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A Pattern of Prayer
The prayer that springs from a deep-felt need, and will not cease till that need is supplied, may say the same things over a hundred times, and yet they shall not be vain.
I. The Invocations. In general, this Psalm is remarkable for its frequent use of the Divine names. In almost every verse they recur, and their frequency gives us a vivid impression of earnestness, of consciousness of need, and of faith so sore pressed that it could only sustain itself by perpetual renewal of its grasp of God. Five times in these verses of our text does he invoke Him, and that by three several names Jehovah, my God, Lord. These three sacred names have each a distinct meaning when used in prayer; they bring up various aspects of the character of God as the basis of our confidence, and the ground of our petitions. So, then, when we blend all these together, it is as if the Psalmist had said: 'The ever living, the covenant Jehovah, my God in whom I claim a personal interest, who loves me with an individualizing love, and cares for me with a specific care, the absolute monarch and sovereign of the whole universe is He to whom I come with my supplication. I think of His names, I trust in them, I present them to Him, whom they all but partially declare; and I ask Him for His own name's sake, because of what He is and hath declared Himself to be, to hear my poor cry, to answer my imperfect faith, to show Himself yet once again that which His name hath from old proclaimed Him to be.'
II. So much then for the invocation, and now a word or two in reference to the petitions which these verses give us. As I have said, they are all substantially the same, and yet they so vary as to suggest how familiar all the aspects of the deliverance that the Psalmist desires were to him. The way in which God's mercy is to guard and save is left, with meek patience, to God's decision. No sorrow is so crushing and hopeless but that happiness may again visit the heart where trust and love abide. Only let us remember that this Psalm seeks for joy, where it seeks for help, not from earthly sources, but from God.
III. Finally, we have to consider the pleas on which these petitions are based. The logic of prayer here is very remarkable and beautiful. Every feature of the Psalmist's condition and character, as well as all that he knows of God, becomes in his life a reason with God for granting his prayer. The human side of the relation between God and His servant is further urged in the subsequent claims which refer to the Psalmist's longings and efforts after fellowship with God. It is His own mercy in Christ which we present It is the work of His own love which we bring as our plea.
A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, vol. III. p. 257.
Reference. LXXXVI. 9. J. Wordsworth, 'The One Religion,' Bampton Lectures, 1881, p. 1.
To a writer of such broad sympathies as the Psalmist, the doctrine of the Divine unity suggests a prophetic picture of the gathering together of all nations for God's worship. From the north and the south, the east and the west, he sees many races flowing together with one consent and bowing reverently before the Lord God of Israel. And as he contemplates the glory of the coming days he longs to realize an earnest of its peace in his own undivided consecration to God.
I. Various powers belong to us between which no true bond of coherence makes itself felt. Our minds seem to have suffered dismemberment, and we watch ourselves discharging God's service with little bits of our being only. There can be no complete oneness of character till we adopt the Psalmist's prayer and persevere till it is answered.
( a ) That power of religious concentration for which the Psalmist prays is the just tribute to God's greatness. The worship and service of the Most High must absorb us and will even then be tremendously inadequate.
( b ) A religion illimitable in the range of its interests demands a service into which all the forces of life gather themselves. Isolated acts of worship do not satisfy the spirit of its requirements. The homage Jehovah seeks is many-sided, including praise, faith, reverence, contemplation, obedience, philanthropy, and consuming love.
II. This united and mutually consistent action of all the powers of the soul is necessary to religious perfecting. Some parts of the nature are more predisposed to God and religious exercise and pursuits than others, but the goal is not reached whilst they act in isolation.
III. What is the difficulty which hinders this unification of all the forces of the nature in the Divine service. It is obvious that the impediment is not deficiencies of intellectual training. The mental powers do not act together in close file at a word of command from the hidden life, and it will be some years before that comes to pass. And this fact has its counterpart in the processes through which the art of religious concentration is attained. If sin had not introduced a fixed discord into man's nature it might still have been needful for him to acquire unity of thought and life by a term in the school of experience.
IV. The grace for which the Psalmist prays is one and the same with the power which sanctifies. Holiness is practical religious concentration, achieved through the commanding motive of love to God. When the heart is united to fear God's name all social and secular pursuits become indirect forms of worship, binding more closely to God and awakening delight at the thought of His presence.
V. The inevitable set of the human mind is towards concentration, and if we do not acquire the habit for good it will master us for evil. One man's nature specializes itself into the pursuit of pleasure, another's into the acquisition of power, and that of a third into money-getting, divorced even from the satisfaction of spending. It behoves us to see that it is the best within us which becomes dominant, and that this supreme concentration chooses for its processes the things which are pure, lovely, and sacred, rather than the things which are evil.
T. G. Selby, The God of the Frail, p. 330.
References. LXXXVI. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 235. LXXXVI. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1559.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 86". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany