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My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word.—Ver. 25.
THE man of God in this psalm had spoken before of the common and universal benefits of the word, as it agreeth to all times and conditions of believers; for it belongeth to all, in what state soever they are, to look upon it as a direction in the way to get true happiness, and to stir up suitable affections in their hearts. Now he showeth what use the word hath in each special condition, especially in the time of great afflictions. David did often change states, but his affection to the word never changeth.
Here is—(1.) A representation of David’s case; (2.) His supplication or petition thereupon; wherein—(1st.) The request itself; (2d.) Hie argument to enforce it.235
First, The representation of David’s case, ‘My soul cleaveth unto the lust.’ The speech is metaphorical, expressing the depth of his misery, or the greatness of his sorrow and humiliation. (1.) The depth of his misery, with allusion to the case of a man overcome in battle, or mortally wounded, and tumbling in the dust, or to a man dead and laid in the earth; as Ps. xxii. 15, ‘Thou hast brought me to the dust of death.’ Sure we are the expression importeth the extremity of distress and danger, either as a man dead, or near death. (2.) The greatness of his sorrow and humiliation; and so the allusion is taken from a man prostrate and grovelling on the ground, which was their posture of humbling themselves before the Lord, or when any great calamity befell them. As when Herod Agrippa died, they put on sackcloth, and lay upon the earth weeping (Joseph., lib. xix. cap. 7). The same allusion is Ps. xliv. 25, ‘Our soul is bowed down unto the dust, our belly cleaveth to the earth.’ Suitably to which allusion, the Septuagint renders it ἐκολλήθη τῳ̂ ἐδάφει ἡ ψυχή μου—to the pavement.
And we read in Theodoret, that Theodosius the Emperor, when reproved by Ambrose for the slaughter at Thessalonica, he lay upon the ground, and humbly begged pardon, using these words, Adhaesit pavimento anima mea. The meaning is, that in his dejected condition he would lie prostrate at God’s feet as a poor supplicant, and die there. The first point is—
That God’s children may have such great afflictions brought upon them that their souls may even cleave to the dust.
These afflictions may respect their inward or outward condition.
1. Their inward condition; and so through grief and terrors of conscience they are ready to drop into the grave. That trouble of mind is a usual exercise of God’s people, see Heman’s complaint, Ps. lxxxviii., from ver. 3 to the end of ver. 7: ‘My soul is full of troubles, and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength. Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deep. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.’ It was in his soul, and it was in his soul by reason of the wrath of God, and that in such a degree of vehemency that, in his own judgment and the judgment of others, he could not expect to be long a man of this world, little differing from the dead, yea, the damned. So David, Ps. lxxvii. 1, &c., ‘I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice, and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my sore ran in the night and ceased not; my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled. I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. Thou boldest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak: I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient time,’ &c. By the sense of God’s wrath he was even wounded to death, and the sore running upon him would admit of no plaister; yea, the remembrance of God was a trouble to him: ‘I remembered God, and was troubled.’ What a heavy word was that! Soul troubles are the most pressing troubles; a child of God is as a lost man in such a condition.236
2. In respect of the heavy weight of outward pressures. Thus David fasted, and lay all night upon the earth in his child’s sickness: 2 Sam. xii. 16, 17, ‘David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And the elders of his house arose, and went to him to raise him up from the earth; but he would not: neither did he eat bread with them.’ And when he was driven from his palace by Absalom, and was in danger of his life every moment (which some interpreters think to be the case intended in the text), when he went up the Mount of Olives barefoot, going and weeping: 2 Sam. xv. 30, ‘And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered; and he went barefoot, and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went.’
Now the reasons of this are these—
1. To correct them for past sins. This was the cause of David’s trouble, and this puts a sting into all miseries. God’s children smart under their sins here in the world as well as others: Prov. xi. 31, ‘Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner.’ Recompensed in the earth, that is, punished for his sins. Compare with it 1 Peter iv. 18, ‘And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ God punisheth here that he may spare for ever. He giveth some remembrance of the evil, and corrects his people, not to complete their justification, or to make more satisfaction for God’s justice than Christ hath made, yet to promote their sanctification; that is, to make sin bitter to them, and to vindicate the glory of God, that he is not partial. For these reasons they are even brought to the dust by their own folly.
2. To humble them, and bring them low in the midst of their great enjoyments; therefore he casts them down even to the dust. Because we cannot keep our hearts low, therefore God maketh our condition low. This was Paul’s case: 2 Cor. i. 7-9, ‘And our hope of you is stead fast, knowing that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation; for we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life; but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead’—that is, not to build too securely on their own sufficiencies.
3. To try their graces, which are never tried to the life till we be near the point of death. The sincerity of our estate and the strength of faith is not discovered upon the throne so much as in the dust, if we can depend upon God in the hardest condition.
4. To awaken the spirit of prayer: ‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord,’ Ps. cxxx. 1. Affliction puts an edge upon our desires. They that are flat and careless at other times are oftenest then with God.
5. To show the more of his glory, and the riches of his goodness in their recovery: Ps. lxxi. 20, 21, ‘Thou which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again 237from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.’ By the greater humiliation, God prepareth us for the greater blessings. As there are multitudes of troubles to humble and try the saints, so his mercies do not come alone, but with great plenty.
Use 1. Let us bless God that we are not put to such great trials. How gentle is our exercise compared with David’s case! We are weak, and God will not overburden us. There is a great deal of the wisdom and love of God seen in the measure of the cross, and in the nature and kind of it. We have no cause to say our belly cleaveth to the dust, or that we are pressed above measure. God giveth us only a gentle remembrance. If brought upon our knees, we are not brought upon our faces.
2. If this should be our case, do not count it strange. It is a usual exercise of God’s people; let us therefore not be offended, but ap prove God’s holy and wise dispensation. If there be great troubles, there have been great sins, or there will be great comforts, or for the present there are great graces. As such a dispensation is a correction, there is reason to approve it. If you be laid in the dust, have you not laid God’s honour in the dust, and trampled his laws under foot? As it is a trial, you have cause to approve it; for it is but meet that when God hath planted grace in the heart, he should prove the strength of it. Therefore, if you be kept so long in your heavy condition that you seem dead, yet if you have faith to keep you alive, and patience be exercised, it is for your greater good: Rom. v. 3, ‘And not only so, but we glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience;’ and as affliction is an exercise for your benefit and spiritual improvement. The husbandman, when he teareth and rendeth the ground up with the plough, it is to make it more fruitful. The longer the metal is in the fire the more pure it cometh forth. Nay, sometimes you have your outward comforts with advantage after trouble: as Job xlii. 10-12, ‘And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before; and the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.’ Oh! when we are fitted to enjoy comforts we shall have them plenty enough.
Second point, That in such great and heavy troubles we should deal with God for help.
In the dust David calleth to God for quickening. The reasons of this, why in great troubles we should go to God for help, are—
1. From the inconvenience of any other course.
[1.] If the godly should smother their grief, and not go to God with it, their sorrow were able to choke them. It is no small ease that we have a God to go to, to whom we may freely open our minds. Prayer hath a pacative virtue; as Hannah, 1 Sam. i. 18, ‘prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore;’ and mark the event, ‘The woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad,’ &c. An oven stopped up is the hotter within, but vent and utterance giveth ease to the heart, if it be merely by way of complaint to a friend, without expectation of relief; much more to go to God, and lay open our case before him.
[2.] To seek our comfort elsewhere, from earthly things, it is a vain 238and evil course. (1.) It is vain; for God is the party with whom we have to do. In many troubles the creatures may be instruments of our woe; but the principal party is God. Strike in with him, and you stop the mischief at the head: Prov. xvi. 7, ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ In other troubles God hath a more immediate hand, as sickness and terrors of conscience; our business then lieth not with the creatures; in sickness, not with physicians first, but with God. In troubles of spirit we are not to quench our thirst at the next ditch, but to run to the fountain of living water; not to take up with ordinary comforts; that is an attempt to break prison, and to get out of the troubles be fore God letteth us out. He is our party then, whoever be the instrument. (2.) It is evil that we refuse to come to God when he whippeth us into his presence, and beateth us to the throne of grace: Dan. ix. 13, ‘All this evil is come upon us, yet made we not our prayer be fore the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.’ When men are ready to die, and will not so much as confer with the physician, they are either stupid or desperate. Afflictions summon us into his presence. God sendeth a tempest after us, as after Jonah. Now that trouble which chaseth us to God is so far a sanctified trouble.
2. The hope of relief from God, who alone can and will help us. ‘He put his mouth in the dust; peradventure there is hope,’ Lam. iii. 29. Now this hope is from God’s power and will.
[1.] His power. God can quicken us when we are as good as dead, because he is the well-spring of life and comfort. Other things give us life, but as water scaldeth when it is the instrument of heat; but God alone can help us. God is the great quickener: ‘That I might trust in him that raiseth the dead;’ and ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’
[2.] His will. When we are humble and tractable in our afflictions—
(1.) It is some hope if we have nothing to bring before God but our grief and misery, for he is pitiful. A beggar will uncover his sore to move your bowels. So many times all the reason that a poor pitiful afflicted person can bring for himself is lamenting his case to God, how discouraged he is, and apt to faint, as David represents his case, ‘My soul cleaveth to the dust;’ and elsewhere, Ps. lxix. 29, ‘But I am poor and sorrowful; let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high,’ Justice seeketh a fit object, but mercy a fit occasion.
(2.) It is a greater ground of hope when we are humbled under God’s hand, and have a due sense of our condition; that is, are convinced of our emptiness, weakness, nothingness, or emptied of self-conceit and carnal confidence: Deut. xxxii. 36, ‘For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left.’ God’s judgments are to break our carnal dependencies.
(3.) Still the hope increaseth when we acknowledge his justice and wisdom in all our troubles: Lev. xxvi. 41, ‘If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity,’ kiss the rod wherewith they are corrected, be glad it is no worse, and see that all this cometh from a just and wise God.239
(4.) There is further hope ‘when we can cast ourselves upon his faithfulness and omnipotency, in the face of all discouragements. Christ’s question to the man long possessed was, Mark ix. 23, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.’ God’s power is exercised when glorified by faith and dependence.
(5.) When we submit to what may be most for his glory. Carnal prayers, though never so earnest, fail when we are too earnest upon our private end, and the means which we fancy: Ps. cxv. 1, ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake.’
Use. In deep calamities run to God, lay forth your case feelingly and with submission to the justice of his providence, trusting to his power, and submitting to his wisdom, without obtruding your model upon God, but leaving him to his own course; and this is the way to speed. Take heed—
1. Of a stupid carelessness under the rod. It is a time of seeking after God, a summons to the creature to come before him. Now, if we think to sport away our trouble without looking after God’s comforts, it is a desperate security: Jer. v. 12, ‘They have belied the Lord, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine.’
2. Take heed of despondency. The throne of grace is set up on purpose for such a time: Heb. iv. 16, ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need;’ Ps. 1. 15, ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.’ Open your case before the Lord.
3. Take heed of pitching too much upon outward things, either as to the time or way of deliverance. Lust is vehement; but the more you seek, the more comfortable will be the issue: Ps. li. 18, ‘Do good in thy good pleasure unto Sion; build thou the walls of thy Jerusalem.’
Secondly, We come now to David’s supplication or petition there upon; where observe—
1. The request itself, quicken thou me.
2. The argument, according to thy word.
First, The request itself, ‘Quicken thou me;’ which noteth either the renewing of comfort or the actuation of graces, the restoring or putting life into his affairs.
1. The renewing of comfort; quicken me, revive me, or restore life to me again; and this either by outward deliverance—so quickening is used Ps. lxxi. 20, ‘Thou which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth,’ where deep trouble is compared to the grave, and deliverance a kind of resurrection or recovery from the dead or by the letting in of inward comfort and spiritual reviving from the sense of God’s love; so Ps. lxxx. 18, 19, ‘Quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts; cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.’ The shining of God’s face, or the sense of God’s love, is the reviving of afflicted spirits.
2. The actuation of grace; there may be life where there is no 240vigour. Now when we are stirred up to be lively in God’s service, we are said to be quickened, as in the 19th verse of the psalm before quoted; and often it is thus used in this psalm, as ver. 37, ‘Quicken thou me in thy way.’ The point is this—
That God’s children need often to go to God for quickening, because they often lie under deadness of heart, and therefore should desire God, who is the fountain of grace, to emit and send forth his influence.
They need this quickening—(1.) By reason of their constant weakness; (2.) Their frequent indispositions and distempers of soul.
1. Their constant weakness in this world.
[1.] By reason of their inclination to sin.
[2.] The imperfection of their motions towards that which is good.
[1.] By reason of their inclination to sin. Carnal concupiscence draweth us aside from God to sensual objects: James i. 14, ‘A man is drawn away by his own lust.’ There is a strong bias of corruption drawing us from Christ to present things: Heb. xii. 1, ‘Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.’ There is a carnal affection or corrupt inclination which carrieth us out inordinately to things lawful, or too often to things unlawful; this hangeth as a weight, retarding us in all our heavenly flights and motions. The love and care of the world, which is apt to press down the soul, and doth twine about us, and insinuate with us; the apostle calleth it ‘a law in his members.’ Rom. vii. 23, a warning to us how, when the flesh draweth us off so strongly one way, to implore the divine grace to draw us more strongly to the other.
[2.] Because of the imperfection of their motions to that which is good, though there be a purpose, bent of heart, and inclination that way. Our gyves are still about us; we feel the old maim. Grace is like a spark in wet wood, that needs continual blowing.
2. Their frequent indispositions and distempers of soul. Some times they feel a loathness in their souls and a shyness of God’s presence; their hearts hang off; the spirit indeed is willing, but some fleshly thought or carnal excuse checketh the motion. It is God alone that can make the soul willing; he giveth both will and deed. God bendeth the unwilling will, as well as helpeth the fainting affections. Again, sometimes they find a great deadness; there is no vigour or liveliness in their affections, and they cannot follow after God with such zeal and earnestness: though there be not a formal deadness, such as usually is in the duties of hypocrites, yet there is not always the same strength and agility of grace in the children of God; their souls do not so earnestly reach after Christ. Now, what can help but divine quickening? Therefore go to God for it. We should rouse and stir up ourselves. God giveth out influences according to his will or pleasure, but we must still stir up ourselves.
But to answer a case of conscience, whether we are to do duty in case of deadness and indisposition, &c.?
1. The influence of grace is not the warrant of duty, but the help; it is the efficient assisting cause, not the ground or rule. We are to do all acts of obedience on account of God’s command: Luke v. 5, ‘Simon answering, said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night; nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.’ God is sovereign, 241and we are bound to obey, whether disposed or indisposed. Should the husbandman never plough but when disposed to plough?
2. Our sinful indisposition cannot excuse us. In sins of commission, our weakness to resist temptation is no excuse. So also in sins of omission, we cannot be allowed to say, It was the Lord suffered me to sin. No more will this plea be allowed, The Lord did not quicken me to duty. Grace is as necessary to prevent sin as to perform duty. God’s suspension was no excuse to Hezekiah: 2 Chron. xxxii. 31; ‘Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.’ This complaint of weakness hath an ill aspect; complaining without labouring is rather a taxing of God. But—
3. Natural men are bound to pray and perform duties, therefore renewed men. That natural men are bound, see Acts viii. 22, ‘Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee;’ and Ps. xiv. 2, ‘The Lord looked down from heaven to see if there were any that did understand and seek God.’ It is charged as a crime that they did not, but much more the renewed; for to whom more is given, of them more is required. It is another talent wherewith they are intrusted. Grace is not only donum, but talentum; grace is not given as a piece of money to a child to play withal, but as we give money to factors to trade withal for us. Now a renewed man should do more, being capable of more.
