Book Overview - Psalms
by Robert Hawker
THE BOOK OF PSALMS
THIS inestimable book of God holds within its sacred bosom so much of his mind and will, of his covenant-grace and mercy, as revealed to us in the person and work of his dear Son, that it may be well considered as forming an epitome of the whole gospel. And when the great Author of it, even God the Holy Ghost, vouchsafeth to open the saving knowledge of it to the Reader's heart, and the Reader's heart to receive it, and enjoy its blessedness; then the gracious design for which it was written is answered, and God in all things is glorified by Jesus Christ.
The general title of this book is taken from the original word Tehillim, which signifies Psalms, and particularly Psalms, or Songs of praise. But there are two other words in the Hebrew by which the Psalms are distinguished, namely, Zemer and Sher. The former is derived from a root which signifies pruning; and is used, perhaps, in allusion to the man whose name is the Branch, because he was pruned, or cut off, for his people. And the latter, Sher, relates to power, or rule and government: and this also, most probably, in reference to Jesus, whose government and kingdoms shall have no end. And if both these titles were given to the Psalms on account of Christ being so much the subject of them, there is an uncommon degree of beauty as well as propriety, in the measure. For as the former refers to his humiliation, in being pruned or cut off; so the latter to his exaltation, when he had by himself purged our sins, and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. And both confirm what the Scriptures record, that the whole scope and subject of prophecy, which holy men of old delivered by the Spirit of Christ which was in them, was meant to signify, the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which should follow.
Several were the penmen whom the Holy Ghost was pleased to commission to be the writers, under his gracious inspiration, of the Psalms. The greater part of the book (which altogether contains 150 Psalms in number) was written by the patriarch David. But, beside him, there were a few others, such as Heman, and Ethan, and Asaph, and even Moses, to whom they are ascribed. So that it is not possible, in these general observations, to state the precise period in which the whole were written, concerning the greater part of them, as written by David, we may safely set down the time, he himself living about 1000 years before the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But it will be much more to the Reader's purpose to enquire diligently concerning the great object for which the Psalms were written, and of their importance, in reference to the Church in all ages, than of the very period in which they were first given. The Holy Ghost in this precious part of Scripture, had most blessed designs in view, when he caused it to be given to the Church; and this, it will be our highest wisdom, in reading this book of God, to search after.
And it is hardly possible to enter upon the very threshold of this divine treasury, without having our minds strikingly arrested, in viewing the solemn and sacred contents, everywhere abounding. The very first word opens with Blessed: and the last closes with Hallelujah. And although in the first reading of the Psalms much apparently seems to be said of the several writers, as if referring to themselves; and we meet with much concerning David and Solomon; yet when the eye is enlightened to compare spiritual things with spiritual, we are frequently constrained to cry out, as we prosecute the perusal, a greater than Solomon is here. For not only here and there, in certain passages, many things are said, which never could with truth be said of any but the Lord Jesus Christ, but there are also other expressions which would be little short of blasphemy, to be spoken of any other. And, as if the church in all ages should be on the lookout, whenever the book of Psalms was brought before the people, the beautiful illustration which God the Holy Ghost put into the mouth of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, seems to have been intended for this express purpose. The apostle decidedly asserts, that what David had said in Ps 16, of his flesh resting in hope, wholly referred to the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, upon numberless other occasions of a similar nature, the blessed Spirit teacheth the mind to transfer our thoughts from David to Christ in the reading of the Psalms; by which means we may truly say, as one of the Psalms records, My meditation of him shall be sweet.
If we admit the Psalms in this point of view, as referring, for the most part, in their fulness and doctrine, to the person and work of Emmanuel, nothing can more illustriously set forth his glories; nor, under the influence, of the Holy Ghost, more contribute to awaken and call forth into exercise, all the devout desires of our hearts. That the Lord Jesus himself so used the Psalms, seems most evident; for he not only took part of his discourse from the Psalms, when in his way to Emmaus, with the two disciples, He made their hearts burn within them, while he spoke to them of the things concerning himself; but it should seem that the hymn sung at the table of his passover, the night before his sufferings and death, was taken from the Psalms. Some indeed have gone so far as to assert that this hymn was what is called the grand Hallelujah, beginning with Ps 113, and ending with Ps 118, as they regularly follow each other. But whether this be so or not, certain it is, that the Lord Jesus referred to this precious book of God, as pointing to him. Here, therefore, as often as I open the book of the Psalms, would I pray for the illuminating grace of God the Holy Ghost, that I might make discoveries of Jesus. Here I would say, (as I turned over the several pages of it), here it was from whence Jesus expounded to his disciples, and proved the truth of his mission; that the words which He spake, while he was with them, and all things which were fulfilled in him, were written not only in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, but in the Psalms also, concerning him. And under the blessed conviction that here Jesus is to be found, as the most precious treasure in this part of the field of his Scripture, I would search for him as the pearl of great price, and look up to him as having the key of David, and say, Lord! open mine understanding, that I may understand thy law. And surely under his gracious teaching, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, I shall enter into the most heartfelt enjoyment of all that concerns him. I shall discover somewhat of the wonders of his person, and the wonders of his work. I shall trace the outlines of his advent, incarnation, life, sufferings, conflicts, victories, death, resurrection, ascension, sovereignty, power; and all the great events connected with his promised return to judgment. I shall behold the sweet sketches of his blessed offices here, as fulfilled when upon earth, and now still carrying on and executing in heaven. And my soul will be delighted and ravished as I go along, when I behold Jesus, as described by the Holy Ghost, through the medium of these inspired writings, in all his lovely offices, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church. Yes, indeed, thou blessed Jesus, if thou wilt open mine eyes that I may see the wondrous things of thy law, I shall gladly trace thy footsteps, and mark the tendencies of thy grace towards thy people, as sweetly set forth in this book of God. And oh! Lord I do again beseech thee, that thou wouldest cause me so to read, so to learn, and so to understand, those scriptures which concern thyself, that all my fresh springs may be in thee.
Reader, I will detain you no longer from immediately entering upon the perusal of this blessed book of God, than only just to remark, that everything you meet with in the Psalms concerning Jesus will be rendered yet more blessed and endearing, if we are enabled by the Spirit of Him concerning whom we read, to discover our personal interest also in all that relates to him. If Jesus be, as he most certainly is, the head of his body the Church, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all, it will then as certainly follow, that the several members of that glorious head do participate, by their union with him, in everything that he is, and that he hath wrought for them. Do we read of his having a body given him, and tabernacling in substance of our flesh; let us never forget that it was for us this Child was born, for us this Son was given. Do we read that, when neither sacrifice, nor offering, nor burnt offering, would atone for sin, and that Jesus therefore cried, Lo! I come, let us sweetly connect with this view of Jesus, that, by that one offering of himself, once offered, he hath forever perfected them that are sanctified. And when under the spirit of prophecy is celebrated the triumphs of God's Holy One over the grave, oh! may we by faith realize the assured interest that all his redeemed have in it, in that he thereby became the first fruits of them that sleep. In a word, in all and everything belonging to Jesus in the book of Psalms, let us be seeking for grace to mix faith with all we discover, that what he was, and is, and ever will be, is for his people; for by this we make him our own, and find our love to him, faith in him, and dependence on him, will grow exceedingly. Blessed Lord! I would say, both for myself and Reader, grant to us this vast privilege, of knowing that we are thine, and that, by virtue of it, we have a right of appropriation in all that belongs to thee; for then we shall discover, as we read these precious things which are written of thee in this book, the truth of what thy servant John said, upon another similar occasion, that these things were written, that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, we might have life through his name. Amen.
the Second Week of Lent