The church, in affliction and distress, is here, by direction from God, making her application to God. So ready is God to hear and answer the prayers of his people that by his Spirit in the word, and in the heart, he indites their petitions and puts words into their mouths. The people of God, in a very low and weak condition, are here taught how to address themselves to God.
I. They are to acknowledge with thankfulness the great things God had done for them (Ps. 85:1-3): “Thou has done so and so for us and our fathers.” Note, The sense of present afflictions should not drown the remembrance of former mercies; but, even when we are brought very low, we must call to remembrance past experiences of God’s goodness, which we must take notice of with thankfulness, to his praise. They speak of it here with pleasure, 1. That God had shown himself propitious to their land, and had smiled upon it as his own: “Thou hast been favourable to thy land, as thine, with distinguishing favours.” Note, The favour of God is the spring-head of all good, and the fountain of happiness, to nations, as well as to particular persons. It was by the favour of God that Israel got and kept possession of Canaan (Ps. 44:3); and, if he had not continued very favourable to them, they would have been ruined many a time. 2. That he had rescued them out of the hands of their enemies and restored them to their liberty: “Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob, and settled those in their own land again that had been driven out and were strangers in a strange land, prisoners in the land of their oppressors.” The captivity of Jacob, though it may continue long, will be brought back in due time. 3. That he had not dealt with them according to the desert of their provocations (Ps. 85:2): “Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, and not punished them as in justice thou mightest. Thou hast covered all their sin.” When God forgives sin he covers it; and, when he covers the sin of his people, he covers it all. The bringing back of their captivity was then an instance of God’s favour to them, when it was accompanied with the pardon of their iniquity. 4. That he had not continued his anger against them so far, and so long, as they had reason to fear (Ps. 85:3): “Having covered all their sin, thou hast taken away all thy wrath;” for when sin is set aside God’s anger ceases; God is pacified if we are purified. See what the pardon of sin is: Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, that is, “Thou hast turned thy anger from waxing hot, so as to consume us in the flame of it. In compassion to us thou hast not stirred up all thy wrath, but, when an intercessor has stood before thee in the gap, thou hast turned away thy anger.”
II. They are taught to pray to God for grace and mercy, in reference to their present distress; this is inferred from the former: “Thou hast done well for our fathers; do well for us, for we are the children of the same covenant.” 1. They pray for converting grace: “Turn us, O God of our salvation! in order to the turning of our captivity; turn us from iniquity; turn us to thyself and to our duty; turn us, and we shall be turned.” All those whom God will save sooner or later he will turn. If no conversion, no salvation. 2. They pray for the removal of the tokens of God’s displeasure which they were under: “Cause thine anger towards us to cease, as thou didst many a time cause it to cease in the days of our fathers, when thou didst take away thy wrath from them.” Observe the method, “First turn us to thee, and then cause thy anger to turn from us.” When we are reconciled to God, then, and not till then, we may expect the comfort of his being reconciled to us. 3. They pray for the manifestation of God’s good-will to them (Ps. 85:7): “Show us thy mercy, O Lord! show thyself merciful to us; not only have mercy on us, but let us have the comfortable evidences of that mercy; let us know that thou hast mercy on us and mercy in store for us.” 4. They pray that God would, graciously to them and gloriously to himself, appear on their behalf: “Grant us thy salvation; grant it by thy promise, and then, no doubt, thou wilt work it by thy providence.” Note, The vessels of God’s mercy are the heirs of his salvation; he shows mercy to those to whom he grants salvation; for salvation is of mere mercy.
III. They are taught humbly to expostulate with God concerning their present troubles, Ps. 85:5, 6. Here observe, 1. What they dread and deprecate: “Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? We are undone if thou art, but we hope thou wilt not. Wilt thou draw out thy anger unto all generations? No; thou art gracious, slow to anger, and swift to show mercy, and wilt not contend for ever. Thou wast not angry with our fathers for ever, but didst soon turn thyself from the fierceness of thy wrath; why then wilt thou be angry with us for ever? Are not thy mercies and compassions as plentiful and powerful as ever they were? Impenitent sinners God will be angry with for ever; for what is hell but the wrath of God drawn out unto endless generations? But shall a hell upon earth be the lot of thy people?” 2. What they desire and hope for: “Wilt thou not revive us again (Ps. 85:6), revive us with comforts spoken to us, revive us with deliverances wrought for us? Thou hast been favourable to thy land formerly, and that revived it; wilt thou not again be favourable, and so revive it again?” God had granted to the children of the captivity some reviving in their bondage, Ezra 9:8. Their return out of Babylon was as life from the dead, Ezek. 37:11, 12. Now, Lord (say they), wilt thou not revive us again, and put thy hand again the second time to gather us in? Ps. 126:1, 4; Isa. 11:11. Revive thy work in the midst of the years, Hab. 3:2. “Revive us again,” (1.) “That thy people may rejoice; and so we shall have the comfort of it,” Ps. 14:7. Give them life, that they may have joy. (2.) “That they may rejoice in thee; and so thou wilt have the glory of it.” If God be the fountain of all our mercies, he must be the centre of all our joys.