Exposition - Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings
Hints to the Village Preacher - Works Upon This Psalm
TITLE. To the Chief Musician, even to Jeduthun. Jeduthun's
name, which signifies praising or celebrating, was a most appropriate one for a
leader in sacred psalmody. He was one of those ordained by the King's order "for
song in the house of the Lord with cymbals, psalteries, and harps" 1Ch 15:6, and
his children after him appear to have remained in the same hallowed service,
even so late as the days of Nehemiah. To have a name and a place in Zion is no
small honour, and to hold this place by a long entail of grace is an unspeakable
blessing. O that our household may never lack a man to stand before the Lord God
of Israel to do him service. David left this somewhat sorrowful ode in
Jeduthun's hands because he thought him most fit to set it to music, or because
he would distribute the sacred honour of song among all the musicians who in
their turn presided in the choir. A Psalm of David. Such as his chequered life
would be sure to produce; fit effusions for a man so tempted, so strong in his
passions, and yet so firm in faith.
DIVISION. The psalmist, bowed down with sickness and
sorrow, is burdened with unbelieving thoughts, which he resolves to stifle, lest
any evil should come from their expression, Ps 39:1-2. But silence creates an
insupportable grief, which at last demands utterance, and obtains it in the
prayer of Ps 39:3-6, which is almost a complaint and a sigh for death, or at
best a very desponding picture of human life. From Ps 39:7-13 the tone is more
submissive, and the recognition of the divine hand more distinct; the cloud has
evidently passed, and the mourner's heart is relieved.
Verse 1. I said. I steadily resolved and registered a
determination. In his great perplexity his greatest fear was lest he should sin;
and, therefore, he cast about for the most likely method for avoiding it, and he
determined to be silent. It is right excellent when a man can strengthen himself
in a good course by the remembrance of a well and wisely formed resolve. "What I
have written I have written, "or what I have spoken I will perform, may prove a
good strengthener to a man in a fixed course of right. I will take
heed to my ways. To avoid sin one had need be very circumspect, and keep
one's actions as with a guard or garrison. Unguarded ways are generally unholy
ones. Heedless is another word for graceless. In times of sickness or other
trouble we must watch against the sins peculiar to such trials, especially
against murmuring and repining. That I sin not with my tongue. Tongue
sins are great sins; like sparks of fire ill words spread, and do great damage.
If believers utter hard words of God in times of depression, the ungodly will
take them up and use them as a justification for their sinful courses. If a
man's own children rail at him, no wonder if his enemies' mouths are full of
abuse. Our tongue always wants watching, for it is restive as an ill broken
horse; but especially must we hold it in when the sharp cuts of the Lord's rod
excite it to rebel. I will keep my mouth with a bridle, or more
accurately, with a muzzle. The original does not so much mean a bridle to check
the tongue as a muzzle to stop it altogether. David was not quite so wise as our
translation would make him; if he had resolved to be very guarded in his speech,
it would have been altogether commendable; but when he went so far as to condemn
himself to entire silence, "even from good, "there must have been at least a
little sullenness in his soul. In trying to avoid one fault, he fell into
another. To use the tongue against God is a sin of commission, but not to use it
at all involves an evident sin of omission. Commendable virtues may be followed
so eagerly that we may fall into vices; to avoid Scylla we run into Charybdis.
While the wicked is before me. This qualifies the silence, and
almost screens it from criticism, for bad men are so sure to misuse even our
holiest speech, that it is as well not to cast any of our pearls before such
swine; but what if the psalmist meant, "I was silent while I had the prosperity
of the wicked in my thoughts, "then we see the discontent and questioning of his
mind, and the muzzled mouth indicates much that is not to be commended. Yet, if
we blame we must also praise, for the highest wisdom suggests that when good men
are bewildered with sceptical thoughts, they should not hasten to repeat them,
but should fight out their inward battle upon its own battlefield. The firmest
believers are exercised with unbelief, and it would be doing the devil's work
with a vengeance if they were to publish abroad all their questionings and
suspicions. If I have the fever myself, there is no reason why I should
communicate it to my neighbours. If any on board the vessel of my soul are
diseased, I will put my heart in quarantine, and allow none to go on shore in
the boat of speech till I have a clean bill of health.
Verse 2. I was dumb with silence. He was as strictly
speechless as if he had been tongueless--not a word escaped him. He was as silent
as the dumb. I held my peace, even from good. Neither bad nor good
escaped his lips. Perhaps he feared that if he began to talk at all, he would be
sure to speak amiss, and, therefore, he totally abstained. It was an easy, safe,
and effectual way of avoiding sin, if it did not involve a neglect of the duty
which he owed to God to speak well of his name. Our divine Lord was silent
before the wicked, but not altogether so, for before Pontius Pilate he witnessed
a good confession, and asserted his kingdom. A sound course of action may be
pushed to the extreme, and become a fault. And my sorrow was
stirred. Inward grief was made to work and ferment by want of vent. The
pent up floods are swollen and agitated. Utterance is the natural outlet for the
heart's anguish, and silence is, therefore, both an aggravation of the evil and
a barrier against its cure. In such a case the resolve to hold one's peace needs
powerful backing, and even this is most likely to give way when grief rushes
upon the soul. Before a flood gathering in force and foaming for outlet the
strongest banks are likely to be swept away. Nature may do her best to silence
the expression of discontent, but unless grace comes to her rescue, she will be
sure to succumb.
Verse 3. My heart was hot within me. The friction of inward
thoughts produced an intense mental heat. The door of his heart was shut, and
with the fire of sorrow burning within, the chamber of his soul soon grew
unbearable with heat. Silence is an awful thing for a sufferer, it is the surest
method to produce madness. Mourner, tell your sorrow; do it first and most fully
to God, but even to pour it out before some wise and godly friend is far from
being wasted breath. While I was musing the fire burned. As he thought
upon the ease of the wicked and his own daily affliction, he could not unravel
the mystery of providence, and therefore he became greatly agitated. While his
heart was musing it was fusing, for the subject was confusing. It became harder
every moment to be quiet; his volcanic soul was tossed with an inward ocean of
fire, and heaved to and fro with a mental earthquake; and eruption was imminent,
the burning lava must pour forth in a fiery stream. Then spake I with my
tongue. The original is grandly laconic. I spake. The muzzled tongue
burst all its bonds. The gag was hurled away. Misery, like murder, will out. You
can silence praise, but anguish is clamorous. Resolve or no resolve, heed or no
heed, sin or no sin, the impetuous torrent forced for itself a channel and swept
away every restraint.
