SONGS IN THE NIGHT.
1 How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever?
How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the
sleep of death;
4 Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; And those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
5 But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
6 I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
THIS is a night^Psalm, both literally and spiritually considered. Yet is it the expression of one who by grace had learned to say, 'Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?' Most precious to us, in our darkness and affliction, are those records of a soul troubled and in anguish, seeking and finding peace in the covenant of grace. They occur so frequently, and so fully suit our state, as to make this Psalter truly our spiritual diary. Not 'the blood of bulls and of goats,' nor ' the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean,' could 'purge the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.' These only ' sanctified to the purifying of the flesh.' They made ceremonially clean, but left the conscience guilt-laden and sin-stained. 'The new testament,' the covenant of grace; 'Thy mercy' and ' Thy salvation,' alone bring pardon and peace.
These night-long pleadings in great heaviness of heart, and this deliverance by the application of His grace, in answer to prayer, and received by faith, do they not remind us of the days of His flesh, when, by the word of His power, He restored the dead, healed the sick, and cast out devils? And do they not apply to us ' on whom the ends of the world are come?' How, as in one moment, the heavy burden is removed, and the anxious fears are dispelled when He showeth His countenance!' Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' To groan and to cry are the pledge of being delivered and comforted. No strange thing has befallen us. We have only had a glimpse, and but a glimpse, of our real state and need. But whereas He afflicteth a little, He comforteth abundantly. 'The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.' 'The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost' (not which felt itself lost). 'Whosoever will' (though he feel himself a hard-hearted, stiff-necked, and rebellious sinner), -' let him take the water of life freely! It is certain that we can never mend the state of matters, nor make ourselves at any time more fit to receive Christ than we are at present. It is certain that no one who ever came to Christ was, at the time of his so coming, better or more willing than we are at present. It is certain that no one who prayed was
fever more worthy to be answered than we are. On the point of qualification, therefore, we all—all men who ever lived—stand on precisely the same level. And it is equally certain that, so far as Christ's accessibility, or His willingness and ability to save are concerned, we all stand also on the same level. 'Him that cometh to Me, I will no wise cast out.' 'Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.' 'And the Spirit and the bride say, Come T It therefore only needs to make experiment of this, and venturing upon His word and His free love to make application—which is, to believe. And if so, why not now?
The fourfold complaint with which the Psalm opens is not unknown to us. Whether, so far as the state of our soul in general, or some special burden, is concerned, it sometimes seemeth as if Jehovah had forgotten us, and were hiding His face from us, leaving us to the counsels of our own hearts and to the power of the enemy (vers. 1, 2). Truly our pleading is then like striving' to enter in at the strait gate.' Luther most aptly characterizes this questioning as 'hope which despairs, and despair which yet hopes.' The fact that it is couched in the form of questions, and addressed to Him in the accents of prayer, is evidence of the godly character of this sorrow, and pledge of its speedy removal. To shut up sorrow or conviction in our hearts is to be consumed. But to come with it straight to God, to pour out our hearts, and to tell all our sorrows and doubts, even that of His forgetting us 'for ever! which is the doubt of doubts, is evangelical repentance, turning and returning to God, as revealed in the covenant of grace. It is very characteristic of our apprehension of God's withdrawal, that the question 'for ever' should arise within us. We never can think of God's distance from us, without coupling with it the anxious query, 'forever?' Thus apprehensions of the wrath to come are not evidence of a soul in a state of nature, provided they are brought before God, and assume the form of prayer. When I am so tormented, let me straightway go to God, and not revolve the matter within myself, nor seek for evidences in myself, instead of manifestations from Him. Yet the anguish of a soul so deserted is most distressing. 'I sought Him, but I could not find Him; I called Him, but He gave me no answer.' 'Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou makest Thy flock to rest at noon; for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of Thy companions?' There is a holy impatience in the complaints of ver. 1, which cannot bear denial. Under such circumstances, the soul cannot find comfort in its own devices. 'How long shall I place, or set up, counsels' (or, devices) 'in my soul' (viz., by night), (and have) 'sorrow in my heart by day?' Thus far for the one sequence of this desertion. As for the other: 'How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?' He would be bold indeed who would limit the expression, as indited under the teaching of the Holy Ghost for the whole Church, to any one class of enemies. It applies to all enemies, whether temporal or spiritual, whether within or without. Wherever there is such an enemy, I may utter this entreaty; and whenever I utter it I may look for an answer. 'For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet.' Our privileges are not to be limited nor measured, since our prayers and His grace and power are not to be limited nor measured. 'In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving' (most needful and most rational), 'let your requests be made known unto God.' 'All are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.'
