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ALMOST entirely a psalm of supplication, partly general (Psalms 143:1, Psalms 143:7), partly special (Psalms 143:2, Psalms 143:8-12). Psalms 143:3-6, however, give the grounds upon which the supplications are made; Psalms 143:3, Psalms 143:4 describing the psalmist's wretched condition; and Psalms 143:5, Psalms 143:6 his behavior under his afflictions. Again, there is no reason to doubt the superscription, which assigns the psalm to David. Almost all the phrases used are found in other Davidical psalms. The composition divides itself into two stanzas of equal length (Psalms 143:1-6, and Psalms 143:7-12).
Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications (comp. Psalms 28:2; Psalms 39:12; Psalms 54:2; Psalms 55:1, etc.). In thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. In thy faithfulness to thy promises, since thou hast promised to hear prayer, and in thy mere righteousness, since it is right and just that thou shouldest do so, hearken unto me.
And enter not into judgment with thy servant. The psalmist, having touched the point of abstract justice, shrinks from pressing it. He knows that he is not "righteous before God," and that his life and conduct "cannot endure the severity of God's judgment" (Art. XII.). He therefore "deprecates a strictly retributive treatment" (Cheyne). For in thy sight shall no man living be justified (comp. Psalms 130:3; and see also Job 4:17-19; Job 9:2; Job 15:14; Job 25:4).
For the enemy hath persecuted my soul. "The enemy" may be Saul, but is more probably an abstract expression—for "my enemies" generally. He hath smitten my life down to the ground; or, "crushed my life to the ground"—brought me, i.e; very low (comp. Psalms 42:6). He hath made me to dwell in darkness (comp. Psalms 88:6). As those that have been long dead. I have dwelt in a darkness like that of Sheol; i.e. in gloom and unhappiness (comp. Lamentations 3:6).
Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; or, "faint within me" (see Psalms 42:3). My heart within me is desolate (comp. Psalms 40:15).
I remember the days of old. Still, in the midst of all my troubles, I do not despair—"I remember the days of old"—the great things which God has done for me in the past (comp. Psalms 77:5, Psalms 77:10, Psalms 77:11). I meditate on all thy works; or, "on all thy doings." I muse on the work of thy hands (comp. Psalms 77:12).
I stretch forth my hands unto thee. These recollections draw me to thee, O God, and make me stretch forth my hands in prayer to thee (Psalms 141:2), and entreat thee for succor. My soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. As a parched and withered land. seems to look up to heaven and long for rain, so does my soul long for thee, O Lord, "and thy refreshing grace" (comp. Psalms 42:1). The "pause-mark," "selah," at the end of the verse, at once gives time for secret prayer, and makes a division of the psalm into two parts.
Hear me speedily, O Lord. Here the direct supplication of Psalms 143:1 is taken up, and pressed. "Hear me, O Lord; and not only hear me, but that speedily. It is a time for haste" (comp. Psalms 141:1). My spirit faileth; or, "fainteth" (LXX; ἐξέλιπε). Hide not thy face from me (comp. Psalms 27:9; Psalms 69:17; Psalms 102:2). Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit (see the comment on Psalms 28:1).
Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning; i.e. early, speedily (comp. Psalms 46:5; Psalms 90:14). For in thee do I trust. His utter trust in God gives him a claim to be beard and helped. Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; i.e. illumine me, so that I may perceive the course which I ought to follow (comp. Psalms 5:8, "Make thy way straight before my face"). For I lift up my soul unto thee. Again, a sort of claim seems to be urged, as in clause 2.
Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies (comp. Psalms 140:1, Psalms 140:4; Psalms 142:6). I flee unto thee to hide me; literally, to thee I hide myself, but probably with the meaning expressed in the Authorized Version.
Teach me to do thy will (comp. Psalms 25:4, Psalms 25:5; Psalms 139:24). For thou art my God. Therefore my Guide and Teacher. Thy spirit is good; i.e. gracious and merciful. Lead ms into the land of uprightness; rather, along a land of smoothness. Some critics unite the last two clauses, and translate, "Let thy good Spirit lead me along a land of smoothness"—"conduct me," i.e. over smooth ground, where I need not stumble.
Quicken me, O Lord, for thy Name's sake; i.e. give me fresh spiritual life (setup. Psalms 119:25, Psalms 119:37, Psalms 119:50, Psalms 119:88, Psalms 119:93, etc.). For thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble. To show how righteous thou art, i.e. how good and gracious.
And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies. In thy goodness towards me, remove those enemies whose conduct towards me has been described in Psalms 143:3, Psalms 143:4. And destroy all them that afflict my soul. This is David's ordinary prayer with respect to his enemies, whom be counts as God's adversaries, and the persecutors of faithful Israel (see Psalms 5:10; Psalms 7:9; Psalms 10:15; Psalms 28:4, Psalms 28:5; Psalms 35:4-6, Psalms 35:8, etc.). For I am thy servant. Entitled, therefore, to thy special care and protection (comp. Psalms 27:9; Psalms 69:17; Psalms 86:2, Psalms 86:4, Psalms 86:16; Psalms 116:16, etc.).
