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Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not Thyself from my supplication.
The compassionable, the commendable, and the censurable in life
I. The compassionable. David appears here an object for pity and compassion, as the victim of--
1. Malignant oppression.
2. Overwhelming terror.
3. Foul treachery.
II. The commendable.
1. He lays all his troubles before Him who alone could help him. The fact that men in great trouble and danger, whatever be their theoretical beliefs, instinctively appeal to God for help, argues man’s intuitive belief--
(1) In the existence of a personal God;
(2) In the accessibility of a personal God;
(3) In the compassion of a personal God.
2. Under all his troubles he strives to maintain his confidence in God.
(1) Men have burdens. What anxieties press upon the human soul, making the very frame to stoop, and the heart to break.
(2) Men’s burdens may be transferred to God. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord.” How? By an unbounded confidence in His character and procedure.
(3) Those who transfer their burdens on the Lord will be sustained. “He shall sustain thee.” God gives men power to bear their burden, and will ultimately remove their burden from them.
III. The censurable--his imprecations. Revenge is a moral wrong; and what is morally wrong in the individual can never be right in any relationship or office that the individual may assume, or in any combination into which he may enter. (Homilist.)
The outcry of a soul in distress
I. The vivid complaint (Psalms 55:1-11). The singer’s case is a sad one. His mind is restlessly tossed to and fro. Full of cares and anxieties he nowhere finds solid foothold, but continues distracted, and hence he must pour out his heart in groans and complaints. The reason is the voice of the enemy, that is, the reproaches and calumnies to which he is subjected. But word is accompanied by deed, for there is persecution as well as slander. Overwhelmed with horror, the one thought of the sufferer is escape. He longs for the pinions of a dove--itself the emblem of peace and quiet--that he may fly away and find repose.
II. The treacherous friend (Psalms 55:12-15). The slanders of an avowed antagonist are seldom so mean and cutting as those of a false friend, and the absence of the elements of ingratitude and treachery renders them less hard to bear. “We can bear from Shimei what we cannot endure from Ahithophel.” So, too, we can escape from open foes, but where can one find a hiding-place from treachery? Hence the faithlessness of a professed friend is a form of sin for which there is not even the pretence of excuse. No one defends it or apologizes for it. Yet it occurs, and sometimes, like the case in the psalm, under the sanctions of a religious profession, so that the very altar of God is defiled with hypocrisy. It is right, therefore, that such atrocious wickedness should receive its appropriate recompense.
III. The anticipated result (Psalms 55:16-23). By a fine antithesis the speaker turns to describe his own course in opposition to that of others. They pursue wickedness and reach its fearful end. He, on the contrary, calls upon God, who is his one refuge in times of distress and anxiety. He lives in an atmosphere of prayer, which is expressed by his mention of the three principal divisions of the natural day. “Complain” and “moan” are the same words that occur in Psalms 55:2; only here they are accompanies by the assurance of being heard. God will assuredly redeem him from the heat of the conflict; and the interposition of His arm will be needed, for his adversaries are not few but many, too many for him to deal with alone. God therefore will hear and answer them just as He does to His own servant, but with a serious difference. His own He regards in mercy, others in judgment. God Himself so orders His providence that they are overtaken in their evil ways and plunged into the abyss. On the other hand, the sacred poet closes his lyric with a renewed asseveration of the only ground of his hope. As for me, whatever others may say or think, as for me, I trust in Thee. (T. W. Chambers, D. D.)
The terrors of death are fallen upon me.
On the fear of death
I. The nature of the fear of death. It appears to arise from an instinct of nature, which is increased and strengthened by observation, reflection, and conscience. A feeling which springs from such sources, however unpleasant or painful it may be, cannot have been implanted in vain in the human breast, and should be treated with seriousness and respect.
II. The uses of the fear of death. When God first made known the doctrines and duties of religion, He urged and supported them by the fear of death (Genesis 2:15). In every successive dispensation of religion, its belief and practice have been enforced by the same principle (Deuteronomy 30:19; Ezekiel 18:31; Romans 8:13, etc.). Often has the fear of death led to religious inquiry, to repentance, to conversion, to faith unfeigned, to peace, to hope, to Christ and to God. Often has it awakened men out of spiritual sleep, to trim their lamps, to gird their loins, to be sober, and to hope to the end for the grace which is to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
III. The abuses of the fear of death. It was intended, as we have seen, to stimulate and restrain men, as circumstances may require; but it never was intended to enslave them. The Scriptures, however, speak of some, “who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Such characters exist, and are examples of the corruption and abuse of this principle. Urged by this principle, some have doubted, and others have denied, the facts of religion; they have corrupted its doctrines, neglected its duties, misapplied its promises, and made of no effect its threatenings.
IV. The means of removing the fear of death. That the fear of death is not at all times necessary for the purposes which have just been stated is evident from the doctrines of religion (John 10:14; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 2:14-15; Romans 8:2; Luke 10:17; 1 John 4:18). St. Paul affirms, that “the sting of death is sin”; that is, it is sin which gives death all its horrors; “Death is the wages or punishment of sin.” Whatsoever, then, can remove the sense of guilt from the conscience, and the dread of punishment from the mind, will necessarily remove the fear of death; and if it can farther be made evident that death itself is beneficial, and that it is in reality the commencement of everything that is desirable, then its fear will not only be removed, but will be completely destroyed. All this may be effected by the knowledge and belief of the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10; Matthew 18:11; Mat 20:28; 1 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Hebrews 9:14; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:8; 1Co 14:54; 1Co 14:57).
1. Remember that God, in His moral government of the world, can bring good out of evil.
2. Consider the caution which should be employed in removing the fear of death. The fear of death is employed as a means to support life, order, and religion; and, therefore, were it prematurely taken away, it might remove the barriers opposed to rashness, profligacy, and death itself.
3. Beware of the slavish fear of death.
4. Use diligently the means of rising superior to the fear of death. Study, then, the Gospel; yield to the conviction of its truth; live under its influence; cultivate its grace; and you will be enabled to say (Romans 8:38-39). (T. S. Jones, D. D.)
