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The words explained, and the design or scope of the psalmist in them discovered.

The state and condition of the soul making application unto God in this psalm is recounted, verse 1. It was in the “depths” not only 380providential depths of trouble, affliction, and perplexities thereon; but also depths of conscience, distress on the account of sin; as in the opening of those words have been declared.

The application of this soul unto God, with restless fervency and earnestness, in that state and condition; its consideration in the first place of the law, and the severity of God’s justice in a procedure thereon, with the inevitable ruin of all sinners if God insist on that way of dealing with them, — have also been opened and manifested from the foregoing verses.

Being in this estate, perplexed in itself, lost in and under the consideration of God’s marking iniquity according to the tenor of the law, that which it fixes on, from whence any relief, stay, or supportment might be expected in such a condition, is laid down in this verse.

Verse 4. — “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.”

I shall first open the words as to their signification and importance; then show the design of the psalmist in them, with reference to the soul whose condition is here represented; and, lastly, propose the general truths contained in them, wherein all our concernments do lie.

“There is forgiveness.” Ἱλασμός say the LXX., and Jerome accordingly, “propitiatio,” “propitiation;” which is somewhat more than “venia,” or “pardon,” as by some it is rendered.

הַסְּלִיחָהCondonatio ipsa,” “Forgiveness itself.” It is from סָלַח‎, to spare, to pardon, to forgive, to be propitious; and is opposed to חָסַל‎, a word composed of the same letters varied (which is common in that language), signifying to cut off and destroy.

Now, it is constantly applied unto sin, and expresseth every thing that concurs to its pardon or forgiveness; as, —

First, It expresseth the mind or will of pardoning, or God’s gracious readiness to forgive: Ps. lxxxvi. 5, “Thou, Lord, art good, וְסַלָּח‎, and ready to forgive;” χρηστὸς καὶ ἐπιεικής, “benign and meek,” or “sparing, propitious, — of a gracious, merciful heard and nature. So Neh ix. 17, “Thou art a God סְלִיחוֹת‎ “propitiationum,” of propitiations or pardons;” or, as we have rendered it, “ready to forgive,” — “a God of forgivenesses;” or, “all plenty of them is in thy gracious heart,” Isa. lv. 7, “so that thou art always ready to make out pardons to sinners.” The word is used again, Dan. ix. 9, to the same purpose.

Secondly, It regards the act of pardoning, or actual forgiveness itself: Ps. ciii. 3, הַסֹּלֵחַ‎, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities,” — “actually dischargeth thee of them;” which place the apostle respecting, renders the word by χαρισάμενος: Col. ii. 13, “Having freely forgiven you” (for so much the word imports) “all your trespasses.”

381And this is the word that God useth in the covenant, in that great promise of grace and pardon, Jer. xxxi. 34.

It is warrantable for us, yea, necessary, to take the word in the utmost extent of its signifcation and use. It is a word of favour, and requires an interpretation tending towards the enlargement of it. We see it may be rendered ἱλασμός, or “propitiation;” χάρις, or “grace;” and “venia,” or “pardon;” and may denote these three things:—

1. The gracious, tender, merciful heart and will of God, who is the God of pardons and forgivenesses; or ready to forgive, to give out mercy, to add to pardon.

2. A respect unto Jesus Christ, the only ἱλασμός, or propitiation for sin, as he is expressly called, Rom. iii. 25; 1 John ii. 2. And this is that which interposeth between the gracious heart of God and the actual pardon of sinners. All forgiveness is founded on propitiation.

3. It denotes condonation, or actual forgiveness itself, as we are made partakers of it; comprising it both actively, as it is an act of grace in God, and passively, as terminated in our souls, with the deliverance that attends it. In this sense, as it looks downwards and in its effects respects us, it is of mere grace; as it looks upwards to its causes and respects the Lord Christ, it is from propitiation or atonement. And this is that pardon which is administered in the covenant of grace.

Now, as to the place which these words enjoy in this psalm, and their relation to the state and condition of the soul here mentioned, this seems to be their importance:—

“O Lord, although this must be granted, that if thou shouldst mark iniquities according to the tenor of the law, every man living must perish, and that for ever; yet there is hope for my soul, that even I, who am in the depths of sin-entanglements, may find acceptance with thee: for whilst I am putting my mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope, I find that there is an atonement, a propitiation made for sin, on the account whereof thou sayest thou hast found a ransom, and wilt not deal with them that come unto thee according to the severity and exigence of thy justice; but art gracious, loving, tender, ready to forgive and pardon, and dost so accordingly. There is forgiveness with thee.”

The following words, “Therefore thou shalt be feared,” or “That thou mayest be feared,” though in the original free from all ambiguity, yet are so signally varied by interpreters, that it may not be amiss to take notice of it in our passage.

The Targum hath it, “That thou mayest be seen.” This answers not the word, But it doth the sense of the place well enough. God in his displeasure is said to hide himself or his face: Isa. viii. 17, “The Lord hideth his face from the house of Jacob.” By forgiveness we 382obtain again the light of his countenance. This dispels the darkness and clouds that are about him, and gives us a comfortable prospect of his face and favour. “There is forgiveness with him that he may be seen.” Besides, there is but one letter different in the original words, and that which is usually changed for the other.

The LXX. render them, Ἕνεκα τοῦ ὀνόματός σου, — “For thy name’s sake,” or “thy own sake;” that is, freely, without any respect unto any thing in us. This also would admit of a fair and sound construction, but that there is more than ordinary evidence of the places being corrupted: for the Vulgar Latin, which, as to the Psalms, was translated out of the LXX., renders these words, “Propter legem tuam,” — “For thy law’s sake;” which makes it evident that that translator reads the words ἕνεκα τοῦ νόμου σου, and not ὀνόματος, as now we read. Now, though this hath in itself no proper sense (for forgiveness is not bestowed for the law’s sake), yet it discovers the original of the whole mistake. תּוֹרָה‎, “the law,” differs but in one letter from תִּוָּרֵא‎, “that thou mayest be feared;” by a mistake whereof this ἕνεκα τοῦ νόμου, “for thy law’s sake,” crept into the text. Nor doth this any thing countenance the corrupt figment of the novelty of the Hebrew vowels and accents, as though this difference might arise from the LXX. using a copy that had none, — that is, before their invention, which might occasion mistakes and differences; for this difference is in a letter as well as in the vowels, and therefore there can be no colour for this conceit, unless we say also that they had copies of old with other consonants than those we now enjoy. Bellarmine, in his exposition of this place, endeavours to give countenance unto the reading of the Vulgar Latin, “For thy law’s sake;” affirming that by the law here, not the law of our obedience is intended, but the law or order of God’s dealing with us, that is, his mercy and faithfulness; — which is a mere new invention to countenance an old error, which any tolerable ingenuity would have confessed, rather than have justified by so sorry a pretence; for neither is that expression or that word ever used in the sense here by him feigned, nor can it have any such signification.

Jerome renders these words, “Ut sis terribilis,” — “That thou mayest be dreadful or terrible;” doubtless not according to the intendment of the place. It is for the relieving of the soul, and not for the increasing of its dread and terror, that this observation is made, “There is forgiveness with thee.”

But the words are clear, and their sense is obvious. לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא‎, — “Therefore thou shalt be feared;” or, “That thou mayest be feared.”

By the “fear of the Lord,” in the Old Testament, the whole worship of God, moral and instituted, all the obedience which we owe unto him, both for matter and manner, is intended. Whatever we 383are to perform unto God, being to be carried on and performed with reverence and godly fear, by a metonymy of the adjunct, that name is given to the whole. “That thou mayest be feared,” then, is, “That thou mayest be served, worshipped; that I, who am ready to faint and give over on the account of sin, may yet be encouraged unto, and yet continue in, that obedience which thou requirest at my hands:” and this appears to be the sense of the whole verse, as influenced by and from those foregoing:—

“Although, O Lord, no man can approach unto thee, stand before thee, or walk with thee, if thou shouldst mark their sins and follies according to the tenor of the law, nor could they serve so great and holy a God as thou art; yet because I know from thy revelation of it that there is also with thee, on the account of Jesus Christ the propitiation, pardon and forgiveness, I am encouraged to continue with thee, waiting for thee, worshipping of thee, when, without this discovery, I should rather choose to have rocks and mountains fall upon me, to hide me from thy presence.”

“But there is forgiveness with thee, and therefore thou shalt be feared.”

The words being thus opened, we may take a full view in them of the state and condition of the soul expressed in this psalm; and that answering the experiences of all who have had any thing to do with God in and about the depths and entanglements of sin.

Having in and from his great depths, verse 1, addressed himself with fervent, redoubled cries, yea, outcries to God, and to him alone, for relief, verses 1, 2; having also acknowledged his iniquities, and considered them according to the tenor of the law, verse 3; he confesseth himself to be lost and undone for ever on that account, verse 3. But he abides not in the state of self-condemnation and dejection of soul; he says not, “There is no hope; God is a jealous God, a holy God, I cannot serve him; his law is a fiery law, which I cannot stand before; so that I had as good give over, sit down and perish, as contend any longer!” No; but searching by faith into the discovery that God makes of himself in Christ through the covenant of grace, he finds a stable foundation of encouragement to continue waiting on him, with expectation of mercy and pardon.

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