Psalm 56:8

Taking this psalm as David's, we may use it to illustrate two great truths.

I. "THE FEAR OF MAN BRINGETH A SNARE." (Proverbs 29:25.) The best of men are but men at the best. David was a man of splendid courage and generosity; but there were times when he grievously erred (1 Samuel 21:10-15). It was said by Dr. Arnold, "The fear of God makes no man do anything mean or dishonourable, but the fear of man does lead to all sorts of weakness and baseness." We may see here how the fear of man leads to failure in truth. When the thought of self is uppermost, we are apt to resort to our own devices. God's ways are too slow, so we turn to our own way. Children, through fear, will tell lies. We pity them and forgive. But, alas! we do not ourselves wholly put away childish things. Abraham prevaricated. David practised deceit. Peter denied his Lord. The fear of man also leads to the sacrifice of independence. Imagination working through fear exaggerates our danger. We become restless and impatient. Instead of bravely facing our foes, we shrink from the path of duty.

"He is a slave who will not be In the truth, with two or three." But, worse still, the fear of man may lead to failure in justice and generosity. We are apt to put ourselves first. To save our miserable lives is the chief thing. Rather than that we should suffer, we would let others suffer. Rather than that we should be put to shame, we would have our opponents "cast down." This is the mean, selfish spirit which Satan recognized as so strong in human nature, when he said, "All that a man hath will he give for his life."

II. GOD DELIVERETH HIS SERVANTS THAT TRUST IN HIM. (Daniel 3:28.) How naturally David turned to God in trouble! Circumstances moved him, but there was more - love constrained him. His heart went forth in clinging trust to God. Faith is the true antidote to fear. It lifts us out of the dust. It places us by the side of God. It fills our soul with peace and hope. Through trust we gain courage to face the foe (ver. 6). Further, we obtain resolution to continue the conflict (vers. 7-9). Taking hold of God's strength, we wax strong. All that is deepest and truest in our hearts calls upon us to be brave, and to quit ourselves like men. We are in the way of duty, and are able to say, like the king in the story, "Come on, come all; this rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I." The experience of the past and the sure word of promise raise our hopes. We look to the future with confidence. In all our wanderings God watches over us. In all our weaknesses and sorrows God stands by us with tender compassion for our weaknesses, and with loving consolations for our sorrows. The victory will be with the right (vers. 10-13). If God has begun a good work in us, he will carry it on to the end. He who has been our Refuge in the past will not fail us in the future. Therefore let us go forward bravely in the path of duty, not counting our lives dear unto ourselves, so that we may be found faithful to him who hath called us, and finish our course with joy. - W.F.

Thou tellest my wanderings: put Thou my tears into Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?
There is a description of life given in the Bible which has been objected to as depressing and unreal. Life is represented, it is said, as a scene of unending struggle and sorrow; and men are made to walk under a constant shadow. There is some apparent truth in this. But the question to be first asked is, Has the Bible view of life truth in it? If so, is it not better to take it fairly into account? And it may be a further question, Has the Bible no compensation for the saddening view of life which it sometimes presents?

I. THE HUMAN SIDE OF LIFE. It is described under the form of wandering and tears: its activities as "wanderings," its passive side as "tears." Still it may be said, What reason can there be in taking David's life, and making it a copy of all human lives? Has not God given us in the world sunshine as well as cloud, has He not scattered manifold pleasures through it, and should we not thankfully acknowledge this? It is very true, and we must beware of taking any part of the Bible, and pressing it so far as to make it contradict both itself and our experience. Now, there are two things which God in His kindness has sent to the relief of men in the journey of life. There are the natural blessings that are, in a measure, close to all, visiting them often whether they will or not; and there are the helps and hopes which come from a felt relation to Himself. The first may be called the blessings of His hand, the second of His heart. The cloud would be too dark for poor humanity unless God had given it a silver lining, and it is neither good for us, nor grateful to Him, to overlook this. We may begin with the strange, mysterious pleasure God has put into life itself — to live, to breathe, to look on things and have an interest in them, to move, to walk among them — these are roots that go down into the world and hold men on to it by an indescribable attachment. It is one of the kind things in the world that God has given man a liking to life itself. How much there is that is pleasant. Nature, in her varied beauty; the benediction of work, of honest, earnest work, whether it be of hand or head; the kindly affections of the human heart, the love of home and kindred, the solace of friendship, the happiness of doing any good. We seem far enough away now from wandering and tears, and yet they return upon us. It was a saying of the ancients that "for every joy granted to man, there are two sorrows, one before and one behind." Have you not felt this description of life true in its changefulness? How few of us are in the homes of our youth! Or, if near them, how far have we wandered in associations! Changes have taken place around and within which make us almost forget what we were. "Our fathers, where are they?" Or think of life in its constant struggle, perfection never gained, rest never reached. But come —

