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brought before us, whilst we notice the conduct of the Israelites towards God, and his forbearance towards them, or, in other words, 1. The extent of their wickednessThey were continually provoking God to anger
[They were from the beginning "a rebellious and gainsaying people.” Never would they pay any regard to God, till they were constrained to do so by his chastening rod. In vain were his mercies multiplied unto them: they overlooked them all, and “forgat all the wonders" of his love and mercy". Dissatisfied with what he gave them for their subsistence, notwithstanding it was “angels' food,” they lusted after things which were in no respect necessary for their well-being. And when they had provoked God to punish them for their ungrateful murmurings, instead of being reclaimed by his chastisements, “they only sinned yet more against him.” When, in consequence of their obstinacy, these chastisements became more severe, and no way of deliverance was found but by their turning unto God, they pretended to return unto him; but it was a mere pretence. They called to remembrance his past interpositions in their favour, and professed to acknowledge him as their Redeemer and their God: but they only “ffattered him" with titles, which excited no corresponding sentiments in their hearts, and “lied unto him” with vows, which they never intended to perform. They pretended to lay hold on his covenant:" but they would “ not be steadfast in it, or perform any of the engagements which it entailed upon them."j And what is this, but a history of ourselves also ?
[In our prosperity, we care not about God; “ he is not in all our thoughts - But under some heavy calamity we begin to lay to heart our former transgressions, and to inquire after God. This is common, especially in sickness, and at the expected approach of death? Then we can bear to hear of God, and of Christ; yea, we apply to God as our Father, and to Christ as our Redeemer; we acknowledge with apparent gratitude all that they have done for us; and profess a dependence on them for all that we stand in need of -Yet in the midst of all these professions there is no true contrition, no real self-abhorrence, no fixed determination to give up ourselves unreservedly to God. We approach our God indeed, but it is “ with flattery and lies 6." We profess much love to him, and much delight in that covenant which he has made with us in Christ Jesus; but “our hearts are not right with him, neither are we steadfast in his covenant.” This appears from our c ver. 11. ver. 18—25.
e ver. 17, 32.
speedy return to vanity, as soon as ever the judgment is removed from us. We are like metal taken out of the furnace, which, however liquefied, soon returns to its original hardness. Our relentings possibly have been renewed either under the ministry of the word, or by some fresh calamity : but, after all, like Pharaoh, we have only verified that humiliating description of the Apostle, "we have turned again with the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."]
These rebellions however against their God only gave occasion for displaying, II. The extent of his mercyMany times did he forgive them
[Often, through the greatness of their provocations, did he lift up his hand to destroy them in the wilderness; but he forbore to execute upon them the judgments they deserved. “ He remembered that they were but flesh, or as a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again;" and, if he should give vent to his indignation against them, they must inevitably, and irremediably perish.] It is thus also that he hath dealt with us
["How oft have we provoked him, and grieved him by our transgressionsh!"
yet on every fresh occasion he has shewn himself “slow to anger and of great kindness.” Let every one think with himself how many seasons there have been, when, in heart at least, if not in act, we have exceeded our usual measure of wickedness, and when he might have cut us off, so to speak, with advantage, and made us signal monuments of his displeasure — - Yet he has borne with us, and not suffered his whole displeasure to arise. He has, thus far at least, “ forgiven us;" and, in answer to the intercessions of our great High Priest, he has spared the barren fig-tree, revoking the order for its removal, and renewing, for its preservation, all the means which have hitherto been used in vain. Of this his mercy we are all living monuments : from time to time he has said concerning us, “How shall I give thee up'?” “ Wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once bek?" Yes, we must all bear witness for him, that the only reason of our not having been long since " consumed, is, because his compassions fail not." See, then,
1. What improvement we should make of afflictive providences[What the Jews professed to do, we should do in reality
God sends afflictions for this end and, if they ver. 40.
i Hos. xi. 7-9. k Jer. xiü. 27.
produce this happy effect, we shall have reason to be thankful for them.]
2. What, under all circumstances, should be the chief object of our attention
[The Jews failed, because “ their heart was not right with God." Let us look to this, that we indulge not hypocrisy in our hearts.
If we call God our God, and our Redeemer, let our eyes be to him as our only, and our all-sufficient Help.]
THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER. Ps. lxxx. 17-19. Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right
hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. So will not we go back from thee : 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.
THIS psalm appears to have been written about the time when Sennacherib had invaded the land of Judah, and threatened the two remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin with the same utter destruction as had already been inflicted on the ten tribes of Israel. The writer, whoever he was, addresses Jehovah in nearly the same terms as Hezekiah did on that occasion, even as “the Lord of Hosts that dwelt between the cherubima.” And when he says, “Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up thy strength, and come and save us;" he merely desires that God would afford them now the same protection as he had formerly afforded to all his people in the wilderness; which protection these three tribes had better opportunities of discovering than others; because, whilst three tribes preceded the ark, and three marched on either side, these three brought up the rear, and consequently were in a better situation for noticing the various interpositions of Jehovah in their behalf. The disconsolate state of the country at that time is set forth by the Psalmist under the figure of a vine, which had been planted there by Jehovah himself, and had flourished so as to fill the whole land; but now it was exposed to all the rage of the
ver. 1. with Isai. xxxvii. 15–17.
enemy, who" wasted and destroyed it;" and it would shortly be entirely rooted out, if God did not speedily interpose for its protection. By “ the man of God's right hand, and the Son of Man whom God had made strong for himself,” I suppose the Psalmist intended to specify king Hezekiah, whom he entreated God to make his instrument for effecting the desired deliverance: and in the latter verses of my text he promises, in behalf of the nation at large, that the mercy shall not be lost upon them, but shall be requited by them in the way which God will approve, even by greater steadfastness in their future adherence to him, and a more entire obedience to his commands.
In this view, I conceive, the psalm may properly be applied either to the Church, or to any individual Believer in a season of deep distress : and “the Son of Man, whom Jehovah has made strong for himself," may be understood as designating the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King of Israel, and whom in that capacity Hezekiah especially prefigured.
Let the afflicted Believer then see in this passage, I. How to approach God in a season of trouble
We are especially invited to “go to God in a time of trouble.” But in what way shall we approach him?
The Lord Jesus Christ is the appointed Head of God's Church and people
[Even whilst he was yet on earth, "all power in heaven and on earth was given to himo:" and, on his ascension to heaven, he was constituted “ Head over all things to the Church 4,” and had all fulness committed to him, " that he might fill all things ',” and be the one source of light and life to the spiritual world, as the sun in the firmament is to this material globe on which we live. To this the Psalmist bears testimony, when he says, “Thou spakest in vision to thy Holy One, and saidst, I have laid help upon One that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant: with my holy oil have I anointed him : with whom my hand shall be established : mine arm also shall strengthen him." In this passage there is no doubt but that the Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of precisely in the view in
ver. 8-16. e Col. i. 19.
c Matt. xxvii. 18.
d Eph. i. 22.
which I suppose him to be spoken of in the psalm before us. He is that David whom God has anointed to rule over his Church and people, and through whom he will shew himself at all times mighty to save.]
Through Him, then, we must seek for God's effectual help
[Through him must we look for the acceptance of our prayers; and from him must we expect those communications which God has promised to his believing people. “God has made him strong," not for us only, but " for himself" also; seeing that in this mode of dispensing his blessings he is particularly glorified. This is the account given us by an inspired Apostle : “ Him hath God highly exalted, and given him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth ; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Fatherh." And to the same effect our Lord himself also says, “ Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Soni." Let not any one, then, hesitate to look thus to Christ, from an apprehension that, in so honouring the Son, he should dishonour the Father: for God would have “all men to honour the Son even as they honour the Father:" and he declares, that "he who honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father who hath sent him k.” Be it remembered, then, that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life; and that no man cometh unto the Father, but by him ?."]
From the passage before us we may further learn, II. What we should seek for at His hands
Doubtless we are permitted to ask for deliverance from trouble. But there are other things which we are far more concerned to ask, even things for the production of which affliction itself is sent us. should seek, 1. The communications of God's grace
[These are of infinitely more importance than any temporal deliverance. With these, every affliction is light: without them, no enjoyment whatever is of any real value. Whatever be our state as it respects ease or trouble, we are dead, and need to be “ quickened ;” we are rebellious, and need to be “ turned." The first thing, then, that we should seek, should be quickening and converting grace. Every creature in the
h Phil. ii. 9–11. k John v. 23.
i John xiv. 13. I John xiv. 6.