Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Psalms 103

Verse 2

Psalms 103:2

This Psalm is: (1) a monologue; (2) a psalm of recollection; (3) a psalm of thanksgiving. David begins by gathering together all the benefits by recollection, and now he has to arrange them, so that they can be sung by any soul exercising itself like his, and remembering the first benefit his soul has got.

I. The first benefit is forgiveness. David arranges all on a business plan; he puts his chief benefit first.

II. "He healeth all thy diseases." He says to his soul, as Aristotle said, "We are working under another category now." A moment ago there was a saint standing like Joshua, clad with filthy garments, an accuser accusing him, a gallows awaiting him, a broken law, a guilty sinner without any one to help him. But He "forgiveth all thine iniquities," though a man feel his sins so great, someone great sin so black, that his heart is sick, and he feels as though he needed another communion table to wash that sin away. But He heals malice, envy, carnal feelings, backbiting, unbelief, "all thy diseases."

III. He "crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies." Beyond the seas, out there in the East, they have crowned their singers, their speakers, their wrestlers, with laurel leaves; but I never read in Eastern story that they ever had laurels for the man whose tragedy was never acted, whose oration found no audience, whose song was never sung before the great Greek congregation. Christ came to seek and to comfort those who have uncrowned themselves, to seek out the poor, undistinguishable singer whose song has never been sung, the speaker who has found no suitable audience. He seeketh out the weary and lost, who have been broken by the weight of their load; and He crowneth poor sinners with His lovingkindness and tender mercy.

IV. The result of the crowning is that his mouth is satisfied with good things; his youth is renewed like the eagle's. When David was a child in the sheepfolds of Bethlehem, he had watched many of the ways of the children of nature. He had seen many an eagle come home bloody and bruised; he had seen her, guided by her instinct, retire to the cleft of the rock and gain strength there, shaking off her broken plumes. He knew her times and her seasons. She basked in the sunshine, resting until her strength was renewed. And when he sees himself a poor old broken-winged eagle, to him, the poor old sinner, the memory of the eagle comes back. He flies to the Rock of ages, flies like many a heart since that has been sick with pain and sin.

A. White, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 10.

I. It seems at first a strange thing that we should call upon our souls to bless the Lord. It is a fitting and natural thing that we should call upon the gracious God to bless us. But what can I give to Him? He is all fulness; He needs nothing, surely, that I can present to Him. How can I bless Him? Herein is a great mystery—the mystery of love. Love is a great want; God's love is a great want: love can only be satisfied with love. (1) David in this matter is very careful to stir up his soul; he knows how content we are to think about these things and let the heart sleep. (2) David wants the individuality of the praise. "My soul." No man can give the bit of praise that I can give.

II. Next he begins to number, to look at, the benefits. Here are three things that you and I should do with our benefits. (1) We should weigh them; they are so substantial. The word "benefit" in itself is a grand word. It means "good deed." God's word ever clothes itself in deed; He loveth in truth and indeed. (2) Number God's benefits. If we begin to number them, we must find out that they are numberless. (3) Measure the Lord's benefits. Do not measure your mercies by your desires, for your desires are made for God. Keep your mercies in the right place and the Lord first; that is the only way of satisfaction. Do not measure your mercies by other people's; measure them by the footrule of your deserts. When we measure our mercies by our deserts, then we are lost in wonder, love, and praise.

M. G. Pearse, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 161.

I. Man stands in a continued relation to the past.

II. Man is called upon to reason from the past to the future.

III. This call to reason from the past to the future is an incidental illustration of the unchangeableness of God. What He was, He will be.

Application: (1) The atheism of anticipation should be corrected by the reverent gratitude of retrospection. (2) He who reviews the past thankfully may advance to the future hopefully. (3) Nothing forgotten so soon as "benefits."

Parker, Pulpit Analyst, vol. i., p. 503.

References: Psalms 103:2.—G. S. Barrett, Old Testament Outlines, p. 137; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 191. Psalms 103:2, Psalms 103:3.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 14. Psalms 103:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1492; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 152.

Verses 3-5

Psalms 103:3-5

I. He "forgiveth all thine iniquities." Thine iniquities are in-equities. There is nothing just or right in thee. He forgiveth thee thine evil nature, and He forgiveth all its evil fruit. And His forgiveness, like His power, fulfils itself in works.

II. He "healeth all thy diseases." Corruption and disease have a spiritual origin. The Divine art of healing therefore lies in the forgiveness of sin. Remove the in-equities of the soul, and universal healing comes in. Christ healeth all thy diseases by forgiving all thine iniquities.

III. He "redeemeth thy life from destruction." As righteousness, peace, and eternal life are an indissoluble unity, so are iniquity, misery, and destruction. Therefore He who forgiveth our iniquities redeems our life from destruction. The removal of all in-equity from our spiritual nature is not only the removal of all disease, but of the ground of disease; and the removal of all disease and of the ground of disease is redemption from death.

IV. "He crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies." The Lord our God is more than a Redeemer. He does not pardon His criminals and then dismiss them. He pardons them and receives them into His house; He makes them all children: and all His children are His heirs, and all His heirs are princes, and all His princes are crowned.

V. "He satisfieth thy mouth with good things." All the capacities of the immortal nature shall be filled, and the fulness shall be a fulness of good. "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside Thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him."

VI. And then the crown of crowns. His youth is renewed like the eagle's, not once renewed, to sink again into the frailty and dulness of age, but ever and evermore renewed, by the ceaseless communication of life from the source of life. Eternal life will be nothing less than joyous progression towards the perfection of youth.

J. Pulsford, Quiet Hours, p. 231.

Verse 5

Psalms 103:5

How may we recover in manhood, but in a wiser way, what was noble in our youth—recover our manifold interests, our poetic feeling towards the history of man and nature, our ideal of the goodness, truth, and love of man?

I. The restoration of manifold interests. Youth teaches us diversity, the first entrance into middle age concentration; in later life we ought to combine both, to recover the interests of the one and to retain the power of the other. I think one can do it best by the means of two great Christian ideas. One is that, as God has called us to perfection, we are bound to ennoble our being from end to end, leaving no faculty untrained. The other is that as Christ lived for man's cause, so should we. The first will force you to seek for manifold interests in order to make every branch of your nature grow; the second will lift you out of the monotonous and limited region of self into the infinite world of ideas. An infinite tenderness and grace belongs to every work whose highest aim is the aim of Christ—the good of man. Life then becomes delightful, even of passionate interest; and the whole of being unfolds like a rose—full of colour, scent, and beauty.

II. Restoration of poetic feeling. In the old dreamland we can never live again, but we may live in an ideal and yet a true world; we may restore the poetry of youth to our life in its relation both to man and nature. (1) As to the first, there is no idea which will so rapidly guide us into a larger and more imaginative view of the history of man as the great Christian thought, which we owe to Christ, that all the race is contained in God; that all are bound together into unity in Him; that as all are children of one Father, so all are brothers, existing in and for the good of one another. (2) Again, in our relation to nature, we can get back what we have lost. There are different paths to this recovery, but none lead to it more directly and rapidly than the true conception of God. Once we have realised the thought of one Divine will as the centre of the universe, we can no longer abide in the realm of unconnected facts. We hear no longer isolated notes, but the great symphony of nature—two or three themes infinitely varied, and the themes themselves so subtly connected in idea that all together they build up a palace of lovely and perfect harmony. This is the restoration in a truer form of the ideal majesty and the poetic feeling of our youth.

S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 351.

References: Psalms 103:5.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 328. Psalms 103:6, Psalms 103:7.—G. W. McCree, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 94. Psalms 103:9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1171.

Verse 9

Psalms 103:9, Psalms 103:13

I. In the mind of the psalmists there was nothing contradictory between faith in God as a righteous Judge and faith in God as being longsuffering and of great kindness. They did not think of God as divided between His sense of justice and His love of mercy, because they understood that mercy was never forgotten in His judgments. They felt that His judgments were the truest mercies both for themselves and for the world at large. So deep was their conviction of the blessedness of God's judgments that some of their most joyous strains are those in which they proclaim God as coming to judge the world in righteousness.

II. The text shows the fatherly character of God. He is our Father because He created and preserves us; He is our Father because He rules us by the stern yet loving discipline of His righteous judgment; He is our Father because He is full of love, and forgiveness, and tender, fatherly pity, knowing our frame and remembering that we are dust.

III. Here then is a proof of the Divine source whence the inspirations of the psalmists came. They knew God as their Father because the Spirit of adoption was speaking to their hearts.

G. Forbes, The Voice of God in the Psalms, p. 149.

References: Psalms 103:11.—Sermons for Sundays, Festivals, and Fasts, 1st series, p. 292. Psalms 103:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1108.

Verse 13

Psalms 103:13

(with Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15)

The thought which I desire, by the comparison of these texts, to suggest is this: how the compassion of God for men disclosed in the Old Testament has grown in the New into the fellow-feeling of Christ. We have not lost our Father's pity; we have gained a Brother's sympathy.

I. Both halves of revelation agree in giving impartial prominence to two aspects of God's moral attitude towards us: to His aspect of displeasure towards the sinner as identified with his sin and His aspect of grace towards the sinner as separable from his sin. But looking only to the gracious or favourable side of the Divine character, I am struck by this, that in those Old Testament writings which make most of the kindlier and milder attributes of Jehovah the grand quality on which everything is made to rest is His pity. The inconceivable vastness of that interval which divides God from men was ever present to the devout Hebrew. It was across this gulf of contrast that Hebrew piety always represented Jehovah as regarding man. He beheld them creatures of yesterday, small, and frail, and evil, evanescent and sorrowful. He pitied them. Very beautiful to think of is this tender turning of the great Divine heart toward such as we are, and the waking up of pity at each new sight of our pitiable mood. Whatever the Old Testament discloses of Divine kindness to men, of gentle forbearance, and enduring, watchful care, and abundant forgiveness, and healing helpfulness, seems all of it to be the condescension of One who is too great to be anything else than nobly pitiful.

II. There is no doubt whatever that some souls, fed on such views of God as these, did grow up to a spiritual stature quite heroical. True greatness of soul is near of kin to a manly lowliness of soul, and he who frankly and profoundly worships Him who is alone noble enough for worship will find himself ennobled.

III. At the same time, the characteristic tendency of Old Testament saints to look at the Divine goodness as coloured by His pity, and as having a constant reference to His distance above His creatures, implied an imperfect appreciation of His love. Love has not done its best when from above it pities us who are below. One better thing it had to do; and at last, when the world was ripe to bear it, love came and did it. Love when it is perfect vanquishes what it cannot obliterate: the distinctions of high and low, of great and small. It refuses to be separated from its loved one. Down from His height of serene, compassionate Divinity, therefore, love drew the Eternal Son of God, to become a Brother of the men whose Father He was. God has entered into a new relation to humanity. He has, what once He had not, a fellow-feeling, that fellow-feeling which springs from the touch of kinship. In brief, to the paternity of God has been added the fraternal tie.

IV. There are three directions in which actual experience must be held to modify even the compassions of the Most Merciful. (1) It gives such knowledge of every similar sufferer's case as no mere spectator can have. (2) By His incarnation Christ has put Himself on our own level. He has abolished at His own choice the gulf which parted us. He is our Equal; He is our Fellow. (3) A chord which has been once set in unison with another vibrates, they say, when its fellow is sharply struck. God has set His heart through human suffering into perpetual concord with human hearts. Strike them, and the heart of God quivers for fellowship. It is the remembrance of His own human past which stirs within the soul of Christ when, now from His high seat, He sees what mortal men endure. An echo from an unforgotten passion answers back to all the cries and sighs that go daily up from men and women who to this hour on earth must toil, and weep, and pray, and agonise, and die.

J. Oswald Dykes, Sermons, p. 138.

I. Jesus made Deity attractive. He presented Him in such a fashion that human love humanly expressed could give itself to Him. The incarnation of God translated theology out of metaphysics into the physical, brought the apprehension of it within the scope of those senses that feed the soul. Pity, tenderness, courtesy of manner, sweetness of speech, patience, bravery, humility, faith, hope—these in Jesus were revealed as Divine, as God in the flesh, as Deity brought nigh.

II. There is nothing so fine in its influence or so sweet in its expression as the authority of love. We yielded loving obedience to it when we were children, as we heard its words from the mouth of mother and father. We never doubted their right to speak it. We never thought it was unnecessary. No more should we when God commands us. God is father and mother to us. His commands are wishes in our behalf, suggestions to us, entreaties, prayers, and whatever else is natural for love to feel and do for those it calls its own. This idea of the commands of God gives the mind a right standpoint from which to see the face and to hear the advice of that heavenly Fatherhood which is over us all in its solicitude, anxiety, and deathless love.

III. In the future we shall grow into this love as trees grow to their leaves and their blossoms. We are human now, but we are learning to be Divine. The creeds may not help us; but the loving and the forgiving, the bearing and the fighting, the weeping and the laughing, will. Our day will come after night, and our calm after storm. We are men and women now; we shall be angels by-and-bye: and what are angels but men fully grown and women to whom all possible whiteness and sweetness has come? Our Father will give us new names when we are grown enough to look like Him.

W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 397.

I. Upon the three grounds of creation, property, and unity we base the parental tenderness of God. And if once that fact be established, there are two things which become impossible for ever. (1) The one impossibility is that God should ever feel contempt for us. Pity is a respectful feeling; real pity never despises: it always acts delicately. (2) The other impossibility is that God should ever feel any unkindness towards us.

II. Notice one or two of the characteristic features which mark a father. (1) Anticipation. We have an amazing history yet to learn of what has been the anticipatory character of God's love to us. (2) Patience. Of all the marvels of God, the greatest marvel is His longsuffering. If you ask the secret of this wonderful endurance of God, how it is that He has borne all the insults and all the irritation which we all have been continually giving Him, the answer lies in the deep principle of parental character. (3) God's pity is not a weak pity; it is not a morbid pity; it is not a pity that cannot punish. He does punish His own children; in this world He punishes them more severely than other men.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 186.

References: Psalms 103:13.— Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1650; J. Baillie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 230.

Verse 13-14

Psalms 103:13-14

I. There is no evidence to be derived of the existence of pity in any overruling Deity as far as the laws of nature reveal the Divine character. As we rise from the lower to the higher organised animals, there does begin to be a very distinct manifestation of affection. Among men the feeling of pity is first disclosed in a very clear way. We are prepared to believe that the analogy of this line of development continues, and that in angels it is as much superior to what it is in the highest men as in the highest men it is superior to what it is in the lowest; and we are prepared to believe that above angels and all supernal beings, in God Himself, it takes on a grandeur and dignity, utterly inconceivable to men and commensurate with the infinite-ness of God's own nature.

II. If we look at human society as an organisation, we shall find that it does not fitly serve as an analogue of the Divine nature. As a ruler, man cannot have pity. Government was not meant for purposes of restoration. It was meant to be a restraining, guiding, penal institution.

III. Above all other places, it is in the family and in the individual heart that we find the full disclosure of pity, or a state of sympathy and helpfulness in view of another's suffering. If one would gain the clearest ideas of the scope and nature of pity, he must study it in the family. There we see: (1) that love inflicts pain. (2) Where suffering is inflicted by a wise and loving parent, the object of it is not to avenge a wrong done to the parent. (3) Pity is consistent with penalty.

In view of these statements, I remark: (a) Pity on the part of God will not prevent the infliction of penalty among transgressors. (b) Those who are suffering the just consequences of their sins are not on that account excluded from God's pity. (c) All who are striving to live aright in this world, although they are far from successful, may be comforted in the thought that there are more who sympathise with them than they know or dream.

H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 326.

References: Psalms 103:13, Psalms 103:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 941. Psalms 103:15.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 185.

Verse 15-16

Psalms 103:15-16

Man's reason is his distinctive privilege; but it has one melancholy result: it makes him know his own weakness and mortality. Other creatures are only aware of evil when they actually come upon it, and after the moment of terror are tranquil and careless, as before. Man has evil allotted to him, with all the aggravation of its prospect and approach—the long-sustained and harassing pains of doubt and apprehension, fears going and returning. His melancholy foresight creates a perpetual war; and he lives within a circle of enemies, and sustains his life as in a besieged city. He may be conscious of strength, but his enemies are strong too; and they are many, and he is one.

I. This is more especially the effect of the gift of reason on the subject of death. On other points it only reveals to us our insecurity; here it reveals to us the end of our existence itself as far as this world is concerned. No sooner is man born than he foresees his death; he is made a prophet in spite of himself. The soul which God has given him is a prophetic one. Such being the effect of the gift of reason on this subject, and such our particular privilege and trial, how do men meet it?

II. Worldly men take one view of this, and say that such a looking forward and such a prophetical tone of mind with respect to death is not natural, because it leads to such results. And as a counterbalance to, and remedy for, such presages they take refuge in the matter-of-fact sensation of life which belongs to us. They throw themselves deliberately and systematically upon this worldly instinct, in order to counterbalance the true prophetic nature of the soul and prevent it from acting, in order to deaden the sense of futurity and annihilate the other world to their minds.

III. Now what is the Scripture way of dealing with the subject of death? It does not allow it to be thus put aside. It makes us view it with steady, calm eye and keep it before us. It tells the soul to reckon beforehand, to see, to prepare; it lengthens its sight: it fixes its aim. Foresight was given us that we might be, not paralysed, indeed, and rendered motionless, but sobered and chastened in the exercise of our active faculties, that we should feel that very check of which worldly men are impatient, for they would fain while they do live be going to live for ever in their imagination.

J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 258.

Reference: Psalms 103:15-19.— Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 536.

Verses 20-22

Psalms 103:20-22

These verses contain or imply an answer—the unvarying answer of Holy Scripture—to the question which is ever recurring, which perplexed wise and anxious heathen men, and still puts itself at one time or another to each of us—the question, I mean, What is the object of man? for what end do we, the human race or the individuals who make it up, find ourselves here on earth? Various are the answers which men have given and give. To please himself, to find happiness, to search farther and farther into knowledge, to perfect the race—each of these has been said to be the end of man. The Bible carries us high above these selfish answers. It lifts our eyes upwards from earth to the glorious order of the heavens, and to Him that sitteth thereon; and, with the Psalmist in the text, we learn to look upon man as part of a mighty universe, his voice but one note in a wondrous harmony of praise, his course but one among many orbits of obedient service, his race but one among countless orders of beings, reaching upwards to the highest angels, reaching downwards to the lowest creature that hath breath, to whom there is but one task, end, and function: the service of God their Maker. Consider in detail the bearing upon our daily life of this great thought, that our life and all its parts must not merely be consistent with, but be, a sacrifice of service offered to Almighty God in Jesus Christ.

I. Although service and worship may in heaven blend in one, yet as heat, which science shows to be only a form of motion, is for practical purposes a thing distinct from it, so the devout adoration of Almighty God must be distinct from those duties of daily business in which He bids us actively serve Him. And doubtless it is of the two the more heavenly. The things of earth which we treat in daily life do, although we handle them in His name and for His sake, yet soil our hands and engross our faculties. In devotion we turn from them to be alone with God, or rather, in company with a worshipping universe, to look towards God alone.

II. You come out from these more sacred parts of your time to do your daily work and live your worldly life. This too must be made the service of God. To remember that this must be done will enable you to do it. The thought will overshadow your lives with a sense of responsibility. Our Lord's parable of the talents entrusted to the servants may deepen this sense. Whatever powers creatures have—much more such a creature as man, created once by God, re-created in Jesus Christ—are talents to be employed, laid out at interest, for their God.

E. S. Talbot, Keble College Sermons, p. 1.

Verse 22

Psalms 103:22

I. The text consists of two sentences: the first, the Psalmist's exhortation to others; the second, a precisely similar exhortation to himself: "Bless ye the Lord." His hand is upon his harp; he is weaving a spirit-stirring anthem, and he summons every creature within sound of his voice to join in the song of rapture and thankful adoration. But why does he not proceed with the lofty chant? Why die the notes away as though there were a sudden check in the poetic fervour? Was it not that David felt how paralysing it was to summon others to praise God, how easily such a summons might be taken in proof that the heart of the speaker was beating with thankfulness though all the while it might be cold and indifferent, with little sense of the Divine goodness and little endeavour to magnify the Lord? Therefore, probably, it was that the Psalmist paused to examine and exhort himself. The necessity for self-examination increases at precisely the same rate with activity in disseminating spiritual good, for at precisely the same rate does the probability increase that we shall take for granted our share in that good, and yet all the while be suffering it to slip from our grasp.

II. Consider how this danger may be guarded against. How shall the guide who feels his mind deadening to the influence of the natural landscape, through the frequency of inspection and the routine of describing it to strangers—how shall he prevail keeping his mind alive to the beauties of the scene, the wonders and splendours which crowd the panorama? Let him not be satisfied with showing that panorama to others; let him not look at it merely in his professional capacity; but let him take frequent opportunities of going by himself to the various points of view, that he may study it under all possible aspects. No other advice need be given to the spiritual guide, whose office is that of teaching others the Gospel, and whose danger therefore is that of growing cold to the Gospel itself. The more we engage in teaching others, the more tenacious should we be of seasons of private meditation and self-examination.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2156.

Reference: Psalms 103:22.—F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 305.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 103". "Sermon Bible Commentary".