The soul's appeal to God.
The groundwork of the psalm is that of great affliction. The psalmist is in very sore trouble; the strongest expressions are used to convey the idea of complete outward disaster and inward dejection (Psalms 143:3, Psalms 143:4). There is only one respect in which things could be worse than they are—death itself, and the going down into the dark land of forgetfulness (Psalms 143:7). But, as in the preceding psalm, his dire extremity is the very occasion for holy trust in the almighty power and unfailing righteousness of Jehovah. His refuge is in God. Here, indeed, is a strong Rock in which to hide in this dark night of trouble. We have—
I. HIS RELIANCE ON ALL THAT HE KNOWS OF God.
1. He remembers what God has been to him and has done/or him and for others in past days; what "doings," what "works," what deliverances he wrought in "the days of old" (Psalms 143:5). "Thou hast been my help," etc. (Psalms 27:9).
2. He relies on the known character of God; his loving-kindness (Psalms 143:8); his faithfulness, his perfect trueness to his word of promise; his righteousness, his constant readiness to reward those who seek him and serve him, and his determination to punish the wicked. These recognized and steadfast attributes of God are to him a strong security. God cannot be inconsistent with himself.
II. HIS CONSCIOUSNESS OF INTEGRITY. The writer would not dare to make his appeal to the Holy One if he himself were living in sin. He knows well that the man who purposes to continue in rebellion against God, or in rejection of his offered mercy, has no ground on which to stand (see Psalms 66:18; Psa 1:1-6 :16). Not, indeed, that he claims absolute inerrancy or perfection; he knows that such purity is beyond him (Psalms 143:2); but at the same time, he is conscious of moral and spiritual integrity; he is God's servant (Psalms 143:12). The purpose of his heart is toward God and the keeping of his commandments. He intends to walk uprightly and holily before God, to the full height of his strenuous endeavor. His God is the Lord, and no other lord shall have dominion over him.
III. THE FULNESS OF HIS APPEAL
1. He prays God to "quicken" him, to reanimate him, to fill his soul with courage and with hope, that he may play a brave and manly part.
2. He prays for deliverance from his evil estate; for the confusion of his enemies; for restoration to peace and joy (Psalms 143:9, Psalms 143:11, Psalms 143:12).
3. He prays to be led forward in his rectitude, that he may fulfill all God's holy will concerning him (Psalms 143:10). We cannot hope to rise higher than the spirit shown in this devout desire. It is right to wish and to ask, with all filial deference, for recovery from sickness, or for rescue from bondage, or for deliverance from anxiety or poverty; but it is a loftier and worthier aspiration to long to be led by the good Spirit of God into "the land of uprightness," into a state of lull acquiescence with the will of God, into a spiritual condition in which the doing or the bearing of the will of God is the supreme aim and endeavor of the soul.
IV. HIS EARNESTNESS. (Psalms 143:6-8.) There is every indication here of great earnestness of spirit. His soul thirsts for God's interposition as a parched land for water; he cries for a speedy response to his appeal; he yearns to hear God's loving-kindness "in the morning," and "lifts up his soul" unto God. Everything is to the earnest. Lukewarmness is offensive to God, as we learn from the risen Savior. A spasmodic piety, a fitful enthusiasm, will accomplish nothing for ourselves or for the world. It is steadfast purpose and sustained devotion that rises to the high tablelands of exalted worth and abounding fruitfulness.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The cry of the overwhelmed spirit.
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. How earnest it is! The psalmist was not in any light, indifferent, or formal spirit when he uttered this prayer. Its intensity is evident all the way through.
2. And believing. "In thy faithfulness answer me" (Psalms 143:1). He believed the promises of God, and claims their fulfillment, expects that what God has promised he will make good. Such expectation is all too rare; and its rarity accounts for the many unanswered prayers over which we mourn.
3. And sincere. "And in thy righteousness" (Psalms 143:1). If he had regarded iniquity in his heart, he could not thus have prayed, for he would have known that the Lord would not hear him; but he could appeal to him who was the righteous Searcher of all hearts, that with true heart he prayed. Hence he could appeal—to the righteousness of God, because "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and his countenance doth behold the upright."
4. Humble. (Psalms 143:2.) For whilst he could appeal to God to attest his innocence and sincerity of heart, that did not prove him to be faultless in the sight of God. St. Paul said, "I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified." And similar to this is the psalmist's confession here. He might be, and he was, innocent before men, and sincere in heart toward God; but yet there were many a trangression and fault and failure, the remembrance of which made him pray, "Enter not into judgment," etc. (Psalms 143:2). Such were the characteristics of this prayer, and should be of all prayer—indeed, must be, if our prayers are to avail.
II. ITS COMPLAINT. The psalmist tells what his enemies had done against him (Psalms 143:3).
1. They had persecuted his soul. He had, no doubt, some outward, present persecution in his thought; but in reading this psalm we may transfer his words to those spiritual persecutions which we often have to suffer at the hands of our great enemy; and, thus applied, the whole psalm answers to all too frequent experience of the people of God today. For the enemy doth by all manner of temptation persecute our soul—he suggests doubt, he stirs up evil thoughts, he assails our faith, he darkens our mind, and in every way seeks to loosen our hold on God.
