Heman’s Sorrowful Psalm
“But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.” — Psalm lxxxviii. 13.
WHAT misery of soul some persons endure before they find peace with God! There is no need that it should be so with them; their anguish often arises from a mistake. The gospel is very simple; it is just, — “Believe and live.” He that believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ is not condemned; he at once receives pardon, and passes from death unto life, and he shall never come into condemnation. But a very large number of persons will not go the straight road to heaven. They cannot believe that it is the right road; so they get troubled in their thoughts, tumbled up and down in their minds, as John Bunyan puts it, and they go staggering over dark mountains, stumbling and falling, wounding and bruising themselves, and it is long before they come out into the light and joy of peace in believing. I would recommend you young people especially to take the straight way to salvation by trusting in Jesus just as you are. You shall, by doing so, avoid the poor pilgrim’s Slough of Despond, and very much else that might trouble and burden you; but, as I know that many do go round about, and so get troubled and perplexed, I am going to talk to them from these words of the psalmist.
This good man, Heman the Ezrahite, went by this rough roundabout road that some of you have taken, and thus he found himself in terrible places. He seems to have been brought about as low as a man can be brought; but all the while there was this fact in his favour, he continued praying. He did pray; he would pray; he could not be made to leave off praying. If, by some process or other, Satan could have dragged him from the mercy-seat, he would have had the diabolical hope of his ultimate destruction; but as long as the man would keep on his knees, repeating his earnest cry to God for mercy, it was not possible that he could be destined. I may be now addressing some who, in the depth of their trouble, have been praying unto God, not always with a brave believing heart, but still with intense sincerity and earnestness; and now it has come to this pass with them, the evil spirit says, “Do not pray any more. Give it up. It is of no use. God will never hear you.” If that is your temptation, dear friend, may the Holy Spirit come to your rescue while I talk familiarly with you in his name!
First, from this Psalm, learn how to pray. Secondly, from the psalmist’s example, resolve to pray in your very worst case. After I have spoken upon these two points, I shall close by giving you some reasons why you will find it wise thus to pray.
I. First, then, from this Psalm, LEARN HOW TO PRAY.
A great many people make a mistake about what prayer really is; they seem to think that it consists in repeating a form of words, but it does not. The witch of old used to mutter certain phrases, and she pretended that she wrought great wonders by repeating such and such words backwards; but there was no real power about her words, it was sheer superstition to believe in her incantations. I pray you, beloved friends, do not rely upon prayer as a kind of witchcraft, for it is nothing better than witchcraft to believe that the mere utterance of certain sacred words and phrases can have any appreciable effect either upon yourselves or upon God. Prayer is the longing of the soul to hold communion with the Most High, the desire of the heart to obtain blessings at his hands. James Montgomery happily described what real prayer is when he wrote, —
“Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Utter’d or unexpress’d:
The motion of a hidden fire,
That trembles in the breast.
“Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear;
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.
“Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.
“Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice
Returning from his ways;
While angels in their songs rejoice,
And cry, ‘Behold be prays!’”
If you would pray aright, you will do wisely to copy the writer of this Psalm; and, first, tell the Lord your case. In this Psalm, Heman makes a map of his life’s history, he puts down all the dark places through which he has travelled. He mentions his sins, his sorrows, his hopes (if he had any), his fears, his woes, and so on. Now, that is real prayer, laying your case before the Lord. Go to your chamber, and shut to your door, and toll the Lord all about yourself. Do you lack words? Well then, use no words. Tell him all simply by the movements of your thought, for God can read the thoughts of men. Act as if you, like Hezekiah, were opening a letter, and spread it out before the Lord, hide nothing from him. It is true that you cannot hide it, for he knows all about you; but still do not try to conceal anything from your God. Tell him about your life of sin, tell him of your vain attempts to make yourself better, tell him of your many failures, tell him of your false hopes, tell him of all your blunders and mistakes; and then say, “Lord, I do not even now fully understand my own case, but thou dost. Do with me according to thine own wisdom and prudence, and save thy servant, I beseech thee.” That is the way to pray, this is how the psalmist prayed. Try the same plan as soon as you get home; nay, do not delay, but pray thus at once. Open your heart to God, and spread your case before him.
Then, the next rule of prayer is, pray naturally. Note that the psalmist says, “O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee.” Children are very eloquent when they cry, you have no need to teach them the arts of oratory or of posturing; when they really want a thing, they cry all over till they get it. That is the way truly to pray; when you so want the blessing, that your heart and your flesh cry out for the living God, you will not need to trouble about words. Your eyes shall aid you with their liquid pleas, your breath shall assist you as you sigh and sob, every part of your being shall help you as you stretch out your hands unto God. The best prayer is, like a cry, the most natural expression of the sorrow and the need of the heart. Come like that to God; get upstairs into that little room where no eye but the Lord’s shall see thee, and there cry unto him, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” That is the way to pray, not to repeat some pompous form which may have been useful to saints in ages gone by, but to let your very soul pour out itself like water before the Lord in the most natural way that it can find.
But you must also notice, in the first verse, what is very essential to prayer. The psalmist says that he cried day and night before God. This makes a wonderful difference in prayer. Praying is not whistling to the winds, it is crying before God, — speaking to God. Thou canst not see him, but he is there; then tell him thy case. Thou canst not hear his footfall to remind thee of his presence, but he is there, so ask for what thou wantest; deal directly with God. Remember what Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Believe thou that God is, and that he hears prayer, and thou shalt find it to be so in thine own experience. I challenge any man to put this matter to the test, and see if he does not find it as I say. There never was one yet who did thus come to God, and God sent him away empty. Poor trembling soul, get thou to thy God; if hitherto thy prayers have been earnest, but thou hast left out this one important point that thou hast not really prayed to him, then begin at once in a better style. You may write a hundred letters to a friend, but you will never receive an answer to them if you do not properly direct them, and put them into the post; so, many persons forget to direct and post their prayers by really presenting them before God.
Next, dear friends, this Psalm will help you in prayer if you read aright its first words: “O Lord God of my salvation.” Pray with this belief fixed in your mind, that your help must come from God, and pray expecting salvation from the Lord. It is true, whether you know it or not, that you are lost, and that only God himself can save you. Pray, in the full belief of that fact; go to God with this thought in your mind, and this utterance out of your mouth: “O Lord, I am lost, unless thou dost help me; I am undone, unless thou dost come to my rescue; and here I am at thy mercy-seat, crying unto thee, Lord, save me.” Do not go to so-called priests; do not go to ministers or to Christian friends with any idea that they can help you the turn of an ounce; but go straight away to God, applying to him through our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is not possible that he should turn you away. Try it and see. Some of us who were certainly as guilty as ever you can be, have tried this plan, and we have found mercy; and we are therefore all the more earnest in entreating you and all other sinners to do the same.
Further, dear friends, that you may pray aright, notice that the psalmist prayed often. In the first verse he says, “I have cried day and night before thee.” Further on he says, “I have called daily upon thee.” I like those morning prayers of which our text speaks: “In the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.” I recollect, as a lad, when I was seeking the Saviour, getting up with the sun that I might get time to read gracious books and to seek the Lord. When I look back upon it, I can see why the word was blessed to me when I heard the gospel preached in that Methodist Chapel at Colchester, because I had, before that, been up betimes crying to God for the blessing. There are some people here who do not know what it is like early in the morning. You never did in your lives see the sun rise, did you, unless you got up earlier than usual one winter’s morning? I have often proved that the early morning is the best part of the day. The dew of the morning has medicine in it to drive away many a disease. A little while all alone in the morning might prove to be the time in which God would meet with you; will you not try it? But the psalmist says that he also prayed at night; perhaps, when others were asleep, he stole from his couch, and bowed his knee, and cried to God. When all is hushed and still, — and there is, even in London, an hour of that kind, somewhere between three and four o’clock in the morning, when the streets cease for a while their almost perpetual grind, and the air is still and quiet, — it is wonderful how you may be helped to pray by the silence that is round about you. O friend, if you are not saved, I would beseech you to get up at dead of night, and cry to God for salvation. I would advise you not to go to your beds, nor to think of falling asleep, till you have believed in Jesus to the saving of your soul, lest you should never wake up in this world, but should awake in that state in which there is no hope for ever for those who have died impenitent. Dear hearts, cry often, cry continually to God, until he gives you this salvation, and after that I know you will always cry to him, for you will not be able to help it. Prayer will then become your daily breath, and you will pray then as naturally as your lungs now heave with the breath of life. But do pray often, even as Heman did.
The psalmist tolls us also that he prayed with weeping and mourning. Read verse nine: “Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: Lord, I have called daily upon thee.” That is a blessed style of praying, when the prayers are salt with penitential tears. If thine heart is breaking with repentance and sorrow for sin, thou wilt break down the bars which shut thee out of hope and peace. If thou wilt give up thy sin; if thou dost mourn over thy sin; if thou dost sigh and cry to become gracious and holy, thou shalt prevail before long, for God may permit a weeping penitent to stand awhile at mercy’s door, but he can never send that penitent away empty, for it is written over that door (I can read the golden letters): “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” While God lives, never shall a sinner truly come to him, and yet be cast out. I say again, go and try it, go and try it, and thou shalt find it to be even so.
Once more, you will perhaps find prayer more successful if you follow the psalmist’s way of praying pleadingly. Notice how he puts it in the tenth verse: “Shall the dead arise and praise thee?” Plead with God; if you are in earnest, you will soon find pleas that you can use with him. “Lord, save me; it will glorify thy grace to save such a sinner as I am. Lord, save me, else I am lost to all eternity; do not let me perish, lord. Save me, O Lord, for Jesus died. By his agony and bloody sweat, by his cross and passion, save me.” I am going over the kind of pleas I used when I took my arguments, and came before the throne of grace, and said, “I will not go away, I will not quit the mercy-seat except thou bless me.” Surely, thou canst find some reason why thou shouldst be saved. Look not for it in any merit of thine own, else thou wilt look where thou wilt never find it; but look to his free grace and sovereign love, to the heart of God, and to the bleeding wounds of Jesus, and say unto God, “Lord, I cannot, I will not, let thee go except thou bless me.” If you pray in that fashion, it will not be long before the morning light of salvation will break in upon your troubled spirit.
II. This leads me now, briefly, to speak upon my second division: from the psalmist’s example, RESOLVE TO PRAY IN YOUR VERY WORST CASE.
I want to go over the Psalm again very rapidly, to remind you of the writer’s experience. This man of God was, first, full of troubles. Note what he says in the third verse: “My soul is full of troubles.” Yet he prayed. When you are full of troubles, go to God with them, that is the very time when you most need to pray. “But,” say you, “Mr. Spurgeon, you do not know all that I have to think of.” No, but I do know that, the more you have to think of, the more reason you have to go to God in prayer about it. That was a grand argument of Martin Luther when he said to his friend, “I have a very busy day to-day; I have so much work to do that I am afraid I shall not get through it all, I must have at least three hours’ prayer, or else I shall not have time to get through all my toil.” The more work he had to do, the more prayer he felt that he needed. Is not that right? The more loads you have to drag, the more horses you need; and the more work there is to be done, the more reason is there for crying to God to help you to do it. That is not a waste of time; on the contrary, it is the best employment of time that anyone can have.
When thou art full of trouble, pray the more. “Ah!” says one, “I gave up praying, sir, because I was in such trouble.” Foolish brother! Foolish sister! Another says, “I went down in the world till I felt that I had not any clothes fit to come in.” Clothes fit to come in? Any clothes are fit to come in, if you have paid for them. “Oh!” save another, “but I was so troubled that I did not like to come.” What! not go to the house of the Lord when you want comfort most? That is the time when you ought certainly to come. Do not, I pray you, stay away from the outward means of grace when you are in trouble; but especially do not stay away from God himself when you are tried and perplexed. When you are as full of trouble as ever you can be, then is the time to pray most.
Next, it seems that the psalmist was ready to die: “My life draweth nigh unto the grave.” Well, do not leave off praying because you are ready to die. Now, surely, is the time to pray more earnestly than ever.
“Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air;
His watchword at the gates of death:
He enters heaven with prayer.”
If you are going to die, die praying; do not let the fear of death stop your praying, that would be folly indeed.
Moreover, the psalmist had given himself up: “I am counted with them that go down into the pit.” Well now, if you have given yourself up, yet still pray. I know that you say, “Sir, I am in despair.” Well, offer one more prayer, brother; one more prayer; and if thou shouldst not get comfort then, I will come to thee, and say yet again, “One more prayer.” If thou despairest of everything else, yet do not despair of the mercy of God. Thy extremity will be the Lord’s opportunity. Keep on praying; as long as thou art out of hell, still keep on praying, and so thou shalt never come there, for no praying soul can ever be cast away from the presence of God. Keep on praying, I beseech thee, if the worst comes to the worst.
I fancy that I hear you say, “Oh, but I have no strength left!” Well, then, you are just like Heman, strengthless, for he said, “I am as a man that hath no strength.” Pray all the more if that is your case; if you have not strength to kneel, fall flat on your face, and pray to God, but keep at it, hold on to it. If thou canst scarcely hold on, yet somehow or other get a grip of the divine promise, and plead for God’s mercy for the sake of Jesus, and thou shalt never perish.
I do not know whether I am spreading my net widely enough; but there may be one who says, “I am forgotten” Then listen to what Heman says: “I am like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.” Man, if thou hast written thyself down as lost, if thou hast given up all prayer, if thou dost never open thy Bible, if thou hast resolved never again to come to the house of God because thou despairest of mercy, yet, I beseech thee, know that it is a lie that deceives thee. Still is there hope for thee. Believe that Jesus still receives sinners, — ay, such sinners as thou art, and go to him by believing prayer, and thou shalt yet find mercy. There are many records of men and women who have been in despair through guilt for twenty years or even a longer period and then have boon divinely delivered. I remember one case, that of Mr. Timothy Rogers, who was eight-and-twenty years in despair, and yet came out to light and liberty, and wrote a wonderful book on trouble of mind, which has been a comfort to many other afflicted souls. Do not despair even if Satan seems to have gripped thee, and to be dragging thee down to the bottomless pit. As long as thou yet livest, the gospel woos thee, and entreats thee to believe in Jesus Christ, for yet there is room in the heart of God and in the love of God for such a sinner as thou art. I pray thee, do not cease to cry unto God; still continue calling upon him till he giveth thee a comforting answer.
Perhaps thou sayest, “I feel the wrath of God so heavily.” What if thou dost? Go and plead the mercy of God in Christ; and as Christ, in the stead of sinners, bore his Father’s wrath, go thou and rest in that great vicarious sacrifice. “But I have nobody to speak to” says another. Never mind if you have not; that is all the more reason why you should pray to God, and plead with God, who will not leave you. “But I am distracted” says another. Yes, and you will be distracted, and I should not wonder if you went out of your mind, unless you will go to God as you are, and implore him to look at your distractions, and to lay his gentle hand upon you, and to restore you to yourself, and then to restore you to himself. I wish I know how to plead with each one of you, personally. I feel that I want to go down these stairs, and round these galleries, and to pick out men and women who are being tempted not to pray again, and to give each of them a brotherly grip of the hand, and to say, “Do not cease to plead for thy life; do not cease to look to Jesus on the tree. Hope thou in him; it is Satan’s desire to ruin thee by leading thee to despair. Take heart of hope, and do believe that mercy’s gate is still open to thee. Come and welcome, and thou shalt in no wise be cast out.”
III. Now I finish with A FEW REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD KEEP ON PRAYING, and why you should add to your prayer, a simple confidence in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is the first reason. Suppose, dear friend, — and I do not like even to suppose such a thing, — but, for the sake of argument, suppose that what your despair says is true, that you will perish. Then, you cannot lose anything by prayer, can you? Remember what we sang a few minutes ago, —
“I can but perish if I go;
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away,
I know I must for ever die.”
I repeat that you cannot lose anything by prayer. “Oh!” I have said to myself, when broken down under a sense of sin, “God cannot be angry with me for crying to him for mercy. Surely that cannot be an increase of my guilt — that I dare to say, ‘Lord, forgive me. The worst criminal before a judge may at least beg for mercy; so I will put in my plea, in broken words, and with many tears. I cannot lose anything by praying; therefore, I will certainly continue to pray unto the Lord.”
Moreover, dear friends, it is not so great a thing, after all, to have to continue to ask. It is not so hard a thing for me to be made to wait a little while. As a sinner, I kept God waiting for me long enough, ay, far too long. He called, but I would not come; what wonder if now he keeps me waiting? Shall I be in a pet, and say, “I will wait no longer”? Oh, the many sermons I have heard and thrown on one side! Oh, the many times the Spirit of God has touched my conscience, and I have resisted his strivings! Ought I therefore to be at all surprised if now he should say to me, “Thou must wait a bit at mercy’s gate, for I will have thee knock, and knock, and knock again before I let thee in”? Oh, no; it is not so hard a thing, and it will pay me for waiting! When he does but open the gate, I shall think very little of the many prayers and tears that I have offered to him; I shall be so overjoyed to get inside that I shall bless him even for keeping me waiting. Therefore, my soul, press on; keep on praying, for what if he should, after all, hear thee? O poor heart, what if, after all, thy sin should be forgiven thee, and thou shouldst become a child of God? O thou forlorn one, what if the light of heaven should yet shine in upon thy heart, and all the bells of holy joy should ring within thy spirit? What if it should be so? And it will be so if thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ. It may be that thou art within an inch of salvation even now. Let me tell thee, if thou art but looking to Jesus, thou hast salvation already. One trustful glance at him upon the cross, and thou art saved, saved now, and saved for ever. God grant that it may be so with thee!
At any rate, cease not to pray, for he to whom thou grayest is a gracious God. The widow who went to the unjust judge was importunate, and prevailed with him, unjust as he was; but thou art pleading with a loving God, who gave his Son to die for sinners. Take good heart; thou wilt not plead in vain, for he loves to hear thy prayers. He must, he will, answer thee, for he is a God of grace.
Besides, if he does not save thee, will he be a gainer by it? And if he does save thee, will he be a loser by it? Oh, no, dear heart! If he will save thee, it will increase his honour and his glory. Why, thou thyself wilt tell everybody what a good God he is, wilt thou not? And thy friends and thy neighbours, when they see thee saved, such a sinner as thou art, will begin to say one to another, “Here is a wonder of grace. See what God has done for this man. Let us come and seek him, too.” It is not to God’s disadvantage to save thee, now that Christ has died. Therefore, take heart, and be of good courage.
Moreover, he has heard others. He who speaks to thee now boldly tells thee that God heard him. “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” Come along with you, whoever you are. I am sure you can pray as well as I did when first I sought his face. I am sure you know about as much of the gospel as I did when I first looked to him, for I did not really know the truth till I heard that word, “Look! Look! Look!” That is about all I know oven now. I look at Jesus, and he looks at me. I am looking unto Jesus, and I am lightened of all my burden. That is the whole story. Look thou to him, and thou shalt be lightened, too. If others have been saved, why shouldst not thou be saved? Therefore, pluck up heart, and still cry mightily and believingly to him.
More than that, the Lord has promised to hear thee. Listen: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Here is another precious promise: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” There is a big “whosoever.” Let me repeat that text: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Lord does hear prayer; do not let any unbelief upon that point linger any longer in thy heart. He will hear thee now sitting in thy pew. Try it; try it; if thou hast been praying for months, and yet no peaceable answer has come to thee, resolve this moment that thou wilt never cease thine entreaties until he grants thee the desire of thine heart.
I am looking upon many young men and maidens here; how I wish that they would all look to Jesus even now! Oh, that at least some of you, dear young friends, might begin to be Christians from this very hour! The harvest is past, the summer is well-nigh ended, and you are not saved; but before the leaves fall from the trees, yield yourselves to Jesus. There are some boys and girls here; the Lord grant that they may, while they are yet children, trust in Jesus, and be saved! But the most of you are men and women in middle life, and many, very many of you, are aged people. Have you found Christ, dear friend? Are there any of you old folks who are without Christ? I cannot make you out, — grey-headed, and yet unconverted; what is to become of you? In the order of nature, you must soon die. The young may die, but me old must. Oh, that you would not rest in your declining years till all is right for eternity! You know what accidents are constantly occurring, and how suddenly moil pass into eternity! A man has heart disease, and without a moment’s warning he is hurried before his Maker’s bar. Prepare to meet your God, and do so by believing in him whom God has set forth to be the Saviour of men, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who died, “the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” God bless you, dear hearers! We shall never all of us meet again on earth; that is not possible among these thousands from all quarters of the globe, but may the sincere penitent prayer of all the unsaved amongst us be so heard that we may all meet in heaven! Amen and Amen.