As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs after You, O God.
Psalm 43.). Leaving untouched, owing to want of space, the historical and geographical matters suggested in the psalm, we shall devote ourselves entirely to the opening up of its deep pathos and spiritual fervour, so as to administer instruction and comfort to those saints of God who may even now be ready to say, "All thy waves and billows are gone over me," and from whom, for a while, the face of God seems to be hid. May they find help in tracing the experience of a like sufferer in the ancient days!
I. ONLY THE LIVING GOD CAN SATISFY THE CRAVINGS OF HUMAN SPIRITS. (Vers. 1, 2.) So the writer of Psalm 84:2. The words of Augustine are well known, declaring that our hearts want rest, and cannot find it till it is found in God. There are four lines of illustration along which this thought may be worked out.
1. In the heathen world. There are many Corneliuses longing for the Peters to come and tell them about God. The late Mrs. Porter, widow of a missionary at Madras, assured the writer that her husband and herself often came across instances of this sort, and said, "Oh, if Christian people did but know how men long after God, they surely would hasten to send them the news of his love!" This yearning after God shows itself in what is best in the several religions of the world.
2. In the worldly, even in Christian lands. Men thirst after riches, honour, rank, etc., and yet the raging thirst of the spirit remains unquenched. Some, indeed, may have suppressed the craving till it ceases to be felt. But such numbness of feeling is not to be confounded with satisfaction. At the moment we are writing, an Italian, named Succi, is making the experiment of going without food for forty days, having made similar attempts before, though for a shorter period. He declares that after the first week no desire for food is left. But, for all that, he is a shrivelling, starving man. Will any be so foolish as to mistake the absence of desire for food for the satisfaction and sustenance of his nature? So in spiritual things, a man may trifle with the yearnings of the Spirit, till the yearning ceases. But he wants God, for all that!
3. In the awakened soul, when the first throbbings of the renewed life are felt, the desire after God becomes intelligent, clear, and strong; the soul craves its God, in whom alone it can find light, pardon, friendship, power, to the full extent of its longings.
4. In the experienced believer. He has found God as his God, as his "exceeding Joy;" but there are times in the experience of many such when all that they have known and realized of God's love seems like a dream of the past; when the light of heaven is partially or even totally eclipsed. This may arise from bodily weakness, from overwhelming sorrows, or from mental and spiritual gloom. But let the cause be what it may, it is agony to the saint when he can neither see, nor feel, nor find his God (see Job 23:3-10; also Psalm 21:1, and our notes thereon).
II. AT TIMES OF SORE DEPRESSION, THE BELIEVER LONGS FOR THE JOYS OF BYGONE DAYS. (Vers. 2, 4.) At the time when this psalm was penned, its writer was unable to attend the house of God. He looked back to the time when he used to accompany the throng and to lead them in procession to the sanctuary. In those days, "the Lord loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob;" and on many grounds the worship in the courts of Zion played a very large part in the spiritual delights of the saints. And though changes of circumstance and the advance of the Divine dispensations have altered to some extent the relations between temple worship and home life, yet even now it is a sore privation to be debarred from the fellowship of saints, especially when other causes of depression are active at the same time; for in such a case the saints are shut out from the public service when they are most dependent on its helpful aid. Note: Even so, it is far better to have the heart to go and not he able, than to be able to go and not have the heart for it.
III. THE ENEMY OFTEN TAKES ADVANTAGE OF OUR TIMES OF SPECIAL WEAKNESS. (Vers. 3, 10.) "They say daily unto me, Where is thy God?" We know not who these were that could be so intensely cruel to the psalmist when they witnessed his woe. But he was not alone in his experience, though in detail the form of it with us may vary.
1. Very often the taunt of the unbeliever is equivalent to this, when we are pointed to the weaknesses and distresses of the Church, and asked - How can your Christianity be Divine, if this is allowed? And in more private ways:
2. The evil one will take advantage of our moments of distress to insinuate racking doubts. No kindly considerations will ever lead the devil to refrain from tempting us because we are weak. He seized on the Master "when he was an hungred." "The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord."
