We mark David here, where he always loved to be, a supplicant at the throne of grace. Many had been his cries and supplications. His petition now is—that they may come near before his Lord. Oh, that our wants of every moment were felt with the same pressure, and carried to the Lord with the same faith, earnestness, humility, and perseverance! Richness of expression, and fluency of utterance, are the mere shell and shadow of prayer. The life of prayer is the cry of the heart to God. The eloquence of prayer is its earnestness. The power of prayer is that, which comes not from education, or from the natural desire of the man; but that "which is from above" "the spirit of supplication" "the spirit of adoption." The urgency of present need calls for instant prayer. The soul is at stake; the enemy is within the walls, perhaps within the citadel. Oh, what a privilege to know, that we have a "strong habitation, whereunto we may continually resort;" to be able to remind the Lord, "You have given commandment to save me: for You are my rock and my fortress!"
But then we must see that our cry comes before—comes near before—the Lord; that nothing blocks up the way, or interrupts the communication. If we are believers, the way is open: "the middle wall of partition is broken down." Oh, let us be excited to greater nearness of communion, "Having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh," why should we be backward to come? Had we not seen the way marked by this blood of sprinkling, we should (if we have had any sight into our own hearts) no more have dared to take one step into the awful presence of God, than to rush into the devouring flame. If in a moment of extremity, we had felt that we must pray or perish, we should have had no boldness to open our mouth before God, much less to expect that our supplication would come near before Him, had we not been "made near by the blood of Christ." But what an amount of privilege is it, that this way to God is always open; that, as members of Christ, we stand in the sight of God as pure as Christ is pure; that we have not only "access," but "access with confidence;"—yes, with the same confidence as the Son of God Himself! For the Father is never weary of delighting in His dear Son, or in those who are one with Him. If He, therefore, takes our names into the holy place; if He offer sacrifice and incense for us, and sprinkle us with His blood, we "are complete in him" "in Him," therefore, let us "glory." "Having an High-priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith."
But where we feel as if we did not, could not, reach the throne of grace, "is there not a cause?" Our distance from God must be traced to a deeper origin than the dullness and insensibility of our hearts. The real difficulty of prayer, and indeed the actual inability to pray, arises in many, and probably in most, cases, from an indistinct perception of the way of access. We must admit this, not only in those who are totally ignorant of Christ, but also in the cases of weak, unestablished, or negligent Christians. Through ignorance of the fullness and freeness of the gospel in the one, and indulgence of sin or secret unwatchfulness in the other, the way of access (only perceptible by the eye of faith) becomes obscured, the desire faint, the spiritual strength weakened. And instead of the acknowledgment, "The Lord has heard the voice of my supplications," we have the mournful complaints, "My soul cleaves to the dust—oh, that I were as in months past!" It must be so; for prayer without faith is a heartless ceremony in the spirit of bondage. That which gives to it life and acceptance is the believing apprehension of Christ. The ignorant and self-righteous may find it a matter of course (as easy as it is fruitless) to bow their knee in the form of prayer. But the light that darts in upon the awakened conscience reveals something hitherto unknown of God and of themselves, and shows the ground of confidence, for a self-condemned sinner, to be a matter of the deepest mystery, and most amazing difficulty. Such a confidence, however, God has laid open to us. We cannot honor Him more than by making use of it. All that come in the name of Jesus are welcome. Why, then, penitent sinner, should not you be welcome? The throne of grace was raised for sinners such as you. You cannot want larger promises or a better plea. You come, not because you are worthy, but because you are bid, to come. Take the command and lay it upon your conscience. Christ is your only way to God. Faith is the act and exercise of coming to Christ. Faith, therefore, will bring you to God, if you have not hitherto come; or restore you to God, if you have wandered from Him.
But there may be a secret departure from God even in the engagement of active service, or in the exercises of social religion. For if these duties are substituted for secret communion with God, "the things that remain in us will be ready to die;" ordinances will fail to enrich; Christian fellowship will bring no refreshment; and the soul, while blessed with the abundance of means of grace, "in the fullness of its sufficiency will be in straits." Indeed, if our affections and feelings are moved in social exercises, and are cold and insensible when we are alone with God, it is a bad symptom of our state. What, then, do we know of the comforts of the closet? Do we pray, because we love to pray, or only because our consciences constrain us to the duty? Does the Lord mark those secret transactions with Himself, that manifest our hearts to be really drawn to Him? Is it any pressing business of our soul's salvation that brings us to God? Are our services enlivened with spiritual manifestations of Christ? It is possible long to continue in the outward course of duty: and yet not one of our prayers to come near before the Lord. We have not come in the appointed way; and, therefore, we have not really come at all. Or if the name of Christ has been affixed to our prayers, it has been as a component part of a formal system, not as an exercise of dependence in seeking acceptance with God.
