Following Afar Off —Ps xxii 1-12,


1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; And in the night season, and am not silent.

3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel!

4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered : they trusted in thee, and were

not confounded.

6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the


7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn:

They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: Let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb;

Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. Io I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's

belly. 11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

Psalm Xx11.


Afar off, and only afar off, can believers here follow in the footsteps of the Master. He bore the cross,—we. also bear it; but it is not the 'accursed tree;' it is the tree on which He hung, and which has burst into new life. Then it was winter, now it is spring, and buds and blossoms have appeared on the tree. Still ours it is to 'follow the Son of Man in His humiliation,' and we also have to 'die daily.' Even in the modified sense in which it applies to us, most awful are the experiences which this Psalm describes. Not all of us are called to pass through such deep waters, though all have spiritual understanding of what the Psalm implies. As Luther saith: 'Therefore let us lay up these words in our hearts, and carefully keep them till the convenient time when we shall require them. And let him who cannot comprehend them, remain with the people down below in the plain, while the disciples go up to Christ in the mountain (Luke vi. 12-17). For all the sayings of this Psalm do not equally apply to every one, even as all have not the same gifts, nor all the same sufferings. According to our varied wants, the Scriptures offer milk to babes, and wine and strong meat for those who are strong, so that as the weak find their proper sustenance in the Scriptures, so they also who are strong, and they who have to undergo a great fight of afflictions.'

Yet, let us mark that as so applying, in a secondary sense, to those who are tried and tempted, this Psalm perhaps more than any other refers exclusively to God's people. This appears from the very intensity of the cry, ' My God.' By this hope and truth the believer clings, as preserving him from utter despair. The fear and apprehension of desertion, caused by a view of ourselves, or by the assaults of the enemy, are such that it appears as if there were only 'a hair between death and life.' The waves seem closing all around us, and God is far ' from helping' us, and 'from the words' of our ' roaring.' Nor can we be 'silent,' until answer is made from the sanctuary (ver. 2). And this is another evidence of the gracious working of His Holy Spirit. Nor is there any argument derived either from His character (ver. 3), or from the history of His dealings (ver. 4, 5) which is not urged. And though it seems as if all this were uttered in the form of complaining contrast, yet does it offer fresh ground for hope and entreaty. So graciously does He allow us to pour out our whole heart, to make known all our doubts and difficulties, and to convert even these into pleas for mercy. The very taunts of our enemies furnish fresh ground for application. For, God cannot give us over to the will of our enemies, and we gladly accept the challenge to 'roll' our case over upon Him who is full of grace and of truth (ver. 8). The burden is too heavy for us, and we remember the admonition of the apostle: 'Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time ; casting all your care upon Him, for He carethfor you! The fact that we are His creatures upon earth includes us in the number of those for whom His provision in grace has been made. This is further confirmed by our entire dependence upon Him, from the first moment of our existence (vers. 9, 10). And how otherwise could we stand in face of such enemies? Our felt inability appears (as Luther has it) in 'that inward anxiety, terror, and awe, so great and sudden as to wither and dry up the natural sap of all the members of our body* (ver. 16). Yet even here constant reference is made to God, and in this lies our hope of ultimate deliverance. The awful desolation of the soul under apprehension of eternal death passes all description. 'Such is the raging of the furious enemy, that the prophet felt as if even the sharpness of the sword did not sufficiently describe it. Hence he mentions also the tearing of furious, raging dogs, and the mouth of the hungry lion, already gaping and ready to swallow us up, and the great and violent anger of the cruel unicorns.' All the more glorifying to Him is here the assurance that we are heard (ver. 22). And now the soul breaks forth into praise, setting forth the greatness, the sufficiency, the blessedness, and the eternally satisfying character of the salvation which we have experienced. To quote once more the words of Luther: 'Thus God does excellently, and very sweetly for us, so that all His people must love and praise Him, because His eyes behold and are turned upon the sorrowing and the poor; and the more despised and rejected a man is, the nearer to Him and the more gracious is God. As if He said: "See and learn by My example, who have been the most despised and rejected of men" (ver. 7), "but now am the most lovingly looked upon, received, and heard."'

Viewed in this light, ours is a Psalm of believing despair, from which the soul gradually emerges into clear light. It marks the greatness of the danger, and the yet greater greatness of the help. All Jehovah's billows seem to go over the soul; nay, they mount so high as to pass beyond man, and to break at the feet of the God-man. And it is this fellowship of sorrow with Jesus which lightens up our cloud and removes our burden. Because this sorrow is so great, because it mounts above man, and passes beyond him, because it breaks at the feet of the Redeemer, I am safe. The storm which He once conquered cannot overwhelm me. The barque which carries Christ can never be swamped. But such whirlwinds, uprooting and carrying before them everything fair and pleasant, such hand-to-hand conflicts of the soul with death, are not rare in the history of God's people. They are awful desolations; but joy cometh in the morning. It seems as if we were to be driven from one line of defence to the other, till we come to the innermost line of the history of God's dealings, and of our original relationship to Him as His handywork—behind the bulwarks of which we would fain take up a tenable position. It cannot be denied that Thou wast the God of our fathers, and that their faith was not in vain. But how can I place myself on the same level with them? Inwardly and outwardly it is far otherwise with me. At least, however, I am the work of Thy hands. Thou canst not utterly forsake me. But I am a worm, and no man. Thus every foundation seems swept from under me. I am shut up to free grace alone. Then, what a glorious streak of morning light when the horns of the altar are reached! (ver. 21). A loud and blessed song of praise bursts from our lips, proportionate to the felt misery of the long night. Then there are shouts of victory—kingdoms are subdued, the dead are raised to life again, and the smile of a new spring seems to gladden the earth. The suddenness and the greatness of the transition are equally marked. Oh, what a deliverance is this, effected solely by Divine grace, through the instrumentality of believing, self- and all-despairing prayer!' I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.'

1. O my soul, in the greatness of thy despair remember that this Psalm, which portrays thy struggle, is a Psalm of Christ. To Him it refers in its fullest meaning, because upon Him the iniquities of us all were made to meet. There is unspeakable comfort in this to my soul. Christ is the companion of our sorrows, or rather, Christ has borne our griefs. Sin, which is the sting of sorrow and of death, has been removed. 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and / will give you rest.' Let us look, not at the grief, but at Christ, and at the intensity of His love. What consolation in Christ!' Who shall separate us from the love of God in Christ?' Ah! let me lose myself in Christ. Not I, but Christ. I am a member of Christ; Christ is in me, Christ is for me, Christ is with me.

2. Yet this is a hand-to-hand conflict with the powers of darkness. Advance, my soul, whither the great army of martyrs and saints have advanced, and where they have triumphed (vers. 2-5). But I am driven back. Not in the strength of others, not on general grounds, is that conflict to be decided (vers. 6-8). Yet again advance, my soul; thou art God's creature, and He cannot leave the work of His own hands (vers. 9-11). But again am I driven back; it is only the weakness of the creature that I feel in this unequal contest (vers. 12-18). But ah! once more advance, my soul; it is not history nor creation which are thy plea—it is all of grace. I entreat Thy power; I lay hold on Thine outstretched arm; I cast myself wholly and unreservedly upon Thee for deliverance (vers. 19-22). All is of Thee, and all is of grace. And lo! now all is victory. Mine enemies are routed, and flee; for ' the kingdom is the Lord's.'

3. There remaineth therefore a rest—a Sabbath—for the people of God, a glorious Sabbath in Christ here, a more glorious Sabbath with Christ hereafter. Rest, my soul, then; for the agony of the garden is past, and victory is His!

Br1ef life is here our portion,

Brief sorrow, short-lived care;
The life that knows no ending—

The tearless life—is there.
O happy retribution!

Short toil, eternal rest;
For mortals and for sinners

A mansion with the blest!

The night was full of terror,

The morn is bright with gladness;
The Cross becomes our harbour,

And we triumph after sadness.
Yes! God my King and Portion,

In fulness of His grace
We then shall see for ever,

And worship face to face.

Then all the halls of Syon

For aye shall be complete;
And in the Land of Beauty

All things of beauty meet.

Rhythm Of S. Bernard.