46. How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy fury burn like fire? 47. Remember of what age I am!1 why shouldst thou have created all the sons of men in vain?2 48. What man shall live, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul [or life] from the hand of the grave?3 Selah.
46. How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? After having poured forth his complaints respecting the sad and calamitous condition of the Church, the Psalmist now turns himself to prayer. Whence it follows that the language of lamentation to which he had hitherto given utterance, although it emanated from carnal sense, was nevertheless conjoined with faith. Unbelievers, in the agitation of trouble, may sometimes engage in prayer, yet whatever they ask proceeds from feigned lips. But the prophet, by connecting prayer with his complaints, bears testimony that he had never lost his confidence in the truth of the Divine promises. With respect to this manner of expression, How long, for ever? we have spoken on Psalm 79:5, where we have shown that it denotes a long and continued succession of calamities. Moreover, by asking How long God will hide himself, he tacitly intimates that all will be well as soon as God is pleased to look upon his chosen people with a benignant countenance. In the second clause of the verse, he again mentions as the reason why God did not vouchsafe to look upon them with paternal favor, that his anger was incensed against them. The obvious conclusion from which is, that all the afflictions endured by us proceed from our sins; these being the scourges of an offended God.
47. Remember how short my time is. After having confessed that the severe and deplorable afflictions which had befallen the Church were to be traced to her own sins as the procuring cause, the prophet, the more effectually to move God to commiseration, lays before him the brevity of human life, in which, if we receive no taste of the Divine goodness, it will seem that we have been created in vain. That we may understand the passage the more clearly, it will be better to begin with the consideration of the last member of the verse, Why shouldst thou have created all the sons of men in vain? The faithful, in putting this question, proceed upon an established first principle, That God has created men and placed them in the world, to show himself a father to them. And, indeed, as his goodness extends itself even to the cattle and lower animals of every kind,4 it cannot for a moment be supposed, that we, who hold a higher rank in the scale of being than the brute creation, should be wholly deprived of it. Upon the contrary supposition, it were better for us that we had never been born, than to languish away in continual sorrow. There is, moreover, set forth the brevity of the course of our life; which is so brief, that unless God make timely haste in giving us some taste of his benefits, the opportunity for doing this will be lost, since our life passes rapidly away. The drift of this verse is now very obvious. In the first place, it is laid down as a principle, That the end for which men were created was, that they should enjoy God's bounty in the present world; and from this it is concluded that they are born in vain, unless he show himself a father towards them. In the second place, as the course of this life is short, it is argued that if God does not make haste to bless them, the opportunity will no longer be afforded when their life shall have run out.
But here it may be said, in the first place, that the saints take too much upon them in prescribing to God a time in which to work; and, in the next place, that although he afflict us with continual distresses, so long as we are in our state of earthly pilgrimage, yet there is no ground to conclude from this that we have been created in vain, since there is reserved for us a better life in heaven, to the hope of which we have been adopted; and that, therefore, it is not surprising though now our life is hidden from us on earth. I answer, That it is by the permission of God that the saints take this liberty of urging him in their prayers to make haste; and that there is no impropriety in doing so, provided they, at the same time, keep themselves within the bounds of modesty, and, restraining the impetuosity of their affections, yield themselves wholly to his will. With respect to the second point, I grant that it is quite true, that although we must continue to drag out our life amidst continual distresses, we have abundant consolation to aid us in bearing all our afflictions, provided we lift up our minds to heaven. But still it is to be observed, in the first place, that it is certain, considering our great weakness, that no man will ever do this unless he has first tasted of the Divine goodness in this life; and, secondly, that the complaints of the people of God ought not to be judged of according to a perfect rule, because they proceed not from a settled and an undisturbed state of mind, but have always some excess arising from the impetuosity or vehemence of the affections at work in their minds. I at once allow that the man who measures the love of God from the state of things as presently existing, judges by a standard which must lead to a false conclusion;
"for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth," (Hebrews 12:6.)
But as God is never so severe towards his own people as not to furnish them with actual experimental evidence of his grace, it stands always true that life is profitless to men, if they do not feel, while they live, that He is their father.
As to the second clause of the verse, it has been stated elsewhere that our prayers do not flow in one uniform course, but sometimes betray an excess of sorrow. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that the faithful, when immoderate sorrow or fear occupies their thoughts and keeps fast hold of them, experience such inattention stealing by degrees upon them, as to make them for a time forget to keep their minds fixed in meditation upon the life to come. Many think it very unaccountable, if the children of God do not, the first moment they begin to think, immediately penetrate into heaven, as if thick mists did not often intervene to impede or hinder us when we would look attentively into it. For faith to lose its liveliness is one thing, and for it to be utterly extinguished is another. And, doubtless, whoever is exercised in the judgments of God, and in conflict with temptations, will acknowledge that he is not so mindful of the spiritual life as he ought to be. Although then the question, Why shouldst thou have created all the sons of men in vain? is deduced from a true principle, yet it savours somewhat of a faulty excess. Whence it appears that even in our best framed prayers, we have always need of pardon. There always escapes from us some language or sentiment chargeable with excess, and therefore it is necessary for God to overlook or bear with our infirmity.
48. What man shall live, and shall not see death? This verse contains a confirmation of what has been already stated concerning the brevity of human life. The amount is, that unless God speedily hasten to show himself a father to men, the opportunity of causing them to experience his grace will no longer exist. The original word
1 Some of the Jewish interpreters take this view, and suppose the allusion to be to king Jehoiachin, (2 Kings 24:8.) Kennicott infers from the expression, "Thou hast shortened the days of his youth," that this portion of the psalm refers to Ahaz, who died at thirty-six years of age.
2 "'Remember at what an age or time of life I am.' Or, 'of what duration,' or, 'how fleeting,'
3 Ainsworth reads, "O call thou to remembrance how transitory I am; into what vain state thou hast made all the sons of Adam."
4 This appeal respecting the universality of death, and the impossibility of avoiding it, meets with a ready response in the bosom of every child of Adam, however exalted or humble his lot. And, when death has once seized on its victim, all the wealth, power, and skill of the world cannot spoil the grave of its dominion. The admirable lines of Gray, in his celebrated Elegy, furnish a very good comment on this verse: --
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike th' inevitable hour: --
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
"Can storied urn, or animated bust,
Back to its mansions call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?"
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