How far away I would flee; in the wilderness I would remain. Selah
I. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY SEEKING THE IMPOSSIBLE. Man was made "but a little lower than the angels;" and yet, though all things are said to have been put under him, there are points in which the "beasts of the field and the fowls of the air" have the advantage of him. Hence they may become objects of envy. We are limited beings; but we can conceive ourselves endowed with powers beyond what we possess. There is danger in such fancies. The dove flies past, and all seems peace. But this may be a delusion. We know not what fate awaits it. Besides, we cheat ourselves with a silly thought. We know we have not, and cannot have, "wings." Wishing for the impossible only leaves us the more weak and discontented. Better face difficulty manfully. Better do what God has made us capable of doing, if we are willing, than waste time and strength in idle fancies of what cannot be. The doubter wants a "sign." The anxious sinner craves some sensible proof of acceptance. The troubled mind, tossed to and fro amidst the endless strife of controversy, longs for some infallible guide. There is what Wordsworth calls, "the universal instinct of repose - the longing for confirmed tranquillity." But this is not God's way. "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5).
III. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY MERE CHANGE OF OUTWARD CONDITIONS. Place has much to do with feeling. What is near seems more real than what is far off. What we see touches us more keenly than what we only hear of from others (Lamentations 3:15). So with respect to "rest." We are prone to blame circumstances. We delude ourselves with the thought that, if things were altered, all would be well The "imagined otherwise" is the heaven of many. So it is with many of the sick, the poor, the oppressed, the discontented. Absalom played cunningly upon this feeling (2 Samuel 15:4). But "rest" is a state of the mind. It does not come from without, but from within. It is not won by change of condition, but by change of heart. So Paul learned (Philippians 4:11).
III. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY FLIGHT FROM THE IMMEDIATE CAUSES OF DISTRESS. There are times when flight may be expedient (Matthew 10:23; 2 Timothy 2:22). Again, there are times when flight would be a sin (Nehemiah 6:11; 2 Timothy 4:10). Besides, flight may be a vain resource (Amos 5:19). The question is - What is our duty? Then, when we have settled that, like Paul, we should stand firm (Acts 20:24). There are people who would quiet conscience by silencing the preacher, like Herod; or get rid of an unpleasant duty by flying, like Jonah; or hasten their escape from trouble, like David. But this will not avail. It is better to stand than to fly; to do our duty humbly and quietly in the place where God calls us, than to seek an easier lot. Elijah was a nobler figure confronting singly the hosts of Baal, than hiding in the desert. Peter and Paul and Stephen were truer men, and did a grander work by not holding their lives dear, than if they had cared more for themselves than for Christ. The true way of rest is the way of self-sacrifice. It is when we surrender ourselves wholly to Christ, to be his and his only, and to love and do his will for evermore, that we enter into rest (Matthew 11:28-30). The psalmist in his better moments felt this. If his first impulse was "to flee away," when he came to himself he turned to the Lord as his sure Refuge (ver. 9). And what he learned for himself he commends with confidence to others: "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee" (ver. 22). - W.F.
Numbers 11:11-15). What a sigh is there! There never breathed a more dauntless prophet than Elijah, yet he sat under a juniper tree in the wilderness and requested that he might die (1 Kings 19:4). What a deep sigh is there! And Job was very patient, yet under the pitiless storm of sin and suffering even Sob broke down and cursed the day of his birth. And Jeremiah, although he had a natural diffidence of character, yet when Pashur smote him and put him in the stocks, he burst into a wild cry (Jeremiah 20:18). And do not we seem to hear the sigh of the mighty Baptist (Matthew 11:3). Nay, even Paul, though nothing could wring such sighs from his indomitable heart, yet knows that "to depart and be with Christ is far better." Here, then, you have the weariness and discouragement of the noblest of mankind. It is not generally because of some personal injury, but it is either because the world is very evil (Psalm 119:136); or else because life is very full of trials (Genesis 47:9); or, again, because the work is very dreary (Exodus 5:23). Yes; all good men have had to fight with almost impenetrable stupidity, with hard pharisaism, and with religious and irreligious self-conceit; and the Bible is full of sighs. Now, one of the elements in Scripture that makes it so inestimably valuable is that it is so essentially human, so profoundly true to nature, so inartificial, so simple, so passionate, as all true history and all true poetry ought to be. These kings and heroes and prophets were just such men as ourselves, their hearts beating like our hearts, their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears, even such as ours; the same fights of weariness and discouragement to fight that we find in secular history. We find it in literature; we find it in our own hearts — it is a part of our life. We get tired of the daily sameness of life. The rivers flow to the sea, yet the sea is not full. We are tired of the unrelenting past, tired of the dreary present, tired of the uncertain future. We are tired of the weary struggle in our own heart; the to-and-fro conflicting witnesses of impulse and repression; broad, rejoicing, sunlit tides of spiritual emotion, leaving behind them the flat, cozy shores of ebbing enthusiasm. The old historian said thai no man had ever lived yet with. out coming to the day in his life when he cared nothing if he were to see no to-morrow. Again and again we feel inclined to cry at the end of another year, "Eternal, be Thou my refuge!" Bad men feel it. Says one, "I have dragged on to thirty-three. What have all those years left to me? Nothing except three and thirty." A godless experience curdles at once into acrid pessimism. The condition of such is so utterly wretched that total annihilation would be preferable, and they hold that the creation and the existence of the world is a fundamental misfortune. But if this life were everything, many would say the same! We find this hopelessness and dissatisfaction in every rank of life. Now it is Diocletian, deciding that planting cabbages at Salons is better than ruling the world at Byzantium; now it is Severus, saying he has been everything in life, from a common position to that of an emperor, and nothing is of any good; now it is St. , saying that man's earthly happiness is by the streams of Babylon — let him sit down by them and weep; now it is good Richard Hooker, saying he had lived so long in the world, and found it such, that he had long been preparing to leave it; now it is Luther, crying, "I am weary of life: if this can be called life, there is nothing much worse: I am utterly weary: I pray Thee, O Lord, come forth and carry me hence"; now it is Whitefield, crying, "O Lord! I am not weary of Thy work, but in Thy work; let me speak for Thee once more, then seal Thy truth and let me die." When Montesquieu was on his death-bed a forward, uninvited clergyman thrust himself to his bedside when another clergyman had left him, and said to him in a conversant sort of way, "Sir, are you truly conscious of the greatness of God? Yes," said the dying philosopher, "and of the littleness of man;" and so he died; and what a sigh was there! It always seems to me worth while to recognize facts, to bring them out into the full light of consciousness, and then to face them. And this being the fact respecting human life, where is the remedy? The great resource in every perplexity is to look to Christ. If we look to our great Example, we shall see what to do. He, too, though sinless, was forced to sigh for the sad world of sin and death; but notice, the sigh had been scarcely uttered when once more He was engaged in works of mercy and thoughtful care. To sigh is sometimes natural, but to waste time in sighing, to suffer ourselves to be absorbed in the dark side of life, to exclude ourselves from its many and estimable gladnesses, is unthoughtful and useless. However hard the struggle against ignorance, and against pharisaism, and against stupidity, and against malice, and against robbery, and against wrong, and against oppression, and against sill, no good and great life will ever suffer itself to be crippled by conquerable melancholy. If we sigh for our own weakness and sins, we cannot, indeed, fly to ourselves, but we can fly to the grace of God and amend ourselves. If we sigh for our surroundings, no wings of a dove, indeed, can bear us away from the dwellings of Meshach and the tents of Kedar; but, by God's grace, we may help to make them better and happier places. The lessons of Scripture, the lessons of the life of Christ, the lessons of human experience alike teach us "to labour and to wait." They combine to tell us, to every one of us alike, for sorrow and disaster, for weariness and discouragement, God has given four great and perfect remedies, on which I would say a very few last words. One remedy is action: God taught it to Moses. "Why criest thou unto Me? Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward." While there is anything to be done, the time spent in sorrow is worse than waste. "The wings of a dove!" No, let us rather look for wings that we may fly in the path of God's commandment. Let us, with the ancient rabbi, pray that we may be bold as the leopard, bounding as the stag, brave as the lion, to do the will of our Father in heaven, that we may work on. Said Mendelssohn, "For me, too, the hour of rest will come: do the next thing." Oh! a grand motto was that. And that was a good motto, "Work here, rest elsewhere, wipe thy tears, cease thy sighing, do thy work, the day is short, the work is abundant, the labourers are few, the reward is great." Another remedy is patience. God is patient. He has borne with man's falsehood and littleness and disobedience, for no one knows how many thousand years. Cannot we, too, wait, if we do well and suffer for it? Cannot we take it patiently? Patient continuance in well-doing — there is a grand remedy for idle tears! (Psalm 37:7). The third remedy is faith. Jesus, as He sighed, looked up to heaven. Two things alone can finally cure the malady of occasional depression, and those two things are God and death; and faith looks forward fearlessly to death. Is our sigh for our own work? "Oh, cast thy burden on the Lord," etc. Is our sigh for the world? We did not make the world, and He who made it will guide. One day, when St. Francis was laying before God his troubles and disquietudes, the answer came to him, "Poor little man, why dost thou trouble thyself? I, who made thee the shepherd of My order, knowest thou not that I am its Protector? If those I have called upon go, I will put others in their place, and if none existed, I would cause them to be born." "I cannot mend the world," said Luther. "If I thought I could, I would be the veriest ass living. Thou canst mend it, O my God!" I have mentioned action, patience, faith, and the last remedy is hope. It is a good thing that a man should both hope and patiently wait for the salvation of the Lord. Things are rarely as bad as they look to us. Elijah cries, "I, even I, only am left," and God tells him that he has "seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." A young man is terror-stricken in a besieged city, and Elijah shows him bow all round are the protecting chariots of horses and fire. He who cares for His little birds and pastures, His cattle and waters and His flowers, shall He not care for the souls of men? Man's grief is but his grandeur in disguise, and discontent his immortality. To us has been born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.I. IT IMPELS TO ALL EARTHLY AND MORAL PROGRESS. Arts, sciences, literature, commerce, civilization, are obviously the results of that dissatisfaction with things present and possessed, which urges the soul abroad to discover new fields of thought, new prizes of ambition. We call it disappointment; but it is only the loosing of the dry husk from the swelling germ of life; only the fading of the flower-leaf around the forming fruit-bud; only the breaking of the shell from the stir of glorious wings. Without it man might be sportive as the lamb amid the green fields of earth, but could not soar as the eagle through the firmament of heaven; and therefore everything elevating society above the lowest level of unaspiring savage life — these great cities on the land, those rich argosies on the sea, these homes of peace, these treasures of plenty, these libraries of literature, these galleries of art are all, all only the blossoms and fruit of the bitter root of discontent, the achievements of the restless soul going forth to the battle and keeping step to the music of this plaintive psalm of life, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest."
II. AN INTIMATION, AN INCITANT IN REGARD OF THE IMMORTAL. The beauties and glories for which man strives in the race and battle are delusions. The glittering rainbow which, to a child, seems a very out-cropping along a black mountain side of metalliferous veins of treasure, is at best but the false show of cold vapour exhaled from some stagnant marsh, and he reaches at it only to grasp chilling and mocking rain-drops. And thus is it with all the fair, bright objects of earth's love and labour. They do not only disappoint, they deceive us. Visions of ravishing beauty rise before our affections, and the heart presses on to them, and bows to them in adoration, delighting to break alabaster vases and scatter costliest incense; but presently all their charm, and beauty, and glory fade away, and we find that our lot on earth is ever "only to make idols and to find them clay." And thus every way and in every condition deceived, our outcry is in bitter anguish, "Alas! poor, beguiled, cheated child of immortality, all your earthly flowers fade, all your heavenly rainbows vanish away." And yet in all this, I say, we may see, if we will, a Divine meaning of love unto immortals. This very deception of our senses, our reason, our affections is a beneficent part of our discipline in their development for the higher life.