The fear of death
Who is it that doth not fear death? We begin it from our earliest years. From his very infancy the child begins to understand that there are other things besides more bodily pain--a strange, inexplicable feeling comes upon him, which, sooner or later, becomes the explicit fear of death. Whatever may be our position in life, whether we are religious persons, striving, as well as we can, to prepare ourselves for that awful moment, whether we are giddy end worldly, it is impossible to shake off that awful fooling when we think of the moment when the soul passes into the unseen. No man has ever returned from that unseen world, and therefore it is that we are filled with inexplicable dread which makes us shrink from it with a horror we cannot describe. It is true there are certain exceptions to the rule, but they are exceptions more in appearance than in reality, and they do not go any way to prove that the fear of death has not fallen upon all mankind. For instance, there is a peculiar dulness and deadness of feeling which comes upon many persons at the end of a very long illness. It is the same also with persons who live to a considerable old age. It occurs at different times with different persons--sometimes at sixty, seventy, or later. A certain deadness of feeling creeps over all the affections. As the body weakens so does the intelligence lose its power, and so do the feelings lose their exquisite sensibility. Then, again, there are those to whom life is one long, terrible misery. It drives, as we know, some few persons to suicide, for it drives them, as it were, mad. They cannot control themselves. Then there are violent excitements which make persons for the moment utterly disregard death, such as the excitement which many, indeed nearly all, feel on the field of battle. They are afraid in one sense; it is their courage which conquers their distress, and they live and they die like men. It is the same in any other great excitement. Take, for instance, the efforts which may be made for the rescuing of persons from great suffering, or from some horrible death. Imagine the feelings of the men who rush into the flames to save their fellow-creatures. Death is forgotten for the moment; they do not think of it; their earnestness, their passionate desire to save their follow-creatures from this same hideous death overpowers the dread which is in their own hearts. It is the same at sea. We continually read accounts of persons saving others in the midst of a shipwreck. Here, again, it is courage that conquers fear. They do not fear death for themselves, but they fear it for those whom they are going to save, and thus they give themselves to death without a single beat in their lowly hearts. When we consider what is the state of those persons who die quietly in their beds from some sort of sickness, who themselves are fully possessed with a belief in the truth of religion, who have long confided in God’s providence, and entertain not the slightest doubt in their own minds that they are going to pass from a world of sin and misery to a life of holiness and blessedness--how is it with them? We find that even with them, notwithstanding all their faith, that death is nothing to be afraid of, still their courage wants keeping up to the point by incessant prayers and texts from the Bible, and all kinds of encouraging influences which may stimulate and help them. This shows that whatever may be our state, whatever our confidence in God, and our trust in the promises, still there is this dread of passing into the dark beyond. And it is not really difficult to understand the practical gain which comes to us all from the presence in our mind of this indescribable fear. First of all, where would the world be if we had not this terror? How many of us would bear to live through the troubles which encompass nearly all the creatures in this world? But, far more than this, the existence of this dread is absolutely necessary to implant in us that conviction of the vast importance of the moment of death, which we find it so difficult to realize. How shall it be to us, not only easy, but natural, to turn with our whole hearts to God at the last moment, when we seem, perhaps, insensible to those who are watching and weeping around us--how shall we, in those last moments, turn our thoughts to God and say, “My Lord, Thou art my God”? Surely it must be by cultivating that continual sense of His presence, and of His goodness, and of His power, which alone can conquer death and make us die in perfect peace. The remedy against death is God; He caused us to live; He implanted in our hearts this mysterious terror; but why did He? He did it that we might learn the more to trust Him as being ever present with us, as being around us, enshrining us, taking us, as it were, in His arms, in the arms of a loving Father. (J. M. Capes.)
Fearfulness sad trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
The nervous temperament
We are to meditate now on the nervous temperament, and to study especially the relation which the Gospel occupies in relation to it. There may be other anodynes of consolation, physical and mental; but my argument will be this--that the religion of Christ stands in special relationship of succour to those who feel with the psalmist, “I am feeble and sore broken, because of the disquietness of my heart.”
I. The true philosophy of life is life in Christ. We must go out of ourselves, and of our “moods” and “feelings,” that we may look unto Christ and be saved! Christ is a perfect Brother as well as a perfect Saviour. Redemption is His. Yes! and so is common home-life; so is the gift of daily bread. The great realm of providence is under His sceptre. All things are given into His hands, and He is Lord of all. Be wise. Act with prudence. Resolve with promptitude. Persevere with energy. Rise early with alacrity for the service of the day, but east all anxious thoughts of to-morrow on your Elder Brother. This will be your most perfect anodyne. Other things will help. The bracing air, the oxygen and ozone of the sea coast, may tone your nerves, but it cannot create new ones. The Gospel can do the most, but even that cannot reorganize the physical frame, so fearfully and wonderfully made; but its atmosphere is the best one for bracing the heart and soothing the fretted, irritated nerve.
II. There are special advent-hours of trouble. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me. We none of us know how frail we are till trial comes. Advent-hours of trouble do come. Even sin in its first consciousness overwhelms some with fear and trembling, A great horror overwhelms them. The old cry is heard. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” How terrible, then, if such souls fall into the hands, not of wise physicians, but of unwise irritators of the evil. At once the anxious soul should be led to Him who says, “Daughter, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” And there are seasons when unforeseen calamity comes. No fleecy cloud presages the coming storm, no floating seaweed tells how near the vessel is to the rocks, but is swift as the “bore” that rushes up the waters of the Hooghly from the Ganges, sweeps in with a swell, and engulfs the precious freights of unanchored vessels in its broadening wave. There are seasons when the nerves are made intensively sensitive. The heart is pierced by the coldness and neglect of some familiar friend. The spirit droops. Ingratitude has wounded, neglect has chilled, cruelty has crushed, and enmity has tried to slay reputation and renown. Surely at such times it is heart rest to know the Brother born for adversity, the Friend that stieketh closer than a brother; then is the hour to feel the warm radiance of the love of Christ.
III. There may be ministrations that are human as well as Divine. We can perform miracles of healing, not in the old sense, but wonders of restorative power are within our reach. Is it a child that is nervous and sensitive? See to it that you early discern the difference between that little trembling spirit and the stronger brother. Is it a life-companion? See that you do not treat this sensitiveness as a mere weakness to be cured by physical agencies alone--the best curative will be a cheerful mind within working outwards. We have to live and teach the Cross, in its spirit as well as in its doctrine; in its beautiful revelation that He, the Highest and Strongest of all, suffered for us; that He was despised and rejected of men for us; that He gave Himself for us. Remember, then, that you stand in Christian relationship to the timorous, the sensitive, and the nervous, and ever seek to manifest the spirit of Him who would not break the bruised reed.
IV. There must be a study of the disease to understand the remedies. We are fearfully as well as wonderfully made; then let us remember how easily nervousness is promoted by self-indulgence and sloth, by morbid books, by strange tales told in childhood, by companionship with those who take foreboding view of life, and by the domination of “fixed ideas “ so difficult to shake off. And all cannot afford change of scene and change of clime. It is not in medicine to cure all this. It may alleviate, but it cannot recreate. Earthly appliances are wise in their own way; but if I am right the Gospel of Christ is the relieving power--that alone brings out fully the blessed revelation of the Fatherhood of God. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
Dissatisfaction the law of life
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.)
The sigh of David
Let us consider this sigh of David, which is the sigh of many men--sighs natural indeed and excusable indeed, and like the sigh of Jesus, so far as they are innocently human; but which have in them, alas! but too often, little of the Divine. Turn to your Bibles, and reflect upon the varying moods of so many minds, and you will find there the record of a multitude of these sighs of weariness, of discouragement, of self-disgust, of pain. Most ignoble are they when they are prompted by restlessness and peevishness like that of Jonah, wishing himself dead because God had spared Nineveh, and because God’s mercy had triumphed over his paltry personal opinion; or by a pessimism like that of the conceited Solomon, which sees nothing in life except a universal emptiness; or by a black, suicidal despair, like that of Judas Iscariot, walking under the intolerable glare of illumination flung upon conscience by accomplished crime. But even the nobler spirits sometimes succumb for a moment to this merely selfish weakness, and have sighed, not only with the pure pity of Jesus, but with the impatience and short-sightedness of simple men. Moses had as great and mighty a heart as ever beat in any human breast, yet he exclaims (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 (Psalms 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 without 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. Augustine, 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! (Psalms 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. (Dean Farrar.)
Should heaven be sought as a distant, or enjoyed as a present good
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.” (Homilist.)
There are times when the sicknesses and infirmities of the body oppress us, when we are disquieted by the cares of life, embittered by disappointment, until at last we wish that it were over and that we were well out of it. This mood ignores several great and precious truths.
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.)
The instinct of repose
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; Mark 6:19). 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.)
(Psalms 55:6. with Psalms 37:1-40, Psalms 37:7):--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. (Charles New.)
Are these words such as we should appropriate? Our sympathy with the prayer depends much upon our mood of mind and what are our own experiences. Those of the psalmist were such as made his prayer readily comprehensible and excusable. But it is not always so. Therefore, try the prayer--
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! (Psalms 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.)
The restlessness of human ambition
Would we see an object to the greatest advantage, it must be some distance off from us. The poor man’s but, ragged and full of squalor within, yet even from a due distance may appear a sweet and interesting cottage. The field grown over with thistles, at a distance charms the eye by its verdure. The marshy, stagnant and malarious lake seen at a distance is full of beauty. The country hamlet distance can transform into a paradise of beauty, in spite of the abominations that are at every door, and the angry brawlings of the men and women who occupy it. And this explains the feeling which some of us may have experienced; we fancy that if we were removed to some other distant place we should be happier than where we are. Instead of resting in the quiet enjoyment of what we have, our wishes wander abroad, and we are ready to say, “O that I had wings like a dove, for then I would fly away and be at rest.” But it is important to be observed that when we have reached the wished for spot, rest is as far from us as ever. Now, all this is true of the region of the soul and the moral nature. We think that what we have not must be better than what we have. Am I unlearned? I sigh for the name and distinctions of philosophy. Am I rich? I would sooner be in a humble position. Poor? I envy the rich. Single? My fancy warms at the conception of a dear and domestic circle. Am I embroiled with family cares? I wish I were single again. The truth is, we never rest. We always want something more than we haw. And when we have exhausted every personal ambition we have friends and children to provide for, and here is a never-ending source of ambition and anxiety. This is not peculiar to any one class. You see it at court, but you see it in the cottage too. It is the universal property of our nature. In the whole circle of our experience, did we ever see a man sit down to the full enjoyment of the present without a hope or a wish unsatisfied? Look into the heart, which is the seat of feeling, and we find a perpetual tendency to enjoyment, but not enjoyment itself; the cheerfulness of hope, but not the happiness of actual possession. Man lives in futurity. It is not the reality of to-day which interests him. It is the vision of to-morrow. Where, then, is that resting-place which the psalmist aspired after, and that he might reach it he prayed for the wings of a dove? It is not to be found on this side of Death. How important, then, that not the littleness of time, but the greatness of eternity; not the restless and unsatisfying pleasures of the world, but the enjoyments of heaven so pure, substantial and unfading, should be the object on which our hearts should be set. (Thomas Chalmers, D. D.)
The vagueness and endlessness of human aspirations
These words prove the essential identity of human nature seen with human nature thousands of years since. They are very ancient, but their spirit is perfectly modern. The first of modern essayists has said that the great characteristic of modern life is worry; but it should seem from the text that it was the great characteristic of ancient life too; for if there ever was such a thing in this world, here we have the utterance of a thoroughly worried man. And see what he says. From the midst of countless cares, fears, and griefs, he wearily looks up; he plainly sees that where he is, the day will never come in which cares, griefs, and fears will not still surround him; and so he bursts out into a vague, hopeless, yet passionate cry--he cannot dearly say for what--but only that he might get away to some place--he does not know where--in which these should be done with for ever! I spoke of the essentially modern tone of that fancy as proving how like we are now to what King David was centuries ago--as proving that man is always essentially the same. Do you not remember that when the greatest living poet wishes to set before us a human being of this age, restlessly dissatisfied and disappointed, he puts upon his lips words which look almost like this vague aspiration of the psalmist? He represents him, too, as confusedly wishing that he could get anywhere away from where he was; that he could burst all links of civilized habit and leave all traces of civilized man behind him. And no doubt we can all at times sympathize with the fancy; for it is certain fact that the many advantages of civilization are to be obtained only at the price of countless and ceaseless worry. No doubt we must all sometimes sigh for the woods and the wigwam; but the feeling is as vain as that of the psalmist’s aspiration in the text. But it is just this thing which makes the aspiration in the text one so practically profitable for us to think of; it is just because in its vagueness, its unreasonableness, its endlessness, it is so accurate a type of the endlessness and the vagueness of human aspirations. Oh, give the psalmist the swift wings; and whither could he fly? Give him all the universe to choose from; and where would he find the place where he could be at rest? Give men all this world could yield them; tell men that for the naming it, they shall have every wish gratified to the utmost, that begins and ends on this world and this life; and they will be as far from rest for their weary souls as ever. And, thank God, we know the reason why. It is because “this is not our rest.” It was because God had unalterably fixed and appointed, that worldly things alone can never make the soul of man permanently happy. You think to make yourself content and happy without the good part in Christ, and the reconciled love of God in Him; you cannot, it is impossible. God says No to that; it cannot be done. If you think and try to find real rest for your soul away from God in Christ; if you think to be really happy away from Christ, you are thinking and trying to do what, by the make of your being, is impossible. You might as well think to quench the thirst of the parched throat with sand, as to satisfy man’s thirst for happiness with anything merely worldly. You are on the wrong course altogether when you try to do that. Now, it would be our salvation could we only feel and realize the fact that this world is not our rest; that rest and peace are only in God as seen in Christ. The wings and the wilderness would not have made the psalmist happy; and no imaginable worldly blessings will ever suffice to make us so. The only real rest that the soul of man can ever know, is that which is given by Him who said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And not even that rest, given by the Redeemer to His own, is perfect in this present life; the best believer’s heart will be many a time disquieted and perplexed, so long as he abides here. “There remaineth a rest for the people of God.” It remaineth; it is waiting for them, far away. This is not our rest; our rest is beyond the grave. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
The soul’s desire for rest
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.)
The cry of humanity for rest
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 (Psalms 16:1-11; Psalms 17:1-15.). He prayed, and like Luther in later days, he prevailed. In Psalms 55:22, 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.)
Seeking rest by flight
This disposition to seek rest from our burdens by flight is as prevalent to-day as in the days of the psalmist. We still try to fly away from our difficulties instead of seeking the strength of God to sustain them, and I want to ask your attention to one or two ways in which this flight is sometimes made. Here, then, is a man whose business affairs are becoming involved. His resources are being more and more impoverished. He feels as though he is being gradually and relentlessly closed in as by an iron wall. Night comes into his day, and the iron feet of anxiety crush all the joy out of his life. His cares accumulate until they become a huge burden, which lies like a cold, heavy stone upon his heart. This goes on for weeks, perhaps months. The worry gnaws away at his heart without ceasing, and makes him depressed, and nervous, and irritable, unpleasant to his family, disagreeable to his friends, and obnoxious to himself. At length when the burden is intolerable, he cries in the bitterness of his soul, “O that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest.” Now, that is an evil moment, a moment fraught with infinite peril, when a man begins to think of flying away from his burden. For in these matters thought is so speedily followed by purpose, and purpose so speedily followed by action, that even thought itself must be regarded as pregnant with tremendous issues. When a man begins to think of flying away from his burden, depend upon it he will soon make an attempt to fly. And how is the attempt very frequently made? A vast number of men try to get away from the burden of their worries and cares by an excessive indulgence in drink. Again and again have I heard men say, “I could bear it no longer; the burden was crushing me, and so I took to drink.” And so the man uses drink as a kind of opiate. He takes that mind of his, which is “heated hot with burning fears,” and he plunges it in forgetfulness by means of drink. He takes to drink as a means of flight from care. Let me say, then, in the first place, that it is a most cowardly and selfish resource. It is cowardly if for no other reason than that it means a showing of the white feather; but it is cowardly for the additional reason that when a man takes to drink he deliberately sells his birthright, and throws away the prerogatives of a glorious manhood. He takes his pearls--the pearl of reason, the pearl of conscience, the pearl of will--and casts them before the swine of passion and lust. But it is more than cowardly, it is intensely selfish. It means that the man considers himself and himself alone. When a man flees to drink to gain rest from his burden, he does so at the expense of putting an extra burden upon somebody else. But it is more than cowardly and selfish; to fly to drink is useless. The man says, “I will take to drink and be at rest.” Does he find rest? He says, “I will bury my sorrow.” Where? “In drink.” Is the grave deep enough? Drink is the poorest cemetery I know in which to bury one’s care. Everything you bury in drink has a speedy resurrection. Drink cannot hold it. Bury sorrow in drink, and it will soon rise again from its grave. But more than that--the sorrow reappears, stronger and heavier; the grave of drink in which you thought to bury it has only nursed and fattened it, and there it is wilder than ever! You fled for rest, and behold fresh trouble! Is it not, as that old herdsman, Amos, said, nearly three thousand years ago, “As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him”? Let me now take another example. Hero is a man whose burden does not arise from an involved business, or from the worry which comes from an impoverished purse. It is not the care of the world which weighs upon him, but the burden of an outraged conscience. He carries a load of guilt which weighs upon his heart like lead. His burden depresses him, and produces lowness and insipidity of life. And so, while some men carry a load of care, this man carries a load of remorse. And this remorse seems to sit between the shoulders, as 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.)