Confession having been made, and the burden rolled off, comes the entreaty, not unmingled with anxious sighing (vers. 3, 4). A fourfold prayer this, as there had been a fourfold complaint. See how firmly prayer holds by Him, when the moment his soul is unburdened—by leaving its burden before God,—he can say, 'Look hither' (attentively behold, consider), 'hear me, Jehovah, my God' Most significantly he adds, after entreating grace from our covenant God in Christ, 'lighten' (literally, cause to be light) ' mine eyes, lest I sleep death.' 'For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light' Light and life, sleep and death, are spiritually correlative terms. As every one in spiritual distress, he primarily solicits inward light, and only thus outward deliverance. It needs the opening of our eyes on His part, light from on high, if we are not to sleep death. But it only needs that. Christ and salvation are there; we do not see them, and hence we sleep in death. But to behold is to live. Oh, what subject for prayer, what need of prayer, what encouragement to prayer!' What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?' We may apply directly to our God, and from a state of sleep and death be immediately transferred into one of light and of life. Oh, golden key of believing prayer, which Jesus giveth us to unlock those pearly gates of the realm of light and of life!' In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.' I have all, since Jesus is offered to me. There is only a 'lest' left of fear and danger, or rather a 'that not,' as the term means. These things are behind me. I urge them as pleas, knowing that 'my God' cannot 'deliver me to the will of mine enemies.' 'That mine enemy shall not say' (be not saying), ' I have been able against him' (I could, I have been powerful, or prevailed) ; 'my oppressors' (they that press upon me, my troublers) 'jubilee' (or be jubilant) 'when' (or, because) T shall be moved' (am being moved).
But, as already noted, this is past. After prayer comes praise; after faith come peace and confidence. Right over against their devices and jubilee he puts his own trust and jubilee, and there he remains, singing the praises of redeeming mercy. 'And I, in Thy grace have I trusted' (the idea being here that of cleaving to it); 'my heart shall jubilee in Thy salvation; I will sing to Jehovah, for He hath dealt bountifully with me' (He hath returned benefit unto me). Here there is firm ground on which to rest. Not looking behind, but cleaving to free and sovereign grace; laying hold upon, and holding by it, though in truth it is ' Thy grace' which holdeth us. If this is not gospel, or glad tidings, surely it is nowhere else to be found, in heaven nor on earth. Arise, my soul, and make trial of it; learn to know Him, learn to taste grace, and learn to jubilee in His salvation—body, soul, and spirit, world without end. Amen.
1. Let me resolve this to me most important question: Whence come my sorrows, doubts, and fears? Come they not all from the withdrawal of the light of His countenance? I have not because I ask not. If I am distressed, why should I not tell it to Him? Assuredly this offers the only ' door of hope.' If I am sin-laden, why should I not confess it to Him? if I am unbelieving, why should I not go to Him? if I am utterly lost, ruined, and helpless, why should I not apply to Him ?' To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.' 'Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief.' Conviction is the knowledge and sense of our estrangement from Him. Should the knowledge and sense of my want keep me from seeking relief? To be lost is the ground and argument, not a hindrance, of our application to Christ. Let me remember this: the ground of my acceptance with God is Christ,—not my penitence, contrition, nor return; Christ, who ' loved me,' not whom I loved; Christ, who 'gave Himself for me,' not for whom I gave myself in devotion and self-abnegation. Let me not look for the fruits ere the branch is grafted into the vine. My title, my sole title, is His love. Then let me come, let me come now, let me come as I am; let me confess, pray, and believe, for Jesus passeth by, and ' this day is salvation come to this house.'
2. By grace and only by grace,—through faith and only through faith: even so, my God, that all the glory may be thine in Christ Jesus. My counsels and devices, my attempts at amendment, which I bore with me all night, only bring grief all day long. With Thee, Jehovah, lies the initiative. To Thee will I now apply; and Thou art ' my God.' Since Christ became ' my brother,' Thou art' my God.' I tread on firm ground. 'Having therefore, brethren, boldness' (or liberty) 'to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus' (on this twofold ground) 'by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil,—that is to say, His flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God;' (conclusion :) 'let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.' I will venture, I will come, I will have; so give Thou, gracious God, both light and life.
3. O what change and transformation from this darkness to that light, from this death to that life, from this sorrow to that joy! O free and sovereign love that sought me! O infinite and unutterable grace that found me; O glorious and most precious mystery of Thy incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, that healed me! I will jubilee in Thy salvation. For it contains all that Thou givest, and all that I need. 'I will sing unto Jehovah, because He hath dealt bountifully with me.' There are too many ungrateful and non-jubilant Christians. Yet, what cause have we for jubilee, if we are inside the gate,—nay, even while we are yet outside of it, but knocking, that there is such a gate and such an One to open it! Most precious is the salvation of my soul; most glorious is the liberty and life which I now enjoy in Him. Let me be one of the upward and outward-looking, not one of the downward and inward-looking Christians. Let me praise redeeming love. Let me praise Him with my lips and with my life, with tongue and with pen, with health and with wealth, in service and in suffering, in sorrow and in death. And ever let me rest on Him and cleave to His grace. Amen.