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“This is the second of the seven penitential psalms, as they are called, which, says Selnecker, ‘St. Augustine used often to read with weeping heart and eyes, and which before his death he had written on the wall over against his sick-bed, that he might exercise himself therein, and find comfort therein in his sickness.’ St. Augustine’s own words, ‘Intelligentia prima, est ut te noris peccatorem,’ might stand as its motto. There can be little doubt that this psalm was composed after Nathan came to David. Psalms 51:0 was the confession of his sin and the prayer for forgiveness. This psalm is the record of the confession made and the forgiveness obtained, and the conscious blessedness of his position as a son restored to his Father’s house. There was a shelter for him there now,—‘Thou art my hiding-place.’ There was joy and gladness on his return,—‘Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.’ And here he carries out the resolve of Psalms 51:0. ‘Then will I teach transgressors Thy way, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.’ The instruction of the psalm may be summed up in the words of Proverbs 28:18, or in those of 1 John 1:8-9.”—Perowne.
THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE FORGIVEN
I. Declared as a doctrine (Psalms 32:1-2). We are taught here—
1. That sin is the real cause of all unhappiness. As Milton grandly sings:
Jarred against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great God.”
2. That the removal of sin is the gracious act of God (Exodus 34:7; Isaiah 43:25; 1 John 1:8-9). Psalms 32:1. Manton says that it is here as in law, when “many words of like import and significance are heaped up and put together to make the deed and legal instrument more complete and perfect.” The group of words is the same as in Exodus 34:7 and Psalms 51:5-6. Though dark, they show the better the brightness of God’s love (Romans 3:20-21). First, sin is branded as “transgression,” i.e. revolt, open and daring defection from God’s covenant (Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 42:25; Jeremiah 52:13; Amos 4:4; cf. 1 Kings 12:19). In this form sin is said to be forgiven, lit. “taken away.” Like a burden, it is lifted off the soul. Like the sins laid on the scape-goat, it is carried away into the wilderness (cf. Leviticus 16:21; John 1:29). Next, sin is described as “a coming short of the mark.” Righteousness is the true end of man, and sin is the missing of that end. This is not from mere weakness, but is the result of moral obliquity and wilfulness. In this form, sin is said to be “covered.” It is put out of sight, as by the blood sprinkled over the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:21; Leviticus 8:14-15); and the sinner is treated as if he had not sinned (Psalms 85:2; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 44:22; 1 John 1:7).
Lastly, sin is regarded as “iniquity,” a twisting and perversion of the will from the right way,—wrong-doing which not only includes guilt but punishment. In this aspect sin is said not to be reckoned. The best comment here is in the words of St. Paul (Romans 4:6):“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. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.’ ”
3. That the removal of sin is wrought by God in such a way as to secure the highest blessedness of man. “Oh! the blessings, oh! the happiness of the man!” Not only is guilt removed, but the heart is renewed. “No guile,” no falseness, either to himself or to God. “The man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is hidden—God having cast it as a millstone into the depths of the sea,—whose iniquity and perversion is not reckoned to his account, and whose guile—the deceitful and desperately wicked heart—is annihilated, being emptied of sin, and filled with righteousness, is necessarily a happy man.”—Adam Clarke. “What can be heavy to that man who is eased of the intolerable burden of sin? How animated was that saying of Luther, ‘Smite, Lord, smite, for Thou hast absolved me from my sins!’ ”—Leighton.
II. Illustrated as a fact (Psalms 32:3-5). David here speaks of himself. “He had long struggled with the sense of his sin, had long been crushed to the earth with his burden, because he would not humble himself before God; but God had given him again the heart of a child. He had gone to his Father with the penitent confession, ‘I have sinned;’ and, as in the parable, the Father’s heart moved towards his prodigal son when he was yet a long way off, so David found that his Father was ready to forgive. ‘I said, I will confess,’ and ‘Thou tookest away the guilt of my sin.’ ”—Perowne.
1. First picture. The misery of the man who criminally delays confession (Psalms 32:3-4). These striking words show that the misery was great. Body and soul suffered. The pain was exhausting, and compelled loud and passionate complaints. Constant. It lasted as long as he kept silence. The struggle with conscience was fearful. Neither day nor night was there relief. It was as if the fires of hell were already kindled, consuming his strength, and drying up the springs of his being. Irremediable. There was no remedy, for the misery was caused by his own sin, and continued by his obstinate alienation from God. Every effort that he made to better himself, so long as he refused to humble his heart before God by confession, only aggravated his pain. The wrath of God abideth on the sinner till he flies to Christ. “Thy hand was heavy upon me.” “That hand which when pressing is so heavy, when raising is so sweet and powerful (Psalms 37:24), and when scattering its blessings so full and so ample (Psalms 104:28; Psalms 145:16). He would not at first be humbled by the confession of his iniquity, and therefore he is humbled by the weight of the hand of God. Oh! powerful hand! beyond all comparison more grievous than any other hand to press down, and more powerful to raise up. He who suppresses his sins without confessing them,
‘Conceals an inward wound, and burns with secret fire.’
Under the appearance of sparing, he is indeed cruel to himself. It may perhaps occasion more present pain to draw out the point of the weapon that sticks in the flesh, but to neglect it will occasion greater danger and more future torment.”—Leighton.
2. Second picture. The blessedness of the man who frankly confesses his sins to God (Psalms 32:5). Here is the end of the struggle—confession, and so forgiveness and peace.
Confession must be made to God. “Unto Thee.” The sin is against Him. To Him we must answer. He only can forgive. We need neither priest nor angel to mediate. God Himself “receiveth sinners.”
Confession must be frank and full. “I acknowledge my sin.” It is honourable to God and good for us that there should be a complete unburdening of the heart. There has been too much of extenuating, excusing, and hiding. Now, nothing should be kept back. Sin is before the soul as it is before God. The hard, sullen “keeping silence” is at end. There is now frank, open, ingenious confession.
What a blessed change! It is like passing from darkness to open day. It is like coming out from the concealment and foulness of a dungeon to the presence of a merciful judge. And the response is immediate (Psalms 32:5). The confession and the taking away are simultaneous. “Oh! admirable clemency. It requires nothing but that the offender should plead guilty, and this, not that it may more freely punish, but more liberally forgive. He requires that we should condemn ourselves, that so He may absolve us.”—Leighton. “Thou forgavest.” “But that should not end the matter. Because of the Lord’s mercy, nay, rather all the more on that very account, our sins should be still remembered. So it was with David. So it was with Paul, who, long after he had obtained mercy, continued to be exercised deeply about his sin, which was ever before him. So let it be with you, Oh, poor sinner! I call upon you, whatever and whosoever you are, to see your sin now, to embrace your Saviour now. You have sin enough upon your conscience now. Confess now. Believe now. But I call upon you, believing now, not lightly or hastily to dismiss the matter from your thoughts. Ponder your sin. Consider it in all its bearings. Be seeking ever, as it is ever before you, to get deeper, more searching, more humbling views of its exceeding sinfulness. For it is thus, and only thus, that by God’s grace, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, you will be getting more and more of an insight into God’s marvellous grace and love, and proving more and more thoroughly the blessedness of a full as well as a free forgiveness, of complete reconciliation, of perfect peace.”—Dr. Candlish.
III. Confirmed by the experience of the godly of all ages (Psalms 32:6). These words suggest—
1. The force of God’s forgiving love. It holds out hope to the chief of sinners. It inspires boldness in coming to the throne of grace. If God forgives our sin freely, what is there we may not ask? (Romans 2:4; John 12:32).
2. The power of recorded examples of forgiven sinners. Every forgiven sinner is a witness for Christ. What others preach as a doctrine, he proclaims as a fact. Bartimeus could say, “I was blind, but now I see.” How much more powerful this testimony than the mere report, “He giveth the blind their sight.” So, what multitudes have been won to Christ by the stories of the thief on the cross, Zaccheus, and Saul of Tarsus.
3. The security and peace of the godly who have made Jehovah their refuge (Psalms 32:6). They have sought mercy in an accepted time. There is a day of grace. There is a time wherein God may be found (Isaiah 55:6-7; Hebrews 3:0.) Every pang of conscience, every sorrow of heart, every premonition of judgment, calls for instant action. Delay may be fatal. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.”
They have found a refuge adequate for every emergency (Psalms 32:7). When God’s judgments are let loose as a flood they are safe. They are like Noah in the ark, Israel in Goshen. The emphasis may be laid on “him.” God’s love is a personal love; He cares for individuals. When trials come they may touch the things without, but not those within. They may reach to the spoiling of goods and the filching of reputation, and even to the killing of the body, but they cannot touch the immortal spirit. When the tyrant Nicocreon ordered Anaxarchus to be beaten to death in a mortar, the brave answer was, “Beat and bray as thou wilt, Anaxarchus thou canst not touch.” If a heathen could speak thus how much more a Christian!
They have secured delights which shall surround them all their days (Psalms 32:7). “Compass me about,” i.e., give me abundant cause, turn where I may, to praise Thee. Can this be the same man who, erewhile, was so wretched? What a wondrous change! Then the burden of sin, now pardon; then the grief of estrangement, now the joy of reconciliation; then the misery of a heart torn by conflicting passions and full of unrest, now the peace of God which passeth angels and the love of God for ever all understanding; then the terrors of “Selah.” Fitly, indeed, may we be judgment and of hell, now the songs of called to pause and ponder.
Mulishness is a hard, sullen, untractable spirit. It is held an offence among men, how much more heinous must it be when manifested towards God. Yet even good men have erred in this way. David speaks here from experience. He recalls with shame the time when he had in his pride “kept silence,” and hardened his heart against the Lord; and speaks words of warning for others. Perhaps he had Solomon specially in view, but his words have a wider reference, and are fraught with instruction (“maskil”) for all ages. We may understand him as speaking in the name of the Lord.
I. Mulishness thwarts the Divine plan. God has a will concerning us. He would have us to walk—
1. In the right way.
2. From conviction and choice. Not of constraint, but willingly, as the result of understanding.
3. Under His is own fatherly guidance and protection. “I will watch over thee with mine eye.” “The guidance with the eye is a gentle guidance. A look is enough, as opposed to that bit and bridle, which the mulish nature requires.”—Perowne. It is not only “I will instruct thee,” i.e., make thee to understand, and “Teach thee in the way,” i.e., to find and keep the right way, but also “I will guide thee with mine eye.” “He will consider and consult upon us, He will not leave us to contingencies; no, nor to His general providence, by which all creatures are in His administration, but He will ponder us, consider us, study us; and that with His eye, which is the most sensible organ and instrument, soonest feels if anything be amiss, and so inclines Him quickly to rectify us.” This implies “the constancy and perseverance of God’s goodness towards us; to the end and in the end He will guide us. Except the eye of God can be put out, we cannot be put out of His sight and his care.”—John Donne.
II. Mulishness debases the powers of the soul. “The mule is among various nations a proverbial type of stubborn persistency in evil, and we find analogous allusions to the horse in Jeremiah 5:8; Jeremiah 8:6. The reason for using a comparison with brutes, is intimated in the second clause, to wit, that the debased irrationality of sin might be distinctly brought into view. The analogy is carried out, with no small subtilty, by representing that what seems to be the trappings or mere decoration of these brutes, is really intended to coerce them, just as that in which men pride themselves may be, and if necessary will be, used by God for their restraint and subjugation. The common version of the last clause—‘lest they come near unto thee,’—would be suitable enough in speaking of a wild beast, but in reference to a mule or horse, the words can only mean, because they will not follow or obey thee of their own accord, they must be constantly coerced in the way both of compulsion and constraint.”—Alexander. Degrading to—]. Reason.
3. Affections. The man who stubbornly refuses God’s instruction necessarily sinks. He “loses the Divine property of his first being.” He becomes like the brutes with “lower pleasures, lower pains.” Instead of being guided from within, he is governed from without. Instead of being ruled by reason and through his affections, he is controlled and compelled as by force. “God never goes about to rule any by fear, but those who have first trampled upon love, and are no longer subjects but rebels.”
III. Mulishness imperils the highest interests of being. To such as act in this way—peace, true progress, fellowship with God, the hope of a blessed immortality are impossible. Then, “Be ye not as the horse or as the mule.” Be warned,—this temper is not only unamiable, but bad. It is contrary to reason, contradicted by experience, condemned by revelation. Remember Cain, Balaam, Saul, Jonah. We should strive to rise instead of sink, we should aspire to be like the noblest and the best, who served God from love and not from fear. “We may consider mercies as the beamings of the Almighty’s eye, when the light of His countenance is lifted upon us; and that man as guided by the eye, whom mercies attract and attach to his Maker. But oh! let us refuse to be guided by the eye, and it will become needful that we be curbed by the hand. If we abuse our mercies, if we forget their Author, and yield Him not gratefully the homage of our affections, we do but oblige Him, by His love for our souls, to apportion to us disaster and trouble. Complain not, then, that there is so much of sorrow in your lot; but consider rather how much of it you may have wilfully brought upon yourselves. Ah! if you would account for many mercies that have departed, if you would insure permanence to those that are yet left, examine how deficient you may hitherto have been, and strive to be more diligent for the future, in obeying an admonition which implies that we should be guided by the soft lustres of the eye, if our obduracy did not render indispensable the harsh constraints of the rein.”—Henry Melville.
SORROW AND MERCY JUSTLY DISTRIBUTED
I. The Sorrows of the wicked (Psalms 32:10).
2. Self caused.
3. Inevitable. “Wicked.” This is their character, and their lot corresponds. They refuse instruction. In pride and obstinacy they persist in their own evil thoughts and evil ways, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows. And though God has provided a way of pardon they reject it. This is their damning sin. A rejected Saviour is hell.
What does he not! From lusts opposing in vain,
And self reproaching conscience. He foresees
The fatal issue to his health, fame, peace,
Fortune, and dignity; the loss of all
That can ennoble man, and make frail life,
Short as it is, supportable. Still worse—
Far worse than all the plagues with which his sins
Infect his happiest moments, he forebodes
Ages of hopeless misery.”—COWPER.
II. The mercy promised to the righteous. Mark their—
1. Character. “Trusteth in the Lord.”
2. Their blessedness. “Mercy shall compass him about.” “He shall be surrounded with mercy, as one is by the air, or by the sunlight.”—Barnes. “Mercy” for soul and body. “Mercy” on every side and at every turn. “Mercy” amid all the varied trials of life. “Mercy” at death and judgment, and for ever and ever. “Mark that text,” said Richard Atkins to his grandson who was reading to him this psalm. “I read it in my youth and believed it, and now I read it in my old age, and thank God, I know it to be true. Oh! it is a blessed thing in the midst of the joys and sorrows of the world to trust in the Lord.”
Think of the light thrown upon both of these truths by the Word of God, the experience of men, and especially by the Cross of Christ. Let the sufferings and death of Jesus show the evil of sin, and the certain ruin of the ungodly. Let the example and life of Jesus show the blessedness of obedience, and the eternal joy of all who trust in the Lord.
JOY IN THE LORD CHRIST
I. Because of the beauty of His that is perfect. He is supremely lovely character. Everything meets in Him and lovesome.
“Intellectual culture may make indefinite progress, the natural sciences may push forth their limits and gain in profundity and extent, the human mind may expand as it will, but it will never surpass the moral culture of Christianity as seen in the Gospels.”—Goethe.
“Only one life there is without a stain,
Accomplishing the Father’s perfect will,
With highest aim, yet never aimed in vain,
Attempting nought which must be tried again:
Even all the thoughts of God it did fulfil.
“Perfect the sinless beauty of His ways,
Perfect the wisdom of His faithful love;
Perfect the trust that walked with God always,—
Perfect in suffering, perfect in the praise
Which still like incense rose to Heaven above.
“Oh! fairer thou than sons of men! and yet
Not terrible Thy beauty. In sweet accord
All tender graces in Thy being met,
And of their fulness all Thy people get,
Still growing to the fulness of their Lord.”
II. Because of the splendour of His achievements. His victories are moral. He has vanquished sin and death. He still goes forth “conquering and to conquer.” Wherever truth prevails, and righteousness is established, and immortal souls are rescued from sin and woe, and brought back to love and holiness, there we behold the works of the Son of God.
III. Because of the blessedness of His reign. The call to “rejoice” finds a response in every true heart. It is obeyed, not from constraint, but willingly; not so much as a duty as a delight. It is the irrepressible impulse of admiration, gratitude, and love. When the poet Carpani asked his friend Haydn how it happened that his church music was so cheerful, the beautiful answer was, “I cannot make it otherwise; I write according to the thoughts I feel. When I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap, as it were, from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”—Whitecross Anecdotes. “Beyond the sea was a noble lady, on whose house alway the sun shone on the day, and on the night the moon. Of this many men marvelled. At the last, the fame of this came to the Bishop, a worthy man, and he went for to see her, hoping that she was of great penance in clothing, or in meat, or in other things. And when he came he saw her alway merry and glad. The Bishop said,’ Dame, what eat ye?’ She answered, and said, ‘Divers meats, and delicate.’ Then he asked if she used the hair (the haircloths). She said, Nay. After this the Bishop marvelled. And when he had taken his leave of the lady, and was gone his way, he thought he would ask her more of another thing, and went again to her, and said, ‘Love ye not mickle Jesus Christ?’ She said, ‘Yes, I love Him, for He is all my love; for when I think of His sweetness I may not withhold myself for gladness and mirth.’ “—Quoted by Lord Lyndsay from “Gesta Romanorum.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 32". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30