Man’s higher longings
And the question arises, What causes this longing after rest?--why do these hopes and fears, these dreamings and aspirations, these mental struggles after what lies so far away from the natural man, so constantly find their place in the story of human lives? The answer is surely plain and simple. It is because, though we are only imperfect men, yet we are still men made in the image of God; it is because the soul, the very light which God has placed within, though often shaded and darkened, is never wholly extinguishable by earth and the things of earth. Because, though all too often the sounds are stilled by the crash of the world’s unrest, there are times when in each heart the tones of the voice of God are heard calling to nobler and better things. Let us not drown that voice. Let us not grieve that Holy Spirit, lest He turn and leave us. Rather let us leave all to Him and, calmly confident in His power, rest in the certainty that as day succeeds to day, so shall each returning dawn see us further and further upon the track that leads to that goal for which we long; for “there is a hand that guides.” Nor is there the least uncertainty as to how He will work upon us. The teaching of the Gospel solves the problem, for there we learn that in the power of that Holy Spirit we shall be enabled to follow the Master. Yes, His strength will enable us who would, to come after Him, to deny ourselves, and, taking up our cross daily, to follow Christ. Only so; holiness like Christ’s, perfection like God’s, may only be had through Christ. Our wills must be subordinated to His, our steps planted in His footprints, everything and everybody must be given up that comes between Him and ourselves, each thought must be brought into harmony with His mind, and this, mark you, in a world where temptations to an opposite course are neither few nor far between--this, too, by men whose natures run directly contrary to such a course. (W. C. Hawkesley, M. A.)
We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.
The union of religion with friendship recommended
I. Religion will, in a very high degree, multiply and exalt the present pleasures of friendship. The pleasure of sympathy, we know, always hears a direct proportion to the magnitude and intrinsic interest of the subject by which it is excited. It will be readily granted, that when the subjects of our contemplation possess intrinsic dignity, when our thoughts themselves are high and employed upon high things, we feel greater pleasure in their interchange, and mark with warmer satisfaction the sympathy of those whom we esteem. But for grandeur of extent and depth of interest united, where is the subject that will bear a moment’s comparison with religion?
II. The pleasure which we take in the sympathy of our friends on any subject will be affected, not only by its inherent dignity and importance, but also by the relation which it bears to ourselves personally, by the individual interest, greater or less, which we have in it. Those circumstances and events in which we feel ourselves most immediately and deeply concerned; our prospects in life, for instance, our plans of usefulness or enjoyment, the fortunes and interests of our connections, the characters and conduct of our friends--these are the subjects which are reserved most carefully for the private ear of friendship, on which we look for corresponding emotions of sympathy with the greatest anxiety, and hail them with the most lively pleasure. “To have the same desires and the same aversions,” has been said to constitute true friendship; to the perfection of which, therefore, it must be necessary, that these desires and aversions exist in corresponding strength, where the exciting causes are the same. The deeper the interest felt, and the more complete the sympathy, the greater will be the pleasure derived from it. But what is there of more essential importance to our happiness than religion?
III. As the pleasures of religious sympathy are likely to be greater in proportion to the superior dignity and deeper interest of the exciting cause; so also will they be heightened by reflection on the purity and excellence of the source from which they spring. Combined pleasures heighten and improve each other. Do we receive gratification from a worthy object, from one which we know ought to excite it? The consideration of the worth of that object, and the moral approbation consequent thereon, increase the gratification. Sympathetic feelings of satisfaction and pleasure may be called forth very strongly by a trifling and unworthy cause; but when this is the case, such pleasure will unavoidably be diminished by reflection; it will not bear examination; it cannot stand the test of time. Not so the pleasures of religious sympathy; the sources of these are always high and exalted; the subjects of them ever worthy the contemplation of the immortal soul. (A. R. Beard.)
Religion the assuager of the pains, and consoler of the sorrow, of friendship
I. In the tedious hours of absence, how powerful is the influence of religion to calm the anxieties, and keep alive the sympathies, of friendship.
Friends who have a lively faith, a firm confidence in an omnipresent God, need never consider themselves as separate or far distant from each other. Mountains may intervene, oceans may roll between them; one may dwell on the bosom of the boundless deep, the other far inland, in the valley amongst the hills; yet are they not apart; they have a bond of union of which the world thinks not; they are, and feel themselves, united in Him “who is never far from any one of us,” but “in whom,” at every instant of time, “we live, and move, and have our being.” God is with them as their common father, benefactor, and friend,
II. Religion will have power to console us when obliged to witness the temporal sufferings of those whom we love. Who is there that does not grieve to trace the expression of pain or sorrow in the countenance of a friend, especially when he feels himself unable to remove the source from which it springs? A friend is cast down in the world, and we possess not the means of raising him; he is tortured by disease, to which we can bring no relief; these, indeed, are severe trials, yet religion will teach us how to bear and to improve them. It is from her we learn that the Father of our race doth “never willingly afflict or grieve His children “--that “He chastens them not for His own pleasure, but for their profit, that they may be made partakers of His holiness.” These, surely, are consolatory words to him who is called to witness the sufferings of a friend; words that may serve at once to console his own mind, and to suggest to him the best topics of consolation.
III. Religion will bring consolation to us, when suffering under a painful sense of the moral imperfections of our friends. She will carry our view forward to that blessed country where sin and sorrow shall be no more, where the great enemy shall cease from troubling, and the good man, freed from the assaults of temptation, shall be at rest. Then shall the good qualities of the virtuous friend shine forth with unclouded lustre, and the attachment formed on earth be continued in heaven, unalloyed by sorrow and undisturbed by sin.
IV. Even to him who mourns the utter moral degradation and consequent estrangement of a friend, religion will bring some comfort. She will soothe him with the consciousness of having done everything to prevent a catastrophe so mournful. She will provide him with a sure refuge in that Friend who cannot become unworthy of him, and will not desert him. (A. R. Beard.)
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice.
I. The nature of our prayer. Prayer is the humble expression of our wants and of our desires to Almighty God; and it comprehends, at least, the following particulars.
1. Prayer is an acknowledgment of the being and of the providence of God; “He that cometh to God must believe that He is;”--an expression of our dependence upon God; and a profession of our belief in His omnipotence, goodness, grace, and bounty--“that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
2. Prayer re-establishes communion between God and man. It opens and maintains intercourse with the skies.
3. Prayer is the grand means by which we obtain our spiritual blessings from the hands of God.
4. But nothing is real prayer except it arise sincerely from the heart, and is presented through Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, accompanied at all times by a measure of faith (John 14:6; James 1:6-7).
II. In the manner in which the author of our text performed this duty. This was distinguished by fervour, regularity, and frequency.
1. Fervour in prayer is the earnest manner in which we breathe out our desires to God; not so much the strength of the voice, as the ardour of the soul (Romans 8:26).
2. Regularity was associated with the psalmist’s performance of this duty. He had stated times for prayer. And do not creatures, circumstanced as we are, need every help?
3. Frequency is another thing signified. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.
Who can they be--where can they live, of whom it can be said that they have not changes! Can they be inhabitants of this world of which, if one thing can be said of it with greater certainty than another, it is that it is a scene of perpetual change! “Change and decay in all around I see.” No changes! We must not take the expression in a hard and narrow literal sense, or it would be true of no man. Many changes Come alike to all, and one at the end of life of which Job speaks when he says, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait until my change come.” The changes of which the psalmist speaks must mean changes that disturb, changes that unhinge all plans end arrangements, changes which frustrate hopes. These are the changes which some men have not, and because they have them not they fear not God. Our subject, therefore, is--the perils of an undisturbed life.
I. How is this? Freedom from change was never intended to work such sad result, but quite the reverse. It is due not to absence of change, but to the man’s own perverse and perverting heart. He turns the sweet into the bitter, the healthy into the poisonous. It is man’s eye which is evil, because God is good. The fact that a man’s life has not been wrecked by storms or rent by great upheaving sorrows should appeal to the man’s gratitude. He should say, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” But it is melancholy to see what a strange power the heart has to turn good into evil. It is like some plants which can elaborate and secrete out of bright sunshine and pure air and water the very elements of death. Such are the men who have no changes, and therefore--mark the word--“therefore they fear not God.” They have no changes. They devise their plans, and they all succeed. Whatever they touch turns into gold, All the vessels they launch on the great sea of life have prosperous voyages, and return heavily laden with a rich cargo. Their neighbours have losses and misfortunes, but they, never. Now, this wonderful exemption from sudden and sharp vicissitudes tends to engender self-confidence. They are prone to imagine that their better fortune is due to better management. And no doubt not a little may be said in favour of their view of the case. For business, like every other thing, has its own laws, the observance of which will for the most part conduce to prosperity. But such prosperity has a melancholy tendency to produce forgetfulness of God. And when it has gone on for years in an unbroken stream, and a stream swelling and deepening with the years, then is this tendency seen, and this sore temptation felt in their most horrible forms. Because they have no change, therefore, etc. And the like may be said of unbroken, uninterrupted health. But others besides have frequently no changes. The circle of their social life seems wonderfully free from infraction, and that for a long period. It seems as if the ordinary calamities of life could not reach them. There has been no darkening of the windows, there has been no grave to purchase, there has been no hearse at the door. The deepest fountains of sorrow have been unopened, there has been no yearning, unavailing as it is keen, “for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still.” And what is the result, what at least is too often the result? Therefore they fear not God. His blessings have been so constant and so great that they do not fear Him. They think that to-morrow will be as to-day, and still more abundant. The absence of change produces hardness of nature. As one of the greatest blessings is tenderness of heart, so one of the greatest perils in life is that the heart should become hardened. A healthy heart is one which is open to all Divine influences and to all just human appeals. A man becomes practically useless as his heart loses power of sympathy. Hence is change so needful for us would we succour the sorrow of others. But a man cannot do this if he has never known sorrow of his own, if he be one who has “no changes.” Ah! if the world were made up of no other class of men than these, life would be a fearful thing. It is well that there are some hearts that cannot be thus steeled, hearts that can feel for others, and that can feel for others because frequently they have themselves known sorrow and trouble. No heart has had a thorough education which has not passed through the school of grief. Until it has sat in this class it is crude and narrow and hard. The tendency of continued prosperity, or exemption from calamity, is to create in the mind a sense of claim upon God, and a sense of wrong when the interruption comes. When the usual blessing does not make its appearance at the usual time, the man looks up under a sense of wrong, and upbraids the Providence which seems to have forgotten him. Why has it forgotten him? Why should he be deprived of his usual mercies? And instead of reckoning up all the years during which his table has been spread and his cup has run over, and bursting forth in a song of thanksgiving for all he has received, he complains of God for the removal, or even the diminution, of his comforts. The absence of change produces neglect of eternity. Nothing is more certain than this, and nothing is more natural. When men are settled in any condition which yields them satisfaction they long to remain in it. To live for the present life is as natural as to live in it; and it is the main temptation we have all to overcome to set our affection on things which are on the earth. It is wonderful how men get reconciled by habit even to a state which is by no means the happiest; but when it is one of comfort they have no desire to see it altered or disturbed. “Soul, take thine ease,” is a very common feeling among those whose circumstances are on the whole fairly pleasant. They get settled in their lives. They have their portion in this life; and they do not think of another life, nor care to think of it. How many will have to thank God for ever for the blow which swept away in a night the wealth in which they trusted. It was then that for the first time they understood the meaning of the words, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” How many, too, who have forgotten God in the days of their vigour, have found Him on their beds when the strength has gone from them like water from the summer brook. And some have needed a still greater change. But even these changes may fail. Some have borne them all, and still fear not God. Happy the man that has learnt to place his hope in God. (Enoch Mellor, D. D.)
The discipline of change
The natural heart of man longs for peace, and looks to repose as fit and proper. We feel ourselves in the midst of ceaseless change and decay, and are always seeking a centre of rest. We would hasten our escape from the windy storm and tempest. Yet, with all our longing for peace, we are played on by forces that make for change and unrest, swirled by the ceaseless flux and flow of the tide. Life is like the swift ships, says Job, like ships driven out in the darkness, tossed on the storm, battling on to a quiet harbour. It is like vapour of the hills, says St. James, like the fragile mist that can be withered by sun or torn by wind. There is no real rest in the world for body, or mind, or heart, of soul. This condition of unstable equilibrium is, of course, most evident in connection with outward things in our life, the trappings and the circumstances. But the same transiency is seen in inward things also. Even love suffers loss, as the objects of love pass off at the dread call of night. Even faith cannot remain fixed, but has new problems which demand new efforts at adjustment. We must admit also, if we are honest with ourselves, that we need the stimulus of constant change if life is to attain its best results. We settle down in slothful ease and sluggish indifference, with eyes blinded and hearts made fat by the prosperity that knows no fear. Changelessness would only lull the senses and the faculties to sleep. We are only kept alert by the unstable tenure with which we hold life and all it contains. If we knew we would only meet the expected and always at the expected turn or road, there could be no expectation at all, no wonder, no apprehension, no fear, no hope, no faith. Experience could bring no education, and all our powers would be atrophied. Most of all is this true in the moral sphere. It is in no lotus isle that men are bred. In the stress and strain of life character is formed. Through doubt and uncertainty and sore trial of faith is faith alone made perfect. As a matter of fact, degeneracy has always set in with both nations and men when prosperity has been unchecked and the sunshine of favour has been unalloyed. It is through the conquest of nature, and through the conquest of enemies, and through self-conquest that the conquering peoples have been built. The lesson is painted on a large canvas in universal history; and it is repeated to us in miniature in individual experience. Men live only by custom and convention when they are withdrawn from this discipline of change; and to live only by custom is to be drugged by an opiate. Everything that makes men great partakes of the discipline. There is no music in a monotone; there is no are in one universal drab colour. Thought is born of mystery. Science is the daughter of wonder, and wonder is the fruit of all the changes and movements of the world. Religion even has her secure empire in the hearts of men through the needs of men’s hearts, the need for which they crave of a changeless centre in the midst of change. Every deep crisis of life, with its thrill of joy or its spasm of sorrow, with its message, of loss or of gain, is part of God’s higher education. The discipline of change is meant to drive us out beyond the changing hour to the thought of eternity, out from the restless things of sense to find rest in God. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow, the same in nature, in character, in love, even as Jesus revealed Him, the eternal Father who yearns over His children in deathless love. “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” If that is failure, even though it means continual peace and prosperity, what shall we say of the failure of those who know the desolation and terror of change and yet have not learned; who still cling to the things of sense that have failed them before; who have suffered all the strokes of fortune, all the pangs Of heart, all the shocks that paralyze the soul, and yet have never submitted, never trusted, never feared, never loved God? What failure is like that of those who have been chastened and yet never softened, who have gone through the fire without learning the lesson, who have tasted the sorrow without the sympathy, who have borne the cross without the love? (Hugh Black, M. A.)
There are some who have no changes of fortune from prosperity to adversity. “Therefore,” says the psalmist, “they fear not God.”