(C. Wadsworth, D. D.)
Homilist.Denizens of the Christian world abound, who, with dissatisfied spirits, not only disregard, but almost despise, the profusion of good which Almighty Love has lavishly spread around and about them, and fix their anxious eyes upon a heaven that lies beyond the grave, and up in the starry regions of space. This state of mind is as objectionable in its nature, and as pernicious in its influence, as it is popular and abounding. The latter state of mind — that embodied in the prayer which Christ gave His disciples — is the more right and wholesome state of mind to be cherished in relation to heaven.
I. THE ONE IS MORE REASONABLE THAN THE OTHER. The state of mind which seeks to get heaven out of our sphere, activities, and circumstances, here on this green and lovely earth, seems to us far more rational than the state of mind which is constantly looking away for it in the invisible and remote.
1. Man has in an inexhaustible degree all the elements of heaven here.
2. These inexhaustible elements are here and now available. All depends upon the moral state of the heart. In privations, sufferings, persecutions, sainted men in all ages have felt the transports, and hymned the strains of the upper heavens. Which, then, is the more reasonable state of mind? The one that comparatively overlooks, and but very partially enjoys, the infinite sources of happiness available to us in this life, in sentimental aspirations for foreign and imaginary joys; or the one, that through faith in Christ, so enters into the blessed activities and joys of the present, as to indulge no restless longings for the future?
II. THE ONE IS A MORE USEFUL STATE OF MIND THAN THE OTHER.
1. The one leads to a more cheerful life than the other. It gives sunshine to the man; his spirit is genial, and his conduct glows with a radiant life. Having a soul full of goodness, he sees good in everything; being harmonious within, he hears music all round him; his "soul delights itself in fatness"; he is "blessed in his deed." Like a man marching to music, he treads the path of life with a joyous step.
2. The one leads to a more practical life than the other. The man who finds his heaven here by having the true love, doing the right work, and living the Christ-like life, is bringing down heaven to the men and women around him. His life is a stream gushing from the fountain of infinite love, and it touches into heavenly life and beauty all within its sphere. His life is a mirror, which reflects on all around the glories of the upper world.
III. THE ONE IS MORE SCRIPTURAL THAN THE OTHER.
1. Heaven consists in the inner state of the soul and not in external circumstances. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." They are blessed. They see God now.
2. The grand Work of man in this world should be to promote this state of soul, both in himself and in his fellow-men.
IV. THE ONE IS MORE CERTAIN OF REALIZATION THAN THE OTHER. He who seeks happiness as an end, is like a man running to catch his shadow; the fleeter he runs, the fleeter runs his shadow. "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall find it."
I. IT IS BASED ON THE MISTAKE THAT REST IS FOUND IN A PLACE, WHEREAS REST IS FOUND IN A STATE. "Fly away," change the locality, and all will be well. Now, the teaching of revelation is altogether contradictory to this idea of finding peace in a locality. We are to expect peace in perfection of character and life; in purity of heart and conscience, in love, righteousness, and hope. What we cannot find in any place we find in Christ and in what He gives. In His love, power, and purity we realize profound repose, even in a universe of storm. It is perfectly calm at the centre of the whirlwind; Jesus is the centre of the whirlwind of life, and whilst philosophies, fortunes, thrones, stars, and suns are being driven as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor, in Christ at the centre is peace. We do not want the "wings of a dove" to fly away, but rather the wings of faith and love to carry us closer to Christ; we want to be more like Him, and then we shall triumph in trouble as the sea-bird rides on the wave.
II. IT OVERLOOKS THE FACT THAT THE DISCIPLINE OF THE STORM IS ESSENTIAL TO US. We long to nestle in some palm-grove and coo away our life in indolence and ease; but would this be well? We know it would not, for we are here to be made perfect, "perfect through suffering." Storms are necessary to set us right. These terrible buffetings feelingly persuade us what we are. They awaken us from vain dreams, and drive us to the true hiding-place. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy statutes." And storms are necessary to keep us right. The best of men are endangered in a belt of calm. Some precious stones lose their sparkle if they are long exposed to the sun, and the Lord's jewels easily lose their lustre by long-continued sunshine. We like the sun — it is pleasant to scintillate — but the gloom is often necessary to the preservation and increase of our lustre. Out of these sorrows and crosses come "the peaceable fruits of righteousness " and the "eternal weight of glory."
III. IT BREATHES THE SPIRIT OF MISTRUST AND COWARDICE. "Oh that I had wings." This is the expression of faithlessness. He is ready to assume that God would not, or could not, sustain him, and therefore he wished to run away. But He can sustain us, and He will sustain us; let us therefore claim His help and salvation. Eagle's wings are what we need; mastery of difficulty, joy in difficulty, difficulty conducting to glory. Eagle's wings — it means that we can battle with the storm; it means joy in the storm, for the eagle exults in the very fury of the elements; it means power to rise above the storm; out of darkness into light. All this God can give, and will.
IV. The expression in the text is LACKING IN RIGHT VIEWS OF THE FUTURE.
1. It lacks a right view of the requirements of the future. It bespeaks discontent with earth, only we may be tired of earth long before we are fit for heaven; "It is enough, let me die," say short-sighted men; but God says it is enough only when He sees that we are fit and ripe for a better world.
2. It lacks a right view of the grandeur of the future. The "wings of a dove." We do not belong to the two-winged order, but to the six-winged (Isaiah 6:2). These are our kinsmen. God would not take infinite pains with us if we were not so great.
(W. L. Watkinson.)I. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY SEEKING THE IMPOSSIBLE. How often is this done I How many cry for that they have not, and covet that which they cannot obtain! They vex themselves in vain.
1. Thus it is sometimes with the doubter. He wants a sign. The evidence he has does not satisfy him. He cannot believe in "Jesus and the Resurrection" without more infallible proofs (Luke 16:31).
2. Thus it is also with the convicted sinner. He is anxious. Doubts and fears torment him. Would that he could be sure that God indeed speaks to him. Would that he were called by his name, like Zaccheus; or that a vision of the risen Christ were vouchsafed to him, as to Saul of Tarsus. Thus he speaks to himself. But such wishes are vain (Romans 10:6-9).
3. So also, not seldom, with sincere Christians. What is truth? What is duty? What is the one and only right thing for me to do? These are hard questions. Often they cause much pain. Then, perhaps, the thought arises, would that I had a teacher that could be wholly trusted; would that I could place myself under the care of some infallible guide, whom it would be always safe to follow. Wordsworth speaks of this as "the universal instinct of repose — the longing for confirmed tranquillity." But this is not, God's way of rest. We cannot thus evade our duty, or cast our responsibilities upon others. It is only the truth that commends itself to our own consciences that is truth to us. It is only tim duty that we see in the light of the Cross, to be binding upon ourselves, that we can perform with freedom and delight (Galatians 6:5).
II. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY MERE CHANGE OF OUTWARD CONDITION. We are prone to blame circumstances. We delude ourselves with the belief that if we could only get things ordered better, or obtain a more favourable position, that all would be well. The facts before us we cannot alter, but what might be, we have in our own power, and delight to paint in the brightest colours. The "imagined otherwise" is the practical heaven of multitudes. The sick man racked with pain, craves for change. In the morning he says, "Would God it were even!" and at oven, "Would God it were morning" (Deuteronomy 28:67; Job 7:4). The man oppressed with poverty sighs for riches. He flatters himself with dreams of what lie would do if he were rich; how kind he would be to the poor, etc. So the man who is discontented with his lot, whether it be high or low. whether it be in regard to worldly or spiritual things, is always wishing for some outward change. If we only had better advantages, more light, more freedom, more sympathy, more power to carry out our plans; how different would it be. It is so easy to set things all right by an "if." We have a striking example of this spirit in Absalom (2 Samuel 15:4). Like him, we are too much the slaves of vanity. We have not our true place. We have been slighted. We have been denied the opportunities which others have had. Thus we excuse ourselves for inaction. And yet, all the time, we have abundant proof that what is wanted is not change of place, but change of mind; and the voice of God is over pealing in our ears, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
III. IT IS VAIN TO HOPE FOR REST BY FLIGHT FROM THE IMMEDIATE CAUSES OF DISTRESS. There are times when flight is expedient (Matthew 10:23; 2 Timothy 2:22). But it can never be right nor good to flee from duty. What we are called to do or to bear may be painful, and almost too hard for flesh and blood. Still it is better to remain than to fly, as it is better to have a good conscience than an evil conscience, and to have God for us, than against us. Besides, flight may prove a vain resource (Amos 5:19). And yet there are many who try this device, contrary to all reason and experience. There are people who, like Herodias, endeavour to quiet their consciences by silencing the voice of the preacher (Mark 6:16, 19). There are others who, when the Word of God troubles them, would put it out of the way, if possible, like Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:21-32). Vain. God's Word cannot be destroyed. If one roll is burnt there is another ready to be produced.
(W. Forsyth, M. A.)Psalm 37, ver. 7): — These verses utter man's cry for rest, and God's response to it. Man wants to fly away, but that would be of no use. Our rest is in God. The world hopes there will be rest in the grave. But there is rest now.
I. WHAT IS REST?
1. It is not mere quiescence and inactivity. The rest of the glorified is perpetual service, and our rest is in the fulfilling of the purposes for which we were created.
2. Nor is it freedom from responsibility, or conflict, or difficulty, or sorrow.
3. But it is rest in the midst of them all.
II. AND THIS IS POSSIBLE; for God is the home of the soul, The wicked it is who are like the troubled sea, though many Christians are often troubled enough. But if they have right to be so, then the Scriptures are not true. For they are full of promises of rest. And experience declares such rest possible. Wordsworth's lines, "There are in this loud stunning tide," etc.
III. THE SOURCES OF UNREST. These are unbridled passions; unexplained mysteries; unlimited cares; unsatisfied affections. But there is not one of these in which we may not rest in the Lord.
IV. THIS REST INVOLVES KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Submission; trust.
I. BY THE MASTER'S SPIRIT. He never, though so sore beset, prayed such prayer.
II. BY THE RELATION WE SUSTAIN TO OTHERS. At almost any time, save in life's eventide, it would seem selfish. I know how beautiful it does appear at times, to talk of the quiet sleep. Presently we shall have done with weariness and weeping. The mill-wheel of duty will stop! We say to ourselves, as we think of death, When that comes, others will know what parents, lovers, brothers, we have tried to be! But immediately the last sleep loses its dream-like beauty when we turn round to think of these others, and of the relation we sustain to them; this no others can fill; none, with humility we think, could serve them so well. Heaven to us would mean not only the grief of absence for them, but the strain of endurance and the hard fight of life for others. It would cast upon them burdens they are ill able to bear, and our rest would be purchased at the cost of a too hard endeavour by those we love. Looked at by itself alone, the heaven-rest may at times be ardently longed for when work and worry go hand in hand — when routine is like a drill-sergeant — when the chariot of duty has to be pulled up-hill; but to the wise man, to the thoughtful woman, it is only a passing vision, and this prayer is unspoken because its fulfilment would be unkind to others.
III. BY THE PERMANENT TESTS OF EXPERIENCE. I mean the long experience of life as a whole. Has not that been a gracious experience, a long history of mercy? If there have been times of sorrow, there have been other and more times of joy, and then our prayer was, "O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days."
IV. BY THE LIGHT OF THAT AGE. Some critics think "there was no belief in immortality at all amongst the Hebrews." Then why were such words as these spoken? A mind and a heart like David's could never have wished to lie down in full forgetfulness, to claim eternal brotherhood with the valley clods. Rest? Annihilation is no rest. Such rest wants no wings — the dagger of a Brutus could give it in the briefest moment of time. These psalms would lose their richest beauty and glory if we simply had to read immortality into them. Their charm would be weakened, and their holiest inspiration gone. True, if we had to do with one such expression alone, we might feel it improbable that David referred to the great immortal rest. But it is not so! (Psalm 17:15). In reply to the cry, "O that I had wings!" we answer, You have! That is just what you have — wings! to fly up into the very heaven of God. This is the characteristic of the soul — that we can rise higher than mere intellectual argument — for what is denied to the calculating reason can be glimpsed by the despised imagination; for there are things of faith, whereby we rise to God.
V. BY THE SEASONS IN WHICH IT IS BEFITTING AND BEAUTIFUL, As in the "Nunc Dimittis" of the aged Simeon. What more natural than that he should now close his eyes in the last sleep? So there are seasons coming when the prayer will have a fitting charm for the soul. As we near the evening of life's busy day we may offer it with lips of wisdom, as well as with a heart longing after home.
(W. M. Statham.)
(Thomas Chalmers, D. D.)
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)I. THE REST DESIRED. We do not know when David wrote this psalm, nor does it matter. He often longed to rid himself of present entanglements, only get away from such men as Job, only escape from the sea of cares in which he was plunged, he might be happy. We all know the fooling. We all know what it is to have such a dissatisfied feeling with our present circumstances. We may, then, I think, find it interesting and profitable to inquire what really is the rest which the soul craves.
1. There is the rest of reconciliation with God. We can never entirely forget our relation to God.
2. Deliverance from trouble. Trial, temptation, doubt — these are forms of trouble which extort this cry. The dying saint cries for this rest.
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS REST WAS TO BE ATTAINED. "O that I had wings like a dove." This suggests —
1. The instinctive desire for home as the resting-place. Reference is made here, evidently, to the wonderful instinct of the carrier-pigeon. Hundreds of miles away it will with unerring instinct find its home, drawn as by an invisible cord. So the soul longs to return to God, its true home. In those better moments that sometimes come to men's hearts, you feel the desire to be reconciled to God, and thus obtain deliverance from the fear you entertain at the thought of meeting Him. You have felt like a child away from home, who fancies all would be well with him if he were again at home. The biographer of Michael Bruce tells us that, when he felt he was dying, "the young heart yearned for home — for a mother's hand, a mother's face, a mother's kiss, a mother's love" — so have you felt the desire for home, wondering, it may be, how to get back to God, and how to make your peace with Him, but conscious that your heart will not be at rest until you have the light of His countenance lifted up upon you; and your cry is, with the psalmist, "O that I had wings like a dove; for then would I fly away and be at rest." And if I speak to any who are restless and dissatisfied with the life of sin, and whose consciences are speaking to them of God their Father, I would say to them, Listen to the voice of conscience — return to God, and you will find your sins forgiven, your fears removed, the past forgotten, and the future radiant with hope. Come home, poor prodigal, come home.
2. The second idea suggested by this figure is the directness of the dove's flight home. When instinct has taught the bird where home lies, it makes straight for it — you cannot hinder its flight, or turn it aside. Instinct will not allow it to rest until it has returned to the dove-cote. Would that souls took such direct course in their way back to God. How wearily did Luther toil in his round of ceremonies before he found his true way to God.
3. The swiftness of the dove's flight home. Give the carrier-pigeon the wing, and not only does it make direct for home, but with an easy speed that distances the fastest train. Its eagerness to return gives speed to its flight, as, with unwearied wing, it pursues its homeward journey. So will it be with the soul that has not only been awakened, but has discovered the direct way to return. It will hasten to be at rest. The flight of the dove is, after all, slow compared with the act which takes the soul to God in Christ. Swift, indeed, is the flight of the dove. And what are the wings that bear the soul to its rest? We can understand how the dove wings its way homeward. We can understand how the wanderer returns home — but how does the soul get back to God? or, in other words, how does the soul become reconciled to God? It is by faith. Faith furnishes the wings, and thus the soul returns to God. Thus it is that the penitent soul may mount, in a moment, from the pit of ruin to the rest of home, and the prodigal may return home on the wings of faith with swifter motion than dove ever knew, and so for ever be at rest.
(James Jeffery, M. A.)I. THE EXCLAMATION IS PERFECTLY NATURAL. Who can think of the daily life of our merchants with all their ventures, investments and transactions, without feeling that without anything of indolence or the mere spirit of repining, thousands of men and women legitimately long to get out of the care and clamour of life; to get far away into the refreshing silence and solitudes of nature, where the wearied spirits and jaded faculties may find rest?
II. THE WISH IS NOT ALWAYS CREDITABLE. Instead of crying out, "O that I had wings like a dove" — O that I had the spirit of a man, both to discern clearly what the Lord has given me to do, and the spirit of activity and obedience to go and do it, and do it perseveringly, while life and health are given, so that when rest comes it may be enjoyed as a boon after honest toil, and not wear the aspect of a premature or dishonourable repose.
III. SOMETIMES IT TURNS OUT TO BE A MISTAKEN WISH. Under circumstances of trial and great pressure of duty the cry goes forth, "O that I had wings." You determine to cut the cable that ties you to local engagements and arduous duties, and you flee away as fast as the wings of steam can carry you to some secluded spot — "to a lodge in a vast wilderness, some boundless contiguity of shade." But lo! when arrived there, have you not sometimes found that your cares and anxieties, from which you would fain escape, have travelled with you by the same train or boat? You need not go out of this psalm for the answer — for the best of all antidotes to this complaint. David knew it. He not only repaired to the wilderness, he betook himself to God (Psalm 16, 17.). He prayed, and like Luther in later days, he prevailed. In verse 22, the fugitive, but devout king, from the depths of his own experience, gives this blessed piece of advice to all anxious souls, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord," etc.
(D. Jones, B. A.)Dante says it does in hell, and with its sharp teeth is ever gnawing at the guilty man's life. At length the burden of guilt becomes intolerable, and the man cries out in his heart, "O for the wings of a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest." Here again is a perilous moment when a man begins to think of flying away from his burden. The thought will be followed by an attempt. The man who thinks of flying away from the gnawings of his conscience will soon be trying to fly away. And how is the attempt very frequently made? A vast number of people seek to get away from the burden of their conscience by an excessive indulgence in pleasure. They fly away on the wings of pleasure to be at rest! Now let us look at this. A man who has violated his conscience soon finds ordinary pleasures tame and tasteless. There is nothing like a sense of guilt for destroying the taste for the quieter pleasures of life. And so men seek refuge from guilt in sensational and distracting enjoyments. Revelry is sought as a means of gaining quietness and peace. When Macbeth had murdered Duncan, and Banquo had also been despatched, Lady Macbeth arranged a feast, that in company and revelry, and jest and song, the murderer might fly from the cries of his own conscience. And how did it succeed? In the very midst of the feast, when the merry-making was at its height, when jest and jollity freely flowed, Macbeth gave a great start, and cried, "Never shake thy gory locks at me." What did he see? The ghost of the one he had murdered! The deed of yesterday intruded into the feast, and even in the very heart of pleasure painted before him the ghost of the one he had slain. Oh, these ghosts! these ghosts of yesterday, these ghosts of past sins, how they will glide into our revelries and change them into bitterness and pain! If we only knew how to get away from the ghost of guilt! I tell thee, conscience-burdened man, if thou take the wings of pleasure and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there the ghost shall meet thee, the burden will remain. "Be sure your sin will find you out;" the ghost will rise before you in the very midst of the revelry and dance. Oh, men and women who feel the burden of guilt, don't seek to fly away from it. Bring it, and cast it upon the Lord. Tell Him that you have heard that with Him there is mercy and forgiveness and plenteousness of grace, and that you kneel at His feet if perchance there may be healing and strengthening for you. He will sustain you. Remember that He has, in untold number, relieved men and women whose consciences were as restless as yours, and whose guilt was as burdensome as yours, and He has imparted to them His own calm. He will likewise say to thee, "Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee." That forgiveness of God loosens the guilt which holds a man in bonds, just as the sun breaks up an ice-blocked river and lets the boats go free.
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
(W. C. Hawkesley, M. A.)
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