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DUTY OF PRAISING GOD FOR HIS MERCIES
Psalms 103:1-5. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases: who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies: who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eayle’s.
IT is a favourite opinion of some divines, that we are bound to love God for his own perfections, without having any respect to the benefits which we receive from him. But this appears to us to be an unscriptural refinement. That God deserves all possible love from his creatures on account of his own perfections, can admit of no doubt: and we can easily conceive, that persons may be so occupied with an admiration of his perfections, as not to have in their minds any distinct reference to the benefits they have received from him: but that any creature can place himself in the situation of a being who has no obligations to God for past mercies, and no expectation of future blessings from him, we very much doubt: nor are we aware that God any where requires us so to divest ourselves of all the feelings of humanity, for the sake of engaging more entirely in the contemplation of his perfections. Nor indeed can we consent to the idea, that gratitude is so low a virtue [Note: Deuteronomy 28:47.]. On the contrary, it seems to be the principle that animates all the hosts of the redeemed in heaven; who are incessantly occupied in singing praises to Him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood. By this also all the most eminent saints on earth have been distinguished. In proof of this, we need go no further than to the psalm before us, wherein the man after God’s own heart adores and magnifies his Benefactor, for some particular mercies recently vouchsafed unto him. To instil this principle into your minds, and to lead you to a measure of that devotion with which the sweet singer of Israel was inspired, we shall,
State the grounds we have to praise God—
To enumerate all the benefits we have received from God, would be impossible. We must content ourselves with adverting to them in the peculiar view in which they are set before us in the text. We would call you then to consider,
The freeness and undeservedness of them—
[It is this which gives a zest to every blessing we enjoy: in this view, the very food we eat, and the air we breathe, demand our most grateful acknowledgments. The Psalmist begins with speaking himself as a guilty and corrupt creature, who unless pardoned and renewed by the grace of God, must have been an everlasting monument of his righteous displeasure. The same thought also should be uppermost in our minds. We should contrast our state with that of the fallen angels, who never had a Saviour vouchsafed unto them; and with that of the unbelieving world, who, in consequence of rejecting the Saviour, have perished in their sins. What claim had we, any more than the fallen angels? and, if we had been dealt with according to our deserts, where would have been the difference between us and those who are gone beyond the reach, of mercy Let us but contemplate this, and the smallest mercy we enjoy will appear exceeding great; yea, any thing short of hell will be esteemed a mercy [Note: See how this consideration enhanced the favours which God vouchsafed to David, Psa 8:1 and St. Paul, Ephesians 3:8.].]
The richness and variety—
[The psalm primarily relates to David’s recovery from some heavy disorder: and the terms wherein he expresses his gratitude are precisely such as are used by other persons on similar occasions [Note: Isaiah 38:17.]. On this account, in our review of God’s mercies, it will be proper first to notice the blessings of his providence. How often have we been visited with some bodily disorder, which, for aught we know, has been sent as a preventive or punishment of sin! (We certainly have reason to think, that at this time, as well as in former ages, God punishes the sins of his people in this world, that they may not be condemned in the world to come [Note: Compare 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 11:32. with Jam 5:15].) And how often have we been raised from a state of weakness and danger, to renewed life and vigour! At all events, we have been beset with dangers, and yet not permitted to fall a sacrifice to them; and been encompassed with wants, which have been liberally supplied. Can we view all these mercies with indifference? do they not demand from us a tribute of praise?
But the expressions in the text lead us to contemplate also the blessings of God’s grace. And can we adopt the words in this view? O how great and wonderful are they, if we appreciate them aright! To be forgiven one sin is a mercy of inconceivable magnitude; but to be forgiven all, all that we have ever committed, this is a mercy which neither the tongues of men nor of angels can ever adequately declare. Think too of the corruptions which with most inveterate malignity infect our souls: to have these healed! to have them all healed: We no longer wonder at the ardour of the Psalmist’s devotion; we wonder only at our own stupidity. Contemplate moreover the efforts which Satan, that roaring lion, is ever making to destroy us; consider his wiles, his deceits, his fiery darts: what a stupendous mercy is it that we have not been given up as a prey unto his teeth!. Look around at the mercies of all kinds with which we are encircled: and mark the provision of ordinances, and promises, yea, of the body and blood of God’s only dear Son, with which our souls are nourished and renewed; so that our drooping spirits, like the eagle when renewed in its plumage, are enabled to soar to the highest heavens with confidence and joy. Can we find in these things no grounds of praise? Must not our hearts be harder than adamant itself, if they do not melt at the contemplation of such mercies as these?]
The constancy and continuance—
[See how triumphantly the Psalmist dwells on this [Note: Forgiveth, healeth, redeemeth, crowneth, satisfieth.]; and let us compare our experience with his. Has not God made us also the objects of his providential care, by day and by night, from the earliest period of our existence to this present moment? Has he not also renewed to us every day and hour the blessings of his grace, “watering us as his garden,” and “encompassing us with his favour as with a shield?” Surely we may say that “goodness and mercy have followed us all our days;” there has not been one single moment when our Divine keeper has ever slumbered or slept; he has kept us, “even as the apple of his eye;” “lest any should hurt us, he has kept us day and night.”
Say now, what are the feelings which such mercies should generate in our souls; and what are the returns which we ought to make to our heavenly Benefactor?]
Not doubting but that all of you must acknowledge your obligation to praise God, we will, as God shall enable us,
Stir you up to the performance of this duty—
It is the office of your minister to stir up your pure minds “by way of remembrance,” yea, “to put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.” We therefore call upon you to praise God,
[This is not the duty of ministers only, but of all, whatever be their age, situation, or condition in life: every one is unspeakably indebted to God; and therefore every one should say for himself, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
If any object, that they have never yet been made partakers of the blessings of Divine grace, we answer, That you have not on this account the less reason to bless God; for the very “long-suffering of God should be accounted by you as salvation;” and if you compare your state (as yet on mercy’s ground) with that of those who have been cut off in their sins, you will see that all the thanks which you can possibly render unto God, are infinitely less than what he deserves at your hands.
Moreover, if you have received no signal deliverances from sickness or danger, you have the more reason to adore your God, who has preserved you so long in the uninterrupted enjoyment of health and peace.]
[Praise is not a service of the lip and knee, but of the warmest affections of the soul. The “soul, and all that is within you,” should be exercised in this blessed work. As you are to “love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength,” so also you are to bless him with all your faculties and powers. You must not however mistake vociferation, and talkativeness, and bodily fervour, for devotion; your expressions of gratitude, even when most elevated and joyous, must resemble those which are used among the heavenly hosts; who “veil their faces and their feet,” or “cast their crowns at the feet” of their adorable Redeemer. Not to bless him in this manner, is constructively and really to “forget the benefits” you have received from him: yea, an utter forgetfulness of them were less criminal than such an ungrateful remembrance.]
[“Bless, bless, bless the Lord!” says the Psalmist to his soul; shewing thereby that he would have that to be the continual exercise of his mind. Thus should we also labour to have our minds in a constant readiness for this glorious work. We need not indeed be always engaged in the act of praise; for we have many other acts in which a great part of our time must be occupied; but the frame of our minds should always be disposed for this duty, so as to be ready for it whensoever occasion may call for the performance of it. That we shall feel backwardness to it at times, must be expected: the Psalmist intimates as much, by so repeatedly urging his reluctant soul to this duty. But let us follow his example, and urge our souls, however reluctant, to this blessed work. Let us say with him, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; bless him, bless his holy name!” or like Deborah, “Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake; utter a song!”
Thus to bless God is our privilege on earth: thus to bless him is an antepast of heaven.]
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
Psalms 103:8-13. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities, for as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.
WE cannot form a juster conception of the Deity than from the history of the Israelites. In the mixture of mercy and judgment which is there recorded, we see every one of his perfections displayed in most lively characters [Note: ver. 7]. His dealings with us indeed are less discernible: but, the more they are scrutinized, the more will they appear to be regulated according to the counsels of unerring wisdom and unbounded goodness. The words before us will naturally lead us to a contemplation of this subject: and we shall have abundant evidence of their truth, while we consider his goodness,
Generally, as it is in himself—
The “mercy and grace” of our God are chiefly discovered by,
His patience in bearing with us—
[Had God been such an one as ourselves, he would long since have broke forth in anger against the whole world, and consumed them in his heavy displausure. But, notwithstanding the multitude of their provocations, he has been long-suffering towards them [Note: 2 Peter 3:9.], and has waited to be gracious unto them [Note: Isa 30:18]. He has borne with many vessels of wrath, that have been daily fitting themselves for destruction [Note: Romans 9:22.]: and has kept mercy for thousands [Note: Exodus 34:6-7.], who have been continually occupied in casting it away. The description which Nehemiah gives of the divine patience as manifested in his day [Note: Nehemiah 9:16-21.], is no less realized towards the whole world at this very hour.]
His mercy in pardoning us—
[God, in infinite compassion, laid our iniquities upon his only dear Son [Note: lsai. 53:6.], and exacted of him our debt [Note: Isaiah 53:7. Lowth’s Trapslation.], in order that he might exercise mercy towards us consistently with the demands of truth and justice [Note: Romans 3:25-26.]. And, having provided such a remedy, he delights in extending its benefits even to the vilest of the human race [Note: Micah 7:18.]. Thousands that are now glorified in heaven, and thousands too that are yet compassed with infirmities on earth, can attest, that with him is plenteous, redemption [Note: Psalms 130:7-8.], and that he is rich in mercy unto all that call upon, him [Note: Romans 10:12-13.].]
Not to dwell on general views of his goodness, let us consider it,
Particularly as it manifests itself towards us—
It is here more minutely delineated:
In reference to his patience—
[God will “chide” his people for their sins; nor would he act worthy of himself, if he did not manifest his displeasure against the violations of his holy law [Note: Hebrews 12:6-7.]. But we must all confess that he punishes neither soon—nor long—nor according to our deserts. Not soon; for then he would be “always chiding,” seeing that we give continual occasion for his displeasure to arise. But he is not extreme to mark what is done amiss [Note: Psalms 130:3.], well knowing that if he should contend with us for every fault, we could not answer him one of a thousand [Note: Job 9:3.]. Nor will he visit us long; if he hide his face, it is hut for a little moment [Note: Isaiah 54:7-8.], and if he wound us, it is, for the most part, but a very short time before he binds us up again and heals us [Note: Hosea 6:1-2.]. He will not be always wroth, lest our spirits should faint, and fail by reason of his displeasure [Note: Isaiah 57:16.]. Nor does he at any time “deal with us according to our iniquities,” Where must every one of us have been if he had entered into judgment with us according to the strict tenour of his law [Note: Compare Galatians 3:10. with Psalms 143:2.]? Whatever trials we may have been called to endure, they have been infinitely less than our iniquities have deserved [Note: Job 11:6.].]
In reference to his mercy—
[This has been boundless in its extent. Who can measure the vast expanse of heaven [Note: Jeremiah 31:37.]? Yet such is the mercy of our God, having heights that cannot be explored, and depths that cannot be fathomed [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]. It reaches, not only to all persons, but to the utmost extent of their necessities or desires. It is also tender in its exercise. Can any thing on earth afford us a stronger image of tenderness, than a parent striving to soothe the anguish of his agonizing infant? Yet such is the anxiety which God himself feels to heal our wounded spirits, and comfort us under all our conflicts [Note: Hosea 11:8. Jeremiah 31:20.]. It is, moreover, lasting in its effects. Let a straight line be drawn from east to west; and the further it is drawn, the further shall the ends be removed from each other. Thus it is with respect to our sins which he has pardoned: they are put away from us to the remotest distance, never to meet upon our souls again, never to be remembered against us to all eternity [Note: ver. 17. Micah 7:19.].]
How base is it to sin against such a God!
[Sin, of whatever kind, is really directed against him [Note: Psalms 51:4.]. And shall it appear a light matter to us to offend such a God? See this argument urged by Ezra [Note: Ezra 9:13-14, Hebrews 8:12.]; and let every temptation be repelled with this indignant expression, How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God [Note: Genesis 39:9.]?]
How ought we to fear and love our God!
[It is twice observed in the text, that God’s mercy is displayed “to them that fear him:” and it is manifested on purpose that he may be feared [Note: Psalms 130:4.]. Let us therefore not despise the riches of his goodness [Note: Romans 2:4.], but improve them for the confirming of our fear [Note: Hosea 3:5.], and the quickening of our love [Note: Psalms 116:12; Psalms 145:8-9; Psalms 145:21.].]
PERPETUITY OF GOD’S MERCY
Psalms 103:15-18. As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth: for the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.
THE consideration of the shortness and uncertainty of human life is at all times seasonable, and more especially on such an occasion as this; when &c. [Note: The occasion may be stated as for a Funeral, or on New Year’s Day.] — — — If indeed we had no hope beyond the grave, such a subject would be most gloomy and appalling: but when connected, as in the passage before us, with the unbounded mercy of our God, it is full of consolation to all who are looking forward to the eternal world. But we must have a good hope that we shall be partakers of God’s mercy, or else not even the glorious description which is here given of it will divest death of its sting, or reconcile us to the thought of approaching dissolution. Let us then from these words consider,
The character of God’s people—
In general terms they are represented as “fearing God.” This of itself would be sufficient to distinguish them from all other people, more especially as it marks “the spirit of their minds.” A humble sense of his presence, a dread of doing any thing contrary to his will, and a filial desire to please him, universally distinguish his children: but still they are more clearly discerned by the characters assigned to them in our text:
They “keep God’s covenant”—
[This is the covenant which was made with Abraham [Note: Galatians 3:16-17.]; and of which Christ is the surety: he has undertaken to accomplish every thing for his believing people; to expiate their sins by his blood, and to renew their souls by his grace — — — “It is ordered in all things and sure [Note: 2 Samuel 23:5.]” — — — This the Believer sees to be exactly suited to his necessities, in that it provides every thing for him, and only requires that he receive thankfully what is thus offered to him freely. This therefore he embraces: “He lays hold on it” as all his hope: and he relies upon it with his whole heart — — —]
They “do his commandments”—
[They are not negligent of good works, though they do not rely upon them for their justification before God: “they love God’s law,” which is written in their hearts: and they treasure up in their minds his precepts, no less than his promises. To do the will of God, to do it universally without exception, and constantly without intermission, is the one desire of their hearts. They would gladly, if it were possible, “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God,” being “holy, as God is holy,” and “perfect, even as their Father which is in heaven is perfect.”]
Such are the objects of God’s love: but how shall we express,
The extent of his mercy towards them—
The mercy of God is the great subject of this psalm. In the foregoing verses it is set forth in a way of comparison; (equalling the boundless extent of heaven;) but in the words before us it is declared in a way of contrast with the transitoriness of man’s existence upon earth.
Man’s existence here is only as the flower of the field—
[It was “but yesterday” that we grew up and to-morrow “our place will no more be found.” If suffered to continue for a while, we are only ripening for the scythe; but a burning sun, or blasting wind, may cut short our existence in an hour [Note: James 1:10-11.]. And when once the flower of the grass is withered, all remembrance of it is gone: and so it is with us: we look gay and flourish for a little moment: and then pass away, and give place to other generations.]
But “the mercy of God towards his people is from everlasting to everlasting”—
[As to its origin, it existed from all eternity. It is not excited in the bosom of our God by any thing that he sees in man: neither the misery of our fallen state, nor any goodness which we may be supposed to manifest, move him to exercise a disposition that was not antecedently conceived in his own mind. Both his determination to exercise mercy, and the objects towards whom it should be exercised, were from all eternity fixed in his own bosom [Note: Ephesians 3:11. 2 Timothy 1:9.]. His people are chosen by him, not because they are holy, or will be holy, but that they “may be holy, and without blame before him in love [Note: Ephesians 1:4-6.].” “He loved them with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving-kindness hath he drawn them [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.].”
In its duration also it is everlasting. “If he have begun a good work in them, we may be confident that he will carry it on [Note: Philippians 1:6.]. As, on the one hand, he will not depart from them, so, on the other hand, “he will put his fear in their hearts, that they may not depart from him [Note: Jeremiah 32:40.].” If at any time they transgress against him, he will chastise them with the rod, till he has brought them back to himself: but “his loving-kindness will he not utterly take from them [Note: Psalms 89:30-36.]:” for “his gifts and callings are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].” In every age will he prove faithful to his promises, even “to all posterities for evermore.”
This doctrine is thought by many to encourage a presumptuous confidence, and a consequent neglect of holiness. But, if we only bear in mind the statement before given of the character of God’s people, and our unequivocal declaration, that no person who does not answer to that character can have any scriptural hope of mercy, we shall see, that there is no occasion for jealousy on that head. The holiness of man is secured by the irreversible decree of Heaven, That the end shall be combined with the means; and that every one whom God has ordained unto life, shall be “made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” We need not be afraid to give unto God all the glory of our salvation, and to ascribe all to the operation of his sovereign grace, since, whatever may be said of God’s decrees, it is an infallible truth, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”]
Let us learn from hence,
In what light we should view our present state of existence—
[We should learn from nature, and from every thing we see around us. Let all, and the young especially, look, not at the grass merely, but at the flower of the grass, and learn from that, how transient their life is [Note: Isaiah 40:6-8. This would be proper to insist on, if it were the funeral of a young person.] — — — And let none, like the fool in the Gospel, promise themselves years, when, for ought they know, this very night their souls may be required of them.]
In what way we should improve it—
[What have we to do, but to attain the character of God’s people, and to secure the mercy which he will exercise towards them? — — — In comparison of this, all earthly pursuits are vanity; since, transient as our life is, we may yet find the objects of our fondest regard still more transient [Note: If this were a Funeral Sermon for an eminently pious person, his views and conduct might with propriety be stated here.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 103". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12