But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting…
The psalmist is speaking of the ungrateful returns which he received from his enemies for many acts of kindness. When they were in trouble and sickness, he did not fail to intercede with God on their behalf: he prayed for them, and put on sackcloth, and fasted; "whereas," he goes on to say, "in mine adversity they rejoiced," etc. Were, then, his prayers all thrown away? Not so; he was persuaded that they would return into his own bosom; that the prayers, that is, which should be fruitless in regard to those for whom they were presented, should certainly produce good to him by whom they had been offered. Now, we do not think that sufficient attention is paid to the various modes in which what is done for others, returns, as it were, to the doer, gust as though God regarded it as a loan, and would not permit it to remain long in his hands — for we hardly know the philanthropic deed in regard of which we may not prove the high probability, if not the certainty, that he who performs it gains an abundant requital, even if you suppose him not moved by the purest motive, or not bringing into account the recompenses of eternity. The interests of the several classes in a community, nay, of the various members of the vast human family, are so bound up one with the other, that it is scarcely possible for an individual benefit to fail to be a general; and if the good which is wrought in an isolated quarter cannot remain there, but must propagate itself over wide districts, we may easily believe that God, who orders and appoints all things so that they work His own ends, causes much of this reflected good to fall on the party with whom it originated; and thus he who fasted and humbled himself in sackcloth finds that his prayer hath returned into his own bosom. If I support infirmaries for children, I take the best means of preventing our being hereafter burdened with sickly and dependent families; disease is corrected, and the injuries are repaired in childhood which entail on us, if neglected, a crowd of miserable objects; and what I give to the pining infant I more than receive back from the vigorous man. If I support hospitals for the reception of those who must otherwise perish unregarded, what do I but take measures to continue to his family the industrious father, on whom it hangs for subsistence, and whose death would make it a pensioner on benevolence? Then surely what I give will, in all probability, "return into mine own bosom," if it prove instrumental in preserving a useful "member to the community, and prevent fresh demands upon charity. Neither does this take into account what ought not to be omitted — that there is a direct tendency in hospitals and infirmaries to the nourishing in the poor kindly feelings towards the rich; and he can know little of the mutual dependence of the several ranks in society, who does not know that money employed on the procuring this result is money at interest, and not money sunk. But let us now consider more particularly the ease in which the motive to benevolence is such as God approves — man acting from a principle of love to the Saviour, who has declared that He counts as done to Himself what is done for His sake to the least of His brethren. We believe that even in the present life the remunerating power will have a greater sphere of exercise in this case than in any other. It is to be observed, that though a Christian will be ready, with St. Paul, to "do good unto all men," he will study with the same apostle to do good, "especially to those that are of the household of faith;" and if his charities bring him mostly into association with those who are serving the same Lord, and if, though he neglect not the temporal, he is chiefly instrumental in supplying the spiritual wants of the destitute, it is very evident that there will be that returned to him in the prayers and blessings of those whom he succours, which there would not be if the objects of his benevolence were all at enmity with God. But if we may contend that what we have called the remunerating power of charity is already in operation, who can doubt that hereafter, when we reach the time and scene, which are specially appointed for the Divine retributions, it will be proved to the letter that our gifts and our deeds have returned into our own bosoms. When we read that even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple shell not lose its reward, we are taught that God takes account of the minutest acts of Christian benevolence, and designs them a recompense, so that as not even the least can escape His observation, not even the least shall be without retribution. He annexes rewards to our actions to show His graciousness, and to animate to obedience; and, with this as the base, He may justly be expected to leave no service unrequited, and yet at the same time to requite in proportion to the action. But with all the reasons there may be for expecting the most exact retributions, who can doubt that the righteous will hereafter be amazed and overcome, as the strict connection is shown them between what they did and what they enjoy?
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.