Treasury of David
TITLE. A Psalm of David, a Maschil. That David wrote this gloriously evangelic Psalm is proved not only by this heading, but by the words of the apostle Paul, in Romans 4:6-8. "Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness without works," etc. Probably his deep repentance over his great sin was followed by such blissful peace, that he was led to pour out his spirit in the soft music of this choice song. In the order of history it seems to follow the fifty-first.
Maschil is a new title to us, and indicates that this is an instructive or didactic Psalm. The experience of one believer affords rich instruction to others, it reveals the footsteps of the flock, and so comforts and directs the weak. Perhaps it was important in this case to prefix the word, that doubting saints might not imagine the Psalm to be the peculiar utterance of a singular individual, but might appropriate it to themselves as a lesson from the Spirit of God.
David promised in the fifty-first Psalm to teach transgressors the Lord's ways, and here he does it most effectually. Grotius thinks that this Psalm was meant to be sung on the annual day of the Jewish expiation, when a general confession of their sins was made.
DIVISION. In our reading we have found it convenient to note,
the blessing of the pardoned, Verses 1-2;
David's personal confession, Verses 3-5;
the application of the case to others, Verses 6-7.
The voice of God is heard by the forgiven one in Verses 8-9.
The Psalm then concludes with a portion for each of the
two great classes of men, Verses 10-11.
Verse 1. Blessed. Like the sermon on the mount on the mount, this Psalm begins with beatitudes. This is the second Psalm of blessing. The first Psalm describes the result of holy blessedness; the thirty-second details the cause of it. The first pictures the tree in full growth, this depicts it in its first planting and watering. He who in the first Psalm is a reader of God's book, is here a suppliant at God's throne accepted and heard.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven. He is now blessed and ever shall be. Be he ever so poor, or sick, or sorrowful, he is blessed in very deed. Pardoning mercy is of all things in the world most to be prized, for it is the only and sure way to happiness. To hear from God's own Spirit the words, "absolvo te" is joy unspeakable.
Blessedness is not in this case ascribed to the man who has been a diligent law keeper, for then it would never come to us—but rather to a lawbreaker, who by grace most rich and free has been forgiven.
Self-righteous Pharisees have no portion in this blessedness. Over the returning prodigal, the word of welcome is here pronounced, and the music and dancing begin. A full, instantaneous, irreversible pardon of transgression turns the poor sinner's Hell into Heaven, and makes the heir of wrath a partaker in blessing.
The word rendered forgiven is in the original taken off or taken away, as a burden is lifted or a barrier removed. What a lift is here! It cost our Savior a sweat of blood to bear our load, yes, it cost him his life to bear it quite away. Samson carried the gates of Gaza, but what was that to the weight which Jesus bore on our behalf?
Whose sin is covered. Covered by God, as the ark was covered by the mercy-seat, as Noah was covered from the flood, as the Egyptians were covered by the depths of the sea.
What a cover must that be which hides away forever from the sight of the all seeing God all the filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit! He who has once seen sin in its horrible deformity, will appreciate the happiness of seeing it no more forever. Christ's atonement is the atoning sacrifice , the covering, the making an end of sin; where this is seen and trusted in, the soul knows itself to be now accepted in the Beloved, and therefore enjoys a conscious blessedness which is the foretaste of Heaven. It is clear from the text that a man may know that he is pardoned: where would be the blessedness of an unknown forgiveness? Clearly it is a matter of knowledge, for it is the ground of comfort.
Verse 2. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputes not iniquity. The word blessed is in the plural, oh, the blessednesses! the double joys, the bundles of happiness, the mountains of delight!
Note the three words so often used to denote our disobedience: transgression, sin, and iniquity, are the three headed dog at the gates of Hell—but our glorious Lord has silenced his barkings forever against his own believing ones. The trinity of sin is overcome by the Trinity of Heaven.
Non-imputation is of the very essence of pardon: the believer sins, but his sin is not reckoned, not accounted to him. Certain divines froth at the mouth with rage against imputed righteousness, be it ours to see our sin not imputed, and to us may there be as Paul words it, "Righteousness imputed without works." He is blessed indeed who has a substitute to stand for him to whose account all his debts may be set down.
And in whose spirit there is no deceit. He who is pardoned, has in every case been taught to deal honestly with himself, his sin, and his God. Forgiveness is no sham, and the peace which it brings is not caused by playing tricks with conscience. Self-deception and hypocrisy bring no blessedness; they may drug the soul into Hell with pleasant dreams, but into the Heaven of true peace they cannot conduct their victim.
Free from guilt, free from deceit. Those who are justified from fault are sanctified from falsehood. A liar is not a forgiven soul. Treachery, double-dealing, chicanery, dissimulation—are lineaments of the devil's children, for he was a liar from the beginning. But he who is washed from sin is truthful, honest, simple, and childlike. There can be no blessedness to tricksters with their deceits, and tricks, and shuffling, and pretending. They are too much afraid of discovery to be at ease; their house is built on the volcano's brink, and eternal destruction must be their portion.
Observe the three words to describe sin, and the three words to represent pardon, weigh them well, and note their meaning. (See note at the end.)
Verses 3-5. David now gives us his own experience. No instructor is so efficient as one who testifies to what he has personally known and felt. He writes well, who like the spider spins his matter out of his own heart.
Verse 3. When I kept silence. When through neglect I failed to confess, or through despair dared not do so, my bones, those solid pillars of my frame, the stronger portions of my bodily constitution, waxed old, began to decay with weakness, for my grief was so intense as to sap my health and destroy my vital energy.
What a killing thing is sin! It is a pestilent disease! A fire in the bones! While we smother our sin it rages within, and like a gathering wound swells horribly and torments terribly.
Through my roaring all the day long. He was silent as to confession, but not as to sorrow. Horror at his great guilt, drove David to incessant laments, until his voice was no longer like the articulate speech of man, but so full of sighing and groaning, that it resembled to hoarse roaring of a wounded beast.
None knows the pangs of conviction but those who have endured them. The rack, the wheel, the flaming fagot—are ease compared with the Tophet which a guilty conscience kindles within the breast. Better suffer all the diseases which flesh is heir to, than lie under the crushing sense of the wrath of almighty God. The Spanish inquisition with all its tortures was nothing to the inquest which conscience holds within the heart.
Verse 4. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me. God's finger can crush us—what must his hand be, and that pressing heavily and continuously! Under terrors of conscience, men have little rest by night, for the grim thoughts of the day dog them to their chambers and haunt their dreams, or else they lie awake in a cold sweat of dread. God's hand is very helpful when it uplifts, but it is awful when it presses down. Better a world on the shoulder, like Atlas—than God's hand on the heart, like David.
My moisture is turned into the drought of summer. The sap of his soul was dried, and the body through sympathy appeared to be bereft of its needful fluids. The oil was almost gone from the lamp of life, and the flame flickered as though it would soon expire.
Unconfessed transgression, like a fierce poison, dried up the fountain of David's strength and made him like a tree blasted by the lightning, or a plant withered by the scorching heat of a tropical sun. Alas! for a poor soul when it has learned its sin but forgets its Savior, it goes hard with it indeed.
Selah. It was time to change the tune, for the notes are very low in the scale, and with such hard usage, the strings of the harp are out of order. The next verse will surely be set to another key, or will rehearse a more joyful subject.
Verse 5. I acknowledged my sin unto you. After long lingering, the broken heart bethought itself of what it ought to have done at the first, and laid bare its bosom before the Lord. The lancet must be let into the gathering ulcer, before relief can be afforded. The least thing we can do, if we would be pardoned, is to acknowledge our fault; if we are too proud for this we double deserve punishment!
And my iniquity have I not hid. We must confess the guilt as well as the fact of sin. It is useless to conceal it, for it is well known to God. It is beneficial to us to own it, for a full confession softens and humbles the heart. We must as far as possible unveil the secrets of the soul, dig up the hidden treasure of Achan, and by weight and measure bring out our sins.
I said. This was his fixed resolution.
I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord. Not to my fellow men or to the high priest, but unto Jehovah. Even in those days of symbol the faithful looked to God alone for deliverance from sin's intolerable load, much more now, when types and shadows have vanished at the appearance of the dawn.
When the soul determines to lay low and plead guilty, absolution is near at hand. Hence we read, And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Not only was the sin itself pardoned, but the iniquity of it. The virus of its guilt was put away, and that at once, so soon as the acknowledgment was made. God's pardons are deep and thorough. The knife of mercy cuts at the roots of the evil weed of sin.
Selah. Another pause is needed, for the matter is not such as may be hurried over.
"Pause, my soul, adore and wonder,
Ask, O why such love to me?
Grace has put me in the number
Of the Savior's family!
Thanks, eternal thanks, to Thee."
Verse 6. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto you in a time when you may be found. If the psalmist means that on account of God's mercy others would become hopeful, his witness is true. Remarkable answers to prayer very much quicken the prayerfulness of other godly people. Where one man finds a golden nugget, others feel inclined to dig. The benefit of our experience to others should reconcile us to it.
No doubt the case of David has led thousands to seek the Lord with hopeful courage who, without such an instance to cheer them, might have died in despair.
Perhaps the psalmist meant for this favor or the like, all godly souls would seek, and here, again, we can confirm his testimony, for all will draw near to God in the same manner as he did when godliness rules their heart. The mercy seat is the way to Heaven for all who shall ever come there.
There is, however, a set time for prayer, beyond which it will be unavailing. Between the time of sin and the day of punishment mercy rules the hour, and God may be found. But when once the sentence has gone forth pleading will be useless, for the Lord will not be found by the condemned soul.
O dear reader, slight not the accepted time, waste not the day of salvation. The godly pray while the Lord has promised to answer—the ungodly postpone their petitions until the Master of the house has risen up and shut to the door, and then their knocking is too late.
What a blessing to be led to seek the Lord before the great devouring floods leap forth from their lairs, for then when they do appear we shall be safe. Surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come near unto him. The floods shall come, and the waves shall rage, and toss themselves like Atlantic billows; whirlpools and waterfalls shall be on every hand, but the praying man shall be at a safe distance, most surely secured from every ill.
David was probably most familiar with those great land floods which fill up, with rushing torrents, the beds of rivers which at other times are almost dry. These overflowing waters often did great damage, and, as in the case of the Kishon, were sufficient to sweep away whole armies. From sudden and overwhelming disasters thus set forth in metaphor, the true suppliant will certainly be held secure. He who is saved from sin has no need to fear anything else.
Verse 7. You are my hiding place. Terse, short sentences make up this verse, but they contain a world of meaning. Personal claims upon our God are the joy of spiritual life. To lay our hand upon the Lord with the clasp of a personal "my" is delight at its full. Observe that the same man who in the fourth verse was oppressed by the presence of God, here finds a shelter in him. See what honest confession and full forgiveness will do! The gospel of substitution makes him to be our refuge, who otherwise would have been our judge!
You shall preserve me from trouble. Trouble shall do me no real harm when the Lord is with me, rather it shall bring me much benefit, like the file which clears away the rust, but does not destroy the metal. Observe the three tenses, we have noticed the sorrowful past, the last sentence was a joyful present, this is a cheerful future.
You shall surround me about with songs of deliverance. What a golden sentence! The man is encircled in song, surrounded by dancing mercies, all of them proclaiming the triumphs of grace. There is no breach in the circle, it completely rings him round; on all sides he hears music. Before him hope sounds the cymbals, and behind him gratitude beats the timbrel. Right and left, above and beneath, the air resounds with joy—and all this for the very man who, a few weeks ago, was roaring all the day long. How great a change! What wonders grace has done and still can do!
Selah. There was a need of a pause, for love so amazing needs to be pondered, and joy so great demands quiet contemplation, since language fails to express it.
Verse 8. I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. Here the Lord is the speaker, and gives the psalmist an answer to his prayer. Our Savior is our instructor. The Lord himself deigns to teach his children to walk in the way of integrity, his holy word and the leadings of the Holy Spirit are the directors of the believer's daily conduct.
We are not pardoned that we may henceforth live after our own lusts—but that we may be educated in holiness and trained for Heaven. A heavenly training is one of the covenant blessings which adoption seals to us: "All your children shall be taught by the Lord." Practical teaching is the very best of instruction, and they are thrice happy who, although they never sat at the feet of Gamaliel, and are ignorant of Aristotle, and the ethics of the schools—have nevertheless learned to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
I will guide you with my eye. As servants take their cue from the master's eye, and a nod or a wink is all that they require, so should we obey the slightest hints of our Master, not needing thunderbolts to startle our incorrigible sluggishness, but being controlled by whispers and love touches.
The Lord is the great overseer, whose eye in providence overlooks everything. It is well for us to be the sheep of his pasture, following the guidance of his wisdom.
Verse 9. Be not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding. Understanding separates man from a brute—let us not act as if we were devoid of it. Men should take counsel and advice, and be ready to run where wisdom points them the way. Alas! we need to be cautioned against stupidity of heart, for we are very apt to fall into it. We who ought to be as the angels, readily become as the beasts.
Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto you. It is much to be deplored that we so often need to be severely chastened, before we will obey. We ought to be as a feather in the wind, wafted readily in the breath of the Holy Spirit—but alas! we lie like motionless logs, and stir not with Heaven itself in view.
Those cutting bits of affliction show how hard-mouthed we are, those bridles of infirmity manifest our headstrong and willful ways. We would not be treated like mules, if there was not so much of the wild donkey about us. If we will be fractious, we must expect to be kept in with a tight rein. Oh, for grace to obey the Lord willingly, lest like the willful servant, we are beaten with many stripes.
Calvin renders the last words, "Lest they kick against you," a version more probable and more natural, but the passage is confessedly obscure—not however, in its general sense.
Verse 10. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked. Like refractory horses and mules, they have many cuts and bruises. Here and hereafter the portion of the wicked is undesirable. Their joys are evanescent, their sorrows are multiplying and ripening. He who sows sin will reap sorrow in heavy sheaves. Sorrows of conscience, of disappointment, of terror, are the sinner's sure heritage in time, and then forever sorrows of remorse and despair. Let those who boast of present sinful joys, remember the shall be of the future and take warning.
But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about. Faith is here placed as the opposite of wickedness, since it is the source of virtue. Faith in God is the great charmer of life's cares, and he who possesses it, dwells in an atmosphere of grace, surrounded with the bodyguard of mercies.
May it be given to us of the Lord at all times to believe in the mercy of God, even when we cannot see traces of its working. For to the believer, mercy is as all surrounding as omniscience, and every thought and act of God is perfumed with it.
The wicked have a hive of wasps around them, many sorrows; but we have a swarm of bees storing honey for us.
Verse 11. Be glad. Happiness is not only our privilege, but our duty. Truly we serve a generous God, since he makes it a part of our obedience to be joyful. How sinful are our rebellious murmurings! How natural does it seem that a man blessed with forgiveness should be glad! We read of one who died at the foot of the scaffold of overjoy at the receipt of his monarch's pardon; and shall we receive the free pardon of the King of kings, and yet pine in inexcusable sorrow?
"In the Lord." Here is the directory by which gladness is preserved from levity. We are not to be glad in sin, or to find comfort in feasting and wine—but our God is to be the garden of our soul's delight. That there is a God and such a God, and that he is ours, ours forever, our Father and our reconciled Lord, is matter enough for a never ending psalm of rapturous joy.
And rejoice, you righteous, redouble your rejoicing, peal upon peal. Since God has clothed his choristers in the white garments of holiness, let them not restrain their joyful voices, but sing aloud and shout as those who find great spoil.
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. Our happiness should be demonstrative. Chill poverty of love often represses the noble flame of joy, and men whisper their praises, where a hearty outburst of song would be far more natural.
It is to be feared that the church of the present day, through a craving for excessive propriety, is growing too artificial; so that enquirers' cries and believers' shouts would be silenced if they were heard in our assemblies. This may be better than boisterous fanaticism, but there is as much danger in the one direction as the other. For our part, we are touched to the heart by a little sacred excess, and when godly men in their joy over leap the narrow bounds of decorum, we do not, like Michal, Saul's daughter, eye them with a sneering heart.
Note how the pardoned are represented as upright, righteous, and without deceit. A man may have many faults and yet be saved, but a false heart is everywhere the damning mark. A man of twisting, shifty ways, of a crooked, crafty nature, is not saved, and in all probability never will be.
The ground which brings forth a harvest when grace is sown in it, may be weedy and waste, but our Lord tells us it is honest and good ground. Our observation has been that men of double tongues and tricky ways are the least likely of all men to be saved. Certainly where grace comes it restores man's mind to honesty, and delivers him from being doubled up with vice, twisted with craft, or bent with dishonesty.
Reader, what a delightful Psalm! Have you, in perusing it, been able to claim a lot in the goodly land? If so, publish to others the way of salvation.