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THIS psalm has been selected by the Church for one of the "seven penitential psalms." It forms a part of the service of the synagogue on the great Day of Atonement. Yet it is almost as much jubilant as penitent. It opens with two beatitudes. The writer, while very sensible of his sin (Psalms 32:3-5), is still more sensible of the fact that his sin is pardoned (Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2, Psalms 32:7, Psalms 32:10). While his first words breathe content and gratitude, his last are a shout of rejoicing (Psalms 32:10). It is allowed generally that the psalm is David's. Written probably soon after his repentance, but not immediately after, it expresses at once his sorrow for his grievous lapse, and his joy when he dwelt in thought upon the words, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin" (2 Samuel 12:13). It likewise tells us something of his state of feeling during the interval between the commission of the sin and Nathan's coming to him (Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4).
The last word of the title, "Maschil," is thought to mean that the psalm was intended for instruction, warning, or admonition; the word maschil, or rather maskil, being formed from askil," to instruct"—the opening word of the eighth verso—used also in Psalms 2:10; Psalms 53:2, etc. There are thirteen psalms thus inscribed, all more or less of a didactic character.
Rhythmically, the psalm seems to be composed of six strophes, each of two verses; but in the third strophe the two verses have been joined in one.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered. There are three aspects under which sin is viewed in Holy Scripture:
1. As an offence against God's Law. This is "transgression"—ἀνομία.
2. As an offence against the eternal and immutable rule of right. This is "sin"—ἁμαρτία.
3. As an internal depravation and defilement of the sinner's soul. This is "iniquity "—ἀδικία (comp. Exodus 34:7). Each aspect of sin has its own especial remedy, or manner of removal. The "transgression" is "lifted up," "taken away,"—αἵρεται ἀφαίρεται—more vaguely ἀφίεται. The "sin" is "covered, …. hidden"—καλύπτετα ἐπικαλύπτεται. The "iniquity" is "not imputed"—οὐ λογίζεται. The union of all three, as here in Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2, is complete remission or forgiveness.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity. "Iniquity"—the defilement of the sinner's own soul by sin—is not at once removable; if removable at all, it is only so by long lapse of time, and God's special mercy. But God can, at his own will and at any moment, "not impute" it—not count it against the sinner to his detriment. Then in God's sight the man is clean; it is as though the iniquity were not there. And in whose spirit there is no guile; i.e. no false seeming—no hypocrisy—where repentance has been sincere and real.
When I kept silence; i.e. so long as I did not acknowledge my sin—while I remained silent about it, quite aware that I hod sinned grievously, suffering in conscience, but not confessing it even to myself. The time spoken of is that which immediately followed the commission of the adultery, and which continued until Nathan uttered the words, "Thou art the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7). My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long; i.e. I suffered grievous pain, both bodily and mental. My bones ached (comp. Psalms 6:2; Psalms 31:10); and I "roared," or groaned, in spirit, all the day long." Unconfessed sin rankles in the heart of a man who is not far gone in vice, but has been surprised into a wicked action, no sooner done than regretted. Such a one, in Archbishop Leighton's words, "Vulnus alit venis et caeco carpitur igne."
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me. David sees now that his sufferings at this time came from God, and were a part of the punishment of his sin. They continued without intermission both by day and by night. His conscience was never wholly at rest. My moisture is turned into the drought of summer; literally, my sap was changed through summer drought; i.e. the vital principle, which had been strong in him, was changed—burnt up and exhausted—by the heat of God's wrath.
I acknowledged my sin unto thee. Conscience once fully awakened, all reticence was broken down. David confessed his sin fully and freely—confessed it as "sin," as "transgression,'' and as "iniquity" (compare the comment on Psalms 32:1). And mine iniquity have I not hid; rather, did I not hide. I did not attempt to gloss over or conceal the extent of my guilt, but laid my soul bare before thee. Hengstenberg well remarks that the psalmist is probably not speaking of a "making known by the mouth," but of "an inward confession, such as is accompanied with painful repentance and sorrow, with begging of pardon for sin and for the offence rendered to the Divine Majesty." I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Upon David's confession, whether it were inward or outward, followed without any interval God's forgiveness—forgiveness which, however, did not preclude the exaction of a penalty required for the justification of God's ways to man (2 Samuel 12:14), and also, perhaps, for proper impressing of the offender himself, who would have been less sensible of the heinousness of his sin, if it had gone unpunished.
