SOUL HEIGHTS and SOUL DEPTHS
by Octavius Winslow
Prayer Out of Soul
"Out of the depths have I cried unto You, 0 Lord. Lord,
hear my voice: let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications."
Seasons of soul-depths are ever seasons of heart-prayer
in the Christian's experience. At no period does the divine life of the
regenerate so strongly and triumphantly vindicate its nature, and assert its
reality and power, as then. This was the case under consideration. "Out of
the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord." That must indeed be a "depth," a
soundless depth of spiritual despondency, in which the soul is either
debarred from prayer, or is so imprisoned, that it cannot send up its cries
to God. But this was not the case of David. He gave himself immediately and
unreservedly to prayer. "I cried unto you, O Lord."
What irrefragable evidence he affords of the existence of that spiritual
life in the living soul which cannot die; of that faith in the believing
soul which cannot be repressed; of that divine love in the loving soul which
many waters cannot quench! Communion with God is the outbreathing of the
quickened soul, and no distance can arrest, or condition stifle it.
"From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is
overwhelmed." Deep exercise of soul is often God's mode of rousing the
slumbering spirit, and quickening the sluggish energy of prayer. Its potency
and pre-eminence are only learned to any great extent when faith is tried,
and the heart is overwhelmed, and the soul is plunged into great "depths."
But, sink the soul as it may, the arrow of prayer, feathered with a divine
promise, springing from the bow of faith, and winged by the power of the
Spirit will overcome every obstacle, pierce every cloud, and fasten itself
upon the throne of the Eternal God!
Was not this the experience of Jonah? "I cried by reason of my affliction
unto the Lord, and He heard me; out of the belly of hell (his watery grave)
cried I, and you heard me." But a greater than Jonah shall testify. Were
there ever such fathomless soul depths as Christ's, when, as their Divine
substitute, He bore their sins, endured their curse, and suffered the wrath
of God on behalf of His people? "Save me, O God; for the waters are come in
unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing." Behold, He
prays! And as He advanced into the tornado of the curse, the storm
thickening and darkening around Him- as He sank deeper and yet deeper into
the mountain billows of divine wrath- the huge breakers surging and foaming
around His holy soul- as He exhausted drop by drop 'the cup of trembling,'
until the very lees touched His quivering lips, lo! "He Prayed More
Earnestly!" The intensity of His prayer rose with the agony of His spirit;
its earnestness gathered strength with the anguish of His soul. "Being in an
agony He Prayed More Earnestly."
Sinking, suffering saint, learn the secret of your support! "He prayed
more earnestly." "Who in the days of His flesh, when He offered up prayers
and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to
save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared." Go you and do
likewise. Pray- pray- PRAY! Out of the depths of your difficulty, your need,
your sorrow, cry mightily unto God. There is no 'depth' so profound, no
darkness so dense, no need so pressing, or perplexity so great, but from it
you may cry unto God, the Lord inclining His ear to the softest, faintest
breathing of your soul. "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto
you in a time when you may be found: surely in the floods of great waters
they shall not come near unto him." Cries out of the depths of soul-distress
have a peculiar eloquence and an irresistible success with God just as the
plaintive wail of a sick and suffering child reaches and penetrates a
parent's heart more quickly and more deeply than all others. It is a
beautiful thought embodied in the Psalmist's prayer: "My soul hangs upon
Look for a moment at the Object upon which the believing, sinking soul
thus hangs. It is upon DEITY. The world around is hanging upon every object
but God. Some are hanging upon self, some upon their wealth- some upon their
intellectual powers-some upon their bodily strength- some upon their long
life- some upon the creature- some upon their own righteousness; all are
hanging upon some object below Christ and God. How frail and fatal the
support! Soon the prop bends- the stirrup breaks- the fulcrum yields- the
sands glide away- and great is the fall of him who suspended upon such
created and fragile support his happiness in this life, and his hope of the
life that is to come.
But, the believing soul, though a desponding and sinking soul, hangs upon
GOD. Listen to the language of David: "O God, you are my God; early will I
seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and
thirsty land, where no water is." Again: "Whom have I in heaven but You? and
there is none upon earth that I desire beside You." This is the support of
every gracious soul; and he who hangs not upon this divine support, hangs
upon air, hangs upon nothing.
Listen to Jehoshaphat's prayer in his distress, when the mighty hosts of
the Ammonites came against him to battle. See how he hung upon God! "O our
God, will you not judge them? for we have no might against this great
company that comes against us; neither know we what to do: our eyes are upon
You. " And the Lord delivered them into his hand that day, and all that he
did was to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. And thus was it
with Asa. Oppressed by a powerful enemy, too strong for his scanty forces,
he thus hung upon God in his extremity. "Lord, it is nothing with you to
help, whether with many, or with those who have no power." And what a "nail
in a sure place" is the Lord Jesus Christ, the true, spiritual Eliakim, upon
whom the soul may hang its sins, and sorrows, and hope of glory. "I will
fasten him," says the Father, "as a nail in a sure place. . . And they shall
hang upon him all the glory of his father's house .... all the vessels."
Sin-burdened soul, sinking into depths of guilt and despair, come; and
hang in faith upon this Divine, this most sure nail, and you shall be saved!
Hang upon Him as a personal Savior! Hang upon His blood to cleanse, upon His
righteousness to justify, upon His grace to subdue, upon His fullness to
supply, upon His willingness and power to save you to the uttermost extent
of your sin and guilt. Hang upon God upon His strength to deliver you, upon
His wisdom to counsel you, upon His love to comfort you, upon His infinite
resources to meet your every need; and your song shall be,
"Other refuge have I none,
HANGS my helpless soul ON YOU."
Oh give yourself to prayer! If words fail you- if by reason of the
anguish of your spirit there is no outlet for your feelings but in the
plaintive language of sighs and groans and tears -still uplift your soul to
God in mental supplication and heart breathing, and your testimony shall be
that of David: "The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping." "Lord, all my
desire is before You; and my groaning is not hid from You." And thus, when
by reason of the anguish of your spirit, the cloud-veil of your mind, and
the infirmity of your body, you can neither think nor pray, let the
reflection cheer you that Jesus is thinking of, and praying for, you. "When
I cannot think of Jesus," said a sick one whom He loved, "Jesus is thinking
of me." Happy thought!
It is a truth fraught with the richest comfort that, sink the tried and
desponding soul as it may, it can never sink below the everlasting arms of
God. God is frequently wont to permit His children to descend into great
"depths" of spiritual and mental conflict, and even temporal need, that He
might display His love and power in stooping to their necessity. "I was
brought low, and He helped me." "Bow down your ear to me; deliver me
speedily: be my strong rock, for a house of defense to save me."
We are but imperfectly aware how low the great God can bend to our case-
how condescendingly Christ can stoop to our condition! We may be brought
very low- our case sad and desperate: riches may flee; poverty may come upon
us as an armed man; character may be assailed; children may try; friends may
change; enemies may wound; death may bereave; and our soul be plunged as
into fathomless depths. Nevertheless, sink deep as we may, we shall but sink
more deeply into the embrace of Christ, 'the everlasting arms' still
underneath us. "He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many
waters." Oh we must descend into great depths of affliction, of trial, and
of need, to fathom, in some measure, the soundless depths of God's love, of
the Savior's fullness, of the Spirit's comfort!
And still our strong refuge is prayer- prayer in all depths. "Out of the
depths have I cried unto You, O Lord." "From the end of the earth will I cry
unto You, when my heart is overwhelmed." Oh, give yourself to prayer! No
difficulty is too great, no trial too severe, to take to Jesus. If your sins
and guilt appear to you a depth so abysmal that no line could fathom it,
remember that God's mercy in Christ Jesus is infinite; that, if there are
great depths in your sinfulness and unworthiness, there are infinitely
greater depths in the sin-forgiving love of God, in the sin-atoning blood
and sinner-justifying righteousness of the Redeemer.
Sunk though you are in sin, steeped in crime and guilt, countless and
great your departures from God, your rejection of the Savior, your religious
unbelief, stifled convictions, and scarred conscience; nevertheless, you
have not sunk below the depths of God's love and of Christ's grace. The
prodigal had wandered far from his father, he had sunk into great depths of
poverty and degradation and need; yet, when he 'came to himself' he
exclaimed, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father,
I have sinned; and his father saw him a great way off, and had compassion,
and ran, and embraced him." That Father is your heavenly Father, and waits
to enfold you to His loving and forgiving heart!
Depth of mercy! can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?
I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face;
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.
JESUS, answer from above,
Is not all Your nature love?
Will You not the wrong forget?
Suffer me to kiss Your feet?
If I rightly read Your heart,
If You all compassion art,
Now Your ear in mercy bow,
Pardon and accept me now."
But, prayer is necessary, not only when in our depths, but to be
preserved from them. And to prayer must be united sleepless vigilance.
"Watch and pray," is our Lord's twofold injunction, given on the most
impressive occasion and amid the most affecting circumstances of His life.
The calling of a child of God is high and holy. It is all the more essential
that he should walk carefully, watchfully, and prayerfully, lest his feet
slide; and thus, losing his steadfastness in the faith and his close
communion with God, he fall into "the depths of Satan," the seductions of
the flesh, and the allurements of the world; and so plunging into 'depths'
of doubt, darkness, and despondency.
The path of spiritual declension is an 'sloped plane', each step
accelerating the rapidity of the soul's descent. It commences at the closet.
The restraining of prayer- especially private devotion-
is the first stage in the decay and declension of the believer in the divine
life. Soon will follow the fascination and power of the world; and when the
world enters like a flood, Christ and prayer and eternal realities are swept
before its impetuous torrent, then the gracious soul is stranded upon the
bleak, rock-bound coast of bitter remorse and dark despair.
What an appalling picture does the inspired penman draw of the final
condition of the unregenerate apostate from his profession of Christ and the
faith! "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and
have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if
they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they
crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame."
Whatever interpretation these awful declarations will admit- and to the
truly regenerate they cannot by any ingenuity of criticism, or justness of
exegesis, properly apply, since a true child of God, though he may sadly
backslide, and be sorely chastened, cannot finally perish- they yet are
words of solemn significance, well calculated to fill the soul of the
Christian professor, and even the true believer, with holy trembling,
rousing him to the imperious and difficult task of unswerving self-vigilance
and unwearied prayer.
The present chapter speaks pointedly and solemnly to the unconverted
reader. There is beyond this present life a "depth" awfully and
significantly termed "the bottomless pit." It is the final and eternal doom
of all who die out of Christ. It is immeasurable and soundless. No line of
grace can fathom it, no arm of mercy can reach it, no voice of love ever
wakes its echoes, and eternity alone will see the end of its woe. "These
shall go away into everlasting punishment." "The wicked shall be turned into
But, is there no escape from a final and eternal doom so appalling?
Listen to the voice of divine love. "Save him from going down to the pit; I
have found a ransom!" That ransom is the atoning blood of Jesus, and He the
sinner's Ransomer. Escape for your life! Look not behind; but in faith
hasten to Christ, the City of Refuge, and you shall be saved from the wrath
that is to come! Oh, blessed thought! No poor awakened sinner ever betook
himself to that Divine refuge and found the door closed against him.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
Soon the soul-desponding saint will ascend from the lowest depths of earth
to the loftiest height of heaven. Long before the body springs from the
dust, your soul, O believer, will have taken its place amid the
blood-ransomed throng, clustering in shining ranks around the throne of God
and the Lamb. And, reviewing all the way the Lord your God led you, through
the wilderness and across the desert, you shall blend the old song of free
grace with the new song of eternal glory, and exclaim,
"I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set
my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he has put a new song in
my mouth, even praise unto our God."
"PARDON, my Master, pardon for my weakness,Thus shrinking, fainting, beneath
my Father's rod; Oh, grant to me Your pure and patient meekness! Sincerely
would I say, 'No will but Yours, O God.'
"Even as a reed by the rough tempest shivered,
Trembling I bend before Your chastening breath,
And low within my heart faith's flame has quivered,
Until all seemed shadowed like the vale of death.
"I strive to walk the stormy wave, upheaving
Its angry might, but sink wherever I tread;
I know Your covenant sure, but scarce believing,
Still hangs upon my breast my aching head.
"Your promises like countless stars are shining:I see
them not; for the clouds the heavens obscure!
I wrestle hard against each vain repining,And fear to murmur when I would
"Come to my help, O Master! once in sorrow,
My more than brother, King of glory now;
Even in my tears a gleam of hope I borrow
From the deep scars around Your radiant brow.
"Come to my help, as once God's angels hastened
To cheer You in Your midnight agony;
O Lord of angels, by man's suffering chastened,
Forget not I am dust, infirmity.
"Come to me quickly, even as You have spoken
Your faithful word. Let me but hear Your voice;
Say You are with me, and the heart all broken
Again with holy gladness shall rejoice.
"Now round the 'bruised reed' Your grace enwreathing,
Upward to heaven once more I shall aspire;
Now on my darkened soul Your Spirit breathing,
Brightly shall flame again the failing fire.
"Walk You the wave with me, the tempest stilling;
Let me but feel the clasping of Your strength,
Your righteous strength, through all my pulses thrilling;
Nor shall I fear to reach the shore at length.
"Beam forth, O Morning Star, in mercy glorious,
With Your day-promise, from the troubled sky;
Hold forth the fadeless crown, and palm victorious,
You who have fought and won, to cheer my eye.
"What means that strain, sweeter than angels' singing?
Oh, can it be Your own responsive word,
Mysterious music on my senses ringing
'Fear not, you trembler; for your prayer is heard'?