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37. Psalm 37
Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
2For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
3Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
4Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
5Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
6And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
7Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
8Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
9For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.
10For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
11But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
12The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
13The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
14The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
15Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
16A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
17For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous.
18The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.
19They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
20But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
21The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
22For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
23The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.
24Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.
25I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
26He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
27Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.
28For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.
29The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.
30The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.
31The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
32The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.
33The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
34Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
35I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
36Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
37Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
38But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.
39But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
40And the Lord shall help them and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
Exhortations and Promises.
21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous showeth mercy, and giveth. 22 For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off. 23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. 24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. 26 He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed. 27 Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore. 28 For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever. 30 The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. 32 The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him. 33 The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
These verses are much to the same purport with the foregoing verses of this psalm, for it is a subject worthy to be dwelt upon. Observe here,
I. What is required of us as the way to our happiness, which we may learn both from the characters here laid down and from the directions here given. If we would be blessed of God, 1. We must make conscience of giving every body his own; for the wicked borrows and pays not again, v. 21. It is the first thing which the Lord our God requires of us, that we do justly, and render to all their due. It is not only a shameful paltry thing, but a sinful wicked thing, not to repay what we have borrowed. Some make this an instance, not so much of the wickedness of the wicked as of the misery and poverty to which they are reduced by the just judgment of God, that they shall be necessitated to borrow for their supply and then be in no capacity to repay it again, and so lie at the mercy of their creditors. Whatever some men seem to think of it, as it is a great sin for those that are able to deny the payment of their just debts, so it is a great misery not to be able to pay them. 2. We must be ready to all acts of charity and beneficence; for, as it is an instance of God's goodness to the righteous that he puts it into the power of his hand to be kind and to do good (and so some understand it, God's blessing increases his little to such a degree that he has abundance to spare for the relief of others), so it is an instance of the goodness of the righteous man that he has a heart proportionable to his estate: He shows mercy, and gives, v. 21. He is ever merciful, or every day, or all the day, merciful, and lends, and sometimes there is as true charity in lending as in giving; and giving and lending are acceptable to God when they proceed from a merciful disposition in the heart, which, if it be sincere, will be constant, and will keep us from being weary of well-doing. he that is truly merciful will be ever merciful. 3. We must leave our sins, and engage in the practice of serious godliness (v. 27): Depart from evil and do good. Cease to do evil and abhor it; learn to do well and cleave to it; this is true religion. 4. We must abound in good discourse, and with our tongues must glorify God and edify others. It is part of the character of a righteous man (v. 30) that his mouth speaketh wisdom; not only he speaks wisely, but he speaks wisdom, like Solomon himself, for the instruction of those about him. His tongue talks not of things idle and impertinent, but of judgment, that is, of the word and providence of God and the rules of wisdom for the right ordering of the conversation. Out of the abundance of a good heart will the mouth speak that which is good and to the use of edifying. 5. We must have our wills brought into an entire subjection to the will and word of God (v. 31): The law of God, of his God, is in his heart; and in vain do we pretend that God is our God if we do not receive his law into our hearts and resign ourselves to the government of it. It is but a jest and a mockery to speak wisdom, and to talk of judgment (v. 30), unless we have the law in our hearts, and we think as we speak. The law of God must be a commanding ruling principle in the heart; it must be a light there, a spring there, and then the conversation will be regular and uniform: None of his steps will slide; it will effectually prevent backsliding into sin, and the uneasiness that follows from it.
II. What is assured to us, as instances of our happiness and comfort, upon these conditions.
1. That we shall have the blessing of God, and that blessing shall be the spring, and sweetness, and security of all our temporal comforts and enjoyments (v. 22): Such as are blessed of God, as all the righteous are, with a Father's blessing, by virtue of that shall inherit the earth, or the land (for so the same word is translated, v. 29), the land of Canaan, that glory of all lands. Our creature-comforts are comforts indeed to us when we see them flowing from the blessing of God, we are sure not to want any thing that is good for us in this world. The earth shall yield us her increase if God, as our own God, give us his blessing, Ps. lxvii. 6. And as those whom God blesses are thus blessed indeed (for they shall inherit the land), so those whom he curses are cursed indeed; they shall be cut off and rooted out, and their extirpation by the divine curse will set off the establishment of the righteous by the divine blessing and be a foil to it.
2. That God will direct and dispose of our actions and affairs so as may be most for his glory (v. 23): The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. By his grace and Holy Spirit he directs the thoughts, affections, and designs of good men. He has all hearts in his hand, but theirs by their own consent. By his providence he overrules the events that concern them, so as to make their way plain before them, both what they should do and what they may expect. Observe, God orders the steps of a good man; not only his way in general, by his written word, but his particular steps, by the whispers of conscience, saying, This is the way, walk in it. He does not always show him his way at a distance, but leads him step by step, as children are led, and so keeps him in a continual dependence upon his guidance; and this, (1.) Because he delights in his way, and is well pleased with the paths of righteousness wherein he walks. The Lord knows the way of the righteous (Ps. i. 6), knows it with favour, and therefore directs it. (2.) That he may delight in his way. Because God orders his way according to his own will, therefore he delights in it; for, as he loves his own image upon us, so he is well pleased with what we do under his guidance.
3. That God will keep us from being ruined by our falls either into sin or into trouble (v. 24): Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. (1.) A good man may be overtaken in a fault, but the grace of God shall recover him to repentance, so that he shall not be utterly cast down. Though he may, for a time, lose the joys of God's salvation, yet they shall be restored to him; for God shall uphold him with his hand, uphold him with his free Spirit. The root shall be kept alive, though the leaf wither; and there will come a spring after the winter. (2.) A good man may be in distress, his affairs embarrassed, his spirits sunk, but he shall not be utterly cast down; God will be the strength of his heart when his flesh and heart fail, and will uphold him with his comforts, so that the spirit he has made shall not fail before him.
4. That we shall not want the necessary supports of this life (v. 25): "I have been young and now am old, and, among all the changes I have seen in men's outward condition and the observations I have made upon them, I never saw the righteous forsaken of God and man, as I have sometimes seen wicked people abandoned both by heaven and earth; nor do I ever remember to have seen the seed of the righteous reduced to such an extremity as to beg their bread." David had himself begged his bread of Abimelech the priest, but it was when Saul hunted him; and our Saviour has taught us to except the case of persecution for righteousness' sake out of all the temporal promises (Mark x. 30), because that has such peculiar honours and comforts attending it as make it rather a gift (as the apostle reckons it, Phil. i. 29) than a loss or grievance. But there are very few instances of good men, or their families, that are reduced to such extreme poverty as many wicked people bring themselves to by their wickedness. He had not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread. Forsaken (so some expound it); if they do want God will raise them up friends to supply them, without a scandalous exposing of themselves to the reproach of common beggars; or, if they go from door to door for meat, it shall not be with despair, as the wicked man that wanders abroad for bread, saying, Where is it? Job xv. 23. Nor shall he be denied, as the prodigal, that would fain have filled his belly, but no man gave unto him, Luke xv. 16. Nor shall he grudge if he be not satisfied, as David's enemies, when they wandered up and down for meat, Ps. lix. 15. Some make this promise relate especially to those that are charitable and liberal to the poor, and to intimate that David never observed any that brought themselves to poverty by their charity. It is withholding more than is meet that tends to poverty, Prov. xi. 24.
5. That God will not desert us, but graciously protect us in our difficulties and straits (v. 28): The Lord loves judgment; he delights in doing justice himself and he delights in those that do justice; and therefore he forsakes not his saints in affliction when others make themselves strange to them and become shy of them, but he takes care that they be preserved for ever, that is, that the saint in every age be taken under his protection, that the succession be preserved to the end of time, and that particular saints be preserved from all the temptations and through all the trials of this present time, to that happiness which shall be for ever. He will preserve them to his heavenly kingdom; that is a preservation for ever, 2 Tim. iv. 18; Ps. xii. 7.
6. That we shall have a comfortable settlement in this world, and in a better when we leave this. That we shall dwell for evermore (v. 27), and not be cut off as the seed of the wicked, v. 28. Those shall not be tossed that make God their rest and are at home in him. But on this earth there is no dwelling for ever, no continuing city; it is in heaven only, that city which has foundations, that the righteous shall dwell for ever; that will be their everlasting habitation.
7. That we shall not become a prey to our adversaries, who seek our ruin, v. 32, 33. There is an adversary that takes all opportunities to do us a mischief, a wicked one that watches the righteous (as a roaring lion watches his prey) and seeks to slay him. There are wicked men that do so, that are very subtle (they watch the righteous, that they may have an opportunity to do them a mischief effectually and may have a pretence wherewith to justify themselves in the doing of it), and very spiteful, for they seek to slay him. But it may very well be applied to the wicked one, the devil, that old serpent, who has his wiles to entrap the righteous, his devices which we should not be ignorant of,—that great red dragon, who seeks to slay them,—that roaring lion, who goes about continually, restless and raging, and seeking whom he may devour. But it is here promised that he shall not prevail, neither Satan nor his instruments. (1.) He shall not prevail as a field-adversary: The Lord will not leave him in his hand; he will not permit Satan to do what he would, nor will he withdraw his strength and grace from his people, but will enable them to resist and overcome him, and their faith shall not fail, Luke xxii. 31, 32. A good man may fall into the hands of a messenger of Satan, and be sorely buffeted, but God will not leave him in his hands, 1 Cor. x. 13. (2.) He shall not prevail as a law-adversary: God will not condemn him when he is judged, though urged to do it by the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night. His false accusations will be thrown out, as those exhibited against Joshua (Zech. iii. 1, 2), The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan! It is God that justifies, and then who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?
Exhortations and Promises.
34 Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it. 35 I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. 36 Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. 37 Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. 38 But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off. 39 But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble. 40 And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
The psalmist's conclusion of this sermon (for that is the nature of this poem) is of the same purport with the whole, and inculcates the same things.
I. The duty here pressed upon us is still the same (v. 34): Wait on the Lord and keep his way. Duty is ours, and we must mind it and make conscience of it, keep God's way and never turn out of it nor loiter in it, keep close, keep going; but events are God's and we must refer ourselves to him for the disposal of them; we must wait on the Lord, attend the motions of his providence, carefully observe them, and conscientiously accommodate ourselves to them. If we make conscience of keeping God's way, we may with cheerfulness wait on him and commit to him our way; and we shall find him a good Master both to his working servants and to his waiting servants.
II. The reasons to enforce this duty are much the same too, taken from the certain destruction of the wicked and the certain salvation of the righteous. This good man, being tempted to envy the prosperity of the wicked, that he might fortify himself against the temptation, goes into the sanctuary of God and leads us thither (Ps. lxxiii. 17); there he understands their end, and thence gives us to understand it, and, by comparing that with the end of the righteous, baffles the temptation and puts it to silence. Observe,
1. The misery of the wicked at last, however they may prosper awhile: The end of the wicked shall be cut off (v. 38); and that cannot be well that will undoubtedly end so ill. The wicked, in their end, will be cut off from all good and all hopes of it; a final period will be put to all their joys, and they will be for ever separated from the fountain of life to all evil. (1.) Some instances of the remarkable ruin of wicked people David had himself observed in this world—that the pomp and prosperity of sinners would not secure them from the judgments of God when their day should come to fall (v. 36, 35): I have seen a wicked man (the word is singular), suppose Saul or Ahithophel (for David was an old man when he penned this psalm), in great power, formidable (so some render it), the terror of the mighty in the land of the living, carrying all before him with a high hand, and seeming to be firmly fixed and finely flourishing, spreading himself like a green bay-tree, which produces all leaves and no fruit; like a native home-born Israelite (so Dr. Hammond), likely to take root. But what became of him? Eliphaz, long before, had learned, when he saw the foolish taking root, to curse his habitation, Job v. 3. And David saw cause for it; for this bay-tree withered away as soon as the fig-tree. Christ cursed: He passed away as a dream, as a shadow, such was he and all the pomp and power he was so proud of. He was gone in an instant: He was not; I sought him with wonder, but he could not be found. He had acted his part and then quitted the stage, and there was no miss of him. (2.) The total and final ruin of sinners, of all sinners, will shortly be made as much a spectacle to the saints as they are now sometimes made a spectacle to the world (v. 34): When the wicked are cut off (and cut off they certainly will be) thou shalt see it, with awful adorations of the divine justice. The transgressors shall be destroyed together, v. 38. In this world God singles out here one sinner and there another, out of many, to be made an example in terrorem—as a warning; but in the day of judgment there will be a general destruction of all the transgressors, and not one shall escape. Those that have sinned together shall be damned together. Bind them in bundles, to burn them.
2. The blessedness of the righteous, at last. Let us see what will be the end of God's poor despised people. (1.) Preferment. There have been times the iniquity of which has been such that men's piety has hindered their preferment in this world, and put them quite out of the way of raising estates; but those that keep God's way may be assured that in due time he will exalt them, to inherit the land (v. 34); he will advance them to a place in the heavenly mansions, to dignity, and honour, and true wealth, in the New Jerusalem, to inherit that good land, that land of promise, of which Canaan was a type; he will exalt them above all contempt and danger. (2.) Peace, v. 37. Let all people mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; take notice of him to admire him and imitate him, keep your eye upon him to observe what comes of him, and you will find that the end of that man is peace. Sometimes the latter end of his days proves more comfortable to him than the beginning was; the storms blow over, and he is comforted again, after the time that he was afflicted. However, if all his days continue dark and cloudy, perhaps his dying day may prove comfortable to him and his sun may set in brightness; or, if it should set under a cloud, yet his future state will be peace, everlasting peace. Those that walk in their uprightness while they live shall enter into peace when they die, Isa. lvii. 2. A peaceful death has concluded the troublesome life of many a good man; and all is well that thus ends everlastingly well. Balaam himself wished that his death and his last end might be like that of the righteous Num. xxiii. 10. (3.) Salvation, v. 39, 40. The salvation of the righteous (which may be applied to the great salvation of which the prophets enquired and searched diligently, 1 Pet. i. 10) is of the Lord; it will be the Lord's doing. The eternal salvation, that salvation of God which those shall see that order their conversation aright (Ps. l. 23), is likewise of the Lord. And he that intends Christ and heaven for them will be a God all-sufficient to them: He is their strength in time of trouble, to support them under it and carry them through it. He shall help them and deliver them, help them to do their duties, to bear their burdens, and to maintain their spiritual conflicts, help them to bear their troubles well and get good by them, and, in due time, shall deliver them out of their troubles. He shall deliver them from the wicked that would overwhelm them and swallow them up, shall secure them there, where the wicked cease from troubling. He shall save them, not only keep them safe, but make them happy, because they trust in him, not because they have merited it from him, but because they have committed themselves to him and reposed a confidence in him, and have thereby honoured him.