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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 39

 

 

Verses 1-13

Psalms 39:1-13

I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue; I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle.

Thought and prayer under trial

I. Thought under trial.

1. Its utterance repressed. “I said, I will take heed to my ways.”

2. Its attention arrested. The character of life. Its terminableness. Its frailty. Its brevity. Its vanity. Its emptiness. Its disquietudes. Its worthless labours. (Homilist.)

The unspoken judgment of mankind

Scripture speaks in two different ways about judging others. On the one hand, it says, “Judge nothing before the time, till the day of the Lord come;” on the other hand, it says, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things;” and we are told to regard the Holy Spirit, of which we partake, as a spirit of discernment. Nor, if this discernment exists in Christians, can we confine it to distinguishing only flagrant sinners from well-conducted men? No; it extends much farther than that; it goes much deeper. Christians who are endowed with the spirit of holiness, and who have with that gift the spirit also of wisdom and knowledge, can see where the heart is right in others, and where it is not. This is part of that very unconscious power which lies in goodness as such; for goodness finds not goodness in others. On the other hand, disguise it how they will, the contrary character is detected, and repels. So that goodness, as such, has a true wisdom in it. But, perhaps, the great law with respect to judging which is laid down in our texts refers to the delivery of the judgment, it is not to be allowed full expression and manifestation. The judgment will be an outspoken one, ours may not be so. Scripture holds before us the terror of a dreadful exposure when “the secrets of all hearts shall be made known” (Luke 8:1-56; Luke 12:3). But the tongue of intermediate judgment is tied. There is an embargo laid upon the delivery of it. This, then, is the meaning of “the bridle while the ungodly is in my sight.” A judgment of some kind is implied, but it is to be a mute judgment. In this temper of the psalmist, then, we observe first, a greater strength than belongs to the other temper of impetuous and premature expression--strength not only of self-control, but of actual feeling and passion. Such a state of mind must needs be stronger, since it does not require the proof which immediate, impetuous expression affords. It is because they feel they want this support of outward expression that therefore men make this outward demonstration. The force of our language reacts upon ourselves, and our minds are encouraged by it, so that their own inward conviction does not give way. They want their verdict sustained. Hence this mute form of judgment must needs be strong. The circumstances of the world are such, that this greater strength of feeling, this silent form of judgment, is positively needed to meet them. For consider what the perpetual expression of judgment, what the constant reply to the challenge of the other side would entail. This challenge is always going on. It is impossible to live in the world without constantly hearing admiration and praise lavished on that which we know in our hearts to be hollow and inferior in character.. The world generally accepts success as a test; indeed, popular judgment is almost obliged to be exceedingly rough. It must take men as they stand, and accept the mechanical praise which flows from a law of public opinion. And, indeed, the exposure of the bad in this world is all but impossible. But if no judgment, however true in the sanctuary of the heart, can declare itself, by the very conditions of society, this is a clear revelation of the will of God that such a manifestation must not be attempted, and that to attempt it would be to forestall His divine purpose. And then we have nothing to fall back upon but the rule of the psalmist--the rule of a mute and silent judgment. “I will keep my mouth, as it were,” etc. But such men do not escape judgment altogether. The good judge them, and make up their minds about them, though it be unuttered. Is there not an unspoken sentence upon him, a silent verdict in the consciences of the righteous and holy which goes deeper than “explanations”? And is not this mute verdict an anticipation of that judgment which will not be silent but outspoken--the disclosure and manifestation of the human heart which will take place at the last day? Nay, and is there not even a judgment in Iris own heart which he does not pass altogether comfortably? Is there not a voice within him which would speak if he would let it, and did not suppress it; and which, if it did speak, would scatter to the winds all his refuges of lies. Let us fear that. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)

Evil speaking, and the proper means to prevent it

I. The reasonableness of this resolution, and particularly with respect to us, as Christians, not to offend with the tongue.

1. Evil speaking brings a great scandal upon our holy religion, as it is so directly opposite to the genius and spirit of it, to the many express precepts which occur in it, and that goodness and candour of temper which so remarkably discovered itself in our blessed Saviour.

2. The injustice of this crime with respect to others.

3. The impudence of those who are guilty of this crime.

II. The proper method of making this resolution good.

1. To take heed to our ways implies in general that we keep a strict and watchful eye upon all our actions, that we frequently examine and call them over, and impartially state accounts between God and our own consciences.

2. But I shall consider this expression in its more restrained sense, as it imports the great duty of self-reflection or examination. A duty which, if we discharge with that care and frequency we ought, we shall have less time and less inclination to concern ourselves about the failings or disorders of other people.

III. Improvement.

1. If evil speaking be in general so heinous a sin, and on so many accounts injurious to the party spoken against, the guilt of it must still be increased, when such particular persons are defamed who bear any extraordinary character, or whose reputation is of greater influence; such as princes and civil magistrates that are put in authority under them, whose honour it is the common interest of society itself to support and maintain, because in proportion to any contempt or indignity offered to their persons, their authority itself will grow cheap and precarious.

2. From what has been said, we may observe the general decay of Christian piety.

3. If evil speaking be so heinous a crime, let us take care not only to avoid it ourselves, but to discountenance it in others. I must own there is some courage and resolution required to stem a torrent which runs so strong, and wherewith such multitudes are carried away; but the more general any sinful practice is, it is an argument of the greater bravery and generosity of mind to oppose it. But if we have not power enough over ourselves to do that, let us take care, at least, that we be not thought by any seeming complacency in it, to encourage so unchristian a conversation. (R. Fiddes.)


Verses 1-13

Psalms 39:1-13

I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not in my tongue; I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle.

Thought and prayer under trial

I. Thought under trial.

1. Its utterance repressed. “I said, I will take heed to my ways.”

2. Its attention arrested. The character of life. Its terminableness. Its frailty. Its brevity. Its vanity. Its emptiness. Its disquietudes. Its worthless labours. (Homilist.)

The unspoken judgment of mankind

Scripture speaks in two different ways about judging others. On the one hand, it says, “Judge nothing before the time, till the day of the Lord come;” on the other hand, it says, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things;” and we are told to regard the Holy Spirit, of which we partake, as a spirit of discernment. Nor, if this discernment exists in Christians, can we confine it to distinguishing only flagrant sinners from well-conducted men? No; it extends much farther than that; it goes much deeper. Christians who are endowed with the spirit of holiness, and who have with that gift the spirit also of wisdom and knowledge, can see where the heart is right in others, and where it is not. This is part of that very unconscious power which lies in goodness as such; for goodness finds not goodness in others. On the other hand, disguise it how they will, the contrary character is detected, and repels. So that goodness, as such, has a true wisdom in it. But, perhaps, the great law with respect to judging which is laid down in our texts refers to the delivery of the judgment, it is not to be allowed full expression and manifestation. The judgment will be an outspoken one, ours may not be so. Scripture holds before us the terror of a dreadful exposure when “the secrets of all hearts shall be made known” (Luke 8:1-56; Luke 12:3). But the tongue of intermediate judgment is tied. There is an embargo laid upon the delivery of it. This, then, is the meaning of “the bridle while the ungodly is in my sight.” A judgment of some kind is implied, but it is to be a mute judgment. In this temper of the psalmist, then, we observe first, a greater strength than belongs to the other temper of impetuous and premature expression--strength not only of self-control, but of actual feeling and passion. Such a state of mind must needs be stronger, since it does not require the proof which immediate, impetuous expression affords. It is because they feel they want this support of outward expression that therefore men make this outward demonstration. The force of our language reacts upon ourselves, and our minds are encouraged by it, so that their own inward conviction does not give way. They want their verdict sustained. Hence this mute form of judgment must needs be strong. The circumstances of the world are such, that this greater strength of feeling, this silent form of judgment, is positively needed to meet them. For consider what the perpetual expression of judgment, what the constant reply to the challenge of the other side would entail. This challenge is always going on. It is impossible to live in the world without constantly hearing admiration and praise lavished on that which we know in our hearts to be hollow and inferior in character.. The world generally accepts success as a test; indeed, popular judgment is almost obliged to be exceedingly rough. It must take men as they stand, and accept the mechanical praise which flows from a law of public opinion. And, indeed, the exposure of the bad in this world is all but impossible. But if no judgment, however true in the sanctuary of the heart, can declare itself, by the very conditions of society, this is a clear revelation of the will of God that such a manifestation must not be attempted, and that to attempt it would be to forestall His divine purpose. And then we have nothing to fall back upon but the rule of the psalmist--the rule of a mute and silent judgment. “I will keep my mouth, as it were,” etc. But such men do not escape judgment altogether. The good judge them, and make up their minds about them, though it be unuttered. Is there not an unspoken sentence upon him, a silent verdict in the consciences of the righteous and holy which goes deeper than “explanations”? And is not this mute verdict an anticipation of that judgment which will not be silent but outspoken--the disclosure and manifestation of the human heart which will take place at the last day? Nay, and is there not even a judgment in Iris own heart which he does not pass altogether comfortably? Is there not a voice within him which would speak if he would let it, and did not suppress it; and which, if it did speak, would scatter to the winds all his refuges of lies. Let us fear that. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)

Evil speaking, and the proper means to prevent it

I. The reasonableness of this resolution, and particularly with respect to us, as Christians, not to offend with the tongue.

1. Evil speaking brings a great scandal upon our holy religion, as it is so directly opposite to the genius and spirit of it, to the many express precepts which occur in it, and that goodness and candour of temper which so remarkably discovered itself in our blessed Saviour.

2. The injustice of this crime with respect to others.

3. The impudence of those who are guilty of this crime.

II. The proper method of making this resolution good.

1. To take heed to our ways implies in general that we keep a strict and watchful eye upon all our actions, that we frequently examine and call them over, and impartially state accounts between God and our own consciences.

2. But I shall consider this expression in its more restrained sense, as it imports the great duty of self-reflection or examination. A duty which, if we discharge with that care and frequency we ought, we shall have less time and less inclination to concern ourselves about the failings or disorders of other people.

III. Improvement.

1. If evil speaking be in general so heinous a sin, and on so many accounts injurious to the party spoken against, the guilt of it must still be increased, when such particular persons are defamed who bear any extraordinary character, or whose reputation is of greater influence; such as princes and civil magistrates that are put in authority under them, whose honour it is the common interest of society itself to support and maintain, because in proportion to any contempt or indignity offered to their persons, their authority itself will grow cheap and precarious.

2. From what has been said, we may observe the general decay of Christian piety.

3. If evil speaking be so heinous a crime, let us take care not only to avoid it ourselves, but to discountenance it in others. I must own there is some courage and resolution required to stem a torrent which runs so strong, and wherewith such multitudes are carried away; but the more general any sinful practice is, it is an argument of the greater bravery and generosity of mind to oppose it. But if we have not power enough over ourselves to do that, let us take care, at least, that we be not thought by any seeming complacency in it, to encourage so unchristian a conversation. (R. Fiddes.)


Verse 2

Psalms 39:2

I was dumb with silence.

Silence: sinful and sacred

Was David right in keeping silence “even from good”? Matthew Henry remarks, “Was it his wisdom that he refrained from good discourse when the wicked were before him, because he would not cast pearls before swine? I rather think it was his weakness. The same law which forbids all corrupt communications requires that which is good to the use of edifying.” Commendable virtues may be practised so eagerly as to degenerate into vices. Silence may indicate the greatest strength of character, or the greatest weakness.

I. To be dumb with silence may be a great sin. It often involves--

1. Neglect of duty. Our tongues and voices were given us quite as much for the purpose of making vocal the praises of God, as to hold converse with one another. Shall we be so indebted to God for all His mercies and never render to Him our praise? Nature is ever vocal with adorations to our King. His praise finds expression on every hand, The birds warble it, in deep bass the seas roar it, the stars shine it, the flowers with sweet perfume breathe it, mighty winds and gentle zephyrs chant it, spring, summer, autumn, winter, are four choristers from which ascend but four parts of one glad anthem. And yet how often man remains dumb with guilty silence amid the myriad harmonious voices around him. We are often silent, also, when we should speak for God. We fear to confess Him though He calls upon us to be His witnesses. Oh, that you could feel the sin of your reticence; the criminality of sealed lips! A silent religion, or a speaking religion, Christian professor, which shall it be?

2. The permission afforded us of speaking for Christ should be looked upon in the light of a high privilege as well as a solemn duty. “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

3. Our sinful silence often involves a loss of personal blessing.

II. But silence is often a virtue. When David was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s mercy as expressed in Nathan’s message (2 Samuel 7:18), his sense of obligation to God was so great, that he felt his soul big with emotions to which he could scarce give expression, so he “sat before the Lord,” overpowered with the weight of blessing. Have not we often felt our souls tremulous with an adoration our lips could not express? When we have sought fellowship with our Lord in His sufferings and mused upon His “unknown agonies.” The silent growth and secret development of character is most acceptable to God. Many Christians are yielding Him greater praise by the silent yet mighty influence of a sanctified character, than others who are loud in talk yet less circumspect in life. All growth is silent. The tree rises year by year without any noise. Contrast the building of the tower of Babel and that of the temple, which, “Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric sprung.” Think, too, of silent prayer; and of sweet and gracious submission. How exalted is that Christian’s attainment who can be silent while man persecutes. To me no portion of the story of our Saviour’s life on earth is more convincing in its proof of His Deity than His submission to His cruel persecutors--“When reviled, He reviled not again; when buffeted, He threatened not.” Here is Divinity indeed. Omnipotence restrains omnipotence. Let us seek grace to imitate Him. (W. Williams.)


Verse 4

Psalms 39:4

My heart was but within me; while I was musing, the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail I am.

A sense of our frailty a subject for prayer

Bishop Horsley says that David, moved by a godly contrition, pours forth this prayer, that he might know his end and the measure of his days.

I. Why should contrition lead to such a prayer? David speaks not of forgiveness, though that is what the contrite heart first asks for. But he does not here pray even for this. Apparently he does not, but really he does. For the prayer to be taught how frail we are, is virtually a prayer that we may be made holier, more averse from sin, and more devoted to the great end of our being. That it is this is shown--

1. By the fact that the interval between the evil work and the execution of the sentence against it causes the hearts of men to be steadfastly set in them to do evil. If penalty followed immediately on crime, men would not dare to sin as now they fearlessly do. They trust themselves to the hope that delay in punishment ever inspires. There is a sort of unacknowledged idea that what is protracted and indefinite will never take effect. A thousand things may intervene to prevent execution.

2. Or there is at work another, and not wholly different feeling. It is confessed that sin must be repented and forsaken, seeing that otherwise there will come a fearful retribution hereafter; but it is imagined that life will yet afford many opportunities, so that it is safe, or at least not imminently dangerous, to persist a while longer in criminal indulgence, which keeps up the sinner in this his procrastination. If you could practically overthrow this his theory, and substitute for it the persuasion, that “in the midst of life he is in death,” he would be almost compelled, by his felt exposure to danger, to make provision for the coming eternity, on the threshold of which he may be at any moment standing, and which may be upon him, in its awfulness and unchangeableness, ere he draw another breath. How many still believe the ancient lie with which the tempter deceived Eve, “Ye shall not surely die.” How few live “as strangers and pilgrims” here on earth. Instead of that there is a great settling themselves down, as if earth were their home; a slackness in religious duties, as if there were no great cause for diligence; a deferring of many sacrifices and performances, as though the case were not urgent; and this, too, where the parties not only avouch themselves careful for the soul, but are clearly to be distinguished from the great mass around them, by a general endeavour to do the will of their God. And what should we say is needed, in order to the correcting these errors and inconsistencies? What, at least, would be a mighty engine in producing greater steadfastness in the righteous, greater abstraction from earth, greater devotedness to religion? We reply without hesitation--a deep conviction of the uncertainty of life. Had men such conviction they could not live, as now they do, so entangled in the world, so eager in its service. It would warn him back from the inordinate pursuit of earthly things.

II. But note the petition itself. What a curious fact it is that such a petition should be offered unto God. Its terms are explicit enough, at least there can be little doubt as to its drift. He does not mean that God should show him the exact measure of his days and the precise number of them tie had yet to live. Such a petition would be unlawful, for it would be an intrusion into those “secret things” which “belong only unto God.” But that which the psalmist seeks to know is, the frailty of his life. This is the drift and scope of the petition, that he may have an abiding sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life. Now, is it not strange that such a prayer should be offered? I do not ask God to make me know that such and such substances are poisonous when all example testifies that they are; or that the weather is variable, when I have such continual proof of it. I do not pray to know anything, which I know indubitably from books, or testimony, or observation. Why, then, pray to be made to know how frail I am? It seems like praying to be made to know that the sun rises and sets; that storms may suddenly overcast the sky, or that any other thing may happen which we already know is wont to happen. And yet David, who was as little likely as we are to shut his eyes to well-known truths--he offers up this prayer, “Lord, make me to know mine end,” etc. I cannot but draw a lesson from this for one’s own ministerial guidance in the discharge of the ministerial office. If there is one thing more than another I would desire to have impressed on all classes of my hearers, it is the simple, self-evident, universally confessed truth, that they are frail beings liable at any moment to death, and certain at no very distant time to be removed to another, even to an invisible world. I have already shown you that there is little needed, beyond the abiding consciousness of this truth, to produce in those who have hitherto neglected religion, an earnest heedfulness to the things of eternity; and in others, who have devoted themselves to God, an increased and increasing diligence in the culture of personal holiness. So that it will naturally be one great aim of the minister to gain power for the truth of the uncertainty of life; to withdraw it from the mass of facts, which are acknowledged rather than felt, and to place it amongst those which influence the conduct. How is tie to proceed in the accomplishment of this aim? You know very well what is ordinarily tried; and if reason sit in judgment on the matter, it might possibly pronounce it best fitted to succeed. There are arrayed all the affecting evidences that can be gathered together of human frailty. But, however fair and admirable in theory, is this course practically effective when the fact of which we desire to produce conviction is the uncertainty of life? Alas! no. The universal testimony from ministerial experience, is that a well wrought sermon on the frailty of life is commonly ineffectual to the making men on the watch for the approaches of death. Here it is that our text comes in with a great lesson. It does but echo this result of ministerial experience. The psalmist prays to be made to know his frailty; as though quite aware that meditation and observation would never bring it home to him, notwithstanding that it seemed impossible for him to shut his eyes to the fact. And if it be a thing for prayer, it is evident enough that all meditations amongst the tombs, and all musings over the dead, will be practically of no avail, except as they bring men to their knees. Here, then, is the great lesson which, as a minister, [ gather from the text. I wish to impress on you your frailty, and entreat you to let this be part of your daily prayer to the Almighty--“Make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” (Henry Melvill, B. D.)

Reflections for the New Year

I. That human life must terminate. The knowledge and belief that our times are in God’s hand have a powerful influence in making us humble, self-denied, watchful and holy. The return of day and night, the revolution of the heavenly bodies, the beating of our hearts, the circulation of the blood, every clock in our chamber, and every watch we carry, all proclaim the affecting truth, that our days are hastening to an end.

II. That the measure of our days is determined by God. The sovereignty of the Most High is eminently discovered in the various admeasurements of human life.

III. That the knowledge of our end, and of the measure, of our days is of great practical utility in the Christian life. “That I may know how frail I am.”

IV. That God alone can teach us the end, the measure, and the value of the present life. “Lord, make me to know mine end,” etc. This is a lesson which the wisdom of men cannot teach. We bear, we confess the general truth that all must die; but we act as if it were not true, as if it never were to be interpreted of ourselves I But when God teaches us our end, He inspires us with other views. No person can be indifferent to death and mortality when God is his teacher. (Christian Magazine.)

“Make me to know mine end”

From this prayer it would appear that men are prone to forget their end. Why do men forget their last end?

I. Negatively.

1. Not because there can be any doubt as to its importance. What a momentous event is death! The termination of our earthly connection, and our introduction into a state, mysterious, retributive, probably unalterable.

2. Not because men have no reminders of it. If you see a painting, the artist is in his grave--a book, the author is no more--a portrait, the subject is gone to dust.

3. Not because there is the slightest hope of avoiding it. “It is appointed unto all men once to die.”

II. Positively.

1. An instinctive repugnance to it. All men dread 2:2. The difficulty of realizing it. We cannot possibly know what it is to die. It is a knowledge that can only be got by experience.

3. The commonness of the occurrence. If only a few in a whole country died in the course of a year, and one or two in our neighbourhood, the strangeness might affect us.

4. The general hope of longevity.

5. The soul engrossing power of worldly things. “What shall we eat, what shall we drink, wherewithal shall we be clothed?” This is the all absorbing question. But why should men consider their latter end?

Brief life is here our portion

Some see a kind of pettishness in this verse, the fruit of impatience under the chastening hand of God. But it is not for us to upbraid the psalmist, for what is his impatience compared to ours? David prays, “Make me to know mine end.” But was his frailty a secret that he could not discover? We may be sure that he knew it in part, but he wanted to know it after a more perfect way; with that spiritual enlightenment which God alone could communicate. Thus he would know--

I. His end. Do we know this?

1. Its certainty. I must die. There is no discharge in that war. Is that fact realized by us?

2. It will be our end. Not a halt, but a finale. Mine end for all things beneath the sun--sin, sorrow, service, opportunity for doing and getting good. Think of the accompaniments of our end, the last scenes here in which we shall take part. Picture it all to your minds so far as you can. Rehearse it so far as you may. And think of its results. Then it is that though we end here, we enter on the most solemn part of our existence. Whither wilt thou go? To be with Christ, or amongst the lost--which? We need to be made to know our end, made to believe in it firmly, realize it vividly, so as to be prepared for it whenever it comes.

II. The measure of his days. It is only the days of God that cannot be counted. Ours can, “as poor men count their sheep,” because they are so few. But the fact that man is sinful makes it blessed that his days should be few. Would we have a Voltaire for ever stalking about this world, or such as he? Let us measure our days so as not to waste them.

III. His frailty. We are like travellers on a road across which there is a deep gulf. Some know it, but most forget it. Those in the front ranks fall into it, and the others will, but as yet they think not of it. So we all go on until we come to that fatal step which will plunge us into eternity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 5

Psalms 39:5

Behold, Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth: and mine age is as nothing before Thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.

The brevity and vanity of human life

These simple words have an energy in them which none but a dying man can fully understand. We may, indeed, have felt something of their meaning, as we have heard them read over the corpse of a beloved friend, but then this feeling has been neither deep nor lasting. The cares or pleasures of the world have again called for and had our whole attention. The psalmist’s words lead us to consider--

I. Why he calls the days of life our days. Strictly speaking, they are not so, not one of them, but--

1. They bring to us innumerable mercies as they hurry on.

2. And they are allowed to us that in them we may work for eternity.

3. We have to account for them hereafter. They are recorded in the Book of God.

II. Their shortness. They are so by comparison.

1. With the period once allotted to the life of man.

2. With the duration of many objects around us.

3. With the eternity of God.

4. With the work we have to do.

How diligent, then, should we be. And how silently our years pass away. There is also another painful thought connected with the silent rapidity of time--the longer we stay in the world, the swifter does its flight appear. A year to a man is not more than a few months to a child. Our days seem to rush on with a more silent and rapid motion the nearer they draw to the goal of death, as though they were eager to bear us away unawares to our destined eternity. The fact is, that time, correctly speaking, is nothing more than a succession of ideas; these ideas are less numerous, and the impressions they make less deep and permanent in old age than they are in youth; and consequently the road of life has fewer marks to remind us of our progress.

III. Their vanity. But here, perhaps, it may be said, “What if the period of life is thus transitory? Man is a great and noble being, and has powers that enable him to crowd into this short existence a consequence and dignity suited to his greatness.” The words before us however speak no such language. There is another truth declared in them, which pours contempt on all human greatness. They tell us, not only of the shortness of life, but of the vanity, the utter nothingness, of man. This is the testimony they give, “Verily, every man, at his best state, is altogether vanity.” Therefore--

1. How precarious and how little worth are all our earthly blessings. Death soon carries them away.

2. And so of all our schemes and prospects. How forcibly, then, are we reminded of the great duty of consideration, of serious thoughts on our life and responsibility; how great an evil is sin, and how great a necessity is our trust in God. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The vanity of man at his best state

I. Thy subject of the psalmist’s meditation. “Every man in his best state.” How glorious was the condition in which man was created. But from that he fell. Still, through God’s mercy in Christ, his condition is one of many blessings. He may have the Divine favour, and he may dwell in the Divine presence here. But the psalmist was thinking of man in the state in which he possesses the greatest share of worldly advantages, and in which other men are wont to call him most happy. Picture such a man--thee citizen, the philosopher, the monarch.

II. Hear what is said of such an one, the humiliating fact that he is “altogether vanity.” For death at any moment may come and strike down the sturdiest frame, the possessor of the greatest prosperity. Remember this, and prepare for the eternal life.

III. The emphatical manner is which it is urged on our attention. “Verily,” every man at, etc., etc. And we need that the truth should be enforced, manifest and common as it is. (W. Curling, M. A.)

The vanity of man

I. Man’s existence without immortality is vanity.

1. It is vain in the sense of hollowness. It is an empty fiction, an inflated bubble.

2. It is vain in the sense of worthlessness. On the assumption that there is no immortality, what useful purpose is answered by our existence? I appreciate the literary productions of genius, but the best of them I feel are unworthy of our creation.

II. Man’s existence with a godless immortality is vanity.

1. It is an existence eternally pursuing a phantom.

2. It is an existence eternally producing injury. Learn--

The brief duration of human life

I. Life is short, in respect of the great work which it is given us to perform. Man in his best estate here below is still an improvable condition. There is no perfection on this side the grave.

1. The man of the loftiest attainments in virtue is but elevated to a position whence he has a more enlarged discovery than others of the miserableness and defects of his present standing. The attainments of man in virtue and in piety affect him in a manner similar to what is produced by the other acquirements of life--the more that there is gained, the more is there that presents itself to be desired. The Christian, in his best estate, ever feels clogged in his career, and is ever laying aside those weights which retard him in his motion.

2. As it is with the attainments of piety, so is it with those of knowledge. The longest life is found too short to compass the knowledge of what God has revealed to us in His Word. To some, the duration of mortal existence has proved too short for the attainment of any substantial good. They were cut off in the midst of resolutions of amendment. For this, life was amply sufficient; but, as Seneca has it, “We complain of its shortness, because of the waste of it which is made.”

II. Life is short in a comparative point of view; and it is in reference to the consideration of the subject in this light, that the comparison in our text of life to an hand-breadth is peculiarly appropriate.

1. To the child in the dawn of life, when reason begins to expand, and thought to measure out the prospect of happy days spread before it, through all the stages of its earthly career, the anticipated term of years appear so vast as to fill its imagination with wonder, and rack its powers of comprehension. But, with the progress of years, the allotted term of human life ever appears to shorten.

2. But when the psalmist skid, “Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth,” he must have thought of the Eternal of ages, whom he addressed, with whom “a thousand years are as one day,” and compared with whose immeasurable duration our existence here may well be likened to an hand-breadth. “Our days “is a phrase employed in Scripture to denote the term of our existence here, which is measured by the revolution of days, contrasted with our future being, when time shall be no longer. The psalmist thought of the great, the boundless eternity which lay before him; of that never-ending succession of ages through which we should live, increasing in knowledge and in happiness; and turning his eye to the comparatively puny, limited, and circumscribed being which he now enjoyed, yet considering the vast result that hung upon it, he exclaimed, “Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth.” Such language is appropriate to human life. We have received a place among the things which have foundation. Our immortal souls exist in God, who has imparted to them, in reference to futurity, an attribute to Himself--Eternity. (John Watson.)

The vanity of human life and nature

I. The force and emphasis of the text.

1. The psalmist gives us here a very emphatic description of the measure of his days,

2. The psalmist gives us a much more diminishing description of the frailty of our nature than he does of the measure of our days. For, “verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity.”

II. Why our common sentiments of human life are so very different from these of the psalmist.

1. Men do not steadily attend to the nature, consequence, and final issue of things; but confine their views to present objects and appearances, which are sure to deceive them.

2. Sense and appetite too often corrupt the judgment. It is a hard thing for men to believe what they would not have to be true. The truth is, their affections are engaged, and they cannot help thinking well of what they love; they do not care to hear those things disparaged which they exceedingly value; nor can they be easily persuaded to think that what they have fondly set their hearts upon is so altogether vain.

III. We shall soon be convinced of the justness of this description if we but duly consider two things.

1. What man is in comparison of what he shall be. Do we not look upon one single moment of time as a mere point, when compared with the many years we have a]ready lived? But one single moment of time bears an infinitely greater proportion to the period of human life than the whole period of human life does to eternity. How concerned, then, should we be by a course of steady piety and virtue to add a value to this nothing, by improving our transient years to the purposes of eternal bliss I Because on this moment of time depends eternity.

2. We shall be more sensible of the justness of this description which the psalmist gives us of the vanity of mankind, if we consider in what manner they generally act in comparison of what they should do.

IV. Improvement.

1. Seeing we know these things, let us beware lest we also be led away with the error of the wicked.

2. The text, if well considered, must surely be a sovereign cure for envy; unless vanity, folly, and wretchedness be the proper objects of it.

3. Is man in his best state altogether vanity? what is he, then, in his worst state?

4. Let us learn hence to rectify our sentiments of human life and all its vanities.

5. Are these things really vain; it is time, then, that we seek out for some more substantial good. (J. Mason, M. A.)

Of vanity

Take man in all the variety of his behaviour and humours, in his best and most settled estate (for so much the original imports); nay, in the best managements of his affairs, in the subtilty and strength of all his designs and projectings; even in the pre-eminence of his reason and pretended excellency of his wisdom; when he designs to look and speak wisest, and put off the face of vanity; when he thinks he is most in the right, and his achievements are most successful; take him with all his advantages, and dress him up above nature, with all the improvements of art and sciences, and he is still the veriest fop in the creation, and the merest antic that appears upon the stage of the world.

I. Consider man in his civil and secular capacity. The greatest confidence that men usually have in the things of the world arises from a great estate of wealth and treasure. But what is the foundation of this confidence, but a greater portion of the earth we tread on, or some refined part of it, some rubbish taken out of its bowels, burnished and made shining (to please the fool), and stamped with some image and superscription. But observe the vanity; are we children when we play with trifles, and wise men when we please ourselves with these greater toys? Or rather to confirm our vanity, are we not like them, given to change, and throw away one foolery to take up another? The difference can be no more than that the one is the pleasure and divertisement of children, and the other of men; but both the same vanity.

II. Examine him as to his moral and divine estate, as he is the son and disciple of virtue, and wisdom, and religion; as he is guided by reason, and pretendedly governed by conscience; there, too, he is vanity.

1. The original dignity of man above other creatures is that tie is endowed with a rational soul, a pure immaterial substance that cannot die or be extinguished; by this tie claims kindred with the angels, nay, a certain affinity to God Himself, being created after His image, and cannot but think immortality essential to his very being; but, alas I to invert the words of the apostle, this immortal may put on mortality, and this incorruptible may put on corruption.

2. If we venture a strain higher, even to the best effects of reason; to the high-flown pretences of wisdom and learning, we shall make much the same discoveries. The wisdom of men is not only foolishness with God, but really in itself; and knowledge is as truly but science falsely so called.

III. To fix upon a state and condition of life really the best and the only one not subject to vanity is easy, and in few words to be discovered, in contemplation at least, though experience hath proved the practice to be very rare and difficult. If we should meet and confer together, and discourse this great point one with another in the next world, some little space before our trial comes on at that great tribunal of God, what, I pray, would you call wisdom? What would you call exemption from vanity and folly? Be sure not that by which in the preceding world we got a great estate; for, alas! that is quite gone and lost to us and our posterity, nothing of that nature can escape the general conflagration. No! nor that by which we once got fame and renown, for that is vanished too, and perhaps is really inglorious and base in the esteem of all at that day; for then be sure our judgments will be more discerning, and we shall have other thoughts and apprehensions of things. No I nor that by which we attained to arts and sciences, were statesmen or politicians; for we shall have no manner of use of them, neither in heaven nor in hell. Our knowledge must, then, be of another nature, of much greater perfection, or we cannot be happy; and sinner, too, the more sagacious and discerning they then become, the more fitted and qualified (as we may say) will they be for their due punishment; their remorse and torments will be the sorer and more pungent. We shall infallibly then pronounce upon the debate, That we were altogether vain in She other world, and that that was the truest wisdom which exerted itself in all the previsionary means for this great and terrible day of judgment, to secure the grand interest of everlasting life. (John Cooke, M. A.)


Verse 6

Psalms 39:6

Surely every man walketh in a vain show.

The bitterness and blessedness of the brevity of life

(with Psalms 39:12):--These two sayings are two different ways of putting the same thing. There is a common thought underlying both, but the associations with which that common thought is connected in these two verses are distinctly different. The one is bitter and sad--a gloomy half truth. The other, out of the very same fact, draws blessedness and hope. The one may come from no higher point of view than the level of worldly experience, the other is a truth of faith. The former is at best partial, and without the other may be harmful; the latter completes, explains, and hallows it. And this progress and variety is the key to the whole psalm. The writer, in consequence of some personal calamity--we know not what,--was struck dumb with silence. His thoughts were sad and miserable. At last he speaks out, and complains more than prays concerning the deep sadness of life. He dilates on this, but the thought of it alpine is too dreadful: the blackness of his view was making him reel; therefore he turns to God, “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee.” The psalm changes from this point; there is the same sadness contemplated, but with what a difference. He sees the bright light of tope which streams up from the most lurid masses of opaque cloud till their gloom begins to glow with an inward lustre, and softens into solemn purples and reds. He had said, “I was dumb with silence--even from good.” But when his hope is in God, the silence changes its character and becomes resignation and submission. He is a stranger, but “with Thee”--that makes all the difference. He is God’s guest in his transient life. That life is short, like the stay of a foreigner in a strange land, but he is under the care of the King of the land; therefore be need not fear nor sorrow. Three points are brought before us.

I. The thought of life common to both verses of the text. “Every man walketh in a vain show,” and “in an image” or “shadow”--he walks as a shadow. That is to say, the whole outward life and activity of every man is represented as fleeting and unsubstantial, like the reflection of a cloud which darkens leagues of the mountain’s side in a moment, and “ere a man can say, behold,” is gone again for ever. Then look at the other image employed in the other clause of our text, to express the same idea, “I am a stranger and a sojourner as all my fathers.” The phrase has a history. In that most pathetic narrative of an old-world sorrow long since calmed and consoled, when “Abraham stood up from before his dead” and craved a burying-place for Sarah from the sons of Heth, he pleaded, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you.” He was so. And such is man’s relation to this world.

II. The gloomy hollowness which that thought apart from God infuses into life, Because life is fleeting, therefore in part, it is so hollow and unsatisfying. Why should we fret and break our hearts, “and scorn delights, and live laborious days “for purposes which will last so short a time, and things which we shall so soon have to leave?” Were it not better to lie still?” Such thoughts have at least a partial truth in them, and are difficult to meet as long as we think only of the facts and results of man’s life that we can see with our eyes. Yes I if we have said all, when we have said--men pass as a fleeting shadow, if my life has no roots in the eternal, nor any consciousness of a life that does not fade, when it is all flat and unprofitable, an illusion, a folly, a dream. For all the while I yearn for something higher, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” God “hath put eternity in man’s heart,” as Ecclesiastes says. And all these longings and aspirations witness that such limited life as was can never fill our souls or give us rest. Can you fill up the swamps of the Mississippi with any cartloads of faggots that you can fling in? Can you fill your souls with anything which belongs to this fleeting life? Has a flying shadow an appreciable thickness, or will a million of them pressed together occupy a space in your empty hungry heart? But note how our other text in its significant words gives us--

III. The blessedness which springs from this same thought of life when it is looked at in connection with God. The mere conviction of the brevity and hollowness of life is not in itself a religious or helpful thought. It all depends upon what you associate with it. The words, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with Thee,” point back to the law of the jubilee, when all lands returned to their original owners. But its religious aim was to keep alive in the minds of Israel their sense of dependence upon God. “The land shall not be sold for ever, for the laud is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. Of course, there was a special sense in which that was true with regard to Israel, but David thought that the words were as true in regard to his whole relation of God, as in regard to Israel’s possession of its national inheritance. If we grasp these words as completing all that we have already said, how different this transient and unsubstantial life looks. You must have the light from both sides to stereoscope and make solid the flat surface picture. Transient! yes--but it is passed in the presence of God. Now, if we will hold to this truth, what calm blessedness will flow into our hearts. For if “a stranger with Thee,” then we are the guests of the King, the Lord of the land. We have a constant companion and an abiding presence. He is with us, will walk with us, will sit with us and make our hearts glow. Strangers we are, indeed, here--but not solitary, for we are “strangers with Thee.” As in some ancestral home in which a family has lived for centuries--son after father has rested in these great chambers, and been safe behind the strong walls--so age after age, they who love Him abide in God. “Thou has been our dwelling-place in all generations.” “Strangers with Thee”--then we may carry our thoughts forward to the time when we shall go to our true home, nor wander any longer in the land that is not ours. If even here He is with us, what will it be there? And why should we fear death? Is the sentry sad as the hour for relieving guard comes nigh? Is the wanderer in far-off lands sad as he turns his face homewards? And why should not we rejoice at the thought that we, strangers and foreigners here, shall soon depart to the true metropolis, the mother-country of our souls? I do not know why. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Earth’s vanities and heaven’s verities

I. David records his view of human life.

1. He speaks of life as a walk. He seems to have had in his mind the idea of a great procession: “Surely every man walketh in a vain show.” Such things were more common in Oriental countries than they are with us; but whether it is the Lord Mayor’s show or any other, it is a picture of what this mortal life is. Among some classes of society, show is everything; they must “keep up appearances.” Just so; and, all the world over, that is about all there is--“appearances”--a vain show. I wish we could get a hold of that idea as a practical thing, that everything we can see is shadow, but what we cannot see is the real substance.

2. He speaks of life as a worry. “Surely they are disquieted.” So they are. How few people are so free from the spirit of the things of this world as to pass through this life quietly. See how they begin life, eager for its joys, its honours, its wealth. Note how they plod, and toil, and labour. How much of brain-work is done by the light of the midnight oil! Many a man agitates his mind, and wearies his spirit, till his life is lost in finding a livelihood. They are trying to live, and lo! life is gone; and they wake up, and wonder how it is that they have let it go, and have not really lived at all.

3. David passes on to speak of life as a success; and he mentions those who were supposed to have been successful in life; though, mark you, it is not success in life, after all, to accumulate riches. “He heapeth up riches.” That is all he does not partake of them, he does not use them, he merely heaps them up. He accumulates without enjoyment. “He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.” He leaves his wealth without pleasure. I am sure that there is many a man who would turn in his grave if he knew what was being done with his hard-earned wealth.

II. David expresses his own emotions in contemplation of these things.

1. He has come to a decision. “And now, Lord.” I like that mode of speech; it is a great thing to come to God with a “now.” Every moment is solemn if we would but make it so; but there are certain turning-points in life, when a man has had his eyes opened to see the fallacy of his former pursuits, when, stopping where the roads meet, he looks up to the signpost, and says, “And now, Lord, guide me; help me to take the right turn, to eschew the shadow, and to seek after that which is substantial. Now, Lord.”

2. I also like this expression of David’s emotions, because he consults with God: “Every man walketh in a vain show; but,” saith he, “and now, Lord, there is no vanity with Thee, no deception, no delusion with Thee, behold, I turn away from this mirage, which just now deluded me, to Thee, my God, the Rock of my salvation, and I look to Thee. And now, Lord.”

3. He is a man whose hope is in God.

III. David offers an appropriate and needful prayer, “Deliver me,” etc.

1. From sins committed.

2. From the assaults of sin.

3. From peculiarly dangerous sins.

4. From deserved dishonour.

5. From undeserved defamation.

6. From spiritual disappointment.

7. From dreadful taunts at the last. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Surely they are disquieted in vain.--

Vain disquietudes

I. Because they are utterly useless. Most, if not all, the things that occasion them are inevitable.

1. The approach of age.

2. The advance of reformations.

3. The separation from property.

4. The advent of death.

II. Because they are removable. Since Christianity has come, all the disquietudes of the soul may be hushed. They are kept in “perfect peace” whose minds are stayed upon God. (Homilist.)


Verse 7-8

Psalms 39:7-8

And now, Lord, what wait I for?
my hope is in Thee. Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.

The appeal and prayer of a waiting soul

I. His waiting.

1. What he did not wait for--not for any earthly good.

2. What he did wait for--manifestation of love of God. Removal of affliction. The subdual of his sins. A smile from God. God’s will to be done in him.

II. His hope--God.

III. His prayer--“Deliver me from all,” etc.

1. From the guilt;

2. The filth;

3. The love;

4. The power;

5. The commission-of sin.

IV. The reproach which he feared--that of “the foolish.” He knew he was liable to it, and he feared it much. (J. C. Philpot.)

Faith and culture

The latter of these two verses is the language of a man who had seen much of life. And yet we must own that the life of man is a fuller, a more intense, a more many-sided thing to-day than ever before. How many interests it touches; amid what wide-reaching complications it lives and moves; under what enormous pressure it rushes on. The age which we call our own is mainly an inventing and contriving one. In a word, for that is the question to which our text directly lead us, Is the world really happier because of what civilization has done for it, or no? No one will say that civilization has done nothing for the race, and that there has been no progress apart from that of the Cross. To affirm that would be to affirm what is untrue. For civilization may be without Christian faith. Enlightened selfishness has long found out that the individual is better off and happier when the community is honest, healthy and mutually self-respecting. Hence, it is not certain that society, as you and I know it, would lapse into barbarism without the knowledge of the faith of the Crucified. But the question is, also, Would human happiness remain? or rather, Is it to civilization that the world owes its happiness, and are we of to-day, with our higher and finer civilization, happier than our forefathers? They were without a multitude of advantages that we have, and the range and the pace of their life were almost infinitely narrower and slower. But in widening the range and in quickening the pace, have we deepened the current and enriched the quality of our lives? “Thou hast multiplied the nation,” says the prophet, “and not increased the joy.” And yet there is a Book which tells you of a life which he who lives it is “not afraid of any evil tidings, for his heart standeth fast and believeth in the Lord.” There is a faith which has learned how to ask and to answer the deepest of all questions in the word, “And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is even in Thee.” There is a life--you know at least one or two who here and there are living it--in which the world is neither a charnel-house, nor its pleasures dust and ashes. It is for this widening of the horizon of its life, that human society wants that message of faith which civilization does not and cannot bring it. Man is going to school here, and the things that he touches, and sees, and requires here, all these are simply toys with which he is building block-houses in the nursery, until he is fit for the life and employments of the future. It is to recall you to this higher range of thought and aspiration that this holy house exists. What do we come to church for if we do not need to be reminded, by what we see and hear and do here, of a world and life outside the boundaries of the widest civilization and unrevealed by the investigations of the most painstaking culture? We have hopes that are not met by any visible attainment. We have fears that are not silenced by any earthly voice. And there are some times when we have another and a more bitter consciousness--the consciousness of personal sin. We want to be forgiven. We want to be renewed. We want to be emancipated. In one word, we want that element in our lives which never enters it until the Cross has entered it, and has at once conquered us by its love and transformed us by its infinite and Divine compassion. We want all this, I say. Has it ever occurred to us to think of those other lives who want it no less, and who vet may so easily be left without it? (H. G. Potter.)

The believer hoping in God

I. His appeal. It implies--

1. An experimental persuasion of insufficiency. This is engraven in characters too deep to be erased by the hand of time, and too legible to be obliterated by passing vanities.

2. A strong sense of danger. He feels that the claims of the Almighty are as imperative as they are reasonable; and he is convinced that while the affections are enslaved by earthly objects, the soul is in danger of perishing everlastingly.

3. The shallowness of those hopes which have respect to creature merit as the procuring cause of salvation.

II. His affirmation.

1. His hope of pardon, acceptance, and eternal salvation centred in God.

2. His hope of support, consolation and happiness was reposed in God. From the world we can often derive neither help nor sympathy; in God we have both: He relieves and He compassionates. (W. Knight, M. A.)

Waiting and hoping

I. Here is a question. A man doesn’t go head foremost toward God, he goes heart foremost. The great trouble with sinners is that they put the head before the heart. “What wait I for?”

1. There is one man who says, “I am waiting for the Lord’s good time, the Lord’s own time.” Well, then, that good time has come at last. These revival services are to get men willing to be saved, and not to get God willing to save them. It is God’s accepted time. Every moment that you are a sinner that is the moment God is ready to save you. Thus much I tell you, You will never see the gates wider open than they are now.

2. Another says, “I am not waiting for God’s time, I am waiting for better terms.” Let me tell you about that terms business. There are plenty of people that want to go to heaven on their own schedule. They want to drink a little, lie a little, and gamble occasionally. Why will a man ask any better terms than that he quit those things that damage him on earth and prevent him going to heaven?

3. “I am not waiting for any better terms,” says the sinner; “I know that right is right and wrong is wrong. I am waiting for the Church to get right.” Waiting for the Church to get right! Let the Church be, and do as it will, I am going to serve the Lord. Don’t stay out because of the hypocrites, but come in and help crowd them out.

4. “I am waiting for feeling,” says some fellow. You look at me. What do you mean by feeling? Do you mean serious thought? If you don’t mean that, you don’t mean anything. If serious thought is not feeling, there is no serious thought in repentance. When a man sees he ought to do right and quit the wrong, that is the only feeling there is on the subject. Do you think that you ought to be a Christian, and ought to start to-night? If you do, you have got feeling enough to sweep you right under the Cross, if you will start now.

5. Another fellow says, “I am not waiting for feeling; I am waiting ‘until I am fit.” Here is a fellow starving to death; there is a richly-loaded table. “Are you hungry? . . . Yes, I am just as hungry as I can be; but I can’t go, my hands ain’t fit.” “Here are soap and water and towels.” He says, “I ain’t fit to wash.” Don’t hang back because “I am not fit.” Come up here and get fit. Did Jesus Christ come into the world to save good people? Oh no; but to save sinners.

6. “I know Christ died to save me, but I am waiting to try myself awhile.” Many resolve to be good men, and they try. The devil laughs to see them.

7. “I am waiting for faith.” Yes; you have been waiting forty years for faith. How much have you saved up? Like the fellow who had ten bushels of wheat, and was waiting till more grew before he would sow what he had[ Sow it, and you will have a hundred-fold. “I want to be a blacksmith as soon as I get muscle.” Why don’t you go at it? There he stands, until at last he has not muscle enough to lift the hammer. He is getting it with a vengeance. How did you get faith? by using what you had. But now let us look at the other side. We have been looking at man, let us--

II. Turn now to God. “my hope is in God.” Now you have struck the keynote for eternal life. My hope is not in riches, pastor, friends, father and mother, children, Church; but my hope is in God. Will you start to-night? You may say, “I am mighty weak.” I know it; but your hope is in God. “Yes; but I am a poor sinner.” My hope is in God; it is not in myself. I know I am a sinner. Yes; but you are very, very weak; you are as frail as a bruised reed. Yes; but my hope is in God. If I commit myself to God, I will never go down: I will stay up as long as God stays up. I put my hand in the hand of God, and commit it all to Him to-night. Won’t you do it? Let me take your hand, and help you to start to heaven. (S. P. Jones.)

The vanity of earthly things leading to hope in God

The text is a conclusion drawn from the preceding verse which tells of the “vain show” in which “every man” walks. Each expression goes to demonstrate this vanity. But we are not to be discontented with earth or to despise those temporal blessings which Providence places within our reach. Far be the thought. It is the resting on such things, and not the use of them, against which men need to be warned. And even Christians need this warning, Hence it is needful that we should deeply feel the vanity of all earthly things in order that we may the more earnestly adopt the language of the text. Never shall we fly to the Creator, as the source of all true happiness, till we utterly despair of finding it in the creature. And now let me rejoice with you who have found your hope in the Lord. We have become so through Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as the ransom for a ruined world, and redeemed us to God by His blood. Happy are the people in such a case, and who can say with David, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and,” etc. (J. Slade, M. A.)


Verse 8

Psalms 39:8

While I was musing the fire burned.

The place of feeling in religion

David was one who felt, thought and acted strongly. There were no neutral tints about him. And he felt that he needed to restrain himself, lest his strong feeling should hurry him into sin. Hence he said, “I will take heed to nay ways that I sin not with my tongue,” etc. But feeling is a thing to be desired. As with David, thinking often prompts it: the two should ever be in just proportion. But it is better to have too much than too little feeling. We cannot love an unfeeling man. Tim feeling heart is the most human as well as the most humane part of our humanity. But we admire it only when it leans upon a clear judgment, and is thereby controlled. But it is difficult to say which is the stronger force. Both should be found in religion. But we are to remember that some natures have small capacity for emotion, and we do wrong in that account to doubt their Christianity. It is a sad misconception to look upon emotion as salvation. Salvation rests upon our willing Lord. God forgives, although a man may never weep. (J. B. Aitken.)

Quiet musing

I. Let us say something in praise of musing. We do not do much of this in these days. We prefer what is amusing to musing, by a great deal. But--

1. It is well to muse on the things of God because thus we get the nutriment out of them. Mere hearing or reading without this will not serve.

2. It fixes the truth in the memory. If we would have truth photographed upon our hearts, we must keep it long before the spiritual lens.

3. It lends us into the secrets of truth.

4. It ministers joy. “My meditation of him shall be sweet.”

5. And it becomes easier by practice. A man has never a slack hand or a cold heart who is much in meditation. It is a blessed art.

II. Put some fuel on the fire of meditation, How many are the topics which might be suggested. Eternal love. Dying love. Salvation. Heaven. Hell. And to you who are unregenerate I would urge your musing on your present state. What your end must be if you continue as you are. Of the Lord Jesus Christ. Beware lest the day come when thou wilt have to muse without hope. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Man musing, burning, speaking

I. The dignity of human nature.

1. Thought. “While I was musing.” What a wonderful power is the power of thought!

2. Moral emotion. “The fire burned.” It was the fire of moral feeling. All the sentient existences we know of have some kind of feeling, but man alone has moral feeling--feeling in relation to sin, to duty, and to God. This feeling is kindled by thought.

3. Speech. “I spake.” What a wonderful power is the power of speech. By it we reveal ourselves, we achieve conquests over souls, and win them to our wishes and our ways. How great is man!

II. The process of repentance. But how is this fire to be kindled? Here is the method. By musing. Upon the inconvenience of sin, its consequences, or its punishment? Thought must dwell upon God’s mercy, not merely in nature and providence, but in the mission, sufferings, and death of God’s only begotten Son.

III. The philosophy of true eloquence. “While I was musing the fire burned, then spake I with my tongue.” When is the tongue eloquent?

1. When it is used as a relief to the soul.

2. When it is used as a vehicle of strongest moral emotions. Moral emotions are electric. (Homilist.)

Motives

When we witness the performance of a noble deed, when we become acquainted with a noble character, when we read the life of a great and good man, we are tempted to ascribe his superiority, in great measure at least, to a difference of circumstances. “He has had facilities, incentives, motives,” we are apt to say, “such as have not fallen to the lot of most men. Give us the same facilities, give us the same incentives and motives to virtue, and we should be glad to do as he has done.” Undoubtedly there is a sense in which this is true. He has felt motives which we have not. But why has he felt them? To answer this question, we must begin by answering several others on which it depends. What are motives? The motive, externally considered, is the reason for acting or not acting, in a particular way; which, of course, will be attended to very differently by different persons, and so affect them very differently. Let us next consider what gives efficacy to one motive over another in particular cases? It is not enough that the quality exists; the individual must feel, must perceive that it exists, or else to him it does not exist. And now we are prepared to take up the third question, Why is it, that while one man is alive to the higher motives of human conduct, another is alive only to the lower motives? Something doubtless is attributable to difference of organization and temperament, but not the whole. If it were, how should we be able to account for material and essential changes in moral and religious sensibility, which the same individual often undergoes? In the case of repentance, involving a real change of heart, it will hardly be pretended that this alters a man’s organization or temperament; and yet how entirely it alters his sensibility to moral and religious motives. These motives were always before him; but he did not see them, or at least he did not feel them, as he does now. In this respect he differs from his former self, just as all good men differ from all bad men; nevertheless, organically considered, he is the same man he always has been. So likewise of acquired habits, considered as predisposing men to be affected by certain motives. Why is it that motives have more influence over the mind in proportion as it is in any way predisposed to be affected by them? The chief, if not the sole reason, is, that such a mind gives them more attention and thought, enters into them more fully and entirely as realities, returns to them more frequently, and dwells upon them to the exclusion of other things. Hence it follows, that earnest attention to the highest motives of human conduct awakens the best affections of the soul; and again, it is only by renewing this attention from day to day that these affections are kept alive and rendered more and more intense. In the words of the text: “While I was musing the fire burned.” For this reason the Scriptures everywhere lay great stress on meditation and holy contemplation, on communing with God and our own souls, and having our conversation in heaven, as the conditions of “newness of life.” Taking this principle along with us, we shall not find much difficulty in explaining some of the greatest perplexities of the Christian life. In the first place, it will help us to define, with sufficient distinctness at least for all practical purposes, the office of free will. Whatever may be true in theory, there can be no doubt that, in practice, we are generally disappointed, when we expect a great deal from man’s self-determining power. The reason is, not that this power does not exist, but that it is not applied at the right time, and in the right place. Again, the same principle will help to explain why it is, that when men become decidedly religious it is often in consequence of some startling or impressive event--the death of a friend, a remarkable escape, a pungent discourse, a striking remark, a dream, a thought. It may be said that such an occurrence does not add one iota to the number or the strength of the motives to a Christian life which these persons had, and which they knew they had, before. And this is true; but it calls attention to those motives; and this, as we have seen, is all that was wanted. Once more, the view here taken of the manner in which men become alive to the highest motives will also account satisfactorily for local and temporary excitements in morals and religion. These are sometimes referred to sympathy and imitation, and even to causes less pure. Much of what is transient in them, and many of the attendant circumstances, are doubtless to be explained in this way; but not the whole. What is real and lasting in these movements has its origin in the general attention to the subject which, somehow or other, has been awakened. It is not pretended that any new motives are discovered or invented. Let me, then, revert once more to the plea so often set up by the undevout, the indifferent, the worldly-minded: to wit, that they do not feel the motives to virtue and piety which good men do. The fact is admitted; but when we come to analyze it, we find that, in most cases at least, it turns out to be, not an excuse, but a part of the wrong. As we have seen, they do not distinguish, they do not believe, they do not feel because they do not attend. But attention is pre-eminently a voluntary act, and one, therefore, in respect to which all are pre-eminently free and responsible. (J. Walker, D. D.)

The uses of solitude

The subject of solitude has been a favourite theme for romantic declamation and sentimental insipidity; and, on this account, many sensible people are inclined to avoid it. It will but be doing justice to its real importance and dignity, to state its connection with some of our highest duties, and its influence over our most spiritual affections; to speak of it in seriousness and simplicity, as a necessary discipline of the mental faculties, as a valuable monitor of our real situation and destiny, as a choice opportunity for impartial self-examination, profitable reflection, and heavenly communion.

I. As a preparative for society and for action,

1. It is so, in one respect, simply as it furnishes repose to weariness. We return to our work with more vigour when our flagging forces have had time to recover their spring, and our ebbing spirits have received a new supply of sustenance and force. The attractions of deserted things are renewed; a fresh impulse is given to the race, and a fresh beauty to the prize.

2. But our capacity of duty is not merely animated by an addition of power; it is enlarged by the acquisition of knowledge. We see the world at an advantage, as it were, when we see it as spectators, and not as actors. We can observe with more exactness the passions which agitate the bosoms of men when we ourselves are without the reach of their influence. We can trace with more precision their actions to their motives, when we are standing aloof, and can take in, as from an eminence, both the fountain and the stream.

3. Yet in another way are we fitted by solitude to go back again into society, better qualified than before for its duties and demands. We are made more kind, more gentle, more forbearing.

4. We are taught, also, in the seasons of occasional solitude, a more correct knowledge of ourselves than we should otherwise possess. We are thus in the way of exercising more candour in the scrutiny of our neighbour’s opinions, feelings and actions, and more diffidence in the defence Of our own.

II. As favourable to the most exalted feelings of devotion.

1. Man holds the most intimate communion with his Maker when no being but his Maker is near him. The most fervent aspirations of his heart rise up from the temple of solitude; for they rise up without witness, without restraint, and without contamination.

2. Solitude is favourable to devotion because its tendency is to render devotion consistent, rational and ennobling. When we are alone with God, we see Him with a clearer vision, and seem to be endowed with a more intimate perception of His character. We draw nearer to His presence, and drink more directly and copiously of His Spirit.

III. Its tendency to inspire serious reflections on the great concerns of existence--life, death, eternity.

1. There is something in the essential vigour, and the regenerated freshness, and the long duration natural objects, which often impresses us most forcibly with a feeling of the shortness and uncertainty of our own earthly existence. No sentiment offers itself more naturally to him who meditates alone among the silent works of God, than that they are renewing their strength while he is wearing away, and that they will remain when he is gone. The sun seems to say to him, I shall rise in splendour, and set in glory; and the moon, I shall walk on in my brightness; and the hills, We shall abide in our majesty; and the streams, We shall flow in all our fulness--when thou shalt be no longer known to us, nor numbered with us. The intimation is melancholy, hut it is not unkind, nor is it received unkindly--for the voice of Nature is not as the voice of men. It is always a sound of soothing and sympathy, and never of contempt or indifference.

2. It remains to point out a connection between thoughts of this nature, and a source still higher. When we are engaged in secret communion with that eternal Being in whose hands our life and breath are, and whose are all our ways, we are necessarily reminded of our own frailty and dependence, of the brevity of our mortal term, and of our deep responsibility. (F. W. P. Greenwood.)


Verse 9

Psalms 39:9

I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.

Silent before God

This psalm is the utterance of a man in trouble. It thrills with a strong but repressed feeling. In a thoughtful man, trouble always doubles itself. Added to the smart of the immediate affliction is the moral problem which it raises, of the reason and the justice of God’s administration in the world, of the permission of evil, of the tendency and destiny of this vain show called life. Every special sorrow or disaster is a stream, setting towards this unfathomable ocean of thought, with a swift and resistless current. The psalm represents a familiar experience. So many feel, if they do not think, deeply. But there is strong repression here as well as strong feeling. The writer is on his guard against hasty speech. “I said, I will take heed,” etc. But in our text we get down to a deeper reason for silence. The man is so overcome by the grandeur and the mystery of God’s dealing with him that he is forced to be silent. There are some mysteries that we can--so we think--solve, but there are others concerning which we can only say, “Thou didst it”--that is all. We stand like a belated traveller before the closed gate of an Egyptian temple, rising, low-brewed and grim, under the stars, and no sound answers our knock. This, then, is the simple, stern picture of our text--a man in silence before the truth, God did it! The text assumes God to be a fact, and further assumes faith in God. God and His providence are both taken for granted. What, then? Well it is something to have got firm hold of a fact. A great deal is gained when the sorrow, however severe, or the mystery, however dark, has been traced up to God. When we can say, not something, but some one, did it, the matter is greatly simplified. We have no longer to count chances. Whatever we may think of the dispensation we know its source. God did it. A teacher sets for a boy a hard problem in algebra. The boy goes resolutely to work. The day passes, and he cannot solve it. He takes it home with him, and works at it there. He comes back next day to the teacher, and says, “I cannot do it;” and then he begins to talk passionately, to tell what methods he has tried, to hint that the teacher may have made a mistake in his statement, to complain that this or that in his algebra is not clearly defined. The teacher sees the difficulty; and, as the first step toward clearing it up, he quietly says, “Be still! Do not talk any morel I set the problem, and I know it is right.” And if he says no more, and the boy goes back to his seat, he has gained something in that interview. There is power in the thought which the lad turns over in his mind, “This problem was set by somebody that knows. My teacher, whom [ have always found wise and truthful, did it.” The thought that there may have been a mistake in the statement of the sum goes out of his mind, and the matter is thus far relieved, at any rate; and, under the impulse of that relief, he may attack the question again, and successfully; or, if not, he will gain by silence, by restraint. The teacher wisely silences him, not to check his inquiry, but to bring his mind into the right condition to receive explanation. And this is just how God often deals with us. “Well,” it may be said, “all that may do very well for a child; but a reasoning man cannot be disposed of in that way.” All I can say is, many a reasoning man has to accept that or nothing. And after all, it may be that the child’s satisfaction has something rational at bottom, Reason cannot compel God to answer; and suppose it could, would man be the better? Take a simple illustration. There are certain reasons connected with your child’s education or inheritance which constrain you to live for some years in an uncongenial and unpleasant place. Neither climate, scenery, nor society is what you could desire. The child asks, “We are not poor, are we, father?”--“No.”--“Could we not live somewhere else?”--“Yes.”--“Then, why do we stay here when there are so many pleasant places elsewhere?” You cannot tell him; he could not understand the reasons; but, for all that, the lesson that child learns through your silence, through being obliged to be content with the simple fact, father does it, is more valuable than the knowledge of the reasons. Even if he should make a shrewd guess at your reasons, that would not please you half so much as his cheerful, unquestioning acceptance of the truth that you love him, and will do what is best for him. Now, in such dependence upon God lies the very foundation of all true character, and this is why God lays so much stress on this lesson, and so often brings us face to face with His “I did it.” That kind of teaching may not make philosophers--when it does, it makes them of large mould--but it makes Pauls and Luthers. But as we look at this, “Thou didst it,” we find it has some treasures of knowledge for us. Faith is not ignorance. We begin to make discoveries--this one, that if God did it, then infinite wisdom did it, and infinite power did it. “Ah!” you say, “we know that but too well. The stroke is on our hearts and homes. It is written on fresh graves, and in the scar of dreary partings.” All true. But has power no other aspect than this terrible one? Shall we symbolize it only by a hand hurling thunderbolts? or may we not picture a hand, strong indeed, but open, and pouring forth blessings? “All power is given unto me,” says Jesus. Yet He laid His hand on blind eyes, and they saw; on the paralytic, and he leaped and ran. God did it, and therefore I know that infinite love did it. That is a piece of knowledge worth having indeed. Surely, when we reach that, we find the rock yielding water. Ah! we have to creep back for rest into the shadow of love after all. And how this truth gathers power when we go to this text, taking Christ with us! How it kindles under His touch! God did it; and I look up into that face of unspeakable love, with its thorn-marked brow, and say, “Thou didst it. He that hath seen Thee hath seen the Father. I am in sorrow; the sorrow is driven home by a pierced hand: Thou didst it. The pierced hand tells me of the loving heart behind the hand; and, if love hath done it, let me be silent and content.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

Silent submission to the Divine will

I. What we out not to do.

1. We ought not to divert our attention from a higher object, by too anxiously inquiring into second causes; much less aggravate our distress, by vainly lamenting the circumstances of a case, of which the event sufficiently proves its entire consonance with the will of God; whilst these circumstances are to be regarded only as the sword or the staff, which served to inflict a necessary wound.

2. Neither let us be tempted too deeply to speculate upon the secret intentions of our heavenly Father in such a visitation; or too solicitously to ask whether it be an infliction in mercy or in wrath.

3. Much less should we adopt the language, or harbour a sentiment of impatience or discontent.

4. Neither ought we to despair. What though the stream be dried up, which once flowed down with blessings on our lot, the Fountain whence it was supplied still remains; and though the friend be gone, Omnipotence is left.

II. What we ought to do.

1. Let us begin with acknowledging the imperfection of our own blind and fallible judgment, which had led us to build our hopes so high upon a passing shadow.

2. Painful, however, as we doubtless feel this severe act of the Divine sovereignty, let us next consider that as our sins have most clearly deserved all there is of chastisement in it, so our repentance alone, and deep contrition for sin, can avert its worst consequences as a national curse.

3. A duty most unquestionably it is, even in the utmost extremity, and in the absence of every human resource, still to assure ourselves that “the Lord reigneth;” and that in His supreme dominion are involved the operations and the results of infinite power, and wisdom, and goodness, and mercy. To Christians the same assurance beams with a superior brightness through the medium of that purer revelation made known to us by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and sealed to us by His blood. (C. J. Hoare, M. A.)

Submission under Divine chastisements

I. What it is not.

1. It is not a silence arising from an unfeeling disregard to affliction. We are not told to do violence to our nature.

2. It is not a sullen silence, like the sulky humour of an ill-managed child, who stubbornly refuses to speak when any of his wishes are not gratified.

3. Neither is it a silence which springs from natural constitution, or from good sense, as it is called, either natural or acquired. Such silence, such submission cannot be acceptable to God, inasmuch as God is not at all regarded in it.

4. Again, men may be silent under their afflictions, lest by murmurings they should bring down upon themselves yet worse. Such submission however has respect to self rather than to God.

5. It is not a despairing silence.

II. What it is. “Because Thou didst it.”

1. The Christian in his afflictions considers who God is. He sees in them the hand of one who is Almighty, the High and Mighty One, perfectly holy, and just, and good. And looking at himself, who is but sinful dust and ashes, he says, “How shall I dare to murmur against God?”

2. But while the Christian silently submits himself to God, from a deep sense of His power and majesty, his fear is mixed with love, for he views God not only as an almighty Sovereign, but as a kind parent.

3. The Christian calls to mind the gracious and valuable purposes for which God afflicts His children, and in them he finds fresh motives for silent resignation.

4. The pious sufferer quiets himself under affliction with the reflection that God will not always be chiding; weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

5. The Christian, when he is under God’s afflicting hand, gives himself up entirely to His disposal; in firm confidence that he suffers according to the will of God, infinite power did it. “Ah!” you say, “we know that but too well. The stroke is on our hearts and homes. It is written on fresh graves, and in the scar of dreary partings.” All true. But has power no other aspect than this terrible one? Shall we symbolize it only by a hand hurling thunderbolts? or may we not picture a band, strong indeed, but open, and pouring forth blessings? “All power is given unto me,” says Jesus. Yet He laid His hand on blind eyes, and they saw; on the paralytic, and he leaped and ran. God did it, and therefore I know that infinite love did it. That is a piece of knowledge worth having indeed. Surely, when we reach that, we find the rock yielding water. Ah! we have to creep back for rest into the shadow of love after all. And how this truth gathers power when we go to this text, taking Christ with us! How it kindles under His touch! God did it; and I look up into that face of unspeakable love, with its thorn-marked brow, and say, “Thou didst it. He that hath seen Thee hath seen the Father. I am in sorrow; the sorrow is driven home by a pierced hand: Thou didst it. The pierced hand tells me of the loving heart behind the hand; and, if love hath done it, let me be silent and content.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

Silent submission to the Divine will

I. What we ought not to do.

1. We ought not to divert our attention from a higher object, by too anxiously inquiring into second causes; much less aggravate our distress, by vainly lamenting the circumstances of a case, of which the event sufficiently proves its entire consonance with the will of God; whilst these circumstances are to be regarded only as the sword or the staff, which served to inflict a necessary wound.

2. Neither let us be tempted too deeply to speculate upon the secret intentions of our heavenly Father in such a visitation; or too solicitously to ask whether it be an infliction in mercy or in wrath.

3. Much less should we adopt the language, or harbour a sentiment of impatience or discontent.

4. Neither ought we to despair. What though the stream be dried up, which once flowed down with blessings on our lot, the Fountain whence it was supplied still remains; and though the friend be gone, Omnipotence is left.

II. What we ought to do.

1. Let us begin with acknowledging the imperfection of our own blind and fallible judgment, which had led us to build our hopes so high upon a passing shadow.

2. Painful, however, as we doubtless feel this severe act of the Divine sovereignty, let us next consider that as our sins have most clearly deserved all there is of chastisement in it, so our repentance alone, and deep contrition for sin, can avert its worst consequences as a national curse.

3. A duty most unquestionably it is, even in the utmost extremity, and in the absence of every human resource, still to assure ourselves that “the Lord reigneth;” and that in His supreme dominion are involved the operations and the results of infinite power, and wisdom, and goodness, and mercy. To Christians the same assurance beams with a superior brightness through the medium of that purer revelation made known to us by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and sealed to us by His blood. (C. J. Hoare, M. A.)

Submission under Divine chastisements

I. What it is not.

1. It is not a silence arising from an unfeeling disregard to affliction. We are not told to do violence to our nature.

2. It is not a sullen silence, like the sulky humour of an ill-managed child, who stubbornly refuses to speak when any of his wishes are not gratified.

3. Neither is it a silence which springs from natural constitution, or from good sense, as it is called, either natural or acquired. Such silence, such submission cannot be acceptable to God, inasmuch as God is not at all regarded in it.

4. Again, men may be silent under their afflictions, lest by murmurings they should bring down upon themselves yet worse. Such submission however has respect to self rather than to God.

5. It is not a despairing silence.

II. What it is. “Because Thou didst it.”

1. The Christian in his afflictions considers who God is. He sees in them the hand of one who is Almighty, the High and Mighty One, perfectly holy, and just, and good. And looking at himself, who is but sinful dust and ashes, he says, “How shall I dare to murmur against God?”

2. But while the Christian silently submits himself to God, from a deep sense of His power and majesty, his fear is mixed with love, for he views God not only as an almighty Sovereign, but as a kind parent.

3. The Christian calls to mind the gracious and valuable purposes for which God afflicts His children, and in them he finds fresh motives for silent resignation.

4. The pious sufferer quiets himself under affliction with the reflection that God will not always be chiding; weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

5. The Christian, when he is under God’s afflicting hand, gives himself up entirely to His disposal; in firm confidence that he suffers according to the will of God, who is infinite in mercy and goodness, and who of very faithfulness causeth His people to be troubled.

6. A view of the God-man Christ Jesus suffering for the sins of the whole world affords another most powerful motive to the Christian to bear his sufferings with silence and submission.

7. It is not, however, inconsistent with that submission to express a sense of pain and distress; to desire and pray for deliverance; or to use any lawful means by which we may be delivered. (J. T. Sangar, M. A.)

The duty of resignation

Faith, obedience and patience are the three duties incumbent upon a Christian. Faith being a submission of our understanding; obedience, of our will; and patience, of the whole man to the will of God. The consideration of such a duty as patience is ever seasonable, to those in adversity, as a cordial to support them; to those in prosperity, as an amulet to guard them. We have in the text David’s submissive deportment, and the reason for it.

I. The nature and measure of submission.

1. Negatively. It is not insensibility to suffering. Nor abstaining from prayer for relief of it; nor from endeavour to remove it.

2. Positively, it is the submission of the understanding so that it shall approve God’s procedure. Of the will, our chief faculty. Of the passions and affections, commonly so turbulent, and of the tongue, so as to refrain from hard and bitter speech, and of the Spirit, so that we abstain from all rage and revenge against the instruments of our affliction (2 Samuel 16:10). We are not called upon to account enemies as friends, but we are not to take revenge.

3. All this is very difficult. Therefore, consider the worth of such submissive spirit, how excellent it is (Romans 1:10). See it in Moses and especially in Christ. It was suffering which redeemed the world. But it is difficult, because of the opposition to it which we find in ourselves, and from the mean though mistaken opinion of it which the generality of men entertain. Therefore, there is needed an early and long endeavour after such an excellent frame of mind.

II. The reasons and arguments for it because of our relation to God. Think--

1. Of God’s irresistible power. How useless resistance is (1 Corinthians 10:22; Psalms 135:6). Then--

2. Of God’s absolute sovereignty and dominion over all things, founded, as it is, upon the greatest and most undeniable title, which is that of creation and providence (Job 9:12; Revelation 4:11).

3. His infinite and unfailing wisdom, which is never at fault (Job 4:18). Would it be better for us to have our own way? Passengers in a ship always submit to their pilot’s discretion.

4. His great goodness, benignity and mercy which is “over all His works.” God does not willingly afflict (Lamentations 3:38; Isaiah 28:21). Consider also--

5. God’s exact and inviolable justice. He could not do us wrong.

6. And how He rewards the submissive soul. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord.” Could we but trust God to do our business for us, to assert our cause and vindicate our innocence, we should find that He would not only answer, but outdo our hopes.

III. Conclusion. Learn--

1. The necessity of submission.

2. Its prudence. There are few things in the world so entirely bad but some advantage may be had of them by dexterous management. Like Isaac let us take the wood upon our shoulders, though we be designed for sacrifice, and who knows but that, as in his case, deliverance may come? (2 Corinthians 4:17). Inward if not outward relief will come to us if we submit.

3. Think also of the decency and comeliness of such submission (Daniel 5:28; Luke 21:19). Thus may we make ourselves happy in the most afflicted, abject and forlorn condition of life. Therefore, let us “take up our cross,” “looking unto Jesus” as our great example and who, because He endured, “is now set down at the right hand of God.” (R. South, D. D.)

Christian resignation

Such resignation is all too rare. The words of resignation may be on the lips, but impatience may be in the heart. To provide against, such evil we must study to be real disciples of Christ; and we must have our minds turned to those doctrines and habituated to those exercises of religion, which help us to submit amid the calamities of life. Without such aid we are overcome when calamity falls upon us. Let us consider some of these aids to resignation.

I. The remembering that when god visits us with bereavements, he only takes away what is his own. Now, if we will take this view, if we not only speculatively assent to it as an abstract truth, but have it as a part of our practical creed, it will lead us to surrender any comfort whatever, and to make the surrender with patience and readiness into the hands of God, from whom we at first received it.

II. That God accompanies our bereavements with consolation and support. How much is still left to us of good. All is not lost. Has it not often happened in the case of the afflicted that “their latter end,” like that of Job, has been “much more than their beginning”? In all this there is something that is well fitted to inspire us with patience and contentment. Whatever we suffer is much less, and whatever we enjoy is much more, than we deserve. But He gives us consolation and support of a spiritual kind, far more precious and far more efficacious still. The Bible, prayer, ere.

III. In the third place, we should be resigned to the will of God when He afflicts us, because affliction is for our good. To mere worldly persons there is nothing good but that which gives them much pleasure. But to true Christians that, and that alone, is good, whatever it may be, which promotes their spiritual and immortal interests; which tends to make them wiser and better. There is still another consideration by which we ought to be influenced when involved in affliction.

IV. God who sends it is entitled to our patient acquiescence, our cheerful submission, because at the very time that we are suffering under his hand, he has in reserve, and is preparing for us, the happiness of heaven and immortality. (A. Thompson, D. D.)


Verse 11

Psalms 39:11

When Thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth; surely every man is vanity.

The secret blasting of men

These words give an account of two things which are the matter of the greatest wonder.

1. How it comes to pass there are so many and so great evils in the world.

2. How so many persons come to wither and fall away, and come to nothing in the world. As to the first we are told what is the cause of their evils--“iniquity;” and as to the second, it is God’s rebukes which do blast men. Therefore we learn--

I. That God doth punish sinners. The word “punish” is used when not strictly correct, for we say a man is punished when any evil befalls him, though he hath done nothing that may procure it. Therefore, in such punishment as the text speaks of, we must except--

1. The effects of God’s absolute sovereignty and power. Therefore, we are not to say that God punishes a man because of the lot in life that He has appointed him. These differences lie within the lot of God’s sovereignty, and speak nothing of either love or hatred.

2. Trials, such as Job’s and many other good men.

3. Disciplines to teach us not to over-value the world.

4. Those sufferings that come upon us through the evil of others. But, these exceptions being made, it is yet true that sin is the cause of punishment. For many sins are the natural cause of the evils that follow them. Punishments are required to maintain God’s honour in the world (Ecclesiastes 8:11), and the variety of things and changeable conditions are as requisite to maintain virtue and holiness among mankind as the winds, which occasion storms and tempests, which put the air and sea into motion, and so keep them from stench and putrefaction. This I observe, a great many scriptures impute creatures’ degeneracy to their living at ease (Zechariah 1:1-21.; Amos 6:1; Luke 12:19; Jeremiah 48:11).

II. These rebukes of God do blast men. God can immediately, by His influence, fortify and encourage a man’s mind, or else throw him down into discontent and frowardness. For the minds and spirits of men lie open to God as much as ought of the creation. When God will, the hearts of men will serve them, and be more than themselves; and if God withdraws, they come to nothing. How contented are some men in a condition that the world doth despise? and how much discontent in others, that live in worldly splendour? Therefore, note--

1. How doth God bring about the ruin of men? Sometimes by taking away their understanding; as Ahithophel and Judas. Making a man discontented and unhappy with his lot in life (Ecclesiastes 1:24). All good becomes insipid (Job 6:6). By suspending the forces of nature so that they render not the service they are wont (Deuteronomy 28:23). By withdrawing His blessing from men’s endeavours, so that they become unprosperous (Ecclesiastes 2:26; Proverbs 10:22). By awakening the guilt of the sinner upon his conscience, making that to sting and gall him, and then all the world is nothing. Or, when men, through their own fear, suspicion and jealousy, have certain foretastes of God’s refusal and displeasure.

2. Where there is imminent danger of such judgments. Where a man sins against light. Where there is hypocrisy, apostacy, worldliness, exemption from outward punishment as these may be. Whensoever God is pleased out of respect to His worshippers, or out of His compassion towards innocent infants and harmless creatures, to keep off judgments, then is it to be thought that, those persons that are wilful sinners, etc., shall hear from God in private; to abate their confidence, and to show how exorbitant they are in their ways. This God can do by letting them sink down into mental distraction, etc. For God can dispossess a man of all his comforts by not giving him power of self-enjoyment and taking content. For this of the two is a far greater mercy of God, for a man to have less and a contented mind, than to have much more and not have satisfaction :For power of self-enjoyment is a far greater thing than right and title. In the last place the case of high spiritual advantages. That was the aggravation of the sin of Capernaum, Coraizin and Bethsaida, that they were lifted up to heaven; and they are threatened to be thrown down into hell. There is no wonder that men cannot hold up their heads, when they are neither at peace with God, nor at peace with their own consciences; and all these things that are without a man will make no more recompense for the want of the peace of conscience than it will make a recompense for the pain of the gout to lie upon a bed of down. Men have no peace, neither with God, because not reconciled to the nature, mind nor will of God; nor have they peace in their own consciences, because under guilt. Therefore, no wonder that friends and revenues, etc., will not relieve them; they have an internal wound. In this respect I may truly say that men’s sin go before them lute judgment. It was something in secret between Cain and his conscience that his countenance fell; for he had sacrificed as well as his brother Abel; but it was something within him. In Nabal, his heart died within him upon his wife’s words only; which is strange, for a covetous miserable wretch will most commonly endure words hard enough; for words break no bones, but the text tells us God struck him. Other instances are Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:14-23); Judas (Matthew 27:3-5); Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:9). Another lesson from the subject is, the world and the devil cannot hurt men if men do not themselves consent. If we are guilty before God, and repent not, and do not seek pardon, then are we in fear and damager every moment, for at God’s sentence our souls live or die. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)


Verse 12

Psalms 39:12

Hold not Thy peace at my tears.

Earthly tears and heavenly songs

This is a beautiful world, but there are tears in it. All eyes have them, and they fall fast and often. Their causes are varied.

1. God’s rebukes for sins. Therefore repent.

2. The reign of temptation. Seek God’s strength.

3. The difficulties in our work for Christ.

4. The condition of society.:But the worst may be reclaimed Blessed is it to make the endeavour.

5. Bereavement. In the Royal Academy there was a small but pathetic picture. It is a coastguardsman’s cottage. His beloved wife is dead. There is the table spread for his meal; the young daughter in a black dress is cutting a loaf of bread; his little boy--boy like--is eating away at his dinner; the heart-broken man eats not, but stretches out his hand to touch a little child in a cradle beside him. Here is sorrow, hers is sadness. And there are thousands of such homes. But there are no tears in heaven. (G. W. McCree.)

I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.--

The Christian a stranger and sojourner

I. The psalmist’s experience includes a deep and habitual sense of the transitory and unsatisfying nature of all earthly things.

II. To be a stranger with god, and a sojourner, includes realizing anticipations of another and enduring world.

III. The psalmist’s experience comprehends an earnest and assiduous cultivation of all christian graces and virtues. The character of a stranger and a sojourner is made up of many bright lineaments of excellence, harmoniously blended as are rays of different hues in the solar orb. Certain features of his experience may, at first view, appear to be hardly consistent with others; as, for example, undaunted firmness with a meek and lowly spirit; the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove; inflexible opposition to all sin, with profound compassion towards all sinners.

IV. To be a stranger with God, and a sojourner, includes a faithful improvement of the ordinances of grace and the dispensations of providence. (J, Smyth, D. D.)

Believers considered as strangers and sojourners

I. Whence is it that good men consider themselves as strangers and sojourners on earth?

1. Every man is a stranger who is not a native of the place where he resides; but a sojourner is one who makes only a passing visit to the place, with a resolution to leave it again and proceed on his journey. This last is a distinguishing character of the saints (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). They are strangers in affection as well as condition; their hearts are elsewhere.

2. The saints justly count themselves strangers because they are regenerated, born from above, distant from their native country.

II. What manner of behaviour is most expressive of this temper, and best suited to the condition of strangers?

1. If we look on this earth as a strange country, through which we are only passing to our native home, it certainly ought to be our care that we receive as little hurt as possible in our passage. The greatest hurt the world can do us is to make us forget the place of our destination, and loiter in the way. Its smiles more to be dreaded than its frowns.

2. It is not enough that we receive no hurt; be careful to make all the provision we can for our better country (1 John 3:3; 2 Peter 1:11).

3. It becomes strangers to endure with patience and fortitude any hardships and inconveniences (2 Corinthians 4:8-9.)

4. If we view heaven as our everlasting abode, we ought to be solicitous to be thoroughly acquainted with the way (Psalms 119:19; Psalms 119:54; Psalms 19:7-11).

5. If we consider ourselves as strangers, we ought to behave like those who belong to a better country. They who love their country will be jealous of its credit.

6. If we have turned our back on the world, let us help one another on in our way, and take as many as possible with us; do all we can to strengthen the weak, advise the doubtful, animate the discouraged. (R. Walker.)


Verse 13

Psalms 39:13

O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more!

A prayer in the prospect of death

I.
A departure anticipated. Death is clearly referred to, not annihilation. The text suggests the idea of departure--“going hence.” A traveller departs from an inn at which he has been refreshed; he pursues his journey, and reaches home. A mariner departs from the port at which he has touched; he completes his voyage, and arrives at the desired haven, Also, death is a going hence from present employments, and from present connections, trials, privileges, enjoyments, prospects.

II. The prayer presented. Here is implied a state of weakness--probably of the body. Or it may refer to political weakness.:But yet, more probably it refers to the state of the mind, its depression and declension. Hence he prays that his spiritual strength may be revived. No health is comparable to this in importance. Many are the motives which should lead us thus to pray.

1. Our safety.

2. Our comfort.

3. Activity.

4. Usefulness. Take notice of a man who has lost the power and spirit of religion; of what use is he in his family? He may have natural affection, and may be attentive to the temporal welfare of his connections; but in what does he benefit their souls? Of what use is this man in the church? He calls himself a member; his name is entered among those who have given themselves to the Lord and to one another, according to his will; but where is his zeal for the interest of the church? Would you be useful, as well as active and happy? You must feel the power of genuine religion; you must experience its vigour and its growth. “O spare me, that I may,” etc.

5. Your dying well pleads for this prayer. Many professors of religion die in a very doubtful way; others give real cause to fear that all is not well; but “mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of this man is peace.” It may not be triumph, though in some instances this is the case; but it is tranquil and happy.

III. Conclusion.

1. Death is certain--then prepare for it.

2. Live to some good purpose. What is life unless lived to some good purpose? Remember we are Christ’s, “bought with a price.” Therefore, let us in life and death seek to glorify Him. (T. Kidd.)

David’s view of the grave

The true mask of the Christian is in his solitary prayer. What men are before others does not say much, but it is when alone that their true character is revealed. But godly men vary much in their experiences, and here in this psalm we find many mingled feelings.

I. An affecting illustration of death. It is a “going hence.” This true of all. It is not a lonely path, but a highway open to all passengers, and along which all must go. And the traffic is continuous, uninterrupted. And the pace is swift. “Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” said Job. “The wind passeth over it and it is gone.” And our going this way is certain and unavoidable. The king of terrors hath no heart nor ears! From his arrest no state of eminence can screen us; and his summons no greatness can control. The added term, “going hence,” gives the idea that it is no short journey, or a near remove; but that he is going distantly, and beyond all ordinary space! And this going hence is for ever--“no more seen.” Not that David believed that the soul perished. He knew the contrary. He spake of this world only. And at death we do “go hence,” and are “no more seen” in the world!--whether the senator, the statesman, the teacher, the orator, the poet, the merchant. In his family, and in the church. And more especially is the text true of sinners (Psalms 37:36-37.)

II. The avowed desire in consequence--“O spare me,” etc. Now, our “strength” consists in--

1. Clear evidence of our state.

2. Habitual readiness.

3. A recovery of strength.

III. Wherefore he thus prays--

1. From natural desire.

2. Nervous feeling.

3. Spiritual decay.

4. For greater good and better service.

Now, let the sinner use this prayer. The backslider. The spiritual, for themselves and others. (W. B. Williams, A. M.)

Death

The consideration that at death we are to go from hence, so as to be here no more, is that which makes life upon earth of the greatest moment, and what even good men may sometimes pray to have continued a while longer, that they may be better prepared for their everlasting remove. This the psalmist here does, from the consideration mentioned; having but one life wherein to prepare for an endless state, how earnest was he that it might not conclude till his work was finished, as it was to be done now or never.

I. The notion under, which death is represented, a going hence.

II. How, when once gone, we are to be no more.

III. Wherein our strength lies for going hence.

IV. How much we are concerned to pray that god would spare us, to get or recover strength preparatory to our final remove.

V. That this is the great thing good men have in their eye in desiring life,

VI. When they may be led to pray that God would spare them.

VII. The use of the whole. (D. Wilcox.)

Prayer for prolongation of life

The believer is not at all times blessed with a spiritual and happy frame of mind, at least not in an equal degree; for there are times when sin lies heavy upon his heart. No wonder, then, if he cries out, when death knocks at the door, “Oh, spare me,” etc.

I. Illustrate the passage.

1. Death is represented as a “going hence,” or departing from this world--out of time into eternity.

2. When persons go hence, they are said to be “no more.”

3. Death is often, even to good men, an object of fear and dread. Those who are tired of the wilderness, and long to see the goodly mountain and Lebanon, would nevertheless wish, if possible, to avoid the Jordan that lies between.

4. Where this fear becomes immoderate, it is criminal, and highly unbecoming the Christian character. Are we not willing to be at rest, to be at home in our Father’s house?

5. Yet this is not all he prays for, but that he may “recover strength” before he goes hence, and be no more. This may include the recovery of natural strength, or that he might be raised from his present infirm and languishing state; and such a prayer was offered by Job. But however desirable a revival of bodily strength may be, spiritual strength is still more so; and the prayer of a good man must be supposed to include both. This recovery of strength may embrace--

II. Apply the subject to ourselves.

1. If death be so dreadful to the righteous, what must it be to the wicked and ungodly. Their roots are so fastened in the earth, and their affections so firmly fixed on sensible objects, that it is no wonder they should start, back at the thoughts of dying.

2. Let Christians feel humbled and ashamed that their inordinate love of life should render death so formidable. Have you not forsaken all for Christ; and will you not forsake life itself for him? (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Death deprecated

1. Death is an event of dread significance.

I. It puts an end to our present mode of being. How the change is to be brought about; and what your experiences will be at the awful moment of transition, and afterwards, no mortal man can tell. No wonder, therefore, if in thought of these things your courage sinks, and you cry, “O spare me.”

2. It, separates us from all we hold dear on earth. “Go hence.” After all, this world is very dear to us. Here we were born. Here our minds have been formed, and our characters developed. Here we have tasted all the delights of knowledge, of friendship, and of personal achievement.

3. It settles for ever our spiritual destiny.

II. Good men sometimes shrink from death under a sense of weakness and unpreparedness. There are instances of good men who were prepared and ready to die. But such a state of mind is rare and inconstant. The best of men have their times of misgiving, as well as their moments of exulting faith. Doubting Castle and the Valley of the Shadow of Death lie in the pilgrim’s path, as well as the Delectable Mountains.

1. Strength is needed to face death with fortitude.

2. Strength is lost through sin (Psalms 31:10; Isaiah 59:1-2).

3. Strength may be recovered if sought in due time.

III. Is the soul’s darkest hour God is a sufficient refuge.

1. He is the Lord of life (1 Samuel 2:6; Job 12:10; Job 14:5-6; Revelation 1:18).

2. He is very pitiful, and of tender mercy (Psalms 103:8; Psalms 103:13; Ezekiel 33:11).

3. He is mighty to save. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)

Prayer for recovery

When we thank God for our creation and preservation, we are true to an instinct which is rarely overpowered. We shrink from death just as the psalmist shrank from it, who, if he did net regard it as the end of all things, only dimly conjectured of a life to come. We shrink from death, and therefore from that which is wont to herald its approach, the loss of health, the decline of strength. True, there are those for whom the strain of incurable sorrow or hopeless disease has turned life into a living death; these cannot take into their lips the psalmist’s entreaty and ask to be spared ere they go hence. We have heard men and women pray for death, and press for the assurance that their hour was come; but for most men life is sweet, and strength a precious boon. And what is it that makes it so? Is there something higher than animal instinct, something worthier than even the strong ties of human love to bind us to this frail existence and prompt the prayer for its continuance? Why prolong the “vain show” in which man “walketh and disquieteth himself in vain”? Surely that which makes recovery of strength so welcome a thing if once we know what issues upon our use of it, is the prospect of a new probation, a new chance of employing aright God’s wondrous endowment of life. “The living, the living, he shall praise Thee,” cried the king, who hung between life and death; and we, who, whatever we may reverently hope, are told of no opportunities save those given to us here--we who know how much we have done amiss and left undone, may still cry for respite when the close of all is upon us. There is, indeed, no passage in human experience so solemn as the rescue from mortal sickness. Never does God seem to deal so directly with the soul as when He makes life over again to a man by a fresh grant, and even when its shades have begun to fall, adjourns for him the night in which no man can work. What depth of meaning there is in the return to life from the gates of the grave, if only we have eyes open to God’s dealing. Friends rejoice and congratulate, but there is something mere precious than the fondest welcome back to the world we were quitting; and that, I repeat, is the renewal of opportunity, the summons to “redeem the time,” to repair the mistakes and omissions of the past. Yes, now we see how the years, freighted with golden possibilities, have been buried one by one in the bosom of an eternity which never gives up its dead. Well may we fear, when all looked so faulty and disordered, to face the account we have to give. We have trifled with a high trust, and we would fain retrieve our shame. We have numbered our days now in the glare of the immediate future, and would “apply our hearts unto wisdom,” and therefore we cry, “Oh, spare me, that I may recover my strength before I go hence, and be no more seen.” This, far more than the renewal of earthly opportunities, far more than the averting of sorrow from those to whom we are dear, is what gives value to convalescence. The Christian prays to be spared above all that he may learn and unlearn; that he may do more for God, for his fellow-men. He knows that lengthened days, unless it serves these ends, can be no boon at all. (Canon Duckworth.)

Psalms 40:1-17

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 39:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-39.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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