“How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?”—Psal. 13:2.
We have, in a former discourse, considered the importance of looking into our own hearts; but that counsel is not applicable in all cases. There is such a thing as to pore on our guilt and wretchedness, to the overlooking of our highest mercies. Though it be proper to know our own hearts, for the purpose of conviction, yet if we expect consolation from this quarter, we shall find ourselves sadly disappointed.
Such, for a time, appears to have been the case of David. He seems to have been in great distress; and, as is common in such cases, his thoughts turned inward, casting in his mind what he should do, and what would be the end of things. While thus exercised, he had “sorrow in his heart daily:” but, betaking himself to God for relief, he succeeded; trusting in his mercy, his heart rejoiced in his salvation.”
There are many persons who, when in trouble, imitate David in the former part of this experience: I wish we may imitate him in the latter. In discoursing on the subject, I shall first notice the disconsolate situation of the psalmist, with the remedy to which he repaired under it; and then inquire to what cases it is applicable among us, and whether the same remedy be not equally adapted to our relief as to his.
I. Let us notice the disconsolate situation of the psalmist, with the remedy to which he repaired under it. The Psalm is probably one of those mournful songs which he composed during his persecution by Saul; but, like most others, though it begins in complaint, it ends in triumph. We may be certain he was pressed with great difficulties; for we do not take counsel with ourselves or others, but in such cases. The particulars of his situation may be collected from the different parts of the Psalm.
1. He was sorely persecuted. This was a mysterious providence. God had anointed him to the throne, and brought him into public life; it might have been expected, therefore, that he would have made his way plain before him: yet, in following what must to him manifestly appear the leading of the Divine guide, he brings upon himself a flood of evils. Though nothing was further from his intention than to use any means to dethrone his sovereign; yet Saul is jealous, and his dependants are stirred up, by envy and malice, to compass the ruin of the innocent. Let not those who are candidates for an immortal crown be surprised, if their path to glory be covered with snares and pits: it is through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.
2. The Lord seemed to prosper his persecutors, and not him: his enemy was exalted over him. This seems more mysterious still. Is the God of Israel then a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent? Does he use lightness? Or the things which he purposes, does he purpose according to the flesh; that with him there should be yea, yea, and nay, nay? Far be it from him. Yet if we were to judge by appearances, we might, at times, be tempted to draw such conclusions.
3. His most intimate acquaintance seem to have forsaken him. In cases of difficulty, we usually advise with our friends, if we have any. If we are driven to take counsel with ourselves, therefore, it may be presumed that we are bereft of that consolation. A sympathizing, wise, and faithful friend, in a time of difficulty, is a great blessing. In times of prosperity, many will profess a regard to us; but if persecution for Christ’s sake should overtake us, we may expect some to stand aloof, who now court our acquaintance. This has been the lot of men of whom the world was not worthy; and it was no small part of their affliction that they had to suffer by themselves. Let us not complain of such things, however. Our Lord himself was forsaken by lover and friend. He took three of his most beloved disciples to accompany him in the hour of his sufferings; but they fell asleep, and left him to agonize alone.
4. To these temporal distresses were added others of a spiritual nature; the Lord hid his face from him; and, to him, it appeared as though he had forgotten him. If under his outward troubles he could have enjoyed inward peace; if he could have poured out his heart with freedom in secret; if, though banished from the sanctuary, yet looking towards that house, and calling upon the Lord, he had heard him from heaven his dwelling-place, his load had been supportable; but to have to say with Job, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him!” this gives a double weight to the affliction. But here also we have no reason to complain. David has been before us; and, what is more, David’s Lord. Jesus was persecuted; his enemies were exalted over him; his friends were scattered from him; and, to fill up the bitter cup, his God forsook him. This was the sorrow of sorrows. He speaks as one that could have borne any thing else: “My God, my God,.… why hast thou forsaken me?”
5. All this was not for a few days only; but for a long time. “How long wilt thou forget me? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul?” The intenseness of the affliction renders it trying to our fortitude; but it is by the continuance of it that patience is put to the test. It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting. In the former case, the soul collects all its strength, and feels in earnest to call in help from above; but in the latter, the mind relaxes arid sinks into despondency. When Job was accosted with evil tidings, in quick succession, he bore it with becoming fortitude; but when he could see no end to his troubles, he sunk under them.
These were some of the particulars which made up the load of David; and under which he is said to have taken counsel in his soul. The phrase seems to be expressive of great restlessness of spirit, a poring over his misery, a casting in his mind what he should do, and what would be the end of these things. Perhaps, if we had been secreted near him, we should have seen him walking by himself, now looking upwards, then downwards, weeping as he went, or sighing under a load that would not suffer him to weep; sometimes sinking into torpid silence, and sometimes interrogating himself on his future conduct:—What shall I do? Which way shall I take? Shall I go backward, or forward; or shall I stand still? Shall I try any other means; or shall I despair?
From this tumult of the mind, we are certain he obtained relief; for, towards the close of the Psalm, he deals in the language of triumph: “I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” Nor are we left to guess in what manner his soul was delivered from this state of dejection: “I have trusted,” says he, “in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.” Hence we may gather that the way in which he obtained relief was by ceasing to take counsel in his soul, and by looking out of himself, and trusting in the mercy of God.
This remedy was competent to the removal of all his complaints. What is it that mercy, Divine mercy, mercy through a Mediator, mercy connected with omnipotence and veracity, cannot effect? Was he persecuted? By trusting in this, he would cease to fear what man could do unto him. Was the hand of Providence apparently against him? That might be, and yet all in the end work together for good. Did his friends forsake him? The compassion of his best Friend would more than make up this loss. But did he also hide his face from him? Still he could do no better than apply to the mercy-seat, and supplicate his return. Finally, was all this complicated load of trials of long continuance? After waiting patiently for the Lord, he would hear him, would bring him out of the horrible pit, set his feet upon a rock, establish his goings, and put a new song into his mouth. Such, indeed, was the issue of his present trials, which is recorded for the encouragement of others, who shall be in like circumstances.
Excerpt: Andrew Fuller’s sermon entitled “Advice to the Dejected.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 228–230). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.