Verse 4. Lord. It is well that the vent of his soul was
toward God and not towards man. Oh! if my swelling heart must speak, Lord let it
speak with thee; even if there be too much of natural heat in what I say, thou
wilt be more patient with me than man, and upon thy purity it can cast no stain;
whereas if I speak to my fellows, they may harshly rebuke me or else learn evil
from my petulance. Make me to know mine end. Did he mean the same
as Elias in his agony, "Let me die, I am no better than my father"? Perhaps so.
At any rate, he rashly and petulantly desired to know the end of his wretched
life, that he might begin to reckon the days till death should put a finish to
his woe. Impatience would pry between the folded leaves. As if there were no
other comfort to be had, unbelief would fain hide itself in the grave and sleep
itself into oblivion. David was neither the first nor the last who have spoken
unadvisedly in prayer. Yet, there is a better meaning: the psalmist would know
more of the shortness of life, that he might better bear its transient ills, and
herein we may safely kneel with him, uttering the same petition. That there is
no end to its misery is the hell of hell; that there is an end to life's sorrow
is the hope of all who have a hope beyond the grave. God is the best teacher of
the divine philosophy which looks for an expected end. They who see death
through the Lord's glass, see a fair sight, which makes them forget the evil of
life in foreseeing the end of life. And the measure of my days. David
would fain be assured that his days would be soon over and his trials with them;
he would be taught anew that life is measured out to us by wisdom, and is not a
matter of chance. As the trader measures his cloth by inches, and ells, and
yards, so with scrupulous accuracy is life measured out to man. That I may
know how frail I am, or when I shall cease to be. Alas! poor human nature,
dear as life is, man quarrels with God at such a rate that he would sooner cease
to be than bear the Lord's appointment. Such pettishness in a saint! Let us wait
till we are in a like position, and we shall do no better. The ship on the
stocks wonders that the barque springs a leak, but when it has tried the high
seas, it marvels that its timbers hold together in such storms. David's case is
not recorded for our imitation, but for our learning.
Verse 5. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth.
Upon consideration, the psalmist finds little room to bewail the length of life,
but rather to bemoan its shortness. What changeful creatures we are! One moment
we cry to be rid of existence, and the next instant beg to have it prolonged! A
handbreadth is one of the shortest natural measures, being the breadth of four
fingers; such is the brevity of life, by divine appointment; God hath made it
so, fixing the period in wisdom. The behold calls us to attention; to
some the thoughts of life's hastiness will bring the most acute pain, to others
the most solemn earnestness. How well should those live who are to live so
little! Is my earthly pilgrimage so brief? then let me watch every step of it,
that in the little of time there may be much of grace. And mine age is as
nothing before thee. So short as not to amount to an entity. Think of
eternity, and an angel is as a newborn babe, the world a fresh blown bubble, the
sun a spark just fallen from the fire, and man a nullity. Before the Eternal,
all the age of frail man is less than one ticking of a clock. Verily,
every man at his best state is altogether vanity. This is the surest
truth, that nothing about man is either sure or true. Take man at his best, he
is but a man, and a man is a mere breath, unsubstantial as the wind. Man is
settled, as the margin has it, and by divine decree it is settled that he
shall not be settled. He is constant only in inconstancy. His vanity is his only
verity; his best, of which he is vain, is but vain; and this is verily true of
every man, that everything about him is every way fleeting. This is sad news for
those whose treasures are beneath the moon; those whose glorying is in
themselves may well hang the flag half mast; but those whose best estate is
settled upon them in Christ Jesus in the land of unfading flowers, may rejoice
that it is no vain thing in which they trust.
Verse 6. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew. Life is
but a passing pageant. This alone is sure, that nothing is sure. All around us
shadows mock us; we walk among them, and too many live for them as if the
mocking images were substantial; acting their borrowed parts with zeal fit only
to be spent on realities, and lost upon the phantoms of this passing scene.
Worldly men walk like travellers in a mirage, deluded, duped, deceived, soon to
be filled with disappointment and despair. Surely they are disquieted in
vain. Men fret, and fume, and worry, and all for mere nothing. They are
shadows pursuing shadows, while death pursues them. He who toils and contrives,
and wearies himself for gold, for fame, for rank, even if he wins his desire,
finds at the end of his labour lost; for like the treasure of the miser's dream,
it all vanishes when the man awakes in the world of reality. Read well this
text, and then listen to the clamour of the market, the hum of the exchange, the
din of the city streets, and remember that all this noise (for so the
word means), this breach of quiet, is made about unsubstantial, fleeting
vanities. Broken rest, anxious fear, over worked brain, failing mind, lunacy,
these are the steps in the process of disquieting with many, and all to be rich,
or, in other words, to load one's self with the thick clay; clay, too, which a
man must leave so soon. He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who
shall gather them. He misses often the result of his ventures, for there are
many slips between the cup and the lips. His wheat is sheaved, but an
interloping robber bears it away--as often happens with the poor Eastern
husbandman; or, the wheat is even stored, but the invader feasts thereon. Many
work for others all unknown to them. Especially does this verse refer to those
all gathering muckrakes, who in due time are succeeded by all scattering forks,
which scatter riches as profusely as their sires gathered them parsimoniously.
We know not our heirs, for our children die, and strangers fill the old
ancestral halls; estates change hands, and entail, though riveted with a
thousand bonds, yields to the corroding power of time. Men rise up early and sit
up late to build a house, and then the stranger tramps along its passages,
laughs in its chambers, and forgetful of its first builder, calls it all his
own. Here is one of the evils under the sun for which no remedy can be
Verse 7. And now, Lord, what wait I for? What is there in
these phantoms to enchant me? Why should I linger where the prospect is so
uninviting, and the present so trying? It were worse than vanity to linger in
the abodes of sorrow to gain a heritage of emptiness. The psalmist, therefore,
turns to his God, in disgust of all things else; he has thought on the world and
all things in it, and is relieved by knowing that such vain things are all
passing away; he has cut all cords which bound him to earth, and is ready to
sound "Boot and saddle, up and away." My hope is in thee. The Lord is
self existent and true, and therefore worthy of the confidence of men; he will
live when all the creatures die, and his fulness will abide when all second
causes are exhausted; to him, therefore, let us direct our expectation, and on
him let us rest our confidence. Away from sand to rock let all wise builders
turn themselves, for if not today, yet surely ere long, a storm will rise before
which nothing will be able to stand but that which has the lasting element of
faith in God to cement it. David had but one hope, and that hope entered within
the veil, hence he brought his vessel to safe anchorage, and after a little
drifting all was peace.
Verse 8. Deliver me from all my transgressions. How fair a
sign it is when the psalmist no longer harps upon his sorrows, but begs freedom
from his sins! What is sorrow when compared with sin! Let but the poison of sin
be gone from the cup, and we need not fear its gall, for the bitter will act
medicinally. None can deliver a man from his transgression but the blessed One
who is called Jesus, because he saves his people from their sins; and when he
once works this great deliverance for a man from the cause, the consequences are
sure to disappear too. The thorough cleansing desired is well worthy of note: to
be saved from some transgressions would be of small benefit; total and perfect
deliverance is needed. Make me not the reproach of the foolish.
The wicked are the foolish here meant: such are always on the watch for the
faults of saints, and at once make them the theme of ridicule. It is a wretched
thing for a man to be suffered to make himself the butt of unholy scorn by
apostasy from the right way. Alas, how many have thus exposed themselves to well
deserved reproach! Sin and shame go together, and from both David would fain be
Verse 9. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst
it. This had been far clearer if it had been rendered, "I am silenced, I
will not open my mouth." Here we have a nobler silence, purged of all
sullenness, and sweetened with submission. Nature failed to muzzle the mouth,
but grace achieved the work in the worthiest manner. How like in appearance may
two very different things appear! silence is ever silence, but it may be sinful
in one case and saintly in another. What a reason for hushing every murmuring
thought is the reflection, "because thou didst it."! It is his right to do as he
wills, and he always wills to do that which is wisest and kindest; why should I
then arraign his dealings? Nay, if it be indeed the Lord, let him do what
seemeth him good.
Verse 10. Remove thy stroke away from me. Silence from all
repining did not prevent the voice of prayer, which must never cease. In all
probability the Lord would grant the psalmist's petition, for he usually removes
affliction when we are resigned to it; if we kiss the rod, our Father always
burns it. When we are still, the rod is soon still. It is quite consistent with
resignation to pray for the removal of a trial. David was fully acquiescent in
the divine will, and yet found it in his heart to pray for deliverance; indeed,
it was while he was rebellious that he was prayerless about his trial, and only
when he became submissive did he plead for mercy. I am consumed by the
blow of thine hand. Good pleas may be found in our weakness and distress. It
is well to show our Father the bruises which his scourge has made, for
peradventure his fatherly pity will bind his hands, and move him to comfort us
in his bosom. It is not to consume us, but to consume our sins, that the Lord
aims at in his chastisements.
Verse 11. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for
iniquity. God does not trifle with his rod; he uses it because of sin, and
with a view to whip us from it; hence he means his strokes to be felt, and felt
they are. Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth. As
the moth frets the substance of the fabric, mars all its beauty, and leaves it
worn out and worthless, so do the chastisements of God discover to us our folly,
weakness, and nothingness, and make us feel ourselves to be as worn out
vestures, worthless and useless. Beauty must be a poor thing when a moth can
consume it and a rebuke can mar it. All our desires and delights are wretched
moth eaten things when the Lord visits us in his anger. Surely every man
is vanity. He is as Trapp wittily says "a curious picture of
nothing." He is unsubstantial as his own breath, a vapour which appeareth for a
little while, and then vanisheth away. Selah. Well may this truth bring
us to a pause, like the dead body of Amasa, which, lying in the way, stopped the
hosts of Joab.
Verse 12. Hear my prayer, O Lord. Drown not my pleadings
with the sound of thy strokes. Thou hast heard the clamour of my sins, Lord;
hear the laments of my prayers. And give ear unto my cry. Here is an
advance in intensity: a cry is more vehement, pathetic, and impassioned, than a
prayer. The main thing was to have the Lord's ear and heart. Hold not thy
peace at my tears. This is a yet higher degree of importunate pleading. Who
can withstand tears, which are the irresistible weapons of weakness? How often
women, children, beggars, and sinners, have betaken themselves to tears as their
last resort, and therewith have won the desire of their hearts! --"This shower,
blown up by tempest of the soul, "falls not in vain. Tears speak more eloquently
than ten thousand tongues; they act as keys upon the wards of tender hearts, and
mercy denies them nothing, if through them the weeper looks to richer drops,
even to the blood of Jesus. When our sorrows pull up the sluices of our eyes,
God will ere long interpose and turn our mourning into joy. Long may he be quiet
as though he regarded not, but the hour of deliverance will come, and come like
the morning when the dewdrops are plentiful. For I am a stranger with
thee. Not to thee, but with thee. Like thee, my Lord, a
stranger among the sons of men, an alien from my mother's children. God made the
world, sustains it, and owns it, and yet men treat him as though he were a
foreign intruder; and as they treat the Master, so do they deal with the
servants. "It is no surprising thing that we should be unknown." These words may
also mean, "I share the hospitality of God, "like a stranger entertained by a
generous host. Israel was bidden to deal tenderly with the stranger, and the God
of Israel has in much compassion treated us poor aliens with unbounded
liberality. And a sojourner, as all my fathers were. They knew that this
was not their rest; they passed through life in pilgrim guise, they used the
world as travellers use an inn, and even so do I. Why should we dream of rest on
earth when our fathers' sepulchres are before our eyes? If they had been
immortal, their sons would have had an abiding city this side the tomb; but as
the sires were mortal, so must their offspring pass away. All of our lineage,
without exception, were passing pilgrims, and such are we. David uses the
fleeting nature of our life as an argument for the Lord's mercy, and it is such
a one as God will regard. We show pity to poor pilgrims, and so will the Lord.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Title. --"To Jeduthun." A Levite of the family of
Merari, and one of the great masters of the temple music. The department
superintended by Jeduthun and his colleagues in the temple service was that of
the "instruments of the song of God, "by which are intended the nebel or
psaltery, the kinnor or harp, and the metsiltaim or cymbals. In 2Ch 35:15,
Jeduthun is called "the king's seer, " which would seem to indicate that he was
the medium of divine guidance to David. The name occurs in the title of Psalms
39, 62, 77; where some have thought that it indicates some special kind of
composition, and others some instrument of music, but without reason. William
Lindsay Alexander, in Kitto's Cyclopaedia.
Whole Psalm. The most beautiful of all the elegies in the
psalter. H. Ewald.
Verse 1. I said. It was to himself that he said it; and it
is impossible for any other to prove a good or a wise man, without much of this
kind of speech to himself. It is one of the most excellent and distinguishing
faculties of a reasonable creature; much beyond vocal speech, for in that, some
birds may imitate us; but neither bird nor beast has anything of this kind of
language, of reflecting or discoursing with itself. It is a wonderful brutality
in the greatest part of men, who are so little conversant in this kind of
speech, being framed and disposed for it, and which is not only of itself
excellent, but of continual use and advantage; but it is a common evil among men
to go abroad, and out of themselves, which is a madness, and a true distraction.
It is true, a man hath need of a well set mind, when he speaks to himself; for
otherwise, he may be worse company to himself than if he were with others. But
he ought to endeavour to have a better with him, to call in God to his heart to
dwell with him. If thus we did, we should find how sweet this were to speak to
ourselves, by now and then intermixing our speech with discourses unto God. For
want of this, the most part not only lose their time in vanity, in their
converse abroad with others, but do carry in heaps of that vanity to the stock
which is in their own hearts, and do converse with them in secret, which is the
greatest and deepest folly in the world. Robert Leighton.
Verse 1. No lesson so hard to be learned of us here, as the
wise and discreet government of the tongue. David promised a singular care of
this, I said, I will take heed, etc. Socrates reports of one Pambo, an
honest, well meaning man, who came to his friend, desiring him to teach him one
of David's Psalms, he read to him this verse. He answered: this one verse is
enough, if I learn it well. Nineteen years after, he said, in all that time, he
had hardly learned that one verse. Samuel Page.
Verse 1. That I sin not with my tongue. Man's mouth, though
it be but a little hole, will hold a world full of sin. For there is not any sin
forbidden in the law or gospel which is not spoken by the tongue, as well as
thought in the heart, or done in the life. Is it not then almost as difficult to
rule the tongue as to rule the world? Edward Reyner.
Verse 1. I will keep a muzzle on my mouth, whilst a wicked man
is before me. New Translation, by Charles Carter,
Verse 1. While the wicked is before me. It is a vexation to
be tied to hear so much impertinent babbling in the world, but profitable to
discern and abhor it. A wonder that men can cast out so much wind, and the more
they have to utter, the more they are prodigal of their own breath and of the
patience of others, and careless of their own reckoning. If they believe to give
account of every idle word, they would be more sparing of foolish speaking. I
like either to be silent, or to speak that that may edify. At tables or
meetings, I cannot stop the mouth of others, yet may I close mine own ears, and
by a heavenly soul speech with God divert my mind from fruitless talking. Though
I be among them I shall as little partake their prattling as they do my
meditation. William Struther.
Verse 2. I was dumb with silence, etc. That is, for a while
I did what I resolved; I was so long wholly silent, that I seemed in a manner to
be dumb, and not able to speak. I held my peace, even from good;
that is, I forbore to speak what I might well and lawfully enough have
spoken, as from alleging anything that I might have said in mine own defence,
from making my complaint to God, and desiring justice at his hands, and such
like; to wit, lest by degrees I should have been brought to utter anything that
was evil, and whilst I intended only to speak that which was good, some unseemly
word might suddenly slip from me; or lest mine enemies should misconstrue
anything I spake. Arthur Jackson.
Verse 2. I was dumb with silence. We shall enquire what kind
of dumbness or silence this of the psalmist was, which he is
commended for, and which would so well beseem us when we smart under the rod of
God, and then the doctrine will be, in a great measure, evident by its own
light. We shall proceed to our inquiry, 1. Negatively, to prevent mistakes. 2.
Positively, and show you what it doth import.
First, negatively. 1. This
dumbness doth not import any such thing, as if the prophet had been brought to
that pass that he had nothing to say to God by way of prayer and supplication.
He was not so dumb, but that he could pray and cry too. Ps 39:8,10-11. 2.
Nor was he so dumb, as that he could not frame to the confession and bewailing
of his sins. 3. Nor was it a dumbness of stupidity and senselessness. It doth
not imply any such thing, as if by degrees he grew to that pass, he cared not
for, or made no matter of his affliction, but set, as the proverb is, an hard
heart against his hard hap. No, he did make his moan to God, and as he smarted,
so he did lament under the sense of his afflicting hand. 4. Neither was he so dumb as not to answer God's voice in the
rod that was upon him. 5. Much less was he dumb, and kept silence in any such
sort as they did of whom Amos speaks Am 6:10, that in their misery they took up
a resolution to mention the name of God no more, in whom they had
Secondly, affirmatively. 1. He was dumb so as neither to complain of, nor quarrel with
God's providence, nor to entertain any hard thoughts against him. Complain
to God he did; but against him he durst not. 2. He neither did nor
durst quarrel, or fall out with the ways of holiness for all his sufferings, a
thing we are naturally prone unto. 3. He was dumb, so as not to defend himself,
or justify his own ways before God, as if they were righteous, and he had not
deserved what he suffered. 4. He was dumb, so as to hearken to the voice of the
rod. "I will (saith he in another place) hear what God the Lord will speak." Ps
85:8. Now a man cannot listen to another while he will have all the talk and
discourse to himself. 5. Lastly, the prophet was dumb, that is, he did
acquiesce, and rest satisfied with God's dispensation; and that not only as
good, but as best. Condensed from a Funeral Sermon by Thomas Burroughes,
B.D., entitled, "A Sovereign Remedy for all kinds of Grief," 1657.
Verse 2. I held my peace. A Christian being asked what fruit
he had by Christ: Is not this fruit, said he, not to be moved at your
reproaches? In cases of this nature, we must refer all to God; si tu
tacueris, Deus loquitur; if thou hold thy peace, God speaks for thee; and if
God speaks for us, it is better than we can speak for yourselves. David saith,
Obmutui, quia tu fecisti. I held my peace, for it was thy
doing. Christopher Sutton, B.D., --1629, in Disce Vicere.
Verses 2-9. An invalid who had been ordered a couple of
pills, took them very absurdly, for, in place of swallowing them at once, he
rolled them about in his mouth, ground them to pieces, and so tasted their full
bitterness. Gotthold was present, and thus mused. The insults and calumnies of a
slanderer and adversary are bitter pills, and all do not understand the art of
swallowing without chewing them. To the Christian, however, they are wholesome
in many ways. They remind him of his guilt, they try his meekness and patience,
they show him what he needs to guard against, and at last they redound to his
honour and glory in the sight of him for whose sake they were endured. In
respect of the pills of slander, however, as well as the others, it is advisable
not to roll them about continually in our minds, or judge of them according to
the flesh, and the world's opinion. This will only increase their bitterness,
spread the savour of it to the tongue, and fill the heart with proportional
enmity. The true way is to swallow, keep silence, and forget. We must
inwardly devour our grief, and say, I will be dumb, and not open my mouth,
because thou didst it. The best antidotes to the bitterness of
slander, are the sweet promises and consolations of Scripture, of which not the
least is this, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and
be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven." Mt 5:11-12. Alas, my
God! how hard it is to swallow the pills of obloquy, to bless them that curse
me, to do good to them that hate me, and to pray for them that despitefully use
me! But, Lord, as thou wilt have it so, give it as thou wilt have it,
for it is a matter in which, without thy grace, I can do nothing!
Verse 9. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst
it. See David's carriage here; it was a patience not constrained, but from
satisfaction of spirit: he saw love in his affliction, and that sweetened his
soul. Joseph Symonds.
Verse 9. I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst
it. God is training up his children here. This is the true character of his
dealings with them. The education of his saints is the object he has in view. It
is training for the kingdom; it is education for eternity...It is the discipline
of love. Every step of it is kindness. There is no wrath nor vengeance in any
part of the process. The discipline of the school may be harsh and stern; but
that of the family is love. We are sure of this; and the consolation which it
affords is unutterable. Love will not wrong us. There will be no needless
suffering. Were this but kept in mind there would be fewer hard thoughts of God
amongst men, even when his strokes are most severe. I know not a better
illustration of what the feelings of a saint should be, in the hour of
bitterness, than the case of Richard Cameron's father. The aged saint was in
prison "for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." The
bleeding head of his martyred son was brought to him by his unfeeling
persecutors, and he was asked derisively if he knew it. "I know it, I know it,
"--said the father, as he kissed the mangled forehead of his fair haired son --"it
is my son's, my own dear son's! It is the Lord! good is the will of the Lord,
who cannot wrong me or mine, but who hath made goodness and mercy to follow us
all our days." Horatius Bonar, in "The Night of Weeping, "1847.
Verse 9. Because thou didst it. This holy man had a breach
made both at his body and spirit at this time; he was sick and sad; yet he
remembers from whose hand the blow came. Thou, Lord, didst it; thou, whom I love
dearly, and so can take it kindly; thou whom I have offended, and so take it
patiently; yea, thou, who mightest have cast me into a bed of flames, instead of
my bed of sickness, and therefore I accept thy correction thankfully. Thus he
catches at the blow without retorting it back upon God by any quarrelling
discontented language. William Gurnall.
Verse 9. Because thou didst it. We digest not a blow from
our equals, but a blow from our king we can well digest. If the King of kings
lays his hand on our backs, let us, beloved, lay our hands on our mouths. I am
sure this stopped David's mouth from venting fretful speeches. "I held my tongue
and said nothing." Why didst thou so, David? Because thou, Lord, didst
it; and God gives this testimony of such an one; that he is a prudent man
that keeps silence at an evil time. Am 5:13. Nicholas Estwick, B.D.,
Verse 9. Perkins, in his "Salve for a Sick Man,
"gives the "last words" of many holy men, among others of Calvin: --"I held
my tongue, because thou, Lord, hast done it--I mourned as a dove-- Lord, you
ground me to powder, but it suffices me because it is thy hand."
Verse 9. I wondered once at providence, and called white
providence black and unjust, that I should be smothered in a town where no soul
will take Christ off my hand. But providence hath another lustre (shining;
appearance) with God than with my bleared eyes. I proclaim myself a blind body,
who knoweth not black and white, in the unco (strange) course of God's
providence. Suppose that Christ should set hell where heaven is, and devils up
in glory beside the elect angels (which yet cannot be), I would I had a heart to
acquiesce in his way, without further dispute. I see that infinite wisdom is the
mother of his judgments, and that his ways pass finding out. I cannot learn, but
I desire to learn, to bring my thoughts, will, and lusts in under (close under)
Christ's feet, that he may trample upon them. But, alas! I am still upon
Christ's wrong side. Samuel Rutherford.
Verse 9. A little girl, in the providence of God, was born
deaf and dumb. She was received, and instructed, at an institution established
for these afflicted ones. A visitor was one day requested to examine the
children thus sadly laid aside from childhood's common joys. Several questions
were asked, and quickly answered by means of a slate and pencil. At length the
gentleman wrote, Why were you born deaf and dumb? A look of
anguish clouded for the moment the expressive face of the little girl; but it
quickly passed, as she took her slate, and wrote, "Even so, Father; for so it
seemeth good in thy sight." Mrs. Rogers, in "The Shepherd
Verse 10. Remove thy plague away from me: thy plague and
mine; thine by affliction, mine by passion; thine because thou didst send it,
mine because I endure it; thine because it comes from thy justice, mine because
it answers my injustice; remit what I have done, and remove what thou hast done.
But whosoever laid it on, the Lord will take it off. Thomas Adams.
Verse 10. Remove, etc. Having first prayed off his sin, he
would now pray off his pain, though it less troubled him; and for ease he
repairs to Jehovah that healeth, as well as woundeth. Ho 6:1. John
Verse 11. Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a
moth. The meaning may be, As the moth crumbles into dust under the slightest
pressure, or the gentlest touch, so man dissolves with equal ease, and vanishes
into darkness, under the finger of the Almighty. Paxton's Illustrations of
Verse 11. Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a
moth. Moths I must not omit naming. I once saw some knives, the black bone
hafts of which were said to have been half consumed by them. I also saw the
remains of a hair seated sofa which had been devoured. It is no uncommon thing
to find dresses consumed in a single night. In Isa 51:6, "wax old" probably
refers to a garment that is moth eaten. So in Ps 6:7 31:9, consumed means
moth eaten; and again in Ps 39:11. John Gadsby.
Verse 11. Like a moth. The moths of the East are very large
and beautiful, but short lived. After a few showers these splendid insects may
be seen fluttering in every breeze, but the dry weather, and their numerous
enemies, soon consign them to the common lot. Thus the beauty of man consumes
away like that of this gay rover, dressed in his robes of purple, and scarlet,
and green. John Kitto.
Verse 11. The body of man is as a "garment" to the soul: in
this garment sin hath lodged a "moth, "which, by degrees, fretteth and weareth
away, first, the beauty, then the strength, and finally, the contexture of its
parts. Whoever has watched the progress of a consumption, or any other lingering
distemper, nay, the slow and silent devastations of time alone, in the human
frame, will need no farther illustration of this just and affecting similitude;
but will discern at once the propriety of the reflection which follows upon it.
Surely every man is vanity. George Horne.
Verse 11. Surely every man is vanity. What is greatness? Can
we predicate it of man, independently of his qualities as an immortal being? or
of his actions, independently of principles and motives? Then the glitter of
nobility is not superior to the plumage of the peacock; nor the valour of
Alexander to the fury of a tiger; nor the sensual delights of Epicurus to those
of any animal that roams the forest. Ebenezer Porter, D.D., in Lectures on
Verse 12. Hear my prayer, O Lord, etc. Now, in this prayer
of David, we find three things, which are the chief qualifications of all
acceptable prayers. The first is humility. He humbly confesses his sins,
and his own weakness and worthlessness. We are not to put on a stoical, flinty
kind of spirit under our affliction, that so we may seem to shun womanish
repinings and complaints, lest we run into the other evil, of despising the
hand of God, but we are to humble our proud hearts, and break our unruly
passions...The second qualification of this prayer is, fervency and
importunity, which appears in the elegant gradation of the words, Hear
my prayer, my words; if not that, yet, Give ear to my cry,
which is louder; and if that prevail not, yet, Hold not thy peace
at my tears, which is the loudest of all; so David, elsewhere, calls it
the voice of weeping. ...The third qualification is faith. "He who
comes to God must believe that he is, and is a rewarder of them that diligently
seek him." Heb 11:6. And, certainly, as he that comes to God must believe this,
so he that believes this, cannot but come to God; and if he be not presently
answered, "he that believes makes no haste, "he resolves patiently to wait for
the Lord, and go to no other. Condensed from Robert Leighton.
Verse 12. Hold not thy peace at my tears. We may, in all
humility, plead our heart breakings and weepings in sense of want of mercies
which we crave, and our pantings and faintings after the same. Thomas
Verse 12. For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all
my fathers were. Both in thy judgment expressed Le 25:23, and in
their own opinion Heb 11:13. Upon which account thou didst take a special care
of them, and therefore do so to me also. Matthew Poole.
Verse 12. I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner. How
settled soever their condition be, yet this is the temper of the saints upon
earth--to count themselves but strangers. All men indeed are strangers and
sojourners, but the saints do best discern it, and most freely acknowledge it.
Wicked men have no firm dwelling upon earth, but that is against their
intentions; their inward thought and desire is that they may abide for ever;
they are strangers against their wills, their abode is uncertain in the world,
and they cannot help it. And pray mark, there are two distinct words used in
this case, strangers and sojourners. A stranger is one that hath
his abode in a foreign country, that is not a native and a denizen of the place,
though he liveth there, and in opposition to the natives he is called a
stranger: as if a Frenchman should live in England, he is a stranger. But a
sojourner is one that intends not to settle, but only passes through a
place, and is in motion travelling homeward. So the children of God in relation
to a country of their own in another place, namely, heaven, they are denizens
there, but strangers in the world; and they are sojourners and pilgrims in
regard of their motion and journey towards their country. Thomas Manton.
Verse 12. A Stranger. 1. A stranger is one that is absent
from his country, and from his father's house: so are we, heaven is our country,
God is there, and Christ is there. 2. A stranger in a foreign country is not
known, nor valued according to his birth and breeding: so the saints walk up and
down in the world like princes in disguise. 3. Strangers are liable to
inconveniences: so are godly men in the world. Religion, saith Tertullian, is
like a strange plant brought from a foreign country, and doth not agree with the
nature of the soil, it thrives not in the world. 4. A stranger is patient,
standeth not for ill usage, and is contented with pilgrim's fare and lodging. We
are now abroad and must expect hardship. 5. A stranger is wary, that he may not
give offence, and incur the hatred and displeasure of the natives. 6. A stranger
is thankful for the least favour; so we must be thankfully contented with the
things God hath bestowed upon us: anything in a strange country is much. 7. A
stranger, that hath a journey to go, would pass over it as soon as he can, and
so we, who have a journey to heaven desire to be dissolved. 8. A stranger buyeth not such things as he cannot carry with
him; he doth not buy trees, house, household stuff, but jewels and pearls, and
such things as are portable. Our greatest care should be to get the jewels of
the covenant, the graces of God's Spirit, those things that will abide with us.
9. A stranger's heart is in his country; so is a saint's. 10. A stranger is
inquisitive after the way, fearing lest he should go amiss, so is a Christian.
11. A stranger provides for his return, as a merchant, that he may return richly
laden. So we must appear before God in Sion. What manner of persons ought we to
be? Let us return from our travel well provided. Condensed from Thomas
Verse 13. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I
go hence, and be no more. Man in his corrupt state is like
Nebuchadnezzar, he hath a beast's heart, that craves no more than the
satisfaction of his sensual appetite; but when renewed by grace, then his
understanding returns to him, by which he is enabled in praying for temporals to
elevate his desires to a nobler end. Doth David pray that some farther time may
be added to his temporal life? It is not out of a fond love for this world, but
to prepare himself the better for another. Is he comforted with hopes of a
longer stay here? It is not this world's carnal pleasures that kindle this joy
in his holy breast, but the advantage that thereby he shall have for praising
God in the land of the living...O spare me, that I may recover
strength. David was not yet recovered out of that sin which had brought
him exceeding low as you may perceive, Ps 39:10-11. And the good man cannot
think of dying with any willingness till his heart be in a holier frame: and for
the peace of the gospel, serenity of conscience, and inward joy; alas! all
unholiness is to it as poison is to the spirits which drink them up. William
Verse 13. O spare me, etc. Attachment to life, the feeling
cherished by the psalmist, when he thus appealed to the Sovereign of the
universe, varies in its character with the occasions and the sentiments by which
it is elicited and confirmed. Take one view of it, and you pronounce it
criminal; take another, and you pronounce it innocent; take a
third, and you pronounce it laudable.
1. Life may inspire a criminal attachment, warranting
our censure. The most obvious and aggravated case is that in which the
attachment has its foundations in the opportunities which life affords, of
procuring "the wages of unrighteousness, "and "the pleasures of sin."
2. Life may inspire an innocent attachment, awakening
our sympathy...Life is a scene in which we often descry a verdant and luxuriant
spot, teeming with health, and ease, and harmony, and joy. We have beheld the
husbands and the wives whose interwoven regards have, from year to year,
alleviated all their afflictions, and heightened all their privileges. We have
beheld the parents and the children whose fellowship has yielded them, through
the shifting seasons, a daily feast. There are indulgent masters, and faithful
servants; some neighbourhoods are undisturbed; some Christian societies are
exquisitely attractive; here and there we have intercourse with those
individuals in whom are seen the beauties of high character irradiated by the
beans of general prosperity. You would pronounce no censure on a man thus
happily connected, were he, when beginning to languish, as one "going the way of
all the earth, to cry, "O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go
hence, and be no more.
3. The last view which it has been proposed to take of human
life, shows that it may inspire a laudable attachment, at once
challenging our approbation, and urging us to bring our minds under its
influence. The language before us admits of being illustrated as the prayer of a
penitent, a saint, and a philanthropist.
(a). Commend him who pleads for life as a penitent. Was it
recently that the Holy Spirit first wounded him with the arrows of conviction?
Perhaps, he doubts the source, the quality, and the result, of his powerful
feelings. He knows that we may be solemnly impressed, without being converted.
There are many considerations which entitle to favourable opinion those who, not
having arrived at a view of their moral state, at once evident and encouraging,
wish earnestly to live till grace shall have carried them from victory to
victory, and enabled them "to make" their "calling and election sure." Even they
may fall from their steadfastness; and these words, "O spare me, that I may
recover strength, "may proceed from the lips of a backslider, once more
blushing, trembling, and petitioning to be restored.
(b). Commend him, in the next place, who pleads for life, as a
saint. ...The distinguishing office of pleading, acting, and suffering,
for the advancement of the divine honour among the profane, the sensual, the
formal, and the worldly is delegated, exclusively, to "the saints which are upon
the earth." Yet, surely he whose attachment to life is strongly enhanced by a
commission which dooms him to the contradiction of sinners, and defers "the
fulness of joy, "a saint so magnanimous and devoted, puts forth the expressions
of a piety which the very angels are compelled to revere.
(c). Commend him, finally, who pleads for life as a
philanthropist. I refer to the generous patron, a man intent on
doing good. I would also refer to a fond parent. I would now refer to
"a preacher of righteousness, ""a good minister of Jesus Christ."
Outline of a Sermon entitled "Attachment to Life, "preached
by Joseph Hughes, M.A., as a Funeral Sermon for Rev. John Owen, M.A.,
Verse 13. May not the very elect and faithful themselves
fear the day of judgment, and be far from fetching comfort at it? I answer, he
may. First, at his first conversion and soon after, before he have gotten a full
persuasion of the remission of his sins. And again, in some spiritual desertion,
when the Lord seems to leave a man to himself, as he did David and others, he
may fear to think of the same. And lastly, when he hath fallen into some great
sin after he is a strong man in Christ, he may fear death and judgment, and be
constrained to pray with Job and David, O spare me, that I may recover
strength, before I go hence, and be no more. John Barlow's Sermon,
HINTS TO THE VILLAGE PREACHER
Verses 1-2. I was dumb, etc.
1. There is a time to be silent. He had been enabled to do this
when reproached and unjustly accused by others. He did it for good; others might
attribute it to sullenness, or pride, or timidity, or conscious guilt; but he
did it for good. Breathe upon a polished mirror and it will evaporate and leave
it brighter than before; endeavour to wipe it off, and the mark will remain.
2. There is a time to meditate in silence. The greater the
silence without, often the greater commotion within. "His heart was hot."
The more he thought, the warmer he grew. The fire of pity and compassion, the
fire of love, the fire of holy zeal burned within him.
3. There is a time to speak. "Then spake I." The time to
speak is when the truth is clear and strong in the mind, and the feeling of the
truth is burning in the heart. The emotions burst forth as from a volcano. Jer
20:8-9. The language should always be a faithful representation of the mind and
the heart. G. Rogers, Tutor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle College.
Verse 2. There is a sevenfold silence.
1. A stoical silence.
2. A politic silence.
3. A foolish silence.
4. A sullen silence.
5. A forced silence.
6. A despairing silence.
7. A prudent, a holy, a gracious silence.
--Thomas Brooks' "Mute Christian."
Verse 4. Make me to know mine end.
1. What we may desire to know about our end. Not
its date, place, circumstances, but
(a). Its nature. Will it be the end of saint or sinner?
(b). Its certainty.
(c). Its nearness.
(d). Its issues.
(e). Its requirements. In the shape of attention,
2. Why ask God to make us know it? Because the
knowledge is important, difficult to acquire, and can be effectually imparted
by the Lord only. W. Jackson.
Verse 4. David prays,
1. That he may be enabled continually to keep in view the end
of life: all things should be judged by their end. "Then understood I
their end." Life may be honourable, and cheerful, and virtuous here; but the
end! What will it be?
2. That he may be diligent in the performance of all the duties
of this life. The measure of his days, how short, how much to be done, how
little time to do it in!
3. He prays that he may gain much instruction and benefit from
the frailties of life. That I may know, etc. My frailties may make me
more humble, more diligent, while I am able for active service; more dependent
upon divine strength, more patient and submissive to the divine will, more ripe
for heaven. --G. Rogers.
Verse 5. (last clause). Man is vanity, i.e.,
he is mortal, he is mutable. Observe how emphatically this truth is
1. Every man is vanity, without exception, high and low,
rich and poor.
2. He is so at his best estate; when he is young, and
strong, and healthful, in wealth and honour, etc.
3. He is altogether vanity, as vain as you can imagine.
4. Verily he is so.
5. Selah is annexed, as a note commanding observation. --Matthew Henry.
Verse 6. The vanity of man, as mortal, is here instanced in
three things, and the vanity of each shown.
1. The vanity of our joys and honours: Surely every man
walketh in a vain show.
2. The vanity of our griefs and fears: Surely they are
disquieted in vain.
3. The vanity of our cares and toils: He heapeth up
riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. --Matthew Henry.
Verse 6. The world's trinity consists, 1. In fruitless
honours: what appears to them to be substantial honours are but a vain
show. 2. In needless cares. They are disquieted in vain. Imaginary
cares are substituted for real ones. 3. In useless riches; such as yield no
lasting satisfaction to themselves, or in their descent to others. G.
Verse 7. What wait I for? 1. For what salvation as a
sinner? Of works or grace--from Sinai or Calvary? 2. For what
consolation as a sufferer? Earthly or heavenly? 3. For what
supply as a suppliant? Meagre or bountiful? Present or future? 4. For
what communication as a servant? Miraculous or ordinary? Pleasing or
unacceptable? 5. For what instruction as a pupil? Mental or spiritual?
Elating or humbling? Ornamental or useful? 6. For what inheritance as an
heir? Sublunary or celestial? W. Jackson.
1. An urgent occasion. And now Lord, etc. There are
seasons that should lead us specially to look up to God, and say, Now,
Lord. "Father, the hour is come."
2. A devout exclamation, Now, Lord, what wait I for?
Where is my expectation? where my confidence? To whom shall I look? I am
nothing, the world is nothing, all earthly sources of confidence and consolation
fail: What wait I for? In life, in death, in a dying world, in a coming
judgment, in an eternity at hand; what is it that I need? --G. Rogers.
1. Prayer should be general:Deliver me from all
my transgressions. We often need anew to say, "God be merciful to me
a sinner." Afflictions should remind us of our sins. If we pray to be delivered
from all transgressions, we are sure to be delivered from the one for which
affliction was sent.
2. Prayer should be particular:Make me not the
reproach of the foolish. Suffer me not so to speak or show impatience in
affliction as to give occasion even to the foolish to blaspheme. The thought
that many watch for our halting should be a preservative from sin. --G. Rogers.
1. The occasion referred to. I was dumb, etc. We
are not told what the particular trial was, that each one may apply it to his
own affliction, and because all are to be viewed in the same light.
2. The conduct of the psalmist upon that particular
occasion: I opened not my mouth. (a) Not in anger and rebellion against God in murmurs or
complaints. (b) Not in impatience, or complaining, or angry feelings against
men. (c) The reason he assigns for this conduct:
Because thou didst it. G. Rogers.
1. Afflictions are sent by God. Thy strokes. They
are strokes of his hand, not of the rod of the law, but of the shepherd's
rod. Every affliction is his stroke.
2. Afflictions are removed by God. Remove. He
asks not for miracles, but that God in his own way, in the use of natural means,
would interpose for his deliverance. We should seek his blessing upon the means
employed for our deliverance both by ourselves and others. "Cause to remove,
3. Afflictions have their end from God. I am
consumed by the conflict, etc. God hath a controversy with his people. It
is a conflict between his will and their wills. The psalmist owns himself
conquered and subdued in the struggle. We should be more anxious that this end
should be accomplished than that the affliction should be removed, and when this
is accomplished the affliction will be removed. G. Rogers.
1. The cause of our trials: "for iniquity." Oh,
this trial is come to take away my comforts, my peace of mind, and the divine
smile! No, this is all the fruit to take away their sin--the dross, none of the
gold --sin, nothing but sin.
2. The effect of our trials. All that he counted
desirable in this life, but not for his real good, is consumed. His robes
which are beautiful in men's esteem are moth eaten, but the robe of
righteousness upon his soul cannot decay.
3. The design of our trials. They are not penal
inflictions, but friendly rebukes and fatherly corrections. On
Christ our Surety the penal consequences were laid, upon us their paternal
4. The reasonableness of our trials. "Surely
every man is vanity." How in a world like this could any expect to be
exempt from trials! The world is the same to the Christian as before, and his
body is the same. He has a converted soul in an unconverted body, and how can he
escape the external ills of life? G. Rogers.
Verse 12. David pleads the good impressions made upon him by
1. It had set him a weeping.
2. It had set him a praying.
3. It had helped to wean him from the world.
Verse 12. (last clause). Am I a stranger and a
sojourner with God? Let me realise, let me exemplify the condition.
1. Let me look for the treatment such characters
commonly meet with.
2. And surely if any of my own nation be near me, I shall
be intimate with them.
3. Let me not be entangled in the affairs of this life.
4. Let my affection be set on things that are above, and
my conversation be always in heaven.
5. Let me be not impatient for home; but prizing
it. --W. Jay.
1. The subject of his petition--not that he may escape
death and live always in this life, because he knows that he must go hence; but
1. That he may be recovered from his afflictions; and, 2. That he may continue
longer in this life. Such a prayer is lawful when offered in submission to the
will of God.
2. The reasons for this petition. 1. That he may remove
by his future life, the calumnies that had been heaped upon him. 2. That he may have brighter evidences of his interest in the
divine favour. 3. That he may become a blessing to others, his family and
nation. 4. That he might have greater peace and comfort in death; and, 5. That
he might "have an entrance ministered more abundantly, "etc. --G. Rogers.
WORK UPON THE THIRTY-NINTH PSALM
Expository Lectures on Psalm Thirty-nine, in Archbishop