Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
The purpose of this paper is to present a selection of quotations from John Calvin's commentary on Psalms. These excerpts from Psalms 100 through 150 represent exceptional insights either on the text itself or on Christian living. John Calvin was one of the great theologians of the Protestant Reformation. All excerpts are from the Baker edition in 22 volumes and given with no modification (except for minimal punctuation changes and updated spelling).
For when he says, We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture, he evidently refers to that distinguishing grace which led God to set apart his children for his heritage in order that he may, as it were, nourish them under his wings, which is a much greater privilege than that of merely being born men. Should any person be disposed to boast that he has of himself become a new man, who is there that would not hold in abhorrence such a base attempt to rob God of that which belongs to him? Nor must we attribute this spiritual birth to our earthly parents, as if by their own power they begat us; for what could a corrupt seed produce? Still the majority of men do not hesitate to claim for themselves all the praise of the spiritual life. Else what mean the preachers of free-will, unless it be to tell us that by our own endeavors we have, from being sons of Adam, become the sons of God? In opposition to this the prophet, in calling us the people of God, informs us that it is of his own good will that we are spiritually regenerated. And by denominating us the sheep of his pasture, he gives us to know that through the same grace which has once been imparted to us we continue safe and unimpaired until the end.
The Psalmist here proves from experience, or from the effect, what he has stated concerning the Divine character; for it was entirely owing to the wonderful forbearance of God that the Israelites had hitherto continued to exist. Let each of us, as if he had said, examine his own life; let us inquire in how many ways we have provoked the wrath of God, or, rather, do we not continually provoke it, and yet he not only forbears to punish us but bountifully maintains those whom he might justly destroy.
David here annihilates all the worth which men would arrogate to themselves, and asserts that it is the consideration of our misery, and that alone, which moves God to exercise patience towards us. This again we ought carefully to mark, not only for the purpose of subduing the pride of our flesh, but also that a sense of our unworthiness may not prevent us from trusting in God. The more wretched and despicable our condition is, the more inclined is God to show mercy, for the remembrance that we are clay and dust is enough to incite him to do us good.
After having exhorted himself to praise God, the Psalmist adds that there is abundant matter for such an exercise; thus indirectly condemning himself and others of ingratitude, if the praises of God, than which nothing ought to be better known or more celebrated, are buried by silence. In comparing the light with which he represents God as arrayed to a garment, he intimates that although God is invisible, yet his glory is conspicuous enough. In respect of his essence, God undoubtedly dwells in light that is inaccessible; but as he irradiates the whole world by his splendor, this is the garment in which He, who is hidden in himself, appears in a manner visible to us. The knowledge of this truth is of the greatest importance. If men attempt to reach the infinite height to which God is exalted, although they fly above the clouds, they must fail in the midst of their course. Those who seek to see him in his naked majesty are certainly very foolish. That we may enjoy the sight of him, he must come forth to view with his clothing; that is to say, we must cast our eyes upon the very beautiful fabric of the world in which he wishes to be seen by us, and not be too curious and rash in searching into his secret essence. Now, since God presents himself to us clothed with light, those who are seeking pretexts for their living without the knowledge of him cannot allege in excuse of their slothfulness that he is hidden in profound darkness. When it is said that the heavens are a curtain, it is not meant that under them God hides himself, but that by them his majesty and glory are displayed; being, as it were, his royal pavilion.
The words in the last clause, and bread that sustains man's heart, I interpret thus: Bread would be sufficient to support the life of man, but God over and above, to use a common expression, bestows upon them wine and oil. The repetition then of the purpose which bread serves is not superfluous: it is employed to commend to us the goodness of God in his tenderly and abundantly nourishing men as a kind-hearted father does his children. For this reason, it is here stated again, that as God shows himself a foster-father sufficiently bountiful in providing bread, his liberality appears still more conspicuous in giving us dainties.
But as there is nothing to which we are more prone, than to abuse God's benefits by giving way to excess, the more bountiful he is towards men the more ought they to take care not to pollute, by their intemperance, the abundance which is presented before them. Paul had therefore good reason for giving that prohibition, (Rom. 13:14,) "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof;" for if we give full scope to the desires of the flesh, there will be no bounds. As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance. He sends out oxen and asses into pastures, and they content themselves with a sufficiency; but while furnishing us with more than we need, he enjoins upon us an observance of the rules of moderation, that we may not voraciously devour his benefits; and in lavishing upon us a more abundant supply of good things than our necessities require, he puts our moderation to the test. The proper rule with respect to the use of bodily sustenance is to partake of it that it may sustain, but not oppress us. The mutual communication of the things needful for the support of the body, which God has enjoined upon us, is a very good check to intemperance; for the condition upon which the rich are favored with their abundance is that they should relieve the wants of their brethren. As the prophet in this account of the divine goodness in providence makes no reference to the excesses of men, we gather from his words that it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry. This mirth must however be tempered with sobriety, first, that men may not forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength, but rejoice before their God according to the injunction of Moses, (Lev. 23:40;) and, secondly, that they may exhilarate their minds under a sense of gratitude, so as to be rendered more active in the service of God.
In order to point out the inconstancy of the people, he says, they made haste. Some explain this in the following manner, namely, that after they had set out on their journey, they hastened to come to the place called Marah. This, however, is to give a very tame representation of the emphatic style in which the prophet speaks, when severely reprehending their hasty and headlong departure from the way, in that they believed only for a very short time, and speedily forgot God's works; for they had only journeyed three days from their passage through the sea till they came to Marah, and yet they began to murmur against God because they could not procure pleasant waters. Meantime, we must here observe what we have seen elsewhere, that the alone cause why men are so ungrateful towards God is their despising of his benefits. Were the remembrance of these to take fast hold of our hearts, it would serve as a bridle to keep us in his fear. The prophet declares what their transgression was, namely, that they did not suspend their desires till a fitting opportunity occurred for granting them. The insatiable nature of our desires is astonishing, in that scarcely a single day is allowed to God to gratify them. For should he not immediately satisfy them, we at once become impatient, and are in danger of eventually falling into despair. This, then, was the fault of the people, that they did not cast all their cares upon God, did not calmly call upon him, nor wait patiently until he was pleased to answer their requests, but rushed forward with reckless precipitation as if they would dictate to God what he was to do. And, therefore, to heighten the criminality of their rash course, he employs the term counsel; because men will neither allow God to be possessed of wisdom, nor do they deem it proper to depend upon his counsel, but are more provident than becomes them, and would rather rule God than allow themselves to be ruled by him according to his pleasure. That we may be preserved from provoking God, let us ever retain this principle, That it is our duty to let him provide for us such things as he knows will be for our advantage. And verity, faith divesting us of our own wisdom, enables us hopefully and quietly to wait until God accomplish his own work; whereas, on the contrary, our carnal desire always goes before the counsel of God by its too great haste.
When Moses slew the Egyptian, Exod. 2:12, though not yet called by God to be the deliverer of Israel, and while he was not yet invested with the power of the sword, it is certain that he was moved by the invisible and internal impulse of God to undertake that deed. Phinehas was moved by a similar impulse. No one indeed imagined that he was armed with the sword of God, yet he was conscious to himself of being moved by a heavenly influence in this matter. And hence it is to be observed, that the common mode and order of calling which God adopts does not prevent him, whenever it seems proper, to stir up his elect by the secret influence of the Spirit to the performance of praise-worthy deeds.
But a more difficult question still remains, How that one action could be imputed to Phinehas for righteousness? Paul proves that men are justified by faith alone, because it is written, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness," Rom. 4:3. In Gen. 15: 6, Moses employs the same word. If the same thing may be said respecting works, the reasoning of Paul will be not only feeble, but frivolous. First of all, let us examine whether or not Phinehas was justified on account of this deed alone. Verily the law, though it could justify, by no means promises salvation to any one work, but makes justification to consist in the perfect observance of all the commandments. It remains, therefore, that we affirm that the work of Phinehas was imputed to him for righteousness in the same way as God imputes the works of the faithful to them for righteousness, not in consequence of any intrinsic merit which they possess, but of his own free and unmerited grace. And as it thus appears that the perfect observance of the law alone (which is done no where) constitutes righteousness, all men must prostrate themselves with confusion of face before God's judgment-seat. Besides, were our works strictly examined, they would be found to be mingled with much imperfection. We have, therefore, no other source than to flee for refuge to the free unmerited mercy of God. And not only do we receive righteousness by grace through faith, but as the moon borrows her light from the sun, so does the same faith render our works righteous, because our corruptions being mortified, they are reckoned to us for righteousness. In short, faith alone, and not human merit, procures both for persons and for works the character of righteousness. I now return to Paul. And it is not from a single expression that he argues that we are justified freely, and by faith only, but he assumes higher principles, to which I lately referred, that all men are destitute of righteousness until God reconcile them to himself by the blood of Christ; and that faith is the means by which pardon and reconciliation are obtained, because justification by works is no where to be obtained. Hence he very properly concludes that we are justified by faith alone. But righteousness by works is as it were subordinate (as they say) to the righteousness just mentioned, while works possess no value in themselves, excepting, and as far as, out of pure benevolence God imputes them to us for righteousness.
Whence is it that unbelievers are in constant agitation, but they they imagine they are the sport of fortune on the earth while God remains at east in heaven? No wonder, then, that the rustling of the falling leaf troubles and alarms them. From such uneasiness the faithful are freed, because they neither give heed to rumors, nor does the fear of them prevent them from constantly invoking God. The children of God may also manifest symptoms of fear at the prospect of impending danger; for were they altogether regardless of calamities, such indifference would be the result not of confidence in God but of insensibility. But should they not be able to lay aside all fear and anxiety, yet, acknowledging God as the guardian of their life and pursuing the tenor of their way, they entrust themselves to his preserving care and cheerfully resign themselves to his disposal.
In this passage the prophet extols the bounty of God, and his paternal regard for the human race, in that, though he stood in need of nothing himself, he yet created the world, with all its fulness, for their use. How comes it to pass that the earth is every where covered with such a great variety of good things, meeting our eye in all directions, unless that God, as a provident father of a family, had designed to make provision for our wants? In proportion, therefore, to the comforts which we here enjoy, are the tokens of his fatherly care. This is the prophet's meaning, which I am astonished is so little attended to by the most of interpreters. The amount is, that God, satisfied with his own glory, has enriched the earth with abundance of good things, that mankind may not lack any thing. At the same time he demonstrates, that, as God has his dwelling-place in the heavens, he must be independent of all worldly riches; for, assuredly, neither wine, nor corn, nor any thing requisite for the support of the present life is produced there. Consequently, God has every resource in himself.
He how exhorts himself to be of good courage; or rather, addressing his soul, tells it to be tranquil, because God was propitious towards him. By the term rest, some commentators understand God himself, but this is an unnatural interpretation. It is rather to be regarded as expressive of a calm and composed state of mind. For it is to be noticed, that David confesses himself to have been sorely agitated and perplexed amid an accumulation of ills, in the same way as each of us is conscious of his own inquietude when the terrors of death encompass us. Although, therefore, David possessed unusual fortitude, he was yet distressed by reason of the conflict of grief, and an inward tremor so distracted his mind that he justly complains of being deprived of his peace. He declares, however, that the grace of God was adequate to quiet all these troubles.
It may be asked, whether the experience of the grace of God alone can allay the fear and trepidation of our minds; since David declares that having experienced relief from Divine aid, he would, for the future, be at rest? If the faithful regain their peace of mind only when God manifests himself as their deliverer, what room is there for the exercise of faith, and what power will the promises possess? For, assuredly, to wait calmly and silently for those indications of God's favor, which he conceals from us, is the undoubted evidence of faith. And strong faith quiets the conscience, and composes the spirit; so that, according to Paul, "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding," reigns supremely there, Philip. 4:7. And hence the godly remain unmoved, though the whole world were about to go to ruin.
The term to call upon, signifies to celebrate the name of God; and this he expresses more plainly, subsequently, by saying that he would pay his vows in the assembly of the faithful, the sanctuary alone being the place where sacrifices could be offered. The amount is, that the faithful need not be greatly perplexed about the way of performing their duties, God not demanding from them a return which he knows they are unable to give, but being satisfied with a bare and simple acknowledgment. The proper return is to own our obligation to him for everything. If God deal so kindly and mercifully with us, and we fail in giving to him the tribute of praise for our deliverance which he claims, then our supineness becomes the more base. And certainly they are unworthy of the enjoyment, I say not of the riches of the world, but of the light of the sun and the air by which we breathe and live, who would rob the Author of them of the small return which so legitimately belongs to him. The Mosaic ritual has indeed been abrogated, and along with it the external libation referred to by David, yet the spiritual service, as we found in Ps. 50:23, "The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me," is still in force. Let us, however, bear in mind that God is lawfully praised by us when we offer in sacrifice not only our tongues, but also ourselves, and all that we possess. And this not because God derives any profit from it, but because it is reasonable that our gratitude should manifest itself in this way.
In these words David owns that his enemies assailed him unjustly, that they were employed by God to correct him, that this was fatherly chastisement, God not inflicting a deadly wound but correcting him in measure and in mercy. He seems to anticipate the perverse decisions of perverse men which grievously pressed upon him, as if all the ills which he had endured were so many evidences of his being cast off by God. These calumnies which the reprobate cast upon him he applies very differently, by declaring that his correction was mild and paternal. The main thing in adversity is to know that we are laid low by the hand of God, and that this is the way which he takes to prove our allegiance, to arouse us from our torpidity, to crucify our old man, to purge us from our filthiness, to bring us into submission and subjection to God, and to excite us to meditate on the heavenly life.
If these things were recollected by us, there is not one of us who would not shudder at the thought of fretting against God, but would much rather yield submission to him with a mild and meek spirit. Our champing the bit, and rushing forward impatiently, certainly proceeds from the majority of men not looking upon their afflictions as God's rods, and from others not participating in his paternal care. The last clause of the verse, therefore, merits particular attention, That God always deals mercifully with his own people, so that his correction proves their cure. Not that his paternal regard is always visible, but that in the end it will be shown that his chastisements, so far from being deadly, serve the purpose of a medicine, which, though it produce a temporary debility, rids us of our malady, and renders us healthy and vigorous.
In this verse he confesses the human heart to be so far from yielding to the justice of God, that it is more inclined to follow an opposite course. Were we naturally and spontaneously inclined to the righteousness of the law, there would be no occasion for the petition of the Psalmist, Incline my heart. It remains, therefore, that our hearts are full of sinful thoughts, and wholly rebellious until God by his grace change them. This confession on the part of the prophet must not be overlooked, That the natural corruption of man is so great that he seeks for anything rather than what is right, until he be turned by the power of God to new obedience, and thus begin to be inclined to that which is good.
The avowal of the prophet, that he had been created by the hand of God, greatly contributed to inspire him with the hope of obtaining the favor which he supplicates. As we are the creatures and the workmanship of God, and as he has not only bestowed upon us vital motion, in common with the lower animals, but has, in addition thereto, given us the light of understanding and reason,--this encourages us to pray that he would direct us to the obedience of his law. And yet the prophet does not call upon God, as if He were under any obligations to him; but, knowing that God never forsakes the work which he has begun, he simply asks for new grace, by which God may carry on to perfection what he has commenced. We have need of the assistance of the law, since all that is sound in our understandings is corrupted; so that we cannot perceive what is right unless we are taught from some other source. But our blindness and stupidity are still more strikingly manifest, from the fact that teaching will avail us nothing, until our souls are renewed by Divine grace. What I have previously said must be borne in mind, That whenever the prophet prays for understanding being imparted to him, in order to his learning the Divine commandments, he condemns both himself and all mankind as in a state of blindness; for which the only remedy is the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Here David affirms that he was inflamed with no ordinary zeal for the glory of God, inasmuch as he dissolved wholly into tears on account of the contempt put upon the divine law. He speaks hyperbolically; but still he truly and plainly expresses the disposition of mind with which he was endued; and it corresponds with what he says in another place, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." (Psalm 69:9.) Wherever the Spirit of God reigns, he excites this ardent zeal, which burns the hearts of the godly when they see the commandment of the Most High God accounted as a thing of nought. It is not enough that each of us endeavor to please God; we must also desire that his law may be held in estimation by all men. In this way holy Lot, as the Apostle Peter testifies, vexed his soul when he beheld Sodom a sink of all kinds of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:8.) If, in former times, the ungodliness of the world extorted from the children of God such bitter grief, so great is the corruption into which we at this day are fallen that those who can look upon the present state of things unconcerned and without tears are thrice, yea four times, insensible. How great in our day is the frenzy of the world in despising God and neglecting his doctrine? A few, no doubt, are to be found who with the mouth profess their willingness to receive it, but scarcely one in ten proves the sincerity of this profession by his life. Meanwhile countless multitudes are hurried away to the impostures of Satan and to the Pope; others are as thoughtless and indifferent about their salvation as the lower animals; and many Epicureans openly mock at all religion. If there is, then, the smallest portion of piety remaining in us, full rivers of tears, and not merely small drops, will flow from our eyes. But if we would give evidence of pure and uncorrupted zeal, let our grief begin at ourselves--at our seeing that we are yet far from having attained to a perfect observance of the law; yea, that the depraved lusts of our carnal nature are often rising up against the righteousness of God.
It is unnatural and forced to suppose, with some expositors, that this is a prediction of what was to come. For my part I have no doubt that the Psalm was composed upon the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonish captivity; and for this reason I have translated the verb beshub in the past tense. Now, whoever was the author of it, whether one of the Levites or one of the Prophets, he affirms that the manner of their deliverance was too wonderful to be attributed to fortune, in order to lead the faithful to the conclusion that the prophecy of Jeremiah, which had assigned seventy years as the term of the captivity, was truly fulfilled. (Jer. 25:12 and 29:10.) By the verb dream, which expresses the astonishing character of the event, he teaches us that there is no room left for ingratitude. As often as God works by ordinary means, men, through the malignity of their natures, usually exercise their ingenuity in devising various causes of the deliverance wrought, in order to darken the grace of God. But the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonish captivity, having been a miracle of such splendor as was sufficient to swallow up and confound all the thoughts of men, it compels us to own that it was a signal work of God. This is the reason why the Prophet compares this deliverance to a dream. "So far," he materially says, "is any mind from comprehending this unparalleled benefit of God, that the bare thinking upon it transports us with amazement, as if it were a dream, and not an event which had already taken place. What impiety, then, will it be, not to acknowledge the author of it." Moreover, he does not mean that the faithful were so dull of understanding as not to perceive that they were delivered by the hand of God, but only that, judging according to carnal sense and reason, they were struck with astonishment; and he was apprehensive lest, in reasoning with themselves about that redemption as about an ordinary thing, they should make less account of the power of God than it became them to do.
It behooves us to remember what I have just now touched upon, that since the minds of men are commonly possessed with such headstrong arrogance as leads them to despise God, and to magnify beyond measure their own means and advantages, nothing is of more importance than to humble them, in order to their being made to perceive that whatever they undertake it shall dissolve into smoke unless God in the exercise of pure grace cause it to prosper. When philosophers argue concerning the political affairs of a state, they ingeniously gather together whatever seems to them to answer their purpose--they acutely point out the means of erecting a commonwealth, and on the other hand the vices by which a well-regulated state is commonly corrupted; in short, they discourse with consummate skill upon everything that is necessary to be known on this subject, except that they omit the principal point--which is, that men, however much they may excel in wisdom and virtue, and whatever may be the undertakings in which they may engage, can effect nothing unless insofar as God stretches forth his hand to them, or rather makes use of them as his instruments. Which of the philosophers ever acknowledged that a politician is nothing else but an instrument guided by the hand of God? Yea, rather they held that good management on the part of man constituted the chief cause of the happiness of the social body. Now, since mortal men thus rise up with profane boldness to build cities, and to order the state of the whole world, the Holy Spirit justly reproves such madness. Let us then so occupy ourselves, each according to the measure of his ability and the nature of his office, as that at the same time the praise of the success attending our exertions may remain exclusively with God. The partition which many devise--that he who has behaved himself valiantly, while he leaves the half of the praise to God may take the other half to himself, is deserving of all condemnation. The blessing of God should have the whole share and exclusively hold the throne.
Now, if our terrestrial condition depends entirely upon the good pleasure of God, with what wings shall we fly up into heaven? When a house is planned, or a certain manner of life is chosen--yea, even when laws are enacted and justice administered, all this is nothing else than to creep upon the earth; and yet the Holy Spirit declares that all our endeavors in this way are fruitless and of no value. So much the less to be borne with, then, is the folly of those who strive to penetrate even into heaven by their own power. Farther, we may gather from this doctrine, that it is not wonderful [surprising] to find in the present day the state of the world so troubled and confused as it actually is--justice put to flight in cities, the husband and wife mutually accusing each other, fathers and mothers complaning of their children--in short, all bewailing their own condition. For how few are to be found who, in their vocation, turn to God, and who, being rather inflated with arrogance, do not wickedly exalt themselves? God then justly renders this sad reward to ungrateful men when he is defrauded of his honor. But were all men humbly to submit themselves to that providence of God, there is no doubt that this blessing which Solomon here commends would shed its luster on all parts of our life, both public and private.
Here the Prophet acknowledges that although grievously afflicted he had justly deserved such punishment as had been inflicted upon him. As by his own example he gives a rule which the whole Church ought to observe, let no man presume to intrude himself into the presence of God, but in the way of humbly deprecating his wrath; and especially when God exercises severity in his dealings towards us, let us know that we are required to make the same confession which is here uttered. Whoever either flatters himself or buries his sins by inattention to them, deserves to pine away in his miseries; at least he is unworthy of obtaining from God the smallest alleviation. Whenever God then exhibits the tokens of his wrath, let even the man who seems to others to be the holiest of all his fellows descend to make this confession, that should God determine to deal with us according to the strict demands of his law, and to summon us before his tribunal, not one of the whole human race would be able to stand. We grant that it is one man only who here prays, but he at once pronounces sentence upon the whole human race. "All the children of Adam," he substantially says, "from the first to the last, are lost and condemned, should God require them to render up an account of their life." It is therefore necessary that even the holiest of men should pass under this condemnation, that they may betake themselves to the mercy of God as their only refuge.
I have no doubt that David in this Psalm renders thanks to God for the peace and harmony which had succeeded a long and melancholy state of confusion and division in the kingdom, and that he would exhort all individually to study the maintenance of peace. This is the subject enlarged upon at least so far as the shortness of the Psalm admits of it. There was ample ground to praise the goodness of God in the highest terms, for uniting in one a people which had been so deplorably divided. When he first came to the kingdom the larger part of the nation considered him in the light of an enemy to the public good, and were alienated from him. Indeed so mortal was the feud which existed, that nothing else than the destruction of the party in opposition seemed to hold out the prospect of peace. The hand of God was wonderfully seen, and most unexpectedly, in the concord which ensued among them, when those who had been inflamed with the most violent antipathy cordially coalesced. . . .
There can at the same time be no doubt that the Holy Ghost is to be viewed as commending in this passage that mutual harmony which should subsist amongst all God's children, and exhorting us to make every endeavor to maintain it. So long as animosities divide us, and heart-burnings [envy?] prevail amongst us, we may be brethren no doubt still by common relation to God, but cannot be judged one so long as we present the appearance of a broken and dismembered body. As we are one in God the Father, and in Christ, the union must be ratified amongst us by reciprocal harmony and fraternal love. Should it so happen in the providence of God that the Papists should return to that holy concord which they have apostatized from, it would be in such terms as these that we would be called to render thanksgiving unto God, and in the meantime we are bound to receive into our brotherly embraces all such as cheerfully submit themselves to the Lord. We are to set ourselves against those turbulent spirits which the devil will never fail to raise up in the Church, and be sedulous [diligent] to retain intercourse with such as show a docile and tractable disposition. But we cannot extend this intercourse to those who obstinately persist in error, since the condition of receiving them as brethren would be our renouncing him who is Father of all, and from whom all spiritual relationship takes its rise. The peace which David recommends is such as begins in the true head, and this is quite enough to refute the unfounded charge of schism and division which has been brought against us by the Papists, while we have given abundant evidence of our desire that they would coalesce with us in God's truth, which is the only bond of holy union.
Under this term he comprehends all God's works from the least to the greatest, that he may awaken our admiration of them, for notwithstanding the signal marks of inconceivably great wisdom and divine power of God which are inscribed upon them, we are apt through thoughtlessness to undervalue them. He declares that whatever is worthy of admiration is exclusively made and done by God, to teach us that we cannot transfer the smallest portion of the praise due to him without awful sacrilege, there being no vestige of divinity in the whole range of heaven and earth with which it is lawful to compare or equal him. He then proceeds to praise the wisdom of God, as particularly displayed in the skill with which the heavens are framed, giving evidence in a surprising degree of the fine discrimination with which they are adorned. Next he comes to speak of the earth, that he may lead us to form a proper estimate of this great and memorable work of God, stretching forth as it does a bare and dry superficies [surface] above the waters. As these elements are of a spherical form, the waters, if not kept within their limits, would naturally cover the earth, were it not that God has seen fit to secure a place of habitation for the human family. This philosophers themselves are forced to admit as one of their principles and maxims. The earth's expanded surface, and the vacant space uncovered with water, has been justly considered therefore one of the great wonders of God. And it is ascribed to his mercy, because his only reason for displacing the waters from their proper seat was that regard which he had in his infinite goodness for the interests of man.
That nothing is hid from God David now begins to prove from the ways in which man is at first formed, and points out God's superiority to other artificers in this, that while they must have their work set before their eyes before they can form it, he fashioned us in our mother's womb. It is of little importance whether we read my strength or my bone, though I prefer the latter reading. He next likens the womb of the mother to the lowest caverns or recesses of the earth. Should an artisan intend commencing a work in some dark cave where there was no light to assist him, how would he set his hand to it? in what way would he proceed? and what kind of workmanship would it prove? But God makes the most perfect work of all in the dark, for he fashions man in the mother's womb. The verb rakam, which means weave together, is employed to amplify and enhance what the Psalmist had just said. David no doubt means figuratively to express the inconceivable skill which appears in the formation of the human body. When we examine it, even to the nails on our fingers, there is nothing which could be altered without felt inconveniency, as at something disjointed or put out of place; and what, then, if we should make the individual parts the subject of enumeration? Where is the embroiderer who--with all his industry and ingenuity--could execute the hundredth part of this complicate and diversified structure? We need not then wonder if God, who formed man so perfectly in the womb, should have an exact knowledge of him after he is ushered into the world.
Literally it is, I hate them with perfection of hatred. He repeats the same truth as formerly, that such was his esteem for God's glory that he would have nothing in common with those who despised him. He means in general that he gave no countenance to the works of darkness, for whoever connives at (turns a blind eye to) sin and encourages it through silence, wickedly betrays God's cause, who has committed the vindication of righteousness into our hands. David's example should teach us to rise with a lofty and bold spirit above all regard to the enmity of the wicked, when the question concerns the honor of God, and rather to renounce all earthly friendships than falsely pander with flattery to the favor of those who do everything to draw down upon themselves the divine displeasure. We have the more need to attend to this, because the keen sense we have of what concerns our private interests, honor, and convenience, makes us never hesitate to engage in contest when anyone injures ourselves, while we are abundantly timid and cowardly in defending the glory of God. Thus, as each of us studies his own interest and advantage, the only thing which incites us to contention, strife, and war is a desire to avenge our private wrongs; none is affected when the majesty of God is outraged. On the other hand, it is a proof of our having a fervent zeal for God when we have the magnanimity to declare irreconcilable war with the wicked and them who hate God, rather than court their favor at the expense of alienating the divine favor. We are to observe, however, that the hatred of which the Psalmist speaks is directed to the sins rather than the persons of the wicked. We are, so far as lies in us, to study peace with all men; we are to seek the good of all, and, if possible, they are to be reclaimed by kindness and good offices: only so far as they are enemies to God we must strenuously confront their resentment.
Had that monk of whom Eusebius makes mention duly reflected upon this resolution of David, he would not have fallen into the silly fallacy of imagining that he had shown himself the perfect scholar by observing silence for a whole term of seven years. Hearing that the regulation of the tongue was a rare virtue, he betook himself to a distant solitude, from which he did not return to his master for seven years; and being asked the cause of his long absence, replied that he had been meditating upon what he had learned from this verse. It would have been proper to have asked him at the same time whether during the interim he had thought none, as well as spoken none. For the two things stand connected--the being silent, and the being free from the charge of evil thoughts. It is very possible that although he observed silence, he had many ungodly thoughts, and these are worse than vain words. We have simply alluded in passing to this foolish notion, as what may convince the reader of the possibility of persons running away with a word torn from its connection, and overlooking the scope of the writer.
He amplified the goodness shown by God by instituting a comparison. Having declared how singularly he had been dealt with, he turns his eyes inward, and asks, "Who am I, that God should show me such condescension?" He speaks of man in general; only the circumstance is noticeable that he commends the mercy of God by considering his lowly and abject condition. In other places he mentions grounds of humiliation of a more personal or private nature,--here he confines himself to what has reference to our common nature; and though even in discussing the nature of man there are other reasons he might have specified why he is unworthy of the regard and love of God, he briefly adverts to his being like the smoke, and as a shadow. We are left to infer that the riches of the divine goodness are extended to objects altogether unworthy in themselves. We are warned, when apt at any time to forget ourselves and think we are something when we are nothing, that the simple fact of the shortness of our life should put down all arrogance and pride. The Scriptures, in speaking of the frailty of man, comprehend whatever is necessarily connected with it. And, indeed, if our life vanish in a moment, what is there stable about us? We are taught this truth also--that we cannot properly estimate the divine goodness unless we take into consideration what we are as to our condition, as we can only ascribe to God what is due unto him by acknowledging that his goodness is bestowed upon undeserving creatures.
The truth here stated is of wider application than the former, for the declaration of David is to the effect that not only does God, with fatherly indulgence and clemency, forgive sin, but is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. (Matt. 5:45.) Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it. Meanwhile believers, and they only, know what it is to enjoy a reconciled God, as elsewhere it is said--"Come ye to him, and be ye enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed; taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:5, 8.) When it is added that the mercy of God extends to all his works, this ought not to be considered as contrary to reason, or obscure. Our sins having involved the whole world in the curse of God, there is everywhere an opportunity for the exercise of God's mercy, even in helping the brute creation.
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