The spiritual sense of the thirteenth Psalm throughout is a description of the trials to which man is by the laws of his condition subjected, and the remorse and anguish of mind which he at times endures in the course of his reformation. These sufferings are consequences of the contrariety that exists in him, between the spiritual or heavenly states then first opened to his mind, and his natural propensities to evil.
Verse 1. It is said in this verse, "How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? for ever?" and this is a mode of expression which could only have arisen from a sensual, and therefore from a very erroneous conception of the Divine attributes. But the spiritual sense, in which the seeming imperfections of the Lord are transferred, because they are seen to belong, to the real imperfections of His creatures, and to be a consequence of them, shows the natural condition of the human intellect in its forgetfulness of the Divine Mercy. It is added, " How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?" and as nothing can really hide the Lord's face from man but the love of evil, it spiritually marks the state of his will, before he has ceased to love himself and the world better than the Lord and his neighbour.
Verse 2. " How long shall I take counsel in my soul?" spiritually signifies the instruction of the understanding in the truths of religion, at a time when the will is not wholly obedient to the Divine laws. The sorrow, which is daily in the heart, is a consequence of such a state of the will. " How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?" The enemy, naturally speaking, is some opponent to man's worldly and selfish projects and desires; but the enemy, which a spiritual perception of the truth brings to light, is either the love of self, or of the world. When the perception can be communicated to man that these destructive sources of every kind of evil are his enemies, and when he feels them really to be so, then has the reformation of his mind commenced; and especially when, from a sense of his own weakness, he prays to his Heavenly Father for assistance, at the same time that he endeavours, as of himself, to be set free from his spiritual yoke.
Verse 3. " Consider, and hear me, O Lord my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death." To lighten the eyes is, in the spiritual sense, to instruct the intellect, so that, by a rational or interior perception of truth, it may be able to disperse the mist of fallacy which belongs to its natural condition. These are the means provided by the Lord for redeeming man from " the sleep of death." The sleep of death is the spiritual sleep of the intellect, and the spiritual death of the will.
The natural man, when he reads, as in this passage, of the sleep of death, thinks immediately of the supposed extinction of consciousness in the grave ; but he who thinks spiritually knows this to be a fallacy, there being no actual extinction of consciousness when the bodily form is representatively laid in the grave. To him the sleep of death is the condition of the spirit, that is, of the mind, when it is at once devoid of the warmth of charity and of the light of truth. This state of the mind is truly the sleep of death, for it is directly opposed to the wakeful energy and vividness of heavenly love. In the minds of those who, though apparently alive in all that concerns their selfish and sensual gratifications, are really wrapt in the sleep of death, because they are spiritually dead, there is no ennobling and expansive elevation of the rational being, but only the debasing and contracted subtlety of the animal. In the disordered activity of their sensual powers they resemble brutes rather than men ; and as the animal kingdom, throughout its genera and species, is the representative form of the generic and specific differences in the propensities of the natural man, being actually produced in all its phenomena by the medium of the natural mind, therefore it is that we so frequently trace the resemblance between that mind, when unregenerated, and the savage and disgusting propensities and forms of the animal kingdom. We may behold it, as in a mirror, in the brutal sensuality of the baboon, in the filthy gluttony of the hog, in the intense barbarity of the ferret, in the wanton cruelty of the cat. These, and many other distinguishing qualities, which may be discovered in the habits, and even in the structures and outward forms of animals, are the representative images of the natural man. In agreement with this fact, we may observe a sensual acuteness in such persons, similar to the brute propensities, which distinguish in so remarkable a manner different species of animals. The epicure, whose perceptions are debased by being determined to the faculties of smell and taste, has, so long as his bodily health and animal vigour remain, an accuracy and a delight in the discrimination of flavours, of which he, who has raised his mind above this base sensual propensity is unconscious ; while, on the other hand, an accurate judgment in the discrimination of truth from error, which the latter will probably possess by the elevation of his mind above the fascinating control of the senses, will be as much lost to the former, as the objects of sight seem to be to the nocturnal animal in the broad light of day. But this ascendency of the sensual man, in one form or other, is common to every one previous to the reformation of his life. All his faculties are at first in an inverted order. Those, which should be highest, are last in his estimation, and he holds those to be most precious, which afford him most delight, and which he sees displayed in the representative forms of the animal kingdom.
In the sixth verse, it is said by David that he would sing unto the Lord, because He had dealt bountifully with him ; and this is one among a multitude of proofs, which the Scriptures afford, of their general adaptation to the ways of thinking, and motives for gratitude, which influence the natural man. He will sing unto the Lord because He has been bountiful to him; but he would not be inclined to praise Him, if he had not experienced that bounty; and still less, if he had encountered any opposition to his worldly desires and interests, or had experienced in his own person some calamity which he falsely attributes to the Divine wrath. But let him meet with success in his selfish projects, and he can then call his good fortune a mark of the Divine favour, and that too as mistakenly; for to experience truly the Divine favour, we must be in a state to receive the Lord's Love and Mercy, and no one can receive that Love and Mercy who does not give up his own selfish, sensual projects for the good of others. The spiritually minded know that the bounty of the Lord flows in a constant stream from the bosom of the Divine Love at all times equally, and alike to all His children ; and if they do not all equally partake of that bounty, it is that they are not all equally in a condition to receive it. When the heavenly influx is received both in our intellects and our wills, and when we delight to practise those holy truths that we know, and to communicate those holy affections that we cherish in our hearts, then can we spiritually sing to the Lord, or can sensibly feel, with the deepest humility and gratitude, that we owe everything of happiness, of joy, of peace, and of tranquillity, to Him. But His bountiful dealing can never be known and felt until we have successfully struggled against the legion of our spiritual enemies. Then we may be assured that, though sorrow will endure for a night, joy cometh with our spiritual morning.