But it may be, that we have backslidden from God, in a habit of indulged coldness or willful iniquity. Now if we would expect "the candle of the Lord again to shine upon our heads, and His secret to be upon our tabernacle," we must rest satisfied with nothing short of the full restoration of our privileges. We must return to the Lord with deepened contrition in His appointed way, and wait for Him to look upon us, and once more to let our supplication come near before Him. He had "gone, and returned to His place, until we acknowledged our offence, and sought His face;" and He is now sitting on a "throne of grace, waiting that He may be gracious." Again and again, therefore, let us fall down at His feet, and never cease to pray, until we feel that our cry and supplication come near before Him, and spiritual understanding of our case, and deliverance from our danger, are given. As a God of wisdom and yearning mercy, we may trust Him to "perform all things for us." Let Him then judge for the time and means of our deliverance. Only let it be according to His own word of faithfulness, and we "shall yet praise Him."
It is beautiful to observe the oil of the Psalmist's faith feeding the flame of his supplication. Every petition is urged upon the warrant of a promise—according to Your word. The promises were the very breath of his supplication; exciting his expectation for a favorable answer, and exercising his patience, until the answer should come. Though in possession of so comparatively small a portion of the blessed book, he seemed always to find a word for the present occasion; always able to show to his God His own hand and seal. Alas! sometimes, with the whole word of God before us, we are at a loss to appropriate one of its innumerable promises to the present emergency. Yet with all our contracted views of the covenant, still our interest in it is not denied. Such is the condescension of our tender Father, that He accepts even the stammering language of faith in His children! The cry "Abba, Father"—'though' (as Luther sweetly expresses it) 'it is but a cry; yet it does so pierce the clouds, that there is nothing else heard in heaven of God and His angels.' And how delightful is the thought that God's elect—as they will shortly be gathered a countless multitude around the heavenly throne—so do they now hold spiritual communion with each other, while "they cry day and night" before their Father's throne of grace! True it is—we understand not one another's tongues. Yet does our loving Father understand us all. Nor do our different dialects cause any confusion in heaven—rather do they unite, and form one cloud of incense, ascending with continual acceptance and delight in His presence. Ineffable is the delight, with which our Beloved enjoys that communion with His people, "which He purchased with His own blood" "O my dove, that are in the clefts of the rocks, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely."
"Let my cry come near before you, O LORD." He is tremblingly afraid lest he should not be heard. He is conscious that his prayer is nothing better than the "cry" of a poor child, or the groan of a wounded beast. He dreads lest it should be shut out from the ear of the Most High; but he very boldly prays that it may come before God, that it may be in his ear, under his notice, and looked upon with his acceptance. Yes, he goes further, and entreats, "Let my cry come near before you, O Lord": he wants the Lord's attention to his prayer to be very close and considerate. He uses a figure of speech and personifies his prayer. We may picture his prayer as Esther, venturing into the royal presence, entreating an audience, and begging to find favor in the sight of the blessed and only Potentate. It is a very sweet thing to a suppliant when he knows of a surety that his prayer has obtained audience, when it has trodden the sea of glass before the throne, and has come even to the footstool of the glorious seat around which Heaven and earth adore. It is to Jehovah that this prayer is expressed with trembling earnestness—our translators, filled with holy reverence, translate the word, "O LORD." We crave audience of none else, for we have confidence in none beside.
"Give me understanding according to your word." This is the prayer about which the Psalmist is so exceedingly anxious. With all his gettings he would get understanding, and whatever he misses he is resolved not to miss this priceless blessing. He desires spiritual light and understanding, as it is promised in God's word, as it proceeds from God's word, and as it produces obedience to God's word. He pleads as though he had no understanding whatever of his own, and asks to have one given to him. "Give me understanding." In truth, he had an understanding according to the judgment of men; but what he sought was an understanding according to God's word, which is quite another thing. To understand spiritual things is the gift of God. To have a judgment enlightened by heavenly light and conformed to divine truth is a privilege which only grace can give. Many a man who is accounted wise after the manner of this world is a fool according to the word of the Lord. May we be among those happy children who shall all be taught of the Lord!