Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 31:8 - 31:8

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 31:8 - 31:8


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Room to Live

Thou hast set my feet in a large place.—Psa_31:8.

The idea is common in the Psalms of distress as restraint, irksome confinement. The man in trouble is shut up: he is in a strait place. Consequently the idea of deliverance takes the form of enlargement. The distressed man is led out of a narrow gorge into a wide plain. He dwells now in a broad place. He enjoys the sense of ample space. “Thou hast set my feet in a large place.” We have the same figure, although our use of it is perhaps not so common, in our own language. We talk of “straitened circumstances,” and again of “room to breathe” and “elbow room.”

I

Straitened Circumstances

There are agencies and influences always operating, whose nature it is to reduce life to a narrow area. The most potent are sin, trouble, and grinding toil.

1. The narrowing effect of sin, more than of anything else, seems to be suggested by these words. There is the inherited weakness and the encircling contagion—within us, the evil tendency; without us, the unhallowed opportunity. Sometimes a man accepts the pressing solicitation of evil, or yields to the hot-handed grip of the world’s desire; and then with a demeaned dignity and lowered self-respect, he measures life and finds he has but a few square feet in which to stand and call himself a fool. He measures his shame and his weakness—his poor failure—and he says, Life is a narrow place.

When William Blake the poet was an old man, there came a lady one day to see him. She was beautiful and rich, and she had the world at her feet, as we express it. Blake looked at her, as with a look of pity he put his hand upon her head and said, “My child, may God make the world as beautiful to you as it has been to me.” Let a young man have a pure imagination and his world will be a world of glory. He may be poor, and his days may be monotonous, but life will be clad for him in royal splendour. And that is where the curse of sin comes in, defiling and polluting everything. Let it once creep into the imagination, and everything bright and beautiful is gone.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Afterglow of God, 143.]

So dear to Heav’n is saintly chastity

That when a soul is found sincerely so,

A thousand liveried angels lackey her,

Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,

And in clear dream, and solemn vision,

Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear,

Till oft converse with heav’nly habitants

Begin to cast a beam on th’ outward shape,

The unpolluted temple of the mind,

And turns it by degrees to the soul’s essence,

Till all be made immortal: but when lust

By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,

But most by lewd and lavish act of sin,

Lets in defilement to the inward parts,

The soul grows clotted by contagion,

Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite lose

The divine property of her first being.

Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp

Oft seen in charnel-vaults and sepulchres,

Lingering, and sitting by a new-made grave,

As loth to leave the body that it lov’d,

And link’t itself by carnal sensuality

To a degenerate and degraded state.2 [Note: Milton, Comus.]

2. Trouble and adversity make life a small room. It is true that at times a stone pillow brings a man, like dreaming Jacob, near heaven, but generally the heart is full of unsatisfied longings, of unutterable thoughts. We are shut in by sordid circumstances, like the lark by its cheap cage, or we drag behind us a chain of anxiety and regret; we are clogged by ill-health or mean cares; parts of our being lie waste, or yield crops that cause pain and shame. At times the sky is grey, the heart full of bitterness. All is so flat and depressing, and no outlook promises better weather to come.

In every life are there not strange events, unlooked-for catastrophes, heartbreaking bereavements, mysterious contradictions, unfathomed problems shed all along our path, in which it seems as though by some sudden combination the very heavens are blotted out? Do we not sometimes feel like the pelican in the wilderness or the stranger left by the caravan to die alone in a dry and thirsty land where no water is? Life’s heaviest blows often come most unexpectedly. Death appears, and our astonishment is even greater than our grief. Losses arise, and we are petrified with surprise as our treasure disappears in the most unlikely directions. Friends and comrades fail us, and amazement almost chokes us. Have we not times in which prayer fails and hope dies down to a poor flicker, and we can do nothing and think nothing, and when we feel as dead men that cumber the ground? Do we not know what it is to walk about with that sickening of heart which makes our food like bitter herbs, and in the morning makes us wish for evening and at night makes us long for morning?1 [Note: W. Bramwell Booth.]

From physical weakness, mental distress, or it may be from the faults of others, some lives remain weak and feel it, and, with lessening resources, find increasing pain. To such the following incident will appeal: “I was strongly touched one day,” says Dr. Gregory, “by the bedside of an energetic and elastic man of business, sanguine and successful and with a splendid flow of spirits, who was suddenly struck down by illness. With trembling finger and with moistened eyes he pointed to an illuminated text hung in front of him at the foot of his bed, ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak’—a new and strange experience for one in the flower of manhood, who had hitherto known only high-toned health. He said, ‘Do you see that?’ I answered, ‘Yes, and God sees it and hears it too.’ ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘I got them to put it there that I might look at it and then from it to God.’ ”2 [Note: J. Ellis.]

3. The monotony of our tasks has a narrowing effect on life. The young just entering life find it full of novelty and aglow with romance. All things are possible to them. The world is open before them. They are conscious of latent powers. They see great opportunities. They will go far. They will climb high. “Thou hast set my feet in a large room,” they are well able to say. But as they grow older, and find their place in the world, and settle down to their work, the glamour vanishes. They find that their sphere is small, their abilities limited, and their opportunities few. The wide horizon of youth contracts. Work loses its novelty. It becomes wearisome and monotonous, and they are ready to cry, “Thou hast set my feet in a small room!”

The girl who goes to the marriage altar, her head full of romance, wakes up from love’s young dream to discover that her life is a ceaseless round of cooking, sweeping, dusting, and tidying. Her husband perhaps works in a factory, where he feeds a machine, the same machine, or stokes a fire, the same fire, all day long, and six days a week. I have seen a girl in a factory lining a box with paper, and then lining another box with paper, and continuing to line boxes with paper the livelong day. Oh, for an outdoor life!1 [Note: B. J. Gibbon.]

The close and subtle clasping of a chain,

Formed not of gold, but of corroded brass,

Whose links are furnished from the common mine

Of everyday’s event, and want, and wish;

From work-times, diet-times, and sleeping-times:

And thence constructed, mean and heavy links

Within the pandemonic walls of sense

Enchain our deathless part, constrain our strength,

And waste the goodly stature of our soul.



Howbeit, we love this bondage; we do cleave

Unto the sordid and unholy thing,

Fearing the sudden wrench required to break

Those claspèd links. Behold! all sights and sounds

In air, and sea, and earth, and under earth,

All flesh, all life, all ends, are mysteries;

And all that is mysterious dreadful seems,

And all we cannot understand we fear.

Ourselves do scare ourselves; we hide our sight

In artificial nature from the true,

And throw sensation’s veil associative

On God’s creation, man’s intelligence;

Bowing our high imaginings to eat

Dust, like the serpent, once erect as they;

Binding conspicuous on our reason’s brow

Phylacteries of shame; learning to feel

By rote, and act by rule (man’s rule, not God’s!),

Until our words grow echoes, and our thoughts

A mechanism of spirit.1 [Note: E. B. Browning, A Sea-side Meditation.]

II

Large Room

There are two ways in which the smallest room can be enlarged indefinitely—one by lifting the roof, the other by pushing back the walls. And in those two ways, by taking off the roof of life until we see God, and knocking away the walls of time until we see eternity, each of us may occupy—and should occupy, as many do—the largest room on earth.

i. Add God to Life

1. Let us add the thought of God to life. God alone can deal effectively with our sin. He alone can give deliverance. And what happens to the man who resolutely takes his place in the battle against sin—his own sin, the world’s sin? Day by day the soul within him, which has its birthplace and its goal beyond the stars, asserts itself, as it discovers larger rights and possibilities, and an ever surer hope of victory gives vision not bounded by life’s most pressing and persistent circumstance. Day by day it becomes more apparent that the life of the soul is circled by a horizon that its most daring dreams have never scanned, and that for the pure-hearted the dusty, choking, hand-to-hand encounter with sin holds promise wider than the world. Let us remember that, if in this day of much striving we are growing sick and weary, we are not fighting for the little patch of trampled earth beneath our feet, where the grass and the flowers have been beaten into common dust. We are fighting for the right and fitness to enter the land that is very far off, where, by the river of nameless peace, men have life because they see God. Surely the life that finds room for a fight like that is a wide life!

