Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 19
on the Whole Bible
There are two excellent books which the great God has published for the
instruction and edification of the children of men; this psalm treats
of them both, and recommends them both to our diligent study.
I. The book of the creatures, in which we may easily read the power and
godhead of the Creator,
II. The book of the scriptures, which makes known to us the will of God
concerning our duty. He shows the excellency and usefulness of that
and then teaches us how to improve it,
|God's Glory Seen in the Creation.
To the chief musician. A psalm of David.
1 The heavens
declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his
2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth
3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not
4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words
to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the
5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and
rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his
circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the
From the things that are seen every day by all the world the psalmist,
in these verses, leads us to the consideration of the invisible things
of God, whose being appears incontestably evident and whose glory
shines transcendently bright in the visible heavens, the structure and
beauty of them, and the order and influence of the heavenly bodies.
This instance of the divine power serves not only to show the folly of
atheists, who see there is a heaven and yet say, "There is no God," who
see the effect and yet say, "There is no cause," but to show the folly
of idolaters also, and the vanity of their imagination, who, though the
heavens declare the glory of God, yet gave that glory to the lights of
heaven which those very lights directed them to give to God only, the
Father of lights. Now observe here,
1. What that is which the creatures notify to us. They are in many ways
useful and serviceable to us, but in nothing so much as in this, that
they declare the glory of God, by showing his handy-works,
They plainly speak themselves to be God's handy-works; for they could
not exist from eternity; all succession and motion must have had a
beginning; they could not make themselves, that is a contradiction;
they could not be produced by a casual hit of atoms, that is an
absurdity, fit rather to be bantered than reasoned with: therefore they
must have a Creator, who can be no other than an eternal mind,
infinitely wise, powerful, and good. Thus it appears they are God's
works, the works of his fingers
and therefore they declare his glory. From the excellency of the work
we may easily infer the infinite perfection of its great author. From
the brightness of the heavens we may collect that the Creator is light;
their vastness of extent bespeaks his immensity;, their height his
transcendency and sovereignty, their influence upon this earth his
dominion, and providence, and universal beneficence: and all declare
his almighty power, by which they were at first made, and continue to
this day according to the ordinances that were then settled.
II. What are some of those things which notify this?
1. The heavens and the firmament--the vast expanse of air and ether,
and the spheres of the planets and fixed stars. Man has this advantage
above the beasts, in the structure of his body, that whereas they are
made to look downwards, as their spirits must go, he is made erect, to
look upwards, because upwards his spirit must shortly go and his
thoughts should now rise.
2. The constant and regular succession of day and night
Day unto day, and night unto night, speak the glory of that God
who first divided between the light and the darkness, and has, from the
beginning to this day, preserved that established order without
variation, according to God's covenant with Noah
that, while the earth remains, day and night shall not cease, to
which covenant of providence the covenant of grace is compared for its
The counterchanging of day and night, in so exact a method, is a great
instance of the power of God, and calls us to observe that, as in the
kingdom of nature, so in that of providence, he forms the light and
creates the darkness
and sets the one over-against the other. It is likewise an instance of
his goodness to man; for he makes the out-goings of the morning and
evening to rejoice,
He not only glorifies himself, but gratifies us, by this constant
revolution; for as the light of the morning befriends the business of
the day, so the shadows of the evening befriend the repose of the
night; every day and every night speak the goodness of God, and, when
they have finished their testimony, leave it to the next day, to the
next night, to stay the same.
3. The light and influence of the sun do, in a special manner, declare
the glory of God; for of all the heavenly bodies that is the most
conspicuous in itself and most useful to this lower world, which would
be all dungeon, and all desert, without it. It is not an improbable
conjecture that David penned this psalm when he had the rising sun in
view, and from the brightness of it took occasion to declare the glory
of God. Concerning the sun observe here,
(1.) The place appointed him. In the heavens God has set a
tabernacle for the sun. The heavenly bodies are called hosts of
heaven, and therefore are fitly said to dwell in tents, as
soldiers in their encampments. The sun is said to have a tabernacle set
him, no only because he is in continual motion and never has a fixed
residence, but because the mansion he has will, at the end of time, be
taken down like a tent, when the heavens shall be rolled together like
a scroll and the sun shall be turned to darkness.
(2.) The course assigned him. That glorious creature was not made to be
idle, but his going forth (at least as it appears to our eye)
is from one point of the heavens, and his circuit thence to the
opposite point, and thence (to complete his diurnal revolution) to the
same point again; and this with such steadiness and constancy that we
can certainly foretel the hour and the minute at which the sun will
rise at such a place, any day to come.
(3.) The brightness wherein he appears. He is as a bridegroom
coming out of his chamber, richly dressed and adorned, as fine as
hands can make him, looking pleasantly himself and making all about him
pleasant; for the friend of the bridegroom rejoices greatly to hear
the bridegroom's voice,
(4.) The cheerfulness wherewith he makes this tour. Though it seems a
vast round which he has to walk, and he has not a moment's rest, yet in
obedience to the law of this creation, and for the service of man, he
not only does it, but does it with a great deal of pleasure and
rejoices as a strong man to run a race. With such satisfaction
did Christ, the Sun of righteousness, finish the work that was given
him to do.
(5.) His universal influence on this earth: There is nothing hidden
from the heart thereof, no, not metals in the bowels of the earth,
which the sun has an influence upon.
III. To whom this declaration is made of the glory of God. It is made
to all parts of the world
There is no speech nor language (no nation, for the nations were
divided after their tongues,
where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone through all the
earth (the equinoctial line, suppose) and with it their
words to the end of the world, proclaiming the eternal power of God
The apostle uses this as a reason why the Jews should not be angry with
him and others for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, because God
had already made himself known to the Gentile world by the works of
creation, and left not himself without witness among them
so that they were without excuse if they were idolaters,
And those were without blame, who, by preaching the gospel to them,
endeavoured to turn them from their idolatry. If God used these means
to prevent their apostasy, and they proved ineffectual, the apostles
did well to use other means to recover them from it. They have no
speech or language (so some read it) and yet their voice is
heard. All people may hear these natural immortal preachers speak
to them in their own tongue the wonderful works of God.
we must give God the glory of all the comfort and benefit we have by
the lights of the heaven, still looking above and beyond them to the
Sun of righteousness.
|The Excellency of the Scriptures.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the
testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart:
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the
judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine
gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of
them there is great reward.
12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret
13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let
them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I
shall be innocent from the great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart,
be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
God's glory, (that is, his goodness to man) appears much in the works
of creation, but much more in and by divine revelation. The holy
scripture, as it is a rule both of our duty to God and of our
expectation from him, is of much greater use and benefit to us than day
or night, than the air we breathe in, or the light of the sun. The
discoveries made of God by his works might have served if man had
retained his integrity; but, to recover him out of his fallen state,
another course must be taken; that must be done by the word of God. And
1. The psalmist gives an account of the excellent properties and uses
of the word of God, in six sentences
in each of which the name Jehovah is repeated, and no vain
repetition, for the law has its authority and all its excellency from
the law-maker. Here are six several titles of the word of God, to take
in the whole of divine revelation, precepts and promises, and
especially the gospel. Here are several good properties of it, which
proves its divine original, which recommend it to our affection, and
which extol it above all other laws whatsoever. Here are several good
effects of the law upon the minds of men, which show what it is
designed for, what use we are to make of it, and how wonderful the
efficacy of divine grace is, going along with it, and working by it.
1. The law of the Lord is perfect. It is perfectly free from all
corruption, perfectly filled with all good, and perfectly fitted for
the end for which it is designed; and it will make the man of God
2 Timothy 3:17.
Nothing is to be added to it nor taken from it. It is of use to
convert the soul, to bring us back to ourselves, to our God, to
our duty; for it shows us our sinfulness and misery in our departures
from God and the indispensable necessity of our return to him.
2. The testimony of the Lord (which witnesses for him to us)
is sure, incontestably and inviolably sure, what we may give
credit to, may rely upon, and may be confident it will not deceive us.
It is a sure discovery of the divine truth, a sure direction in the way
of duty. It is a sure foundation of living comforts and a sure
foundation of lasting hopes. It is of use to make us wise, wise to
2 Timothy 3:15.
It will give us an insight into things divine and a foresight of things
to come. It will employ us in the best work and secure to us our true
interests. It will make even the simple (poor contrivers as they
may be for the present world) wise for their souls and eternity. Those
that are humbly simple, sensible of their own folly and willing to be
taught, shall be made wise by the word of God,
3. The statutes of the Lord (enacted by his authority, and
binding on all wherever they come) are right, exactly agreeing
with the eternal rules and principles of good and evil, that is, with
the right reason of man and the right counsels of God. All God's
precepts, concerning all things, are right
just as they should be; and they will set us to rights if we receive
them and submit to them; and, because they are right, they rejoice
the heart. The law, as we see it in the hands of Christ, gives
cause for joy; and, when it is written in our hearts, it lays a
foundation for everlasting joy, by restoring us to our right mind.
4. The commandment of the Lord is pure; it is clear, without
darkness; it is clean, without dross and defilement. It is itself
purified from all alloy, and is purifying to those that receive and
embrace it. It is the ordinary means which the Spirit uses in
enlightening the eyes; it brings us to a sight and sense of our
sin and misery, and directs us in the way of duty.
5. The fear of the Lord (true religion and godliness prescribed
in the word, reigning in the heart, and practised in the life) is
clean, clean itself, and will make us clean
it will cleanse our way,
And it endureth for ever; it is of perpetual obligation and can
never be repealed. The ceremonial law is long since done away, but the
law concerning the fear of God is ever the same. Time will not alter
the nature of moral good and evil.
6. The judgments of the Lord (all his precepts, which are framed
in infinite wisdom) are true; they are grounded upon the most
sacred and unquestionable truths; they are righteous, all
consonant to natural equity; and they are so altogether: there
is no unrighteousness in any of them, but they are all of a piece.
II. He expresses the great value he had for the word of God, and the
great advantage he had, and hoped to have, from it,
1. See how highly he prized the commandments of God. It is the
character of all good people that they prefer their religion and the
word of God,
(1.) Far before all the wealth of the world. It is more desirable
than gold, than fine gold, than much fine gold. Gold is of
the earth, earthly; but grace is the image of the heavenly. Gold is
only for the body and the concerns of time; but grace is for the soul
and the concerns of eternity.
(2.) Far before all pleasures and delights of sense. The word of God,
received by faith, is sweet to the soul, sweeter than honey and the
honey comb. The pleasures of sense are the delight of brutes, and
therefore debase the great soul of man; the pleasures of religion are
the delight of angels, and exalt the soul. The pleasures of sense are
deceitful, will soon surfeit, and yet never satisfy; but those of
religion are substantial and satisfying, and there is no danger of
exceeding in them.
2. See what use he made of the precepts of God's word: By them is
thy servant warned. The word of God is a word of warning to the
children of men; it warns us of the duty we are to do, the dangers we
are to avoid, and the deluge we are to prepare for,
It warns the wicked not to go on in his wicked way, and warns the
righteous not to turn from his good way. All that are indeed God's
servants take this warning.
3. See what advantage he promised himself by his obedience to God's
precepts: In keeping them there is great reward. Those who make
conscience of their duty will not only be no losers by it, but
unspeakable gainers. There is a reward, not only after keeping, but in
keeping, God's commandments, a present great reward of obedience.
Religion is health and honour; it is peace and pleasure; it will make
our comforts sweet and our crosses easy, life truly valuable and death
itself truly desirable.
III. He draws some good inferences from this pious meditation upon the
excellency of the word of God. Such thoughts as these should excite in
us devout affections, and they are to good purpose.
1. He takes occasion hence to make a penitent reflection upon his sins;
for by the law is the knowledge of sin. "Is the commandment thus
holy, just, and good? Then who can understand his errors? I
cannot, whoever can." From the rectitude of the divine law he learns to
call his sins his errors. If the commandment be true and
righteous, every transgressions of the commandment is an error, as
grounded upon a mistake; every wicked practice takes rise from some
corrupt principle; it is a deviation from the rule we are to work by,
the way we are to walk in. From the extent, the strictness, and
spiritual nature, of the divine law he learns that his sins are so many
that he cannot understand the number of them, and so exceedingly sinful
that he cannot understand the heinousness and malignity of them. We are
guilty of many sins which, through our carelessness and partiality to
ourselves, we are not aware of; many we have been guilty of which we
have forgotten; so that, when we have been ever so particular in the
confession of sin, we must conclude with an et cetera--and such
like; for God knows a great deal more evil of us than we do of
ourselves. In many things we all offend, and who can tell how often he
offends? It is well that we are under grace, and not under the law,
else we were undone.
2. He takes occasion hence to pray against sin. All the discoveries of
sin made to us by the law should drive us to the throne of grace, there
to pray, as David does here,
(1.) For mercy to pardon. Finding himself unable to specify all the
particulars of his transgressions, he cries out, Lord, cleanse me
from my secret faults; not secret to God, so none are, nor only
such as were secret to the world, but such as were hidden from his own
observation of himself. The best of men have reason to suspect
themselves guilty of many secret faults, and to pray to God to cleanse
them from that guilt and not to lay it to their charge; for even our
sins of infirmity and inadvertency, and our secret sins, would be our
ruin if God should deal with us according to the desert of them. Even
secret faults are defiling, and render us unfit for communion with God;
but, when they are pardoned, we are cleansed from them,
1 John 1:7.
(2.) For grace to help in time of need. Having prayed that his sins of
infirmity might be pardoned, he prays that presumptuous sins might be
All that truly repent of their sins, and have them pardoned, are in
care not to relapse into sin, nor to return again to folly, as appears
by their prayers, which concur with David's here, where observe,
[1.] His petition: "Keep me from ever being guilty of a wilful
presumptuous sin." We ought to pray that we may be kept from sins of
infirmity, but especially from presumptuous sins, which most offend God
and wound conscience, which wither our comforts and shock our hopes.
"However, let none such have dominion over me, let me not be at
the command of any such sin, nor be enslaved by it."
[2.] His plea: "So shall I be upright; I shall appear upright; I
shall preserve the evidence and comfort of my uprightness; and I
shall be innocent from the great transgression;" so he calls a
presumptuous sin, because no sacrifice was accepted for it,
Note, First, Presumptuous sins are very heinous and dangerous.
those that sin against the habitual convictions and actual admonitions
of their consciences, in contempt and defiance of the law and its
sanctions, that sin with a high hand, sin presumptuously, and it is a
great transgression. Secondly, Even good men ought to be jealous
of themselves, and afraid of sinning presumptuously, yea, though
through the grace of God they have hitherto been kept from them. Let
none be high-minded, but fear. Thirdly, Being so much exposed,
we have great need to pray to God, when we are pushing forward towards
a presumptuous sin, to keep us back from it, either by his providence
preventing the temptation or by his grace giving us victory over
3. He takes occasion humbly to beg the divine acceptance of those his
pious thoughts and affections,
Observe the connexion of this with what goes before. He prays to God to
keep him from sin, and then begs he would accept his performances; for,
if we favour our sins, we cannot expect God should favour us or our
(1.) What his services were--the words of his mouth and the
meditations of his heart, his holy affections offered up to God.
The pious meditations of the heart must not be smothered, but expressed
in the words of our mouth, for God's glory and the edification of
others; and the words of our mouth in prayer and praise must not be
formal, but arising from the meditation of the heart,
(2.) What was his care concerning these services--that they might be
acceptable with God; for, if our services be not acceptable to God,
what do they avail us? Gracious souls must have all they aim at if they
be accepted of God, for that is their bliss.
(3.) What encouragement he had to hope for this, because God was his
strength and his redeemer. If we seek assistance from God as our
strength in our religious duties, we may hope to find acceptance with
God in the discharge of our duties; for by his strength we have power
In singing this we should get our hearts much affected with the
excellency of the word of God and delivered into it, we should be much
affected with the evil of sin, the danger we are in of it and the
danger we are in by it, and we should fetch in help from heaven against