I. Different kinds.
2. Financial ruin.
1. Corrective. “Before I was afflicted I went astray.”
2. Instructive. Prosperity is apt to intoxicate the imagination; affliction teaches humility and dependence upon God.
3. Sanctifying. They purify the heart, bring God nearer to the soul, and make the promises more precious.
1. Continued prosperity is not always best for man. If prosperity hardens the heart and keeps God out, then is affliction a blessing.
2. Under severe affliction grace is needed to keep the soul from despair.
3. If we are without affliction, are we sure that we do not spirtually need their discipline? (L. O. Thompson.)
You pick up two stones lying near the seashore and only a few yards apart. They not only belong to the same geological formation, but have been splintered from the same rock. One is rugged, made up of sharp, uneven angles, and irregular, broken surfaces. The other is smooth, rounded into an almost perfect sphere, has every delicate vein showing, and is polished as on a lapidary’s wheel. What is the secret of this contrast? The one had fallen from the cliff and had been stranded above high-water mark. It had lain for centuries just where it dropped. It had undergone no changes and upheavals. The other had fallen within reach of the waves, and every ebbing and flowing tide had lashed it to and fro for year upon year. It had never been left still for long, but had been tossed, jostled, ground, and polished against the pebbly beach till it took that form of comeliness and beauty. So it is with many lives. The lives of some seem to have fallen to them in pleasant places. Life has brought few changes. And the Holy Book says of such, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” Other lives are “Still from one sorrow to another thrown.” They sometimes say, “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me.” But what spiritual beauty they have won from their tribulations!
Cast thy burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.
Grace to bear the burden laid on us
I. See that your burdens are all of the Lord’s appointment. How many are the burdens that we make for ourselves, which we need not and ought not to bear. They are sinful, and we ought to cast them away.
II. Expect from God proportioned strength. Why do you anticipate long reaches of future possibilities? You are vainly trying to break the faggot at once, which can only be overcome stick by stick. Take life not by weeks or years, but by days. Truly Jesus is the great bearer away of burdens, for He has “borne our sins in His own body on the tree,” and the guilt of sin is our heaviest burden. In all our sorrows we have His sympathy as “a merciful and faithful High Priest,” who is “touched with a feeling.” What, then, is left for us to carry is only the light end of the cross--an easy yoke and light burden.
III. Rest on God for ultimate endurance. A spirit such as has been described, continually receiving its daily and proportioned replenishment from heaven, will not look much to the future. It will be too busy with present duties. As our great poet Tennyson has beautifully declared, true virtue will scarcely dream of a promised elysium, where she may leisurely bask in the sun, and repose from all effort amid crowns, and songs, and feasts. Nay, he nobly answers, “Give her the glory of going on and not to die.” Anything else would be death and worse than death. Virtue cannot rest in material reward. She has acquired a noble habit of active benevolence, and she could not bear its cessation. She craves endless, immortal service. “They shall serve Him day and night in His temple.” Verily, “give her the glory of going on and not to die.” (Andrew Reed, B. A.)
Whatever else these words mean, they mean that the Lord is to be used. Whatever presses upon me in any way and troubles me, I am to take it off my shoulder and let the Lord carry it for me. Now, we want that truth to go sinking down through the soul, that God is not only my Creator but my Father; my Father, who cannot help loving me and caring for me everywhere and in everything. But men don’t believe this. The world is real enough to them, but all this about the Lord, how unreal it sounds. And it never will be otherwise until to all such words about Christ the Spirit giveth life. He must reveal Christ to us. Pray for His help. Now, our text teaches--
I. That the Lord is within my reach. He is near me, I am to cast my burden upon Him. Now, this is just what we don’t do. We kneel, and sigh, and pray about our burden, that we may cast it on the Lord, but we don’t do it. We look up and sigh, and resolve that we will, but nothing comes of it. Some years ago I was staying in a Swiss city, and from the windows of my hotel I looked out on the bridge that crossed the Rhine. At the middle of the bridge there was a tiny wayside chapel, and as the peasants went to market they set the heavy basket down on the steps while they turned in to pray. Then they came out and took up their burdens again. That is how many people do with their troubles--they pray about them, and then pick them up again. What folly it is to call that casting! On the other side of the parapet there swept the swift current of the Rhine. Now, if one should take up the load with both hands, and swing it with all his might over the side, and then let it go whirling through space until it splashed into the waters, and went, swept away for ever--that is casting. So, then, on the Lord’s part and on ours here is something to be done. To hear of it only is nothing--less than nothing. Do not let us cheat ourselves with words. And note, further, that it is to be done thoroughly. There is a kind of casting our burden that does not get rid of it at all, but only doubles it. If a friend of mine has some anxiety of which I can relieve him, and I say, “Now, I will see to that matter. Don’t you trouble about it any more.” What should the man say? “Thank you, I am sure; I will leave it with you, then.” And away he goes, saying, “Well, that burden is gone, at any rate.” And he feels lighter, and walks more briskly. But what if, instead of that, he should keep worrying me perpetually, “I hope you will not forget, will you? I do trust to you to remember. I really am very anxious about it--very.” I should say to him, “Well, if you want to do it, sir, go and do it; but if I am to do it, fear not--I will.” Don’t you see the man has doubled the burden? He has put it on my shoulders, and carries it on his own at the same time. Oh, this untrusting trust, this unbelieving faith!
II. Cast upon the Lord the burden of beginning the Christian life. There are many of you who are feeling that burden, and a very heavy burden we may make of it. We have an idea that we want so many things besides Jesus, and that we cannot get Jesus until we get these other things. We want to feel our sins, and we want repentance, and we want earnestness, and we want faith. And then it may be that we are haunted by the fear of some past failure, or there is some besetment that grips us with a might that we cannot loosen. So the heart sinks under the burden. Now what are you going to do? Time does not lessen the weakness. Waiting is not likely in any way to mend matters. This burden of want, of weakness, of fear is exactly what you have to roll off upon the Lord. Boldly go to Him and say, “Lord Jesus, Thou hast come into this world to save me. I am very needy and very foolish, but Thou knowest what I want; and Thou knowest all that I shall ever want. And now, Lord Jesus, I am just going to let Thee save me, now and always.” As this is the beginning of the blessed life, so it is the secret of it all along. Religion is ours just exactly in proportion as we avail ourselves of Jesus Christ. Victory is ours just exactly as we let Jesus Christ help us. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Burdens cast upon the Lord
I. There is an endless variety of these burdens laid upon us in this world. Care, toil, affliction, trial, weakness, dejection, want, fear, duty, endurance; and for all there is only one relief, “Cast thy burden”--“thy” burden, for there the emphasis is to be laid--“upon the Lord.” I will classify these burdens.
1. Those of the flesh; such as, natural weakness, sickness, pain, sensual desires, corrupt affections, wasting toil, poverty.
2. Mental burdens: ignorance, mystery, knowledge; for “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”
3. Social burdens, or burdens of the heart. Their name is legion.
4. Spiritual burdens. That of sin, of spiritual desertion, of fear.
II. The encouragements--We have to cast our burdens upon the Lord.
1. We may do it. He “will not break the bruised reed, nor,” etc.
2. Help in bearing our burdens is sure, if we seek aright. “He shall sustain thee.” He does not promise to rid us of the burden but to sustain us under it, and that is better still. So was it with Paul. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
What to do with our burdens
I. The persons addressed.
1. They are burdenbearers. Who are not included in these? They differ from one another in all variety of ways, but all are alike here.
2. These burdens are very various. No two are exactly alike. God appoints them to each of us according to His own loving wisdom (Psalms 31:7). God never makes a mistake.
II. The duty enjoined. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord.” There is One on whom we may cast our burdens, even the Lord. But men turn to other expedients. With what success let Isaiah tell (Isaiah 29:8). How are we to fulfil this duty?
1. By telling God all about our burden.
2. Asking His help to bear it.
3. Submitting to His will in reference to it.
III. The promise by which this duty is urged. “He shall sustain thee.” God does this sometimes--
1. By removing the burden.
2. By sustaining the burden-bearer; not removing the burden, but upholding those who have to bear it. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Burdens cast upon God
I. What we are to understand by burdens. By this metaphor, we are to understand all natural evils, whether of body or of mind. Wounds, bruises, diseases, and every species of sickness, may be properly called bodily evils; but bereavements, disappointments, and all the marks of Divine displeasure, may more properly be termed mental evils. These two kinds of natural evil are intimately connected, and very frequently enhance each other. Men are here born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward. How often are their bodies racked with pain! How often are their eyes filled with tears!
II. What it is for the afflicted to cast their burdens upon the Lord.
1. It implies a realizing sense that God has laid their burdens upon them.
2. They cannot do this without acknowledging that God has a right to lay their burdens upon them.
3. This implies entire submission to the conduct of God, or a willingness to endure the burdens which he pleases to lay upon them (Micah 7:7; Job 1:21; 2 Kings 4:26).
4. This farther implies casting themselves upon the Lord, which is the essence of the duty enjoined in the text. Men cannot lay the burdens which they feel, upon God; nor can God take to Himself the burdens which He lays upon them. But they can cast themselves upon the Lord, which will afford them immediate support and relief under their burdens. When the general of an army lays a heavy burden upon an obedient soldier, he may cast himself, and consequently his burden, upon the general, by saying, “Sir, this appears a burden too heavy for me to carry. But you know what is proper to lay upon me. I am your soldier; my strength and my life are at your disposal. It is your concern to improve my strength and my life for the public good. And if it be best that my strength should be exhausted, or my life sacrificed, at this time, by bearing this burden, I have nothing to say; I cheerfully submit.” Just so the child of sorrow may go to his heavenly Father and say, “My burden is great, and it seems I must sink under it. But Thou knowest what is best. I am in Thy hand as the clay is in the hand of the potter. Nob my will, but Thine, be done.”
III. What evidence there is that God will sustain them.
1. There is ground to believe that God will sustain those who cast their burdens upon Him, because He laid their burdens upon them to show their weakness, and make them take hold of His strength.
2. Those who cast their burdens upon the Lord are properly prepared to receive Divine support and consolation.
3. The glory of God requires Him to support those who look to Him for strength or relief under their burdens.
4. God has promised to afford all proper support and relief to those who come to Him with their cares and burdens, and place an unshaken confidence in His faithfulness.
Improvement. If God will sustain those who cast their burdens upon Him, then--
1. Burdens may become the means of great good.
2. The greatest burdens may become the most beneficial.
3. The afflicted never have any reason to murmur or complain under the burdens which are laid upon them.
4. The afflicted never ought to faint and sink under the weight of their burdens.
5. It highly concerns them to call upon His name. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The burden of the righteous
I. The righteous man. Justified by faith. No condemnation.
II. The trials of the righteous man.
1. Those which he bears ill common with all men. Sickness, poverty, bereavement.
2. Those peculiar to the class to which he belongs. The prevalence of sin in the world, the difficulties attending the diffusion of Gospel truth, and the temptations which militate against a godly life, are burdens which all Christians are to bear in common.
3. Those which are restricted to him exclusively as an individual. He has his individual hopes and fears, his individual strength and weakness, and his individual pleasures and sufferings.
III. The duty of the righteous man in view of his trials, “Cast thy burden on the Lord.”
1. The possibility of relief. The “burden can be removed. This is true of all his burdens.
2. There is but one way of obtaining this relief. By casting it on the Lord.
3. This one way of relief requires a personal effort. “Cast.”
IV. The encouragement which is given to the righteous man to cast his burden on the Lord. “He shall never,” etc.
1. The Lord’s ability to sustain.
2. His willingness to sustain. He is a God of mercy
3. He has made great arrangements to relieve man of his burden. In His providence, in His word, in His Church, and in the agency of His Holy Spirit. Then east thy burden upon Him, O my soul, and He will sustain thee. (P. L. Davies, M. A.)
Man’s burden and help
I. The burden.
1. Temporal burdens.
(2) Disastrous providences.
(4) Domestic troubles.
2. Spiritual burdens.
II. The direction. “Cast thy burden,” etc.
1. In confident faith.
2. By constant prayer.
3. By cultivating a devotional frame of mind.
III. The promise. “He will sustain thee.”--
1. By imparting increased strength.
2. By the removal of our burdens. (T. Smith.)
Life’s burden and its relief
I. Every human life has its burden. “Thy burden.” There is a physical, social, moral, religious burden. Burden suggests three thoughts.
1. Unnaturalness. We are not born with burdens. Have angels and innocent beings a heavy burden? I trow not.
2. Oppression. A burden presses one down. Life’s burden often presses heavily on all the powers of one’s nature, corporal, mental, and moral. Christ saw the race “heavy laden.”
3. Obstruction. How a burden retards the traveller’s progress. By reason of the load that presses on us we cannot move on in the path of life.
II. Every human life may have its relief. “Cast thy burden on the Lord.”
1. The Lord will bear the burden. He will bear it, either by removing it altogether, or by imparting strength more than equal to its pressure.
2. There is a method of transferring the burden. The more the confidence the more the burden is transferred. God is more than a counsel for our legal embarrassments, more than a physician for our diseases, more than a father in whom to repose all our concerns. (Homilist.)
The passing of the burdens
We all know the critical moment when we are contemplating seeking relief by leaving our tasks. “I will just leave the whole thing; I will get away from it!” Such flight is usually fruitless. We carry our burden with us. On the further shore it sits upon us still.
1. There are some types of burden in which the refuge of flight will be found to be a rare and splendid defence. “Flee youthful lusts.” In these matters flight is the only method of salvation. Get away from inflammatory books. Give up inflammatory companionships. “Flee from idolatry.” Do not take part for a moment in the temple worship of an alien god. Do not sit in the temple of Mammon. Do not play with worldly maxims. Do not think there is security in partial worldliness, in a moderate compromise.
2. But the majority of burdens cannot be disposed of by the method of flight. We have no resources but to cast them on God. What becomes of them when we take them to the Lord? There are some burdens which pass away, even while they are being recounted. They evaporate in the telling! To talk about them to God is to lose them! If you take a dimmed, steamed mirror into a dry, sunny room, the obscuring veil passes away, and the mirror becomes clear. And there are some burdens which perplex the spirit, and hinder its outlook, which, when we take them to the Lord, pass away like mist in the sunny light of the morning.
(1) There is the burden of fearfulness. What is this burden except the lack of assurance? The depression is born of uncertainty. The soul moves in fear, because it does not feel the presence of God. The lack of assurance breeds the restless offspring of anxiety, fretfulness and care. Now, this is one of the burdens which evaporate in the telling. Fearfulness is always the companion of little faith. If we have triumphant faith, fearfulness is abolished. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” While we are talking to our Father, the sweet genius of assurance returns. Our faith awakes. Our love revives. The heart grows calm in spiritual fellowship. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord,” and, even while thou art telling it, the burden will disappear.
(2) There is the burden of perplexity. Here, again, is a burden which frequently disappears while we are describing it. If we take it into our Father’s house, even if it does not pass entirely away, it will be so eased that it will not crush us like an iron garment. We shall have freedom of movement. It is a beautiful experience in the lives of the saints that, when they take their burden to God, they frequently find the clue even while they are bowed in prayer. “In Thy light shall we see light.”
(3) There is the burden of guilt. No man can reverently and penitently take this burden to the Lord without losing it. It goes in the telling of it. “Father, I am no more worthy to be called Thy son, make . . . ” “Bring forth the best robe.” “So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulder, and fell from off his back. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord.”
