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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Psalms 40

Verses 1-3

DISCOURSE: 569
DAVID’S SUCCESS IN PRAYER AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO US

Psalms 40:1-3. I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.

THIS psalm undoubtedly refers to Christ, being expressly applied to him by an inspired Apostle; and so applied, as to have the whole weight of the Apostle’s argument depending on the truth and propriety of his citation [Note: Hebrews 10:4-9.]. Yet it certainly refers to David also, who, in some parts of it, speaks in his own person, and, in others, in the person of the Messiah. It is in this way that the prophetic writings generally speak: there will be found in them a primary or historical sense, and a secondary or mystical sense; the two senses being sometimes more blended, and sometimes more distinct. Here, as in several other psalms, some parts of the psalm are more applicable to David, and others to the Messiah. To David, we conceive, the words which we have just read more immediately belong: and, as spoken by him in his own name, they will lead me to set before you,

I.

His conduct in a season of deep distress—

What the particular distress was, we are not informed. Sometimes the language which he here uses has respect to sufferings under persecution. Thus in the 69th Psalm he says, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters [Note: Psalms 69:1-2; Psalms 69:14.].” Again, in the 142d Psalm; “Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I: bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name [Note: Psalms 142:6-7.].” But in the psalm before us, he speaks more particularly as under the pressure of sin: “Innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up: they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart faileth me [Note: ver. 12.].” On this account I understand his distress to have arisen chiefly on account of sin, under a sense of which,

1.

He “waited patiently upon the Lord”—

[He betook himself to prayer. And where should a weary and heavy-laden sinner go, but unto his God; or how should he approach his God, but in a way of humble, fervent, and continual supplication? In what manner he prayed, he tells us in another psalm: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice; let thine ear be attentive to the voice of my supplication! If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord; my soul doth wait; and in his word do I hope [Note: Psalms 130:1-5. See also Psalms 38:1-6.].” He was not like those who “pour out a prayer only when God’s chastening is upon them:” he would call upon his God day and night; and never cease to wrestle with him, till he had prevailed [Note: Genesis 32:26. Hosea 12:3-4.].]

2.

He “waited patiently for the Lord”—

[He well knew how often he had turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; and therefore, how justly God might turn a deaf ear to him. Yet he hoped in the multitude of God’s tender mercies. He came not pleading any merits of his own, nor trusting in any outward services whatever: he knew that God required not the sacrifice of bulls and of goats to expiate sin, but faith in that better sacrifice which should in due time be offered for the sins of the whole world; and he came pleading the merit of that sacrifice, and trusting that through it he should ultimately find acceptance [Note: ver. 6–11.]. However long therefore God should withhold an answer of peace, he would wait, and patiently too, without murmuring; satisfied, if, after ever so many years of continued supplication, God should at last say to him, “Fear not; thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee.”]

The wisdom of this conduct may be seen in,

II.

The benefit he derived from it—

God “inclined his ear to him, and heard his cry;” and, in answer to his supplications, vouchsafed to him,

1.

Liberty—

[The image under which David depicts his unpardoned state is very beautiful and just. He was as one in “an horrible pit, and sunk in miry clay.” Say, ye who know what it is to be shut up, as it were, under a sense of guilt, and an apprehension of God’s wrath, whether any words can adequately describe the darkness, the misery, and the bondage of a soul so circumstanced? The state of Jeremiah, when cast into a dungeon, and sunk in the mire, and ready to perish with hunger [Note: Jeremiah 38:6; Jeremiah 38:9-10.], was distressing to flesh and blood: but what was that to a sinner shut up in hourly expectation of the wrath of an offended God? Oh! it is inexpressibly tremendous: no tongue can tell how a soul trembles, and sinks, and faints under such appalling apprehensions, as are called by the Apostle, “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation to consume it” — — — But from this state David was delivered by means of fervent and persevering prayer. Who will say that he was not well repaid for waiting, for waiting patiently upon the Lord, and for the Lord? Had his supplications been unintermitted for ten thousand years, they would have been well compensated by such an answer as this at last. And, if a promise of such an answer after such a period were given to any one that is now gone beyond redemption, we may well conceive with what ardour he would commence, and prosecute his labour through the appointed time: the very hope of deliverance at last would more than half annihilate the anguish with which despair has already overwhelmed his soul.]

2.

Holiness—

[When God, by a sense of pardoning love, “brought David up out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay,” he at the same time “set his feet upon a rock, and established his goings.” What that rock was, we are at no loss to determine: it was no other than “the Rock of Ages,” the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “a sure foundation” to all who stand upon him [Note: Isaiah 28:15.], and who will impart of his own stability to all who put their trust in him. “On this Rock the whole Church is built; nor shall the gates of hell prevail against it [Note: Matthew 16:18.].” It is not pardon only that we obtain by union with the Lord Jesus Christ, but strength also, to walk steadfastly in the ways of God. Separate from him, we can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.]: united to him by faith, we can do all things [Note: Philippians 4:13.]: and so established shall our hearts be by his grace, that we may defy all the powers of darkness, and already, by anticipation, enjoy our final triumph [Note: Zechariah 4:7. Isaiah 41:14-16. Romans 8:35-39.].” What a fruit then was here of persevering prayer! Yet so shall all who wait patiently upon their God be favoured: they shall be “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”]

3.

Joy—

[“A new song was now put into the mouth of David, even praise unto his God.” And praise is indeed a “new” song to one who is but just brought to peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: the unconverted man knows it not: he has not a heart attuned to it. He may feel somewhat of gratitude for temporal mercies; but for the communication of spiritual blessings he cannot render any cordial thanks, because he never has received them, nor ever felt his need of them. Jeremiah might be sensible of his obligations to Ebed-melech for deliverance from the dungeon, because he had a deep consciousness of the peril and misery from which he had been rescued: but without that consciousness all professions of gratitude for such a deliverance would have been absurd. And so, till we are sensible what a horrible pit we have been taken out of, we can never have our mouth filled with praises and thanksgivings to our redeeming God. But this ardent love to God and holy delight in him invariably spring out of a manifestation of God’s mercy to the soul. David would praise his God every day, and all the day long: and it should seem that the greatness and the multitude of the deliverances vouchsafed to him, disposed him, beyond all other of the sons of men, to pour out his soul in acclamations and hosannahs to his God.]
What then is,

III.

The improvement we should make of his experience—

St. Paul tells us, that the mercy vouchsafed to him was intended by God for the instruction and encouragement of others; for their instruction—that they might know how great was the long-suffering of God; and for their encouragement—that they, from so glorious an example of mercy, might learn to expect the same. Thus David, speaking of this experience of his, says, “Many shall see it, and fear, and shall put their trust in the Lord.” From his experience then we may learn,

1.

To use the same means—

[We are not to say, David found mercy of the Lord, therefore I may expect the same at all events; but, therefore I may expect the same in a diligent use of the same means. David feared; and therefore I must “fear:” I must fear the displeasure of my God: I must fear lest I be left in the horrible pit, and sink for ever in the mire of unforgiven sin. My fear also must be operative, stirring me up to earnest prayer, and stimulating me to “flee for refuge to the hope that is set before me.” The use we are apt to make of any extraordinary displays of mercy, and which many make of the mercy vouchsafed to the penitent thief upon the cross, is to say within ourselves, God is too merciful to punish men in the eternal world: if I in a dying hour do but ask forgiveness, I also shall obtain mercy: and therefore I will not trouble myself about turning unto God, till I find, or think I find, that death is coming upon me. But let not any of us be guilty of so perverting the mercies of our God: let us “not so despise his goodness and patience and long-suffering; but let his goodness lead us to repentance.” Let us say, David found deliverance by waiting patiently. I then will wait patiently also. But it was with strong crying and tears that David sought for mercy: and in that way I will seek it also. It was in these holy exercises too that he was so constant: and in them also will I be constant, and persevere unto the end, assured, that it is only by patient continuance in well-doing I can ever hope to obtain the desired benefits.]

2.

To expect the same end—

[We should never imagine ourselves to be in so low a state, but that God is able to deliver us from it. If, like Jonah, we were, as to our own apprehensions, “in the belly of hell,” yet from thence we should cry to him, assured that he would hear our voice, and “bring up our souls from the pit of corruption [Note: John 2:2; John 2:6.].” The state of David was as desperate as it could well be; yet from thence was he rescued, to his unutterable joy. Hezekiah also seems to have been in a similar state, and to have experienced a similar deliverance: “Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back [Note: Isaiah 38:17.].” Thus shall it be with all who will seek God in sincerity and truth, especially when, like David, they seek him through the sacrifice and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their feet shall then be extricated from the mire, and set upon the Rock, where “their feet shall not slide,” and from whence “they shall never be moved.” And though their lives hitherto may have been spent in sighing and mourning, yet shall there be given to them “the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” In a word, let them only pray in faith; and however “wide they open their mouth, it shall be filled [Note: Psalms 81:10.].”]


Verses 9-10

DISCOURSE: 570
CHRIST A PREACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

Psalms 40:9-10. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: Lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart: I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I hare not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth from the great congregation.

SOME of the most important prophecies are introduced in such a way as clearly to shew, that the writers of them were overruled, as it were, by a divine impulse, to speak things which they themselves did not understand. This was certainly the case with Caiaphas, who, being the High Priest, was moved by God to utter words, of the true import of which he had not the slightest conception [Note: John 11:49-52.]. I think it highly probable, also, that David in this psalm had no just comprehension of the prophecy before us The beginning of the psalm and the end of it seem to belong to David only: but here is a passage which can have no reference to him, and can be interpreted of Christ alone. To him it is applied in the Epistle to the Hebrews; the writer of which, shewing the utter inefficacy of the legal sacrifices to take away sin, refers to this psalm in confirmation of his statement; and argues from it, that God in this very passage had declared his determination to “remove” the shadowy institutions of the law, and to “establish” that which was revealed in the Gospel, even “that one offering of Christ Jesus, whereby the whole world may be sanctified and saved [Note: Hebrews 10:4-10.].”

The words of my text stand in immediate connexion with those cited by the Apostle: and they declare what Christ should do in his prophetic office: that as, in the capacity of our great High Priest, he should offer himself a sacrifice for our sins, so, in the capacity of a Prophet to his Church, he should “preach righteousness and salvation” to the whole world.

In this view of the passage, I shall be led to consider it as fulfilled,

I.

In the ministry of Christ himself—

Our blessed Lord did not, indeed, open the truths of the Gospel so fully as his Apostles did after his resurrection: for, till after his death and resurrection, the people were not prepared to receive a full Communication of all which he was commissioned to reveal. He told his hearers, that “he had many things to say unto them; but that they could not bear them then [Note: John 16:12.].” Yet did he so far unfold the mystery of godliness to his hearers, that all future revelations of it should evidently appear to be only a continuation and enlargement of the same divine testimony.

1.

He traced salvation to its source, the love of God the Father [Note: John 3:16.] — — —

2.

He referred to his own sufferings as the means whereby it was to be accomplished [Note: Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:26-28.] — — —

3.

He displayed it in all its glorious effects, the glory of God, and the salvation of man [Note: John 12:28; John 12:32. He opened it fully, under the images of the bread of life, John 6:35; John 6:47-51; John 4:13-14. as also under other images, John 11:25-26; John 14:6.] — — —

Nor could any consideration whatever induce him to conceal within his own bosom any one truth which he was commissioned to declare.
[He could appeal to the heart-searching God, “I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.” In every part of his ministry “he witnessed a good confession [Note: 1 Timothy 6:13.]:” and, at the close of it, gave the most explicit directions relative to the truths that should be proclaimed by all the ministers of his word [Note: Luke 24:46-47.].]

This passage is fulfilled yet further,

II.

In the ministry of all his faithful servants—

St. Peter unfolded this great salvation both to Jews [Note: Acts 2:36; Acts 3:16; Acts 3:19; Acts 4:10-12; Acts 5:30-31; Acts 13:38-39.] and Gentiles [Note: Acts 10:43.] — — — St. Paul determined to know nothing amongst his people, “save Jesus Christ and him crucified [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:2.]” — — —

And we also can appeal to God that we, according to our ability, have followed his steps, “not shunning to declare unto you all the counsel of God [Note: Acts 20:27. Here the different expressions of the text may be dwelt upon to advantage.] — — —

Let me then inquire,

1.

What know you of this subject?

[It is surprising how ignorant of this great salvation many are, even after it has been preached to them faithfully for many years. But the truth is, men do not meditate on what they hear, or pray to God to impress it on their minds by his Holy Spirit: and hence, the word, like seed sown by the way-side, is taken away from their hearts, and either never springs up at all, or springs only to wither immediately for want of either root or moisture. But, my dear Brethren, you must give account to God of all that you hear, as I also must of all that I preach: and I pray God, that I may so speak, and you hear, that we may “give up our account together, with joy, and not with grief” — — —]

2.

What effect has it produced upon you?

[The use of the Gospel is to bring us unto Christ, and to assimilate us to his divine image. If, then, we receive it aright, we shall be able to say with Christ, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy Law is within my heart [Note: ver. 8.].” And, as Christ hid not God’s righteousness within his heart, but proclaimed it boldly “to the great congregation,” so must you, Brethren, before the whole world be ready to confess Christ, and to follow him faithfully, even unto death. You must not only “cleave to him with full purpose of heart [Note: Acts 11:23.],” but must “glory in his cross, and by means of it be crucified unto the world, and have the world crucified unto you [Note: Galatians 6:14.].” Let me then ask, Is it thus with your souls? Oh, “let there be in you the mind that was in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 2:5.]!” So shall you partake with him in all the glory and felicity which the Father has conferred upon him [Note: Philippians 2:9.], and which he also is empowered to bestow on all his faithful followers [Note: Luke 22:29. Revelation 3:21.].]


Verse 17

DISCOURSE: 571
CONSOLATION TO THE DISTRESSED

Psalms 40:17. I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me.

THAT part of the Holy Scriptures which most fully opens the exercises of the heart is the book of Psalms. There we see a man of God unbosoming himself before his Maker, and declaring all his hopes and fears, his griefs and consolations. Sometimes he speaks in the person of the Messiah, and sometimes in his own person: sometimes his words are applicable both to the one and the other. These varieties often appear in the very same psalm; some parts of which exclusively relate to the type, or to the antitype; and other parts are common to both. It is thus in the psalm before us. That it refers to the Messiah, there can be no doubt; because it is applied to him by God himself [Note: Compare ver. 6–8. with Hebrews 10:5-7.]. Yet there are in it some expressions, which should rather be explained in reference to David only. The twelfth verse in particular must be understood in this way: and the circumstance of all the following verses being repeated in another place, and formed into a distinct psalm by themselves [Note: Psalms 70..], is a strong reason for referring them also to him principally, or perhaps to him alone. In the words of our text we notice,

I.

His complaint—

David on some occasions was reduced to great straits and difficulties with respect to his temporal concerns: but he was also much tried in his spirit: and the complaint before us seems to have arisen from,

1.

A sense of his guilt—

[In ver. 12, he speaks of “his iniquities having taken such hold upon him, that he was not able to look up; that they were more than the hairs of his head, so that his heart failed him.” It is very probable that he alluded in some measure to those dreadful enormities which he had committed in the matter of Uriah. But he would not consider those actions merely as insulated and detached, but rather as indications of the extreme depravity of his heart [Note: In this light he speaks of them in Psalms 51:5.]: and in reference to that he might well say of himself, “I am poor and needy.” Indeed, who that knows any thing of the spirituality of God’s law, or of his own immediate departures from it, can use any other language than that in the text? Was Adam poor when despoiled of the Divine image through the commission of one sin; and are not we, whose iniquities are more in number than the hairs of our head? Was he needy, when banished from Paradise, and doomed to eternal death; and are not we, who from our very birth have been “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath?” Though God has forgiven us, it does not become us to forget what we are in ourselves, but to go softly before him all our days, repenting in dust and ashes.]

2.

A sense of his weakness—

[David had other enemies than those who opposed his regal authority. He complains in another psalm, “Iniquities prevail against me [Note: Psalms 65:3.]:” and he found it exceeding difficult to subdue them. On this account also he used the expressions in the text. He felt himself poor and needy in reference to every thing that he accounted good. He lamented especially his want of wisdom, and strength, and righteousness. Hence he cried, “Open thou mine eyes;” “O give me understanding in the way of godliness!” “Hold thou me up!” “hold up my goings in thy ways, that my footsteps slip not!” “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord! for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Similar to this is the experience of all the saints. All are insufficient of themselves for any thing that is good: and the man who was stripped, and wounded, and left half dead [Note: Luke 10:30.], was but a faint emblem of the man who, feeling in himself innumerable corruptions, is unable to mortify so much as one of them, except as he is aided from above, and strengthened by communications of the Spirit of grace. St. Paul himself lamented his state in reference to this; yea, he even surpassed the Psalmist in his humiliating confessions and mournful complaints [Note: Romans 7:24.].]

But in the midst of all this, we view with pleasure,

II.

His consolation—

He considered that God’s thoughts were exercised upon him—
[God is not an inattentive observer of any of his creatures: but “his eyes are more especially upon the righteous [Note: Psalms 33:18-19; Psalms 34:15.].” As “his eyes were upon the promised land from one end of the year even to the other [Note: Job 36:7. Deuteronomy 11:12.],” so are they upon his own people in every place and in every age. He says, “I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of good and not of evil, to give you an expected end [Note: Jeremiah 29:11.].” He thinks of his people with tender compassion—with anxious care—with joyful complacency. How tenderly did he listen to the effusions of Ephraim’s sorrow [Note: Jer 31:18-20 and Hosea 14:8.]! With what anxiety does he sit, as a refiner, to watch the vessel which he is purifying in the furnace, lest it should by any means suffer injury by the process that was intended only for its good [Note: Malachi 3:3.]! With what exultation too does he say, “To this man will I look, even unto him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit;” as though not all the angels in heaven could engage his attention in companion of such a sight! David was sensible, that in the midst of all his spiritual distress he was not forgotten of his God; but that he was, notwithstanding all his unworthiness, an object of his paternal care [Note: He knew it from both his past and present experience, Psalms 31:7. with ver. 5.].]

What comfort must such a consideration afford him!
[Surely greater consolation could scarcely be conceived than that which would arise from this source. What must it be to have unsearchable wisdom contriving for his good! — — — almighty power ready to execute whatever Divine wisdom should judge expedient! — — — unbounded mercy pleading, that his sins and frailties may not provoke God to withdraw his loving-kindness from him! — — — and, lastly, unchanging faithfulness demanding on his behalf the accomplishment of all the promises! — — — The consideration of these things must of necessity check every desponding fear and constrain him to exclaim, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God [Note: Psalms 42:11.].” And every one who can realize this one consideration, has within himself an antidote for every fear, and a balm for every wound.]

Address—
1.

Those who know little of David’s experience—

[The generality of those who are called Christians would be ready to despise any one who should express himself like the inspired Psalmist. They would suppose that he was under the influence of a weak deluded mind. But let them not congratulate themselves on their fancied superiority; for they only betray their own ignorance [Note: Revelation 3:17. with Micah 4:12.]. Let them rather seek to know themselves, that, being made sensible of their destitute condition, they may be made rich in Christ Jesus [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].]

2.

Those whose feelings are like his—

[While you are complaining of your poverty, God is saying, “But thou art rich [Note: Revelation 2:9.].” The truth is, that the more we are sensible of our guilt and helplessness, the more ready God is to help and deliver us: “The hungry he filleth with good things; but the rich he sends empty away.” Indeed he paints the most destitute condition that can be imagined, on purpose that he may administer consolation to us under it [Note: Isaiah 41:17-18.]. If any then be cast down as though there were no hope, let them plead with him as David did [Note: Psalms 142:1-7.]: and they shall soon find, by happy experience, that “God’s thoughts and ways as far exceed ours, as the heavens are above the earth [Note: See Psalms 72:12-13. which may be illustrated by John 1:6; John 1:15; John 2:1-10.].”] [Note: If this were a subject for a Charity Sermon, the Application should be altered, and another substituted, recommending the audience to imitate God by thinking of the distresses of their fellow-creatures.]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 40". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/psalms-40.html. 1832.