Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. O let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If Thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with Thee, therefore shall Thou be feared. I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for Him: in His word is my trust. My soul fleeth unto the Lord before the morning watch: I say, before the morning watch. O Israel, trust in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.
Let us consider this psalm awhile, for it is a precious heirloom to mankind. It has been a guide and a comfort to thousands and tens of thousands. Rich and poor, old and young, Jews and Christians, Romans, Greeks, and Protestants, have been taught by it the character of God; and taught to love Him, and trust in Him, in whom is mercy, therefore He shall be feared.
The Psalmist cries out of the deep; out of the deep of sorrow, perhaps, and bereavement, and loneliness; or out of the deep of poverty; or out of the deep of persecution and ill-usage; or out of the deep of sin, and shame, and weakness which he hates yet cannot conquer; or out of the deep of doubt, and anxiety--and ah! how common is that deep; and how many there are in it that swim hard for their lives: may God help them and bring them safe to land;--or out of the deep of overwork, so common now-a- days, when duty lies sore on aching shoulders, a burden too heavy to be borne.
Out of some one of the many deeps into which poor souls fall at times, and find themselves in deep water where no ground is, and in the mire wherein they are ready to sink, the Psalmist cries. But out of the deep he cries--to God. To God, and to none else.
He goes to the fountain-head, to the fount of deliverance, and of forgiveness. For he feels that he needs, not only deliverance, but forgiveness likewise. His sorrow may not be altogether his own fault. What we call in our folly "accident" and "chance," and "fortune,"--but which is really the wise providence and loving will of God--may have brought him low into the deep. Or the injustice, cruelty, and oppression of men may have brought him low; or many another evil hap. But be that as it may, he dares not justify himself. He cannot lift up altogether clean hands. He cannot say that his sorrow is none of his own fault, and his mishap altogether undeserved. If Thou, Lord, wert extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who could abide it? "Not I," says the Psalmist. "Not I," says every human being who knows himself; and knows too well that--"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
But the Psalmist says likewise, "There is forgiveness with Thee, therefore shall Thou be feared."
My friends, consider this; the key of the whole psalm; the gospel and good news, for the sake of which the psalm has been preserved in Holy Scripture, and handed down to us.
God is to be feared, because He is merciful. It is worth while to fear Him, because He is merciful, and of great kindness, and hateth nothing that He hath made; and willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.
Superstitious people, in all ages, heathens always, and sometimes, I am sorry to say, Christians likewise, have had a very different reason, an opposite reason, for fearing God.
They have said: Not--there is mercy: but there is anger with God: therefore shall He be feared. They have said--We must fear God, because He is wrathful, and terrible, and ready to punish; and is extreme to mark what is done amiss, and willeth the death of a sinner: and therefore they have not believed, when Holy Scripture told them, that God was love, and that God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, and sent Him to visit the world in great humility, that the world through Him might be saved.
God has seemed to them only a proud, stern, and formidable being; a condemning judge, and not a merciful Father; and therefore, when they have found themselves in the deep of misery, they have cried out of it to saints, angels, the Virgin Mary; or even to sun, moon, and stars, and all the powers of nature; or even, again--what is more foolish still,--to astrologers, wizards, mediums, and quacks of every shape and hue; to any one and any thing, rather than to God.
But do not you do so, my friends. Fix it in your hearts and minds; and fix it now, before you fall into the deep, as most are apt to do before they die; lest, when the dark day comes, you have no time to learn in adversity the lesson which you should have learnt in prosperity. Fix in your hearts and minds the blessed Gospel and good news--"There is mercy with Thee, O God; therefore shall Thou be feared." There is mercy with Him, pity, tenderness, sympathy; a heart which can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; which knoweth what is in man; which despiseth not the work of His own hands; which remembereth our weak frame, and knoweth that we are but dust: else the spirit would fail before Him, and the souls which He has made. Think of God as that which He is--a compassionate God, a long-suffering God, a generous God, a magnanimous God, a truly royal God; in one word, a Perfect God; who causeth His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth His rain on the just and on the unjust; a God who cannot despise, cannot neglect, cannot lose His patience with any poor soul of man; who sets Himself against none but the insolent, the proud, the malicious, the mean, the wilfully stupid and ignorant and frivolous. Against those who exalt themselves, whether as terrible tyrants or merely contemptible boasters, He exalts Himself; and will shew them, sooner or later, whether He or they be the stronger; whether He or they be the wiser. But for the poor soul who is abased, who is down, and in the depth; who feels his own weakness, folly, ignorance, sinfulness, and out of that deep cries to God as a lost child crying after its father--even a lost lamb bleating after the ewe--of that poor soul, be his prayers never so confused, stupid and ill-expressed--of him it is written: "The Lord helpeth them that fall, and lifteth up all those that are down. He is nigh to all that call on Him, yea, to all that call upon Him faithfully. He will fulfil the desire of those that fear Him, He also will hear their cry and will help them."
