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103. Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

3Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

4Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

5Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

7He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

9He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

13Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

14For 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.

16For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

17But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;

18To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

19The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.

20Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.

21Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.

22Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul.

8. Jehovah is merciful and gracious David seems to allude to the exclamation of Moses, recorded in Exodus 34:6, where the nature of God, revealed in a remarkable way, is more clearly described than in other places. When Moses was admitted to take a nearer view of the Divine glory than was usually obtained, he exclaimed upon beholding it, “O God! merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, slow to wrath, and abundant in goodness.” As, therefore, he has summarily comprehended in that passage all that is important for us to know concerning the Divine character, David happily applies these terms, by which God is there described, to his present purpose. His design is to ascribe entirely to the goodness of God the fact that the Israelites, who by their own wickedness forfeited from time to time their relation to him, as his adopted people, nevertheless continued in that relation. Farther, we must understand in general, that the true knowledge of God corresponds to what faith discovers in the written Word; for it is not his will that we should search into his secret essence, except in so far as he makes himself known to us, a point worthy of our special notice. We see that whenever God is mentioned, the minds of men are perversely carried away to cold speculations, and fix their attention on things which can profit them nothing; while, in the meantime, they neglect those manifestations of his perfections which meet our eyes, and which afford a vivid reflection of his character. To whatever subjects men apply their minds, there is none from which they will derive greater advantage than from continual meditation on his wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and mercy; and especially the knowledge of his goodness is fitted both to build up our faith, and to illustrate his praises. Accordingly, Paul, in Ephesians 3:18, declares that our height, length, breadth, and depth, consists in knowing the unspeakable riches of grace, which have been manifested to us in Christ. This also is the reason why David, copying from Moses, magnifies by a variety of terms the mercy of God. In the first place, as we have no worse fault than that devilish arrogance which robs God of his due praise, and which yet is so deeply rooted in us, that it cannot be easily eradicated; God rises up, and that he may bring to nought the heaven-daring presumption of the flesh, asserts in lofty terms his own mercy, by which alone we stand. Again, when we ought to rely upon the grace of God, our minds tremble or waver, and there is nothing in which we find greater difficulty than to acknowledge that He is merciful to us. David, to meet and overcome this doubting state of mind, after the example of Moses, employs these synonymous terms: first, that God is merciful; secondly, that he is gracious; thirdly, that he patiently and compassionately bears with the sins of men; and, lastly, that he is abundant in mercy and goodness.

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.

13. As a father is compassionate towards his children, The Psalmist not only explains by a comparison what he has already stated, but he at the same time assigns the cause why God so graciously forgives us, which is, because he is a father It is then in consequence of God’s having freely and sovereignly adopted us as his children that he continually pardons our sins, and accordingly we are to draw from that fountain the hope of forgiveness. And as no man has been adopted on the ground of his own merit, it follows that sins are freely pardoned. God is compared to earthly fathers, not because he is in every respect like them, but because there is no earthly image by which his unparalleled love towards us can be better expressed. That God’s fatherly goodness may not be perverted as an encouragement to sin, David again repeats that God is thus favorable only to those who are his sincere worshippers. It is indeed a proof of no ordinary forbearance for God to “make his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” (Matthew 5:45;) but the subject here treated is the free imputation of the righteousness by which we are accounted the children of God. Now this righteousness is offered only to those who entirely devote themselves to so bountiful a Father, and reverently submit to his word. But as our attainments in godliness in this world, whatever they may be, come far short of perfection, there remains only one pillar on which our salvation can securely rest, and that is the goodness of God.

14. For he knoweth David here annihilates all the worth which men would arrogate to themselves, and asserts that it is the consideration of our misery, and that alone, which moves God to exercise patience towards us. This again we ought carefully to mark, not only for the purpose of subduing the pride of our flesh, but also that a sense of our unworthiness may not prevent us from trusting in God. The more wretched and despicable our condition is, the more inclined is God to show mercy, for the remembrance that we are clay and dust is enough to incite him to do us good.

To the same purpose is the comparison immediately following, (verse 15,) that all the excellency of man withers away like a fading flower at the first blast of the wind. Man is indeed improperly said to flourish. But as it might be alleged that he is, nevertheless, distinguished by some endowment or other, David grants that he flourishes like the grass, instead of saying, as he might justly have done, that he is a vapor or shadow, or a thing of nought. Although, as long as we live in this world, we are adorned with natural gifts, and, to say nothing of other things, “live, and move, and have our being in God,” (Acts 17:28;) yet as we have nothing except what is dependent on the will of another, and which may be taken from us every hour, our life is only a show or phantom that passes away. The subject here treated, is properly the brevity of life, to which God has a regard in so mercifully pardoning us, as it is said in another psalm: “He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again,” (Psalm 78:39.) If it is asked why David, making no mention of the soul, which yet is the principal part of man, declares us to be dust and clay? I answer, that it is enough to induce God mercifully to sustain us, when he sees that nothing surpasses our life in frailty. And although the soul, after it has departed from the prison of the body, remains alive, yet its doing so does not arise from any inherent power of its own. Were God to withdraw his grace, the soul would be nothing more than a puff or blast, even as the body is dust; and thus there would doubtless be found in the whole man nothing but mere vanity.

17. But the goodness of Jehovah, etc The Psalmist leaves nothing to men to rely upon but the mercy of God; for it would be egregious folly to seek a ground of confidence in themselves. After having shown the utter emptiness of men, he adds the seasonable consolation, that, although they have no intrinsic excellence, which does not vanish into smoke, yet God is an inexhaustible fountain of life, to supply their wants. This contrast is to be particularly observed; for whom does he thus divest of all excellence? The faithful who are regenerated by the Spirit of God, and who worship him with true devotion, these are the persons whom he leaves nothing on which their hope may rest but the mere goodness of God. As the Divine goodness is everlasting, the weakness and frailty of the faithful does not prevent them from boasting of eternal salvation to the close of life, and even in death itself. David does not confine their hope within the limits of time — he views it as commensurate in duration with the grace on which it is founded. To goodness is subjoined righteousness, a word, as we have had occasion frequently to observe before, denoting the protection by which God defends and preserves his own people. He is then called righteous, not because he rewards every man according to his desert, but because he deals faithfully with his saints, in spreading the hand of his protection over them. The Prophet has properly placed this righteousness after goodness, as being the effect of goodness. He also asserts that it extends to the children and children’s children, according to these words in Deuteronomy 7:9, “God keepeth mercy to a thousand generations.” It is a singular proof of his love that he not only receives each of us individually into his favor, but also herein associates with us our offspring, as it were by hereditary right, that they may be partakers of the same adoption. How shall He cast us off, who, in receiving our children and children’s children into his protection, shows to us in their persons how precious our salvation is in his sight?

Farther, as nothing is more easy than for hypocrites to flatter themselves under a false pretext, that they are in favor with God, or for degenerate children groundlessly to apply to themselves the promises made to their fathers, it is again stated, by way of exception, in the 18th verse, that God is merciful only to those who, on their part, keep his covenant, which the unbelieving make of none effect by their wickedness. The keeping, or observing of the covenant, which is here put instead of the fear of God, mentioned in the preceding verse, is worthy of notice; for thus David intimates that none are the true worshippers of God but those who reverently obey his Word. Very far from this are the Papists, who, thinking themselves equal to the angels in holiness, nevertheless shake off the yoke of God, like wild beasts, by trampling under foot his Holy Word. David, therefore, rightly judges of men’s godliness, by their submitting themselves to the Word of God, and following the rule which he has prescribed to them. As the covenant begins with a solemn article containing the promise of grace, faith and prayer are required, above all things, to the proper keeping of it. Nor is the additional clause superfluous — who remember his statutes; for, although God is continually putting us in mind of them, yet we soon slide away to worldly cares — are confused by a multiplicity of avocations, and are lulled asleep by many allurements. Thus forgetfulness extinguishes the light of truth, unless the faithful stir up themselves from time to time. David tells us that this remembrance of God’s statutes has an invigorating effect when men employ themselves in doing them. Many are sufficiently forward to discourse upon them with their tongues whose feet are very slow, and whose hands are well nigh dead, in regard to active service.


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