To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
(with Psalm 24:3-4)
This text addresses itself to every single, solitary person, in the most solitary, silent time, when his day's work is ended and he is going to sleep. David could not have said a better word to any of us than this: "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still."
I. It is not bodily stillness alone; that is compelled. If it were not for sleep—that is, the bodily silence—we should all go mad. There comes a silence every now and then, and God makes it just to give Himself a chance of speaking.
II. If we do not do the will of God in the day, it is not likely that we will be still upon our beds that He may come and visit us. The true temple and the true worship is an every-day-of-the-week worship. That is what our Lord would have. We were not meant to be creatures of feeling; we were meant to be creatures of conscience first of all, and then of conscience towards God, a sense of His presence; and if we go on, our feelings will blossom as a rose from the very necessity of things. The one eternal, original, infinite blessing of the human soul is when in stillness the Father comes and says, "My child, I am here."
G. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 257.
I. Consider, first, the nature of godly meditation, regarded as a distinct exercise of our practical Christianity. We must not identify the exercise with religious contemplation, that higher form of intellectual homage which the mind, when elevated above the level of earthly things, pays to the wisdom of God; neither is meditation to be confounded with the exercise of reading, even though it be thoughtful, prayerful, scriptural reading. We must also distinguish it from the ordinary act of prayer. Godly meditation is the soul's soliloquy; it is the heart rehearsing to itself what shall be the manner of its appearing before God, and what it shall say. It is not so much a religious act in itself as a preparation for all other religious acts. It prepares for holy communion by accustoming the mind to the deeper and calmer forms of fellowship with God.
II. Notice some practical directions in relation to this holy exercise. It is clear that meditation is not an act to be learned, but a habit to be formed. We must attain to expertness in it, not by the observance of artificial rules so much as by diligent and persevering practice. (1) David intimates to us the desirableness of securing an outward solemnity and seriousness in this exercise, entire seclusion from all human friendships, the hushing of all voices, both from within and from without, that we may be quite alone with God. (2) A close self-scrutiny is also enjoined in the text: "Commune with your own heart." We have much to speak to our hearts about: our mercies, our sins, our work. These thoughts demand retirement, a coming by ourselves apart, a calm trial of our own spirits in the presence of the Father of spirits; in a word, they demand a set and deliberate compliance with the exhortation of the Psalmist, "Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still."
D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3,171.
John Baptist was almost as unlike a Jew of his own day as he is unlike us. Though not unexampled, his hermit life, his dress, his food, his abode, were of course utterly discrepant from city life or village life in any age. His position as a boy and a young man was utterly lonely; he is not merely a prophet of God, marked as that position would have been: John is always called a messenger, one who has more to do with Him from whom he comes.
I. In this country and in this age of the world, circumstances seem to force every single person into conditions to which John's life has no kind of relation, and to except none. It is the very idea of modern life that every one is to influence and be influenced by every one. Our very intellectual education has taken the turn of excluding originality, but far more so our social and moral education. And here we approach the great difficulty, that in all this education we tend to reduce principles, religious and moral principles, to the level and standard of the mass.
II. What then is the remedy? How shall we at once gain the great good of public life for the many and yet not make all life a mere sacrifice to the third-rate? The lessons of the life of John Baptist seem to have some bearing on this question. He was indeed original and independent, and dwelt "communing with the skies." Yet he loved the people well, and the people loved him. The contentment of private soldiers, and the honesty of tax-gatherers, and quiet consciences for ordinary people, and liberality towards each other—these were the things in which he took an interest. So in all places and times ought higher minds and souls to care for the simple duties and happinesses of those who surround them, while for themselves they eschew the world and live to God.
III. St. John gained his power in the use which he made of lonely hours. In retirement he gained clear views and he gained courage. It might be absurd for any one nowadays to go to a mountain or to a river to seek or to teach wisdom; but it is not absurd to make retirement, and real thought, and prayer a steady part of our life. Our Lord did not contemplate wildernesses for people of the towns, but He did often speak to them about praying in their own little rooms with closed doors. Original thought is the only power which rules others. Use yourselves therefore not to live always in a din, not always in a turmoil; let not your character be made up of endless patchwork fragments of the thoughts, the opinions, the feelings, which you have caught from others.
Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 60.
References: Psalm 4:4.—E. Garbett, The Soul's Life, p. 1; W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 377.
Psalm 4:4-5To persons who are cast down and doubtful what their hope is of pardon, and sanctification, and final acceptance the Divine answer is nothing mystical and perplexing, nothing implying that our condition is not one of danger and difficulty, nor, again, anything that shall give excuse for feelings of despair, as if there were no hope, or of presumptuous indolence, as if God would bring men to heaven whether they try to serve Him or no; nothing of all this is to be found in these oracles of God, but an admonition at once plain, solemn, encouraging, warning: "Stand in awe, and sin not; commune with your own heart upon your bed and be still," to which the Holy Spirit immediately rejoins, "Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord."
I. You cannot but observe how plain, and simple, and unimpassioned, how far from all perplexing notions and from all rapturous heights and flights of feeling, is the description here given of the repenting convert, the accepted child of God. The temper and disposition of mind suitable for him is far from all confidence and presumption, ever standing in awe lest he should again return to sin and folly, studying more than any other books the book of his own heart and conscience, understood by the light of Scripture. While he offers the sacrifices of righteousness, he puts his trust, not in them, but in the Lord, even the Lord Jesus Christ, his Redeemer.
II. Note in what a solemn tone of warning the passage is delivered. The words of the text clearly imply the greatness of our danger, the danger of forgetting in whose presence we are, and of again drawing back to sin and to perdition. It is good for us to have our confidence and high spirit brought down, and to be made to know and feel what we are and whom we have to depend on.
III. Observe how soothing is the view here presented to us of our religious state and duties. We are not taught to harass ourselves with doubts as to our final acceptance, to seek after any special inward convictions of feeling; it is necessary that we stand in awe, and sin not, and offer the sacrifices of righteousness.
IV. We are here stimulated and encouraged to active exertion, cautioned against trusting to a sluggish, inactive profession, and urged and warned to be fruitful in all good works.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. i., p. 19.
References: Psalm 4:4, Psalm 4:5.—G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 213. Psalm 4:5.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 134.
Psalm 4:6I. Consider, first, the question: "There be many that say, Who will show us any good?" Now, whoever these persons may be, it is plain from the language here attributed to them that they are not happy. They speak as men who have been spending their money, and have found that what they have received back in exchange is not bread, and that all the fruit of their labour does not satisfy; hence they do not say, "Who will show us the true good?" but "Who will show us any good?" practically admitting that all which they have been pursuing hitherto has not furnished them with that which they desire. The world has been ever wandering in search of the chief good, and the history of its mistakes is the history of its miseries. The true good is found in the other part of the text: "Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us."
II. Looking at the question and answer as both expressive of the heart's desire, we see in them some very striking characteristic differences in reference to the persons whose consciences are plainly described. Thus one only asks that he may have any good, without limit as to amount, or stipulation as to lawfulness, or care about the supplying sources. But the good man will not be satisfied with any good, nor even with good from any hand. He must have the chief good, the best good, that which he is panting after as a portion for his soul—living water, and not water from the cistern. He needs not to run hither and thither, saying, "Who will show us any good?" He knows that God only can show it, because it is in a sense of reconciliation with Him, of a granted pardon from Him, that the only good he cares for must consist.
III. How may this chief good be most certainly obtained? Here we have only to let Scripture be its own interpreter: "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3409.
References: Psalm 4:6.—H. Griffith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 259; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 232.
Psalm 4:6-7I. Look, first, at that which the Psalmist seeks: the light of God's countenance. (1) The first thing which this implies is that we are noticed by the Divine Being. God's countenance at least means this, that He takes cognizance of our affairs. (2) It means that He is interested in us. The very notice which He takes of us is occasioned by His interest. (3) It means that we are the objects and the recipients of His favour. To give us the light of His countenance is but another word for extending to us His friendship. (4) The light of God's countenance means that He approves of our acts. To enjoy God's countenance is to enjoy the consciousness of His approval. (5) "Countenance" means help and benediction. It is a blessing which maketh rich and addeth no sorrow.
II. Notice, next, how it is that God's countenance gladdens. "Thou hast made me," says another psalm, "exceeding glad with Thy countenance;" and the language shows that when the light of God's countenance shines, and men walk in it, there is no stint, no limit, no measure, to the full heart's joy. Exceeding gladness is not gladness which can be measured, as if there were just enough of it, and nothing more, enough to satisfy the desire, and nothing more. It is gladness which capacity does not equal and even desire cannot surpass, gladness beyond our utmost wish, in excess of our largest conception. Long as our capacity for enjoyment lasts, God's countenance makes the heart glad. If we are Christians, let us study to live in the enjoyment of our privileges. If God has lifted upon us the light of His countenance, let us try constantly to realise what that means and be of good cheer.
W. Landels, Penny Pulpit, No. 997.
Reference: Psalm 4:6, Psalm 4:7.—J. B. French, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 30.
Psalm 4:8The entire rest and tranquillity of God's faithful servants, when they lay them down on their bed at night, is beautifully expressed in the words of the text. "I will lay me down," says David, "all together" all my powers of mind and body agreeing, as it were, one with another, not torn by violent passions, by desire on the one hand and remorse on the other. But as sleep is the image of death, and as the slumber of every night, rightly understood, is to a Christian a kind of sacramental token of that last long sleep, so these words may well be used by, and always have been understood by devout persons as most proper for, a dying Christian also. As Christ said on the Cross, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," so may Christians every night of their lives, and still more when the night of death draws on, gather and compose all their thoughts and affections into that one most exalting and soothing thought of all that they are about to fall asleep in His arms who long ago, when they were little children, took them up, marked them for His own, and blessed them. How is it that in sleep, and still more in death, Christian men may humbly depend on a peculiar presence of our Lord Jesus Christ to guard them?
I. Because He is that King who has promised to His people Israel, "He will not suffer thy foot to be moved, and He that keepeth thee will not sleep." We are the Israel to whom the promise is made.
II. In this, as in every other part of our life, comes in the remembrance and power of our Lord's sacrifice. That deep sleep of His has sanctified and blessed the sleep of all penitent Christians for all time to come.
III. We are taught in Scripture to regard the holy Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ as one very especial safeguard for the sleeping until they wake, and for the dead until they rise again.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. vi., p. 84 (see also J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 230).
References: Psalm 4:8.—Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 306; C. J. Vaughan, Voices of the Prophets, p. 75. Psalm 4:1.—Sermons for Boys and Girls, p. 69.
I. Everywhere, in the history of the human heart, these two things are found in the hours of our bitter pain: unfathomable desire and want of something more than earth or its love can give, and the consciousness of some one capable of filling the want. Out of these two things, consciousness of an infinite want and an infinite fulness and of the relation of one to the other, springs prayer, the paradox; and whatever some may say, it is undeniable that men, and these not the worst, but the best, of the race, have received—or, if you like, imagined they received—an answer.
II. Passion, faith, and will are the wings of prayer, as they are the wings of all the words and deeds which bring forth fruit upon earth. Be therefore in earnest with God; be importunate; let no silence, no apparent cruelty, send you back.
III. But sometimes neither faith, passion, nor will arise, and we cannot pray at all. (1) The heart often gets hard in bitter sorrow; neither words nor thoughts will come. (2) At other times prayer is made impossible by a deep depression, the essential difference of which is that it seems without cause. (3) Sometimes it is the seeming failure of life that hinders prayer. I cannot but think that we arrive at that stage when hardness of heart or failure comes because before they come we have made God a stranger by neglecting prayer.
IV. In this Psalm we have the true amalgam of prayer: trust which boldly claims God; humility that owns the weakness of self. The answer comes at once to such a prayer as it came to David, not as yet in restoration to the kingdom, but in that which made restoration or not indifferent—in gladness of heart, in peace of heart.
S. A. Brooke, The Spirit of the Christian Life, p. 277.
This is a fair-weather psalm. David has been in distress, and now the clouds have been blown away, and the blue sky has returned, so he does what many seldom think of doing: he thanks God for deliverance and enlargement, and takes no credit to himself. People who had seen his distress had questioned his religion, and in so doing had sought to turn his glory into shame, and had exclaimed that vanity was better than prayer, and that leasing was better than sacrifice. Now David's turn has come, and the facts are all on his side.
I. Look at David in his enlargement and thankfulness. You must not look at a man's distress alone, and build an argument upon his sorrow. You must take into view the whole compass of his life.
II. David continues, You have been judging by unusual circumstances and special providences of trial, but you should rest on great principles, and especially on the principle that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself.
III. If you believe this, you will stand in awe and sin not; that is, you will pray even in the storm, and you will bow down in homage when the Lord passeth by in judgment.
IV. David tells us what to do in loss, and pain, and sorrow: Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord; continue in the way of duty; go to the sanctuary even when you have to grope for the sacred door in darkness; seek the altar, and say concerning God, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."
V. The idea of ver. 7 is that in loss, and poverty, and apparent desolation there may actually be more gladness, more real and lasting spiritual delight, than in times of prosperity.
Parker, The Ark of God, p. 125.
References: Psalm 4—A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 246; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 356; I. Williams, The Psalms Interpreted of Christ, p. 111; S. Cox, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 178. Psalm 5:3.—W. Lindsay Alexander, Christian Thought and Work, p. 17.
O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.
But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.
Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.
There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.