II. TO THE DIVINE SIDE OF LIFE. What does the view of God secure for the man who looks to Him? Well —

1. A Divine measure. "Thou tellest my wanderings." This means not merely that God speaks of them, but takes the tale and number of them. has said that in making the world "God mathematizes." All is fixed and sure as is the science of numbers. It does not seem so, but it is.

2. This view of God secures a Divine sympathy in life: "Put thou my tears into Thy bottle." However skilful the guide might be, he would not meet our ease unless he had a heart. There are rough defiles and thorny brakes through which the road leads — there is no help for it: these things make it the road; but what concerns us most is the manner of the Guide — that He should take our frailty into account and provide resting-places and refreshment for us as they are needed.

3. This view of God secures a Divine meaning in life — "Are they not in Thy book?" It is natural to understand this of both the wandering and the tears. They are written down, and therefore have an intelligent and consistent meaning. And by and by we shall see this.

(J. Ker, D. D.)

In the cabinets of antiquaries is often to be seen a small bottle found in ancient tombs. It is called a lachrymatory, or tear-bottle, and is supposed to have contained the tears of some bereaved relative of the departed one who was laid in the tomb. The heathen believed that the gods loved to see a good man struggling with adversity, for then the greatness of the human soul comes out. And our God loves to see the faith and patience of His sorrowing servants. But we desire to speak of Jesus, whose language the psalmist, by prophetic anticipation, speaks. The tears of Jesus, then, are our subject. His life was characterized by sorrow. But He did not weep at His crucifixion — there was never moral weakness in His tears. Ha was full of sympathy, and He was full of tenderness, but He was never moved to tears by the cruelty of men. But He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us of "His strong crying and tears." There are tears which we cannot fully understand; but they were tears for the sins of the world, the weight of which in that most mysterious agony He was then bearing. Shall we, then, continue in sin? And He wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11.). Then it is not inconsistent with spiritual-mindedness — as some say it is — to feel very keenly the sorrows and distress of life. "Jesus wept." And thus He assures us of His sympathy. And He wept on His way to Jerusalem, when He beheld the city and wept ever it. It was the day of His triumphal entry, and yet He wept. But it was not for Himself, but for others — for the people of Jerusalem. They were tears of patriotism. He wept for His country's sorrows. But observe it was not so much the national disasters as the national sins, that He wept. It is the reverse with the tears of ordinary patriotism. And patriotic pride and boasting, how often it is because of prosperity rather than of righteousness. But let our patriotism be sanctified by prayer. Prayer was in the heart of Jesus for His country. Let it be so for ours.

(Dean Goulburn.)

Tears are here employed as exponents of sorrows and troubles. But it is not all tears that are treasured up by God.

I. TEARS OF REPENTANCE. When the early years have been marked by transgression, the coming of the days of grace can never be without tears. Take as illustrations the woman who was a sinner; the Philippian jailor; Peter when he went out and wept bitterly on that day which we may regard as the day of his abiding conversion to God.


III. TEARS WEPT OVER THE WICKEDNESS OF MEN AND THE APPARENT SLOWNESS WITH WHICH THE KINGDOM OF GOD MAKES ITS WAY. The greatest and the best men the world has ever known have been the men who have experienced the deepest sorrow. The man who can smile from the cradle to the grave knows neither himself, nor the world, nor God. Ezekiel tells of those on whom the Lord bid him put a mark for that they "sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the city." Their tears were put into God's bottle. Never was the truth contained in our text more wonderfully illustrated than in the history of our Blessed Lord and Saviour. Not a tear He shed was lost. "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." "He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands."

