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Goodness and Compassion of God.
6 The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither 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 as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. 14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 16 For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. 17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; 18 To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
Hitherto the psalmist had only looked back upon his own experiences and thence fetched matter for praise; here he looks abroad and takes notice of his favour to others also; for in them we should rejoice and give thanks for them, all the saints being fed at a common table and sharing in the same blessings.
I. Truly God is good to all (v. 6): He executes righteousness and judgment, not only for his own people, but for all that are oppressed; for even in common providence he is the patron of wronged innocency, and, one way or other, will plead the cause of those that are injured against their oppressors. It is his honour to humble the proud and help the helpless.
II. He is in a special manner good to Israel, to every Israelite indeed, that is of a clean and upright heart.
1. He has revealed himself and his grace to us (v. 7): He made known his ways unto Moses, and by him his acts to the children of Israel, not only by his rod to those who then lived, but by his pen to succeeding ages. Note, Divine revelation is one of the first and greatest of divine favours with which the church is blessed; for God restores us to himself by revealing himself to us, and gives us all good by giving us knowledge. He has made known his acts and his ways (that is, his nature, and the methods of his dealing with the children of men), that they may know both what to conceive of him and what to expect from him; so Dr. Hammond. Or by his ways we may understand his precepts, the way which he requires us to walk in; and by his acts, or designs (as the word signifies), his promises and purposes as to what he will do with us. Thus fairly does God deal with us.
2. He has never been rigorous and severe with us, but always tender, full of compassion, and ready to forgive.
(1.) It is in his nature to be so (v. 8): The Lord is merciful and gracious; this was his way which he made known unto Moses at Mount Horeb, when he thus proclaimed his name (Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7), in answer to Moses's request (ch. xxxiii. 13), I beseech thee, show me thy way, that I may know thee. It is my way, says God, to pardon sin. [1.] He is not soon angry, v. 8. He is slow to anger, not extreme to mark what we do amiss nor ready to take advantage against us. He bears long with those that are very provoking, defers punishing, that he may give space to repent, and does not speedily execute the sentence of his law; and he could not be thus slow to anger if he were not plenteous in mercy, the very Father of mercies. [2.] He is not long angry; for (v. 9) he will not always chide, though we always offend and deserve chiding. Though he signify his displeasure against us for our sins by the rebukes of Providence, and the reproaches of our own consciences, and thus cause grief, yet he will have compassion, and will not always keep us in pain and terror, no, not for our sins, but, after the spirit of bondage, will give the spirit of adoption. How unlike are those to God who always chide, who take every occasion to chide, and never know when to cease! What would become of us if God should deal so with us? He will not keep his anger for ever against his own people, but will gather them with everlasting mercies, Isa. liv. 8; lvii. 16.
(2.) We have found him so; we, for our parts, must own that he has not dealt with us after our sins, v. 10. The scripture says a great deal of the mercy of God, and we may all set to our seal that it is true, that we have experienced it. If he had not been a God of patience, we should have been in hell long ago; but he has not rewarded us after our iniquities; so those will say who know what sin deserves. He has not inflicted the judgments which we have merited, nor deprived us of the comforts which we have forfeited, which should make us think the worse, and not the better, of sin; for God's patience should lead us to repentance, Rom. ii. 4.
3. He has pardoned our sins, not only my iniquity (v. 3), but our transgressions, v. 12. Though it is of our own benefit, by the pardoning mercy of God, that we are to take the comfort, yet of the benefit others have by it we must give him the glory. Observe, (1.) The transcendent riches of God's mercy (v. 11): As the heaven is high above the earth (so high that the earth is but a point to the vast expanse), so God's mercy is above the merits of those that fear him most, so much above and beyond them that there is no proportion at all between them; the greatest performances of man's duty cannot demand the least tokens of God's favour as a debt, and therefore all the seed of Jacob will join with him in owning themselves less than the least of all God's mercies, Gen. xxxii. 10. Observe, God's mercy is thus great towards those that fear him, not towards those that trifle with him. We must fear the Lord and his goodness. (2.) The fulness of his pardons, an evidence of the riches of his mercy (v. 12): As far as the east is from the west (which two quarters of the world are of greatest extent, because all known and inhabited, and therefore geographers that way reckon their longitudes) so far has he removed our transgressions from us, so that they shall never be laid to our charge, nor rise up in judgment against us. The sins of believers shall be remembered no more, shall not be mentioned unto them; they shall be sought for, and not found. If we thoroughly forsake them, God will thoroughly forgive them.
4. He has pitied our sorrows, v. 13, 14. Observe, (1.) Whom he pities—those that fear him, that is, all good people, who in this world may become objects of pity on account of the grievances to which they are not only born, but born again. Or it may be understood of those who have not yet received the spirit of adoption, but are yet trembling at his word; those he pities, Jer. xxxi. 18, 20. (2.) How he pities—as a father pities his children, and does them good as there is occasion. God is a Father to those that fear him and owns them for his children, and he is tender of them as a father. The father pities his children that are weak in knowledge and instructs them, pities them when they are froward and bears with them, pities them when they are sick and comforts them (Isa. lxvi. 13), pities them when they have fallen and helps them up again, pities them when they have offended, and, upon their submission, forgives them, pities them when they are wronged and gives them redress; thus the Lord pities those that fear him. (3.) Why he pities—for he knows our frame. He has reason to know our frame, for he framed us; and, having himself made man of the dust, he remembers that he is dust, not only by constitution, but by sentence. Dust thou art. He considers the frailty of our bodies and the folly of our souls, how little we can do, and expects accordingly from us, how little we can bear, and lays accordingly upon us, in all which appears the tenderness of his compassion.
5. He has perpetuated his covenant-mercy and thereby provided relief for our frailty, v. 15-18. See here, (1.) How short man's life is and of what uncertain continuance. The lives even of great men and good men are so, and neither their greatness nor their goodness can alter the property of them: As for man, his days are as grass, which grows out of the earth, rises but a little way above it, and soon withers and returns to it again. See Isa. xl. 6, 7. Man, in his best estate, seems somewhat more than grass; he flourishes and looks gay; yet then he is but like a flower of the field, which, though distinguished a little from the grass, will wither with it. The flower of the garden is commonly more choice and valuable, and, though in its own nature withering, will last the longer for its being sheltered by the garden wall and the gardener's care; but the flower of the field (to which life is here compared) is not only withering in itself, but exposed to the cold blasts, and liable to be cropped and trodden on by the beasts of the field. Man's life is not only wasting of itself, but its period may be anticipated by a thousand accidents. When the flower is in its perfection a blasting wind, unseen, unlooked for, passes over it, and it is gone; it hangs the head, drops the leaves, dwindles into the ground again, and the place thereof, which was proud of it, now knows it no more. Such a thing is man: God considers this, and pities him; let him consider it himself, and be humble, dead to this world and thoughtful of another. (2.) How long and lasting God's mercy is to his people (v. 17, 18): it will continue longer than their lives, and will survive their present state. Observe, [1.] The description of those to whom this mercy belongs. They are such as fear God, such as are truly religious, from principle. First, They live a life of faith; for they keep God's covenant; having taken hold of it, they keep hold of it, fast hold, and will not let it go. They keep it as a treasure, keep it as their portion, and would not for all the world part with it, for it is their life. Secondly, They live a life of obedience; they remember his commandments to do them, else they do not keep his covenant. Those only shall have the benefit of God's promises that make conscience of his precepts. See who those are that have a good memory, as well as a good understanding (Ps. cxi. 10), those that remember God's commandments, not to talk of them, but to do them, and to be ruled by them. [2.] The continuance of the mercy which belongs to such as these; it will last them longer than their lives on earth, and therefore they need not be troubled though their lives be short, since death itself will be no abridgment, no infringement, of their bliss. God's mercy is better than life, for it will out-live it. First, To their souls, which are immortal; to them the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting; from everlasting in the councils of it to everlasting in the consequences of it, in their election before the world was and their glorification when this world shall be no more; for they are predestinated to the inheritance (Eph. i. 11) and look for the mercy of the Lord, the Lord Jesus, unto eternal life. Secondly, To their seed, which shall be kept up to the end of time (Ps. cii. 28): His righteousness, the truth of his promise, shall be unto children's children; provided they tread in the steps of their predecessors' piety, and keep his covenant, as they did, then shall mercy be preserved to them, even to a thousand generations.