If our faith is to be true, we need the simple, direct sense of God the Father that we had as children—we need that expanded into a sense of the great, living God. What was dear to us in our childhood’s religion is purified and preserved and strengthened by the wider range which the expansion of our life has opened up. In one of Shakespeare’s sonnets he writes:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

Now what Shakespeare wrote about this friendship, we may apply to the time in which we are living. It is the thought of God which lifts us up above the melancholy of the past, and delivers us from the weakness that morbid regret instilled into our hearts. We believe in a God of our life who is able to develop our growth. We learn from Jesus to recognize in God’s handling of us that any outward change, however unwelcome, must be accompanied by an inward access of moral strength. Whatever God takes from us in that way comes back to us in another form, enriched, enlarged.1 [Note: J. Moffatt.]

2. The thought of God will reveal a purpose in trouble. We shall realize that “in every sorrow of the heart, Eternal Mercy bears a part.” God’s good purpose runs through our saddened hours. It is then that pride dies and sympathy is born. But if we forget God we reverse this order of things. We grow narrower and colder and harder. We drift into cynicism and pessimism. We are the worse instead of the better for our tears. There is an old saying attributed to Christ that has a double significance. It runs: “He that is near Me is near the fire.” To be near the fire is to be tested, perhaps scorched and made hard. But it is also to be warmed and cheered, and the double action is felt by each disciple. Attempts at serious, earnest living will always involve pain, but it will be pain that is compensated by stronger and sweeter strength. Life is neither all sunshine nor all gloom. A restless devil and a changing world will account for discomforts, and there are moments of intense dreariness, gloom, bitterness, and woe. Then I am with you, says the Lord, as a Comforter able to help, to bring Lazarus from the dead; and this is more than we dare ask for or can realize. As the chaplain said to the dying Highlander—“Geordie, ‘tis just Jesus”; and where the cloud appears Jesus is not far away.

Mr. A. C. Benson has described in The House of Quiet the life of a man who had attained, after a youth of unstable health, to an apparently sound constitution, and was now living out a full and happy and useful life in London. Suddenly his old delicacy of health reappeared. He consulted an eminent physician. He came out of the consulting-room with a virtual sentence of death. “To say farewell to the bustle and activity of life; to be laid aside on a shelf like a cracked vase, turning as far as possible my ornamental front to the world; to live the shadowed life, a creature of rules and hours—a degrading and humiliating rôle.” But he accepted the will of God. He took up his cross. He passed into “The House of Quiet,” expecting only the peace of a difficult resignation. But in “The House of Quiet” a new life began. An unexpected feeling of the possibilities of life dawned. His perceptions became more delicate. The gush of morning air, the liquid song of birds, the sprouting of the green buds, the babble of the stream gave a new delight. His intellectual life grew strong, eager, discerning. A quickened taste for pure and noble reading, and a fresh joy in beauty, filled him with rapture. Then there swelled within him a more deliberate intention of enjoying simple things and of expecting beauty in homely life. At last he awoke to his true service. He had hitherto looked on at life around him with a dimmed eye and dulled ear. Now all the cries of the sick and the pained, and all the eager and appealing voices of the young and wistful, and all the soft, low sobbing of the bereaved fell upon his ears. All the needs, daily and clamant, of his neighbours rose up in appeal. This broken man, walking on the edge of death’s abyss, gave up his life and used his feeble strength to help and to comfort others. He found that he had entered a new world. He no longer lived in the isolation of the strong, the successful, the selfish. New felicities swelled within his heart. New and unhoped-for strength was given. His life became a life of faith and love; and that rest which is our deepest satisfaction is always their first-born child.1 [Note: W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, 333.]

The cry of man’s anguish went up unto God:

“Lord, take away pain—

The shadow that darkens the world Thou hast made,

The close-coiling chain

That strangles the heart, the burden that weighs

On the wings that would soar;

Lord, take away pain from the world Thou hast made,

That it love Thee the more!”



Then answered the Lord to the cry of His world:

“Shall I take away pain

And with it the power of the soul to endure,

Made strong by the strain?

Shall I take away pity that knits heart to heart,

And sacrifice high?

Will ye lose all your heroes that lift from the fire

White brows to the sky?

Shall I take away love that redeems with a price,

And smiles at its loss?

Can ye spare from your lives that would climb into Mine

The Christ on His cross?”

3. The thought of God will change grinding toil into a sweet ministry.

(1) We shall realize that our sphere is God-appointed. The place in which we find ourselves is the place in which the Master desires us to live our life.

Thou cam’st not to thy place by accident;

It is the very place God meant for thee.

There is no haphazard in this world. God leads every one of His children by the right way. He knows where and under what influences each particular life will ripen best. One tree grows best in the sheltered valley, another by the water’s edge, another on the bleak mountain-top swept by storms. There is always adaptation in nature. Every tree or plant is found in the locality where the conditions of its growth exist, and does God give more thought to trees and plants than to His own children? He places us amid the circumstances and experiences in which our life will grow and ripen the best. The peculiar discipline to which we are each subjected is the discipline we severally need to bring out in us the beauties and graces of true spiritual character. We are in the right school. We may think that we would ripen more quickly in a more easy and luxurious life, but God knows what is best; He makes no mistakes.

Too often the Christian thinks that he could “walk and please God” if he might first readjust the pathway to his own liking. But surely it is not so. Our work, our home, our appointed circle of intercourse, our temperament, our past, He has made them. It is ours not to re-arrange His plan, but to follow Him along it. There is an instructive passage in the life of Madame de la Mothe Guyon. At an early stage of her blessed walk with God, peculiar trials beset her home life. She had learnt to taste the deep sweetness of solitary communion with the Lord in order to renew her strength for duty. But day by day this was made impossible in ways exquisitely trying. For a time her spiritual prosperity was greatly disturbed. But soon she saw that even in this there lay hidden the will of God, and that while the difficulty lasted she was accordingly to welcome it as from Him. By His grace she did so, and with the surrender, with the trust, there came to her a larger and fuller experience of peace than she had ever known when time seemed at her own disposal.1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, All in Christ, 207.]

There is a work for all of us, and there is a work for each, work which I cannot do in a crowd, or as one of a mass, but as one man, acting singly, according to my own gifts, and under a sense of my personal responsibility. There is no doubt associated work for me to do. I must do my work as part of the world’s great whole, or as a member of some great body. But I have a special work to do, as one individual, who by God’s plan and appointment has a separate position, separate responsibilities, and a separate work; if I do not do it, it must be left undone. No one of my special fellows can do that special work for me which I have come into the world to do; he may do a higher work, a greater work, but he cannot do my work. I cannot hand over my work to him, any more than I can hand over my responsibilities or my gifts.2 [Note: Ruskin.]

(2) We shall regard all the tasks of life as golden opportunities to further a great purpose. After having seen the sordidness and meanness and littleness of things, David still held that life is a grand, free, glorious gift, that it is liberty and opportunity and hope. What was the secret of his wide and worthy view of life? How had he escaped these narrower and meaner thoughts that crowd into men’s minds and belittle their lives? He had laid hold upon God. He looked at life through the Divine purpose. He found the high and noble meaning of the dusty parable that men call the day’s work. When he talks of life as a large room, it is really his way of saying, “Thy service is perfect freedom.” If life is lived to God, then it is wider than any man can measure.

The Booth children were left in no mist of doubt as to their future. There was an end, a point, a purpose, in their life. They grew up in an atmosphere of decision. Many children are made timid, diffident, ineffective by their training. They are constantly told how naughty they are, till they begin to believe that they are good for nothing. The Booth parents acted on a different principle. They had faith in their children and for their children. When Katie was still a little girl in socks, her mother would say to her, “Now, Katie, you are not here in this world for yourself. You have been sent for others. The world is waiting for you.”1 [Note: J. Strahan, The Maréchale (1913), 10.]

It was the strange fancy of a little child, writes George MacDonald, as he stood on a summer’s evening looking intently and thoughtfully at the great banks of clouds piled like mountains of glory about the setting sun: “Mother, I wish I could be a painter.” “Why, my child?” “For then I would help God to paint the clouds and the sunsets.” It was a strange and beautiful aspiration. But our commonest work in this world may be made far nobler than that. We may live to touch hues of loveliness in immortal spirits which shall endure for ever. Clouds dissolve and float away. The most gorgeous sunset splendours vanish in a few moments. The artist’s canvas crumbles and his wondrous creations fade. But work done for Christ endures for ever. A life of simple consecration leaves a trace of imperishable beauty on everything it touches. Not great deeds alone, but the smallest, the obscurest, the most prosaic, write their record in fadeless lines.2 [Note: J. R. Miller, Week-Day Religion, 90.]

It is possible to bring near that far-distant world and to hold it in our hearts. When the soul’s revealing-glass is brought to bear upon it—when eternity swims like a new world into our ken—how differently does life look in the light of that revelation! The light of eternity playing about the things of time, how it changes everything! How differently now shall our life be led, once that vision has begun to be ours! In this light we see our life and work at a new angle, and we change our minds as to the things that are big with importance and the things that are of little value. We see that things are large or small, not so much from the comparison they make with one another, but according as they have in them the elements of eternal meaning and purpose. As to our life’s work, it is not so much what we are doing or where we are doing it, as it is how we are doing it and with what purpose in view. The case is well put by Professor Drummond in his own clear-cut way. “An office is not a place for making money, it is a place for making character. A workshop is not a place for making machinery, it is a place for making men.… A school of learning is not so much a place for making scholars, as a place for making souls. And he who would ripen and perfect the eternal element in his being will do this by attending to the religious uses of his daily task, recognizing the unseen in the seen, and so turning three-fourths of each day’s life into an ever-acting means of grace.” In his picturesque study of Lazarus brought back to earth again from heaven, Browning seeks to show the effect that the heavenly vision will have on a man who must still walk the earth. It will mean for him a reversal of the world’s judgments as to the meaning of things and the proportion of values. And it will mean for those who watch him a feeling of his unfitness for playing his part as a successful man of the world in the affairs of this life.

The man is witless of the size, the sum,

The value in proportion of all things,

Or whether it be little or be much.1 [Note: J. B. Maclean, The Secret of the Stream, 145.]

The type may be as crude and clumsy as were the first wooden pieces of Faust and Gutenberg, but if the thought be deep and great the imperfection of the medium through which it finds its way to the mind is of small account; the conditions in which we pass this mortal life may be hard and uncongenial, but if they convey spiritual truths to us, and make us aware of spiritual realities, it were cowardly to complain and ignorant to rebel. The wise traveller, to whom the great scenery or the great art of the world is accessible, does not waste his time on the discomforts of travel or allow his thoughts to dwell on the shortcomings of his inn. The measure of a man’s soul is his ability to disregard the hindrances and concentrate his energy on the achievement; to put aside the accidents of a relation, a work, an opportunity, and grasp the reality. If there is, as a wise poet has told us, a soul of goodness in things evil, there is much more certainly a soul of beauty within the form of all relations and duties and works; and he who is able to carry all his relationships, duties, and work to the mount where the patterns are, to the light of the spiritual order where these mortal things instantly put on immortality, has read the open secret and pierced the mystery of life.2 [Note: H. W. Mabie, The Life of the Spirit, 282.]

God and Man are free.

Where Freedom is, no other cause is sure.

Is Purpose then Foreknowledge?—Human will

May yield and fail to win the victory:

And God Himself, it may be, turns and bends

His purposes to further human ends,

Stooping to serve His servant; so that still

We find no Purpose that is Prophecy.

But where both wills, the human and Divine

Are yoked together, where God ratifies

The struggling purposes of man,—there lies

The law unchangeable, the fixed decree

That nought in earth or heaven shall undermine.1 [Note: Roger Heath, Beginnings, 56.]

ii. Add Eternity to Life

By bringing eternity into life we make it a large place. Everything we do has an effect, an effect upon ourselves, that is eternal. That is the recognition of eternity, and to bring this conception into life is to make it a very wide room. We find life small and tedious because the work we do seems so petty and ineffective. What we do to-day we have to do again to-morrow, still again the third day, and so continually. The baker bakes his bread, but to-morrow it is all eaten and he has to bake another batch, and day after day to go on baking. It seems hopeless to try to feed his customers. “My work is never done,” we constantly hear. It is generally the housewife who says it. What is the use of cooking, sweeping, dusting and tidying, when to-morrow she has to cook, sweep, dust and tidy again, and all the to-morrows of her life to repeat the programme? Our work seems so futile that the life spent in doing it appears petty, small, unworthy. Yes; but it is so in appearance only. It is not really so. By our daily work we are manufacturing for eternity. We are making, or we are marring, characters that will last for ever. We are developing, or we are destroying, souls that will go on with this handiwork upon them into eternity. We are fitting, or we are unfitting, ourselves to dwell for ever in the holy light of God.

If this life is all, then the horizon is near, and the whole scope and outlook of man’s highest life cramped and fettered. To many a soul it would be a bondage almost as grim as the bondage of Egypt. “Mas’r,” pleads Tom, the slave of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as he is threatened with death, “after ye’ve killed the body there ain’t no more ye can do. You may whip me, starve me, burn me, it’ll only send me sooner where I want to go.” From the fire and water, the cruel terror of his fellow, this pure and beautiful soul was to pass to its vindication and eternal rest. We are always reaching our limits; there are things we cannot do, ideals we cannot attain, powers we cannot conquer, service we cannot render, but with the breaking of the morning when the spirit enters the Homeland, then surely we must believe we shall see those limits crossed. We shall be in a wealthy place, there will be a fuller, richer life.1 [Note: C. F. Perry.]

’Tis a long road home;

But sleep for aching eyes,

Rest for weary feet,

For striving hearts a prize,

Silence still and sweet,

Wait at the end of the long road home.



’Tis a hard road home;

Many faint and lag

Beneath the heavy pack,

With feet and hearts that drag,

But none looks back—

We know there’s an end to the hard road home.



’Tis a dark road home,

With shadows long and deep,

Where timid travellers fall,

And scarce their path may keep;

But the Light that shines for all

Gleams at the end of the dark road home.

Literature

Adams (J.), Sermons in Syntax, 51.

Ainsworth (P. C.), The Pilgrim Church, 201.

Clow (W. M.), The Secret of the Lord, 333.

Ellis (J.), Through Christ to Life, 52.

Miller (J. R.), Week-Day Religion, 1.

Morrison (G. H.), The Afterglow of God, 143.

Christian World Pulpit, lxxix. 253 (B. J. Gibbon); lxxx. 158 (C. F. Perry).

Treasury (New York), xii. 175 (T. W. Anderson).