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In the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans when the Apostle Paul is establishing the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, he cites two Old Testament scriptures as proof that in all dispensations every one who was ever saved was saved by grace through faith, altogether apart from human merit. In the third chapter, verse 21, we read, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed”-or borne testimony to-“by the law and the prophets.” Those terms, “The law and the prophets,” refer not to individuals so much, but to the two divisions of the Old Testament. The books of Moses were called by the Hebrews “the Law.” All the rest of the books, beginning with Joshua and running right on to the end, they called “the Prophets.” Sometimes they divided the second group into three and called them “the Former Prophets” (that is, the early historical books all written by prophets) and then “the Writings” (books like Job, Psalms, Song of Solomon, etc.), and “the Latter Prophets,” from Isaiah to Malachi. What the Apostle Paul is telling us in the third chapter of Romans is that upon the proven unrighteousness of all men, God is making known His righteousness which He Himself has provided for guilty sinners, which is not based on obedience to the law of Moses, but yet is borne witness to by the Law, those first five books, and by the Prophets, all the remaining books of the Old Testament. In other words, the entire Old Testament bears witness to the fact that God was going to bring His righteousness near to men who had none of their own.
If we had an orthodox Jew here, one thoroughly familiar with his Bible and the history of his people, and we said to him, “Who is the most important person in all the books of the Law?” he would answer without a moment’s hesitation, “Abraham, because Abraham was the father of the Hebrew people, and the one with whom God made the covenant of grace.” Very well, the Apostle Paul says in the fourth of Romans, let us take the most important person out of the books of the Law and see how he is justified, and he cites Abraham and says that the Scripture declares that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (verse one). That was justification by faith; that was righteousness apart from works.
Then if we had this orthodox Jew here and were to say to him, “Who is the most important personage mentioned in all the other books of the Old Testament, the Prophets?” He would answer without a moment’s hesitation, “Our great King David, because God confirmed His covenant with David saying, ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David,’ and Messiah is to come through David’s line.” Well, the apostle says in the fourth of Romans, let us call in the most important man in the books of the Prophets and see how he was justified, see what he has to say about the way a guilty sinner finds life and peace, and so he quotes from the thirty-second Psalm. “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:6-7). He refers us to the thirty-second Psalm as the outstanding scripture setting forth the way God justifies ungodly sinners. And so when we turn back to consider it we find that it fits in wonderfully with the New Testament opening up of the gospel of the grace of God.
When Augustine of Hippo was dying, he had somebody paint this Psalm in large letters on a big placard, and he kept it right at the foot of his bed. As he lay there he had those beautiful words before him and went out into eternity dwelling upon the message of this thirty-second Psalm. It was one of Luther’s favorite Psalms, because it sets forth the gospel more clearly perhaps than any other Old Testament scripture except the fifty-third chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.
In the first two verses of the Psalm we have the consummation. That is a peculiar thing about the structure of many of these Psalms. Often you get the climax in the very beginning and then in the verses that follow, the Psalmist, guided by the Holy Spirit, shows how it was reached. So here in the first two verses you have the fourfold blessedness of the believer, and in the rest of the Psalm you learn how David was brought into the enjoyment of this blessedness. We know that it was David, because we have the inspired heading, “A Psalm of David,” and after that you have an untranslated Hebrew word, “Maschil.” This word literally means, “giving instruction.” It links with the statement found in the twelfth chapter of Daniel, “They that be wise among the people shall instruct many.” The expression “they that be wise” is really in Hebrew, the Maskilim, i.e., “the instructors”; and so this Psalm is a Maschil Psalm, a Psalm giving instruction. Whenever reading the book of Psalms you come across that word, you will be wise if you say to yourself, “I must read this portion with special care because God is calling my attention to it by putting that word at the top. There is some special instruction here that He does not want me to miss”; and as we go into it we can see what that instruction really is.
Notice first the fourfold blessedness. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” That is the first thing. “Whose sin is covered.” That is the second. “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” That is the third. “And in whose spirit there is no guile.” That is the fourth. The Hebrews called this an “Asher Psalm.” The name of one of the tribes of Israel was called Asher. It means “happy” or “blessed,” and we have a number of Psalms beginning with this word in the Hebrew. The first Psalm begins with that word, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” The blessing of the first Psalm is the blessing of the Man who never went astray. You and I cannot claim that blessing. The blessed Man of Psalms 1:0 is our Lord Jesus Christ, no one else. Now we see that Psalms 32:0 is another Asher Psalm, but here we get the blessing of the man who did go astray but has been brought back to God; and you and I may know the blessedness of that. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” Who is that man? He is the man who has come to God owning his guilt and putting his trust in the message that God has given. In Old Testament times that message was not as full, as complete as the message that He has given today. Today He gives us the full, clear gospel of His own blessed Son who died for our sins; and when we put our trust in Him we know that through what Jesus did on Calvary all our iniquities are forgiven. The Apostle Peter makes that very plain when he says, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Remission, of course, is forgiveness, and so we receive forgiveness of sins through believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Every poor sinner who believes what God has testified concerning His Son is forgiven.
But notice the second thing: “Blessed is he…whose sin is covered.” This word translated “covered” is just one form of the word that is used throughout the Old Testament for “atonement.” What he is really saying here is this, “Blessed is he whose sin is atoned for.” The real meaning of “atonement” is “covering.” God found a covering for sin when He gave the Lord Jesus Christ to die in our room and stead, and so now He says, “Blessed is he whose sin is covered.” The precious blood blots out all the record, and his sin is covered.
Then look at the third thing, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” What is it to impute iniquity? It is to mark iniquity down. If the Lord Jesus blotted out all my sins the night He saved me and immediately began putting down more against me, I would not be much better off in the future than in the past but the Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” God is not marking down sin against LI is people as something they must face in the day of judgment. The moment I trust in Jesus, the precious blood covers the whole record from the cradle to the grave. Does that mean that I can sin and it does not make any difference? No, the moment my responsibility as a sinner having to do with the God of judgment ended for eternity, my responsibility as a child having to do with my Father began. 1 will never have to do with the God of judgment again, but I do have to do with my Father, and as a child I am to be an obedient child. If a naughty child, my Father will have to whip me for it. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). But He never imputes iniquity to His people. Instead of imputing iniquity He imputes righteousness. Every believer is made the righteousness of God in Christ.
Then look at the fourth thing. “Blessed is the man…in whose spirit there is no guile.” A man in whose spirit there is no guile is not a sinless person. There are no sinless people on earth. There was one and that was our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, but since the fall of Adam there has never been another. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There is not a just man that doeth good and sinneth not. “In many things we offend all.” This is true of believers as well as of unbelievers. Even believers offend in many things but the man in whose spirit there is no guile is the man who is not trying to cover up and hide. He has owned up that he is just what God says he is. As long as a man is covering his sin, there is guile there. When David kept on covering his sin there was guile but when David came out frankly and acknowledged it and said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” there was no more guile.
Years ago in Great Britain there was a young man working in a counting house. He sat on one of those high old-fashioned stools and worked on his books. He was a very nervous young man. Every time the door would open he wanted to see who was coming in. When he got ready to go out at noon or at night he would go to the door and open it and look up and down the street, and if he saw a military man or a police officer he would dodge back until they passed. One day while at work another of the clerks stepped over to him and leaning across the desk said, “I say, Jock, I am not making enough to keep me going as I live; let me have a couple of shillings to tide me over the week.”
“I cannot do it,” said Jock, “my wages are so small.”
“Well, let me tell you something,” and he whispered in his ear.
Poor Jock turned pale, reached in his pocket and said, “For God’s sake, don’t tell anybody!”
The other fellow, walking away, said to himself, “Well, I guess I have struck a silver mine,” and every week or so he would come back and say, “Let me have a half crown” or something like that, and poor Jock gave it to him, till he was almost destitute himself.
One day, sitting in a little restaurant where he went for a cup of tea, Jock happened to notice a newspaper in another man’s hand and he saw the heading, “Free pardon offered to all deserters of Her Majesty’s Forces.” “Oh,” he said, “I must get that paper!” It was Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and they had decreed that in order to celebrate that date a free pardon should be granted to all deserters, but it went on to tell the terms of the pardon. The deserter must write in to headquarters, must tell what ship or regiment he belonged to, tell why he had deserted and give his present address, and if satisfactory, he would get a pardon. This was Jock’s secret. He went home and wrote a letter to headquarters telling them that he was so glad to see that Her Majesty was giving a pardon to deserters, that he had not meant to be a deserter but when ordered to Egypt he was anxious to see his mother, and when he got back the ship was gone, etc. He waited. Then one day a large envelope was handed to him with the letters, O. H. M. S. How eagerly he opened it. There was just a curt little note. “Mr. So and So, Dear Sir, Your letter is received. Evidently you did not read the proclamation carefully. The pardon is for deserters but according to your letter you never intended to desert. Respectfully, General W.” “What a fool I have been,” said Jock. “I missed the pardon by trying to make out too good a case for myself.” So he went home and sat down and wrote another letter: “I was attached to such and such a regiment. I deserted, and I can be found at such and such a place. If there is a pardon for me I will appreciate getting it.” A few days later along came another large envelope. He opened it and was just looking at the paper it contained when his tormentor slipped up and said, “I say, Jock, I haven’t had anything from you for a week.”
“You have had the last bit of silver you will get from me,” said Jock.
“Oh, we are getting awfully highty-tighty all of a sudden. If it isn’t worth your while to keep me quiet I can tell your secret.”
“Go and tell everybody you like; shout it everywhere. Tell them I am a deserter. Tell them all about it.”
“Are you going crazy?”
“No; I am not, but before you go and tell them, read this,” and he held the letter up: it was a free pardon.
“Oh, I guess my silver mine is dried up,” said the other.
Jock now was a man in whose spirit there was no guile. All through those weary months he had been hiding, cover- ing up, covering up, covering up, but there was nothing now to hide. It is a good thing when everything is out between you and God. “Blessed is the man…in whose spirit there is no guile.”
In the next three verses David tells how he got to know this. He first tells of the time he did not know it. “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” If there is anything on earth that will make you feel like an old man it is unconfessed sin, trying to be so nice outside while inside there is such a roaring going on. “For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” Just like the burning hills, so green and beautiful in winter, so dried up in summer. All his joy was gone; he was desolate, and he could not stand it any longer, and so he says, “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.” He had been hiding it, but it brought him nothing but sorrow.
“I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.” And the very next thing is a free pardon, “And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Have you been there? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Now everything is different. Now he is on praying ground. A lot of people think it is necessary to pray in order to be saved. David says, I could not pray in those old days, but I can now. “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.” Because he knows what it is to be forgiven, be- cause he knows what it is to be without guile, he can pray with glad, happy assurance and know that the Lord will protect him in every time of trial.
See how beautifully he expresses himself in verse 7, “Thou art my hiding place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.” In verses 3 and 4 David was hiding from God, but in verse 7 he is hiding in God. Which are you doing? It makes such a difference. Some of us remember when we were hiding from God and were so miserable and unhappy; and then instead of hiding from Him we turned roundabout face and went directly to Him to find our hiding place in Him.
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the Mood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r.”
In the next three verses you hear the Lord speaking to David. David has been speaking so far, but now God speaks, and first He promises guidance. He says, “I have forgiven you, now I will undertake for you and will guide you through this scene-‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye.’” Or, “with Mine eye upon thee.” In another place we read, “As the eyes of a maiden [look] unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord, our God” (Psalms 123:2). In other words, if you live in such close fellowship with God that you can always see His face, He will show you just how to go, and you won’t be left to blunder. The reason people have such difficulty getting the mind of the Lord is that they know so little of what it is to live in fellowship with Him. “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).
“Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” How do you guide a horse or a mule? With your eye? Oh, no; “Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, or they will not come near thee” (R. V.). A lot of Christians have to have bit and bridle guidance, because they will not keep their eyes on Jesus. The difference between a horse and a mule is, the horse gets the bit in his teeth and says, “I will,” and you have a hard job to hold him back. The mule plants his feet and says, “I won’t.” You will find these two kinds of folk in the Christian Church. Many of them are just like a horse, ready to run away any time with anything you trust them with. They do not want to be guided or directed but off they go when only half prepared. But there are others-and they are the hardest to handle-who get so well established that you cannot move them. It is not lawful to use a whip to them. God says, Do not be like that.
And then a little word of warning, “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked.” If men will not come to God and judge their sins, if they will not come and confess their wrong, if they will not get right with God, then they have to face grief and pain. They are bringing it upon their own heads. “But he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.” “Mercy enwraps him on every side,” it may be translated.
And so he concludes with a song of praise, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Psalms 32". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28