An Evening Song in Perilous Times, Showing Us the Secret of Happiness
Psalm 4:1-8
Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: you have enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.…

It is not difficult to be cheerful when we have everything we desire. But when life seems to be a series of catastrophes, disappointments, and vexations, buoyancy of spirit is not so easily attained. If our lives were in peril every moment through rebellion at home and plots and snares around, few of us would be found capable, under such circumstances, of writing morning and evening hymns. Yet such were the circumstances under which David wrote this psalm and the one which precedes it. Both of them belong, in all probability, to the time of Ahithophel's conspiracy, of Absalom's rebellion, when the king was a fugitive, camping out with a few of his followers. Such reverses, moreover, were none the easier to bear, when he had the reflection that because of his own sin the sword was in his house, and was piercing his own soul Yet even thus, as he had "a heart at leisure from itself to write his song of morning praise, so does he also pen his evening prayer. We picture him thus: Any moment a fatal stroke may fall on him. His adversaries prowl around. They have rich stores of provisions and of gold, while he himself has to depend for the means of subsistence on supplies brought to his camp from without. Unscrupulous rebels were in power, while David and his host were like a band of men who are dependent on begging or on plunder. But it was precisely this combination of ills that brought out some of the finest traits in his character. Even then he can take up his pen and write, "Thou hast put gladness," etc.; "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." Here, then, we have one of God's people, who has seen calmer days, writing in his tent and telling of a secret of peace and joy which nothing can disturb. It is a secret worth knowing. Let us ascertain what it is.

I. HERE IS AN INQUIRY PUT. "Who will show us good?" By which is meant, not so much What is good in itself? as - What will make us happy, and bring us a sense of satisfaction? Over and above our intellectual, we have emotional faculties. The emotions are to the spiritual part of us what the sensations are to the bodily part. Among the various fallacies of some wise men of this world, one of the wildest is that emotion has no place in the search after, and. in the ascertainment of, truth. It would be quite safe to reverse that, and to say that unless the emotions have their rightful play, few truths can be rightly sought or found. An equilibrium of absolute indifference concerning truth or error would be a guilty carelessness. Our craving after happiness is God's lesson to us through the emotions, that we are dependent for satisfaction on something outside us; and when such satisfaction is actually reached, it is so far the sign that the higher life is being healthfully sustained. Our nature is too complex to be satisfied with supply in any one department. Our intellectual nature craves the true. Our moral nature craves the right. Our sympathetic nature calls for love. Our conscious weakness and dependence call for strength from another. Our powers of action demand a sphere of service which shall neither corrupt nor exhaust. Our spiritual nature cries out for God, life, and immortality. Who can show us "good" that will meet all these wants? Such is the inquiry.

II. THERE ARE THOSE WHO KNOW HOW TO ANSWER THE INQUIRY. (Ver. 7, "Thou hast put gladness in my heart," etc.) The psalmist shows us:

1. The source of his joy. God - God himself. How often do the psalmists luxuriate in telling what God was to them - Rock, Shield, Sun, High Tower, Fortress, Refuge, Strength, Salvation, their Exceeding Joy! Much more is this the case now we know God in Christ. In him we have revealed to us through the Spirit nobler heights, deeper depths, larger embraces, and mightier triumphs of divinely revealed love than Old Testament saints could possibly conceive.

2. One excellent feature of this joy is the sense of security it brings with it in the most perilous surroundings (see last verse). (Let the Hebrew student closely examine this verse. He will gain thereby precious glimpses of a meaning deeper than any bare translation can give.) The psalmist discloses and suggests further:

3. The quality and degree of the joy. " More than... when their corn and their wine increaseth."

(1) The gladness is of a far higher quality. A filial son's joy in the best of fathers is vastly superior to the delight a child has in his toys. So joy in God himself for what he is, is infinitely higher than delight in what he gives.

(2) It is a gladness of greater zest. No joy in worldly things that a carnal man ever reached can approximate to the believer's joy in God. It is a joy "unspeakable, and full of glory."

(3) It is a gladness remarkable for its persistency. The worldling's joy is for the bright days of life. Joy in God is for every day, and comes out most strikingly in the darkest ones - David, Daniel; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Peter, John, Stephen, Paul and Silas, etc. We never know all that God is to us until he takes away all our earthly props, and makes us lean with all our weight on him.

(4) The believer's joy in God surpasses the worldling's gladness in the effects of it. It not only satisfies, but sanctifies the mind.

(5) This joy never palls upon the taste. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."

III. THE PSALMIST SHOWS US HOW THIS JOY IN GOD WAS ATTAINED. After his delights the worldling has many a weary chase. To ensure his, the psalmist sends up a prayer, "Lord, lift thou up," etc. This prayer had been taught him of old. It was a part of the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:22, ad fin.). Its meaning is, "Give us the sign and seal of thy favour, and it is enough." Truly in this all else is ensured. Forgiveness from God and peace with him prepare the way for the fulness of joy. Nothing is right with a sinful man till there is peace between him and God. If our view of the chronology of the Psalms be correct, Psalm 51. and 32, preceded this. If it be true that the believer attains the highest heights of joy, it is also true that he has first gone down into the deep vale of penitential sorrow. As in Christian toil, so in personal religion, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." Let the sinner "behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," and then his hope, his joy, will begin. - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: {To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David.} Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.

WEB: Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness. Give me relief from my distress. Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.

An Appeal for Mercy to the God of Righteousness
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