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Psalm 103:9-12

9. He will not always chide: nor will he keep his anger for ever. 10. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11. For in proportion to the height of the heavens above the earth has been the greatness of his goodness 169169     “Ou, il a magnifie sa bonte.” — Fr. marg. “Or, he hath magnified his goodness.” upon 170170     “Hammond prefers reading above “Though על,” says he, “signifies on and towards, as well as above or over, and may be fitly so rendered, verses 13 and 17, where (as here) God’s mercy is said to be על, upon his children, and על, upon them that fear him; yet the comparison that is here made between the heaven and the earth, and the height or excellence of the one על, (not upon but) above the other, being answered, in the ἀντα πόδοσις, by the greatness or strength (so גבר signifies) of God’s mercy, על יראיו; that phrase must by analogy be rendered above, not upon, or towards them that fear him And then the meaning must needs be this, that whatsoever our fear or obedience to God be, his mercy towards us is as far above the size or proportion of that, as the heaven is above the earth, i e., there is no proportion between them; the one is as a point to that other vast circumference; nay, the difference far greater, as God’s mercy is infinite, like himself, and so infinitely exceeding the pitiful imperfect degree of our obedience. The other expression that follows verse 12, taken from the distance of the East from the West, is pitched upon, says Kimchi, because those two quarters of the world are of greatest extent, being all known and inhabited. From whence it is that geographers reckon that way their longitudes, as from North to South their latitudes.” them that fear him. 12. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

 

9 He will not always chide David, from the attributes ascribed to God in the preceding verse, draws the conclusion, that when God has been offended, he will not be irreconcilable, since, from his nature, he is always inclined to forgive. It was necessary to add this statement; for our sins would be continually shutting the gate against his goodness were there not some way of appeasing his anger. David tacitly intimates that God institutes an action against sinners to lay them low under a true sense of their guilt; and that yet he recedes from it whenever he sees them subdued and humbled. God speaks in a different manner in Genesis 6:3, where he says, “My Spirit shall no longer strive with man,” because the wickedness of men being fully proved, it was then time to condemn them. But here David maintains that God will not always chide, because so easy is he to be reconciled, and so ready to pardon, that he does not rigidly exact from us what strict justice might demand. To the same purpose is the language in the second clause: nor will he keep anger for ever The expression, to keep anger for ever, corresponds with the French phrase, Je lui garde, Il me l’a garde, 171171     “I am watching him, as he has watched to do a bad turn to me.” which we use when the man, who cannot forgive the injuries he has received, cherishes secret revenge in his heart, and waits for an opportunity of retaliation. Now David denies that God, after the manner of men, keeps anger on account of the injuries done to him, since he condescends to be reconciled. It is, however, to be understood that this statement does not represent the state of the Divine mind towards all mankind without distinction: it sets forth a special privilege of the Church; for God is expressly called by Moses, (Deuteronomy 5:9) “a terrible avenger, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children.” But David, passing by unbelievers, upon whom rests the everlasting and unappeasable wrath of God, teaches us how tenderly he pardons his own children, even as God himself speaks in Isaiah, (Isaiah 54:7, 8,) “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from them for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.”

10. He hath not dealt with us after our sins 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.

11. For in proportion to the height of the heavens above the earth The Psalmist here confirms by a comparison the truth that God does not punish the faithful as they have deserved, but, by his mercy, strives against their sins. The form of expression is equivalent to saying that God’s mercy towards us is infinite. With respect to the word גבר, gabar, it is of little consequence whether it is taken in a neuter signification, or in a transitive, as is noted on the margin; for in either way the immeasurableness of God’s mercy is compared to the vast extent of the world. As the mercy of God could not reach us, unless the obstacle of our guilt were taken away, it is immediately added, (verse 12th,) that God removes our sins as far from us as the east is distant from the west The amount is, that God’s mercy is poured out upon the faithful far and wide, according to the magnitude of the world; and that, in order to take away every impediment to its course, their sins are completely blotted out. The Psalmist confirms what I have just now stated, namely, that he does not treat in general of what God is towards the whole world, but of the character in which he manifests himself towards the faithful. Whence also it is evident that he does not here speak of that mercy by which God reconciles us to himself at the first, but of that with which he continually follows those whom he has embraced with his fatherly love. There is one kind of mercy by which he restores us from death to life, while as yet we are strangers to him, and another by which he sustains this restored life; for that blessing would forthwith be lost did he not confirm it in us by daily pardoning our sins. Whence also we gather how egregiously the Papists trifle in imagining that the free remission of sins is bestowed only once, and that afterwards righteousness is acquired or retained by the merit of good works, and that whatever guilt we contract is removed by satisfactions. Here David does not limit to a moment of time the mercy by which God reconciles us to himself in not imputing to us our sins, but extends it even to the close of life. Not less powerful is the argument which this passage furnishes us in refutation of those fanatics who bewitch both themselves and others with a vain opinion of their having attained to perfect righteousness, so that they no longer stand in need of pardon.


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