(Enoch Mellor, D. D.)

The so-called lachrymatories, or tear-bottles, found in museums of art, were applied to no such use as their name implies. They probably contained unguents that were used in preparing the dead for burial; which accounts for their presence in tombs. The psalmist rather had in mind the skin bottle of his day, in which, by a bold figure of speech, he conceives of God as treasuring our tears with that same Divine carefulness which numbers the hairs of our heads or notes the falling sparrow. But why should God treasure our tears in His bottle?

1. As a token of prayers to be answered. Tears and prayers are closely connected. "Strong crying and tears" accompanied the "prayers and supplications" of Christ in the days of His flesh. The woman that was a sinner said nothing as she bathed the travel-stained feet of her Lord with her tears. Such tears are the guarantee of sincerity, the evidence of moral earnestness, and the token of prevailing prayer. The tears in God's bottle represent petitions filed away for answer in His own good time.

2. In token of wrongs to be avenged. The tears of martyrs thus treasured up plead like the blood of Abel. It is a perilous thing to make a little child to weep by our cruelty or by injustice to smite the fountain of tears in the widow's heart. Every such tear of the poor and needy is gathered into God's bottle, and will be a swift witness against us, till the wrong is atoned for or avenged.

(J. F. Elder, D. D.)

I. AN ASSURANCE. "Thou tellest my wanderings." They Were numerous and various. But what do these wanderings take in?

1. Moral infirmities, or deviations from duty, What is the whole course of a state of nature but a series of wanderings? It is well if God sees that you feel them to be your afflictions and that you repent of them.

2. These wanderings take in local changes. See Abraham, Israel, David — what wanderings were theirs? Some of the most eminent servants of God were wanderers (Hebrews 11.). "They wandered about," etc. And it is so still. For conscience' sake many have had to wander about seeking how to live. But they are not purposeless; God has taken count of them all. "Thou tellest my wanderings." Therefore we are not to think that God disregards all individualities.

II. THE PRAYER. "Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle." There are some persons who despise tears as weak and womanly. Do they remember who He was who wept at the grave of Lazarus? Do they remember who He was, who, "when He came nigh unto Jerusalem, wept over it," etc.? "True greatness," says Lavater, "is always simple"; and true courage, I am persuaded, is always combined with tenderness. Homer — that matchless painter of men and manners — makes no scruple to represent his bravest of men, Ajax, and his wisest of men, Ulysses, as weeping; and the latter as weeping no less than three times in the course of a few lines. The Easterns wept more readily, and were less ashamed of indulging their tears, than we. David was a man of tears. Of these tears, let us now, if we can, trace out the sources. One source of these tears was affliction. He had many trials and troubles, which his greatness could not prevent, or even alleviate; yea, which his greatness rather increased. Another source of his tears was sin; and a much more plentiful one than his sufferings. "My sin," says he, "is ever before me." Not only his great sin in his fall, but his daily and hourly failures. "Who," says he, "can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults." And David wept for the sins of others, as well as his own. "I beheld the transgressors," says he, "and was grieved, Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because men keep not Thy law."

III. THE QUESTION. "Are they not in Thy book?" — that is, Are they nob written and recorded there? What book? The book of His providence? Yes, they are all there; their number is there; their quality is there; their degree is there; their duration is there and all their sad memorial is there. The book of His remembrance (Malachi 3:16). Now, let us conclude —

1. By admiring the condescension of God.

2. Let us, as Young says, "not stop at wonder," but "imitate and live."

3. Ye wanderers, ye weepers, repair here. God is able to comfort in all our tribulation.

(W. Jay.)

There are some very good people who always have their tear-bottle by them, and who always treasure up every little grief and every little disappointment. Whenever you meet them, the first thing you see is the tear-bottle; and you soon see there is more in it than there was last time. Now, of course I am not speaking of those who have indeed great trials, but of those who make a great deal of little ones. I do not want you to get into that gloomy way of living.

(D. Davies.)

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