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DISPOSITIONS FOR, AND GROUNDS OF CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER.
PSALM LXXXVI. 7.
In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee; for thou wilt answer me.
Or the Psalms of David, which have been justly designated, as far as doctrines and precepts are concerned, an epitome of the whole Scriptures, none are more beautiful than those which were composed by that favoured servant of God in the dark seasons of affliction. For this peculiarity
two reasons may be assigned. In the first place, the language of sorrow is the natural, unstudied language of the heart; the expression of genuine sentiment and feeling, undebased by affectation or conceit. The heavy hand of affliction, while it crushes the grosser appetites, and shuts out worldly thoughts and wishes, forces into action
all the gentler and purer affections of the soul, and gives unwonted energy and richness to the natural eloquence of the heart. In the second place, there is a sound in the language of genuine sorrow, which awakens an accordant tone in the breasts of those who hear it. The calamities, which call it forth, are the common lot of humanity. They may soon be ours: or if not the same, yet we too have our sorrows: and the expression of another's wo is irresistibly affecting, when it serves to remind us of our own.
This indeed is a peculiar and characteristic beauty of those sacred songs of Zion, from which the text is taken, that every servant of God may find in them expressions of joy, or sorrow, suitable to his own particular case; by meditating upon which he will be chastened and instructed, or supported and consoled. But the afflicted, more especially, may learn from them the methods of a godly sorrow; combining a deep and almost overwhelming sense of personal sin, of human infirmity, and of the instability of worldly goods, with an humble but stedfast trust in the goodness of God, and an anxious desire to improve and profit by his fatherly correction. By contemplating the portrait, which the Psalmist has delineated of himself, of his principles,
his emotions, and his resources in the most trying emergencies of life, we learn how to grieve, yet not despond; to lament, yet not complain; to sigh for the mercies of God, yet not to murmur at his corrections; to bewail our own sinfulness and weakness, yet to recognize his hand interposed to relieve us from a burthen too heavy for us to bear.
And in thus applying, and appropriating to himself the sentiments and language of the Psalmist, the Christian experiences a degree of refreshment, perhaps exceeding even that which David himself enjoyed; inasmuch as he has a clearer view of God's providential government, a more certain knowledge of his will, more abundant evidence of his love and compassion, and a more distinct assurance of reconciliation and forgiveness. The truths and blessings of the Gospel, which the Psalmist beheld in prospect, the Christian possesses in all their glorious reality: and therefore, while he adopts the words of the royal prophet, he adopts them in an enlarged and exalted sense; makes the Gospel their commentary, the Apostles and Evangelists their interpreters, and him that hath the key of David' the opener of his hid treasures.
1 Rev. iii. 7.
The eighty-sixth Psalm is an earnest prayer to God for deliverance from trouble, offered up in the full persuasion that it would be answered; a persuasion, built upon the recollection of past vouchsafements, the certainty of God's consistent and unfailing goodness, and the consciousness of sincerity and faith in the suppliant. The construction of this Psalm deserves to be noticed, especially in the first part, where the Psalmist reiterates his prayer, and after each repeated entreaty, assigns the reason, why the Most High might be expected to lend a gracious ear to his petitions. Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me! for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul! for I am holy. Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for I cry unto thee daily. Rejoice the soul of thy servant; for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee; for thou wilt answer me. I will praise thee, O Lord my God; for great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the nethermost hell. We have here set forth, in expressions the most simple but pathetic, the chief reasons for the duty of prayer, and the great encouragements to its performance: the weakness and helplessness of man; the condescending and willing mercy of God;
his acceptance of the service; and the experienced fulfilment of his promises.
Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me! God is described in Scripture, by images adapted to human comprehension, as an almighty king, seated upon his throne of glory; surveying at a glance the whole expanse of the universe; seeing the actions, hearing the words, and reading the thoughts of all his creatures; bowing down his ear, in tender mercy, to the humble, holy suppliant, and to the repentant sinner; but turning away from the prayers and offerings of the proud, the ungodly, and the careless. We are not indeed to conceive of him, as of a being invested with a bodily form, or fixed in a particular locality; and yet some such personification of the Deity, as the Scriptures abound in, seems to be absolutely necessary, to fix the notions, and to direct the aspirations of the earthly worshipper. Certainly the expression, bow down thine ear, O Lord, conveys to ordinary minds a livelier image of the gracious condescension of our Heavenly Father, than the mere abstract proposition, God is merciful, and hears the prayers of his servants. Be that as it may,
the very first ingredient in prayer should be, a deep and awful sense of the supreme excellency