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Psalm 44:22-26

22. Surely for thy sake we are killed all the day; we are accounted as sheep for slaughter. 23. Arise, O Lord! why sleepest thou? awake, do not forget us or ever. 151151     Fry reads the last clause, “Awake, do not fail for ever;” and observes, “The term is sometimes applied to the failing of a stream through drought.” 24. Why hidest thou thy face? wilt thou forget our misery and our affliction 152152     “Et oublies nostre affliction et nostre oppression?” — Fr. “And forgettest our affliction and our oppression?” 25. For our soul is humbled to the dust: our belly cleaveth to the earth. 26. Arise for our help, and redeem us, for thy goodness’ sake.

 

22 Surely for thy sake we are killed all the day. Here the faithful urge another reason why God should show mercy to them, namely, that they are subjected to sufferings not on account of crimes committed by themselves, but simply because the ungodly, from hatred to the name of God, are opposed to them. “This,” it may be said, “seems at first sight a foolish complaint, for the answer which Socrates gave to his wife was apparently more to the purpose, when, upon her lamenting that he was about to die wrongfully, 153153     “Quand elle se lamentant de ce qu’on le faisoit-mourir a tort.” — Fr. he reproved her saying, That it was better for him to die innocently than from any fault of his own. And even the consolation which Christ sets forth

‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,’
Matthew 5:10,

seems to differ widely from the language here expressed by the people of God. It seems also opposed to what Peter says,

‘Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed;
but let him glorify God on this behalf.’ —1 Peter 4:16,

“To this I answer, That although it is the greatest alleviation of our sorrow that the cause for which we suffer is common to us with Christ himself, yet it is neither in vain nor out of place that the faithful here plead with God that they suffer wrongfully for his sake, in order that he may the more vigorously set himself for their defense. It is right that he should have respect to the maintenance of his glory, which the wicked endeavor to overthrow, when they insolently persecute those who serve him. And from this it appears the more clearly that this psalm was composed when the people languished in captivity, or else when Antiochus laid waste the Church, because religion was at that time the cause of suffering. The Babylonians were enraged by the constancy of the people, when they perceived that the whole body of the Jews, vanquished and routed as they were, ceased not on that account to condemn the superstitions of the country; and the rage of Antiochus was wholly bent upon extinguishing entirely the name of God. Moreover, what made the thing appear more strange and difficult to bear was, that God, so far from repressing the insolence and the wrongs inflicted by the wicked, left them, on the contrary, to continue in their cruelty, and gave them, as it were, loose reins. Accordingly, the godly declare that they are killed all the day long, and that they are counted of no more value than sheep for slaughter It is, however, proper always to bear in mind, what I have already remarked, that they were not so free from all blame as that God, in afflicting them, might not justly chastise them for their sins. But whilst in his incomparable goodness he fully pardons all our sins, he yet allows us to be exposed to unmerited persecutions, that we may with greater alacrity glory in bearing the cross with Christ, and thereby become partakers with him in his blessed resurrection. We have already said, that there was no other reason why the rage of the enemy was so inflamed against them, but that the people would not revolt from the law, and renounce the worship of the true God. It now remains for us to apply this doctrine to our own circumstances; and, first, let us consider that it becomes us, after the example of the fathers, patiently to submit to the afflictions by which it is necessary to seal the confession of our faith; and, secondly, that even in the deepest afflictions we must continue to call upon the name of God and abide in his fear. Paul, however, in his Epistle to the Romans, chapter 8:36, proceeds still farther; for he quotes this not only by way of example, but also affirms that the condition of the Church in all ages is here portrayed. Thus, then, we ought to regard it as a settled point, that a state of continual warfare in bearing the cross is enjoined upon us by divine appointment. Sometimes, it is true, a truce or respite may be granted us; for God, has compassion upon our infirmity: but although the sword of persecution is not always unsheathed against us, yet, as we are the members of Christ, it behoves us always to be ready to bear the cross with him. Lest, therefore, the severity of the cross should dismay us, let us always have present to our view this condition of the Church, that as we are adopted in Christ, we are appointed to the slaughter. If we neglect to do this, the same thing will befall us which happens to many apostates; for as it is in their judgment too severe and wretched a state, even while they live, to be continually dying, to be exposed to the mockery of others, and not to have one moment free from fear, — to rid themselves of that necessity they shamefully forsake and deny Christ. In order, therefore, that weariness, or dread of the cross, may not root up from our hearts true godliness, let us continually reflect upon this, that it behoves us to drink the cup which God puts into our hands, and that no one can be a Christian who does not dedicate himself to God.

23 Arise, O Lord! why sleepest thou? Here the saints desire that God, having pity upon them, would at length send them help and deliverance. Although God allows the saints to plead with him in this babbling manner, when in their prayers they desire him to rise up or awake; yet it is necessary that they should be fully persuaded that he keeps watch for their safety and defense. We must guard against the notion of Epicurus, who framed to himself a god who, having his abode in heaven, 154154     “Lequel estant au ciel.” — Fr. delighted only in idleness and pleasure. But as the insensibility of our nature is so great, that we do not at once comprehend the care which God has of us, the godly here request that he would be pleased to give some evidence that he was neither forgetful of them nor slow to help them. We must, indeed, firmly believe that God ceases not to regard us, although he appears not to do so; yet as such an assurance is of faith, and not of the flesh, that is to say, is not natural to us, 155155     “C’est dire, en nostre sens naturel.” — Fr. the faithful familiarly give utterance before God to this contrary sentiment, which they conceive from the state of things as it is presented to their view; and in doing so, they discharge from their breasts those morbid affections which belong to the corruption of our nature, in consequence of which faith then shines forth in its pure and native character. If it is objected, that prayer, than which nothing is more holy, is defiled, when some froward imagination of the flesh is mingled with it, I confess that this is true; but in using this freedom, which the Lord vouchsafes to us, let us consider that, in his goodness and mercy, by which he sustains us, he wipes away this fault, that our prayers may not be defiled by it.

25 For our soul is humbled to the dust The people of God again deplore the greatness of their calamities, and in order that God may be the more disposed to help them, they declare to him that they are afflicted in no ordinary manner. By the metaphors which they here employ, they mean not only that they are cast down, but also that they are crushed and laid upon the earth, so that they are not able to rise again. Some take the word soul for the body, so that there would be in this verse a repetition of the same sentiment; but I would rather take it for the part in which the life of man consists; as if they had said, We are cast down to the earth, and lie prostrate upon our belly, without any hope of getting up again. After this complaint they subjoin a prayer, (verse 26,) that God would arise for their help By the word redeem they mean not ordinary kind of help, for there was no other means of securing their preservation but by redeeming them. And yet there can be no doubt, that they were diligently employed in meditating upon the great redemption from which all the deliverances which God is daily effecting in our behalf, when he defends us from dangers by various means, flow as streams from their source. In a previous part of the psalm, they had boasted of the steadfastness of their faith; but to show us that, in using this language, they boasted not in their own merits, they do not claim here some recompense for what they had done and suffered for God. They are contented to ascribe their salvation to the unmerited goodness of God as the alone cause of it.


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