Yes. To all such does God the Father, God who made heaven and earth, hold up, as it were, His only-begotten Son, Christ, hanging on the Cross for us; and say: Behold thy God. Behold the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of God's person. Behold what God gave for thee, even His only-begotten Son. Behold that in which God the Father was well pleased: in His Son; not condemning you, not destroying you, but humbling Himself, dying Himself awhile, that you may live for ever. Look; and by seeing the Son, see the Father also--your Father, and the Father of the spirits of all flesh; and know that His essence and His name is--Love.
Therefore, when you are in the deep of sorrow, whatever that depth may be, cry to God. To God Himself; and to none but God. If you can go to the pure fountain-head, why drink of the stream, which must have gathered something of defilement as it flows? If you can get light from the sun itself, why take lamp or candle in place of his clear rays? If you can go to God Himself, why go to any of God's creatures, however holy pure, and loving? Go to God, who is light of light, and life of life; the source of all light, the source of all life, all love, all goodness, all mercy. From Him all goodness flows. All goodness which ever has been, shall be, or can be, is His alone, the fruit of His Spirit. Go then to Him Himself. Out of the depth, however deep, cry unto God and God Himself. If David, the Jew of old, could do so, much more can we, who are baptized into Christ; much more can we, who have access by one Spirit to the Father; much more can we, who--if we know who we are and where we are--should come boldly to the throne of grace, to find mercy and grace to help us in the time of need.
Boldness. That is a bold word: but it is St Paul's, not mine. And by shewing that boldness, we shall shew that we indeed fear God. We shall shew that we reverence God. We shall shew that we trust God. For so, and so only, we shall obey God. If a sovereign or a sage should bid you come to him, would you shew reverence by staying away? Would you shew reverence by refusing his condescension? You may shew that you are afraid of him; that you do not trust him: but that is not to shew reverence, but irreverence.
If God calls, you are bound by reverence to come, however unworthy. If He bids you, you must obey, however much afraid. You must trust Him; you must take Him at His word; you must confide in His goodness, in His justice, in His wisdom: and since He bids you, go boldly to His throne, and find Him what He is, a gracious Lord.
My friends, to you, every one of you--however weak, however ignorant, ay, however sinful, if you desire to be delivered from those sins--this grace is given; liberty to cry out of the depth to God Himself, who made sun and stars, all heaven and earth; liberty to stand face to face with the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and cling to the one Being who can never fail nor change; even to the one immortal eternal God, of whom it is written, "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure. They all shall wax old, like a garment, and as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail."
But it is written again, "My soul waits for the Lord." Yes, if you can trust in the God who cannot change, you can afford to wait; you need not be impatient; as it is written--"Fret not thyself, lest thou be moved to do evil;" and again--"He that believeth shall not make haste." For God, in whom you trust, is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent. Hath He promised, and shall He not do it? His word is like the rain and dew, which fall from heaven, and return not to it again useless, but give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. So is every man that trusteth in Him. His kingdom, says the Lord, is as if a man should put seed into the ground, and sleep and wake, and the seed should grow up, he knoweth not how. So the seed which we sow--the seed of repentance, the seed of humility, the seed of sorrowful prayers for help--it too shall take root, and grow, and bring forth fruit, we know not how, in the good time of God, who cannot change. We may be sad; we may be weary; our eyes may wait and watch for the Lord as the Psalmist says; more than they that watch for the morning: but it must be as those who watch for the morning, for the morning which must and will come, for the sun which will surely rise, and the day which will surely dawn, and the Saviour who will surely deliver, and the God who is merciful in this--that He rewardeth every man according to his work.
"Oh trust in the Lord. For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption; and He shall deliver His people from all their sins."
From their sins. Not merely from the punishment of their sins; not always from the punishment of their sins in this life: but, what is better far, from the sins themselves; from the sins which bring them into fresh and needless troubles; and which make the old troubles, which cannot now be escaped, intolerable.
From all their sins. Not only from the great sins, which, if persisted in, will surely destroy both body and soul in hell: but from the little sins which do so easily beset us; from little bad habits, tempers, lazinesses, weaknesses, ignorances, which hamper and hinder us all every day when we try to do our duty. From all these will the Lord deliver us, by the blood of Christ, and by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, that we may be able at last to say to children and friends, and all whom we love and leave behind us--
"Oh taste and see that the Lord is gracious. Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him."
Yes. This at least we may do--Trust in our God, and thank God that we may do it; for if men may not do that, then is that true of them which Homer said of old--that man is more miserable than all the beasts of the field. For the animals look neither forward nor back. They live but for the present moment; and pain and grief, being but for the moment, fall lightly upon them. But we--we who have the fearful power of looking back, and looking forward--we who can feel regret and remorse for the past, anxiety and terror for the future--to us at times life would be scarce worth having, if we had not a right to cry with all our hearts--
"O God, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded."