3083. Comfort For Those Whose Prayers Are Feeble

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No. 3083-54:121. A Sermon Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

A Sermon Published On Thursday, March 12, 1908.

Do not hide your ear at my breathing. {La 3:56}

1. Young beginners in grace are very apt to compare themselves with advanced disciples, and so to become discouraged; and tried saints fall into the same habit. They see those of God’s people who are on the mount, enjoying the light of their Redeemer’s countenance, and, comparing their own condition with the joy of the saints, they write bitter things against themselves, and conclude that surely they are not the people of God. This course is as foolish as though the lambs should suspect themselves not to be of the flock because they are not sheep, or as though a sick man should doubt his existence because he is not able to walk or run as a man in good health. But since this bad habit is very common, it is our duty to seek after the dispirited and downcast ones, and comfort them. That is our errand in this short discourse. We hear the Master’s words, “Comfort, comfort my people,” and we will endeavour to obey them by his Spirit’s help.

2. On the matter of prayer, many are dispirited because they cannot yet pray as advanced believers do, or because, during some special crisis of their spiritual history, their prayers do not appear to them to be so fervent and acceptable as is the case with other Christians. Perhaps God may have a message to some troubled ones in the present address, and may the Holy Spirit apply it with power to such!

3. “Do not hide your ear at my breathing.” This is an exceptional description of prayer, is it not? Frequently, prayer is said to have a voice; it is so in this verse: “You have heard my voice.” Prayer has a melodious voice in the ear of our Heavenly Father. Frequently, too, prayer is expressed by a cry. It is so in this verse: “Do not hide your ear at my cry.” A cry is the natural, plaintive utterance of sorrow, and has as much power to move the heart of God as a babe’s cry to touch a mother’s tenderness. But there are times when we cannot speak with the voice, nor even cry, and then a prayer may be expressed by a moan, or a groan, or a tear, — “the heaving of a sigh, the falling of a tear.” But, possibly, we may not even get so far as that, and may have to say, like one of old, “Like a crane or a swallow, so I chatter.” Our prayer, as heard by others, may be a kind of irrational utterance. We may feel as if we moaned like wounded beasts, rather than prayed like intelligent men; and we may even fall below that, for, in the text, we have a kind of prayer which is less than a moan or a sigh. It is called a breathing: “Do not hide your ear at my breathing.” The man is too far gone for a glance of the eye, or the moaning of the heart, he scarcely breathes, but that faint breath is prayer. Though unuttered and unexpressed by any sounds which could reach a human ear, yet God hears the breathing of his servant’s soul, and does not hide his ear from it.

4. We shall teach three or four lessons from the present use of the expression “breathing.”

5. I. WHEN WE CANNOT PRAY AS WE WISH, IT IS GOOD TO PRAY AS WE CAN.

6. Bodily weakness should never be urged by us as a reason for ceasing to pray; in fact, no living child of God will ever think of such a thing. If I cannot bend the knees of my body because I am so weak, my prayers from my bed shall be on their knees, my heart shall be on its knees, and pray as acceptably as previously. Instead of relaxing prayer because the body suffers, true hearts, at such times, usually double their petitions. Like Hezekiah, they turn their face to the wall so that they may see no earthly object, and then they look at the invisible things and talk with the Most High, indeed, and often in a sweeter and more intimate way than they did in the days of their health and strength. If we are so faint that we can only lie still and breathe, let every breath be a prayer.

7. Nor should a true Christian relax his prayer through mental difficulties, I mean those perturbations which distract the mind, and prevent the concentration of our thoughts. Such ills will happen to us. Some of us are often much depressed, and are frequently so tossed to and fro in mind that, if prayer were an operation which required the faculties to be all at their best, as in the working of abstruse mathematical problems, we should not at such times be able to pray at all. But, brethren, when the mind is very heavy, then is not the time to give up praying, but rather to redouble our supplications. Our blessed Lord and Master was driven by distress of mind into the most sad condition; he said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”; yet he did not for that reason say, “I cannot pray”; but, on the contrary, he sought the well-known shadows of the olive grove, and there unburdened his heavy heart, and poured out his soul like water before the Lord. Never let us consider ourselves to be too ill or too distracted to pray. A Christian ought never to be in such a state of mind that he feels bound to say, “I do not feel that I could pray”; or, if he does, let him pray until he feels he can pray. Not to pray because you do not feel fit to pray is like saying, “I will not take medicine because I am too ill.” Pray for prayer: pray yourself, by the Spirit’s assistance, into a praying mood. It is good to strike when the iron is hot, but some make cold iron hot by striking. We have sometimes eaten until we have gained an appetite, so let us pray until we pray. God will help you in the pursuit of duty, not in the neglect of it.

8. The same is the case with regard to spiritual sicknesses. Sometimes it is not merely the body or the mind which is affected, but our inner nature is dull, paralysed, and lethargic, so that, when it is time for prayer, we do not feel the spirit of prayer. Moreover, perhaps our faith is flagging, and how shall we pray when faith is so weak? Possibly we are suspicious concerning whether we are the people of God at all, and we are molested by the memory of our shortcomings. Now the tempter will whisper, “Do not pray just now; your heart is not in a fit condition for it.” My dear brother, you will not become fit for prayer by keeping away from the mercy seat, but to lie groaning or breathing at its foot is the best preparation for pleading before the Lord. We are not to aim at a self-made preparation of our hearts so that we may come to God properly, but “the preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, are from the Lord.” If I feel myself disinclined to pray, then is the time when I need to pray more than ever. Possibly, when the soul leaps and exalts in communion with God, it might more safely refrain from prayer than at those times when it drags heavily in devotion. Alas! my Lord, does my soul go wandering away from you? Then, come back my heart, I will drag you back by force of grace, I will not cease to cry until the Spirit of God has made you return to your allegiance. What, my Christian brother, because you feel idle, is that a reason why you should restrain your hand, and not serve your God? No, but away with your idleness, and resolutely bend your soul to service. So, under a sense of prayerlessness, be more intent on prayer. Repent that you cannot repent, groan that you cannot groan, and pray until you do pray; in doing so God will help you.

9. But, it may be objected, that sometimes we are placed in great difficulty regarding circumstances, so that we may be excused from prayer. Brethren, there are no circumstances in which we should cease to pray in some way or other. “But I have so many cares.” Who among us has not? If we are never to pray until all our cares are over, surely then we shall either never pray at all, or pray when we have no more need for it. What did Abram do when he offered sacrifice to God? When the patriarch had slaughtered the appointed creatures, and laid them on the altar, certain vultures and kites came hovering around, ready to pounce on the consecrated flesh. What did the patriarch do then? “When the fowls came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.” {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 420, “Abram and the Ravenous Birds” 411} {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1993, “Driving Away the Vultures from the Sacrifice” 1994} So must we ask for grace to drive our cares away from our devotions. That was a wise direction which the prophet gave to the poor woman when the Lord was about to multiply her oil. “Go, take the cruse,” he said, “pour out the oil, and fill the borrowed vessels”; but what did he also say? “Shut the door after you.” If the door had been open, some of her gossiping neighbours would have looked in, and said, “What are you doing? Do you really hope to fill all these jars out of that little oil cruse? Why, woman, you must be mad!” I am afraid she would not have been able to perform that act of faith if the objectors had not been shut out. It is a grand thing when the soul can bolt the doors against distractions, and keep out those intruders; for it is then that prayer and faith will perform their miracle, and our soul shall be filled with the blessing of the Lord. Oh, for grace to overcome circumstances, and, at least to breathe out prayer, if we cannot reach to a more powerful form of it!

10. Perhaps, however, you declare that your circumstances are more difficult than I can imagine, for you are surrounded by those who mock you, and, besides, Satan himself molests you. Ah! then, dear brother or sister, under such circumstances, instead of restraining prayer, be ten times more diligent. Your position is pre-eminently perilous, you cannot afford to live away from the throne of grace, do not therefore attempt it. As for threatened persecution, pray in defiance of it. Remember how Daniel opened his window, and prayed to his God as he had done previously. Let the God of Daniel be your God in the chamber of prayer, and he will be your God in the lions’ den. As for the devil, be sure that nothing will drive him away like prayer. That couplet is correct which declares that — 


   Satan trembles when he sees

   The weakest saint upon his knees.


Whatever your position, if you cannot speak, cry; if you can not cry, groan, if you cannot groan, let there be “groanings which cannot be uttered”; and if you cannot even rise to that point, let your prayer be at least a breathing, — a vital, sincere desire, the outpouring of your inner life in the simplest and weakest form, and God will accept it. In a word, when you cannot pray as you wish, take care to pray as you can.

11. II. But now, a second word of instruction. It is clear from the text, from many other passages of Scripture, and from general observation, that THE BEST OF MEN HAVE USUALLY FOUND THE GREATEST FAULT WITH THEIR OWN PRAYERS.

12. This arises from the fact that they present living prayers in real earnest, and feel far more than they can express. A mere formalist can always pray so as to please himself. What has he to do but to open his book, and read the prescribed words, or bow his knee, and repeat such phrases as suggest themselves to his memory or his imagination? Like the Tartarian Praying Machine, give only the wind and the wheel, and the business is fully arranged. So much knee-bending and talking, and the prayer is done. The formalist’s prayers are always equally good, or, rather, always equally bad. But the living child of God never offers a prayer which pleases himself; his standard is above his attainments; he wonders that God listens to him, and though he knows he will be heard for Christ’s sake, yet he considers it a wonderful example of condescending mercy that such poor prayers as his should ever reach the ears of the Lord God of hosts.

13. If it is asked in what respect holy men find fault with their prayers, we reply, that they complain of the narrowness of their desires. Oh God, you have told me to open my mouth wide, and you will fill it, but I do not open my mouth! You are ready to bestow great things on me, but I am not ready to receive great things. I am constrained, but it is not in you; I am constrained in my own desires. Dear brethren, when we read of Hugh Latimer on his knees perpetually crying out, “Oh God, give back the gospel to England,” and sometimes praying so long that he could not rise, being an aged man, and they had to lift him up from the prison floor, and he would still keep on crying, “Oh God, give back the gospel to poor England,” we may well wonder that some of us do not pray in the same way. The times are as bad as Latimer’s, and we have as great a need to pray as he had, “Oh God, drive away this Popery once again, and give back the gospel to England.” Then, think of John Knox. Why, that man’s prayers were like great armies for power, and he would wrestle all night with God that he would kindle the light of the gospel in Scotland. He affirmed that he had gained his desire, and I believe he had, and that the light which burns so brightly in Scotland is much to be attributed to that man’s supplications. We do not pray like these men; we have no heart to ask for great things. A revival is waiting, the cloud is hovering over England, and we do not know how to bring it down. Oh, that God may find some true spirits who shall be as conductors to bring down the divine fire! We want it much, but our poor breathings — they do not come to much more, — have no force, nor expansiveness, no great-heartedness, no prevalence in them.

14. Then, how far we fail in the matter of faith! We do not pray as if we believed. Believing prayer is a grasping and a wrestling, but ours is a mere puffing and blowing, a little breathing, — not much more. God is true, and we pray to him as if he were false. He means what he says, and we treat his Word as if it were spoken in jest. The primary fault of our prayer is lack of faith.

15. How often do we lack earnestness! Such men as Luther had their will with heaven because they would have it. God’s Spirit made them resolute in intercession, and they would not come away from the mercy seat until their suit was granted; but we are cold, and consequently feeble, and our poor, poor prayers, in the prayer meeting, in the prayer closet, and at the family altar, languish and almost die.

16. How much, alas, is there of impurity of motive to mar our prayers! We ask for revival, but we want our own church to get the blessing, so that we may have the credit for it. We pray God to bless our work, and it is because we wish to hear men say what good workers we are. The prayer is good in itself, but our smutty fingers spoil it. Oh, that we could offer supplication as it should be offered! Blessed be God, there is One who can wash our prayers for us; but, truly, our very tears need to be wept over, and our prayers need praying over again. The best thing we ever do needs to be washed in the fountain filled with blood, or God can only look at it as a sin.

17. Another fault good men see in their supplications is this, that they stand at such a distance from God in praying, they do not draw near enough to him. Are not some of you oppressed with a sense of the distance there is between you and God? You know there is a God, and you believe he will answer you; but it is not always that you come right up to him, even to his feet, and, as it were, lay hold on him, and say, “Oh my Father, listen to the voice of your chosen, and let the cry of the blood of your Son come up before you!” Oh, for prayers which enter within the veil, and approach close to the mercy seat! Oh, for petitioners who are familiar with the cherubim, and the brightness which shines between their wings! May God help us to pray better! But this I feel sure of, — you who plead most prevalently are just those who will think the least of your own prayers, and be most grateful to God that he condescends to listen to you, and most anxious that he would help you to pray in a nobler way.

18. III. A third lesson is this, — THE POWER OF PRAYER IS NOT TO BE MEASURED BY ITS OUTWARD EXPRESSION.

19. A breathing is a prayer from which God does not hide his ear. It is a great truth undoubtedly, and full of much comfort too, that our prayers are not powerful in proportion to their expression; for, if so, the Pharisee would have succeeded, since he evidently had greater gifts than the Tax Collector had. I have no doubt, if there had been a regular prayer meeting, and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector had attended, we should have called on the Pharisee to pray. I do not think the people of God would have enjoyed his prayer, nor have felt any kinship of spirit with him; and yet, very naturally, on account of his gifts, he would have taken upon himself to engage in public devotion; or, if that Pharisee would not have done so, I have heard of other Pharisees who would. No doubt the man’s spirit was bad, but then his expression was good. He could put his speech so neatly, and pour it out so accurately. Let all men know that God does not care for that. The sigh of the Tax Collector reached his ear, and won the blessing but the boastful phrases of the Pharisee were an abomination to him.

20. If our prayers were forcible according to their expression, then rhetoric would be more valuable than grace, and a scholastic education would be better than sanctification; but it is not so. Some of us may be able to express ourselves very fluently from the force of natural gifts, but it should always be to us an anxious question whether our prayer is a prayer which God will receive; for we ought to know, and must know by this time, that we often pray best when we stammer and stutter, and we pray worst when words come rolling like a torrent, one after another. God is not moved by words; they are only a noise to him. He is only moved by the deep thought and the heaving emotion which dwell in the innermost spirit. It would be a sorry business for you, who are poor, if God only heard us according to the beauty of our utterances; for it may be that your education was so neglected that there is no hope for you ever to be able to speak grammatically; and, besides, it may be, from your limited information, that you could not use the phrases which sound too good. But the Lord hears the poor, and the ignorant, and the needy; he loves to hear their cry. What does he care for the grammar of the prayer? It is the soul of it that he wants; and if you cannot string three words of the Queen’s English together correctly, yet, if your soul can breathe itself out before the Most High in any way, if it is only warm, hearty, sincere, earnest petitioning, there is power in your prayer, and none the less power in it because of its broken words, nor would it be an advantage for you, as far as the Lord is concerned, if those words were not broken, but were well composed. Ought this not to comfort us, then?

21. Even if we are gifted with facility of expression, we sometimes find that our power of utterance fails us. Under very heavy grief, a man cannot speak as he was accustomed to do. Circumstances can make the most eloquent tongue grow slow of speech; it does not matter, your prayer is as good as it was before. You call on God in public, and you sit down, and think that your confused prayer was of no use to the church. You do not know in what scales God weighs your prayer; not by quantity, but by quality, not by the outward dress of verbiage, but he computes its value by the inner soul and the intense earnestness that was in it. Do you not sometimes rise from your knees in your little room, and say, “I do not think I have prayed, I could not feel at home in prayer?” Nine times out of every ten, those prayers are most prevalent with God which we think are the least acceptable; but when we boast in our prayer, God will have nothing to do with it. If you see any beauty in your own supplication, God will not; for you have evidently been looking at your prayer, and not at him. But when your soul sees so much of his glory that she cries, “How shall I speak to you, — I who am only dust and ashes?” when she sees so much of his goodness that she is hampered in expression by the depth of her own humiliation, oh, it is then that your prayer is best. There may be more prayer in a groan than in an entire liturgy; there may be more acceptable devotion in a tear that dampens the floor of that pew than in all the hymns we have sung, or in all the supplications which we have uttered. It is not the outward, it is the inward; it is not the lips, it is the heart which the Lord regards; if you can only breathe, your prayer is still accepted by the Most High.

22. I desire that this truth may come home to any one of you who says, “I cannot pray.” It is not true. If it were necessary that, in order to pray, you should talk for a quarter of an hour, or that you should say pretty things, why then I would admit that you could not pray; but if it is only to say from your heart, “God be merciful to me a sinner”; indeed, and if prayer is not saying anything at all, but desiring, longing, hoping for mercy, for pardon, for salvation, no man may say, “I cannot,” unless he is honest enough to add, “I cannot because I will not; I love my sins too well, and have no faith in Christ; I do not desire to be saved.” If you will to pray, oh my hearer, you can pray! He who gives the will joins the ability to it.

23. And oh! let me say, do not sleep this night until you have tried and proved the power of prayer. If you feel a burden on your heart, tell the Lord about it. Cover your face, and speak with him. You need not do even that, for I suppose that Hannah did not cover her face when Eli saw her lips move, and supposed that she was drunk. No, your lips need not even move; your soul can now say, “Save me, my God, convict me of sin, lead me to the cross; save me tonight; let me not end another day as your enemy; let me not go into the cares of another week unabsolved, with your wrath hanging over me like a thunder-cloud! Save me, save me, oh my God!” Such prayers, though utterly wordless, shall not be powerless, but shall be heard in heaven.

24. IV. We will close with a fourth practical lesson, — FEEBLE PRAYERS ARE HEARD IN HEAVEN.

25. Why is it that feeble prayers are understood by God and heard in heaven? There are three reasons.

26. First, the feeblest prayer, if it is sincere, is written by the Holy Spirit on the heart, and God will always recognise the handwriting of the Holy Spirit. Frequently, certain kind friends from Scotland send me for the Orphanage some portions of what one of them called the other day “filthy lucre,” — namely, dirty £1 notes. Now these £1 notes certainly look as if they were of little value. Still, they bear the proper signature, and they pass well enough, and I am very grateful for them. Many a prayer that is written on the heart by the Holy Spirit seems written with faint ink, and, moreover, it appears to be blotted and defiled by our imperfections; but the Holy Spirit can always read his own handwriting. He knows his own notes; and when he has issued a prayer, he will not disown it. Therefore, the breathing which the Holy Spirit works in us will be acceptable with God.

27. Moreover, God, our ever-blessed Father, has a keen ear to hear the breathing of any of his children. When a mother has a sick child, it is marvellous how keen her ears become while attending him. Good woman, we wonder that she does not fall asleep. If you hired a nurse, it is ten to one she would. But the dear child, in the middle of the night, does not need to cry for water, or even speak; there is a little quick breathing, — who will hear it? No one would except the mother; but her ears are keen, for they are in her child’s heart. So, if there is a heart in the world that longs for God, God’s ear is already in that poor sinner’s heart. He will hear it. Every good desire on earth has been heard by the Lord. I remember when, at one time, I was a little afraid to preach the gospel to sinners as sinners, and yet I wanted to do so, so I used to say, “If you have only a millionth part of a desire, come to Christ.” I dare say more than that now; but, at the same time, I will say that at once, — if you have a millionth part of a desire, if you have only a little breathing, — if you desire to be reconciled, if you desire to be pardoned, if you wish to be forgiven, if there is only half a good thought formed in your soul, do not check it, do not stifle it, and do not think that God will reject it.

28. And, then, there is another reason, namely, that the Lord Jesus Christ is always ready to take the most imperfect prayer, and perfect it for us. If our prayers had to go up to heaven as they are, they would never succeed; but they find a Friend on the way, and therefore they prosper. A poor person has a petition to be sent in to some government official, and if he had to write it himself, it would puzzle all the officers in Downing Street to figure out what he meant; but he is wise enough to find a friend who can write, or he comes around to his minister, and says, “Sir, will you make this petition right for me? Will you put it into good English, so that it can be presented?” And then the petition goes in a very different form. Even like this, the Lord Jesus Christ takes our poor prayers, forms them over again, and presents the petition with the addition of his own signature, and the Lord sends us answers of peace.

29. The feeblest prayer in the world is heard when it has Christ’s seal on it. I mean, he puts his precious blood on it; and wherever God sees the blood of Jesus, he must and will accept the desire which it endorses. Go to Jesus, sinner, even if you cannot pray, and let the breathing of your soul be, “Be merciful to me, wash me, cleanse me, save me,” and it shall be done; for God will not hear your prayer so much as hear his Son’s blood, “which speaks better things than that of Abel.” A louder voice than yours shall prevail for you, and your feeble breathings shall come up to God covered over with the omnipotent pleadings of the great High Priest who never asks in vain.

30. So I have been aiming to comfort those distressed ones who say they cannot pray; but, before I close, I must add, how inexcusable are those who, knowing all this, continue prayerless, godless, and Christless! If there were no mercy to be had, you could not be blamed for not having it. If there were no Saviour for sinners, a sinner might be excused for remaining in his sin. But there is a fountain, and it is open; why then do you not wash in it? Mercy is to be had “without money and without price,” — it is to be had by asking for it. Sometimes poor men are locked up in the condemned cell, sentenced to be hung; but suppose they could have a free pardon by asking for it, and they did not do so, who would pity them? God will give his blessing to everyone who is moved to seek for it sincerely from him on this one sole and only condition, — that that soul will trust in Jesus; and even that is not a condition, for he gives repentance and faith, and enables sinners to believe in his dear Son. Behold Christ crucified, the saddest and yet the gladdest sight the sun ever beheld! Behold the eternal Son of God made flesh, and bleeding out his life! A surpassing marvel of woe and love! A look at him will save you. Though you are on the borders of the grave, and on the brink of hell, by one look at Jesus crucified your guilt shall be cancelled, your debts for ever discharged before the throne of God, and yourselves led into joy and peace. Oh, that you would give that look! Breathe the prayer, “Lord, give me the faith of your elect, and save me with a great salvation!” Though it is only breathing, yet, as the old Puritan says, when God feels the breath of his child on his face, he smiles; and he will feel your breath, and smile on you, and bless you. May he do so, for his name’s sake! Amen.

Exposition By C. H. Spurgeon {La 3:1-36,52-58} {a}

The first part of this chapter is one of the saddest in the whole Book of God; yet I expect it has ministered as much consolation as some of the brightest pages of Holy Writ, because there are children of God who are the subjects of great suffering and sorrow, and when they turn to such a passage as this, they see that one of the Lord’s own prophets has gone that way before them; and when they see the footprints of another of God’s people in the dark and gloomy valley that they are themselves traversing, they are encouraged. Besides, the chapter does not end as it begins. There is daylight for the poor sufferer after all, so we shall read the sad utterances of the prophet in the hope that, if we have ever known experiences similar to his, we may learn where to find comfort even as he did.

1, 2. I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.

This seems to be the hardest part of our lot, — that God should lead us into darkness: “He has led me, and brought me into darkness.” Yet dear brethren, that is, on the other hand, the sweetest thing about our trial; because, if the darkness is in the place where God has led us, it is best for us to be in the dark. A child in the dark should derive much comfort from the thought, “My father brought me here, and he loves me so much that he would not bring me where I should be in danger, he must have had some good purpose and object in view in what he has done.” Surely, there is something comforting for the tried child of God in that thought.

3-5. Surely he is turned against me; he turns his hand against me all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin old; he has broken my bones. He has besieged me, and surrounded me with bitterness and woe.

“I am like a besieged city that has strong forts built all around it to shut it in on all sides.”

6, 7. He has set me in dark places, as those who are dead of old. He has hedged me in, so that I cannot get out: he has made my chain heavy.

Ah, dear friends, it is easy for some people to read such a passage as this, but there are others who have read it with aching brows and eyes red with weeping; and often, I do not doubt, as they have read the prophet’s descriptions of just such sorrows as they themselves are feeling, they have said, “Then after all, we are not alone in our griefs, and we may yet be delivered even as Jeremiah was”

8. Also when I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer.

What a sorrow is this, — to feel that even prayer itself is unavailing! Yet this supplicant was no graceless sinner; he was a dear child of God, one of the noblest of the Lord’s ancient prophets, one of the most faithful of his ministers. You must not think, because sometimes your prayers seem to be unheard or unheeded, and you are allowed to continue in sorrow, that therefore the Lord does not love you. “Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives”; and that word “scourges” is a very strong one, meaning much more than just an ordinary whipping.

9. He has enclosed my ways with hewn stone,

“The Lord has shut me right up, as if he had built a wall around me on every side.”

9-13. He has made my paths crooked. He was to me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places. He has turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he has made me desolate. He has bent his bow, and set me as a target for the arrow. He has caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my loins.

The King’s arrows had wounded him to the very quick. Perhaps some of you may know what it is to go to the Bible, and yet to find no comfort in it, for the precious promises have seemed to be too good to be true for you, and you seem to have hunted out every dark and threatening passage at once, and you have said, “Ah, that belongs to me!” You have written bitter things against yourself, and have thought that surely you were the target at which God was shooting his sharpest arrows. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3039, “The King’s Sharp Arrows” 3040}

14-17. I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day. He has filled me with bitterness, he has made me drunk with wormwood. He has also broken my teeth with gravel-stones, he has covered me with ashes. And you have removed my soul far off from peace: I have forgotten prosperity.

“It seems so long since I have had any prosperity that I have forgotten it. I have become so accustomed to trouble and sorrow that it seems as if I had never known what joy was.” The original is even more sad, “I have forgotten good.”

18-21. And I said, “My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD”; remembering my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul still remembers them, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.

And as long as your afflictions, poor troubled souls, have really humbled you, you may have hope. Recall to your mind the fact that God’s chastising blows have brought you down to his feet in humble submission, and ended all your boastings, and in it you may have hope. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 654, “Memory — The Handmaid of Hope” 645}

22. It is through the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions do not fail.

See where Jeremiah gets his comfort; he seems to say, “Bad as my case is, it might have been worse, for I might have been consumed, and I should have been consumed if the Lord’s compassions had failed.” Ah, brothers and sisters, and we too might have been in hell at this very moment! Amid the hottest flames of that hopeless place we might have been enduring the wrath of God; but we are not there, and blessed be his name for that! “It is through the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions do not fail.” He still has compassion on us; if he had not, he would have given us up altogether; but there is love in his heart, even while there is a frown on his brow, and while his hand is striking us, his heart is still loving us.

23. They are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.

If every day brings its trouble, every day also brings its mercy. Up to this day, in any case, we have not perished. The Lord has chastened us, but he has not crushed us. We have been cast down, but we have not been destroyed.

“Great is your faithfulness.” No man can say that so truly as the one who has known what it is to prove that great faithfulness in great affliction. But when there has been a great trial, the believing soul has cast itself on the ever-faithful God, and so has been able to set its seal to this truth, “Great is your faithfulness.”

24. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul;

What! With his mouth full of gravel-stones, and made drunk with wormwood, overwhelmed with sorrow, yet he says, “The Lord is my portion.” Oh, yes, beloved, whatever else we have lost, we have not lost our God. The thieves have robbed us of our little spare cash, but they could not get at the gold that we have in the bank, they could not break into the great treasure-house of everlasting love. John Bunyan says, “Little-Faith lost his spending-money, but the thieves could not find his jewels.” Nor can they find ours; they are all safe. “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul”; — 

24. Therefore I will hope in him.

If I cannot cast the anchor of hope anywhere else, I may “hope in him”; and what better hope do I need than that?

25. The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.

Do not be in a hurry; do not expect to be delivered out of your trouble the first time you begin to cry to God. Oh, no: “the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2436, “How Good to Those Who Seek!” 2437}

26. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

God’s time is always the best time. To deliver you just now might be to deprive you of the benefit of the trouble. You must bear it until it produces “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” When the doctor puts on a bandage, we are not to take it off the next minute. No; patience must have her perfect work, so that we “may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.”

27, 28. It is good for a man that he bears the yoke in his youth. He sits alone and keeps silence, because he has borne it on him. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1291, “The Best Burden for Young Shoulders” 1282}

When it makes a man get alone, to contemplate and meditate, affliction is already doing him good.

29. He puts his mouth in the dust; there may yet be hope. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2468, “Submission Solitude, Silence” 2469}

That is the way to find it; — not lifting your mouth up to defy the Lord, or to murmur at him, nor yet opening your mouth in boastfulness; but putting your mouth in the dust, that is the way to find hope. A humble, penitent, resigned, silent, submissive spirit will soon find hope.

30, 31. He gives his cheek to him who strikes him: he is filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off for ever:

Oh, get a grip on that blessed truth! Please, oh you sons of trouble, lay hold on it, and never let it go! The Lord may, to all appearance, cast off for a little while, but he will not cast off for ever.

32-34. But though he causes grief, yet he will have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,

That is not God’s way of acting. Tyrants may do so, but the tender, compassionate God, our gracious, loving Father, will never do that. If you lie in the dust before him, he will not tread on you.

35, 36. To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve.

Again I say, that is not God’s way of acting.

52-55. My enemies chased me severely, like a bird, for no reason. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone on me. Waters flowed over my head; then I said, “I am cut off.” I called on your name, oh LORD, out of the low dungeon.

He said, “I am cut off,” yet he called on the name of the Lord out of the low dungeon into which his enemies had cast him. What a mercy it is that God’s servants are often as graciously inconsistent as Jeremiah was just then! They are afraid that the Lord will not hear them, yet they continue to pray to him. They are afraid that they are cast off for ever, yet they will still use the privilege of a child of God, and cry to him, though they doubt whether they have a child’s right to do so. Go on, beloved, with that blessed inconsistency, and the Lord will bless you in it.

56. You have heard my voice: do not hide your ear at my breathing, at my cry.

Is that not a beautiful description of prayer, when the soul cannot find words, nothing but a “breathing?” Did I say nothing but a breathing? Why, that is the very essence of prayer.


   Prayer is the breath of God in man,

      Returning whence it came.


Vocal sounds in prayer can be given out by hypocrites. Our children have their dolls or their little animals that they press to make them squeak, but there is no life in them; so there may be a sound, yet no life, but I never heard of anything that really breathed, and yet had no life. And when your soul breathes itself out before God in prayer, although it cannot utter any articulate sound by reason of the sorrow of your heart, there is spiritual life in you.

57. You drew near in the day that I called on you: {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1812, “A Wonder Explained by Greater Wonders” 1813}

Oh, sweet experience! Can you not, beloved, say that these words suit you as much as they did Jeremiah? I am inclined to say to him, “They are mine, Jeremiah, they certainly were yours, but I am sure that they are equally mine.”

57, 58. You said, “Do not fear.” Oh Lord, you have pleaded the causes of my soul; you have redeemed my life. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 579, “God Pleading for Saints, and Saints Pleading for God” 570}

Blessed be his holy name for ever and ever!


{a} Verses 52-58 of this exposition was originally published with sermon No. 3085 for lack of room to publish it with this sermon to which it properly belongs. Editor.

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These sermons from Charles Spurgeon are a series that is for reference and not necessarily a position of Answers in Genesis. Spurgeon did not entirely agree with six days of creation and dives into subjects that are beyond the AiG focus (e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism, modes of baptism, and so on).

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