Verse 5. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows. These present troubles, are they to last forever? The rejoicings of my foes, are they more than empty talk? My absence from the solemn feasts, is that a perpetual exile? Why this deep depression, this faithless fainting, this chicken hearted melancholy? As Trapp says, "David chides David out of the dumps;" and herein he is an example for all desponding ones. To search out the cause of our sorrow is often the best surgery for grief. Self ignorance is not bliss; in this case it is misery. The mist of ignorance magnifies the causes of our alarm; a clearer view will make monsters dwindle into trifles. Why art thou disquieted within me? Why is my quiet gone? If I cannot keep a public Sabbath, yet wherefore do I deny my soul her indoor Sabbath? Why am I agitated like a troubled sea, and why do my thoughts make a noise like a tumultuous multitude? The causes are not enough to justify such utter yielding to despondency. Up, my heart! What aileth thee? Play the man, and thy castings down shall turn to up liftings, and thy disquietudes to calm. Hope thou in God. If every evil be let loose from Pandora's box, yet is there hope at the bottom. This is the grace that swims, though the waves roar and be troubled. God is unchangeable, and therefore his grace is the ground for unshaken hope. If everything be dark, yet the day will come, and meanwhile hope carries stars in her eyes; her lamps are not dependent on oil from without, her light is fed by secret visitations of God, which sustain the spirit. For I shall yet praise him. Yet will my sighs give place to songs, my mournful ditties shall be exchanged for triumphal paeans. A loss of the present sense of God's love is not a loss of that love itself; the jewel is there, though it gleams not on our breast; hope knows her title good when she cannot read it clear; she expects the promised boon though present providence stands before her with empty hands. For I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. Salvations come from the propitious face of God, and he will yet lift up his countenance upon us. Note well that the main hope and chief desire of David rest in the smile of God. His face is what he seeks and hopes to see, and this will recover his low spirits, this will put to scorn his laughing enemies, this will restore to him all the joys of those holy and happy days around which memory lingers. This is grand cheer. This verse, like the singing of Paul and Silas, looses chains and shakes prison walls. He who can use such heroic language in his gloomy hours will surely conquer. In the garden of hope grow the laurels for future victories, the roses of coming joy, the lilies of approaching peace.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 5. See also on Psalms 42:11 43:5.
Verse 5. WHY art thou cast down, O my soul? Athanasius counselled his friend, that when any trouble should fall upon him, he should fall presently to the reading of this Psalm; for there was a way, he thought, of curing by the like, as well as by the contrary: for it is observed indeed that when two instruments are tuned to the same unison, if you touch the strings of the one, the strings of the other will move too, though untouched, if placed at a convenient distance. That therefore you may try the same experiments upon yourselves, do but set your affections for a tune in the same key in which these words were spoken; if really you feel none, imagine some affliction laid upon you; when you have done so, that you may be the more fully moved, place your attention at a convenient distance, look narrowly on this holy prophet, observe how he retires himself, shuts out the world, calls his sad soul to as sad a reckoning: Quare tam tristis? O my soul! thou that wert infused to give me life; nay, says Philo the Jew, a spark, a beam of the divinity, thou, which shouldest be to this dark body of mine as the sun is to the earth, enlightening, quickening, cheering up my spirits; tell me, why art thou clouded? why art thou cast down? ...
Think of this, ye that feel the heaviness of your soul; think of it, ye that do not, for ye may feel it. Know there is a sorrow "that worketh repentance not to be repented of." Know again there is a sorrow "that worketh death." Remember that there were tears that got sinful Mary heaven; remember again there were tears that got sinful Esau nothing. For as in martyrdom, it is not the sword, the boiling lead, or fire, not what we suffer, but why, that makes us martyrs; so in our sorrows, it is not how deep they wound, but why, that justifies them. Let every one, therefore, that hath a troubled heart, ask his soul the "Why:" "Why art thou cast down?" Is it not for thine own sins, or the sins of others? Take either of them, thine eyes will have a large field to water. Is it for that thou hast been a child of wrath, a servant of the devil? Is it for that thou art a candle set in the wind, blown at by several temptations? or is it for that thou wouldst be freed from them? "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!" Psalms 120:5 . Art thou troubled as St. Augustine was, when he read that the way to heaven was narrow, the number small that travelled thither? Or hast thou put on St. Bernard's resolution, who had made a compact with his soul, never to joy till he had heard his Saviour call him, "Come ye blessed," nor never to leave sorrowing till he had escaped the bitter sentence, "Go, ye cursed?" If any of these be the Why, the ground of thy sorrows, if such thoughts have cast thee down; know, that thy Saviour hath already blessed thee, for "Blessed are they that mourn." The angels are thy servants, they gather thy tears; God is thy treasurer, he lays them up in his bottle; the Holy Ghost is thy comforter, he will not leave thee. Fear not, then, to be thus cast down, fear not to be thus disquieted within thee. Brian Duppa (Bishop), 1588-1662, in a Sermon entitled "The Soule's Soloquie."
Verse 5. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why, or what may be the reason, that this text is three times used in this Psalm and in the next? whereas you do not find two verses of the same length used in all the Book of Psalms besides, except in Psalm 107, where is often repeated, "O that men would praise the Lord," etc. Now, surely the frequent mention of this text and words doth argue and note unto us the weightiness of the matter ... Wicked men oppressed David, and the devil tempted him; yet he chides his own heart and nothing else. David did not chide at Saul, nor chide at Absalom; but he chides and checks his own heart. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?" Though the devil and wicked men, the one do tempt, the other do oppress as instruments of punishment for sin; yet we with David are to chide our own hearts. Consider, what though in our translations the words are translated and rendered passively, Why art thou cast down? yet, in the original, they are rendered actively; we read it, Why art thou cast down? etc; but in the original it is read, (yl[ ymhthmw yfkn yxxwtfthm) "Why bowest (or pressest) thou down thyself, my soul? and why tumultest thou against me?" As Arias Montanus, Cur humiliasti te? Cur deprimes te anima mea? So Lorinus, Proverbs 12:25 . And the words so read, they do not intimate thus much, that God's own people may be cast down too much for the sense of sin, and they are most active in their own down casting. It is not God nor the devil that cast thee down; but Why dost thou cast thyself down? to create more trouble on thyself than either God doth inflict or the devil tempt thee to. Christopher Love, in "The Dejected Soul's Cure," 1657.
Verse 5. Hope thou in God. I shall show what powerful influence hope hath on the Christian in affliction, and how. First, it stills and silences him under affliction. It keeps the king's peace in the heart, which else would soon be in an uproar. A hopeless soul is clamorous: one while it charges God, another while it reviles his instruments. It cannot long rest, and no wonder, when hope is not there. Hope hath a rare art in stilling a froward spirit, when nothing else can; as the mother can make the crying child quiet by laying it to the breast, when the rod makes it cry worse. This way David took, and found it effectual; when his soul was unquiet by reason of his present affliction, he lays it to the breast of the promise: "Why art thy cast down O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God." And here his soul sweetly sleeps, as the child with the breast in his mouth; and that this was his usual way, we may think by the frequent instances we find; thrice we find him taking this course in two Psalms, 42 and 43 ... Secondly, this hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called "the rejoicing of hope," Hebrews 3:6 . And hope never affords more joy than in affliction. It is on a watery cloud that the sun paints those curious colours in the rainbow ... There are two graces, which Christ useth above any other, to fill the soul with joy -- faith and hope, because these two fetch all their wine of joy without door. Faith tells the soul what Christ hath done for it; and so comforts it; hope revives the soul with the news of what Christ will do: both draw at one tap -- Christ and his promise. Condensed from William Gurnall.
Verse 5. Hope thou in God. The word which is here rendered, hope denotes that expectation which is founded on faith in God, and which leads the soul to wait upon him. The idea is beautifully expressed in Psalms 39:7 . "And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee." Henry March.
Verse 5. I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. When it may be said, "He whom God loveth is sick," then it may be said, "This sickness is not unto death;" and though it be to the first death, yet not to the second. Who would think when Jonah was in the sea Jonah 3:1-10 , that he would preach at Nineveh? Who would think when Nebuchadnezzar was in the forest Daniel 4:1-37 , that he should reign again in Babel? Who would think when Joseph was banished of his brethren, that his brethren should seek unto him like his servants? Who would think when Job scraped his sores upon the dunghill, all his houses were burned, all his cattle stolen, and all his children dead, that he should be richer than ever he was? These are the acts of mercy which make the righteous sing, "The Lord hath triumphed valiantly." Exodus 15-21. Henry Smith.
Verse 5. I shall yet praise him. David's mind is upon the duty more than upon the mercy; upon the duty, as it is a matter of grace, more than upon the mercy, as it is a matter of sense. And, therefore, by a happy mistake, his tongue slips, as men are wont to do in such cases, and he puts one for the other; when he should say, I shall receive mercy from God, he says, I shall give praise to him. Thomas Horton.
Verse 5. He is the skilful physician, who at the same time that he evacuates the disease, doth also comfort and strengthen nature; and he the true Christian, that doth not content himself with a bare laying aside evil customs and practices, but labours to walk in the exercise of the contrary graces. Art thou discomposed with impatience, haunted with a discontented spirit under any affliction? Think it not enough to silence thy heart from quarrelling with God, but leave not till thou canst bring it sweetly to rely on God. Holy David drove it thus far, he did not only chide his soul for being disquieted, but he charges it to trust in God. William Gurnall.
Verse 5. There was one Alice Benden, who, among others, was imprisoned for religion in Canterbury Castle; but after awhile, by the bishop's order, she was let down into a deep dungeon, where none of her friends could come at her. There she was fed with an halfpenny bread, and a farthing beer a day, neither would they allow her any more for her money. Her lodging was upon a little straw, between a pair of stocks and a stone wall. This made her grievously to bewail and lament her estate, reasoning with herself, why her Lord God did in so heavy a wise afflict her, and suffered her thus to be sequestered from the sweet society of her loving prison fellows. In this extremity of misery, and in the midst of these dolorous mournings she continued, till on a night, repeating that of the psalmist: "Why art thou so heavy, O my soul? and why art thou so cast down within me? Still trust in God," etc.; and, God's right hand can change all this, etc.; she received comfort in the midst of her sorrows, and so continued joyful to the time of her release. Samuel Clarke's "Mirror."
Verse 5,11. In case thou art at any time oppressed with sorrows, ask thy heart and soul that question which David did in the like case twice in one Psalm: Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? and certainly the soul would return answer, My distress of sadness springs from my unbelief. You may know the disease by the cure, in the very next words, O put thy trust in God; hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. All sorrow of heart springs principally from our unbelief, not from the greatness of other evils; I mean, destructive sorrow, for godly sorrow is a friend to godly joy. It is not so much the weight of the burden, as the soreness of the back, that troubles the poor beast: so it is not so much the weight of outward evils, as the inward soreness of a galled conscience, not purified nor healed by faith, that vexes and troubles the poor creature. Matthew Lawrence, in "The Use and Practice of Faith," 1657.
Verse 5,11. As afflictions do proceed from ourselves, they may be called troubles, or perturbations; for the best man doth sometimes cause this bad liquor to boil out of his own bowels. David, not once, but often, hath cried out, Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thy disquieted in me? And show me the man that annoys and troubles not himself in vain, because with patience he doth not tarry the Lord's leisure? The foolish bird, who, being in a room whose door is locked, and the casements shut, beateth herself against the wall and windows, breaking her feathers and bruising her body, whereas, would she stay till the passages were by the keeper opened, she might depart, being not at all wounded; even so falleth it out with us: for when the Lord doth shut us up, and straiten our liberty for a time, we would fain make way for ourselves, having many devices in our hearts to break through the walls of his providence; whereas, if we would stay his leisure, depend on his promise, and submit ourselves to be disposed of by his hand, we might with more ease endure this prison, and with less hurt at the last be set at liberty. For God is in one mind, and who can change him? He will bring to pass that thing that he hath decreed upon us. John Barlow's Sermon, 1618.
Verse 5,11. If you would get assurance, spend more time in strengthening your evidences for heaven, than in questioning of them. It is the great fault of many Christians they will spend much time in questioning, and not in strengthening their comforts. They will reason themselves into unbelief, and say, Lord, why should I believe? Why should I take hold of a promise that am so unholy and so unmortified a creature? And so by this they reason themselves to such a pass that they dare not lay hold upon Christ, whereas it should be your work to reason yourselves into Christ as much as you can. Labour to strengthen your comforts, and reason thus, Why should I not believe in Christ? Thus David did. Psalm 42. "Why art thou troubled, O my soul, and why art thou cast down within me?" Is not the mercy of God more than sin in the creature? Is not there free grace where there is guilt? Are not there pardoning mercies where condemnation is deserved? You should reason up your comforts rather than reason them down, and spend more time in strengthening than in questioning of them. You would count him a very unwise man that hath a lease of so much land, and he himself shall create scruples and doubts, and shall use no means to make his title good. And truly many Christians are as unwise for heaven. They have, as I may say, good bond and seal that God will bring them to heaven, and yet they will question and cavil themselves into unbelief. Beloved, this should not be, but you ought rather to strengthen your comforts than question them. Christopher Love.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 5. Sorrow put to the question, or the Consolatory Catechism.
Verse 5. The sweetness, safety, and rightness of hope in God. Good grip for the anchor.
Verse 5. The music of the future, I shall yet praise him.
Verse 5. The help of his countenance, or the sustaining power of God's presence.
Verse 5. Why art thou cast down?
Verse 5. An emphasis of enquiry or examination; David calls himself to account for his present passion and trouble of mind. An emphasis of reproof or objurgation; David chides and rebukes himself for his present distemper. "Why art thou thus?" Thomas Horton.
Verse 5,11. or help and health.