IV. STILL, THE CHILDLIKE HEART MUST CRY OUT, "GOD!" (Vers. 1, 6, 9.) If the light of heaven is shut out, the soul will cry after it. There is a world of difference between the light being kept out because the eye is closed, and its being hidden behind a dense black cloud. And even if the strength is so feeble that the tongue cannot cry, "Father I" yet the heart will We were once visiting a dear friend in sickness. She said, "I am so weak, I cannot think, I cannot pray, I cannot enjoy God at all." We said to her, "Your little Ada was very ill some time back, was she not?" "Very." "Was she not too ill to speak to you? Yes" "Did you love her less because she couldn't speak to you?" "No; I think I loved her more, if anything." Even so, when all that is possible is for the heart to yearn out, "O my God!" the loving relations between God and the saint are not for a moment disturbed.
V. AT THE DARKEST MOMENT, THERE IS REASONING WITHIN REASONING. (Vers. 5, 11.) If there be any who have not passed through any such experience as that in this psalm, these words will be wonderfully uninteresting, if not unintelligible. They baffle the logic of the intellect; but the heart has a logic and an eloquence too, that are all its own. It is cast down, and yet chides itself for being cast down. It cannot see God, cannot feel him, yet knows he is there. It is in the depths, through billow after billow rolling over it, and yet at the very moment indulges in blessed memories and hopeful faith. Such are the mazes of the soul. It can scarce understand itself; but "He knoweth our frame," with all its complicated and vexing play of doubt and chiding, of hope and fear.
VI. FROM A RIFT IN THE BLACK CLOUD THERE IS A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE. (Ver. 9.) "The Lord will command his loving-kindness," etc. Then all is not lost. The saint may be "perplexed, yet not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" Here is a fine group of words for a man to take upon his lips: "Jehovah;" "loving-kindness in the daytime;" "in the night, a song;" "the God of my life." Downcast soul, take heart. If all these words are true, take heart. The eclipse will soon be over. He whose face is as yet concealed will soon be revealed.
VII. FOR THE WHOLE OF THIS MOANING CRY IS ONE CONTINUOUS PRAYER. Though not every sentence is in orderly petition, yet the outgoing of the soul in this psalm is one prayer from beginning to end. And however broken the prayer may be, it is real, it is intense, it is wrung out of the necessities of a living soul. And such a prayer, with all its ruggedness and brokenness, is infinitely better than one of those orderly, cold, lukewarm petitions which come from no suffering, and cry for no relief. Far better to hear a man who prays as if he had something to pray for, than one who prays as if he must pray for something. For nots: Those who have gone down to the lowest depths in suffering and humiliation will be led up to the noblest heights of glad ness and of honour. Our God never did, never will, never can, desert the soul that leans on him. We are never in a surer or safer position than when, deep in sorrow and care, deserted by friends, slighted by neighbours, taunted by foes, we, in loneliness of spirit, look up to God, and to God alone. Who shall separate us from his love? Let our earthly sorrows now be what they may -
"He who has loved us bears us through, And makes us more than conquerors too!" C.
Exodus 7.); that as Joseph said of Pharaoh's dreams, the dreams are two, hut the interpretation is but one; so among friends the hearts are two, yet there is but one joy, one desire, and but one affection between them both. O what an accursed crime it is to cancel such a bond, much more to falsify and corrupt it! more unnatural than to divide one living child into two dead parts like the uncompassionate harlot. St. Basil did so cleave to the familiarity of holy Nazianzen, whom he called his necessary friend, that he thought not his knowledge solid, or his study profitable, or the daylight to be clear without him. Xenophon was so inflamed with the love of Proxenus, dear to him as his own soul, that he changed his bookish life, and entered into a dangerous war, as he confesseth, that he might follow him as the shadow did the body. Perfect lawgivers, says , have had more careful regard to settle friendship in their polities, than to settle justice; for there is a recompense and satisfaction for any fault that infringeth justice, but it is past our value and exceeds all estimation how to salve up an injury which abuseth friendship: besides, there is prevention in all points of justice that an innocent may sustain no hurt, but the wounds of a false friend, how is it possible to avoid them? such an Ahithophel is like hot iron taken out of the fire which neither glows nor shines, but burns more violently than the flame that threatens. We have a test to try gold, says Euripides, a touchstone to betray deceit in counterfeit metals; but to know the mischief of a dissembler's heart, there's no mark or character to discern it. Moreover, every man hath a share in his whole friend, in all his estate and faculties, but every single man hath but his part in that commonwealth whereof he is a citizen: then reason within yourselves, can he that wrongs a friend, who is all and every whit his own, be true to that kingdom wherein he hath but a share and moiety? As the poet warned the sparrow not to build a nest in Medaea's statue, for she spared not to kill her own young ones, and could the little birds, who were but inmates, expect succour from her? So believe him not that he will be just to others, who was unjust to his other self: let him be rooted out, let him be cut off like unprofitable ivy that undermines the building upon which it creeps.
Obadiah 1:7, where substantially the same language is employed in reference to the enemies of Edom, as supporting the national reference of the present passage. No one denies that false allies may be described by such a figure, or that nations may be personified; but is there any event in the post-exilic history which shows Israel deceived and spurned by trusted allies? The Davidic authorship and the personal reference of the psalm are separable. But if the latter is adopted, it will be hard to find any circumstances answering so fully to the details of the psalm as the Absalomic rebellion and Abithophel's treason. Our Lord's quotation of part of ver. 9, with the significant omission of "in whom I trusted," does not imply the Messianic character of the psalm, but is an instance of an event, and a saying which were not meant as prophetic, finding fuller realization in the life of the perfect type of suffering godliness than in the original sufferer.
Yea, mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.
I. IT IS A GRIEVOUS THING THAT THEY WHO EAT OF THE LORD'S COMMON DREAD SHOULD LIFT UP THEIR HEEL AGAINST HIM.
1. But they thus lift up their heel when —(1) They do not serve Him by whom they are maintained. If we live by Him we should surely live for Him.(2) When their lusts are fed and fattened by God's good benefits bestowed on them, so that instead of being led to repentance thereby, they are led farther away from God ("Jeshurun" and Ezekiel 16:49, 50). And(3) when the good things God gives are wasted on our lusts to satisfy their cravings.(4) When in any manner of way they live to the dishonour of God (Romans 2:3-6).
2. Now, the causes of such evil conduct are —(1) The corruption of man's nature, which tends to make an ill use of everything.(2) Our forgetting our dependence upon God.
3. The evil of this practice.(1) It is monstrous ingratitude. Of. Isaiah.(2) It has dismal effects, provoking God to take away His bread from men. Therefore let us be humbled on account of this sin, and resolve to reform and amend our ways.
II. IT IS A VERY GRIEVOUS THING THAT THEY WHO EAT OF THE LORD'S SACRAMENTAL BREAD SHOULD LIFT UP THEIR HEEL AGAINST HIM. Note —
1. How His professed friends may do this.(1) By unsteadiness in their walk. We are bidden "walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise."(2) By returning to their openly profane courses (2 Peter 2:20-22).(3) By carnality and worldliness in the ordinary frame of their hearts.(4) By formality and listlessness in the duties of religion.(5) By secret dalliance with some bosom idol, to the slighting of Christ.(6) By neglecting opportunities of communion with God, as Sabbaths and public ordinances.(7) By the heart losing the esteem it once had for Christ.(8) By wearying of converse with God.(9) By habitual neglect of the duties of practical godliness (Galatians 2:20). As the life of faith; the acknowledging of God in all our ways; self-examination; mourning for our own sins, and the sins of the land; commending Christ and religion to others who are strangers to Him.
(T. Boston, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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