Yet during their illness, I put on sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting, but my prayers returned unanswered.
The general subject in this section of the psalm is a contrast between the wicked and the good, setting forth the baseness
of the wicked
nature, and the generous sympathies of the good.
I. THE BASENESS OF THE WICKED. Their general characteristics are:
1. They often bring false malicious charges against good men. (Ver. 11.) "They demand satisfaction at my hands for injuries of which I have never even heard."
2. They return evil for good. (Ver. 12.) They had been former friends: this was the sting of their ingratitude and injustice. Former favours sour the minds of the ungrateful, and intensify their hatred.
3. They exult over the calamities of the good, and insult and injure them. (Ver. 15.) "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel," and cruelty always embrutes the bad mind.
4. They incite the senseless rabble to persecute good men. (Ver. 16.) The multitude ever ready without reason to join in a hue and cry, and, without thinking, are ready to become the instruments of bad men.
II. THE NOBILITY OF THE GOOD.
1. Broken friendships fill them with a sense of bereavement. (Ver. 12.) The good hunger for love, as well as give it; and, when denied it, are afflicted with a sense of loneliness.
2. They are deeply sympathetic with the afflictions of others. (Vers. 13, 14.) They fast and pray in token of the sincerity and depth of their sympathy.
3. In the calamities and sorrows of life the good turn to God for help and deliverance. (Ver. 17.) Especially the more they feel deserted by former friends.
4. They are constrained to give thanks to God for his mercies. (Ver. 18.) They are not ungrateful, like the wicked. Gratitude is a joy to the generous and religious mind. - S.
I humbled my soul with fasting.
So said David. All God's faithful children, under every dispensation, have observed the same rule. So must each one now say, who hopes for the highest degree of blessedness hereafter. "Can none, then, be saved without fasting?" I have heard people sometimes ask. This question might be answered by another: "Can any be saved without praying?" The same authority has commanded the observance of both. But fasting is an unpleasant duty; and those who wish to escape from it, while they readily grant that it was practised by the Jews, deny that it is binding upon Christians. Did not our Lord fast forty days and forty nights, thus setting us an example of subduing the flesh to the Spirit, that in this way His "godly monitions" may be more perfectly obeyed? Do not the apostles tell us that they were "in fastings often"? Do they not enjoin it upon Christians to "give themselves to fasting and prayer"? "This may all be true," answers an objector, "but. why not leave it to each one to discharge this duty when he feels disposed, and why celebrate the fast of Lent, which sprung Up, perhaps, during the dark ages of the world?" In reply to the first question, I would merely say that if we wait until we feel in a humour to fast, we shall never fast at all. Hence the wisdom of the Church in appointing stated seasons (or it, when we are bound to attend to it, or prove ourselves unworthy and disobedient children. Our Saviour said to His disciples (Matthew 9:15
). And from the earliest ages of the Church directions concerning this observance are found. But while it is expected of all to keep the fasts of the Church, all cannot observe them alike. The sick, or such as are just recovering their health, may not be able, perhaps, to abstain from food; and they who are obliged to toil hard for their daily bread, require more to sustain their strength than those whose lives are less active. But all should deny themselves in some way.
My prayer returned into mine own bosom.
The ancient garments were loose and flowing, and fell in a hollow fold upon the bosom; into which fold were often put articles of use, or value, for the convenience of carriage; and especially when presents were made, they were frequently deposited there. By his prayer returning into his own bosom, therefore, David meant, that though it failed to bring the desired benefit to those for whom it was delivered, it should turn to his own recompense and advantage. Such is the case, more or less, with all the acts of kindness rendered to our neighbour; they conduce not only to his benefit but our own. Ye who take delight in the well-being of others, and make it a business in your life to minister thereto, know well the value of this grace to your own hearts; it is a perpetual source of consolation and satisfaction. And even if you fail in pleasing those whom you seek to please, or in benefiting those whom you seek to benefit; still the good to yourself is not lost; there is joy in the endeavour, independent of the result. The pious act to which the text alludes was the fruit of love, of the most disinterested and holy affection. David was surrounded with bitter and violent enemies, who daily sought his life; and the manner in which he expresses himself respecting them reminds us strongly of David's Lord. He lifted up his heart in supplication to the mercy-seat; he did all that in him lay. But his prayer was not granted, as neither was the prayer of Jesus for the reckless Jew. From this remarkable instance before us, I am led to speak of the value of intercessory prayer, of prayer for our brethren, and for all our fellow-creatures. God has ordained it (1 Timothy 2:1
). We know not what may be dependent upon our prayers. What good they may bring to them for whom we pray. And assuredly they bring much good to us.
I. The prayer FOR SUPERIORS of every kind begets in us that spirit of obedience, which God has commanded, and which God will bless.
II. Children pray FOR PARENTS. Who can tell the benefits which they themselves derive from this duty? On the other hand, the parent prays for the child. The child is wayward and wanton: the parent prays for correction and amendment; but they do not always come. But the supplication is not without its fruit, in blessed peace of mind from knowing that he has done his best: that his child was not ruined by his neglect to pray for him. And so —
III. FOR ALL RELATIVES. The principle of mutual love is kept alive thereby.
IV. But perhaps the most observable instance of all is that wherewith the text is connected, the supplication FOR ENEMIES. This is a peculiar exercise of faith: this requires a greater struggle in the inner man, to obtain the mastery over our own self-love; and to make us desire with godly sincerity the good of those who have injured us, and to entreat the Lord for it, as for our own favour and blessing. This is indeed a victory of the Spirit of grace; and the Lord honours it with a signal reward, and makes it productive of vast benefit to our souls. Such was the Lord's own example. Let us also herein follow our Lord.
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?
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