For this; or, because of this; i.e. on account of this experience of mine—this immediate following of the grant of forgiveness upon confession of sin—shall every one that is godly—i.e; that is sincere and earnest in religion, though he may be overtaken in a fault or surprised into a sin—pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found; literally, in a time of finding, which some understand as a time when God "finds," and visits, some iniquity in his servants, and others, as the Authorized Version, "in a time when thou art gracious, and allowest thyself to be found by those who approach thee." Surely in the floods of great waters they (i.e. the waters) shall not come nigh unto him; i.e. shall not approach such a man to injure him.
Thou art my hiding-place (comp. Psalms 17:8; Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20; Psalms 143:9); thou shalt preserve me from trouble. Hidden in God, there can no harm happen to him. Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. "Songs of deliver-ante" are such songs as men sing when they have been delivered from peril. God will make such songs to sound in the psalmist's ears or in his heart.
Psalms 32:8, Psalms 32:9
St. Jerome, and others after him, including Dr. Kay, have regarded this passage as an utterance of God, who first admonishes David, and then passes on to an admonition of the Israelites generally. But such a sudden intrusion of a Divine utterance, without any notice of a change of speaker, is without parallel in the Psalms, and should certainly not be admitted without some plain necessity. Here is no necessity at all. The words are quite suitable in the mouth of David, as an admonition to the Israelites of his time; they accord with the title, which he himself seems to have prefixed to the psalm, and explain it; and they fulfil the promise made in Psalms 51:15.
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. We must suppose the "godly man" of Psalms 32:6 addressed, if we regard David as the speaker. Such a man was not beyond the need of instruction and teaching, since he was liable to sins of infirmity, and even to grievous falls, as had been seen by David's example. I will guide thee with mine eye; i.e. "I will keep watch over thee with mine eye, and guide thee as I see to be necessary."
Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding. The singular is exchanged for the plural, since the "instruction" is now intended, not for the godly man only, but for all. Israel had been always stiff-necked (Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, Deuteronomy 9:13; Deu 10:16; 2 Chronicles 30:8; Acts 7:51), like a restive horse or mule. David exhorts them to be so no more. The horse and mule are excusable, since they "have no understanding "—or, "no discernment"—Israel would be inexcusable, since it had the gift of reason. Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle; rather, whose adornings are with bit and bridle to hold them in (compare the Revised Version). Lest they come near unto thee. This clause is obscure. It may mean, "Lest they come too near to thee," so as to do thee damage, as when a riding horse tosses his head and strikes the rider in the face, or when a chariot horse rears and falls back upon the driver; or it may mean, "Else they will not come near to thee," i.e. until they are trapped with bit and bridle, they will refuse to come near to thee.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked. A further warning to those addressed in the preceding verse. The LXX. emphasize this by substituting for the generic "sorrows" the specific μάστιγες, "lashes," the usual punishment of the horse and mule. But he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about (comp. Deuteronomy 32:10).
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous. David's psalms almost always end with a note of joy, or at any rate in a tone that is cheerful and encouraging. The present psalm, though reckoned among the penitential ones, both begins and ends with joyful utterances. In Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2 David pours forth the feeling of gladness which fills his own heart. Here he calls upon the "righteous" generally, who yet need forgiveness, to rejoice with him. And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. All ye, i.e; who are honest and sincere in your endeavours after well-doing. The phrase explains the "righteous" of the preceding hemistich.
The blessedness of pardon.
"Blessed is he," etc. The Old Testament Scriptures contain what we may call moral prophecies, no less striking than the historical and typical prophecies. This verse is among them. Beginning with this grand Bible word "blessed" (like Psalms 1:1-6.), it resembles an echo, a thousand years beforehand, of the Sermon on the Mount. We find here, not only "the shadow of good things to come," but "the very image" of the gospel promises of pardon and justification. Accordingly, St. Paul quotes and argues from these words (Romans 4:5-8).
(1) In what does this blessedness consist?
(2) How is it attained?
I. IN WHAT DOES THIS BLESSEDNESS CONSIST?
1. In the actual fact of deliverance from the guilt and punishment of transgression. Forgiveness is a reality on God's part, because sin is a reality on our part. Forgiveness, or justification, is sometimes spoken of as "treating the sinner as though he had not sinned." This is but loose, figurative language. The reverse is the case. Forgiveness implies sin (Romans 4:5). Sin may have alleviations—ignorance, overpowering temptation, constitutional infirmity, and so forth—but as sin it is disobedience to God's Law. Therefore if God has really given a moral law to men, he is bound as righteous (Genesis 18:25) to take account of sin-of every sin of every sinner. Men have sinned (Romans 3:23). Therefore (innocence being lost)every one must necessarily be either forgiven or condemned. Accordingly, our Saviour always speaks of forgiveness as a definite act (Matthew 9:2, Matthew 9:6; Luke 7:47). His apostles in like manner (1 John 2:12; Acts 2:38; Acts 13:38, Acts 13:39).
2. In the joyful consciousness of pardon and reconciliation to God. These two—the fact and the consciousness—ought always to go together; but, as matter of fact, they do not. It is a great mistake to confound faith with assurance. Perfect, undoubting faith in God's promise, if that promise be rightly understood, must needs bring with it the blessed and joyful certainty of the fulfilment of the promise. But faith may be real, yet far from perfect; clouded by ignorance or error; enfeebled by doubt and fear shadowed by self-distrust, yet real, like the faith of sinking Peter.
3. In the holy and happy influence of this belief and sense of forgiveness on the heart and life; making God loved, sin hated, self humbled, obedience happy and free from bondage. Deliver-ante from the punishment of sin is not to be overrated as the chief element in this blessedness; yet it is a real and powerful source.
II. HOW OBTAINED?
1. The first step is a true sense of sin and of the need of pardon. This height of joy is reached at a rebound from the dust of self-abasement.
2. Personal reliance on Christ, acceptance of his atonement, and of God's offer and promise of pardon through him.
3. The study of God's Word, with prayer for the Holy Spirit's teaching. (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17-19.) Make sure, first, what God's Word really declares; then take God at his word. Beware of the subtile delusion of putting your own faith in place of Christ.
The blessedness of pardon
may belong to widely different stages of Christian experience. Take, e.g; those of which we have images in Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress '—in Christian's entering the wicket-gate, losing his burden, escaping from the dungeon of Giant Despair. First faith; full faith; recovered faith.
I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF A FIRST FAITH. A first conscious, undoubting reception of God's promise—the glad tidings (Luke 24:47; Acts 13:32, Acts 13:38); and personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord (Acts 16:30-34).
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF FULL FAITH. Unlimited trust in all that God has pro raised, and acceptance of all that he has given us in Christ. Christian was in the path of salvation, the way of life, from the moment he entered the gate; but he was not quit of his burden till he came in full view of the cross of Christ (1 John 4:16, 1 John 4:19; 1 John 5:12).
III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF FAITH RESTORED AFTER FAILURE, The joy of forgiveness, forfeited by sin, recovered; and love, faith, hope, again kindled by the Holy Spirit, in place of gloom and despair. Christian was far on in his journey when he and his comrade strayed into By-path Meadow and fell into the clutches of the giant. This is the psalmist's experience. He had fallen into gross sin, and long as he "kept silence," refused to confess to God and to humble himself, he had no rest or peace. (Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4). When he turned in penitence and trust to God, the fount of joy was at once reopened in his heart. He escaped from bondage into freedom (Psalms 32:5; 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2).
Hindrances to confession of sin.
"I kept silence."
I. PRIDE. Men cannot bear to think themselves wrong—to put themselves down on the common level; still less, below those who have sought and obtained pardon. This pride is itself a great sin (James 4:6; 1 Timothy 3:4),
II. WANT OF HONESTY OF CONSCIENCE. Even proper self-respect should make one say, "Anything rather than self-deception! Let me know the truth of myself!"
III. INDOLENCE. Many are busy enough outwardly, but mentally indolent, spiritually stagnant.
IV. SOME ARE TOO BUSY. Too much occupied with the appendages of life ever to know what it is truly to live I
V. CARELESSNESS. Two kinds of hardness of heart noted in Scripture.
1. Stubborn self-will.
2. Want of feeling ("fat," Isaiah 6:10).
VI. INSENSIBILITY TO GOD'S CLAIMS. Their greatness, urgency, inevitableness, the blessedness of yielding to them. This lies deep at the root of all the rest. Were these felt, pride would bow, conscience wake, indolence and carelessness vanish; all worldly concerns and aims appear in comparison as "less than nothing, and vanity."
VII. HENCE LOW VIEWS OF GOD'S LAW, of the absolute necessity of righteousness, and the infinite evil of sin.
Confession of sin.
Let men argue as they please against the Bible; they cannot deny or alter the fact that this book has a power of laying hold on the heart and conscience, unrivalled and unique. One reason is its penetrating knowledge of human nature; another, its deep and wide sympathy. Oar interest is quickened, sympathy roused, because we are presented, not with abstract truth, dry dogma, but with living experience. Conscience can be impartial, judgment cool, because it is another's case, not our own, we contemplate. Suddenly, when we thought we were looking at a picture, we find it is a mirror. The still small voice says, "Thou art the man!"
I. A BURDENED SPIRIT HIDING ITSELF BEHIND DUMB LIPS. David "kept silence" would not acknowledge his sins even to himself, therefore, of course, not to God. Forget them, he could not. But he excused them—laid the blame (as we so easily do) on temptation and circumstance and nature. Besides, was a king to be bound within as strict limits as an ordinary person? Had not his blackest crime—the murder of his brave, faithful general—been in a manner forced on him? He "kept silence" before others,—perhaps was specially exemplary in public worship and pious ceremony; "kept silence" before God.—perhaps keeping up rigidly the form of prayer, but, through his lips prayed, his heart was numb. Wonderful is the deceitfulness of sin; the self-ignorance into which it betrays us. (James 1:14, James 1:15.)!
II. THE BROKEN HEART AND CONTRITE SPIRIT POURING OUT ITS PENITENT CONFESSION TO GOD. As long as David "kept silence," the Lord had a controversy with him. His "hand was heavy." Possibly in some stroke of sickness; perhaps only in the bodily disorder which springs from mental suffering. The ghastly secret refused to be buried in silence and oblivion. The burden grew intolerable. At last he said, "I will confess my transgressions."
1. To his own conscience. "The first step is the hardest;" and perhaps the hardest thing in frank confession is to acknowledge sin to one's self. It is easy to say, "We have erred and strayed," when everybody else says so; quite another thing to say, in the lonely Silence of your own thought, "I am wrong." No one likes that. No one ought to like it. But it has to be done, or confession to God—or to man—is a vain form.
2. What next? The carrying out of the purpose; the soul alone with God, saying, "Father, I have sinned!" Many a man blames himself inwardly, bitterly, proudly; but it leads to nothing. He does not acknowledge his sin to God. Here are three words which give three views of sin.
(1) Sin. The Hebrew word properly means "error," "failure," "missing the mark."
(2) Iniquity: perverseness, depravity, with the added idea of guilt: "The iniquity [or, 'guilt'] of my sin."
3. Transgression: breaking away, viz. from obedience to God's Law; rebellion. (In Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2 same words in different order.)
III. THE IMMEDIATE RELIEF AND INFINITE COMFORT FOUND IN TURNING TO GOD. The guilty silence is broken. The veil of self-delusion is rent off. The sinner takes his right attitude, his true position before God. Not the same as though he had not sinned,—that is impossible; but that which belongs to him in fact. There is a dawn of comfort in this. At least we have done with falsehood, come on to the firm ground of truth. But the only real comfort is, not in our penitence, but in God's promises. Confession and repentance do not lay the ground of forgiveness, or of the hope and certainty of it. God has laid that (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). The name of God is significant here: not "God" the Almighty Creator, but, "the Lord," i.e. Jehovah—God's covenant name with Israel. Nature holds out no inducement to confess sin, no hope of pardon. Its law is, "Reap what you have sown." If the ground of acceptance were our repentance, we never could be assured that it was adequate. But God's faithfulness and justice are pledged to grant what his love has already provided in the gift of his Son (1 John 1:9). Confession is just the breaking down of the barrier raised, not by our sin, but by impenitence and unbelief; at once the stream of Divine mercy flows unhindered, "Thou forgavest," etc.
Conclusion. This experience was too exemplary, too instructive, too precious, to be permitted to perish in forgetfulness. The Holy Spirit (as we said) does not merely paint a picture, but holds up a mirror. David's experience may be ours.
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
This psalm is one of those historically established as David's. £ It has long been a favourite with the greatest saints, who are the very ones that own themselves the greatest sinners. Luther referred to it as one of his special psalms. So Dr. Chalmers, who, it is said, could scarcely read its first three verses without tears filling his eyes. The compression necessary to keep this work within moderate limits renders it impossible to do more than point out how it might profitably be expanded and expounded in a course of sermons. It is headed, "a Psalm, giving instruction;" i.e. a didactic psalm—a doctrinal one, in fact, and as such is to be one of the songs of the sanctuary. Note: They fall into error who do not regard the rehearsal of Divine truth as a fitting method of sacred song. We may not only sing praise to God, but may speak "to one another in psalms, and hymns, £ and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord." This psalm is a grateful rehearsal of the blessedness of Divine forgiveness. We see therein—
I. FORGIVENESS NEEDED. Here, indeed, the expositor must be clear, firm, direct, swift, pointed. We have:
1. Sin committed. The Hebrew language, poor as is its vocabulary in many directions, is abundant in the terms used in connection with sin. £ It is and ever will remain the differential feature of the education of the Hebrew people, that they were taught so emphatically and constantly the evil of sin. For this purpose the Law was their child-guide with a view to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Of the several terms used to express sin, three are employed here. £ One, which denotes "missing the mark;" a second, which denotes "overstepping the mark;" a third, which denotes "crookedness or unevenness." Over and above corresponding terms in the New Testament, we have two definitions of sin. One in 1 John 3:4, "Sin is the transgression of law;" another in 1 John 5:1, "All injustice is sin." We can never show men the value of the gospel until they see the evil of sin. Some minds are most effectively reached by one aspect of truth, and others by another; but surely from one or other of these Scripture terms or phrases the preacher may prepare a set of arrows that by God's blessing will pierce some through the joints of their armour. Nor can the reality or evil of sin be fairly evaded by any plea drawn from the modern doctrine of evolution; since, even if that theory be valid, the emergence of consciousness and of moral responsibility at a certain stage of evolution is as certain a phenomenon as any other. Men know they have done wrong, and it behoves the preacher not to quit his hold of them till he has driven conviction of the evil of sin against God deeply into the soul!
2. Sin concealed. (1 John 5:2.) "I kept silence," i.e. towards God. In the specific case referred to here, sin had disclosed its fearful reality by breaking out openly; it was known, yet unacknowledged. Hence:
3. Sin rankled within (1 John 5:2, "my bones," etc.). Remorse and self-reproach succeeded to the numbness which was the first effect of the sin. There was a reaction—restlessness seized on the guilty one. The action of a guilty conscience brings within a man the most terribly consuming of all agitation. He cannot flee from himself, and his guilt and dread pursue him everywhere (Job 15:20-25; Job 18:11; Job 20:11-29; £ Proverbs 28:1). Hence it is a great relief to note the next stage.
4. Sin confessed. (1 John 5:5.) What a mercy that our God is one to whom we can unburden our guilt, telling him all, knowing that in the storehouse of infinite grace and love there is exhaustless mercy that wilt "multiply pardons" (Isaiah 55:7, Hebrew)!
5. Sin put away. (1 John 5:2.) "In whose spirit there is no guile;" i.e. no deceit, no reserve, no concealment, no continuing in the sin which is thus bemoaned, but, at the moment it is confessed towards God, honestly and entirely putting it away. And when once the sin and guilt are thus put away before God, it will not be long ere the penitent has to recount the experience of—
II. FORGIVENESS OBTAINED AND ENJOYED. He who guilelessly puts away sin by repentance will surely find that God lovingly' puts it away by pardon (1 John 5:5). And as the Hebrew is ample in its terms for sin, so also is it in the varied words and phrases to express Divine forgiveness. Three of these are used here; but in the Hebrew there are, at least, ten others, £
1. "Forgiven." (1 John 5:1.) The Hebrew word means "lifted off;" in this case the LXX. render "remitted," but sometimes they translate the Hebrew term literally, by a word which also means "to lift off," "to lift up," "to bear," and "to bear away." £ (cf. John 1:29; 1 John 3:5; Matthew 9:5, Matthew 9:6). In Divine forgiveness, the burden of sin is lifted off from us and borne away by the Son of God; the penitent is also "let go." His indictment is cancelled, and from sin's penalty he is set free. £
2. Covered; as with a lid, or a veil: put out of sight. God looks on it no more (Micah 7:18).
3. "Iniquity not imputed." It is no more reckoned to the penitent. With absolution there is complete and entire acquittal, and with the non-imputation of sin there is the imputation of righteousness (Romans 3:1-31; Romans 4:1-25; Romans 5:1-21.), or the full and free reception of the pardoned one into the Divine favour, in which a standing of privilege, that in his own right he could not claim, is freely accorded to him through the aboundings of Divine grace.
III. FORGIVENESS BEARING FRUIT. This psalm is itself the product of a forgiven man's pen. It would be a psychological impossibility for an unregenerate and unpardoned man ever to have written it. The psalmist's experience of forgiving love bears fruit:
1. In grateful song. (1 John 5:7.) "Songs of deliverance" will now take the place of consuming remorse and penitential groans.
2. In new thoughts of God. (1 John 5:7.) "Thou art my Hiding-place" etc. In the God whose pardoning love he has known, he will now find a perpetual Protector and Friend.
3. In joyous declaration to others. (1Jn 5:1, 1 John 5:2.) "Blessed … blessed," etc. The emphasis is doubly intense.
(1) There is a blessedness in forgiveness itself. To have the burden of guilt lifted off, and the sentence of condemnation cancelled, what blessedness is here!
(2) There is blessedness which follows on forgiveness. New freedom. New joy in God. New ties of love. New citizenship. New heirship. New prospects. Oh! the blessedness!
4. In exhortation. (1 John 5:8, 1 John 5:9.) We regard these as the psalmist's words, £ in which he uses his own experience to counsel others. Broken-hearted penitents make the best evangelists. The exhortation is threefold.
(1) He bids us not to be perverse and obstinate, i.e. in attempting to conceal our guilt; but rather to show the reason of reasonable men in confessing and abandoning it (1 John 5:9).
(2) He reminds us that, while resistance to God will only surround us with woes, trust in God will ensure our being encompassed with mercies (1 John 5:10).
(3) He bids truly sincere, upright, penitent souls—men without guile—to rejoice in God, yea, even to shout for joy, because of that forgiving love which buries all the past guilt of the penitent in the ocean of redeeming grace, and enriches the pardoned one with the heirship of everlasting life.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
The blessedness of forgiveness.
What our Lord said to Simon before his fall, seems to have been said to David after his great transgression, "When thou art converted, strengthen the brethren" (Luke 22:32; Psalms 51:12, Psalms 51:13). Nobly was the duty performed. Many who were walking in darkness have here found light. Many who were deluding themselves with false hopes have here been taught the way of peace; many who have been hardening their hearts in sin have here been laid hold of, and led, as with cords of love, back to God. The burden of the psalm is the blessedness of forgiveness.
I. In the first place, we are taught that this is a DOCTRINE ACCORDING TO GODLINESS. (Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2.) Three things are set forth.
1. What sin is. The terms used are very significant, and deserve the deepest study: "transgression,' "sin," "iniquity." The evil is traced to the root. Our unhappiness is caused by sin (Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4).
2. Then we are shown how sin may be taken away. This is God's doing. There is a twofold work—something done for us, and something done in us. God thus meets the necessities of our case by not only removing guilt, but by renovating character.
3. The result is blessedness. This is the doctrine of the Law and the prophets (Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:9; Le Exodus 16:21; Isaiah 53:5, Isaiah 53:6; Daniel 9:24). It is also the doctrine of the New Testament. The Law is fulfilled in Christ. In him God is reconciled to us, and we are reconciled to God. Paul and David agree (Romans 4:6, Romans 4:7). Justification is not of works, but of grace. There can be no true happiness till with all frankness and sincerity we confess our sins, and cast ourselves with simple faith on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus (Proverbs 28:13; Psa 139:1-24 :28, Psalms 139:24; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
II. In the second place, THE BLESSEDNESS OF FORGIVENESS IS ILLUSTRATED FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. The Bible contains both doctrines and facts, and while the doctrines explain the facts, the facts enforce the doctrines. When a man speaks of what he knows, when he tells of what he has himself gone through, when he sets forth facts bearing on our personal life and needs, we readily listen to his story.
1. First, we are shown the misery of the man who keeps silence as to his sins before God. (Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4.) For long David kept his sins to himself, in pride and sullenness. This was not only doing an injury to his own soul, but it was lying to men, and grievously offending against God. The result was wretchedness. He suffered in body and spirit. He could find no rest. 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. Wherever he went, his sins haunted him. Whatever he did, he could not rid himself of the terrible thought that God's judgments would fall upon him. How vividly does this bring out the evil of sin and the mercy of God! If left to ourselves, our sins would be our ruin; but God mercifully will not let us alone, His hand is laid upon us, in loving counsel and chastisement, till we are brought to repentance.
2. We are next shown the way of recovering the blessedness we haw lost. (Psalms 32:5, Psalms 32:6.) There had been a long and painful struggle. Now it is ended. Instead of pride, there is humility. Instead of hiding of sin, there is frank and full confession. Instead of holding back in sullenness from God, there is absolute surrender to his righteous judgment. The relief is instantaneous. What a blessed change! It is coming out of the dark into the light. It is abandoning all concealment and guile, and finding peace in God's love and mercy. How beautifully does the picture here agree with that other picture drawn by the hand of our Saviour!—"I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord;" "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee." "Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin;" "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (Psalms 32:5; Luke 15:18-20).
III. In the third place, THE BLESSEDNESS or FORGIVENESS IS COMMENDED BY THE TESTIMONY OF GOD'S SAINTS. Augustine and others have given us their Confessions. These are not only a tale, but a testimony. They not only agree as witnessing for God, but they are a directory for the benefit of all anxious inquirers. So it was with David. We speaks not only for himself, but for others. He as much as says, "My case is not singular; God has dealt with others in the same way; this is the law of the kingdom." "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy." The lessons are—that forgiveness is a blessing greatly to be desired; that it is surely attainable by all who seek it in the right way; and that when enjoyed it brings new and abiding joys into life. There is both counsel and warning. God has his own way and his own time for showing mercy. There is a limit (Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 55:7; Hebrews 3:1). Every pain of body, every remonstrance of reason, every compunction of conscience, are premonitions of judgment, and call for instant action. God in his providence and in his Word saith, "Now is the accepted time,"
IV. In the last place, we are shown how THE BLESSEDNESS OF FORGIVENESS IS IN AGREEMENT WITH GOD'S GRACIOUS PURPOSES TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE, When God begins, he will make an end. Forgiveness is the first thing, but it is introductory to other and greater blessings. Among men, when a criminal is released, he goes forth into society as with the brand of Cain on his brow. But God's ways are not as our ways. When he brings the sinner into a right relation to himself, he not only fully forgives, but he continues his love and mercy to the end. Life henceforth is divinely guided. Obedience is no longer a restraint, but a delight. The future is bright with hope, and will bring new blessings, calling for ever new gratitude and joy. When we can truly say, like Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" then we can look on without fear to the end.—W.F.
I. THE PLACE OF GUIDANCE. Unless we are able to see God's eye, we cannot be guided. What hinders? Our sins. "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up" (Psalms 40:12). The great thing, therefore, is to confess our sins, that they may be put away, and then, "accepted in the Beloved," we can "look up" with childlike trust, and cry, "Abba, Father!"
II. THE MANNER OF GUIDANCE.
1. Authoritative. As master and servant (Psalms 123:2).
2. Kindly. Loving as a father, gentle as a mother (Jeremiah 24:6; Proverbs 4:3).
3. Sure. Moses knew the desert well, but he might err. He was glad, therefore, of the help of Hobab, "Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes" (Numbers 10:31). How much more surely may we depend upon God in our wilderness journey! "Except the eye of the Lord be put out, we cannot be put out of his sight and care" (Donne).
III. THE HAPPY RESULTS OF GUIDANCE.
1. Peace. We cannot guide ourselves; nor can we trust to others, even the wisest and the best, to guide us; but when we put ourselves under the care and direction of God, we feel that all is well (Jeremiah 10:23; Psalms 119:165).
2. Freedom. God does not take pleasure in "the bit and bridle." He would have us be guided through our reason and heart rather than by restraint and force. He works in us both "to will and to do." He makes us free by the truth, that our service may be not from fear, but love.
3. Courageousness. (2 Chronicles 20:12.) God's eye upon us is an inspiration. Gideon felt a new man when the Lord looked upon him (Judges 6:14). Paul had a heart for any fate when Christ stood by him in the storm (Acts 27:23). Stephen went to a cruel death with love and joy under the eye of his Master (Acts 7:56-60).
4. Hope. In humble, trustful self surrender and love we can go forward with confidence. God's eye upon us, and our eye upon God, we are safe for time and for eternity,—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
From great misery to greater blessedness.
There can be little doubt that David composed this psalm after Nathan came to him. Psalms 51:1-19. was the confession of his great sin, and the prayer for forgiveness. This is the record of the confession made and the forgiveness obtained, and the blessedness of his position as a son restored to his Father's house.
I. THE GREATEST MISERY.
1. The knowledge that we have sinned. That we have been guilty of one great sin leading on to another, as David had been; and not of some isolated sin of infirmity, or of some transient temper that spends itself at the moment. None but a good man would feel the awful misery here described. Bad, burdened men sin and feel no burden of shame or guilt.
2. The attempt to reason away our guilt. "In whose spirit there is no guile," or self-deception. David was an Eastern monarch, whose temptation would be to think he might do as he pleased, and thus to reduce his sin to the minimum point. We extenuate our evil deeds by pleading circumstances, temptation, temperament, and we deceive ourselves.
3. The attempt to suppress the consciousness of guilt. We "keep silence," and try to hide from ourselves our sin, and relapse into only a dull consciousness of it. But there was a smouldering fire beneath that dried up the vital moisture of his being and consumed his very bones. Afraid to confess his sin either to God or to himself, he could not escape the burden which the Divine hand laid upon his conscience; and hence his misery. He "roared" all the day long under it. This is God's mercy and anger towards our sin—to drive us to seek release and forgiveness.
II. THE GREATEST BLESSEDNESS.
1. We must begin by the fullest acknowledgment of our sin to ourselves. This must be done before we can sincerely make confession to God. We must be angry with ourselves before we can feel God's auger or his mercy towards us.
2. The fullest, most penitent confession to God. (Psalms 51:5.) "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned." Most sins have a threefold aspect—as done against another, against ourselves, and against God, the Fatherly Lawgiver.
3. The consciousness of forgiveness. This includes two things—the free remission and the inner cleansing.
(1) The transgression is taken away;
(2) covered by God, not by the sinner; and
(3) not imputed, because taken away. It is throughout a real transaction, nor a fictitious one.
Then is a man blessed with the peace of God.—S.
The attitude of the penitent.
Because of the grace thus vouchsafed to every penitent, David would encourage all the godly to seek him who deals so graciously with sinners. Out of his past and present experience he will now counsel others, and especially those who are still impenitent, and the tenor of his counsel is that they should not, like brutes, refuse submission till they are forced into it. The passage may be divided into two parts:
(1) the attitude of the forgiven penitent towards God;
(2) his attitude as a teacher of the impenitent.
I. THE ATTITUDE OF THE FORGIVEN PENITENT TOWARDS GOD. (Psalms 32:6, Psalms 32:7.)
1. Confidence in God for others. (Psalms 32:6.) What God has done for him, he will do for all the penitent and godly. Not a partial God, but his principles of action are universal. God can always be found by the truly penitent; i.e. he always hears them when they call upon him (Psalms 32:6). Its averts from them the judgments ("great waters") that threaten to overwhelm the wicked (Psalms 32:6).
2. Confidence in God for himself. (Psalms 32:7.) He lives in God as his Castle or Hiding-place, secure from danger and trouble. This idea is enlarged and exalted by Christianity. "Your life is bid with Christ in God." The security is all the greater because we are joined with Christ in God. God will surround him with abundant causes of thankful songs—songs of deliverance. Turn where he may, he finds the delivering hand of God at work on his behalf.
II. HIS ATTITUDE AS A TEACHER OF THE IMPENITENT. (Psalms 32:8-11.)
1. His experience qualifies him to show men the way they should go. "Then—after thou hast delivered me—will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." He knew the road which he urged them to take—knew it from experience, not from any theory.
2. This made him a gentle, sympathetic guide. He will guide them with the gentle guidance of the eye. A look is enough for those who are willing to go in the right way—a look in the direction which is to be pointed out. Experience taught him to be pitiful.
3. He exhorts men against a brutish and stubborn impenitence. (Psalms 32:9.) Do not be like the brute, which must be compelled to service, "who doth not willingly come unto thee;" but as reasonable religious creatures, be willing for the service which is great and blessed.
4. He sums up the whole question. (Psalms 32:10.) The sorrows which encompass the wicked, and the mercy that follows those who trust in God. "Mercy;" equivalent to "loving-kindness." A tremendous contrast.
5. An exhortation to the righteous to realize their blessed estate. (Psalms 32:11.)—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 32". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany