Treasury of David
TITLE. To the Chief Musician. If the leader of the choir is privileged to sing the jubilates of divine grace, he must not disdain to chant the miseries of human depravity. This is the second time he has had the same Psalm entrusted to him (see Psalm 14), and he must, therefore, be the more careful in singing it.
Upon Mahalath. Here the tune is chosen for the musician, probably some mournfully solemn air; or perhaps a musical instrument is here indicated, and the master of the choir is requested to make it the prominent instrument in the orchestra; at any rate, this is a direction not found in the former copy of the Psalm, and seems to call for greater care.
The word "Mahalath" appears to signify, in some forms of it, "disease," and truly this Psalm is THE SONG OF MAN'S DISEASE—the mortal, hereditary taint of sin.
Maschil. This is a second additional note not found in Psalm 14, indicating that double attention is to be given to this most instructive song.
A Psalm of David. It is not a copy of the fourteenth Psalm, emended and revised by a foreign hand; it is another edition by the same author, emphasized in certain parts, and rewritten for another purpose.
SUBJECT. The evil nature of man is here brought before our view a second time, in almost the same inspired words. All repetitions are not vain repetitions. We are slow to learn, and need line upon line.
David after a long life, found men no better than they were in his youth. Holy Writ never repeats itself needlessly, there is good cause for the second copy of this Psalm; let us read it with more profound attention than before. If our age has advanced from fourteen to fifty-three, we shall find the doctrine of this Psalm more evident than in our youth. The reader is requested to peruse Psalm 14, "Treasury of David".
Verse 1. The fool has said in his heart: There is no God. And this he does because he is a fool. Being a fool he speaks according to his nature; being a great fool he meddles with a great subject, and comes to a wild conclusion. The atheist is, morally as well as mentally, a fool—a fool in the heart as well as in the head; a fool in morals as well as in philosophy. With the denial of God as a starting point, we may well conclude that the fool's progress is a rapid, riotous, raving, ruinous one. He who begins at impiety, is ready for anything.
No God, being interpreted, means no law, no order, no restraint to lust, no limit to passion. Who but a fool would be of this mind? What a Bedlam, or rather what an Aceldama, would the world become if such lawless principles came to be universal! He who heartily entertains an irreligious spirit, and follows it out to its legitimate outcomes is a son of Belial, dangerous to the commonwealth, irrational, and despicable. Every natural man is, more or less a denier of God. Practical atheism is the religion of the human race.
Corrupt are they. They are rotten. It is idle to compliment them as sincere doubters, and amiable thinkers—they are putrid. There is too much dainty dealing nowadays with atheism; it is not a harmless error, it is an offensive, putrid sin, and righteous men should look upon it in that light. All men being more or less atheistic in spirit, are also in that degree corrupt; their heart is foul, their moral nature is decayed.
And have done abominable iniquity. Bad principles soon lead to bad lives. One does not find virtue promoted by the example of your Voltaires and Tom Paines. Those who talk so abominably as to deny their Maker, will act abominably when it serves their turn. It is the abounding denial and forgetfulness of God among men, which is the source of the unrighteousness and crime which we see around us. If all men are not outwardly wicked, it is to be accounted for by the power of other and better principles. But left to itself the "No God" spirit so universal in mankind would produce nothing but the most loathsome actions.
There is none that does good. The one typical fool is reproduced in the whole race; without a single exception men have forgotten the right way. This accusation twice made in the Psalm, and repeated a third time by the inspired apostle Paul—is an indictment most solemn and sweeping, but he who makes it cannot err, he knows what is in man; neither will he lay more to man's charge than he can prove.
Verse 2. God looked down from Heaven upon the children of men. He did so in ages past, and he has continued his steadfast gaze from his all surveying observatory.
To see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Had there been one understanding man, one true lover of his God—the divine eye would have discovered him. Those pure heathens and admirable savages that men talk so much of, do not appear to have been visible to the eye of Omniscience—the fact being that they live nowhere but in the realm of fiction.
The Lord did not look for great grace, but only for sincerity and right desire, but these he found not. He saw all nations, and all men in all nations, and all hearts in all men, and all motions of all hearts—but he saw neither a clear head nor a clean heart among them all. Where God's eyes see no favorable sign, we may rest assured there is none.
Verse 3. Every one of them is gone back. The whole mass of manhood, all of it, is gone back. In the fourteenth Psalm it was said to turn aside, which was bad enough, but here it is described as running in a diametrically opposite direction. The life of unregenerate manhood is in direct defiance of the law of God—not merely apart from it, but opposed to it.
They are altogether become filthy. The whole lump is soured with an evil leaven, fouled with an all pervading pollution, made rank with general putrefaction!
Thus, in God's sight, our atheistic nature is not the light thing that we think it to be. Errors as to God are not the mild diseases which some account them, they are abominable evils. Fair is the world to blind eyes, but to the all seeing Jehovah it is otherwise.
There is none that does good, no, not one. How could there be, when the whole mass was leavened with so evil a leaven? This puts an end to the fictions of the innocent savage.
The fallen race of man, left to its own energy, has not produced a single lover of God or doer of holiness—nor will it ever do so. Grace must interpose, or not one specimen of humanity will be found to follow after the good and true. This is God's verdict after looking down upon the race. Who shall gainsay it?
Verse 4. Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? They have no wisdom, certainly, but even so common a thing as knowledge might have restrained them. Can they not see that there is a God? Can they not see that sin is an evil thing? Can they not see that persecution recoils upon a man's own head? Are they such utter fools as not to know that they are their own enemies, and are ruining themselves?
Who eat up my people as they eat bread. Do they not see that such food will be hard to digest, and will bring on them a horrible vomit when God deals with them in justice? Can they imagine that the Lord will allow them to devour his people with impunity? They must be insane indeed.
They have not called upon God. They carry on their cruel enterprises against the saints, and use every means but that which is essential to success in every case, namely, the invocation of God. In this respect persecutors are rather more consistent than Pharisees who devoured widow's houses, and prayed too. The natural man, like Ishmael, loves not the spiritual seed, is very jealous of it, and would gladly destroy it, because it is beloved of God; yet the natural man does not seek after the like favor from God. The carnal mind envies those who obtain mercy, and yet it will not seek mercy itself. It plays the dog in the manger. Sinners will, out of a malicious jealousy, devour those who pray—but yet they will not pray themselves.
Verse 5. There they were in great fear, where no fear was. David sees the end of the ungodly, and the ultimate triumph of the spiritual seed. The rebellious march in fury against the gracious, but suddenly they are seized with a causeless panic. The once fearless boasters, now tremble like the leaves of the aspen, frightened at their own shadows.
In this sentence and this verse, this Psalm differs much from the fourteenth. It is evidently expressive of a higher state of realization in the poet, he emphasizes the truth by stronger expressions.
Without cause the wicked are alarmed. He who denies God is at bottom a coward. In his infidelity he is like the boy in the churchyard who "whistles to keep his courage up."
For God has scattered the bones of him that encamps against you. When the wicked see the destruction of their fellows, they may well quail. Mighty were the hosts which besieged Zion, but they were defeated, and their unburied carcasses proved the prowess of the God whose being they dared to deny.
You have put them to shame, because God has despised them. God's people may well look with derision upon their enemies since they are the objects of divine contempt. They scoff at us—but we may with far greater reason laugh them to scorn, because the Lord our God considers them as less than nothing and vanity.
Verse 6. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion. Would God the final battle were well over. When will the Lord avenge his own elect? When will the long oppression of the saints come to its close, and glory crown their heads?
The word salvation is in the plural, to show its greatness.
When God brings back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad. Inasmuch as the yoke has been heavy, and the bondage cruel—the liberty will be happy, and the triumph joyous. The second advent and the restoration of Israel are our hope and expectation.