2. And some have to confess, "He hath smitten my life down to the ground." There have been periods in the history of God's servants—there were in David's—when the Divine life in them has been all but non-existent, when they could not pray, nor witness for God, nor give him praise, nor render any service of a spiritual kind. They have been terrible seasons—the enemy hath come in like a flood, and the overwhelmed ones were unable to pray that "the Spirit of the Lord would lift up a standard against him."
3. And then, in consequence, there has been the "dwelling in darkness, as those that have been long dead." Oh, the darkness of that time! it was as the gloom of the grave. The soul that the enemy hath so smitten is conscious of his awful loss; that the life of God in him is seemingly gone; and he seems abandoned to the utter corruption of sin! No wonder that his spirit is overwhelmed and his heart desolate (Psalms 143:4). How could it be otherwise? He is simply and utterly miserable.
III. THE COMING OF RELIEF.
1. God leads him to remember the days of old. To hunger after those blessed times when God came to his soul, and was his Helper and Deliverer. Full of help are memories like these.
2. Then to "meditate on all thy works." To see the wisdom, power, and love displayed in them, and so to hope that for him, too, there should be wrought some gracious work of God. As he thus mused, the fire of love and desire and faith would begin to burn, and then his musing thought would take form and action; for:
3. He would stretch forth his hands unto God. His soul was athirst for God, and now forth go his hands in prayer. Yes, relief was coming; for there are its near harbingers, everywhere and always.
IV. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TAKEN BY FORCE. (Psalms 143:7-12.) What a crowd and rush of prayers, protestations, cries, and pleadings, these verses contain! One after another they come, in hot haste and eagerness that will take no denial. It is a very besiegement of the throne of grace. But the chief burden of all is, not for deliverance from enemies, but for a closer knowledge of God; the consciousness of his favor, the speedy hearing of his loving-kindness; the being made to know the way wherein God would have him walk. Then come prayers that God would teach, would lead, would quicken, and would bring his soul out of trouble. There is prayer for deliverance from calamities; but the great longing is after the doing of God's will, and the quickening of his soul in righteousness. Prayer helps him in attaining that submissiveness of will which is essential to his gaining that unspeakable blessing on which his heart is set. And in proportion as a man is taught of God, this is the supreme desire of his soul. If he gains this, it matters not much whether the outward calamities go or stay. If God's face shines upon him, man's may frown as it will. He has heaven within him, even though hell be outside of and all around him. What can any enemy do unto him, since God is on his side? He has won the kingdom of heaven, and no man can take it from him. Blessed is any sorrow when such reaction as this psalm reveals follows from it ] The light affliction which was for the moment is now working out the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The travail of his soul has issued in the glorious birth of the life of the love of God. And this is ever God's intent in all our sorrows; for this he lets the enemy smite our soul down to the ground, and make us dwell in darkness. He desires that we should flee unto him to hide us. And, blessed be his Name! he ever will; and far more than that will he do.—S.C.
Becoming like unto them that go down into the pit;
Such was the psalmist's horrible dread, the extreme terror of his soul.
I. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? The dead were they who went down into the pit.
1. The expression is one of those which mark the intense repulsion with which the Old Testament saints regarded death. Listen to David's piteous cry, "Oh, spare me that I may recover strength," etc. (Psalms 39:1-13.; cf. also Psalms 88:1-7, Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 115:16-18; and passim throughout the Old Testament). They regarded the grave with feelings of the deepest gloom—as a dark pit, a prison with bars (Job 17:16). See also Hezekiah's entreaty that he might not die (Isaiah 38:1-22.). The grave was the land of destruction, of darkness, where they could not praise God nor enjoy his favor; where they would be utterly forgotten; and whence they should never return. Because of its dread associations, our translators have often rendered the Hebrew word into our word "hell," as in the well-known passage, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all," etc. But it is the same word as is used by Jacob when he says, "Ye will bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave." The souls of the pious Jews shrank from death with an unutterable repulsion; and hence, when the psalmist here would express the extremity of spiritual distress, he describes it as becoming "like unto them that go down into the pit." Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel; but those ancient saints had not that light. Contrast St. Paul's courageous "I am ready to be offered up," and the mournful moan of the psalmist, "Oh, spare me!" the joy and hope of the gospel with the gloom of the Old Testament (cf. Job 14:1-22. with John 14:1-31. and the whole of the New Testament).
2. But, wherefore—so it will at once be asked—was this hope withheld from the psalmists and such as they? And we reply that probably one reason was that they might learn, as they did learn, to put all their trust and find all their delight in God. He was to be everything to them; their God and their exceeding Joy; and, when this was so, they could leave to him to determine what their future should be. They were to have, and to teach us to have, a present salvation, and to trust in God for all the rest. And this, in our best moments, is what we do. It is not the thought of the future life that most of all influences the true believer, but the present realization of God. If he has that, it is well with him; but without that, even the hope of the future life waxes dim. What the soul of man wants is a salvation here and now; and it is what we may have, and many have, and all should have, and then the soul will be at rest as to all the future may bring. And to teach this was, we think, one of the reasons why the clear promise of the future life which we enjoy was not given to them. But to return to the text, we inquire—
II. WHENCE SUCH DISTRESS OF SOUL AS THE TEXT INDICATES ARISES?
1. Sometimes it is owing to the presence of earthly sorrow, and the cruelty of men. Such was the case, evidently, with the writer of this psalm. "Man's inhumanity to man" will not seldom smite the "soul down to the ground," and make the spirit faint. It has done such cruel and cursed work again and again.
2. Delayed answers to prayer. How frequently do these psalms show the terrible strain upon the faith of God's people which such delayed answers to their prayers has caused (Psalms 22:2; Psalms 88:9, and parallels)!
3. The sense of sin. (See Psalms 32:1-11; Psalms 51:1-19.; and the penitential psalms generally; also the publican's prayer, "God be merciful," etc.!) Where no relief comes, sometimes, as in the case of Saul and Judas, men have rushed to self-destruction. The agony of this sense of sin is to the soul like that of broken bones to the body (Psalms 51:8). Think of what the prodigal's home-journey must have been, what bitter thoughts must have filled his mind. The conviction of sin has no comfort in itself, though it should lead thereto.
4. And sometimes God lets his beloved ones fall into such deep depression. See our blessed Lord in Gethsemane, and in the darkness on the cross. He knows what such soul-agony means; in this, as in all points, he has been tried like as we are.
III. WHEREFORE IS IT PERMITTED?
1. For the trial and so the strengthening of trust in God. See the Syro-phoenician woman—how her faith was tried! But she stood the test, as the Lord knew she would; and she rose thereafter and because of it to a glorious height of faith, such as even made the Lord himself to marvel, and to pronounce on her a benediction which otherwise she would never have gained. Hence it is that St. James bids us count it all joy when we fall into such trials. They are the opportunity for the soul's winning the high prizes of the kingdom of God; and when God sends to us such trials, he is but entering us for the glorious contest. Therefore count it all joy!
2. For the working in us of a holy hatred of sin. That is the reason of the Holy Spirit's convicting work. Burnt children dread the fire; therefore God lets sin burs the sinner.
3. For the helping of others. He who endures trial witnesses for God as none other can. He declares in the face of an unbelieving world—not to say Church—that God's grace is sufficient, and that therewith he can do and bear all things. That testimony is needed, and is fruitful of blessing. It was thus that always and everywhere the blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the Church. What heart-cheer it brings to tempted yet timid souls! See to it that we thus witness for God. It was thus our Lord witnessed.
IV. WHENCE RELIEF COMES. "Hide not thy face from me"—so the psalmist prays, and thus plainly declares that what would certainly bring him relief would be the face of God shining upon him. When God thus blesses his servants, then it is that he gives them quietness, and none then can make trouble (Job 34:29); for then, man may be as cruel as he will, the specific answers to our prayers may be delayed as long as God sees fit, the sense of sin will be swallowed up in the certainty of God's pardoning love, and we are able to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him!"
1. Can God's face shine upon us? Not if we are refusing to let go our hold of sin. If we will not renounce that, God's face cannot shine upon us. Therefore, be now, at once, reconciled to God.
2. Will it shine upon us? Yes, it ever does; though, as with the sun, clouds may obscure its brightness. We patiently wait till the clouds clear. That is what the believer has to do—"wait patiently for him."—S.C.
The way wherein we should walk.
The tone and language of this psalm lend color to the general belief that it was written by David, and, perhaps, as the LXX. adds, when he was a fugitive from before the rebellion of Absalom. He had very great need of help. He could not plead that he had done no wrong; on the contrary, he virtually confesses that he has (Psalms 143:2). But his present distress was very great; and we can well believe that he turned to his accustomed arms of prayer and supplication. His prayers, however, do not seem to have, thus far, much aided him; he is still in desperate straits—his spirit overwhelmed, his heart desolate; he was nigh to becoming "like them that go down into the pit." And amongst his other troubles, there was this one—that he was in utter perplexity as to the way he should take. He did not know what that way was; and hence he prays, as in this eighth verse. But he feels that if only it were well with his soul, if the life of God there could but be revived, then most of his difficulties would clear away. Now, this perplexity of the psalmist teaches us—
I. THERE IS A WAY IN WHICH MEN SHOULD WALK.
1. There are some ways in which a man cannot walk; as e.g. the way which would reverse the past, which would undo or alter that which is past. How much we should like to be able to do this! But it is impossible. What is done cannot be undone: even God cannot make that not to be which has been. Nor can we walk so as to retrace our steps. We cannot put back the clock of life, so as to recall the years that are gone. Forward our path lies; backward we cannot go. What urgency this fact gives to the Preacher's charge, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)! But:
2. There are some along which we must walk. Those which lead to the grave and to the judgment-seat of God. If death did end all, even then the squanderings of life's opportunities would be miserable folly and grievous wrong; but when we read and know that "after death the judgment," then the seriousness and responsibility of life become vastly greater—so great that we cannot over-estimate them. And there is yet another path in which we must walk—that which leads to the formation and fixing of our character. We are forever building up the fabric of character—building in the wood, hay, stubble, or the gold, silver, and precious stones. We are forming habits which are the garment of the soul. No day leaves us without having added its contribution to the final character we shall bear. But:
3. We have to speak of the way in which we should walk—the way we should deliberately choose and decisively prefer and cleave to, as the only right way. There can be no doubt of there being such a way (see Isaiah 45:5). There is a life-plan for each of us, a definite will of God.
(1) Nature attests this. There, everything from the minutest atom up to the most magnificent star, the drop of water as well as the wide ocean, have each and all of them their course marked out, the way they are to take. Nothing is left to chance or haphazard. Is it likely, then, that man, the highest creation of God, should be sent purposeless and without definite course in the world?
(2) And experience and observation confirm this belief. See the history of Joseph (Genesis 45:5-8). And of Moses and many more. We can see how God ordered their lives, and fitted them for the work he had for them to do. And for us there is no joy greater than to know that we are in the way God appoints. All difficulties and sorrows of the way can be borne if we know we are where God would have us be.
4. But man can refuse to walk in this way. How often he does refuse, and turn aside to his own self-chosen way! It seems right to him, but it ends miserably. It must do so. How terrible is this power of choice! Happy the man who has said to God, "Choose thou for me"!
II. THIS WAY IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO DISCOVER, Who does not know that very often the doing of what is right is far less difficult than the discovering of what the right is? Many causes may contribute to this difficulty. It may be part of God's discipline for us. Earthly sorrow and trouble may bewilder. The faculty of clear seeing in such cases may not be ours. Self-will may pervert judgment.
III. GOD CAUSES MEN TO KNOW THIS WAY. By angels, visions, pillar of cloud and fire, by dreams, by Urim and Thummim,—so in ancient days he guided his people. And he guides them now: his Word, his providence, his Spirit, acting on our minds: reveal his will.
IV. HE DOES THIS FOR THOSE WHO LIFT UP THEIR SOUL UNTO HIM.—S.C.
I flee unto thee to hide me.
Thus does the psalmist set forth the soul's swift flight to its sure shelter in God. The man who wrote this psalm was evidently one who had been greatly tried; but when we see the blessed help that has come to myriad souls through the records of his experiences, we are taught thereby one reason at least for the trials of the people of God. Now, here—
I. WE HAVE A GOODLY EXAMPLE. That in all our troubles we should flee to God to hide us. Now, in order to this:
1. We must see our need of such shelter. We shall never do as did the psalmist, unless, like him, we see and feel the great danger we are in. Our text is the language of one who realizes his peril. This, in regard to things of the soul, is what so many fail to do. They cannot be got to believe that there is any need wherefore they should trouble themselves. Hence, as in the days of Noah, men went on in their wonted ways, although solemnly and repeatedly warned, until the Flood came and swept them all away. And thus indifferent and unbelieving the mass of men are still. But he who is awakened by God's grace to the reality of things will clearly see his need of shelter from the guilt of his sin, from its terrible power, and from the cruel oppression of this world's calamities and sorrows. He sees this, and therefore says, "I flee unto," etc.
2. He sees also his own weakness. He would not flee if he could fight with any hope of success; or if he knew how to protect himself from the evils which he fears, or had resources of which he could avail himself. But it is because he knows all this is impossible to him, therefore he flees unto God.
3. He has implicit and unlimited confidence in God. He believed that God was both able and willing to save him, and that God would be well pleased that he should flee to him, which he might do if he would. He felt that all would be well with him were he once sheltered within the cleft of the Rock, hidden in the secret place of the Most High. He was quite sure that to betake himself there was his truest wisdom, even as it was his settled resolve.
4. He realizes that his need is urgent. "I flee unto thee," etc. No time was to be lost; he might not delay having recourse to God. "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." So would he run into the strong shelter of God.
5. His trust in God is real and active. Thousands of men talk of finding refuge in God, but they never set out to find it. But the psalmist's religion was a reality to him; he got real blessing and help out of it; he had evidently often found a sure retreat and hiding-place from all evil in God. Ah! how much we lose by not doing the things that we say! by letting professions serve instead of practice! This man actually fled away to God.
II. THE SUGGESTED AND SADLY TOO COMMON CONTRAST, Every word in the text reminds us of the different conduct which is so commonly seen. For example:
1. Many will recommend others to flee unto God; but they never do so themselves. They cannot say, "/flee unto thee." This is why so many sermons are so ineffectual. The people who hear them feel that the preacher knows nothing experimentally of what he is talking about.
2. Or, if they do not refuse to go, their going is very slow. There is all too little of fleeing unto God. We take things far too easy for that. John the Baptist might preach, "Flee from the wrath to come!" but how few heeded what he said! And so it is still. Men do not believe that there is any need to escape as for their life; and hence, with all leisure, and often listlessness, they proceed in regard to their salvation.
3. And many when in trouble flee away from, rather than unto, God. They plunge into business, into pleasure, into sin; they harden themselves in unbelief; they set themselves defiantly against God.
4. Others flee to all manner of substitutes for God. "Take away her battlements; they are not the Lord's!" so said the Prophet Jeremiah, concerning the many refuges of lies behind which so many of his countrymen were thinking that they would find shelter. And so still, how many are thinking that in priests and sacraments, in Churches and Creeds, in religious rites and observances, they shall find help, when such help is in God alone!
5. And many will seek from God, not deliverance from spiritual evil, but rather comfort in it. They do not mind the sin so much as its discomfort, and they want God to take that away. If he will do that, they will not mind the evil thing itself. All they want is comfort. But God's will and way is to sever us from our sin, and to place us where it cannot reach us. This should be our desire, as it was his who wrote this psalm. Then alone are we blessed.
III. OUR SUPREME WISDOM. For to do as is here said is nothing less; we then are wise unto salvation. For:
1. God is honored when we thus flee to him. How did the king in the parable feel when he had made the great supper, and all things were ready, but the invited guests began with one consent to make excuse? And God has provided for all our need. Will he not feel dishonored if we refuse, but glorified if we take what hems offered?
2. And our fellow-men will be encouraged to follow our example. "No man liveth unto himself." If any one travel truly the road to heaven, he will not want for companionship.
3. We ourselves shall be blessed indeed. Having fled unto God to hide him—guilt, sin, sorrow, death, are powerless to really harm him even now; and soon they will be unable to reach him at all. He dwells "in the secret place of the Most High, and abides under," etc.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Man's hope in prayer lies in what God is.
Righteousness is, from one point of view, that side of Divine justice which is turned towards good men; hence it comes to mean "beneficence." There is some good reason for associating this psalm with the experiences of David in the time of Absalom's rebellion. Delitzsch says, "The psalms of this time of persecution are distinguished from those of the persecution by Saul, by the deep melancholy into which the mourning of the dethroned king was turned by blending with the penitential sorrowfulness of one conscious of his own guilt." "It is to God's own character that the appeal is made. It is there first, and not in his own misery, that the sinner finds the great argument why his prayer should be answered." "Faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). The relation between the two terms "faithfulness" and "righteousness" may be thus indicated: Faithfulness is God's strict keeping of all those covenant terms to which he has pledged himself. Righteousness is his vindication of the oppressed, as is witnessed both by history and by experience.
I. MAN'S HOPE BASED ON WHAT GOD HAS DONE CANNOT SUFFICE. Because man must take into account all that God has done, and then he is sure to he bewildered. If a man takes out all the manifestly mighty and apparently kind things that God has done, and attempts to base his hope in prayer on them, he is always in danger of having his foundations destroyed by some one who will remind him of things God has done which seem strange and cannot be explained. It is not that God is ever other than himself. It is that man cannot safely read the meaning of all God does; and some of his doings excite in some men doubt and mistrust rather than confidence.
II. MAN'S HOPE BASED ON WHAT GOD IS WILL ALWAYS SUFFICE. It is true that we can only know what God is by what he says and what he does. But everything depends on our willingness to let these things teach us God himself—teach us what he is. The point may be illustrated by our relations with our fellow-men. In whom is our confidence fully placed? In those of whom we only know what they have done? Nay, it is reserved for those whom we know personally, whose characters have made a profound impression on us. We trust God fully only when we know him worthily.—R.T.
Prayer cannot be based on man's rights.
The prayer of a being who had kept his rights can be. We are able to conceive that the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ were acceptable to God when presented on the ground of his own right to be heard. He never prayed in any other name than his own.
I. MAN HAS, IN A SENSE, LOST HIS RIGHTS. It is necessary to deal with this point carefully. Things are virtually lost when they are undervalued, put aside, and unused. They remain, but are as treasures left in the lumber-room, while the house is filled with other interests. Man has rights in God, rights of prayer, by virtue of his very being and primary relations with God. And these he can never absolutely lose. They are part of him—part of his necessary being. But he may undervalue them, and put them out of consideration, so that they may be virtually lost. He has, therefore, as a practical fact, no rights to plead in prayer. He cannot plead his creation; for he has come to neglect or defy his Creator. He cannot plead his sonship; for he is not offering the obedience of a son. He cannot plead the Divine promises; for he is not meeting the conditions on which the promises depend.
II. MAN HAS, IN FACT, PUT HIS WRONGS IN PLACE OF HIS RIGHTS. And man's wrong is his willfulness. The dependent being has tried to force himself into independence. The son has become a self-willed prodigal. And now, if man wants to pray, he cannot do it without carrying his wrong into the presence of God; and, whether he knows it or not, that wrong is the pica which alone God can hear. The thoughtful man feels this; it is the fact for every man. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." God would hear a man's prayers if the man had his rights. He cannot hear when a man only brings his wrongs.
III. MAN MUST, IN ORDER TO PRAY ACCEPTABLY, HAVE HIS RIGHTS RESTORED TO HIM. That is, restored to active power and use. It is an important and suggestive aspect of the redemptive work of Christ, that it is the mastery of man's self-willed wrong, and the recovery, into active power, of man's natural rights. Christ is making men what God meant them to be, and what he is; and such men may base prayer on their rights.—R.T.
Our worst trials are in the sphere of feeling.
"Is desolate;" or, is full of amazement; astonishes itself; seeks to comprehend the mystery of its sufferings, and is ever beaten back upon itself in its perplexity; is dispirited. "How poor a judgment can be formed of a man's state from the considerations of comfort only!" There are trials which are wholly kept in the physical sphere. There are aches and pains of body, and disabilities of bodily organs, which have no direct connection with sin, and so no bitterness through witnessing conscience; and which arouse no feeling save the simple feeling of enduring. There are trials which have no relation to the outer world of circumstances; they belong wholly to the inner world of feeling.
I. TRIALS THAT KEEP IN THE BODILY SPHERES HAVE MANY RELIEFS. Especially may be noticed those that come by sympathy. Others can understand and estimate these trials. The comfortings they present are kin with the trials. There is no secrecy about these trials; they who suffer under them need not be lonely. And of God it can be said, "He knoweth our frame," and can be in closest sympathy with us. A grief that we can tell to another is not our worst grief.
II. TRIALS THAT GET INTO THE SPHERE OF FEELING HAVE FEW RELIEFS. SO mysterious is human nature; so complex are the relations of body and mind; so strangely possible is it for a man to live an interior life distinct from bodily conditions and relations,—that it is possible for a man to have trials wholly in the sphere of feeling. And these are the worst trials, because for them we can get little or no human sympathy. They put us apart from our fellow-men in loneliness. Our Lord suffered bodily on the cross; but the sufferings in feeling were his real sufferings. Yet even in these worst trials we are not separated from God. Indeed, as these belong to the spirit-region, they belong more especially to the sphere in which God works most freely. When the "heart" is desolate, there is the more need for its filling and comforting with that sense of God which may be so fully realized.—R.T.
Psalms 143:5, Psalms 143:6
God our first Hope and our Last.
The hunger and thirst after righteousness is ultimately a thirst for God. "Observe how he binds himself to God alone, cuts off every other hope from his soul, and, in short, makes his very need a chariot wherewith to mount up to God." "I remember the days of old;" "I spread forth my hands unto thee."
I. GOD ALWAYS HAS BEEN OUR HOPE. A good man is here speaking in the name of good men. They can never look back over life, and estimate its scenes of trial and strain, without clearly seeing that their hope was in God, and that God had ever met and satisfied their hope. One thing man has to learn over and over again in the experience of life. It is the untrustworthiness of things and people, and the safe foundation of hope that a man has in God. It is not usually long after a man enters on what may be called a personal experience that he discovers there is no hope to be placed in man. One of the most humiliating and depressing experiences of life is finding our most trusted friend fail us in the hour of need. Then we learn that God is our first and only Hope. Then God does not fail. We may trust him. We find him the "Strength of our heart and our Portion for ever." That experience is repeated again and again as life unfolds.
II. GOD ALWAYS WILL BE OUR HOPE. Estimate aright the painful experiences through which we may now be passing; times when our life-erections seem to lie in ruins about us; times when trusted friends fail us; times when the outlook before us is dark; times when the sense of loneliness oppresses us, we look to the right hand and to the left, but there is no helper;—they are all times in which we are recovering and re-establishing our hope in God. It is well to remember that we always have that. The soul's deep rest is in him who is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever;" always the "Friend of the friendless and the faint." Life rightly viewed is a liberating us from every bond that would keep us from restful, strengthening hope in God.—R.T.
The fear of not doing right in times of stress.
The people of Israel, on coming to the banks of the Jordan, and facing a time of great strain and difficulty, were called to stop and consider, and estimate their needs, and their sources of strength. They were reminded, "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." They were even more forcibly reminded, "The living God is among you." If they responded aright to this call, they would pray the prayer of this text, "Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk."
I. THE SPIRIT WE OUGHT EVERY DAY TO CHERISH. A man's heart is revealed in every true prayer that he offers. This prayer shows
(1) a great sense of God's nearness and personal interest. Contrast the renewed man's cherished ideas of God, and God's relations, with those of the unrenewed man.
(2) A true humility under God's mighty hand; not merely the impression that God is great, but the feeling, too, that we are wholly dependent on him.
(3) A happy trusting of all our interests to God's care. Power and wisdom do not satisfy reliant, trustful hearts. They find rest only in personal affection, interest, and service. Tenderly beautiful are the words, "Thou knowest, Lord!" when upon the humble, quiet-minded, loving Christian's lips.
II. THE PRAYER WE OUGHT DAILY TO OFFER. Offer each day anew, and as freshly as if then offered for the first time. The promise comes to us anew every morning, "As thy day so shall thy strength be."
1. Cause me to see the way. We always walk in twilight; sometimes in utter darkness. "In thy light we shall see light."
2. Cause me to choose the way. Because even when we know the right, we will not accept it or do it; so we want the Divine strength in our will and decisions.
3. Cause me to understand the claims of the way. For it must be full of duties and responsibilities. He is the truly happy man who can see clearly what God's work for him is, chooses it for himself, is satisfied with it, and wants to do it.
4. Cause me to meet the claims of the way. We need grace first in order to know the right way, and then grace to act aright in the way. So this prayer covers the whole field of the religious life.—R.T.
Fleeing from God: fleeing to God.
Literally, "Unto thee have I hidden myself;" or, "my sorrow."
I. WHAT IS REVEALED BY THE MOOD OF MIND THAT FLEES FROM GOD. That mood is suggested by the experience of Adam, who hid himself from the presence of the Lord, when the holy voice was heard in the garden, when the evening breeze was felt.
1. A mood of dissatisfaction with self is revealed. There is a good sense in which a man may be at peace with himself—satisfied with himself; feeling no abrupt division between his doing and his sense of right doing. In that state the man loves the thought of God, and cherishes the sense of his nearness. God is kin with him. If a man is dissatisfied with himself, not sure of his own rightness, that man will get away from God, put away the thought of him.
2. A mood of fear is revealed. A man knows how much he is dependent on God, and how closely he is related to God; if he wants to get away from God, he must have some reason to fear what those Divine relations must involve. The fear is based on either
(1) taking up wrong thoughts of God; or
(2) conduct which must offend God. Fear, as alarm that compels a man to hide, reveals cherished sin as exciting fear.
(3) Sometimes it reveals an independence which persists in doing without God. This is the mood which is most hopeless. The man is satisfied with himself on wrong grounds.
II. WHAT IS REVEALED BY THE MOOD OF MIND THAT FLEES TO GOD.
1. A right apprehension of God. Wholly consistent with reverent thought of God is a restful confidence in him. No man apprehends God aright who only knows him as good; he must know that he is good to him. His knowing this is seen in his fleeing to hide in him.
2. A right apprehension of self. This involves cherished assurance of dependence, and absence of all desire to be other than dependent. Only to the dependent soul can God ever reveal himself.
3. A full confidence of safety in the defense of God. That full confidence involves the assurance of safety from perilous self as well as from treacherous foes.—R.T.
Psalms 143:11, Psalms 143:12
Vindications left with God.
"Whatever of human frailty may attach to the desire of vengeance, yet the fact remains that to smite the oppressor of righteousness is a part of 'the goodness' of God." "It is worthy of observation that the psalmist pleads God's righteousness as the foundation on which he bases his supplication for the deliverance of his soul out of trouble; and God's loving-kindness or mercy as that on which he grounds his prayer, or his conviction, that God will destroy his enemies."
I. WHAT A MAN MAY DO WITH HIS ENEMIES. Submit and suffer; or oppose and suffer. A man may take dealing with his enemies into his own hands; and spend his life in seeking opportunities for crushing them and avenging himself. But then one of two things will happen.
(1) He may fail, and bring rum upon himself by his attempts. Or
(2) he may succeed, but only at the cost of his own moral ruin; for he fatally injures his own character by cherishing hateful, revengeful feeling through the long years. Can a man ever safely avenge himself? The answer is an emphatic No. He cannot do it wisely. He cannot help injuring himself in the doing. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves."
II. WHAT A MAN HAD BETTER DO WITH HIS ENEMIES. Leave them with God. But that may involve keeping the slur upon our reputation. Never mind, God can vindicate us in his own time and way. His own approval of us is the pledge that everybody else will approve of us sooner or later. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." We may always be sure of two things.
(1) In the economy of life punishment works out for the wrong-doer; and
(2) God will surely see that the outworking is not interfered with. But leaving our enemies with God means praying to God about them. Not praying to God against them. Not telling God what we wish him to do with them. Only commending them to his consideration in such a way that we shall be wholly relieved of the burden of dealing with them.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
A complaint and a prayer.
This the last of the penitential psalms. The authorship and occasion of it uncertain. Pervaded by a deep tone of sorrow and anguish and a deep sense of sin. Roughly divided, the first part (Psalms 143:1-6) contains the complaint; and the second (Psalms 143:7-12), the prayer founded on that complaint.
I. THE COMPLAINT.
1. His enemies overwhelmed with a sense of desolation. (Psalms 143:3, Psalms 143:4.) "His life was smitten down;" he dwelt as in the darkness of death; his heart was desolate. No friend was left; no protection from the cruel injustice of men. He was as if forsaken of God. All this was the means of revealing the sinfulness and misery of his own heart.
2. The contrast between his past and present experience. (Psalms 143:5.) This embittered his anguish and added to the sense of his desolation.
3. He stands as one imploring help. (Psalms 143:6.) But to whom, as yet, help has not come. As parched land thirsts for rain, so he pants for the help of God.
II. THE PRAYER. The petitions in Psalms 143:7-12 may be thus grouped:
1. Prayer for speedy loving-kindness and direction. (Psalms 143:7, Psalms 143:8.)
2. For deliverance from enemies and fuller knowledge of God's will. (Psalms 143:9, Psalms 143:10.) And for power to obey that will when thus made known.
3. For new life and deliverance from the sufferings caused by his enemies. (Psalms 143:11, Psalms 143:12.) A new internal and external life—a complete change.
4. The ground of the several petitions is the personal relation of the psalmist to God. "Thou art my God;" "In thee have I trusted;" "I am thy servant;" etc. Man is God's child. These the strongest appeals that could be made.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 143". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany