We have here the lively portraiture of a good man under prevailing melancholy, fallen into and sinking in that horrible pit and that miry clay, but struggling to get out. Drooping saints, that are of a sorrowful spirit, may here as in a glass see their own faces. The conflict which the psalmist had with his griefs and fears seems to have been over when he penned this record of it; for he says (Ps. 77:1), I cried unto God, and he gave ear unto me, which, while the struggle lasted, he had not the comfortable sense of, as he had afterwards; but he inserts it in the beginning of his narrative as an intimation that his trouble did not end in despair; for God heard him, and, at length, he knew that he heard him. Observe,
I. His melancholy prayers. Being afflicted, he prayed (Jas. 5:13), and, being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly (Ps. 77:1): My voice was unto God, and I cried, even with my voice unto God. He was full of complaints, loud complaints, but he directed them to God, and turned them all into prayers, vocal prayers, very earnest and importunate. Thus he gave vent to his grief and gained some ease; and thus he took the right way in order to relief (Ps. 77:2): In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord. Note, Days of trouble must be days of prayer, days of inward trouble especially, when God seems to have withdrawn from us; we must seek him and seek till we find him. In the day of his trouble he did not seek for the diversion of business or recreation, to shake off his trouble that way, but he sought God, and his favour and grace. Those that are under trouble of mind must not think to drink it away, or laugh it away, but must pray it away. My hand was stretched out in the night and ceased not; so Dr. Hammond reads the following words, as speaking the incessant importunity of his prayers. Compare Ps. 143:5, 6.
II. His melancholy grief. Grief may then be called melancholy indeed, 1. When it admits of no intermission; such was his: My sore, or wound, ran in the night, and bled inwardly, and it ceased not, no, not in the time appointed for rest and sleep. 2. When it admits of no consolation; and that also as his case: My soul refused to be comforted; he had no mind to hearken to those that would be his comforters. As vinegar upon nitre, so is he that sings songs to a heavy heart, Prov. 25:20. Nor had he any mind to think of those things that would be his comforts; he put them far from him, as one that indulged himself in sorrow. Those that are in sorrow, upon any account, do not only prejudice themselves, but affront God, if they refuse to be comforted.
III. His melancholy musings. He pored so much upon the trouble, whatever it was, personal or public, that, 1. The methods that should have relieved him did but increase his grief, Ps. 77:3. (1.) One would have thought that the remembrance of God would comfort him, but it did not: I remembered God and was troubled, as poor Job (Job 23:15); I am troubled at his presence; when I consider I am afraid of him. When he remembered God his thoughts fastened only upon his justice, and wrath, and dreadful majesty, and thus God himself became a terror to him. (2.) One would have thought that pouring out his soul before God would give him ease, but it did not; he complained, and yet his spirit was overwhelmed, and sank under the load. 2. The means of his present relief were denied him, Ps. 77:4. He could not enjoy sleep, which, if it be quiet and refreshing, is a parenthesis to our griefs and cares: “Thou holdest my eyes waking with thy terrors, which make me full of tossings to and fro until the dawning of the day.” He could not speak, by reason of the disorder of his thoughts, the tumult of his spirits, and the confusion his mind was in: He kept silence even from good while his heart was hot within him; he was ready to burst like a new bottle (Job 32:19), and yet so troubled that he could not speak and refresh himself. Grief never preys so much upon the spirits as when it is thus smothered and pent up.
IV. His melancholy reflections (Ps. 77:5, 6): “I have considered the days of old, and compared them with the present days; and our former prosperity does but aggravate our present calamities: for we see not the wonders that our fathers told us off.” Melancholy people are apt to pore altogether upon the days of old and the years of ancient times, and to magnify them, for the justifying of their own uneasiness and discontent at the present posture of affairs. But say not thou that the former days were better than these, because it is more than thou knowest whether they were or no, Eccl. 7:10. Neither let the remembrance of the comforts we have lost make us unthankful for those that are left, or impatient under our crosses. Particularly, he called to remembrance his song in the night, the comforts with which he had supported himself in his former sorrows and entertained himself in his former solitude. These songs he remembered, and tried if he could not sing them over again; but he was out of tune for them, and the remembrance of them did but pour out his soul in him, Ps. 43:4. See Job 35:10.
V. His melancholy fears and apprehensions: “I communed with my own heart, Ps. 77:6. Come, my soul, what will be the issue of these things? What can I think of them and what can I expect they will come to at last? I made diligent search into the causes of my trouble, enquiring wherefore God contended with me and what would be the consequences of it. And thus I began to reason, Will the Lord cast off for ever, as he does for the present? He is not now favourable; and will he be favourable no more? His mercy is now gone; and is it clean gone for ever? His promise now fails; and does it fail for evermore? God is not now gracious; but has he forgotten to be gracious? His tender mercies have been withheld, perhaps in wisdom; but are they shut up, shut up in anger?” Ps. 77:7-9. This is the language of a disconsolate deserted soul, walking in darkness and having no light, a case not uncommon even with those that fear the Lord and obey the voice of his servant, Isa. 50:10. He may here be looked upon, 1. As groaning under a sore trouble. God hid his face from him, and withdrew the usual tokens of his favour. Note, Spiritual trouble is of all trouble most grievous to a gracious soul; nothing wounds and pierces it like the apprehensions of God’s being angry, the suspending of his favour and the superseding of his promise; this wounds the spirit; and who can bear that? 2. As grappling with a strong temptation. Note, God’s own people, in a cloudy and dark day, may be tempted to make desperate conclusions about their own spiritual state and the condition of God’s church and kingdom in the world, and, as to both, to give up all for gone. We may be tempted to think that God has abandoned us and cast us off, that the covenant of grace fails us, and that the tender mercy of our God shall be for ever withheld from us. But we must not give way to such suggestions as these. If fear and melancholy ask such peevish questions, let faith answer them from the Scripture: Will the Lord cast off for ever? God forbid, Rom. 11:1. No; the Lord will not cast off his people, Ps. 94:14. Will he be favourable no more? Yes, he will; for, though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion, Lam. 3:32. Isa. his mercy clean gone for ever? No; his mercy endures for ever; as it is from everlasting, it is to everlasting, Ps. 103:17. Doth his promise fail for evermore? No; it is impossible for God to lie, Heb. 6:18. Hath God forgotten to be gracious? No; he cannot deny himself, and his own name which he hath proclaimed gracious and merciful, Exod. 34:6. Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies? No; they are new every morning (Lam. 3:23); and therefore, How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? Hos. 11:8, 9. Thus was he going on with his dark and dismal apprehensions when, on a sudden, he first checked himself with that word, Selah, “Stop there; go no further; let us hear no more of these unbelieving surmises;” and he then chid himself (Ps. 77:10): I said, This is my infirmity. He is soon aware that it is not well said, and therefore, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? I said, This is my affliction” (so some understand it); “This is the calamity that falls to my lot and I must make the best of it; every one has his affliction, his trouble in the flesh; and this is mine, the cross I must take up.” Or, rather, “This is my sin; it is my iniquity, the plague of my own heart.” These doubts and fears proceed from the want and weakness of faith and the corruption of a distempered mind. note, (1.) We all know that concerning ourselves of which we must say, “This is our infirmity, a sin that most easily besets us.” (2.) Despondency of spirit, and distrust of God, under affliction, are too often the infirmities of good people, and, as such, are to be reflected upon by us with sorrow and shame, as by the psalmist here: This is my infirmity. When at any time it is working in us we must thus suppress the rising of it, and not suffer the evil spirit to speak. We must argue down the insurrections of unbelief, as the psalmist here: But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. He had been considering the years of ancient times (Ps. 77:5), the blessings formerly enjoyed, the remembrance of which did only add to his grief; but now he considered them as the years of the right hand of the Most High, that those blessings of ancient times came from the Ancient of days, from the power and sovereign disposal of his right hand who is over all, God, blessed for ever, and this satisfied him; for may not the Most High with his right hand make what changes he pleases?
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