Our post today comes from the first portion of a sermon by Rev. Thomas Manton. His text is Psalm 119:136, and here he is preaching on the subject of mourning over the sins of our times.
“Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law.”
Most of the sentences of this psalm are independent, and do not easily fall under the rules of method; so that we need not take pains in clearing up the context; the verse doesn’t need it, and time doesn’t permit it. Only observe this—that often in this psalm David had expressed his great joy, and now he makes mention of his exceeding grief. There is a time to rejoice and a time to mourn. As times vary, so do duties. We have affections for every condition. Indeed, in this valley of tears mourning is seldom out of season, either with respect to sin or misery, for ourselves or others. David did sometimes mourn for his own sins and watered his couch with tears (Ps. 6: 6); he also took occasion to mourn and weep bitterly over other men’s sins, as here in this verse: ‘Rivers of tears run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law.’
In these words observe how David’s grief is set out by—
- Constancy and greatness of it, rivers of tears run down mine eyes.
- The goodness of the cause or reason of it, because they keep not Thy law.
‘Rivers of tears.’ He compares his tears to a stream and river always running. The same expression is used in Lam. 2: 18, ‘Let tears run down like a river day and night; let not the apples of Thine eyes cease.’ When affections are vehemently exercised, the Scripture tends to use this sort of expression. The will of a godly man is above his performance; it is accustomed to do much more than the body can furnish him with abilities to express. He had such a large affection that he could weep rivers. ‘Because they.’ Some think they refers here to the eyes, the immediate antecedent; for the eyes are usually the inlets of sin; we are first taken by the eye, and then by the heart: ‘She saw the fruit that it was good, and then did eat of it.’ But I rather suppose it refers here to men. The Hebrews many times do not express a general antecedent. More particularly it might refer to his enemies, Saul and his courtiers; for so he says in verse 139, ‘My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten Thy word;’ and again, in verse 158, David says, ‘I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved because they keep not Thy word.’ I have used these examples because they are parallel with the text; and mainly so that you may not think David was troubled because of any injuries done to himself, but because of offences done to God.
‘Keep not thy law.’ Keeping of the law is to observe it diligently; not only to maintain it, but to retain it in our eye and practice. It might be matter of grief to David that those of whom he particularly speaks, being persons of power and place, did not maintain the law, and keep it from encroachment and violation, but suffered abuses to pass unpunished; but he speaks here of retaining the law in their hearts and practice. For it is an expression equivalent with that which is used in verse 139, ‘Because they have forgotten thy word.’ The point which I shall observe is this—
Doctrine : That it is the duty and property of a godly man to mourn, bitterly even, for other men’s sins.
Here we have David’s example [in Ps. 119]; and it may be compared with the practice of all the saints. Jeremiah: see Jer. 13: 17, ‘But if you will not hear, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, and my eyes shall weep sore, and run down with tears.’ There you have described the right temper of a good prophet, first to entreat earnestly for them, and in case of refusal to weep bitterly for their obstinacy. Mark, it was not an ordinary sorrow he speaks of there, but a bitter weeping, ‘Mine eyes shall weep sore and run down with tears.’ Not a slight, vanishing sigh, not a counterfeited sorrow; soul and eyes were both engaged; and this in secret places, where the privacy of it contributes much to the measure and sincerity of it. Now this is an appropriate example of a minister of the gospel. We cannot always prevail when we plead with you, and shall not be responsible for it. God never required it at the hands of any minister to work grace and to save souls, but simply to do their appointed labors. But, alas! we do not learn of Jeremiah to go and mourn over their ignorance, carelessness, and obstinacy of those committed to our charge.
The next example that I shall produce is that of Lot in Sodom, 2 Peter 2: 7-8, ‘Who vexed himself, and was vexed from day to day, in seeing and hearing their unlawful deeds.’ Not with Sodom’s injuries, but with Sodom’s sins. It was matter of constant grief to his soul; the commonness did not take away the odiousness. My next example shall be our Lord himself; we read very much of his compassion: I shall produce but two instances of it. One is in Mark 3: 5, ‘Christ looked upon them with anger, and was grieved for the hardness of their hearts.’ They gave him cause of offence, but it does not only exercise His anger but also His grief. In our Savior’s anger there was more of compassion than passion. He was grieved to see men harden themselves to their own destruction. So when he came near to Jerusalem, a city not very friendly to him, yet it is said, Luke 19: 41, ‘When he came near and beheld the city, he wept over it, and said, If thou hadst known, even thou at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace ; but now they are hid from thine eyes.’ Our Lord Jesus was made up of compassion; He weeps not only for his friends but his enemies. As a righteous God he inflicted the judgment, but as man He wept for the offences. First He shed his tears, and then his blood. O foolish, careless city, that will not regard terms and offers of peace in this her day! He bewailed them that knew not why they should be bewailed; they rejoiced, and He mourned: Christ’s eyes are the wetter because theirs were so dry. And now He is in heaven, how does His free grace go mourning after sinners in the entreaties of the gospel!