4. The outward act of a duty is commanded as well as the inward; though they come not up to the nature of a perfect duty, there is some what of the ordinance of Christ in them: Hosea xiv. 2, ‘Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips.’ Though I cannot do all, I must do as much as I can.
5. We are to wait humbly in the use of means for the power of his grace. When the door is shut, knocking is the only way to get it open. I will go and offer myself to God, and see what he will do for me; which is God’s usual way, and to be used with the more caution and diligence, because God doth all: Phil. ii. 12, 13, ‘Wherefore, my be loved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ Seamen by tacking about get wind: so far as you use the means, you comply with God’s end. A sad threatening there is to those that neglect the use of means, that shut the door upon themselves, or if God withdraws, are willing he should keep away.
6. Acting in spiritual duties fits us for them. Iter ad pietatem est intra pietatem—praying fits for praying, meditating for meditating. Frequent turning the key maketh the lock go more easy. Good dispositions make way for good dispositions, Ps. xxvii. 14; Ps. xxxi. 24, ‘Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thy heart.’ Pluck up your spirits, strive to take courage, and then God will give you courage. To shake us out of laziness, God maketh the 242precept go before the promise. God biddeth us pray, though prayer be his own gift. Act as you would expect.
7. There is a supply cometh in ere we are aware: Cant. vi. 12, ‘Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib,’ in the very work, A strange difference of temper is to be ob served in David before the psalm be over: 1 Chron. xxii. 16, ‘Arise, therefore, and be doing, and the Lord be with thee.’ God will not help that man that hath legs to go, and will not.
8. We are to rouse up ourselves: Isa., lxiv. 7, ‘And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.’ When we are willing to get the work over, and wrestle not for life and power in praying, we do not all we are able. The cock by clapping the wings addeth strength to the crowing. We should rouse up ourselves. We use not the bellows to a dead coal, &c.
Secondly, The next circumstance is the argument, ‘According to thy word.’ What word doth David mean? Either the general promises in the books of Moses or Job, which intimate deliverance to the faithful observers of God’s law, or help to the miserable and distressed, or some particular promise given to him by Nathan or others. Chrysostom saith, Quicken me to live according to thy word: but it is not a word of command, but a word of promise. Mark here—
1. He doth not say, Secundum meritum meum, but secundum verbum tuum; the hope, or that help which we expect from God, is founded upon his word; there is our security, in his promises, not in our deservings—Promittendo se fecit debitorem, &c.
2. When there was so little scripture written, yet David could find out a word for his support. Alas! in our troubles and afflictions no promise occurreth to mind. As in outward things, many that have less live better than those that have abundance; so here. Now scripture is so large, we are less diligent, and therefore, though we have so many promises, we are apt to faint, we have not a word to bear us up.
3. This word did not help him till he had lain long under this heavy condition, so that he seemed dead. Many when they have a promise, think presently to enjoy the comfort of it. No; there is waiting and striving first necessary. We never relish the comfort of the promises till the creatures have spent their allowance, and we have been exercised. God will keep his word, and yet we must expect to be tried.
4. In this his dead condition, faith in God’s word kept him alive. When we have lost feeling, and there is nothing left us, the word will support us: Rom. iv. 19, 20, ‘And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.’
5. One good way to get comfort is to plead the promise to God in prayer. Chirographa tua injiciebat tibi, Domine. Show him his handwriting; God is tender of his word. These arguings in prayer are not to work upon God, but ourselves.
Use. Well, then, let us thus deal with God, looking to him in the sense of our own weakness, praying often to God for quickening, as David doth in the text. God keepeth grace in his own hands, and dispenseth 243it at his pleasure, that he may often hear from us, and that we may renew our dependence upon him. It is pleasing to him when we desire him to renew his work, and bring forth the actings of grace in their vigour and lustre. And let us acknowledge divine grace if there be strong actings of faith and love towards God. He is to be owned in his work.
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