How does this imprisoning show itself? In the abandonment of religious duties, and in the death of religious desires and aspirations. In every soul, as God sends it into this world, there is a capacity of spiritual life-a spiritual faculty which waits to be taught about God, and to turn devoutly to Him, and to regulate itself by His will. But if that faculty is not exercised, if "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16) are allowed full scope instead, they will smother that spirit part. It will be shut up as in a dark cell, in which its sight will fail for lack of seeing, and its power of action leave it for lack of going.
You have seen some slave of the flesh living to indulge his passions and appetites. He thought that way of license the way of freedom. Now, his soul is vile, his character in rags, his life shut up within a prison the walls of which are ever closing in on him more, till, if God in His mercy do not bring him out, he will die utterly alone.
But there are other prisoners whom many, not knowing their real condition, are envying for their possessions and attainments. They have bent with all their might to the uphill struggle for wealth, or power, or fame of some sort. God has not been in all their thoughts. While they have been using their intellects, and letting ambition or avarice lead them on, their spirits have been becoming more surely imprisoned, so that they no longer seek to walk with God, or find joy in His service. The octopus which they have been studying has closed its great arms round them; the castle which they amassed money to build for their glory and pleasure has become a prison to their souls.
If the Spirit of God touch such a one, so that, realizing his lifelong wrongness, he begins to cry , "God be merciful to me a sinner," God will forgive him, but the Spirit of God will still have much to do to bring his soul out of the prison which his old life has made.
But there is also an imprisonment of outward circumstances from which one may pray to be set free. The writer of this psalm was in such a prison. He was persecuted for some reason. There were adversaries who laid snares for him. He was somehow "brought very low." You may notice, however, that he never found himself so low or "overwhelmed" that he could not pray. That was his one resource. That gave him courage and strength. The very trouble would only make his prayer more fervent. One often finds it so; that our prayers, which had been tending to become a little mechanical and cold, are quickened by some affliction.