3. There are some burdens which are not removed even when we take them to the Lord. They do not disappear in the telling. Is there some other gracious ministry of the loving Lord? Yes, if the burden remain, the bearer of it will be strengthened (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Some burdens are permitted to remain. Perhaps the burden is an unwelcome and unpleasant duty. Perhaps it is some physical infirmity. Perhaps it is prolonged labour in a wageless and most exhausting sphere. What, then, will God do with us? “He shall sustain thee.” The Lord will deal with the bearer of the burden. He will increase thy strength, and so in reality diminish thy load. This word “sustain” is a fine, wealthy word of most comforting content. There is in it a suggestion of the ministry of a nurse. He will deal with us as though we were infants. He will be to us the great mother-God. And He will manifest towards us all the tenderness of a nursing ministry. There is also in the word the suggestion of food. He will feed us. He will give to us the bread of life. He will increase our vitality, He will make our powers more alive, more wakeful, more exuberant, And I find in the word the further gracious meaning of “support.” He will carry me, if need be. The concluding word of the text is purposed to heighten the assurance of the psalmist into the peace of absolute certainty. “He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” The life that is held by God, possessed and inspired by God, will be delivered from all trembling uncertainties. On the one hand, he will not be dismayed by a frown or a threat; nor, on the other hand, will he be enticed by some bewitching fascination. He will continue his way unmoved. The road will be straight; the walk will be firm; his footing will be sure. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The Lord our burden-bearer
What wonderful condescension there is in this. Were we to see a royal prince taking upon his own back some heavy load out of pity for some poor man who was staggering beneath it, how we should admire and extol such gracious condescension. But what would that be compared to the grace of God as declared in our text. Consider--
I. The burden here referred to. It may be:--
1. Of remorse and guilty agitation. Some do not feel this, for they have “seared “ their consciences, and so a hard insensitive surface over them that will not feel when accusation is brought against it. But others do feel this. Now, our text is for them.
2. Of solicitude. It may be concerning temporal things, or spiritual, or both.
3. Of service. Moses felt this, and so do many now. All of us have some service to render.
4. Of grief.
5. Of fear.
6. Of temptation. Now, whatever it be, give heed to--
II. The direction as to what we are to do. There are many coun-sellors-philosophy, morality, the world; but inspired wisdom gives the counsel of our text. Now, such counsel implies--
1. Some acquaintance with God.
2. Desire of His assistance and relief.
5. That we are so to cast our burden upon the Lord as not to bear it ourselves, but to leave it with Him. See Hannah.
III. The encouraging stimulus that is annexed to the declaration in the text.
1. He can sustain thee. What is the amount of the burden that you have? Is it heavy as the Alps? Is it heavy as the globe? Roll it on Jesus Christ, roll it on His almighty strength; He is able to carry any load, to bear any and every weight; He can sustain thee.
2. He is mercifully disposed to sustain thee. One of the most miserable delusions of the philosophical infidelity conceived of God, was, that He is a great Being that cares nothing at all about little things--that He sits in the circle of eternity, not noticing the worms on this speck of matter called the globe, in this far-off region in the universe of space. That may be the notion that infidelity has of God, but that is not the notion the Bible gives of God.
3. He has solemnly bound Himself to do it. In the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, you find two things mentioned by which the people of God have strong consolation--the promise and the oath of God; and by these two things you are assured that God will sustain you in the day of trouble.
4. He has sustained you. It will be very easy for you to put your eye on several memorials that you yourselves have reared to the honour, and the goodness, and the faithfulness of God. (T. E. Beaumont.)
The burden of life
A perfect being has no burden; nothing is too great, nothing too small; there is neither excess nor defect; there is no falling short of a given mark, no inconsistency, no incompetency, no pain, no disease, no slow declining and fading away. But we are not perfect; we are conceived and born in sin; the brand of sin is on us; our ]ire is brief, and the knowledge of that brevity haunts the fast-flying hours. We long to be better, wiser, purer than we are, to be safe from storm and clear of anxiety, to be strong and well, in body, mind, and spirit; that we are not what we would be, either towards our God or towards our poor, dear brethren in this world, where all alike have sorrow and demand help, is, in short, the burden of this mortal life. Will you, then, cast your burden on the gay world and hope to lose sight of it there? The world of pleasure is always ready to relieve us of our burdens; as we enter her wide and attractive halls, there are ministering spirits at the doors to take from the incomer what robe or garment of sorrow he may have, and put it away. The worst of this is, that the thing so put away is not lost, nor destroyed; it is carefully wrapped up; it is marked with your name; and it is there in its dark receptacle, waiting till the entertainment breaks up, and ready for you again. Within the great dance-hall, and up and clown through the illuminated gardens, where the music is playing and everything looks fair, they are laughing and singing, and going to and fro, and the sorrow is forgotten for the hour, and it seems to have been wise and right to dispose in that way of the burden of our sorrow and our sin. But what we brought in with us, we must take again as we go forth; and to the old load shall be added a hundredfold of weight of shame and remorse. Can we think of any other expedient to save us from the alternative of going straight to the Lord? Perchance you may cast your burden On some friend or fellow-sinner. It is natural for us to tell our griefs to each other; a sorrow shared is a sorrow lessened. But here also is danger. Friendship is an uncertain thing; it is often too frail to bear rude handling, A man to be a real helper ought to be wise and good, a true and faithful guide, calm, strong, learned, prudent. Every argument which leads us to cast ourselves on such a friend, is an argument in favour of One who is all that and more; to whom the wise man owes his wisdom, and the strong man his strength. And thus are we brought to God, as the best on whom to cast the burden, for the simple reason that none else but He can give us relief. Go to thy Lord; take to Him the trouble, whatever it be, and tell it out to Him. Open thy heart, though to Him it is always open; seek Him as thou wouldst a confidant, a bosom friend. Thou hast thy burden, of necessity or want, of hard work and dull hours bringing little or no good, of anxiety about Others or fears for thyself; of buried hope or affections wasted on unworthy objects; of spiritual dryness, or lack of earnest faith; of longing for the unattainable or regret for the irreparable; whatever it be, bring that sorrow straight to thy God, with the conviction that it is the only rational and sensible thing to do, that all other expedients are vain, that there is no help in the world, or in any child of man, or anywhere out of Him; and surely the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
Burdens adapted to those who bear them
Every man’s “burden” is just the one fitted to the individual man. It is suited for his present discipline--a selected, ordained, adjusted thing--“thy burden,” “your burden.” It is a celebrated thought of an old-world moralist (Socrates) that, if all the misfortunes of mankind were cast into a public stock, to be equally distributed among the whole species, those who now think themselves most unhappy, would prefer the share they are already-possessed of before that which would fall to them by such a division; and an old-world poet (Horace) carries the thought even further when he says, “that the hardships or misfortunes which we lie under are more easy to us than those of any other person would be in case we could change conditions with him.” And this is the moral of the old-world fable, which tells us that Jupiter made a proclamation that every mortal should bring in his griefs and calamities and throw them into a heap. This was done in a plain appointed for the purpose, and the heap became a prodigious mountain that seemed to rise above the clouds. The heap was at last distributed among the two sexes, who made a most piteous sight as they wandered up and down under the pressure of their several burdens. The whole plain was filled with murmurs and complaints, groans and lamentations. Jupiter at length taking compassion on the poor mortals, ordered them a second time to lay down their loads, with a design to give every one his own again. They discharged themselves with a great deal of pleasure. But the phantom which had led them into error was replaced by a goddess of quite a different figure--her motions were steady and composed, and her aspect serious but cheerful. Every now and again she cast her eyes towards heaven, and fixed them upon Jupiter: her name was Patience. She took her stand by the mount of sorrows, which at once contracted to one-third of the size. She then returned every man his own proper calamity, and teaching him how to bear it in the most commodious manner, he marched off with it contentedly, being very Well pleased that he had not been left to his own choice as to the kind of evils which fell to his lot. Thus far the fable. What is all this but St. Paul’s teaching (Galatians 6:5). It is what the psalmist says, “thy burden.” It is what St. Peter means, “All your care” (M. Fuller.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 55". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany