Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HERE IS A MOST DISTRESSFUL CONDITION SET FORTH. It is described:
1. As being overwhelmed. (Ver. 3.) As if some fierce flood had rushed down upon him and his, and with sore difficulty they could bear up against its cruel might.
2. As being in great need of refuge, but utterly failing to find it. (Ver. 3.) He had looked round on the fight hand and the left, but in vain.
3. As rejected by men. "No man would know me." They had cast him off, would have nothing to do with him, would certainly render no help.
4. As "brought very low." (Ver. 6.) All hope and joy had fled from him; he was utterly cast down.
5. As one shut up in prison. (Ver. 7.) Now, all this sets forth what is often true in the experience of God's people. We are told also -
II. How THIS CONDITION WAS BROUGHT ABOUT.
1. By the snares of the wicked. (Ver. 3.) The snare was secretly but surely laid, and the psalmist seems to have fallen into it; it was laid along the path wherein he was wont to walk. He had not wandered off into strange or forbidden ways, but in his own proper and accustomed path, there the snare was secretly set. "The daily round, the common task," may become to us not only the path of life, but the evil one knows how, in the midst of them, to lay, and often too successfully, snares for the soul.
2. By the indifference and apathy of his fellow-men. "No man cared for my soul." It is a thought full of pain and sorrow to many a Christian heart that, by neglect, they have suffered so many souls to go astray. We have not cared for them as we should. When we think of it, we can only say, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord." But let us also forsake the sin we confess.
3. By persecution. This does often bring the soul "very low." Even our blessed Lord cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But it matters not, so long as we cleave to God.
III. WHAT TO DO UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. Turn to the Lord in fervent prayer. Lay before him all your trouble. Keep well in mind that the Lord who loves you, and whom you love, knoweth the way you take.
2. Call to mind what God has been to you in the past.
IV. WHAT SHALL COME OF IT. The Lord will deal bountifully with us. We shall praise the Lord. All the righteous will rejoice. - S.C.
I. IMPORTUNATE PRAYER UTTERED ALOUD WITH VOICE AND WORDS. (Vers. 1, 2.) Not mere inward communion with God, but with audible prayer pours out his distracting trouble, and lays open before him the burden and the distress of his heart. Uttered prayer more soothing and strengthening than mere silent desire, though both are effectual with God.
II. IN OUR DARKEST, MOST DANGEROUS TIMES GOD IS WELL ACQUAINTED WITH THE WHOLE EXTENT OF OUR TROUBLE. (Ver. 3.) God, therefore, can listen with the more sympathy to prayers, because he can understand how to estimate the depth and meaning of our complaints. This a source of great comfort - that God is not ignorant of our circumstances till we inform him of them. His interest is awakened by his own knowledge previous to our prayer.
III. GOD'S ALL-SEEING EYE RECOGNIZES HIS LONELINESS AND HELPLESSNESS. (Ver. 4.) No human being will recognize him, nor afford him any help, nor take any sympathetic interest in his affairs. All this is perfectly open to the knowledge of God.
IV. DESPAIRING OF HUMAN HELP, HE URGENTLY CRIES TO HIS ONLY REFUGE. (Ver. 5.) Jehovah is his "Refuge" and "Portion" - the only possession that suffices and satisfies him, and guarantees his continuance "in the land of the living." He cannot die, he cannot perish, though abandoned of all human friends and helpers.
V. HIS OWN FEEBLENESS AND THE SUPERIOR STRENGTH OF HIS ENEMIES IS ANOTHER PLEA FOR DELIVERANCE. (Ver. 6.) He has the calm assurance that this plea will be answered, and the Divine Name glorified.
VI. HIS DELIVERANCE WILL CALL FORTH THE SYMPATHY AND JOY OF OTHERS. (Ver. 7.) He is not, therefore, so entirely alone as he once thought; there are other righteous persons besides himself whose destiny is interwoven with his own. In this manner God deals bountifully with him. - S.
bad thoughts and wishes as well as its good. When there is absolute confidence in the love of God to us, there can be free utterance before him of our bad moods as well as of our good. And seeing that the best of men are subject to human frailties, are influenced by bodily states, affected by changing circumstances, and mastered by peculiarities of disposition, he could be no God to us at all who could only bear relations to conditions and moods which represented us at our best.
I. A SPIRIT OF COMPLAINING NEED NOT BE WRONG. It often is the proper and natural response to surrounding conditions. As natural as the response we make to things that are pleasing. To be tempted involves us in no wrong. To be set upon complaining need not involve us in wrong. To complain is a part of our complex human nature. The man is below his full manhood who is unable to complain. He does not feel in response to his circumstances as he ought to.
II. A CHERISHING OF THE SPIRIT OF COMPLAINING MUST BE WRONG. When the spirit is awakened in us, we have to deal with it. And everything depends on how we deal with it. If we keep it, nourish it, brood over it, it exercises a mischievous influence on us, it grows into an evil far worse than itself, it excites to envious and unworthy conduct towards others. Keep to ourselves the complaining spirit, and a spiritual "dry rot" will be sure to get into our souls.
III. PUTTING COMPLAINT INTO PRAYER PROVIDES SAFETY AND RELIEF. It is evident that prayer must include more than petition. Prayer is really the expression of the soul's confidence in God. And there is no fuller sign of confidence than telling freely our complaints. And yet doing so is a request for the Divine intervention and help; only in telling our trouble we wholly leave with God the way in which our circumstances shall be dealt with. - R.T.
thou (emphatic) knewest my path. We are often placed in circumstances in life which baffle intellect and power of judgment. We are overwhelmed because we cannot understand, and cannot steer our way through conflicting conditions, so as to form a safe judgment as to the course we should take. But the condition of the psalmist, as indicated in this sentence, was altogether more serious. Intellect and judgment remained to him, but they were silenced, crushed, overwhelmed, with a weight of feeling; his "spirit was overwhelmed within him."
I. THE MASTERY OF OUR SOUL-MOODS IS OUR DEEPEST DISTRESS. We cannot watch for it to guard against it. We cannot account for it so as to excuse it to ourselves. We cannot deal with it so as to gain security out of our experience. Every man knows that, any day, he may be beaten by the mastery of his soul-moods. And the strange thing is that the peril is greater the more spiritually sensitive a man becomes. The more worldly a man is, the fewer soul-moods he has. The more spiritual a man is, the more soul-moods he has. Often in life we are placed in circumstances that are not really very anxious, but which we make overwhelming by the response of our souls to them. And this explains how little we understand one another in the perplexities of life, because we cannot know how differently souls answer to things.
II. CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S OVERRULING RELIEVES OUR DEEPEST DISTRESS, "Then thou knewest my path." At such times there is always something to do. And the psalmist is close near to the very heart of truth when he shows that God relieves feeling by leading into duty. Keep feeling, and the hands will hang down. Take feeling to God, and he will lead into active service, and so bring relief to feeling. We may be so blinded by feeling that we cannot see the way we should take. We may be sure that our feeling does not represent God's. He never is so blinded. He always sees our way, and will lead us if we put our hand in his. - R.T.
I. IS THE ASSERTION TRUE?
1. It often seems so. How many there are to whom no one ever speaks, for whom no one makes any direct effort to win them for God! They are just let alone. And it is not because they would resent such endeavor. Often they greatly desire that some one would speak to them; for they know they are wrong, and need help to be other than they are. But it seems as if no one cared.
2. But, strictly speaking, it is not universally true. For there have never been any periods of time when there were not some faithful workers for God, and earnest intercessors for sinful men. And often it has been that, unknown to the soul that thinks itself uneared for, fervent prayers have been going up to God for that soul. And if not specially for that soul, yet for all such souls, that God would have mercy upon them, and lead them into the way of truth, for that they have erred and are deceived. When do God's people ever gather together without such prayers being offered?
3. Still, it is far too largely true. The neglect of souls on the part of those who should care for them is a terrible and distressing fact.
II. WHO ARE TO BLAME?
1. All Christians generally. For if we be saved by the compassion and grace of God ourselves, we are bound by every motive to try and get others saved likewise. If we do thus try, prayerfully and earnestly - let men call us by any ill name they please - the consciousness of Christ's approval and benediction will become surer and fuller of holy joy and help every day we live. If we make no such endeavor, the salvation we have will dwindle and starve, and, ere long, utterly disappear, and our last state will be worse than the first.
2. But more especially those who are nearest to such souls, and who have, therefore, most influence over them. Fathers and mothers first and chief of all. As they are, so the children will be. Then teachers, especially teachers in Sunday schools. What is the good of such schools if the teachers do not, above everything else, care for the souls of those they teach? And ministers: theirs, beyond most others, is the cure of souls. How awful, if they to whom this charge has been especially given, should be found faithless! What will such answer, when asked by the "chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls," as they will be asked, what they have done with those entrusted to their care?
III. HOW COMES THERE TO BE SUCH NEGLECT? The causes are many.
1. With some it is unbelief. They doubt almost every truth which the Church teaches. Some actually deny, others do not more than half believe.
2. With others it is misbelief. They pervert the doctrine of the sacraments, of the eternal mercy of God, of final perseverance, and, on such grounds, say, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace.
3. With more it is that they are not saved themselves. Their belief, whatever it is, does nothing for them, gives them neither peace, purity, strength, nor joy. They profess, but do not possess, and therefore cannot impart to others what is not their own.
4. Fear of man. How many, who should be directly and avowedly caring for souls, are ensnared here! And they salve their consciences by thinking that such work belongs to the clergy or the ministers - not to such as they. We shall never do anything until we are willing to be thought "fools for Christ's sake."
5. Dread of doing harm rather than good. But duty is ours, not consequences; and if God, by his Spirit, prompt, and bids us speak for him, as he very often does, all we have to do is to obey. He will take care of the consequences. Such are some of the causes of this sad lack of care for souls.
IV. THE EVIL OF IT.
1. The glory due from us to Christ is not reordered. The martyrs whom St. John saw overcame "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony." Christ claims our confession of him.
2. Men are hardened in sin. They say, "If these people believed what they profess, they would not leave us alone as they do. They don't believe it, and we won't."
3. Our own souls perish; for we are guilty of our brother's blood.
V. HOW IS IT TO BE REMEDIED? What is involved in the caring for souls?
1. Belief in the existence of the soul. In its worth; its peril; in the willingness of God to save it.
2. Solicitude for its salvation.
3. Open, active, and definite endeavor to secure this.
4. Be sure that we are saved ourselves.
CONCLUSION. To those who bring the charge, "No man careth for my soul," we would say:
1. Mothers do not care, see to it that you care yourself. It is your concern, after all.
2. If others care ever so much, and you do not, you will be only worse off titan before.
3. But if you care, then, whether others care or not, you will certainly be saved. - S.C.
1 Samuel 22:1; 1 Samuel 24:3). And as regards the help of man, he certainly then did seem desolate. But in God there still was hope. We may think of those who, with some measures of truthfulness, may nowadays say these words, "No man careth for my soul."
I. THE SO-CALLED HEATHEN. It would, perhaps, be well if we could give up using this term, which makes of those who have other thoughts of God than we have a distinct and lower class of beings. We have no right to put upon them the slur of a bad name. They are our brethren of this humanity, and God is both their Father and ours. They are the vast multitude of men. They are in mental bondage, and in moral degradation. Each one of them is kin with us in nature and destiny. Each one has intense inward desires, of which his particular religion is the wild, wandering expression. We have many interests in them that lie in the range of civilization and commerce, but how little and limited is our concern for their souls!
II. MULTITUDES IN OUR OWN NEIGHBORHOODS. Everywhere we are surrounded with those who do not know God, or do not hold him in personal and saving relations; and, alas! even with those who are living in the wretchedness of sin and vice. Do you think that their souls are altogether silenced? Do not they excuse their degradations by bitterly saying, "No man careth for my soul"? And in the sadly unaggressive character of very much present-day Christian life and labor, have they not a right to say it?
III. MANY OF OUR NEAREST AND DEAREST FRIENDS. Who among us has no unregenerate friends? Who should care for them? Are not some hindered because we have not shown our care for them? They question the worth of our professions if they do not inspire activity in winning and saving others.
1. Cultivate a deeper sense of the worth of souls.
2. Suspect that God's work for us to do will begin with what lies close to our hands. - R.T.
I. CARING FOR SOULS IS NOT THE WORLD'S WORK. We use the term "world" in many senses. Sometimes for the evil element in the midst of which we are set. So far as men come together in mutual interest and service, men as men, apart from any such distinctions as godly men, their interest in each other is limited to morals. There is such a thing as the welfare of the race. There is an "enthusiasm of humanity." But see what it embraces, and where are its limits. Trace through an ascending scale.
1. Physical well-being; bodily development, conditions of health.
2. Social well-being; all that pertains to the relationships which men sustain.
3. National well-being; the attainment of the highest civil liberty consistent with stable government.
4. Intellectual well-being; education in elementary, middle, and advanced stages.
5. Moral well-being; the general conception of virtue as the moderate and harmonious use of all faculties, or emotional culture. But there the world stops. Even the best men who care for the race seem to recognize no souls, no spiritual natures. (The spirit of modern philosophy may be thus expressed: Dismiss noumena, and deal only with phenomena.) And if men did recognize souls, they would be incompetent to render the care that souls need. They have not the suitable powers or agencies at their command. Chemistry, electricity, and education will not touch souls. So far as men are souls, they may look abroad over the world and say, "I can get much for body and mind, but 'no man careth for my soul.'" And yet the part that men miss caring for is the chief part. They care for the box and the setting, but they neglect the jewel. Consciousness testifies that we are souls. Revelation deals with us as souls. God cares for souls. Christ cares for souls. The true care for man is care for his soul; and this includes care for all lesser things that are interesting to him.
II. CARING FOR SOULS IS PRECISELY THE WORK OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. Physical, intellectual, and moral good is not the Church's first work. The Christian is, of necessity, also a philanthropist.
1. The Church exists to give testimony to the worth of souls in the sight of God.
2. The Church exists to devise and carry out schemes for the salvation of souls. This is indeed the work of every regenerate individual; but it is especially the duty of the Church as an organization. In it men are banded together for the care of souls.
III. IN MANIFESTING ITS CARE FOR SOULS, THE CHURCH WILL HAVE A SPECIAL CARE FOR THE YOUNG. Why?
1. Apprehending the peril of souls, the Church will want to keep the young from temptation, rather than to deliver them when overcome by it.
2. Apprehending the hardening influence of sin, the Church will try to deal with it in its initial stages. Youth is the plastic time when men may be fitted to good life-moulds.
3. Apprehending the nobler possibilities of a godly life, the Church seeks to secure for it the earliest possible beginning. Every godly life is rich in blessing; but those who serve their generation best as Christ's servants are those who began the service in early youth. - R.T.
I. WHAT WAS SAID.
1. He reminds the Lord how he had "cried unto him. His coming was with all earnestness and sincerity of soul; and he tells the Lord this, as much as to say, Lord, thou knowest that my prayer went not forth out of feigned lips, but it was with true heart that I turned to thee." Such is the prayer the Lord loves, and which alone has power and prevails.
2. He had said, "Thou art my Refuge and my Portion." First, the Lord was his Refuge. Many were his distresses; some of them inward, others outward. But from them all he found refuge in God. And he was but an example of what all may do, for where he found refuge from the sense of guilt, the power of sin, the cares of life, the fear of death, the craft and cruelty of men, there also may we. Blessed is he who hath sincerely said to the Lord, "Thou art my Refuge." And, further, he had said, "Thou art my Portion in," etc. He had chosen the Lord before all else. Many there were who were saying, "Who will show us any good?' but his prayer was, "Lord, lift thou up the light of," etc. He could say, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth," etc. Thus had he taken the Lord for his Portion, for his chief good. Blessed are they who have done the same!
3. And he had said this. To the Lord himself. He had made this confession and profession to him repeatedly, deliberately, solemnly; he was even declaring it when speaking to the Lord. And he had said it to himself, had habitually kept before his mind that he was not his own, but the Lord's. And he had said it before his fellow-men. He was openly and avowedly the Lord's; he made his boast in God.
4. And here he pleads this fact before God. For he felt sure that God would not cast off such as he was, but would assuredly hearken to him when, as now, he was "brought very low." And he was right.
II. HOW IT WAS SAID. Very earnestly. In no light mood, in no formal way, but he had "cried," etc. And he said it, in spite of opposition and persecution; and he means, by thus reminding the Lord of what he had said, to affirm his adherence thereto, and that he would by no means go back therefrom. And the obligation such avowal involved he was ready to meet and fulfill, God helping him. We are wont to make all manner of profession, but is it with this sincerity and resolve of heart?
III. WHY IT WAS SAID.
1. Why did he make such profession at all? He bad felt his need of the Lord to be his Refuge and Portion. He had been brought to that conviction, as many are now. And he believed that God was both able and willing to be what he desired of him; hence he had sought the Lord on the matter, and he had actually found that the Lord was his Refuge and his Portion, his God and his exceeding Joy. Having found that, he could not do otherwise than avow it: "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare," etc.
2. Why does he recall to his mind this that he had said? Doubtless it was, as such a thing ever is, a great delight to him. Thus to recall it, to have said such things sincerely, is one of the facts in one's life that emphatically does bear recollection. It is not so with all life's facts. Then, by such recall, he would tighten their hold upon his own heart, engrave them there yet more deeply. Such is ever the effect of so doing. Every way it helped him. The Lord became more precious. It held him off from other proffered refuges and portions, of which the world pretends to have large store; it quickened in him the resolve to fulfill the obligations of his vow - such as abstaining from all sin, following after holiness, ever looking to the Lord. Anti he pleads what he had said, because he believed the Lord would allow its force, and let it be availing.
1. Let us take the Lord for our Refuge and Portion.
2. Openly avow it. Say out before the Lord and before all men what you have done.
3. And then, as here, often recall to memory what you have said, and that the vows of the Lord are upon you. - S.C.
has rights in God which God will acknowledge.
I. THE SOUL'S RIGHTS IN' GOD ARISING OUT OF ITS VERY BEING. We speak of man as a spark from God, the Eternal Fire; of man, the spiritual being, as made in God's image. The relation is absolute. In God we "live, and move, and have our being." If in a sense, man is a soul put forth from God in some sort of separateness, that they know it or not.
II. THE SOUL'S RIGHTS IN GOD ARE RECOGNIZED IN THE DIVINE COVENANT. This psalmist speaks within the covenant, and bases his confidence on covenant pledges. It may seem as if the formal Abrahamic covenant concerned only a particular people, and pledged, on either side, merely material things. But we must always regard the covenant as representative of the spiritual covenant into which God enters with all men. It is picture-teaching of spiritual things. God makes covenant with souls, pledging himself to be, what they feel him to be, their "Refuge" and "Portion." Our rights in God are secured by his covenant.
III. THE SOUL'S RIGHTS IN GOD ARE RECOGNIZED IN THE DIVINE REDEMPTION. It should never be lost from view that, however formal and outward was its setting, the redemption wrought by Christ was a spiritual redemption - a redemption of souls. It was really the response of Divine love to the soul's rights in God as its Refuge, when that soul had come into conditions of disaster and distress. Souls never can lose their rights in God. - R.T.
others who trust in God, and becomes, for them, an inspiration to increased confidence in God.
I. GOD'S BOUNTIFULNESS AS OUR IMPRESSION OF GOD'S DEALINGS WITH US. It is not the constant impression. Sometimes we have to say, "My purposes are broken off;" "He hath hedged up my way with thorns." Sometimes what strikes us is the narrow limitations within which God puts his answer to our needs and desires. But there is no good man's life into which, at some time, the almost overwhelming impression of God's bountifulness has not come. He has surprised us with his benedictions; altogether gone beyond our expectations and our prayers. The times he has chosen, the deliverances he has wrought, the guidance he has given, the provisions he has made, have altogether astonished us. His bountiful goodness has called forth our songs. But the cases of bountifulness illuminate all his dealings with us. We know what he can do, and what he will do sometimes, and so light is thrown on all his dealings. He is never short of the bountiful, save for good reasons. He is always as bountiful as he can wisely be. It is helpful to read all our life in the light of those times when God, as it were, went beyond his usual in blessing. The infinite resources are open to us.
II. GOD'S BOUNTIFULNESS AS OTHER PEOPLE'S IMPRESSION OF GOD'S DEALING WITH US. St. Paul thought of himself as a monument of grace, on whom other people might look, and from whom other people might gain confidence in the grace of God. The unusual in our lives sets us in the world's eye, makes us spectacles unto men. If the unusual is manifestly God's unusual, God's bountifulness in dealing with us, it has a most gracious impression on those around us. They learn "what almighty grace can do." And if ours is a Divine triumph over extraordinary difficulties and depressions, it is the assurance to others that God can make his grace abound unto all sufficiency. - R.T.