal character essential to it, and because we think hard and false thoughts of God. (H. Allen, D. D.)
The altar of God
The devotional spirit is the life of religion; and there never was a man of piety who was not a man of prayer. The text opens to us two important views.
I. The peculiar nature of that worship which God has authorized. It is going to the altar of God. We ought all to be aware that there is a peculiarity in the worship which God authorizes. There is--
1. The recognition of our sin. When man was innocent he needed no atonement. There was no altar in Paradise. But now we need one.
2. Our first liability to punishment is acknowledged.
3. And that God is propitious through the atonement He has appointed. A mere sacrifice is not sufficient, for it might have been a human invention merely. But this God has appointed. Atonement is for the penitent (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:29-31).
II. The emphatic description which is given of the joy of it.
“God, my exceeding joy.” This joy arises from--
1. Our being placed in the presence of a Being of infinite glory and perfection. It supposes reconciliation with God.
2. Because this worship enables us to appropriate this display of glory to ourselves. David speaks of “My God.”
3. It is the joy of confidence.
4. And in going to the altar of God we have the renewed assurances of His favour.
5. And there is the joy of life. (R. Watson.)
The believer going to God as his exceeding joy
Especially does he thus come to God in the holy ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, which was called by the ancients the Eucharist or Sacrifice of Praise. Now--
I. In this ordinance there are to the sincere Christian many sources of joy.
1. The fullest assurance and the clearest evidence of the forgiveness of sins.
2. The strongest and most illustrious proof of Divine love.
3. The fullest assurance of receiving from God all that is necessary for comfort and happiness while in this world, and that both for spiritual and temporal life.
4. A pledge and earnest of heaven.
II. Practical improvement of this subject. See--
1. How great is God’s goodness in providing for us now so rich entertainment.
2. What joy and consolation there are here be the fearful and doubting Christian.
3. And, indeed, to all without exception, because here we see that God is in Christ “reconciling the world unto Himself.” (J. Witherspoon.)
God, my exceeding joy
I. Cheerfulness is health and duty (Proverbs 17:22; Nehemiah 8:10; Isaiah 64:5). It is our duty as Christians to rise to
“What nothing earthly gives, nor can destroy
The soul’s calm sunshine and her heartfelt joy.”
II. God alone is “exceeding joy.” He alone lasts, He only overflows. And all this but natural to Him who is the Lord of the universe. And this exceeding joy is undisturbed by any fear of coming to an end. The bridal pair are very happy, but the thought often comes, One of us must survive the other; which, alas? But the joy of God cannot be disturbed by any calamity. And how elevated it is. For “none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate.”
III. There is a great difference between thinking about God and enjoying him. It is one thing to apprehend God, and another to appropriate Him. The God of experience is the God we need. (E. Paxton Hood.)
The good man’s duty and blessedness
“And then I shall be happy: heaven only can make me happier. Oh, if I can but get near to God and procure a smile from Him, all the world will be as nothing to me.” A happy frame of mind this, to meet trouble in. Consider--
I. The good man’s duty--going to God. This implies--
1. Submission as to his Sovereign.
2. Friendship so as to commune with God as to his troubles, joys, sins, fears, hopes, needs.
II. The good man’s blessedness--exceeding joy in God. It exceeds all other joy.
1. In its nature. It is not earthly but spiritual and divine.
2. As to its degree. Creature joy is but little--a drop--at most, but in God’s presence is fulness of joy.
3. As to duration. It is as the house on the rock compared with that on the sand. Let us ask, What is our joy?
1. How wrong not to go to God. We are either still children of wrath, or if not there has been some sad declension from God.
2. How great our obligation to Christ.
3. Let us long for heaven. (Samuel Lavington.)
Communion with God, the Christian’s aim in attending Divine ordinances
I. In what manner we should attend upon God’s ordinances; in imitation of David’s example.
1. He resolved to deal with God only by the intervention of an atonement.
2. He intended not to continue an idle spectator, nor to consider himself as such, during his attendance in God’s tabernacles. Here is the market-place, where all that is truly valuable is exposed to sale by God’s authority, and may be bought without money and without price.
3. He resolved to bring somewhat with him into God’s tabernacles which he might offer upon His altar. And every Gospel worshipper, when he “comes into God’s courts, ought to bring an offering with him.” If you are duly affected with what He has done for you, nothing less will satisfy you than to offer yourself, and all your services, and all your talents, and all your possessions as a sacrifice of thanksgiving upon the Gospel altar.
4. tie would present his gift upon the altar, and expect the acceptance of it only in that way. When you present your supplications to God, remember that you can receive no gracious answer, whatever it is that you pray for, unless through Christ. And when you make an offering of yourself and your services to God, consider always that it is only for the sake of Christ and His atoning sacrifice that any of your offerings can be accepted.
II. What it is to go to God himself at his altar or in his ordinances.
1. A cheerful and ready forsaking of all sin. Our degree of intimacy with God in ordinances will always bear a proportion to our diligence and success in cleansing ourselves from sin.
2. A turning of our back upon the world and leaving it behind us. We must go to heaven, not by any local motion, but by an elevation of our hearts, affections and desires above the vanities of a present world; and setting them upon “the things that are above,” “where Christ is at the right hand of God.”
3. A believing acceptance of God Himself as the person’s everlasting and all-satisfying portion upon the footing of His own gracious grant and promise. In that wonderful declaration, “I am the Lord thy God,” so often repeated, God makes over Himself to us; as a portion, in the enjoyment of which we may be supremely blessed, even through an endless eternity.
4. An offering up to God all our desires in a way of fervent supplication.
5. A diligent searching after God, and after communion with Him in His ordinances.
6. An attendance upon God in ordinances with a view of being so much nearer to the full enjoyment of Him in the holy of holies above.
III. In what respect it is, on what grounds, that God may de called his people’s exceeding joy.
1. Why is God called His people’s “joy”?
(1) God is the author and the efficient cause of all the believer’s joy. It is one of the fruits of His Spirit dwelling in His people.
(2) God is the object of the believer’s joy.
2. Why the believer’s joy in God has the epithet “exceeding.”
(1) It exceeds all the joy that arises from the possession of any other, or of all other objects. All other objects are but the works of His hands. Therefore, that joy of which He is the object exceeds all that arises from other things, as far as the Creator is superior to the creature.
(2) It exceeds all the grief, heaviness and sorrow incident to the child of God through the manifold trials and miseries of all this life.
1. All attendance upon Divine ordinances must be fruitless and unprofitable when persons are not concerned to come to Christ in ordinances.
2. No person comes really and acceptably to Christ who comes not, at the same time, unto God through Him.
3. In vain will any person attempt to come unto God, any otherwise than through Jesus Christ.
4. In this text we may see who among us shall be acceptable worshippers in God’s tabernacles; and particularly who will be welcome guests at His holy table to-day.
God our exceeding joy
God is the exceeding joy of the godly man.
1. As the immutable source of his supreme satisfaction. Let a man possess the favour of Him in whose presence there is fulness of joy, and he needs no more. Our lesser sources of satisfaction may be destroyed, but our greatest can neither perish nor change by the influence of evil.
2. As a perpetual supply of good which he may always appropriate. As the objects which constitute the materials of earthly happiness are all external, consequently they, as well as the happiness they create, are alike subject to change and decay. But they who rejoice in God have that redundant spring whose waters fail not. External sources of comfort may be dried up, like the prophet’s book, but the inward solacements of piety remain.
3. As the wise controller of all worldly events. It is on this ground that the believer can maintain his serenity of mind amidst outward causes of perturbation. Amidst all his trials he is well assured that God has attached an ultimate design of mercy to every sorrow. He can generally perceive that design, even if he cannot understand its full extent of good. In some cases it comes to prove and exhibit the excellency of his principles, the beauty of confiding faith, and the power of quiet meekness. In other instances it is to correct the evils of his heart, wean him from earth, and stimulate him to seek all his joys at God’s right hand.
4. As that Being who will eventually recompense the trials and sorrows of His people with eternal joy. Here the Christian is but a pilgrim through the wilderness preceding that promised good land, of which he gets but few and scanty gleams. Here, he has the flower of hope; there, God will give him the fruit of perfect joy. The largest desires of the soul shall hereafter be amply satisfied. The spirit, freed from all the sorrows, sins, and imperfections of this world, shall find perfect purity its element, and shall reflect the happiness of God for ever, as jewels the rays of sparkling light. (James Foster.)
God--the saint’s exceeding joy.
It is observable that, in the courts of kings, children and common people are much taken with pictures and rich shows, and feed their fancies with the sight of rich hangings and fine things; but the grave statesman passeth by such things as not worthy taking notice of--his business is with the king. Thus it is that in this world most men stay in the outer rooms and admire the low things of the world, and look upon them as pieces of much excellence; but the spiritually minded man looketh over all these things that are here below--his business is with God. (J. Spencer.)
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God.
This psalm was penned by David, which shows the passions of his soul; for God’s children know the estate of their own souls for the strengthening of their trust and bettering their obedience. Now, this is the difference between psalms and other places of Scripture. Other scriptures speak mostly from God to us; but in the Psalms this holy man doth speak mostly to God and his own soul; so that this psalm is an expostulation of David with his own soul in a troubled estate; when being banished from the house of God, he expostulates the matter with his soul: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?” The words tell of--
I. David’s perplexed estate. “Why art thou cast down,” etc.
1. How did he come to be thus perplexed? He was in great trouble and affliction. A soul that is lively in grace cannot endure to live under small means of salvation.
2. The second thing that troubled this holy man was the blasphemous words of wicked men. Therefore if we would try our state to be good, see how we take to heart everything that is done against religion. Can a child be patient when he sees his father abused? God’s children are sensible of such things. But observe--
1. A child of God must not be too much discouraged and cast down in afflictions. There must be measure both in sorrow and in joy. Not as Nabal (1 Samuel 25:36-37). And we may know when this measure is exceeded if our mourning and sorrow do not bring us to God, but drives us from God. Grief, sorrow and humility are good; but discouragement is evil (Exodus 6:9; 1 Peter 3:7). Christians must not exceed in anything; when they do they are overcome of their passions. And to be cast down and disquieted is sin, because it doth turn to the reproach of religion and God Himself; and because their so sinking under afflictions never yield any good fruit, and it hinders us both from and in holy duties; for either we do not perform them at all, or otherwise they are done but weakly; for as the troubled eye cannot see well, so the troubled soul cannot do good, nor receive good. Observe--
II. His expostulation with himself. “Why art thou cast down?” etc. The word in the original shows that it is the nature of sorrow to bring the soul downwards. Sorrow and sin agree both in this, for as they come from below, so they bring the soul down to the earth.
1. What is meant by casting down, and why doth he find fault with himself for it? Because it breeds disquieting. Hence it is said in Psalms 37:1, “Fret not thyself,” etc. Here is no true humiliation but abundance of corruption. But note--
III. The remedy to which the psalmist turns: he first reflects upon and expostulates with his soul, and then bids it. “trust in God.” And so we learn that. God’s children in their greatest troubles recover themselves, that the prerogative of a Christian in these disquietings, and in all estates, is, he hath God and himself to speak unto, whereby he can remove solitariness. Put him into a dungeon, yet he may speak unto God there, and speak unto himself. Let all the tyrants in the world do their worst to a Christian; if God be with him he is cheerful still. (R. Sibbes)
The psalmist’s dialogue with his soul
These words occur thrice, at short, intervals, in this and the preceding psalm. They appear there twice, and here once. Quite obviously the division into two psalms has been a mistake, for the whole constitutes one composition. The first part of each of the little sections, into which the one original psalm is divided by the repetition of this refrain, is a weary monotone of complaint.
I. The dreary monotony of complaint. We all know the temptation of being overmastered by some calamity or some sad thought. We keep chewing some bitter morsel and rolling it under our tongues so as to suck all the bitterness out of it that we can. You sometimes see upon the stage of a theatre a funeral procession represented, and the supernumeraries pass across the stage and go round at the back and come in again at the other end, and so keep up an appearance of numbers far beyond the reality. That is like what you and I do with our sorrows. A bee has an eye, with I do not know how many facets, which multiply the one thing it looks at into an enormous number; and some of us have eyes made on that fashion, or rather we manufacture for our eyes spectacles on that plan, by which we look at our griefs or our depressing circumstances, and see them multiplied and nothing but them. “That way madness lies.”
II. Wise self-questioning. There are a great many of our griefs, and moods, and sorrows that will not stand that question. Like ghosts, if you speak to them, they vanish. It is enough, in not a few of the lighter and more gnat-like troubles that beset us, for us to say to ourselves, “What are we putting ourselves into such a fuss about? Why art thou cast down?” We cannot control our thoughts nor our moods directly, but we can do a great deal to regulate, modify and diminish those of them that need diminishing, and increase those of them that need to be increased, by looking at the reasons for them. And if a man will do that more habitually and conscientiously than most of us are accustomed to do it, in regard both to passing thoughts and overpowering moods that threaten to become unwholesomely permanent, he will regain a firmer control of himself--and that is the best wealth that a man can have. Very many men who makes failures, morally, religiously, or even socially and commercially, do so because they have no command over themselves, and because they have not asked this question of each sly temptation that comes wheedling up to the gate of the soul with whispering breath and secret suggestions--“What do you want here? What reason have you for wishing to come in? Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”--question yourselves about your moods, and especially about your sad moods, and you will have gone a long way to make yourselves bigger and happier people than you have ever been before.
III. An effort twice foiled and at last successful. In the cathedral of St. Mark’s, Venice, there is a mosaic that represents Christ in Gethsemane. You remember that, like the psalmist, He prayed three times there, and twice came back, not having received His desire, and the third time He did receive it. The devout artist has presented Him thus: the first time prone on the ground, and the sky all black; the second time raised a little, and a strip of blue in one corner; and the third time kneeling erect, and a beam from heaven, brighter than the radiance of the Paschal moon, striking right down upon Him, and the strengthening angel standing beside Him. That was the experience of the Lord, and it may be the experience of the servant. Do not give up the effort, at self-control and victory over circumstances that tempt to despondency or to sadness. Even if you fail this time, still the failure has left some increased capacity for the next attempt, and God helping, the next time will be successful.
IV. The conquering hope. The psalmist’s question to his soul is not answered. It needed no answer. To put it was the first struggle to strip off the poisoned sackcloth in which he had wrapped himself. But his next word, his command to his soul to hope in God, completes the process of putting off the robe of mourning and girding himself with gladness. He makes one great leap, as it were, across the black flood that has been ringing him round, and bids his soul: “Hope thou in God.” The one medicine for a disquieted, cast-down soul is hope in God. People say a great deal about the buoyant energy of hope bearing a man up over his troubles. Yes! so it does in some measure, but there is only one case in which there is a real bearing up over the troubles, and that is where the hope is in God. But the hope that is in God must be a hope that is based upon a present possession of Him. It is only if a man has a present experience of the blessings of strong and all-sufficient help that come to him now, when he can say, “My God, the health of my countenance,” t, hat he has the right, or that he has the inclination or the power to paint the future with brightness. And we shall not attain either to that experience of God as ours, or to the hope that, springing from it, will triumph over all disquieting circumstances without a dead lift of effort. There is a great lack amongst all Christian people of realizing that it is as much their duty to cultivate the hope of the Christian as it is their duty to cultivate any other characteristic of the Christian life. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Despondency: its cause and cure
I. Why the soul is bowed down and disquieted.
1. The soul may be bowed down for lack of the old help and strength got from the means of grace. As our hearts are framed we need help from habit, from outward expression, from worship, from voice and ear, from sympathy and exhortation, from words and sacraments.
2. The soul may he cast down from thoughts and doubts springing at once out of the man’s own mind, growing at once out of the evil of his very spiritual nature.
3. The soul may be bowed down by the burden of wilful sin, neglected duty, or worldly indulgence. No amount of religious fervour, or doctrinal knowledge will keep the heart glad in which is the consciousness of wrong.
4. But all this sore trouble is deepened, if it happens to come upon us in times of worldly woe, when we can least afford to miss God’s peace, when we are in greatest need of comfort. “Why, was it not just this we had counted on, that when all earthly fountains would be dried up, then the river of God would still flow on?
II. why the soul need not be bowed down.
1. God would have us to learn and know that He Himself is an all-sufficient comforter, apart from any outward helps or earthly sympathy. Thus we enter further into the secret of God’s covenant.
2. All progress in religion seems to be from dark to dark. The plant at first strikes its roots in the dark; and it would appear as if the spirit needed fresh times of sorrow before it will be moved to larger growth.
3. We must learn the insufficiency of present attainments before we will seek more. How vague and dim are the hopes and expectations of many! In worldly prosperity such meagre experience does well enough; but, oh! it is not well for the soul to rest there. “Come unto Me,” He cries, now loudly, now whisperingly; and it is to move and bend us He has to send darkness and trouble. How natural it is we should be disquieted; and is it not the case that so soon as we see this good wise reason for our dejection, immediately we are delivered? And though it was good for us to be dejected, yet we say, why should we be so? “Why art thou cast down,” why dost thou still continue to be cast down, O my soul? (R. MacEllar.)
The psalmist’s remonstrance with his soul
There is a kind of dialogue between the psalmist and his soul. He, as it were, cuts himself into two halves, and reasons and remonstrates with himself, and coerces himself, and encourages himself; and finally settles down in a peace which unites in one the two discordant elements.
I. The psalmist’s question to his soul, “Why art thou cast down? why art thou disquieted?” There are two things here, apparently, opposite to each other, and yet both of them present in the fluctuating and stormy emotions of the poet. On the one hand is deep dejection. The word employed describes the attitude of a man lying prone and prostrate, grovelling on the ground. “Why art thou cast down?” And yet, side by side with that torpid dejection, there is a noisy restlessness. “`why dost thou mourn and mutter”--as the words might be rendered--“within me?” And these two moods are, if not co-existent, at least so quickly alternating within his consciousness that he has to reason with himself about both. He has fits of deep depression, followed by, and sometimes even accompanied with, fits of restless complaining and murmuring. And he puts to himself the question, “What is it all about?” Now, if we translate this question into a general expression it just comes to this--A man is worth very little unless there is a tribunal in him to which he brings up his feelings and makes them justify their existence, and tell him what they mean by their noise and their complaining. “He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down and without walls.” The affections, the emotions, the feelings of sorrow or of gladness, of dissatisfaction with my lot, or of enjoyment and complacency in it, are excited by the mere presence of a set of external circumstances; but the fact that they are excited is no warrant for their existence. And the first thing to be done in regard to them is to see to it that the nobler man, the man within, the real self should cross-question that other self, and say, “Tell me, have you reason for your being? If not, take yourselves away.” “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?”
II. The psalmist’s charge to his soul. “Hope thou in God.” Ah! it is no use to say to a soul, “What is all your agitation about?” unless you can go on to say, “Be quiet in God.” Sweep away the things seen and temporal, and put the thing, or rather the Person, Unseen and Eternal, in the front of them. And then comes quiet; and then there comes aspiration. Then energy comes hack to the languid and relaxed limbs, and the man that was lying on his face in the dust starts to his feet, ready for strenuous effort and for noble service. The soul that is to be quickened from its torpor, and to be quieted from its restlessness, must be led to God, and, grasping Him, then it is able to coerce these other feelings, which, apart from Him, have, and ought to have, the field to themselves. Nor must we forget another thought, that this charge of the psalmist to his soul teaches us. The deep-seated and central faith in God which marks a religious man ought to permeate all his nature to the very outskirts and circumference of his being. Even amidst the perturbations of the sensitive nature of the poet-psalmist, his inmost self was resting upon God.
III. The psalmist’s confident assurance, which is his reason for exhorting his lower self to quiet faith and hope.”:For I shall yet praise Him,” etc. The “I” here is the whole united and harmonized self, in which the emotions, affections, passions and lower desires obey the reins and whip of the higher nature. When God governs the spirit, the spirit governs the “soul,” and the man who has yielded himself to God, first of all in the surrender, possesses himself, and can truly say “I.” Only when the heart is “united to fear God’s name” is there true concord within. Oh to live more continually under the influence of that glorious light of the assured future, when our lips shall be loosed to give forth His praise, and when we shall have learned that every sorrow, disappointment, loss, painful effort, all that here seemed kindred with darkness, was really but a modification of light, and was a thing to be thankful for. If only we chose to walk in the light of the future, then the poor present would be small and powerless to harm us. “I shall yet praise Him” is the language that befits us all. And there is not only the assurance of a future that shall explain all, and make it all material for praise, when all the discords of the great conflicting piece of music are resolved into harmony, but there is here also the deep sense of present blessing. “I shall yet praise Him who is the health” (or salvation) “of my countenance and my God.” “Who is,” not who will be; “who is” in the moment of difficulty and sorrow; “who is,” even whilst as the other part of the psalm tells us, the enemy are saying “Where is thy God? who is,” even whilst the sense and flesh and the lower self have lost sight of Him. “And my God.” Ah! there we touch the bottom and get our feet upon the rock. He that can say “He is my God” has a right to be sure that he will yet praise Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The psalmist’s remonstrance with his soul
I. Moods and emotions should be examined and governed by a higher self. There are plenty of people who, making profession of being Christians, do not habitually put the break on their moods and tempers, and who seem to think that it is a sufficient vindication of gloom and sadness to say that things are going badly with them in the outer world, and who act as if they supposed that no joy can be too exuberant and no elation too lofty if, on the other hand, things are going rightly. It is a miserable travesty of the Christian faith to suppose that its prime purpose is anything else than to put into our hands the power of ruling ourselves because we let Christ rule us. If the wheelhouse, and the stearing gear, and the rudder of the ship proclaim their purpose of guidance and direction, as eloquently and unmistakably does She make of our inward selves tell us that emotions and moods and tempers are meant to be governed, often to be crushed, always to be moderated by sovereign will and reason. In the psalmist’s language, “my soul” has to give account of its tremors and flutterings to “Me,” the ruling Self, who should be Lord of temperament and control the fluctuations of feeling.
II. There are two ways of looking at causes of dejection and disquiet. There is a court of appeal in each man which tests and tries his reasons for his moods; and these, which look very sufficient to the flesh, turn out to be very insufficient when investigated and tested by the higher spirit or self. We should “appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober.” If men would only bring the causes or occasions of the tempers and feelings which they allow to direct them, to the bar of common sense, to say nothing of religious faith, half the furious boilings in their hearts would stop their ebullition. It would be like pouring cold water into a kettle on the fire. It would end its bubbling. Everything has two handles. The aspect of any event depends largely on the beholder’s point of view. “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
III. No reasons for being cast down are so strong as those for elation and calm hope. Try to realize what God is to yourselves--“My God” and “the health of my countenance.” That will stimulate sluggish feeling; that will calm disturbed emotion. He that can say, “My God!” and in that possession can repose, will not be easily moved by the trivialities and transitorinesses of this life, to excessive disquiet, whether of the exuberant or of the woeful sort. There is a wonderful calming power in realizing our possession of God as our portion--not stagnating, but quieting.
IV. The effort to lay hold on the truth which calms is to be repeated in spite of failures. No effort at tranquillizing our hearts is wholly lost; and no attempt to lay hold upon God is wholly in vain. Men build a dam to keep out the sea, and the winter storms make a breach in it, but it is not washed sway altogether. And next season they will not need to begin to build from quite so low down, but there will be a bit of the former left to put the new structure upon. And so by degrees it will rise above the tide, and at last will keep it out. Did you ever see a child upon a swing, or a gymnast upon a trapeze? Each oscillation goes a little higher; each starts from the same lowest point, but the elevation on either side increases with each renewed effort, until at last the destined height is reached and the daring athlete leaps on to a solid platform. So we may, if I might so say, by degrees, by reiterated efforts, swing ourselves up to that stedfast floor on which we may stand high above all that breeds agitation and gloom. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Hope, the antidote to despondency
I. The state alluded to. Dejection and despair. Many things conduce to it.
1. There are not only the difficulties of the Christian course--its dangers, trials, sorrows, disappointments, etc., but--
2. There are the frailties and the circumstances of material life.
(1) Some are cast down owing to constitutional physical temperament. This tendency might and ought to be checked and overcome by cherishing an opposite state of mind.
(2) Others are cast down by the reflections on human existence, the failure of the right, and triumph of wrong--the utter abandonment of the world, the almost imperceptible progress of the Gospel in the world.
(3) Others, again, are dispirited by failure of health and the crushing hand of affliction, by domestic trials, ill-assorted marriages, and invincible sorrow.
II. The investigation suggested. It is very advisable and useful to act as the psalmist did, and institute the inquiry as to the reason of our despondence. Most of the troubles of life and religion come in an unreasoning manner, inasmuch as they appeal to our feelings, not to our logic--our hearts and not our heads. But when we bring a little logic into our feelings and sentiments, it acts as a whole, some regulation and useful restraint. We should generally find that in the dealings of Providence there is no cause whatever for the soul to be east down. Not one moment of trial but what is necessary for the soul’s discipline, and shall minister to the soul’s best condition.
III. The antidote supplied--“Hope thou in God.” Yes, it is the want of faith that is at the root of all fearful despair, and faith, trust and hope are the remedy, the cure of the soul’s disease and spirit’s gloom. Just think what it is to hope in God! There is everything to make us do so! He has all the resources of the universe at His control. But the keynote of hope is love. If we realize that He loves us, we shall know that He will use all these resources for our good. Perfect love casteth out fear. (Homilist.)
The defeat of Despair
Mr. Greatheart, old Honest and the four young men went up to Doubting Castle to look for Giant Despair. When they came at the castle gate, they knocked for entrance with an unusual noise. At that the old giant comes to the gate; and Diffidence his wife follows Then these six men made up to him, and beset him behind and before; also, when Diffidence the giantess came up to help him, old Mr. Honest cut her down at one blow. Then they fought for their lives, and Giant Despair was brought down to the ground, but was very loath to die. He struggled hard, and had, as they say, as many lives as a cat; but Great-heart was his death, for he left him not till he had severed his head from his shoulders. (J. Bunyan.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 43". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension