The Treasury of David
TITLE. This Psalm may be regarded as THE PREFACE PSALM, having in it a notification of the contents of the entire Book. It is the psalmists' desire to teach us the way to blessedness, and to warn us of the sure destruction of sinners. This, then, is the matter of the first Psalm, which may be looked upon, in some respects, as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms make up a divine sermon.
This Psalm may fitly be entitled, the Psalm of Psalms, for it contains in it the very pith and quintessence of Christianity. It is short as to the composure, but full of length and strength as to the matter. This Psalm carries blessedness in the frontpiece; it begins where we all hope to end! It may well be called a Christian's Guide, for it discovers the quicksands where the wicked sink down in perdition, and the firm ground on which the saints tread to glory. Thomas Watson's 'Saints Spiritual Delight', 1660.
DIVISION. This Psalm consists of two parts: in the first (Psalm 1:1-3) David sets out wherein the felicity and blessedness of a godly man consists, what his exercises are, and what blessings he shall receive from the Lord.
In the second part (Psalm 1:4-6) he contrasts the state and character of the ungodly, reveals the future, and describes, in telling language, his ultimate doom.
Verse 1.BLESSED—see how this Book of Psalms opens with a benediction, even as did the famous Sermon of our Lord upon the Mount! The word translated "blessed" is a very expressive one. The original word is plural, hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God has justified, and the perfection and greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, "Oh, the blessednesses!" and we may well regard it as a joyful acclamation of the gracious man's felicity. May the like benediction rest on us!
Here the gracious man is described both negatively (Psalm 1:1) and positively (Psalm 1:2). He is a man: who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. He takes wiser counsel, and walks in the commandments of the Lord his God. To him the ways of piety are paths of peace and pleasantness. His footsteps are ordered by the Word of God, and not by the cunning and wicked devices of carnal men. It is a rich sign of inward grace—when the outward walk is changed, and when ungodliness is put far from our actions.
Note next, he stands not in the way of sinners. His company is of a choicer sort than it was. Although a sinner himself, he is now a blood-washed sinner, quickened by the Holy Spirit, and renewed in heart. Standing by the rich grace of God in the congregation of the righteous, he dares not herd with the multitude that do evil.
Again it is said, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. He finds no rest in the atheist's scoffings. Let others make a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God; this man has learned better philosophy than that of the infidel, and has too much sense of God's presence to endure to hear His name blasphemed. The seat of the scorner may be very lofty—but it is very near to the gate of hell! Let us flee from it, for it shall soon be empty, and destruction shall swallow up the man who sits therein.
Mark the downward gradation in the first verse:
He walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the way of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of scornful.
When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God—the evil is rather practical than habitual—but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God's commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and they are installed as true Doctors of Damnation, and are looked up to by others as Masters in Belial. But the blessed man, the man to whom all the blessings of God belong, can hold no communion with such characters as these. He keeps himself pure from these moral lepers; he puts away evil things from him as garments spotted by the flesh; he comes out from among the wicked, and goes outside the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ. O for grace to be thus separate from sinners!
The psalmist says more to the point about true happiness in this short Psalm than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together; they did but beat the bush, God has here put the bird into our hand! John Trapp, 1660
Verse 2.And now mark his positive character. His delight is in the law of the Lord. He is not under the law as a curse and condemnation—but he is in it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life. He delights, moreover, to meditate in it, to read it by day, and think upon it by night. He takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he muses upon the Word of God. In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book.
Meditation manifests what a man really is; by his meditations—he may take a measure of his heart, whether it be good or bad. "For as a man thinks in his heart—so is he." Proverbs 23:7. As the meditation is—such is the man. Meditation is the touchstone of a Christian; it shows what metal he is made of. It is a spiritual index; the index shows what is in the book, so meditation shows what is in the heart. Thomas Watson's Saints' Spiritual Delight.
Meditation chews the cud, and gets the sweetness and nutritive virtue of the Word into the heart and life! This is the way the godly bring forth much fruit. Ashwood's Heavenly Trade, 1688.
The law of the Lordis the daily bread of the true believer. And yet, in David's day, how small was the volume of inspiration, for they had scarcely anything but the first five books of Moses! How much more, then, should we prize the whole written Word which it is our privilege to have in all our houses! But, alas, what ill treatment is given to this angel from heaven! We are not all Berean searchers of the Scriptures. How few among us can lay claim to the blessing of the text! Perhaps some of you can claim a sort of negative purity, because you do not walk in the way of the ungodly; but let me ask you—Is your delight in the law of God? Do you study God's Word? Is it your best companion and hourly guide? If not, this blessing belongs not to you!
Verse 3. And he shall be like a tree planted—not a wild tree—but "a tree planted," chosen, considered as property, cultivated and secured from the last terrible uprooting, for "every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up!" Mt 15:13.
By the rivers of water;so that even if one river should fail, he has another. The rivers of pardon and the rivers of grace, the rivers of the promise and the rivers of communion with Christ, are never failing sources of supply. He is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water", that brings forth his fruit in his season; not unseasonable graces, like untimely figs, which are never full flavored. But the man who delights in God's Word, being taught by it, brings forth patience in the time of suffering, faith in the day of trial, and holy joy in the hour of prosperity.
Fruitfulness is an essential quality of a gracious man, and that fruitfulness should be seasonable. The Lord's trees are all evergreens. No winter's cold can destroy their verdure; and yet, unlike evergreens in our country, they are all fruit bearers.
His leaf also shall not wither;his faintest word shall be everlasting; his little deeds of love shall be had in remembrance. Not simply shall his fruit be preserved—but his leaf also. He shall neither lose his beauty nor his fruitfulness.
And whatever he does shall prosper.Blessed is the man who has such a promise as this! But we must not always estimate the fulfillment of a promise—by our own eye sight. How often, my brethren, if we judge by feeble sense, may we come to the mournful conclusion of Jacob, "All these things are against me!" For though we know our interest in the promise, yet we are so tried and troubled—that sight sees the very reverse of what that promise foretells. But to the 'eye of faith' this word is sure, and by it we perceive that our works are prospered, even when everything seems to go against us.
It is not outward prosperity which the Christian most desires and values; it is soul prosperity which he longs for. Even in adversity, there is a true prospering, for it is often for the soul's health—that we would be poor, afflicted and tried. Our worst things—are often our best things! As there is a curse wrapped up in the wicked man's mercies—so there is a blessing concealed in the godly man's crosses, losses and sorrows. The trials of the saint are a divine husbandry, by which he grows and brings forth abundant fruit.
Verse 4.We have now come to the second head of the Psalm. In this verse the contrast of the dreadful estate of the wicked—is employed to heighten the coloring of that lovely and pleasant picture which precedes it. This may be rendered as, Not so the ungodly, not so! And we are hereby to understand that whatever good thing is said of the righteous is not true in the case of the ungodly.
Oh! how terrible is it to have a double negative put upon the promises! and yet this is just the condition of the ungodly. Mark the use of the term ungodly, for, as we have seen in the opening of the Psalm, these are the beginners in evil, and are the least offensive of sinners. Oh! if such is the sad state of those who quietly continue in their morality, and neglect their God—what must be the condition of open sinners and shameless infidels!
The first sentence is a negative description of the ungodly, and the second is the positive picture. Here is their character, they are like chaff, intrinsically worthless, dead, unserviceable, without substance, and easily carried away. Here, also, mark their doom, the wind drives away; death shall hurry them with its terrible blast into the fire in which they shall be utterly consumed!
Chaff.Here, by the way, we may let the wicked know they have a thanks to give, which they little think of; that they may thank the godly for all the good days they live upon the earth, seeing it is for their sakes and not for their own—that they enjoy them. For as the chaff while it is united and keeps close to the wheat, enjoys some privileges for the wheat's sake, and is laid up carefully in the barn; but as soon as it is divided, and parted from the wheat—it is cast out and scattered by the wind. So the wicked, while the godly are in company and live among them, partake for their sake of some blessedness promised to the godly; but if the godly forsake them or be taken from them, then either a deluge of water comes suddenly upon them, as it did upon the old world when Noah left it; or a deluge of fire, as it did upon Sodom, when Lot left it, and went out of the city. Sir Richard Baker.
Drives away,This shows the vehement tempest of death, which sweeps away the soul of the ungodly.
Verse 5.They shall stand there to be judged—but not to be acquitted. Fear shall lay hold upon them there; they shall not stand their ground; they shall flee away; they shall not stand in their own defense; for they shall blush and be covered with eternal contempt.
Well may the saints long for heaven, for no evil men shall dwell there, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. All our congregations upon earth are mixed. Every Church has one devil in it. The tares grow in the same furrows as the wheat. There is no floor which is as yet thoroughly purged from chaff. Sinners MIX with saints—as dross mingles with gold.
God's precious diamonds still lie in the same field with worthless pebbles. Righteous Lots are continually vexed by the men of Sodom, on this side heaven. Let us rejoice then, that in "the general assembly and church of the firstborn" above, there shall by no means be admitted a single unrenewed soul.
Sinners cannot live in heaven. They would be out of their element. Sooner could a fish live in a tree—than the wicked in Paradise. Heaven would be an intolerable hell—to an impenitent man, even if he could be allowed to enter. But such a privilege shall never be granted to the man who perseveres in his iniquities. May God grant that we may have a name and a place in his courts above!
Verse 6. The righteous.Those who endeavor righteous living in themselves, and have Christ's righteousness imputed to them. Thomas Wilcocks, 1586.
Or, as the Hebrew has it yet more fully, The Lord is knowing the way of the righteous. He is constantly looking on their way, and though it may be often in mist and darkness, yet the Lord knows it. If it is in the clouds and tempest of affliction—he understands it. He numbers the hairs of our head; he will not allow any real evil to befall us. "He knows the way that I take: when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10.)
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.Not only shall they perish themselves—but their way shall perish too. The righteous carves his name upon the rock—but the wicked writes his remembrance in the sand. The righteous man ploughs the furrows of earth, and sows a harvest here, which shall never be fully reaped until he enters the enjoyments of eternity. But as for the wicked, he ploughs the sea, and though there may seem to be a shining trail behind his keel, yet the waves shall pass over it, and the place that knew him shall know him no more forever.
The very "way" of the ungodly shall perish. If it exists in remembrance, it shall be in the remembrance of the bad; for the Lord will cause the name of the wicked to rot, to become a stench in the nostrils of the godly, and to be only known to the wicked themselves by its putridity.
May the Lord cleanse our hearts and our ways, that we may escape the doom of the ungodly, and enjoy the blessedness of the righteous!