From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
We are told in the word of God, that “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards;” (Job 5:7) and these troubles, which are the heritage of man as a poor fallen sinner, are not only many, but also various; so that each man has plagues which his own heart knows, and which are, perhaps, unknown to all beside. To this heritage, you and I, dear reader, were born, and into it we have come; the heritages of earthly lands and gold are alienable, but the heritages of sorrow is sure.
These troubles are, as we have just observed, of various kinds; some are provoking, some are gnawing, some are perplexing, and some are overwhelming; but whatever form they assume, they are troubles, and are part of the wear and tear of life.
There is a class of troubles which is eminently provoking. Perhaps no serious results hang upon them, but they are peculiarly calculated to try and vex our tempers, to stir up our feelings, to disturb the equanimity of our minds, to excite our combative propensities; they are the stones in the shoes of daily life, and as such they are troubles and it would be foolish to call them by any other name.
There is another class, which might be called gnawing troubles. Such eat slowly in the heart’s vitals; such fret silently, as the moth does the garment; they destroy life’s brightest colourings, and its most beautiful patterns, and leave nothing but wreck and ruin wherever their tooth has come. There are many in the world who have a gnawing at their hearts, which is to them what the canker [a destructive fungal disease] is to the bud; it eats silently and surely, and leaves a few shrivelled leaves, where there might have been a bunch of full-blown flowers.
Some are afflicted with perplexing and distracting troubles. Such troubles do not gnaw at the heart, they are too intrusive and pressing for that; they put a person to his wits’ ends; they confuse and harass him, and almost wear him out by the anxiety to which they expose him. Such are very often the troubles of trade; of mothers with large families; of persons placed in difficult circumstances in life, and so forth; and many a time they are half driven out of their senses, by the dilemmas in which they are placed. If only they knew what to do, they would do it; but that is the perplexity, and it undeniably brings its trouble with it.
Then, there are overwhelming troubles. Troubles which weep over a man, just as the mighty billows of the ocean sweep over and submerge the sands. These are troubles which struggle with us, as it were, for life and death; troubles which would leave us helpless wrecks; troubles which enter into conflict with us in our prime, which grapple with us in our health and strength, and threaten to conquer us by sheer force, no matter how bravely we may contend. Such trouble the Psalmists knew, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”
It is not, however, in this latter class of trouble alone that we have need to take up the Psalmist’s determination and say, “I will cry unto Thee [thee means you, singular].” There is but the one refuge in all trouble, be it great or small, and if we seek any other, we shall assuredly but increase our distress. He who is our refuge in the greater, will not refuse to be our refuse in the lesser also; the same love which will befriend us in the overwhelming’s of trouble, will not cast us off in the time of perplexities and provocations.
In the present chapter, we must occupy ourselves in deep waters, and passing from all minor trials, to consider those overwhelmings, in which we need the Rock that is higher than ourselves.
Cryings from the ends of the earth, cryings in overwhelmings of heart, and the heart’s cry and desire under these circumstances, are to form the subjects of our considerations now.
Cryings from the ends of the earth
And first, a few words are to be said about “Cryings from the ends of the earth.” The centre of worship was Jerusalem, “whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord. To be prevented then from coming up to Jerusalem was a serious trouble to any one who really loved God, and stood in covenant relationship to Him. “How amiable,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 84, “are Thy tabernacles O Lord of Hosts. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord, my heart, and my flesh crieth out for the Living God, a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand, I had rather be a door keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
The Psalmist here puts himself in the position of one, who is not only prevented for a season from coming up to the holy place, but who is driven as far as possible therefrom—even to the ends of the earth; he is separated from his God; “from the end of the earth will I cry unto thee.”
There are some who seem to be living on ordinances rather than on God, and separation from them seems almost to bring death into their souls; they know much of a God in ordinances, they know comparatively little of a God without ordinances.
Now ordinances are very precious, and so weak are we, that we need all the helps we can get; but what, if we be deprived of them, if we be as it were driven to the ends of the earth?
This may happen to us. Some of God’s dear children have been laid for years upon beds of sickness, and some have been located in distant regions, and others have had their lot cast amid unsympathetic and ungodly people, so that they have been constrained to cry, “Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar; my soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.”
Under these circumstances what is to be done? We must cry unto God, from the place and position in which we are, as Jonah did; and not wait until we are more favourably circumstanced, for thus we might have to wait for ever. God expects us to make the best of the circumstances in which we are placed.
Let us be careful not to allow ourselves to be overcome by the depression which is the natural consequent of a position of isolation, and of deprivation of privilege and help. We are not to without privilege even when visible privileges are removed; we have the highest privilege, them, of all; we can cry to God direct; our cry will ascend straight to His throne from the end of the earth.
Here there is assuredly great encouragement for many an unhappily situated child of God; perhaps in his family, father and mother, sisters and brothers, are all against him; perhaps in the lone corner of some far off settlement, he never hears the sound of the sabbath bell, he never sees the face of a minister of God; or it may be, that year after year he lies upon a bed of suffering and pain; oh let him not be downhearted; oh let him not think himself an outcast from the throne of heaven, from the mercy seat, from the altar, we have the services of a priest, the services of Jesus, who knows in His wide-spread power no limit of time, no boundary of space.
Overwhelmings of heart
We now come to consider the overwhelmings of heart—times of sad and bitter trial, with which many a tempest-tossed child of God is only too familiar, and in which the cry to Him is the only available resource. We have many instances of these overwhelmings in the Psalms. Our business now is, to enquire into the condition of the poor heart when thus overwhelmed.
The idea that is brought before us here, is that of a man amid the waters—over whom those waters have the mastery—who would fain buffet with them if he could—but who is conquered by them, so that, unless there be an interference on his behalf, he must die. In such an overwhelming.
The natural power of resistance is gone. Man makes a great deal of his natural powers; he will always use them to repel anything which threatens injury to his life; but he may be reduced to such a state, as not to be able to put forth those powers at all. His eagerness to act may be as intense as ever, his dread of injury as acute, but his natural powers of resistance are gone. We can scarcely imagine any circumstances more distressing than these; if the mind were stupefied, and the impending danger thus unappreciated, the case would not be half so bad; but to feel the enemy coming upon us, or, it may be, actually upon us, and to have no power of resistance, is terrible indeed.
The man overwhelmed by waters, with his strength exhausted, and his limbs powerless to resist, but flung hither and thither by the wild billows at their will, must feel his last few moments of perfect consciousness terrible indeed; and yet this is the condition of children of God at times. Men who have been down in deep waters will tell you that they have been thus tossed to and fro, and that they have had a terrible consciousness of the power of the enemy, and of their own helplessness while they were thus tried.
There are many degrees of spiritual trial, which we can resist by the exercise of, what I might be permitted to call, the natural powers of the soul. We can throw off many doubts by reasoning against them, and we can overcome many temptations, by a simple determination that we will have nothing to do with them; but in circumstances like the present we have lost our old powers, we cannot resist, we are paralyzed for a season. Intense depression generally accompanies such a state as this; we have ceased to be what we used to be formerly, and as we miss the old powers which we once exercised with effect, we feel inclined to say, there remains nothing for us but to die.
Where is our faith?
At such a season as this, where is our faith? I do not mean any extraordinary faith, but the simple, ordinary faith, wherewith we carried on the ordinary business of our spiritual life. We used to do a good deal through the instrumentality of that faith; it seemed just as natural to us in daily use, as any of the ordinary powers of our bodies; we threw off many Satanic assaults by it; now it can do absolutely nothing: we judge ourselves and say, “we have no faith at all.” This is, no doubt, being brought very low; and when we are in this stage, there are no fierce struggling of soul; we are too nearly drowned for them; we are past struggling, and we seem to be almost at the mercy of the Evil One.
As to our love to God, there was a time when we could have done much through that also; that love would have carried us through great trials, it would by the simple fact of its keeping us close to Christ, have enabled us to defeat many of the temptations which now almost triumphant: but now that love seems cold, it appears to us to have lost its energies, it certainly does not keep out heart in peace as it used to do. The very consciousness of our dead state as regards love helps to unnerve us, and to make us more helpless amid the waves which buffet and submerge us.
Some of our readers have, perhaps, never had any sad experiences like these, but others no doubt have; they have felt themselves helpless amid the billows, their powers were numbed, and their case seemed well nigh as bad as it could be.
Oh! What an inexpressible mercy is it, that when we are thus bereft of our ordinary spiritual powers, and apparently at the mercy of every billow that dashes over us, we are not left to “self,” or “self’s” resources, or anything belonging to “self” at all; that ONE whom the spiritual as well as the natural waves must obey, is ready to put forth His Sovereign power on our behalf! But for this, many a Christian man must have been drowned; but for this; the demons of the storm must have had their own way with him; his limbs were unstrung, his eyes were blinded, his brain was reeling, his heart was chilling; and what hindered their doing with him even as they listed? God gave his poor child, under these circumstances, just strength enough to cry to HIM; they cry was perhaps feeble; it was almost drowned by the violence of the storm; it seemed more like the gurgling of a drowning man than anything else, but it was a prayer, and the prayer hearing and prayer honouring God did not despise it; He heard, and when He hears His child is safe.
Let us when we find our ordinary powers of resistance gone. Take care lest we abandon ourselves to despair, as though now, indeed, there is no hope, now we must most surely die. It is true we must abandon all hope in “self;” we must feel ourselves impotent, like Samson shorn of his locks, but we can utter a cry, be it never so subdued; let us utter it and leave the rest to God.
The heart is here represented to us as being overwhelmed, or, as it is otherwise translated, “covered over;” it is smothered in, unable to perform its functions with proper action, unable to throw out the blood to the extremities, to give them needed vitality, and power for necessary effort. When the action of the heart is paralyzed, even temporally, it will tell upon all the members, a chill there sends its cold vibration through every limb; Satan knows this well, and so all his dealings are heart dealings, efforts to paralyze the very spring of life itself. This is precisely what we ourselves have experienced, we have partially felt death within us, we have felt a gradual numbing of our heart, a gradual diminution in the quickness of its beat, a gradual closing in, and pressure of a weight upon it, and this was overwhelming process.
Our Lord Jesus Christ had overwhelmings, and it will be worth our while reverentially to consider them for a moment. They were unlike ours, inasmuch as they could not in any wise impair the vitality of His heart; but they were like ours, inasmuch as they were able to inflict upon Him oppression and pain. Jesus’ heart was unquestionably overwhelmed in Gethsemane, and still more so upon Calvary; there the heavy waters came in upon His soul, but we know that His vitality, His power of action, was in nowise impaired; in Gethsemane He says, “the cup that My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” and on Calvary, on the cross, He is stronger in action than every He was elsewhere, He laid down His life, no man took it from Him, He laid it down of Himself; He had to die as a deliberate act. (“He gave up the ghost,” rather, “He dismissed His Spirit.” He acted as the priest. He was not only passive as the sacrifice, but active in cutting short His life. None took it from Him.)
We must die whether we will or not; He had to will to die1: and He did so will, and He carried out that will, by formally giving up His life; and so in the hour when He was most overwhelmed, He put forth the greatest power of action, and proved that no crushing, no overwhelming, could touch for a moment the vitality which dwelt in Him. Does not this speak to us, and say, “If Jesus was so powerful on behalf of His people, in the dark hour when His heart was overwhelmed, what must He now be, when this pressure is removed, and His heart beads freely in love to them, at the right hand of His Father’s throne?”
It was necessary that Jesus should take experience of overwhelmings of heart, as well as of the other temptations and trials, to which poor human nature is subject; “He was tempted in all points like as we are,” and this must not be excluded. It is a matter of great moment to us, that we should be enabled to see that Jesus endured overwhelmings; for if we are sustained in other trials by think that He had experience of them, how shall we be sustained in this, except in the same way.
The believer overwhelmed
Let us now look at some of the overwhelmings which come in upon the believer’s soul, in which his only resource in prayer.
There are times when the poor heart is completely overwhelmed, by visions of sin. The memory with all its powers, awakes and reproduces, with terrible distinctness, the sounds and sights of, as we thought, bygone days, The remembrance of these things is grievous to us, the burden is intolerable; we shrink within ourselves; we wince at the fearful visions which come before our minds. We had no such fearful visions when we were committing sin, sin is sweet at the moment; its bitterness is in its dregs, its memories, its judgement. And now, in the believer’s case, the remembrance of sin is made ten-fold worse, from the knowledge which he has acquired of the holiness of God; and the vision of sin comes upon him with that extra power. Perhaps since last he had such a vision, he has increased in knowledge of God’s holiness and character; and thus his sin becomes subjected to a stricter test than any by which it had ever been tried before, and so, deeper overwhelmings are his portion now.
Such visions of sin are able with great ease, to gain the mastery over any spiritual powers, which the believer may possess; they can soon drown him, there is no use in his attempting to buffet them, they will dash him to and fro, they will numb his vitality, they will break his limbs in pieces. Prayer is the Christian’s only resource under these circumstances—the prayer which we find here—that he may be led to the rock that is higher than he.
It may be, that these visions of sin are not the heavy waters in which he is cast; doubts of Divine love are, perhaps, his trouble. Not doubts of God’s love generally, but of that love as beaming upon himself personally. Hiding of the Father’s face is bitterness to the soul; and when doubts come in upon the soul, which hide out the sense of God’s love, the overwhelming waters might be said to have begun to break over our heads. Such doubts have come terribly upon many who are plainly marked people of God; they have rolled in one after another upon the heart, until at length they have brought with them actual despair; and all that the poor tempest-tossed believer could do, was just to utter such words as we have here, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
A remarkable instance
A remarkable instance of a soul under this trouble came under the author’s observation some years ago. A Christian man, who had served God for a lifetime, was seized with consumption [tuberculosis]. The repeated visits of the attending minister seemed to afford no consolation, and, in truth, all the ordinary means of comforting were tried in vain.
Thus, matters went on for a long time, and at length the invalid went abroad for the winter. At the end of the winter, he returned, and the minister having heard that he continued in the same state of mind as before, held back from visiting him. The invalid, however, desired to partake of the Holy Communion, and so his pastor went to him. It was a very painful scene; the agitation of this poor afflicted Christian was such, that all present were greatly distressed.
For many weeks did he linger, the minister now visiting him regularly as before, but the same distressing doubts continued; and to all human appearance, they were likely to shroud him, evening in his departure.
The mercy of God, however, at length dispelled the gloom. One night the sick man asked for his dressing things, and washed and shaved himself; then he asked for a clean shirt, and when he put it on, and was set up in the bed, he said, “Now I am dressed for my last journey;” thus he remained for a couple of hours, when lo! All clouds and mists rolled for before his eyes; the light of heaven shone in upon him, a ray of brightness streamed through the golden gates upon his soul, and he departed full of joy.
After the death of this worthy man, the author visited his widow, and found from her that one of the strongest characteristics of her departed husband’s min was the doubting of the love of others to him. Satan ever on the watch, to use our own peculiarities of character against ourselves; and every skilful in working with the tools which he finds ready to his hand; gave this Christian man months, and even two years of grief in this very way. We often supply ourselves the waters for our own overwhelming.
Our very sense of weakness has, at times, proved an overwhelming billow. Thrown in upon ourselves, we have been fiercely agitated with thoughts as to what would become of us at last; and Satan pressed us hard; he exercised his pressure upon our very weakest points; and in a short time we felt ourselves amid the waters, with no possibility of escape, unless by the interference of One far stronger than ourselves.
These will serve as specimens of the overwhelmings which come over the people of the Lord; but they are only specimens; Satan’s waves and billows are as many as those which break upon the shore, or toss and swell in the open sea. He has the means of overwhelming every heart, and when he makes the attempt, our only refuge is in prayer. Very possibly some of our readers may not be often subjected to such fierce temptations as these; but they may rest assured, that Satan will not allow any soul to gain the haven of everlasting rest, without having first tried upon it his overwhelming powers.
Overwhelmed in this life
Let us turn for a moment or two, to the overwhelming troubles which come in upon the poor heart, in things pertaining, it is true, only to this life, but still of great importance to us which we are here.
Overwhelmings of heart are often the lot of man, as he performs the voyage of life. This man is overwhelmed by the treachery of a friend, whose iniquity has ruined him; and this woman is overwhelmed by the conduct of the child she reared, amid many watching’s, and many tears; look on this side, and you will see one, who has his heart overwhelmed by the loss of the one he held most dear; he is choking under the deep waters of bitterest sorrow, and they are howling and dashing over his devoted head; look but a little distance off, and there is another, who to all appearance must drown, suffocating under the prospect of trial which must surely come; (and which is perhaps worse in the anticipation, than in the event.)
Let us not make light of any of these things; they are overwhelmings, and in the case of the men unhelped of God, they have proved themselves so, by taking away even life itself. Oh! be advised, dear readers, never to face these billows alone; you have no strength in yourselves for bearing up, amid the deep waters of grief; when first they begin to break in upon you, ask to be lead to the rock that is higher than you.
Would that we could persuade the Lord’s people who read these lines, to believe that the overwhelmings which have reference to this life, are to be brought before God, just as much as those which appertain to another. Would that we could dissuade them from the attempt to buffet the waves by themselves, for this buffeting must end in their being sorely hurt; the longer we buffet by ourselves, the deeper shall we find the water becoming, the stronger the billows, the fiercer their crest, and the more impetuous their rush; yes, and the weaker also our strength.
O child of God, when first the waters begin to rise, seek refuge in prayer—and if thou must be tried in the heavy surges of temptation or of sorrow, prepare for them upon thy knees; as the camel kneels to receive its load, so kneel thou to receive thine, say “when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I!”
Such, then, are overwhelmings of heart, some of which are peculiar to the believer, others of which he shares in common with his fellow men.
The heart’s cry
We now come to the heart’s cry and desire under these circumstances.
We trace here several points of considerable importance. There is, first of all, a recognition of a place of safety; then we have this place brought before us, as abundantly sufficient, when personal weakness has been realized; we observe further, that this place cannot be attainted, without the helping of another’s hand; and lastly we have the character of this refuge, and the position of a believer, when availing himself of it; the place of refuge is “a rock,” and the position of the believer is “upon a rock.”
The bare recognition of a place of safety is, in itself, a matter of great importance. To know that there is a refuge, that we need not perish, is cheering to the heart; nothing so daunts the spirit, and numbs every energy which otherwise might have been put forth, as the feeling of despair, that, “it is all no use,” that we cannot escape. If only we believe in the existence of a place of safety, and that it is possible for us to reach it, we shall feel our spirits revive; hope will enter into, and vivify2 the heart; and even though desperate struggles must be made, still the heart will rise to the emergency, and success shall crown its efforts, and its prayers.
That, however, with which we now have to do, is not so much personal effort, as prayer made with the recognition of a place of safety. It may be that we feel we cannot by any struggling of ours, attain that place of safety; that it may be like a rock seen by the drowning man, but at to great a distance to be reached by is failing strength; if the recognition of it give us strength to cry, that will be of incalculable worth.
The Psalmist saw the rock; oh! may you, dear reader, ever see safe standing ground, in the worst trial times, May Satan never be able to say to you, “you are hopeless as well as helpless; there is not way of escape for you.” Ever let us recognise the place of safety; let us say “it exists; I know where it is; my belief in that point cannot be shaken.” It is true this is no very high putting forth of Christian grace, (and yet in overwhelming circumstances, it is perhaps higher than some suppose) but though not a high, it is a most useful, and important one; many a tempest-tossed believer has effectively made his escape, by prayer which was put up under the consciousness of this fact. Should the overwhelming be so terrible, as to make the tried and tempted man say, “I doubt whether Christ will save me,” oh! may it never bass that boundary, and make him say, “I doubt whether Christ can save me.”
In the passage which we are now considering, we have the place of safety brought before us, as abundantly sufficient, when personal weakness has been realized. Personal weakness had been realized, for the heart had been overwhelmed; now that which alone could avail under the present and sad circumstances, is realized also, viz., the high Rock, “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”
The Rock’s solidity
The solidity of the Rock is brought into contrast with the weakness of the believer tossed to and fro; it stands unmoved amid the waves, while he is beaten about amidst them, almost at their will.
There is not a more apt image of the position which the Lord Jesus occupies towards His people, in the terrible hours of overwhelming temptation, than this of “the Rock.” The Rock stands immoveable amid the boiling waters, which at times sweep against it with heavy and unbroken billows, as though they would push it from its base, and at times leap towards it with seething foam, as though they would tear it into pieces, and in their rage sweep in its fragments upon the shore, to add to the water-worn shingle there; now with a deep-toned boom, like the shot of heavy gun, one mighty broad-backed billow discharges against it all its might; and now, jostling and crowding, a multitude follow quickly in its path, as though they would fling themselves into the breach which this artillery had made; the shriek of the winds is heard in horrid distinctness, as they madden the billows, and las them onward, with fresh paroxysms3 of rage; but motionless amid both winds and waves, without the loss of even the smallest fragment, stands the Rock, silent, majestic, and unmoved, the same in storm, as in calm.
Such is “the Rock,” and such is Jesus; and such He has appeared to His people, offtimes battered, and almost smothered, amid such waves as these. And it is very important to God’s people to remember, that this Rock is always to be found amid these heaving billows, these boiling surges of the devil; let them rage their very worst, there He is, and there, for His people’s sake, He ever must be found.
The Rock’s height
But not only is the Rock recognised, but also its height—this is not sunken rock, whose sharp and jagged edges, submerged beneath the waters, amid which the believer is being tossed, must have added fearfully to his distress, lacerating, and bruising him, and conspiring with the waves to take away his life. No, this is a Rock higher than himself, on which he can stand, whose foundation, and whose height, are equally beyond the reach of any power which the enemy can put forth. This is the recognition of the Psalmist here; he calls it “the rock that is higher that I.”
There is great instruction in these last few words. “Self” has been seen in all its weakness; it is now proved that it can do nothing; safety must be out of self, it must be in something higher than self, it must be in Christ. And Jesus is abundantly sufficient for us; let us but see this, laying self aside altogether, seek to stand on Him, and all will be surely well with us.
We waste much strength, we incur much peril, in trying to keep our own heads above water; this is a vain attempt; the billows are much higher, and the waves are much stronger than we are; we are not constructed to fight these spiritual billows by ourselves, any more than the body is, to contend with the sweeping billows of the seas.
To buffet the waters was not the intent for which the body was made; to buffet the temptations of the Devil was not the purpose for which the soul was created; this has come no doubt to be its lot, but it is not furnished with any powers by which it can do it in itself; that on which we stand must be something higher than ourselves, if we are to stand at all.
In times, then, of fierce overwhelmings, let us look at once for the high Rock; let us seek for nothing from self, let us just cry to have our feet set on Christ; then we shall feel that we have firm ground under us; then we shall see the waves toss themselves, and we shall hear them roar; then we shall look at them as they curl upwards, and at last sink down exhausted, spent by their own fierce throes; and we shall rejoice that all we have to do, is simply to stand on Christ, to be in union with Him, while He bears the storm’s brunt, and at once defies and defeats its utmost rage.
Stand, beloved Christian upon the Rock; if you ask, but what shall I do? I answer, “only make sure that you are there;” feel the Rock under you; then, as when a tempest-tossed mariner has reached a rock, the contest is no longer between the waves and him, but between the waves and the rock; so when you are on Christ, the contest will not be between you and Satan, but between Christ and him. Unless Satan can vanquish Christ, the Christian must be safe.
Lead me to the Rock
There remains one further particular to be looked at, and it is, the fact that this place cannot be realised without the helping of another’s hand. The Psalmist here desires to be led to the Rock that is higher than he was. In the Psalms we find him recognising the Lord, as the One who not only provided the shelter, but also who enabled him to reach it. “He shall set me up upon a rock.” “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” (Psalm 40:2)
This helping hand of God we have brought before us in Psalm 18; here we meet with the floods and deep waters; “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid, the sorrows of hell compassed me about, the snares of death prevented me;” there were terrible dealings of God also, for “the channels of waters were seen and the foundations of the world were discovered at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils!” then what happened? “He sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters.”
If we would find ourselves upon the Rock, and enjoy the realization of being so, we must be dependent upon another’s hand. And that can do everything for us, even in our worst of times. When we are so blinded by the salt waves that dash into our eyes, so reeling in brain that we cannot perhaps think, much less make continuous efforts, there is a hand which can lead us, which can draw us out of the waters, which can set out feet upon the Rock. Surely we have already experienced the power and tenderness of that hand; and it may be that in the reader’s case, the waves, as they made sure of their prey, found it supernaturally drawn forth from them, that it might be set upon a Rock, immoveable amid all waters, and sufficient amid all storms!
Appendix: Some Commentaries on the Psalm
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
From the ends of the earth…—A hyperbolic expression for a great distance. Isaiah (Isaiah 5:26) uses the expression of Assyria, and it would be natural in an exile’s mouth, but must not be pressed to maintain any theory of the psalm’s date.
When my heart is overwhelmed.—Literally, in the covering of my heart, the verb being used (Psalm 65:13) of the valleys covered with corn, and metaphorically, as here, of “the garment of heaviness,” which wraps a sad heart (Psalms 102 title; Isaiah 57:16). (Comp. Tennyson’s “muffled round with woe.”)
Lead me to the rock…—Literally, upon the rock lead me, which is probably a constructio prægnans for lead me to the rock too high for me to climb by myself, and place me there. The elevated rock is a symbol of security, which cannot be obtained without the Divine help. Others take the expression as figurative for a difficulty which it needs God’s help to surmount.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
61:1-4 David begins with prayers and tears, but ends with praise. Thus the soul, being lifted up to God, returns to the enjoyment of itself. Wherever we are, we have liberty to draw near to God, and may find a way open to the throne of grace. And that which separates us from other comforts, should drive us nearer to God, the fountain of all comfort. Though the heart is overwhelmed, yet it may be lifted up to God in prayer. Nay, I will cry unto thee, for by that means it will be supported and relieved. Weeping must quicken praying, and not deaden it. God’s power and promise are a rock that is higher than we are. This rock is Christ. On the Divine mercy, as on a rock, David desired to rest his soul; but he was like a ship-wrecked sailor, exposed to the billows at the bottom of a rock too high for him to climb without help. David found that he could not be fixed on the Rock of salvation, unless the Lord placed him upon it. As there is safety in Him, and none in ourselves, let us pray to be led to and fixed upon Christ our Rock. The service of God shall be his constant work and business: all must make it so who expect to find God their shelter and strong tower. The grace of God shall be his constant comfort.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee,… Where he now was, as is observed on the title (see Gill on Psalm 61:1), though he was distant from his own house, and from the house of God, he did not restrain prayer before him, but continued to cry unto him, and determined to do so; and as the people of God are sometimes forced to flee to distant parts, they have a God still to go to, who is a God afar off, as well as at hand. It may be the psalmist may represent the church in Gospel times, throughout the whole world, even at the further parts of it, in the isles afar off, where men may and do lift up holy hands to God without wrath and doubting:
When my heart is overwhelmed; or “covered”; with grief and sorrow for any trouble, outward or inward, and ready to sink, and fail and die. Sometimes the saints are overwhelmed with a sense of sin, are pressed down with the weight and burden of its guilt; their faces are covered with shame and confusion; and their hearts are swallowed up and overwhelmed with overmuch sorrow, both at the number of their sins, and at the aggravated circumstances of them; and especially when they are without a view of pardoning grace and mercy (Psalm 38:4, Lamentations 3:42); and sometimes they are overwhelmed with afflictive providences; the Lord causes all his waves and billows to go over them, and they are just ready to sink; and did he not stay his hand, and stop contending with them, the spirit would fail before him, and the souls that he has made, (Psalm 42:6); and sometimes with divine desertions, which cause a “deliquium” of soul, and throw them into fainting fits, (Song of Songs 5:6); and sometimes through unbelieving frames; and did not the Lord appear to them, and strengthen their faith, and remove their unbelief, they would sink and die away (Psalm 77:2). And at all such times it is right to cry unto the Lord, and make the following request to him
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; not the land of Israel, as Kimchi thinks, the psalmist being now in the low lands of the Philistines; nor Jerusalem, and the fort and hill of Zion; he being now at the extreme and lower parts of the land: this sense is too low. Some think that some great difficulty is meant; which seemed insuperable, and like a rock inaccessible, which he could not get up to, and upon, and get over; and therefore desires the Lord would lead him up it, and over it, before whom every rock, mountain, and hill, becomes a plain (Zechariah 4:7); but rather Christ is meant, the Rock of Israel, the Rock of our salvation, and our refuge. He is higher than David, and all the kings of the earth; higher than the angels in heaven, and than the heavens themselves (Hebrews 7:26); and who by his height is able to protect and defend his people from all their enemies; and by the shade he casts to refresh and comfort them; and by the sufficiency in him to supply all their wants; for he is as a rock impregnable, and well stored, Isaiah 33:16. And here gracious souls desire to be led by the Spirit of God always, and especially when in distressing circumstances; and he does lead them to his blood for pardon and cleansing, and to his righteousness for justification and acceptance with God, and to his fulness for fresh supplies.
About: This article is chapter 10 (a sermon) from P.B. Power’s book, “The ‘I WILLS’ of the Psalms”, first published in 1858. Born in Ireland in 1822, Power became a Church of England minister. He is chiefly remembered for another book of his, “The ‘I WILLS’ of Christ”.
This version was typed and lightly edited by Tracy Blackwell. The edits include updating archaic words and adding some explanatory footnotes and an appendix.
Says Tracey Blackwell: “I have taken the liberty of changing some archaic words to help our understanding and added dictionary meanings for some of the words used. I have also added my own notes for the sake of anyone reading this who does not yet believe upon Jesus Christ as their Saviour.”
Also in this version, some of the longer paragraphs have been divided and sub-headings have been added throughout, by Simon Padbury.
The Lord Jesus Christ was without sin, the wages of sin is death, so he did not die because of any sin he committed, he had no debt to pay. Christ willingly died for our sins, paying the debt that we have, for our wages of sin is death. ↩︎
Vivify (verb): make more lively or interesting; enliven. E.g. “outings vivify learning for children”. Synonyms: enliven · vitalize · give (new) life to · breathe (new) life into · energize · invigorate · revive · liven up · light up · cheer up · gladden · encourage · hearten · inspire · exhilarate · thrill · excite · fire · arouse · rouse · stir · stimulate · galvanize · electrify · buck up · pep up · give someone a buzz · ginger up · light a fire under. ↩︎
Paroxysms: (plural noun): a sudden attack or outburst of a particular emotion or activity. E.g. “a paroxysm of weeping”. Synonyms: spasm · attack · fit · burst · bout · convulsion · seizure · outburst · outbreak · eruption · explosion · flare-up · access · throes. ↩︎